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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?