This was the first time I had run Grand Mesa 100, a relatively new race. I arrived Friday afternoon and was impressed with Grand Mesa, a high plateau above 10,000 feet. I decided to camp near the start because of the early start time the next morning, 5:00 a.m. I greeted friends at the pre-race meeting and enjoyed a relaxing evening by Island Lake.
I managed to get a good night’s rest and it was nice to have only a five-minute drive to the start. We were away at 5 a.m. The course layout is very confusing and I hoped that I studied it enough to not take too many wrong turns. The first giant 11-mile loop was very nice. We climbed above 11,000 feet onto a narrow ridge that gave great views except for the hazy smoke down in the valleys. I finished the loop 15 minutes slower than I hoped, but I was still doing fine. There were only 29 100-mile runners and a bunch of 50-mile and 60K runners. I was running in the top 10.
The next section wasn’t much of a trail. We followed markers of a snow mobile trail and it was very tough keeping the pace up. Course marking was rough too. I nearly missed an important turn but thankfully there were some guys there waving to me to come back and go the right way. At the next aid station, I had to solve my main problem and took 15 minutes for a bathroom break. When I returned, I was well-rested, could run fast again, but back with the mid pack now. I pushed the pace and after the next nine miles had almost caught up to my earlier place.
At mile 25, on the Indian Point Loop, I nearly stepped on a harmless snake crossing the road. Behind me were a couple runners. The girl let out a huge scream. I guess the snake didn’t cross the road after all. She cussed up and down. I chuckled. Soon, I needed yet another bathroom break and went into the trees for another 10 minutes or so. I saw Dan Brendan go by. So I fell behind again but felt much better and could run fast again. The Indian Point Loop was amazing, some nice single track that went by the edge of the Mesa with great views below. But the trail was poorly marked, I guess vandalized, and I was in doubt if I was going the right way and slowed down until I could see others ahead. I caught up with Dan at Indian Point (mile 34) and the heat was really starting to get to us. This loop had almost no shade at all. I had to stop and sit down in some shade for a few minutes to somewhat recover as Dan went on ahead. I had been running at 10,000 feet nearly all day and it was wearing me down.
Once back at it, I was catching up to Dan again but at an intersection the runner ahead of him went left but Dan went right. When I reached the intersection, I looked at the markings and it appeared that Dan had taken the right way. I yelled to him, “are you sure?” but he didn’t hear me. I had to make a decision and I decided to follow Dan. But things looked wrong, a little familiar and after a half mile I was sure we were running the loop again. Once I reached a fence to pass through, I was certain. Dan was long gone. I turned around and soon met a runner about 10 miles behind, starting the loop who confirmed that I had been running the loop again.
That blunder cost me 1.2 miles and another 15 minutes or so. But it woke me up and I started to run fast. When I reached the intersection, I inspected the markings closely and there was no help at all to those completing to loop to indicate that they should turn left. The main markings were on a sign to the right, that included the name of Flowing Park, where I was to next go. Wow! So I went on. Dan must have figured things out far too late. He arrived at the next aid station 1.5 hours behind me and dropped out of the race.
I continued on, feeling pretty well. At mile 43, we descended down 5,000 feet in 9 miles, off the Mesa. I had looked forward to this section but the trail was terrible. It reminded me of the Uintas, but far worse. Most of it was a series of boulder-ridden stream beds. As I reached lower, the vegetation turned to scrub oak and it extended into the trail scratching the legs. It wasn’t very much fun but my pace was good and I finally caught up and passed the runners I was with earlier, including the screaming snake girl.
I knew I would run low on water and I did my best to conserve it. The temperature at these lower levels was close to 90 degrees and I reached the aid station over-heated. I sat there for ten minutes just drinking and drinking. Soon I felt much better, ready to attack the next trail going back up 5,000 feet in just 5 miles. But, just a quarter mile out, I realized I forgot to take my backup headlamp with me. I almost returned but decided instead to push the pace hard and make sure I arrived to the top before dark.
My uphill legs were ready to go and I was able to push the pace well, doing a bunch of running. But soon the trail turned into stream beds again, an obstacle course. I caught up to another runner who complemented me on my uphill running. I kept looking behind me and could see a bad storm coming in. With a mile to go, it hit and I put on my emergency poncho. The climb seemed to never end and reminded me of the Hermits Rest unmaintained trail in the Grand Canyon. Just like that trail, there are a series of never-ending switch backs near the top, climbing to unseen voices above encouraging you.
I made it to the top before dark and the volunteers there were so nice. Other runners were there with crews, but the volunteers took care of me. Thankfully the next section was pavement and I would have no problem running it as dark arrived. But so did the storm! It poured rain. By the time I arrived at Lands End, I wasn’t in great shape. They didn’t have a warm place to recover there and I told people I was quitting and asked about a ride. I waited for awhile in a trailer, but got even colder. I had put a jacket in my drop bag at the next aid station, seven miles away. It couldn’t help me here. Finally a crew offered to let me sit in their car. That was really kind. I shivered like crazy for five minutes but then recovered fast. Thoughts about quitting went away. They offered me a jacket to wear for the next section (I still have it, please contact me). I ate a bunch and felt great again. My stop had been about 45 minutes or more.
Back out into the storm I ran fast again and I felt nice and warm. But soon my stomach acted up again. As typical, after dark, in high altitude races, my stomach will usually shut down and won’t let me run fast. So I slowed down and soon again was cold as the rain poured. I began to get very drowsy and started to stumble around, falling asleep on my feet. I knew hypothermia was setting in. I tried my best to run faster, warming up, but my stomach wouldn’t let me do it for long. I finally figured out that in high altitude races, after dark I get a little chilled and that causes blood to move away from my stomach to keep me warm. I think the key is to not get chilled at higher altitude. I checked my watch and was shocked to see it was midnight already. It seemed like I had only gone three miles. But to my surprise, around the next turn I saw the aid station lights. Despite my seemingly slow pace, I had covered the seven miles already. Perhaps I did some of those miles while sleeping.
When I arrived, I had made up my mind. I just couldn’t continue. I had a light jacket there, but the problem was the light poncho I had on. It couldn’t break the wind that was blowing. I also didn’t have any long pants. My wet legs were very cold. I just wouldn’t survive well the next huge loop on a soggy trail. So it was a rare 100-mile DNF for me. I had covered 68 miles. Quitting was the right thing to do. The pouring rain continued for the next 9 hours or so. Only a very few well-dressed runners continued. For the next couple hours I shivered near a fire until a ride finally showed up to haul me, the snake girl, and her husband back to the start.
I snoozed in my car until dawn and then drove around the course to pick up my drop bags. As I drove, the rain poured harder than ever and the roads were flooded. Wow! I came upon the runner who I passed on the big climb. He had only 12 miles to go and had a smile on his face. I stopped the car and congratulated him. That is determination.
Will I come back? Right now I doubt it. While the course is challenging, which I like, there are too many long stretches of trail that just aren’t very fun. But now that I know most of the course, it would be easier the second time. I would also be much better prepared for the rain. I have a sick attraction to tough races and probably have something to prove. I’ve run in more than 60 100-mile races and this was the first time I hit rain like that.