This is the (broken) English version of the race report I wrote for the 2017 Silveheels 100mile race. Please forgive in advance the not-so-good English here : I use automated translation on my original race report and corrected the obviously clumsy sentences. It is highly likely that a lot of Frenglish remains in this report. Still, I hope that native English speakers will understand most of it.
If you manage to read and understand French, you will find the original race report here.
During the early years of the Colorado Gold Rush, there was a mining camp called Buckskin Joe, established near the current towns of Alma and Fairplay.
At its peak, Buckskin Joe had more than 5,000 inhabitants, around a valley near the Continental Divide (the watershed between the Atlantic and the Pacific). This camp was then known as the capital of the area and was a very lively place.
It was the place where gold diggers and miners could find shops to buy their equipment, get food, put their money in the bank and also have some "hobbies" including those that unmarried males like.
One day, no one know how, by the diligence of Denver, a woman arrived, as they had never seen before: mysterious, dressed in black, of a beauty rarely seen in the neighborhood.
She remained for a time very discreet and aloof, causing the curiosity of the inhabitants. Every time she went to town, she hid behind a black veil, thus maintaining the mystery.
And one evening, in a dance hall filled with impatient miners, Bill Buck, the owner of the Dance Hall, fired two blows into the air and announced the "revelation" of his new dancer.
She entered in a heavy silence, took off her hat and her veil, revealing a dark hair on her shoulders. Draped in a shapely dress of purple satin, she wore a silver hairpin and silver shoes.
It is said that it is then that she, whose name has never been known, received his nickname "Silverheels". And slowly, all that the region had of miners or seekers of gold, descended from the mountains to go to Bill Buck's, and enjoy a dance .... or a night, with Silverheels.
However, following a visit from two shepherds from the San Luis Valley, a terrible smallpox epidemic broke out in the South Park area, where Buckskin Joe was located. Despite desperate calls to Denver, Colorado Springs or Leadville to send nurses, doctors and nurses, nothing ever came.
And Silverheels remained among those who were her family. She went from cabin to cabin to bring care and comfort to those dying men who had no wife, family, or friends to take care of them. She went like an angel, and by a miracle did not contract the disease.
And it was then that the epidemic ended almost and that Buckskin Joe gradually returned to life that one day she fell ill ... and was transported to her cabin where she spent weeks without seeing almost anyone.
The residents of Buckskin Joe, who were desperate to see their heroine come back, ended up building a collection, which brought together the enormous sum of $ 5,000. But when it came to bringing the result of this collection, those who did so found no one at Silverheels' hut. The door was not locked, a bed made was present, clothes were there ... but Silverheels had disappeared.
Research gave nothing and nobody ever found Silverheels. In her honor, to her who had everything to know glory and wealth, but who had devoted herself to what had become her home, the most prominent mountain of those around was then named Mount Silverheels.
This legend inspired John "Sherpa" Lacroix, when, ultra-trailer enthusiast and lover of this region of "South Park", he wanted to create a race to the image of what he likes. A race that pays tribute to this Mount Silverheels, which takes place in this area of Colorado marked by the gold rush and by the time of the miners.
I would have liked to find a race that is more in the image of what I like, in our sport, that I could not have fallen better.
And yet, it is a complete chance that brought me here. You have come to see that chance does things well. Especially when you help it a little ... :-)
We had planned a holiday in the US for 2017, in order to enjoy the total sun eclipse, which will fully cross the country on 21 August.
We have a very large family in the United States, particularly in Kansas and Missouri, which we particularly appreciate. Here again, a beautiful story that I like to imagine and put in context: that of a young girl of good Parisian family who falls in love back in the late 40S with one of those GI's who participated in the Liberation of France. ... and who then moved to the Middle West, so far from his parents, her brother and her sister ..... so to speak to go to settle on the Moon.
And this is this young girl's family that is now over 70 or so cousins with whom we have strong ties ... which have grown stronger over the years and lives that come and go.
Eclipse + family, the decor of the 2017 holiday was planted. And to complete everything, here is one of those innumerable cousins, one of those with whom the bonds are among the closest .... we propose to spend a week in their "condo" in Colorado. Spend a week in the mountain ... don't tell me twice.
And what more tempting for an ultrarunner, being in the mountains .... than to look for if there would not be an ultra race to run ....
And so, 2 strokes from Google later ("Colorado 100 miles running August"), I find myself on the home page of John Lacroix's Human Potential Running, designed to promote his own vision of ultrarunning. Bingo : Silverheels 100, Augst 5th and 6th, that fits....
The pieces of the puzzle have finally come together, a succession of chances that will eventually lead this Frenchman to register for the most improbable of the races, and his family ... in the total unknown.
The unknown .... we can say. Basically, what is common with what I have already done is that it's 100 miles and there are mountains. For the rest ..... how to say?
Already, the departure is planned in an improbable city, Fairplay, that nobody in France knows about (except, maybe, that it inspired the South Park cartoons). And this departure is located ..... at 3050m (over 10,000 feet) altitude! And the highest point is at 3700m (12,500ft) above sea level. And in all this, we will climb .... "only" 6000 meters (18,000 feet).
In short, apart from the 160 kilometers, nothing I've ever done: kinda "flat", crazy altitude (the race is the second 100 miles highest in the US after the Hardrock) .... and a place in the middle of nowhere.
But the chances that brought Silverheels to Buckskin Joe are going to be the ones that bring Bubulle to Fairplay.
I try to prepare this as best as possible: not too easy because the terrain is clearly not mine. So, in the middle of my usual races, I will try to fit "flat but not too much". This will explain a participation in the Brie des Morins 50 miles in May ... and also a third participation to Vulcain 70km in March (Vulcain which ultimately turns out to be, in terms of profile, the race closest to Silverheels 100).
For altitude, not too much choice: you have to come a little ahead and acclimatize. Not being paid by Salomon, I can not take 2 weeks for this (hello, Caroline...), so a week will have to be enough.
I must say that the first night in Alma (the highest incorporated town in the United States at 10,500ft altitude) was a bit tricky: headaches, dehydration .... there is work.
Fortunately, I will make my first discovery: I acclimate very well. In a few days, we will hike a few trails and, unavoidable in Colorado, we will climb one of the 58 "fourteeners" of this state, the Mount Sherman. The fourteeners are the mountains over 14,000 feet (4267m), the Grail of local hikers. Very far, of course, from "our" 4000m Europeans, their ascent is usually summed up by a rise of 1000 to 1500 meters or so.
It is therefore more a hike than allpine climbing, certainly, but this is a hike above 4000 meters. Imagine that, before this, I never hike above 3000 meters in my entire life.
Above all, it's going well. I am already confident about the "altitude" parameter. The "flat", well, it will have to do with.
The race course is a bit different from what I'm used to: both partially daisy-style with return trips to specific points, and set as a general back-and-forth trop from Fairplay. To understand, here's the map:
From Fairplay to Alma High Park, round trip to Siverheels Mine, High Park (second pass), Poor Man's Gulch, Trout Creek, Tarryall, Gold Dust, round trip to Hoosier Ridge, Gold Dust (second pass), Boreas Pass, Halfway Gulch, Gold Dust (third pass), Tarryall (second pass), Como, Tarryall (third pass), Trout Creek, Poor Man's Gulch Park (third pass), new round trip to the Mine, High Park (FOURTH passage), Alma .... and end. Complicated ... and simple at once .. :-)
About logistics: we have the opportunity to leave two "drop bags" to Poor Man's Gulch and Tarryall. The drop bags do not move: one has to be prepared for each of the two points. (It is also necessary to pack everything because there is no guarantee that the drop bags will not take a little moisture). Everyone has to see what he puts into it. Overall, I charge Tarryall rather strongly: this ravito is the focal point of the couse: it will pass three times, the followers can access it easily. In short, it will be somewhat equivalent to a Champex or a Courmayeur drop bag on UTMB. I put 10 times too much equipment, focusing on the socks, the warm clothes (the temperature will drop to near 0°C during the night not even mentioning wind or possible thunderstorms).
In addition to this, the Poor Man's Gulch and Tarryall aid stations, as well as that of Como, are accessible to the crews. So I double my options and I prepare a bag for the Bubulle Team. This could be useful for Como.
In short, I barely packed my entire home, but .... why deprive yourself when it is simple and possible? As a result, I will be relatively light. The backpack will contain 1 liter of water (temperatures not exceeding 10°C and relatively frequent aid stations), rain clothes (a must have: in summer, it is the monsoon and an afternoon thunderstorm is almost certain). The return trips will allow even temporarily to abandon the bag and to leave simply "US style" with just a bottle in the hand.
In short, logistics is a bit "heavy" ... basically also because all this must fit in the baggage that will fly from Paris to Denver .... but, ultimately, at the start. I'm fairly light.
The pre-race is punctuated by two "traditional" events:
First, on Thursday night, a visit to the amazing Buckskin Joe Cemetery (if you've read the legend above, you know what I'm talking about). The idea of Sherpa John is to pay tribute to the pioneers of the region, especially miners so dear to Silverheels.
We actually find ourselves in ... four people (John, Jamie, Dave ... so three members of the organizing team .... and me). This famous cemetery is a completely crazy place: anyone can get buried here, just choose a free "location" and pay 1 dollar .... and find those who will dig the grave! And so, we find, lost in the middle of the forest at 10,500ft altitude, dozens of gravesof people who died between 1860 and .... 2017, with "funeral monuments" that range from the simple cross made with two woodsticks and crazy ones, well in the image of the amazing characters who still live in this part of Colorado.
Indeed that's really crazy America that I move, in fact. Totally the opposite of the image given by....you know who.
Then the most traditional "pre-race meeting". Well, the advantage is that with 24 starters (ah yes, I have not told you yet, but there are only 24 runners registered in the race.....maybe a consequence of having several other 100 miles races in the same time frame...or the roots style of this one, I don't know), it is easy to organize, in Fairplay's town hall. It looks like a city council meeting, with John as the mayor. Recommendations of routine, fairly classical, it is actually a good way for the small group of runners to know each other. At least for those who haven't already met, as it seems that several of these people already know each other.
And, well, given my usual way of babbling over Internet about my races plans, a few are aware of this french dude coming there.....and I'm hailed by "hey, Christian" by some of the runners and volunteers.
And ..... it's time I start telling you the race, right?
Rising at 2am, the moon, almost full, illuminates the county of South Park. Elisabeth will "obviously" lead me to the start. It seems so natural that she gets up in the middle of the night to drive her Bubulle runner in the middle of the Colorado Pampa. And, as at each of these times, she will do it and do it so well and even better than usual ...
Finally ... well 45 minutes before the start, we are the first to be at the start line ... This is the first time I arrive on a starting line and that there is strictly nobody.
Nor light, for that matter. It is also the first time that I put my headlamp *before* the race, to find my way.
Sherpa John arrives pretty quickly and so I'm the first one to check in at the start. Slowly, however, other runners come along quietly in the quiet night: no deafening music, no excited speaker, no "one raises one's arms". In fact, we are gathered under a kind of courtyard and a banner materializes the starting line (and finish line).
Time passes slowly, we chat quietly. Already I realize that the American runners are finally as normal as us: no one takes the start half naked with a bottle in hand. We are covered, but no more: for my part, I go with a short, sleeveless t-shirt and one of my Helly Hansen long-sleeved fetish T-shirts.
And, at the appointed time, well ..... John tells us just to leave ... and we all leave.
I was fearing the start of the race: we're going to have about 10 kilometers of a slightly climbing road going towards Alma, one of those dirt roads that are common in this area. Combined with altitude this can be quickly exhausting.
So I chose to alternate fast walk and running, even if that means being among thte last runners in the race. Indeed, this does not even happen. A group of 5 or 6 runners escape at the front, at a not very fast pace, but in permanent running. A group of 4 follows a few dozens of meters later.... then me. I find myself in my favorite position: all alone.
Alone. After 1 kilometer, we are just out of Fairplay and I am all alone. The Stoots (my headlamp: a french brand, artisanal-made, by runners for runners.....too bad I had no time to show this marvel to fellow American runners) is in mini mode, at 40 lumens: the road is easy, the moonlight is there, the visibility is good.
But all alone .....
As soon as it rises a little more, I return to the walk .... by fixing myself as a point where I resume running.
This road, not very exciting, it must be said, passes in the middle of .... nothing. We are parallel to the Fairplay-Alma highway, but we are quite far away. The first runners have disappeared, I still see the 4 runners in front of me, 100 or 200 meters ... and it seems to me that a light follows me in distance. That's all.
Not a sound, no endless talk between runners (I who are not talkative when running, I kinda dislike those who hold endless conversations). Great calm, great zen.
This section is going pretty well. The slight rising ends and we go down very slightly. The markup is ... scarce, to say the least. A ribbon every 200 or 300 meters, at best, with a reflective square ..... little visible. This will be interesting for future night sections. That said, on this section, there is little need for anything, because there are few possible ambiguities.
As John had told us, we eventually meet a table on which is placed a jar of water. This is Alma aid station, after 8km. It marks the beginning of the climb to High Park which is made by a path in zigzags. 1h02 for 1h09 planned. Well, I ran a little more than expected, it seems.
Let's climb: about 400 meters (well, sorry US readers for all those metric measurements.....I'll translate some and, otherwise, you'll understand part of my nightmare converting your feet and miles into good modern metric ones) until the aid station of High Park. At first quite stiff then false flat rising out of the forest.
Good sensations in this beginning of climb, I'm doing well .... but in the mid-climb, I suddenly realize that the way I am .... almost disappears. And most of all, I have not seen a sign for a while. I probably unconsciously foresaw this because I have in my phone the track of the race loaded in MyTrails, with a US topographic map preloaded in advance. I check ..... and, well, I'm off track! I am 200-300m further east of the right track.
There will ensue a nice part of almost orienteering. Still in the dark, I try first to turn back down. But then I find myself suddenly in a maze of micro paths .... and therefore impossible to know where I came from!
Do not panic, I enter "Barkley" mode: I use a cape (without compass, just my phone!) Right in the woods. I go through holes, I go up, I go down .... in short, I spend about ten minutes trying to "aim" the good track, without losing too much height. And without deviating too much from it.
I end up finding myself pretty much in the right direction and finally by hearing voices .... then falling back on a path that seems to be the right one. Here we go again !
There are actually 2 or 3 runners who follow me at a distance, and lamp slightly ahead. I probably lost some time but, no panic: on such a longg race, what importance?
We gradually come out of the forest, the path winds in a moorland between species of ferns, in softer climb. I gradually come back to a lady in blue (Rebekka) whom I pass on walking. Then a tall young guy with whom I had discussed the day before at the briefing and who is running his very first 100 miles. Aaron is just 23 years old and we exchanged our mail addresses, already, because he would like to do the UTMB. Very nice, we will discuss for a while while climbing: I explain my technique of walking uphill while he jogs at the same speed ... :-). We'll see each other for quite a while with Aaron.
In this climb, I also meet Stacey and her (very beautiful) pink tee-shirt of her team "Vertical Runner", "the highest running store in United States" .... in Breckenridge, where I will return a week later to find a very nice shop owner. Stacey, just like Aaron, jogs as soon as it does not go up too much and, with her also, our paths will meet for quite a long time.
Meanwhile, the day rises and the sunrise is just extraordinary, with this red ball emerging behind the Mount Silverheels and gradually illuminating the fourteeners who are on the other side of the valley: "Decalibron" is Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross (note the parity care of USA, where Mount Democrat is just near Mount Lincoln). The camera will have a hard time grasping this, but already I know I have made my day.
All that said, I arrive at the High Park aid station in this state of mind, already amazed by this so wild race. The aid station is manned by Jonathan Pope with whom I have already discussed widely by Facebook and who is waiting for me with a "burrito sausage" for breakfast. We agree that I will take it back as it is easier to eat downhill.
I leave my bag there and I leave with a 300ml (17oz, you guys!) flask for the round trip to the Silverheels Mine. The location is wonderful: a valley perched at 3600m (12,400ft) above sea level, dominated by Mount Silverheels, in an alpine tundra of a beautiful green. I find many similarities with Beaufortain (note to non French readers: okay, admitedly, you have no idea what Beaufortain is.....well, just Google around for "Ultra Tour du Beaufortain" or "La Montagnhard" and mail me if you want details about these amazing 100K races).
The climb up to the mine is rather flat. Not more than 100 meters up in 4km, it is obviously sneaky because we spend this alternating running and walking. Still, I keep walking ("nordic walking" style : basically it means that the funny French dude walks as fast as American folks are jogging....:-) ). Doing do, I pass Rebekka and Stacey, while Aaron remains in focus (the three were gusted at the aid station while, loyal to my habits and predictions, I dragged a little). And we obviously meet the race leaders,who run down to High Park. This helps me knowing where I am.
The gaps are already very important and I end up counting 14 or 15 riders in front of me (I lost the count at one moment). A duo follows me at 100 or 200 meters, speaking permanently in the somewhat noisy way some Americans talk...no pun intended, folks, this is how it is ... :-)
A final small 40 meters uphill brings us to the Mine, which is actually just a hole in the mountain. Admitedly, I have some regrets that we can not make the return trip to the summit of Mount Silverheels, at more than 4000 meters, it would be worth it. I take a card in a deck of cards, which will prove I've been here ... and immediately run down after a flask refill.
Total for the climb from Fairplay (700 meters up, 18km): 2h48 for 3h06 planned. I am slightly ahead my roadbook, despite the time lost to "gardening" (this is how we call getting lost, in French: "jardiner"). In fact, I'm not too surprised. Above all, I have to manage this apparent "easyness" that will become, I suspect, more and more heavy.
The downhill sees me running much more and, as on all descents with some rugged terrain, going a bit faster than others. Most of the other runners are clearly used to rolling sections and tend to gain time as soon as one can jog, but as soon as the down are steeper, you get to know who is Raoul (OK, that's French slang) :-)
In short, I swallow Stacey and Aaron (with whom I still chat a bit in passing), I put the distance with the duo that follows me, I'm happy, I'm feeling great, everything is fine.
Back to High Park. I take the time for a more consistent stop. I had "planned" 10 minutes at 1st stop and 5 for the second one. It will end up to be rather 3 and 5 because I do not feel the need to hang out. Above all, most other runners stop very briefly and I'm doing the longest stops. OK, mostly because I talk a little with Jonathan and Dave, whoare manning the aid station (especially since I have my sausage burrito that was waiting for me).
I eventually end up leaving downhill peacefully while chewing my burrito...and Aaron, Stacey and 3 other runners pass. Aaron, above all, makes amazing express stops.
The way downhill is mostly on a rough jeep road, very stony, so a bit technical ... and as soon as I remuse running, I do down fairly fast, passing again a few of my fellow runners while keeping Aaron in sight during the nearly flat road that follows, along the creek. I also come back on Michele, bib number 100 (special bib picked by John for the person he wants to highlight, somehow .... here, because Michele is one of his Dance Hall Patrons .. One of those who left last year and who "stayed on the dance floor" to finish the dance.) ..... and Jill (I'm puzzled by the number of ladies in this race, as I'm mostly used to the 5-10% rate we usually haave on very long distance races in Europe).
The four of us arrive nearly together at the bottom of this long descent ..... which we could continue for 1 or 2 km and then catchup with the leading runners as Poor Man's Gulch is close ahead. But, here, John found a nice path that goes up for a whil in the forest, below Mount Silverhills. I'm quite happy with the end of this quite boring and too easy downhill.
Meanwhile, the outfit for the cool temperatures of the night was packed in the bag: no more cuffs, no more second layer, I now only have my sleeveless t-shirt and that's all. It's now approximately 10°C, the sun shines well now (it is approximately 8am).
"You're getting the trekking poles, it's gonna be serious!", Michele tells me. Looks like she knows me well, right? Indeed, for this small climb of 150 meters on about 1 mile (so 10%), I push quite hard on the poles, just keeping Aaron in focus. He climbs really well, and this pretty little climb up the woods is swallowed at good speed. I lose sight of him by taking the time to eat a little (the sausage burrito was good, but ultra-dry and I ate only half of it).
The descent back to Poor Man's Creek is an opportunity to get back on Aaron's heels and we both cross the creek together. Two strategies here. I go the french way: straight ahead and let's get our feet wet while Aaron tries to keep his feet dry ... which is half missed. We're very close to Poor Man's Gulch where I have a drop bag so I can change the socks.
I even have a pair of socks in my backpack as several creek crossings are expected, and not always near the aid stations. This is, in my opinion, a strategy to have for these races over here: there are many creek crossings, often with a quite big stream. So trying to have options to keep feet as dry as possible is a useful tactical option.
The small 2km section between the creek and Poor Man aid station is the opportunity to meet the race leaders again: a guy who runs with only two bottles in his hand and then Gwen, the first female runner. The gap between heade runners is fairly large now.
Aaron and I will run this section together, mostly with myself leading: walk the ups, light jogging on flat terrain and run the downs race. This part is really nice with a great single track that zigzags in the forest, much preferable to the more direct jeep track.
In the final descent towards the aid station, I let go a little and I distance Aaron, and so I arrive at full speed (well, lets say 10km/h) at the aid station in welcoming atmosphere, since all my followers are there (our first meeting point).
Poor Man's Gulch, 34km, 4h52 (for 5h34 expected). I stop 10 minutes (for 20 planned).
We were not wet, no need to change tee shirts or second layer, or gloves. So I properly put my second layer in the freezer bag in my backpack (always a good idea not to leave clothes un protected in the backpack).
Flasks refill is due: we leave for 10 miles (16 kilometers) to Trout Creek. I planned 2h45, which is quite pessimistic but there will probably be several long walking sections. 1l of water for this section might seem fairly low, but I know that in case of trouble, we cross several creeks.
As a consequence, In only change socks. Extra caution: I do not change them now. I'll wait for us to cross again the same creek we crossed earlier.
Short summary with Elisabeth: all is well for me, and since she has cell service, she will be able to send a few SMS to those who follow us from a distance.
Some encouragement from Sherpa John ("you're doing great job": always this frantic positivism of Americans) ... and I leave, significantly later than Aaron who made a flash stop, again. I also let Stacey pass, and Michele and Jill arrive just when I leave: "Come on, Christian! "You're doin 'great, Michele." The Silverheels runners' community has settled.
I lost count of runners, but I'm probably around 15th place.
We head back the same way we came in (through the nice single track trail) until we cross the creek again. In this section....I see nobody.
Again crossing the creek the french way and .... I change socks after 1 mile (one more important hting to do: never change socks immediately after a creek crossing...leaving time for the shoes to dry for some time), just before coming back on a guy in blue (Victor, number 4: I spotted hime on my way to the aid station).
This section will require a lot of patience ... The loneliness is now well established among the 23 riders (there was a non-runner). For three kilometers, more than 20 minutes, I do not see anyone ahead of me, or behind. The paths are relatively easy: they are vaguely carossable tracks, but rather varied. "Walk the ups, jog the flats, run the downs" is once again my mantra, which turns to be Cyrano strategy (dunno if Americans call "Cyrano" the strategy of regularly alternating walking and running, at constant intervals).
I eventually reach a small valley where we suddenly turn left: the ascent of Crooked Creek begins. According to John, this is the place where one is most likely to see wildlife because this place is very isolated..
What people call wildlife here is not 2 marmots and 3 ibexes, as in the Alps. It can be a coyote .... a small deer, but also a big deer .... a bear (black, these officially not dangerous but, well, that's bears....maybe nobody told them that they're not dangerous), a moutain lion (very fierce, it seems ... I won't complain). And why not a moose? The encounter that everyone would like to do in a certain sense ... but also the potentially dangerous encounter because they, unlike others who flee man, may be aggressive. And well, a moose is....well, big.
In short, a little adrenaline in a certain way, but especially a great pleasure to run in such an isolated environment.
Arriving in this little valley, I saw again for the first time a runner in the distance. In fact two: a guy with a white hat (for once, impossible to remember his name) about 200 or 300 meters .... and Stacey with his pink tee-shirt, about 50 meters ahead of him.
The trail now goes up quite strongly: we have 200 meters positive climb before crossing the Crooked Creek at 3440m altitude, then back down. And, as the way goes up, so do I ...... The white hat and Stacey probably hear the tireless "pic-poc" getting closer. I finally catch them up and Stacey and I begin a fun yoyo game: like many American runners, as soon as the path does not go up too much, she resumes running (looks like our fellow US runners are not fond of walking) ... and then passes me. And, as soon as it goes up a little more, she's back walking.....and I pass.. This will last fopr about 1 or 2 kilometers.
We barely talk, in fact .... On the one hand because the effort is still not innocent, to rise to 10% on average at 3400m altitude ... and on the other hand because my conversation is often limited when running ... and even more since I am still not totally fluent in English and it's often annoying to ask people to repeat in vain attempts to understand what they're saygin to me.
All in all, we finally reach this high point of the profile of the race. I only know this because I'm watching the altimeter a bit: it's not a summit, a pass, or a crest. Just a moment when one crosses a valley and where one ends up descending down the stream.
The white hat guy is far behind, now. Stacey is right in front of me ... and we catch up with a newcomer: Steve Bremner. Steve, we'll talk about him later: for now I have no idea who he is ..... I read his very informative story about the same race in 2015. For now, I'm passing a kinda "broken" Steve. He tells me, when I ask him the traditional "How're you doin" that it does not go very hard and that it has difficulty to keep what he eats. But, well, he knows that it happens and that it will stop at some moment.
Well, so, "Good Luck," Steve ... and it's time to really enjoy this downhill which Sherpa John enthusiastically described to us
John is right: this single is a pure marvel. A nice steep slope, a clear descent, a narrow track, a few stones but not too much and, overall, a superb passage in the forest. OK, no elk, deer, mountain lions, but just a real good moment: my legs are still fine, so I can really enjoy this downhill. No poles use: I could hang them on the backpack on the bag, but I expect long sections that will probably be walked where they will be useful to me.
This lasts for about 2 to 3 kilometers until the singletrack ends up on a dust track, still downhill, but obviously less funny. At some point, the river stream just flows...on the track. Indeed, beaver dams (there are everywhere) are so high, on the nearby creek, that the lakes formed flow into the path. It puts a bit of variety because one has to jump right and left on this path to get through.
A crossroads of paths at 3090m of altitude marks the low point of this section ..... and the beginning of a looooong section until theTrout Creek aid station. Three kilometers of "flat" road (indeed, slowly rising): I know in advance that they will not be the funniest ones. So let's head for a long section of Nordic walking at about 5.5km/h. I gradually catch up with Victor, number 4, who I already catched up with before changing socks.
By catching up with him, I tell myself that I am the only one using my poles as I do, in Nordic walking mode. In fact, quite a few runners carry poles (much less than in Europe: probably about 1/3), but do not really use them to walk. I remain faithful to my "European" technique as I am convinced of its efficiency.
It's really hot on this section. We are fairly exposed because not really in the forest (although the forests go up to 3400-3500m approximately) and these 3 kilometers will seem to me really long. It ecomes obvious when I see a tent about 100m right of the road with 1 or 2 cars parked ... which I think is the Trout Creek aid tsation (markings being sometimes a bit loose, that would have been possible). It turns out this is only people camping.
In fact, Trout Creek is 1/2 mile away and I'm glad to find this aid station. I only planned 5 minutes, but I decide to take the needed time, especially to drink. I've drunk enough on the way (my flasks are almost empty), but I have a strong desire for sparkling. Unfortunately, no sparkling water ... something that the Americans hardly know (as soon as we talk about "sparkling water", they think we want soda) .... and therefore nothing salty, which I often do, at home, with Saint-Yorre water or equivalent.
I indeed drink a lot of sodas whose sweet taste is nice. And I take the time to enjoy these large canvas armchairs so characteristic of the US aid stations ..... and so comfortable! The volunteers do everything, I do not have to move. There is nobody here except the two volunteers, as the aid station requires a long walk on private 4x4 roads to be reached.
Trout Creek, km 51. 7h55 for 8h46 planned. I roughly kept my hour advance. I'm not as cool as Poor Man's Gulch, but it's a bit logical, though.
During my stop, which lasts about 10 minutes (5 planned), Stacey, Victor and the white hat guy pass me again, as they stopping for a very brief moment.
So let's hunt them again... :-). Small annoyance when leaving: one of my tungsten tips on poles has been lost. The other was about to faal, tooto follow. It's not really a drama, just annoying.
The next section, to Tarryall, will include a long uphill (from 3150m) to a pass at 3450m between Mount Silverheels and Little Baldy Mountain, then back down into the woods ("by a beautiful single" according to the roadbook) to the main Tarryall aid station where it will be the first of the 3 planned passages and where I'll meet my crew again. The set is about 8km and 300D +.
I start rather cautiously, on a rather rugged 4x4 road which rises rather weakly towards the crest of the pass, still far enough. I see Victor 100 or 200m ahead, and Stacey a little bit ahead of him.
The path goes up quietly in the middle of a moor heath, so I am in fairly "automatic" mode of regular pic-poc. From time to time, large puddles must be avoided at the cost of a detour in the bushes, more or less well marked, depending on the case.
I even find myself at a point to bluntly look for where to pass to avoid one of those pools that bar all the way. A great detour in the bushes however brings me back on the right path and I resume my walk ...
Well, it's weird. Someone is calling someone else...
I turn around and ....
... it is Stacey who calls me, ME. Here then.
"I think the trail goes to the right".
Dammit, I almost misse an obvious turn where we abandon this track to take a small singlepath on the right. Many thanks to Stacey without whom I was going to leave for a Big Great "Gardening Game" (do you say this, folks, when you're lost? "Gardening"). Indeed, I forgot to carefully look at markings. This bifurcation was in practice not very well signaled, at a time when one is obliged to make detours to avoid these large pools of water. Others will have themselves and will leave it until one hour ....
In the meantime, Stacey passed me and is now about 50 meters ahead, for the steepest part of this climb: 150D + straight in the slope in a large open meadow that leads to the pass. This time, I'm too tired and I don't trying catching up....I just follow her.
I can't wait to get to Tarryall now, but the descent is quite long. I meet Jamie who just shouts at me "Doing great job, Christian, only two miles to Tarryall", well .... with our American friends, you're always "doing good job" even when one is a big buzzard.
I finally pass again Stacey in the technical part of the descent, when it really goes down. Most of the time, this downhill part is mostly one of these desperating trails that never really do DOWN. The kind of thing you never know if it's orth running or you'd better fast walking.
Stacey does'nt have these metaphysical questioning and runs all time long .... so she goes back, as well as .... Aaron! How's that, Aaron? But he was supposed to be ahead !! I can not believe I caught up with him, but I do not know how, right now. He will explain to me later that he got lost (probably in the same place where I almost missed a fork, too, except that he did not have a Stacey to get him back on the right path).
I suddenly have a quite bad moment, feeling quite tired, unable to follow either Stacey nor Aaron. These 2 miles never end (miles are freakingly longer than kilometers, would you think?). Even after passing the bifurcation of Como, supposed to be near the aid station, it doesn't really end and I'm highly tired when finally reaching the aid station.
Fortunately, the entire Bubulle Crew is here and we also receive the encouragements of all followers, there is a great atmosphere to this ravito. Elizabeth takes care of me, to bring me what I want to eat or drink. I am actually in desperate need of salt because I feel like I lost a lot. And this is what will then prompt Patti (who, after this passage, will return to our rental with her younger son), from looking for sparkling water in the huge (oh no) Fairplay supermarket .
Meanwhile, Magali takes care of my thighs, with.....sun lotion (!). Even though I don't necessarily need it (I especially have a big feeling of being emptied by these very long moments of racing / trotting on "easy" tracks), but that raises my own confidence.
I, therefore, stay for 25 minutes at Tarryall. In fact, pretty much what I expected (20 minutes). So, arrived in 9:23 and left in 9:49, I still am 45 minutes ahead of the roadbook. But this is the first time I am really a bit exhausted.
I finally leave....on my mental skills. I know that a big chunk awaits me with the climb to the Hoosier Ridge, the climax of the race. But before that, we have to reach the Gold Dust aid station, which is located a bit above Tarryall (and a few miles away). My crew will follow me because, from Gold Dust, we'll have to climb to Hoosier Ridge then return to Gold Dust. So they will go up (walking, no other option) behind me .... and I'll meet them again when coming back from the ridge. Do you follow? ;-)
According to information gathered by Magali, I'm about 10th or 11th. I'm a bit surprised because I do not feel like that I passed more runners than I've been passed.
The beginning of the climb to Gold Dust is a bit heavy, but I take time. I know that from here I will have to walk more and more and that patience will be decisive.
So the climb (120 meters up) is going well. On the other hand, the profile then shows 2 kilometers that seem quite flat. And indeed, that's it: we're on a singletrack path which is indeed very very fun. I would have loved that, because it is a hollow path that zigzags in the forest, probably really fun to ride a mountain bike here. It is however just a little endless when it becomes difficult to run constantly.
I adopt a the "Cyrano" tactic again. Something like "OK, I run to the tree there", "I walk to the bush" but I may be a little exhausted by this and the fact that I do this ALL ALONE. Stacey and Aaron had left Tarryall fairly quickly, Victor was getting there when I left, so I'm desperately alone.
So it's a relief to get to Gold Dust. What a greataid station! It is mnned by Kristi and her family (her husband and three children), who camp on the spot. We had exchanged on Facebook with Kristi and she had promised me she would have "something French". I think I talked about Camembert, and when she greets me, she talks to me immediately. However, I am absolutely not hungry and not too eager to go on forever this time. I know I have to come back in 1.5 or 2 hours. I feel quite well again... and also enjoy the fact that the weather is still good for the ascent to the Hoosier Ridge (storms are expected at the end of the day).
I leave my backpack here (since it is a round trip) and leave with only a 300ml flask. Little mistake, I will discover that later on. Unlike the Silverheels Mine, there is no water at the top and even for a camel-like runner as I am, these 300ml are going to be a bit short. Above all, I should have also taken somthing to eat.
In short, I leave full of confidence on the jeep road that starts this 4.7km climb with 440meters ascent.. It rises steadily though faintly over the first 2 kilometers. I am careful, this time, not to exhaust myself, to just stay regular. Nobody ahead of me...nobody following me, by far. Desperately alone.
I expect to see the first runners, but I do not see anyone either. I expected to see the guy with both bottles, but I will not actually see him. I will learn later that he gave up on first pass to Tarryall. It is only after 30 minutes that I meet the first two runners, including Gwen, who will even later take the lead of the race.
The path then becomes much steeper, and the last slope leading to the pass of the "Continental Divide" is a really steep wall. I meet the following runners, places 4 to 6 (couting them keeps me busy!).
Once we reach this pass, on the continental divide, that may seem to be the end of the ascent, but there is 200 meters of an incredibly steep slope, ascending the ridge itself.
I meet with Aaron (who is then 6 or 7) who warns me: "take your breath because it soon rises to 40%". Indeed, when we leave the trees, about 3500 meters, the funny part faces me: a monstrous wall entirely exposed and a huge slope. And at this altitude! OK, now I feel like I'm in the Alps.
OK, the race is globally "easy" but that piece is a kill. I see runners in front of me but far, so far ... and high, so high!
The climb is very very slow. Above all, when one thinks it's finished, arrived at a kind of little promontory ..... there is still fifty meters. I will learn later that several runners had very bad time on this section, especially the very last ones who had to cope with a storm .... and hail.
For me, the heat is still quite high: it is 4 pm, we are at 11:51 of race and 59 kilometers. The altitude is 3740 meters and the card game is finally there. I had planned 12:28 so I am still in my roadbook's timing.
I take a 5-minute break at the summit. That's where something to eat would have been a good idea, because I'm also running out of water. I'll have to manage the 4.5 kilometers of descent without water.
In the meantime, the runner I had passed in quite bad shape after Poor Man's Gulch, Steve Bremner, also arrives at the top and leaves immediately. I leave a few tens of meters behind him, in eleventh position (this time I counted ... I'm just not entirely certain to have seen all the riders: it will finally turn out that I was in 10th position during the climb).
In the descent, I meet several relatively close runners, including Michele and a bearded man whom I have already seen several times, also (Dan: I will know his first name at the end of the race).
I eventually catch up with Steve, and we engage the conversation for the remaining 2 miles as we walk, by common agreement, although slightly downhill. It is rather relaxing. This is where we discover ... that we ran "together" the UTMB the year before. Steve finished it at 42 hours which, a posteriori, gives me a clearer idea of the difficulty of comparing performances since he also finished the first Silverheels in 32 hours, which seems inaccessible to me ....who completed UTMB in 40 hours, so 2 less than him.
My cousin Scott meets us on the way and will take the only photos I have in the race ... We then reach Gold Dust again, with him....and I'm eager to drink....A LOT.
In the meantime, Steve is very happy to finally meet his wife Rebekka (whom I had seen towards High Park) ... who tells him that she got lost between Trout Creek and Tarryall (another victim). She however leaves confident (she's also a UTMB finisher, half an hour before the cutoff) ..... but will be unfortunately later defeated by hypothermia due to the hail and the storm that she will meet exactly at the top of Hoosier Ridge.
I hand over my witness card to Ricki's son. I am very tired again and I should take the time to eat and drink in this aid station. Unfortunately, it is getting cold: weather has covered, the wind has risen and I feel I'm cooling down quickly even after adding a second layer of clothes and I therefore prefer leaving soon enough. I should have taken more time here with the benefit of having Elisabeth, Magali, Scott and Grant (who drew a huge "Christian - France" on the floor) ... but, paradoxically, I especially want to finish with what I know to be the key section of this race: the descent of the Boreas Pass road.
And so, I get out of Gold Dust. The next section includes a climb to the Boreas Pass (220meters ascent in 2.7km), then a very long descent (over 11 kilometers) on a dirt road fairly with a significant number of cars ("significant" here, means over 1 or 2), for "only" 400 meters of vertical drop. And then, an ascent to this same point of Gold Dust, over 6 kilometers and only 170 meters of vertical drop. I'm therefore facing a total of 20 kilometers, with 400 meters of climb and 400 meters of descent "only". This is where the term "kinda flat race" will make sense. And, in the middle of the descent of the Boreas Pass, an aid station, the well named Halfway Gulch.
This is the program for the end of the day. This is the program that will achieve me, I will not make you an unsustainable suspense while you already know the result.
So I leave Gold Dust in 12:47, after 10 minutes spent in the aid station, exactly the expected duration ..... and 34 minutes ahead of the roadbook.
I adopt a rather good pace. This climb to the Boreas Pass is rather nice and fairly regular without being really difficult. So I adopt a regular and quite slow rhythm. The important thing is in any case to prepare for this damn downhill.
I then need 35 minutes to climb these 200 meters. It is a fairly low pace (less than 400m/h) but nothing dramatic, as the slope is quite smooth.
13h23 at the top, on my watch (which I never look at, as usual). Indeed, I should at least have a look to the watch and compare to my radbooks.... which would sometimes allow me, just like here, to realize that I am often perfectly on time when I feel "slow" or "late". 13h57 were scheduled, so the roadbook was....perfect for that climb.
We do not climb up to the pass. It is actually not very interesting (it is a fairly flat road and the view is much less extensive than the one at Hoosier Ridge). As soon as we reach the road, about 500 meters from the pass, we take it downhill.
This downhill .... When one knows about the topography of the place (and I know it), you know that it ends up there very far away, when the mountain joins the great plain of South Park. Basically, the road is on the mountainside for miles (EIGHT!). It is a very dirty road with a very low slope (4% on average). There is a notable traffic of cars as there are nice hikes at the pass. Fortunately, at the end of the day, there is less traffic, which is nice because of the dust clouds we need to go through as soon as a car is met.
I will not see any other runner during this downhill. And to make it worse, the weather becomes worse with coulds piling up. Just as I arrive at the Halfway Gulch aid station, a storm starts: very heavy rain, very strong wind, in short .... a Colorado thunderstorm.
Small sunshine during this outburst: I am welcomed in French by Catherine and her friend who are manning the Halfway Gulch aid station .... halfway down the descent. Super nice, but unfortunately, this is the storm's worse moment and my only thoughts are mostly....leaving out and finishing this so long boring part.
From there to the bottom of the road, I'll be only walking. I don't have the will for running and I feel that it's fairly useless. I walk quite well, but it's really frustrating as it seems soooo long. The final 2-mile loop, around a hill, before reaching the bottom of the road, seem to never end.
And, indeed, at this moment, slowly, I start building the idea of giving up. Why spend a whole night walking during a race? I only foresee the less glamorous passages of the journey. I mentally see myself wandering endlessly in the forest during the round trip Tarryall-Como-Tarryall (15 kilometers and only 200 meters climb on the way). In short, I only see the negative side of everything.
Still, I'm finally at the crossroads that mark the end of the descent, in 1h40. I went down to 6.6km/h when I had planned .... 1h55! I had a much better descent than I had expected.
And I do not know ..... I do not even tell myself. everything in my mind is negative: I feel like I'm crawling and there are still 6 kilometers left with a loong bnut small climb until the last stop to Gold Dust.
That's where my mind picks up ..... stupidly, I have to say it. Because in fact, I'm still fine. Yes, I'm slow. But everyone is slow. In fact, if I were on a classic ultra alpine ultratrail, it would be just a climb where I peacefully and calmly climb at 300 or 400m/h and I would not even say anything other than "take your time".
Here this is the opposite: I only see negative things, I do not see myself walking alone on such easy paths and I do not see the positive sides of the story. First lesson to remember for the next few times: TRUST YOUR ROADBOOKS, Christian. And instead of repeating to myself that I never look at my watch on the way... Well, LOOK THERE! And compared to the roadbook. I will remember that at Swisspeaks..
And so, on the road that goes back to Gold Dust, I spend my time with black ideas about quitting. In fact, I could take the main road for 2 or 3 miles and arrive directly at Tarryall, I meet my crew, we take the car and we go back. On the contrary, if I take the marked road to the right, it will be 6 kilometers of easy climb (170D + on 6 kilometers!) And therefore VERY long. If I were to look at my roadbook, I would see that I had planned ONE HOUR for these 6 kilometers. But I do not look at my roadbook. I only think of one thing: will I give up or not?
Difficult to say a posteriori if these permanent black ideas are related to the race or external family events (to make it simple, we learned of the death of Elisabeth's brother just when leaving for the start of the race). I carry with me a bracelet symbol of my support in its fight against the disease .... and this race was much dedicated to him. I still do not know. Elisabeth will tell me after I was different (less concentrated on my race) so probably something happened.
Meanwhile, on this road, I continue to fight with the idea of quitting. Finally, first victory, I take the road to the right, towards Gold Dust. Basically, I tell myself that I give me a chance to change my mind. Even better, I finally see a runner ahead of me (while I was more expecting to see someone coming from behind). This is Stacey which is about 200 or 300 meters ahead.
And she does not move much faster than me. And even ... I closer and closer. Strangely, while this should strengthen me ... it does not matter to me. In fact, I just want to get to Gold Dust. Period.
The rain has passed, fortunately (it will have lasted about 15-20 minutes), I could store the rain jacket. The sky is grey, it's the end of the day, but I come back on Stacey. I should normally recover morale. But in fact no .... I am surprisingmy passive.
Now, I'm only 20 or 30 yards away from Stacey .... we'll be able to keep company for the end, try to chat a little (she's not super chatty, me neither, but we would be fine) .
But suddenly I see another runner coming back from behind. I do not remember his name, we had discussed at the beginning, a very nice guy (anyway, everyone was). He tells me he's hurrying because ... he does not have his head lamp! It's in his drop bag in Tarryall. So, it is in "race" mode while I tell him that I just can't move faster.
And, then, he catches up with Stacey ... and motivates her to run away gently. And so, the two dump me (I do not blame them, obviously) .... which is almost the final click. I get the feeling that this is going to happen all night, that I will spend my time catching up with those damn Americans who run all the time. And I do not want that.
I want to get to Gold Dust. I want to get to Gold Dust. But instead of telling me that I want to go on, I want to get there just to be able to tell Kristi and his family that I'm going down to Tarryall to stop. And it is with this idea in mind that I finally get there. I only think of one thing to say to Kristi and her husband who sit nicely next to the big wood fire they have prepared: "I'll stop at Tarryall. I do not feel like walking all night long". And I do not hear their encouragement, I pay no attention. Switched off.
I'm at Gold Dust in 16:16. I was supposed to be there in 16:55. It took me 1:10 where the roadbook planned 1:03. WOULD I READ THIS ROADBOOK, I WOULD KNOW ABOUT THAT. Sure, but I am beyond that. I have only one thing in mind: go down to Tarryall and not spend my night in this shit.
No miracle. I can't turn my mind back to ON. So I warm up a little by Kristi's fire of Kristi, but I do not eat anything, I do not drink ... I do not even fill the flasks. I'm offline.
After 5 minutes, Michele arrives at the aid station, in an improbable pink plastic poncho. She tries to re-motivate me (yes, also her: everyone tried) and she even suggests I come with her: "We'll make it together, do not worry, Christian". But there she is ... she hurries to go down to Tarryall and she's motivated to run ... and not me.
And so, once again, I resume my robot walk on this trail with 2 miles all flat. No more Cyrano. I walk, and well, indeed, TABERNACLE, I walk a 6km/h!! But I'm offline. The attention is no longer there and, moreover, in the descent that follows, I almost fell two or three times ... while, however, I trot very gently (there, nevertheless, I run, because it really goes down ... and, in fact, I can not wait to get to Tarryall.
I get there and .... they're all there waiting for me and making some noise from "Good job, Christian", "You'll make it". And I can not take the positive of all this, to tell me that, I should be able to use all this energy. I'm always disconnected and that's what I explain. The head no longer wants to know.
48 minutes to go down ..... I had planned ... 44. Hard to write this now. I am in Tarryall in 17h10 when I had planned to be there in .... 17h50. And everybody tells me. Elizabeth repeated it to me several times. But I can only repeat to them that, no, it no longer wants to do it, that I have something that has disconnected.
Sherpa John also tries, suggesting I take the time to take a nap, that I have plenty of time (the cutoff is at 20 hours of racing). He can make me swallow a soup, but I eat it more to be warm than to opt to leave. I am no longer in the mood to leave. The three hours and 15 kilometers of the return trip to Como frighten me. I even feel that going back to where I am would be dangerous.
Disconnected. That's the feeling I have. I'm gone. And I do not want to be there anymore, do not honor to this blue bracelet, there, on my wrist, but it does not * want to do it.
And so, the bib 10 will know his first "real" DNF. I have some thought for my friend Franck, who gave up a bit in the same kind of conditions and in the same state of mind, at his first attempt at Échappée Belle. I already know how much regret I'll have after the race. But, I do not want to do it anymore. The head is gone.
And so, we, too, leave. After 100 kilometers and 17h40 in the race, I stop. Just when Victor, "my" number 4, arrives, he, and is hyper-organized crew.
I will not be one of the 11 finishers of the Silverheels 100. Yes, they will be only 11 to finish, out of the 23 at the start. Stacey, with whom I shared many kilometers, will not end. Steve Bremner neither, nor his wife Rebekka (and thus, 100% failure for the 3 finishers of the UTMB 2016). Victor will finish .... 4th.
Aaron, even better, will finish second, 2 minutes behind the winner! Yes, the Aaron with whom I made more or less half of my race, will almost win the race. Gwen, who was in the lead at one point, will complete her first 100 miles, seventh in 34h18. Similarly, Jill will also finish .... smiling, as throughout the race.
And, these last finishers, we'll see them arrive. With great emotion for me because I know I should have been among them and that I too should have appeared at the end of this street of Fairplay and make a huge "hug" to Sherpa John.
But, even more moving was Michele's arrival. Michele is the eleventh and final finisher in 36h30. And just for this image of John hugging his "finishers", we are proud to have driven back to Fairplay, from Dillon and to share, for an hour, the special atmosphere of this race on Sunday, August 6 in the evening.
Veryobviously, this race is not really for me. Too much running, not enough steep technical climbs and descents. But for its spirit, for its authenticity, for the respect of runners that John showed all time long, for the 50 and some volunteers ("it's so much work for 20 runners" was the word of the weekend), for the legendary Silverheels, and also not to remain forever a Dance Hall Patron .....
.... I'll be back.