Guest Post by Colin Jenks: Colorado Trail 100 Mile

For the last four months, I had been training for the Kirkwood 100, a trail race in California. Last Friday, Corey, Abbie, and I flew to Sacramento only to learn upon landing that the race had been cancelled at the last minute due to poor air quality from the wildfires. We immediately called Robyn and Bear, my pacers and crew, and told them not to get on their flight, and then we boarded an afternoon flight back to Denver. Right before boarding our flight, Bear texted me a route he had drawn up, a 100-mile point-to-point run on the Colorado Trail from Breckenridge to Denver. The four of us decided we were going to make this new plan happen. Over the next 36 hours, we poured over maps, recruited more pacers and crew members, arranged care for our kids, and packed up our cars with gear and food. We were all wondering “Is this really possible to pull off”? We had to find out. 

We left Denver around 4:45am on Sunday morning and headed towards Breckenridge. Smoke from the west coast wildfires had blanketed Denver in an ash-filled smog for the past few days, which made for an ominous drive. We knew that the external variable most likely to derail this attempt was the air quality, and we hoped we would find better conditions as we climbed in elevation. The drive to the trailhead went smoothly, and by 6:30am we were pulling off of highway 9 to meet Robyn and Bear at the trailhead.

At this point, the entire idea still felt surreal. I had spent an enormous amount of time visualizing the Kirkwood 100 and it was proving to be exceptionally difficult to pivot my mindset to this new challenge. But my shoes were on, the air quality looked good, and my crew was ready, and at 6:45am I told myself, “Fuck it, let’s run” and stepped onto the winding single track trail that would lead me back home.

I often think of trailheads as hidden portals scattered throughout the world. Some are found at the end of dusty dirt roads while others sit right next to a bustling highway. Like real life Narnia wardrobes, trails will quickly transport you to a completely new world. I acutely felt this sentiment as the trail climbed quickly and I was swallowed into the forest.

The first six miles would be my only solo miles, as we had arranged pacers to join me from that point to the finish. I quickly met up with the crew at mile 6, refilled my water bottles, and set off with Robyn, who would accompany me for the next 13.5 miles. We cruised for a while just trying to keep it light and easy and then buckled in for the long climb up Georgia Pass, topping out at around 12,000 feet. It was at this point where the enormity of what lay ahead really hit me, and I had to consciously focus on the next mile, the next climb, the next aid station. Most challenges in life, when viewed in their totality, seem overwhelmingly large and complex. In distance running, as in life, I’ve found the best way to approach these challenges is to break them down into manageable chunks and chip away, bit by bit. Mile by mile, aid station by aid station, bit by bit.

At the summit of Georgia Pass, around mile 19, Robyn swapped out for Nina, who would take me to Kenosha Pass. A ball of positive energy, Nina had driven up from Denver, overheated her car, abandoned said car, joined me on the trail, and immediately asked if I was constipated. That question was not completely unwarranted, as I had commented how my stomach felt slightly off and I was feeling a touch bloated. But I could still get calories in, and the rest of the body felt great, so I wasn’t too concerned at this point. We made quick work of the backside of Georgia Pass and settled into those sacred flowing strides, the long ground-eaters. My mindset at this point was keep it easy and cover distance.

Alex tapped in for Nina at the top of Kenosha, and he kept my mind occupied with stories of pacing Softrock and Nolan’s. We picked up Scott at mile 38, and the three of us spent the next few hours moving through miles of aspen groves and expansive meadows. Just three bros, going for a run in the woods, yapping it up in the afternoon sun. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My stomach was still on the fritz and I knew that if I couldn’t find a way to up my caloric intake, I was eventually going to pay.

The bill came due a few hours after sunset. It was time to pay the piper. Aviva had replaced Alex, while Scott was hanging with me for a few more sections, so those two had to bear witness to my own personal train wreck. Luckily, Aviva has a unique calming presence about her, and Scott can stay positive through most any situation. My stomach was turned inside out, and the caloric deficit had finally caught up. Under a moonless night, we were reduced to walking and barely jogging the next seven miles to the crew. Even as the wheels were coming off, I remembered why I love running in the dark. Your entire world is reduced to the beam of light from your headlamp, which for me at least, is calming and peaceful. The world is quiet and still, and as we moved through the night, I remembered that we are all just passing through; small beams of light running for home.

I met up with my crew at mile 61 and was in bad shape. I still wasn’t eating, hallucinations had set in (I saw a miniature fully mature African lion watching me from a tree), and my confidence was shot. The only redeeming thought was that it couldn’t get any worse at this point. I was so wrong. Now with Scott and Bear, the next four miles took almost two hours to cover. At 3 a.m., I found myself at mile 65, uncontrollably shivering in the front seat of our car, crying into my hands, as Corey tried to help me warm up and take a few bites of ramen. I was spent and honestly did not know if I was going to be able to finish. The majority of the crew had headed home at this point which left just four of us: Robyn, Bear, Corey, and me. It would have felt poetic if my feet didn’t hurt so fucking much.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is impossible to truly grasp the mental and physical toll an endeavor like this takes on the crew and pacers. Without them, I would still be sitting in that car, crying and doubting that I could continue. They knew I was going into hell. And they all chose to come with me.

As Bear and I headed back out on the trail, Corey and Robyn drove ahead to the next meeting point, eight miles away. I focused on one of my common running mantras: just get to Corey. I knew that when I saw her next, the sun would be up, and I would be one section closer to the end. I don’t remember much of this section, except for Bear force-feeding me bites of snickers and oat bars. At one point, I realized I was falling asleep while moving and had to lay down for a 5-minute trail nap. Laying in the dirt, I was fully asleep in less than 10 seconds and felt amazingly refreshed after Bear woke me up. With some renewed energy and the edges of the sun coming over the horizon, I was able to start running again for the first time in nearly 15 miles. Just get to Corey. Just get to Corey.

Buffalo Bum, mile 73.4. I finally found my appetite and shoveled 600 calories of buttery mashed potatoes into my body. Keep your Michelin stars and fancy restaurants, I will never taste something better than those mashed potatoes cooked over a camp stove on a back road in the middle of the woods. Leaving Buffalo Bum, I felt for the first time that I was actually going to finish this thing. Bear and I made relatively quick work of the next section, although we did have to contend with the rising temperatures as we ran through the exposed and sunny Hayman fire burn scar. After using the river to cool off and restocking supplies at the last meet up, Robyn jumped in for Bear, and we prepared for the last section.

Mile 84 until the end; one more section; just get to Corey; bit by bit. Robyn and I were loaded down with water as we began the 2,000-foot climb that guarded this last hot and long section. The climb was slow going but my legs still miraculously worked, and I was able to run down the backside towards Waterton canyon, the six-mile stretch of dirt road that would take us to the end. This last section felt in many ways like a celebration. As we tend to do when running together, Robyn and I talked nearly the entire time, about serious things and funny things, about the heat, about the beauty of the Colorado trail, about our families and kids. As we emerged from the single-track trail onto Waterton Canyon Road, Robyn kept saying, “You are going to do it! It’s happening, you are going to do it!”

Unfortunately, we were running low on water and still had six exposed miles to go. I was getting nervous about my hydration until, like a mirage, Scott appeared down the road from us. Running up the canyon with a pack full of bottles, he had come to deliver some much-needed water. Scott has one of the biggest smiles of anyone I know, and I have never been happier to see his beaming mug.

The three of us jogged the last remaining miles in the late-afternoon light and finally, around the last bend in the road, the finish appeared. I was blown away to see a group of family and friends had arrived to watch me finish and even set up a finish line, complete with finisher’s tape and homemade medals. After 34 hours and 59 minutes, I was back in Denver.

Some final thoughts and thanks. There are some distance discrepancies for the entire length of the route, but the final distance is somewhere in the 104–107-mile range. The Colorado Trail is an unbelievable way to experience the beauty of this state. It is hard to fathom that you can travel nearly 500 miles on pristine single-track all the way from Denver to Durango. It is impossible to put into words how thankful I am to everyone who helped out with this adventure. Thank you to Kate and Linda, who planted the seed for this idea, watched Abigail and Rosie for the weekend, held an awards ceremony after I finished, and brought 12 La Casita bean and cheese burritos for my post-run meal. Thank you to my brother Ryan for taking time out of wedding planning to come to the finish. Thank you to Camille and Sonny for bringing popsicles to the finish and cheering me through the end. Thank you to Nina, Aviva, and Alex for agreeing at the last minute to pace and crew. Your energy and enthusiasm carried me through a lot of miles. Thank you to Scott and Whitney who jumped in immediately after driving from Lake Tahoe to Colorado. Scott ran nearly 30 hard miles with me and helped me through some serious dark points. Whitney was instrumental in helping the aid stations run smoothly and keeping the stoke high. Thank you to Robyn, Lead Pacer, for pacing the first and the last legs and running the aid stations in between. You are the happiest runner I know and your joy for running in the mountains was infectious. Thank you to Bear, Race Director, for planning this entire adventure. Within a few hours of us deciding to go after this, he had mapped the entire route and found every point to set up an aid station. He then paced for 11ish hours and guided me through the darkest moments of this entire journey. And thank you to Corey, Crew Chief, for everything. You stayed up for 36 hours, organized all the gear and food at every aid station, and drove miles of dirt roads on a spare tire. You also provided every ounce of support I needed, exactly when I needed it. When I was at my lowest, you told me, “Just give yourself a chance, just make it to sunrise”. As usual, you were right.

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