I knew of the Ouray 100, but the buzz was disturbing. I coached a friend for the 2015 race, so I studied up on it as best I could back then. The course that year was using the Shattered Windshield concept, which did a variety of different out-n-backs from numerous points, which I thought might be quite difficult to mark and manage effectively.
Fast forward a few years, and now it's Jake Richter who's asking me to coach and crew him for the race. Jake's aware of the problems, but he know's Charles (the RD), and really like's Ouray, so he plans to take his family on vacation there. With all that said and understood, we create a training plan heavy on hills, which is not easy with Jake living in Ft Worth TX. Through a variety of ways and means, Jake does manage to get himself in great shape prior to meeting me in Ouray a few days before the race.
I've crewed and run this sort of race more than a few times, so I have a pretty good idea what is about to happen, but no idea how Jake will respond. I do know Jake well enough to think he will manage just fine, but weather and altitude will take its toll and then we'll see what change he has left. I have quite a bit of my own running gear and a few bits of things to eat and drink, as well as camping gear, but will soon learn that Jake doesn't ask for or need much of anything he doesn't already have. He's self-contained, self-motivated, and self-less, so maybe I'm just going to sit and watch.
The 100mi starts on a crisp and clear Friday morning at 8:00 am at Fellin Park in Ouray, known locally as the hot springs pool and park. My hotel room is a short hike along the Uncompahgre River trail from the start, so Jake had stayed the night before, for a quick and easy stroll from room to start. This gives his wife the opportunity to sleep in at their RV some 30 minutes up Hwy-550 in Ridgeway, and me a short walk back to bed after he and the others take out. They cross the Uncompahgre on a pedestrian bridge, south on unpaved Oak St, left at Queen, then Pinecrest where they reach Ouray's Perimeter Trail. There's a neat little tunnel that exits onto a see-through bridge 50ft over a narrow slot in which the river roars through. It's a nice little wake-you-up for all the mountains will offer in the next few days.
I am more than likely asleep before Jake reaches Camp Bird Rd, where he will spend a good bit of time. Having divided the race up from aid station to aid station, and showing the profile in elevation change as it moves from one point to the next, displayed in the runner's race info, looks like a box of crayons. So, it begins with a steady climb, albeit on a well travelled jeep road from Fellin Park to Camp Bird Mine. I can't stay in bed long, my curiosity slaying the sleep in me, so I get up to check his progress on the website with the Spot tracking devices. He's doing ok, but this is going to take awhile. Before the race started, Rene Villalobos told me that for the first 50 or more, not to expect to go faster than 25 miles per 10 hours. This seems excessive, until you think about the 52 hour cutoff time, which would translate to finishing 12 hours under the time allowed, in 40 hours.
The first crew access point isn't until Ironton at mile 27, so I have a good chunk of day to work through before I need to drive 9 miles south on Hwy-550. From Camp Bird aid at 5.5 miles, they continue up into Silver Basin, then back again to Camp Bird for another 6 miles. Camp Bird is at a road split, and having done the right fork, they now take the left fork for another 2 miles to Richmond Basin aid. This is the kickoff point for the next part of the Shattered Windshield pattern that defines this course. First they go right up towards Chicago Peak, but only as far as the Chicago Tunnel, then back down only as far as to take the other split up towards Imogene Pass, off the jeep road and up to the summit, only to turn around and return back to Richmond aid for about 8 miles of mountain climbing and descending.
At this point, it's a strait shot from Richmond to Ironton, and only 6 miles, but it's just another long slow up and an even longer down. Of course, I could not and would not remain in town to sit and watch the spot tracker blips that would move only occasionally from the moment when it actually located and posted a new position. In such a fashion, you would see blips disappear only to appear many miles up the trail. It looks like he would sit and wait, and then sprint ahead of a dozen others, only to have each of them do the same. Instead, I drive to the grocery to buy me what I might need for a few days, put a few thing on ice in the cooler, and some dry goods in the cab. Then I make the short drive to Ironton, and as slow as I am to get there, I'm still there before the aid station volunteers, or the aid station, and nothing but jeeps and dirt bikes tearing up the lot. No matter where I park, I'm in the way, so I leave, drive down to Crystal Lake to make sure I knew where that is, and to get a few pics. Still in no hurry, I drive back up to Ironton in the rain.
A woman is there with everybody's drop bags and needing to leave soon. Still no aid station or anyone else to hand off to, so she asks me if I'd watch the bags. Sure, I' do it, so I help her unload all the bags in the rain, and then she leaves. I take the time, having nothing else to do, to sort all the bags in numerical order, and then spot the aid station around the corner in another lot. I go over to tell them about the bags, but they're busy and don't have time for the bags right then, and I'm going to just leave it, but again, with nothing else to do, start hauling all the bags to their new home, where once again I make sure they're in order, albeit sitting out in the pouring rain. Some of these were most certainly not waterproof and I hope it doesn't ruin anyone's race.
And I still have plenty of time. It's hours before the first runner comes through, and the rest come through separated by big chunks of time. From here the runners have an 8 mile loop over and around Red Mountain No.1 on Corkscrew Rd through Corkscrew Gulch and most of that on jeep road. And so the runners come in and go out, all to be sucked into the Corkscrew vortex. Thing is, they have to run this damn loop twice, ccw and cw, so they'll pass through the Ironton aid 3 times, and so I decide to pull up and help at the aid station while waiting. It starts raining and keeps right on raining, and tosses some hail at us as well. It's a good thing the aid was moved here, as the other lot is a mud pit, and this place drains rather well. Good call moving here, as spontaneous as the decision was. The entire aid is one big family and they've got everything covered, so I become the drop bag shagger by default.
Rene comes in first, followed soon after by Jake, telling me he had puked not long ago. All things considered, neither one of them looks too bad for the abuse they'd suffered through, the rain, hail, miles, and altitude. Jake doesn't need or want much besides cleaning his feet and changing his Injinji socks. I top his water bottles and meet his pacer, Dos, who has just showed up. Jake heads out while Dos and I create a plan. Once Jake gets back here again and we get him taken care of, Dos will drive into town and get some sleep. I'll wait for Jake to make his second round, then head in as well, to get some sleep. Then we'll drive together to Crystal Lake in the morning for Dos to begin pacing, while I will once again drive back to Fellin Park and wait. Jake takes just over 3 hours and we set him up by my truck to redo his feet again and eat a few quesadillas. He actually wants one of my ice cold Sprites from the cooler, and maybe I've managed to justify being here. It seems I'm the only means for him to get a cold drink, and somebody to handle his disgusting socks. I toss the abused socks into my truck bed where they begin to accumulate fungus.
Jake heads out for loop two, Dos is off to find a bed, and I go back to shagging drop bags, until just after midnight, when Jake comes back in. It's gotten quiet, the rain has stoped, and most all the runners have gone on or dropped out. A few more quesadillas and Sprites, plus the personal foot wash and sock change and off he goes, back over the mountain to Richmond, where we've had a few reports of running out of water and food. Jake and a few others are nervous about the water problem there and looking to get over and past it to Weehawken.
The return trip skips all the Shattered Windshield out-n-backs this time, and heads more directly to Richmond aid and beyond. Camp Bird station has picked up and moved down to Weehawken, so 6 miles to Richmond and another 4.2 to Weehawken. Once here, the runners turn left and head strait up the mountain to the Alpine Overlook and then back down again for another 5 miles. So this is how it goes, all these seemingly little out-n-backs to summits here and there to add distance and altitude over and over, until the runner is smashed to a useless fraction of what he was before.
From Weehawken, its more of Camp Bird Rd and then up Hayden Rd to Hayden Mountain and then Hayden Trail over the pass and down into Crystal Lake. When Jake left Ironton, he was dizzy from the multiple Corkscrew loops, so I had loads of time to get to my bed for some sleep. As it is though, I got to bed by 2:30am, and wake at 7:00am, with time to get some hotel breakfast. Dos and I get to Crystal Lake by 9:30am, with hours it seems to wait. There had only been 10 people through and Jake was far from the front end of this pack. We had barely made ourselves comfortable when the skies once again open up and pour. Retreating to the truck, we make ourselves lunch and watch from the cab. The rain turns to hail, and just keeps on coming, and figure Jake for plenty more of the same treatment up on top.
The aid volunteers are a bit confused about the cutoff, and are preparing to shut down at 11:15am when the actual cutoff isn't until 3pm. I talk to them about it, and not sure they're buying anything I'm selling, but, they do remain open. The lake is unbelievably beautiful and I take a few of those perfect mountain landscape shots with the mountains reflected in the water, until some ten year old girl starts tossing rocks into the water, rippling the reflection into oblivion. I put the camera away right about then.
Some time after noon, Jake walks in through the rain, and with the aid station being small and full, we sit him up out in the rain. Won't make much of a difference at this point. He asks for more cold Sprites, so I run off to fetch them, while he once again cleans and changes socks. A bit to eat, refill the water bottles and gone. Before he goes, he tells me about Rene. Said he had fallen and cut his face pretty bad, blood, and black eyes, so Rene's moving much slower now. I want to wait for Rene, but I need to get back too, so I get on the road. There's a long wait at the one way light, where all the drainage of rain off the rocky mountain sides is pouring debris onto the paved road. It's a 30 minute wait before we can go, but as long as I can go, I'm fine. Hate to think I could be stuck here for many hours when the bigger rocks come down. Back to Fellin park eventually, I begin to wait again. Still plenty of daylight left of the day, but 8.6 miles of mountain trails tend to take awhile. I brought a hammock and was going to set up between the two big trees by the gazebo, but it appears that someone has set up their lawn chairs and waiting area right where the only place exists I could hang the hammock. Oh well, sometimes it rolls like that, so I think about my lawn chair, and realize Jake may have taken it into the aid station at Crystal Lake, because I no longer have it. I find a spot up in the gazebo aid station and immerse myself in conversation with whoever will listen.
Dos rolls up on us and we ask where Jake's at, and he simply points at the bathrooms. So, he's now through 75 miles, but getting close to the cutoffs, losing another half hour at each aid station. Jake says the socks he now has were a mistake. They keep sliding up under his feet, so we go through all 3 of the drop-bags that he now has here. No socks in any of them, so he sends me off to my truck bed to fetch the fungus-ed ones he took off last night. My truck is at the far end of the lot in Jakes' secret parking space that's always available. I run over, root out the black socks, run back, happy to please, and Jake say's it's the wrong ones. What do you mean, wrong? The blue ones he says. No shit? So I run back over again, find the blue ones, run back, and he seems pleased, and quickly puts them on, re-laces the shoes, and heads out.
This next section is only 6 miles, but it includes another out-n-back up to the summit of Sister Peak. Not sure if Dos is up for this kind of total distance, so I pull him out and send Jake out solo. Figure to let Dos come back in at Silvershield aid after a break. We drive over to Silvershield and park as we watch the sun go down and the time run away, and I begin to realize I should have left Dos stay with Jake. The father & son working this aid station are two of the most pleasant people I'd met today. Cheerful to all and in the face of some angry runners who were just now realizing they are done. This section is much more difficult than any of us had anticipated. Jake's way late, and we're beginning to worry. A runner comes in with his knee ripped open. Says there's lightning on top and slippery as snot on the climb and descent. Another runner comes in with the same story, and another. I send Dos up the trail to see if he can find Jake, and two runner's drop to catch a ride out, just as Jake comes in. He's not very happy with any of it, the time, his condition, the course, none of it. He takes the time to clean his feet again, a quesadilla and a Sprite, and out he goes with Dos.
I drive back to Fellin Park to wait, and find the aid station abandoned. All the fixens, food, and drinks are here, but not a soul to administer to it. So, I start cooking quesadillas, cleaning up the table, and looking to see what else can be served up. Jake and Dos make good time, being just 4 miles and avoiding Sister Peak on the return, so they come in quick, get served up, feet fixed, another Sprite, and off they go, with not much time to spare. With roughly 17 miles to get, Jake's on the edge of cutoffs now, with precious little time to spare. He's also been on his feet for 2 days and 2 nights, nonstop mountains, with rain and hail, and how much more does he have in the tank. Most people have reduced to a crawl if they are sill going, so I'm beginning to wonder about his chances of finishing. I'm working with him right through to the final out, and acting as if anything is possible, but damn... can he do it?
He's on the 6.7 mile Chief Ouray Mine out-n-back now, and a lot of this trail is docile, but for the switchbacks up and over to the mine at the end. I hike down the river trail to the hotel room, to get Dos's shirt, to check the computer, and something else I can't remember any more. I send a text to Jake's wife, telling her the down-low, the time, and the potential, what he needs to do, and what he most likely will do. I tell her I'll let her know when he's near the finish after the next section, and then I hike back to Fellin Park. The clock hands are spinning much faster now, and Jake appears to be very slow moving on the spot tracker. After an hour and then another rolls past, I tell Brienn (Jake's wife), his chances are getting real thin. It looks like he's gonna miss the cut for the last section, won't even get on it. Brienn begins to question if I might have missed him, and he's already on the last section. I tell her its possible, just not likely. And then 6:00 am rolls by and he's done. But I've been talking to the RD and he seems to not care if people miss a cutoff, as long as they look good. It's not how I would do it, but he seems ambivalent about it, and I think Jake knows this too.
I get tired of waiting at the park, so I walk up to the road to wait for him to come off the mountain. When he does, I ask if he knows about the cutoff, and he says, I'm going to talk to the RD... end of conversation. He marches in to the aid, finds the RD, and then walks right back out, and starts for the next section. I'm still in, he says. It's 7:05, more than an hour past the cutoff. I take his water bottles and do as I've been doing the last 2 days, I run to the truck and fill them. I then make 2 fast peanut butter sandwiches and hand them to him as he runs past me. Holly shit! This next section is a beast of 10.6 miles and most expect to do it in 6 hours, but he has less than 5. It's a pace he has not done once in the last 2 days, and highly difficult to manage after 90 miles and 2 days. Dos is only with him until he gets his food and water situated and then he comes back down the mountain minutes later. I have no time left, he says. I need to get home and a long drive. I feel bad, but I have to go.
I text Brienn and tell her the state of things, and she bolts for her car. She is on her way and wants to be here when he comes back in. He will now most certainly finish the 100 miles, and that's a grand thing to do, but there's not much chance of getting back by noon to beat the 52 hour cutoff. No more aid, support, crew, pacer, or time. He simply has to get up a 5 mile mountain climb to the Bridge of Heaven and then back down again another 5 miles to the finish by noon. Brienn arrives with her 2 boys, and sets up her chair near the finish, while I bounce around. I can't possible set down, even though this will still take hours. I walk back to my room again, so I can get a better feed on the Spot Tracker, and watch with amazement as he moves quickly UP the mountain. I didn't honestly think he had a chance, but I can tell now that he's RUNNING UP the mountain. I can see him tag the summit, then start RUNNING DOWN the mountain. Thats when I quickly head back over to Fellin Park. No flippin way can he do this, but I hope! The RD is starting to gather up his notes for the awards ceremony, when Brienn spots Jake weaving between the cars in the parking lot. It's only 1 minute before noon when we see him, and now everybody's yelling. He bobs left, then right, he gets waved through a hole in the fence, across a railroad tie. If he falls now he won't have time to get up. He's stumbling, raw emotion on his face, the medical guy runs out and directs him to the exact spot he needs to be, where he stumbles between the cones and hits the ground just past the finish, with a second or two to spare. Pure pandemonium ensues