Quad Rock has a reputation for being either hot as balls or near blizzard conditions year to year. Spring in Colorado is unpredictable and despite 70+ degree days surrounding race day, this year it was in the 50s with rain and mud. Oh, so much mud. And every kind of mud. There was the kind of mud that tries to steal your shoes, the kind of predator mud that stands by while its prey exhausts itself trying to stay upright, the splashy diarrhea mud, and the pottery-slip mud. And in the final stretch was the kind of mud that turns your Salomons into Herman Munster shoes.
A couple of friends and I rode out together on Friday night so we could get our 4 hours of sleep in a Fort Collins motel to make the 5:30 start for the 50 mile race. The 50 milers started in steady rain, going out on the 25 mile course and then turning around and running it in reverse. While I have a 50 mile race in July, I can’t fathom how anyone could have done that course a second time, knowing what it was like to do it once.
One of the best parts about this race is knowing so many people who participated, either running or volunteering. I saw a different friend at every aid station, including athlettuce, who had planned to do the 50 mile but had to drop due to injury; and Michele Dillon who was recovering from the Georgia Death Race. I also met one of my trail running heroes, 10-time Western States finisher Nikki Kimball, whose documentary Finding Traction led to a watershed moment for me. It opened my eyes to the longevity that can exist in trail running and the opportunity for consistent challenge and greater levels of fitness beyond the second decade of life, not to mention the environmental nourishment that running road could never provide.
I got to see all the 50 milers coming back a couple of hours into the race since the 25 mile race had a luxurious 8am start time. As I saw Nikki Kimball running towards me, I had a surreal moment. In the split second that felt like minutes, I at once saw the progress I’d made both physically and mentally over the last three years and it hit me that I was running and running well on the same course as the person who inspired this pastime of mine. It was a legit moment… and when she said “good job”, I threw my fists in the air and shouted “YEAH, NiKKI KIMBALL!!!”. She must’ve thought I was a complete lunatic, but I was so excited to be running a course that would attract a legend like her! I later introduced myself at the finish and in no way was I able to communicate how her documentary opened my eyes to what is now a major part of my life. Here is the pic I took of her crossing the finish line, all mud and smiles.
I had a number of highs and lows on this course – mostly highs, but a couple of lows. This course is 25 miles with 5500′ of elevation gain in three bursts. The second climb burned so bad that I remember wondering how I would make it up the third. But in between the climbs were some super-fun and fast descents and misty ridge lines with less muddy single track. I had such a sense of awe and gratitude running this race. I even saw a wild turkey cross the trail! It seemed kind of annoyed by all the kerfuffle.
I felt pretty nimble coming down the last steep descent – the guy behind me told me it took everything he had to try to keep up with me. That felt good to hear. So many people said such encouraging things to me along the course… you just don’t get that in road races. The trail community is a special breed. Those who choose to go run a fairly brutal course, in horrific muddy conditions, loving life with every step, a smile on their face and gratitude in their heart… those are the kind of people you encounter here. There’s this enrichment of the soul that happens in pushing through temporary suffering, which brings a kind of joy that is impossible to explain.
The last few miles were long, gradual switchbacks that made mud-bricks of your shoes and sent you sliding every which way. It was during these miles that some combination of IT band and hip stabilizer muscles seizing up that led to searing pain in my hip with every step. It was here that I rode a roller coaster of emotions. I was finally encountering a physical obstacle that took digging deep to push through. I had performed really well up until then, based on my friends’ reactions at how early I came through the aid stations, and I was within earshot of the finish line.
Then Holocene started playing in my head, the line “and at once I knew, I was not magnificent….” repeated over and over. There is something humbling about this kind of accomplishment. I was at once proud of myself for the work I’d done leading up to this moment, and at the same time, humbled by the great fortune I’ve had in my life that allowed me to spend all that time on the trails and live the life I’ve created. These conflicting and complementary emotions overwhelmed me and I started hyperventalating-crying, but without the tears. I couldn’t cry and run, but wished so badly that I could. Just reliving that experience brings tears to my eyes. I’m just so overwhelmed with pride and gratitude. I know both how robust and fragile the state of things, and even life itself are, and recognize that we’re all on the knife’s edge of falling to one side or the other. I’m so grateful to be on the robust side and live with hope that I’ll lean that way more than the other as often as I’m lucky enough to.
Listen to the song and then scroll down so that we can get to the results and pictures already!
The only real frame of reference I had for this race is the Moab Trail Marathon that I ran a year and a half ago. It was 26.1 miles with 3500′ of gain. The scorched earth wall at mile 14 blew up my legs and I had to walk a lot of runnable course. I didn’t push nearly as hard as I could have, though I wasn’t practicing pushing myself the ways that I do now, so I’m not surprised, looking back. My longest run was 20 flat miles. Now it wouldn’t be unusual to do that distance on any given Saturday with 5-6000′ of gain.
Moab: 26 miles // 3500′ vertical gain // 7 hours
Quad Rock: 25 miles // 5500′ vertical gain // 5 hours 41 min
Initially open split had me as 5th in class; 32nd female; 108th overall – but since 50 milers can decide to drop at mile 25 and get a finish, I think that may be why I got bumped when the final results came in. The official Ultra Signup results are as follows:
Official Time 5:41:32 (71.7% Ultra Signup Ranking) – the most okayest of the okay!
Ultra Signup has me targeting a time of 8:05:57 for Dirty 30 which is 30 miles and 7500′ vertical gain. I think it’s possible, but aggressive. I’ve also been told to prepare to cry around mile 19…