High Stepping Ultra Runners
A little over nine hours after the predawn start of the annual San Juan Solstice, Littleton, Colorado, runner Luke Jay gleefully bounded across the town park finish line.
Jay, a repeat winner in the 50-mile Solstice run, shared his first place, 9-hour, 3.29-minute finish with his two sons, 9-year old Ryder and Max, age 7, who joined him in the victory dash.
For a majority of Saturday’s run, Jay ran in tandem with the race’s second and third place male finishers. “We beat ourselves up all day long,” Jay said in relation to second place finisher Carlos Ruibal and Dustin Simoens, in third place, who was first place finisher in last year’s Solstice.
“It was super fun running with them.”
Jay credited the two other top finishers for being “way stronger,” Ruibal in terms of his strength running uphill, and Simoens for his speed and endurance running on the flats.
“Luckily for me, the race ended on a downhill.”
Ruibal finished in second place, a mere 13 minutes behind Jay, finishing just after 2 p.m. on Saturday, 9 hours, 16.52-minutes after the start of the 5 a.m. race.
Simoens finished in third place with a time of 9 hours, 24 minutes and 31 seconds. An educator in Crested Butte and avid runner, Simoens’ first place time in the 2016 San Juan Solstice was 8 hours, 24.33 minutes.
First place women’s finisher Kerrie Bruxvoort — who is also a repeat top finisher in prior Solstice Runs — was so entranced with the scenery that she took a misturn early in the race and ran uphill in the wrong direction before realizing her mistake and backtracking.
Despite having to backtrack and falling on rocks, Bruxvoort still exhibited remarkable stamina, finishing back in the town park in first place, time 10 hours, 41.33 minutes.
The first place women’s winner in last year’s Solstice was Salynda Fleury-Heinl, time 10 hours, 50 minutes; Fleury-Heinl was again registered for this year’s run and made it as far as the Williams Creek aid station before dropping out.
Terming the race “a little bit hot,” Bruxvoort — who placed 4th among women in the 2014 Solstice and was first place women’s finisher in 2015 — said she occasionally stopped en route to take pictures and was continually cheered and re-invigored by the crews at each of the “tremendous” aid stations.
Toward the end of the race, she said she “cursed the Vickers climb.”
Second and third place women’s finishers were Kathryn Ross, 11:12:26, and Elizabeth Gold, 11:48:58.
The top finishers — Jay, Ruibal and Simoens for the men, and Bruxvoort, Ross and Gold for the women — were among a total of 233 top men and women ultra runners who began the mountain run on Saturday, 180 of whom successfully finished the race prior to the 9 p.m. cutoff.
The 50-mile circuit was described by second place finisher Carlos Ruibal as both “beautiful” and “brutal.” The circuit took runners from Lake City a short distance up Henson for an uphill climb up Alpine Gulch, down Williams Creek, up Wager’s Gulch past Carson to Coney Peak and along the Continental Divide before dropping down the Sawmill Park Road to Carson, and then a final especially challenging steep stretch up into Vickers Ranch and back to Lake City and the town park finish line via the Waterdog Lake Trail.
This year’s runners successfully navigated snowfields and a number of potentially hazardous stream crossings on Alpine Gulch, the bulk of the runners apparently choosing to plunge through the water rather than scamper on logs across the creek.
Comfortably sprawled in Lake City Park after crossing the finish line, second place finisher Ruibal involuntarily shuddered as he recalled taking a full-body plunge into frigid Alpine Gulch on the second crossing. Terming the dunking “pretty cold,” Ruibal said his left side was entirely drenched by the unexpected plunge.
“Actually,” in retrospect, he said, “it felt pretty good.” Ruibal had only a single pair of running shoes and socks which remained damp for the remainder of the race.
Also challenging to runners were warmer than usual temperatures which in Lake City on Saturday reached to 80 degrees. Temperatures were warm even at higher elevations, with 67 degrees clocked as a high Saturday at 11,500’ elevation on Slumgullion Pass.
Runners along the flat and rolling trail course on the Continental Divide were occasionally relieved by cooling mountain breezes, according to long-time race director Jerry Gray.
Gray refers to an “especially strong showing” by this year’s runners, including a larger than usual number of the fleet-footed who finished the run in under 10 hours.
Sixteen Lake City area runners who began this year’s Solstice are also termed by Gray as a “strong showing.” Lake City, he says, “has the highest per capita percent of San Juan Solstice finishers of any town in the nation.”
Overall, according to Gray, “It was a nearly perfect day for the 22nd running of the San Juan Solstice 50; the creek crossings were challenging, the snow fields were not excessive and the alpine breeze helped the sweat do it’s cooling job.”
Gray also praises a “truly awesome group of volunteers” who were responsible for all aspects of this year’s Solstice, Gray noting “it takes a village and more to make it happen.”
Saturday was first place male winner Luke Jay’s second San Juan Solstice. He competed in the run in 2015, ending the race in second place.
He terms the entire race route “demanding” and says this year the most challenging section was along the Continental Divide where he lost energy and began to doubt whether he could recover his time. Once he reached the downhill portion, however, he regained his wind and maintained a lead over second and third place finishers Ruibal and Simoens. On the downhill down to Slumgullion aid station, “I made a huge effort and managed to widen the gap… I had my fingers crossed the entire time that I could hold them off.”
In relation to the other two top contenders, Jay says “we were beating ourselves up all day.”
Jay says the best portions of the run in terms of scenery were on the ridge crossing over from Alpine
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and into Williams Creek. “I definitely lost several minutes staring out at that view.”
After several months training in advance of this year’s Solstice, Jay says he will now turn his attention to preparing to run in the 100-mile Tahoe 100 later this summer.
Carlos Ruibal, in second place at 9:16:52, is no stranger to the San Juan Solstice after ending the 2015 race in 15th position.
Highlights of this year’s race for Ruibal — a native of Del Norte, Colorado who now works as an MRI technician at Boulder Community Hospital in Boulder, Colorado — were outstanding aid station workers throughout the race, as well as the view of Lake San Cristobal looking down from sections of the trail on the Continental Divide.
The most difficult part of the route was the steep slope leading up into Vickers Ranch where he began to lose ground… “my legs were shot.”
Although concentrating on his physical condition and pace throughout the run, Ruibal says there was surprisingly little wildlife spotted throughout the run, the exception being a number of inquisitive marmots which he passed en route.
Although he is not making any commitments, Ruibal says he is eyeing and may in fact enter the 100-mile “Run Rabbit Run” in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in September this year.
Dustin Simoens, a resident of Gunnison who teaches 7th Grade math in Crested Butte, finished in third position on Saturday. He has competed in the Solstice 50 mile race in Lake City for the past two years. In 2015, he placed third, while last year he was first across the line.
In addition to his parents, those enthusiastically cheering him on at the finish line were his girlfriend, Michela Berglund, Gunnison, and grandparents, Mike and Judy Stone, Montrose, who spend their summers in Lake City at Woodlake Park.
According to Simoens, “the best part of the run was looking down on Lake San Cristobal. My most enjoyable part of the race was on the Divide. I guess the worst was Vickers Ranch…that last climb is always a killer.”
Simoens reports “the water crossings were not as bad as I anticipated,” adding he stumbled through some of them but never fell.
He reports that he is currently training for his next competition, a 100-mile race called the Wasatch 100 in Utah.
Simones says he definitely plans to race in Lake City again, “I love this competition. It’s really fun and keeps me coming back!”
Fourth place male finisher in the Solstice was Jesse Rickert who crossed the finish line at 9:35:14.
The Gunnison native is a carpenter when he isn’t training. “I met my goal today” Rickert said breathlessly, relishing hugs from his extended family. This is Rickert’s seventh or eighth Solstice. He recalls that in one of those races “I finished in second place as my best effort.”
Cheering from the sidelines were Rickert’s wife, Holly, his mother, Jan Rickert, and daughters Brooke and Bria.
Rickert claims that the best part of the day’s race was “finishing, for sure.” He cites the Continental Divide section as the most challenging for him. “I took the streams very carefully and slowly. It’s not worth getting hurt or sopping wet, so I didn’t mind losing a few seconds to get across unscathed.”
Rickert, who is an avid hiker and adventurer, participated in a 2003 expedition in which he was one of the finalists to summit Mt. Everest in the ABC elimination competition program, “Global Extremes.”
Crossing the line with a time of 10:41:33, the first female racer in the competition was Kerrie Bruxvoort. Participating in her third Solstice run, Kerrie reports that in 2014 she ended the race in fourth place. In 2015 she placed first in the women’s category. Bruxvoort says she missed the 2016 Solstice Race due to knee surgery and was pleased that her knee didn’t give her any trouble during the all-day extreme conditions on Saturday.
Tanned and breathless, the Broomfield, Colorado, resident is married with two daughters. She explained that she and her husband own RMRI which fixes and flips homes in the Denver area.
“The best thing about this race is getting to see the fabulous views,” she said.
She reports that she had a few mishaps along the way, “I just wasn’t paying attention and took a wrong turn. I ran about a quarter of a mile — all uphill, of course, before I realized what I had done. Then I had to backtrack. I also fell on some rocks.” Indicating her skinned knee, she notes, “Thankfully, I didn’t fall on my bad knee.” She says that the climb up at Vickers was her greatest challenge on the course. “I was so tired.”
Bruxvoort plans to train and participate in the upcoming “Run Rabbit Run,” the 100-mile Steamboat Springs race in early September.
The second female athlete to finish the race proudly wore bib number 88, Kathryn Ross with a time of 11:12:26.
This was the first Solstice race for the Durango, Colorado-based runner. She has been a trail runner for four years but claims, as she catches her breath, whether she will return for a second portion. “It was really, really hard. I’m not sure about future runs. I’m going to have to recoup and evaluate.”
As her rubbery legs failed her, she eased herself carefully to the grass in a shady spot.
The weary runner was cheered on in this inaugural 50-mile ordeal by her mother, Anne Ross. Ross stated that the best aspect to take away from the exhausting event is, “just being in the mountains. This is the most beautiful race I’ve ever participated in. I really enjoyed the views.”
She also cites the “wonderful support” shown by the aid stations and staffing as making it a wonderful experience. “I’ve never been to Lake City before. It’s awesome and really beautiful.”
Flashing a triumphant smile, the Durango athlete works as a rehab technician at Integrated Physical Therapy. She notes that she had been concerned about her Achilles tendon, as she has been experiencing some tendinitis. “It gave me a little trouble, but I made it through.”
Elizabeth Gold of Englewood, Colorado, was the third female athlete to cross the line. The three-time participant notes, “It was much hotter than I thought it would be.” She said it took her awhile during the race to figure it out. “I didn’t really do much training,” she admits with a sheepish grin. To stay in shape the corporate attorney says, “I play a lot of tennis and I bike a lot.”
“The San Juan Mountains are my favorites,” she declares, stating that the best thing about the race is the incredible scenery. “And the people!, what a really great group of people,” she exclaimed, adding,” The racers and all the workers at the aid station. “It was so great to meet and talk to so many happy people.”
Although none of her family joined her in Lake City this year, Gold says “they were all here” for her inaugural Solstice run in 2016.
This was her second 50-mile race so far this summer. Gold’s next planned running event will be to compete in the Pikes Peak ascent in August.
She says she fell once on the trail and skinned her hand. Noting that her most exciting portion of the race was the water crossings, “The water was higher this year, I think. After the fifth crossing – – my toes got really numb for a while. On the positive side, the snow fields were not as bad as I had anticipated.”
Twenty years old, Emma Patterson of Taos, New Mexico, crossed over the finish line in fourth place with a time of 12:04:30.
Not only was this Patterson’s first Solstice race in Lake City, the petite athlete stated it was her very first 50-mile race. Unable to stop grinning after crossing the finish line, Patterson adds she has run several 50K races, one in Moab, Utah, and another in Oregon. Her family traveling from Taos for enthusiastic support included her mother, Paige Patterson, father, Doug, and brother, John Clay Patterson. During the race Emma was accompanied by her “pacer” and running partner from Taos, Brett “Butch” Wilson.
The best part of this race she proclaimed “was finishing this race. The downhill parts are by far my favorites,” she adds with a grin. Emma reports that the worst part of the race came for her at mile 40. “I almost dropped out. I was sick and barfing and I really didn’t think I could keep going…but I did.”
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