The sun crept behind the San Juan mountains almost as slowly as I crept up Engineer Mountain. It glistened off orange and red aspen trees against the backdrop of fresh snowfall. I stopped and breathed the fresh air. I smiled. I turned upward for my second 12,000+ foot accent of the day. An hour (or so) later, as I crested Rolling Pass alone in the dark, I wondered aloud: “How did I arrive at this point?”
Two months earlier, a kind, energetic race director sent me a $20 race entry coupon. I gleefully told my crew leader/wife that I had to sign up because of the coupon! She laughed, explaining that a $20 coupon is most definitely not a good reason to commit to traveling 100 kilometers on foot over the Colorado mountains in September. She, of course, was right. The true reason, I discovered, was that the SDD30 is ultra at its best: single track; mountains; wildlife; aspen groves; grassy meadows; tundra; river crossings; and a community of fun-loving volunteers and runners. (Not to mention running along an iconic railroad track, ascending and descending the same mountains traversed by world-class runners at the Hardrock 100, and the unparalleled beauty of a small mining town in Colorado.) Pictures of the race are worth more than a thousand words—Ultrarunning Magazine agreed, and put one on their December cover.
Ultrarunners are extremists. Like a true extremist, race director Megan Finnesy not only obtained permits, expertly organized, and started a new ultramarathon in the densest running market in the country—she also decided to add a major charity component to the race. She urged runners to raise money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of southwestern Colorado, providing us with a vehicle to give back to the community that gives us so much.
My number was called out as I entered the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ aid station. The volunteers clapped and cheered for me—a “back of the packer”—because I had raised the most money for their charity. I promised to pay anyone who donated to the charity on my behalf back if I did not finish the race, and the volunteers knew this. One hearty, cowboy-looking volunteer told me: “Don’t worry. I will get you across that finish line if I have to walk with you, carry you, or drag you behind my horse.” One runner can make a small difference, I thought, as I sat drinking some warm beef broth next to the camp fire.
On my own power, and in 24th place, I crossed the SDD30 finish line about 19 hours after I started. Only my wife and a smiling race director greeted me at 3:00 a.m. Megan was going to let me finish regardless of “cutoffs” and how long she had to stay awake. I knew then the answer to the question that I posed atop Rolling Pass about how I arrived at this point: 100 kilometers of epic trail running, community, compassion, and, most importantly, charity. That’s the SDD30.