The Never Summer 100k was an absolutely incredible experience that I will never forget! I feel like any account of the day will be woefully inadequate to describe how unbelievable the race was. To start with, simply referring to the Never Summer as a ‘race’ would be an injustice to the magnificent adventure it was for me. With this disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to try to piece together the craziness and beauty of the day. It was a tremendous accomplishment for me that I’ll always be very proud of and I want to capture as many details as possible in this recap. Some of this write-up isn’t directly about the race, so sorry if that’s all you’re looking for.
Starts and Beginnings:
As I reflect on the day, I realize the proper place to begin is not the starting line. In fact, the real beginning was some twenty years ago when my Dad took me up my first two 14ers! I’ll always remember that journey from the Chihuahua Gulch Trailhead in Montezuma up to the top of Grays and Torreys. The view from the top was amazing and it was a big accomplishment for me at the time. My favorite part of that day was being chased off the mountain by a heavy rainstorm in search of cover. We hastily ran until we spotted an old cabin to relax in. All of the details are in my old 14ers log that my parents got me for Christmas that year. Sadly, I stopped documenting the details of my climbs in my log as time went along, but my passion for the mountains never ceased.
Over the following 13 years, I went on to climb all of the Colorado 14ers with my Dad! I was very lucky to go on many great camping trips with my family and we were joined by other family members on our quest as well. A bit choppy to throw this in, but I’d be quite remiss if I didn’t include that I have been unbelievably lucky to go on many amazing journeys with my family all over the world as well. My grandparents, parents, and family have truly helped foster my sense of wonder and adventure, which is something I will be forever thankful for! I love you guys!
Segue back to the mountains and 14ers with me…I was able to experience the joy and beauty of the mountains and learned a tremendous amount (not just about climbing mountains of course). I loved every climb culminating with our hike up Pike’s Peak on September 10th, 2011! I have continued to climb mountains with my Dad, my Mom, and friends and still love it! I don’t know if I’ve heard this before or if it is a Matt original, but I firmly believe that “the end of one great adventure only means it is time for a new one to begin.”
Don’t worry; I’ll spare you a complete rundown of the growth of my love of running. Let’s just say I’ve run a bunch of road marathons and races over the past several years and have loved sharing those experiences with my friends and family. Late last year I decided that 2016 would be the year I merged my love of running and mountains into one and I signed up for the Never Summer 100k!
Here We Go!
…And so begins my story of the adventure that was the Never Summer 100k. I’m tempted to pull out the carpet again and say the day really began with a ton of hard work and training, but I’d much rather share the day. I can assure you that today would have never have happened without all of the work I put into this though. Long runs, weight training, early mornings, and never quitting.
So, what is the Never Summer 100k? For starters it is a mountainous trail race spanning some 64.2 miles and ascending around 14,000ft! Gnar Runners who put on this tremendous race have a good/professional description, so I’ll just direct you there and give my own description as we go…http://gnarrunners.com/never-summer-100k/
Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 4:10am:
I wake up and realize I didn’t even hear my alarm go off over our ridiculously loud hotel A/C unit. Luckily, my friend Allen whom I was sharing a room with woke up, so I actually made it to the race on time! Call it taper madness, a reality check, or just the natural way to feel, but I was very nervous on race day morning (and the weeks leading up to the race). I knew I had trained hard, but I had never even run further than 30 miles in my life before so I really didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think I’ll feel much different next time…if there is a next time.
5:30am- Mile 0.0:
I stood in the starting area just trying not to think about how long the day would be. I told myself not to go out too fast and to just keep moving! I repeated a few phrases/mantras in my mind: 1) Small victories, no defeats! 2) Keep calm and keep moving! 3) Get the hell out of the aid station! (I also put these phrases in my three dropbags for later in the race in case I needed to see them).
“30 seconds!” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared or nervous, but I was not psyched out like I was when I ran my first marathon. As I started my first several road marathons, I vividly remember thinking, “Oh my God…I can’t believe how far I’m about to run!” (Ok, so this is the family friendly version of what I was thinking!). One explanation of the difference is that I felt very well trained and prepared for the Never Summer, which was true. Another explanation is that I was just dialed in mentally and somehow found a really positive mentality for the day; also the case. However, I think the real reason was that I knew I wouldn’t know if I could do it until many hours later. I was confident from training that I could make it a great distance and still have more in the tank, but today I would have to take that to a whole new level!
And just like that, we’re off! A relatively fast first few miles with some actual running to get things started off. I kept telling myself prior to the race not to worry about hiking or how slow I was going and to just keep moving! However, it was super helpful to get two “quick” miles in early for me. It turned out to be very short lived as the dirt roads steepened and we began our climb up Seven Utes Mountain (11,453′). It was a steep climb but the first reward was this incredible view: Upon summiting Seven Utes, I knew today was going to be a special day. I found myself surrounded by gorgeous mountains and it was very clear that this course would be every bit as challenging and rugged as advertised.
Mile ?.?, ??:??:
The rest of the day is somewhat of a blur; a long, slow grinding blur. Rather than try to piece together a mile by mile account, let me just tell you what I remember in roughly chronological order! I’d rather do that than review my GPS and course maps to give you specifics. I think this style will capture my day better.
Tickle Me Elmo:
The course continued to slice across high mountain terrain up toward the stunning Nokhu Crags! Lake Agnes was the first of at least five gorgeous alpine lakes to admire on the day.
The trail switched to overturned rocks as we began a little descent. Many spectators had hiked up to this beautiful point and that provided a really nice boost! Having random people cheer for you in the remoteness of the mountains was a new experience. People don’t just clap and yell for you when you’re climbing a 14er. Here is a picture of me running this stretch:
(Photo from Erin Bibeau Photography)
As we exited the cheers, one of the spectators was holding up a big red Tickle Me Elmo stuffed animal. It gave me a good laugh and I reached out to tickle Elmo for good luck. I think at that point I realized how much joy I was running/hiking with on the day! Of course I had ups and downs, but it may be the most positive and focused I’ve ever been at a race. I can guarantee you that my attitude served me incredibly well as the race went along!
Rough In the Diamond:
I was probably looking at my GPS watch a little too much early in the race, but luckily I was cruising right along and exceeding my optimistic pace goal early on. I had no clue what pace to expect going in, but I thought a 15min/mile pace was probably around the fastest I could achieve if things went incredibly well. Doing math and running at the same time can be a challenge for me, but figuring out 4MPH on the fly was easy. I checked every four miles and found that I was well ahead of the 4MPH pace, which felt good. I still ran the whole race by feel, but on a different day getting wrapped up in the GPS could’ve been a negative influence.
I was making great time and having an awesome time as we ran past more spectators right before mile 18. It was a cool surprise to see a few friends in the group as well! I was pretty pumped and promptly left the Mile 18 aid station. None of the food appealed to me yet and I had been eating energy bars, etc. already, but I grabbed several things in my big Ziploc and left. I tried to eat a PBJ sandwich and I felt like I was chewing it for about two miles; the bread was just too much effort for some reason. I learned a few things about eating during the race and was glad that I was able to adapt on the fly. For example, later in the race they had PBJ in tortillas which were infinitely easier for me to eat quickly. Nutella in tortillas was also a winner. All experienced trail runners kept telling me that nutrition in races is sort of a personalized thing and that it varies by person, so I’m glad I figured it out for the most part. One big addition that I made late in training was mixing in Tailwind powder with my water; 200 easy, quality calories per 20oz. bottle.
One of the reasons I was trying to stock up on food was because the relentless climb up Diamond Peak (11,850′- the high point on the course) was coming up. As we left the aid station at mile 18 and headed toward Diamond Peak, a fellow runner told me, “Now it’s about to get real!” I know what he meant, but I think it’d be much more appropriate to describe what came next as “unreal”! I looked up at the top of the grassy slope from the trees below and could only laugh when I saw people marching up the hill. On a side note, awesome job to those runners already way up there! From the first glimpse forward, I tried to look up as little as possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the first glimpse, but a quick look at the race elevation profile and this next picture will illustrate!:
As I slowly followed the pink flagging up the hill, my heart rate was rocketing up. One good piece of advice I got pre-race was to not allow my heart rate to get out of control early, so I didn’t push too hard. It was pretty easy to convince myself not to push up this beast of a hill too fast as well :)! I laughed at the hill and the word nonsense was firmly in my mind. My pace may have been dramatically slower for a couple miles, but the views were worthy of measured admiration:
As I reached the top, I was informed that I was in 64th place! I laughed and said, “Ok, great.” I knew I was doing well and making great time, but it cracked me up to talk about places when I was probably only done with 33% of the miles and 50% of the vertical gain. Also, my day was never about places; it was just about making it through the course as quickly as I could. After leisurely enjoying the amazing views on the way up and a few brief gazes on the summit, I was ready to pick up the pace again!
As was the case for a lot of the day, the downhill was fairly technical and required quick feet and an angular approach (running straight down seemed like a faceplant waiting to happen). On the way down, I was pretty confident and borderline reckless; and a funny thing happened as I passed several people. ‘Ok, 63rd, 62nd, 61st,’; in a weird microcosm, my competitiveness motivated me. I know for a fact that many of these people passed me right back on the next climb and there is so much back and forth in trail races, that it is amusing for me to think back on. I uttered and heard things like, “Great work!”, “Awesome climb!”, and “Keep it up!” an astronomical number of times and I loved it. This has definitely been one of my favorite things about all the tough trail races I’ve done this year. I love the positive energy in the air and sharing the struggle and triumph with other racers is awesome. I’ve certainly experienced this in road marathons and other running races over the years, but I felt uniquely united with the other runners. Before I move on, check out this rad ridge we ran over to Montgomery Pass!
A Moment of pre-Clear Lake Clarity:
I apologize if the pace of my account is too slow, but just like the race; I assure you I’m getting through this as quickly as I can. The next stretch was perhaps the most challenging of the day for me. As I reached mile 26.2, all I thought was one down, one and a half more to go. Around this time, I made the mistake of sitting down on a rock to get a rock out of my shoe. My hip flexors frantically twitched and it was a bit of a shock to my system. I was relieved to hop up promptly and I vowed to make sure I didn’t sit again until I was done. It was a little bit frightening to have so far to go and have this moment of intense pain.
Three miles later, I was at the Ruby Jewel aid station (mile 29.4) and I had shaken off any doubt about my physical condition to make it to the finish. In fact, just after I left the aid station, I got pretty emotional. I looked at my overall time and briefly assessed how I felt and I was suddenly hit with a wave of relief, excitement, and other emotions I can’t quite describe or understand. It was probably too early in this massive race to think such thoughts, but I think this was the first point I actually knew I would finish! Realistically, I knew a lot could have gone wrong from that point forward, but any doubts I had of reaching the finish transformed into belief for me from that point forward. It was a beautiful moment and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Funny thing about the Never Summer 100k course is that the moment you relax or feel good, you get smacked in the face with another climb. I found myself in the middle of the longest aid station gap of the day(~10miles) to the Clear Lake aid station and I started to struggle a little more. The climb to Kelly Lake was difficult and quite draining for me. It was getting a little hot and I was running low on cold water. I had water in my pack bladder, but it was pretty hot and provided minimal comfort. From my prior experience, I know that getting dehydrated is a fantastic way to ruin a great day. Thankfully, I sighted Kelly Lake just in time:
It was a big boost to finally see such tangible progress. And, it was a much bigger shot in the arm to find a volunteer with cold water in the middle of this stretch! It was an awesome surprise and it helped get me back on the right track. Thank you to all the tremendous volunteers and race workers! It is sort of a humbling thing to have so many strangers take care of you and take interest in your pursuit of a personal goal. Seriously, what an amazing group of people; I hope everyone had a great time out there!
Slightly rejuvenated from the cold water, I started to feel better and was able to pick up the pace again. Oh yeah, also a little bit of downhill may have helped! I was showing signs of life once again and I realized that I was well over 30 miles into my day! I had never gone further than 30.0 miles in my life, so it was pretty cool to think about this. Also, I knew my friend Allen would be there to run with me soon at mile 39.4. In fact, there he was just down the road! We were still about a mile from the aid station, but I knew I was almost done with this rough 10 mile stretch.
Cloudy & Clear Lake:
I had a dropbag at the Clear Lake aid, which allowed me to change into dry socks! I reloaded on food, Tailwind, and much needed water! The race did a wonderful job of getting food and water to even the more remote locations, which let me focus on the task at hand. The race organization was top-notch! Overall, I was pretty quick out of the aid stations all day and soon we were off on yet another climb up.
I told Allen I was going to take it pretty slow since I was falling behind on hydration and needed to get some food, but we hiked at a perfectly reasonable speed. It was a surprisingly tough climb compared to what I expected, but what else was new! It was awesome having a good friend to talk to and help keep me going. After struggling a little on the previous section, it was a relief to make it to my pacers! It was a longish two miles up to Clear Lake, but yet another beautiful alpine lake greeted us:
My climbing legs were starting to feel pretty beat down, but luckily my downhill legs still had some juice. It was another fairly rocky downhill, but I found my feet remained relatively quick. I drank 40oz. of water on this out and back stretch knowing that we’d be right back at the Clear Lake aid. I was probably slightly dehydrated for the rest of the day, but I got back on the right side of that fine line!
I don’t remember a lot of the next few sections. The course remained gorgeous and I still felt alright in the grand scheme of things. However, I found that stringing together more than a few words was a challenge. I wasn’t out of breathe, but it just took so much energy to talk. At that point everything took more energy! I was pretty much done running anything remotely uphill at this point. I was good to go on downhills and even able to run at an okay pace. As Allen pointed out, the flat segments were “discretionary” at that point for me. Some of the flat parts started to feel or look like hills. Allen or Scott (my second pacer later in the racer) may have a different impression, but I was still pretty upbeat overall. If nothing else, I can honestly say that I remained super focused the entire day. I never questioned why I was out there. I just wanted to get to the finish!
While we joked about discretionary flats, the course never seemed to be especially flat. In fact, it seemed to be all uphill! In reality, there were of course some good downhills but the climbs just seemed to go on and on. My course sheet says it was 6.2miles, 650ft. of gain and 1300ft. of loss to the Canadian aid station, but it felt like at least the reverse of that. It was great to finally see more familiar faces at the Canadian aid station (mile 50ish). Our friends Meaghan and Kyle were hanging out there to cheer us and others on. They snapped a few “action” shots as well:
After a few more PBJ tortillas, watermelon, a few small cups of Coke, fresh water, and God knows what else; we were ready to get out of there. I knew I was getting close!!
Into the Sunset
It was getting late in the day and the sun was descending. After spending so many hours in the sun, I was alright with it going away! Thanks for a beautiful day sun, but I was a little hot by that time. I had been running/hiking for over 13 hours by the time we left the Canadian aid station! 13 hours! I had been on some gigantic days hiking with my Dad over the years, but I’m fairly sure that was a new record for me already. The day we climbed the Maroon Bells and got caught in the fog at the top definitely comes to mind! Also, I did some very long training runs, but even my longest training run of 30 miles was only about half this amount of time. I embarrassingly got lost and off-trail in the Lost Creek Wilderness on a long training run which was a bit of a mess, but even that wasn’t anything close to this. And yet, I still had 14 or 15 more miles to go!
Allen and I had been running for many hours and the Bockman aid station was listed as being at mile 55.8, so we were closing in on it! Our friend Scott would be there waiting to help me finish out this wild day. We both wanted to get there as quickly as possible and I was getting more and more excited. Unfortunately, my climbing legs did not share my enthusiasm. I don’t know if they were particularly menacing pitches if we were fresh, but it was another relentless climb at that point.
One funny moment I do remember from this stretch was when we were hopping over yet another down tree. Allen pointed out a huge pile of cow dung on top of an especially large downed tree. It’s okay if this story isn’t making you laugh at all, it provided a nice, brief distraction at the time. In retrospect, I’m not even sure why it was so funny at time. We debated how it got there and the athleticism of the cow. As most runners I know would agree, you get into some pretty strange conversations out on the trails and roads. Maybe it is all of the time you’re spending out there together or maybe most runners are just a little crazy.
I just kept moving as best I could and tried to accept Allen’s challenges to run to the next piece of pink flagging or just to the bottom of that next uphill. Also, I tried to create my own challenges. One time I picked a tree that we got to in about five seconds and I cursed that I wasn’t ready as we started to run. Next time I picked a tree up a little further ahead! I was glad that I could still laugh at myself and joke around despite being so tired.
Finally, we started to turn downhill and toward Bockman and we got there when it was probably around 8:30pm. It was awesome to see my friends Scott and Bekah with their dog Atticus. I’d been moving more or less nonstop since 5:30am, so I was ready to stop…but not until I finished the job!
My final dropbag was at Bockman and I debated which clothes to wear. I decided that I was pretty much done eating any more food at the point, which was okay because at that point I could taste the finish! So, I swapped my Zags baseball cap for my Run Through Time Marathon winter hat and put on a light, but warm jacket. With the sun going down we knew it was going to be a little cool. We also knew it was going to be dark in a few miles, so on went the headlamps.
Allen did an awesome job pacing me and keeping me going! Thanks man! Bekah and Allen cheered us off and snapped a few pictures:
Oops, upon further review the ruling on the course is overturned! There is indisputable visual evidence that my mouth is stuffed with food. 1st and…nevermind. I stopped eating shortly after this though. For as much as the day was a blur, I remained very present and dialed in all day. I was and am very surprised how vividly I remember many things about it and it was incredible. Right, but we’re not done yet.
A few more miles and we flipped on the headlamps. It got cold very quickly and I could even see my breath at one point. Scott had some fresh stories to tell of his day which helped distract me. By that point, I didn’t even know what to say. As the length of this recap indicates, it was such a massive day that I couldn’t begin to explain it. I did find that I was a little more able to connect words and talk again, but it still took energy. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember cracking up and cracking a few jokes myself. At one point Scott turned off his second flashlight and asked me if I needed it on. I replied, “No, I don’t need to see anymore of this. I just need this to be over with.”
I don’t know why I was surprised, but I found these final miles to have much more uphill than expected. It was sort of frustrating to be so close to the finish line and have no answer for the questioning slopes in the darkness. However, we were hiking at a very good pace and Scott assured me that we were doing just fine. At one point I coughed a little and involuntarily sounded as if I was going to throw-up. Scott asked if I was okay as we walked for maybe fifteen seconds. I was a little confused, drank a little water, and told him we’d just call it an “aberration”. And so, we started to run a little again, tracking down reflective flagging and tiny lights clothespinned to trees. It was very dark by this point, as night so often is.
Mercifully, we finally arrived at some downhill. Just before getting to the downhill, a fellow racer or pacer let out a yell or howl behind us. A few people had relatively recently passed me over the past several miles as I remember and all I could do was tip my hat to them. I didn’t think much of it as my excitement to finish was just building. Somehow this time was different though, I took the howl or whatever as a challenge and it motivated me to finish stronger. And finish strong we did! Scott kept telling me we were doing great and making an awesome pace! I started to run all the discretionary flats, I kept my feet turning over on the downhills, and I even kept moving on the few subtle uphills. I don’t know if it was necessary, but I quickly refilled one of my waterbottles at the final aid station 2.2 miles out. Just in case, and almost 17 hours into the day, what’s another 30 seconds?!
The final miles didn’t exactly fly by, but I was so close! I could hear a few cars on the highway that I knew we needed to cross. We started to see a few hikers/spectators wandering out in the dark and the finish just had to be around the corner. We received a flashlight escort across the highway and were shown the final trail. As we saw more lights, I tried to move as fast as I could. Then we reached the driveway to the finish at the Gould Community Center and I broke into a full sprint (or at least what a full sprint was at that point)!
FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!! 65.8 miles, 13,711ft. of elevation gain and 17 hours, 9mins, and 31seconds later and I was done! 50th place per initial results!
The Other Side:
Hello! What an unreal day!! How on earth did that just happen? It was awesome celebrating with Scott, Allen, Bekah, Meaghan, and others at the finish. I was still afraid to sit down, but it was great once I did and got my shoes off. My friends were great and got me Coke and coffee as I wasn’t ready for food yet. I loved cheering on random people at the finish and was really happy for everyone as they crossed the line. I didn’t know what they had all been through on the day exactly, but I can say with certainty that they conquered one hell of a course!
Sitting by the post race fire with friends, new friends, and strangers was probably one of my favorite parts. I can’t really describe how I felt at the time and I don’t know that I can any better now several days later. I felt unbelievable, relieved, overwhelmed, ecstatic, and pretty confused honestly. I was in disbelief that I actually got it done!
Ok, I’m done writing! Hope you enjoyed reading and sorry if it was too long. It is a very special day to me and I wanted to write about it to remember. Thank you so much to all my friends and family for their support before, during, and after. Also, a special thank you to my coach, Jennifer Skeels, for helping me go from a rookie trail running racer at the beginning of the year to a 100k finisher! Now on to the next adventure!!
Race Strategy Chart: