There was no green in Greenland for the 50K race this year. It was a perfect Colorado spring winter storm – just in time to make for really miserable racing conditions. I know I had signed up for a 50K trail race, but I had not signed up expecting these type of conditions. It was 28 degrees at the start. Light snow was coming down complimented by a steady wind. Well, I trained for it and was ready to make the best out of it. Bring it on.
When I ran my very first marathon ~2.5 years ago I was sick with a ruptured eardrum and an ear infection in progress. I had not run for 2 weeks and so that first marathon took a grueling 4 hours and 29 minutes or so. It was painful, but I had come too far to give up – even having a valid excuse. It seems like my first time experience for when running new distances carries over in way or the other. While I was fit and ready for my first ultra-marathon, mother nature decided to throw a major curveball. The snow was partially knee-deep and I think maybe only 40% of the course were actually runnable. The remaining 60% were walking and hiking through the snow. In the higher elevation parts of the course the wind was blowing with 30-40 miles per hour and we partially had white-out conditions. Graupel (ice-rain) coming down, combined with the strong winds pinched your skin – it was just awful. I was able to finish the 50K, but it was definitely not a pleasant experience.
For me it was hard to fuel during this race. I had switched to Tailwind nutrition which is all liquid and in these cold temperatures I just felt not thirsty enough to drink. While I was running slow enough that my body would hopefully use body fat as fuel, it was definitely not ideal. Due to the bad weather it took me much longer than originally expected to hit the aid stations, too. I think going into the 3rd loop I was definitely under-fueled and my mile splits for parts of the second and third loop show. I was ready to give up and even made my peace about throwing in the towel. These weather conditions were just crazy so I had my excuse that allowed me to give up and still walk away with my honor in place. Somehow I recovered near the end of the 3rd loop and I caught a second wind. I don’t know if it was in anticipation of dropping out and being done soon or just the fact that I had caught up on fueling properly. I also talked to another runner that I passed and mentioned that I would probably give up after the 3rd loop and she questioned why would I do that?! This stuck to my mind for the rest of the 3rd loop. I came to the aide station and there was only one other runner at the same time (+ all the volunteers). The race director came up to the aide station in that very moment to inform the volunteers to let nobody go out anymore. He was calling it. However, he looked at me and the other runner and said that we would be the last ones to be able to go out. The other runner decided not to and so everyone looked at me. For a moment I was ready to give up and call it, but I felt good again and really really wanted to finish this race. I said that I would like to go out for the final loop. The volunteers jumped into action to help to refill my water bottle with Tailwind and water. They helped me back into my gloves and just moments later I was out there running again.
I felt good and where I was walking during the 3rd loop when leaving the aide station I was able to run. The snowy surface was stronger (=frozen) thank before and so I was able to get a decent pace going without sinking into the deep snow. I was the last one back on the trail and somehow I felt I did not want to finish as the last. By the time I made it to the south aide station I had caught up the runner in front of me. He was an older gentlemen (61 years old according to the results list) and was doing awesome. I was totally impressed seeing him running and giving his best. At the aide station I refilled my second bottle with Gatorade as I did not want to lose any time fiddling around with my last bag of Tailwind nutrition. I also grabbed some pretzels and then started hiking up the hill towards the ridge on Kipps Trails. I had run up here before, but that was when the trail was dry. There was no running in this snow up the mountain.
I saw other runners far ahead of me and so I kept plugging along. By the time I reached the little cemetery I had caught up to the next runner in front of me and I was ready to settle at his speed, but he stopped and let me pass. So, I was kind of forced to continue on at my own speed. The next few miles were a mix of power hiking and a little bit of running here and there. I could not even see the footprints of the previous runners in the snow because the strong winds and snowfall had them covered up quickly. I pushed hard and caught up to the next runner soon. He stopped and let me pass as well and I continued on. The next runner seemed totally out of reach now. My guess was that he was about 0.5 miles ahead of me and he seemed strong. Somehow I got closer and closer, but never close enough to really catch up. It did not matter to me to pass him, but it sure helped my motivation to see him and feel like that I might be able to catch him.
I came up to the last hill top before heading back into the flat area towards the trail head. Here I was hoping to start running again for the rest of the race. I had good luck during the 3rd loop finding that part of the trail that had a strong enough surface and did not sink deep into the snow. Now on my final approach I was not that lucky. I saw the runner in front of me losing track of the trail and suddenly he was deep-knee in the snow. He made his way back to what he felt was the trail when I approached. I did not get very far before experiencing the same fate he did. The trail was invisible in all that snow and suddenly I was in really deep snow. I was able to recover and to find the trail again, but only for a little bit before being stuck again. I got back onto the trail and then had more luck to stay on that part of the snowy surface that was stable enough to hold me. I carried on leaving the other runner behind. I started closing in on the next group of runners, but I knew I did not have it in me to catch them with the trail being so difficult to run on. I got stuck in deep snow a few more times before making it to the finish line.
I finished in 7:26:42 but the time really does not matter at this point. Nobody ran a good time today. What matters to me is that I was able to finish my very first 50K – especially under these difficult circumstances. Not that it matters, but I guess I made my first step into the world of ultra-marathon running under difficult circumstances. In a certain way I would not want it any other way.
I found the Greenland Trail Race to be very well organized and the volunteers were simply awesome. They were super helpful, caring, and motivating. The weather was out of control this time – hopefully my next ultra-marathon has a bit warmer temperatures to offer.