Friday, August 15, 2014

Crawford 100

Somewhere between Montrose and Gunnison on the drive back from Silverton, I noticed the sign pointing to Crawford and thought, "oh yeah, there's a new 100-miler up there next weekend."

Later that evening back at the Fort, the conversation leads to the Crawford 100.  Still digesting the disappointment of another Hardrock DNF, I like the idea of a new goal, but no way is this going to happen.

"I bet registration is already closed anyway."

Turns out registration is open about another 24 hours.

"Well, if the race starts on Friday, I can't do it."

Race starts Saturday morning at 4am.

"This is crazy!  I am going to have to drink a lot more beer if you think I am going to sign up for another 100 in just 6 days!"

After communicating with the race director (Charles) and verifying that my body had survived any significant damage from the San Juan mountains, I am signed up for the Crawford 100 by Monday afternoon.

As the week progresses, Charles passes along a few emails to the registrants (all 7 of us) providing us some nice last-minute info such as:

"Too many trees down on the trail for me to clear them all, so you will be climbing over, under, or through a lot of them."

"Unless I get any more volunteers, expect the aid stations to be unmanned metal boxes."

"I hope to install a rope on some steep, slippery rocks climbing out of the creek.  I BARELY made it out of there."

"Oh yeah, the course is probably a little longer than 100 miles and it actually has about 28,000 feet of climbing."


I make the drive to Crawford on Friday night, get a few hours sleep in my tent at the Crawford State Park, and then I am at the starting line at about 3:30am.  Turns out there would only be 5 of us (Jeremy, Matt, Chris, Bob, and myself) taking on this monster.

A dark 4am start.

We take off in the darkness and up the 5 miles of jeep road that starts the course.  I am going very conservatively, but end up leading the race alongside Matt who is doing his first 100.  I think Matt wants to go a little faster, but I keep warning him that we have a long way to go.

After a few miles of rolling singletrack, and all the downed trees Charles warned us about, we get hit with some serious climbing.  I catch up to Matt at the top of the climb (he had opened up a gap on me earlier) and we finally get to cruise down some nice runnable trail, probably the nicest section of the whole course.  Too bad it wasn't on the course.  Matt and I went a good mile before realizing that there weren't any course flags and then had to hike all the way back up to see the well-flagged sharp turn in the course that we missed.  So it was more climbing up to Bald Mountain (the high point of the course) before we finally got to some downhill leading us to the beautiful Bald Mountain Reservoir and our first manned aid station around Mile 13.

How do you run through this?

Bald Mountain Reservoir

Matt and I refueling at Bald Mountain Aid Station (Mile 13).

Charles and Cheri (one of our awesome volunteers) are glad to see us thinking they may have gotten to the aid station too late and missed us.  Jeremy and Chris had already passed through and told them that we were ahead of them.  It turns out that they might have missed us if we hadn't done the bonus miles, so it was just as well that we did.  I take off from the aid station a little before Matt and continue down a beautiful, although not easily runnable, descent along Dyer Creek.

Trail leaving Bald Mountain Aid.
Near the bottom of the valley, I catch up with Jeremy and we hang together for a while making our way through the overgrown trails just trying to go flag to flag without getting off course.  It is obvious that most of these trails see little traffic (I saw no other trail users outside of the race all weekend), and therefore they are quite overgrown with vegetation and not well maintained.  This is kind of surprising given the beauty of the area.

The next climb is not that steep.  It is just a long, gradual grind leading to a beautiful pass at a jeep road crossing where we would have an unmanned aid station (Mile 18).  Although the aid station was no more than a water stop, the group from Texas who were camping at the pass with their horses were just finishing up breakfast.  Home-grown bacon and sausage were just what I needed.  Delicious!  They were a fun group and I was glad to know that I would be passing through 3 more times and that they would be camping there all weekend.  They told me to stop by again (and I would).

The next stretch of the course would be probably my favorite, a beautiful section of trail popping in and out of the forest while descending down toward Curecanti Creek.  I was running strong through here, enjoying the downhill all the while realizing that it was going to be one heck of a climb coming back.  I was again gaining on Jeremy and watched him head down to the bottom of the valley.  I also noticed course flags signaling another sharp turn that Jeremy missed.  I gave a yell to Jeremy, gaining his attention, and now he would be following me as I started heading along the trail parallel to the creek.

The Curecanti Valley.

The trail along Curecanti Creek would seemingly go on forever.  Very overgrown and climbing up and down as you would find yourself right along the creek one second, then a hundred feet above it the next.  It was also getting very hot and I was dipping in the creek at every chance.  Eventually, Matt came cruising up behind me looking great.  Turns out he had a rough patch after Bald Mountain but was over it and feeling good.  We would finally hit the jeep road together and soon be at the turnaround aid station (Mile 25, supposedly) almost 8 hours after starting the race (this was going to be a long one).  Chris was just running out from the aid station as we got there, also looking strong.  Charles also was running out with his rope which he had promised.  There was a tricky piece of trail climbing out of the creek and the rope would be handy, especially going down.

Joe, a Crawford local volunteering for the race, was running this aid station and was a pleasure to meet.  I guzzled down an icy cold coke, and then took another for the road that I would drink while eating a turkey sandwich I had in my pack.  I let Matt run off ahead of me as I would walk the road back to the trail.  I just wanted to make sure I ate as much as possible while my stomach was cooperating.

I climbed very well out of the Curecanti Valley and was still feeling strong.  Near the top of the climb, I met Bob still heading out.  He was moving slow but seemed to be enjoying the experience.  Bob would end up dropping out at the Mile 25 turnaround, but stuck around the rest of the weekend to help out.  Really cool! 

Unfortunately, the Texans weren't at their campsite when I reached the pass so I just got some much needed water and pushed on.  After descending back down to Dyer Creek, I was expecting a pretty mellow climb back up to Bald Mountain.  The climb wasn't steep, but this turned out to be my toughest climb of the day.  The afternoon sun was beating down on this exposed climb as the temperatures climbed into the mid-90s.  Even though I was now moving very slowly, I did see that I was gaining on Chris.  I ended up pulling into the Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 37) right behind him and we shared the same opinion that the climb sucked way more than we expected.  Cheri was there to greet us and had some delicious cold sodas.  A few minutes later, Jeremy would join us and we were all pretty well cooked and tired.

Catching a quick break back at Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 37).

I took off first from the aid station and was grateful for the shade of the forest around Bald Mountain.  Now I was wondering if I would even make it back to the Start/Finish (Mile 50) before dark.  The legs held up well on the steep descents coming off the mountain, but I could feel my stomach starting to go to its dark place as I was getting behind on my fueling.  The rolling terrain back to the jeep road seemed much further than it did in the morning going out and I was moving very slowly, especially getting through all of the tree fall.  I took a few seconds to rest on every tree I climbed over.  Surprisingly, Jeremy and Chris didn't catch me until we reached the 5 miles of jeep road that would bring us back to the start line (Mile 50).  I followed Jeremy and Chris, as none of us were really running very much.  After a couple of miles on the road, we met Matt running up the hill on his way back out.  He was moving faster than any of us going downhill and seemed to be well on his way to first place.

The Mile 50 turnaround back at the starting line came just as it was getting dark (around 9pm) and 17 hours after starting this thing!  Jeremy joked how this 50 had just taken him about twice as long to complete as the Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins.  And Quad Rock is not an easy 50.  Jeremy decided to call it quits here.

Jeremy, Bob, and Chris at Mile 50.  Who wants to head out for another 50?

The thought of going back out to repeat what we had just done was just too much too even think about.  It would have been so easy just to hop in the car and head home, but I wasn't going to let that happen.  I tell everyone that I am headed to my car to lay down and setting an alarm for 10:30pm.  I had lots of food in my car and knew I had to get myself in a better place before heading back out there.  I didn't actually sleep, but I did get some good rest and some food in my belly.  By the time I headed back out (10:45pm) I was the only person there.  Not like I could drop now because I wouldn't even be able to tell anyone that I was dropping.  So now I was pulling up the rear in this race with just Matt and Chris ahead of me.

Knowing that the hardest climbs would be over once I got back over Bald Mountain, I was hoping this would be my hardest section of the race.  I fueled on Sprite and Sun Chips and slowly made my way back, setting a goal of getting to Bald Mountain Aid before the night was over.  Probably the biggest disadvantage of being in last place was that I decided to lay down a couple of times to rest and knew that nobody was going to pass me.  Despite this, I made it to the aid station (Mile 63) with my headlamp still on.  Nobody was awake and I saw Chris's pack and trekking poles laying on the ground outside a car.  I grabbed a couple things and started writing a note in the gravel road with my foot to say that I came through, but then Charles awoke and I let him know that all was well and I was heading on.  I asked him for the time.  "5:11am".

When the sun came up near the bottom of the descent along Dyer Creek, it was just like my body had a reset, my stomach and appetite improved, and suddenly I was ready to start moving.  While the course still did not allow for much running, I was moving quickly and certainly felt like I was faster than yesterday over the same terrain.  Not knowing if Chris was in the race behind me, I started to wonder when I would meet Matt.  Not long after hitting the trail along Curecanti Creek, probably 4 miles from the 75-mile turnaround, I met Matt.  He was looking pretty ragged but I figured he must have had at least a 3 hour lead on me.

I pulled into the final turnaround (Mile 75) around 10am and 30 hours into the race.  The way I was feeling, I was now pretty confident about finishing under the 40-hour cutoff.  I sat in the shade and chatted with Joe for a bit while eating a sandwich and drinking Coke.  It was a good feeling that I would now be on the homestretch and my final time through this 25-mile bear of a course.

Ready to head back out for the last 25.

Unfortunately, it was shaping up to be another hot day.  I tried to ignore it, drink lots of water, and dip my head in a stream every chance that I had.  I was in "the zone" and knew that if I continued moving faster than yesterday, when it took me just a little over 9 hours on the return trip, then a finish was going to happen.

I would never see Chris (he ended up dropping at Bald Mountain) so I knew it was just Matt and I left.  I met up with my Texas friends for a final time around Mile 82 and was greeted with homemade cookies and brownies, and best of all a cold Coke!  I was physically and mentally in a good place and really enjoying myself.

I was not looking forward to the climb back up to Bald Mountain in the heat of the day again (it really sucked the day before), but this time I got lucky as some thunderstorms rolled in.  Yes!  It felt so good, I was just hoping the lightning wouldn't be an issue as I climbed up toward the high point of the course.

I rolled into the Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 87) one final time in the pouring rain and was greeted by Bob.  It was a very quick stop as Bob jumped out of his car and quickly got what I needed.  He told me that Matt passed through 2 hours and 15 minutes before me, but I was more happy when he gave me the time and I realized that sub-40 was in the bag (and maybe even sub-39).  I have stopped wearing watches during 100s, so now I just ask the aid station volunteers if I want to know.

I topped over the Bald Mountain pass with lightning flashing and rain falling.  Then it was a fun descent splashing my way down through the flowing, muddy trails.  The rain stopped and I managed to get myself off-course one more time as I guess my mind wasn't completely intact despite feeling quite focused.  Then the anticipation of the finish line had me moving faster and stronger than I think I have ever moved this late in a 100.  Too bad, that still didn't mean that I was running a whole lot, as it was just impossible on this trail.

I finally hit the road signaling about 5 miles to go.  After a couple more climbs, I convinced myself to suck it up and run the rest of the way to the finish.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of "running" after you have been on your feet for nearly 40 hours.  I might have been running under 10-minute miles, but they felt like sub 7.  Not really knowing around which corner the finish line would be, it just sort of snuck up on me and there it was!  Another 100-mile finish!

I think the finish line was the pylons, but I just kept running.

It was great to see that Matt was still there, along with Charles, Joe, and Bob.  Turns out that Matt had only been there 20 minutes since his feet forced him to walk it in.  It probably would have been better if he had beaten me by 2 hours so I wouldn't even think about the 20 minutes I could have made up somewhere to catch him.  Anyway, it was a great 100-mile debut for Matt and he certainly earned both his first 100-mile finish and victory.  So I will take "DFL" and 2nd place with pride with an official finish time of 38:53:08.

It's been hard to evaluate my performance at this race.  I was mostly just glad that I stuck it out and finished, especially after what happened to me just one week earlier.  I really felt good from about mile 65 to the finish and thought I was moving fast.  I proved to myself that I can comeback from the "lows", when finishing seems impossible, to really finishing strong.  I need to always remember that when those "lows" inevitably return at another 100.

This race certainly was unique in many ways.  Obviously, a race of 5 starters and only 2 finishers is pretty uncommon.  Let's hope that those numbers grow in the future.  The remoteness of this course is another thing that will either excite or turn off some people.  You're not going to see many people out there, and I liked that.  I was not crazy about the double out-and-back course (I wish all races could be 100-mile loops or point-to-point), but you have to take what you can get to make it work.  I would also like to think that my 38 hour finish had a lot to do with the toughness of this course and not my slowness.  Overgrown, technical, and hard-to-follow trails, with lots of vertical may not be for everyone.  Don't come here looking for a 100-mile PR.  But if you are looking for something challenging, where it is more about moving efficiently and effectively through the mountainous woods than it is about running, then this is a race to consider.  And the course is beautiful!

Charles has asked about the direction this race should go in the future.  Do you clear more trees and do more trail maintenance to make these trails both easier to run and find your way through?  I think you could do that and still have a very tough course.  I also think leaving it the way it is, giving it a bit of a "Barkley" feel is also cool and I would prefer it to be left that way.  And I would say a 48-hour cutoff would not be too generous.

The aid stations were quite limited on food choices and I ended up being pretty self-sufficient in that category.  Charles could certainly use more help in terms of volunteers and sponsors to improve this part of the race.  However, the volunteers we did have were great and all the work Charles did on his own to make this race work was amazing!   Thank you!

So it feels really good to pick up my 5th buckle (and it was a nice one) and I continue to learn a few more things after every one of these 100-mile adventures.  I don't know if I will ever come this close to actually winning one of these things again, but I was pretty happy with my 2nd place award.  Looks pretty sweet on the wall of my place.

My splits as close as I can guess:

Start: 4:15am
Bald Mountain (Mile 13): In 8:15am (4:00),  Out 8:20am (4:05)
25-Mile Turnaround: In 11:45am (7:30) Out 11:50pm (7:35)
Bald Mountain (Mile 37): In 5:00pm (12:45), Out 5:15 (13:00)
50-Mile Turnaround: In 9:00pm (16:45), Out 10:45pm (18:30)
Bald Mountain (Mile 63): In 5:10am (24:55), Out 5:15am (25:00)
75-Mile Turnaround: In 10:00am (29:45), Out 10:15am (30:00)
Bald Mountain (Mile 87): In 3:45pm (35:30), Out 3:50pm (35:35)
Finish: 7:08pm (38:53)

(all pics but the last one snagged from the Crawford 100 facebook page)

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