SJS 50 2023
Most agree, it was a great race.
June 24th was a beautiful day, sunshine and warm, no threat of rain much less lightning, the breeze up high made for comfortable running conditions. 290 runners started and 190 finished, a “Did Not Finish” ratio of almost 30%. The San Juan Solstice 50 is a tough race. There are always DNFs, but this is probably the highest ratio to date.
Creek crossings in Alpine Gulch were challenging, as usual, but aside from more timid creek crossers holding up less timid runners behind them, they were not a big problem.
Snowfields presented a larger problem. For runner safety, the route was intentionally marked around 2 major snowfields on the Alpine/Williams section and 2 on the Divide section, and they were photo documented. Many runners however, either chose to take the more direct route straight up, straight down, or across a steeply sloping snowfield, or they followed the runner in front of them instead of the markers around the snowfield. Many found themselves outside of their comfort and or skill levels.
This caused greater delays in the line, especially around the top of Alpine/ Williams when runners were closer together. This caused a large number of missed cutoffs and drops at Williams and Carson, some because they were in over their heads and some because they were held up by the others.
There is a prerequisite of having completed a prior trail ultra race (30KM or longer) to register for the SJS50. However, finishing any relatively flat, and/or low elevation ultra, does not insure that a runner has the mountaineering experience, skill or stamina to be successful at the SJS50.
The pre-requisites need to increase but quantifying a runner’s high mountain experience, abilities and judgement are difficult. So, it must begin with education. SJS 50 is popular because it is hard and it is high. The Hardrock Hundred’s runner’s guide uses the terms “Exposure and Acrophobia” frequently and, though SJS does not have any of Hardrock’s precipitous drops beside narrow trails, it does have plenty of steep slopes, sometimes covered by snowfields. Runners who do not have lots of high mountain experience, who have vertigo or acrophobia, should not enter the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run.
SJS 50 2024
Every year, in June, there is a race before the SJS50. That is the race between the exiting winter and the coming summer, fluctuating between the two, in what we call spring. Of course, there is no way to tell how it will be from one year to the next. This year, two weeks before the race, it snowed every day above 12,000' and once in Lake City. There are always a few weeks in June when the SJS50 course changes from impassable to passable.
Swift, high and cold creek crossings as well as steep and long snowfields
are the issues in early season. There was a 30% DNF rate in 2023. There is a prior trail ultra pre-requisite to enter. That may not be enough. Runners applying to enter should have well established experience, skill and judgement in high mountain early season conditions.
Registration for the lottery will run from January 15 to January 31 2023 on UltraSignup.
About the run
The first running was held on June 17, 1995 and it was known then as the Lake City 50. The snowfields on the Continental Divide prevented running the proposed route that first year and the course was reduced to an out and back to the Williams Creek Aid Station. As a result, race progenitors, Chip and Cathy Lee, moved race day to the third week of July. However, Lake City is jam packed full with the usual tourists in the third week of July; vacant rooms are hard to find and the Lake City community had no time for ultra runners or volunteering for their race. In addition, lightning proved to be a significant threat, with frequent tales of near misses on the Continental Divide.
In 2002 the Lee's turned over the race to the Lake City community as a benefit for Lake City EMTs. The race was renamed the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Benefit Run for Lake City EMTs and the race date was moved back to the vicinity of the Summer Solstice. Since the Solstice falls on a different day of the week from year to year, the day of the race has shifted back and forth from the Saturday before to the Saturday after the Solstice. Dates earlier than the Solstice have been problematic, with high and dangerous creek crossings in Alpine Gulch, steep and/or long snow fields and inaccessibility of the Divide Aid Station by vehicles and the Aid Station Crew.
The race actually fell on the Solstice in 2014. In fact, the moment of Summer Solstice happened just about 9 minutes before the 5AM start. The decision to use the regular course could not be made until a week before the race in 2015 and it was a tough call. A track was hand shoveled across a steep snowfield above the Alpine Aid Station to prevent runners from sliding into the rocks below in the icy early morning hardness of the snowpack. Creek crossings in Alpine Gulch were also very challenging; numerous runners reported being soaked to the neck and then fighting off hypothermia as they climbed, in shadow to the Alpine Aid Station. Every time that we have had concerns about the conditions were years when the race preceded the Solstice. With that in mind, the decision was made to hold future races after June 21 rather than getting out ahead of the Solstice again.
You must be 18 years of age or older to participate.
Event's current local time: 11:52 AM MT
You must have completed a prior trail ultra run