North Fork 50 Mile 2010


So after being pulled at Laurel Highlands at mile 53.2 because of missing a cut-off by only a few minutes, what does an ultramarathoner do?

Well, an ultramarathoner finds another race and registers for it!

I found one, the  North Fork 50 Mile in Colorado. Indeed, the evening I registered, I was feeling so good that I registered not only for the North Fork 50 Mile but also my local hometown ultra, the Lean Horse Hundred.


This year on July 17th was the first running of the North Fork 50 mile and 50 kilometer races.  

Proceeds of the race were to benefit the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department who had battled several past forest fires in the area.

Being about 6 weeks before Lean Horse and also located not far from where Haliku lives, we both decided to do this race.

It would be a nice training run.



The race was almost entirely on single track with an alittude range of 6700 to 8000 ft.

Several forest fires had burned in the area before. Although much of the trail were in Ponderosa Pine forest remniscent of home in western South Dakota, there were large deforested area devoid of shade.













The temperatures were forecasted as being up to 90 to 100 degrees by the afternoon.

Haliku wisely decided to drop down to the 50-kilometer race. 50 mile entrants who dropped down to the 50-k before the start of the race would get credit for being 50-k finishers. 50 mile races who dropped at the 50-k point during the race would be DNF.

I, on the other hand, decided to try running the 50 mile "because it would be better to DNF the 50 mile than to finish the 50k knowing I could have gone further."

I have used this logic at many other races. "Better to go as far as I could" than to run a shorter race I know I could finish instead.

Hey, I never said I wasn't stubborn, now did I?

I chose to take the early start. The race directors kindly allowed us back-of-the-packers to start an hour early so we would have a better chance of finishing before cut-off.

I started out for a few minutes with the legendary Uli Kamm. Uli has finished hundreds of ultramarathons, all of them walking. His walk pace was amazing- I could barely keep up at a fast jog! Soon he left me as I found my own race pace.

As predicted the temperature heated up quickly. It wasn't long before I wondered of the wisdom of my decision and decided that Haliku was the wiser of us today.

The aid stations were well stocked and organized. At one aid station, I even saw a volunteer who I recognized from previous ultras. It was Holley Lange. I had met her at several previous ultras and was glad to hear she was coming up to run Lean Horse this year.

Although this was the first time North Fork was run, the race directors had previous experience directing other ultras before they moved to Colorado.


Then I heard a familiar whistle.

It was Haliku!

He had started an hour after me and was making good time. There was no way I could keep up and I left them to go on their way.

I started to feel the heat. At one point I was so dizzy and lightheaded, I had to sit down in the shade. I hadn't peed for a few hours, "I must be dehydrated, " I thought. I drank both of my water bottles and most of my Camelback too.

In a few minutes I felt better and got up. The shade was tolerable but as soon as we entered the open areas, the heat rose up from the ground and burned our faces as if we had opened an oven.

I ran with a couple of other runners before settling in with Bill who is retired and who runs ultramarathons all over the country. 

As usual, we talked about many things, running the meaning of life, previous ultramarathons run and so on.

After the race he told me a story about the Arkansas Traveler 100 mile ultramarathon a few years ago. It was the same hot weekend that the Chicago 26.2 mile marathon was cancelled due to heat and yet there in Arkansas a 100 mile ultramarathon race was not cancelled.

As the saying goes, "Any fool can run a marathon but it takes a special kind of fool to run an ultramarathon."

Bill usually travels to the race course weeks ahead and trains there. Thus he was well acclimated to the heat. He saw many very fit athletes drop during the day and felt confident that he could keep going.

Then as night fell, runners put on the their head lamps and were stunned to see copperheads lying across the trail. Copperheads are venomous snakes that usually are extremely well-camoflaged when lying in dry leaves during the day. However, at night and by head lamp – they glow (I never would have known that).

The snakes did not move or make any attempt to get out to the way. Instead the runners had to jump over them.

To this day if you ask anyone who did Arkansas Traveler that year about the snakes, their eyes get big and they have a story to tell.  I'm sure no one fell asleep while running that night.

In ultramarathons, you see it is not only about who has the best time, who won or who placed but also about who had the best story.

Jumping over copperheads all night while running a one hundred mile race during the hottest day of the year…. Well, I certainly don't have a story to beat that.

Not yet, I don't.

The 50 milers and the 50-k runners ran together for the first 20 miles.

At about 30 miles there is a T-intersection. The 50-k'ers turn right to their finish and the 50-milers turn left for another twenty mile loop.

As I approached this intersection, I thought hard about what I wanted to do. 

My analysis basically came down to this:

  • Turn left = 20 miles more of needless suffering in the heat.
  • Turn right = you will be done in a few minutes and will be soaking your legs in the cool river while drinking an ice cold beer.

Hmmm… what a tough decision, this is. The main question was: would I be OK with DNF'ing for no good reason other than wanting a cold beer?

I decided that I would be OK with DNFing for cold beer. After all, this was only a training run. No sense beating myself up before my main event, the Lean Horse Hundred in several weeks, right?

At the 30 mile  intersection there was a volunteer directing the runners, she pointed Bill who was running the 50-k to the right. As a 50-mile runner she attempted to direct me to the left.

But I argued with her. I explained to her that I didn't want to keep going, I wanted to stop.

I discussed with her my rationale as succinctly as I could:

  • Turn left = suffering
  • Turn right = cold beer

At that point she looked at her watch and said "it's too late anyway, you're now past cut-off".

I looked at my watch and saw that I was exactly 26 seconds past. While I was spending time rationalizing my decision, the cut off time passed.

"Well, heck, no problem. I'll turn right then!" and I smiled.  

I thought that telling people that "I struggled valiantly all day and missed a cut-off by a few seconds" sounded much better than "I stopped because I was a wimp who wanted a cold beer."

Of course, now you all know the true story. And you know what?

I'm OK with that.

The cold microbrews were great; better than 20 more miles of needless suffering…

Lean Horse Hundred here I come.


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5 responses

  1. [esto es genial]

    August 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

  2. Tomorrow should be in the 80-90s. By comparison, the weather this weekend will seem cool. Everything in perspective, right?
    See you this afternoon! I hope you're be ready to pace me! No stopping me this year!

    August 27, 2010 at 1:19 pm

  3. Great write up Tom. I can totally understand your cold beer logic as well. I did a training run this weekend and again it was hot but not as bad a couple weeks ago. I have been training with a 20 pound pack to increase the difficulty.
    I was looking on the Lean Horse Web site for some kind of results. How did you do?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:34 am

  4. Thanks!
    How did I do? You'll have to wait for my race report to find out. I'll probably write it this weekend after I've had some sleep and rest.
    (Hint: Let's just say that I've been smiling all day)

    August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

  5. Ultra’thoner,

    Glad to see you move to wordpress and congrats for your recent races. Looking forward to the race reports.

    September 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

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