About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kendall Mountain Run

Have you ever gotten one of those terrible summer colds where you can’t breathe and you generally feel miserable? How about five days before you have to run a marathon —a run that ascends a 13,000 foot mountain? Twice! Well that is how my week is going.

To cure myself of this awful crud, I ate some spicy Tai food in Durango, Colorado several nights ago and then, the following day, soaked in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. The indigenous people of this area have believed in the healing powers of these mineral waters for centuries. 

Wishing I had just a few more days to get well, I arrive in Silverton, CO with my loyal crew, Cara and little Maddie, who happens upon a raven tail feather on the ground. She gives it to her “Da-da” for good luck which he promptly sticks in his cap knowing that today, he will need all the luck he can get.

About 150 runners line up for the start in this little mining town nestled in the San Juan Mountains. Most will run the 13 mile single climb and descent, but about a dozen of us signed up for the 26 mile double ascent. Dumb! After the gun goes off, we cruise easily through the flat main street and then turn toward a dirt road that leads to Kendall Mountain. In less than a mile we start the arduous climb. I try to run as much as possible at first, but then must settle for a fast walk.

I pass a few people and then recognize some camping neighbors that we met several days ago. They just happened upon the race while on vacation and signed up yesterday on a whim. I enjoy some conversation with this couple from Missouri in between huffing and puffing up the hill.

The weather is refreshingly cool and we are shaded by the slope of the mountain as we run through a beautiful pine forest. Soon I hear the relaxing sound of a stream down below. The pack has thinned out and I’m mostly running alone now. I keep moving at all costs and only stop to fill my water bottle at every other aid station. 

I hit my flask of chia seed and gel mixture which interrupts my breathing. I desperately  gasp for air, but keep the pace. If I’m going to finish before the cut-off, I can’t stop even for a drink. The road becomes very steep in places and then switch backs higher and higher.

Soon we are above tree line and I’m reminded of a hiking trip I did in the Swiss Alps years ago. Lush deep green meadows blanket the rocky slopes and I can hear the tell tale “baa” of sheep grazing above us. I’m enjoying the dramatic scenery when suddenly I hear someone scream, “ROCK!” The sound of a loose projectile tumbling down the mountain fills the air.
Our campground was on that lake.
Either the sheep are giving us a subtle hint that we should get out of their space or the front-runners are trying to limit their competition. At any rate, it’s best to just keep moving because we are almost to the top. Unfortunately, a 250 foot scramble awaits us. When I come within sight of the peak, I see what appears to be a trail of ants wearing neon bright colors leading the way to the top of their mound.
The "ant mound"

This is the most ridiculous part of the “run” and requires the use of all your appendages to gain the summit. As I start my climb, many runners are descending and one dude seems to be leap frogging down the side of the cliff to make better time. One hand and foot in front of the other and I slowly make some progress. My heart is jumping out of my chest; a good excuse to take some photos.

Just when I think I’m on top, the route dips down over a saddle and keeps climbing up a craggy face. Finally, at 13,066 ft elevation —the summit! I look at my watch and almost two hours have passed. I snap some pictures and take in the view, but then get a move on.

The climb down is equally as taxing and staying upright is difficult. Sliding down the loose scree, letting gravity do the work, seems the easiest way at times. After getting back on terra firma, I can actually begin running. I hope to make up some time on the way down so I just go with the flow.

Pretty soon I can feel my leg muscles tightening; some I’ve never felt before. The quick descent to lower elevation clogs my ears making me dizzy. When I get to the bottom, I hit the flat part and have to walk to catch my breath. My legs feel like rubber, my head is swimmy, all my energy is zapped and now I’m supposed to do it all over again. 

Thoughts of dropping out are creeping into my mind. Wouldn’t it be nice to just spend the rest of the morning watching the steam trains in Silverton with Cara and Madeleine. “Chooooo-choooooo!” Then I remember the raven feather tucked in my cap and I run my hand over it. Certainly it has magical powers that will get me back up the mountain.
We rode that train a few days ago.
My loyal crew is waiting for me with another flask of gel and chia seeds when I arrive in 3:09. We visit with our camping neighbors and congratulate them for a fine finish and then I am on my way back up the mountain. I start with a slow jog and catch up to a runner from Phoenix whose company is helpful and reassuring. 
Silverton, Colorado
My pace is very slow which concerns me, but I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. My goal is to finish no matter how long it takes. I eventually settle into a groove and time seems to pass quickly. Soon I’m past the first aid station and then the second. The skies start to darken, a few raindrops fall and several runners pass me. I now realize that I’m in last place, but this doesn’t affect my spirits. I labor up the hill as the weather changes minute by minute and suddenly, I see a bright flash and, a few seconds later, hear the sound of thunder. 
I took this one in the morning. I didn't take my camera on the second trip up.
By this time, I’m nearing the top of the mountain and think to myself, where is the last place you want to be in an electrical storm? I start to wonder if the race staff will cut me off before I can make the scramble to the top. I can see a wicked storm brewing on the next peak over so I run my fingers through the raven feather for inspiration. Even so, at times, I must stop to let my heart catch up. I keep legging my way up as fast as possible sometimes stopping for four or five breaths. After much toiling, I reach the last aid station beating the storm in time to start the scramble. 
As I scale the precipice, I’m greeted by several fellow runners who are on their way back down. I climb fast, but am forced to stop for a few short breathing breaks. Finally, I’m back on top of the summit with several photographers and a timing official who checks me in. “I think I’m the last one.”, I say “Is there a special award for being DFL?” “Yes”, he replies. “You get to carry these water jugs back down.” Ha!
This shot was also taken in the morning. The sky was dark and scary the second time.
Well, it’s literally all down hill from here. Once off the technical part, I run as fast as possible. My feet are screaming in pain with hotspots on the balls of my feet and big toes. Eventually I catch three runners and give them a hard time for letting the “old guy” pass them. I’m sure to pay for this later, but it feels good to not be in last place for now. At times I try to slow my pace to save some steam for the end, but fighting gravity is impossible on this steep descent.

One runner catches me and we chat for a while, but I can’t keep up with him. When I reach the bottom, I have a good lead on the last two, but I’m getting hot and feel like I may puke. It’s very sultry down here in all this thick moist air, so I’m forced to start walking again. Intermittent bouts of running and walking get me to within a half mile of the finish, but a young lady passes me. As hard as I try, I can’t catch her and then, in the last 100 yards, the last runner overtakes me. 
My magical raven feather.
I proudly cross the finish line in 7 hours 9 minutes, in 9th place, last place, the oldest (but best looking) finisher. I directly collapse in a shady patch of cool green grass, run my fingers across the raven plume and thank Maddie for the find and, of course, Cara for all her support.

The last four finishers, including myself, were all within a minute of each other making for an extremely fun and exciting end to the day. One time to the top of Kendall mountain and back is plenty of amusement for anyone, but if you are feeling up to the task, take the “K2” double challenge! 

See you on the trail.

The view from Molas Lake Campground.


  1. Tough race! Congrats on finishing!

  2. Great post, Greg! A fun read :) Congrats on finishing!

  3. Thanks everyone for your loyal support.

  4. Wow. I did the half last year and I was in awe of the runners who were able to turn around and do it again. Well done. You didn't finish last, you ran farther than the 142 wimps who only did the half! Here's my recap: http://mungerruns.blogspot.com/2012/07/race-recap-kendall-mountain-run.html

  5. Thanks for reading, Dave. This was the hardest course I've finished. Like you, my first marathon was Richmond (my hometown). Good luck at Grandfather Mt Marathon!