September 24, 2020

Race Report: Sangre de Cristo 50 Mile

In the days leading up to the Sangre de Cristo, I started getting cold feet… and especially when I started packing. Ultramarathons require so much stuff!! It reminded me of doing a triathlon, in a bad way – one of the things I liked least about doing a tri was how much equipment could make or break your race, and it seemed like that was also the case with doing an ultra. Whatever happened to just putting your sneakers on and going out for a run?! I toyed with the idea of just ignoring the “drop bags” (bags you pack ahead of time and send to specific points in the course) and carrying everything in my backpack. But my friend Sarah convinced me that was a dumb idea; the race was offering the option for two drop bags (one that would be at the start, mile 8.8, mile 41, and the finish; the other at mile 25) and I might as well take advantage of them.

I think what drove me the craziest with packing was that most lists of what to bring are trying to have you prepared for every eventuality. In reality, you won’t use 90% of the stuff you bring – and that was the most frustrating of all! Although I’m generally quite a planner, when it comes to packing for travel, my mentality is less is more. I usually err on the side of bringing too little, reminding myself that as long as I have my laptop and my contact lenses, pretty much anything I forget can be bought at Target. Now, I know you can’t run to Target in the middle of an ultra, but I also assumed that the aid stations would be well-stocked with food (they were!) and medical supplies (spoiler: didn’t use these so I’m not sure); did I really need to double up on all the just-in-case things for my personal use?!

I was advised many times to bring many more socks than I thought I needed. I complied.

Anyway – all that is to say that while I thought it might take me about an hour to pack, I’d say it took me an hour to make all the lists I needed, and then another four hours to actually get everything organized and packed. Ugh!! Though if I ever do an ultra again (TBD) I presume it would be a lot easier next time. And, I was camping out the night before and after the race, so I can blame some of the packing on needing all kind of camping gear.

I also wore this before the race to stay warm in the morning. It was such a good decision to skip bag check and get this poncho back then!

I took Friday afternoon off work, and finally got on the road around 2pm; with road construction, that meant I got to the event site just before 6pm. I was pretty grumpy with how long the packing took and also how long the drive was… but I would also add that it was pretty beautiful once I turned off I-25 at Colorado Springs. I had never really been in this south central part of the state, and it was certainly very rural and different from the I-25 / I-70 corridor.

The final dirt road that took me to Music Meadows.

When I got to the race start at Music Meadows, my first order of business was getting my tent set up as quickly as possible. I had originally thought I’d be getting to Music Meadows around 3pm, with an afternoon to hang out and relax; now, getting there a bit later, I wanted to make sure my sleeping accommodations were totally squared away before it got dark. I had to park on the far side of the lot from where the tents were, which made me a little worried about my air mattress, since I brought an electric pump that plugged into my car and I didn’t know if I’d be able to fit the air mattress through the door of the tent after it was blown up… but it ended up working fine to blow it up at the car, drag it over, and squeeze it through the tent door. Camping success #1!

Home sweet tent! With the tent opening facing the mountains so I could hopefully get a beautiful view when I woke up 🙂

However, after getting everything else settled, I headed for my car to “make dinner” – aka boil water to pour over the roasted vegetables and ramen I had brought. Once again, I was relying on the outlet in my car, but in this case, I was dismayed to discover that my electric kettle wouldn’t work when plugged into my car outlet. Uh oh! I noted that lesson for next time, but was saved by the kind volunteers at the start / finish aid station, who boiled some water for me on the aid station stove. (The aid station was open was there were 200 milers currently on the course. They started running on Wednesday and were expected to finish later in the weekend. Wednesday. My mind is blown by their endurance!)

In spite of the kettle mishap, though, I was quite happy with my dinner. I used this peanut butter noodles recipe from Backpacker Magazine, though since weight wasn’t a concern, I ditched the freeze dried veggies and brought a big bowl of pan roasted veggies (broccoli, carrots, etc). It was really delicious and filling, and I loved having a hot meal without having to leave camp to go elsewhere! I would definitely make this in the future for pre-race food… just need to bring an actual Jetboil next time 🙂

Oh, the glamorous life of an ultra runner…

By the time I started eating, though, it was getting pretty dark and chilly. So as soon as I was done with dinner – time to snuggle up in my tent for the night! I triple checked that my phone was off to save battery; I had brought my iPad to use as an alarm clock.

As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered. It was a super windy night, and the wind kept waking me up a ton! At 2am, I left the tent to go to the bathroom (I was definitely erring on the side of overhydrating prior to the race), and saw a small group of people trying to resurrect their tent that had completely blown over! I definitely did not sleep well after that – with each gust of wind, I woke up a little bit and wondered if mine was about to blow over with me in it.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and I finally woke up around 4am, when the race director was making announcements over a bullhorn for the 100 mile and 100 kilometer runners to start. I wished I could have slept longer, but I figured it wasn’t a bad thing to get up early and be more awake for the race start. After all, I learned long ago that it’s the sleep two nights before the race that really counts; how you sleep the night before never seems to matter all that much.

I stayed curled up in my sleeping bag, but turned on my laptop to check in with a few friends and family while conserving my phone battery. (I also plugged in USB cords to top off the charge on my phone and Garmin.) Meanwhile, I ate the pear almond baked oatmeal I had packed for breakfast – delicious! Then at 5am, it was time to head to my car for a bit of final race prep.

I had already turned in my 25 mile drop bag the night before, but I wanted to make sure I had everything set up properly in the drop bag that would go at the start / finish (which were also mile 4.4 and 41). Since this bag didn’t have to move, I brought a gigantic plastic tote bin, which would keep everything really organized and also dry in case of rain. When I dragged it over to the start, I will admit that I felt kind of dumb – only one other person had done the same; everyone else had regular drop bags. But, honestly I would probably take this approach again – it was really nice to be able to see everything at a glance and not have to rummage underneath one layer of stuff to find other stuff.

Before I knew it, it was time to start! And in fact… it was past time to start… when I lined up with the cohort of runners who had the 5:50am start, I learned my wave start time was actually supposed to be 5:40am. Yikes! But the race director was really nice about moving me back to the later start group, so I didn’t lose ten minutes off my time by starting late. Not that it mattered all that much – I wasn’t in this to finish in a specific time; just to (try to) finish, and more importantly, challenge myself and have fun.

When the race began, I was mindful of the meme I had seen the day before:

I just discovered Ultrarunning Memes when my friend Sarah tagged me in it two days before my race, and this particular meme really cracked me up 🙂

So even though I had started out just behind the other 5:50am 50 milers due to chatting with the race director, I made no effort to catch up – and I started out at a brisk walk. “Start slow, then ease off” was what we had been advised! What I hadn’t anticipated in my pre-race prep, though, was that it was still pitch black at the start. I hadn’t paid much attention to when sunrise was, but I assumed a 6am start would be after dawn. Luckily, I had realized my error the night before, so I was well-prepared with a headlamp for this portion of the run, rather than just at the end like I had been planning.

And as far as overall preparedness front went, I had extra headlamps (stocked with batteries) in both of my drop bags, so I didn’t need to worry about that either! Maybe I’ll do a separate post on everything I carried / brought with me to the race. It was a ton of stuff, and I knew I wouldn’t use all of it, but I figured for my first trail ultra, I couldn’t be too careful.

We headed up the winding 4×4 road, and I have to admit, once we got away from the start line, it was a little weird to be heading up in the darkness. I passed one or two runners who were walking just slightly slower than me, but because of the curves of the road, for the most part, I couldn’t see people ahead or behind me. Fortunately, by one mile up the hill, the sky was already starting to lighten a bit.

The first 4.4 miles were pure uphill to Music Pass (2200 feet of vertical gain to kick off the race – good morning!), and I knew that by the time I got to the top, I’d get to run down it in the daylight. I was excited to be on the mountain for the sunrise, but I was most looking forward to that daylight downhill! It was weird to not be able to see the slope of the hill going up – I knew it was steep, but some parts were flatter / steeper than others. I couldn’t decide if I liked or didn’t like not knowing what was ahead.

About halfway up, we hit a relatively flat section, and I tried to take note of where it was (mile 2.3). This would be a good segment to run when I came back up Music Pass again at the end of the race, I thought optimistically. (Way too optimistically.)

Let there be light!

About 3 miles up, the 4×4 road ended at a campsite and we turned onto a single track trail that took us the rest of the way to the top. This part wasn’t too bad so early in the day, but I knew it would be tough later on because of just how steep it was. I kept looking at my watch to see how close I was to the 4.4 miles of distance and 2200′ of gain that I knew would mark the end of this first climb. It was definitely nice to be able to count down like that! (Even if it was quite early in the day to be counting down.)

Enjoying the sunrise glow at mile 4

As far as my pacing strategy went, I hadn’t run more than 29 miles of trails in one shot this summer, and my longest run in my life was a 60K road ultra (37.2 miles) 8 years ago… so this was definitely uncharted territory. Beforehand, I broke the race into what I thought were small manageable segments, and then tried to figure out a relatively conservative pace for each segment. In this chunk of the race, my goal was to average 2mph up to Music Pass, then do a “speedy” 4.4mph down. That sounds super slow when I write it out, but I didn’t know how technical the trail would be, and I wanted to plan for the worst and then hopefully surprise myself.

Most of all, I was nervous about making the 2am race cutoff – even though experienced ultrarunners told me it was very generous. It sounded daunting to cover 50 miles by then, when it had taken me 12 hours to do just 28 miles up at Beaver Creek this summer (though admittedly that was with a lunch break and at an extremely leisurely pace). For Sangre de Cristos, when I actually calculated the paces I would need to finish in time, 2am surprised me by seeming more than doable; my realistic goal was to finish by 10pm and be able to crash into bed in my tent right after. It was really crazy to think about starting before 6am and knowing I wouldn’t be done until bedtime, though!

As it turned out, I far surpassed my goals on Music Pass – I made it to the top in 93 minutes, where my goal was 130 minutes. However, while the detailed runners’ guide had described an aid station at the top (though no drop bags), it turned out that the top was just a turnaround and not an actual aid station. I was carrying plenty of water and fuel of my own, but I had been looking forward to a legendary ultrarunning aid station with delicious treats, and was disappointed not to get it. Fortunately, I just had 4.4 miles of downhill between me and Music Meadows, where I knew there was a fully stocked aid station and tons of treats.

Pretty scenery at the top! A volunteer took a picture for me at the turnaround with her camera and said they would be posted online, but I haven’t seen them yet. It’s probably better I’m not in the pic anyway 😉

The first trip down Music Pass surprised me as well – I did the descent in just 64 minutes, putting me now 30 minutes ahead of my plan. At first, I didn’t feel great on the descent, and while I initially blamed it on the more technical section of trail, I then realized it was actually that the altitude (11,000 feet) was getting to me and making me a bit dizzy. I was glad that I was heading down and wouldn’t have to be back up this high again for a while!

Selfie at mile 5! I was very excited to be on the descent.

The run down the 4×4 road was especially glorious – the wide road allowed me to really take it easy and let my legs just propel themselves by falling down the slope, but since it wasn’t technical, I didn’t have to worry about actually falling. (Or at least, I hoped I didn’t.) It felt wonderful to fly down this stretch, and I surprised myself by averaging some 10 minute miles in here! When I got to the bottom, it meant not only 8.8 miles done, but I also now knew what I was in for with the final climb of the race, which was a repeat of this. I knew I wouldn’t be feeling quite as good by then, but… maybe I would be feeling okay?! Fingers crossed.

Throughout this first stretch, I was listening to country music on my old school iPod nano. I’ve written before about how I love using this for skiing; it allows me to listen to music without running down my phone battery, and I figured it would be great for the race. However, how do you get music from an OG device to Bluetooth headphones?! I had a Bluetooth transmitter to accomplish that, but I had no idea what the battery life was on it. Turns out – about 4 hours. So by the time I got to the Music Meadows aid station, it died; good timing for me to leave it in my drop bag there.

My plan for this aid station was to ditch my gloves, apply fresh sunscreen, and have some caffeine (since I hadn’t had any coffee or tea pre-race). I had no idea how long was typical to spend at an aid station, but I budgeted 15 minutes, and even with a bathroom stop, was in and out in ten minutes. Still getting ahead of plan! I wasn’t worried about going out too fast, though – so far, I had been very conservative in my approach, and I felt fresh and great.

The next leg was 3.6 miles of what I considered to be rolling terrain (which I hoped to mostly run), followed by 2.6 miles with a 700′ climb; I’d then reach the Colony Creek aid station. From there, I had 6.7 miles of rollers and 3 miles of screaming downhill (1100′ drop) before I’d be at Horn Creek aid station, the halfway point of the race and also the location of my second drop bag. Honestly, dividing the race up into these shorter chunks ahead made it seem really doable… never mind that even a year or so ago, I would have considered just one of these segments to be a good workout for the day! 🙂

The first 3.6 miles of rollers were absolutely wonderful.

Here’s a shot of the super smooth double track that greeted me to enter the Rainbow Trail. Another runner passed me going up the hill to get to it, but I soon passed him on these rollers. Steep hills are not my forte (I walk them), but rollers are great – I make up a lot of speed there!

The trail was mostly a smooth doubletrack without many rocks or roots, and it had sweeping views of Music Meadows and farmland – I loved it! I was running this section at a pretty good clip – I finished the 3.6 miles in 49 minutes, where I had estimated an hour for this section. The next 2.6 miles with a 700′ climb was more challenging, and I “power hiked” a lot, but I had estimated 45 minutes for this section and finished in 40 minutes. I was definitely doing better than I expected!

A lot of people expressed concerns before the race that I might die. This was the first of several thumbs up pictures I sent to my mom to assure her that I was not, in fact, dead.
That valley down there on the far right? That’s where we camped / started! I really loved this open section so much.

In this section, I ended up running with some 50K runners, and it felt good to have done enough research that I could report exactly what was next (“half a mile more of rollers and then we’ll hit the 700′ uphill!”). I definitely like knowing what is coming when I’m trail running (or taking a Peloton class for that matter); it helps me immensely in getting myself to push harder rather than take a walk break.

A few of my running buddies

However, this is also the point in the race where my preparations totally failed me. When I got to Colony Creek, my plan was to eat a bunch – and I executed that part of the plan flawlessly, enjoying not just one but two quesadillas in less than two minutes. (OMG THIS IS WHY I RUN ULTRAS.) Unfortunately, it was the drinking part of my plan that failed. My hydration pack was kind of Tetrised into my backpack, and while I knew the importance of hydration and had been diligently drinking a lot, I lazily assumed I wasn’t nearly out of water yet, rather than actually pulling it out to check and potentially refill.

I said goodbye to my 50K friends, who were turning back to Music Meadows, and left the aid station in the other direction for a nice little downhill. For the first time in the race, I was completely alone to where I couldn’t see anyone else ahead of or behind me, and didn’t end up seeing anyone for several miles. However, about 2 miles into this stretch, as I was beaming to myself about what a wonderful time I was having and how beautiful and peaceful the woods were… I slurped from my hydration pack and felt it coming up short. I was nearly out of water!

Okay, no need to panic. I had just crossed over several creeks in that last two miles, and I knew from my pre-race research that there were tons more creek crossings to go. I had my filter straw with me for emergencies, so I could just pull that out and drink from the next creek I came to. Unfortunately, all the creeks I crossed from here on out were either dry or running with so little water that they wouldn’t be drinkable. Meanwhile, it was still another 8 miles until the Horn Creek aid station!

Whyyyyyyyyyy did I not notice I was out of water here?! That poor happy face is about to get so, so, so sad.

I can be kind of a camel when I run / hike – I have literally finished ten mile hikes where I got to the car and realized I forgot to drink anything. So while this certainly wasn’t ideal, I knew I would be okay. But man… I definitely got thirsty in this section. In spite of that, I ran the 6.7 miles in 84 minutes (plan was 90), and then the three miles of rocky downhill to Horn Creek in 38 minutes (plan was 45). This meant I hit the halfway point in 6:24 – a full hour ahead of schedule. My legs / body still felt good; although I was early, I didn’t think I had gone too fast. However, that miss on refilling my hydration pack was now about to bite me.

I got to Horn Creek and immediately headed to fill my hydration pack and chug several cups of water to try to make up for my mistake. I also drank a bottle of (caffeinated) iced coffee I had packed in my drop bag, and then moseyed over to the food table to see what my choices were there. The option that sounded best? Tater tots.

Up till now, I had primarily been eating candy and sweets at the aid stations (aside from those quesadillas at Colony Creek); the idea of salt sounded delicious. The tots themselves were kind of cold and falling apart, but let me tell you how absolutely delicious they tasted to me! I had several handfuls (well, not “handfuls” per se; they were actually poured by the volunteer into plastic bags I was carrying for exactly this purpose) and kept going back for more.

I made another tactical error at this aid station, though. While getting served my tater tots (runners couldn’t touch the snacks; volunteers had to hand you things, to be COVID19-safe), I asked a volunteer how long people typically spend at aid stations. I had budgeted 15 minutes for this one, but after spending 10 minutes at the Music Meadows station and only 5 minutes at Colony Creek, I wondered if I had been way too conservative in my aid station rest break estimates. I had thought the volunteer would just give me a simple “most people try to get in and out in 10 minutes or so”, but instead, the volunteer enthusiastically talked my ear off about an online class that would teach me how to move through aid stations quickly. It was super helpful information, and it was fine for the first minute or two while I was munching on my tots. But when I finished eating, I really needed to get a move on, and I felt rude walking away while she was still talking to me, so I found myself awkwardly lingering even as I was tapping my foot instead my head. Clearly I need to grow a backbone in saying “thanks but I need to go”! 🤦

The real gaffe of that aid station, though, was not wasting a few minutes talking to the volunteers (THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS! Can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate you!) but in chugging all that water to try to make up for running dry before. I headed back up the hill from Horn Creek to the Rainbow Trail and felt rejuvenated by the food and water, but just a few miles down the road, I suddenly felt tired and listless. I covered the 5K of uphill climb (1100 feet) in just over an hour, which was 15 minutes faster than the 75 minutes I had planned for it… but I now felt gross and terrible. Although I had eaten what I thought was a decent amount of food at the aid station, I now wondered if I hadn’t fueled enough; I just felt really off.

While the next session was supposed to be a nice 6.7 mile section of rollers that I thought I’d cover in 90 minutes, I took a little over 2 hours to finish this section, alternating walking and running. For a while, I was sticking with a 100K runner named Matt – we were back and forth a bit, and finally stuck together to hopefully force each other to go faster. (We kept trying to remind each other that running wasn’t actually harder than walking… more on that a bit later.) But eventually, my stomach started feeling really terrible, and I peeled off the trail to hit the woods for a bathroom break. Ughhhhh this was not good!

I will spare you the details of the bathroom break; however, please note the lack of cover as well as the preponderance of pine needles and brush rather than large flat leaves 😳

But the bathroom break helped, and I felt better as I finally arrived at Colony Creek aid station at mile 34.6. On the bright side, that was the longest stretch of trail without aid; it was now just 6.4 miles to the final aid station at Music Meadows, and then 8.8 miles (up and down Music Pass) to finish. Unfortunately, I knew I needed to really fuel up at this station to help me feel better, but I had spent the last few miles trying to figure what sounded appealing, and the answer was… nothing. I really did not want food. (This was when I started get nervous about my well-being… who was I that quesadillas, chocolate, and chips didn’t sound good?!)

Obviously I couldn’t eat nothing, so I asked one of the aid station volunteers to tell me my options, hoping something in the list would sound palatable. She mentioned pineapple, which sounded okay… and it turned out to be really delicious. Seeing my optimism at enjoying the pineapple, the angel volunteer then proceeded to push more and more pineapple on me. “One more piece? How about two?” I am so grateful to her for pushing me to eat more – I definitely needed that! I also had her fill a bag of snacks (jelly beans, animal crackers, and peanut M&Ms) with me for the trail. I left Colony Creek (this time filling my hydration pack) feeling totally restored. Let’s do this! Less than 15 miles to go, and I was psyched to be feeling good…

Look at those beautiful aspen popping! And look at that nice downhill!

…for a mile, and then I started feeling terrible again. All the energy went right out of me, and I slowed to a pitiful walk. In this section, not only was I tired, but I was a little bit dizzy and out of it, and I started worrying I was going to pass out. Long time readers know I am rather prone to fainting, and I don’t do well at high altitude. Unfortunately for me, this race had us maintaining an average elevation of 9,911 feet – not exactly low altitude! What I was experiencing felt kind of like altitude sickness, and I was starting to worry that it was a dumb idea for me to continue. What if I fainted right there on the trail? What if something worse happened, and I had to be Medevac-ed out of there? I contemplated quitting the race – I had already gone further and done more vert than I’ve ever done on the trails, so this was already an accomplishment. But even if I quit, I would need to get back to Music Meadows first, so it seemed like what made the most sense was moving forward.

I picked through my treat bag for the jelly beans I had stashed in my pocket from Colony Creek, and those perked me up a bit… then I crashed again a few minutes later. So I picked through my treat bag for the animal crackers next, but found I had a really hard time getting them down. And then it hit me – when I chugged that water at the Horn Creek aid station after going without water for so long, I had probably thrown my electrolytes way out of whack. My plan had been to sip water throughout the race, and then eat lots of food at the aid stations. Meanwhile, it honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to have sports drinks, since I usually prefer water and food and rarely drink those. But when I chugged water at Horn Creek, it probably washed the electrolytes right out of me.

The question was, could I recover from this? I grabbed a turkey jerky bar out of my backpack to munch on, hoping to help restore some salt, but I was so tired I was struggling to even chew it, and it took me about 15 minutes to eat half the bar (where normally I’d eat the entire thing in less than two minutes). This was the definition of “bonking” that I’ve heard so many people talk about with marathons… and now I was experiencing it 🙁

Even this stunning view did not make me feel better 🙁

Another runner came up behind me, and joined me at my pace to chat. Gonzo was doing the 100 mile race, and he was an experienced ultrarunner, having done numerous 100 mile races before. In fact, he was doing this one as a training run for a 200 miler in Utah! So I asked him: “if my electrolytes are out of whack, is that fixable, or do I just need to call it for today?” He assured me that it was indeed quite fixable – and advised me to have both soup and soda at Music Meadows. Since we didn’t know whether my body was lacking sugar or salt, better to cover all my bases. This advice cheered me up considerably – and while Gonzo ended up picking up the pace and going on ahead of me, it gave me a bit of a boost to think that I would be okay and I could still finish. I won’t say I ran the rest of the way, but I did more of a “power hike” than a “walk”, and did even run for a few short stretches.

Cheery enough to take a photo as I closed in on Music Meadows

Going back to what I had mentioned about running with Matt back around mile 30: both of us kept trying to convince ourselves that running wasn’t actually harder physically than walking; it was just mentally difficult and we needed to force ourselves to do it because we’d get done that much faster. Throughout this whole 15 mile stretch from Horn Creek to Music Meadows, one thing kept sticking in my head – the meme of the cartoon dog sitting in a room on fire, saying “This is fine.”

I didn’t know the whole strip and the details behind it, but you can read that here.

When I was at my lowest point, feeling really terrible and hoping I wasn’t going to collapse on the trail, I found myself repeating “this is fine” like a mantra… like telling it to myself enough would make it so. And in true crazy-delirious-ultrarunner form, not only was I saying this in my head, I was actually saying it out loud. “This is FINE. This is fine? THIS is FINE.” It particularly helped when I was trying to pick my pace up from a walk to a jog – not that the jog ever lasted too long, but telling myself that “this” (jogging pace) “is fine” helped keep me from walking a little bit longer than I otherwise might have. Honestly, of all the hours in this race, I think my moments of saying my “this is fine” mantra are what I will remember most!

Don’t worry, mom – this is fine! (You can see the exhaustion in my eyes.)

I ended up getting back to Music Meadows around 5:30pm. Amazingly, this was still 30 minutes before my plan, even with all that walking! Early in the week, I had been thinking I’d be doing the entire final trip up and down Music Pass in the dark; this morning, I had considered that I might be able to get up and down Music Pass before dark. So the reality ended up being right in between these two – I’d start the climb in the daytime, but would definitely be in the dark and need my headlamp for the trip down.

When I got to Music Meadows, I headed straight for the food table and dutifully followed Gonzo’s suggestion, requesting soda (ginger ale) and soup. I was thinking I’d have the broth / ramen I had seen on the food table, but the aid station volunteer asked if I wanted chili, which sounded even better. I ended up sitting on the ground back at my plastic tub “drop bag” – my first time sitting since I started the race – eating the entire cup of chili and a handful of chocolate covered raisins to boot. The chocolate covered raisins were really good, and since I was fully prepared to start feeling crappy again as soon as I left the aid station, I filled a treat bag with plenty of those, jelly beans, and pretzels. I wanted to make sure I had both salty and sweet things!

I definitely overfilled my treat bag a little bit, and it was bulging like a giant tumor in the thigh pocket of my capris where I stashed it, but I was glad I was prepared.

Speaking of clothing – I had read many people’s advice that a change of clothes could make you feel refreshed, and I had packed both baby wipes and clean clothes in each of my drop bags. At this aid station, I had planned to change into long pants for the chilly nightfall, but I didn’t end up changing my clothes at all throughout the race, which is also part of why I think my aid station times were shorter than planned. (I did, though, put on my reflective vest for this final stretch, since I knew I’d be doing it in the dark.) In spite of having covered 41 miles so far, I honestly didn’t feel gross at all, and so the baby wipes and clothing changes were unnecessary. I was also pleasantly surprised that contrary to my friend Sarah’s pre-race warning, my feet hadn’t gotten wet at all to necessitate a change of either socks or shoes. In general, once I had this food, I was feeling good! Only 9 miles to go… but these nine miles included the big climb up 2200 feet to Music Pass 😳

Take 1

This trip up Music Pass was almost the exact opposite of the one before. That morning, I had started in the pitch dark and it gradually got lighter. Now, I started in the daylight, but it gradually got darker as I went up. Now that I was feeling good, I was really kicking myself for how slow I had been in mile 25-41. (It’s always easier in hindsight to think you should have gone faster, right?) If I could have shaved about an hour off my time, I probably could have made it both up and down in the daylight. Goals for next year!

I started out doing an aggressive power hike up the hill, but as the darkness descended (and the slope increased), I was definitely slowing down.

Racing the sunset… who will win?! (Spoiler – not me. Damn, that sun moves fast.)

About a mile in, I met up with another runner who was similarly making his way up Music Pass for the last time. Noah and I stuck together for the whole ascent, talking and getting to know each other, which helped distract from the difficulty of the climb. Meanwhile, I kept checking my watch to see exactly how far (distance and vert) we had come from Music Meadows, and how much we had left to the top.

On the watch front – I was really nervous before the race about my Garmin running out of battery, like it had done on my two Grouse Mountain Loop runs. I had put Garmin chargers and portable batteries into each of my drop bags, and every time I came to an aid station, I took my Garmin off to charge it while I fueled myself. However, at both Horn Creek and my second pass through Music Meadows, even though I didn’t hit stop on my watch (and intended for it to keep going through my rest break), my Garmin seemed to time out from not moving for so long; when I put it back on to continue, it was on the home screen instead of the activity screen, and I had to start a new track. I was very relieved after the race to see that it had saved each track (so I had the run details in three parts), but it was kind of annoying to only see the mileage and time of that individual segment, rather than seeing the total mileage and time – especially since I had written my pace chart to be total mileage and elapsed time. On the bright side, that meant more mental math for me to do to distract myself!

For this climb up Music Pass, it ended up being kind of nice to have my watch starting at zero – it meant that this ascent was exactly the same as the last time as far as both distance and mileage. My pace, though, was very different! My legs and feet still felt good (surprisingly, I never got any blisters from this race!), but I was generally tired, and was definitely going at what can best be described as a “plodding” pace. So much for thinking I’d run that little flat section at mile 2.3 – I just used it as an opportunity to pick it up to a fast walk!

With one mile to the top, we turned from the 4×4 road onto the singletrack – which was unfortunately also when the darkness truly started sinking in. I reminded myself that the summit was only 20 minutes away, and then it would be smooth sailing from there. Meanwhile, I set a goal of getting to the top before I needed to switch my headlamp on, which encouraged me to go a little faster than I otherwise would have. We were getting closer and closer, but the darkness was descending fast, and we ended up getting to the turnaround just in the nick of time! I think had we gone even a few minutes longer, I would have needed my headlamp.

My camera did a good job brightening this up, but I DEFINITELY needed a headlamp pretty much as soon as I hit the top of this pass.
Here’s a selfie at the same spot that gives you a better idea of how dark it was.

However, while I had promised myself that all I had to do was make it to the top and it would be smooth sailing down, that didn’t turn out to be exactly true. As it turned out, descending in the dark was really tricky, even with my headlamp and knuckle lights. I realized that when I’m trail running, I rely a lot on my peripheral vision and on looking far ahead to see what’s coming; then my brain remembers where to step. In the dark, I had tunnel vision that didn’t let me see what was ahead, and the rocky single track made that a challenge. I wanted to go faster, but it was difficult to feel comfortable doing so; I ended up just going at a fast walk rather than an actual jog.

I was relieved when we finally broke out of the single track onto the 4×4 road. Only a 5K left to go, and I hoped the smooth road would enable me to run like before! Unfortunately, I was disappointed to discover that now was when my feet started getting sore. The steep downhill was forcing my toes forward into the tips of my shoes, which really hurt – I hoped I wasn’t going to end the race with no toenails! (Spoiler: not a single blister or black toenail. My feet did well!) It was really painful to run, so I tried my best to just keep up an aggressively fast walk. In doing so, I inadvertently lost Noah, but told myself he couldn’t be too far behind, and I’d see him at the finish.

Meanwhile, it was now pitch black, and all I could see was the spotlight directly in front of me. One of my knuckle lights was unfortunately not working, but I didn’t feel like stopping to swap out the batteries; the headlamp and one knuckle light were probably about as good as it got. Where I had thought this last downhill would be a victory run, it was more of just me wondering how far away the Rainbow Trail entrance was, which would mark half a mile to the finish. So, so, so, so close! I was listening to the “Greatest Showman” soundtrack on my phone now (this summer I have started to consider that my “victory playlist”) but even the driving beat of “From Now On” wasn’t getting me to run.

Finally, my headlamp revealed the Rainbow Trail on the left. Almost there! Since Greatest Showman hadn’t been doing it for me, I switched over to my favorite Pink songs; then, as the lights of the finish came into view, I tried to skip to a good finish song, but eventually gave up and just went with whatever was on there. (I now have no recollection of what it was.) I was just shy of 15 hours out on the course – my brain was mush!


Although my face looks tired, I was less sore than you might expect… just sleepy. I knew I should eat something to refuel, but once again, nothing sounded really appealing. I settled for a piece of some sort of special nut-studded homemade chocolate a volunteer offered me; then, without really any fanfare, I dragged my drop bag / plastic tub to my car, wiped down as best as I could with the baby wipes, and changed into some sweats for bed. Time to curl up in my home sweet tent once again!

Saturday night wasn’t quite as windy as Friday night, and I slept really well – though surprisingly not as long as you’d think. I went to bed around 10pm, and got up at 5:30am the next morning. My legs were a tiny bit stiff, but no worse than from a marathon. Hooray for soft trails! I went to the finish line for a bit and chatted with the friendly race director, and got to see one of the 100 milers finishing. It really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it – I thought I worked hard, but when I went to bed, he kept running, and now was finishing 10 hours later! Incredible.

And what a stunningly beautiful morning for a finish photo!

After watching that inspiring sight, I finished packing up my car, and then hopped in to head home while it was still nice and early. I had dinner date plans I was eager to get back for, and I was hoping to maybe also sneak a nap in too! It had been an incredible weekend in the Sangres, but I was now ready for the comforts of home.

So – would I do it again? I signed up for this race thinking it would be a great culmination to the long trail runs I’ve been doing this summer, and then I’d go back to short distance. But after screwing up my fueling so royally I… kind of want to try it again?! I am curious how much faster I would have been if I hadn’t bonked in the middle. And the Indian Creek 50s is only a few weeks away… help, I’m in danger of becoming an ultrarunning addict! I haven’t actually signed up yet but I am strongly considering it. (And then back to short distance.)

Whew! Long race report for a long race. Congrats on making it through, and thanks, as always, for reading 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 50 miles
Time: 14:55:00
Pace: 17:54/mile
Overall place: 28/39
Gender place: 10/14


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Sangre de Cristo 50 Mile”

  1. Congrats! I’m dying to do an ultra (really wanted to one before I turn 40 next year) but with two little kids and the fact that I’m not fast it may have to wait…. putting the time in just doesn’t seem like it will happen.

    1. Thank you! I think you should go for it yourself; definitely no need to worry about being fast. One of the biggest things I learned was that for ultradistance, you are really “power hiking” (aka walking) much more than you are running.

  2. Loved your race report – thank you! I completed the Sangre 50K in 2019, and had hoped to do this year’s as well – but with Covid … you know the drill. I’m significantly older than you – 57 years – but am again setting my sights on completing my first 50 miler. The Sangre is beautiful – and the stars the night before, amazing! Anyway, I really appreciate you taking the time to detail out your experience. Best to you in the year ahead! Perhaps we’ll see each other at one of Sherpa John’s races!

    1. Scott, thanks for your note! Are you thinking you’ll do the Sangre 50M next year, or another race before that? I am really looking forward to going back to Sangre next year and hopefully getting my fueling down a little better… but may do another HPRS race in the meantime. So impressed that Sherpa John managed to put these races on safely!

  3. Hi Laura, I’m hoping to sign up for a bunch of John’s races for 2021 – may try the Endure 12 hour in May, if I’m feeling comfortable about Covid precautions. Then, the South Park Marathon in June and maybe the Last Call as my first 50 miler. My very first ultra was the 2019 Sheep Mountain 50K, which just about did me in – but was so freakin’ awesome. So, it’s possible that I may try either the 50K again or the 50 miler if I’m feeling ready and daring. Though honestly – thinking back to how I was feeling after 34 miles (John’s version of the 50K, a.k.a. a 55K) – the thought or running another 20 miles feels totally impossible. One of the reasons I’d hoped to run Last Call in 2020 was that it starts at midnight and finishes in the daylight! The thought of climbing Music Pass at night for the Sangre 50 miler is really daunting! Anyway, I do hope I will see you on the course. I’m the guy who’s probably slower than most, what hair I have is gray, and I hope I’ll be smiling most of the time! Take care!

    1. I hadn’t heard of Last Call before you wrote that… oof, that sleep schedule sounds brutal having to start at midnight! I think I would have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep before the race, and I can’t fathom what it would be like to try to run that as an all nighter after no sleep since the night before. My goal for SdC next year is to finish before it gets dark, but we’ll see if I make it 🙂

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