"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense."
- David Blaikie

Sunday, June 21, 2009

San Juan Solstice

I got a serious wake up call during my first adventure into the San Juan Mountains yesterday - The San Juan Solstice 50 Miler. This is one of the most scenic, challenging, and best directed races I've ever participated in. Five stars. I'm happy to have completed just 40 miles of it this year as part of my Hardrock 100 training and hope to be back some day to race it.

The day started out well, running with fellow Trailhead David "Balto" Dirito who just completed his first 100 Miler last month at Massanutten.

Then around mile 23 after being joined by another Trailhead, Adam "Dorph" Byerly, it started to snow as we passed through 12,000'.

A couple miles later around 13,000' it became dangerous. Here's some video I captured when the snow slowed for a few minutes...

We were exposed out on a 9 mile section of the Continental Divide with sideways snow that was coming down so hard sometimes it was difficult to see. Footprints from the runners ahead of us disappeared in the snow along with the trail itself. At times we had to navigate marker to marker being watchful of the sheer cliffs. Dorph and I were waaaay under dressed for the conditions and hypothermia and frost nip began to take hold. Unlike many portions of the course, there was no vehicle access here. Stopping for even a minute or two was followed by a scary drop in core temperature.

Godfather of Trailheads ultrarunning, Geoff "Ringo" Scott, wisely turned back on this section when, running alone, snow conditions got so bad he couldn't see. In hindsight, this would have been a smart choice for our party as well, but we crept on at a snails pace.

When we reached the aid station at mile 31 Dorph and I darted into a heated Yurt to warm up. Shaking uncontrollably at this point I had no intention on going any further. There were about 9 other like minded runners there huddled around a wood stove. Warm in his full body length garbage bag (drum liner), Balto quickly checked on us in the Yurt and then headed back out, eventually finishing in 13:39.

After about 1.5 hrs in the Yurt the snow stopped and I felt good enough to continue. Dorph was not so sure that was a good idea, so I headed out alone, picking up a garbage bag and borrowing gloves. The next 9 mile section was great and I made it into mile 40 well under the cut off time, but mentally I was done. Legs felt great, but I had seen enough for one day and need to keep focused on Hardrock. Better to be fresh and hungry for a deep challenge there.

I later learned that Dorph reconsidered dropping at mile 31 and set out behind me only 10 or 15 minutes after I left! He eventually finished up in 15:21!

Huge congratulations to Dorph for gutting it out and finishing. This was one of the most impressive rallies I've ever seen. And congrats to Balto on a strong showing so soon after his first 100M at Massanutten last month! And to Ringo for making a very difficult, but wise decision to "Do Nothing Fatal"!

Thanks to all the race organizers and volunteers!


flame said...

I choked up at that finish line video! The conditions were beyond anything I would've imagined (maybe you, too?). Will make careful note for future planning!

I think you're ready for Hardrock!

Dave said...

hey-it's ray. not dave/balto :) thanks for capturing the epic day so well! i hate to have missed it but this blog entry helps weez! wish i could have been there to rock out on support crew!

Dave said...

PS-i cannot stop laughing at dave in that trash bag. he looks like a tellie tubbie! what a lifesaver (thank you ringo!) but hysterical regardless!

Jason Halladay said...

Great effort Joe and thanks for posting the videos...I've been sharing them with friends and family to show what it was like up there on the divide. Pretty wild. I understand you may have met a friend of mine that recently joined the Trailheads...Lucky Stripe.
Good luck at Hardrock!