Monday, July 13, 2009

Horton’s final report for the Colorado Trail Speed Attempt

David sent me the following in an email earlier today:

- I was blessed to set the speed record on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 1991 and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2005. Last year, I attempted to set the speed record on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). These are the big three trails that constitute the Triple Crown. I stopped at the end of day one on the CDT. I had serious issues with the heat and feared for my life in the 108 degree temperatures. I do not like running in the heat or dessert. I felt that I needed to do something to redeem myself because of last year. The record on the Colorado Trail is 8 days and 12 hours for the 485 miles. I stopped at the end of day 6, being on schedule and covering 330 miles. I feel that I failed on the CDT last year but I do not feel that I failed on the CT. I did the best that I could but was it just was not good enough.

I had a GREAT crew. Jonathan Basham (JB) held the CT speed record until it was broken last summer by just over 1 hour. He had also crewed Andrew Thompson on his Appalachian Trail speed record in 2005. Travis and Alyssa Wildeboer of Winter Park Colorado are experienced ultrarunners who were also GREAT crew members.    Larry Haak, formerly of Lynchburg VA, now of Boulder Colorado was also on hand the whole week to provide great help and encouragement.

I appreciate all that Clark Zealand did to keep everyone updated on my progress.   It means a lot to me for what he did and it means a lot to me that what I was doing was of interest to so many of you. I hope it was an encouragement to you in some way.

Going after the CT record might have been my most difficult multi-day attempt so far. The CT record is very TOUGH.  The trail itself was tougher than I thought it would be. I averaged 40 miles per day on the PCT and AT and 45 miles per day running across America.  Averaging over 54 miles per day on the CT was VERY tough. I started very day before daylight, usually around 4:00 AM and finished every day after dark. My average time on the trail was around 17 hours per day. This left very little time for anything. I was usually in bed 30 to 45 minutes after finishing each day. Each day, the last section ATE my lunch. It took everything that I had to finish each day. I never knew at night if I would be able to go again the next day.

I had a number of physical problems as you would expect. Starting from day one, I had a hard time eating enough for the entire 6 days. I know that I did not consume enough food any one day. I have ulcerative colitis. As a result I have to dump a lot and I mean a LOT. For the first few days, I was going to bathroom 20 to 30 times per day. That leads to dehydration and not absorbing enough nutrients either. On the second day, I started having blood in the urine. I had this to happen to me on the AT as well. It continued happening through day 5. This concerned me as well. I was also having some pain in the groin area. I was concerned with all of these problems but thought that maybe they were not too serious.

Day 6 should have been an easy day but it was not. We got lost before daylight and ran 4 miles off course. Later in the day it was very hot and the dry heat started sucking the life out of me. In the middle of the days my hands started swelling, sausage fingers you say.  I have had them before but NEVER as big as they got this time.  In the last section of the day, I became very concerned about them and how big can they get before damage occurs. On the back of my hands, the skin stuck grossly very high. My forearms started swelling all the way up to my elbows. It was getting tighter and tighter.    How big can they get?? What damage can occur?? I was also thinking about the next day as it was going to be the toughest day yet, over 60 miles with one road crossing. I knew the possibility that if I got in trouble in this section that I would put myself and my crew in a serious problem. I knew then that I must stop. Could I have run the next day? Yes. Could I have caused myself or others some serious problems? Yes.

Stopping something like this is very difficult. I often think that we quit or stop just because it is hard and we are not tough enough.    That thought was definitely going through my mind. But, I thought about my family and kids and grandkids and my job teaching at Liberty and directing races and helping other runners become better, and I knew that I needed to live for these things to occur. I made the right decision.

I just thank the Lord for what he allows me to do and I thank Him for using me in some small way. Thank you all who prayed for me during this attempt. Will there be others??  I don’t know. I am in Arkansas spending time with my father (86) and mother (81). My wife and daughter and grandkids will be here later this week. This is a special time with them.

My tongue with the canker sores on them are getting better, my feet are still very puffy, I do not have any blood in my urine now, life is good. I am still not sleeping well yet, but that will come. I already miss the cool weather of the Rockies. For a month the lowest elevation that I was at was 5500 feet.

I hope that God blesses all of you as he has blessed me. Seek your dreams and goals.

in Christ,

David Horton


Sophie Speidel said...


You are a wise, experienced ultrarunner who put the most important things in life (your family and your health) before the speed record. That takes courage, more courage than to run through the pain and swelling. Good for you.

It was WONDERFUL to see your smiling face in Buzz Burrell's photos from Hardrock. I was glad to see you had gone there with JB to cheer on the runners and take it all in. Since you are an automatic entry now, it's time for you to go back to Silverton!

God bless you and I will see you soon at the Gstone training runs. :-)

ChinMusic said...

It was great following your try via Zealand. Getting Twitter updates was a new twist. I just cannot imagine what you put yourself through on an event like this or the numerous previous ones.


Anonymous said...

No shame in stopping. What you did was still an amazing feat of human endurance, both physically and mentally. The CT record is INSANE, and you deserve lots of credit just for trying, let alone going as far as you did. Keep trucking!

Rick Gray said...

David, Experience does not always provide the fastest time or the top spot, but it should help in making correct decisions. Experience has taught you well. You did the right thing. Life is too special to lose because of our past time passion. Faith, family and friends are more important and they all need you. We as fellow trail runners need you to continue to share your experiences and knowledge with us. We thank you for knowing it was time to stop so that you can be a part of our lives tomorrow. God does not always bless us with successes, but as I have found in my own life, difficulties can turn into successes. Rick

wfvickery said...

Sheesh... As a nurse, reading your physical account of the last day sent shivers. You are what we call in the ER a "Train wreck". You make me think my DNF at Promise Land was quite wimpy - which after reading your account, I have a new view of suffering. Good golly, I like running but you bring it to a different level entirely. If you ever get busted as a terrorist in Afghanistan, the interrogations will never end. They will never get you to talk.
I am very proud of you - and you do inspire all of us regular chaps to do better - not to quit - and to never say "never!"
Thanks to Clark for taking the time to bring this to the blog and keep us updated.
God Bless,
Bill V.

Sam said...


My sincere congratulations on a really strong run out there! Your spirit is inspiring and I know firsthand how hard it is to have to call off something you have worked so hard for. I feel your pain, definitely can empathize, and know you can rest well in giving it everything you had this time. There will always be more trail and more of God's beauty to explore.

After having to bail on my record attempt last year at Molas Pass, I was back out there last week for Hardrock and was on the CO Trail while you were (just on the other end). I was finishing the section from Molas Pass to Durango to acclimatize and see the rest of the trail, and it was fun picturing you on the other end cruising along.

All the best to you as you recover David, and I'm glad to hear you are recovering well.

Happy trails and hope to see you out on them soon,


Andrew Thompson said...

Well done. Having seen JB's Colorado Trail speed hike first hand, I am thoroughly impressed by your effort. I knew you had it in you, I just wondered if you would have the ability to reach back and get it. Clearly you did.
Your problem: How to make the kidneys function properly in high temps? How to avoid slipping into the vicious cycle of dehydration, kidney failure (essentially), fluid over-load? How to set yourself up for-prepare for-long days in hot temps.
(GFR= Glomerular filtration rate)
I wonder what is going on?

Neal Jamison said...


You did a great job on the CT and you continue to inspire many, many people. Thank you for all you give the ultrarunning community.

You rock,

AJ Johnson said...

Dr. Horton,

Thank you for your report on you awe inspiring performance on the Colorado Trail. I followed you via Dr. Zealand's daily reports. I can't fathom what you went through during the six days out there yet I wish to be able to try something like that someday. I still read your account of "Running Book To Book at Barkley" (from Running Through The Wall) over and over again dreaming of trying that someday also. You are living the dream and your experience told you when to way when. There is always tomorrow. Hopefully I will get to run with you someday to gain some experience first hand. Again, thank you for doing what you do to inspire us newbies to the sport.

AJ Johnson
Ocean View, NJ