I had other plans for my weekend when I heard about the El Vaquero Loco 50k. I had intended to run an entirely different race. But when I learned that our local running group was going to show up in force, I changed my plans.
This is the weekend before the Leadville 100 and I wanted to take it easy on my body and my mind. El Vaquero is a race that isn't easy on either. It's a 50k, at altitude, and boasts 9000 feet of vertical gain.
Do the math....that's a bunch of hills.
I planned to go out, camp with our group, and run this race at a leisurely pace while I picked wildflowers and enjoyed the scenery. Seems simple enough.
El Vaquero Loco is held in the rugged mountains outside of Afton, Wyoming. I'm sure you're already aware, but Afton is famous because it's the home of the Worlds Largest Elkhorn Arch! While I recognize that elk have antlers, not horns, the people of Afton seem pretty pleased with their notoriety, so I won't rain on their parade by pointing out that tiny scientific fact.
Yeah...The Worlds Largest Elkhorn Arch
This trip gave Jo and I a chance to try out our new tent and we happily pitched it amongst the sea of humanity that became Camp HUMR (Happy Utah Mountain Runners). We strategically placed our tent far enough away from the campfire to be able to sleep while the group was partaking in their typical frat boy revelry, but still close enough to laugh at them or render first aid if necessary.
At packet pickup, we opted out of the race briefing because it was likely to be a familiar sound. "The course markings look like this...the aid stations will have this...the trail looks like this....". Been there done that, so we got our swag and headed back to Camp HUMR. But not before Lindsay Lauck and I formed the first ever street gang in Afton, Wyoming.
Looking so GANGSTA in our Burnt Sienna Hoodies!
After an amazing nights sleep, we were ready for the day ahead. The race started at 6:00 AM and we were greeted with perfect running weather. Time to tackle the Wyoming high country!
HUMR's in Varying Stages of Enthusiasm
We're Headed up HIGH!
The race begins with a 4 mile ascent that begins as runnable terrain but gradually becomes steeper and requires a bit of patience.
As we climbed higher, the views began to shift and the scenery became almost distracting. Ultra runners spend a huge amount of time in the mountains and I like to think we have a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of the land. I've seen a lot of countryside, but the views that were unfolding in front of me were genuinely amazing.
Making the Initial Climb
After far too much vertical gain, we crested the rugged ridge line and began a brutal, twisting descent down a series of switchbacks. After catching my breath, I let my legs loose and bombed toward the bottom.
Cresting the First Big Climb, Heading DOWN!
Running the Switchbacks in Mountain Paradise
After reaching the bottom of the valley, I was joined by my friend, Ryan Lauck. Ryan is a strong runner that evidently likes to start in the back of the field so he can sneak up on people all day. He did the same thing to me at the SpeedGoat 50k two weeks earlier and that day didn't end well, so I was hoping this wasn't a sign of things to come.
Ryan and I chatted while we ran through the meadows and enjoyed the beautiful valley. It's such an awe inspiring location that there's little else to talk about while running through it.
Ryan Laying Down Miles
After running through the valley, we make a sharp ascent and drop into a basin that's home to one of the incredible alpine lakes in the area.
Ryan and I Heading to the Lake
Picture Perfect Day
Running Around the First Lake
After a quick run around the lake, we make another STEEP climb and drop into another basin and another lake. It was right in here that Ryan and I parted ways. He was feeling strong and I was trying to hold back. Keeping up with him would have been a big mistake for me.
The Second Lake
After climbing out of the basin, we ran along a ridge line and I could see that we were about to drop into a long valley in the distance. Somewhere at the end of the valley was our turnaround point.
Running the Ridges
Heading into the Valley
The next leg of the race takes us downhill...gradually. This was a lot of fun to run, but after a few miles I began to realize that this was going to be a grinding ascent later in the race as we made our way back up into the mountains. I was making good time headed downhill, but getting back out was going to be a grueling, relentless climb.
I eventually found the turnaround and stopped at the aid station to enjoy some pumpkin pie and some trail camaraderie. I relaxed for a few minutes and headed back toward the trail and the finish line.
This is where I began to pay the price for the nice 8 mile downhill run that I had just made. The uphill wasn't steep, but it was relentless. There were a few runnable sections mixed in, but these were mostly designed to give you hope, which was essentially wasted emotion.
By now, the sun was in full force and I was getting warm. I stopped at every creek and river crossing and just flopped into in the ice cold glacial water, letting it run over me. Then I would pop back up and run with renewed spirit and energy.
I eventually made it over a couple of false summits and dropped back down toward the lakes. The landscape looked just as amazing in reverse.
Coming to the Pass, Heading Home
Back Down to the Lakes
I had a fun run back through the lakes and the valley, switching places with Cory Johnson several times along the way. Cory is an amazing mountain runner that I met in 2011 while running Leadville, and as fate would have it, we now live on the same street. The world of ultra running is small, indeed!
I slugged my way up the final climb, knowing I had a steep 4 mile descent to the finish. To be honest, downhill running didn't sound much better, but it was certain to be faster.
The Final Climb
While I was grinding my way through the mountains, the race had already been decided. Luke Nelson wins this race as a matter of routine and this year was no different.
Luke Winning Again!
Nick Francis was the First HUMR to Finish
Britta Trepp Wasn't Far Behind
Ryan Lauck Wrapping it Up
After a brutal, but fairly speedy downhill, I crossed the finish line. I felt like I ran well, but not hard enough to leave any lingering effects. We'll see how my next race goes before I can truly tell.
Crossing the Finish line and Happy to be Done
Cory Johnson Within a Minute of Me
Two Great HUMR's, Breein and Aric Getting it done!
Forrest Stuart Catching His Breath!
Mother Nature had conveniently placed an alpine lake at the finish line, so we all took advantage of an ice bath right after the race. It was bitterly cold, but felt amazing.
The intent for me was to enjoy this trip with my local running friends, but not to do anything that would leave long lasting affects on my body. I have to run the Leadville 100 in 7 days and that requires a strong and well rested body. I think I succeeded, but only time will tell.
Nonetheless, I consider this race a success because of the following reasons:
1. I didn't get lost
2. I didn't have any kind of fecal emergency or tragedy
3. I didn't fall down
4. There was an abundance of PBR on hand
I want to take just a moment to thank the great people at Klymit. This is a local company that manufactures sleeping pads, backpacks, and other outdoor gear. They're a small and innovative group and they're doing great things. They provided Jo and I with their Static V sleeping pads for this trip and they were incredible. They're ultra light, inflate with just a few breaths, and I've never had a better nights sleep in a tent. It's a genuinely great product. Like most ultra runners, I'm a gear junkie and love new things. If you feel the same way, check these guys out.
Klymit Static V
In a nutshell, El Vaquero Loco is definitely the most scenic race I have ever run. It's a brutally challenging course, but it's also well worth the time and energy to explore those trails. This is a venue that I will definitely return in 2014.
Shortly after the race, Jo and I packed up and headed to Leadville, Colorado for the Leadville 100. We'll hike, explore and enjoy the Colorado Rockies for a few days before I step up to that line for the third time. I'm excited to have my best LT100 finish ever.
Once again, thanks for reading and happy trails!