24 Hours of Frisco
By John A. Dodds
Okay, it was only 20 hours of Frisco, but there's no rule that said you had to actually run the entire 24 hours. Since I said I would never run a 24-hour race, let me tell you how I decided on this run. For this, we have to go back a year to Montgomery, Alabama.
Why a 24-Hour Run? Last October I attended a week-long course at The Air Force Judge Advocate General's School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL. While half-dozing in the waiting room at the airport for the flight home, I abruptly came to full consciousness when they asked for volunteers to give up their seats. I knocked over a little old lady and a small child while racing to the counter. It was worth it - I now had a free round-trip ticket on US Airways. Although I had no place to go, that didn't seem to matter at the time.
A couple months ago, I discovered that my free ticket was going to expire in October. I checked out a trail running calendar and found a 24-hour trail run in Frisco, CO on October 2-3. I knew Frisco well: (1) I ate at the A&W Root Beer place there in 1989, and (2) Kerry owns a house there. Other than that, I knew it was at about 9,100 feet above sea level. I also knew several people in the VHTRC who had stayed at Kerry's house, and after a quick call to Kerry, I was going to be one more.
The Course. Unfortunately, the course was what we call "at altitude." At Bighorn in June, I had a miserable time "at altitude." When I got back from Wyoming, the doctor here said I had acute mountain sickness rather than HAPE. At the time, I thought it was an allergy. Whatever it was, I could not breathe for the last 14 hours of that event, which meant a lot of walking, I mean a LOT of walking. During the run, a doctor did examine me at 27 hours into the run and, unfortunately, he said I could continue. Bighorn is at a pretty good elevation: starts and finishes at 4,000' and goes up to 8-9,000' three times. Frisco would be different because it would be above 9,000' the entire time. Needless to say, I was a tad nervous.
The course was almost a 5-mile loop at the Nordic Center, which is located on a peninsula that juts out into Dillon Lake. As I said before, I thought I would never run a 24-hour race with loops. At least it wasn't around a quarter-mile track. Actually, it was very scenic, and for some odd reason, I never got bored running these loops. My plan was to run slow and enjoy myself. I wanted it to be more like our Grand Canyon run two weeks before than like a formal race. Actually, I had no choice but to run slow because it was at 9,000 feet. I had no goals as to how far a distance I wanted to cover in 24 hours. Que sera sera.
Logistics. Frankly, it wasn't the best supported run. It wasn't clear to me from the web site just what was going to be provided for us runners. I called the RD who said there would be soup at night and that I should think "mountain biking." Since I've never been mountain biking, I didn't know what that meant. It wasn't real clear what we would have during the day. As it turned out, they did have water, a sports drink, and Power bars. And that's yet. In any event, I had planned on being self-supporting out of the trunk of my rental KIA Rio. The course went through the parking lot where I had my car, so it was very easy to stop there at the end of each loop. I had bottles of Gatorade and water, GU, bananas, a sub from Subway (I asked the person at the store to cut the sub into fourths and to wrap each fourth individually), chips, Sunbelt bars, and Paydays.
I had arrived in Frisco on Wednesday because I wanted time to deal with any altitude issues (headache, bloody nose, etc.) and to do some light exercise, like riding a bike and going on some short runs. It rained Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which curtailed my activities somewhat. On Friday, I checked out the Nordic Center and there I met Laura, one of Kerry's neighbors. She and her friend Erin were going to run as a 2-person team. Laura had another friend who was going to set up a camper in the parking lot; she said if I needed help during the run to call on them. I arranged with her to park my car next to the camper just in case.
On Friday, I did run a small part of the course. Laura told me that two women were out marking the course and for me to follow the blue flags. I did that and caught up to the 2 women. They told me that they were instead marking the course for the high school cross country meet and that I needed to follow the white ribbons with the orange polka dots. They took me to where those began, and I ran for a little while before they gave out. By then it was raining, so I quit. With 45-minutes of high-altitude running under my belt, I was now ready for the big event the next day.
While the Nordic center was basically deserted during the week, on race day it was packed with people attending kids' soccer games and the cross country meet (19 high school teams). As it turned out, our course was marked very well with yellow police tape and big black arrows (sort of like a 5-mile crime scene). There were some white ribbons with orange polka dots but there weren't many of them, and they were only about 8" long - very hard to see. The race started at 10:30 a.m. and by 3 p.m., most of the crowds had disappeared.
The Race. There was no pasta dinner put on by the race organizers. So, the night before, Kerry, her friend Tim, and I ate at what Kerry called "the Mexican dive in the strip mall." Actually, she was kidding as it was a great place to eat. There is no better dinner before an ultra than a big Mexican dinner. Afficionados of The Ring and MMT can attest to that.
It was a great day, weather-wise, on Saturday. Clear skies and no rain in sight. Luckily, it did not rain at all during the race. I brought about 5 changes of clothes to deal with the rain. Out there, it can rain several times a day, and with temperatures in the 50s (at night projected to be 32 degrees), I thought I'd want to change clothes whenever it rained. Despite the overnight forecast, I got a reading of 25 degrees on my thermometer.
It took a little while to pick a pace that I could run comfortably at. And still that meant breathing heavy. Sometimes, you felt pretty good and wanted to pick up the pace. That would last about a minute before your lungs were telling you that that was not a good idea.
Frankly, I thought I did very well for about the first 12 hours. My stomach started to bother me a little bit. I could eat; I just didn't want to eat what I had. After it got dark (about 7:30 p.m.) and started getting cooler, I wanted soup. However, soup was only available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Many people stayed in tents set up around what is called the log house which served as race headquarters and the only aid station. It was heated and had bathrooms. My first soup stop was just before 11 p.m. I took my time and when I went back out on the course, I was freezing. Mainly because the temperature was below 32 degrees. My shoulders were shaking, and my teeth were chattering. You wanted to run fast to bring your body temperature back up, but your lungs wouldn't allow you to run that fast. So, you plugged along and slowly your body temperature came back up. Same thing happened the next time I came around and stopped for soup. Part of the problem was spending too much time in the log house, but this run was supposed to be fun, and I wasn't in any real hurry.
Intermission. With my slight stomach problem and the temperature getting pretty cold, I was running slower, which made me even colder. I had plenty of warm clothes, so that wasn't a problem. About 3 a.m., I had pretty much decided I would take a break. When I came into the parking lot, I saw Laura. She and Erin had just made an exchange, and Erin was going to run 3 loops. Laura was going to sleep until about 7:30. I asked her if I could sleep in the camper until about 5, and she said yes. When we woke up at 5, it was freezing in the camper. The propane tank had run out. We tried to call the camper's owner, but the cell phones were frozen. Laura walked down to the log house and made the call; he showed up in minutes with a new tank. I decided that it was still too cold to run; we got back to bed at 6:15 and got up at 7:15. I went to the log house to check in, saying "I'm baaaack!" It was a great morning to run. I could have run for quite a while; it's amazing what a 4-hour break will do for you.
The rules as to when the race was over were a little complicated. If you came back to the log house before 9:30 a.m., you had to go out again even if that meant you finished after 10:30. If you came back to the log house after 9:30 a.m., you could decide to quit and you would get credit for a finish. You could continue after 9:30 but you had to finish by 11:30. Under the latter rule, I probably could have done another loop. But I had had enough fun and finished in 23:32 at 10:02.
Blue Invasion. Kerry came out for the weekend, and I was hoping that she would be part of Team Shenandoah (even solo runners had to have a team name). But she decided she would continue to be plagued by her plantar problem, so she begged off. But next year is going to be a different story. We are already talking about having a team(s). If you would like to be a candidate, you are going to have to start sucking up to Kerry - the Potomac Heritage Trail Run would be a good place to start.
Finally. Frisco is a great place to have a vacation at any time of the year. It is in Summit County with free shuttle buses to about anywhere. There are at least 4 prime ski areas nearby (Arapaho Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mt., and Keystone), not counting the Nordic Center. Dillon Lake offers sailing and kayaking. There are muchos miles of paved and unpaved bike trails - you can even ride your bike to Vail. Not to mention all the hiking (while out there Tim ran/hiked up 2 fourteeners). There are too many restaurants to choose from and all kinds of shops.
[This is for Gary:] On the day we left, Kerry and I ate breakfast at a restaurant called the Log Cabin. When we walked out to the car, there was a layer of frost on the windshield. There being no ice scraper, I pulled out my CVS phone card that Gary made me buy for our Grand Canyon adventure. In getting ready for that run, Gary constantly badgered us about getting a phone card since who knows what might happen to us during the run. I'm finally glad I got some use out of that card. One day I might even make a call or two on it as it still has its original 111 minutes.
I'd tell you how nice Kerry's house is, but then everybody and their ultrarunner brother (or sister) will want to stay there. So, you'll just have to use your imagination. I did take one picture of the view from the kitchen table. There seems to be a custom of buying a house gift for Kerry as a way of saying thank you. And I was no exception. If you are ever out there, take a look at the magnet on the microwave: it has a picture of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with the saying "Happy Trails!" A little home away from home.