IPR, 2010

Begin the Descent of Pain

As the anniversary of 9/11 approached, the mediacracy was obsessed with threats of Koran burning and protests over building a mosque near ground zero. Meanwhile,  I was preparing to run the 37th annual Imogene Pass Run with my old running buddy, Ed M.

Ed & I began running together at Round Rock High School over 30 years ago and we had recently reconnected when I moved to Colorado. We got together for some hiking and mountain climbing which sparked a middle-age fitness comeback for him. He began road racing and I wanted to do a trail run so we decided on the popular 17 mile race from Ouray to Telluride.

My spring and early summer preparation consisted of hiking and running the trails in & around the Colorado Monument and Bookcliff Mtns near Grand Junction. In April, I raced the Garfield Grumble. This is a 5 mile, 2000 ft trail run up & over stark Mt Garfield. I love this race because; (a) the $5 entry fee is a donation to local Search & Rescue; (b) the finish line is a flaming fire pit; and (c) the post race meal is hot dogs and beer.

In July, I began to make road trips to the Rocky Mtns for high altitude training. Mt Holy Cross was my first 14er of the season and I attacked the climb aggressively. In hindsight, I should have dialed back the jarring descent as I suspect this to be the genesis of knee pain I would experience later.

The low point of the summer has to be my DNF in the inaugural Grand Mesa Ultramarathon. Before the race I had expectations of a top ten finish in the 37 miler as the vast majority of runners were registered for the 100 miler.

The pre race feed & orientation in Cedaredge was a fascinating experience meeting runners who were training for the Leadville 100. Another highlight was the mashed potato  martini bar. Plastic martini glasses were filled with a large scoop of starch and lathered with an array of tasty toppings like my faves chili and grilled vegetables.

Race day weather was ideal and I was familiar with the early miles of the course which climbs to its highest elevation as it gains the knife edge of Crag Crest Natl Scenic Trail. I was feeling confident and strong as I began the long downhill section to the aid station. Suddenly, I felt an unusual pain flaring up in both knees.

I was determined  to push through the pain but the  five miles to the next aid station were frustrating as I was reduced to a limping walk. By the time I arrived, I had already made the decision to bail. I fueled up, turned around and hobbled back to the start/finish line. Later, I spoke with the race director and found out I was in 3rd place when I scratched. He was sympathetic to my disappointment and generously gave me a finisher’s beer mug.

I quickly rebounded from this failure by heading back to the wilderness and racking up 14ers. The week before IPR, I completed an epic hat trick in the Collegiates: Mt Belford, Mt Oxford & Missouri Mtn. I did not have any pain but I was concerned I would not recover in time to compete the following weekend.

Friday, my wife & I drove south towards the San Juan Mtns, stopped at Ridgway SP to set up a tent, then headed to Ouray for race check in and a drink with Ed’s family.

Another beautiful race day dawned with clear & cold conditions at the start. Ed & I were both amped up as we fidgeted in the starting corral on main street. We settled into a steady pace up Canyon Cr surrounded by majestic peaks. At Upper Camp Bird the climb steepened and we began fast paced hiking. Above treeline, I spied a fox calmly trotting across the 4X4 road.

We reached the 13K ft pass in a respectable 2:35. Before taking a half dozen steps over the summit, I could tell I was in for an agonizing seven mile descent. I told Ed not to wait for me and for the next two hours I struggled to shuffle to the finish line in Telluride with minimal impact on my body as countless runners breezed past me.

At the post race liquid carbo load, I wondered if my knees would prematurely terminate my season of high adventure. Fortunately, several more successful 14ers without pain gave me a sense of accomplishment for the year.

Overall, I am satisfied  I achieved my general goal of exploring the backcountry of Colorado and I preserved my long standing tradition of spending September 11 in the mountains.

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