San Juan Trail 50K Race Report

Shelly Robillard and I are standing at a crossroads.


Is it just me or is this our third time through here? I swear up and down to Shelly that we’re not supposed to go straight. We’ve already been straight. But we’ve also been right… and that’s not the way either.


Unable to resist the lure of the flour arrow that was not meant for us, we drift to the right again. We end up back on the road leading to the finish line.

This is awesome, except we’re not sub-2-hour 50K finishers. Pretty close, but not yet. We must be missing something. We turn back.

I hear children in the bushes. I peek around the corner and I’m horrified to find the kids that we saw earlier by the rope swing, now appearing HERE out of nowhere, like crafty little troll spawns. Where did they come from??

“Is the rope swing around here?” I ask, as casually as possible.

Please God don’t let the rope swing be just around the corner.

“Um… yeah. It’s around that corner…” They start giving me directions to the rope swing.

But no, we don’t WANT to go to the rope swing, dummies. We’ve been there twice already.

“We’re not lost,” I lie to them. Then we start backtracking.

By our third loop around, we spot Jesse Haynes, currently in first place. Due to our fine elite bodies, Jesse does not flinch nor look the least bit surprised to see us. We are awesome and impressive in our strides.

Still, I feel compelled to let him know we won’t be beating him today, and I call out that we’re lost. Jesse stops dead in his tracks to give us directions.

“No, it’s ok! Keep going!” I am horrified he has stopped.

It really says something about ultra runners when the first place winner doesn’t think twice about delaying his finish to explain the concept of race markings to a couple of weirdos.

Jesse takes off and I realize there is nothing he can do for us. Besides, I have a suspicion that HE is the one who is lost, not us. We must be on the right track.

There’s nothing anybody can do for us now. Except maybe Pablo. Pablo always knows which color ribbon to follow.

I blame Shacky for this. At the race start, I wasn’t listening to Baz’s directions, and then Baz refused to repeat them in Spanish. After that I spent the entire first loop chatting away to Shelly instead of watching where I was going. All Shacky’s fault.

“Did Baz say to stay right or left?” I asked Shelly in the first couple of miles. I swear it was one of those…

Shelly and I decide that we should have been the ones in charge of the flour. One gazillion pounds of flour please! We’re drawing dotted flour lines through the entire course exactly two feet apart. Easy peasy.

Shelly and I have now been to the same crossroads three times. This time we try left, because I swear to God it’s not straight.

We come up on some new trails and are no less confused. I’m still trying to figure out how we can beat Jesse.

Three runners pass, but they are going in the opposite direction. Clearly we’re on the right track. I ask how far it is to the next aid station.

“One mile,” someone says.

A mile later, we ask another runner.

“One mile,” they say.

Crikey, this is going to be a long race.

The only really bad thing about getting lost is that there are no aid stations for you. Apparently, aid stations are only reserved for runners who are able to stay on course. Hardly fair.

When we finally do reach the aid station, it’s the water-only stop. D’oh. Thankfully, they do have some goodies that I munch on.

Shelly can’t have anything because of her dietary restrictions. I decide to give her my pack later so the next time I get her hopelessly lost in the wilderness, she can bring a sandwich.

A few miles back at the start line, we saw a couple of other runners who dropped after taking the same wrong turn we did. One of them had been right behind Jesse and had to give up second place. Totally know how that feels.

We stopped to chat with them for a while. Chatting is very important when you’re lost. It made me feel better that we weren’t the only ones who got turned around, and I secretly hoped that Shacky was also lost.

A few days earlier, Shacky had been studying the map. I made fun of him for being a nerd. Besides, the thing looked more like a map from The Lord of the Rings than a race course. Who the hell knows what all those little markings mean.

No comprendo.

Then Baz had to change the course at the last minute, so there was a brand new Lord of the Rings map on race day (read Baz’s awesome race report here). I chuckled at all the time Shacky had wasted on such a silly little thing like directions.

At the aid station, the volunteers nicely but strongly suggest that we turn back. Nobody trusts our asses on the trail anymore. Shelly and I discuss the option of dropping to our knees and begging to continue, but we opt for a hot meal from Hell’s Kitchen and a big hug from Baz instead.

I wasn’t smart enough to wear a watch of any kind on race day, so I had no idea what our final mileage was. Shelly was smart enough to wear one, but not smart enough to turn it on. Plus the time on it was wrong. Because we’re an awesome team.

Based on some simple math, our knowledge of time zones, and our best estimation from the placement of the sun and our shadows on the ground, we calculated that we had run 27 miles. We also decided that we beat Shacky. So whatever Shacky’s time would be, our time was a couple minutes before that. YAY us!

Sure enough, we had just crossed the finish line when we saw Shacky behind us. Sure, they forced us to turn back. Sure, we spent some time wandering aimlessly. Yet here we were now, ahead of Shacky. Just where the Universe wanted us to be.

Shacky was yelling at us as he ran in, demanding to know how we got ahead of him. He had spent the second half of his race looking over his shoulder, trying to stay in front of us, and he swore he never saw us pass.

Dude just can’t accept we’re a couple of stealthy trail ninjas. When we tell him about the crossroad, Shacky says we were supposed to go straight.


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