Sunday, August 8, 2021

Ouray 100 "Why Bother Going Anywhere Else"

This is an unusual race report to write. It’s unusual for a number of reasons. For one, this race report really is for myself, to relive the experience and  to put all my thoughts and reflections to paper so I have them available to review before next year. For two, because I did not finish the race and I am almost entirely satisfied with the experience irrespective of that DNF.

The Race Ends 

So, let’s begin with where it ended, somewhere climbing up steep, steep Hayden trail to Hayden pass. A fleeting moment when I was utterly convinced that I had bitten off way more than I could chew, that I had taken something on well beyond my capability. I told Eddy that I knew I couldn’t turn around and get back down that steep climb. I had been unable to lift my feet well and had been tripping on stuff for a couple hours. But I also didn’t have the aerobic capacity to continue climbing. I had been reduced to climbing 10 to 20 yards, then needing to stop for several seconds to minutes to catch my breath before moving on. The altitude had gotten to me hours and hours ago, and my breathing was now nearly completely ineffective (though my blood oxygen remained very high when last checked back in Ironton.) At this pace, it would take hours to finish the 1,200 feet of climbing in the next mile, much less get back down the other side of Hayden pass. I was stuck. I had no options and began to freak out about what to do.

Except, I did have one option. The option I had given myself for just such a situation. The option that also meant my race would be over, but would get me out of a real jam. I had a Diamox pill in my race vest, a medication to combat altitude illness. I really thought I’d never need this, that I was fit enough to power through whatever challenges altitude presented. I was wrong. I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to continue the hard work of climbing. Eddy and I found a spot to sort of sit down in the shade on a very exposed bit of trail. I would take the Diamox, then we’d wait 20-30 minutes and then get back to fighting over Hayden Pass and hope the downhill trail on the other side wasn’t as technical and steep as it had been on the way up this side. My race was over, but I still had 4 miles of challenging mountain work to get done for it to actually end.

And I was absolutely and totally satisfied, proud, elated even of the work I had done. I had zero regrets about pulling the plug on this race. It had been beautiful beyond any imagining, had put me in places I barely dreamed to reach, had been just as challenging as every race report and conversation suggested it would be. I had executed my race plan exactly as I had hoped. My crew had been incredible and gone well beyond any expectations I had of them. Even in this moment when the decision was made to end my race, I was following my plan exactly. I had zero regrets and the deepest satisfaction in my participation.

Well, I had one regret. One of my crew/pacers, Eddy, had gotten to pace 12 miles with me. It was a wonderful time together. We got to experience sunrise popping up over the mountains as we peered down from Alpine Mine Overlook on the Weehaken trail into Ouray. Eddy had been so patient with me as we moved at a snail’s pace up Hayden Trail. But I hadn’t made it far enough for my second pacer, Tom, to get to experience any of this surreal, incredible trail. Tom had done so much work and helped in so many ways throughout the weekend, and wouldn’t have the opportunity to get out into the mountains. This was, and will remain, my one regret.

Beyond this, the race was an absolute success. Yes, a finish would have put me over the moon. Getting to see the final 35 miles of the course is something I desperately wanted to do. But I am absolutely satisfied and elated. It feels not at all like failure.

I had also known from very early in the race that I’d be coming back should I not finish. Heck, I likely would come back even if I did finish. This is a race like no other. Everything is bigger, harder, taller, steeper, higher, prettier, than almost any other race. Why bother going elsewhere? Why bother training for something less? 

The Diamox settled in, and I was able to climb just a bit better. Instead of stopping every 10-20 yards, I was able to climb for 5-10 minutes at a time with just short 30 second breaks to catch my breath. We reach what we thought was Hayden’s Pass several times, only to be duped by false summits. But we eventually arrived at the pass and began heading down to Crystal Lake. The trail was very steep, but not technical. We weren’t moving fast, but were moving consistently without breaks. As we descended, thunderclaps began overhead. This would be the fourth or fifth thunderstorm I would endure during the 65 miles I remained in the race. Fortunately, just as the first of the booms began, we were heading off the exposed pass and into tree cover. This had not been the case on some other occasions, though I had gotten pretty lucky throughout the race with lightning storm timing.

We finally reached Crystal Lake aid station at mile 65 where Tom was waiting, having set up a tent and sleeping bag. When I had been feeling a bit better, my thought had been to take a short nap here before making my way back across Hayden. That would no longer be necessary. But Tom was ready, just as he had been every time we met on the course. 

I sat down in the aid station and shared with the station captain that I’d likely be dropping. I was going to sit for a few minutes before making it official, but the decision had been made when taking the Diamox (a banned substance in competition, for one.) It thundered, it poured, the race ended exactly as it should. I felt really good, and the aid crew tried to compel me to continue on, sharing that I looked far stronger and more lucid than many of the people that had sat in the chair where I was sitting who had continued on. But my entire race plan had been “make smart decisions” and continuing on after needing medication and without an ability to breathe properly was not the smart decision.  

And the aid station people were right. Except the lungs and inability to breathe, I felt really good. Legs weren’t very sore. Energy level was high. I wasn’t particularly tired yet. But I couldn’t breathe (turns out I had a partially collapsed lung.) And my race ended at Crystal Lake.

Back To The Beginning

I had signed up for Ouray in the depths of the COVID pandemic. Ouray 100 had found its way on my radar a couple years earlier, and I had planned two spend about five years working up to taking on this race. But during COVID lock-downs, I made the decision not to wait any extra and to register as soon as possible. I wasn’t going to worry about being perfectly prepared or perfectly trained anymore. I was going chase that which scared me. Ouray 100 scared me something fierce. And register I did, on the first day registration was opened.

But enough of the preamble. The race really began as Eddy and I drove out of Ridgway and approached Ouray through a valley that became deeper and deeper. In Montrose, the hulking and steep mountains could be seen, more shadow than defined rocks yet. But absolutely visible and so much larger than anything I anticipated. These mountains were seriously high and, unusually, Ouray was not all that high sitting at an elevation of about 7,700 feet. 

Eddy and I couldn’t stop pointing out how beautiful the scene was as it unfolded around us. The valley became steeper and deeper as we drove closer to Ouray, when suddenly we hit the town and one of the most remarkable scenes I can remember in my life. An idyllic little town with zero modernity in this deep, deep valley. On every side sat walls of mountains that appeared to head straight up. And these walls began right at the town’s edge, no separation at all. It was beyond any beauty I had imagined. Ouray blew my mind. In every direction we turned, there was more beauty. Already the race was a success and I hadn’t even checked in yet. This was why I continued to participate in ultramarathons. To see incredible places, to go on incredible journeys, and ideally to share those adventures with others. Little did I know the town of Ouray would only be a small appetizer of the beauty yet to come.

Race Morning

Race morning arrived quickly. My full crew, Eddy and Tom, had assembled the evening before and we had gone through what planning I wanted to go through. I reminded them that my goals were simple. Finishing was not the goal, because I had no idea what to expect. Instead, my goals were to make smart decisions and continue until injury or a cut off pulled me off the course. If a finish happened in the context of pursuing those goals, wonderful. If not, still wonderful.

Now it was race morning. Now it was time to do the work, make smart decisions, and see where I ended up. Now it was time to find out if six months of training in Florida with a weight vest on a treadmill could prepare me at all for this monster of a race.

The race began at 8AM, wonderfully late for an east coaster. I was able to wake up naturally, take my time preparing and eating breakfast, arrive at the race with plenty of time and really relax. But as is true at all races, hours quickly slipped away and we were starting before I realized it. 

The race started nice and easily. I started at the very back of the pack, expecting to use all 52 hours. A gentle jog out of Fellin Park, crossing a small bridge and on to a road running along the back side of town. Within a mile, however, we were climbing into the mountains. Nothing aggressive, but definitely uphill. It was time to put my power hiking practice to use. Up we went. Up some more town roads, then onto a steep trail of stairs, through a tunnel not nearly tall enough for me to stand in, across Box Canyon, and finally a sharp right turn on to Camp Bird Road.

Camp Bird Road would be our home for the next several miles. Camp Bird Road is a wide non-technical jeep road that heads deep into the San Juan mountains with a pretty uninterrupted climb. We would climb our first 2000+ feet (of a total 42,000 feet of climbing on the day) up Camp Bird Road. I had committed to not waste too much time taking photos during this race, but found myself continually stopping to look back down the valley toward Ouray. The views halted me in my tracks several times. The road was no average road. We climbed and climbed, the cliffs overhung the road at points shooting 1000+ feet into the air. We passed the Ouray Ice Park, evidently one of the world's most famous ice climbing walls, which appears to be a sheer cliff straight up beyond what the eye could make out. It was continuously stunning. And yet, another runner stopped with me at one corner looking back and said, “and it just gets better from here.” This seemed unbelievable to me. We had these steep cliffs all around us, waterfalls falling from high above, the river running to our left. Everywhere utter beauty. How could it get better?

Camp Bird Road was not tough work. I was able to find a nice hiking groove at pretty low effort and made my way up the road, surprisingly passing people all along the way. This was not expected, but my climbing felt strong and effortless. After some time, we worked through the Lower Camp Bird aid station, too early to need to spend any real time, but a nice checkpoint marked off. The aid captain checked each of our GPS trackers to make sure they were functioning, then on to the first off-road climb we went. Another mile up Camp Bird Road, then a left onto some much more serious jeep trail. This was no longer a road, but rocky and a little bit technical. We were well under treeline for most of this climb. Still nothing to worry about, though the climbing did get steeper. Up and up we went. The climbing was relentless, though my fitness seemed well prepared for it. 

Ouray 100 is made up of a series of out-and-backs and loops hitting different little peaks and areas of interest in the mountains surrounding Ouray. This first climb would bring us up to an alpine lake at Silver Basin. Just as I felt I must be approaching the top of this first out-and-back climb, the leaders of the race began to shoot back down the trail. First, sporadically, then pretty regularly, runners came down the mountain until I reached a point where things leveled off and I could see runners hole punching their bibs to indicate they had reached the top of this climb. After I punched my bib at the top of this climb at about 11,500 feet, I did stop to take a photo or two. I couldn’t go home completely empty handed. Then it was time to turn around and head back downhill.

And a theme emerged, that would be the theme for the next 28 hours. I had passed a lot of runners on the way up out of Ouray. Many of them began to pass me back on the way back down. I get little downhill practice and simply am not proficient at doing it. I had done some specific training to prepare the legs, and especially quads, for the damage downhill running does. This training seemed to work, as my quads never felt miserable, but I still moved slowly and carefully downhill. Nobody seemed to run the downhills with the reckless abandon I’d seen at other races, though. Ouray 100 is long, very long, with huge downhills and 42,000 feet of descent. Everyone seemed to be rather controlled and measured on the downhills. But everyone was way, way faster than me.

The first climb was done. All had gone extremely well. I felt confident in my training. And I was completely in love with the area. It was as beautiful as anything I can remember in my life. As beautiful as I remember Grindelwald and Kleine Scheidegg in Switzerland. As beautiful as my idyllic hometown of Heidelberg. It was just remarkable.

On To Fort Peabody

The race would next head meaningfully above tree line with a climb to 12,000 feet to the Chicago Tunnel, then to the highpoint of the race at 13,300 feet and the summit of Fort Peabody. We descended back through Lower Camp Bird aid station. This time a pause and full refill of bottles was in order. Then the climbing began in earnest. Up some more jeep road, which became increasingly less smooth as we climbed higher and higher. Still, nothing that required much attention, but a definite change. Up to Richmond aid station only 2 miles later, but which we would visit several times during the race, then the climb began in earnest to Chicago Tunnel. We were now above treeline, the climbing got steep, and onto single track. The theme remained the same. I was among the strongest climbers among my cohort in the pack and reached Chicago Tunnel feeling really strong. Chicago Tunnel offered the first true high altitude view of the mountains above treeline and it was absolutely breathtaking. I could also see the jeep trail which would take us up to Fort Peabody and even make out a line of runners working up the road, though I didn’t see anyone on the summit just yet. It looked like a very long way to go! Another hole punch, another photo, then back to doing the work. No change, as I began to get passed on the way downhill by all the people I had passed on the way up.

But this downhill was short, 1000 feet or so, then turned back up onto the climb to Fort Peabody. We shared this road with a lot of ATVs making their way up to Peabody, as well. Mostly this was uneventful, but I did pull to the side from time to time to allow some to pass. Though, truth be told, the vehicles were not moving all that much faster than us runners. The uneven ground made for very slow and careful driving.

Up and up we went. And it began to get much, much colder. My climbing remained strong and I was really pleased with how my training had prepared me for the uphills. All those boring hours on the treadmill had worked! As the altitude increased, I did begin to struggle. The final couple hundred feet of climbing to Fort Peabody left the jeep trail and ran straight up a talus field to the summit. I moved slowly and had to stop to catch my breath a couple times. No surprise here, as another runner had shared that I’d “feel like crap” climbing up to the summit. I was feeling like crap. Reaching the summit made it all worthwhile. I was now at the high point of the course and the view was outrageous. Mammoth mountains in every direction and my first view of the Red Mountain where we’d be heading next. The Red Mountain stuck out like a sore, but beautiful, thumb. Evidently made of dark red iron ore rock, the peaks are completely exposed and bright dark red, entirely different than all the other mountains surrounding it. A couple more photos, but quickly as some raindrops began to fall. Then the descent began.

My timing had been impeccable. Not five minutes off the summit and rain began to fall in earnest. Then hail. And, finally, a few minutes later, the first loud crack of thunder and lightning visible in the sky. I threw my Rab Tracer Gore Tex rain jacket (a jacket that had caused me so much mental anguish to purchase because of the cost) and I continued on down the mountain and back to Richmond aid station. On and on it rained as I worked downhill. The jeep trail was now more a jeep creek as the precipitation ran down the road in deep sheets. Keeping feet dry was impossible. But the jacket worked marvelously and I felt comfortable the entire way down. And I felt so fortunate to have gotten off the summit before the lightning storm arrived. In no time, I found myself back at Richmond aid station...and the rain was letting up!

Across The Pass To Ironton

Leaving Richmond aid station, we would be heading onto the first longer unaided section. Up Richmond trail, across the high Richmond Pass at 12,600 feet, then down a steep section of singletrack into Ironton aid station where I would meet my crew for the first time. The trail would become much more technical at this point. Up to Richmond Pass included a mix of single track and a ton of scree covered trail with sharp, angular rocks to cross. The climb was made up of very long switchbacks, and it required putting the head down and doing the work. Up and up we went (a small group of runners had formed as we spent miles and hours yo-yo’ing back and forth), finally reaching a large alpine meadow high above tree line.  

The Red Mountains stretched out ahead of us and it was beauty beyond believing. Thunder had been rumbling the entire climb, though it never sounded very close and I encountered no rain on the climb. Over the pass I went, then down into the tree protected single track. Just as I arrived at treeline, the storm opened up. Thunder and lightning, but no rain...yet. Down I climbed, gingerly and slowly as ever. But I knew my crew was ahead, so the progress was steady. This trail was STEEP! And I knew I’d be turning around in several hours to climb back up it and over Richmond Pass making my way to the second half of the course. It was a daunting thought, the kind of thought best left unthought in an ultra.

The singletrack seemed to never end, and then the rain began. Torrential downpour. The tree cover was thick enough to offer me some protection, but not much. Thank goodness I had spent money on a good jacket! Finally, I reached the bottom of the trail and Million Dollar Highway. I knew this would be the flattest section of the course, not quite a mile into Ironton aid station and to my crew. I had suggested they should not expect me for at least 9 hours, and I was going to arrive in just a touch over 9 hours. I couldn’t believe how exact my estimate had been.

Ironton Aid Station

Tom and Eddy were waiting for me, ready for me, and were one awesome crew. It was still pouring when I arrived, so I decided to take my time and sit down to dry out a bit and see if the rain might slow while getting into some new clothes and getting in some calories. My feet were also feeling quite good despite all the rain and water crossings, but I did have some hot spots I wanted to deal with. I cannot thank Tom and Eddy enough. They went beyond anything I expected of them and were the best crew a runner could hope for. No matter my silly request, they handled it.

I would pass through the Ironton aid station three times. This first time upon arrival to the Red Mountains, then again after a counterclockwise loop around the Red Mountains, and finally again after a clockwise loop of Red Mountains. The aid station was a serious affair. A menu hung at the back of the aid station with all kinds of foods available. Chicken nuggets did the trick for me on this visit. I ate a load of chicken nuggets and a few mashed potatoes. Tom and Eddy got my pack refilled in preparation for my first go around the Red Mountains. A full sock change (something I never do in a race) was in order here though we were only 27 miles into the race. Finally, I was up and off again. It was still drizzling, but nothing like 20 minutes earlier.

Red Mountain Counterclockwise and Clockwise

The first time around Red Mountain was all in the daylight. Much of the loop was below treeline and protected, though there were long exposed sections, and the continuing thunder and lightning were more than a bit disconcerting. After a mile or so, I connected with another runner and we spent the climb up to the Red Mountain pass together. She and I had been going back and forth since Chicago Tunnel and, finally, our paces matched for a while. It was so pleasant to have someone to speak with for a couple hours. Her climbing was just a bit slower than what I had been doing on my own, and it was really reassuring to back off the pace just a touch and feel good. 

The climb was up wide, clay trail. The trail was covered in running water and crossed a very muddy section, which I would only later learn was an active and very dangerous mudslide! But it was time to do the work, so we picked our way through this mudslide trying to keep out of the deepest of the muck, though I still managed to step in a 12 inch deep bit of slop. We crossed the high pass on Red Mountain at about 12,200 feet and a second pass at 11,700 feet with some spectacular views including noticing that the high peaks had gotten fresh snow in the storm. Then we descended below treeline again and onto some single track. As we headed onto this single track, I had a short coughing fit, though it disappeared in seconds. My fellow runner left me at this point as I was simply too slow on the downhills. Down I worked, alone again, and eventually back into Ironton aid station.

Again, Tom and Eddy did their thing, taking the thinking off my plate and giving me the space to rest and eat. It was also time to get ready for darkness. Only 35 or so miles in, yet the first night was arriving. This was going to be a long and slow race! A quick change into some dry clothes, a headlamp check (the headlamp didn’t work and needed a battery change!), and I was back onto the loop in the reverse direction.

This time it was the steeper singletrack up and would be the broad gentler section for the descent. Again, I connected with another runner as we climbed up the singletrack. Again, a welcome distraction from the work. After a couple miles together, I stopped to eat some food and to put on a headband and the runner continued ahead on his own. Alone again, climbing again. It was now totally dark as I left treeline and continued the climb up to the two Red Mountain passes. A deer darted passed me in the dark, my headlamp just catching a glimpse of it. This would be the only wildlife I’d see the entire race, other than a brief glimpse of a marmot earlier near Chicago Tunnel. Once again, as I climbed, I passed runner after runner. Right at the high pass, I caught up with the runner I had spent time with in the first loop, just in time to say “Hi” and for her to run away from me on the downhill again. Theme of the race for me. 

At the high pass, I had a second coughing fit, this one a bit longer. This time it caught my attention. This time I wondered what that coughing was all about. Then it was back into working the long 3.5 miles downhill and back into Ironton. The miles passed slowly, the time passed quickly. But my progress was nice and steady. I came back into Ironton barely slower than the first loop, though had done the second loop in the dark. I was still feeling great, energy was high, I was in great spirits, and I was absolutely in love with this race.

In the aid station, it was time for a longer rest before heading out on the long trek back across Richmond Pass and all the way down to Weehawken trail. I changed socks and shoes, ate plenty, and tried to prepare myself for the steep climbing waiting for me. I also mentioned to Tom on the way in about the coughing and that it had me a little concerned, though I really didn’t want my race ending here. Tom made the smart call and spoke with the medic at the aid station. The medic tested my blood oxygen level, 97%, asked a few questions and didn’t seem concerned based on the small bit of information shared. I may have been a little less than 100% forthcoming in my answers, though I’m not sure of that, either. I felt better about things and was feeling totally fine now that I had gotten off the high altitude.

Now it was time to work through the night, climb steep and high, and meet Eddy in 12 miles at Weehawken aid station where he would begin pacing with me. It was also Tom and Eddy’s chance to get some rest, as I wouldn’t arrive to Weehawken for many hours.

Ironton To Weehawken

The hike through the night was slow and monotonous. Climbing out of Ironton and up to Richmond pass was a terribly slow affair. It was steep and I was having to stop often to catch my breath as I climbed. I had just been feeling great at Ironton aid station, yet found myself having to stop at every course marking to regroup. The 20 and 30 minute miles of the past 43 were now becoming 45 minute miles. Slowly, I climbed to Richmond Pass. It felt like hours of fits and starts before I was finally back at 12,600 feet crossing the pass. My breathing had been ragged the entire way up. My lungs burned. I hadn’t seen another runner in front of me nor a runner behind me. Not even a headlamp in the distance (though I could see headlamps way back on Red Mountain.) I was in a broad pocket of loneliness. Finally, up and over the pass, yet the pace did not speed up much. I was now heading back down the same challenging talus slope that I had come up in the daylight. This was much more treacherous in the dark and I moved slowly and carefully. Fortunately, going downhill, I didn’t have to take any breaks and could keep moving. But it was still very slow forward progress. 

And yet, overall I felt good. My energy was high. I was alert. I wasn’t suffering from lack of sleep. My legs weren’t terribly sore or tired and felt really strong. I was just having tremendous challenges catching my breath. On and on I hiked, completely alone in the dark night. The storms were gone. The moon accompanied me. But little else. No wildlife. No runners. Just me and the moon for hours.

Eventually, I found my way back into Richmond aid station. I drank some broth for a bit of warmth, though I wasn't struggling with temperature much at all. The warm, salty broth just sat nicely. I spoke with the race director and the aid station captain for a few minutes, then got back on my way. It would be another four miles to Weehawken, though now I was off the trails and back on Camp Bird Road. Getting to Eddy would be a nice, non-technical hike, though I did have one more obstacle to cross. A creek crossing from earlier in the race just outside Richmond aid station was now a roaring river after all the rain. There were some logs placed to cross the river, but the water was overtopping these logs and moving fast. I gingerly worked my way over the logs without any close calls, but the anxiety was high. The water was moving fast. Now it was just a four mile hike to the next aid station, with nothing eventful happening at all. I was able to open up my hike a bit, pick up the pace, and relax for an hour or so.


After an uneventful hike from Richmond aid station to Weehawken, I met up with Eddy and had a good sit. Sunrise was now approaching. I was 54 miles into the race, and still feeling in really, really high spirits. But the breathing challenges had continued. I shared this with Eddy and let him know I was now quite concerned about what was going on. Fortunately, the Weehawken trail climb was neither terribly technical nor did it reach very high altitude. I knew it would be slow going with lots of rest needed to catch my breath, but the concern was not high for this section of the course. This would be 2.5 miles and 2,000 feet up, then 2.5 miles and 2,000 feet down. 

Eddy and I headed out. The progress up was slow. Within a few minutes of starting, we were able to turn the headlamps off as the sunlight began to filter into the forest. Daylight did seem to give me a small burst of energy and the pace picked up slightly, though it had to have been agonizingly slow for Eddy. We climbed and climbed, back and forth on tight switchbacks. Never extremely steep, but never very easy, either. I needed lots of rest to catch my breath, but was able to continue on. In a moment of pure honesty, I shared with Eddy that I had not only been coughing and struggling to catch my breath, but also wheezing a bit.

Runners who had been far ahead now began to trickle back down the trail and pass us. I was surprised that I was still as close to them as I was, considering how slowly I had been moving. Evidently, the pace had slowed down considerably for everyone. 

The trail was beautiful. And, as we rose, we’d get peeks through the trees to the valley below. These were Eddy’s first views from up high. They were glorious again. And now the sun began to rise above the mountain tops across the valley. Once again, I was in love with the course, no matter how bad my breathing was. Once again, I was certain I’d be back here next year no matter how this race unfolded today. Because “why bother going anywhere else?”

Eventually, Eddy and I reached the Alpine Mine overlook at the top of Weehawken Trail. Far down below, under the sunrise, sat Ouray. A small, wonderful town buried deep in these mountain valleys. It was spectacular. All the suffering so far had been worth this moment. I was so happy to be there with Eddy, to be there at all. I wanted to continue on and see the rest of this course.

Eddy had some cell phone service up at this spot. I asked him to let Tom know I’d want to sleep when we arrived to Crystal Lake before continuing on. Then we began working back down the Weehawken trail. And the theme emerged again. Runners began to catch up to me on the way down. But now I wasn’t just taking my time downhill, I was moving very slowly and began tripping a lot. Now, even on the downhill, I had to fight a little to breathe. Not much, but for the first time.

Eddy and I discussed the situation. I shared that I was very concerned about going back to 12,000 feet on the next section as we crossed Hayden Pass. After some conversation, it was decided I would give it a go. I had the Diamox in my pack in the event of a real crisis, and I was not going to pull myself off the course. Make smart decisions, continue on until injury or cut off pulled me off the course. At this point, I was still moving well enough to stay ahead of cut-offs and not apparently injured.

We reached the Weehawken aid station and took some time to prepare for the biggest climb of the day so far, the climb to Hayden pass. 3,600 feet up in about 3 miles. This was where the technical work would begin. Steep, at times exposed, and footing that becomes more challenging than anything prior.

I wasn’t feeling too short-breathed out of Weehawken and as we got started on Hayden trail. This didn’t last long. My breathing became ragged quickly. We also ascended higher and higher quickly. This trail was steep! A mile and a half of very slow progress and I reached my moment of crisis. I felt I was barely moving up, but also was certain I couldn’t go back down the trail we had just traveled.

And that is where this story began, where things ended, on Hayden trail taking a Diamox knowing my race was over.

Lessons for 2022

The story of my race was over, but there are some important notes to be made for myself to reread as I plan to return to Ouray 100 in 2022.

  • Who knew there could be such pride and joy in a DNF? I sure didn’t. But here I am, nearly 100% satisfied with the experience. Yes, a finish would have been great. But it just wasn’t necessary to make this the most rewarding race experience of my life. And now I get to go back next year for another crack at it and to experience it all again!

  • Respect the altitude. I thought I would suffer and hurt, but that I could just fight through that. Turns out this is not the case. My doctor believes I have a very mild pneumothorax (collapsed lung) from the high exertion at pressures on the lungs far lower than what my lungs are accustomed to. (We are waiting on x-ray results to confirm this.) Basically, my exertion blew out some alveoli and caused my breathing issue. Next time, I will do what’s needed to get to high altitude in advance and acclimatize. My fitness was there. I never suffered from leg weakness or soreness or anything else debilitating that should have stopped me. My race ending was entirely a function of the altitude.

  • Don’t change my training much at all. I was fit and ready. I was a strong climber and had done what needed to be done to finish this race. I will do the exact same work, though for a longer period of time. I feel confident in this training and that it prepared me well.

  • Improving my downhilling even a little bit will pay huge dividends. I don’t need to be fast downhill at all. I just need to be confident and able to move lightly across the ground as others did. A tiny improvement is going to buy me loads of time to get this race done. As well as I climb, I just need to be okay going downhill.

  • Use the exact same race plan. Make smart decisions, don’t quit until injury or cut-offs pull me off the course. This was the perfect plan. Knowing the course now, I can add a bit more nuance to that, but not much more is needed.

  • The biggest lesson of all, this town and this race are absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to go back and give it another shot. I’ll just keep going until I finish, and maybe after that. I can’t wait to bring my family here, and hopefully some more crew to experience it. This was, simply put, magical.