The North Fork 50 in Pine Colorado is not the steepest or most rugged trail run but with 7200 feet of elevation gain it qualifies as a genuine mountain run. I texted my friend Brian that I was a bit concerned because I'd read a race report where a guy dropped at mile 31. And the weather man in Denver predicted very high temperatures for Saturday and to "limit your outdoor activities." Brian texted back, "you'll be OK." and "It's a good thing you're only doing a 50!"
I arrived at the race very early. No one was there but me at 4:45 AM. The race start was at 7 but I wanted to make sure I arrived on time since I didn't get to attend the packet pickup/race briefing the day before. There was an option to take the 6 AM early start and I took it along with about 7 others. Soon I found myself running in front all alone. It was just what I've always wanted, to experience peace and solitude in the mountains. It just turned out that way and I loved it.
My nutrition plan was to start with two water bottles. One with carbo pro and the other with plain water, nuts, gels and whatever was provided at the aid stations. At the second aid station where my drop bag would be, I'd switch to my hydration pack. The one Rich lent me. The morning was cool but I warmed up quickly on the first accent at about mile one. The trails were much smoother than what I'm used to. The trails are well groomed compared to the loose rocky trails of the San Antonio area. I was able to get into a good power hiking rhythm climbing the ascents because of this.
At times it felt a little spooky though. Running alone. There were some exposed burned out areas from a fire in the area years ago. And there were thick wooded areas where I imagined a bear may be lurking or a mountain lion may be roaming. I thought about pulling out my iPhone to see If I could get a signal and listen to pandora but the sounds of the leaves rustling in the wind, the flying Crackling yellow beetles, the chirping crickets, the lone hawk swirling above, and the ground squirrels and rabbits running around were all the music I needed. This and songs in my head would provide my entertainment for the first three hours of my run. Running alone the song "running down a dream" by Tom Petty played in my head. As thunder storms later in the afternoon were materializing it was "riding the storm out" by REO. At one point when the trail straddled a mountain stream the music in my head was interrupted by the smell of a wild animal. It was a strong odor. Not of a dead animal but of a live one. Was it a moose? An Elk? A bear? Whatever it was I didn't hang around to find out and hoped it wasn't a mountain lion that would see me as fleeing prey. reaching the 10 mile aid station where I expected my drop bag, I was told they hadn't arrived yet. Oh well, I continued with two bottles and never felt the need to change that.
I saw my first human after about two hours. A hiker then a mountain biker. I was to see the lead runner pass me a little after three hours of running by myself. Up to this point I got the feeling of what leading in a race may feel like. Although I doubt lead runners in races would pause to take pictures. The day was warming up and it would prove too much for some runners.
The ascents were steep and long but as I mentioned earlier it wasn't too difficult climbing them. And the altitude at 8500 ft. above sea level at it's highest never did affect me negatively. I did have to pause and catch my breath after some of the climbs but I attributed this to fatigue. The downhills were the killers though. At one point I Wanted a descent to end! I needed a flat trail or a climb! The pounding made my quads begin to ache after about 30 miles.
At the 31 mile point we came back to the start area then headed out for the last 19 miles on a slightly different course. 6:20 was my time at mile 31. The climb back out was the steepest of them all. This one did not allow for a rhythmic power hike. There were wooden steps placed along the uphill trail to help climb this very steep ascent. At the top I rested and admired the view of the South Platte river below and the surrounding mountains. At this point my lower body ached but I kept thinking about how I had convinced myself before the race that I was ready and prepared for this race and would hold nothing but positive thoughts throughout it, and also a decal I saw on a truck in Denver the day before stuck in my mind. It said "Stop your Crying," this became my mantra for the rest of the day whenever I felt pain anywhere in my body. As I sat resting on top of the mountain a runner dressed in all black came by and sat beside me. I asked if he was ok. He grunted yes but I wasn't so sure. I asked if his legs were tired and he said "No,"I think it's my hydration" he took off and I followed.
For the rest of the race I sat at every aid station. The volunteers were great and offered encouragement to all the runners. One guy didn't let me sit too long though but that's a good thing. I made friends at one aid station we visited several times. It was good to hear your name yelled out as you're approaching. At mile 40 I thought Brian may be around. There were signs of puking on the trail :-). My walk breaks were more frequent after I left the 40 mile aid station. As I was walking a person walked out on the deck of cabin way up on a mountain side and began waving and yelling "way to go!" I couldn't keep walking! I waved back and began running until I was out of her sight. Walking again, another runner came up and introduced himself. Chris was from Tucson and we began to exchange stories. Chris is 49 and was running his 49th ultra. In September he will turn 50 and run his 50th ultra at the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler. Chris got me running again for awhile but he was feeling stronger and went on ahead. The climbs were taking me longer to climb now. The rhythm had slowed.
Half way up a steep climb that winded around a mountain I found Chris sitting on the ground next to the trail. He was tired and out of water. I tried to sit with him but found it difficult to get down (stiffening legs) and knew I wouldn't be able to get back up without help. I gave Chris some water and made sure he was OK before I left him. Still worried about him though. Not far up the trail the runner in black was laying on his back grunting. I asked if was OK. Again he grunted yes. I checked his water and his bottle was half full. I told him to rest, until he's ready to go, we're almost there I said. Just then, I'm thinking, "they're dropping like flies" when all of a sudden my left hamstring tightens up so hard I couldn't walk! I cursed it! "Don't do this to me now!!" I massaged it as I walked stiff legged until it settled down. A mountain biker came up and asked if there were runners in trouble. I told him what was happening up the trail and he rode off to find the guys in trouble. Apparently runners ahead had notified the aid station at mile 47.
After the last aid station at mile 47 I started a power hike I intended to keep up to the finish. I couldn't run anymore. But then with less than two miles to go and on a descent, knowing the finish was near, I found strength in my tired sore legs. Turning onto the last mile stretch I see Brian! I throw my arms up in the air and he does too. I look at my watch and say "come on let's go! if I keep running I can break 12 hours!" We ran together to the finish as he told me about the Leadville marathon he ran earlier in the day. 11:53 was the time as I crossed the finish line. I had a wonderful running experience in the mountains this day. A run I had dreamed about for so long came true.
Chris made it in and we talked about our experience along with Brian. Unfortunately the runner in black didn't finish and according to Chris needed medical attention which was on it's way.
I pray he'll be OK.
Brian and I drove to my friend Anthony's house 40 miles away and sat in his back yard where we enjoyed some Grumpy Old Man Porter.
I sat there enjoying the the view of the moon hovering over the front range of the Rockies, listening to Brian and Anthony exchange stories about climbing fourteener's, and grateful that I am so fortunate for all the good things in my life.
The guy in Black made it after all! Here's his report;