Never Summer 100K - Gould, Colorado
Elevation Range - 8450' - 11,852' ......... .......... Elevation Gain ~14,000'
July 23, 2016 - I run a lot of absolutely fantastic racing events all over the continent, with both stunning and memorable scenery and physical challenge, made special by passionate directors and wonderful volunteers, so I come to expect a high level of adventure and satisfaction when traveling to new venues for the first time. But never did I anticipate just how much fun I would experience with this run over the Never Summer and Medicine Bow ranges of northern Colorado. Normally, you pick up your bib, toe the line, fall into queue, then fight the good fight and go home. This one filled my day and imagination in ways I could not have anticipated.
After seven days of playful mountain training (what I call a running vacation) in preparation for this event, with most of 90 miles run above 10,000 feet in elevation and nearly 50,000 feet of vertical exercise, my quads and hamstrings were primed and breathing was right where I wanted it to be. I was ready, and confident to take on this 64-mile challenge up and down another 28,000 feet in Colorado's beautiful high country.
Monsoon rains dumped on the mountains north of Rocky Mountain National Park the day prior, but the forecast looked good as most of 300 of us set off in the pre-dawn to test our mettle and training against the best the mountains had to offer. Only two of the group did I know from prior adventures - Thondup Saari from Albuquerque and Ken Letterle from Texas, but the day was filled with sharing the adventure with these and new acquaintances, members of my tribe, my adopted family.
It all started with opening my mouth pre-race, making small talk with the two guys who parked next to me. It is hard to hide a Pittsburgh accent from another Pittsburgh native, and these guys had me figured from the get-go. Dan Ravasio and his son Kevin traveled from the great state of PA to crew and race in Colorado. Dan, same age as me, grew up just up the Monongahela River in the town of Monongahela; our high schools competed against each other, so in all likelihood we figured we probably ran cross-country and track against each other an era ago. Nothing gives a couple old guys from the 'burg more delight than dipping into our very distinctive dialect slang, taking a nostalgic trip back to the goodle days. As it would turn out, Kevin and I would spend much of the day together (see pic below) because of our similar ability and preparedness and not by design, despite our generational difference, with dad there with a smile and supportive good cheer at every crew access point. To say "small world" just doesn't say enough.
The day was very social for me. With the first couple miles on a fairly level jeep trail, all cylinders were clicking fairly smoothly from the 9100-foot start. Muscles were rested and full of "go"; breathing was good; temps were a comfortable 48 degrees at 0530. The ensuing miles pointed up on our first climb to greet the sunrise at the crest of Seven Utes Mountain (11,453'). The power walk up this initial 2000-foot riser was a good warm-up for what was to come. Breaking a nice sweat we rolled over the top in queue before comfortably dropping down the other side to the first aid station at the Michigan Ditch (headwaters of the Michgan River). Cameras and Go-Pros came out in scores to take back souvenir images of the shadowy high peaks as the sun rose over the Nokhu Crags to the east. It was breath-taking to be high in the sky in unmitigated sunshine, and not just because we were running.
The winding trail took us down along the shore of Lake Agnes, a pristine cirque lake in the basin below Mts. Richthofen and Mahler. Along the way I would meet and share the trail with a delightful new friend from Calgary, Iris Priebe, who shares with me at least a half dozen other friends from Calgary. (Pic below) Don't know how we had missed meeting before with so many people in common.
I also caught up with my New Mexico buddy Thondup Saari for a couple selfies before we separated for much of the race. And here too I took up with a new horsey friend from Cody - Janie Schneider - who I would enjoyably share many middle miles of the day with. (Pics below)
After circling around the back side of the Crags and another thousand feet of climbing, the trail pointed down a quad-busting 1700 feet to the next aid station at the Highway 14 road crossing where I stripped down to lean attire to accommodate the increasing heat of the day. From mile 18 the trail points straight up North Diamond Peak, at 11,850' the high point of the course and crux of the event. The few switchbacks near the start of the climb were welcome after the brutal sustained descent we just endured. But it did not take long before the trail-maker got impatient and dispensed with switchbacks in favor of a direct tangent to the summit, straight up, without reprieve or mercy. Just when 45 degrees of slope seemed intolerable, as well as endless, the angle increased to over 50 degrees of tilt. The perspective of the pictures hardly does the climb justice.
It was formidable. That's what I came for. I love to climb, and take pride in still being able to outclimb anybody at any age above treeline. Despite pausing to take some pics, I mostly put my head down and worked this awesome climb, non-stop, to the top. I've always thought Karl Meltzer's Speedgoat climbs were the penultimate in challenging course design. Throwing North Diamond Peak into the mix at mile 20, Nick Clark has out-Meltzered Meltzer. What can I say. Short of mountain climbing proper, it is the best hill I've ever raced up!!!
The run down was none-the-less daunting as we followed the ridge off the top across the Medicine Bow Mountains. Janie and I chased across much of this together, then down, down, down a long challenging 2000-foot descent of the Yurt contour trail. Many runners were already suffering from sore feet by this time, along with hammered quads and cramping from engaging the relentless steep relief along with the increasing heat of the day. Other than a couple of tender toes, my legs and feet were outstanding, responding extremely well to the rigors of the day.
After losing Janie to the youth of her legs, I was back and forth with Kevin for much of the rest of the day, as well as a young Navaho college girl from CU named Jenny Nakai who knew of another Navaho friend from the Four Corners, April. And for awhile I shared a few miles with another homegirl from Pennsylvania, Heidi Sauerland, who grew up in Clarion and graduated from college there as did I. We knew all the same places and some of the same people from back home. It was a most enjoyable day for a gregarious fellow like me to be running in the mountains with pretty girls.
By mile 39 we proceeded up a fifth climb for the day, up 1300 feet over 2.2 miles to a turnaround at Clear Lake. Here I got to see everyone in front and everyone following, including Ken Letterle. After sharing a beer at the aid station at mile 44 I headed out with a change of attire and a light in preparation for transition to darkness that would soon come. The balance of the twenty miles to go follows more moderate terrain with gentler surfaces to finish off the race. The afternoon had become warm with some threatening thunderstorms (though it didn't rain) and was probably the greatest contributing factor to about a third of the field withdrawing for a dnf. My stomach was significantly affected and registed complaint about my running for much of the rest of the way. Despite my legs still feeling great, I found myself walking, even when the trail was level on smooth surfaces, to accommodate stomach discomfort.
Ater deliberately walking the two miles before the 50-mile aid station, my stomach settled enough that I could eat some Canadian bacon and dill pickle spears, surprisingly. Walking on into the evening I was able to eat a bit more of the same to give me a boost in energy. But any running soon set me back. With 12 miles to go, I had covered 52 miles before having to turn on a flashlight. I consigned myself to walking the last four hours, if necessary, giving up probably no more than an hour from how I would finish if I could shuffle on instead of walk. No great sacrifice. Temps dipped below 60, but were still mostly comfortable. So I walked on, as others passed by at their own distressed gait, and for the most part got into enjoying my night hike back to the finish.
Kevin caught up with me after recovering from a bad spell, along with Jason Retzke from Columbus, Ohio. Since they were moving along at a steady, even tempo, I hooked onto the back of their train for the cameraderie and extra light for the final ten miles. Even though keeping up with them was a push at times, it was still much better than to be alone with your demons.
Completing the 64 miles in 18:55:20 for 94th place of 192 finishers a little after midnight, I was reasonably pleased with the day's effort. The first 44 miles with climbs totalling over 10,000 feet held my attention and enthusiasm throughout. The last 20 miles were anti-climactic, and likely would have still been so even without stomach issues. With a planned 18-hour finish, I was only off less than an hour for my misery.
I slept well without a hint of cramping for five hours, feeling perky as I met with shared combatants for a celebratory breakfast and awards ceremony. My legs and feet were not sore after covering this fairly aggressive mountain challenge. The stomach, however, was still a bit stressed, but handled a tasty breakfast and a couple of beers without much complaint. For being the oldest survivor of the event, Nick awarded me a fine Salomon hydration pack. Some days it is just okay being older. After running a tough mountain route of as many miles as my age up and down 14,000 feet of steep climbs, I still slept well and recovered mostly in one night. I somehow just don't see that as old. I'll save "old" for another day... but accept the award nonetheless!!!
View south toward Rocky Mountain National Park