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Fifty miles 50 hard miles

FemaelstromAlison OsiusGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Mike sat in the bathtub wearing only a wool hat and a set expression, a flotilla of ice cubes clinking in the waters around his knees. Ice eases inflammation of the iliotibial band. At work, he set his computer five feet high and stood, to alleviate piriformis syndrome. He sat in the freezing Roaring Fork waters, all preparing for his first 50 miler: the 2007 San Juan Solstice.Training included two 25-milers this spring, and running the office intern up Sopris.Mike, I said. Does Nick understand what hes getting into?Its fine.

He just got here from sea level.Alison. Hes 20 and a track star.This is a sandbag.I prefer to think of it, Mike said, as equalizing.And so we arrived in remote Lake City, elevation 8,671, gloriously big, empty country. Lake City, population 400-something, 75 of them volunteering at the race.The event was the 13th annual, counting the first race, which snowy conditions relegated to a 50K. This course was difficult as well, with a snowcat needed to clear a path to a high aid station.Much of the course is above 12,000 feet on the Continental Divide; it has seven river crossings and a 450-foot snowfield hung with a rope. The race is like running up and down Mount Sopris three times and running 12 miles on top of that, Mike later said; hed had time to think about it.He registered, noting with consternation the deep field in his division, mens 50s. At 5 a.m. the next day, nearly 150 runners set off, with 120 eventually to finish.The boys and I were eager crew at the first aid station, mile 16, spilling powder, sloshing water and dropping the bottle lid in the dirt.The next and only other accessible station was on a high pass at mile 40, where we were beset by pounding rain and a good three rounds of hail. We hovered for 45 minutes, trying to shield Mikes carefully planned and now laid-out stash of foods (bars, nuts and gels that he never ate), meds (Tums and ibuprofen he never took), and bottles of Ensure (those he got down), over which wed spread our raincoats. I looked at Teddy, 13, and saw ice chunks lodged in his hair. When I pointed it out, Roy, 10, said, Mama, so do you.Lightning flashed, thunder rifle-cracked, and a volunteer saw a tree get hit 100 yards away.Mike arrived, pale but hearteningly ambulatory, and we crew drove off toward dry clothes, town and the finish.The Skaggs brothers, Kyle and Erik, 22 and 24, won, running the whole course together. In town, one lagged a little, the other waited, and they crossed together in 8:58.I squinted down the street by the finish. Mike had reached the last station at 2:45 p.m., so might even break 12 hours, his dream. Eban, from Aspen, stood watching for his wife, Jean.4:30, I said. Any time.4:40. I said, He could still break 12.I saw a white shirt, yelled for the kids. Wrong white shirt.4:50. Eban said, Its getting up there.We strained to hear Mikes number called for crossing the bridge into town.4:55. Roy said sadly, Its five minutes from the bridge.I said, Its OK, Roy. He still ran 50 miles.4:56. A white shirt, the right one. I bellowed for the kids to run him in, and yelled, Go! You can still do it! Mike crossed at 4:58.We took him to our shoebox cabin to a hot shower. He tried to eat and almost threw up. I left him in bed with a pan, and returned to the park to cheer the rest of the field, later phoning.You did great: 33rd overall, second in your class. But, sorry, they have you down as 12:01. Apparently they started the race a few minutes early.Oh, Mike said, and paused. It doesnt matter.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com.


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