I did my first Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (EMGT) race in 2006. I repeated the race in 2007 and 2008. At that time, the race was still a nordic race and we competed on metal edge, pattern based nordic skis with NNN bindings and boots. Since that time the race has changed as significantly as the gear. The race is now a full skimo race with competitors on the latest and greatest super light skimo gear. The winter EMGT starts from Crested Butte at midnight and you see very little of the course in daylight. When Wick and the rest of the Elk Mountain Events crew decided to start a summer EMGT in 2013, Emily and I registered right away. I was excited to see this terrain in the daylight and do it as a run. Unfortunately, the 2013 race was cancelled. We were excited when the race was once again scheduled for 2014. With the pinched nerve from my back still causing me issues with my right foot, I was not sure I could run 40 miles this summer, but we wanted to be part of this first year event so we registered and I figured that worst case I could walk the 40 miles and still finish within the cut-off times. To add a little excitement to this, we thought it would be fun to spend the night in Aspen and run back to Crested Butte on Sunday via Conundrum Hot Springs (this seemed like a much better idea than it actually was). The timing of this long weekend of running would work out great for Emily’s Wasatch 100 preparations as it would provide her long and hard miles 3 weeks before the race and allow her to go into her taper feeling well trained.
I love spending time in Crested Butte in the winter and over the past 2 winters have been lucky enough to spend several days there each winter racing and touring. I had never been to CB in the summer so I was excited to see it as everyone always told me summers were better than winters. I would disagree with this if the winters weren’t extremely cold in CB.
We arrived in CB before lunch on Friday and had a good shakeout run. We caught up with friends at racer check-in, then spent some time relaxing and getting gear ready for the race and the return run. We ended up lucky that our friends Emily Sullivan and Liz Gleason decided to run the team’s race. This meant that Brent and Stu would be able to take a bag to Aspen for us so that we had a fresh set of cloths and gear for the return run on Sunday and we would be able to all go out for a good dinner in Aspen after the race.
With a 6AM race start, we were in bed early for what unfortunately turned out to be a second night in a row of very poor sleep. The morning was chilly and the race started downtown CB as the sun rose in the east and the steam rose off the creek beds making for a beautiful race start. I felt great in the morning and the week prior to the race I had some of the best runs I had all year. The pace was hard as we traversed around Mt Crested Butte. As we approached Brush Creek around mile 6, I started to have a recurrence of the extensor tendonitis in my right foot that first reared it’s head as yet another side effect of my nerve damage during the Pie-N-Beer Marathon at the end of July. The pain continued to worsen as I ran on. At the Brush Creek Aid Station (mile 9.5) I wanted to drop, but decided that I would at least push on to Taylor Pass (mile 22) so I could get a ride down to Aspen. At this point, I continued to let people pass me as I maintained a slow but steady shuffle trying to find a way to reduce the pain in my foot. It only grew worse and would eventually lead to pain all the way up my shin (the anterior tibialis muscle in my right leg has been one of the most affected areas from the nerve damage and this is the muscle that was now in pain). I spent most of the run to Taylor Pass on my own, but leap frogged with Emily S and Liz several times which broke up the time alone. They would pass me on the downhills (I was unable to run downhill) and I would pass them on the uphills (I could still run and power hike these).
The scenery was AMAZING. I tried to spend as much time enjoying the beauty of my surroundings and not focusing on my foot and leg pain. I was enjoying identifying some of the areas that I had ski raced past and was even able to identify the 2 areas where I got lost during the 2007 and 2008 races. At Taylor Pass, I decided to keep moving as I could walk the 18 miles to Aspen faster than waiting for a ride down when the aid station would close 4 hours later. Since I couldn’t run down, my plan was that if the pain got too bad, I would drop at the top of Aspen and take the gondola down. I restocked my food from my drop bag, had 4 Advil and a 5-Hour Energy, then was off. There were a series of steep descents and climbs after the aid station and by the time we hit runnable terrain, my ‘cocktail’ had kicked in and I was able to run. I didn’t expect this to last so I pushed the pace as hard as possible. By mile 33 my quads and right calf were starting to cramp and I was out of electrolytes. I pushed on focusing on everything but my body.
As we ran down Richmond Ridge I kept thinking of how much this section sucks during the ski race. I was also now starting to recognize much of the terrain from the Power of Four Race and I knew the Aspen Sun Deck was very close. I grabbed some food and water from the Sun Deck Aid Station and started down to the finish line. By this time I couldn’t justify dropping, I was too close. I was not at all looking forward to this descent and with my cramping quads and calf I knew this was going to hurt. It was ~5.5 miles and 3500’ down to the finish line. The trail started out great single track and I was able to keep a good pace. After about a mile, I caught my right toe on a rock (something else I commonly do because of the nerve damage). As I tried to catch myself, my right calf completely cramped with my toe pointing straight down. This caused me to fall as I could not put weight on my foot. I was rolling on the ground screaming from the cramped muscle trying to work it out. After about 30 seconds I was able to get up and hobble a few steps, then work myself up to a run. By now the trail had gotten quite steep so with my camped muscles, I had to really push through some pain. One more toe catch (but luckily no cramping) cause me to go down hard on a tight switchback and 10 minutes later the finish line was visible. I pushed through the finish and just wanted to sit down. Brent and Stu had just arrived and I knew the girls were not far behind me (only about 15 minutes at this point) so we waited to cheer them through as the first place team. Emily would come through a couple hours later. We all agreed that the race was much harder than we had expected it to be, but we all had a great time.
I finished in 8:05:35, Emily S and Liz finished in 8:19:10, and Emily finished in 10:26:02
Benn congratulating Emily at the finish
None of these guys teams knew that had been ‘chicked’ until awards and the announcer made it very clear to them what had happened.
We all enjoyed a few beers from Aspen Brewing Company and some BBQ, then headed off to the hotel that Emily and I had booked. All of us got cleaned up, then have dinner together. Brent, Emily, Liz, and Stu then headed to rifle to climb on Sunday and Emily and I spent the night in Aspen to run back on Sunday. We had a great Mexican dinner filled with far too many margaritas, then it was time for everyone to take off. We made sure we had all our gear we needed and sent our wet, dirty, and smelly gear from the race home with Brent and Emily (I am sure it will smell great when we finally unpack it on Wednesday). Emily and I were tired and after 2 bad nights of sleep in a row, we were hoping for a good night sleep.
After another poor night of sleep, we got up Sunday morning tired with sore legs. Due to the cramping and tendonitis, my right foot, right calf, and both quads were very sore and even tender to the touch. We were questioning the wisdom of running back to Crested Butte, but at this point we had no option. We had our left over Mexican food for breakfast, packed our running packs, then grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the bus station. We took the Aspen City bus a few miles to the Castle Creek Road, then hitchhiked the 5 miles up to the trailhead. We were lucky enough to get picked up quickly and before we knew it we were power hiking up the trail trying to get our legs warmed up. Emily was warming up quickly, but my body was completely rejecting the idea of any type of running. Finally around 5 miles in I found a nice easy shuffle/jog and we worked our way up to the hot springs. The trail was beautiful. After 8 miles we reached the hot spring and enjoy a quick 20-minute soak, ate some food, then continued the 2 miles up to Triangle Pass. This section of trail was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The wildflowers were absolutely amazing. We were running through a beautiful alpine meadow with flowers in full bloom and massive peaks all around us. We had great views of peaks like Hunter, Reefe, Hillard, Cathedral, Conundrum, Castle, and many more.
The run off Triangle Pass was rocky which kept our pace slow (and made me happy). My legs were still crampy from Saturday so I stopped several times to stretch my calf and quads. By the time we got to Copper Creek, I was ready to be done, but we still had about 6 miles to go. We enjoyed our slow pace and eventually reached the trailhead just above the ghost town of Gothic. Luckily there were several cars there and a mt biker was just loading his bike and agreed to give us a ride into CB (the last thing we wanted to do was run the 3 miles of slightly climbing gravel to Mt Crested Butte, then run the 3 miles of asphalt down to CB). By 4PM we were in CB and went directly to Sherpa Cafe for some much needed food.
After a huge meal and a shower we went to Montanya Distillery for some of their amazing rum cocktails (this has become a post race CB tradition for me). Three cocktails each later and it was well past time to go home. We were lucky enough to be staying at our friend, Allen Hadley’s place so it was nice to not be relegated to a hotel room.
Emily rehydrating at Montanya
After a 4th restless night of sleep, we got up Monday morning, decided against a run up Red Lady like we had originally planned and instead hit Camp 4 Coffee for a caffeine fix and then hit the road for the long drive home.