Saturday, July 30, 2022

Ouray 100 - It's Done, It's Done, It's DONE!

The Red Mountains Over Crystal Lake
The decision was made while approaching the Richmond aid station for the third time during the 2021 Ouray 100. The decision was a simple one: no matter what happened on this day, I'd be returning to Ouray 100 in 2022. As I sat down in the aid station sometime during the first night of that race, I expressed this sentiment to one of the race directors who happened to be working in that aid station at the time. I knew my attempt at to finish the Ouray 100 was starting to fail. I hoped it might not. But my breathing was becoming more and more ragged and the ability to move forward was getting heavier and heavier. I shared with the RD, "wow, this course is incredibly beautiful and finish or not, I'll definitely be back next year." I did not finish on that day, failing and dropping at mile 65 (at Crystal Lake), but the die had already been cast. I'd be back in 2022. I'd get back on this course, experience the final climbs I missed, and finish this monster of a race. And for the next 11 months, every bit of training and running I did was focused on being back in Ouray and slaying this dragon one way or another.

The Caveat: Was Is That Hard? Or Did I Make It That Hard?

You're about to hear a story about how terribly difficult my day, and night, and day, and night, and part of a day at Ouray 100 was. And it was terribly difficult. But what I can't discern in my recollection of the events of the race is whether it was so terribly difficult because that's just how hard this race is, or because I made some race day misjudgments that led me into some really dark moments? Or, and very likely, a lot of both options. I don't know. I will tell this story as I know it to have happened. I will leave you to make the decision about whether the difficulties I encountered were my own fault or simply what this race offers. I can say, I did sign up in 2021 largely because the degree of difficulty is extremely high. That, and the beauty that was clear in the photos.

Ouray 100's Stats

Ouray 100 isn't your average 100 mile ultramarathon. The official stats make that quickly clear. The statistics from the race website:

  • 102.1 miles
  • 41,862 feet of vertical gain, 83,742 feet of total vertical change
  • Maximum altitude of 13,365 feet
These alone are extremely daunting numbers. But they don't begin to tell the real story of the race, much of the story that I didn't fully understand after my first attempt at the race in 2021. What's not shared is that, in addition to the total vertical gain and athe 13,000+ high point, the race crosses 12,000 feet of altitude on 9 separate occasion. There is a lot of time spent at very high altitude.

And if that weren't enough, the real kicker is that the course is totally backloaded. When I dropped at Crystal Lake aid station last year at about mile 65, I had gained about 22,000 feet vertical. That means the final third of the race, the final 60 kilometers, had just as much vertical gain packed into it as did the first 100 kilometers. Most races I've participated in were designed to get a bit easier as the race went on, with the toughest work loaded into the front while still fresh. But not here. Here the biggest, hardest work would come after that magic 100 kilometer point where a race traditionally begins to fall apart anyway.

And if that backloading of vertical gain and loss weren't enough to make things extremely challenging, Ouray 100 offers two extra twists. First, while the first 100 kilometers include the highest altitude work, the technicality of the course to that point is relatively low compared to the final third. The technicality and the exposure (e.g. sheer cliffs, poor footing, and drop-offs along the trail) pick up dramatically in the final third of the race. So the climbing gets steeper and tougher, and on much more challenging, even dangerous, terrain. And then there's one final twist, the twist that I knew about and that had been shared with my when I had the good fortune to sit next to an elite ultramarathoner who lives in the San Juans at the Western States award ceremony last year, and discussed Ouray 100 for several minutes. The final twist, she shared, was that the single biggest and longest climb of the entire race (4,500 feet up feet over 5 miles, then back down) occur at the very end of the race. Races do little things to make a finish challenging, such as the staircase climb at the end of the Georgia Death Race. Yet this finishing twist is a whole different ball of wax. I understood this going into the race. But understanding it intellectually and experiencing it in real life are two wildly different things. I'm getting ahead of things here.

Bottom line, Ouray 100 is an extremely challenging course that only ramps up the difficulty throughout the race. There's no coasting. Flat sections are measured in 10 foot increments, while climbs and descents are measured in miles. Actually, I didn't use mileage during the race at all. I kept my watch showing current altitude and total climb and descent. All I cared about what how much farther a climb or descent had to go. And I memorized the course by climbs, not by distances.

Fundamentals Of Training in Florida

I don't want to spend too much time talking about training for the 2022 Ouray 100 run. But because I do live in Florida, and did almost all of my training in Florida, I had to overcome some unique challenges just to be ready for race day. And I was asked about how I got ready on many occasions during the race. so I offer a short summery of what my training looked like here. And, not to wait too long to make this clear, the training worked and I finished the race. Maybe not in the manner I had hoped, but I absolutely finished with some time to spare. Not only that, my legs felt good for climbing the entire time. And, far more surprisingly, my legs felt okay to run downhill on non-technical sections right up to the finish line. Never, never would I have thought that possible. My big challenge at all prior mountain races was getting my quads destroyed early in the race, leaving me to hike downhill even when running would have been ideal. But my quads were ready this time, I think a testament to my training in general and one weekly workout specifically.

Enough of a preamble. Let's dive into what my training looked like. From about September 2021 through May 2022, the rough framework of my training was the following:

  • Monday: AM recovery hike or jog, PM 60 minutes easy run with strides
  • Tuesday: AM easy jog, lunchtime 30 minute 15% hike on the treadmill, PM 45 minute 15% hike on the treadmill
  • Wednesday: PM fast hiking practice for 60-90 minutes, sometimes with a weighted vest
  • Thursday: AM easy jog, lunchtime 30 minutes 15% hike on the treadmill, PM Uphill Athlete At-Home Muscular Endurance workout
  • Friday: Rest or easy 30 minute jog
  • Saturday: 90 minute 15% treadmill hike or 90 minute run if treadmill hiking on Sunday
  • Sunday: 22 mile run or 4-5 hour 15% treadmill hike, alternating
That was mostly it. The numbers varied over the weeks. The treadmill hikes got longer, or a bit faster. Occasionally, I added a weighted vest. But I pretty much followed this structure for most of the 11 months of training. I did take a couple month deviation when I paced a couple local marathons, where the training became a little flatter. But that was short lived.

I did plan three training weekends in more mountainous areas. Twice I traveled to Rapid City, SD and climbed the highest peak in the state. I also paced a friend for 56 miles at Cruel Jewel in Georgia in May. 

More than anything, I credit that Uphill Athlete At-Home Muscular Endurance workout with having my legs ready for the impact of all the downhill at Ouray. The workout is miserable, and gets progressively more challenging. Lots of eccentric loading on the legs and lots of dynamic movements. It was no fun, but my legs were ready. Not included in my training outline above, but I also added the Uphill Athlete Chamonix Fit program to my training in January. This is a program designed more towards balance, core strength, and injury prevention for mountain sports. And this program I really enjoyed. And the biggest testament to the program...I didn't experience a single fall at Ouray 100. In 2021, I took two really bad falls in my 65 miles and several smaller ones. This year, while I slipped often and was close to falling, I had the balance to catch myself every single time. That is wild success.

I did one final thing in training that was new to me, and would prove extremely valuable on race day. Since about November last year, I ran the Sunday 22 milers on no fuel and only drinking water. It was rough for a couple weeks not fueling on long runs, but got better rather quickly. This practice running unfueled would prove invaluable.

My Crew and Pacers, Me, And My Arrival

I had some wonderful people offer to help me in my quest to slay this dragon (yes, get ready to get sick of this phrase.) Tom, who was there for last year's DNF, Gio and Nikita would be crewing and pacing me. Gio would begin pacing me at Weehawken Trail around mile 54, through both climbs through Hayden Pass and down to Fellin Park in Ouray. Then Tom would pick up pacing, and take me through the most technical section of the course up to Twin Peaks and then on to the finish from there. Nikita's role was to act as crew captain, make sure the train stayed on time and on track, and really take care of everyone. And they were absolutely wonderful, going way beyond any expectations of them. Never for a moment was I left having to handle anything myself, unless I specifically asked to do it. They dealt with my deep, deep lows and grumpiness with kindness and aplomb. There was never a complaint out of any of them, though 50 hours out at a race is a difficult time for everyone and not just the runner. I have nothing but deep gratitude and admiration for these guys. Without them, well, who knows.

As for me, I'm just some random dude with no particular athletic aptitude. I've been involved in ultramarathons for about six years. When asked why I run ultramarathons, I never have a good answer. Though one answer that often crosses my mind is "to find my limits" or "to see what I can do." And this race definitely helped me find some limits. While I finished this race after dedicating a year of work toward it, I have zero interest in taking on anything this challenging every again. The big point, there is nothing special nor unusual about me. I just decided I wanted to finish this race and set out to do the work to make it happen. And I probably had to train much harder and longer than any gifted athlete would have to.

My arrival to the San Juans was a special one. Last year, I had arrived a day before the race. Zero altitude acclimatization. This year, I wanted every advantage on my side. So I arrived a week beforehand in order to spend time sleeping at altitude and do some even higher altitude hikes. The basic idea was hike high in the morning, return to my hotel and work remotely in the afternoon staying off my legs. And I stuck to that plan well from Friday through Wednesday of race week.

But beforehand, I got to experience a special treat. I was able to volunteer at Hardrock 100, which was held the weekend before Ouray 100. Not only that, my volunteering gig would have me at the Hardrock finish line as the race leaders finished Volunteering at ultramarathons is almost always a great experience. And this was no different. The Hardrock 100 community was extremely welcoming to a newcomer and I'd love to volunteer again some day. And to top it off, I got to watch Killian Jornet, Francois d'Haene, and Dakota Jones all come into the finishing chute and kiss the rock! What a wonderful night of volunteering!

Once my volunteering gig was up at 6AM, it was off for a quick nap in my car and then my first acclimatization hike up to the summit of Handies Peak, my first 14er. Each day from that point, I'd hike high (or one day take a gondola high), spend some time at high altitude, then return down and rest in the afternoon. I got to see a ton of the San Juans that I wouldn't get to see during my own race. I spent time in Silverton (a wonderful, tiny, little mountain town) and Telluride (a bit more commercialized than I like) and lots of time in the town of Ouray.

Before I knew it, Thursday before the race arrived, and it was time for me to pack up from my acclimatization hotel and move the the AirBNB where I'd be meeting my crew later in the day and which would act as their base for rest and recovery while crewing and pacing me. Race day had almost arrived!

The First 65 Miles

For the sake of brevity (HA!), I won't cover the first 65 miles of my race in extremely deep detail. I covered this section of the course in deep detail last year, and will only cover the highlights and critical pieces of those miles for this year here. Feel free to read last year's DNF report if more detail is desired.

Even so, there is plenty of action to share from the first 65 miles here. As is always the case, I slept very poorly the night before the race. However, while poorly, I did sleep much better than usually. I got about 4 hours of sleep, then woke up and taped my feet, then was able to sleep another hour before it was time to really prepare. 5 hours may be the most I've ever slept the night before a race, a miracle since I would most likely not be sleeping for the next two nights. 

The Crew! (And me.)
Before long, my crew and I were dressed and fed and caffeinated and standing in Fellin Park milling around the starting area. It's remarkable how quickly several hours can disappear before a race starts. I felt far less anxious this year than last. I basically knew what the next day held for me (or so I thought) and knew I didn't have to worry about the unknown for a good 24 hours. I knew the race started into a long, but relatively mild climb for several miles, slowly working our way up Camp Bird Road into the Sneffels Wilderness where the real climbing and descending would begin. Knowing all this allowed me to approach the start relatively relaxed.

I bid my crew goodbye, sharing that I planned to see them within 8 to 9 hours, and then lined up right in the middle of the pack. And then we were off! Out of Fellin Park, across the small wooden bridge, left on Oak Street, onto the Ouray Perimeter Trail, through a low pedestrian tunnel certainly not designed for anyone 6'1" inches tall (and probably not for someone 5'6" even), across the Box Canyon bridge, and right onto Camp Bird Road. And the climbing into the mountains began.

This first climb up Camp Bird Road makes a great warm up. The incline is comparatively gentle, the footing good, the road wide. I quickly connected with a couple other runners, and we hiked our way up to the Camp Bird aid station together, chatting and being very casual the entire way. This would be a theme throughout the first half of the race, connecting with a group of runners and keeping one another company. Sometimes for just a few minutes. Sometimes for hours on end.

In to the Camp Bird aid station I came, and stopped for a couple minutes to get a bit of food in. I was sure eating well would be key to a good race. I didn't refill bottles at this point. The morning had started out a nice temperature and the climb had been gentle, and the next section wasn't terrible long before we got back to this aid station. Hotter than expected weather was coming, but not yet. So me and one of the fellas I'd been climbing with (Carlos) were back out and headed up for our first real climb. We climbed into Yankee Basin and then onto our first real trail and up to an alpine lake. Overall, a beautiful, but uneventful climb. Carlos quickly climbed faster and away from me at this point. But my legs felt good. My training seemed to have worked. Alpine lake reached, bib punched, and I was back on my way down. I was even able to comfortably run the downhills when not too technical, a thing I wasn't able to do well at all last year. Things looked promising.

[11.5 miles covered, 4,459 feet climbed, 3:12:00 elapsed]

Back to Camp Bird aid station I arrived, a full refill of bottles and various foods, and then off to Richmond aid station I went. Richmond Aid Station would be visited three times total, the final time early the following morning. But for now, it was through Richmond aid station with a quick top-off of fluids since it was only 2 miles from the Camb Bird aid station. But now we'd be heading into the altitude on course. First up to Chicago Mine, the first time we'd hit 12,000 feet. Then from Chicago Mine, a short drop down and then a big climb to the high point of the race, Fort Peabody at 13,365 feet.

Again, both climbs came effortfully, but comfortably. The climb to Chicago Mine was much easier than last year. And the climb to Fort Peabody way easier than 2021. In 2021, I really felt the altitude as I climbed to Fort Peabody. This year, I didn't notice the altitude at all. The acclimatization had worked!

Fort Peabody sits high in the mountains, a small prominence a couple hundred feet higher than Imogene Pass, though they share the same basic mountain structure. Last year, at Fort Peabody, I experienced the first of many thunderstorms I would encounter here. This year, I was there a bit earlier in the day and no thunder was to be heard anywhere.

The climb up to Fort Peabody does run up Imogene Pass Road, a famous jeeping road that leads to the second highest vehicle pass in the United States. However, it's not a road for conventional vehicles. It requires a 4x4 vehicle with high clearance and aggressive tires. We shared the road with many Jeeps and four wheelers heading up the pass. But one moment stuck out in particular. Someone in a Jeep Compass (not the kind of Jeeps we'd been seeing all along) crept past myself and another runner (Karolina) whom I'd been hiking with. I noted how odd it was to see that vehicle up here. And not long after, it stopped on a particularly steep section. Someone got out of the passenger side, then the Compass began to back down the steep and rough road. "Thank goodness" I remarked, thinking the driver had given up on trying to get up the pass. And as the Compass passed us, Karolina said something about turning around being a good idea. The driver yells "I'm not turning around!" and shortly thereafter gunned the motor and went flying up the incline, despite plenty of runners along the shoulder. We were flabbergasted, appalled, and worried about the safety of the runners up there. But the driver did make it across the crest of that climb without incident, and then continued higher, with just a few hundred more feet to Imogene Pass. But it was not to be. Only a few minutes later, we noticed the Compass stuck again. And this time, the driver made the correct decision to turn around and give up. He was fortunate, too. Only a few minutes later, the first rain and hail of the day began. Nothing significant, but enough to make the jeep road quite a lot slicker for vehicles. I can only imagine what kind of trouble the Compass would have found itself in had it been up there when the slick rain and hail arrived.

Just a hundred feet or so up to Fort Peabody

After that bit of drama, the climb to the top of Fort Peabody finished up quickly and uneventfully. I only spent a minute to absorb the views in all directions from Fort Peabody, including my first glimpses of the Red Mountains in the distance. I'd be heading to the Red Mountains soon enough, the mountains which were my favorite bit of the race last year. 

Down Fort Peabody and down Imogene Pass Road and back to Richmond aid station I descended. The day had warmed up considerably, and I was quite warm as the altitude dropped. And the solar exposure at altitude was quite intense, even when not hot feeling. But the climb down to Richmond aid station went quickly. I ate a big breakfast burrito, filled my bottles, and got on my way for the long climb and cross over Richmond Pass at 12,600 feet and then down to the Ironton Aid Station almost 3,000 feet below and the first time I'd meet my crew.

[21.4 miles covered, 7,818 feet climbed. 6:52:00 elapsed]

The climb up to Richmond Pass felt effortfully easy again. Way easier than last year. But I was also having issues. Food was not clearing my stomach. I felt bloated and was clearly distended. Nothing significant, but digestion wasn't going super well. I was also finding myself pretty sick of the watermelon Gatorade Endurance I kept in one bottle. I had never gotten sick of that particular drink. I made note of these issues to make sure to discuss them with my crew in a couple hours. Other than that, I was feeling really good. Legs were strong. Feet were comfortable. I was still  running non-technical downhills. The pack wasn't bothering me. Shoulders and arms weren't bothered by so much pole use. All around, just in really good shape.

Getting across Richmond Pass isn't a ton of fun. There is a very long talus field to cross, and it's just slow moving climbing up those large loose rocks. But fairly quickly I was up and over and quickly descending the steep single track on the other side. And still, no thunderstorms. A wonderful relief compared to last year's endless thunderstorms during this part of the race.

Heading out of Ironton aid station
with Tom
And then I was at mile 27, having knocked off 3 of 9 times over 12,000 feet, and met my crew for the first time at the Ironton aid station in just under 9 hours. Now it was time for a sock change. I had brought 5 pairs of XOSkin socks and 2 pairs of Bombas running socks. Last year, I ended up with maceration of my feet from all the time in the rain, and this year I was going to take care of that with regular sock changes. The XOSkin socks have always worked well for me and are a highly technical sock, though not the most comfortable of socks. The Bombas were relatively new to me and I wasn't totally confident in them, having only spent one 50k in a pair once, but they are wildly comfortable. So I brought those along to change into if my feet became very uncomfortable. Sock change was done. The crew loaded up my bottles, put a baguette sandwich in my pack in the hopes I'd be able to eat that on the move, and gave me a bunch of chicken broth to drink. Chicken broth and soda would become my primary source of calories for the next dozen plus hours. Not ideal, but at least lots of sodium and a few calories.

[27.4 miles covered, 9,581 feet climbed, 8:51:00 elapsed]

And with that, the first climb around Red Mountain 1 began, a 8.1 mile loop up Corkscrew Gulch jeep road and over a pass at 12,200 feet and then back down into Ironton aid station through some steep single track. The first loop, the counterclockwise loop, was entirely uneventful. Remarkably beautiful, yet otherwise uneventful. Then I was back down to the Ironton aid station in about 3 hours. This time it would only be Nikita and Tom waiting for me. Gio had returned to the AirBNB to get some sleep before his pacing gig with me would begin in about 17 miles. I hadn't touched my baguette sandwich, my stomach was still sour, but I continued to be able to take down broth and soda.

[35.5 miles covered, 12,363 feet climbed, 12:21:00 elapsed]

And then it was out for the second Red Mountain 1 loop, this time in a clockwise direction. I began alone in the fading daylight, but not needing a headlamp yet. This time it was up the steep singletrack and then onto the jeep road and over the pass and then down Corkscrew Gulch. Again, the hiking remained effortfully easy. I experienced no breathing difficulties like I had last year. Last year on my second loop of Red Mountain is where my race began to end, with breathing becoming increasingly difficult and even some wheezing beginning. None of that this year. The biggest events for the Red Mountains this year were the increasing stomach challenges and, after the day had faded into night, I spotted a moose off the trail and followed the moose around a bend and off the course! But not far, just a hundred yards off the course and something start to feel wrong about my path. And then I spotted the headlamp of another runner passing straight through the intersection where I'd just turned. I hustled back to the intersection and joined that runner (David) for the rest of the climb. He and I would only spend about 20 minutes together here, but we'd end up running together off an on several times over the next several hours. And back down Corkscrew we went, me surprising myself by being able to run many of the downhills still and the quads really not feeling the miles or gains and loss at all so far.

[43.6 miles covered, 15,145 feet climbed, 15:26:08 elapsed]

Ironton in the fading daylight
Then I was back in Ironton aid station with Nikita and Tom waiting. This aid station stop is one of the most challenging of the race. Now considerable miles have been completed (about 45) and the course turns around and heads back over Richmond Pass, onto Camp Bird Road and starts to head back to Ouray and Fellin Park. That climb out of Ironton up to Richmond Pass is a doozy. Extremely steep switchbacks until it opens up above treeline and up to one of the highest points of the course at 12,600 feet. It's hard, hard work through the middle of the night. Last year, I had completed this entire upcoming 10 mile section without so much as seeing another runner. This year, however, I knew how mentally challenging this section was and was really going to try to connect with another runner for company.

And as I headed out of the aid station, David chased me down as he was leaving as well. We decided we'd work together up the big climb and then see what happened after that. David had also been experiencing stomach issues for several hours and shared that he was really beginning to struggle. But David was a very strong climber even so and I was often working hard to keep up with him. Along the way up, we picked up another runner (Andy), who was feeling very lonely and joined our merry pack. The three of us worked together up and over the pass. Richmond trail is official closed at the moment, and the trail was very challenging to spot in the dark. And some of the trail marking flags seem to have gone missing, perhaps stolen by the local marmots. It took all three of us scanning at the high pass to find the way on a few occasions. But soon enough we were across the top and headed back down the long talus field on our way to Richmond aid station for the third and final time.

As we approached the lower portion of the descent, we encountered another runner sitting on the side of the trail with her head in her hands. It was Karolina, whom I'd spent a good amount of time with earlier. Karolina was not doing well at all and had spent that climb and descent mostly alone. She was discussing dropping, and all three of us encouraged her to join us and reconsider dropping. This she did and all four of us headed to Richmond aid station together.

Two notes here. One, I was so hoping for a night of beautiful stars. The night was mostly cloudless, so I turned off my headlamp at the very height of the pass. But the stars were remarkably disappointing. Two, you'll note I've spoken little of food. This is not unintentional. My stomach remained extremely unhappy and I was taking in only the scantest amount of calories, mostly through soda. I'd occasionally try a gel or a bit of candy or small bite of food here or there, and my stomach would turn almost immediately. But my energy level remained good despite the low calorie intake.

[49.6 miles covered, 18,148 feet climbed, 19:00:00 elapsed]

I was quickly in and out of Richmond aid station, ready to get to the Weehawken aid station where Gio would be awaiting me. I wanted to get to Weehawken, try to get some real food into my system, and take a good long sit to try to process some of that food. The trail from Richmond to Weehawken was almost all downhill on relatively easy jeep road. No need to waste time at Richmond.

So off I went. David and Andy weren't far behind, and soon we were back together as a group. The only real items of note on these four miles were the porcupine we caught by surprise, the longest moment of rain I'd experience for the entire race, and watching the moon rise over Hayden Pass where we'd be heading soon. That rain helped me realize that I was tremendously hot. It cooled me deeply and I kept my hood off even after I put my rain jacket on. 

Trying to get Gio to scold me
about train safety
Soon enough, we were in Weehawken and Gio was waiting. The mental boost of reaching a pacer is huge, indescribably huge. Now I'd have a friend along until the end of the race, no longer having to hope the trail gods provide another runner at my pace to hang out with. Now I'd have someone to do much of the thinking for me. Now the fun would begin.

[53.8 miles covered, 18,270 feet climbed, 20:16:00 elapsed]

The Weehawken trail is one of the easier sections of the entire race. Pretty steep and a bit overgrown at points, it still remains relatively easy singletrack up to a beautiful overlook that offers a wonderful view of Ouray. We started in the morning blue hour, but had the headlamps turned off as daylight arrived about half way up. This was mostly an uneventful climb and it was wonderful to have Gio along with me for conversation and to experience this beautiful course. Up Weehawken we went. Down Weehawken we went. In what felt like no time, we were back at the Weehawken aid station.

[58.9 miles covered, 20,531 feet climbed, 23:17:00 elapsed]

But now, the course would turn serious. I was now at about 55 miles, over half done, but the vast majority of the work still lay before me. First up would be a double crossing of Hayden Pass. From Weehawken, down Camp Bird Road a bit, then up the extremely steep and occasional high exposure Hayden trail and over Hayden Pass at 12,000 feet, then down a very steep single track into the Crystal Lake aid station. This would be the first truly technical section of the trail with loose rock and dirt along steep cliff edges characterizing long sections of the trail. This would also represent the last section of the course I knew. Last year, I had dropped at the Crystal Lake aid station on the other side of Hayden Pass.

But before that began, some aid station work would be needed. First, another sock change. Second, a shoe change. I had been wearing the Altra Mont Blancs, which are wildly comfortable and fine on moderately technical trail. They had been great so far and had kept my feet in good shape, but with the technicality now ramping up significantly, it was time to get into a shoe that leaned more toward technical prowess and less focus on comfort. So the new socks went on with a pair of Hoka EVO Mafates. Then it was time to take another shot at calories: minestrone soup! I was able to eat the soup and all of its goodies. It was the first substantial calories I'd eaten in probably 12 hours or more. Had my head been more straight, I'd have thought to spend some more time in the aid station and put down a couple more cups of the soup. But I had a clock ticking in the back of my head. I really wanted to cover the next 20 miles with enough daylight to spare so that Tom (pacer #2) and I could be up and off of Twin Peaks, the most technical portion of the entire course, before daylight faded. So a single cup of minestrone it was, plus some coffee, plus bottles refilled, plus a potty break, and then Gio and I were off.

Doing my best (and failing) to try
to get down a few calories on Hayden
First, a gentle fast hike down Camp Bird road, then a turn onto some jeep road, then onto very steep Hayden trail. Up we went, slowly at times, but consistently. Climbing through the switchbacks and then onto a section the race directors call the "ball bearings" because of the small gravel on top of loose dirt that slides around like crazy, all along an exposed extremely steep slope one would not want to fall down. On the way up, it doesn't feel all the treacherous. Then, as tree line approached, we crossed a beautiful ridgeline and then headed up into a final set of trees through with the alpine meadow and the pass we'd be crossing could be seen.

You might be asking how long all this took. The reality is, I have no idea. By this point, time had lost all meaning. I was intentionally not paying attention to my pace or total time elapsed, just total focused on doing the work I could do in the moment. I would guess we crossed high Hayden Pass late morning, maybe 10AM or so, but I could be entirely wrong. But soon enough, we were crossing that path and moving along through the high alpine meadow for a good half mile or more. We passed a runner going the other direction wearing a vintage Mountain Dew hat, and I suddenly became ravenous for Mountain Dew. I'm not a Mountain Dew drinker at all, and it was not one of the sodas available on course; but in that moment, it was the only thing in the world I desired. (Yeah, I still wasn't really eating and hadn't touched my solid foods since the minestrone.)

If you've never spent any time on one of these high alpine meadows, I cannot recommend it enough. To be up high out in the wild open wilderness, mountains all around, and yet to find grasses and wildflowers thriving and the marmots and pika at play is really magical. Also, a bit frightening when on foot and the storms start rolling in, but we'd not have that issue on this first crossing of Hayden Pass.

Then we were headed down the other side of Hayden Pass into Crystal Lake aid station. This was a steep, but not terribly technical descent. About 2,700 feet of decline in two miles. And suddenly we were at the bottom, and I was still running the gentler downhills and running into the aid station. The comparison of the shape I was in this year to last year was stark. Last year at this exact point, I was a broken man. Unable to breath. Unable to run downhill. Actually still quite high energy and very lucid, but with absolute knowledge that my day was coming to an end. This year, none of those negatives. Legs felt great. Breathing was good. Running was happening. Really good energy even with the low caloric intake. Dropping was nowhere on my mind. 

[66.0 miles covered, 24,142 feet climbed, 27:48:00 elapsed]

It's All New From Here

And with that, I entered all new territory in this race. I had now finished the same 100+ kilometers I did last year, but this year I'd be turning around out of Crystal Lake aid station and heading back up Hayden Pass instead of climbing into the back of Tom's truck and driving away. Now the warm up was done. Now the race would really begin.

But before that began, it would be time for a little foot repair. Changing into the more technically capable Hoka EVO Mafates also meant accepting some blisters. I'd developed a couple blisters along the rim of the insole on my heels. And a small blister on one big toe. Nothing dramatic at all, but best to deal with these issues right away. Tom jumped right in and worked on those blisters as best he could. There were also a couple of blisters developing on the balls of my feet, but those were deep and dark and would require serious work to get to. We decided to leave them alone. Then my crew tried to get me to eat a variety of different foods. I could only manage a bite of this or that thing before my stomach would begin to turn again. Broth and soda became my calorie source once again. I was also able to take down a coffee with a hot chocolate packet in it, the best calories in quite a while.

Approaching Hayden Pass with the Red
Mountains and building storms in
the background
Before long, Gio and I were up and ready to begin the steep climb out of Crystal Lake and back over Hayden Pass. While I'd not made it to this point in the race last year, I had come out here during the previous week and climbed this section. I knew it was steep and tough. But I also knew it was just a matter of biting down on the bit and doing the work, that there was nothing particularly challenging about the climb. And that we did. Up and up we went. A quick stop for me to poop in the woods, and then the climbing immediately resumed. Clouds and even some thunder had started to rumble through the valleys while we were at Crystal Lake. This continued as Gio and I climbed, and I shared that there was a final grove of trees right at the one mile mark where we'd have to decide whether it was safe to ascend above tree line or not. The storms all seemed to be building behind us and behind a large massif, and we felt relatively safe. So through the grove we went and on to the exposed pass. And soon enough, we were crossing back over the high alpine meadow and Hayden Pass.

Now the course would change dramatically. From here, it was a 3,700 foot descent. The beginning would be relatively tame as we worked toward treeline. But soon we'd find ourselves back on the "ball bearing" section, now much more treacherous as we went downhill. Try to move slowly, and the braking would cause the loose rocks and dirt to slide from underneath you. Move quickly, and the exposed steep 500 foot slope on the edge of the trail would loom in my thoughts. We tried to be safe and used our poles heavily to keep balance, and at times moved very slowly. 

My nearest fall happened on this section. I was able to catch my balance using my poles before sliding away down the slope into nothingness (a bit of hyperbole), but not before I had stepped on one of my poles and snapped it in two. I knew there was a decent chance of a broken pole at this race. I had seen lots of broken poles last year. I had even gone out and purchased a cheaper aluminum back up set of poles for the race. Unfortunately, I had bent one of those poles during my acclimatization hike up Twin Peaks earlier in the week. Two set of poles down, as if this entire thing hadn't been expensive enough! Fortunately, I knew Tom had packed a back-up set of poles that would fit me and I could grab those in Fellin.

Around this time, another new race dynamic was introduced. The 50 mile racers had started their race at noon on Saturday. Those racers would follow the same course as us starting in Fellin and then beginning from the Weehawken point. And those racers began to show up on the trail going the opposite direction up Hayden. They looked so fresh and so strong. To be here in the race, some 28 hours in, and to see these fresh runners bound up this trail was just a bit demoralizing. Not dramatically, but enough to hurt just a little bit. This dynamic would continue for the remainder of the race. My, feeling deeply exhausted with no sleep, while a fresh 50 miler would come running up the trail (or later from behind) looking fresh and spry.

Eventually, Gio and I made it off the highly technical section of the Hayden Pass descent and onto better footing. Soon (I think it was soon, but who knows, really), we were on jeep road and then onto Camp Bird Road heading down to Fellin Park in Ouray. And I was running. Not fast, but absolutely running down the road into town. I was still running! At mile 75ish! 30 hours into the race! My training had definitely worked. My legs were strong and ready. Unfortunately, I had still been eating next to nothing. Really just soda for calories, either Coca-Cola or Ginger Ale. Eventually this lack of calories would ruin my race, right? So I thought. And so I wanted to try to figure out the stomach issue some more once we got down to Fellin Park.

And soon we were approaching. Left off Camp Bird, across the Box Canyon bridge, through the way-too-low pedestrian tunnel, off Ouray Perimeter Trail, left onto Oak Street, right across the wooden bridge, and into Fellin Park we went.

[74.6 miles covered, 26,770 feet climbed, 33:29:03 elapsed]

A Lioness On The Loose (Why Not Nap Here?)

Now we were into Fellin Park in Ouray. Fellin Park serves as the starting area, the finishing area, and the crewing area three separate times. It would become the base for my crew for the next many, many hours. In Fellin, it was time to really assess where I stood and how I was doing, before turning my attention to the most technical climb of the day, Twin Peaks.

We tried a ton of food stuffs. Some I could stomach a little. Others not at all. I can't recall all the different things we tried. I was just dribbling in tiny amounts of calories, never really getting the amount of food I needed. Broth with ramen noodles worked best. But again, that's low calorie stuff. I really wanted something like a brownie to try, but there was nothing of that variety available. So, I'd have to continue on running on calorie fumes. Somehow, my energy and strength had stayed relatively high even so. 

Before we dive into the actual climb, a short story is needed here. A few days before the race, my crew and I were having an online conversation. Tom mentioned that there was little wildlife he was worried about. Except mountain lions (or, as we were calling them, murder kittens). Only murder kittens would cause him consternation. Funny thing, at the prerace meeting, one of the race directors shared that while they were marking the Twin Peaks section of the course, they had encountered a lioness up high on the summit. Not only that, but the lioness had lion cubs in her den. And the lioness had been quite grumpy and noisy when they marked the course. Shit. So we'd be climbing up the most technical section, potentially with the daylight failing, near the den of a mountain lion with cubs. I didn't know if Tom had heard this warning. I wasn't sure if I should tell him before or after we were done with the climb. I didn't know what to do with this information. Fortunately, as we got ready to head out for Twin Peaks, Tom shared the story with me and was ready to pace me up Twin Peaks anyway. This was the one section he'd specifically wanted to pace, and I was glad he was still willing to join. And we made many murder kitten jokes on our climb up, because what else could you do but make light of the situation.

Old Twin Peaks "Trail" Straight Ahead
So, with a murder kitten and her smaller kittens waiting in a den for us 3,100 feet above, Tom and I headed out of Fellin Park, across the wooden bridge, left on Oak Street, and onto the Ouray Perimeter trail. This time we'd quickly turn onto Twin Peak Trail as we moved toward Box Canyon, and now things would get earnest. I had warned Tom that the turn on to Old Twin Peaks trail would feel like no trail at all. I had come out earlier in the week and taken on this climb one morning to find out just how challenging it was. And I had gotten lost, missing the turn onto Old Twin Peaks trail. Why? Well, there's really no trail at all. No trail markings or signage. No discernable path. Just some boulders to climb up along the edge of a gorge and waterfall. However, as we arrived, the "trail" was well marked for the race and it was very clear where to go. Yeah, still no trail there, but no getting lost either. After about 50 yards, the scantest hint of a trail appeared, and after another several hundred yards we found ourselves on fully formed single track. But the gnarliest, steepest, rockiest single track mixed with occasional super steep steps; all along the same waterfall gorge and serious exposure. None of this felt too treacherous on the way up. But Tom and I both knew we'd be coming back down this section in a few hours, and in the dark. This was the one section of the course where the race directors gave serious warnings about the risk on the trail. A misstep could lead to a slide down the gorge and into the waterfall canyon. There was real danger ahead.

The steep, but sturdy, stairs were a 
relief from the steep and loose trail

Up and up we went. Steep trail, steep steps, slowly working our way to a scramble to reach the summit of Twin Peaks and to the mountain lions. As we climbed up, we encountered several runners headed in the other direction. With each of them, we'd ask a joking question about whether they had encountered the mountain lions up above. Nobody had. A few runners hadn't heard the warning, but most were immediately in on the joke. 

While my spirits were fairly high and I was enjoying the time with Tom and laughing about our impending deaths at the paws of a mountain lion, I was also really beginning to feels the miles and the 30+ hours on my feet and, mostly, the lack of calories. My energy was dropping for the first time, and dropping fast. Climbing was becoming a real challenge. I had consistently been about four or more hours ahead of cut-offs throughout the race, but I could feel the pace starting to cut into the buffer. I didn't know how severely, but I knew I was losing time. Tom shared with me not to worry about it, to just keep doing the work and to remain in front of him, and we'd be fine. So I continued to climb. And eventually we reached the top of Twin Peaks, where things truly became challenging. The final 200-300 feet up Twin Peaks becomes extremely steep with a slope in excess of 60 degrees at points and, finally, a hands and knees scramble to the top. The scramble had not been much of an issue when I climbed this section earlier in the week, but in my low energy state, I made quite the mess of it.

Tom and I did reach the peak pretty quickly. Tom punched my bib. And we were quickly on the way back down. I had no desire to spend any extra time up here, wanting to get off Twin Peaks before nightfall. 

If climbing up was a tough time, climbing down was even more challenging on the steep, steep grade.

Dinosaurs roamed here!

In fact, this first section of descent is where I had bent my first set of hiking poles earlier in the week. We slowly picked our way down, being careful not to lose our footing. Eventually we found our way to trail that became a bit less steep and we were able to pick up the pace. But I was feeling woozy, very woozy even. My energy was very low. And then I began to see double. Fortunately, we had reached gentler trail. And now we'd be hiking down to Silvershield Aid Station in Ouray before we had to climb back down Old Twin Peaks trail. The trail to Silvershield was among the most gentle sections of the entire course, and included crossing fossilized dinosaur tracks! Even so, the wooziness and double vision were creating real challenges and I decided I needed to try a trail nap. I suggested the idea to Tom, asked him to give me five uninterrupted minutes, and then we could be back on our way. I wrapped up in my rain jacket and found a flat-ish area just off the trail and laid down. As I lay on the ground, I realized I was laying not too far from the mountain lion's den. The thought flashed through my mind, then quickly disappeared. Sleep was not to find me in this moment and Tom got me back up after five minutes. My vision had straightened out, and I felt good enough to move on. So we made our way down to Silvershield aid station a couple miles away, and decided I'd try to nap a bit more once there.

[80.9 miles covered, 30,220 feet climbed, 36:55:00 elapsed]

There Is No Reason To Climb Out Of This Aid Station Except To Make This Experience Worse

At Silvershield aid station, I put a little bit of food into me (salted avocados and bacon, I think?), took my shoes off, and tried to nap. An aid station worker offered me a chair to put my feet in...a blessing. And I did doze off for a few minutes. Soon enough, Tom had me awake and we were getting prepared to head back up from where we'd just come.

Now, the descent down and climb out of Silvershield aid station really isn't a dramatic thing on this course. It's about 1,700 feet of climbing each way. And on a course with 42,000 total feet up, 1,700 feet is a pretty minor matter. But, climbing out of Silvershield is a real mental bugger. Why? Because Silvershield aid station is all the way back down in Ouray and Fellin Park, where we were heading next, is barely over a mile away across flat terrain up the road. It's right there! But instead, the course climbs back out of Silvershield and back to Old Twin Peaks trail to now descend down that seriously technical and slightly dangerous waterfall gorge. Tom and I remarked several times that there was no reason to add this bit of course other than to make the course more challenging and the experience worse. Removing it would actually get the overall distance of the course closer to spot on 100 miles. 

But, alas, follow the course one must. So up we went, back over the dinosaur tracks, and finally back to Old Twin Peaks trail. Night had fallen. We were under headlights. I had been leading the two of us to this point. But I asked Tom to take the lead down this technical section given my lack of sleep and earlier vision issues. I wanted him to pick the safe line, and I'd try to follow his footsteps down this extremely steep and technical trail. And slowly and safely we worked our way down. Sometimes barely inching around a corner covered in loose gravel and dirt. Other times speeding up as we got to solidly rooted stairs. But the time kept ticking away, and it was somewhere between Saturday night and Sunday morning and I had no idea which. The 52 hour race cutoff began to really loom over me at this point. Finally, we reached the bottom, went over the boulder section, got back on the Ouray Perimeter trail, then a left onto Oak street, a right across the wooden bridge, and then we were back in Fellin Park. The singlest most dangerous and frightening challenge was completed. And I had found myself genuinely afraid for life and limb at points. That was probably mostly due to sleep deprivation, but it sticks with me today.

[84.9 miles covered, 32,188 feet climbed, 39:32:00 elapsed]

Stomach Say No

Back in Fellin, we did the usual thing. Swallow some broth, some coffee with hot chocolate, try to eat some other foods (perogies, I believe), fill up bottles, clear out debris from shoes, and then head back out. Now we'd be climbing a 6.7 mile out and back to Chief Ouray mine. A big long climb lay ahead. Nothing technical like we'd just experienced. And not super steep. But almost 3,400 feet up and down over those miles to a mine buried deep in the mountains. 

On this section, my body really began to revolt against any food. Even drinking soda became challenging. I could take down small sips, but not much more before feeling ill. And I began to feel extremely hot, feverishly hot. My face and head were throwing off massive amounts of heat. I'd dip my headband into every little stream and brook to keep cool. As we got higher, we also got a gentle cool breeze that began to help. But that feverish feeling remained. Until it began to rain. Not a hard rain, but a cold rain. A very cold rain. The rain jacket went on, but the hood stayed off. And it felt wonderful. And my climbing improved, and I began to move faster again. I think we were still cutting into the four hour buffer, but the damage was being minimized. I was able to move well now that I was cooling. 

But food continued to be virtually inedible. Water was no problem. I could take in water at ease. But anything with calories immediately seized up my stomach, which was now significantly distended and uncomfortable. Everything I'd tried to jam in over the 40 hours raced so far just sat in my stomach like a rock. And, yet, up we went. And then we finally reached the height we were supposed to reach, though no mine was to be found. We had a quite long traverse around the mountain we were on to eventually find the mining hut on the other side. But we did arrive, and spent a few minutes in the disused and dilapidated ancient building covered in modern graffiti. 

Then we headed back down. Again we found that cooling breeze and again I got stronger and moved better. As the altitude dropped, the temperature rose and we lost the breeze. But that regained strength remained and I moved quite quickly downhill, maybe even make back some time that had been lost. This was the strongest I'd felt in hours and I began to run more and more downhills again, stopping along the way to dip my headband in the nearby waters when available. I didn't realize it at the time, but I began to move quickly enough that Tom started to have trouble keeping up. At least so he claims, though I don't really believe it. Before long, we could see the lights of Ouray rising up toward us. We'd have to skirt around some mountain sides before we got to finally drop into town, but this climb was nearly done. Then we made a left and the trail dumped down into town and straight into Fellin Park. The penultimate climb was done! And I was feeling strong.

I came into the aid station and sat down with my crew and said something to the effect of "let's strip all the extra weight out of this pack, and let's finish this fucker." I was no longer enjoying the race, not one bit. I was actually hating it. It was too hard. It was more than I'd meant to take on. But here we were, mile 92, with one more climb to finish things up. And I had about 8 and a half hours to do it. And I really, really, really wanted to finish now, no matter how much I hated this race. I wanted it really bad. The year of dedicated training and giving up all other running activities to be focused on this race came rushing back to me. All the work put in over the past two days danced in front of me. The sacrifice my crew and pacers had made to spend the extended weekend with me bounced in my head. It was so close, I could smell it. The finish was right there. But what a climb remained...

[91.6 miles covered, 35,587 feet climbed, 43:35:00 elapsed]

Smelling The Barn

Last year, I had sat at the Western States awards ceremony and got to pick the brain of a San Juan local ultramarathoning elite about the race. She had shared lots of tips, but one should have stuck with me better. She said something to the effect of "be ready, because the hardest climb is the very last climb." And she was right. I sat in Fellin Park, ready to get this thing done with, taking every superfluous item out of my pack and my shorts because I could smell the barn. But in front of my lay a 10.1 mile out and back including 4,500 feet of climbing and 4,500 feet of decent up to 12,000 feet one last time to a ridge known as Bridge Of Heaven. I knew it was there. I wildly underestimated how difficult it would be at this point in the race.

Tom and I were out of Fellin and headed down the road to the trailhead that would lead us to the Bridge of Heaven. I was overcome with emotion. I shared with Tom how desperately I wanted to finish this now. As I did so, my voice broke and I began to cry. I do not cry, certainly not over races. These are just fun hobbies. No need for deep emotion. But here I was completely overcome, unable to hold the tears back. I need to get this done. I was going to get this done! We were so close!

In no time, we were climbing. It wasn't Twin Peaks steep, but steep enough to be really challenging. It wasn't Twin Peaks technical, but endless fields of talus to cross nevertheless. Up we went. Every step felt like it was up. First light began to arrive as we got higher and higher. Fortunately, we also got some cooling breezes as we ascended. But the climb was endless. 

And my stomach got worse. Suddenly even water was problematic to drink. And gatorade or soda impossible. Even a tiny sip of gatorade, and I would begin to dry heave. Small sips of water were manageable, but just barely. We climbed, I dry heaved. We climbed, I dry heaved. At one point I tried to make myself vomit hoping that might reset my stomach, but with no success. So we climbed slowly. And again, I could feel the time slipping by and 52 hours creeping closer. 8 and a half hours had felt like so much time when we started this climb. And I began to cry again. I could feel the finish slipping away. I could feel time flowing through my fingers like sand. It was just disappearing. I decided to try a second trail nap. This time I made myself comfortable on a bit of rotten wood and fell asleep almost instantly. Again, just five minutes and we were on the move again. Tom shared that he had also dozed briefly.

We were moving, but not well. Tom told me not to worry about the time, but I couldn't help it. I did the only thing in my control, I kept climbing. Kept doing the work. Up and up we went. And sunlight arrived. And my pace picked up a little bit with that morning sun, third sunrise. The third sunrise I'd watched since my last sleep! I had never experienced that before. Now with sunlight, I began to try to find Bridge of Heaven in the distance. I couldn't find the right peak, nor could Tom. There were some peaks in the distance that had the right meadow on top, or the right shape, but none that had both. So more climbing we did. And then, after what felt like an eternity, I spotted a peak in the distance that clearly had itty bitty human beings climbing up it. It was a long way off and a long way up, but now I could at least put an eye on Bridge of Heaven.

Up and up and up we climbed. I was a broken husk of a person. I had no energy. I was eating nothing. I was sipping tiny bits of water. Everything felt wrong and terrible and I'd never been in such a mental hole in my life before. I hated myself for signing up for this race. I hated these mountains. I hated the 50 milers coming down the mountain looking oh so spry and fresh. I hated my blistered heels. I hated my stomach. I hated the hot sun. I hated the runner coming down who told us it was about two more miles, when it was closer to 1.75 miles left to the summit. Tom was the only thing I didn't hate in that moment. And up we went anyway, despite all that hate. I wanted to finish this damn thing so bad that all I could do was climb mindlessly. In that moment, there was nothing I had ever wanted more than to finish this race. Tom and I would speak occasionally, though much of this climb was done in silence. Fight, fight, fight for the summit.

And then we popped out of some trees finally reaching the alpine meadow that would cross to Bridge of Heaven. Still a long way off, but it was there. I kept asking Tom how many more switchbacks we had to cross, when suddenly there was a trail sign ahead with a marker stuck to it. Tom exclaimed that it was the hole punch! I didn't believe it. I thought it was a final race sign pointing us up one more ridge. But it was the hole punch! We were there! We had finished this final brutal, miserable, soul-crushing climb. I sat down to let Tom punch my bib, and wept again for a minute. I knew the view on Bridge of Heaven was spectacular and Tom was talking about the view, but I didn't see a thing. I even looked, and didn't see a thing. I have zero recollection of the view atop Bridge of Heaven. All I could think was that I had lost gobs of time getting up here and needed to get off this mountain as quickly as possible before the race timed out.

Most of the race course and Ouray can be seen from Bridge of Heaven

I got started back down the mountain while Tom took a moment to take some photos. And for as bad as I was feeling everywhere else, my legs still felt strong and steady. I was able to move downhill well and make big pushes without any rest. As we moved down the mountain, Tom shared the amount of time left. We had hours, HOURS to make it to Fellin Park and finish. I could take it easy and still finish before race close. But I was done and wanted to get done. Tom suggested a good push might allow me to finish in under 50 hours, and that became the goal.

The climb down felt just like the climb up, endless. But I just moved and moved, as fast as I could comfortably get my legs to go without feeling out of control. Back down we went, through the endlessness of the Bridge of Heaven climb, around countless switchbacks, across a ridgeline, over dozens of talus fields. But the finish was coming. I wanted to roll down some of the steep slopes to get there more quickly, but I just kept hiking. And then I could see the road down below. Still 1,000 feet below, but there it was. The road that led to Fellin Park that led to the field with the two cones sat that made up the finish line. Tom began to speak more and keep me occupied, and then we were on the road fast hiking toward Fellin. And then Gio and Nikita were there waiting for us ahead. I started crying again. I've not cried so much in my life. I think Tom has seen my cry more than my wife at this point...and all over a race?

And we jogged (I could still run!) in to Fellin park and through the two cones and it was done. I had finished the Ouray 100. A year's focus and effort had paid off. It was done. It is done.

[102.2 miles covered, 40,431 feet climbed, 49:20:50 elapsed]

From Florida?

As I crossed the finish line, I was asked my bib number. I don't recall the following conversation, but it was shared with me by my crew:

Nathan: number 68

Finish line guy: Nathan Gehring?

Nathan: Yes

Finish line guy: from Florida?

Nathan: …

Finish line guy: Holy hell

Upon Further Reflection

Given all the misery I experienced on race day and all the other running experiences I had to forgo over the past year, I have to ask myself "was it worth it?" Was it worth the hours on the treadmill alone, instead of running with friends at track or elsewhere? Was it worth not running the race distances I most enjoy, such as the marathon? Was it worth the expense I incurred to fly out early and stay in the San Juans for over a week? Was it worth it?

And it was. It absolutely was. For one, the course and Ouray and the San Juans are so stunningly beautiful. Getting to spend time out there hiking around all that beauty is so life giving and fulfilling. For another, getting to spend time with my crew and experience the course with my pacers was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. And I'm so happy Tom, Gio, and Nikita got to be out there with me.

Ultimately, the entire journey has been wildly rewarding. Doing all that training work I didn't enjoy might not have been fun, but was always with a purpose and always felt worthwhile in the moment. Being able to go through that work and then finish one of the  4 or 5 most challenging 100 mile races in North American has been a remarkably rewarding experience. I'm so glad to have done it. I'm so glad to have slayed the dragon that defeated me last year. I feel a deep sense of accomplishment and pride.

And I'm so glad to be done. I absolutely want to spend more time the San Juans. I absolutely do not want to do this race ever again. I've found the threshold of suffering I want to experience. This race was on the wrong side of that threshold. I do not need to enter that mental space ever again. I've learned a ton about how deep my well of self-discipline and ability to endure suffering runs, and I do not need to ever dip that deep into the well again.

Now I'll just spend some time running for the sake of the joy in running. No giant goal for a while. No races on the calendar. Just running. And we'll see what comes next. I have some ideas. They're just ideas for now. There will be no mountains any time soon.

It's done. Ouray 100 is done.

Equipment Fatalities

Generally, I'd wrap up a race report with a short review of critical gear. I'm going to take things in a slightly different direction this time. Instead of reviewing critical gear, I'm going to offer a list of gear casualties. Ouray 100 is a rugged race. Stuff breaks. The following gear was either ruined during the race or during acclimatization hikes before the race:

  • One pair Ultimate Direction FKT Carbon poles - stepped on while trying to not slide off the side of Hayden Pass
  • One pair of Black Diamond Distance Z aluminum poles - bent while trying to safely navigate down the peak of Twin Peaks on loose dirt and gravel
  • One Salomon ADV 12 pack - the chest strapped tore out while putting the pack on early in the race
  • One Hoka EVO Mafate shoe - sidewall blowout on the right foot. No idea when or how that happened. It's not a total blowout right now, but the show will fail soon.
  • One Gregory Stash duffel - duffel bag tore at some point during travel

So, I lost some gear. Gear that's not inexpensive to replace. I hope some will be replaced by warranty, though remain unsure of that. But it's okay. It's just another cost of chasing this ridiculous goal.

And with that, I sign off on my 12 (really 18) month adventure to conquer the Ouray 100 ultramarathon.

It is done.