Monday, May 9, 2011

Collegiate Peaks 50

Collegiate Peaks 50 mile trail run
Buena Vista, CO
May 7, 2011

I ran a 50 mile race on Saturday.  It was my first ultra.  It hurt.  If you're sane, there's really no need to read on.

I'm not sure who first put the idea in my head.  He should be shot.  Actually, I should have been shot.  It would've been less painful for all involved.  Anyway, at some point in time, maybe January, I decided it necessary to test my mettle at a "longer" race.  May seemed to be the worst time to do one.  Any earlier and I would have been able to use the 'lack of time to train' excuse.  Any later and I could blame the ultra for any poor race performances over the summer.

CPTR seemed to be the perfect candidate - why not throw some altitude and hills on top of a few extra miles?  I'd heard it was a low-key affair.  A good, easy "beginner's" ultra.  What an @#$%ing oxymoron.  Shortly after signing up, Brooks mentioned there might be a fast guy or two (or three or four or five or more) there.  Stepping up to a new distance must feel kinda like wearing a new swimsuit - I was hoping to do it in relative privacy.

As May 7th drew near, I found myself unable to come up with a good enough excuse to bail.  Reluctantly, I picked up Brooks in COS on Friday afternoon.  We were in Buena Vista early enough to grab dinner at the somewhat-new Eddyline Brewery. Promoters of the Williams/O'Day re-match took a good promo shot while we were waiting.  Actually, this is the guy who is probably most responsible for the suffering I endured during the race - maybe I should've actually taken a pop at him when I had the chance.

I got to the race start my usual one hour before race time, which was 6:30.  In hindsight, I would have gladly started at 5:30 or even earlier to escape a little bit of the afternoon's warmer temperatures.  (it's also easier to hide in the dark, but the thought of having to crouch in the bushes for four or five hours sounded like a lot of work)  Not surprisingly, I didn't feel inclined to do my usual 15-minute warm-up.  Instead, I used that time to prepare my first-ever ultra "drop bag".  This included a bunch of hastily-assembled junk that I would probably never use - an orange, almond butter, headlamp, something like four pairs of shoes.  I strategically placed all my stuff within the bag using a simple mathematical formula - the more likely I was to need it, the more deeply inaccessible I inadvertently placed it.

My race plan was fairly simple.  Survive.  That meant I'd probably tell myself to stay conservative through 25 miles, but somehow just "feel good" and rip through the front nine anyway.  Then, I'd have more time to plot ways to save face explaining my epic blowup on the second loop.

Loop 1 - clockwise, Loop 2 - counter-clockwise.
High point of 9400' is in the upper right corner.
The part that sucks is in red.

Right from the gun, I tried to settle into a sustainable rhythm.  Flat opening miles of 7:33, 7:42, and 7:45 put me on pace for a course-record 6:45!  Wow, maybe this ultra thing isn't that hard!@  Better yet, at least twenty others were going to set the course record with me!  It took a while, but soon the reigning in of my pace stopped being such a conscious effort and I found a zone.  Jason Morgan, who finished 13th at the Salida Marathon, appeared beside me and we ran many of the early miles together, just as we did in Salida.  As we slowly moved up the field, we exchanged greetings with the other runners.  I hated them all, as they all were opting for the 25-miler.  As every step we took carried us nearer to the 25-mile mark, the more tempting it became to think of that option myself.  In the sand near mile 15, I rolled up on Footfeathers, who I knew was planning on the full 50.  He seemed to be plugging away just fine, had stated before the race a goal of sub-7:40, and had gobs of ultra experience under his belt.  So of course I blew right by him like I knew what I was doing.  Idiot.

I caught up with Brooks at the course's high point near mile 18, then essentially brought it back in to the turnaround with him.  He explained how our pace may be a little hot, and how we'd get a good chance to see where we were as we neared mile 25.  In 2010, he had came across Andrew Henshaw where technical singletrack began at mile 24/26. That had put him about 16 minutes or so behind.  He felt that our projected halfway split of 3:30 would mean we wouldn't see the first runner until a bit into the singletrack.

Speak of the devil, Ryan Burch was obviously setting a blistering pace.  He hit us before we had a chance to duck down into said singletrack.  Turns out he had come through 25 in about 3:06.  Two minutes later, I caught sight of Dylan Bowman.  Shortly before hitting the turnaround, Duncan Callahan and Corey Hanson went by.

At the turnaround, I had a chance to do a little self-check.  Let's see...25 miles down.  I felt pretty good for having run 25 miles.  Oh yeah, still 25 more to go.  WTF?  Seriously, how am I supposed to run 25 more miles?  Fighting down those thoughts, I had a moment to focus on the task at hand:  re-stocking.  I lost my gloves, armwarmers, and singlet.  I put a couple gels, electrolyte tablets, and a Tiger's Milk bar in my race belt.  I switched out from the racier Inov8 x-Talons to the sturdier RocLite 295's.  Although I hadn't yet begun to blister, I felt that giving my feet slightly different hotspots might save me some pain.  After milling around for what seemed like hours in a zombie-like trance, I slammed down and ensure and finally re-engaged with the inevitable.  I had lost two minutes to Brooks - we had entered in 3:30 and 3:31 respectively.  We were out in 3:32 and 3:35.

I'm still trying to block out memories of the next part.  Let's just say I began to feel like I had actually already run a marathon.  I struggled to keep under 10:00 pace for the first few tame miles back out of town.  What made it even worse was that every other runner in the field got to see the contorted, twisting grimaces of pain covering my face.  Most of them smiled, waved, or said, "Good job!"  They were chipper as kindergartners at recess, knowing they only had a downhill mile or two before they were DONE.  Jerks.  I was able to elicit a few unintelligible grunts in response.  A few, notably fellow ultra virgin GZ, looked a little too strong for me to feel good about any lead I may have had.  

Let me take a second to explain something that seems unique to these longer distances.  I was told many many many times by those who had run them before to expect many ups and downs.  Stretches where you feel like you'll be lucky to take another step, and stretches where you feel like Carl Lewis.  Not the politician. So, when the reaper met me during this stretch, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me it was my time, I just shrugged and told him to come back later.  Being the cordial messenger of death he is, he accompanied me every step of the way for quite a few miles.  I tried to catch up on nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes, but the feeling wouldn't shake.  All but the most mild uphills began to receive my walking best.

At mile 28, I took a few walking steps at the base of a small hill.  It offered me a chance to look around and see if there was anywhere to escape.  There wasn't.  In fact, worse news reared it's ugly head - someone had caught me.  Damnit, I thought.  It's the beginning of the end.  I tried counting the number of people in the race - four hundred.  Surely I could handle getting passed three hundred niney nine more times?

A few minutes later, I noticed that the guy hadn't yet disappeared over the next horizon.  I began to get lonely.  "Man, what if this is the last guy I see?" I thought.  So, I began matching his pace from a few hundred yards back.  I started paying more and more attention to what he was doing instead of hosting a pity party for myself.  Over the next two miles, I began to reel him in.  I paid attention to his body language on uphills.  I would pay attention to when he looked back - I'd try to time it so I was running when he looked, then I'd take a short walk break immediately thereafter in hopes that I would recharge enough to run by the next time he took a peek.  I couldn't fool myself, but maybe I could fool him into thinking I wasn't already dead.  By mile 32, I caught back up to Ryan - a 40-year-old from South Dakota who had recently run a 1:14 half-mary.  We would spend the next three miles together.

Somewhere along the way, I had started actually feeling alive again.  As Ryan and I neared the mile 34, I received one last shot of adrenalin, when we caught sight of Brooks just leaving.  I checked my watch and found we were about three and a half minutes behind.  I decided to really hunker down at this aid station - I let Ryan go as I threw down three cups of coke, and a couple of cookies.  I made a quick pit stop there, as well. (one of four for the day)

Relatively speaking I was refreshed, and mounted a little attack on the ensuing downhills.  I made contact with Rick then pushed the uphills until I had lost him.  A few rollers later, I was able to see that I had cut into Brooks's lead, and was now within two minutes.  I made sure to let him see I was running where he was walking, and wondered how long it would take before I finally made contact.  He held me off valiantly through his dark period, and I wasn't able to finally pull aside him until we had begun the long descent back to BV.

We ran miles 42 through 44 together - physically.  Just as Brooks began to get a second wind, my wheels come off again.  My right quad had begun to cramp a bit.  I had finished off my salt tabs and was hoping for one last wave to kick in, but it didn't come.  Brooks tried to bring me in with him, but there was no way I was going to finish strong.  He let me go and promptly put two minutes per mile on me from the mile 44 aid station to the pavement.

Fist Pump #3
Those last few miles were a blur.  I knew I was going to finish, but I felt vulnerable.  I imagined looking back and seeing a pack of five guys looking to hunt me down, but no one appeared.  Until the pavement, that is.  The sight of Garret Grobbins closing the gap on me from seemingly nowhere threw me into a state of sub-7:00 panic.  I had gotten used to the idea of 6th place, the hell if I was going to adjust to the thought of 7th.  I crossed the line in 7:45:03, complete with not one or two but three separate fist pumps - a sign I was quite relieved to be done with the torture of running 50 miles.

Post-race was a good time.  I got to converse with some of the other guys.  Ryan was pretty stoked after demolishing the course record by over 15 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  Dylan also broke 7:00, joining a short list of guys who have accomplished that milestone.  Hanson and Callahan ended up much closer to us than I would've guessed, finishing in 7:33 and 7:34 respectively.  Brooks PR'ed by nearly 10 minutes with a 7:38.  Garret came in about 2 minutes behind me, and my mid-race running buddy Ryan finished just a hair under 8:00.

It's still too early to put together many post-race thoughts.  I do know that the words that come to my mind when I try to process the experience are all the same:  stupid.  Moronic.  Idiotic.  Painful.  Harmful.  Plain Dumb.

I'll be doing another one soon.


  1. Congrats on finishing your first ultra. That's a very good time and you will only get better with experience. So when and where is the next ultra?

  2. It took me longer to read this than it did for you to run your first lap...

    Congrats on the finish. You can still get into San Juan if you want.

    Sorry about the dog bite.

  3. Maybe you should quit doing ultras now... otherwise it's only a matter of time before you kick my butt!

  4. Really solid debut Sean. Super impressive.

  5. Great report...especially like the reference to the drop bag mathematical equation. And, damn nice performance out there on a hot day!

  6. Blah blah blah blah (and I can say this as the king of blah blah blah)... "I will be doing another one soon."

    Awesome. Well done out there.

    I was disappointed to not read about your dog whisper-er experience.

  7. Awesome job Sean - nice report too!

  8. I'm wondering when you will run Leadville ... You are certainly capable !!! Love your blog and love to see you on the trails ..

  9. Brad - thanks a ton. Looking forward to seeing you put up a blazing GB Mary....then getting to the trails!

    Brownie - I'm considering another "fitty" sometime after PPA/PPM, possibly late fall if I don't do a road mary instead. Your dog is cute.

    Brooks - when you gonna do the double?

    Dylan - thanks, you too! Awesome meeting you out there, definitely will be pulling for you in all your future endeavors.

    Jim - isn't that the way it seems to work though? Doesn't matter how much time you have to prepare, things just look different once you get to the drop.

    GZ - Yeah, still bummed about your boneheadedness. Next time it'll be my turn.

    HT - thank you - as JT said, the report took about as long to write as the race took to run.

    Jill - Leadville...someday. 2012ish?

  10. Hey Sean...this is the old guy (Ryan) from SD. It was fun running with you, well done for your first ultra! If you haven't been to the Black Hills, check out