Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Colorado 200

I am 3 months removed from this and still cannot shake it. I have had my cat die (long live Tommy), I have become self-employed, bought a fat tire bike and have ridden countless miles, broke my collarbone and had surgery (and am now bionic), and continue to rehab a stress fracture…but I still cannot shake it. I replay the sections over and again in my brain, and fantasize about the last 50 miles. I think about the things that went right, and the things that went wrong.  Think about being alone for hours at a time, just me and the mountain. I think about the fear and stillness of the night, and the joy of the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. I think about the taste, the coolness of freshly filtered mountain spring water. My skin remembers the heat of the day, and the crisp chill of the night, and the blisters and abrasions.
The day before the drama

And then there are the participants. Stoic on Monday morning, wearing the weight of the anxiety that we are trying to manage at the start…but as the days progressed, being stripped bare, and unable to hide the fear, and the fatigue, and the worn-out faces, some despondent , others confused, and still others wondering if we will be able to get out of here and leave this plane of existence at some point, only to be confronted with the harsh reality that are the course markings. They summon us onward…upward…through rivers…up mudslides…into valleys…into aid stations…up mountains…through the rain…across fields of flowers…across fields of scree…for 200+ miles…

(I cannot imagine the logistics and organization that go into an event like this...due to last minute course changes, the stats for the sections that follow are approximate)

Section 1: Start to Doctor Gulch Aid Station – 13.7 miles, 4,024ft of climbing.

Race Morning
The race began at about 8:07 Monday morning from Harmel’s ranch. Low-key, subdued, but full of energy. Up the road we ran to the trail head that would take us up and over the first climb of the day. I had settled in to what I felt was a nice cruising effort, hiking the climbs in the steep, and jogging the downhills and flats. From the word go, I could feel the altitude pressing on my chest; however, I have done several good efforts at heights with no worries, so this effort was to be no different. I knew I would be breathing more rapidly, and my heart rate would be higher for a bit.
One of 100+ water crossings

Cruising post-climb, across a river, and into the aid station, I could hear the cheers of my family, who had come from Tennessee to share the experience. High-fives were in order, and I was so thankful! My wife reloaded my nutritional supplies from my drop bag, and I was back at it in to time. So far so good. Into Doctor Gulch AS at 11:24am, out at 11:28am, 7/13.

Section 2: Doctor Gulch Aid Station to Spring Creek Reservoir Aid Station – 11.1 miles, 1,898ft of climbing.

Cruise control through here. Easy running on jeep/service roads for the most part, with just a few spots of steep, rocky terrain. The heat of the day was upon us, and I was glad to have a full deck of fluids on board. The aid station was located on the shore of a beautiful reservoir…what a view! My wife fed me my supplies, I re-upped on the sun screen, and drank a ton! Feeling good, I was setting off into the early afternoon, set for the biggest climb, and a 20- mile section. Into Spring Creek AS at 1:48pm, out at 1:54pm, 7/13.

Section 3: Spring Creek Reservoir Aid Station to Star TH Aid Station – 19.8 miles, 4,501ft of climbing.

This section took us up to just below 13,000ft, with the climbing starting right from the start, and continuing for about the next 9-10 miles. I felt electrified, humbled by the majestic beauty but unable to contain my excitement! So awesome is this place! I stayd on top of my nutrition, and was greeted near the top by a man and his son, who were working the water station AND shooting guns. I love Colorado! I stopped and chatted for a bit, enjoyed some grub, and set off on the long decent to the next aid station.

On this section, we were spending about 14 miles above 11,000 ft, and this suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Classic symptoms of altitude…light-headed, dizzy, shortness of breath…something was going on and I was feeling goofy. Before I knew it, tunnel-vision hit me, and then it went black. I was out on my feet until I hit a rock with my shin, and this somehow woke me up. I hit the ground, and had to assess the damage. What was going on? I couldn’t make sense of it at the time. A fellow runner passed me, and I asked him to make the aid station ahead aware of my situation.

Tryin' to make sense of it all
I continued to hike slowly down to the aid station, and by the time I got there I was overwhelmed. This was too big for me…too big of a challenge. Who did I think I was, trying to take on a beast of a race like this? I am just a guy from Mississippi…this is impossible. I sat with my thoughts, and cried…was this it? Not even 50 miles into it, and I had lost my will. My wife consoled me, I ate some food, and huddled by the fireplace, thinking of what the crap had just happened to me. Think John, think…work this out…

I had just spent an extended period of time above 11,000 ft. I wasn’t bothered climbing up, because I was hiking, not asserting my system too much, but allowing my breathing rate to dictate my speed, so as not to go into the red. I had topped out, feeling good. I ran down the decent….BINGO. I had elevated my heart rate on the decent to a level that was not good. I wasn’t thinking about it, due to being overwhelmed with my surroundings, and the experience as a whole. As my heart rate sky-rocketed, my breathing got more shallow…as my breathing got more shallow, I began to think about how shallow my breathing had become, and how I couldn’t make it slow down. Soon enough, tunnel-vision hit, and bam! I hit the rocks…I had given myself a panic attack. Silly me…

After getting my act together, I made a deal with my wife that I would continue to the next aid station. No climbing, and it would take me back below 10,000ft. Into Star TH AS at 7:25pm, out it 8:37pm, 7/13.

Section 4: Star TH Aid Station to Texas Creek Aid Station – 11.2 miles, 770ft of climbing.

I set out with my music in my ears, trying as hard as I could to distract myself from the negative vibes that seemed to be consuming me. Day soon turned into night, and with my headlamp on, my world had shrunk to the glowing orb that enveloped me. Mindfulness 101. I took this epic, monumental event and shrunk it into a here-and-now moment, aided by the simplicity of my glowing headlamp, and the serenity of the music in my ears. Finally, for the first time all day, I was present with myself, in the here-and-now of my experience…just me, my light, my tunes, My God.
That's right...Cat Pants!

I arrived at the aid station, still present, but seeking motivation. I climbed into the crew vehicle, and struggled to get comfortable. Hours passed, and sleep evaded me. Another hour passed. I watched headlamps arrive and leave. Another hour passed, and I just sat, uncomfortable, trying to become motivated to get back out there. My wife asked me, “Is there any part of you that wants to keep going?” The question sat out there in the void of silence for a bit. I had to think about that one. But realizing that I had to think about that particular question told me that the answer was yes. “A little bit”, I answered verbally. After I said this, I knew what it meant. It was time to get reloaded!

I ate food, drank fluids, changed into my cat-pants (nothing motivates like the sight of cat-pants), and was ready to hit it! Back to the flags! Into Texas Creek AS at 11:20pm, 7/13, out at 4:32am, 7/14.

Section 5: Texas Creek Aid Station to Texas Creek Aid Station – 22.7 miles, 2,967ft of climbing.

This was a loop that brought us back to the same aid station, but not before ascending a 3,000ft mountain. I set out on this section with two other guys, one of which fell behind after suffering with foot issues. Myself and Dave set out into the pre-dawn, and had the pleasure of conversing about all things, from our day jobs, to our families. Great vibes out there. Neither of us allowed the enormity of the task to overwhelm us, but instead we stayed focused on the new day, and stayed captivated by the beauty that enveloped us. I created a bit of separation on the climb, and sat down on a nearby fallen tree and enjoyed eating a “bevrything bar” for breakfast. Dave soon passed, and I arose from my mealtime, feeling refreshed, and for the first time since the start, determined. Into Texas Creek AS at 10:50am, out at 11:18am, 7/14.
Getting ready for the new day

Section 6: Texas Creek Aid Station to Pieplant Mill Aid Station – 18.2 miles, 3,338ft of climbing.

Grueling ups
My wife accompanied me on this section, and it was great to have some company. I was also glad to have her, so that she could serve as an eye-witness to the veracity of this course. This section started tame, but soon led to a 10-mile climb, up service road, and then up steep scree. I remember thinking that this was mind-blowing, and just cruel. Somewhere along this section I had become aware of a slight tick of a pain in my lower left leg, and actually mentioned it to Bev, giving it no more credit that the wear and tear of the experience. Also along this section it began to rain…nothing too severe, but a steady sprinkle. The temperature would fluctuate from hot to cold, depending on which side of the mountain we were on. I took turns putting on my Houdini jacket, and taking it off…zipping it up, and unzipping it. I was successful in regulating my temperature, but it did take some effort.

Arriving at the aid station, I was beginning to shiver from my damp clothes. I tried to entertain the fire, but the rain became too steady. I sought refuge in the tent, in a sleeping bag. There I shivered until my wife came back with the car. I ate some food, and changed into dry clothes. By now the rain had ended. Into Pieplant Mill AS at 5:50pm, out at 8:06pm, 7/14.

Section 7: Pieplant Mill Aid Station to Dorchester Aid Station – 12.9 miles, 1,720ft of climbing.

Honestly, I think this is where the lack of sleep caught up to me. I can remember leaving the aid station, but that about it, until I arrived at the next station. Honestly, I have racked my brain, but cannot remember any of this section. When I came into the aid station, I ate some food, climbed into the car, and told my wife to wake me up at 2:30.  Into Dorchester AS at 12:00am, out at 2:50pm, 7/15.

Section 8: Dorchester Aid Station to Mt. Tilton TH Aid Station – 12.5 miles, 2,438ft of climbing.

As I headed out, I was given some course directions. Since it had rained all night prior to now, the valley was enveloped in a thick layer of fog. I set out, feeling refreshed from the piece of sleep I got, and renewed in spirit. I was able to keep a good clip on the service road tht led to the entrance of the single track, and the arduous 4-mile climb up the mountain. The lower slopes were steep and rocky, but maintainable with a good effort. I was loving it at this point, and began entertaining thought of what it was going to feel like to finish this race…but quickly reeled those thoughts in, and stayed with the moment, enveloped in my orb (headlamp), and jamming to tunes. But I soon realized that something was up with the trail.

The craggy rocks that I was becoming used to soon ended, and I looked up the slope to see a river in place of the trail. I scanned the terrain, looking for a marker, but the only ones I saw were hanging from limbs, over the river. The rain had taken the trail, which was marked while it was still a trail, and had turned it into a cold, rushing cylinder of water. In some places, I was able to loop around through off-camber vegetation, and avoid the water. But there were a few spots where it was unavoidable, and I found myself, by myself, laughing hysterically, fording up-river, in the middle of the night, in the Colorado mountains, with no sight of civilization. Oh, the humor of the mountains, if we dare to find it!

Once the trail got back to dry ground, I knew I needed to be moving vigorously to warm up. I swung my arms, and put in a good effort over the next little bit…until the trail turned into a mudslide. Soft, gooey mud on top of hard-packed ground made for another really humorous situation, as I grasped at the air, trying to balance, and not go sliding back down the 20-feet I had just come up. Topping out, I caught the outlines of old mining materials, as well as abandoned old structures dotting the landscape…I kept waiting for some kind of creature to jump out and get me…I am glad nothing did.
Clearing towards the top-out point of this section, I noticed the sky getting brighter. Another day was dawning, and I was at about 12,000ft elevation to be a witness. As the sun rose, the wildflowers began to open, and turn towards the light. The clouds were trapped within the valleys, with the peaks of the mountains serving as islands, jetting out of the cloud-formed sea. Fog was burning off a nearby high-altitude pond. And just then a doe comes bounding down and across the trail, followed closely in chase by a buck. This is why I do what I do…to capture moments of time like this, that I am unable to see or experience in any other way. This was the most incredible memory, and I pray to God that I can carry it with me to my grave.
The majesty of the big mountains

Fueled by this magical, surreal moment, I continued my decent into the valley, to the next aid station. Crossing another river, I was soon greeted by my lovely. Today was our anniversary. Into Mt. Tilton TH AS at 7:07am, out at 7:26am, 7/15.

Section 9: Mt Tilton TH Aid Station to Brush Creek TH Aid Station – 17.8 miles, 3,981ft of climbing.

Meeting my wife at this aid station on our anniversary was pretty cool. We got a great anniversary pic out of it! After some killer food, and a kiss, I was off. Once again crossing the river, I remarked to a fellow runner heading to the aid station, “What’s another river to cross after all they have done to us!” And up I began to climb. Due to a reroute, we didn’t have to suffer through three 12,500ft peaks in 3.5 miles, only two.
Anniversary Pic

And they were brutal. Scree climbs, with a pitch that encouraged four points of contact in places. When I topped out on the first, I couldn’t help but take in the miles and miles of mountain peaks…incredible! Following the trail with my eyes, I saw another peak, but was sure that we weren’t going up that one also…it was even more ridiculous than what we just went up…but surprise, it was peak number 2! Following the same breath-taking scenery, it was time to head downhill, into the valley. A 13-mile decent, dropping from 12,500 to 8,900…this section had roughly 5,690 feet of decent! I enjoyed being able to open the stride a bit, getting to run in the beauty of the day…some places I had to apply the brakes, I was having so much fun!

But maybe too much fun. Remember that pain I had in my lower left leg? I was once again beginning to feel it, only this time it was becoming annoying. As the course entered the valley we were spit out onto a county road that would lead to the next aid station. However, due to a car parked on the sign that pointed the right way, I made a left turn onto a part of the next section, rather than continuing straight towards the aid station. I had no clue, and continued to move at a pretty good clip.

Up and up I went, and I was beginning wonder where these climbs were on my elevation cue sheet. No worries, I just continued to follow the flags. I soon came up on a few other runners, totally out of nowhere, and one of them informed me that I had missed a turn. BOOOOOOO. I retraced my steps back down the climb to the road, and what do you know, the truck that was there had moved, and there was the sign. OK, no worries, just a few bonus miles…hey, at least I know the route ahead! I made my way to the aid station, and soon was met with a car-load of people…it was my family! They had made the trek to the aid station to see me…what an energizing moment! I continued to the aid, where I collected the support of my family, and was greeted with a warm, pepperoni pizza! Into Brush Creek TH AS at 1:15pm, out at 1:25pm, 7/15.
Maybe a few drops to keep it interesting

Section 10: Brush Creek TH Aid Station to Farris Creek Aid Station – 8.7 miles, 4,266ft of climbing.

Leaving the aid station, I had to walk. What was annoying had become painful. With each step I was aware that something with my leg wasn’t right. I pressed on, and once I got back to the portion of trail that I had been on during my wrong turn, I tried running again. What I found were mixed results. I could power hike uphill pretty good, but could just walk on flats and downhill. This was lending itself to a slow pace, but I was managing forward progress, so no worries. The sky was filling with clouds, threatening with thunder, but it never came. I continued to press onward, upward. I was running out of fluids pretty fast, but I just couldn’t move any faster.

The climbs through here were horrendous…just these steep spike ups followed by steep downs. My leg was becoming more and more painful with each one of these downs. On the final decent into the aid station, I was doing everything I could to try and keep pressure off my leg, even trying to walk backwards…but its hard to keep pressure off your leg. Finally, the aid station came.

The final steps
I knew I was in trouble. I tried to ignore it. I propped it up, put ice on it, distracted myself and did some foot care on my right foot. But at some point I had to address the issue. I went to bend my foot, and screamed. Horror-movie kind of scream. My wife tried to calm me. I laid in a cot for a while. I tried to move my leg, and screamed. The pain was terrible. I finally took a look at my lower left leg, and it was puffy, swollen in a very distict spot, and was discolored. All bad signs.

My wife and I tried to be optimistc. I had plenty of time to go the last 50 miles, but I knew the last 50 were tough as nails. I had my boot with me, so we thought about slapping that bad boy on and going at it. We were thinking of anything we could to try to instill hope into the situation. However, the RD came over and took a look, and made the call. Since it was localized swelling with discoloration, it had a high probability of being a stress fracture, and if it was a stress fracture, and I continued, I ran the risk of developing a full fracture, and being stuck somewhere on a mountain with a broken leg. The call was made. My race was over. Into Farris Creek AS at 5:30pm, 7/15.

The Aftermath

I went to the Orthopedist  in Crested Butte and he did an x-ray on my leg. It was inconclusive due to the amount of swelling I had around the injury site. He showed me the x-ray, and pointed out an area that could be the fracture, but encouraged me to follow up once I got home. I didn’t, but was recently told by my guy here in MS that it almost certainly was, due to the amount of build-up I now have in that area…he is going to do an MRI this week just to confirm.

I gave it my best effort. I fought demons, but embraced the mountains. I got to see and experience things that I hope I can remember forever. I did all I could to get to the finish line, and I am happy with my effort…there are not many races out there where you can record a 150+ mile DNF.

But let me revisit why it has taken 3+ months to get this tale out. I have been holding on to it. I have been replaying it over and again in my mind, wondering if there are things I could have done differently, and figuring out things I could have done better. I have seen that sunrise in my mind on day two over and again, not wanting to ever lose it. This is why I have not written anything down til now…because I have been afraid of losing it. When I have it in my mind, it is mine, and I get to have control of the experience, and I get to run it again, and experience it again anew, and see and feel and hear and smell everything, over and again. This was the most amazing experience I have ever had, and I did not want to let it go.

But I understand something else...that it is time to let it go, to get it out, to give it away. If I keep it to myself, then the experience loses its joy. God has given me this experience to share and encourage others…and I don’t just mean the Colorado 200, but my entire life, and if I selfishly keep it to myself, for myself, then I am no better than if I had never experienced it at all.

So this is my Colorado 200 report.

And yes, of course, I will be back in 2016 to finish this beast off!

Scroll down for more pics

Special thanks to Rock/Creek, Swiftwick Socks, Fuel-100s, Mississippi Blues Marathon, my wife, all my family and friends, and My God.

The Gear

Swiftwick 7”, 12”
Drymax Trail
Nike Wildhorse Shoes
Nike Vomero Shoes
Nike Pro Combat compression Briefs
Brooks HVAC gloves
Patagonia Arm warmers
Camelbak handheld bottle
Cat Tights (from Target)

Nutritional items in each of my drop bags:

Peanut Butter M&M’s
Honey BBQ Fritos
Epic Bison Bars
Bevrything bar

Can of Coca-cola

This would have helped me stay warm

Moments before the start

Coming into mile 85-ish

Old-school trail race start!

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