Halfway

Halfway through the year and halfway through the Transcendence Series . Back in February when I was getting organized for Stories, this poin...

Aug 29, 2016

Timing it right in Moab

August in Moab conjures one word for me. Hot. It is after all in the destert. There might be the Colorado River right next to town, but it's still a desert. When we decided to finish out our trip in Moab, I was worried about the heat. How would we be able to get some good rides done with temperatures soaring? I figured we'd have to get up early at least once - beat the heat and greet the sun. But when we rolled into Moab, the clouds were already building and rain drops sprinkling from the sky. A little humid, but pleasant. We got the keys to the condo and some grocery shopping done. Finally - a place to cook and be able to eat real food! Being able to cook and eat normally is so important - and it doesn't take more then a few days without that ability to make it even more evident.

Nick's first priority while we were in Moab? Captain Ahab. He loves that trail. He would be happy as a clam just doing laps on that trail all day. I'm starting to like it even more - I get more comfortable with the exposure and drops every time we ride it. This was no exception. I felt a little sluggish on the climb up Hymasa, but smooth on all the rock slabs. Even though I felt slow, it was still one of my better rides up - I was even able to look around and enjoy the views on the climb. Made a few more things on the descent and all around just enjoyed the ride more then I have in the past.
Everything in Moab feels huge. Just a tiny dot of color among the sand stone towers on the Hymasa climb
 After the ride, it was time to start planning. If Cam could make it down from SLC in time, he and Nick were going to ride part of the Mag 7 loop. I would play shuttle bunny and run while I waited for them to finish. Well, Cam didn't make it down - but I still wanted to run. And I really wanted to run at the Moab Brand area. Part of exploring is new trails, and an easy run on the Moab Brand trails would be a great sampler. And it was cloudy out - so I wouldn't be baking in the August sun. Nick joined me and did a shorter run, then waited at the van. I didn't want to worry about a map or getting lost, so I opted for the straight forward North 40 loop. I could repeat the smaller loop at the far end if I wanted to for some extra distance. Perfect choice. For the kind of run I wanted - slightly rolling, some techy stuff but nothing crazy - North 40 was the best trail. Some good rolling climbs, a few slickrock sections and rock gardens, but generally a great trail for running. I wouldn't want to be out there in the middle of the day, but with the cloud cover it was a perfect afternoon run.
Running on the North 40 loop in the Moab Brand trails
 And then came the big decision - it was the end of August. The Whole Enchilada was clear. A shuttle would be running on a Saturday for sure. We usually are in Moab in November or March - and the La Sals are snowed then. And here we were, with the ability to finally do the Whole Enchilada. It would mean not exploring the Grand Mesa at all and having to drive straight home on Sunday. But how could we resist? We couldn't... The condo was available for another night and there was room on the shuttle.

So Saturday morning, bright and early, we found ourselves smushed into a van with 11 other eager riders for the long drive up to Geyser Pass. And it was long. Flat at first, then gradually climbing on pavement, then steeper climbing and finally the turn onto the narrow, winding dirt road that would take us to the top. Out of the desert and into the pine forest of the mountains. It was actually cold when we were getting the bikes unloaded! I didn't need the ice in my pack at that point. We'd both frozen about half the fluid in our hydration bladders - sure it would be a hot day once we hit the UPS section.
Making sure things are working before starting downhill. Trail repairs at the top of Burro Pass!
We were among the first riders heading out onto the trail. It was very much like any Crest shuttle - all the riders sizing each other up and trying to figure out where they would fit in the order. I think Nick just wanted to get going! That initial climb up to Burro Pass was a kick in the pants. I knew it was coming, but wow. Not ready for that steep of a climb so early in the morning! But once we got to the top, the views were incredible and it was mostly down hill from there. I got a chance to take a few photos since Nick needed to air up his dropper post...

View to the east from the top of Burro Pass
And those were the only pictures I took. Once we started down, there was no stopping. The descent off Burro Pass wasn't what I was anticipating at all. Steep, tight switch backs, rocky singletrack and multiple creek crossings. Even in August, Mill Creek was raging. Deeper then I wanted to ride through in a few places! I wasn't as clean on the switchbacks as I wanted to be, but was handling everything else well. Nick was pushing the pace a little since he didn't want to get caught and start yo-yoing with one of the groups right behind us. Which was fine, but I was definitely getting dropped on everything. We almost caught the one guy ahead of us on the Hazzard County climb, but he knew the descent and was able to easily drop us. At the crest of the Hazzard County trail, I should have stopped. The entire Castle Valley laid out below us, red desert with sandstone spires rimmed with  the green of the upper mesa. A stunning view. But there was no stopping! Not with Nick. Hazzard County was a little different - fun but different. More bermy and banked, swooping through scrub oak and brush. Not knowing the trail really kept me in check - it only took a few misjudged twists to make me slow down. After the short double track jaunt on the Kokopelli trail, it was time for UPS. And back to the land of 1000ft exposures! Eyes on the trail - no sight seeing unless stopped....

Last time we rode LPS and Porcupine Rim, it was at the limits of my exposure tolerance. This time? Much better. I still need some work on line reading and slow motion hucking (or hucking in general, honestly...) This time, I was much more comfortable and having fun trying to jump off as many little rock ledges as I could. I was also doing my fair share of searching for the easy line, but most of the time just followed Nick. Down the bumpy, chunky double track of Porcupine Rim and onto the fun singletrack. More exposure, more focus on the trail. The only thing I didn't ride that I wanted to was the waterfall near the end. Nick rode it this time - taking the big line with the foot drop at the end. I saw the slight left switchback to avoid the drop, but chickened out. I should have had Nick come back up and give me a spot so I could try to ride it - but mentally I was worn out. A lot of new trails and trails ridden at faster speeds then normal and my brain was tired. Next time!

And why was it perfect timing? Because Sunday when we woke up, clouds covered the valley. A downpour started just as we began loading the van. The La Sals were completely socked in, getting hammered. Even in Colorado, the Grand Mesa was getting soaked. Chances were that we would have had a miserable time in wet weather had we not stayed that extra day. So the Grand Mesa will have wait for another trip.

Aug 26, 2016

Park City touring

How much of the 400 miles of trails that Park City claims can you cover in two days? Not much really, but we made a valiant effort for sure! After landing in the only campground even close to Park City, we made tentative plans for a big day Wednesday. Two rides on the Park City mountain, one just the two of us and the other a little later with Cam.

The first ride we climbed up Armstrong - and kept climbing up until we hit the Mid-Mountain Trail. So nice having a dedicated climbing trail - just being able to ride without worrying about people coming down at you. We don't have any directional trails here in COS - even if a few should be directional! The Mid-Mountain Trail seemed like a good place to start heading down, or in this case traversing the slopes. So we turned left and started winding in and out of tree and ski slopes. The trail was well manicured, if just a tad dusty. I wasn't able to follow Nick that close because of all the dust. Short little climbs, fast swtichbacked descents. A fun trail and we just kept riding. Eventually, Nick had to pull out the map - we didn't want to end up in Deer Valley! We picked a trail to ride down - missed that one and hopped on another. I think it was John99 or something like that. After a few turns, we found ourselves on a very steep, super dusty trail with some fun little features and tight switchback. It didn't get us back into the resort, but we did pop out just outside of Historic Main street.

We had thought about doing some lift riding - but the lift was moving so slow it would have been faster to just climb back up on our bikes! So we had lunch and waited. When Cam arrived, it was time for another climb up to the Mid-Mountain. This time we took Spiro up - and while Spiro wasn't a one way trail, we were late enough in the afternoon to not really have to worry about riders coming down. Since we'd taken Mid-Mountain to the south last time, we turn right this time. To Canyons resort we were headed. The warning sign as we left Park City ski slopes was funny - no access off the trail for 11 miles, be prepared. And we were.. Mostly! Mid Mountain between Park City and Canyon was fun. Definitely not the smooth, manicured trails on the ski resorts - there were some good rock gardens and techy, traversing riding. All with a view of the million dollar mansions dotting the hillsides. Again, it was so dusty that I couldn't follow the boys close at all. I had to fall back, make my own lines and keep my distance if I wanted to be able to see and breath. We took Mid-Mountain all the way across to Red Coat on the Canyons Resort. Time for some down hill! Red Coat - Insurgent - Ricochet - all the way down to the base of the Canyons. Some of those features on Insurgent were a little interesting! After a quick stop for some sodas, it was an easy pedal on the bike paths back to the vans. One thing Park City does right - it's so easy to get around on the bike paths. The connectivity is out standing.

Thursday was supposed to be an off the bike day for me. So what did we do instead? Went and rode the lifts at Deer Valley! Neither one of us had ever done any lift served biking, so might as well! I will admit to feeling just slightly out of place as we started riding with my "little" bike, spandex and braid. It was definitely a "bro zone" at times between the 7" bikes, coil suspension DH rigs, baggies every where, free flowing testosterone and such. But after the first run, I got over it. The camber can handle almost anything provided the rider is in the right state of mind. Again, super dusty and I was getting some good practice at making my own lines on the slalom-like trails. It was different then we've ridden before - no traversing, no rock gardens. Just slalom switchbacks, jumps, berms and more switchbacks. We alternated between black and blue runs, trying to get a sense of the entire park. But there were two blacks (double black) on the far side that nobody was riding. Why not? Thieves Forest - down hill bike and full armor recommended. Umm - we had neither. Just the camber and the stumpy and light knee and elbow pads. What could go wrong? Nothing on Thieves - I did walk a few of the steeper, rocky switchbacks - I think if I rode it a few more times, I'd be able to get it cleanly. So back up we went - let's try Fireswamp! This time I saw the B-line around the squirrelcage and went for it. Made the b-line and was back in the trail, riding well and pretty happy with myself. Too happy too soon as the rocks decided I needed a reminder of who was in charge! Mental note - if you think you shouldn't wear a watch riding, you probably shouldn't. I was lucky to find all the pieces to put my watch back together later! We did a few more easier runs, then called it a day. Downhilling might not have the effort of trail riding, but it was still pretty hard! I was tired for sure - and we still had a few more days of our Utah trip.

The weather looked good - time to see what fun we could have at the next destination.

Aug 24, 2016

A trip around Utah - Ogden

Why a last minute trip to Ogden? Well, there's a lot of out door industry jobs in Ogden and the city keeps bringing in more. Nick has been looking for a change in work for a number of years and there plenty to choose from along the Salt Lake corridor - but most of them in Ogden. And while I've been out there several times for the Xterra USA championships, we never really explored the city and the trails in town. So without an agenda or an important race, we could spend the time getting a feel of the city.

Of course, any long drive has to be broken up a few times. It's a good thing the North entrance to Klondike Bluffs is really close to the interstate... Nick ran Saturday night, I did yoga on the rocks. And then we rode Sunday before heading up to Ogden.
Nothing like yoga on the rocks to clear the mind
 
Sunset from Klondike Bluffs. A nice quiet evening.

Our goal in Ogden was to find as many in town trails as we could. And while the bike shop we stopped in had some good information, it didn't seem like that many people rode right from in town. Everyone we talked to raved about the Bonneville Shoreline trail and the other "bench trails." They also mentioned Snowbasin and the Skyline trails. So Monday, we decided to take on the Bonneville trail. Nick wasn't keen on the easy traverse just above the city that the south end of the trail offered, so we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. Turns out we'd stumbled along the hardest trail that bikes were allowed on off the south side of the Bonneville trail. Malan Peak. I wasn't riding as much as taking my bike for a nice, steep hike!

At the top of Malan Peak

We reached the summit of the peak and paused to take in the view. The hikers up there though the trail looped back down and round, but weren't sure. So we turned around and wore out some brake pads on the decent. What took nearly an hour to climb was a mere 15 minute plunge back down to the city! It was a good thing we turned around through - the trail actually kept climbing and supposedly connected into one of the trails that when up and over into Snowbasin!

After lunch, it was time for a little more exploring. We decided to run the north section of the Bonneville trail - just a few miles out and back. One of my hottest runs of the year! I usually try to avoid the heat, but since we were trying to cram as much into a few days as we could, that meant running in the full afternoon sun. The trail north of Ogden Canyon was more challenging for sure - plenty of rock gardens, steep little climbs and sharp turns. It was interesting on foot and the heat kept the crowds down. I'm sure that on a nice morning, that trail is jammed packed with hikers, runners and cyclists. Back in the hotel, we spent hours studying the map we'd gotten at the bike store. And despite everything, we couldn't find any other trails in town. Maybe we were missing something, but...

Time to head to the mountains. Instead of Ogden Canyon, which we've driven dozens of times, we decided to take North Ogden Canyon. At the North Ogden Divide, where the Skyline trail crossed, we thought about riding that. Perhaps we should have - but without a good map of the area, we didn't want to get lost on a six hour death march into the unknown. So we went to Snowbasin to ride some of the trails that the Xterra doesn't use. Up Needles Trail - up, up and up some more. Climbing into the sky. I think we may have used part of that trail during one of the years - before the Sardina peak trail was completed. We were just below the lodge, nearly as high as we could get on our bikes.

Almost at the top - Climbing up Needles Trail at SnowBasin
 We took the only down hill only trail back to the base area. Porcupine. It was super dusty, but fun. Different riding then what we have at home for sure! We don't get those long, steep downhills as much as sustained traversing at home. Lots of tight switchbacks and bumpy corners as well.
Halfway down - yep, that's where the swim for the Xterra is!

Moose!!!

Peak-a-boo with the moose - she won...
After finishing the ride, we studied the map for a bit. We were finished with Ogden, having learned what we needed to know. Time to move on. The trip was now about exploring, riding and having fun.

Aug 9, 2016

A long way on foot - Sheep Mountain Endurance Run

Fifty miles is a long way - regardless of how you travel. As I was training and preparing for Sheep Mountain Endurance Run, I knew that it would be a long day - I knew that there would be ups and downs, that the plan would have to be fluid and goals adjusted mid-race. That is the nature of endurance sports and the people who achieve are the ones who can go with the flow and find the ability to turn things around if they do go south. Obviously, for my first 50, I was hoping for nothing but smooth sailing - with no dark spots, no demons and smiling the whole way. A girl can always hope, right?

Runners assembled for the start
Photo - Human Potential Running
The sun was just starting to brighten the clouds as we walked to the starting line with nearly 100 other runners. The race director went through a few things, noting that there had already been some DNS's due to the elevation and to be smart. Smart... Most people would say smart would mean not doing something like a 50 mile (54 mile...) race on foot! And then we were off. A few runners bolted, but most of us seemed pretty happy to take it chill. The course had moved from the Fairplay Town Beach to the Park County Fairgrounds, so we had an additional mile of running through town. There were a few spectators for that first mile, and then we crossed the creek and set off into the west. It's too far to focus on the entire race, so my plan was to break it up in segments - run aid station to aid station and not worry about what was coming up three aid stations away. I figured the times between aid stations would be between an hour to two hours, so that was definitely manageable chunks. I was more worried about going too hard in the beginning with that strategy then anything else.

Start to Horseshoe. The theme here was settle - relax and make sure I didn't start too fast. Having run the South Park Trail Marathon at the beginning of June, I knew it would be easy to pick a pace quicker then I should for the distance remaining. It also meant letting everyone around me go if needed. Quiet the voices telling me to run faster, keep up the guys ahead of me. That was hard. But I managed, even walking up some of the steeper hills that the girls around me all ran. There would be plenty of time for racing later - the wide open miles through the "suburbs" of Fairplay weren't it. As before, Sheep Mountain revealed itself as we entered the National Forest, looming above the terrain. The sight of the mountain, of the ridgeline we were going to climb and the traverse just below the summit was both exhilarating and nerve wracking.  One of the guys I was running with asked his buddy if  he knew where the course went "I knew we have some climbing coming up, but what are we going up?" His friend just pointed towards Sheep Mountain. Up that. Way up that... Throw a few more logs on the fires of nervousness!
At Horseshoe, the drop bags were waiting for us. I asked one of the volunteers to add some water to my pack while I dug through my bag for my handheld, some food for the road and my Skratch. Getting my handheld at Horseshoe was part of my plan - I knew I wouldn't drink that much in the first 8 miles and didn't see the point of carrying the extra weight if I wasn't going to drink it. After thanking the volunteers, I headed off for the next segment of the race.

Horseshoe to Brown's Pass - the ascent of Sheep Mountain and the traverse across the ridge. But before we even hit Sheep Mountain, the course picked it's way through the sharp rocks of the Limber Grove. This was one part that I had gotten a chance to run before hand, so I knew what was coming. I ran a little more through Limber Grove this time, but wasn't willing to risk turning an ankle on the rocks. Hoping I wasn't making a mistake, I really tried to keep my pace easy and steady, even on the fun singletrack down into the campground. Mentally, I was a little worried - I'd stepped aside to let several runners around because I didn't want to push so hard so soon. I knew it was too early to race and there was a long, hard way to go. But that didn't mean I wasn't stressing about my position.
View of the Mosquito range from Sheep Mountain
After Limber Grove, we started the climb up Sheep Mountain. I started power hiking pretty quickly on the climb, each step taking me closer to treeline. Above, I could see tiny dots of color - other runners higher on the mountain. I caught one of the women who'd passed me and we chatted briefly. I'm not a very social runner, preferring my solitude on the trails. So on I went, one foot in front of the other, climbing higher and higher. The views were huge, with Pikes Peak looming to the east and the Mosquito range all around. I was happy I'd had a chance to explore the climb prior to race day - I was familiar with how long it was going to take and the landmarks indicating that we were nearly to the top. Through a small grove of trees, then across to an old, abandoned mine. Then the trail turned south and I could see the two women ahead of me. It wasn't far in terms of distance, but it was a couple of minutes. I filed the splits away, and returned my focus to the trail and the tricky footing over the granite. I could tell I was catching them slowly, but I also knew that the descent off Sheep Mountain was technical running. I had to pay attention to what I was doing, not the people ahead of me. Paying attention to the trail was hard with the views though - just incredible.
At Browns Pass, the volunteers were ready for us. I came in just behind the second place women, who asked what the gap to first was. About three minutes was the response. Second place was in and out in a hurry. Meanwhile, I made sure I was doing everything I needed to based on my mental check list for that point in the race. Eat a little food, refill pack, add some Skratch mix to the bladder.... The extra minute I spent there ensured that I would be prepared for the next long stretch of running.

Brown's Pass to Waltrus - singletrack! Glorious singletrack through open meadows and Aspen groves. At least, that was what was coming. First, a plunge from the aid station steeper then I'd anticipated. I actually backed off and slowly picked my way down the jeep road, again trying to be conservative in the early stages of the race. After the steep descent, the road opened up and I could see the runners ahead of me in the meadows. It was easy running at that point and super easy to get going at a quick clip. I settled into a comfortable pace, enoying the few miles of steady running instead of hiking. After the river crossing, the road started getting a little rockier, a little steeper with the rolling. We were getting close to the singletrack. I could tell. I'd caught a few of the guys who'd passed me on Limber Grove, but didn't know where the other women were. First place was out of sight and second place had bolted from the aid station.
I was really looking forward to the singletrack sections. I'd run all of the Sheep Creek Trail that we were running and most of Twelve Mile Creek. Fun running through flower filled meadows and aspen groves, across creeks and up and down rolling hills. My favorite kind of trail running. When we passed the two coolers of water - the unmanned, water only station at Twelve Mile, I opted not to fill my handheld. I had enough to get to Waltrus and didn't feel like stopping. Why take it if I didn't need it? And that meant we were onto the singletrack. The trail was faint, narrow but well marked with the red and white ribbons. Up steep little hills, then through open meadows. I kept looking around for wildlife, since Sherpa John had indicated that we were most likely to see animals in that distant, quiet section. No wildlife, but several groups of mountain bikers! They were all really cool, pulling over and letting us around. I was starting to miss my wheels at that point... My legs felt good - a few unusually sore areas for only have run about 18 miles. I chalked it up to the uneven terrain and crazy steep descents.
Just a trail - winding through aspens...
In one of the meadows, I saw the brightly colored outfit of the second place woman. Not too far ahead of me and slowing on the climbs. Still moving well through the flatter sections of trail, but I was catching her. I thought about trying to pick up the pace a little and making a move but opted not to. Once I did catch her, we ran together for a bit and then I went around. Into second. Would I be able to reel in first? I put the thought out of my mind and returned my focus to the trail. I'd missed the section where I'd turned around, but on Sheep Creek trail, I was remembered everything. The long gradual climbs out of the creek drainages, the narrow bridges, the exposed southern slopes and the wooded northern slopes.
At the top of the final climb, the canopy of the aid station came into view. I had a drop bag there with some extra food and socks, but it was only five miles to where Nick was waiting. I opted to just grab some snacks and get a little fresh water for the road. To my surprise, Joanna told me I was in the lead. But I'd never passed the other woman.. Had she gotten lost, stepped off the trail far enough I didn't see her? Who knew. But I was suddenly the hunted...
 
Waltrus to Round Hill - crew and spectators! And moose! After leaving Waltrus with cold water, ice and two frozen sugar treats, I prepared myself for the five mile road slog to Round Hill. It would be easy running, but exposed and hot. And windy - the wind had kicked up and was gusting little dust devils around the roads. I didn't know where anyone was, but knew that with my bright red long sleeved shirt and hunter's orange hat - I was a target... And very easy to see. Oh well.
The initial drop to the county road was another steep sucker. I picked my way around the ruts, being careful with my footing. At the parking lot where Nick and I had started out during our scouting run, I heard a noise in the woods. Looking up, I saw a large moose standing just off in the trees. And she wasn't alone - at first it was just one calf, but as I took a few more steps, I saw the second calf. All three of them just stood there, staring at me. Momma didn't necessarily look happy, so I kept moving. Then not even half a mile later, another moose! This one an even crankier looking bull moose - I really didn't stick around too long to admire him... It wasn't the first time I wished I'd had my camera with me!
The road was long as I'd anticipated. And my legs were aching. Aching much more then I wanted for being only 27 miles into the race. Add in the wind, traffic and dust and I was more then ready to crest that final hill and see the gathered crew and spectators. I ran past the aid station, checking in and out, and headed straight to the van where Nick was waiting. I did confuse the volunteers a little since he was parked just past the turn off the road...
Nick had everything ready - chair for me to sit down in, my new shoes and a fresh pair of Swiftwick Pursuits ready, de-fizzed coke, food and the new bladder for my pack. I took off the old shoes and socks, cleaned my feet a little and then put on the new pairs while Nick swapped bladders out. Then he washed my face, soaked my hat, refilled my handheld and stashed more food in the pockets. I drank as much of the soda as I could (he made me finish it...) and finished the food I'd opened and had been nibbling on. The whole process was quick and smooth - our years of mountain bike race pit stops helped more then I'd anticipated. Then it was time to head back into the woods - back up to Brown's Pass..

Round Hill to Brown's Pass - where the heck did this steep hill come from? I knew there would be climbing but seriously? It wasn't the climb up Round Hill that got me - that wasn't bad and there were plenty of wildflower to distract me from the elevation. The demons were lurking right in the back of my mind - I could see the second and third place women ascending the jeep road below me. Were they more experienced and had they paced better? When would they make the catch? I looked behind me more then I should have - magnifying the effect of the demons.
On the climb out of Round Hill - the photo does not do the flowers justice
Photo - Sherpa John
The sun was high and the temperature climbing - the head intensified by the smoke in the air. The wind had kicked up and was blowing smoke up the valley from the Hayden Pass Fire east of Salida. I could feel the smoke burning in my mouth as I climbed. I ran where I could, but felt like I was walking almost everything. But every time I looked over my shoulder, I could see how steep the climb really was. Wow. Ugh. And the jeep road we were running on was rocky and loose, making it even harder. My legs and feet were happier with the new shoes and clean socks, but the spunk was gone. I was still power hiking well, but not running much. And it felt like every turn tipped up even higher, with even more climbing. I could see Brown's Pass in the distance, nestled below the barren summit of Sheep Mountain. It really wasn't that far, I kept telling myself. In a few places, the trail seemed to vanish - and all I was doing was following the line of ribbons. It made it hard to try running as I wasn't sure where I was going and there was no clear trail to follow. But the route finding kept my mind off the women behind me. I was still looking behind me, but not as frequently as I had to keep my eyes peeled for ribbons.
The faint trail opened up to a more well used jeep road and I was able to run a little better. Again, the fatigue and soreness in my legs was concerning. I hadn't ever had issues like this before in any of my long runs. There were sections of road that I was sure I should be running, but every time I tried, my legs just ached. With more then 20 miles to go, I knew it would be a long day if I pushed too hard. The goal was to finish - no destroy myself! The brief lull in climbing ended quickly as we started the final ascent to Brown's Pass. It had been a quiet stop before - just a few people and everyone being serious. Not this time - I popped out of the thick trees to music, banners and cowbells... I hadn't planned on much more then refilling my handheld and getting some real food and it was a good thing. Brown's Pass was the hardest aid station to get to and they were the one we saw twice. And they were already running low on some things.
 
Brown's Pass to Pasture - the plummet from the mountain and to supplies. With a full handheld and after inhaling some watermelon, I steeled myself for the descent to Pasture. This part I'd run - I knew it would be steep, rocky baby heads and just plain challenging for the first few miles. It was a short section, but hard and painful. My legs were getting to the point where I had no desire to try to run down the steeper sections of trail.
There was a crowd of people at the Pasture Crew Point. I knew where I was headed - right to the brown van. Nick again had the chair set up with everything he though I would need ready for me and more. This time both the coke and a ginger ale - which he insisted I drink. Food, the yogurt I wanted and a refilled bladder with some ice. I did have one request he hadn't anticipated - soaking my long sleeved shirt in some ice water. That was one benefit of the long sleeves - getting the shirt wet helped keep me cooler then just soaking my skin. We got everything done and then I was off again. Fourteen miles left to go. An easy run... Should only take about three hours.... I was cutting the time on my goal of 11 hours close. I'd have to keep moving and stay focused for the last miles in order to make it. I had time still - but with the race being 54 miles, not 50 - I was already tight at the start. Part of trail running though. Everyone in the race was faced with the same challenges.

Pasture to Horseshoe - "You've been warned..." Next time I see that on a race communiqué,  I'll pay a little more attention! I knew we were climbing back up - or at least halfway up Sheep Mountain. I knew we were crossing Limber Grove again. But I didn't know how we were getting there. In my exploration run, I'd gotten a little turned around and turned before Pasture, missing some of the singletrack. I trotted down the road, working on a comfortable ultra shuffle on the double track. Just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And keep eating and drinking... John had directly said that this was a long, slow seven miles, planting the seeds of worry in my mind.
Onto singletrack and one of the guys I'd been going back and forth with finally caught me for good. He was running more of the downhills then I was at that point and it was all the difference. I'd dropped down into 6th place overall. I kept up my trot, walking and power hiking when I needed to, but not able to increased the pace much for the descents. With the slowness of my pace, the demons had come roaring back. And now we were in the trees and I couldn't seen behind me at all. I didn't know if I had two minutes, five minutes or 20 minutes. I'm sure I wasted a lot of energy and time looking over my shoulder, wondering where everyone was. Something to remember for next time - if there is a next time! The first section of singletrack was fun. Really pretty and really nice running. It was a hiker/horse/bike trail, but didn't seem like it got a lot of use. But it was well made and easy to follow as it meandered up and down and around trees and meadows. Another section of double track followed, trending downhill. I knew that anytime we had a downhill, that meant another climb was coming. I just didn't know where the turn would be to start the climb back up Sheep Mountain.
But when it came, it was clear that it was time to climb again. This was a motor bike trail and as such followed different rules. With an engine, going straight up the mountain is a little easier! We climbed up a gully, the trail zigzagging from side to side of the narrow gully. Steep. Very steep. I kept looking behind me, thinking how much more fun it would be to descend on wheels instead of climbing. The walls of the gully kept it shaded and it was cool and green. I wasn't doing much running at all and even my power hiking had slowed drastically. I kept telling myself that everyone else was just as tired and hurting just as much, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I would hit the downhill soon and be able to run again. Or so I thought. I should have known better given the steepness of the ascent that the downhill wouldn't be what I was able to run at that time. A very narrow, off camber ribbon of trail before rejoining the first 10 miles of the course. I wasn't running much - picking my way carefully through the rocks. But I wasn't the only one suffering on the descent - I was able to catch one of the other guys ahead of me as we started the traverse of Limber Grove. We talked briefly - it sounded like he was hurting pretty bad and hearing the aid station across the creek wasn't helping moral.
But when we finally reached the aid station - finally food other the sweet! Tator tots, pickles...mmm. I had three little cups of pickles while the volunteers refilled my bladder with some water and added some Skratch mix. I also refilled my handheld, knowing that it would be a long 7 miles to the finish.
And then I was off - in 5th place again, but with the assurances that the two guys head of me were looking pretty rough.
 
Horseshoe to Finish - the longest miles of open road. Having run the South Park Trail Marathon, I knew what was coming. The double track climb up out of the aid station. The rocky forest service road leaving the trees behind. I remembered all the turns and the gradual climbs and  hoped to use that to my advantage in the last few miles. I used the climb to eat - knowing that the seven miles I had left would take me about 80 minutes. It wasn't time to stop eating yet. My legs were hurting on the descent out of the trees and I had to stop and walk a few times. My goal was to just settle into my shuffle and keep it moving until the finish. I had my doubts though - my legs were hurting. Beyond the fatigue of 47 miles hurting. The watch and the realization that I wouldn't make my goal of sub 11:00 was starting to play with the demons - that and the fact that we were again on open road and easy to see.
On the last stretch of Forest Service road, with just about 6 miles to go. Sheep Mountain in the background
Off the rocky road and onto the washboarded county roads. Easier running, but still hard. The ribbons leading the way were still there, but 11 hours of traffic had dusted out some of the paint on the road. I knew where I was going though. With a quick stop at unmanned water stop at Blue Stem, I refilled my handheld and kept moving. My watch hit 50 miles in 11:09 - so I had been close to my goal if the race had been just fifty! But I had another four miles to go. On the top of one of the small hills, I glanced over my shoulder to see two runners behind me. I couldn't tell if one of them was a woman or not, or even where they had come from. And despite my best efforts at "picking up the pace" There was no oomph left in my legs. Even my shuffle was getting painful.
Just a few more hills and a few more miles left to go. I ran a little, shuffled a little, walked some more and repeated the process. All the while, looking over my shoulder, seeing the runners behind me moving smoothly and making up ground. Each corner gave me a chance to hide my walking. Yes, the demons were screaming that I was going to get caught, that I would loose the win in the final miles of a 54 mile race. I was so happy I'd done the SPTM as I rounded each corner - knowing what was coming was one less stressor in the end of a long race. Pavement - getting closer. All that was left was the drop into the beach and then the climb out and over to the Fairgrounds. I was still running - shuffling - walking, but trying to keep the running and shuffling more then the walking. The runners behind me were close as I climbed up from the beach. Close enough that I was fairly sure it was two guys, but not confident. Luckily, I didn't have to wait for traffic on HYW 9 - was able to run right through. The long straight road leading up to the Fairgrounds and the finish - a gradual climb that I would have to run in order to hold off the runners behind me.
It was close.
Into the finish line - the two guys almost caught me!
I finished in 11:55, taking third overall. With the course being extended this year to start and finish at the Fairgounds, it was actually a new course record - despite being 25 minutes slower then the women's winner last year. And the guys behind me? They had actually taken a wrong turn just after the unmanned water stop which was why they appeared so suddenly behind me after getting back on course.

Finished!
 
With a smile!
The minute I stopped running, stopped moving - everything hurt. Nick had the chairs out and that was it for the day. We hung out at the finish, cheering for all the other running completing the race. Nick took over grilling food for the volunteers and runners. There was a band playing at the fair, the Ferris wheel spinning and it was a nice, relaxing night. With Nick up and about, we had many runners using the other chair - happy for a place to sit after a long day on their feet. Everyone who finished was saying that it was the hardest race they'd done - and they were hours slower then any other fifty. We stayed until the bitter end - the 10:00 cut off - and got to watch the final runners finishing just before 10:00.

A slightly out of focus Ferris Wheel to finish it out with...