It is always fun to experience the camaraderie of race week with someone. Even though we were running in the separate QR races, Chuck and I spent the whole week leading up to the race going through the typical race week emotions, thoughts, and plans. We had decided to camp at Horsetooth Reservoir and drove up Friday afternoon to "prepare". I think it was really more just to slip into the moment and get away from the distraction of real life. By the time I arrived, Chuck had already set up camp and we proceeded drive around and scope out the area: both the start area and the 10/40 mile aid station, where I hoped to see Chuck on race day. Then we circled around Fort Collins lost for half an hour looking for Runner's Roost and bib pick up. Finally, we headed down to Longmont and my favorite restaurant (Oskar Blues) for dinner. In a flash, we were asleep with a 4 am wake up call.
After waking, we didn't waste much time. We ate, put on our already laid out gear, made some coffee and headed to the start. Due to the relatively high volume of people pouring into Lory State Park, everything felt rushed until we finally had our bibs and got behind the start line with only about 10 minutes to go. We made a small mistake here by lining up somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way back. This may not have been as bad for Chuck, but I was running the shorter race and probably wasted a bit of energy and time climbing up from that far back.
Towers Road Aid - Mile 7The race started with a "ready, set, go" from Nick and we were off. I soon realized how many people we were going to have to pass. They changed the course so that the first few miles are along dirt road so that runners can space out, but we were pretty far back. What was enjoyable was that I got to run a few miles with Chuck as a result. And, it set me up to be the hunter all day. There were one or two times during the entire race that I got passed by a better technical downhill runner. Other than that, I was the pursuer all day. Of course, the reverse of that is that it is tough to pass on technical single track. Some people sense that you are running stronger at that moment and move over. Others make you ask, and even then may or may not get out of the way. To be honest, I usually get out of the way downhill since I have only average abilities there. But uphill, I usually use other runners behind me to push me.
Before long, Chuck unceremoniously ran off into the distance and I was alone. He later "apologized" for not saying bye, but I refused to accept that. Today was his day and he had bigger things on his mind. I never expected we'd be together for more than 10 feet of the race. The race prohibits the use of iPods and I wasn't sure if that was a "wink-wink" thing or a hardcore "you will be DQ'd" thing. While I had a playlist picked, I decided to honor the race rules and just stayed in the moment with no music. I would have expected that to make for a long day, but it actually went by pretty fast even just staying inside my own head. I am not real chatty with strangers, so I didn't speak that much other than a few mile stretch I ran with Jeremy Ebel.
The initial climb was mostly runnable for me. In a longer race, I would have hiked much of this. Today, I was hungry for a good finish. When it got steep, I'd hike for 30 seconds and then run. The hiking never got my heart rate back down, but it stopped some of the burning in my legs. I was blown away with how pretty the course is -- tons of technical single track and nature all around you. This was a huge surprise to me. When we ran the Headless Horsetooth FA event in February, I walked away unimpressed with the Devil's Backbone and Blue Sky trails. The trails inside Lory State Park are awesome. The final bit up to the Towers aid station was on Towers Road. This section of road is relentless and I was definitely mixing and matching running and hiking. I just kept grinding until I got to the top. I didn't stop at aid all day. The race volunteers filled my bottle and I was off with barely 15 seconds time lost.
|My only photos from the course. I felt good here and it showed. Probably the least technical part of the course, but pretty!|
|Not sure about the expression on my face there. Maybe I was going to spit? But I still like this photo for some reason.|
Horsetooth Aid - Mile 10The cold reality of technical downhill was soon upon me. I am a coward running downhill and my legs take a real pounding from all the braking. You work hard as a trail runner uphill so you can be rewarded with downhill. However, the trails in Lory State Park are so steep that they sometimes have to build stairs! After about 15 minutes of technical downhill, I found myself wanting to either go uphill or on something a bit more flat. While I remained focused on the trail, I was also lost in the beauty. I was running mostly alone in these miles and really enjoyed it. The trail finally evened out a bit and I was running strong. However, I was getting the urge to use the bathroom. I finally decided I could wait until mile 10 and use a real restroom. As I pulled into Horsetooth Aid, I went straight into a restroom, taking less than two minutes, and I was off.
With the weather being so perfect (40 degrees at the start and probably the low 50's at the finish), I decided to carry one water bottle only. This is unusual for me as I drink a ton. I just made sure my water bottle was topped off all day and it worked out perfectly. My plan was gels and water only for the entire race. I was running too hard to really digest fat and I didn't want to risk a "sugary beverage" leaving me with cotton mouth and and only one bottle of fluid. This plan worked to perfection. Every 45 minutes I would take a mouthful of Vi Gel. After mile 17, I was taking a gel every 2.5 miles. My stomach was solid and my energy was great.
Towers Road Aid - Mile 14I left Horsetooth Aid still alone with my thoughts. And we were once again climbing. Within a mile or so, I caught up with Jeremy and announced my presence by insulting him. He's a good guy and took it well. We started chatting and catching up as we passed the miles. Jeremy and I ran with Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim together in 2012. He is coming off bronchitis, causing him to skip the Colorado Marathon, and was running the 50 plus doing a 24-hours of Bear Peak Fat Ass in the same day. He likes some insane challenges! There were a few 14-ish minute miles in here and I started feeling like my 4:30 goal (10:45 pace) could slip away. One thing that running at Deer Creek and Mt Falcon has taught me is that a patient, grinding style up hill usually pays off in the end. So I didn't worry too much about it. We arrived at Towers Aid again and I topped off my water and left. I was definitely making up time on other runners by not stopping.
Arthur's Trailhead - Mile 17.5Jeremy and I got separated near the top of the climb to Towers Aid, but we were back together running after leaving the aid station. This time we got to run downhill. It was once again a steep, technical descent and I was pretty cautious. Honestly, these miles of the race just passed quickly without much memory, I guess because it was downhill and we were chatting. This section was somewhat exposed and it was the only time all day that I was concerned about the heat. As we pulled into aid, I began fiddling with my water bottle to chug all that remained so the volunteers could refill it. Of course, I found the only rock and tripped in front an aid station full of people! I managed a pretty graceful recovery -- without ever fully going down -- got my water and moved on. I never saw Jeremy again, though I did see that he finished.
FinishI wish I could bottle what happened next. For some reason, perhaps the onslaught of gels or the adrenaline from nearly falling in front of dozens of people, I just started pushing up the next climb. I ran most of the third climb and was passing people the whole way, probably eight runners along the way. I felt STRONG and in control and began thinking of a time lower than 4:30. The 20th mile was a bugger, but I just kept grinding away and was never worried about losing my time. I knew there were downhill miles remaining. Once going downhill, I began picking off more runners, passing three of them just before the "unmanned" aid station, which I skipped. Then I passed a few more runners on some technical downhill between miles 21 and 22. I saw the leader of the race coming back somewhere in this section. Then I saw second place -- an 18 year old kid -- not long after. I would later witness that same kid drop at Horsetooth Aid as I awaited Chuck. (He had a good 30 minute lead on 3rd place and was only a few minutes behind the leader but still dropped.)
The race finishes much like the Deer Creek hiker trail where there is a brief bit of uphill as you bend around the mountain before pounding down. I think something about this visual just hit home with me and I felt totally confident in what I was doing. During the brief uphill, I slowed but continued to run. I passed a few more runners. Then we rounded the corner and I could see the finish line a few miles and a few switchbacks below. I could also see that the trail was the most runnable downhill of the day -- a gentle grade and not much technical elements. I found myself right up on a runner in Hokas. Despite my persistently breathing down his neck, he never offered to move. I glanced up to look in front of him and plan a move. Boom, I did full superman as a loud "ooooffff" came out. Taking my eye off the trail resulted in the inevitable fall, some scrapes, and a bruised elbow. Now I was pissed and determined to pass this guy. I once again got RIGHT UP ON him. He refused to move aside. I finally told him I was passing and he acknowledged, but didn't move aside, forcing me to go off the trail to pass him.
The other complication this final stretch was yielding to the leaders of the fifty mile race coming back at us. The course instructions very clearly stated that we should yield to the faster runner in two way traffic. I tried to move off to the side while still running my own race and keeping track of the runners coming back; Chuck was about mile 27 and in 14th place when I saw him. We had an awkward exchange as he tried to fist bump and I came in with a high-five. We cheered each other as I went by and that was it. I dropped into a sub-8 pace and just ran as hard as I could to the finish. There were were a few emotional thoughts as I came into the finish. I finished in 4:26, good for 25th male and 27th overall out of nearly 230 finishers.
I hung around the finish area long enough to get some BBQ and text home to let everyone know my status and Chuck's. There weren't any people I recognized hanging around the finish area and I soon departed to get my stuff from the camper and go see Chuck at mile 40. The wait at Horsetooth Aid was a good 45 minutes and I tried to nap as I watched the runners come through. I recognized Chuck running down the switchbacks and got up to greet him. He looked pretty strong and seemed in control of his race. There were some goodbyes and a little advice and then he was off to glory!
Final ThoughtsOne of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the Baz Luhrmann Everybody's Free Song/Speech: "The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself". I think that pretty much sums up racing for me. I set my own expectations. I have to live with the results. Congratulations from others are fun for a few days, but then the world moves onto something else. We talk about placement, age group awards, rankings, qualifying for select events, etc... But, sooner or later it just comes down to you. In any given race, there is only one winner. Everyone else has to find satisfaction with something else. I set my mind on 4:30 and beat it. Could I have run faster? Maybe. Probably. It doesn't matter really. I am totally happy with how the day played out. The whole race was a near perfect realization of how I visualized it. It just doesn't get better than that.... I ran my first road marathon in 4:18 and I just ran this beast in 4:26, that is some pretty impressive growth.
I walked away from this race feeling very happy about how strong I felt. Ultrasignup.com indicates that this was my best race to date. I never thought of myself as much of climber, but felt like I did a great job climbing in this race. A slender mountain goat of an elite I am not. But, I will grind away with the best of them. Most of the races that I have done with significant climbing have all been at altitude. That probably has a lot to do with why it feels like a struggle. I climbed really well at Old Pueblo 50 last March too.
I was also very happy with my gut. After all the experimentation with low carb diets, things feel somewhat stable now. My gut felt good all day, including post-race. Sure I was eating sugar, but that was only to match the intensity and relatively short nature of the race. I plan to push "real food" on longer races. Nonetheless, I was happy with the fact that I ate less than 800 Kcals all morning (between breakfast and in race nutrition) in a race where I burned about 3700 and felt energized and strong the whole way.
And one final thought to anyone considering this race in the future, I highly recommend it. This ranks very highly among the races that I have done in the past. I liked the fact that it was relatively small and run by experienced runners. It was also very cool to see elite runners that I follow as volunteers at the race. The trails in Lory State Park are top notch. The course was tough, but I thought fair and worth the suffering.