Grand Mesa 100 Ultramarathon Course NotesHere are my thoughts and advice for running the Grand Mesa 100 Ultramarathon. I have run this race every year since it began. Granted, this is only it's 4th year, but it is a streak and I believe I am the only
Overall, I think the race directors do a pretty good job (especially considering there are not a lot of people involved with the setup etc.) Personally, I wouldn't mind going up there to help setup/mark sections, but once again this year, I was not able to do so. Hopefully, next year.
Here is a quick run down of areas to watch out for during the race. Some due to the nature of the course (remote, not well-traveled, etc.) and a couple are gotchas which could be addressed, but are not too bad. Just be aware of them.
First, most of the race takes place around 10,000 feet (3050 meters). If you are not used to this, it is going to hurt a bit. You will get dehydrated and more easily winded. There is already loads of information about this on the Internet. Google around and read all about it.
Mosquitoes can be a problem in certain areas and can be viscous in some years. 2010 was rough. 2011 was not too bad (other than around Granby lakes). 2012 was a really good year in that there were very few mosquitoes.
Weather is always going to be a factor as well. 2011 was dry during the race, but had been wet prior to the race so the area around Anderson reservoir was flooded with ankle to mid-calf deep water. 2012 was a bit cloudy and rainy at times, which kept the temperatures down while not so wet that the trails was actually drier that the previous year. Despite being cooler during the day (nice!), the air temperate at night was very pleasant (probably due to cloud cover or higher humidity). So nice in fact that I ran most of the race in just a t-shirt and ended up losing my beanie which I had taken off.
Those are general concerned for any high country Colorado ultra. Specifically for this course, here is my list of gotchas.
Crag Crest Loop
This is a beautiful loop and easily one of the most scenic parts of the course. Even if you don't think you can do the full course, at least finish this part.
- When the race starts it will be too dark to see comfortably and the trail is a bit rocky in spots. A light is definitely needed for the first 30 minutes or so. But the sunrise is worth it.
- There is a funny little single track cut through some trees to get around a pile of boulders. This happens in first quarter mile or so. There will be a traffic jam. It doesn't last long though.
- The course turns to single track rather quickly so it will be more difficult to pass past the first half mile or so. Be patient. It is a long race.
- This first section is a big counter-clockwise loop. You do the lower section first, then return on the Crag Crest. There is a T-junction less than a mile from the start of the race where you head right to begin with. After completing the loop you will hit this same T-junction, but you will be running along the top of the 'T' and you will have to look for the turn to the right. I have heard people have missed this in the past. Keep your eyes open starting around 10.5 miles.
|Crag Crest Loop|
|Crag Crest Loop terrain view. Notice the ridge that the course follows. Very scenic and, at times, uncomfortably exciting.|
This is a reroute from previous years. I know that the area around Granby could be quite muddy and buggy and certainly was rocky and rolling. I don't know what this section will bring, but from the looks of it, it should be easier than before.
What to watch out for:
- If you ran the course in prior years, be aware of the reroute. Also, note that the course no longer goes over the Flowing Park Reservoir dam. Instead, the course follows the dirt road all the way to the aid station (this changed from 2011 to 2012). I had to cut back to the road after noticing this last year.
My slightly lost route in 2012. Stay on the main road all the way to the aid station. In previous years, the route went over the dam. This changed in 2012.
Flowing Park to Indian Point to Flowing Park
This section follows the edge of the mesa. On the plus side, it offers amazing views and pretty easy running (it is very flat except of a gradual climb up from the reservoir out to the park). This is also one of the few places where I encountered people not associated with the race.
- This is a long loop without much cover. It can get uncomfortably warm. Also the distance to the Indian Point aid station is quite far. It is further than indicted in the course overview. I think it is closer to 9 or even 10 miles from the reservoir and is well past the halfway point. I have brought extra water for this section for the past two (over 100 oz.). Just be aware that the heat and distance are working against you here. The folks at the aid station are very friendly, but they are right in the fact that horses need shade. Don't expect much beyond water and some snacks (though last year they had grapes and potato chip, both of which were awesome!). The good news is that you only have 5 or so miles to get back to the res and it slightly downhill.
- The trails can be a bit faint and there are "cow trails" which may be confusing. Generally, stay towards the mesa edge all the way to the Indian Point aid station (stay to left) and you will be fine.
- The first year (when I ran the 50), I managed to lose the course between the I.P. aid station and the res and repeated a few miles of the loop. I don't know how I missed this, but at one point you need to cut through the skunk cabbage to complete the loop. In 2011 and 2012, this was easy to follow.
Flowing Park to Carson Lake
This section is fairly short and easy to manage. It is on a slight uphill, but offers a bit more shade than the previous section. This is also time to say goodbye to the 50 milers. They do around 2/3 of this section before heading back to the Mesa Top aid station. The 100 milers will go that way after returning to Flowing Park for a third time much later in the race. (This is my understanding of how the course works as of 2013.)
- Finding your way to Carson Lake can be tricky. Study the maps a bit here. Once you pick up the trail in the trees after you leave the dirt road, it is not that bad. The open meadow is a bit of a gamble though as the "correct" trail is faint.
Carson Lake to Kannah Creek
I really like this section. And the aid stations volunteers are fantastic. :-)
- It can be quite humid in the aspens and kind of buggy.
- The trail tends to get torn up by cows and will be choppy in spots.
- The trail can be muddy in spots.
- There are numerous creek crossing. 2012 was a low water year and it was possible to make it down with dry feet. 2011 not so much.
- As you descend, the temperature will rise and the humidity will fall. By the time you get to the aid station, it will be very hot and dry! In fact, the aid station can be 20+ degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the top of the mesa. You will go from pines and aspens at the top to sage brush at the base.
- This is another rather long section. Again, I recommend bringing extra water and a snack. The heat and distance will get to you.
Kannah Creek to Lands End
Oh, boy. If anything is going to take you out of the race, it is this section. It is a long and steep climb. It will be hot at the bottom. Did I mention that it is steep? Did I mention that it is hot? The climb to the (minor) aid station is around 4 to 5 miles, but climbs around 4000 feet (around 15% on average). My advice is take your time, but make steady progress. Personally, I avoid sugary foods for this section, preferring boiled potatoes and chips instead.
- The climb is long.
- The climb is hot.
- There is very little shade.
- There trail is faint at times.
- It may get dark during your climb (it did for me in 2011 but not for 2012).
- You may want extra water. (I did not bring extra water for this section -- I had probably 70 oz or so. It only took my two-and-a-half hours or so. Combined with the dropping temperatures and a conservative pace, I was able to complete this section feeling pretty good.)
This is the section from Kannah Creek to the top of the mesa. Note the blue dot in the lower left corner is the Kannah Creek aid station. The blue dot in the upper right corner is the minor aid station at the top of the mesa. The Lands End aid station is another 2 to 3 miles along the road at the top of the mesa.
|Kannah Creek to top the mesa|
|Kannah Creek to the top of the mesa terrain view. Notice the contour lines are working against you especially at the top.|
Lands End to Anderson
This section is a welcome reprieve after the previous climb. For me, this was the transition from day running to night. I changed to fresh clothes, grabbed my real headlight, and had some warm clothes ready to go. I also had a bowl of soup. In 2011, I remember being cold when I left this aid station mostly due to wind, but the air temperature had definitely dropped as well. In 2012, I had no such issue. Granted I left Lands End aid station almost two hours earlier in the day. This section is rather easy, but it is also a steady, but gradual climb. Push all the way to far side of Anderson Reservoir. Just stay on the main road and it will be hard to miss the aid station.
- Do not head off towards Carson Lake prematurely. Stay to the left around the lake until you find the aid station in the camp ground.
Anderson to Mesa Lakes
The first part of this section can be easy depending on water levels. In 2012, it was dry and easy. In 2011, it was covered in ankle to mid-calf deep water. The trail can be very difficult to find. Look for the markers. Hopefully, there is a blinker to focus on. There have been cows in the section in previous years. I have never had a negative encounter with them, though it can be unnerving at times seeing eyes reflecting your light everywhere. :-)
- In 2012, I managed to lose the trail (which is faint at best). I think some of the markers got knocked down. I eventually found it again, but be careful.
- The trail gets much more "exciting" once you get into the trees. It gets a bit rocky and steeper so be aware with tired legs and have good lighting. In fact, I'd recommend grabbing a hand-held light at Anderson aid station for better light. The trail is generally easy to follow and a lot of fun, but keep on your toes.
- The aid station moved in 2012. Previously, this was an out and back section. I didn't realize that it had moved and in my exhausted state of mind, thought that they had packed up and left (I had been up and running for probably 19+ hours). I was able to find the markers for the rather strange bushwhacking section, but I was convinced that I had missed the aid station. It turned out the aid station was a little less than a mile up the road. And the aid station crew were super nice. Plus, the universe sensed my anger and threw me a bone (actually, a beer which I found unopened on a log in the middle of nowhere.). I suspect there won't be beer most years. :-)
|Wandering around trying to find the aid station|
|Blue dot showing the actual location of the aid station|
|Magical beer from the Universe! :-)|
Mesa Lakes to Anderson Reservoir
This section starts out tough. The course follows a scree/boulder field on a climb that is ridiculous (but mostly in a good way). Again just be prepared and tough it out as it isn't terribly long, but it is pretty technical. The good news is that this section was very well marked last year. But once I made the top, I had a difficult time following the trail because it was very faint. Look for blinky LED markers. The good news is that if you just keep going straight, you will eventually hit the road. At which point, you turn right and head back to the Anderson Lake aid station.
- Steep, technical climb.
- Faint trail back to the road.
Anderson Reservoir to Carson Lake
The trail to Carson Lake is a bit hard to follow near Anderson Reservoir. The trail is rocky and faint. However, once you get past Anderson Reservoir #1, it becomes easier to follow and pretty easy to run. You should be able to make pretty good time on this section.
Once you cross the road though ('A Rd' is how it is labeled in Google Maps), you will be faced with the challenge of finding your way through the skunk cabbage. The marking through this section are kind of hit and miss. Just find the most tramped route which is headed generally east and go for it. You should eventually hit a much better defined trail to follow. The trail is rocky and technical at times. If you are tired (you are human, right), you should be careful as there are amply opportunities to take a fall on this section. Also, you must pay attention to the sharp turn on the trail. I missed this turn last year and added another quarter mile or so before realizing my mistake.
|The red dot on the left is where I realized I missed my turn. The red dot on right is the Carson Lake aid station.|
- Faint trail with rocky footing for the first mile or so. Can be flooded (was flooded in 2011).
- Trail finding through the skunk weed can be tricky
- Relatively steep and rocky descent. Beware or be prepared to face plant.
- At least one sudden, sharp turn
Carson Lake to the Finish
The rest of this course is the same, but in reverse (and probably in the dark). I found getting back to road to be much easier than finding my way to Carson from the road. Once you are on the road, it is a relatively gradual descent back to Flowing Park where hopefully, you can get in and out (without napping like I did) and be on your way to the start. Again, I don't know anything about the "Mesa Top" section, but it looks easier than the section it replaced.
Good luck to everyone and I hope you enjoy this course as much I have.
Here's to keeping the streak alive in 2013 and beyond!
Also, if you like I have a photo album from the 2012 race. Most of the images are not tagged, but you can turn on location to see where they were taken.