A total of 17 Lake City area runners initially registered for Saturday’s San Juan Solstice, although by race start the number has been reduced to 16 because of the withdrawal of Lucky O’Dubhaigh. O’Dubhaigh, a veteran of the race who has competed for a number of years, declined to race, choosing instead to be available for a Mineral County search party when a friend went missing.
From a quick start, local school coach Mabree McClung made it as far at Vickers Ranch, 45 miles into the race, when she says “my body quit working.” According to McClung, she decided to opt out rather than possibly risk physical injury when her eyes became blurry and she grew cold and pale. McClung, who coaches track at Lake City Community School, was paced up until Vickers Ranch by Jake Murphy.
Her father, Mark McClung, started off fast and suffered an injury to the IT band in his knee which prompted him to drop out of the race at the Williams Creek aid station.
Other Lake Citians taking part in the Solstice but not finishing were Rachel Moore, who stopped at Williams Creek and Lydia McNeese who made it as far as the Slumgullion aid station before ceding the race due to illness; she was hospitalized overnight on Saturday for observation and then released. Others dropping were Amanda Hartman who ended at Williams Creek but urged her husband, Christian Hartman, to continue. Veteran Solstice race participant Mandy Caldon of Lake City again entered and continued until ending the race at Carson aid station.
Amanda Hartman says she found the Alpine Gulch stream crossings especially cold, in consequence of which she was chilled “and couldn’t make my legs work.” She and Christian, who were running in tandem to that point, lost time and she realized she would be unable to make the cut-off time at Williams Creek aid station.
“I told Christian to go on ahead, make the cut-off time, and keep going!”
Christian Hartman was rejoined by his wife and exuberant children in Lake City Park at the end of the race after 8:30 p.m. Saturday. He sprinted across the finish line with arms raised in victory with a finish time of 15 hours and 35 minutes.
Hartman said the hardest apart of the race was losing his wife, Amanda, at the start but that he concluded to trudge ahead. Adding to his determination toward race end was being joined by his daughter,
Priya, who is a Fifth Grader in the upcoming school year at Lake City Community School.
Running in tandem with Priya from Slum aid station on into town, Hartman says she “prodded me the entire time, telling me at one point ‘you’re running like a snail.’”
While running without his wife was the worst part, Hartman says conversely the “absolute best part was the entire race route… it was awesome!”
As first Lake Citian across the San Juan Solstice finish line on Saturday, Sam Fyler received especially hearty congratulations from local resident Steve McCormick.
The two men share a number of similarities, including a professed love for long distance running. McCormick, who resides with his wife, Linda, in Lake City Heights, is a multi-year veteran participant in the Solstice and continues as a volunteer in each year’s planning efforts.
Since 1997 McCormick has held the record for the swiftest Lake Citian to cross the finish line: 11 hours and 26 minutes.
Fyler’s finish time on Saturday at just 10 hours, 51.47 minutes now takes the record for the most fleet-of-foot Lake Citian and post-race received a well-deserved pat on the back from McCormick who credits the Solstice as a “great race.”
He says that camaraderie and support from fellow racers are among the best aspects of the annual event. At age 72, McCormick again entered Saturday’s race but withdrew after the William Creek aid station. He says he still enjoys running but finds he now runs at a slightly slower pace.
Saturday was Sam Fyler’s second San Juan Solstice, bettering his time significantly from 13 hours, 10 minutes last year to this year’s 10-hour, 51-minute record.
He credits increased training for the faster finish and says he is particularly grateful to fellow runners, including his wife, Lily, along with invaluable training from Lucky O’Dubhaigh, Mandy Caldon, and Martha Levine.
Post-race on Saturday, Fyler said that it was in fact training help from these fellow runners and suggestions for
better nutrition which “helped me out today.”
Rather than the newly installed log crossings on lower Alpine Gulch, Fyler says he waded across each of the crossings and was relieved “the water was not very high.” He says the best part of the Solstice course was the flat and rolling section of trail along the Continental Divide where “I learned to run,” aided by “awesome scenery.”
Most challenging for Fyler was the steep climb up into Vickers Ranch after the Vickers aid station. In addition to challenging topography, adding to the strain were extremely warm temperatures and no cooling breezes.
REA lineman Logan Rhodes of Lake City finished his second San Juan Solstice in a time of 14 hours, 56.34 seconds, crossing the finish line Saturday evening amid cheers and with his wife and two children joining him on the final stretch.
Rhodes says he was hampered by a knee injury which he sustained near Carson. He managed to keep running until the Slumgullion aid station but was force to walk the final 10 miles from Slumgullion up through Vickers Ranch and back to the town park finish line in Lake City.
Rhodes says he had a better finish time in 2017 compared to 2016, in large part because “this year I knew how to train… last year I really didn’t know what I was getting into.” Advance training for the Lake City runner this year consisted of a healthy diet and “lots more trail running instead of road running.”
Rhodes says he would like to run the San Juan Solstice again in the future, although he’s seriously considering taking next year off and instead working as a race volunteer in order to give back to the community.
The best part of this year’s run was again the camaraderie between runners and “pushing my body past what I thought was possible.”
At the conclusion of her first San Juan Solstice — a little over 15 hours and 17 minutes after the start of the 50-mile race — Hinsdale School Superintendent Leslie Nichols was visibly pale as she sat regaining her strength. The first portion of the race was a joy, she recalled, despite the fact she lost her sunglasses into Alpine Gulch on one of the early stream crossings.
Nichols credits the aid of her pacer, former Lake City girl Christi Hall Reece of Grand Junction, for making her persevere and get through to the finish line. “Having the right pacer,” she sighs, “makes all the difference in the world.”
Due to exhaustion and the strain of running up to the Continental Divide, Nichols says she became physically ill on the trail between the Divide and Slum Pass aid stations. It was at that point in the race that she says “I hit the wall.” Pacer Reece, who has run the Solstice on multiple occasions in the past, gently coached her throughout the process, encouraging her to take sips of Gater Aid and eating crackers in small bite-size portions in order to slowly regain her strength.
As an added bonus after having Reece pace her from the Slum aid station on into town, Nichols says she was met by her youngest son, Thomas, after returning into town and the two ran hand-in-hand through Lake City Park and across the finish line.
Reflecting on what was the best part of the 50-mile run, Nichols says “I got to spend all day in the mountains and remarkable people took care of me.”
Finishing the race just a minute behind Nichols, finish time 15 hours, 18.53 minutes, was Lake City resident Alix Hinnegan who is well-known in town after working at High Country Market during the past year.
Lake City runner Martha Levine, who finished Saturday’s San Juan Solstice with a time of 14 hours, 23.10 minutes, was accompanied on the final portion of the run from Slumgullion aid station back into town by her daughter, recent Lake City Community School graduate Megan Levine.
Levine has run the San Juan Solstice a total of four times and due to a stomach upset — “I popped a total of eight Tums throughout the run, I just felt uncomfortable” — she says the race never gets any easier.
The most difficult part was the long uphill slog to Coney Peak past Carson, she says, “I was crying and just wanted to quit.” Reflecting on the race minutes after crossing the finish line, Levine said it was “so very hard, I’ve very happy to be done.”
Asked for his opinion on the hardest part of this year’s Solstice, Lake City resident Mike Ralph said that the most challenging part was the long, rolling section along the Continental Divide “which just seemed to go on and on and on.”
Ralph says his running was somewhat slowed because of an early knee sprain in the race while coming down into Williams Creek. He limped along up to the Carson aid station where he credits aid station John Baker for treating him.
On his first San Juan Solstice, Ralph says the very best part of the race were the aid station workers who he terms “awesome.”
Ralph finished just after 8 p.m. Saturday, 15 hours and 13 minutes after the start of the 5 a.m. race.
While perhaps contemplating the chiropractic arts or a new homebrew recipe while loping across the Continental Divide on his inaugural San Juan Solstice, Doug DeShazo finished just after 7 p.m. with a time of 14 hours, 18.45 minutes. At the finish line he said the hardest part of the race was the climb up from Carson onto the Continental Divide, although the race in its entirety was far from a picnic, “it was really damn hard,” he said.
Mirroring fellow Lake City runner Mike Ralph, DeShazo said the best and most fun aspects of the race were the aid stations with excellent staffing and an over abundance of supplies.
DeShazo says he had scoped out the Alpine Gulch portion of the run a week in advance and was relieved that water levels were significantly lower by the time of the race.
2017 was upper Lake Fork resident Ken Swinarski’s third San Juan Solstice.
Asked what he had learned from each of the ultra runs, Swinarski notes, “well, for one thing, I know I’m older and it’s a lot more painful.”
Swinarski’s finish times in the Solstice in 2015 and 2017 were nearly identical: 13 hours 33.41 minutes in 2015 and 13 hours, 33.14 minutes this year. Last year he finished the run in 13 hours and 42 minutes.
Asked if he sighted any interesting wildlife in the course of the run, Swinarski thinks for a moment and recalls a couple marmots but not much else, “I was too busy to look.”
He says the entire race route remains difficult, scenic views and an “incredible staff” at each aid station being the bright points.