Rain, sleet, temperatures in the 40′s and wind gusts of 35+ mph along with ankle-deep mud that could pull off your shoes and rivers swift enough to sweep you off your feet. That about sums up this year’s race in one sentence. This year’s Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run will most likely be talked about for years to come.
I arrived at the start and set my drop bags with the others waiting to be taken out on the course. I didn’t have a set crew and I planned my drop bags for strategic points in the race – miles 7, 29, and 40. The forecast called for cooler temperatures and heavy wind so I packed a waterproof jacket in my drop bag so I could pick it up by mile 29 if I needed it. By the end of the day, I was so glad I packed my rain jacket because I was going to need it.
As I was pinning my bib number on my shorts, my friends all started to arrive. Trevor, Marc, Kristin, Scott, Jon and I were all gathered together and we had moments before the race was to begin. It seemed like the time went by fast as we gathered ourselves and headed to the starting line and moments later we were crossing the starting line and heading out on the course.
Marc and I ran together for the first 3 miles until we made it to the single track trail and Marc ended up pulling ahead of me. I decided that I’d just take it easy and fell back into a comfortable pace. By mile 5, I had pulled behind 2 other runners and we all started talking about how wonderful the morning was. The sun was just starting to peak above the mountains in the distance. The wind was blowing hard but it was still a great morning so far. As we made our way through this section over to the mile 7 aid station, we enjoyed some good banter as we watched the sun rise. I remember saying at one point, “the running gods must be looking down on us on this beautiful morning. I hope this weather sticks for a while.” Little did I know just how the day would turn out.
We reached the mile 7 aid station and things were going well. I didn’t have a crew but I did have a few friends that were at this aid station that checked in to see how I was doing. I didn’t need much assistance and simply needed to fill up my water bottle and took off my outer shell. It was warm enough that I didn’t need it at this point in the race. The 2 runners I had been running with had crew and they made it out of the aid station a little before me. I remember thinking I wanted to try to keep up with at least one of the runners I was with so I hurried up and headed back out.
Not far into this section, I found a small group of runners were gathered looking confused. The course markings had been orange and white up until this point. There were now green and yellow markers on the right which we assumed meant we needed to take this sharp right turn. A couple of us were confident we remembered this turn from previous years and started down this section which led us downhill and eventually to a softer, sandy section of the course for a couple miles. I had caught back up to one of the runners from earlier and the 2 of us started running together again. We were leading this small pack of runners and soon found ourselves far in front of them. We chatted for a while and finally introduced ourselves. Andy was his name and he ran with Racelab, out of Scottsdale.
We soon realized that the course markings that we had relied on for the first couple of sections of the race seemed to be almost non-existent now. Luckily, both Andy and I had run this race before and between the 2 of us, we remembered the course enough to navigate with relative ease. We eventually made it to the mile 13 aid station with relative ease. The wind was still blowing hard with gusts around 30mph. I don’t recall spending too much time at this aid station. Andy and I both just made sure we refilled our hydration, had some food and moved on.
The rain still held off and we made our way up the climb to mile 15 to the top of Gunsight which is one of my favorite parts of the course. We start making our way down the loose rock at Gunsight and before long we’re at the bottom of the hill and making our way over to the mile 19 aid station. So far this race was going quite well and we were moving along at a good pace…even without course markers. Making our way through this aid station with ease, we set a nice easy pace making our way forward.
As we started to climb the hill at mile 20 into 21, we looked up and the sky looked quite dark and ominous. Andy commented, “looks like rain up at the top.” The wind gusts were picking up and it looked like we were about to get soaked. The wind was coming right at us from the front and we started to feel a little moisture in the air as we climbed. I stopped, took off my pack and started to put on my outer shell. Andy grabbed a large trash bag he had been carrying and poked a hole in the top and put it over his head. Just as we both finished putting on an outer layer, the rain started coming down in buckets. The wind blew so hard and the rain had a little sleet in it as well that it felt like little pellets of sand being whipped in your face. It stung. We pushed on and eventually got to the top of the climb.
As we made our way up and over and back down the other side, the rain had subdued. Looking out at where we were headed, we could see a huge rain storm off to our right. We pushed on down the hill and ran at a good pace just hoping to stay away from that storm as it slowly made it’s way towards us. We ran through this section with the next climb in view. The clouds up at the top of that climb looked even darker and more ominous than anything we had seen earlier in the day. Our goal was to make it to the 25 mile aid station in good time and then head out on the long climb up to the 29 mile aid station. That’s where I had my rain jacket and I knew I’d need it by then. The skies were about to open up and we were going to get wet.
As I run into the 25 mile aid station, I see a friend Greg who was there to crew for our friend Marc. The rain was already coming down at this point and I ran up to the truck where Greg waited. He looked at me and said, “I see you’ve moved up in the field.” I was puzzled by what he meant and he then notified me that he hadn’t seen Marc or Trevor who were both ahead of me so far in the race. Due to there being little to no course markings through the last few sections, the only thing we could figure is that Marc and Trevor took a wrong turn somewhere. Come to find out, they had made a wrong turn somewhere back about mile 12. There was a sharp left that wasn’t marked that they missed. I was lucky to have remembered that turn from last year and hadn’t lost my way getting here.
Andy’s crew helped him and they got me a trash bag to put over my outer shell to keep me warm and dry. Andy put on his rain jacket. We both finished getting our stuff together, grabbed some food and made our way back out onto the course again. We had been making great time so far. We discussed it fast-hiking the next climb up to the 29 mile aid station. We both remembered this section to be a long, energy-draining climb for about 4 miles. We jogged to the bottom of the climb and then started our hike. The hike didn’t take as long as we thought it might and luckily the strong gusts of wind were not working against us.
At the 29 mile aid station, I grabbed my rain jacket, refilled my water bottle and grabbed some extra calories to take with me on the go. I also folded up the trash bag I had and put it in my pocket for a “just in case” moment. Trash bags not only help keep you dry but they also help keep in body heat. The temperature was dropping and I wanted to be prepared for anything. The rain was also getting heavier by the minute and it didn’t seem like it was going to let up any time soon. Greg was also at this aid station and he helped me get ready to head back out. He mentioned that Marc wasn’t far behind. He confirmed that he had taken a wrong turn a ways back but only ran an extra 2 miles.
On to the next aid station at mile 33. We knew as we headed out of 29 that we had a little climb as we got back onto single track that we ran earlier in the race. The trail was getting muddy and a little slick. This was a mere precursor to what was to come later. With less than 20 miles left in the race, I hadn’t imagined how much damage the rain was going to affect our pace. After all, the first 25 miles only took us about 4 hours and 38 minutes.
We didn’t have a long distance to cover to the next aid station but time seemed to slow down and the rainfall was getting heavier. Both Andy and I started to get a little worn down and our legs were starting to feel a little heavy. We just focused on moving forward. This is the point where we both enjoyed having company out on the course. It would have been very easy to fall into a slump now and we all know how that can change your race, especially in unfavorable conditions. As time slowly ticked by, it seemed like the next aid station showed up out of the blue. We got there and we found about 8 other runners there, huddled together under the canopies just trying to stay out of the rain and hoping to get warm. We followed suit and quickly found ourselves under cover looking for food and comfort.
This seems to be the aid station where the carnage really started to take place. Within a few moments, I started to shiver along with the rest of the runners posted here. I remembered that I had that trash bag with me and decided to take off my hydration pack and rain jacket and poke some arm holes in the trash bag, put it on over my base layers and proceeded to put my rain jacket back on over the trash bag. I knew this would provide some extra warmth and would also help prevent from getting wet if the rain happened to soak through my rain jacket. I looked around and feared that some of the runners would soon become hypothermic if they didn’t do something fast. I showed as many of them what I had done with my trash bag and others started to follow my lead. As this was going on, my friend Marc came into the aid station. He too huddled under the canopy and I mentioned the idea about the trash bag to him. He decided it may help and got his own bag and put it on as well. After being here for a few minutes too long, Marc, Andy and I decided to leave and head out on the 7 mile journey to the next aid station.
The rain was coming down even harder and the trail was getting muddier and more slick as time ticked on. It didn’t take long for Marc to get ahead of me and I thought about trying to keep up with him for a few moments and decided that I’d just take it at my nice, easy pace. At this point, I wasn’t focused on how fast I’d finish the race…I simply wanted to finish without drowning or becoming hypothermic.
I don’t recall the small details of this section but I recall that Andy and I hadn’t spoken for what seemed to be long sections of this part of the race. We simply wanted to get to the mile 40 aid station. We were in search of “comfort” and recalled how festive the mile 40 aid workers are generally partying and having a good time by the river. This is when we started guessing just how bad this river might be. We knew we had several small streams to cross on our way to the finish but wondered how deep they may be and if there would be more than normal. We just pushed on through the mud and puddles and soon arrived at the river about a half mile before the aid station. At first glance, it looked like it was going to be kind of nasty. As we got closer, we noticed there was a smaller, more narrow section just off to the right of the trail that we could hop across the river without really getting our feet in the water at all. Our feet were already wet but not having to cross the stream still felt like a little win on the day.
The aid station is about a half mile up from the river and we got there and took cover under one of canopy’s again. We had discussed putting on another layer, a dry layer underneath what clothes we were already wearing. We didn’t hurry here. The Racelab crew was here and they were so much help to not only Andy, but also to me as we ate some food, changed clothes and refilled our hydration bottles. We hesitated a bit here as we gathered ourselves and grabbed a few more calories to eat and got on our way. Next stop, the 46 mile aid station – the last one before the finish.
With my mind just set on crossing the finish line, we reach the 46 mile aid station and spend just a few minutes here. I ate some potatoes and had a handful of blueberries as well. And it’s back out on the trail. I plan to take the last section just one step at a time. The rain is coming down harder with every step I take. I knew we’d have at least one more stream to cross but had no idea what it would look like at this point. At this point, I simply want to finish before sunset which I knew would be easy to do.
We quickly reached the last stream which was visibly deeper and flowing faster than any of the others we had already crossed. We paused for a moment to assess the situation. With little hesitation, Andy says he’s just going right through. He takes 2 steps and the water is only about ankle deep. On his 3rd step, he sinks into the river up to his knees. I take note of where he sank down and plunged forward into the water. We crossed the stream with relative ease, laughed and moved on.
The last section of the race is generally most runners favorite section of the race. Nice runnable single track most of the way to the finish line. This year however, the rain made this section a bit different. Large pools of water collected along the trail and where there weren’t pools of water, there was mud thick enough to tug on your shoes. Slipping, sliding, and splashing along the last few miles became quite comedic to me. There were times where you could run alongside the puddles on the grass but that didn’t help much either because you’d just sink into mud anyway.
Andy and I ran and walked all the way to the last mile and then decided we’d just walk across the last field until we got through the gate where the last section on the road near Kentucky Camp and the finish line were. We laughed a bit and talked about how nice it would be in a few minutes when this madness was all over. We got to the road in a short few minutes and jogged up the road and crossed the finish line together. We ran about 45 miles together and it was a great experience. Normally, I run my own race and don’t worry too much about others and I’m sure Andy does the same but there was something to be said about going through this experience with a new friend. We supported each other quite a bit along the way and at one point it just made sense to stick together to the end.
At the finish line, we’re rushed into the small cabin at Kentucky Camp where there is a fire going in the fire place. We’re asked by several people where our dry clothes are and told we should change into something dry as soon as possible. A couple of friends were here at the cabin already and they helped me get my shoes and wet clothes off. I went into a side room and changed. As I came back into the main room with the fire, I was handed a hamburger and soda. As I sat there, I didn’t even think about the fact that I didn’t get my buckle before coming into the cabin. Someone went out and asked the RD and came inside with my buckle. I opened it from the wrapping right away. I just had to check out that new, shiny bling (bottom buckle in pic) after going through all of that torture to get it. I smiled and everything was ok now that it was over. I sat and rested a while and shared stories with other people in the cabin. Even though this day was difficult, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a race so far.