The 2004 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run


Matt Carpenter reports:
Distance: 50 miles
Goal: In descending order; course record, win, not walk, finish, not dnf
Results: Course record, won, did not walk, finished, did not dnf

General Summary:
Lake City is located 55 miles South of Gunnison. Most telling is that if you click on the race website’s Yahoo map you get a red star located in the middle of nowhere. Oh, what a hidden gem! A small town with a small town feel not spoiled by the trappings of the ski industry. Fishing seems to be as touristy as it gets. However, I was not here to fish!

I had been debating between the Lake City 50 and the Zane Gray 50 in Arizona as my first 50. One too many people telling me that the Zane course was comparable to running down a creek bed full of rocks convinced me that Lake City would be the better choice. I should say right out that this was not my ultra debut as I won the Doc Holiday 35 miler back in the early 90s.

The Lake City course consists of a large counter clockwise loop with 3 major climbs. A 4,000' plus climb from the start to about 9 miles, another 4,000' plus climb from 15.7 to about 24 and a 1,700' climb from 41 to about 44. For the most part, if you are not running up, you are running down — although there were a few level sections along the Continental Divide at 12,000'. The course map is at and the elevation profile is at

As part of my preparations I picked the brains of several ICers and CRUDers who had done the race in the past. Problem was each person I talked to gave a radically different description and at times I wondered if they were talking about the same course. Because terms like “steep,” “rocky” and “runnable” mean different things to different people a recon trip was in order. Yvonne, Kyla and I headed out on Friday the 11th to check out some of the course. I took off on the first 15.7 mile section from the start of Alpine Gulch to the Williams Creek Aid Station. There are about 16 creek crossings in this section which can tend to throw a person for a loop so I wanted to know what I was in for.

Things were going well until about 50 minutes into my run where I came to a section I was not sure about and reached for my map only to find it was no longer in my pocket. I ended up finding most of this section of the course but I had to bushwack the last 4 miles back to the aid station location where Yvonne and Kyla were playing in a creek. Needless to say, getting lost left me a little disconcerted. The next day I bagged my planned section in order to do this section again to find out where I went wrong. I also wanted to try running with lighter shoes and no socks. What a difference — I felt like I was an Indian in moccasins! In fact, these shoes were lighter wet than my other shoes dry:-) While retracing the first part of the segment from yesterday I found my lost map which was a bonus. However, I didn’t need it to see where I had previously gone wrong which put my mind at ease. It was fairly obvious so I must have just been enjoying the view too much yesterday. Even better was that at a pace I considered my survival pace (a pace I use on new courses so that if I get lost — like the first attempt — I can run a very long time) I managed to run 6 minutes under the record split for that section. We drove to a few other sections of the course and I ran a mile here and a mile there. There was nothing else to do.

Race week was fairly tough on me mentally. This is the first race in 4-5 years where I was actually nervous. However, nervous is good and can make for a great race. Indeed, some of my worst races were the ones I went into without feeling much of anything which is the way most of my races have been as of late. From the day I signed up for this race I had been getting all kinds of e-mails and feedback each sending a nice shot of adrenalin through my system. There were both good and bad expectations and the pressure to perform was growing. Although I believed in my training and in my theories of ultra running, until the rubber hit the dirt they were just that — theories. Speaking of rubber, I killed some of the time during the week by tweaking my shoes to make them even lighter. In the end, I got them down to 5.5 ounces:-)

On the 18th we headed back to Lake City. Just outside of Woodland Park we saw a big black bear crossing the road in front of us. I took it as a sign — a sign that things were about to get wild. The pasta feed that night was good and the instructions from the RD were short and to the point. No cutting switchbacks, no littering, if lightning comes get off the Divide! Waking up at 3:45am the next morning turned out not to be as big a deal as I had thought simply because I was not sleeping much anyway. We drove the 5 minutes from our hotel to the race start and checked in. I decided against any form of a warm-up figuring that even a minute spent running now might be one less I could run later.

We set off and within 30 seconds Dan Vega and I were being called back on course after we went straight at the first intersection instead of turning right. In our defense we were going to turn right at the next block and were opting for the all dirt option as opposed to the asphalt option. Alas, we turned around and joined back up in the middle of the pack to less than muted laughs. We had the last laugh however because in about 40 seconds we were back at the front and 20 seconds later I was on my own.

The first section went just awesome with most of it spent telling myself to back off the pace. The few times I got my feet wet I could not even feel a weight difference. As planned, near the top of the climb, at the first aid station, I put on my socks. I did this because I learned in my practice run that if a rock gets in your shoes while sockless it hurts a LOT more. I was in and out just a smidge over my self imposed 1 minute aid station limit. This next section is where I got lost on my first practice run. However, because it was race day the course marking were awesome and I could relax and concentrate on my running which made a big difference over my practice runs. Indeed, when I got to the Williams Creek aid station at 2h32 I was 14 minutes ahead of course record pace.

I went through with a planned shoe change from my 5.5 ounce shoes to a 6.5 ounce version with slightly more cushioning. I did this because of the stories of the “rocks” up on the Divide. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the 5.5s. Yvonne and Kyla had enough food set out for about 6 runners and even a towel on the ground to sit on while I changed my shoes. It was great to see them but the visit was short and at about 1 min 30 would be my longest station stop for the day. I drank a BOOST nutritional energy drink for a quick 360 calories and took off. Between the BOOST, the PowerBars I had dissolved in my water bottles and CARB-Boom! energy gels I was hoping to take in 600-700 calories an hour. The actual was more like 350.

The climb to the 3rd aid station at 21 miles was perhaps one of the harder sections of the course for me. Not physically, but mentally. This was a short section and the course record split was 1h04. I was worried that even though the first 15.7 felt easy perhaps I went too fast and now I was going to pay. Only the split time at the aid station could answer the question. When I got to the station in 58 minutes for a total of 3h30 still feeling somewhat fresh I knew that my pacing, although fast, was fine. I had taken another 6 minutes off the CR pace and was now 20 minutes ahead.

I was too fast in one respect however. The aid station was not set up yet because they were not expecting anyone that early. I could not even get water because they could not find the cups. I took my CamelBak and headed off. With the first sip of my PowerBar cocktail I realized I had made a crucial newbie mistake! I had been drinking the dissolved PowerBar mix for months because it tastes great and it works for me. However, I had never pre-made a mix and let it sit as would be done for this “drop bag” aid station. I don’t know what is in a PowerBar to cause this but it smelled like it had fermented and I was able to spit out a bunch of white congealed stuff that looked like (and tasted like) spoiled milk! I shook the mixture to spread out the taste and went from drinking every 10 minutes to every 5 just so I would have to drink less at a time. Not to drink it was not an option at that point. With 9 miles to the next aid station with most of it at 12-13,000 feet I was stuck. I put it out of my mind.

I had decided before the race that this was the section to do the most damage to the course record. There was just no way 9 miles should take 1h59 as the course record splits indicated. When all was said and done I did the section in 1h44 picking up another 15 minutes and putting me 35 ahead of the record. 31 miles were done, 5h14 had passed and over 8,000 feet of the 12,000 feet of climbing were behind me and I was still feeling great! However, another newbie mistake would come back to haunt me:-( In my quest to shed every ounce of extra weight I had stuffed my 100oz CamelBak bladder in my 70oz pack. While I was drinking some plain old water from a plain old cup the aid station crew pulled the bladder part way out to fill it . There was no way to get the bladder back in the pack even after we dumped half of it out! With my 1 minute aid station limit coming to an end I headed off carrying just the bladder in my hand. I am sure it looked kinda funny but it worked. The next 4 miles went really well and then the a big rocky downhill to the 40 mile aid station began.

I hated that downhill! It was not so rocky that you could not run fast but just rocky enough that you had to watch every step. This forced a lot of short steps or hops which started to wear on my legs and for the first time I started to feel beat up. It was also getting hotter (82 by some reports) as I went down. Course record split was 1:12 and I managed a 1:04 to come into the 40 mile aid station at 6:18 well ahead of the 7:01 record pace. However, my quads were starting to tire and I told Yvonne that “things were getting ugly.” At the same time, I was charged because I now felt there was a good shot at going under 8. On the other hand, I did not think I could spare even a 30 second stop. I grabbed some water and off I went. I would later learn that everyone had quite the time trying to figure out why I was running with just the bladder of a CamelBak...

Again, the climb from 41 to 44 gains 1,700’. This is the one everyone warned me about. However, to be perfectly honest, I was so happy to stop running downhill I was actually glad to start the climb! Sure, it was hard, but it did not hurt like every step of the downhill was. This was actually some of the best single track on the whole run! I picked up a minute on this section and near the top saw Rick Hessek out taking photos. He told me he thought I had a good shot at sub 8 as well. Next, during a rolling section someone else’s pacer followed me for about a mile. This was kinda nice for a change. However after they stopped I actually gave back a minute on the record during the final 3.5 mile descent. I hit the asphalt thinking it was going to be close. Fortunately, with each step on the road, I felt better and went faster and finished strong in 7:59:44 besting the old course record of 8:43:23.

I was determined not to just stop cold turkey and jogged for about 5 minutes. OK, I also wanted to be able to say I have run for more than 8 hours:-) I then laid down in the shade. Over the next 8 hours I had to throw up about 10 times until I finally felt good again. I am fairly convinced that the bad PowerBar mix was the culprit although I probably went a bit hard the last mile or so shooting for the sub 8. On the other hand, you won’t hear me complain about a bunch of trips to the bathroom because it beats feeling good and having to live with a 8:00:01.

Things Done Right:
1) Went “old school.” In the late 80s and early 90s it was all the rage to tweak our shoes, trim our numbers, cut our tags — whatever it took to shed extra weight. As far as the shoes go its simple math! Lets just use a 10oz shoe, which most would consider a light shoe, as an example. By running with shoes that were 4oz lighter I was saving 1 pound every 4 steps. I run with a cadence of 180 steps a minute. That saves me 45 pounds a minute. I ran for just about 8 hours or 480 minutes so in the end I saved 21,600 pounds!!! Any questions?

2) Training. Did not make the mistake of sacrificing quality for quantity. I found that a really long run (30-40) on the weekend interfered with my Tuesday and Thursday speed sessions. Although I did a few I mostly went with medium long (20-25) runs back to back on Saturday and Sunday. I found I could run them quite a bit harder and yet still run well on Tuesday and Thursday. Also, running the 2nd day with slightly tired legs better simulated late in the race for me than running one longer where I would feel fresh during most of it. Another mistake I avoided was making my speedwork sessions longer. Simply, it isn’t speed if it isn’t fast and you can only do so much fast. I kept my speedwork sessions short and fast. If I wanted more I did them in sets so that I could keep the quality the same in each set.

3) Approach. Instead of viewing the 50 as a long run I viewed it as a short week. In a week, a lot of things can happen. You can have a great Tuesday and a crappy Wednesday. Likewise, in the race, I knew that any bad sections could be followed by good sections. Again, I actually looked forward to the final climb:-) To build on this principle I went 6 plus months with no days under 1.5 hours and most even longer. To do this I had to run when I felt good, bad and ugly — just like what could happen in an ultra. Cool thing is that I believe by doing all the bad and ugly in training I did not have to encounter too much of it in the race:-)

Things Done Wrong:
1) OK- I messed up big time by not pre-testing letting my PowerBar mix sit out overnight.
2) I was just not thinking straight when it took 15 minutes (and 2 people) to shove that 100oz bladder into my 70oz pack the day before the race. Like how was I supposed to refill it? DUH!
3) I may have blown through the 40 mile station too fast. I figured with “only” 10 miles to go it was OK to start going into a food/hydration debt. However, this was a very long 10 miles because of the 1,700’ climb. Had I taken another BOOST could I have made up more time? It’s a delicate balance and at the time I just did not feel anything I did at the station could make up for the lost time spent there. It may have made my post race recovery better but I am thinking most of my stomach issues after the race had to do with mistake #1. Further, because I felt strong once back on the flats, I am thinking I was just out of downhill muscles and not out of running energy. I need more time to think about this one.
4) In hindsight, I should have gotten a pacer for miles 40 to the end which was allowed. I sorta settled into a “just get it done” mentality and had stopped pushing the pace. In fact, the only sections of the last 10 I did with any effort was a mile or so stretch when someone else’s pacer started to run with me and the final mile to the finish where a biker was riding next to me and then a spectator joined in as well.

Any Other Stuff:
Had a great crew in Yvonne and yes, even Kyla. I mean, a towel to sit on while I changed my shoes!!! They thought of everything:-) They were also nice enough to let a few other runners use my station after I had departed. I am very fortunate to have them in my life!

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Yvonne Carpenter reports:
Distance: 50 miles
Goal: Be at the aid stations at the right time!
Results: Was at the aid stations way ahead of time!

General Summary:
Kyla and I were the crew team for Matt on the lake City 50 miler. Even though the race lasted ~8 hours for us, it went by real fast. Too bad we can only see the runners in 2 spots, but it was exciting to see the transformation on their attitude and disposition as the miles went by!

Things Done Right:
-Scooped the area the weekend before and knew exactly where to be and when to be there.
-Managed to keep Kyla from being run over (both aid stations were right by the highway)
-Had all the necessary gear/food available
-parked very close to the main course (who needs to run a few extra yards in a 50 miler!)
-covered Kyla with sun tan lotion, head to toe

Things Done Wrong:
- Did not cover my self with sun tan lotion (got very sunburned)
- Did not wear a hat (got my scalp sun burned!)

Any Other Stuff:
We catered Matt on mile 15.7 and 40. Matt got to the first aid station several minutes ahead of what he told me. He did do as planned though, sitting down, changing shoes and drinking some Boost. All very fast, and off he went. On Mile 40, things were different, even though he was still way ahead of time! He was supposed to relax and drink more Boost and eat something, refill with water + powerbar mix then continue. He literally flew by, tossed the insert of a camelback (don’t ask!) in the car, grabbed a plain bottle of water and off he went. Could not have been more than a 3-second-stop. Oh yeah, he did say something as he went by: “Things are getting ugly!.” We saw him again at the finish for the “puke” fest! It was awesome to be there and see him pull this off! Way to go Poo!

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Kyla Carpenter reports:
Distance: 50 miles
Goal: Have fun and chase ants!
Results: Had fun and chased ants, deer and horses!

General Summary:
We woke up VERY early — no idea why — but I was game. I got to sleep in this little bed without fences and that was cool. I fell of of it at night but was gently put back in bed by someone — did not care — did not hurt. So many, many horses, but was not able to touch any of them. They were always busy eating and totally ignored me. I really enjoyed playing and munching on all this food on the back of the car. I saw Dad twice after he ran away from me in Lake City with all these other people. I tried to catch up but he was going too fast. The first time I saw him again, I tried to fill his bottle but it tasted funny so i started experimenting with some sand to improve the taste and when I looked, he was gone. Next time I saw him, I was making sure the cookies were still good from the trip — they could have spoiled as you know. I sat on his towel and made him a pile of rocks in case he wanted to play a little. I was told he was going to come by any minute. I saw him run towards me and off he went. Mummy held me by the arm and did not let me run after him, not sure why. I was very upset.

Things Done Right:
-Kept very hydrated
-Was in total control of my toy horses and Cow
-Got to drink pink milk

Things Done Wrong:
- Was unable to catch Dad every time I saw him
- Was unable to touch any horses I saw on those 3 days

Any Other Stuff:
I wish they would install a horse swing in the park in Manitou — I really enjoyed swinging on that one in Lake City. Go Daddy Go!

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