The race had nearly ideal organization and atmosphere, and all proceeds from entry fees went directly to GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors), which is based in Pagosa and provides scholarships for individuals who hope to participate in NOLS courses and the likes.
The morning of the race was great, temperatures were low (around 32, I think), but a fire at the start brought everyone together for warmth, laughing, and gabbing.
The following scenario may be a little TMI, and I'm sorry if it is, but I feel the need to share in hopes that it will never happen to you! There was a long line for the provided Port-A-Johns (surprise, surprise!), and one poor soul was using his headlamp to navigate his (seemingly) private facility, and the dozen or so of us that were waiting in line were able to see his silhouette, which was very well defined... I'll say no more, but I will advise you to turn off your headlamp upon entering a portable toilet!!
Anywho, the race started without any big hullabaloo, and we all trotted down the gravel road for a couple of miles that would take us to the Chris Mountain Trail. I stayed true to myself and my goals by letting people start at their own pace, something I've desperately needed to work on. It was a nice mental test, watching 40 some odd people running ahead of me on the long road, but I passed with flying colors. Then began to do some passing of other runners as the climb began. I was delightfully surprised at how runnable the climb up Chris Mountain was, as the elevation profile made it seem a steep, direct ascent.
I ran with a group of seven or eight folks during the descent from Chris Mountain to the aid station. It was a beautiful grade for downhill running, and I knew that this in combination with having company was making me run a little faster than I had planned. I reached the aid station a few strides ahead of the group, refilled one of my bottles and stopped to pee. People whizzed (pee pun, ha) past me as I was off the side of the trail and when I stepped back on I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I could choose my speed and keep it as comfortable and smart as I wanted. "Holding back, holding back...", was a blurb of advice given to me by a wise runner regarding how I should feel for the first half or two thirds of the race. So that became my mantra for the next three miles of descending. I was passed by 6 or 7 more people in this time period, and was forced to check myself repeatedly to ensure that I wasn't pounding my quads with the same tenacity that many of them were.
Once that descent came to an end I knew I was entering my comfort zone, with a 3000 ft climb coming over the course of the next 6 or 7 miles. The first couple of miles I hung with a couple of folks in particular, but then I was able to convince myself that my climbing abilities were capable of handling greater speed comfortably, so off I went. I must've passed a dozen or more people over the next couple of miles, because I received word that there were now only about ten people ahead of me.
I caught up with a fellow named Paul and altered my speed a bit, since he seemed a wise fellow and to be moving at a reasonable pace. We took turns pulling each other the rest of the way up the hill and on through the third aid station.
The descent from Horse Mountain (~9,900 ft) brought about a most unfortunate reunion with my arch-nemisis of old- the IT-Band! An unshakable twing of pain in my left knee struck fear in my heart. My muscles weren't tired, I felt hydrated and had been fueling well up to this point, but it continually beckoned me to walk far more than I wanted.
The 50 miler was the race for which I was registered, but at about mile 20 I started thinking: if this IT-Band pain heats up when I'm on the desolate 8 mile stretch on the way out, or the 8 mile stretch on the way back from the 50 mile turn around, its going to be a really long day. I could do some damage that could put me out of running for a couple of weeks or more. Whats more, Scott is coming out west next weekend and wants to do the Four Passes Loop at Maroon Bells, it could be my last chance before snow falls, I ought to save my legs. Not to mention the first running of the Welcome, Winter 50k in two weeks... Anyways, my logic won out against my ambition of the day, and I resolved to move myself to the 50k race at the next aid station.
Sandi reeled me and Paul in a couple of miles out from the aid station. I kept bouncing back and forth off Sandi's heels in between stretching my IT-Band and her straight kicking butt. We arrived at the aid station shoulder to shoulder with another fellow, Dave, a few seconds behind us. We were then informed that we were 1, 2, and 3 in the 50k race. I thought, "well, what comes after the "holding back, holding back" part? "Oh yeah, you go!" So we all took off. I later realized this to be my mistake for the day- I was due for some fuel, but got a little caught up in the idea of racing this thing out with Dave and Sandi and neglected that crucial component. Sandi and I took turns leading for a couple of miles as we were not much short of flying down the descent from the aid station.
As the trail popped out onto a gravel road it turned to an incline and my adrenaline wore off and I lost about a minute on the duo. Our gravel road crossed another and began descending. Looking down the road I was astonished to see they were out of sight. So I took off, determined to reel them back in and I ran up the next hill and back down its other side and realized that, much to my dismay, there was no way they could still be that far ahead and that I hadn't been looking for the pink flags along the way... So I backtracked about 4 or 5 minutes, still running hard, and asked a guy cutting firewood which way the other two runners had gone, and he told me he hadn't seen anyone. Major bummer. So I continued back a bit further and noticed some flagging off to my right and a trail sign, though there was no evident trail to speak for leading across the meadow, but flags were present. I couldn't believe I had missed it!
The next couple of miles went by pretty slowly, my energy was fading and I was getting hot. The trail was beautiful, as it had been all day, so I relished in that and resolved that I had squandered too much time chasing dervishes down a dead end road to close the gap. I settled into a comfortable pace to finish out the race.
After running gravel road a couple of miles the finish line was in clear view! I had made it, my ITB pain had subsided, my muscles felt strong, my stomach had- wait, wait a second!! About a tenth of a mile from the finish, I hurled. I stood hunched for a minute or so and hurled a couple more times, laughed a little bit, didn't feel bad, and jogged my way to the finish line.
I was delighted to have come in 3rd out of 65, the best placing I've had in any race I've run thus far. I was even more delighted (no offense, Dave!) that Sandi was able to pull out the overall win, finishing really strong, about 14 minutes ahead of me, and 10 minutes ahead of Dave. You go girl!
In summary, I got smarter and stronger yesterday. I'm excited for my upcoming adventures. The Devil Mountain Ultra races offer fantastic trail and community. I would highly recommend any races that Morgan puts on to anyone, I'm glad to have been a part of it.
Thanks for reading, once again! There were people snapping pictures on the course, hopefully I'll be able to put some of those up on here before too long.