Kristen and her friends picked me up at the Denver airport and we started driving towards the mountains. As soon as we got to Ft. Collins she pulled over and let me drive. She must of known that the next few hours would be through the very windy roads of the canyon. Every turn was gorgeous. When we pulled in to the Gould Community Center parking lot, we all thought… this is it? We were in the wild!
Kristen checked in and I went with her to the Park Ranger table. He asked if we had any questions so I asked what to do when we saw a bear. He didn’t think bears would be much of a problem. And to just make noise and back away. What we should really be cautious about was the MOOSE. He said slowly back away while keeping your eyes on them and if they start to charge, weave in and out of trees so they would get stuck.
With that advice we headed in to Walden to check in to our hotel and get dinner. Thats when we ran into this guy-
Apparently Walden is the Moose viewing capital of the US! After dinner we got to bed early as we had to get up at 3:30 AM! I woke with the runners and drove them to the starting line. Along the drive we saw a Moose crossing the road! When we arrived it was still dark, but there was a full moon.
I watched the runners check in and helped where I could (I couldn’t really).
They were excited… nervous… and ready to run!
This was the second year of the race and they had about 300 starters! A small crowd for a road race, but a big crowd for a crazy hard 100K.
And they were off!
After the runners were off they had a pacers and crew meeting. The meeting was mostly useless. They talked about where we could meet runners and that was about it. I had been tasked with getting to the Canadian Aid Station without the car, but they were little help with this. I asked around for rides, but no one seemed to be able to help. I did get some help reading the park map and finding out how to get to the mountain lake to see Kristen at mile 10. After the meeting was over I headed up to the lake.
The park ranger had asked what type of vehicle I was in so I got a little nervous to continue up the dirt road. So I parked at the second lot and started walking up the hill. Soon I discovered that the hill was a mountain and it kept going. A car came up the road and I asked for a ride. They were more than happy to give me a ride and it turned out it was a father/daughter spectating crew also from Washington, DC! Once we got to the top parking lot it was another mile hike up, but it was worth it. The lake was beautiful! There were some spectators there and they said that only about 10 people had gone by. So I posted up and cheered for runners in the most beautiful spot.
Soon enough I see Kristen running around the bend. She stopped to chat a minute and I realized she was very muddy. I asked if she fell. Nope, just lost her shoe in mud and had to dig it out and clean it up before putting it back on. After a picture she was back on her way.
I chatted with some other spectators and made some more friends for a ride back down the hill. They then offered me a chair to watch the runners pass by at about mile 18. It was still before noon, but already getting hot in the sunlight. Kristen came running down the hill and kept going… little did she know within a mile she would have to run straight up a mountain.
It was now around noon and I since I woke up at 3:30 am knew I would be up until at least midnight I decided to grab lunch and take a nap back at the hotel. I felt kind of bad as the runners were running and I was going to go eat and nap, but I wanted to be the best pacer I could be and the other places to crew were not as easy to get to. I stopped at the best gas station ever and filled up on gas and water. People said hydration helped with altitude so I wanted to drink up. After a sandwich and water I tried to take a nap… it was more like laying in bed, but I think I slept for 20 minutes or so. Then I packed up my running gear and headed to the Finish/Start line to try to find a ride to the Canadian Aid Station. I pulled in and saw an older couple I had seen earlier in the day. I asked if they were going up there and they were not. Then I see a guy sitting in a pick up truck. With all hope gone I ask him if he was going up to Canadian. HE WAS! I jumped in and we rode about a half hour up to the Canadian.
Once we parked it was a mile walk in to the station. I arrived a little before 5. Kristen told me to be there by 5:30 so I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I’m not one to talk to strangers and I had been making friends all day. When I arrived there had only been a handful of runners pass through, so I knew Kristen would be a few hours later at the earliest. I settled in and enjoyed nature and the occasional runner passing through. There were quite a few people there both volunteering and crewing. I kept eating and drinking water so I would be ready at any time, which lead me to having to find the bushes a few times.
Then the sun began to set. The mountains lit up, I heard someone call it mountain glow. By this point I had learned that both of Kristen’s friends had dropped from the race. One had called up to get the car keys and the other came through the station in a pickup truck. All reports were that it was a tough race. A few runners came through talking about how they had sat on the trail for a half hour waiting for a bear and her cubs to move along!
Once the sun went down it got cold fast. By cold I mean around 50 degrees, but it felt COLD. I was wearing shorts to run in, but had packed my jacket and gloves and quickly put them on. I moved over by the grill and warming candles to stay warm. I found two other pacers also trying to stay warm. Around 10 pm I decided maybe I should eat some real food and had one of the cheese quesadillas they were preparing, then some pretzels and some chips. I guess when I got cold I went full out ultra.
After it got dark all we could see coming down the hill was the headlamps. Which could be confusing, sometimes four lights turned in to one runner. And then out of the darkness came three runners… and one of them was Kristen! It was so dark that I had to walk right up to make sure it was her. Kristen looked at me and said “It is so HARD” and gave me a hug. If you know Kristen she never says things are hard, she usually says “suck it up” so I knew it must have been hard.
My adrenaline was pumping at this point. I had thought about what would happen if she came in and wanted to drop from the race since I had seen so many people going down the mountain in the back of a truck, but ultimately I wanted to help her finish and was excited when she was ready to keep going after only a few minutes and a few bites of food.
Kristen wasn’t able to run anymore at this point, but we were fast hiking and I warmed up pretty quick. Even though it was dark it was fun and we saw varied landscapes. Like the rest of the race, the race wasn’t always on actual trail. We went through tall grass, tall trees, water crossings, muddy paths impossible to go around and straight up 2000 feet. I kept seeing shadows moving only to find out that it was just me moving and the shadows of little shrubs on the trail. Luckily the only wildlife we saw was a small mouse.
I sang and told stories and got Kristen to tell stories. For me the time passed fast. We were keeping to around 18 min miles, which doesn’t sound fast but try walking a mile straight up hill in two inches of mud! I did the math in my head and knew if we kept the same pace Kristen would have no trouble finishing in 23 hours, which was the cut off for qualifying for Western States Lottery. So we kept going. A few people passed us looking strong, but we also passed several people who were really struggling. One guy said he hit the wall… this was around mile 62… I think he did pretty good holding of the wall till then.
Kristen didn’t take much time at the aid stations we passed though. I grabbed some gummy bears at one but otherwise didn’t eat much. The final station was a little over 2 miles to the finish and we didn’t stop at all.
We ran a little in this last section, but I think this section lasted the longest for Kristen. It started to rain a little and we were so close but we couldn’t really see any signs of the finish. It was also the least interesting terrain because it was along the road and a more accessible path.
After five hours of speed hiking we finally saw the lights of the finish line and we started running again. I started cheering and broke off to the side as Kristen made her way through the finishers shoot in around 22 hours and 13 minutes.
We went inside the rustic community center for a bit, but soon headed back to the hotel because it was 4 AM and the finishers breakfast and awards ceremony was at 9 AM. Although I showered that night, my toes weren’t quite clean for a full week after.
I know this was a long one, but it was a long race! If you ever have the opportunity to crew or pace at a ultra trail race I highly encourage it. Its motivating and inspiring to see all the runners and you get to hang out in beautiful places while congratulating yourself for not being quite as crazy as all of those runners. Check out Kristen’s race report here.