On Friday, I drove out to Fruita for the Desert RATS Spring Festival with fellow racer Caroline. I was nervous about my first running race, 50 miles of rocky, rugged singletrack along the Colorado River canyon just west of Fruita. At 6:30 the next morning, a big crowd (the biggest crowd I've been a part of at a start line in years) slowly took off down a dirt road. Most people were talking and laughing as we approached the first long climb, though a few more focused individuals worked hard to make their way toward the front.
I hung out with a group of other Boulder runners for the first hour before we gradually spread out. Pairs or small groups of runners reformed and subsequently fell apart as the terrain changed, suiting one person's abilities or legs a bit better. Sometimes there was entertaining conversation within these groups, sometimes simple small talk, and sometimes silence. I caught up to Chris Gerber on the long climb out of the aid station at 19 miles as my legs finally started to have some good sensations. We ran together to the turnaround, getting passed in the opposite direction by the leaders who had already hammered out a 7-mile gap in front of us! The first lap took just over 4.5 hours, and I headed out for the second with a handful of peanut butter and jelly tortillas. I felt strong on the climb up Mack's Ridge and caught another runner. We spent a couple hours together, and I was glad to have company as the course was far lonelier with the 25-mile runners no longer out there.
The scenery started to fade away as the day warmed up and my concentration began to focus more on steadily moving forward, drinking, and eating when my stomach would allow it. I slowly caught a few runners as they battled cramps and stomach problems, and each time we'd chat for a bit, encouraging one another on. Eventually I reached the final aid station, filled up on water, ate some cookies, got some encouraging words from the two volunteers, and took off up the final climb. Running was still possible on the lower parts, but as it got steeper, I ended up walking almost everything. Passing mountain bikers cheered me on, and by the high point, the finish line was in sight, far below and a few miles away. My feet, especially my left one, were starting to get pretty sore, and that particular descent is steep, rocky, and loose, which didn't help things any. But before too long, I slowly ran up the last rise and cross the finish line, where ~20 spectators clapped and cheered for me after 10 hours, 20 minutes. The winner finished in an astounding 7:13, setting a new course record. I stood and ate watermelon for a while, and then sat down in the shade, all my muscles on the verge of cramping if I moved in a way they did not like. Not long after, Caroline finished, knocking something like 90 minutes off her time from last year and taking 4th in the womens field! Fred Wilkinson, fellow mountain bike ultra enthusiast, also finished his first 50-miler here!
Running is still a fairly new endeavor for me, but the suffering, nutrition (or lack thereof), and mental battles of ultra racing are familiar enough after the past couple years that my biggest concerns going into the race were whether or not my muscles would carry me for 50 miles and if a few minor injuries would flare up and force me to play it smart and bow out early. It turns out that the muscles did fine (that's not to say they didn't scream in pain from time to time), and the little injuries didn't really complain during the race. A few hours later, as I stumbled around, the outside of my left foot started to get rather sore around the peroneal tendon. Today, while my leg muscles feel surprisingly good, the tendon is still pretty tender, so there's not going to be any running for a little while.
Yesterday, after sleeping for many hours, another sunny day greeted us, and we made use of the road bikes we ambitiously brought along and rode through Colorado National Monument.
I had heard many great things about the Rim Road, and while walking hurt, riding was pretty painless for both of us. The roads were quiet, the pace mellow, the views splendid, and after a long, gradual climb, there was an exciting descent back off the plateau. And after the ride, my legs and foot felt far better than below. Pedaling is magical like that.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable weekend. Now to decide on what to do about the next weekend...