I don’t remember how this all started but one day last year Bill found out about a first-of-its-kind 200 mile endurance race around Lake Tahoe. He thought it would be an incredible challenge and experience, so we talked about it and agreed he should enter. At first he was around #89 on the waiting list but a few weeks before the race he found out he could get in. Turned out that like 150 people changed their minds. Fortunately for Bill, he had already been training hard for two extremely difficult races: Badwater 135 in July and Eastern States 100 in August. He felt he’d be ready for Tahoe, so off we went. It was grueling, gorgeous, and slow-going but he finished and said it was “fun!” (I didn’t have this blog yet so there’s no race report, but I did later show you some of the aftermath.)
The next thing I know, Bill is telling me that …
there would be a first-of-its-kind Grand Slam of 200’s in 2015.
A sign near the start of the Tahoe 200
The races were to be in Arizona, Colorado, Washington, and Tahoe. Bill wanted to do this Slam in the worst way, in large part because it’s the inaugural year. We talked about it and agreed he should enter. Eventually the Arizona race had to be postponed until next year, so Colorado became the first race in the series.
Although all of the 200s are intimidating in their own ways, Bill was very concerned about the effects of altitude for the Colorado race. I posted about how he was getting ready.
This is how I was getting ready:
Maps, driving directions, and aid station information
The racers’ 200 miles was off-road on mountain trails other than about the first and last half mile of the race. Crews would drive completely different distances and see racers only at aid stations. There were 13 aid stations, and crews were permitted (due to road conditions) at 11 of them. The race directors were also sending email updates about three of the aid stations that had poor road conditions and were going back and forth from “no crew access” status to crew accessible. This was due to the very wet winter and spring (snow was melting much later into the year and causing washed out and muddy roads). It ended up being a dry week before the race so all of the iffy aid stations opened up to crews.
One of them was still quite an adventure, but I’ll tell you more about that later…
I studied the emails, the lists, the maps, and the directions to understand and visualize where our crew might not be able to go, how many miles into the race that would be for Bill, how close our crew would be to any kind of civilization (i.e. hotel room), and where we could get fuel. All of that factors into what and how much food and drinks to purchase before the race for the crew and for Bill, and how many and which aid stations Bill would need “drop bags” (supply bags for when crew can’t be there).
From there we got to packing….
In this picture I’m labeling a drop bag with Bill’s name, bib number, and the name of the aid station where the bag would be left.. The bag had a change of clothes, electrolyte and vitamin powder mixes, and applesauce.
Apparently I was also painting my nails and drinking a beer during this time…
Then as if we didn’t have enough stuff already, we flew to Denver and made a few supply stops: fuel for the jet boil and some snacks at REI, ginger chews at a vitamin store, and food and drinks at Wal-Mart.
Here’s how it all fit nicely into our rental car:
At last it was time to head into the mountains!
It was a long four hour drive into Almont, Colorado, which is located in Gunnison National Forest. It’s a gorgeous area and pictures don’t do it justice but check out the photo album for some of the best shots we got.
We stayed at Harmel’s Ranch Resort, which is where the race start & finish were, and had a day to look around the area a little bit, take walks, visit the town of Gunnison, and play horseshoes. Bill and I watched a bunch of amazing rock climbers and met Michele Yates, the co-race director, while we were out walking. Michele told us that they had their toddler-aged daughter with them. I said it then and I’ll say it again: hats off to Michele & her husband, Wyatt, for taking on her own ultra training, racing, and pacing, his crewing, and founding & co-directing a 200 mile race while having a child that age!! I could barely take a shower and make dinner in one day when I had kids that age.
The race meeting and dinner were that evening and it was nice to see all the other runners, including people we knew from previous races. I was sitting by Avery Collins at the meeting, and when Bill saw that Avery would be running said, “there’s your winner right there.” Stay tuned to see how Avery did in the race…
I personally appreciated how Wyatt handled the race meeting: short, quick, and to the point… it’s hard for me to sit still for long meetings, and “open question & answer time” makes me twitch. These runners were on the ball, though; there really weren’t many questions.
But I digress! After the meeting we headed to the pre-race dinner.
Then it was early to sleep and early to rise the next day. Lots of excitement in the air! Here is Bill and the crew before the start:
left to right: Ashley (Bill’s daughter), Masy (Debbie’s daughter), me, Bill
The runners were all given GPS trackers to keep with them at all times. This was both for safety and for others to follow the race by internet.
Then it was start time! Official start – 8:07 a.m. on July 13, 2015
This was a very small race in terms of number of runners. There were only 25 starters. That’s Avery Collins in the lead already – front, middle, with the white shirt.
There’s Bill on the left looking calm and happy.
The girls and I checked out of our hotel, as we would be too far away for a few days and would be sleeping in the car. Then we drove out to the first aid station. It was at mile 13.7 for the runners and was an 8.6 mile drive for us. The roads were mostly dirty, rocky, narrow, and twisting so it takes longer than a routine drive around home, but we still had a lot of extra time. We were the first to get to the aid station besides the volunteers, so we helped set up.
Ashley, left. Masy, right.
This turned out to be the beginning of meeting lots of incredibly kind, friendly, helpful, and fun aid station volunteers and other crews. It was also the beginning of taking in one gorgeous surrounding after another while waiting, and lots of water crossings for the runners.
Bill came through about three hours and 45 minutes after the start, in 8th place, looking fine. We refilled his water bladder, added electrolyte powder, and gave him some extra to drink while he was standing there. He ate a packet of almond butter, took another for the road and got a bandaid for a cut or bite he’d gotten on his foot. He said he felt “blech” the first few hours. and went on his way.
I decided that since we had about three more hours until we’d see Bill again and this would be our last chance to be around civilization for awhile we should go into Gunnison (about a half hour drive) to fill up on fuel and get some squeezable applesauce packets (one of Bill’s race favorites) at Wal-Mart. As we drove back into cell phone range, Masy checked trackleaders.com, the website tracking the race through the runners’ GPS devices. We saw that Bill’s tracker wasn’t working and made it look like he had stopped after a few hours, before even getting to the aid station where we just saw him. I knew this would concern people at home so I texted and Facebooked what was happening.
We made our way to aid station #2, located by a beautiful lake. The runners had gone almost marathon’s distance at this aid station. Bill made a quick stop in and out here, not sitting down. He got the same water and electrolytes as at the previous aid station and took two almond butter packets and some beef jerky. At this point was in 10th place.
Then Masy convinced me that we had one more chance to drive back to civilization…. The runners had almost 20 miles to the next aid station but it was only a six mile drive for us.. So off we went and hung out at a coffee shop for awhile.
We made it to aid station #3 (mile 45.1) and still had a pretty long wait for Bill. Avery was still first coming through but as soon as he got there he told his crew he’d been throwing up. I saw Wyatt Yates was there and told him about Bill’s GPS tracker not working since early in the day. He said he would contact the guy in charge and let me know at the next aid station what to do.
It was starting to get dark and we started preparing for nighttime by putting on warmer clothing, getting our headlamps out, and putting on our insect repellant bands. Bill came through at 8:45 p.m. saying he hadn’t taken enough food / fuel with him and had no energy during this stretch. He ate what became his favorite over the rest of the race: a quesadilla with egg, cheese, avocado and bacon. He also had a cup of ramen noodles, an apple sauce packet, and a bottle of water. He had a blister in addition to the cut/bite from before that was still bothering him. He covered both with duck tape, changed his shoes and socks, then went on his way.
We then drove to aid station #4/5 where we’d be settling in for awhile. The runners would stop there two times in a row, as they had about a 17 mile loop there. This would be miles 55.6 and 78.3. The aid station was being run by a cross country coach from Michigan and two of his runners. I was pretty impressed that they came all the way there and that two teenaged boys were willing to give all that time cooking, serving, setting up and tearing down – twice – as they were taking care of two aid stations.
I asked if Wyatt was around and the coach made some calls to find out what was happening. Apparently someone was bringing a new GPS for Bill. Later I saw Wyatt and he gave me the phone number for the GPS tracker guy, whom I called and got instructions for turning on / checking Bill’s device.
The girls and I hung out by the fire and talked with Avery’s very fun and friendly crew. The woman I was talking with (sorry I didn’t get her name!) told me that even though they had hotel reservations they wanted to stay at the aid station to see what happened, including Bill’s GPS tracker situation. I appreciated the moral support from her and so many other crews! This turned out to be the last time we would see Avery’s crew because he got so far ahead.
During this time there was a scare with one of the other runners – Dustin Smith – as his GPS tracker showed that he was lost. Fortunately he had come out on a road and his wife was contacted and told where to pick him up. I felt bad for them, thinking this would probably be the end of the race for Dustin, getting so far behind.
Bill came in at 12:19 a.m. I pressed the button on his GPS and discovered that it wasn’t malfunctioning, it had just shut off somehow. The lights started blinking and he was back on the tracker. Bill had two burgers, a cup of ramen noodles in hot chicken broth, and changed into pants. At 1 a.m. he decided to sleep in the sleeping tent of the aid station and told me to wake him up at 4. I set my alarm and went to sleep in the car. When I woke up and went out to get Bill, he was already awake and having some breakfast (another hamburger:)). I made him some coffee and we checked that he had enough water and he went on his way at 4:32 a.m.
I fell back to sleep for a little while and when I woke up, it was light out. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw this:
Taylor Park Reservoir
I had no idea, since we had driven there in the dark, that we were in such a stunning area.
I was also surprised to see that Dustin Smith’s wife, Ilsa, was sleeping in her car nearby. When we talked with her afterward she said that Dustin wanted to continue the race so she took him back to the previous aid station and he repeated the entire section over again. She also told us that there were a few modern conveniences nearby: a gas station, restaurant, bathrooms, and wifi! After making a quick stop there to change clothes and get gas, to our delight we got caught in cattle crossing traffic and saw some real cowboys…
Bill came back around at 10:47 a.m. looking better than he had the night before. He had a big breakfast burrito, bacon, watermelon, some water with electrolytes, and Mtn. Dew. We weren’t sure if we would see him at the next aid station because it was one that had previously been off limits to crews due to poor road conditions. We said we’d give it a try but Bill had a drop bag there with supplies in case we couldn’t get there. He put a bunch of food in his backpack: applesauce, three gels, a ginger waffle “Stinger” and an endurance bar. We refilled his water bladder with added hydration powder. He changed into shorts, short sleeves and leg sleeves for calf-support. He left the aid station in 19th place.
While making our way, I decided we had enough time to go hang out again for awhile at the modern convenience area (Taylor Park Trading Post) and have lunch. On the way we encountered more cattle and the whole thing just delighted us to no end. It became our favorite pastime, getting caught in cattle crossing traffic and watching the cowboys. We even saw a little cowgirl (with a bike helmet instead of a cowgirl hat) in training here!
After having lunch we went back to the iffy aid station. It was very bumpy and slow but nothing drastic…. until about the last 50 yards. The road split into two sections briefly and then rejoined into one, and both sides of the split were filled with extremely deep holes. I took my best guess as to which one was more passable, held my breath, said a little prayer, and we got through.
I calculated that we still had a few hours until Bill would get there and dozed off for a few minutes. When I woke up it started raining. I felt bad for the runners and then Masy said, “Isn’t this the road that had been washed out and muddy? Maybe we need to go before the rain makes it bad again.” She was right and I got worried. I grabbed a few things that I thought Bill would need – a battery charger for his GPS watch and some extra snacks – put it in his drop bag, and we got out of there. I tried going on the other side of the split road and it was a bad idea. We almost got stuck in extremely deep holes that were getting muddy from the rain. Fortunately we got out of there, got through the other very holey side, and through to “normal” road.
Finding the next aid station took a little while and we were the first crew there. This was aid station # 7, at mile 108.7… over the half way point. We sat in the car while it poured rain and I felt bad because the runners had to deal with this. Ashley and I played cards for a bit and Masy was doing her summer reading assignment for school.
Hours passed and it got dark. I watched headlamps as runners started approaching, feeling pretty sure I could detect Bill by the type of movement and pace in the approaching light. Sure enough, I eventually spotted him. It was 11:00 p.m. and about 12 hours since we saw him last. By this time the rain had stopped and the aid station volunteers had a big, warm fire going. Bill was hurting; in particular, his feet and glutes. The constant wet feet from water crossings and rain, plus the uneven surfaces of the trails from ATV tire ruts, the cut and blisters, and just plain wear & tear from 108 miles of being on them was giving Bill uncharacteristic amount of foot pain. It didn’t do any good to change into dry socks and shoes because more water crossings were ahead. We all sat awhile by the fire with the runners that Bill had been spending a lot of time around: Kent “Bull” Dozier, Will Fortin, and Kent Ryhorchuk. We enjoyed getting to know a little bit about them and also getting to know Kent R.’s crew – his wife and daughter. Bull made a goal to run the most 200’s in 2015. This race was his 3rd or 4th. Will had just completed his Ph.D. and before starting his job in Louisiana in the fall, he had his car packed with his belongings and was driving around the country, visiting beautiful places, running the 200 Grand Slam, and seeing family and friends. Kent’s wife was mostly trying to entertain their precocious and excited daughter. We always liked seeing them and enjoyed a lot of laughs. Bill fueled up with two burgers, an egg-cheese-avocado-potato burrito, and two cups of coffee.
We also had a little stress / crisis, when we realized that Bill didn’t notice the extra stuff I had put in his drop bag at the previous aid station… So he didn’t charge his GPS watch, didn’t bring the charger with him, didn’t have the extra shoes and I couldn’t get back there to pick any of it up due to road conditions. He gave me his watch and asked me to try to find someone at the next aid station who might have the same kind of watch if we could borrow their charger. I felt horrible. It’s impossible to think of every detail and to fully communicate with unexpected twists and turns in each race. Chalk this up to another lesson learned! Bill left this aid station in 12th place.
The next stop – aid station #8 at mile 121.2 – would be where we’d sleep for the night and it looked like it was going to be the furthest away from the start; it was located literally at the end of the road. We drove up in the dark but even then I could sense that the terrain had changed (from fields and trees to thick forest) and the air was significantly cooler. We passed a trail sign showing the way to Aspen, which when I looked at a map I saw was just on the other side of the mountain peak. There was no road to get there but the runners would be getting very close on foot.
- We fell asleep quickly and all seemed to sleep soundly that night. I woke up as day was breaking and again was amazed by the surroundings that we couldn’t see as we drove in during the dark: the snow capped mountains we’d been seeing far in the distance were just beyond the trees of the aid station! I’m really sad that we didn’t get any pictures of it from the perspective of being “inside” the trees looking up at the snow caps, but this is a picture Bill took after he left:
I saw Michelle, the aid station captain we’d met at the first aid station where we helped set up, coming past our car all bundled up with a winter hat, long pants, and a coat that was stuffed with several layers of clothing underneath. I went out to talk with her, putting on my own winter coat and mittens. Michelle said that it was a really rough night there – when she arrived to set up it was pouring rain and then the night got so cold (we found out later it was around 25 degrees). But she was most concerned about the runners, who had to go through about a mile of water before getting to this aid station. Michelle, an ultra runner herself, said she’s never seen quite a challenge in an ultra and such toughness during a race. Bill later told me that as he, Bull, and Will were getting through that section, they were making a plan for what to do if any of them got hypothermia. From what I saw, Michelle was the perfect person to be stationed at this point in the race. Knowledgeable of the runners’ point of view, extremely caring and kind, smart and organized. She had a roaring fire going and made sure that each runner that came in was quickly ushered to it, taking care that they would not develop hypothermia. She had hot coffee and food at the ready at all times. And she even had little white lights and decorations around the aid station for a morale booster.
I stopped the first crew person I saw – Tiffany Ewing (who had approached us at the start of the race to share her own “Yinzer” background. She’s from Erie, PA and currently living in California), runner Ace Ewing’s wife – to ask if she happened to have a compatible GPS watch charger. And she did! I plugged it in our car and kept it running. Tiffany was getting ready to leave but said she didn’t need the charger any time soon and I could give it to her somewhere down the road.
Bill and Bull came in around 6:00 in the morning and we got him directly to the fire. Bill again sat there for awhile and enjoyed the camaraderie of the others who had just gone through this extreme challenge. They took off their wet socks and shoes and we dried them on the defrost vent of our rental car (I wish this blog had a smell app so you could experience what the car smelled like afterward….), while they changed into drier versions. Bill refueled his body with another egg, cheese, bacon, and avocado burrito. He also had hot chicken broth and a few cups of coffee. After filling his belly and getting warm, Bill decided to go to the sleep tent and sleep for awhile. We had a long drive ahead of us and wanted to check into our hotel and shower before meeting him at the next aid station. Michelle was taking care of waking runners up, so Bill told us to ask her to wake him up at 9:30. We made sure Bill’s water bladder was filled, got him his re-charged GPS watch, and off we went. I really hoped he could actually, finally sleep. He hasn’t been able to sleep more than an hour or so at a 200.
The drive was like walking down memory lane. We passed a lot of the roads where previous aid stations had been, the familiar cattle crossing areas, and our hang out at Taylor Park Trading Post. After passing all that it was an absolutely beautiful drive down the mountain. Lush greenery, wildflowers, and rushing water for miles and miles. We eventually passed the start/finish line as well and were back in familiar surroundings. We stopped and picked up the drop bag that had Bill’s GPS charger in it on the way past. Tiffany Ewing happened to come through while we were there, so I gave her charger back.
Our hotel for the next few days was in the town of Crested Butte. An adorable old town reminiscent of the Wild West, nestled in the mountains that’s booming with fun new shops and a wide variety of restaurants. Mount Crested Butte ski area looms nearby. That’s where our hotel was. Just a gorgeous area that was hard to take our eyes off of or tear ourselves away from. I was excited to finally see it, as a friend had told me to be sure to visit there after she heard we’d be in the Gunnison area.
Unfortunately there was a problem… the hotel didn’t have our reservation. I had booked through one of the hotel-finding websites but the hotel didn’t have record of it. Thank God the staff couldn’t have been more helpful and reassuring. They immediately told me they would work it out and that they would get a room for us. While they were getting the room ready the girls and I went to have lunch and walk around the town a little bit. The room was ready when we got back, and it’s hard to describe how refreshing it is to shower and use a real, private bathroom after living out of the car for two days. Suffice it to say I felt like a new, civilized girl!
We headed to aid station #9 at mile 139.7, which was in a nice, easy location next to a housing development not far from Crested Butte. While waiting, another runner’s wife, Beverly Brower, told us that a sign had been moved about a mile down the road and runners might miss the turn. She tried to make another sign but a car parked there and blocked it. Her husband, John, had already come through and Beverly offered to drive down and be sure Bill knew which way to go. (There’s such a generous team spirit to ultra running and crewing!) She got there just in time. We soon saw Bill, Phil Nimmo (a guy we’ve met at Badwater and Tahoe 200), and Chris Wilde running toward us. It was 2:40 in the afternoon, over 54 hours after the start. They were all tied for 11th place.
Bill said that, as usual and unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to sleep long at the previous aid station. He had another egg & cheese quesadilla and drank some high altitude energy drink I saw at a local store. He took some applesauce and gels for his pack and wanted his water bladder filled with mostly ice and an electrolyte tablet. It was sunny and felt hot.
While Bill was eating, the girls and I told him about our love of cattle crossing encounters. It turns out that Bill and the other runners had those too. He showed me these pictures that he and Chris had taken:
I hadn’t taken any pictures in awhile so when Bill was ready to go I asked him and the girls to pose together. This turned out to be a hilarious, favorite picture. As they lined up, another runner or crew person said something about the mountains in the background and Bill turns to look as if he’s so excited to see mountains and hasn’t seen them in forever, even though he’d been running through them for the past two days!!! So “Bill”… easily distracted and excited!
Masy, Ashley, and Bill “did someone say mountains?” Thompson
The next aid station – #10, mile 154.3 – was a short drive, literally to the other side of a mountain. The runners, though, had to go up and over for about 15 miles. The girls and I went back to downtown Crested Butte for dinner and to get warm clothes, and then we drove to the aid station. I was amazed to see that Dustin Smith was leaving this aid station as we arrived. After getting lost and having 20 extra miles, he hadn’t only stayed in the race but was passing so many others!
Ashley has lots of outdoor skills like her dad, and she helped set up the sleeping tent and start cooking stoves and getting rocks for a fire pit. At some aid stations you can’t see runners approaching due many various reasons such as sharp curves, thick trees, angles or buildings. You don’t see them until they’re a few steps away. But at this stop, we could watch them all coming down the mountain along switchbacks. It started to get to be dusky and the runners looked small at the place they became visible to us, several hundred feet below. Suddenly we saw a guy in the same color shirt and hat that Bill was wearing. He’s running along and stops. He looks up at the mountain he’d been descending…. again like he’s never seen such a thing. He looks like he’s taking pictures. Then he continues on his way. I said, “There’s Bill.” Another runner’s crew member – Chris Wilde’s brother – came over and said they thought that was Chris. He apparently had been wearing the same colors as Bill. I said, “Does Chris stop when he’s this close to aid and take pictures of what he’s been looking at for hours? If not, then we’re thinking it’s Bill.” His brother chuckled and we waited a few minutes and there was Bill.
When we told him we saw him taking pictures, he explained that it was a “really cool rock” that had a hole you could see through. This is the picture:
He looked tired and immediately told me that he needed to sleep but he needed to eat first. He said that although he has “sleep run” in races before and has been sleep deprived countless times, he was scared as he approached the aid station because it was a different feeling altogether. He felt very confused and couldn’t figure out what he was really doing out there. He had two of the quesadillas and some hot chicken broth and then I took Bill to the sleeping tent and he told me that he wanted me to wake him up in three hours. As usual, Bill was awake sooner than that; two hours later he was knocking at the car window saying he was up and wanting to eat and get going. He hadn’t even slept most of that time but just kept trying. We gave him more of the altitude energy drink, two cups of coffee, and more broth. He put on warm clothing and saw another runner, Rick Arikado, leaving and asked him to wait up. They headed out together into the night.
A few runners had to drop from the race at this point due to medical reasons: John Brower, due to a stress fracture (if I’m remembering correctly) and another runner, whose name I didn’t know, due to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is a life-threatening condition. We had been hearing that a few runners were having pneumonia-like symptoms and apparently this guy was coughing blood as he approached this aid station. I was really thankful that Bill had been using his oxygen training machine at home in the previous weeks.
Bill would have two aid station stops during the night at another loop area. There was no crew access at those stops, and the aid station after that was one of the ones that was previously not accessible to crews due to poor road conditions, so I told Bill we would see him next at the finish line. He had about 50 miles to go.
The girls and I went back to our hotel and had a good night’s sleep. When we woke up, Masy checked the trackleaders site for Bill’s location. He had about 30 miles left, and considering he’d already travelled about 175 miles with several thousand feet of elevation gain & loss, we knew there were several hours to go. She also noticed that Avery Collins had already finished & won, during the night. Bill was right about who the winner would be! It would take us about a half hour to drive to the finish line. We had a nice, fresh breakfast at a local Crested Butte restaurant and then headed over. We figured we’d watch other runners finish in the meantime.
When we got to the finish line at Harmel’s, Masy checked trackleaders again. It appeared that Bill’s GPS wasn’t working again. We calculated where he’d probably be based on the last point of contact and the other runners he’d been around. It looked like he’d be getting to the finish in the mid-afternoon. We saw that a runner – Julio Andrade of Mexico – was very close to finishing and we were happy to get to cheer him in. He’d been a crowd favorite; he spoke nearly no English but was always smiling and everyone cheered loudly for Julio when he’d come through aid stations.
After everyone attempted (unsuccessfully) to try to talk with Julio for awhile, Masy checked for Bill’s progress. It was a little unclear because we could see him tracking on the map but his mileage wasn’t updating. Wyatt Yates was there at the finish and said that he’d seen Bill with the same group of guys he’d been with off and on, and they were all around mile 180. So Bill had about a marathon length to go. I asked Wyatt about the road conditions at the mile 189 aid station, thinking maybe we should go there and hang out rather than waiting hours at the finish. Wyatt asked what kind of vehicle we had and when he saw that we had an SUV he said we shouldn’t have any problems. It was dry but bumpy. So we headed out.
On the way we encountered a road crew and sign saying that “Mag Chloride” was being applied to the road. We never heard of such a thing. The flagger guy said that we could pass by slowly but that we should make sure to get the car washed afterward because the chemical causes damage to the paint. I wasn’t sure that was a great idea to put a rental car through. We looked to see if there was another route but didn’t find one, so we went back and asked the flagger where the closest car wash was. He said there was one in Crested Butte, which wouldn’t be any trouble for me to find, so off we went.
The road wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. I just went slowly. We arrived at aid station #13, mile 189, and it was packed with people and a lot happening. Ace Ewing was lying on a mat and his wife, Tiffany, was kneeling over him. Someone told me some runners found Ace hallucinating prior to the aid station, apparently panicking because he thought he was stepping on faces…. (yes, they get really weird hallucinations at these races sometimes!). When Ace got to the aid station he was passing out and it was determined that he was severely dehydrated. They got him stabilized and if I’m remembering correctly, Tiffany took him to the hospital to get an IV. Another runner, Candice Burt, one of the only two female racers and the only one left in the race at that point, had started the race sick and it kept getting worse. She had decided to drop prior and was leaving with her crew. Ilsa was there, and Dustin had passed through not long after we got there. It still makes me shake my head in amazement. Ilsa had a little “excitement” of her own as a piece of the underside of her car was coming off, as it had bottomed out on the road on the way to the aid station.
I was glad we had decided to go there and surprise Bill. First of all, we heard as runners came through that the night had been brutal again, with what they called a “demoralizing” part of the course. It was also very cold, with ice on drop bags and aid station volunteers’ hands shaking as they tried to help runners. Second, the section the runners had to pass through to get to this aid station included miles out in the open through the beating sun and a lot of elevation. They were all traveling very slowly and it was taking them many hours to complete. Third, seeing these very experienced runners struggling and dropping made me more concerned about how Bill fared over night (with probably little to no sleep again) and glad I’d get to see him firsthand.
We ended up spending the day there. Filip Boelen, a runner who had to drop due to severe foot blistering, was playing short-order cook. We chatted with Chris Wilde’s, Kent Ryhorchuk’s, and Philip Wiley’s crews / family members. Phil had become a legend along the course… he had just run the Hardrock 100 mile ultra (a legendary, grueling race in Colorado with almost 68,000 feet of total elevation change) from July 10 – 12 and then drove to this race and started it on July 13! Also while waiting, one of the race volunteers told me a story about an aid station volunteer trying to leave the notorious Pieplant aid station – the one the girls and I “escaped” from when the rain started. Apparently she was leaving in her pickup truck and got stuck. When she got out of her truck to walk back and ask for help, her dog (who was inside) locked the doors. No one could get the doors unlocked so she slept in the bed of her truck. Wyatt came later and apparently when he looked in the window of the truck cab, the dog stepped back onto the car locks and this time unlocked the doors! The guy telling me about this said that he stood in some of the “pot holes” there and they were up to his waist… and this was a tall man! I was and am SO thankful that we got out of there as easily as we did!
Michelle, the volunteer we’d met at two previous aid stations, was here, running up the trail and asking runners what food they’d like, then running back so Filip could have it ready. We all helped the runners – who were all in pairs at this point – when they’d arrive. I had never seen this at an ultra. They were purposefully staying in pairs and helping each other through these intense miles.
I eventually got so antsy that I couldn’t stand around or sit anymore. I had flip flops on but decided I’d walk as far as it was safe on the trail. It was beautiful and peaceful back in the woods. I listened to the water rushing through the stream and the wind rustling through the leaves, and I picked wildflowers. I had been wanting to stop and do that for days… this area is known as the Wildflower Capitol of Colorado. I finally got to gather a colorful bouquet. Eventually it started getting too steep and unfortunately there was no sign of Bill, or even of Michelle, who had headed back up for food orders. I turned back and put my bouquet into some water in my French press, then put it by the aid station for everyone to enjoy.
To my surprise, Michelle appeared as soon as I got back. She said that Bill and Bull were about 15 minutes away. When they limped / zombied in at around 5:00 p.m. they got the royal treatment as all the runners had when they got there. Filip made them some egg-cheese-bacon-avocado quesadillas and then some sandwiches to go. Justine, another volunteer that we’d met a few times along the way, was on foot duty – popping blisters and wrapping Bill & Bull’s feet. Bill looked beyond tired, basically just sort of going through the motions. I was extremely glad that he and Bull were sticking together. Bull told everyone that he was going to give Bill a piggyback ride across the finish line. (He later realized he couldn’t do that because runners weren’t allowed any assistance).
The sun was getting below the trees by this time and it was starting to feel chilly. Bill & Bull weren’t in any hurry to get back on their feet and were taking their time. We knew they were going to finish into the wee hours of the morning and as exhausted as they were they needed to get going. We encouraged them to move along… They finally got out of there a little after 6 p.m., almost exactly 82 hours after starting the race.
We made our way back through the pocked up roads and went back to Crested Butte, to get the car washed, change into warmer clothing, and have dinner. The car wash even had a Mag Chloride setting, so I figured it should do the trick and pass the rental car agency’s inspection. The girls and I ate at a Nepali/Tibetan/Indian restaurant that seemed to be run by a super cool mom who was native to one of those countries, and her teen son, whom the mother kept in line quite unashamedly and efficiently… I wanted to take a selfie with her but I chickened out.
Back to the race!
We got over to Harmel’s and a lot of the finishers and their crews were hanging out in the bar by the finish line. We joined them and had a great time sharing memories of the experience. I bought local beers for Bill & Bull, so happy that this was such a festive atmosphere for their finish and that this many people were staying up late to greet them. What a wonderful reward for such a hard fought challenge! (Bull later told me he doesn’t drink, and unfortunately the bar was closed so I couldn’t get him an alternative).
Soon enough Wyatt said that Bill & Bull were within a half mile of the finish. Everyone poured out of the bar, starting to cheer before we could really even see them. I was clanging the beer bottles together, hoping Bill would realize what was waiting for him. Bill and Bull came to the finish line together. They had agreed they’d run backwards across:
Official finish: 12:42 a.m. on July 17, 2015, tied for 10th place.
We all hung out for awhile longer, enjoying their stories. They definitely seemed to bond more at this race than I’d ever seen at an ultra. Finally when everyone was getting really sleepy it was time to break up the party. The guys that were left wanted a picture together:
Bill “very tired looking eyes” Thompson, Chris Wilde, Will Fortin, Bull Dozier
And that was a wrap on the Colorado 200!
An important reminder is that Bill dedicated this summer’s 200 mile races to his niece, Jess, who at 27 years old has been through breast cancer treatment and is in the process of reconstruction. In the process she’s got sky high medical bills. Please read her story and consider a donation to her fundraiser!