Wednesday, June 27, 2012

San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Race Report

The RD, Jerry, and I

The Lead Up-
After signing up last year for the SJS 50 and missing the race due to my deployment to Iraq, I was more than excited this year to run the race.  The SJS 50 is the race I was most looking forward to this year.  The SJS 50 is obviously located in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, my absolute favorite mountains in the state and starts and finishes in Lake City.  The race has just short of 13,000 feet of climbing with nearly the entire race above 9,000 feet and two sections above 13,000 feet.  The course is a loop course with numerous stream crossings, pretty much no pavement and very little gravel road. The course spends a significant amount of time on the continental divide, which affords unbelievable views of the majestic mountains surrounding Lake City.   
Maggie, Felix and I have been in the San Juans camping, hiking, biking and running, for the last three weeks.  Having the opportunity to get three weeks above 9,000 feet certainly helps prepare me for a race like the SJS 50.  I managed quite a bit of climbing the first week or two I was in the San Juans, albeit it was very slow running.  I believe I logged 20,000 feet of climbing my first week.  With all the climbing at altitude, I was struggling to recover and was feeling relatively tired, flat and slow.  During the taper leading up to the race, I had to fight some pretty serious demons in my mind telling me that I was over exhausted and that I would face another Bandera 100K DNF…. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.  This was also my first race where I wasn’t working in the time leading up to the race.  Not working was an absolutely wonderful opportunity, but it is also can be very challenging mentally.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the race, talking to other people in the local area about the race and I was at the race site much earlier than normal.  
I was lucky enough to have a great crew for the SJS in addition to Jason Olive and his wife, Megan and little girl Rachel who was with us to race.  Maggie and Felix were able to be at the race along with my long time great friend, Tony Prichard, aka “Bird Dog” who I’ve known since High School.  MikeDevloo was also able to make it out for the end of the race. 

Figuring out my nutrition/hydration plan

The Race-
The night before the race Bird Dog lead me through an awesome visualization using NLP.  This visualization was very much a help in helping with relaxation, mental confidence and being prepared for the race. 
At 5am at the Lake City town park I was ready to roll.  It was just light enough for me to be confident enough to run without a headlamp, which isn’t much, as many had headlamps. 
My go in strategy for the race:
-run the first 2.7 “flatter” miles to alpine gulch at tempoish pace
-only run around 30% of the first and second 4,000 foot climbs (in around 4 miles)
-run the down hills, the divide (9ish miles), and any other flats pretty fast
-run as much of the last climb at Slumgulion (around 1,800 feet)
-keep track of my splits in comparison to Matt Carpenter’s
My nutrition and hydration plan:
-Two 20pz Amphipod hand water bottles
-Orange, Tropical and Grape Vitargo Gener8
-I drank around 40 oz of water/300-500 calories of Vitargo between most aid stations
            -Where I had crew access (2 aid stations), I had Maggie fill my bottles with pre-mixed Vitargo
            -At aid stations with no crew access I carried baggies of Vitargo I put into my bottles at the aid station when filling with water
Hoka One One Bondis... my favorite shoe
-White running hat
Fuel, Vitargo Gener8 and my hydration

I took the lead right at the start and lead right up to the last bit of the flats where Jason Wolf (4th at Leona Divide and top ten at TNF SF 50) passed me and Josh Arthur (from Crested Butte) got right on my tail.  The three of us started the climb up Alpine Gulch close together.  The climb started pretty gently and began to cross the stream, via challenging log crossings, the first few times of a total of seven times.  
Felix showing me where the course goes around Lake San Cristobar

Jason gapped Josh and I and I encouraged Josh that he can and should pass, but Josh was fine in letting Jason go and staying right with me.  It was challenging to let Jason go, but I was confident that he was pushing a bit to hard, but unfortunately I deviated from my race strategy as I didn’t want Josh to pass and we continued to run much of Alpine Gulch.  Josh and I stayed together ran probably 80% of the climb to 13,000 feet.  This mistake of running most of Alpine didn’t seem to be an issue at all while climbing, but it would come back to bite me later.  Above tree line Josh and I could see Jason a few minutes ahead.  Josh passed me up high as well and I entered a section of mentally challenging running. 
I couldn’t see Jason and assume he was around 2-4 minutes ahead on our way to the mile 17.5 aid stations at Williams Creek Campground (where we camped the night before).  Josh gapped me by as much as maybe two minutes, but by Williams Creek we were running next to each other.    
Felix waiting for me at the William's Creek Aid Station with my Vitargo 

At the aid station Bird Dog was decked out in his Alligator costume and Felix and Maggie were there to help.  I came through the aid station at 2:38, about 6 minutes behind Matt’s time. 
On the road to the next climb we did a gentle climb for a couple miles on a dirt road.  I lost a little time on Josh at the aid station but  the three of us were all within a minute or so.  Just before the turn to begin the next big climb Jason Wolf suddenly stopped running and just stood on the side of the road.  Josh gave Jason a pat on the back and as I approached I asked if he was OK and he told me he was going back to the last aid station.  I felt bad for Jason, but the last climb and descent was pretty harsh and if you aren’t on your game, the rest of the day certainly isn’t short. 
Shortly into the climb I was stride for stride with Josh power hiking with a little running here and there up the steep jeep road.  After a mile of some chatting and running together I pulled away from Josh.  A few mile after passing Josh I couldn’t see him behind me.  On this second climb I stuck with the initial race plan and hiked a majority of the 4,000 foot ascent.  It was exciting to pull away from Jason and Josh and I was confident I had the win in my grasps, now I was focused on getting close to Matt Carpenter’s course record.  Into the next aid station I was running 10 minutes behind Matt’s time, but feeling great.     
Ryders Eyewear

From the aid station the trail climbed above treeline to the continental divide trail and to the 13,300 foot high point in the course.  I was feeling great and really enjoying the views.  From 13,300 feet the trail gradually rolls down to the yurt aid station.  This section of trail was good running but I was starting to get anxious to get there.  At the yurt aid station I was about 12 minutes off of Matt’s time, but I was still optimistic on a shot at breaking 8 hours and the course record as Matt slowed significantly on the last 10 miles.  If I could get to the mile 40 Slumgulion aid station in around 6:30 I would have a shot.  The 9 miles from the yurt to Slugulion started as gradual down hill with an occasional up, which at this point was a serious challenge, then dropped steeply and was rocky.  Things were getting long and I was becoming impatient to see Maggie, Felix and Bird Dog to do the last climb and final 10 miles.  At Slumgulion I was at 6:35.  I grabbed my drinks from Maggie and was mentally battling rather I should push hard or just survive to the finish.  I was 17 minutes off of Matt’s split for Slugulion, but around 4 or so minutes, I believe, faster than Dakota’s split here.  I didn’t shut it down, but the last climb was brutal.  

Had I taken the first climb way back at the beginning of the race easier, I think I would have been able to run a good portion of this lower altitude not terribly steep climb, but instead I was forced to hike with only a little running mixed in.  In the delirium of this brutal high altitude, climbing intensive ultra, I wasn’t certain of my mental math or able to know for sure what sort of finishing time I was going to be able to pull out in the closing miles.  At the final aid station and with only 4 miles to go, reality set in that I wasn’t going to break 8 hours and I focused on a time faster than Dakota’s.  I didn’t know what Dakota’s time exactly was, just that it was 8:13 or 8:14 something.   Running into town the legs were very tight and I wasn’t able to stride it out at all down the final descent and then on the roads through town the legs were non-responsive.  I was more than excited and proud to be finishing with a win, but the stress of getting  under Dakota’s time was making things go by to slow and I opted to stop looking at my watch and just focus on the run to the park.  I would have really benefited from a pacer for the last 5 miles.  

I am certain that passing the pace setting responsibilities over to another person who could also of done some cheer leading, would have bought me a few extra minutes off my time. 
Rolling through town I pulled out my small American Flag I brought with me from Iraq.  I have run every race with this Iraqi sand stained flag in my shorts, but only don the flag for a win.  This flag reminds me of all the amazing Americans making unbelievable sacrifices for our country while deployed in foreign countries.  Their sacrifices have given me all the freedoms I enjoy. 
A quarter mile from the finish, I could see Maggie and Felix in the road waving me on, I was overwhelmed with joy.  As I got closer, she told me to go fast that “I only have 30 seconds”… I then realized she probably meant only 30 seconds to get under Dakota’s time.  I picked it up a bit, but really didn’t grasp that I needed to sprint until I saw a number of people waving me in telling me to hurry.  I sprinted, or what felt like a sprint, the last 50 feet and heard the announcer state that I had tied the second fastest time on the course with Dakota Jones with 8:13:00, no kidding the exact same time.  I was wonderfully happy to be done and the irony of running the same second fastest time at this long standing 50 mile race as my friend and fellow runner Dakota started to sink in. 
Post Race Dinner

I had an awesome time and this race was one of the best trail races in North America without a doubt.  The course, the mountains on and around the course, Lake City and the many other quality aspects of the race makes it an outstanding event.  Maggie, Felix, Bird Dog and Mike all enjoyed the rest of the day and then the wonderful free breakfast awards ceremony the next morning in the park.  I was asked to say a few words and then everyone who finished the race was recognized, it was hands down the best awards ceremony I have ever been a part of. 

Next up, Speedgoat 50K July 28th:  11,000 feet of climbing over 50 kilometers with a world class line up of runners.          
 Here is a clip of the "ugly foot" judging... just another example how cool SJS 50M is!


  1. Great run and awesome pics! I am trying out Vitargo as well. Thanks for posting your nutrition stats, it helps me compare what I'm trying.

  2. Great job Jason! Glad to hear your race went so well. Sounds like you and the family are having an awesome time in the San Juans.

  3. Jason - wow, incredible effort. You and Dakota are pushing this sport to a new level. That race is near and dear to my heart being my first 50 miler and, of course, being located in incredibly beautiful and challenging terrain. A buddy of yours you went to school with - not sure of his name - ran by my aid station yesterday at the Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge 50 mile. He thought it was the NF50 Champs and asked if you were in the event.
    -Gary Gellin

  4. Hi Tim,
    You bet. Honestly, Vitargo has been a huge enabler and step up in so many ways from the other gels and gu I have used. I can take in nearly twice as many calories, not dread the consistency or taste. After ultras I usually have a horrible, bloated and upset stomach (sometimes even during the race), but during and after the SJS 50 my stomach was happy. I'm going to do a post on this subject soon.

    I was able to eat pizza and beer right after the race which has never been the case!

  5. Jeff,

    Yes, the race was great and the family is doing well. We are loving our travels and time together!


    THANKS! No doubt, SJS 50 is a gem and a race that will always be one of my favorites. That is funny about the guy I went to school with! I will have to look at the results to see if I can recognize a name.

  6. Great race Jason! I'm enjoying reading about your nomadic adventures; probably a good year to do this given the wildfire situation, though you probably haven't enjoyed too many campfires of late.

    By the way, did the SJS 50 race director drink white Russians by any chance....? The Dude abides.

  7. Great Race Jason. So good to see you and the whole family livin life large!

  8. David,

    Glad you are digging it. We are loving the traveling, I wish I could get on here more often and tell stories, but internet access, all the time it takes to run, have fun, take care of Felix, we just don't get posts up enough. Yeah, the fires have not had much impact on our lives, despite the sympathy for those who have been affected.

    THE DUDE-- I noticed as soon as I saw Jerry (before I knew he was the RD) at mile 48... whoa, that is the "Dude". The dude did abide.

    We will be in your hood mid August for a race in Squamish (SP?) I'll email you.

  9. It is a great route to run. Specially for the amazing San Juan Mountain to the lake and it has a beautiful view. Even love by price per head services pals.