by Travis Macy
It dawned on me a couple of years ago that although I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the world, I really haven’t spent enough time exploring and racing in my home state of Colorado.  My new, local ethic meshed well with the capabilities of my growing family, and we set our sites last spring on Lake City, which isn’t a city at all but, rather, a small, 1950s-like town south of Gunnison in the San Juan Mountains.

Lake City is the kind of place where kids roam free on bikes and people stop and talk.  Where summer is glorious and winter harsh.  Where mountains rise dramatically and moose browse on willows in river bottoms.  It’s the kind of place you go for hunting, fishing, jeeping, and family time.  Lake City, for the Macy Family, is the kind of place where life slows down and values are re-established.

Travis enjoying some skimo action. PC: Thomas Woodson

Travis enjoying some skimo action. PC: Thomas Woodson

I rose early from my old, janky camping trailer parked in downtown Lake City on a chilly morning last June to walk to the starting line of the San Juan Solstice 50.  My heart was content with my dad, Mark, on one side and my son, Wyatt, on the other as we navigated the darkened streets to the town park.  Whether we hoped to win or simply make the cutoff, each of us on the starting line knew one Hell of a journey lay ahead.

The SJS 50 covers challenging Rocky Mountain terrain at high elevations.  It’s all up and down, and one stretch of about 20 miles runs along the exposed Continental Divide at 12,000 feet or more.  Even in the middle of the summer, that’s tough territory: snow, rain, lightning, and high winds are common.  According to the race website: “PLEASE CARRY WISELY because there are two nine-mile stretches between aid on the Divide. Carry a lot and be ready for anything.”

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

I’ve had more than enough sketchy, high-altitude moments to understand such warnings should be taken seriously, and I knew gear preparation would be as essential for this race as the pre-race training and nutrition program.  You can go into a mountain race fit and fueled up, but if you don’t have the right gear, you’re pretty much screwed.

For the SJS 50, my gear keys were the Ultra Jacket and SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 by Ultimate Direction.  I got my first Ultimate Direction hydration pack years ago when I was a kid and used it every day all summer mountain biking around Evergreen, Colorado.  The brand has since been a mainstay in my gear shed.  The Ultra Jacket is perfect because it’s super light yet still waterproof; its adjustable hood and pull-over hand shells are unique and performance-oriented.  The SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is just as important.  It’s not too big but still has room for the Ultra Jacket, Body Bottles, an extra hat, and all of the food I need.  The innovative mesh is soft and breathable, comfortable even on bare skin when running shirtless.

Trav having a blast in the mountains.

Trav having a blast in the mountains.

Geared up and feeling good, I found myself in third place after about 33 miles.  First place was 17 minutes ahead, but in ultras–like life–you can never give up on yourself.  Thanks largely to my vest’s efficacy, I had fueled and hydrated well…the race was on!

I lowered the hammer and caught one guy.

With six miles to go, my pacer and I spied the leader just ahead through a clearing.  Just before entering the trees, he turned and saw us as well.  Cue a sprint to the finish!

All four of us–two racers and two pacers–hammered the final descent, dropping thousands of feet over a few miles back to town.

We ran strong, but they ran stronger.

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t.  That’s racing.  That’s life.

But if you want to give yourself a shot at peak performance in the outdoors–whatever that means for you–you can’t be held back by your gear.  And that’s why I keep using Ultimate Direction.

An Ultimate Direction Ambassador, Coach Travis Macy lives in Evergreen, Colorado with his wife and two kids.  He’s the author of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, and his endurance coaching information is at