San Juan Solstice 50

» Posted by on Jun 21, 2011 in Blog | 14 comments

After a rather long, hot, winding, drive from Boulder, Deanne, dog and I arrive late afternoon at the quaint mountain town of Lake City, Colorado.  A couple days prior, we’d decided to change our plans of cramming into my one and a half person tent for the weekend, in favor of a more comfortable retreat in a small cabin that became available last minute. To our delight the cabin faces the start/finish area, the coffee shop and the bar, so other than actually running the race, I won’t have to travel much further than the backyard for the rest of the weekend. I try my best to retain as much of the course information as possible from the pre-race briefing, but as with most of these, the details, “Alpine loop…jeep roads…left on that trail…by that ribbon…past the yurt…” all blur in my head.   

A couple hundred runners set off just before day break in the still sleepy and empty streets. I feel good running in the cool morning air and the chatter soon subsides as we slip out of town on to the Water Dog trail and begin the first climb. I have some pep in my step despite the short 3 day taper and my breathing is to my surprise, reasonably unlabored given the high altitude. My goal going into the race was to run a sustained effort but without forcing things too much as this would be a good, last long run before Hardrock. Passing the first aid station at the top of the hill, I run through large aspen groves with leaves shimmering like neon green tinsel in the morning sunlight. I get the first view of the towering snow capped peaks to the West. The single-track is tight and cushy with just the right amount of rocks and roots allowing for a fast, playful cadence. Soon thereafter, I begin descending a wide jeep road, missing a sharp left turn off I was supposed to take down into the valley. While there are no markers the road seems like the most obvious route, so I continue down it for what feels like an eternity, finally emerging out on to highway 149.  I knew the aid station should be right across the road but also remembered something about “running the tight shoulder and being careful of cars.” I figure that by following the highway, I’ll eventually run in to the aid station and after ten minutes or so, I come to a sign that says, “runners ahead” with ribbons everywhere. Someone honks at me in their car pointing up the hill which seems like the wrong direction but I assume that the aid is right around the corner. As I go up, another runner comes down, telling me I’m going the wrong way. I hesitate, confused, before a large pack of runners, including Karl, Duncan and Brendan come down the same way. I join them and Duncan tells me they took a wrong turn as well but Karl caught it before it was too late and got everyone back on track. I’m not too bummed about getting lost but for a brief moment consider mellowing the pace considerably and forgetting about racing altogether.

When I reach aid 2 though, Deanne reminds me that we’re only 11 miles in and that the leader is just 15 minutes ahead. Something switches in my head and all I can think of is I wanna catch him and I wanna catch him quick. I forget all pacing strategy and start moving hard up the hill. The section from aid 2 to 3 consists of an 11 mile loop, half up with a 3,000ft climb, half down. I run the whole way up, save the last 50 yard steep pitch on to the talus field then start running down as if the whole race depends on this 5 mile segment. I catch David Philipps a couple minutes before the aid station and take back the lead. Then, begins a long, sun exposed, 5 mile stretch of dirt road with a very gradual ascent. I’m a little taxed from my “catch-up” effort so I relax the pace quite a bit, trying not to get too annoyed with my bulging, bouncing pockets filled with enough gels for the next 18 miles. About half way, I cross a bridge and glance back over my shoulder only to see David right there behind me looking strong. I decide to kick it up a notch once I pass the water stop at the bottom of the Divide climb. I run steadily to the boulder outcropping just below treeeline, breaking into a power hike for the last couple hundred feet up to the yurt. Usually, there is an aid station here but we were informed before the start that it might not be there because of snow and muddy conditions on the access road. Despite being dry on water, I really enjoy this section, high above 12,000ft. I look back a few times over the vast expanse but cannot see David. I finally reach the Divide aid station at mile 34 and spend a few seconds pounding water and coke to try to make up the deficit lost over the last 3 miles. It takes a minute for my stomach to settle but then I find a good rhythm descending rapidly to the last major aid station at mile 40.

David Philipps

Deanne gives me a few gels and I don’t say much as I’m still completely absorbed in the race. That’s until a women with a radio comes over to tell me that no one has passed the Divide aid station, meaning I have a 6 mile lead. This strikes as being very odd since unless David had keeled over on the Divide, I definitely hadn’t put that much time on him, given how he was running previously. Now, I have 10 miles to go and if this information is accurate, I pretty much have the race wrapped. Unfortunately, this completely messes with my mind and I lose focus. I’d been planning to pay a little tribute to the invalid and run every step of the last climb but instead I start walking, walking really slow. I notice some Montrail tread in the dirt and guess it’s Dakota out for a run with Scott. I find a rogue gel in my path. Mountain Huckleberry, how nice. The aspens aren’t quite glowing as much. The trail’s not so snappy or entertaining. I reach the final aid station where the sign reads 46.6 miles. “3.4 miles to the end, huh?” I ask. “Nah, more like 4.5,” answers the volunteer. It certainly feels like 4.5 as I let my body tumble down the last few switchbacks. A small black bear runs out ahead of me. I’m glad he’s not willing to engage as I’m not in the mood to wrestle. I plod through the streets of Lake City after a painfully slow last 10 miles and lay in the grass at the finish. David comes in soon after and it turns out he was only 12 minutes back at mile 40.
Jerry put on a great race and made the most of the tough snow conditions pulling together a nice alternate course. Congrats to all the runners that finished (shout out to Jlu for pulling through at the end and getting it done!) and thank you to all the volunteers. It was an awesome event with great food (breakfast too!), chill, grassroots vibes and perfect weather. Definitely one to put on the calendar for next year.

Third place – Jesse Rickert 

Four place – Brendan Trimboli

Fifth place – Karl Meltzer 

David Philipps collecting his award


  1. Hi Joe – Just stumbled onto your website.  Great race on Saturday, you made the best of a tough situation out there.  The SJS is such a great race, it really does not matter which route we run, as long as we are in the San Juans (I could have done w/o the road section though). You looked strong when you passed me right after the 2nd aid station.  I can't believe you ran that whole section (save for that tough incline at the top).  See you at Hardrock, I will have to introduce myself down there….take care

  2. CONGRATS on the win Joe! As always, love the blog man!!

  3. Great work out there.  You are making it look easy.

  4. Way to go man, that is awesome. And it's a fifty in the San Juans! You can't go wrong. Great report.
    Note to self: when racing, follow Joe, rather than Nick or Karl. (…as if I could follow close enough to see you)
    Heck, I think you should get a prize just for driving to Lake City. I've been driving through there to run 14ers on summer vacations lately, and it is OUT THERE. Beautiful place. I need to find a reliable place to stay in town.

  5. Thanks, Joe – great run, great blog, your words really brought the whole scene to life, along with the pictures.

    Congratulations again on your first place. Train hard, fight easy.

  6. congrats on the win, joe — and great hanging out with you down there in lake city.
    good luck on the rest of your hardrock prep — i'll see ya there!

  7. Great report Joe.  I really need to get over to the San Juan's and the rest of Colorado for that matter :).  Looks like you are all prepped and ready for HR.  Great writing, pictures as usual.
    Btw, what shoes did you wear for the race?  Couldn't pin them down from the pictures.

  8. Awesome!  Love the race strategy, and I love that you ditched it and went for the win, great stuff.  HR looks promising I'd say!!!

  9. Nice run Joe, nice and textbook….sort of.  Maybe not…. 🙂
    The real fun is in 16 days when we are climbing up Handies.  See you in Silverton. 

  10. Way to get in the zone and crush the mountains out there Joe…Nice "W"!  I would say all that vert training is paying off … good luck the rest of the summer dude! (I feel bad for your quads with the races you've got coming up 😉

  11. Thanks everyone for the kind comments. Zach, I look forward to meeting you at HR.
    David, rockets all day man 🙂
    Karl, I'm now 3rd on the wait list…closer and closer to joining you up Handies..

  12. Awesome!  Hoping you get in to the HR dance.

  13. Joe – haha! I figured, man those things must be filthy, they look nearly black :)!  Busted out the Rockets for a 9 mile faster run in the mountains on Tuesday and they definitely had a great feel especially on the real hard dirt…short little off-trail section was semi-sketchy, but they really weren't to bad.  Hope you're recovering well man.

  14. Nice work Joe.  The Juan's are absolutely the best mountains in the state and you are getting a full dose of them this month.  Enjoy

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