Wednesday, July 3, 2013

(San Juan) Solstice- taking advantage of the longest day of the year

Brynlee, Chloe and I enjoying the view

One of the things I like the very most about summer is the amount of daylight. On this summer solstice I did my very best to make the most of the longest day of the year.  A few days prior we loaded the family into the truck (which by itself can be quite the task), and started the long drive towards Lake City, Colorado. The first day we made it 520 miles to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison outside of Montrose.  The girls help me to set up the tent as the sun was getting low in the sky.  Once our home for the night was set-up I slipped into the twilight for a little run.  Not far from the campground I spooked a bear cub that had to have scared me at least as much as I scared it. I wasted no time in getting clear of the area as quick as I could so it's mother wouldn't be able to catch up and scold me for startling it's offspring.

I returned back to the tent well after dark to find the girls winding down with an episode of Sesame Street on the iPad. Tanae was almost asleep so I took the opportunity to drag the girls outside and show them as many constellations as I could.  Given my lack of knowledge of constellations this didn't last too long and minutes later everyone had fallen asleep.  I woke at 3 am to the sound of heavy sniffing right next to my head.  Immediately visions of the bears from earlier overtook my groggy brain and I set to making as much noise as possible.  Whatever creature (or maybe dream) it was quickly moved along and left me wide awake to contemplate the wonders of nature (and how terrifying it can be).  Miraculously, the girls did not wake up.

Chloe testing the use of Gunnison dirt as make-up

Just after the first light hit the walls of the tent the whole family was awake and ready for the day. After breakfast we went for a hike along the rim of the canyon before getting in the car to drive the remaining 100 or so miles to Lake City.  After a visit to the park, lunch with friends, and some ice cream we checked into the hotel.  Then I met up with Fred to see if we could get some pictures out on the San Juan Solstice 50 course while Tanae took the girls and tried to get a good nights sleep.  Friday morning we ventured out as a family to recon the first part of the race and spent the rest of the day taking it easy and getting ready for the San Juan Solstice 50-miler the next morning.

Team Nelson out doing some recon on the San Juan Solstice course

Saturday was the day that we tried really hard to make the most of the longest daylight hours of the year.  Around 3 am I got up and forced down a 1000 calorie breakfast and donned the race kit.  At 4:15 we put two sleeping children in their carseats and drove down to the start of the race.  At 5:00 am on the dot the race started, Tanae went back to the hotel with the girls and I set about racing 50 miles through the San Juan Mountains.

I felt about as blurry as this photo turned out right before the start. 

The first 17 miles went exactly to plan; I arrived at the aid station on my goal splits, felt really good, and was in 4th place. I got a high-five from Brynlee, Tanae (who is better than a Nascar pit crew) swapped my gel flasks and water bottles, and less than a minute later I was out on the trail again.

The San Juan's are a magical place! Photo Fred Marmsater

 I'll save you the drama but I came a bit unraveled in the next 20 mile section that included a little time adding some mileage to the course and a solid beating that came from running above 11,000 feet for a long time. When I next saw Tanae and the girls I was an hour behind my goal splits, and just trying to get done.  Tanae again got me in and out of the aid station, and with another high five from Brynlee I was off for the last ten miles.  I ran (shuffled) the majority of the final climb and then found as I descended towards the finish that my legs and stomach (and everything else) started to feel quite a lot better.  I finished feeling better than I had since the first time I saw my crew and had the tremendous privilege of finishing with Brynlee.

My favorite finish line photo of all time! Photo Fred Marmsater

Amazingly, I held onto 4th place all day and even though it was slower than I had wanted I can't complain about finishing my first San Juan Solstice run in 9:17:26.  It also leaves plenty of room for improvement in the future.  Now anyone who knows me, knows that I love to hang out at races as long as I can, but this day was different.  It was the longest of the year; there was still much to be done on this day.  So after piecing myself back together, getting a nice finish line massage, having two ice-cold bottles of Ultragen, and a quick rinse in the river we loaded the family in the car and started driving.  Destination Angel Fire, New Mexico.

You may be asking yourself, what is in Angel Fire, New Mexico? I will tell you; not much.  The reason that we were driving 300 miles (it would have been only 200 miles but the West Fork Complex Fire had closed the shortest route) right after racing a 50-mile race was that on this same morning that my good friend Toph, started running 100.  Last year he was the ONLY finisher of the Angel Fire 100 and this year I wanted to be part of his run, and it is the longest day of the year after all!

Chloe chose to sleep in while I was out pacing Toph. 

Unfortunately we did not make it to Angel Fire before the sun set, but the super moon was rising which made it feel like an eerily extended day! Toph came through 75 miles just before we arrived and a few hours later I joined him for the last 12 miles of his run.  It was awesome to see Toph rally after a long day on the trail and he damn near dropped me in the last 1/4 of a mile when he turned on his sub-6 minute mile pace to bring it home.

Toph finished an hour and half faster than he did last year in just under 28 hours.  My family had supported me at a 50-miler, endured a 300 mile drive, slept in the back of the truck and then supported Toph in finishing his second 100 mile race. Not only did we use all of the light of the Solstice, but we managed to stretch a day to nearly 30 hours! And we loved every minute of it!

Chloe showing her stoke about going for a hike!


  1. Way to go! Congrat, it is so hard to achieve long distance race and have a family live.