We travel up the hill to attempt the Power of Four 50K. Spoiler alert, we DNF’d.
Race Report: Power Of Four
Yank the bandaid, this was our first “official” DNF. Sure, Annie pulled out of Angel Fire due to injury. This was different. The Power of Four was simply too much race for us to finish, and we don’t mind saying that. We completed the Dirty 30 as part of our race prep. We thought we were ready. Boy, we were wrong!
The race takes you up and down the mountains of Colorado as you travel from Aspen to Snowmass. To be honest, that trip would be tough but entirely doable. To make things extra fun, the Power of Four goes the hard way … up and down the ski slopes. No joke – you are going up and down blue and black runs. It was twice as hard as we expected.
Right out of the gate, you leave the gondola and make your way straight up the hill. This climb is unrelenting and brutal. Even fully aware of false summits, I was caught believing I was near the top, only to round a corner and find more to go. Sure, the course profile is almost entirely red for this climb, but how bad can that be? Bad. Really, really bad.
Once you crest the first hill, it is a nice little downhill jog. I was well behind Annie at the top of the hill, and sitting in 3rd from last place. By the time I reached the bottom of the first descent, I had caught Annie and we were … 5th from last? Woohoo! Oh, but then comes the second climb.
The second climb seems like it will be much better. You have a little shade cover, and the profile is only mostly red. By the time we started up the second climb we were way behind schedule and our legs were shot. We were slowly slogging up the second hill but managed to pass someone. Annie was in front and stopped to ask if he was OK. He assured her he was and she pressed on. I then reached this individual and took the opportunity to take a break. We chatted for a moment before continuing forward. Annie was only 50 feet up the hill, but ended up being too far ahead.
About 75% up the second hill, you come out of the trees and hit a catwalk. You take an abrupt right turn and head downhill … briefly. You then turn left and head further up the hill. This left turn is marked, but not nearly as well as you might think. In fact, if you miss the turn, and continue on, you will see flagging again, to indicate you are on-trail. Well, you are on trail, but have cut several miles off the course. This little oddity resulted in Annie and I separating at this point.
Annie was just ahead of me at the catwalk but pressed on the gas to make up some time on the downhill. She knew I would be right behind her as I am a downhill runner. After 5 or 10 minutes, she began to wonder where I was. She looked up and down the hill, seeing clear course marking the entire way. She was convinced she hadn’t gone off course, until … the pack leaders started to pass her. Well, that couldn’t possibly be right. She knew we were in the back of the pack. At this point in the course, you are literally making your way down a black run. She considered trying to backtrack up the hill to find me. She decided that it made more sense to press on to the next aid station and wait there. That was a solid decision to be sure.
Meanwhile, I was literally crawling up the last 25% of the second climb. I kept looking up the hill and thinking, “where is Annie?”. Sure, Annie is much better at uphill, but I could see a few hundred feet straight up. Had she really left me in the dust so badly? Probably, I thought. I hit the mid-second-climb aid station and asked if they had seen Annie. The person at the aid station said, “I think she came through here.” I thanked him and pressed on.
My legs were entirely gone and it was getting hot. Still, I thought Annie had left here to do the small lollypop out and back. I thought to myself, I will see her for sure on this out and back, so I better get to it.
The climb out of that aid station is actually pretty reasonable for the most part, but I was smoked. Eventually, you reach a more significant climb and that is pretty soul-crushing. The top is entirely exposed, dry and dusty. It just grinds on and on. I knew I was once again 3rd from last, and well behind the cutoffs. It wasn’t a reality that I would finish the race. I wanted to keep moving forward. I wanted to see how far I made it. I wanted to find Annie and give her a high-five.
Then it happened … I reached the summit of climb two, and Annie was nowhere in sight. I asked this aid station if they had seen Annie and they said no. They called on the radio and found out that Annie was at the aid station at the bottom of the hill. She was waiting for me and I just had to make it to her.
Right. Down the hill and pit-stop at the aid station to complete the lollypop out and back. Then a downhill jog to see my wife and reach the halfway cutoff (albeit way behind the time I needed to). The wheels hadn’t come off the bus yet. I filled up on water and headed out.
I passed the only two runners behind me. They looked terrible but both said they would press on as long as they were ahead of the cutoffs. I cheered them on and kept at it. I briefly filled up on water when I returned through the aid station. The aid station worker asked if I found Annie and I explained she was waiting for me at the bottom. He asked if I wanted a ride, and I said no. I would complete the first half and miss the cutoff. I waved goodbye and headed out.
About a mile from this aid station, the wheels came off the bus. My knee gave out and I was limping down the hill. It was very slow going, but I thought, just keep making steps forward and you will get there. It was steep and terrible, but it was downhill. Eventually, it leveled out a bit. I started to see civilization even. Things were looking up. I rounded a corner, passed a parking lot, and then hit a crossroads – literally. I stood at a crosswalk, wondering, “Where exactly do I go?”. It seemed like I should cross the street and link up with a running path but I didn’t see any flagging. I decided to move forward.
I made my way, ever so slowly down the running path, and it was not marked at all. I was able to see pretty far down the path, and nothing. Not a single flag to be seen. Then again, it is a pretty clear path. Surely this is correct, right? But if I missed a turn; I am lost, and barely able to walk. I begrudgingly decided to turn back up the hill. It was mild but all I could do to make it upward. I thought, I’ll go back to the last flag I saw, which was not far. I’ll look for a sign. I’ll just double-check that I am not lost. I was back across the street, and was near the last marking when a horn honked. I thought, “what does this joker want?”.
I turned around and there she was. Annie, sitting in a stranger’s car. Smiling, she said, “hey bug!”. I could not compute but walked to the car and got it.
It turns out, the person driving was one of the volunteers. They had closed the course and removed the markings because they didn’t realize I was still on the course. At this point, the rest of the “back of the backers” had dropped out of the race. The kind volunteer told Annie, “I’ll drive you up to the crossroads … maybe we’ll catch him”. They did indeed, but only because I doubted where I was and turned back. Had I pressed forward, I was on the right path, but would have made it into town to find the aid station gone. Granted, Annie would have returned to the spot of the aid station to wait for me. I have to say, that last hour or so would have been miserable and I am oh so grateful that the volunteer took the time to track me down.
So there it is. Our first real deal DNF. We had been upping the races, looking for the next challenge. We wanted to find our limit and there it was. The Power of Four was more than we could even come close to finishing. We dramatically underestimated the race and paid the price for it. It was a fantastic learning experience and we are both glad we did it. Truth be told, I am eyeing that race again for 2023. As devastating as it was, finding your limit is an incredible experience. I highly recommend it.
Approximate gain: 9,873 feet
Approximate descent: 9,407 feet
Annie's Finishing Time: DNF
Scott's Finishing Time: DNF
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