“The Longest Walk Ever” The Ouray 100 Mile Endurance Run by Jay Lemos
Not too sure how to start this, I guess i'll tell you how I got here in the first place.
There was this man and this woman, they met, liked each other and well…hold on! too far back. Lets just rewind to how I got to Ouray, CO.
I put my name in for the Leadville 100 for the third year in a row, no luck. I was pissed. It seemed like all these big name races want you to run their own qualifiers, do their camps, “donate” and then maybe after all that and $3000 later you may have a chance of getting in while you’re still young. I thought, fuck these people. Now I wanted something bigger, better, something that didn’t matter to any other races, something that would put me in a place I had never been before, physically and mentally. One day, February 24th to be exact, the Ouray 100 Mile Endurance Run came up on my FB feed and the picture that looked like a painting caught my eye. Long story short, I texted Charles, the RD, next thing you know, I’m signed up!
Enough of the boring stuff, let's get to the good parts. My buddy Chris and I arrived in Denver on Wednesday the 2nd. Not only was I not feeling good from the craziest nerves ever for the race, but I was also feeling super shitty about flying out on my girlfriend’s birthday. I should get a shitty boyfriend of the year award for that one. We took a shuttle to downtown boulder where we met up with Julian who had driven out a week earlier with Karl in his super sweet #advanturefam #vanlife #sprinter to crew my dumb ass. We grabbed some food and quickly hit the road. At the time, Karl wasn’t with Julian. We had to go pick him up or should I say rescue him from some weird cult he was in danger of being recruited by in Colorado Springs. We found Karl, and were off to Ouray! but first, we took a quick little half trip up the Manitou incline where we met a guy who does it three times a day. This is where I started to put things into perspective. This “average joe” is running 6 or so miles a day with 6k gain, let’s say 36k a week. That's almost double what I was getting on a good week...fuck. If this is just an average joe, what are ultra runners like out here.
11:30ish we finally arrived in Ouray. We explored the town a little bit, all quarter mile of it and went to bed. If you follow me on instagram you probably saw what the following morning looked like. I opened the door and BAM! Fucking giant ass mountains everywhere! I might’ve pooped a little. It was the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever seen. Julian and Karl had camped up at 10,500 somewhere on a mountain. We gathered the troops and walked around town looking for food. We ran down the street as it started pouring on us, when all of the sudden, a dog latched onto my hip. Ripped my patagonia nano puff hoodie, I wasn’t happy. At least he didn’t get skin. we finally found ourselves at the backstreet bistro where we met last year’s champ, Avery Collins. We got to talking and next thing we know we were planning a run. An hour later we met up with Avery; I only went 1.5 miles with them before turning back, I couldn’t afford getting tired. The guys kept going. The rest of the day wasn’t too eventful, just race prep stuff which and was also trying EFS for the first time. That stuff tasted pretty weird, seemed to turn Karl into an animal so I figured why not give it a shot.
Race day! gotta eat breakfast, hold on, I forgot to buy breakfast food. Julian came to the rescue and made me a miracle smoothie. It had bananas, dates, protein, almond butter, coconut milk, almond milk, and god knows what else. It was delicious! We got to the start, went to pick up my tracker only to find out it wasn’t working. Got another one and I was all set! Wait a minute, I forgot bodyglide. Luckily, Karl had some squirrels nut butter he was kind enough to share with me. I had never used it before, but I didn’t have a choice. As i buttered up my nuts in the restroom, I bumped into Avery who reassured me it was great stuff. The clock turned to 8am but we weren’t starting just yet, there was a little delay due to the trackers being assigned. I don’t recall an announcement with a certain countdown so I was kind of confused. We did the National Anthem and Charles did a 5,4,3,2,1 go! thing. I wasn’t expecting that, the most random start to a race ever, it was great. I was last to leave since I still had my jacket on and had to make some adjustments to my pack. Said my goodbyes to my team, and almost crying, I ran away.
The first mile was kind of flat. We were all running. At the first slight incline we all started walking, poles came out to play. It was kind of lonely, everyone seemed to have buddies except me. Once on camp Bird Road, the spine of the race, I leeched on to a couple of ladies. Trish & Eszter, mountain badasses. We talked a little...as I heard of their accomplishments, I started to think I was maybe going too fast; these ladies are the real deal but I didn’t want to be alone so I held on. Eszter would eventually pick up the pace and leave Trish and I. I got to the first turn around, Silver Basin, punched my bib and took a minute to take in the beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t believe where I was, the flowers were beautiful! Another almost cry moment. Got down to the Camp Bird station again, had some oranges and moved on. Them climbs wasn’t so bad, the grade was, dare I say, easy? The problem was, it felt like me from the past was sitting on my lungs so I couldn’t go any faster than a nice walk. The second I would try to speed things up it felt like I was going 5k pace, no way in hell I could hold that for who knows how long this would take.
Second turn around was Chicago Tunnel. It was a little steeper on the last little push up to it and storms were starting to roll in. I punched my bib and got out of there before hell broke loose. Up next was Fort Peabody at 13,600, it was the high point of the race. On the way to it, it looked like hell was breaking loose right above it. This is where being slow came in handy because by the time I got to it, the rain had passed. On the way up I linked up with Matt whose pace seemed to be the same as mine, slow. We tried punching our bibs but the whole punch was broken. We ripped our bibs, took videos for proof and got out of there. On the way down he seemed to be semi jogging. I stayed back ultra walking, which wasn’t that slow either. At times it was about 14:30 pace. About a mile from the top I had to stop to filter water, I got real thirsty. While filtering, I also got really cold, the wind and super ice cold water froze me. I took my pack off, put my Golite shell on and two pairs of gloves. Those who know me, know my hands start to get really cold at about 60 degrees. At this point I couldn’t even see Matt anymore. I also hadn’t seen Trish. She said she would drop on the way down from Chicago Tunnel...she had done Speedgoat the weekend before.
Now, on my way to Ironton, I was in good spirits as it was the first time i'd get to see my crew. Before getting to them, we’d have to go over Richmond Pass. It was raining and as I went higher, the rain turned to hail. I didn’t mind, it was cool. We passed some patches of snow, I thought that was really cool, I had always wanted to be in a “summer” race where you see leftovers of every season. It was all cool until it started thundering. There was no place to hide if it started to lightning. Luckily, it didn’t. On the way down from Richmond Pass I spotted another runner. I “ran” a little bit to close the gap. This part was beautiful tundra, I felt like I was running through one of Bob Ross’ happy little tree paintings. I rolled into Ironton Station in unknown spirits. I was very happy to see the guys but also kind of being taunted by the fact that 9 hours in I had only gone 27 miles and climbed the total gain for most 100’s. I asked the guys for another smoothie, turns out, the random breakfast smoothie had kept me fueled up to this point with the help of some oranges here and there. The guys were concerned, it was like I had three man parents yelling at me for not doing my homework. They made me my smoothie, I put a dry shirt on and was off. This following loop was going to be mentally tough. 8ish mile loop we have to do before heading back. As I started my first loop, I linked up with the runner I was trying to catch on the way down into Ironton. Eric from Allentown PA, now from San Diego. Another flatlander. This guy was crazier than me though, the most he had ever gotten was 12,000 at the San Diego 100. Nothing like trying to more than triple your best right?
About halfway though our first Ironton loop we were both in the dumps. We were telling each other how even if we dropped it wouldn’t be a failure. You know, just making ourselves feel ok with quitting. This went on for a while. By now I had started to take my breaks. Me bent over on my poles contemplating life. Eric didn’t mind my breaks. On our way down to Ironton the sun had started to set, we made it a goal to make it back to aid before having to turn our lamps on. We made it! this was a huuuge boost. We hadn’t mentioned quitting as we neared aid, we just kind of said lets see how we feel. We both parted ways to out crews. Eric’s was his wife who accompanied him on their 17th wedding anniversary and mine was well, the badassest out there.
I went in the van, had another smoothie and talked to guys for a bit before meeting up with Eric again to head out on our second Ironton Loop. Heading on this one was tough. It was now dark and raining. As we got higher the rain went away and cleared way for the craziest fog I had ever seen. If we saw five feet in front of us, that was a lot. I almost went off a cliff three times. Nothing else too exciting happened on this loop. We made it back to Ironton for the last time. I was dreading the next section. We had to climb back up to Richmond Pass, it was long and steep. We went to our crews again and did our thing. It was nice seeing the guys often...often out there was every 4 hours. I wouldn’t see them again for another 10 dark miles where I would pick up my pacer. After hanging out at Ironton for a bit and being tempted with some Dale’s Pale Ale, my fav, we moved on. The way back up to Richmond Pass took A LOT. Probably took more breaks on this climb than any other. We eventually got to it and to our surprise, the clouds gave way to a beautiful full moon. It was one of those moments that gets branded in you heart, it was majestic.
Our next real aid stop would be Weehawken, which felt like forever to get to. I didn’t study the info enough and didn’t realize this was for pacers only, no crews but I had to change my shoes. They were ok with me getting my shoes out of the van, I was grateful for that and didn’t want to push any buttons so I kept everything else the same. I had gone the first half in Salomon Sense Pros, they were great! It was now time for my favorite weapons of war, my Scott Supertrack RC’s. The second half of the race has more gain and steeper climbs, ideal right? At this station, since I couldn’t have my smoothie, I had some soup. Charles wife had made a giant pot of quinoa minestrone soup...oooooooh man was that delish! I wanted to wait for Eric before heading out again but cut off wasn’t too far behind so I left and felt terrible about it. Now with my pacer Karl, I was in better spirits, I think. We got to the turnaround which was breathtaking in more ways than one. Punched my bib, took pics and started heading back. Once we got back to Weehawken, I was feeling pretty good. I had some more soup and was ready to head right back out. The soup didn’t want to come along though. It wanted to stay back in the port a john. Forever later we were finally on our way down Camp Bird Road to our next climb that would take us up and over to Crystal Lake.
This climb, this climb, this fucking climb. Karl had actually done this whole climb or so he thought the day they got a little tour from Avery. This one broke me, bad. It was steep, slippery, and went on forever. This is where I hit my lowest low of the race. I was bent over my poles with no desire to keep going but also no desire to head down. I felt like I had nothing left in me to do anything, I didn’t want to do anything. I told Karl I couldn’t go anymore, I was done. He did everything he could to keep me going. I told myself I had to go till at least Caitlyn, my beautiful girlfriend got there. You see, she had planned on surprising me but couldn’t keep it in so I knew she was going but we decided to keep the time of arrival a surprise. My spidey senses gave me a very good idea of when she would arrive. I couldn’t get myself to drop before she got there, I would feel terrible if she got there and I wasn’t running. It would be a wasted super expensive trip. I also thought about my crew, they had all given so much to be there. Julian drove halfway across the country and was emptying out his fridge to make me smoothies while dealing with Karl’s stinky shoes. Karl who didn’t hesitate one bit to come out and crew and pace and introduced me to EFS and amino acids which saved my life. Chris who at a very hectic time with work and home buying process also didn’t hesitate one bit to come out. My mom hadn’t taken her eyes off the computer following along every step of the way, my whole family back in Colombia was also on their toes getting updates from my mom. They were all super ready to do whatever it took to get me to that finish line. This thought went through my mind A LOT every time I wanted to drop. I was no longer putting one foot in front of the other for me, it was for them. Finally, we got to Crystal Lake, I was dead. everyone was calling me “jersey” which was interesting at first but I would then embrace it. To me, it meant I was a flatlander wayyyyy out of his element with no chance of finishing. I had another smoothie, duh! While drinking it, Chris told me to not worry, everyone who had gone through Crystal Lake looked like shit so I was just on track.
Somehow I got myself off that comfy folding chair and heading back out with Karl. At least the way back up this mountain was shorter than the other side we had to come up. Shorter didn’t mean easier though. It had to be done. I told myself, this is it. This is the last stretch I have to do, I was pretty certain once we got back into Fellin Park, Caitlyn would be there and I would call it a day. Camp Bird Road down to Fellin felt like forever. We got to the park and I saw Caitlyn, I almost cried. All of the sudden, the thought of dropping was overpowered by love. No, I am not high, I mean it. There was this feeling that came over me that she brought with her to get me through the rest. Seeing her face and my crew brought me back to life. The fact that it was a beautiful sunny day helped too. Karl’s pacing duties were done, it was now Julian’s turn. I was hot, since all I took from my crew last was my shoes, I was still wearing a thick long sleeve. I changed into a nice light short sleeve shirt. Now, on my way back up the road to do the sketchiest part of the race, Twin Peaks. Right off the bat, Julian’s walk felt fast, I said, “you need to chill with that” ha! I showed him the death march I had been doing all day/days, it was comical. He was very concerned with my eating habits or lack thereof. I don’t blame him, i'd be too except I knew what my tummy was telling me and what my body was in need of and when, we communicate very well that way. We made the slowwww trek up to Twin Peaks. A little about this section, so at mile 78sih after climbing 3,500 feet we had to scramble up one of the Twin Peaks where we would punch our bibs before making our return. As steep as it was, I actually enjoyed that section quite a bit. For this next section, we had to make our way to silvershield station. I didn’t study this section much and i don’t think anyone else did either. It caught us all by surprise that instead of going up and then back down like we had been doing on every section, we would actually continue dropping after twin peaks all the way down to the road and then back up. On my way down, the people on the return had a look of death going on, none of us were happy about this section, we should’ve done our reading. A little before reaching the bottom I took Julian up on eating, I had a banana, he was happy. That sounds weird. Anyways, on our way back up, I wanted to try to make it to the Twin Peaks/Silvershield intersection before dark. Didn’t happen. Once we hit the lower part of the Twin Peaks trail I thought I was going to tumble to my death. This section was super steep and had the sketchiest steps built into it. I think the steps add more danger than help at all. I was happy to get off that trail.
We got into Fellin Park once again, by now you probably know I had some smoothie, EFS, aminos, water, and we were off. Not that fast but you’re probably tired of reading this by now, if you’re still reading. This next section was supposed to be a little easier. Compared to the rest of the course, which puts it at probably the biggest climb at your average tough 100. It took us a little bit to find this trail head, even though it was directly across the street from the parol Fellow runner Ellie, whose spirits where always super high, came along with her dad who was pacing her and showed us the way. They were off like a firecracker! I took my sweet ass time. About half way up this one, things started happening. My energy levels had been fine all day/days, I hadn’t had any caffeine the whole time. I turned into a lithium ion battery, instead of fading out, I went from functioning to dead. All I wanted was caffeine. I had cut it out three weeks prior to the race so when I had it during the race it would do magical things. At this point, all I wanted was to get to that finish. It was ugly though. Julian suggested I put some music on, I thought my phone was going to die which is why I didn’t have music on before, but I thought fuck it, if it dies it dies. I really wanted to save it for pictures and stuff like that. I had a little JBL clip speaker in my pack, it was great! just the “boost” I needed to keep going. We finally got to chief ouray’s hut on top of the mountain, it was cool but i was in desperate need of caffeine, I punched my bib and bounced. It was also a little creepy in the dark. This was it, we were almost there, this descent felt very very long. It wasn’t all down either. There were some rollers here and there before eventually getting back down to the road and into Fellin Park.
Finally! One more section to go and this crazy ass adventure would come to an end. So far, we had been having a beautiful night, warm temps if you kept moving and clear skies. I was hoping it would stay this way. As if making the second half of the course harder and making up rock climb at mile 78 wasn’t enough, the bastard Charles saved the biggest longest climb of the race for the end. I had been dreading this moment. My climbing was super slow before this, I could only imagine what was going to happen. I thought whatever little time I had before cut off, which had been staying consistent at 2.5hours, I would use up on this climb. I had a red bull at the park and we were off, after a smoothie of course. I also grabbed my portable charger for my music source and changed into a lighter salomon pack. I took my normal soft flasks I had been going with all race plus a 1.5L bladder. I was feeling ambitious and with ambition comes thirst. For this section I had Chris pace me. That caffeine hit me like I had just put it directly into my veins! I recall being very talkative in the early stages of this climb, I wonder why. There was this one small section, not much different from everything else we had passed throughout the race but for some reason scared the crap out of me, it looked like a super steep drop off to the side and we had to pass it on some very very loose rocks. I went down on all fours to cross it, my head wasn’t right, it was probably comical for Chris to watch. About 3/4 from the top, the red bull had worn off. My feet weren’t going where I wanted them to and I couldn’t remember if I was actually having conversations with people or if I was just imagining these things. I asked Chris, he said I did talk to people...good, I haven’t fully lost my marbles. Almost at the top, I kept seen two “lamps” but they weren't moving. Yayyy the top, that must be people taking a break. Nope, it was eyes. Luckily, by the time we got to that point, they were gone. I’d like to think it was a mountain lion just because it sounds cooler than anything else. Hey, there's not proof that it wasn’t. We passed some guys on the way up which felt pretty good, that's always a boost. Because of my many many breaks throughout the climb, we all reached the top together. We took a little break but they were more eager to get down. I had another red bull in my pack I had to drink. Chug, chug, chug, it’s hammer time! I wanted to just burst into tears, I couldn’t believe I was only a 5.5mile descent from making this impossible mission possible. We hit the ground running, literally, we ran. For about 1.5 - 2 miles we ran across the Bridge of Heaven and other open passes, it was magical, my eyes water as I type this. I couldn’t believe what I had been seeing only in dreams, was becoming a reality. Long story short, we passed like 6 or seven people on this last section alone. Remember that part I said I went on all fours for? Well turns out it really wasn’t bad at all, my mind was just too gone at that moment haha! We ran right passed it on the way down!
Seemed like forever before we hit the road back to the park. We were running. I had to stop to take a breather, and then we were running again. Finally, into the park. I saw my team and felt all kinds of emotions running to that finish line which was just two cones, again, I was looking for hardcore low key. I hugged everyone on my team with tears in my eyes and major disbelief. We did it, we fucking did it! Jersey made it! Somehow turning that 2.5 hours ahead of cut off to 5. My finishing time was, our time was, 47:04. I didn’t do this alone, there's no way I could have. I can’t say enough good things about my crew, I just want to hug them all, all the time, sorry if that's weird, I’m too grateful for words to explain. I finally had a beer, after three weeks of no drinking, Karl made sure I didn’t go one more minute without one.
I thanked Charles, the bastard. Can’t thank him enough for putting on such a beautiful tour or Ouray Colorado and the San Juans. The whole experience, even with the low lows, was magical. At about 5 pounds and 10” we also got the coolest belt buckles ever. I realize I left out some info about altitude and nutrition so here it goes. I was extremely fortunate with the altitude, while many were puking, all I had was trouble working hard above 10,000 which forced me to walk slower than planned and a little hangover every time we went above 12,500. The lowest points for the first half were at about 10k. Nutrition wise, as you know, miracle smoothies every chance I got, nonstop EFS, water and about two bananas, two epic bars, a pack or shot blocks, two oranges, 1.5 bowls of soup and two red bulls. That's it, adventure is over. Sorry if this was too long to read, it could’ve been longer! Thank you to everyone who sent me positive vibes, I felt it, you guys got me through it all.
Till next time San Juans!