Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lead King Loop 25K

There are so many amazing things that happened this weekend that I just have to call this my best running experience ever. My neighbor and running buddy Tony participates in this race almost every year. His cousin and her husband run it as a charity even for the Marble Charter School. We ended up in a family reunion of sorts because we spent the weekend with him and his family. It turned out very good because they were GREAT hosts and took us in without hesitation. Tony comes from a family of accomplished runners and I enjoyed talking "shop" all weekend with them. But I have to admit, I was a little intimidated as I am not even close to being in their league.

We drove up Friday night right after school. Marble is more than three and a half hours away, so we checked in late. Tony had arranged for us to stay at the lodge that marks the start and finish line of the race.  It was such a great place and a huge advantage to be literally fifty yards from the race start. The proximity allowed us to stroll straight from our room to the start, shower before the awards, and generally just relax. The cabin had sleeping for 5 or 6 people, a full kitchen, full bathroom, and a loft with the beds. Very cute. Here is the beautiful little cabin we stayed in at the Beaver Lake Lodge.


Saturday morning we woke up to pouring rain. It let up a bit in the early hours and allowed Tony and I to sneak in a short run and see a bit of the course. This is a view of the local mountains from our porch.

After breakfast the rain picked up and we decided to hang out for a while and wait for a break to go to the Milton Falls. We finally decided to make a break for it around 11 am and the weather let up nicely so we could get the hike in. Milton Falls was amazing! These pictures don't do justice to how cool it was. (For some reason we all kept thinking about the movie First Blood).

Johanna and I enjoying the falls. The weather was in the 40's, but she gets cold easily.

The entire Wellman clan enjoying the weekend.

Tony was an amazing host and we enjoyed spending time with him. It seemed like it was his personal mission to show us a good time.

Driving back from the falls we saw this cool photo were steam was coming out of the side of the mountain. I was a little bummed because it appears we were one week to early to see the Aspen trees changing. This time next week that same mountain will be exploding with color.

We headed out after our hike into nearby Carbondale, CO for some lunch and to pick up race packets. My kids both decided to run the 2.5K kids race over lunch. As we arrived at the race store to pick up packets and register, we noticed they had a family option where four or more people could register for nearly the same price as one adult and two kids. I had been telling my wife she should run the 12.5K course and it was financially smarter to do it! (Of course she exceeded expectations!). The entire Wellman clan was signed up to run Sunday.

After lunch on Saturday, we helped out Tony's family getting the race set up and then went to his cousins' house for dinner. It turned out to be a feast of spaghetti, wine, and cake (celebrating several birthdays, including my son Dylan turning seven). I talked some with Tony's uncle who ran the two mile in college (I believe 9:04 was his best time) and his cousin (who just completed the Boulder Marathon in 2:59). Wow, what a group of runners.  And of course I have been chasing Tony's amazing 2009 season all summer.

Sunday - Race Day

Tony's family puts on a great race: the 25K course starts at 8:30, 12.5K at 9:30 and kids are at 11:45.  It's a full day of family fun. Leading up to the race I did a bit of comparing to previous years to come up with an estimate for my time and potential placing. I determined that a good race for me was somewhere between 2:35 and 2:45. Historically that time would be good enough for a top 25 finish. Turns out that this is the first year that the Lead King Loop race has been part of a Colorado Grand Prix of events put on by the USATF. (They called it the USATF Colorado 25K Trail Championship). Ultimately this is a great thing for the event as they draw a deeper, more talented field. However, I wound up running a great race and missing the top 25 by a long shot. The USATF is providing prize money to entice runners to show up. The field was so deep this year that the top 4 runners all broke the course record of 1:55.

We got to sleep in and enjoy the morning while waiting for the race to start. This is a great thing because the valley gets sun slowly and is very chilly to start (see below: look I even have long sleeves on!). After we got started, Tony and I hung out and talked for about three quarters of a mile. Then the climbing started and Tony let me go out ahead. Not too long after we split I went into "trail mode" and just started power-hiking the climb. It was obvious early that the race was full of good runners because I was at the back of a pack of nearly 50 people that went out hard. Power hiking allowed me to keep my position at the rear of the lead pack and even pass a few people. I was hoping to average about 4 mile per hour on the climb and managed to do a bit better than that -- good thing because it was longer than expected.

My nutrition was dialed in today. After about 45 minutes there was a brief flat area and I took my first Roctane GU and washed it down with GU drink. I felt refreshed and managed to finish the climb strong. At the top of the climb I was out of drink and refilled with Heed (the race product) that lasted me the remainder of the race. Then I started running downhill! There were parts of the top section that were smooth enough that I looked around and enjoyed my surroundings. I really need to come back at some point and run this course purely for enjoyment.  It is like a slice of heaven -- just beautiful and serene.  In fact, the course takes you through the town of Crystal which is only accessible by Jeep and ATV and is the most photographed place in the United States.  The mountains around us were all capped with snow from the recent cold spell that passed through.

After descending for nearly four miles, the course starts to approach the town of Crystal and gets extremely technical. (My feet are REALLY beat up from all the pounding on sharp rocks). In addition to being technical, the course was very wet. Trying to avoid puddles was futile and I just ran through them, splashing mud and water all over. At this point I was running mostly alone with the exception of the occasional runner I would pass. My iPod had died many miles ago and I was alone with my thoughts. The one thing that kept going through my mind was "don't trip!". I did trip twice, but never fell. It's a good thing because the road was basically a cliff with the river several dozen feet below. After an hour and a half I did my second (and last) Roctane gel and immediately felt some renewed energy.

And finally, as the course started to come back into town, I could tell I had a good time secured. I wound up catching a strong woman runner and slowed to talk briefly with her. She had run nearly the same time last year and finished 3rd overall for women. This year she would be lucky to be top 10 this year with strong runners like Stevie Kremer here. After a bit she told me to run ahead and I sped off to the finish. I briefly wondered if I had left too much in the tank. After some reflection I think that my ability to finish strong just means that I ran a smart race. I finished in 2:35:50 or 36th overall -- but only 15th in my AG. Man my AG is tough!

Tony and I are eager for the challenge. I don't think it is a stretch to say that the only race that compares with the difficulty of this one, mile-for-mile, is the Leadville Marathon. I was surprised at the difficulty and technicalness of the trail. My feet are pretty bruised from the pounding on sharp rocks.

An hour later Johanna was getting ready to run her first out and back event with a big hill (1200 feet over 4 miles).

Johanna was all smiles after her 3rd place women's finish (and 1st in AG).

Here I am finishing at sub-seven minute pace around the lake.  I felt pretty darn strong considering how hard the race was.

Tony decided to make the race an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the moment.  Part of me was jealous because I missed so much by "racing" it.  Racing a trail event is difficult predicament.  Here you are in some of the most beautiful places in the world, but you cannot stop to enjoy them! One mistake by not paying attention to the trail in front of you and you'll be falling to the ground. I hope to upload some of Tony's pictures to show you all how beautiful this course was.

Here is Dylan about two-thirds of the way through the kids race.  He wound up finishing 6th overall and the youngest kid in the top 10.  He ran an 8:20 mile in school last week, and I think he easily beat that today.

Savannah wound up 16th overall.  It took here a while to get over the fact that her brother beat her, but then she realized that he had averaged an eight minute pace and ran a terrific race.

I am not sure we could have asked for a better weekend.  Be prepared DMers because I plan to recruit heavily for next year's race!

1 comment:

  1. Great race and great report AJ! Your entire family killed it! congrats!