My first DFL

I was beyond excited when I saw James Varner’s announcement of the John Cappis 50k Fat Ass. This race sounded like right down my alley: 20,000ft of elevation gain, mostly off-trail, unmarked course, and 6 out of 7 peaks over 13,000ft. There were only two problems: I was signed up for Tushars 100k that day and it was unclear I could be in Silverton, CO, on that day already, even if I’d drop Tushars. Contrary to popular belief, I do actually have a job, even in the summer.

After some thinking and planning, I decided to drop Tushars and to drive straight from Portland to Silverton to participate in the John Cappis madness without any acclimatization. That meant leaving from work earlier and driving 1,200mi in about 18h. Nothing too crazy—yet.

The John Cappis 50k Fat Ass also seemed to fit much better into my “Madsterplan:” getting ready for the UTMB (100mi, 30k EG) and Tor des Geants (200mi, 80k EG) double. The fat ass would likely keep me on my legs longer than Tushars and involve much more elevation gain. Scheduling together three tough races (Ochoco 100k, Tushars 100k John Cappis 50k, and Ouray 100), all one week apart, was supposed to put the final touches on my UTMB/Tor double prep. We shall find out in September if that was a good plan…

The 2017 Madsterplan.

So on Thu, Jul 27, we started the long drive to Silverton. A brief night was spent in Ontario, OR. We reached Silverton on Fri, Jul 28, around 6pm.

Silverton sits at 9,300ft (2834m). I started to get really nervous about this race when I had to carry my running gear up to the 3rd floor at the Grand Imperial Hotel. Not being acclimatized, my breathing was so hard that I had to stop to take breaks. How was I even going to make it up the first peak the next morning?! By oxymeter confirmed that I was definitely not ready. It went as far as beeping at me, indicating dangerously low arterial oxygen levels.

Well, I figured a good night of sleep was all I could do at this point. So I prepped my gear, stared in disbelief at the route one more time, and hit the sack.

The epic John Cappis 50k route. Mostly off-trail, crossing very few roads.

The even more epic John Cappis 50k elevation profile. 6 out of 7 peaks reach 13,000ft.

The alarm went off at 4am. I quickly got ready and headed over to The Avon Hotel. 16 qualified people were signed up for the race, 12 showed up. Shortly after 5am we all took off into the still dark night. Surprisingly, I felt good and the first climb straight up the avalanche chute of Kendall Mountain was a hell of a lot of fun. The terrain was difficult, but nothing I wasn’t used to. We all quickly got carwashed as the vegetation was very thick in parts and wet. I didn’t know yet that I was going to be wet for most of the long day.

Arriving at the “pre-summit” of Kendall Mountain. I felt surprisingly ready for a long day. (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

Views! (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

We followed gorgeous ridge lines to the actual Kendall Mountain summit and then headed down into the valley where we crossed Animas River and hit the first of three “check points.” They only served water, but we were allowed to have a drop bag at each of them. I had none for the first, loaded up with water, and headed up Macomber Peak.

The weather turned more wet and there was very thick fog on the next summits and ridges. The navigation required my full attention, but I felt in my element. Two runners were ahead of me and at some point I caught up to them. We started the descent to check point #2 pretty much together. Michael Versteeg and I ended up reaching check point #2 at about the same time.

Ursina was waiting there and I quickly changed into more appropriate shoes (La Sportiva Crossover) for that weather and terrain, put on dry socks, and had some coffee and food before heading out for the climb over Anvil Mountain.

Climbing out of check point #2. (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

I rolled into check point #3 (mile 19.2) after about 10h, and just one hour before the cutoff. Michael had taken the lead and was nowhere to be seen. I had no clue how far behind the other runners were. It turned out that all except two of them were not going to make the cutoff. I quickly ate some hot soup that Ursina had brought, changed into a dry jacket, and was on my way again.

My youngest fan at check point #3 (mile 19.2). (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

Heading out of check point #3. (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

Getting ready for the river crossing. (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

Just a tad cold and wet. (c) Photo by Criss Furman.

For the river crossing just after check point #3 I decided to remove the shoes. I had packed dry socks and was hoping to somehow save my feet with that plan. I think it somehow worked for the next few hours.

The climb up Bear Mountain seemed endless and I had to stop a lot because I was breathing too hard and my legs lacked power. The Ochoco 100k a week before had definitely left some marks as well. It became clear that this race was going to go deep into the dark (literally and figuratively).

There was some scrambling on modestly exposed and steep slopes to reach the summit of Bear Mountain, but nothing too crazy. Just as I started the descent, I noticed two runners a few miles further down, slowly making their way up the mountain as well. It was good to know that I was being chased. Yet, I struggled on the downhill into Bear Creek Valley. And even more so on the uphill to Sultan Mountain, the last significant peak of the route. Another storm moved in, it rained, and simply took me forever to climb these steep slopes. By the time I finally reached the summit, it started to get dark.

I’m very comfortable navigating in the dark (albeit not always successful), so I wasn’t worried, got into night mode, and started my descent. The last views before the dark took over were amazing, except that Silverton looked impossibly far away. It also got very windy and chilly, to the point where I needed to get my hand warmers started, which I had packed just in case. I was very glad I did. No more runners were to be seen behind me at this point, so I wasn’t sure if they were slow as I was, lost, or had bailed.

The descent into Silverton was painful and took another two hours. Navigating in difficult terrain at night, without a trail, is not a recipe for moving fast. There were cliffs to be avoided and lots of downed trees to be climbed over. At some point, I was seriously worried that I may not reach the finish before the midnight cutoff.

I finally reached highway 550 and after an unexpected and brief puking episode at the entrance of Silverton, I rolled into town. I wasn’t expecting anyone at this point at the “finish line,” yet, an incredibly cheerful crowd was waiting for me with champagne and sparklers! I was told that I was the last one standing and the 2nd runner to finish. Wow, my first DFL (Did Finish Last or Dead F*cking Last)! Michael Versteeg had finished in an amazing time of 14:47:00. It had taken my unacclimatized sea-level body 17:52:00 to complete the 50km distance.

I also learned that the two runners who made it through check point #3 after me (and before the cutoff) decided to bail by following the Bear Creek Valley trail that took them to the road.

We all hung out at the Avon Hotel and enjoyed company, food, and drinks until well past midnight. The race clearly delivered what James had promised! I had a blast and got challenged as I had never been in a 50k race.

After a rather short night we drove to Ouray, where we were going to stay for a week before I’d make an attempt to complete the Ouray 100 race. More on that another day…

Special thanks to Ursina Teuscher, KB BessCriss FurmanJames VarnerKim Wrinkle, and to all the amazing helpers and runners who made this even so special!

Post-race festivities at The Avon Hotel.

The results. Also on Ultra Signup.