San Juan Solstice 2015
Prologue (or something)
Well... I haven't posted for a while. One can only do so many things in life and Leadman training that I was posting so much about a while back came to a grinding halt. Well... Posting halted but training has been great. I love not having a coach and just being able to ad lib it. It seems to be working pretty well. I hope to make some backward posts about as many details as I can remember to get caught up eventually but this race is most freshly on my mind. I wish I had cool pictures but not badly enough to have carried a camera this race. Hopefully, I find a cool photo or two on the web in the near future to add to this report.
Friday June 26 rolled around and I was almost a week from finishing the Leadville Trail Marathon. I had laid down a decent training week but some late week storms cut into what I felt was a really key training week for the next bit at the Leadman series with the two Silver Rush 50s just 3 weeks away. That leaves just two solid weekends for training and I didn't want to do anything huge the weekend before over 4th of July. Friday rolled around and I got an ultra-signup alert that there were 7 slots open for the San Juan Solstice 50. I thought that couldn't be right. That race always fills up within minutes and this year there was even a lottery which meant probably a long waiting list. Anyhow, I called the RD, and asked him if that was right. He said absolutely! I proceeded to tell my boss I needed to leave work early (priorities!) and called the wife to beg her permission for this last minute decision. As I registered, I was intrigued as I wanted to beat last year's time where I was very ill prepared but I didn't want to hurt my bid at Leadman. I seemed to be healing fast from other events this year and I figured if I just ran the race and not raced and took the next two weeks easy, I just might be ok. I punched the clock and raced home to pack my bags. Thankfully, I didn't commute by bike that day due to the ill forecast that was 100% wrong. I quickly packed some food and drop bag and race items and said my goodbyes to Anna and wished her and my son well. I felt kind of bad leaving them as our house was still all torn apart from our toilet flooding incident the weekend prior while we were in PBville.
I really wanted to make the evening checkin cutoff at 7 PM but as luck would have it with a combination of Friday Afternoon mountain traffic, construction in several spots only allowing one way traffic, I found myself zooming south on CO 149, which is arguably the most beautiful drive in the state in order to make it. I rolled into town at just after 7 and picked up my race packet and number at the race check-in, this year at an Art gallery vice the Armory town gym. I left my drop bags while I texted my friends Andy and Sarah from NM. I met them last year at the Pagosa Springs Devil Mountain 50 and then ran again to them again at Jemez this year. Turns out they were camping just up engineer pass road. My dad and I had a great time at Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill last year so I thought I would give it another shot for dinner. This race does a cool thing and gives $15 vouchers for any of several local restaurants. This is cool for the local business. After plopping at the bar and ordering a tasty beverage, I was informed that the wait was 90 minutes plus so I gulped my drink down and bounced. I made my way over to Poker Alice and ordered me a Bison Burger while I readied my gear for the next day. After getting my food, I drove up Engineer Pass Road to find Andy and Sarah huddled in their Tacoma away from the skeeters and we chatted for a while and caught up while I scarfed my delicious burger. We were bedded down by 9:30ish and as always on my first night of camping, I slept horribly.
4AM came quickly and I went on with the usual morning routine. I was already dressed for the race and just put on my socks and shoes and quickly broke down the tent and threw my gear in the back of the Prius. I missed having my tacoma with the "mobile bed" to sleep in and not have to setup a tent but getting 52 miles per gallon on the round trip was also nice. With a slathering of sunscreen, a quick poop in the woods, and some key swipes of vaseline in my bits and bytes, I was about ready. I sipped my warm coffee from my thermos as I ate my signature pre-race pop-tarts. Breakfast of champions! By 4:25 we were on our way into town and got rockstar parking at the city park. It was eerily warm at probably 60 degrees so I decided to start in a t-shirt but with gloves. I carried the hand bottle with the small pouch for snacks and the fanny pack bottle with my rain coat and minimal medical supplies and a lighter. With an afternoon rain forecast for over 40% I was sure we would get rain and I was just hoping to be out of the alpine before it happened. Pre-race I ran into Mark Porter who I also met at Devil Mountain and Jemez where he beat me and then I beat him. I also saw Rocque and we said our hellos as he was surprised to see me. I had bib number 246 of 246 with my late signup. I said to a few other familiar faces and met some other new ultra friends as we waited anxiously for the start. 5 mins before the race, I realized I was still sporting my pink and purple kids headlamp and I didn't want to carry that so I dropped it in the car.
Start to Alpine Aid
At 5AM sharp, the starting gun went off as we all lined the street. A little smarter about the course than last year, I started near the front as we began running through town in the dark. As always the front few runners went straight and missed the right turn for Engineer Pass road where we would do the first 2.7 miles. I was torn on this gradual climb as for a race of this difficulty and distance, my strategy would be to keep the heartrate below 160 and stay back from the front so I could pass people later if I was feeling good. I learned the lesson last year though that if you do this, when it pinches to single track after you cross Henson Creek (rushing river) you will be walking and waiting in line at the umpteen river crossings behind folks that had no business sprinting up the road and are now causing traffic jams. Ok, that was a little harsh, naturally with that many people, there are going to be traffic jams no matter the speed. This year, I am in much better shape than last year and will honestly not be in this good of shape the rest of my live. Leadman and the commitment is kind of a one time thing since I value my family and my marriage.
After this year, I will go back to only ultra running and drop the biking racing part. I will still ride for commuting and recovery but not at training levels. Bottom line is that last year from the start of the year to the race, I had 177 hours total of training and half that was January and Feb and almost none in the several weeks prior. Last year my determination and history with 14ers and altitude got me through this race and I was puking for 2 days after because of putting my body through more than it was in shape for. This year, I had roughly 329 training hours before the race and was feeling much better with even a couple of 3 a day workouts. Anyhow, back to this race. To stay roughly 1/3 of the way back in the pack, I was having to do sub 7:30 pace the first couple miles up the gradual hill. I was trying to keep my heartrate below 170 as we climbed which was already too high but I was willing to sacrifice. As we climbed, several folks passed me huffing and puffing hard and I wondered what they were thinking. The last half mile, I realized I let too many pass me as the road steepened and I didn't want to deal with that at the river crossings so I picked up pace and passed 20 or so bringing my heartrate to something like 185 before crossing the bridge onto the singletrack where I found myself right behind Mark Porter. We jogged up through the trees as we chatted. I was glad to have a more relaxed pace now and brought my heartrate down to the 160-165 range and hiked some of the steeper small spots. This was gravely different than the forced hike here last year. As we arrived at the first river crossing, we skipped across. I think it was slightly lower water levels than last year. After a couple more, the feet were numb and would just start to warm up before we got into another. Most had ropes this year where I think none or 1 did last year. Only one time was there a bit of a jam as people waited for one that allowed you to walk on a log. With the clock ticking, I didn't want to be standing around so I decided to just forgo the rope and log and go through the water. OOps. There is a reason they were waiting, I ran and quickly found that it was deeper than appeared as I stepped almost up to my waist and fell and soaked my gloves. I was just hoping it wasn't too cold up high to freeze my wet hands but this is why I wore the OR gloves and not leather biking gloves.
After the last river crossing I busted out a honey stinger waffle and my first salt cap. After I ate the waffle, I went right into a bag of honey stinger chews. Somewhere in here, I realized that I dropped Porter. It was nice chatting with him but I figured he would catch and surpass me on the descent because that is is his specialty. I just kept one in my cheek almost the whole race from then on out. The climb began to steepen up the mountain and the mixed running and hiking turned almost to 100% power hiking as I saw a good 20-30 folks all strung out in front of me for as far as I could see up. I would run any small section just to keep my legs remembering this was a Run. I kept my HR below 165 the whole way up. I was much faster than last year where I was pushing 180 all of the way up this too which is a testament to proper training. I passed a handful of guys and what I later found was the lead female on this section who had passed me below after one of the water crossings. I arrived at Alpine aid feeling fresh and finished one 24oz bottle of Gu Rocktane. I thanked the kind folks for being there but didn't take anything as I swapped bottles for the remaining distance to Williams Creek.
Alpine Aid to Williams Creek
From Alpine Aid, the climb continues. The few guys who were behind me all stopped to get aid so I got some distance there as I focused on the next gentlemen in front of me. It was a really tall guy. I notice funny things about people as I am running. Surprisingly, I was able to run more than not to the top of the climb out of the trees. With some more ups, down, and sideways through the alpine terrain, I outhiked a couple more guys as I took note of the extreme beauty that we are so lucky to have in this state. There were a couple of snow crossings but they were already soft. In no time, I was descending towards Williams creek. I tried to keep the pace modest so as not to blow out muscles that would be needed later. Rather than rocketing down, I kept the HR around 150 and the pace around 8 min/mile. Just above treeline, I had to stop once to dump a rock. About a mile before Williams Creek, I saw Porter 100 yards behind me. He caught up like I thought. I decided to slightly pick it up here to the aid. Felt good to be able to do this as last year I was already walking downhill here and hurting badly. I rolled into the aid and was glad I had no drop bag to slow me down here. I just had the race crew top off my 2 bottles with AcliMate, grabbed a handful of fruit and a handful of tortilla guacamole thingies. I think I got here 20 minutes faster than last year and was feeling a whole lot better.
Williams Creek to Carson
I was in and out in well under a minute and said hi to Jason Schlarb on the way by like were friends or something. haha. Other than him serving me a burger at Run Rabbit Run last year, he has never seen me and probably has no reason to recognize me but said hello anyhow and smiled. I ran down through the campground and began the gradual climb up the dirt road towards the next section of hte course. Last year, I walked much of this partly because I was hurting and partly because of the popped water bladder fiasco. This year, I was running and trying to keep the Heart rate around 160 and keeping the pace around 9 min/mile average. A couple short miles later, I managed to eat all of the fruit and dissolve some of the guac tortillas in my cheek. No one passed me on this section but a couple of gents caught up to right behind me. As soon as we turned up the steep 4 mile climb to Carson, I began to hike and took another salt pill. I was just about on schedule of one per hour but was a little past on this one I think. This section is steep jeep road for the next few miles so I mostly speed hiked as I put some distance on the couple of dudes behind me and passed a couple in front. Knowing this section was only about 6 miles from aid to aid and the next was much longer, I decided to go heavy on the liquids. My goal was to to finish both 24 oz bottles of aclimate before reaching Carson. One gentlemen went jogging right up the road and passed me quick and was gone. I thought about running and knew it would be faster but didn't want to burn out energy I needed later. With the HR around 160 still I kept pushing and it was beginning to get warm. The last mile or so, the road mellows a bit and I ran maybe 2/3 of the time and hiked the rest to keep the HR in check. I slowly reeled in the 3 guys I could see in front of me and came into Carson right behind them feeling good. I finished off my second bottle right as I pulled up. Already 4 X 24 oz bottles down in the first 20 miles! There, I got my first drop bag and re-slathered sunscreen and swapped bottles. I decided to go with 3 full 24 oz bottles. 2 of Electrolite and one of H20. This meant one in each hand and one on the back. I also decided to drop the gloves and not pick up the leather biking gloves. I always run with gloves in case of a fall but I decided to risk it today. Right before I bounced, I chugged 2 cups of Coke. My first of the day but great timing for the next long long hard section.
Carson to Divide
The wonderful aid crew sent me out with a baggie of fruit. This was nice as I am used to carrying it in my gloves or whatever. I hiked out and settled my pace taking my second pee of the day. I kept the hike moderate as I sucked down the fruit. A couple of guys were close behind out of the aid and the guys that I had caught had gained some distance. The ebbs and flows of an ultra... As we got back up above treeline, it was still heating up but I was feeling good and glad I took it easy for a while to eat the fruit. I knew this section was long but it was the last of the major climbing except for the Vickers climb. Really I think 75% of the climbing is in the first half of this course. In the final amount of climbing to the top of the divide, I passed a couple more and was trailing a few more guys. I had no idea where I was in the pack but figured I was in 50th or something. Not really sure but I just kept moving. I hiked where it was steep and ran when possible to keep the HR around 160 sometimes now falling into the upper 150s where my MAF really is for fat burning maximum. Right at the high point of the course, the 3 in front of me stopped for a quick breath and pee and I took the liberty to pass. Just after this is the 25 mile mark and I was just under 5:30 for time. This was an hour faster than last year and I was feeling much stronger still. There were darker clouds off in the distance but I was sure I would be back in the trees before they arrived (at least I hoped). Luckily, I have been in the mountains long before running and have a good aptitude for reading mountain weather. The divide has some ups and downs but you stay above 13K for quite a while. I was feeling good through here going around the snow fields where needed. Somewhere in here, I stubbed my toe that I forgot was recently broken and remembered the pain. Right after that, I took a pretty big slip in the mud and ate it hard. I realized I was getting a bit tired so I sucked down a gel. After a final really soggy section before starting to really descend to Divide, the downhill began. I was cruising along but still tired. Looking at my 3 X 48 oz bottles, I had just enough to make it to Carson without running out. I was immediately glad at my choice for 3 bottles vs. 2 as I saw another runner pack some snow in his bottle. I got passed by 3 I think on the descent here and took another slip in the mud just before the aid as I face planted this time. Another gentlemen asked if I was alright and I said... "Of course, It's just mud you know" I was really feeling it at this point and figured I was losing it and wondered if I would just stay a zombie for the remainder of the course of I would rise back from the dead. I hiked up the final hill to the aid at 31 miles where I wrung out my socks I had on best I could and suited back up while the awesome aid folks served me about 5 cups of coke. I tried to eat a pickle here and spat it out realizing I was over salted. I figured this was why I was starting to slow down and zombify so I asked the aid folks for just 2 bottles of water and no electrolyte. I grabbed a handful of pb&J and this crew sent me with another baggie of fruit.
Divide to Slum
Coming out of the aid, the lead female I had passed earlier was rolling in. She caught up and was right behind. I came out of the aid far behind the guys who had passed me on the descent and I could barely see them going over the next ridge most times. Another guy caught up and we both hiked up out of here. We talked a bit but I could tell he was about as fatigued as I was so we silently hiked. I would jog/hike some and then go back to hiking thinking the lead female would surely catch me here. Finally, we took the left turn and started to descend towards Slum. I went back to solely running for a full couple of miles and managed a 9-10 min pace finally forcing myself out of my over salted slump I began to distance myself from the guy behind me. When I got to where I could see the small climb up the pass to the rest of the descent, the guys in front were just cresting. They had well over a mile on me now. I hiked some of that climb in the decent headwind that teared up my eyes well before starting the descent. I was able to still run but I was probably averaging about 9 min pace. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower, I made my way down to the aid. My heartrate was locked right at about 155. I couldn't really push harder but the fat burning zone felt great and sustainable. I rolled into the aid at just under 8:20 I think. Last year, I was at 10 hours here. I suddenly wondered about the possibility of completing the race in 10:30. This blew my mind as last year the last 10 miles took me about 2:30 to complete but I was feeling much worse. I quickly said hi to Sarah who had dropped at Williams due to IT issues and messed around with my aid bag restocking my honey stinger chews and having the aid crew take my trash, give me about 4 cups of mountain dew and coke and a baggie of fruit and I was gone jogging through the woods again. Much of the previous few miles, I could see no one behind me or in front of me although there were some runners sitting at the aid. I wondered if they were Williams Creek drops or if they were up here too. Either way... I finished off the second bottle of H20 just as I rolled in and felt like my salt was back under control.
Slum to VickersJust down the trail, I heard the aid station cheering in another runner. Someone else was catching me. I was torn here. I didn't want to go too fast and hurt Leadman with this bonus race but I really wanted sub 10:30. It was me vs. the clock. After navigating the faint trail back down to the road before the big climb, I tripped pretty good. I could tell I was tired and it was HOT. I started the big climb in a hike when I saw a guy behind me (like right behind) and then a guy and gal right behind him. I used them as motivation to keep moving. I managed to jog some less steep sections. Once we got into the aspens, I decided to just hike for a while as it was so humid around all of the green flourishing plants. Another guy passed the others and was right behind me. Near the top of the climb, the grade slightly eased and I ran some finally seeing 2 others in front of me earlier that we had piggy backed a couple of times. I made some ground on them until I decided to dump a rock. Of course, my shoelace knotted and it took me forever to untie. After I got all laced back up and moving, the rock was still there. It must have been in my sock. Oh well I thought, I really want 10:30. Through the descent, I could see the other two just too far to reach. I just kept moving and was feeling surprisingly good. My pace was still decent here and far far better than last year. I reached the Vickers aid having finished another bottle and 3/4. I had the crew just top off one bottle with water. I actually passed one guy right before the aid and found out he was from Georgia. What a BA to be running this fast from flat land. I didn't know how he was doing it. Right as I was pulling in, the other gentlemen bounced.
Vickers to Finish Line
After grabbing a handful of watermelon to go, I missed the turn and started going up again. Nicely, Georgia ran around the corner and shouted at me and said I was going the wrong way. I came back down to the aid and swore I was just wanting to climb some more haha. I made my way down the trail feeling great still but now a couple minutes behind the next guy. Suddenly, I had a spark and really wanted to make sub 10:30. I was still under 10 hours at this point thinking that last year at this point, I wasn't even at Slum yet. I picked up pace down the steep descent keeping it around or below 8 min. Based on my watch last year, I remembered it read 50.9 miles and that the run once off the mountain into town was longer than expected. I kept doing math thinking if I ran sub 9 min pace, I should make sub 10:30. This year I was crushing the descent where last year, I was barely able to hike it. I was shouting out loud like a crazy man in the heat. I was jokingly complaining to myself trying to keep the spirits high. I would shout It's effing hot out here at the top of my lungs. If anyone heard me, they probably thought I was crazy. I shouted other things like "KEEP IT TOGETHER MICAH." I was talking to myself and pepping myself up. For a while I think I was even singing Marine Corps running cadences "C-130's running down the strip, MICAH MORGAN is gonna take a little trip... Somewhere I stepped on a rock that jumped up and bit my ankle as I hollered OUCH. I was now less than 100 yd behind the gentlemen in front of me. Finishing the descent into town where it was pretty flat, I kept pushing wondering if I would make the 10:30 mark. I crossed the bridge behind this guy still running at around 8:30 pace which is all either of us could manage as we went for the finish. I looked at my watch and realized I was well under 10:30. Why did I go this fast? Oh well, maybe I should finish strong. I ran strong down the home stretch into the finish line and nabbed a 10:13. I was absolutely ecstatic. I dropped 2:17 off of last year and feel good vs like I wanted to die. The doc sat me down in the shade which I really didn't need but took a short break before looking at the finisher board. My tag was in 10th place. I was in disbelief as I asked the finish crew if that was correct. They said yes. I couldn't believe it. I knew I would be faster than last year but not by this much...Shortly after Rocque (who I never saw and figured was in front of me as usual) came in followed by the lead female and then Porter. To my surprise the finish line did not have beer which I think is the one main thing this race is missing. I grabbed my only 3 beers out of the ice chest and shared with Rocque and Porter in the hot sun. It was fun sitting there and cheering in all of the other runners. I hung around until around 13 and a half hours cheering folks in before making the decision to drive home. I was between staying the night to drive back early or driving back late. I really wanted to see Andy finish but Sarah was not yet down so I figured he was still pretty far back. I rationalized my decision with the fast that my family takes priority over Andy even though I think he is one cool dude. I drove back home enjoying the views and pondering the day as I downed all sorts of liquids without needing to Pee.
All in all, I had a very successful day and much I think can be attributed to "holding back" for Leadman. One of the main key to races of this length is restraint early on not to goo too hard. I think I had about 3 gallons total of liquid between electrolyte drinks, water, and all the coke I drank along with one gel, one honey stinger waffle, 3 packs of honey stinger chews, tons of fruit, some pb and j and the delicious guacamole tortilla wraps. What a beautiful weekend, a beautiful run and a great time meeting old friends and new ones. I hope to do this race several more times in the years to come! Now the focus comes back to Leadman as I try and recover the next 2 weeks until the Silver Rush 50 MTB and Run on consecutive days. I'm sure my legs will be fine but the real key of focus is the endocrine system. I need full recovery so I don't bonk hard late in those events from 2 hard weeks of racing.