The mountains were on fire.
At least it seemed as such; it's fall in Colorado and there are few places that show the beauty of fall colors in the Rockies better than the Yampa Valley.
Rachel, Xavier, and I made the 3+ hour drive from Denver to Steamboat Springs Friday afternoon and were treated to sprawling high altitude prairies turned to impressive craggy peaks. As the land started to undulate a bit more, and the colors started to pop, we came upon what had to be Rabbit Ears Peak, and a sign listing Steamboat Springs 26 miles away fit the plan. So after scoping out Gondola Square (where all race events would take place) we drove just outside of town to check into our little cabin we'd rented. It's a neat little place with kids play areas and right next to the river.
After getting settled and playing on the slides for a while, we drove back over to The Bear (think ski lodge) for a briefing and packet pickup. I dropped off my drop bags that I had planned on using. Two: one for mile 13 to leave my jacket and grab some "Just Plain" GU, and the other to drop my Camelbak for a handheld. I wouldn't end up using the second, but plans are made to be ruined. Fred, the RD, gave an extended briefing and threw out all sorts of goodies from Black Diamond headlamps to Smartwool products and even a 2 night stay in a suite for next year's race. There must have been 30+ giveaways no joke. I landed a pair of Smartwool PHD socks during the sock throwing portion of the giveaway, but alas they were woman's size large, so I gave them to a lady sitting near me.
Throughout the meeting I sat with Leila and Mike DeGrave, friends I've made through Ultrarunning who live up in Evergreen. They were able to meet my wife and son which was really cool. Leila and I also ran the Silver Rush 50 up in Leadville, both of us finishing our first 50 miler. So, after the meeting was done, we said our good byes and headed for bed.
My alarm woke us up at 5 AM, and I rolled over, slipped on my clothes and walked out to the bathroom. After making sure I had what I needed we got the little man loaded up and packed into the car. We were quickly back to the square, so I grabbed a kiss and headed to check in. I was set to go, or was I? I realized as I got to the starting line that I had not eaten breakfast. We all make mistakes, this was a big one, but I pounded a GU just as we were sent climbing into the darkness.
Run Rabbit Run is brutal, that is a fact. The first 6 miles are uphill; 3500' to be exact. Imagine standing at the base of a ski area, looking up and realizing that's what you're about to run up. Perhaps like Western States, I'm not entirely sure. It's nasty. I mixed in running with power hiking and had a great time taking in the view once the sun came up. Really, the course is spectacular, with the most fiery aspen colors on this opening 6 miles. It was upon reaching the summit that I realized that the deadness in my legs I'd previously mentioned wasn't gone. In fact, I just didn't feel all that great, and I let it go to my head.
Normally, I would consider myself a fairly mild tempered and rational person, but for some reason, only 6 miles into this 50 mile race, I was doubting myself. I've never doubted like this since my first ultra, I was already wondering if I had the stones to finish. It was in the midst of one of these bad mind games that I had my first "moment." One moment I had just made a move to distance myself from a few folks and the next I was falling. I landed fortunately in the less rocky section of a fairly technical downhill section, and I landed face first wondering what happened. So, I did what all utrarunners do, I picked myself up and kept going. I was sore, but the pain helped submerge my doubting thoughts, well until I ate it again! 12 miles in, 2 falls. As I type, I'm so-o-o-ore! I'd managed 2+ years without falling, now it was twice in a day.
From then on, I tried to focus on finding a groove and getting comfortable. It never really came, but the trail leading out to the rabbit ears was really something special and I tried to take it in. We passed 3 alpine lakes and a few streams which took some care to step on rocks without falling in. Really the middle portion of this course is extremely runnable, and a few spots offer the speedsters over a mile or so of flattish terrain.
By the time I made it into Dumont 1 (mile 22) I had already noticed the signs of bonking. I think this had as much to do with my lack of steady training going into the race as it did not taking in enough calories. In any case, I was unable to run strong, and had to take frequent walk breaks. Pushing out of Dumont I knew there were 3 miles to the turnaround, but looking at the Rabbit Ears on the way into town made me wonder about the possibility of the climb being tough. The course profile must have not included this climb (seriously, I'm not making it up). It's by far the steepest portion of the course, and the last 500 feet or so are super tough, steep enough to make my Cascadia's slip out on a number of occasions.
Regardless of all the work I put in, I got to the top and had to come right back where I'd come from. Not long on the way down, I saw Leila and gave a big hello, she was looking strong. Then in my way into Dumont 2 I gave a big smile for Mike as he was photographing the whole race, he was everywhere! From here on however, I had a rough go. By mile 30 I was in full on blow-up mode, my legs were shot, and I could hardly run. My body was not happy, I tried eating and drinking to get some energy, but what I got in its stead was sloshy stomach. I plunged through Long Lake aid, grabbing some watermelon which allowed some relief for my stomach, but the short high I got was relieved again my the debilitating pain in my legs.
Somewhere on the latter half of the 4 miles between there and the next aid station I was caught by Leila, she was cruising and was kind to slow for a bit while we talked. I did my best to keep up with her, and quite honestly it really lifted my spirits. It was nice to see someone you know when things are going poorly, so I tried to match her pace and keep in contact to the next aid station. From there I knew it was only 13 miles to the finish. When we came into the aid station, I was well taken care of, had my Camelbak filled and sat on a log to chug a cup of Gatorade. Leila cruised out of there strong as ever, what a great run! I on the other hand, just started grinding out my way to the last aid stop. All I knew was that the last aid stop meant 100% downhill to the finish.
This is when I started to have those short bits of recovery and "I'm gonna make it" spirit to power out some moments of brilliance. Believe it or not, I turned out some of the best bits of running in the 7 miles to that final aid station. I would walk a few hundred feet, then take off flying, pushing through the pain and reciting my mantra "gotta be strong, gotta be tough." This really helped make up some time. I also started doing math in my head. I had figured that if I made the final aid by 3:00 then I could still break 10 hours.
When I got there, the lady with the cowbell said, "welcome, it is now 3:18, what do you need?" To that I replied,"I'm good, thanks." In my head I thought 6 miles, 42 minutes, downhill. I can do it. I was flying, absolutely hammering. Here I passed about 4 people in the first 2 miles, and I kept at it. Unfortunately I started laboring badly with just about 2 miles to go and was forced to walk backwards a while before continuing on. 6 miles and 3500' of descent will beat the shit out of your legs. I was hurting, but I knew it was only for a while and I wanted to see that finish line so bad. Coming downhill there were a few spectators out giving congratulations and I was able to take in the moment a bit.
This ultrarunning business can be quite unnerving and emotional, but I held back the tears. A short moment later I saw the line, and more importantly I saw my wife and my son waving to me. I was STOKED! I ran down, grabbed my boy and jogged across the line to a huge group of spectators! It was so cool, there were probably 100 or more folks not to mention the hundreds of people out for Oktoberfest cheering me! In a short span I shook hands and gave congrats to those who finished right around me before heading into the bear to get some lemonade, a slice of pizza, and some beer.
Truly for me, this race was fun, I enjoyed my time out on the trail even when it sucked. It was so beautiful, the smell of fall in Colorado is not something to be taken for granted, and the perfect weather was just icing on the cake (especially since it's snowing now!). More than any of the other races I've done, Run Rabbit Run has the most beautiful course of all, by a long way, and really showcases Colorado's forest.
So, after going back to the cabin, showering down and taking a nap we headed back to the bear for more pizza and awards. It was really cool to just sit around chatting with new friends and hear the stories on how everyone's day went. Walter the city councilman actually took a wrong turn and led a guy from Spain all the way to US-40 where they hitchhiked back to the start (bummer!). It was all good natured though and the Spaniard picked up the inaugural "dumb bunny" award for following an American politician! Apparently he asked multiple times if they were going the right way and Walter kept saying yup! Ryan Burch took it home again in a killer time of 7:26 (!) so he'll be back next year to defend again.
I managed to cross the line in 10:09, not bad considering my shenanigans out there on the course. I'm happy with how it turned out. Leila killed it all the way in to finish in 9:55! Congrats Leila, that's awesome!
I have some pictures from the weekend I'll try to get up as soon as I can! I also think I'll reflect again on things I've learned and compare it to my post Silver Rush sentiments... but that'll be a few days. One thing's certain, next time I won't forget to eat breakfast!
Til then, I'll be hobbling along!