This past weekend was the 3rd Annual Telluride Mountain Run. This grueling race runs a 38 mile loop through our little mountain paradise in the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado. It is quickly becoming known as one of the most difficult ultra-marathons around with big vertical gains and high altitude pass crossings. Below is great write up from Amber King about accepting the challenge and attempting her most difficult race to date. Great effort Amber! (All photos were taken during a training run on a section of the course a few weeks ago)
By Amber King Yesterday I attempted the Telluride Mountain Run. In completion, it was 38 miles with 14,000 vertical gain and one of the hardest challenges that I have ever taken on. At the beginning of the race I felt excited, strong, ready to push hard throughout the day. My goal was to hit 11 hours, and admittingly, a stout goal for that course. When the countdown began at the start of the race I knew I was in for a grueling and hard day. As we started up the steep switchbacks of the Telluride ski resort – I knew that I just had to keep moving. Through the race, there was some confusion with cut-off times. When I reached the first aid station after a long and arduous 17 mile climb, I was told that I had just made the first apparent cut off. The next ‘check in station’ was 14 miles away with a huge mountain summit and descent followed by some running in the woods. I only had 4 hours to do this on their watch. Feeling a little put out (because I knew I couldn’t make that time given my pace) I kept going. I met a friend Rob along the way and we started talking about our intentions for the race. The day was beautiful and we saw sweeping views of colorful, jagged ridges backed by a landscape of 14′ers. He was from Pennsylvania and never got to see these sights. It was his intent to just enjoy the race and the scenery. I decided I was in the same boat – we were both sure that we wouldn’t make the cut-off time, so why not take our time and be in the now? Well taking a quick break in the grass, we were met by a friend (Becky) from the first leg of the trip that told us that the cut-off times had changed to 4:30 for that last aid station. Immediately my mind switched back to race mode and we started madly hiking up to Mendotta Pass with high hopes to make the cut-offs. We took a moment to take in the views then started hiking down the steep and sketchy scree slopes. Once we hit some downhill terrain that was runnable, we were off. We met the 2nd aid station 9 miles from the last and quickly stopped to fill up our water. Rob decided to drop there and I left before our friend Becky had finished refueling. I really wanted to finish this race. I ran the Jud Weibe trail and hiked the ups quickly. Once I reached Mill Creek (the flattest part of the trail) I totally bonked (i.e. body stopped working). I tried to run, but could only go for 2 minutes at a time. I intervaled it until I got to the Deep Creek Trail. I was met with many climbs and descents. My knees were shot and I couldn’t run downhill anymore – so I was reduced to just hiking as quickly as possible. I looked at my watch and realized that I had 45 minutes to make the last aid station and I had no idea where I was in this last 6 mile stretch. Had I gone 1, 2, 3, 4 miles? I thought a quick breather on a log would help – followed by an uplifting snickers bar. So I stopped. When I did – the tears began to flow. All of my efforts and the time I had spent training for this race felt miniscule in comparison to what the race truly was – hard, steep, with competitive cut-off times that I just wasn’t fast enough for. After my cry, I stood up and tried to run again. My legs just wouldn’t work. My water was near empty and I felt totally ruined. Then – I heard a voice through the woods and saw Becky walking up. My spirits lifted and we started hiking and chatting. That last 6 miles was the LONGEST 6 miles of my life. I kept hearing voices in the woods – which I thought was the aid station – but realized it was my iPod that I hadn’t turned off and was cranking metal. After what felt like 10 miles (not 6!) we finally got to the aid station where they cheered for us and told us we had done a great job. Neither of us could run – she was chaffing and I was emotionally ruined. My muscles didn’t feel sore, but my knees were swollen and in a lot of pain. We didn’t make the cut-off time…and as a result we had to throw in the towel. This was my first DNF (did not finish) ever. My ego definitely suffered a blow – but I don’t regret the experience in any way. In the end, I just had completed 31 miles with roughly 12,000 vertical gain – the hardest 31 miles I’ve done to date. I learned a lot about myself, my training, listening to my gut, and what it feels like to take on a challenge that you may not succeed at. Even though this wasn’t a Telluride Mountain Run completion, I still finished my hardest ultra-distance run. Even though it took me 11 hours, I was still willing to try and complete the whole thing if I had made the cut-off time. What’s more is I made good friends along the way and I have grown as a person as a result. Justin Reese was an awesome support! Jared Vilhauer convinced me to sign up and even after finishing his race in 8.5 hours was ready to pace me to the almost end (what a man!). Thanks to Elizabeth Riley for taking care of Jack and everybody else who sent positive and good vibes. Even though this wasn’t a TMR finish, it was still a huge win for me!