Nolan’s 14 is fourteen, 14,000 ft+ peaks over the course of about 100-miles. The route is up to the runner to decide, if you start and finish in designated areas and summit all fourteen mountains, you can do whatever you like between each mountain. I threw myself into this project, listening to podcast after podcast of previous finishers, reading trip reports, reaching out to runners who founded the route, and current record holders. For the next few months anytime I came across a runner who had Nolan’s experience, I would obnoxiously ask to filter through their brain on their opinions regarding: start times, route preferences, calorie intake, gear, crew, pacers, moon phases, snow pack, weather windows and direction to run the course (a runner is allowed to go North to South or South to North). My depth of knowledge was growing. On June 1st, my boyfriend (Avery Collins) and I made out first trip of the summer up to Leadville to live close to the course. We booked a rental car so we could do point to point runs, getting more bang for our buck with each mile. At the end of June, we moved into a tent on course. Previous plans took Avery off the route for a couple weeks, so I camped alone during that time. I made the occasional 6-hour drive home to do laundry. At one point there was a bear who grew fond of visiting my campsite after dark. This is when I grabbed Sable (our black lab) on one of my trips home and brought her camping with me until the attempt. She turned out to be more of a heating pad than a security system, but fortunately a change of campsites to the opposite end of the route solved the bear issue.
My planned start date was July 20th. After a 2-week taper, the weather was not on my side. There is a decent amount of lichen on portions of the route, so when the rocks get wet, they turn into dangerous, slippery, ankle twisting, death stones, adding hours to an attempt depending on the section. There is also the issue of lightning. Runners are above treeline for hours at a time. A lightning storm could derail an attempt, making it impossible to finish under the 60-hour cut-off to become an official finisher. I decided to wait for a break in the weather. This was a tough call. I had crew and pacers with their own jobs, family, races, and vacations planned. Everyone was waiting for the word “Go” for 3-weeks. Daily I would get multiple texts. “Is tomorrow the day?” “Have you seen (fill in the day) weather?” “Should I book a flight?”. There were a two potential breaks in the weather, but I held tight until I knew with certainty, I would have a full 50-hours without any precipitation. I had made too many trips driving the 6-hours to and from our home to get on course, time away from Avery camping on course, time spent route finding, and quite honestly talked too much shit about setting a new record to not live up to my predictions. I was doing Nolan’s with the weather on my side, end of story. So, my crew and pacers waited. A weather window was starting to formulate around August 8th. I watched it for a few days, then pulled the trigger and alerted the troops on August 5th.
Avery Collins- My #1 cheerleader, training partner, best friend, sounding board, therapist, personal chef, coach at times, inspiration, pacer, and crew member. Mountains Paced: Antero (#3), Princeton (#4), Missouri (#10), Elbert (#13), and Massive (#14). Avery clocked in over 50-miles with me. In addition, he also ran out to multiple remote areas to crew me, adding an additional 10-miles, not to mention all the vertical gain.
Reece Stanley- Brother and crew chief, the person who as been with me since my very first marathon and believed in my dreams when my marathon PR was 4:17:00.
Dean Eastham- Friend and crew chief (two is better than one), just like Reece, Dean’s level of faith in my abilities has always astounded me. When I only had a DNF on my Ultrasignup account, he would tell whoever would listen at the running store he owned, that I was going to win Leadville 100 that summer. I did not…but I will make good on that one day.
Kate Tsai- Friend and crew member, Kate said she was going to pop in and cheer me on at some point. She ended up dedicating her entire weekend to my attempt and I am so incredibly thankful and grateful that she did.
Meghan Hicks- Friend and pacer. When I started this journey Meghan was the current female record holder, so I wasn’t sure how she would respond to me asking for some guidance, but she welcomed my questions and did everything she could to insure I had a successful run. She has done so much for the women in our sport and I still cannot believe she agreed to be on my team for this attempt. Mountains paced: Columbia (#6), Harvard (#7), Oxford (#8), and Belford (#9)
Jenny Fox- Friend and pacer. After Jenny was done pacing, she met me on two additional summits (#11 & #12) purely for moral support and to make sure my tracker was working correctly. Jenny agreed to pace last minute when I had two pacers who had schedule conflicts and could not make it. Mountain Paced: Yale (#5)
Amanda Grimes- Friend and pacer. My light in the storm. Amanda’s positive energy is contagious, even when you are ten peaks into Nolan’s. Her support, unending string of compliments, Jolly Rancher feeding, and storytelling kept me preoccupied while my body pushed through the heat of the second day. Mountains Paced: Huron (#11) and La Plata (#12)
This attempt would not have happened without the people listed above. They put their lives on hold, dedicated untold hours, spent their own money, and lost two nights of sleep, to make sure I had a successful Nolan’s attempt.
Shavano: I intended on doing a two-week taper that turned into five while waiting on a break in the weather, so I was a little nervous on how my body would perform. I decided to run by feel and take what my body had, good or bad. It was good. I had energy, I felt great, I set a new personal record for my ascent up. The short descent was a little windy, but the sun was up, and I was ready to rage.
Tabeguache: Another peak down. Nothing too exciting here, just a woman running down her dreams.
Antero: Avery met me on for the final pitch up to the summit, which was a surprise. I was thrilled to have his company earlier than expected, and we tore it up on the descent. I had music playing. There were a few air drum solos, and dance moves thrown in mid-stride. The day was finally here, and I was ready to party.
Princeton: Heat and mountain goats, sums up Princeton. Avery was with me and we kept chipping away at the course, dunking our hats in any streams we found along the way. We came across a herd of 12 (!) mountain goats, and one almost killed Avery when it knocked a boulder the size of a small car off the ridge above us. Luckily, I heard it coming down, and was able to alert him before it got too close. After that we decided to stick to the right side of the rock shoot. We summited and headed down to the crew at Avalanche Trailhead.
Yale: Jenny started her pacing duties here. We worked our way up the mountain and summited right in time to see the sunset. With all the clouds glowing pink, the sunset gave us life! Multiple times on the descent to the saddle, I had to turn around and shout “Are you seeing this? Can you believe how beautiful it is?!?” We dropped down the other side of the saddle, stopped at treeline to filter some water, turned our headlamps on and worked our way through the woods at night with no trail, to the next crew point at the base of Columbia.
Columbia: Meghan was with me now, in the dark we made good time to the top of Columbia. Towards the summit my energy started to wane. We made our way off the summit, and I had officially hit my first wall. Meghan calmly talked me through it, and we kept working our way through rocks the size of SUVs.
Harvard: Inch for inch (because that is the best way to measure how fast I was moving on this mountain) this was the most defeating section for me. It was the dead of the night, nausea had set in, and route finding became difficult. This is a problem I never anticipated. I wanted to do Nolan’s one time, and I wanted it to be perfect from start to finish, and here I was struggling to get up and down peak #7. I kept moving forward, trying not to waste time dwelling on all the time I was losing. When the sun comes up, I will gain it all back, I kept telling myself.
Oxford: The struggle continues. One step at a time, keep moving forward, keep eating and drinking.
Belford: The ascent to Belford was not a huge improvement over the last two mountains, but the sun was up, and things were about to change. Avery was waiting for me at the top of Belford and he had brought refueling supplies. He encouraged me to eat as much of a Subway sandwich as I could get down and drink a ton of Gatorade. Once I stomached as much as I could, he told me he was going to pace me through Missouri. This was a welcome surprise. Meghan headed down to Missouri Trailhead, while Avery and I started towards the next summit, slowly regaining speed.
Missouri: Avery and I summited, then started to descend to Clohesy Lake. The descent was not great, but it wasn’t terrible. We were running, or at least I was, Avery was hiking behind me, keeping up with ease. Progress was being made and that is all that mattered.
Huron: At the lake I picked up Amanda. She was the ball of energy I needed. I told her I did not have the energy to talk, or even react to her stories, but I asked her to chat my ear off. I wanted to be distracted, and just keep moving. She nailed her job, and we plugged away up Huron. At the saddle, for the first time, since descending Yale, I felt great! We ran into Jenny who had decided to hike up from the other side of the mountain for kicks. I was ready to RUN, so we let loose and we all screamed down the mountain. It was mid-day and the trail was full of hikers. Amanda told as many of them as she could what I was up too. Some were impressed, while others thought she was telling stories. Avery had given me a goal time to get to Winfeild and I wanted to surprise him, so I worked hard to get there 30-minutes before his earliest prediction. Amanda and Jenny came running in only a minute or two after me. Amanda guzzled a Gatorade, then said she was heading off to the next peak. She wanted to get a head start, so she ran the 2-miles of dirt road to the trailhead and waited for me.
La Plata: It was hot again, but Amanda had a supply of Jolly Ranchers and stories, so we moved at a consistent speed up the mountain. Once again near the summit we ran into Jenny who had climbed up to meet us from the other side of the mountain, just because. For some reason, my tracker was running low on battery. Jenny had brought up a portable charger that we plugged in. Amanda officially clocked out of pacing duties at this time, and her and Jenny made their way down the mountain a few minutes behind me. Running at a slower pace than I cared to, I made my way down La Plata with blurry contacts, and an imagination that was running wild. Stumps looked like bears, and every rock was as squirrel sitting on the trail.
Elbert: Oh boy! This was the one that almost killed me. I picked up Avery at the base of La Plata, and we were able to climb for roughly an hour before turning on our headlamps. Once again, my pace changed to something that should be measured in inches, not mileage. One. Step. At. A. Time. We slowly ascended the mountain. Lack of sleep was getting to me. I had never run past 31-hours, and I was close to 14,000 feet for an extended period on a chilly night, all I wanted to do was to lay in the grass and take a nap. I knew I could not do that, so I would ask Avery to give me 2-minutes. There were a lot of 2-minute breaks happening on Elbert. At this point I was having some uncomfortable chest pains and my lungs felt like they were on fire. I could only get short shallow breaths. Chalking it up as part of the Nolan’s experience, I vowed to keep moving forward inch by inch. We were certain we reached the top of the mountain two different times, only to have our high spirits dashed by another looming peak above us we had to make our way up. I am going to say it again, TWICE we false summited. It was mentally defeating at this stage of the run. We did finally make it to the true summit and started heading down to the last crew location at the base of Massive.
Massive: Avery and I thought it would be beneficial for me to take a 20-minute nap. As soon as I arrived at the aid, I drank some soup, took off my wet socks and shoes, and crawled into a sleeping bag. When Reece woke me up, I felt like a new woman, I was ready to go! Avery and I tackled the last peak, with as much gusto as I could manage. Close to the summit, we ran into four mountain goats, and figured it was a good omen. The sun was also coming up, and we were able to see a thick layer of smoke with ash particles floating in the air. This explains my burning lungs and shallow breathing, we concluded. Happy to get out of the smoke and do the final descent, we hiked and ran when we could, down to the Highline Trail. After running this more than any other section of Nolan’s in training, somehow, we managed to make a wrong turn. After a few seconds of panic, we figured it out quickly and made it all the way down to the finish line at the fish hatchery.
Sponsors that helped me get to the finish line:
Adidas Terrex: Shoe of choice Agravic Flow.
Muir Energy: 1# one gel flavor used Cashew Lemon.
OS1st: Compression sock used during attempt; FS4 Plantar Fasciitis Socks.
Leki Poles: Pole of choice, Micro Trail Race Pole.
Clear Summit Productions
Mount Shavano 1:43:00
Tabeguache Peak 2:09:25
Mount Antero 4:07:29
Mount Princeton 8:23:01
Mount Yale 13:55:15
Mount Columbia 17:43:55
Mount Harvard 20:33:35
Mount Oxford 24:17:01
Mount Belford 25:04:24
Missouri Mountain 26:34:24
Huron Peak 29:47:43
La Plata Peak 34:55:30
Mount Elbert 42:22:05
Mount Massive 48:47:04