Colorado Trail, Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Multiday race reports, Trip Reports » DFL in the CTR


Still lovin life in Section 3

Still lovin life in Section 3

Hi everyone! I know that it is more common to hear from the winner of a race, but I thought that it might be fun and maybe a little helpful for me to post some of my personal experiences while doing the 2009 Colorado Trail Race for any future first timers. Of the 40 or so people who started, I finished Dead Friggin’ Last (18th) and am surprisingly really proud to say that! It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done! (after a 18 year mountaineering/ice climbing and rock climbing career and countless 24 and other endurance races that is at least saying something.) I met some amazing athletes out there on the trail and it was an honor to join them in this brutal event.  Hands down I came in over confident in my fitness and underestimating the severity of the course. So if you are going to take this thing on, don’t be lulled into thinking that it is going to be 5 to 6 days of sweet singletrack and some cool camping. The trail is really nothing like the more urban and overused ends of it. Nor does it look much like the pretty pictures either on this sight or in the guidebook! It is rocky, steep and much more “designed” for backpacking than it is for riding a fully LOADED bike!Make sure that you have shoes that are up to the challenge with LOTS of rubber! (I completely wore through a fairly new pair of Specialized carbon soled race shoes by Buena Vista and had to get new ones by Salida)

Ok so here goes: Started out feeling like the cold I was hanging onto was still clinging pretty tightly to my immune system….Not a good omen! I also started with the idea that my buddy Steve and I would ride together for the whole thing. Steve it so happens is a really active semi-pro cross country racer with top 10 national results…..I am a kinda chubby 44 year old father of 1 and 1/2 . Clearly NOT a good match up. I was pushing too hard too early just to try to keep him from having to wait too long for me. Early on it was clear that this was not going to work…..He had been waiting 30 minutes or so for me at the Kanosha trail head and we had started in Baily together….Anyway, you get my point. Do this race alone. Whether you are planning on being competitive or just finishing, you HAVE to keep it slow and steady! Just because some guys can do this in 4 or 5 days, you probably aren’t on your first try! Be the tortoise young Skywalker. All this early high intensity stuff pushed my into a state of pretty severe asthma/bronchitis type symptoms.  While rumors abound that the real “business” comes in the last half of the race, I found section 7, 8 and 9 to be EVERY bit as hard as the stuff found further south.  Safe to say it was harder than I ever imagined.  (Seg 7   sick, sick ,sick……but so worth it!)   Coming into Leadville on day 3 I couldn’t get 5 good pedal strokes on a climb without stopping and wheezing for 3 minutes. Thank god for the road into Leadville or I woulda been hosed! Got a room at a motel and tried to get my s*** together, but it didn’t help…Was up all night coughing(I’m sure the Harley guys next door were PSYCHED!) Limped through the road section up to section 11 and was SOOOOO psyched to find it really moderate and super fun! Then a sweet chunk of road into BV and a chance to talk to other folks and refuel and organize my massive amount of gear (more on that later). The grind up Cottonwood pass wouldnt have been so bad had it not been for the fact that it was like 200 degrees and baking the river looked good but I knew that some guys were hot on my heals and I didnt want to give up any precious spots…………LOL! Once I got on the trail it was a little irritating to lose ALL of the elevation I had just gained to be thrust into an endless H-A-B! By the way 13 and 14 look easy on paper………….NOT the case! 14 sucked my will to live and I was forced to leave the trail and charished the 30 mph cruise into Salida for a rest and some new shoes. I was literally on my insoles and a big wad of duct tape! I was still breathing through a coffee stirrer into lungs the size and consistency of golf balls but was convinced a night in a warm room would fix me up so I got a room at the Simple Hostel ( 5 outta 5 stars!!!!) and proceeded to the river to hang out and watch kyakers. After a full day and night nothing had changed so I figured it was time to pack it in and go home. It actually took quitting and calling in the wife for a ride home to make me realize that this was not something I could quit. I would never get another chance to finish this! I could do it again next year, but it still would not have been THIS year! I had raised 1000s of dollars in per mile pledges and I was going to have to tell every single one of those people that I was too weak to finish something that I had put a whole year into. People with cancer don’t get to just quit having cancer…they have to fight through to the end no matter what that end might be. As it would so happen too, I woke up feeling fantastic on the morning I was supposed to head home so I no longer had ANY excuses. It was as if I had actually improved my fitness and had a bigger engine after all that low elevation and good food! My wife is a hardass too and she was offering absolutely NO sympathy. She was like.”if you can walk……you can finish”! If this takes you 3 weeks, you gotta do it!”   So I cut down my gear to the BARE essentials and headed back out!  After stripping 8 or 10 pounds of excess my bike felt like a Tour race rocket and I felt like a new man!   The ride up to the trail kinda sucked but once I got there it felt like home. Section 15  Foose Creek was really tough with super chopped up horse trail but the scenery was incredible and the hike-a-bike gave my taint a chance to recover. Yah, my sit parts were RAW until day 9 or so….Thought I had enough miles but once again…NOPE. The fact that my pack was so much heavier than usual was not something I had accounted for.
SIDELINE: A & D ointment saved me from having an agonizing experience out there. One good glop and I was ready for 2 or 3 hours pain/friction free. Plus no saddle sores resulted. Oddly enough, you can use that stuff on: your chain, your cables AND I even glopped it in the tube of my pump when it stopped developing pressure around the gasket! Stuff saved my ass literally!

 Section 16 was challenging but super fun!  Beautiful mellow and everything I was hoping for. 17 was another hard one and LONG! The first 12 miles of Section 18 are BLISS!  Look for the “Trail Angel” coolers!  The detour was a nice break and the camping next to Dome Lakes was stellar. I did the rest of the detour over Los Pinos Pass and Slumgullion (brutal day already) which brought me to the big decision at Stoney Pass……do 22/23 or opt for the detour around. For me this was a pretty easy choice. It was a miracle to me that I had made it this far (9 days in already) and there were several factors that made the detour the obvious choice. I was almost out of food. I didn’t have a spare tube. It was getting lateish 1:00pm and some clouds were building AND after minimizing my gear my sleep system sucked! I was FREEZING the night before at 8000 feet so I wasnt too into being out at 13000 if something went wrong. I proceeded DOWN at warp speed into Lake San Cristobal and thought I was in for a relatively easy ride up and over Cinnamon Pass into Silverton  ( A 100 mile day with about a billion feet of climbing) . Once again….NOT THE CASE! This climb ’bout killed my ass. I should have known something was up when all the 4 wheelers were wishing me luck as I headed up. Brutal and endless is all I can say. The descent was amazing and pulling into Silverton I really felt like I was in to the home stretch and was starting to count myself a finisher. I went into the Gear Exchange (5 outta 5 !!!!) and met Kim who pillaged a pair of cleat screws from her husband for me as well as had a 29er spare tube and Clif blox for $.50. Grabbed another night at a Hostel and was up early to try to knock off the last 4 sections into Durango NOT! Section 25 is arguably the most beautiful and difficult section of the whole race!  (Figure the climb up Molas on the road on a 70 pound bike would kill 99% of the population!)  It’s also where my flatitis began. The rocks are insanely sharp and tore my rear tire. Once I started with the tubes it was flat city. 4 flats that day and 8 on the last had me in tears almost! My pump would only generate about 20 pounds so the rear was super soft and susceptible to pinch flats no matter how carefully I rode! Section 26 was incredible! That night I slept VERY warm as I had “obtained” a cotton bed sheet from the hostel in Silverton ( I sent it back already!!!) and by adding that to my Deuter 60+ crap sleeping bag I was much warmer thank god. Section 27 was REALLY hard at the end but was awesome for the views and sweet descent into the lake at the top. Section 28 was amazing except for the 4 mile CLIMB/HAB brutality in the middle that you dont really see in the guide. Be ready for some work on this section. I was down to little peanut butter crackers 1 every 3 miles to get me through….I told you I was broke! I was bonking for sure but still conscious! Finally the reality set in that I awas going to actually finish the Colorado Trail Race and I started to go as slow as I could because I knew that the real world was waiting for me as soon as I left Junction Creek Trailhead so I savored those last few miles until………………….pssssssssssssssst! Another flat at 4 miles to go! I was so pissed I stuck the freaking rotor on both knees simultaneously and seared myself like a total fred! OUCH! After duct taping the tube one last time I finally hobbled into the parking lot and realized I must have just missed the brass band ’cause the parking lot was empty and the race was over.  Coasted into Durango on a slow leak and checked into the Best Western and the best night sleep I have EVER HAD!    OK so my trip report sounds more like the Colorado Trail Hostel Tour but looking back, I did it the way I had to to get all the way to Junction Creek.  If anyone wants to question how long it took me…………I got my kit all ready to borrow if they want to give it go!!    LOL  I am so thrilled that I got this crazy idea last year to do the Colorado Trail Race as a fundraiser and that I put myself through everything just to be able to say I DID IT!


* If you start this thing—–FINISH!  You’ll beat everyone who quits!
* Ride alone* Skip the Ipod – After Salida was so nice without the distraction!* Use a GPS and use OFFICIAL WAYPOINTS – I bought mine from some guy online and they were all screwed up!*Every moment of agony is offset by a moment of BLISS!* Use Fuji instead of Kodak box cameras.* Do 22/23 cause Cinnamon Pass SUCKS!* If riding a 29er, invest in a 20 x 36 or lower!* Petzl myo XP is a ROCKIN” Headlight that will allow you to haul ASS! I descended the 10 mile into Copper FAST!* Hutchinson Pythons UST are perfect for this as long as you have a co2 to re air on the trail!* Use barends! Sure they are dorky looking on riser bars but the change of hand positions is killer!* Ergon Packs ROCK! You can hook your saddle on the exoskeleton and it helps on HAB.* Wear hiking/spd shoes not race shoes! NO CARBON* Bring extra cleat screws.* Drape one of those .99 cent mylar emergency blankets over your bivy setup and you will sleep a lot warmer for almost no weight penalty!*Cheese sticks make great trail food.*Raman and Jimmy Dean pre-wrapped sausages make THE BEST trail dinner.  I brough a tiny Primus gas stove and got through the whole race with one canister.  If you are FREEZING at night a blast of the stove under an emergency blanket “tent” feels awesome!
* I’ll think of more and add them later!

Comments (10)

Dave HarrisAugust 24th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Thanks for the story, I did some LOL…because we had some similar experiences out there! Are you a low elevation guy (live/train normally at elevations below 5k’)? CTR is a locals only event, or at least requires some pre-acclimatization.

Great job finishing against all odds.

Tom JensenAugust 24th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Yah….I’m a 5k guy too. I live in Fort Collins so next time I try this thing I will definitely put in some high altitude training and go out a little slower!

Andy BuchananAugust 28th, 2009 at 7:01 pm

DFL does not in anyway detract from an awesome finish ! This race is in my opinion not about being first, but ,all about the finish . It is not the easiest of routes . I commend all of the starters first and all of the finishers second .

MarshalAugust 28th, 2009 at 10:10 pm

1st, middle or last
Same trail for all
Similar tales of tribulation and jubilation
It takes a special kind of determination to re-join the race like you did!
Thanks for the write up and here is a well deserved “congratulations”!

NettieAugust 29th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

As a girlfriend of a bike feind who is thinking of doing this race, we loved your post. The humor, the details, the recommendations and insight was fantastic. And you are a great writer, Thanks!

Tom JensenAugust 31st, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Wow gang! Thanks for the kind words! The memories are wearing off and the training for a better race next year have begun! I would encourage everyone to try it because it really is an unusual event that is bould to grow in popularity as the word gets out! Hope to see you all next august!

[…] Read more about Tom’s amazing adventure […]

Mike VApril 2nd, 2010 at 8:30 am

AWESOME!! I am training now for 2011 CTR, i really like your write up it gave me a lot to think about and to be stoked on. Thanks for sharing your adventure just finishing is a great achievement. Can’t imagine your mind set on something like that and being sick going in you are a champ.

Brian DeClueJune 3rd, 2012 at 11:20 am

Excellent reporting. And thanks for the tips. I was thinking on using my homemade hammock/bevy setup sleeping. It is 1.5 pounds. Any thoughts? Are there even enough trees to hang to sleep or just go with a bivy? Thanks again.

Tom JensenOctober 27th, 2018 at 12:24 pm

So crazy to be looking at this in 2018. The memories and fitness have gone and I now live in Philadelphia. What a difference a few years can make. Thanks to Brian and Mike for their kind words. I think this was a once in a lifetime adventure and I am so glad I can look back and know I gave it my best. Highlight of my life!

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