“It was a really long, lonesome day”
by Than Acuff
Dustin Simoens had two goals in mind heading into the San Juan Solstice race on Saturday, June 25. The first was to beat his time of nine hours and 20 minutes from last year. The second was to beat his third place finish from last year. Simoens ended up reaching both of his goals as he crushed his time by almost an hour, finishing in a time of eight hours, 24 minutes and 33 seconds for the win. A handful of additional Gunnison Valley athletes saw success as well in the race, as Jon Brown and Jesse Rickert placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Pat O’Neill and Allen Hadley won their age classes.
Simoens has seen his fair share of success and suffering in the ultra-marathon race circuit, but the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race is a beast in and of itself.
“It’s a really hard race,” says Simoens. “I’ve done two 100-mile races and this one is just a ton of climbing, post-holing in snow up to your thighs and crossing waist-deep water.”
Not to mention much of the course is above treeline and reaches above 13,000 feet.
Simoens spent a majority of the spring getting in miles on his split board, milking the last vestiges of winter with spring snowboard descents. He jumped into the running fray as the snow peeled away, “building some miles” on various running adventures, opening the race season with a third-place finish at the Sageburner 50 kilometer race at Hartman Rocks back in May.
After continuing to build miles throughout June, he lined up for the San Juan Solstice on Saturday in downtown Lake City at 5 a.m. along with 197 other racers. The race opens with a bang as within the first seven miles in the early morning light, runners must negotiate seven creek crossings.
It was during one creek crossing in particular and the subsequent 4,500-foot climb that Simoens made his move.
“I knew I wanted to make a move earlier on this year,” says Simoens.
From then on Simoens was on his own, running a 10-mile long stretch along the Continental Divide above treeline.
“You stay above treeline for hours,” says Simoens. “It’s definitely harder when you get above treeline. You’re red-lining the whole time. Every climb feels steeper, every climb feels harder.”
Still, as he plodded along, there was no sight of anyone behind him and Simoens was left to fend for himself to set his pace, using fear to keep him moving.
“When you’re in front by yourself, you’re kind of running scared the whole time,” explains Simoens. “Some of the climbs you might want to walk, but you don’t know if the person behind you is going to run them or not, so you end up running them.”
It wasn’t until about 40 miles into the race that Simoens had a sighting of the person in second place. The course heads through a big meadow on a section called Vickers’ Ranch. Simoens glanced back and saw the second-place runner. At that point Simoens dug into his reserves for one final painful push, tackling a grueling 1,100-foot climb to 11,000 feet and a painful two-mile steep and rocky descent back to town.
“I saw a guy about five minutes behind me so I just took off and made a really big push,” says Simoens. “I didn’t want to go all that way to lose the race at the end.”
Simoens held on to maintain his gap on second place, finishing six minutes ahead of second place. Simoens chalks his success up to experience.
“It makes a huge difference knowing the terrain before hand,” says Simoens. “It was a really long, lonesome day but I was very pleased with the race and stoked on the day overall. ”
Simoens will continue going on his personal adventure runs throughout the summer until September when he will line up once again for the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race in Steamboat.