Saturday, September 14, 2019

Run Rabbit Run 50 Ultra

What an adventure. Eleven months of planning, preparation, and training led to an elating and exhausting experience at the Run Rabbit Run 50 of 2019. In many ways this feels like the culmination of several years worth of training and pushing myself into increasingly harder and harder challenges. I set out to see how far I could go, and at least for the moment, I've found a satisfying answer to the question.

I'm going to break this report down into several sections. Some of you may wish to read just about the race itself and learn a little about the course without being bogged down in too much of my own personal story. If you're this person go to the "Race Notes". Those of you that know me may enjoy reading the personal story and thoughts in the other sections. It is my goal in this to recap my experience for my own recollections down the road. I also wish to share this experience with others who may be looking to either understand it or perhaps attempt something similar themselves someday.

Table of Contents
Travel + Pre-race
Race Gear + Fuel
How did I choose the RRR 50?
How in the world can you run 50 miles?
Race Notes
Track + Map

Background + Training
I decided to register for the RRR50 on Nov 4, 2018. At the time I was less than two weeks removed from an inguinal hernia surgery. It completely shut my running down for almost six weeks. I wasn't even back to my daily 10,000 steps a day yet. I was at square one to say the least. But I needed a carrot to dangle in front of me to push ahead in my reboot over the coming weeks and months. I needed a bold and daring goal to continue to take big steps forward.

In April 2018 I had completed my first ultramarathon having great success running a 50K during Trail Weekend in Pinckney, Michigan. In fact it was part of their No Wimps challenge by running the Half Marathon on Saturday and the 50K on Sunday. It was 44 miles in two days. It was enough of a confidence boost to make me think a 50-mile race was within reach someday. But I also knew going from my post-surgery state of running 0 miles to a full training load was going to take a lot of time.
Just after first light, climbing the road up Mt. Werner

I used a 25-week training plan for the RRR50 which had me starting that formal training at the end of March 2019. I began in January my ramping up of miles. My long run at that point was only about four miles so I had a long ways to go. I laid out a plan to get me up to comfortably running half marathons again from January to March. It was all somewhat time sensitive. In order to keep the weekly increases at a reasonable level and keep injury risk low I needed every week I had at my disposal to do this right.

By the end of March I was in a good position with my rebuild of my running training and was ready to dive into full on training. In fact, my build up had gone so well with almost no setbacks that I ambitiously took on the Carpe Diem/Carpe Noctem race at Proud Lake State Park on April 6. This entailed a half marathon at 8:30am and then a second one at 7:00pm. By the end of the day it would be a marathon. I loved the idea of running this kind of double and I wanted to do the night racing for the first time. It went really well. It was such a confidence boost to put in that kind of mileage at this point in my training. It was a moment where I could almost say "I'm back."

The overall training plan I developed was strongly focused on the long run. The weekly mileages were no higher than what I had done for 2018's 50K. In fact, I only had four weeks of the 25 where I went over 50 miles in the week. Training through the southern Michigan summer wasn't without its challenges either. As I got into June and later the mornings became my best free time to run. But they were also the most humid times of the day. It was regular to have temps in the upper 60s or 70s with humidity levels at 95%. This was a big challenge with the long runs when I would be outside for 2-3 hours. This was at its worst for my July 24th 24-mile run. I ran it on the Poto Trail up at Pinckney State Park and I got up there at 5am hoping to get as many miles in as possible before things heated up. Well, it was 72 degrees already with a peak of 85 during the run. It was a serious sweat fest. It had me especially concerned about how the 31 mile training run would go 3 weeks later. Thankfully, when that day arrived, the weather came around nicely with starting temps down at 55 degrees.
Full moon over Steamboat Springs

That 31-mile run went really well and was my second ultramarathon run I had completed. I did this one without a race environment or aid stations. I used my vehicle every 13 miles or so as the only base. My last big training event was running the North Country Trail Run Marathon 3 weeks ahead of the big race. I was planning to focus on training and recovery more than the race aspect. However, things went far better than I could have ever imagined. I paced the first half of the race much slower than when I had run it previously in 2015. This allowed me plenty of energy for the difficult last six miles of the race which I absolutely nailed. I ended up running it in 4:44 a personal best for trail marathons. It was the final big confidence boost I needed to know I was in a good spot.

I've looked back and tried to evaluate in several ways how the 6 months of training for the RRR50 went. I think I can break it all down into four categories: mileage, strength training, long runs, and personal fitness. In regards to personal fitness, I had set a weight goal at the start hoping to get that aspect of my body and training into a good place. Post-surgery in the last months of 2018 I had gained 10+ pounds and I knew I needed to get rid of that. I could even feel that extra weight in the beginning of 2019 as training ramped up. In this area I was mostly successfully getting to within about 3 pounds of my goal.

In regards to strength training I felt like I came up short. I struggle mightily getting motivation to do this kind of workout. It just isn't me. I do recognize its importance but it is still a burden. I was hoping to do plank, pushup, glute bridge, and a mountain running strength workout. As a whole I never kept to these routines enough to see much benefit. In regards to mileage training, I look back and think I was mostly successful. In late June and through July I missed quite a few runs because of family travel schedules. On the plus side this became recovery time from long runs, but on the down side I was never able to get a good routine of running mileage for hills and for speed. The one aspect of training that I feel I hit the nail on the head with was the long runs. I completed 9 runs of 18 plus miles through the 25 weeks. Four of those runs were 24+ miles. I was able to do a 31-mile training run 5 weeks out from the race and then followed that up with the NCTR marathon 3 weeks out, and both events and their recovery went perfectly. I had a wonderful confidence in my endurance ability and that would prove to be the clincher come race day.
Travel + Pre-race
My travel itinerary was modeled after what worked well in 2016 when I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon. The goal then, as it was this year, was to arrive several days early in the high altitude of Colorado to have reasonable time to acclimatize. I wanted to have a couple of days of activity at high elevation to feel attuned to it all by Saturday. When I did this in 2016 I hiked La Plata Peak the first day out and did so running most of the descent. That nearly wrecked my quads for race day. This year I tried to correct my wrongs. I still hiked La Plata Peak the first day but did so conservatively. We intentionally held to a very reasonable pace on ascent and descent. Ironically, despite my best efforts, it wasn't my quads wrecked this year, it was light soreness in my calves from the steep ascent. Thankfully, the soreness wasn't debilitating. I still felt it a bit come race morning but quickly forgot about it once the race had begun. If there is a next time running races out in the mountains for me, I'll really need to make a note to not ruin my legs before race day.
So many aspens, wishing they had started to turn gold

On Thursday I did some light hiking with my folks to Brown's Creek Falls and back. It was a light workout with a good 6 miles but only 1000 feet elevation gain. On Friday we drove up to Steamboat and did a light 2 miles hiking near Rabbit Ears Pass. We wanted to see what the Dumont Aid Station would look like and scout out the trails in and out. As a whole this preparation worked well. I felt well acclimatized come race day.

The Friday check-in for the RRR50 was in a tent outside on the 2nd level at the Steamboat Grand. I got my bib, a race t-shirt, and a free pair of Smartwool socks. At 6pm they had the pre-race talk introducing the race directors and the volunteer director. They had a bunch of free giveaways. They went through all the basics of route, weather, animals, etc. that runners would have needed to know about. Basically, if one was familiar with the runner's manual that would have covered just about everything. This meeting lasted 40 minutes. We were set for a 6:00am start at the base of the ski slope near the Slopeside Grill.
Race Gear + Fuel
For the race I wore my Osprey Rev 6 pack. It is a great combination of hydration bladder with hose as well as enough pack space to carry the bare essentials. I saw many runners with less, who carried basically only water, and others with more. I carried my Pikes Peak finishers jacket as a rain/cool layer and wore it only at the start of the race. I carried a headband, light gloves, bandanna and basic first aid kit. I carried my earphones in the event that I would use them as mental distraction late in the race. I carried my phone as a camera, my map, and a communicator. I carried my father's Garmin inReach mini as a means of sharing my location with family and an emergency backup communicator. I carried a basic amount of food and water which I would refill at aid stations. This was a benefit to carry in between stations, however, as I like to be able to drink/sip at regular intervals. I was also consuming a Gu gel at least once in between each station. I also carried a small amount of toilet paper should an emergency come up.
Working our way up the ski hill

At the start I wore a long-sleeve white tech shirt. With the cool start temps I decided long-sleeve was the way to go. I wore my black hydrid running shorts which have a light compression layer. Those shorts I would wear the whole race. For shoes I was wearing my Salomon Speedcross 4's which were relatively new, only had about 50 miles on them. At the start I wore my running headband to keep my ears warm. At Mount Werner I traded that for my running hat which I wore the rest of the day for sun protection. It was a hat that vents very well and doesn't overheat my head. At Dumont, on return from Rabbit Ears, I changed out my shirt to short-sleeves and I changed socks. This was primarily to get dry layers on. I probably should have changed to a dry pair of underwear as well to help with chafing.

For fuel, I only carried Gu gels with the plan to eat them between stations. At the early aid stations I was grabbing Honey Stinger waffles and handfuls of chips or goldfish crackers. I would also go for watermelon or other basic fruits like grapes. For the most part I stuck with these basics at the aid stations. I did also grab some peanut butter-n-jelly squares at a few stops. I was hesitant to dive into the larger array of hot options like bacon, sausage, pancakes, quesadillas, etc. I'd never really tried such things on long runs and was hesitant to put even something as delightful as bacon into the system untested.

How did I choose the RRR 50?
It might seem a bit random for a guy from the flatlands of southern Michigan to end up running a 50-mile ultramarathon in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Well, not exactly. I have a lot of ties to Colorado and even to Steamboat which factored into this choice. I also spent a lot of time handpicking the 50-mile race that would suit me personally for my first attempt at this distance.
Steamboat and the Yampa Valley, quite beautiful

There are a number of wonderful 50-milers closer to home in Michigan. In fact, when I ran the marathon distance at the North Country Trail Run in August they were also running a 50-mile race that same day. That could have been me. There is also a wonderful 50-mile race up in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula that is well beloved by many Michigan runners which has caught my attention. But both of these races didn't seem to be the right fit for me, at least not yet. Both are run in August and the humidity in Michigan and the possible high temps do not suit me well. They're also both run on courses with big loops and that type of course doesn't top my list.

I was steered towards a Colorado race with my family history out there. I have had relatives living there for decades and now even my own parents have moved there. I've been hiking and climbing in Colorado for 30 years. I also had great success running the Pikes Peak Marathon there in 2016 so I had confidence in my ability to run at high elevation. With most of my hikes, plus the PPM being on courses that are essentially out and backs (up a mountain, down a mountain) I felt that was the course that suited me best. To make a long story short, that led me to the Run Rabbit Run. A Colorado course, low humidity, with an out-and-back that would check all the boxes for what I figured would give me the best chance at success. And to be fair, I was genuinely not looking a cupcake of an easy race either. This race run a 9-10 thousand feet and with 8000 feet gain would present quite an objective challenge and that was a part of the decision-making as well.

To top it all of, the modest amount of research I had done had revealed that the directors of the RRR and the Steamboat community make this a wonderful experience and one that is geared toward charity and community more than making money. It seemed everything was coming together nicely for this choice.

How in the world can you run 50 miles?
I've had many family and friends ask how crazy someone has to be to run 50 miles. I'm certainly not alone. Any ultramarathoner, particularly those who run the 100+ mile races have heard this. So I'm not exactly heading into new ground here. But what I would like to address is from my own experience. I want to help the person unfamiliar or curious with running long distances to understand how this is actually possible, maybe even for them. I was certainly in that group once of thinking even a marathon was well beyond me. The thought of a 50-mile race would have been insane. Yet here I am, I've completed 50 and done so with the feeling I could do more. How does a person get to such a place?

Let's start with training. I've been running regularly for 5+ years now. Before this year, I'd run five marathons and a 50K ultra. I had progressed from thinking 8 miles was long to becoming comfortable running a half marathon and now thinking running a marathon is comfortable and do-able without much stress. This is a physical exercise and a mental exercise. The more you do something the more comfortable with it you become. I've done over a dozen runs in the last year of over 20 miles and it has become something I'm confident with. That was key to taking the next big step up to 50 miles.

In the last two years I've also been fine-tuning my in-race, in-long-run nutrition plan. This is also key to cracking the code to long distances. My first several marathons all ended up with muscle cramps and I have figured out a part of that problem was calorie deficiency. I wasn't fueling well enough to sustain my efforts. When I prepared for my 50K in 2018 I spent a lot of time in training, as well as much research on the side, understanding what it takes to properly fuel. It boiled down to something like eating 250-300 calories per hour. I simplified this for myself into trying to eat 100-200 calories every 3 miles. That was a simple enough mental exercise to be able to sustain in a race. And it worked. I felt good my entire 50K and likewise kept that feeling into my long training runs in 2019.

Recovery is another area that I have learned much in the last couple of years. In order to sustain a training program in which you are constantly doing runs of 18+ miles and likewise doing 40-50 miles a week, you need to be able to keep your muscles in a constant state of recovery and healing. A lot of it comes down to good rest and everyday nutrition. Take care of your body in all the basic ways and this will help. Your training plan itself also needs to balance days with stress and days and miles without stress. I have utilized a number of specific efforts to target recovery after my long runs. I have become a user of Tailwind's Rebuild product which is tailored for what I am doing. It is a protein powder that I mix with milk after long runs and I swear by it. It has kept me from feeling muscle soreness on days after long runs and has been a great help. I also target plenty of calories and protein in days after long runs to help as well. I feel like my recovery program really hit a pinnacle during my 50-mile training. I was able to do a 31-mile training run on August 10, two weeks later I ran a trail marathon at a personal record pace, and then three weeks after that was my 50-mile ultra. Two ultras and a marathon in a 5 week period and my legs held together nicely. I credit this to the knowledge and experience gained helping my muscles recover.
Grassy singletrack after the Mt. Werner aid station

When it came to the day of actually running 50 miles I was told this kind of effort boils down to 10% physical, and 90% mental. Your body can handle this type of effort given enough time. What it really comes down to is convincing your mind of the same. 12+ hours is a long time to be on your feet and consistently moving forward. You'll have ups and downs, literal and figurative, along the way. You'll have stomach issues, aches and pains and other surprises (bee stings? weather?) to handle. If your mind is up to the challenge to go with the flow of what may come you'll be on your way.

In the end, it came down to the simple notion of continuing to make forward progress. How do you finish 50 miles? Well its not unlike the old proverb that deals with how to eat an elephant. You do it one bit at a time. One mile at a time. In making my own plans for this race one of the steps I took was to turn off the auto-lap feature on my Garmin watch. I did not want it buzzing me every mile. I didn't want mind thinking of what mile I was at and how many miles I would have to go. In fact I very intentionally tried to avoid looking at the distance on my watch to see how far I still had. For me, its like when I run on the treadmill, if I watch the numbers go by they go slower than ever and my mind just wants to quit. I didn't want that in this race. I wanted the mind to focus on the terrain, the beauty surrounding me, and simply continuing to move forward.

In an ultramarathon, the main idea is to keep moving. Don't stop. You can certainly refuel at aid stations, but don't let yourself just sit down on the trail and quit moving. Keep making forward progress. Tired? Slow down, but don't stop. People run ultramarathons precisely because they're hard. Precisely because they'll test how far you can go and help you discover what you're made of. That will happen, so embrace it, go with it and maybe even enjoy it.

Race Notes
What a fantastic course the Run Rabbit Run 50 happens to be. I've spent a lot of time in Colorado, the majority of it in the central Sawatch mountains, and I am used to thinking of Colorado as big peaks and dense pine forests. Well Northern Colorado and the Routt National Forest near Springboat has earned my admiration. What beauty this course covered in the high alpine lakes, the lush meadows with vibrant colors of growth, and the mixed forests of evergreen and aspen. I can only imagine how hard the race would be in another 3 weeks fighting the urge to stop and take in golden Aspens every few minutes.
Gorgeous views to the east

I want to break down the race into the segments between aid stations describing the course with my own thoughts as well as how my performance went in each segment. Ahead of time I definitely was one of the number crunchers who tried to guess and estimate how long each segment would take. I wanted to chuckle when Fred the RD commented about such people in the pre-race meeting, joking how all of those sheets and numbers should go out the window. Needless to say, he was right.

Segment 1 - Start to Mt. Werner
The opening segment of the race is a 6.4 mile, 3600 foot climb up the ski hill. It starts on dirt road in the first half mile which then switched into a relatively brief section of singletrack. The 6am start had everyone with headlamps. Mine was malfunctioning but there was enough ambient light from other runners and the full moon to make it all work. Most everyone including myself had a light jog pace to start. At the singletrack the incline gained a bit and most of us switched into a power hike.

The single track gave way to the "Why Not" road which is pretty much what we followed for the rest of the ascent. The road was in good shape with reasonably smooth surface and allowed for a good power hiking rhythm to be had. I worked for just the right pace to keep moving but yet not overdo the heart rate. It was so tricky starting the race with this big climb as you just can't afford to overdo it and run out of gas. I had predicted a 20:00 pace through here but ended up with a 16:37. This would put me ahead of a 12 hour finish pace which had me feeling good mentally to start.
Forest singletrack on the way to Long Lake

This first segment peaked at the top of the road and the aid station was right there waiting for us. I was amazed to see them hard at work with bacon, sausage, pancakes, quesadillas and other regular aid station food. It was really my first taste of a full blown ultramarathon aid station and they had things going. I was concerned prerace about another individual's strava track that had gone up to the Mount Werner summit and back down. The race map itself didn't show that so I was unsure, but glad today to find we didn't have to summit that extra hundred feet.

Segment 2 - Mt. Werner to Lost Lake
This segment was 6.8 miles with 700 feet of gain and 1200 feet of loss. I would call it the hardest segment of the race particularly on the return trip. I was hoping to average 13:00 through here. After leaving the Mt. Werner aid station it took a minute to get the legs into a running rhythm again after all the power hiking. I was also re-situating gear having taken off the jacket and adding the hat and sunglasses. There were immediate ups and downs on the trail. This was by far the rockiest section of trail. The first two miles out from Mt. Werner had several sections as thick with rock as you would find high on a 14er climb. Yet there was also good forest trail mixed in with just bits of small rock and roots.
Coming up on Long Lake

I found myself pacing fairly well in this segment and ended up averaging 12:23. I worked to find other individuals to pace with and keep rhythm. The descent down to Long Lake was attention grabbing as you couldn't help but think of ascending it on the return. I bumped into several hundred milers on their finish stretch in this segment. I asked one if he saw any good animals in the overnight, he said it was all good. After the hilly descent to Long Lake the trail flattened out along the north side of the lake and eventually hit the aid station towards the northeast side. Having been ahead of estimated pace in these first two segments I was feeling really good about the day. It was also a lift to have a half marathon done already and everything looking good.

Segment 3 - Lost Lake to Base Camp
This segment proved to be very humbling. Not that it was the most difficult, because it wasn't, but because I simply had underestimated it going in. I had estimated a 12:00 pace in here thinking an even split of ups and downs would allow for a reasonable pace. What I didn't properly account for is the ups all come in two distinct climbs. After leaving Long Lake there was a beautiful wildflower colored meadow which led into a forest climb up to Four Points. I was immediately behind the pace even though I was feeling pretty reasonable. Four Points did turn out to be a well-signed intersection and the first point in the course where us 50-milers would leave the 100-milers.
Lake Elmo
After Four Points it was a gradual downhill for the next 3+ miles. This was arguably the most beautiful section of the course. We traversed around the north and east sides of Lake Elmo and I couldn't help but grab a few photos. There were flats that came next and led up to a down slope leading to the junction with the Lost Lake Trail. I noticed here that there were markers showing the right turn to help runners on the way out. As I looked back, however, I noticed there was a lacking of markers helping runners spot the left turn to avoid Lost Lake on the return. If one was not paying well attention they could easily head straight on the Lost Lake Trail and miss the hard left to stay on the CDT and race course. I made note of this to not miss it on the return, hopefully all other runners did as well.

Fishhook Lake was next and equally beautiful as the others. We had to hop a few rocks and a log at the south outlet of the lake. This was one of a handful of small creek crossings, none of which posed much of a technical issue. Beyond the lake was a section on the hillside with one short climb in it before the course then bottomed out in the valley. I was feeling pretty good through here and thinking I had made up a little bit of time. Then the climb to Base Camp hit. This was one section of very steep hill. We also encountered a couple of mountain bikers working on descending it. I knew this hill was coming from studying the maps ahead of time but it didn't make it any easier. Mercifully, Base Camp aid station came along shortly after the climb. After the climb I finished this segment with a 13:26, now losing most of the time I had built up in the first two segments.

Segment 4 - Base Camp to Dumont
I was hoping for this segment to be the easiest and for the most part it was. It was 3.9 miles with 100 uphill, and 550 downhill. Even so, it was probably a mistake in estimating a 11:00 pace. My thinking was I had just recently done a marathon at an under 11 pace and should be able to replicate as such for a segment like this. What I didn't factor in was I'd be 18+ miles in already today, and have climbed 4700 feet already at 10,000 elevation. Oh, and I would still have 25 miles to go afterwards. Factor all of that in and I was hesitant to push the pace when I could tell it would take too much precious effort to do it.
The first 3/4 mile out of Base Camp was on a dirt road with a brief downhill to start and then a gradual climb. There was then a well marked right turn onto single track through more beautiful meadows. More mountain bikers were encountered in here. From this point it was almost all downhill until we hit Muddy Creek. I was moving well in the downhills getting back some time. At Muddy Creek there was a double log crossing which proved sturdy. After the crossing things were pretty much flat until Dumont aid station as expected. It was in here I really began to encounter some of the leaders for the 50-miler who were already on the return. It was also here that I realized I was definitely not going to make my 12-hour goal. Even in the flats the energy was not so much there to keep a good solid running pace going. I could tell my body was wanting, needing, those short respites of walking. Knowing I wanted to finish more than I wanted to push pace, I listened to my body.

This segment was also full of more beautiful terrain with the landscape and the views around Dumont Lake being very impressive. I finished this segment with an 11:32 pace just off my 11:00 goal. But it was a sign I almost certainly wouldn't be gaining any more ground the rest of the way. It was going to be a fight to simply sustain what I could and not fall apart.
All the while today I had been carrying my father's Garmin inReach mini. On the Mt. Werner climb I had it strapped to the top of my pack. When I began running it bounced around too much and so I threw it on the inside. As I began to near Dumont and wanted to insure meeting up with my parents/crew I decided to text them, just in case the inReach wasn't working properly. It turns out I was partly right. They were able to track me for the most part, but while the inReach was in my pack it was only sending out updates about 20% of the time. After Rabbit Ears I conversed with my father about this and we were able to attach it to the back of my pack for the return where it wouldn't be bouncing around.

Segments 5-6 - Dumont to Rabbit Ears Peak and Back
Arriving at Dumont I was impressed with how many people were present. Must have been 100 friends and family and crew waiting for runners to arrive. Both of my parents were there as my crew. The rest of my family was at home due to the kids being in school and unable to attend. It was a delight to have my folks here though and to help. They ended up enjoying it as well. My father hiked up to Rabbit Ears Peak and back himself just to enjoy the hike. At my first arrival to Dumont I met up with my mother at the aid station and grabbed a battery charger for my Garmin watch. I knew the 12+ hours would push the limits of the watch and realized that the roundtrip to Rabbit Ears would be the perfect time to carry a battery for just a short time and not the whole race. I also grabbed a quick food and drink at the aid station and then moved on. I had contemplated dropping pack here as many others did and just carrying a water bottle, but I decided last minute that I'd rather keep drinking from my hydration bladder and just empty the pack. So that's what I did. I emptied out all my extra gear/clothing to lighten the pack but kept it for the drinking.
Fishhook Lake
At Dumont the course follows the dirt road that heads up Rabbit Ears Peak. There is a junction where the road splits with the road to Base Camp heading left. The early parts of the road gained elevation but at a reasonable pace. Nonetheless, I was mostly walking things at this point on the uphill. I had hoped to do this climb in 40 minutes at 15:00 pace. I definitely underestimated the challenge of this 1000 foot climb. The last mile or so has three steep hills that really sucked it out of my legs. The last hill was so steep I could hardly believe 4x4 vehicles drive up it. I was forced to a grinding halt twice on it to gather my breath and my legs. Only time the entire race I truly had to stop a pair of moments.

At the top of Rabbit Ears Peak at the first rabbit ear was a volunteer sitting up a short scramble of rock handing out playing cards. She was real friendly and talking to everyone. We didn't have to scramble over to the second rabbit ear though I believe a few runners did just to see it. I took in the views and commented on the beautiful breezes, and start my way down. I was at the 6:04:15 time at the turnaround and I knew the second half would not get faster.

25 miles in, only half way there. Let that sink in for a moment.

The ascent of Rabbit Ears had taken 50 minutes at an 18:39 pace. I could sense clearly the 12 hour finish was out the door. But that was okay. Mid-race is no time to panic or to despair. I shifted focus away from any semblance of my goal paces and instead focused on simply listening to my body to finish. On the descent of Rabbit Ears I did work on getting my legs to recover from the climb and even walked sections of the descent. I needed my heart rate to stay down and running the whole descent wasn't going to work with that. My goal of a 0:28 10:00 pace descent turned into a 0:33 12:32 pace descent. Oddly enough, I took on a bee sting on my left arm during the descent. I felt the prick and tried to swat him away before I knew what was happening. Thankfully it didn't bother for too long or affect my running.

Segment 7 - Dumont to Base Camp
On the return I began working on the "run until you can't, walk until you feel guilty" mantra. Returning through the flats to Muddy Creek I had a mixture of both. The hills above Muddy Creek really worked me over. I began drinking more and more trying to compensate for my growing fatigue. I was also focusing on eating whenever I could. Every hill was a struggle, but the return to the dirt road just before Base Camp was a welcome sight and made for easier terrain into the aid station.
Dumont Lake ahead

I switched back and forth between Tailwind and water on the return. The Tailwind just made my mouth more thirsty but I knew I needed the electrolytes it offered. The water was more refreshing and I felt I could just continue to gulp it.

Segment 8 - Base Camp to Long Lake
In many ways this began to feel like the beginning of the end. Mentally I knew that getting to Long Lake would feel good as it meant one more big climb and then the downhill finish. Physically this was the segment where I really began to notice the fatigue, and worse, the legs beginning to cramp up. In the sections on the CDT through the lakes I just tried to keep a rhythm of moving forward, running a bit when I could. I had a growing tightness in my lower right quad however that threatened to seize up and cramp when I ran. I did successfully note the hard left turn away from the Lost Lake Trail to remain on the CDT when I approached it. The section heading to Four Points seemed to take forever and it just felt like I kept I going and going. I knew late in the race would feel like this and it was one of the reasons I chose an out and back course. I wanted the familiarity of knowing what was coming to help ease the mental tension. After Four Points it was the welcome downhill and then the stroll through the beautiful meadow to slowly get back into the aid station.

At Long Lake aid station I had run out of water for the last mile and so I filled up with a whole liter to try and make sure I had enough for this long segment ahead. Standing there this was the first time I felt a bit of lightheadedness. I knew I had to keep my breathing strong and regular to keep all my systems going. I ate what I could and then slowly hit the trail again. I was both thirsty and yet feeling a need for salts and so I left with a handful of goldfish crackers to work on.

Segment 9 - Long Lake to Mount Werner
From Mount Werner to the finish was almost powerhike only for me. Just to finish my food from the aid station, I walked the beautiful flats next to the Lake and the slight downhill before the big climb. The climbing after Long Lake was affecting nearly everyone. It took everything I had left to keep pushing upwards. It was in here that I finally pulled out my earbuds and put on something to listen to to distract the mind. I was passed by a few runners and I passed a half dozen others who had all but stopped and walked. I kept a strong uphill pace but without running. After the initial big climb there are basically three more big humps along the ridge to be gained so the uphill doesn't quite stop. This section also feels so long as it is basically seven miles on the return. It was a real test of the patience of the mind to keep moving forward without fretting how long it feels like it is taking. My original plan had estimated a 17:00 pace in here, I was even acknowledging and planning the slowed pace. I ended up with an 18:35 pace.
Climbing the road up to Rabbit Ears Peak

Any time I would try to pick up the pace not only my right quad but my left calf would threaten to seize up. I was trying to do everything at my disposal to get the threat of cramps to go away. I was filling my hydration bladder and drinking and drinking. I was taking Hammer Endurolytes capsules to push the electrolytes through the system. I was eating, putting in Gu gels and salty snacks. Nothing seemed to fix it. My best conclusion is it was merely fatigue cramps from a lack of strength training and nothing but rest would solve it.

The one positive in this section is you can convince yourself mentally that you're "almost there". Once you reach Mount Werner's aid station it is all downhill, albeit still another 6.3 miles. When I reached the aid station it was a pick-me-up and as a whole my body was actually feeling pretty good, other than that my legs were feeling wrecked. There were amazing volunteers at the station still and they were so kind at filling drinks and making food available. For the first time I did try some ginger ale, and it could have just been the moment, but I honestly feel like that might have started to alleviate the cramps. I didn't drink enough of it to know more, but it is something I really need to look at for a next time. There was a gentleman who I had been leap-frogging with along the trail in a chair at the aid station with an oxygen mask on and a pulse-ox meter on his finger. I don't know what his symptoms were specifically, but it appeared he was having breathing issues and staff was checking him out and preparing to end his race.

Approaching the turnaround at the Rabbit Ears
The volunteer is in dark color just above dead center in the photo
At the first rabbit ear looking over to the second

Segment 10 - Mount Werner to the Finish
This last segment was all about how to finish an ultramarathon. It was all downhill but it was still 6.3 miles. It was almost all easy dirt road with a short section of single-track, but you had tired legs, tired quads, and a tired body to work with. For myself, this section became about just pushing the rhythm I had going. My 12-hour goal had went out the window and so this became a goal of getting under 13. I did some quick math and knew I had to beat a 15:00 pace for that to happen, but I couldn't quite figure out by how much. So I hiked as briskly as my legs would allow. I just kept moving. I had a several moments where my left calf would begin to seize up and I would hop for a second and get it to relax. I was worried one of these episodes would send me toppling over. Somehow it never got too bad.
To the south from Rabbit Ears
When you start down the hill your mind wants to think "great, I'll be down in 30 minutes", but unless you're running, and running fast that's just not the reality. I kept a mid 14:30 pace through almost the entire descent. I passed a few hobbling 100-milers but was also passed by 50-milers who could still run. I had resolved not to worry about anyone else and to just do what my body was allowing at the time and finish. As I worked through the singletrack and then onto the final stretch of dirt road that led to the finish the emotions began to well up. I knew I had the finish in the bag and it appeared I could beat 13 hours as a final consolation. The sun was also getting lower creating more and more shade around us. My descent down the hill took 90 minutes and I powerhiked a 14:21 pace which is relatively fast without running a single bit of it. I knew my experience and training as a hiker would help somewhere. More and more people lined the course as we neared the finish. The final bit was crossing over the tiny creek at the base of the ski hill and then to the finish line near the Slopeside Grill. I was greeted by the official "hugger", a gal who happened to be the volunteer coordinator for RRR. Finished in 12:54:29. It felt so good.

To my amazement, my body as a whole was holding together as things slowed up at the finish line. I've had a race or two where I feel so wrecked I'm light-headed and in a daze and fog. Not so here. My legs were certainly tired and somewhat wrecked, but the rest of me was in a good state. I can usually weigh my status based on appetite and within 5 minutes I was ready for good food and a beer. As always, I wanted to look back and figure out what went wrong in the places where I felt as though I came up short. I didn't make my 12-hour finish and I had threats of legs cramps the last 15 miles. For me, when these things have happened in marathons its usually one or both of two things: I pushed too hard too early, or I didn't fuel properly. The former is entirely possible. I finished the first two segments ahead of pace but I had really tried to listen to my body and at the time felt as though the quicker times were warranted. I'm all but certain fueling wasn't the issue. As aforementioned, I feel as though it was simply a fatigue issue. I didn't have the strength training alongside the running miles to give the legs the strength they needed. The fatigue led to the cramps. Regardless, I did make the finish and the hard worked I put in was paid off. What a finish!

Gorgeous colors on the descent from Rabbit Ears

Overall amazing day of views and running in beautiful Colorado

As previously mentioned, there was an official hugger at the finish line which is part of the Run Rabbit Run tradition. They have my respect, as I would want to be the soul who hugs all of the sweaty runners at their finish. My folks and a cousin were close by to greet me at the finish. I was given the finisher's mug and a bottle of water. There was food and beverage available for everybody. Not far from the finish was a food station with fresh burgers, dogs, and brats as well as chips. I partook of the burger which tasted very good at the time. They also had another tent not far away with samples of Storm Peak Brewery. They had an IPA and a kolsch available. We spent about 45 minutes hanging out after the race, largely to give me time to eat and drink and recovery. They had also begun doing awards for the top finishers as we hung out. Let's just say it was a slow walk back to the car. After sitting and eating for half an hour and more the legs really tightened up on me. and it took a bit to get things going again. I saw hundred mile finishers being helped by family and friends just to walk away.

Total Miles: 50.47 (according to my Garmin)
Total Elevation Gain: 7,949 ft. (Garmin)
Total Calories Burned: 6,923
Total Time: 12:54:29
Low Elevation: 6,909 ft. (Start/Finish in Steamboat)
High Elevation: 10,527 ft. (Mt. Werner aid station)

Track + Map
I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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