Sometimes I Run

San Juan Solstice 50 – 2015 Race Report

Not really… There are already [plenty] [of] [good] [race] [reports] out there for the San Juan Solstice 50, and most of them do a better job at telling a story, summarizing the course, and providing pictures than I could ever do.

But I still wanted to write something about the experience because…. well, to be honest, it helps me to begin preparing for the next adventure. (Since I’m up to #24 on the Run Rabbit Run waitlist, I’m starting to think that might be next.)

So today, a few days after crossing the finish line, I’m left with a feeling of amazement at just how challenging the San Juan Solstice course is, and also how all that challenge happened over a straightforward and relatively natural 50 mile loop. I mean, I could cover a lot more vertical by running laps on any number of trails in the Flatirons (Fern Canyon, anyone?), but that’d just be chasing numbers, and wouldn’t involve an aesthetically pleasing loop among the peaks of Hinsdale County.

Some of the numbers on the San Juan Solstice 50:

  • 12,500 feet of climbing, and 12,500 feet of descent.
  • 24 miles of the course are above 11,000 feet of elevation, and approximately 13 miles of those are above 12,000 feet.
  • There are three sustained climbing sections – two sections that each climb almost 4,000 feet in 6.5-ish miles, and a devious section that kicks off the final 10 miles of the course by climbing 1,700 feet in less than 2.5 miles.

Add in multiple creek and drainage crossings, wet snow fields, mandatory mud bogs, and pissed off mosquitoes (I’d never before experienced such loudly buzzing clouds of bloodsucking annoyance…), and some of us in the back of the pack are going to need several more hours to complete this course than most other fifties.

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Every race has the potential to be a great learning experience, and this one certainly was for me:

  • I spent an extra 6 to 8 minutes at each of my three drop bags, taking time to apply extra lube to my feet and change socks (I run exclusively in those goofy-looking toe socks, so changing them takes a bit more time.) As a result, I learned that blisters are not inevitable, even in wet conditions, if I’m willing to spend the time taking care of my feet.
  • I also learned that I don’t necessarily have to worry about switching to a fresh pair of shoes partway through a long race in order to keep my feet in good shape. I suspect the bigger issue for me is how much stress I’m actually putting on my body. My average pace over the SJS course was roughly 17:30 per mile, which doesn’t equate to a lot of force or pounding being directed through my feet with each step. So even though I was on the go for nearly 15 hours, I finished with a single pair of Montrail Rogue Racers, and didn’t feel particularly beat up. My feet felt more bruised after this year’s Collegiate Peaks 25 (which took less than 4.5 hours).
  • Trekking Poles! I decided the day before the race that because I’d only done a few 1-2 hour training runs with poles, I’d go without. I think next time it might be worth experimenting with using them. I saw a lot more people using poles than I had expected.
  • Finally, I was reminded that a particular finish time or Ultrasignup ranking and doesn’t always correlate to what I feel about the race in terms of whether it was a “good day” or not. I ran my slowest ever 50 mile run at the San Juan Solstice, and I can’t wait to do it again. And, quite frankly, I’m shocked that the wait list to get into this race isn’t longer!

There was one more interesting thing I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before, and I’m wondering if anyone else has had the same experience. A few times during the climbs up high, I found myself in a maxed-out breathing situation. Not hyperventilating, and not needing to stop to catch my breath, but often having to fully exhale or inhale with each individual step.

But despite the heavy breathing, it didn’t feel like I was working as hard as that respiration rate would suggest. And sure enough, when I took my pulse, it was about the same as what it is when I run at an easy to moderate pace.

So what’s that all about? I assumed that my heart rate and respiration rate would both increase significantly while running that high up, but my respiration seemed to be affected much more than my heart rate.

Has that happened to anyone else out there? Is it a cause for concern? Is it something that can be improved through better pacing on the course?

San Juan Solstice Final Planning — Disposable Bottle Time!

The decision was made last night to proceed with the standard course for this weekend’s San Juan Solstice 50, which means that I can begin planning drop bags and making other logistical decisions.

I’d already decided that I would go with a two bottle hydration pack rather than using a bladder, and doing so necessitates that I find the best way to carry a third bottle for the first 9+ mile stretch along the Continental Divide Trail/Colorado Trail. Looking back at prior years’ results, and digging into the splits of people finishing in the 13-14 hour range (my hopeful finish time), I estimate that I’ll spend roughly 3 hours covering that segment of the course — so two bottles won’t be enough for me.

Since I’m not going to use trekking poles, I’ll be able to use my hands for that third bottle. But there isn’t a drop bag at the aid station that’s at the end of that section, and I don’t want to carry the third bottle until the next drop bag (another 9+ miles further).

So it’s time to make a disposable bottle.

I don’t know if anyone else does this kind of thing, so let me explain. By “disposable bottle” I mean a bottle that I only need for a portion of the race, that I plan to pick up from a drop bag part way through but (due to how the drop bags are spaced) plan to dispose of at an aid station (or other trash receptacle) before the finish. For example, at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 the section from Bull Wheel to Diamond Peak is too far for me to go on just two bottles. So I picked up a disposable handheld from Tunnel Creek, carried it empty to Bull Wheel (just a couple miles), then filled it along with the others for the run down to Diamond Peak. I don’t have a drop bag at Diamond Peak, so that’s where I put it into a trash can.

I don’t consider using a disposable handheld to be wasteful, just a cost of running the race (right alongside the entry fee, travel expenses, gear and fuel, etc.). Besides, over the years I’ve gotten so many water bottles as giveaways or at deeply discounted sale prices that the cash cost is generally just a dollar or two.

I started my construction with an empty bottle with an old Orange Mud bottle from the back of my gear closet. Initial weight: 3 ounces.

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My “go to” construction materials for these types of projects are duct tape (no surprise there) and woven polypropylene. The latter comes in many forms, but I use empty 25 pound rice bags (hooray Pacific Ocean Marketplace!) or those big blue shopping bags from IKEA. Here’s the scrap of the IKEA bag I settled on:

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For this build, I also decided to reuse a piece of packing foam that came with a recent electronics purchase and fashion a cushion for the back of my hand. I might be all weird and puffy at high elevation, right? So maybe a little comfort would be appreciated.

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Build a couple thin loops for the top and bottom of the bottle, attach the hand strap, and voila! 3.7 ounces for the finished product:

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But once it was done, I started to wonder if I could do better. Could I make something that was even lighter, and which would be easier to stow (either attached to my pack, or tucked into the waistband of my shorts) once it’s empty?

I went digging and found this horrible thing in my closet:

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I hate these little bottle-sack-bags. The edges are sharp, they’re crinkly and uncomfortable to carry, and I even though I’ve acquired a few of them over the years, I’ve never used them. But they are definitely light and packable. That sounds like a great candidate for disposable gear. Carrying capacity = approximately 18 oz.

Initial weight = 0.7 oz.

I figure that since this bottle will be the first one I start drink from once I leave the aid station, it should only take about 30 minutes before it’s half empty, at which point I can tuck it in my waistband. So to heck with the cushioning and the stronger polypro attachments, I’m going 100% duct tape on this one!

Start with a long strip…

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Use the clippy hole, go diagonal to avoid having to grasp across the sharp edge….

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And done.

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Just 0.8 oz total. Obviously there were some trade-offs made, and I’ll probably be happy to get rid of this thing when I get to the Divide Aid Station. But the best kind of disposable gear is the gear you won’t miss.

The Ultramarathon Race Wait List (Run Rabbit Run edition)

This is weird.

My previous experiences with limited-entry races have been good so far. My name was drawn in the lottery in the 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Run, and I had enough of a quicky clicky mouse finger to gain entry to the 2015 Umstead 100.

Now I’ve chosen to put myself on a race wait list. Mind you, this isn’t a case of me not getting chosen through a drawing or clicking fast enough. The Run Rabbit Run 100 doesn’t have an entry lottery (yet), but by the time I decided I wanted to give it a go, all the slots were taken and there were already 30-some people on the wait list.

I’ve moved up a bit in the past few weeks, but still:

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Honestly, having done this before, I don’t know what the chances are of that many people forfeiting their registrations. With 30 people ahead of me on the race wait list, and 300 entrants, that’s a 10% turnover before I get the shot to run. That sounds like a lot.

How likely is that to happen?

I know I’ll just keep plugging away at my free-form “training” approach, and that not having any idea of which race(s) I’ll be doing this fall won’t change anything in the here and now, but it’s a slightly odd state of mental limbo to be in: I’m confident I’ll be running SOMETHING challenging in a few months… I just don’t know exactly what.

Interestingly, I noticed that the race organizers give a future race entry fee credit to anyone who gives up their spot prior to August 15. I would assume that anyone who has registered but is thinking they’re not going to be able to run (due to injury, scheduling conflict, budgetary constraints, loss of appetite, etc.) would wait until just before August 15 to be absolutely sure they’re not going to run. There’s no real incentive to doing so now, so why not wait until August 15 just to see if circumstances change…

Does anyone out there know if the race had a wait list last year and, if so, what the turnover was like?

About Me:

My name is Jake, and sometimes I run. Sometimes I jog. Sometimes I power hike. And sometimes I walk with very little power whatsoever.

I don’t know if that makes me a “runner” or not, but I don’t think the classification matters much. Whenever I’m moving forward I’m happy.

Race Results:

This is a largely incomplete list. I did a fair amount of running in the pre-Internet era, but have no record of my times from races back then. The only forgotten race I’m curious about is the Mountain Masochist 50M – I ran it in the fall 1991.

I’ve done the Triple Bypass and the Copper Triangle, as well as a few bike races (including the Leadville 100 MTB and the Mount Evans ascent) in which I finished solidly near the very end of the field. I also did a couple adventure races in the late 1990’s, and DNF’d a few as well. (I really thought adventure racing would take off more than it did…)

2015

• 5/2 – Collegiate Peaks Trail Run 25M (4:20:44)

• 3/28 – Umstead 100 mile (DNF @ mile 62.5)

2014

• 9/27 – Bear Chase Trail Race 50 mile (10:52:29)

• 8/31 – Breck Crest Marathon (5:41:49)

• 7/19 – Tahoe Rim Trail 50M (13:42:00)

• 3/15 – Run Through Time Marathon (5:29:48)

2013

• 9/2 – Breck Crest Marathon (5:20:17)

• 7/14 – CMRA White Ranch Trail 10k (54:16)

• 6/1 – Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k (7:40:45)

• 5/4 – Greenland 50K (5:15:21)

• 2/16 – Red Hot 55K (6:53:38)

• 2/9 – CMRA Forty Furlongs (5M) (35:04)

• 1/5 – CMRA Lake Arbor 5K (20:54)

2012

• 12/8 – CMRA Cross Country State Championship 12K (55:59)

• 8/18 – CMRA Elk Meadow Trail Race 5.75M (46:56)

• 7/12 – Tahoe Rim Trail 50M (14:14:14)

• 6/30 – Rollinsville Rail Run 10M (1:21:13)

• 5/12 – Quad Rock 25M (5:09:32)

• 4/21 – Mt. Carbon Trail 1/2 Marathon (1:54:18)

• 3/24 – CMRA Spring Spree 10K (43:29)

• 1/7 – CMRA Lake Arbor 5K (20:59)

2011

• 11/12 – CMRA Stone House (2x) Triple-Cross Trail 8.5M (1:06:58)

• 10/9 – CMRA Coal Creek XC Challenge 5.72M (43:01)

• 9/17 – CMRA Hildebrand Ranch 6.6M (50:14)

• 9/4 – Breck Crest Marathon (5:54:27)

• 8/10 – CMRA Fairmount 5K Trail (22:11)

• 7/16 – CMRA White Ranch Trail 10K (56:52)

• 6/18 – CMRA Sand Creek 5 Mile (39:17)

• 6/4 – Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k (8:03:47)

2007

• 6/16 – Mt. Evans Ascent 14.5M (3:16:04)

• 4/29 – Boulder Distance Carnival 15K (1:20:11)

2001

• 6/30 – Finger Lakes Fifties 50K (6:13:43)

1997

• 10/26 – Marine Corps Marathon (4:56:13)

1996

• 11/5 – ING New York City Marathon (3:57:37)