At 10 pm, led by the glow of our headlamps and phone lights, Liz, Coley, and I popped out of the forest to the sight of the Mineral Creek crossing we had been warned about. The reflection of the water revealed the rope hung across the 25 foot river to help get through the knee-deep currents. We knew it was coming, but after 16 hours of tracking through the remote wilderness, details become a blur. We cursed the running gods out loud but knew what we had to do.
Coley and I met Liz three months earlier training for the Dirty 30 50k in Golden Gate State Park in Colorado. The Dirty 30 50k is known to be a “best first ultra” for the fact that it has pre-race events such as happy hours and course preview runs that help build connections. We met Liz on a course preview run, had similar paces, and met up several times for our long runs.
My initial goal race for the year was the 50k, my first ultra distance race. I began training in January and after some time on the trails together, my partner Coley found her way to the registration page and snagged the last women’s entry. Being members of the LGBTQ community, we were both excited to see the “non-binary” gender option for registration and were truly delighted to find an elder queer running partner in Liz. The community we had found was of diverse backgrounds, ages, and identities that transcended differences and created lasting bonds. The three of us have talked about everything under the sun— from childhood memories, to running a successful business, to “what do you and Romona argue about the most?” Hours and hours of trail chats bonded us together faster than most friendships I have formed over a lifetime. It feels like we have known each other for years, and we have all become each other's biggest advocates.
The three of us were the last 3 finishers of the Dirty 30 50k. We knew it was a hard course, but the heat of the day kept us chasing cutoff after cutoff. Coley and I were last to cross the finish line, but since Liz started in an earlier wave, she received the DFL award and we celebrated in tears for our first successful ultra. After some weeks of recovery, the three of us met up for another long run and Liz started working her magic. “Wasn’t the Dirty 30 epic!? Don’t you want to run the Silverton Dirty 60k with me? It’s only 5 more miles! I’m going to be out there alone — in the dark!!”
It didn’t take much coercing. We wanted to be a support for Liz’s ultimate goal of running a 60k for her 60th. The race doesn’t allow pacers for the 60k distance, so we signed up and dedicated our training to supporting Liz to that finish line!
The morning of the race was full of excitement and anticipation. We knew once we made the cutoff to the first aid station, we would be allowed to finish as there would be 100k and 100 mile finishers coming in behind us. The sunrise guided our way through the valley along the railroad tracks for the first 5 miles. Then we started to climb. The first aid station was a party, celebrating our arrival in the time limit, before setting off on the marathon we still had ahead. We continued to climb to above 12,000 feet before a short lived downhill. The final push was a 3.5 mile stretch of 2200 ft of gain. Our biggest ebb in our “ebb and flow” check ins with each other.
The 8 mile descent back to Silverton was not easy on our tired legs, but our spirits were high. By the time we made it to the river crossing we were stumbling and loopy from the time on our legs, the smoke we had been breathing in from nearby wildfires, and the concentration it took to place one foot in front of the other in the dark. The bitter chill of the water didn’t set in until the three of us crossed the finish line, hand in hand, at 16:46:36.
We celebrated as if we took first place. We attempted to eat at the taco bar and recapped the journey to our loved ones with the heat blasting all the way back to our condo. It was an adventure of a lifetime which culminated in a 60k race. In reality, it was a combination of 1,970 miles, 500 hours, and a load of sweat, heart and determination. We walked away with a medal to show our accomplishment and, more importantly, with memories and a community of friendships that will last a lifetime.