Records Fall at the Grand Mesa Ultra
By Trudy Berghauser, aid station coordinator
60K, 50 mile, and 100 mile trail run
July 28 & 29, 2012
Grand Mesa, Colorado
The temperatures in mid June passed the 100 degree mark. The usually bright blue skies were hazy with the smoke of distant wildfires. Every time our local volunteer fire department zoomed up Highway 65 toward Grand Mesa, race directors Phil Berghauser and Rick Schaefer and their enthusiastic volunteers would wonder if the Third Annual Grand Mesa Ultra would actually take place this year.
But the monsoons arrived early, bringing much needed rain to western Colorado. Race check-in saw runners and staff dodging rain drops and small hail stones. Puddles formed in the parking lot of the Grand Mesa Lodge and the pre-race dinner of pasta salad, Olathe sweet corn, and homemade cookies was consumed amidst the rain and mud.
The weather gods smiled on the event, with partly cloudy skies and cooler temperatures on race day. The usually vicious mosquitoes weren’t even too bad this year. Runners for all three distances headed off into the predawn darkness from the start at the Grand Mesa Lodge. They followed the rocky Crag Crest Trail to the spine of Grand Mesa. Lucky runners caught the sunrise at 11,200 feet. At the first aid station back at the lodge, Alex Johnson and Karl Shadduck were leading the 60K runners with Rick Gregory only minutes behind. Johnson gradually gained a lead throughout the race and would go on to win the 60K in 5:17, a new course record. Shadduck took second at 5:34 and Gregory finishing third at 5:48. Emma Lohr was the top women’s finisher and fifth overall with her women’s record of 6:08.
After leaving the Grand Mesa Lodge Aid Station, the runners journeyed toward Grandby Lakes on a “road” that has been described as “a bunch of rocks with a little dirt thrown in between them”. After the Grandbys, the runners continued on to Flowing Park, the turn-around point for the 60K. The 50 and 100 milers continued on to Indian Point, a 14-mile loop of open meadows with spectacular views of the Gunnison River Valley, the Uncompahgre Plateau, and the San Juan Mountain. In the 50-mile run, Duncan Callahan and Troy Howard ran a close race and were neck-and-neck through Indian Point and Flowing Park. Callahan gained the lead on his way to the finish, winning the 50 with a time of 7:20, a new course record. Howard finished a strong second with 7:35. Melanie Fryar was third overall and the top women’s finisher at 8:20. This is a new women’s record.
While the 60K and 50 milers were headed back to friends, family, comfy chairs, and cold beers at the finish, the 100 milers had many long, rough miles ahead of them. After receiving cheers, refreshments, and free Cds by the David Starr Band (thanks for being a sponsor, David!) at the Carson Lake Aid Station, the runners descended into the heat of Kannah Creek. After a rough nine miles of rocky twists and turns, the runners entered “The Moo-tivation Station” aka Kannah Creek Aid Station. Then came the crux of the race - the 4,000 foot climb back to the top of the Mesa. Following the ascent, the runners caught a break as they traveled the nearly level roads to Land’s End and Anderson Lakes Aid Stations. After a shorter descent to Mesa Lakes and the climb back up “Kill Phil Hill” (yes…it is named for the race director), the trail wound around lakes and through meadows back to Carson Lake and eventually to the finish.
Michael Carson held the lead through the first part of the race. He missed a turn headed to Carson Lake and Jeremy Bradford moved to the front. Bradford extended his lead as the race progressed, finishing at 20:33, shattering the previous course record of 23:26. Carson ran a great race, finishing second with 21:34. Bryce Astill took third with 23:48.
“If you’re looking for a challenge, this is where you’re going to get it,” said Dale Hawkins after completing his second successful finish of the 100 mile course. Out of 22 starters, only 9 racers completed the 100 mile run this year. No women have completed the course (yet!).
When asked more about the race, Hawkins continued, “It was challenging. It was hard. Some of the trails are primitive with some tricky marking. The aid station volunteers were fantastic and went above and beyond. I can’t say enough about the beauty of the course.”
I am fortunate as the aid station coordinator to experience this event with my family and my friends. I get to see amazing things and meet wonderful people. But I think the high point of this year was to see a group of 30 to 40 runners, crew members, and race staff gather together as a community as 72-year old Hans-Dieter Weisshaar crossed the 100-mile finish with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He hugged his wife, Susi, first, but then proceeded to hug everyone else. Hans, you rock!
To all of the runners, crews, and family…it was great to meet you. I hope to see you again.
To all of the volunteers…I love you guys! Couldn’t do it without you.
To our ham radio operators….thanks for keeping everyone safe and smiling!
To my husband, the race director…You are absolutely nuts for doing this. (When’s next year’s race?)