Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning…
That’s just about as good as it gets.
Particularly when feeling light and fast and free, which I was at mile 13 or so. After months of solid, consistent training followed by a couple of weeks of tapering down to race day, it’s easy to feel invincible in the early miles. It’s too early to hurt. Food still tastes amazing. Drink is refreshing. It’s awesome.
There were several of us working down the Fish Creek Falls trail together and the day had become spectacular, in contrast to its dawning.
As we (Mom, Doug, Melanie and I) stepped out of the condo (thanks Scully Family!!!) to head to the start, it was damp and drizzling and quite cool. But, the glowering clouds hanging loose on the mountain lent an air of drama to the initial climb up straight up the face of the resort. And by “straight up” I mean, “march up a black diamond ski run.” The fist couple of miles of the race zip straight up the mountain underneath the gondola. And as we chug, chug, chugged our way uphill, soon there were clouds below, above and all around us, not so much as to obscure the view, but enhance it with wonder and mystery.
But truth be told, there wasn’t much zipping (yet) for me. I don’t know much, but I do know that kind of climb (4000’ in 4 or 5 miles) that early can crush the foolhardy runner who goes out too hard and too fast. As we racers made our way into the starting chute, and as I made my way to the back of the pack, I joked with the other runners that the plan was to go out easy and then slow down.
It’s good for a laugh, but it’s not bad advice for a 100-mile mountain footrace. No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be a long day.
Mom, Doug and Melanie hopped onto the Gondola to meet me part of the way up the hill, and even though it had only been 45 minutes or so, it’s always great to see loved ones. Hugs and kisses and well wishes, along with some fresh fluids (because why carry any more weight than necessary up that initial climb?) and I was off into the backcountry for quite a long stretch (20+ miles) before seeing them again.
At the top of the resort, we left the gravel/ packed dirt access roads for the Mountain View trail (FS 1032) which was turning into a loose, pudding-like slop as the previous night’s snow melted away. Thankfully, the mud wasn’t super deep, but it was just thick enough to make footing feel unsteady. In hindsight, this probably caused me to keep the throttle back a bit for those 8 or so miles, which again isn’t a bad thing early in a 100.
Even with the caution, I did completely bite it once through here… I’d taken my gloves off, as it was warming well, but going into the trees through this section I was still a little cold, so I’d put them back on. And then FWAP! I went down, catching myself with my hands and soaking the thin gloves with the goo and rendering them ineffective. Whoops. But, it was a minimal incident and I felt great coming into Long Lake Aid Station (12-ish miles?) for the first time.
The way the RRR100 course is laid out, runners hit Long Lake 3 times… mile 12-ish, 52-ish and 90-ish. And since it’s remote, and there’s no crew access, runners are allowed to have “drop bags.” Drop bags are basically a bag of your own choosing that you fill with whatever you might want to access at mile 12-ish, 52-ish or 90-ish: food, drink, clothing, supplies, anything that’ll fit in an appropriately sized bag that you drop off for them before the race for them to haul up there for you. It’s a little slice of home. So, I grabbed some fresh fuel (thanks Tailwind Nutrition for being a crucial part of my race!), a couple bites of PB&J, some watermelon and I was out again, headed to the Fish Creek Falls trail (FS 1102) for the descent back down to town.
And so, I found myself with those other runners cranking our way down to the falls. The day was warming and glorious, the mud had solidified and we were moving. Along with the pure GLORY of the day, my main memory of this stretch was running behind an older guy, clearly a veteran of the ultra scene, who bounded down the rocks and hills like a cross between Gollum and Radagast the Brown using a unique and bizarre looking system of one-trekking pole, one free arm and two gyrating legs. It was something to behold and kept me entertained for a few miles.
Another thing I think about when I think of these early miles are the people I met… There was Randle, my pacer Luke’s friend, who I ‘d met the previous year at mile 75 at Leadville. I ran a bit early on with Fred Abramowitz, one of the race directors who was giving his own race a go. I met Mandy, a ski patroller from Utah, who was just cruising and doing so great. And I met Lynn, who told me she’d finished DFL (Dead F—ing Last) at the inaugural Never Summer 100k race earlier in the summer, and I knew then she had the grit and guts to finish this race, and you can read her amazing story (or stories) here.
That’s what’s amazing about these races… the people. The people you meet, and the people who support you and help you and believe you and believe INTO you. I love it so much; or rather I love THEM so much.
And so, I dropped down past the falls and saw two more of those people, Mom and Doug who were checking out the area like tourists for the morning and who shouted and cheered. And then up and into the parking lot where my old pal Anne was waiting to join me for the stretch down through town to Olympian Hall, where Melanie was waiting for me at mile 21-ish.
And so, I amend my earlier statement…
Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning… with the care and support of so many lovely people.
THAT is just about as good as it gets.
These people. I couldn’t do it without them.
For a couple of “pro” pics, check these out!
https://paulnelson.smugmug.com/2015-Run-Rabbit-Run-100/i-B53c56H/A (with the aforementioned Mandy)