I want to welcome one of our new passionate Endurance Buzz contributors, Lori Enlow of Oklahoma. Lori’s life and trail running journey reflects the amazing power in all of us. Diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, she consciously changed her and her family’s nutritional and active lifestyle that now includes trail and pavement running adventures through the 100 mile.
Enjoy as Lori shares her San Juan Solstice 50 mile adventure on a course that dances between 8,000 and 13,000+ feet. Mix in 12,000+ feet of gain and you have yourself a tough and visually stunning adventure.
Trust. Peace. Persist.
A few days ago I was heading out the door, headed to the Armory building in Lake City, Colorado to sign in for my adventure. Six hours later, feet and legs sore, recovering from a hefty dose of altitude sickness, a little pulmonary edema, awakened by coughing and heartburn from pizza and dreams of mountains, rivers, clouds, climbing, descending, incredible people and more.
5:00am the gun fired and we were off. I started in the back of the mid-pack. My goal was to have a good training day, to not kill myself on this course trying to shoot for a time goal, and to be able to learn and gain experience for Leadville . I was hopeful that a good day might bring me in around 13 hours. I knew not to expect anything and to remain humble on this course. There would be 12,800+ feet of vertical climbing, two climbs 4,000+ feet each, and a 2,000 foot climb at mile 40. I was not surprised by the difficulty of the climbing at altitude, what surprised me was how incredibly technical much of the course was. The San Juans are very rocky indeed! It made me grateful for our rocky trails in Oklahoma, good training ground for learning how to play hopscotch well, especially when descending steep grades.
The first three miles is up the highway in the dark, then we turned off onto alpine gulch trail and headed straight up five miles to the first aid station which sat maybe a mile or two below the first peak. I normally run with headphones, but opted just to carry them for when I needed a little motivation. Right off the bat I remembered why I wear headphones. When I don’t, I usually get some ridiculous 80s song stuck in my head, one that describes how I feel. So first song that came to mind was Wham!’s , “Wake me up before you go go.” Ugh. I debated putting the headphones on right away but resisted.
I was surprised at how much of this was runnable, albeit slow, but runnable. The sun was rising, the streams rushing. The mountain sounds shut George Michael up. There were many creek crossings. The first couple you could cross the logs, the rest you just had to suck it up and get those feet and legs wet.
Enter the next song stuck in my head, “She’s as cold as ice” by Foreigner, I think.
I was a bit taken aback and almost fell as I was crossing one…of course you are intensely focused on your feet and the logs when crossing. Well, about midway across one of the creeks, right smack in the center of the crossing on the log was a nice little baseball card sized picture of a very voluptuous naked woman. The shock value was great. TOTALLY not what you expect to see in the middle of the mountains! Gotta have a sense of humor, eh?
Made it to the first aid station feeling great. The aid station crews were awesome. They put the pit crews at the Indy 500 to shame. Stripped me of my pack and had water bottles refilled, trash removed, and pack reassembled before I could say “I need..”. We chatted briefly and off I went to head over the first peak.
Words cannot describe the view at 13,000 feet! I honestly am speechless, it is too beautiful to describe. As wordy as I am, I had hoped to have a million things to say…speechless.
We headed along the high ridge, the top of the world to me and then descended 4,000+ feet into Williams Creek campground.
Next song? “She’s going down down again”…have no idea on the artist.
This is where my gut revolted. I had been fueling and hydrating well anticipating as the day progressed this would become more difficult. I think most of the fuel just sat in my stomach. I developed side stitches from the top of my diaphragm on both sides all the way down. My gut was in a complete twist. Then…ahem…lower gi problems arose. One sentence….Thank God for biodegradable toilet paper! I was able to run the full descent, minus the trips off the trail to the little girls room. I am quite modest, so I would go waaay off the trail. Had to remember to pay attention so I wouldn’t get lost.
Leaving the aid station [Williams Creek campground] I was reduced to a walk. Any jostling of my gut triggered the most horrendous side stitches I’ve ever experienced and made me start eyeing the next tree. I was very worried. I knew I could not walk 40 miles and make the cut-offs. All I could do was hope things got better.
My mantra, “persist” was comforting and I repeated it in my head over and over. Two miles of walking a road I should have been running. Snap. I was grateful that there was an immediate climb, the next 4000+ feet up. That would be mostly a hike anyway.
ZZ top, “She’s got legs.”
The side stitches relented after about another two miles. The gi issues continued to mile 20 or so.
We climbed into the next aid station at Carson ghost town. I was starting to regain my mojo. The final ascent to 13,200 feet was a booger!
It was insanely beautiful though. The winds were wild and the temperatures in the 60s. The sky was the bluest and clouds the whitest I’ve ever seen. Breathing hard and moving slow! I passed a few runners on this section. We got to the top of the ridge. You could see the fire line and smoke billowing from the southeast. We ran along the ridge for what seemed like forever. Crossed a couple of small snow fields. At this point I had to stop and pull a Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music. I twirled around…a very feeble attempt at 13,000 ft. After a couple of twirls I got so dizzy I thought I might just roll off the mountain! I started getting a headache on the second climb.
The next section was the continental divide. Six miles across, up and down.
“Love Rollercoaster” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This is where the nausea amped up. I was fine for the most part descending steeper grade sections, but the flats and even slight inclines induced such nausea and heaving at some points that I ended up bargaining with my stomach. I would run until I felt like I was going to puke, then walk until it subsided. I knew I couldn’t afford to vomit. This turned into about a run two minute, walk one minute ratio on the flats and slight inclines where I had hoped to be running smoothly.
The steeper the descent, the better I did and the less nauseated I felt. These were my favorite sections. I would pass several people on the descents…smiling the whole way….of course several would catch me on the flats and climbs. The headache subsided as I descended across this section. Rolled into the aid station at mi 31 a little queasy and not particularly motivated for the next nine mile segment.
Alright time for headphones.
My fueling was a little pitiful. I was only able to get down about 200 cal/hr for some time. If I tried to take in more the nausea would ramp up, less and I would get pretty bonky. I had fueled on gels only to this point, I like the Stinger gels. I decided to try some Acclimate sport drink the race supplied. It was a nice switch. I also started drinking Pepsi/Coke at the aid stations to try and get more calories in. This seemed to help some.
There was a nice climb out of that aid station, more than I anticipated, but just got up and over it.
There was some more flat/slight up or down which I had to negotiate the walk/run cycle with my stomach. Fortunately, the lower gi issues were gone….and I still had toilet paper left! Then came some wicked technical descents. Two words – Holy @#$! It was so technical and steep! It was sandy, like running on ball bearings with grapefruit sized rocks everywhere. Strangely enough, I loved it! This is where I did some serious passing, again big smile..it was just too irresistible not to smile and almost laugh going down. It was the only time I felt good. The only time I felt really and truly me. I have no idea why, and it makes no sense, but my stomach tolerated these sections the best. Probably because I was so focused on not falling, plus descending to lower elevations made my tummy very happy.
Rolled into the aid station at mile 40 feeling pretty fantastic. There was lots of carnage here. Runners laid out, a few had dropped, a few contemplating dropping, many with pretty thrashed quads. Several I had seen early on leading the charge. I was soooooooooo grateful to be feeling so good. My quads were still in pretty good shape. I kept thinking about how Eric told me to be easy and comfortable going down with good form and I nailed it.
The last climb was ahead. 2000 feet of vertical over two miles. I knew this would be a tough section and it was even tougher than I expected. NO switchbacks! At least I don’t remember any and I remember wishing for some. I was starting to get more short of breath more easily.
I could no longer climb as steady as I had on the previous climbs.
I would climb 2-3 minutes at most and be completely out of breath and severely nauseated. Hands on knees, breath hard, recoup and climb…hands on knees, breath hard, recoup and climb.
Longest two miles of my life.
The whimpering kicked in so I sucked down two gels. Whimpering usually means I’m bonking. I wanted to sit down and quit. It was the most difficult climb on the course for me. Everyone struggled on this climb. There were several around me. I’d pass them, they’d pass me and up we went. Made it to aid station at 45 miles in rough shape. I was very dizzy and bonky. I sat down and drank Pepsi, relaxed, and chatted with the aid station crew. I was obviously short of breath. I had a hard time talking in complete sentences. We joked. They asked where I was from..Oklahoma, 500 feet elevation. We joked about my dirty legs. The EMT checked my heart rate and did a little neuro check on me…..apparently he didn’t think I was quite right. I joked about how I missed my eight hour time goal. That got a HUGE laugh out of all of us. Even the two chocolate labs who were snoozing away looked up at me, like “yeah right”. We all determined I was fine to head out and off I went.
A little climb after the aid station then straight DOWN! Holy technical steep slickery-sandy descending Bat Man! It was freaking awesome! My quads were getting a wee bit sore but I knew it was almost over. I passed and passed and passed runners going down. It felt awesome! The temperature started warming and my headache and nausea subsiding. Rolled into town and my kids ran me through the finish at 14:45. I flopped on the ground and ate the most wonderful watermelon and pretzels ever.
The images and people burned in my brain.
A beautiful beast indeed.
– Lori Enlow
Posted on 26 Jun 2013
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