Never Summer 100K
From the moment I first heard about this new race over a year ago, I wanted to take part. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Some people from Fort Collins went up to Cameron Pass last year to preview parts of the course, but I couldn’t make it. Then it was all covered in snow for 9 months. In June I finally got a chance to start previewing the course.
I didn’t get very far.
But I persisted. Over the course of 3 subsequent weekends I was able to preview around half of the 65 mile course.
The more I previewed the course, the more comfortable I became running the steep, gnarly terrain between 9,000-12,000 ft. On the other hand, the more I previewed the course the more concerned I became about just how hard this race was going to be. Initially I thought it might take 12 hours to run. Then I revised that estimate to 14. Then 16. Then I figured I’d be lucky to finish in 18.
Take a deep breath. Eat some cake.
Pack some bags.
Wake up early.
Try to remember where the aid stations are.
Miles 1-19: This could possibly be the best day ever
The start was cold. I brought a light jacket with me in case I needed it on the tops of the high mountains, but I ended up wearing it for the first 2-3 miles of the race. I started slow, even more so than necessary. I didn’t want to waste any energy before the first climb.
As soon as we hit the first climb I ramped up my effort. My goal was to keep my heart rate near 150, but not exceed that. This took a mix of running and fast walking to get that effort level dialed in. The first climb up Seven Utes Mountain was long, and very steep in places, but I had already done it three times prior to the race, so there was nothing unexpected here.
The descent was steep before it leveled out a bit and the cross country travel gave way to an actual trail before too long.
I ran with, just in front of, and just behind a group of about four guys during this stretch. I wasn’t concerned with their pace, just my effort level. There’s a lot of race left.
After a trip to the high alpine Lake Agnes, the trail dropped us out onto Michigan Ditch, a pancake flat, smooth dirt road at 10,300 ft. I ran my fastest mile of the race, 8:00. I certainly didn’t need to run a mile that fast 10 miles into a very difficult 65 mile race. But I kept my heart rate under 150, so I didn’t think it would cause any problems.
We hit the first aid station, then climbed up again to the American Lakes, before descending all the way back down to highway 14 to the mile 19 aid station.
I was moving at a good clip and I felt great.
Miles 19-45: I walk alone down the darkest road
Then came the most difficult climb of the day, North Diamond Peak. Calling it steep doesn’t really do it justice. The last ½ mile goes straight up the side of the mountain (no switchbacks) and gains 1,300 ft. before topping out at 11,852 ft.
I didn’t feel good on this climb. I wasn’t moving fast. A half dozen people passed me on the way up. I briefly went off course while following some other people rather than paying attention to where I was going. It was brutal.
From North Diamond we followed the ridge line of the Medicine Bow Mountains to the north for a couple miles. Every time we hit any sort of incline I had to walk.
I didn’t feel terrible, but I was pretty sure my best miles were behind me. Maybe I can make up time on the double-track descent. Oh, it’s really rocky and a guy tripped and face-planted right in front of me.
I guess it’s more slow running for a while. But at the bottom there’s a few miles of relatively flat terrain at relatively low elevation. Maybe I can make up some time there. Oh, there’s no real trail to speak of and it’s mostly bushwacking through tall grass.
I guess I’ll be walking for a while. Well, what comes next? Oh, several miles of climbing. My legs can’t run uphill right now. Plus it’s now the middle of the day and it’s super hot.
I guess I’ll be walking for the foreseeable future.
Well, after all that climbing there will be some descent. Maybe that will suit me. Oh, I missed a course marker and ended up descending through a boulder field instead of crossing the boulder field and descending on the trail.
And I’ve run out of water. Okay, get back on course, get some water at the aid station, and regroup. Things were going to hell in a hand basket. I had been walking forever. All kinds of people were passing me. It was a struggle. Now, at no point were things bad enough to consider dropping. I felt fine walking, and the time limit was generous enough that I could have walked the entire rest of the race and still finished within the allotted time. I just needed to keep moving and hope things would get better.
Finally I reached a runnable downhill section of trail and boy did I run. I passed several of the people who had passed me on the way up. Things were finally starting to… SHIT IS THAT ANOTHER CLIMB? Okay, a few more miles of walking, losing positions, just to turn around at Clear Lake and go back down, AND THIS TRAIL IS TOO ROCKY TO RUN DOWN.
Keep it together, Ragfield.
Miles 45-65: We all suffer but we recover
After leaving the Clear Lake aid station for the second time I headed on a long gradual downhill to what I expected to be the easiest part of the course. A guy passed me and I followed him for a while. At one point I noticed a strange sensation. Hey, I’m running uphill. Sure it was a small hill and it wasn’t very steep, but it had been hours since I had run even the slightest incline.
I ran up the next hill, and the next hill, and the next. Between the hills I was running faster than I had been for several hours. There was less than 20 miles to go, and for some reason I felt like I was just starting out on a 20 mile run. I picked up the pace. I passed the guy I had been following, and over the course of the next four miles I passed four more people.
I hit the mile 50 aid station moving reasonably fast. I tried to maintain this momentum after the aid station, but I was quickly thwarted by the course. We hit another section of “trail” that wasn’t really a trail. Tall grass covering big rocks and downed trees doesn’t really mix with running, so it was a hike again. It was super frustrating for me at this point in the race to feel so fresh and to be so eager to run, yet I couldn’t run.
After getting back on a real trail I picked up the pace and started moving well again. Before long I came into the last big aid station and, to my slight surprise, I got to see Melissa who was there waiting for me. It was an hour before sunset and I had about two hours left to go, so I picked up my headlamp and I started up the final long climb of the day.
It was gradual and the surface was good, and I WAS RUNNING. Man, was I ready to be done with this. At the very top the trail got a little rougher and I walked the last little bit as the daylight vanished. I turned on my headlamp as I began running a flat section of double-track. Easy, right? Nope. The road was covered in tiny tree stumps sticking up a couple inches. Just the right amount for your shoe to slide right in there and then trip when you try to pick it back up. I stumbled a few times before I resigned myself to walking. Again, I felt like running but I couldn’t.
My watch battery died around here so I didn’t know what my time or distance was. I ran slowly in the dark down the mountain to highway 14, where Melissa was waiting to run the last 2 miles with me. It was relatively smooth and flat. Before long we spotted another headlamp ahead of us. This was a surprise, as I didn’t think I was near anyone else on the course by this point. I picked up the pace, passed the runner, then picked up the pace even more. After I got around him I noticed a headlamp following me. I didn’t know whether it was him or Melissa. I ran even faster. I did about a ⅓ mile at sub-7:00 pace (64 miles into the race) before Melissa caught back up to me and I realized the guy I passed wasn’t chasing me down. Time to ease up and cruise into the finish.
I finished in 16h01m, which was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. It wasn’t as fast as I would have ideally liked, but it was fast enough. I’m happy with that.