Oh Day 2, you were so hard and so long, how do I even begin to recap you…
The Golden Ultra had this cool thing going on where each of the three races were nicknamed The Blood, The Sweat and The Tears. Day 2’s ultra marathon was to be the The Sweat and in comparison to Friday’s gruelling climb (The Blood), Saturday was where we would be putting in all the long, hard effort, aka the sweat.
The race was going to start at 8:00 am so we got up nice and early to have enough time to get ready, have breakfast and not get worked up and rushed. As part of the meal plan, they had set up a suite at the resort where runners could go and have their breakfast together. It was kind of a cool, relaxed way to start off the day.
It was just getting light when we finally got to Spirit Square in the town of Golden and the runners were milling around but looking pretty sombre. I knew the day would be long but I had no idea how challenging or trying it might be so I tried to stay optimistic as we checked in and chatted with the others.
The course started out by taking us through town and out towards the trails. We ran for awhile on the road while Solana regaled us with tales from the latest book she was reading. It was kind of funny how a bunch of the other runners got intrigued by the story and we all ran along together until we reached the trail.
The first half of the course was really lovely. We started in the lower trails in the picture above and slowly started making our way up through the hills. The trail was packed dirt, not terribly technical and a really great way to start off what would end up being such a long day.
I had set out for the day hoping to run with our group from Friday but it wasn’t long before they pulled ahead. I considered trying to keep up but was fairly nervous about reserving my energy since I didn’t know what the course would be like. I was running with my friend Stephanie, who was doing her first ultra, and we fell into a really great rhythm together.
I knew we were in for a long day so we settled into chatting and just plodding along. This first part of the course was easier than I expected and in hindsight we may have taken it a little easier than we should have. I was so nervous about pooping out later in the day and didn’t want to start off too fast since this was Stephanie’s first go at an ultra so we ran at an easy pace and really enjoyed ourselves.
We kind of had our first moment of grumpiness when we were coming into the 2nd aid station. We had been climbing through a pretty onerous part of the trail. It was through the trees and the trail was fairly muddy so it made the climbing kind of slippery and difficult. We hadn’t expected so much climbing before this aid station and just got grumpy as we passed the km where it was supposed to be with no aid station in sight.
This is the kind of stuff that can be the most challenging on your first ultra. Finding an aid station several km past where you expect it can be a real morale deflater and so I kept chatting with Stephanie to keep our minds off how much we wanted to get to that aid station.
We finally made it to the 2nd aid station with much relief and excitement to have some snacks, refill our packs and ditch our garbage and unwanted clothes. Our friends had been through about 15 minutes ahead of us so we refilled, refuelled and carried on up the hill.
As we pulled away from the aid station we passed a hiker coming down and all he could say was, “That’s a brutal climb ahead of you. It’s just awful.” Hmm, not the kind of confidence booster we needed…
We decided to ignore his comment and just kept plodding along. Soon after the aid station we went through this really cool tree field before heading back into the forest to start the climb. We were in really good spirits by this point and probably spent more time stopping to laugh than actually running. Oops.
The laughing didn’t last long however. We knew that we had about 1000m of elevation left to climb but it seemed to be passing by so much slower than in the earlier parts of the course. We kept chatting to pass the time but were both wondering when the heck we were going to finally summit the mountain and hit the ridge we knew would take us to the third aid station.
Every time we reached what seemed like the top, we’d congratulate each other then almost cry when we got around the next corner only to see course markers way up in the peaks above us. That darn ridge just never seemed like it would come.
When we got to the point from the picture above we were SO CERTAIN this had to be the top of the mountain and that the ridge we’d been promised was just beyond us. We actually stopped and took a bit of a break here because we thought we had reached the top of the climb. In hindsight, this premature celebration would end up costing us but we didn’t know that at the time.
We carried on, up several more cliffs and peaks finally working our way towards the actual ridge.
I’m pretty sure I shed a few tears when I realized that we had finally reached the top of the ridge. We had climbed so hard and for so long and the payoff was incredible. We tried to take pictures but there’s no way to show the actual enormity of how high we had climbed. It was seriously the most beautiful, magical place I had ever been. And to know I had fought on my own two feet to get there was almost more than I could handle. It was truly amazing.
We had to be careful with our footing as we navigated the ridge but we honestly couldn’t stop gawking and hooting at how amazing the view was around us. I’m not a religious person but being up so high in the clouds, after so much hard work, was like walking through heaven.
I have never felt so huge and so tiny at the same time. Amazing.
I was so dazzled by the stunning surroundings that it didn’t register right away how treacherous this trail actually would be if you weren’t being careful. I’m thankful to not be afraid of heights but I have to be honest and admit that I had a moment of vertigo up there where I had to crab crawl along the trail on my hands and feet just to keep my wits about me.
We carefully picked our way along the ridge line, wondering when we would finally get to the next aid station. Our climb had been going so slow that I texted the race director to ask if we could have any extra time in the cut off but knew we were cutting it extremely close.
Now that we were on the ridge line, we expected that the aid station would be only a short run away but like the ridge, it never seemed to come. We could hear voices and music coming from a checkpoint just ahead of us and wrongly assumed that this was the aid station.
When we finally reached this check point, my spirits deflated as the volunteer told us she wasn’t the official aid station. Like aid station #2, the third one turned out to be a few km past where we thought and our spirits were quickly going downhill as we realized we likely wouldn’t make cut off.
Somewhere along this last stretch we passed some hikers who were so kind, cheered us on and asked how we were doing. As I glanced at my watch and saw that we were missing cut off at that exact moment, I looked at the hiker with tears in my eyes and told her we were fine but going to miss cut off. I couldn’t stop the tears at that point and sniffled my way along the remainder of this trail, Stephanie just steps behind me.
As we made the final short climb up to the lodge and the aid station, I was so sad because I felt like I had let her down. It was Stephanie’s first ultra marathon and I felt like I was in some ways responsible for helping her get through such a monumental task. I had been the one watching our pace and somewhere along the way we had totally missed on that. Even with some extra time allowed by the race director, we didn’t get to aid station 3 quick enough.
I was already sniffling but broke into full tears when the volunteer looked at us and told us we’d officially missed cutoff. It was awful even though I totally understood.
As a race director and safety director, tough calls need to be made to keep all runners safe. I know that everyone would have loved to let us continue but with the long downhill ahead of us and it being nearly 4:00 pm, it just wasn’t safe to let us continue.
I fully admit to taking a long break to go off to the side and bawl my eyes out for a bit. I am such a believer that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and this time it just wasn’t enough. I had failed at getting us there on time. And that’s hard to accept.
Thankfully, the race director was willing to let us take the gondola down the mountain so we could skip about 4-5 km of trail and pick up the course at the bottom and carry on to the finish. I felt like I was failing by not completing the whole distance but I was so grateful to at least be allowed to continue. Most race directors wouldn’t give their runners that chance. I wiped my tears away, thanked the volunteers, apologized for my hissy-fit and we boarded the gondola.
I’m not going to lie, after that gruelling, never-ending climb it felt amazing to sit down in the gondola and rest. I said I would let myself cry in the gondola only and once we stepped out I’d leave it behind me and carry on. We saw our friends picking their way down the mountain below us as we descended in the gondola and prepared ourselves to run again.
The next section of the trail was awfully muddy and disgusting. I’d stopped crying but wasn’t exactly feeling positive yet. Deflated and tired, I had one of my lowest-energy points of the day and knew I had to eat something to perk myself up again. We walked for quite awhile while I fuelled up even though I could tell Stephanie was itching to run.
After a few km I felt good enough to pick myself and run again. We still had quite a ways to run but thankfully no real climbing. Our total distance would still be more than 50km and I had to be proud of that. We picked up our pace, started chatting to distract ourselves from how tired we were and carried on.
I felt like I was barely lifting my feet off the ground but somehow managed to keep moving. We wondered if and when our friends would catch back up with us now that we’d taken the gondola and been dropped further ahead of them on the course.
Shortly after chatting with a volunteer, we heard their voices behind us and waited for them to catch up. When they did, we were able to tell them how the heck we ended up in front of them and we tucked in behind and carried on all together. They all seemed pretty tired but were drawing on each other for support and strength – it was just what we needed to carry on ourselves.
It was pretty quiet as we all dug deep to finish out those final km. I think the course had given us way more than any of us had expected and we were tired and ready to be done. I have never been more thankful than when we popped out of the trail and hit the final road that would take us back into town.
Our friends pulled ahead of us again in this stretch but Stephanie and I plodded along with the loveliest volunteer on bike who was chatting and making us laugh as we finished those painful last km. The volunteers were truly amazing at this event, caring so much for each of us.
We finally made it to the final gravel trail and the tears started to well up when I realized that we were done. There weren’t many people left at the finish line since we were some of the final runners to cross but I felt like the whole town was cheering for us as we cross the finish.
We crossed the finish and shared a few tears through all of the hugs with each other and our friends who had finished minutes before us. I am always proud when I finish a tough race but this stage of the Golden Ultra showed me a whole new meaning to the word ‘accomplishment’. I have never fought so hard, gone through so many emotions and dug as deep as I did out on that course. For as hard as we worked we were so unbelievably rewarded by the most beautiful and momentous course I have ever run.
Its hard to explain exactly how I was feeling. I was relieved. I was so happy to be done. I was tired and I was definitely emotional. I was proud of what we accomplished but sad that we missed the third cut off and hadn’t covered the same distance as everyone else.
We ended up covering about 55km of a course that turned out to be 59km in total. Our final time was 11:59:11, less than a minute under the official course cut off time.
I was humbled but so thankful that Magi let us continue and at least finish the race. Had we continued from the top of the mountain we would have surely got stopped at a hard cutoff so I’m thankful to have had the chance to cross the finish line proper.
There were so many emotions and so many beautiful memories all rolled into one.
From the finish line we headed straight for the dinner at The Island where we shared war stories, photos and discussed the final day’s race ahead of us.
This was a long one so thanks for sticking through the whole post. Stay tuned for the recap of the final stage of this incredible race…