Scott Jaime gets a hug from his wife, Nicole, at the finish of his record-setting run on the 486-mile Colorado Trail.
The shadows danced on the meadows high in the San Juan Mountains. Playful and childlike, they flowed and stretched across short grass and ground-hugging wildflowers as the sun rolled away on the horizon.
One of those shadows connected to Scott Jaime, a determined 44-year-old ultrarunner from Highlands Ranch. He had dreamed and planned for those perfect minutes on his record-setting run along the 486-mile Colorado Trail.
"The San Juans have always been my favorite mountain Range," Jaime said. "We were up there at about 7:30 at night. The sun was setting. The air was still, there was sunlight coming through the clouds. It was high alpine tundra and there were four of us. There is just something so serene, so pure, so natural. Nothing needs to be said about what that means to us.That was a very special moment. That was being an ultrarunner. And that's what we all do. We look for those moments. It doesn't get any better than that."
(Photos from the trail by Brandon Stapanowich)
He began the journey at 5:02 a.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at Junction Creek Trailhead near Durango. The famous singletrack led him northeast through the heart of Colorado's Rocky Mountains - over the spine of the continent - to his finish at about 12:42 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, in the hot mouth of Waterton Canyon in Littleton.
He completed the journey with the "Fastest Known Time" of 8 days, 7 hours and 40 minutes.
His friends and family greeted him with joyful tears and bear hugs. They came to celebrate Jaime's accomplishment - and their own.
His father-in-law Rick Robinson served as crew chief for Team Jaime, an eager gang of about 35 who helped support the effort.
Along the way, Jaime's wife, Nicole, photographer and friend Matt Trappe, and Robinson followed the runner, intercepting him where the trail intersected highways and passable roads. Sometimes they had to use 4-wheel-drive, or hike to meet him. The effort included a motorhome with an all-terrain vehicle in tow, plus the family's pickup stuffed with supplies.
Jaime began planning the record attempt after he'd finished an 11-day run-through on the Colorado Trail in 2009. Those around him knew he could throw down a faster time.
Thoughtful and polite, he is humbled by the fragile environments he visits. He has many friends in the ultrarunning community and is the three time and defending champion in the annual C.R.U.D. (Coloradans Running Long Distances) Eating Contest. A leggy and efficient runner, he is a tough seven-time finisher of the grueling Hardrock 100 in his beloved San Juan Mountain Range. He ran his first marathon at age 11. He sustained a severely broken leg in an avalanche in the early 90s, then promptly left home with a long pin in his thigh to serve in Desert Storm as a pharmacist in the National Guard.
In the last hours of the run, while their runner descended from the foothills with pacers Harsha Nagaraj, Rick Hessek and Brandon Stapanowich, family members and supporters relaxed in the shade and tied balloons near the trail's "Mile 0" marker.
It was the end of their trip, too, and they felt the weight of the important final day. They'd played a part in Colorado Trail history, a story belonging to all who've left tracks in its crushed granite. After 15 years of planning and hard work - largely by volunteers - the Colorado Trail opened in September, 1987.
"I've always supported him," Nicole Jaime said of her husband of 19 years. "But this has been one of the most challenging and emotional things I've ever done. It certainly is one of the most rewarding. He wanted to see what he is made of. I know Scott is out there to make himself a better father, son, co-worker, husband. When he runs, he has time to think of these things."
Robinson, a big and sincere man who could have been the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, wiped a tear away as he talked about the previous week's events.
"I feel so blessed and fortunate to have this week and this group of people here," he said. "We got to experience greatness. This has been surreal and spiritual and everything rolled up into one."
Trappe realized the importance of the record attempt and began shooting video in May. He documented the entire trip and managed to pace for 140 miles, as well. His documentary of Jaime's Colorado Trail record run,"Running the Edge: The Colorado Trail" is scheduled for release in the spring of 2014.
"It was hard to look through the camera lens because I felt emotionally attached," Trappe said. "So I had to focus on the task at hand. It was so inspiring just to be with the family."
Jaime's mother, Alverna, said the boy she remembers was stubborn.
"He had to do everything his way," she said. "He was extremely independent, and he had to try everything. He ran his first marathon when he was 11. And he had to do every sport, track, cross country, soccer. They overlapped and he missed his classes too many times. But he finished with all A's and one A-minus. He even tried drama, which I never thought he'd do. He played a bartender and sang in the school play, and that isn't like Scott. But he had to do it."
Reflecting on his reasons for pushing himself to the record, Jaime confirmed that hard-headed attitude. But now that attitude has roots in his love for his sons Jaxon, 14, and Myles, 5.
"Why do this? To define my limits, to see what I'm capable of," he said. "It has nothing to do with anybody else but me and what I'm capable of. And I love defining that for myself and being an example to my kids. Cause if they see me doing things like this, the more inspired they'll be to do things on their own to define their limits."
Nicole Jaime said her husband is a driven perfectionist who kept the previous record time of 8 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes (set by Paul Pomeroy) posted above his computer. Robinson said Jaime's plan to blitz the Colorado Trail was flawless.
"You can't miss a turn with this record," Robinson said. "And we didn't miss a beat. We didn't miss a turn. Frankly, I believed this record would happen from the beginning. I knew when we went after this Scott would have it."
There was something missing from the plan: sleep. But the omission was necessary for record breaking. Jaime slept a total of 14 hours during his eight-day odyssey. From 1 a.m. on Thursday until his finish on Saturday afternoon, he had one five-minute nap. At about 4:30 a.m. Saturday with soft morning light in the eastern sky, he could no longer fight the deprivation.
"I was falling asleep on my feet," he said. "I caught myself twice falling forward toward the ground and I had no control to stop that. I finally said, 'Hey guys, I just need to rest my eyes for five minutes.' I got on the side of the hill, laid my head back. Five minutes is all I needed. I got up and one of my pacers said, 'I know you were sleeping because you were breathing hard, almost snoring.' But it changed my day because that's the only thing (sleep) that I had since Thursday."
Stapanowich couldn't believe it when the zombie-like runner plucked himself from his grassy bed somewhere east of the Lost Creek Wilderness and ordered his soldiers to action.
"He said let's go," Stapanowich said. "Once the sun came up, I noticed that he picked up speed."
The crew needed some Z's, as well.
"Toward the end we'd crunch the numbers each night to see if we were on track and then call somebody to have them crunch them, too," Robinson said.
"We were just as fried as Scott was," Trappe added.
With hours to run alone in the woods (though there were pacers with him most of the way) Jaime had time for introspection. He knows well the man inside.
"This is the second time I've done the trail," he said. "The first time I just did it to finsh on my 40th birthday. No records were being set, but I honestly believed that the trail was going to change me. But what I learned last time is you can't change who your are, but it can help focus who your are. What matters to you most? So while I'm out there all week long, I'm totally disconnected and you really get to define your focus on what is important to you and that is all this trail has really done to me. It just makes me appreciate life, family and things that are important to me."
Jaime blazed 72 miles on the first day and had 189 behind him after three. From there it was a matter of running smart and following the plan. Of course, Colorado's high country in a summer of freakish rainstorms cares little for the plans of ultrarunners.
The deluge hit in midweek. Lightning popped the mountain tops in Summit County. The running had to wait. Jaime could feel the clock inside winding down.
"I had to go 60 (miles that day), but I only went 42," Jaime said. "I thought it was over because I knew how far behind I was."
A day later his mother-in-law, Rae Jean Robinson, brought Jaime's boys to see him. It was a game-changing experience, a shot of adrenaline that surged deep.
"My son said something very important to me," Jaime said. "He's a 14-year-old boy and he's crying and he's telling me in my ear that I inspire him. More than anything else, it made me feel responsible that I had to finish this trail and I had to do it to the best of my ability. That's when it clicked for me that nothing was going to change that and I had to sacrifice everything at that point. No sleeping any more. I've had three hours of sleep, but I made the commitment I'm going to do this. It doesn't matter, I'm not going to let anything else distract me."
"I was talking to Brandon, I said look up there, look around. How many people are here supporting one person's project? You never have to ask anybody twice, they just come out and do something for this whole (ultrarunning) community. It's an amazing community. And I feel very fortunate, not only for my friends, but for my family, my father in law, my wife, they were so flawless in providing me everything I needed, when I needed it."
Jaime raised his hands to the sun-soaked sky at the finish. A few people cheered and then all were silent, caught in the heavy realization of one man's special dream. His run had come to an end and he fell into the arms of Nicole, Jaxon and Myles.
Editor's notes: Nicole Jaime wished to thank Pearl Izumi, Smith Optics, 1st Endurance and UltrAspire for their assistance. Ultrarunning would be a lot less fun without pacers. Scott was helped along the way by many, including Leah Fein, Brian Fisher, Todd Ganglehoff, Rick Hessek, Meghan Hicks, Robert and Sylvia Kunz, Gavin McKenzie, Harsha Nagaraj, Bryon Powell, Brandon Stapanowich, Matt Trappe, Brendan Trimboli and Alyssa Wildeboer.
Tim Bergsten is the owner and manager of PikesPeakSports.us, an online magazine and social network for runners and cyclist in the Pikes Peak Region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.