By HPRS Guest Columnist Russell Iverson
Hmmm, a winter Ultra—I’ve never done that before! Ooooh, thirty hours straight—I’ve never done that, either! Well, my next planned gig on Pikes Peak comes out to thirty hours on paper. This race should help me assess how that hike will go and be “fun” at the same time. Let’s plunk down a wad of $$$ and see what happens!
Sooo, I knew this day was coming: the day that I realized I am officially on the decline. Like love and war, you are either moving forward or you are moving backward. Since I picked up this “organized” trail crap six years ago, I’ve enjoyed my evolution of pushing the envelope. But as I gained experience, my list of excuses, if I failed, was growing smaller. Stories Ultra (30-hour version) would be my “What can I really do…or not do?” Thanks to “Sherpa John” of the Human Potential Running Series, I got my answer.
The second-annual race was conducted in Cheyenne Mountain State Park in the middle of winter. They have a 6-hour, 15-hour, and 30-hour version. I don’t know race director John Lacroix personally, but through the few times I corresponded with the dude, he came across as a no-frills, stop-yer-whining kinda guy. On that note, I liked him already! We all were fortunate that the event was not held in the middle of a snowstorm, although I’m pretty sure it still would have been “game on” under any conditions. Which leads me to the start of the race.
When I arrive at 5:00 am to pick up my race packet, it is almost chaos. The wind is howling. John’s inflatable start/finish line is shredded, and his tents are mangled. One of the steel poles flies through the air and pierces his rental van’s window. Yep, it’s a tough start, but John and his crew fight through it and send us on our merry way without a hitch.
Of course, this is the week a Colorado trail runner choked out a mountain lion, so there are lots of jokes about big kitties that need a tasty treat. I asked an aid-station guy if I would get DQ’d if I snuck some catnip into another person’s pack. He said he was just focusing on food and didn’t care. The guy standing next to me did not appear amused though. It was slightly comical to watch as we all navigated the trail loops for the first time in the 6:00 am dark. The multicolored ribbons appeared to all be there, but I’m not sure all the placards (with arrows) were in place during the windstorm. Oh well, I had a map in my pocket (with my own arrows), and looking through it, all the flagging made sense. I’m surprised how many people didn’t have maps with them. I’m too slow to add “bonus miles” to my day, so I took my time assessing the various loops they had laid out for us.
The first sequence of loops (twenty miles’ worth) go really well (six hours, forty minutes), and I feel good. That is my first mistake. I immediately set the bar too high by telling myself I should easily be able to knock out four of these in under thirty hours. Yeah, no. About ten hours in, I hyperextend my left knee slogging up a snowy/muddy slope. Oh well, it’s not like it popped or anything. It’s not a sharp pain. I’ve gotten hurt before. Some other “pain” will take its place and I’ll move on. That’s how this Ultra thang works, right? No, not this time. I forgo digging an emergency knee brace out of my drop bag or bringing my hiking poles and proceed to head out on the dreaded purple loop. It sucked. I bring only enough food for two hours (‘cause that’s how long it took me the last time I was on the purple loop) and run out of carbs. Lethargic, I start to worry I’m off course (because I’m taking foreverto get back) and curse at park maps (that I find along the trails occasionally) that don’t seem to correlate with the map in my pocket. Four hours later, dragging my left leg, I pull into the aid station at the start/finish at 12:30 am.
I tell a race coordinator I need ten minutes to “get myself together” and head to the park’s restroom with my medical bag. Yeah, I had issues. I pop/treat a half-dozen blisters, then try to re-lube my left foot, as maceration has set in from it being wet all day. I put ointment on my rightknee, as my MCL is throbbing. But the worst is my leftknee. As I’m lying flat on the bathroom floor, struggling to get the brace on my swollen knee, another runner comes in and sarcastically asks how my evening is going. I remind him it is technically morning… and refuse to answer that question.
Blah,blah,blah. That’s it. I’m done. Forty-five minutes later, I tell the race coordinator I need to rest in my Pathfinder till sunrise. I spend the next six hours shivering with only a piece-of-crap emergency blanket and the clothes I’m wearing. I get up pissed at the world. My contacts are frozen in their case, sunscreen frozen, Pepto bottle frozen. The only thing good about the morning is the super-sweet volunteer who sees me crawl out of my vehicle. She loads my water bottles for me, brings me over warm cheese quesadilla, and picks up clothes that I am dropping. In general, she gets me up and back on the trail. I did not catch her name and wanted to thank her again at the end but didn’t. She was the bomb.
So, the last five-ish hours of tacking on slow miles, I come to realize I will no longer do fifty miles in one race. Maybe if I had poles from the get-go, I might have avoided injury, but that’s not racing. I trained hard, stayed healthy, did everything else right for this one. No excuses. I just don’t think my left knee likes this anymore. I could have just stuck to the 15-hour race and had a great “challenge,” and I would have finished it fine. But I would not have received a final answer: that less-than-quiet voice telling me I have something left to prove.
Russ: “I can’t do 50-mile races anymore.”
Regis Philbin: “Final answer?”
Russ: “Final answer.”
A big thanks needs to go to my trail-running friends Rob and Linda. They arrived just toward the end and walked a few miles with me and listened to my tales of woe. They then drove my carcass back home as I slumped in the passenger seat. These two rock! Another big thanks goes to my wife and kids, who put up with this nonsense. Thanks for not disowning me.
This “Sherpa John” dude has created a perfect race. He totally has it dialed in to what I believe is a great event. Many thanks to him and his crew for such an outstanding gig. Bravo to you all. I will be back for this one, if only for the 15-hour version. Here’s to hoping it snows for it!
Links to the other finisher’s that were just killin’ it (really fun watching other folks stomp this course)…then my Garmin link (ugh).