As an (almost) culmination to our summer of competitions, M and I completed the inaugural summer version of the Grand Traverse Ski Race. The race starts in downtown Crested Butte and finishes in Aspen 40 miles later (though our GPS read 40.68 miles). Entailing a mixture of singletrack, jeep roads and doubletrack; there were runners and mountain bikers competing.
For our first ultra race ever, I was happy to finish full-stop, but we definitely weren’t among the top competitors! It pains me to say that I think we didn’t train enough on the right sort of terrain – up and down and up again vs. the usual BIG up we are used to, followed by mostly flats and downhills. My body definitely felt the effects of the brutal day, both during and after the race; and it may be a while before I walk without feeling the burn in my poor legs.
We started in the early morning light, 6am in Crested Butte. The day promised to be clear and no thunderstorms were forecast – an important consideration with the high mountain passes we would be ascending and descending.
Highest elevation of the course – Star Pass
The first 30 miles I would categorize as relatively easy, we had a good pace and were chugging along nicely – walking the very steep stuff and making up ground steadily. And then we hit an absolute and insurmountable wall…
Aching knees and backs, pulled muscles, sunburn, even mosquito bites (once we descended into the area near the Barnard Hut) and general demotivation made that last stretch pretty miserable. The worst part of the day would have to be the 5 mile descent down Ajax mountain into Aspen. Sounds breezy right? Downhill after miles and miles of running in the heat (of course it was the hottest day of the summer according to numerous observers) should be a treat, right? No such thing – worn out feet and knees took the brunt of the steepest mountain I have ever seen and I would have dearly liked to crawl to the finish!
Still smiling at Star Pass, roughly mile 16
Despite all the laments above, I am happy to have crossed an ultra marathon off my bucket list, and the sense of achievement certainly feels tangible. The views were gorgeous and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness felt remote and wild, despite the dirt bikes and ATVs we encountered on the trails throughout race day. It didn’t take one rest day before M was talking about going back next year to better our position on the field. I am not so convinced.
A finish line never looked so good
M has a couple of triathlons left this summer and I have one more race planned to do, a measly 11km which sounds blissful compared to what we just endured. After that, we both feel a long break is deserved… lots of reading and baking on the cards me thinks.