For some reason every time I know I have to wake up early the next day, I can’t sleep. I set my alarm the night before for 4:45 AM and went to bed around 10. I woke up just about every hour on the nose and looked at the clock. By the time 4:15AM rolled around, I just laid in bed and waited for my iPhone to tell me it was time to get up.
Buzz….It was time to get up.
|My pre-race plan|
I rolled out of bed virtually exhausted and put on my battle armor for the day -- shorts, socks, compression, t-shirt, jacket, and my signature trucker hat. I had loaded up my car the night before with all my gear and nutrition so I was good to go. I kissed Julie on the forehead, she wished me luck as I left to go grab some coffee, pick up Chris and carpool to the race.
We made it up to Horsetooth about an hour before the race start. Since we carpooled, we were able to park about 100 feet from the start line. This was clutch because outside it was 37 degrees, raining and windy.
|View close to the start line|
We dashed out of the car and over to the check-in table to grab our race numbers. I was even more surprised at how cold it was. My fingers were freezing by the time I got back to the car. I went to start my car and turn the heater on. Click-click….click…click. Somehow my battery was dead and my car wouldn’t start.
Talking to the nice guys next to me, we were able to jump start my car and get the heater on. My car is only three years old, so I have no idea why it wouldn’t start but I couldn’t stress about it before my race.
Chris and I made a plan to just leave my car unlocked and I left the key in a safe spot inside the car, in case he finished before I did. Shutting the driver’s door to head to the start line the car beeped behind me.
CRAP! I had just locked my keys in the car! Chris was laughing hysterically, and I crawled under the car, hydration pack and all to try and find the spare key. About 3 minutes later, I finally found my spare and got back inside the car. What a way to start the day.
Laughing as we walked to the start line, Chris made a point to tell me, I had already got the bad luck out of the way for the day.
"I hope so" I thought
|Chris and I at the start|
We lined up towards the back of the 200ish person field shivering in the wind and rain as the race director yelled out some important instructions that we couldn’t hear. I didn’t even hear him yell start, but the field started moving and I hit start on my Garmin.
I purposefully started uncomfortably slow this race. My goal was to go easy for most of the race and if I had some left at the finish, I would let loose. My heartrate was low and I had a few conversations with other athletes as we made our way towards the singletrack and the first of three major climbs.
|Singletrack up the first climb|
The scenery was stunning. With the rain and mist, it felt like we were characters in the latest Lord of the Rings movie or about to become knights running through Ireland. It was an expanse of green meadows, low hanging fog and misty mountain tops. We crossed a couple of bridges and streams and began to knock off the first climb. I settled in at an easy pace and mixed up a fast hike and a slower jog as it made sense. I met a couple of other runners that were out on the course for their first time as well. I power hiked up the steeper parts of the climb at 16-20 minute mile pace, and ran when I could. Chris was a few runners up from me so I made my way up to him and we hung out until the first aid station at mile 7. I was feeling great, so I skipped the aid station and started down into the valley below.
|Cruising with Chris up climb one|
I was alone through the next three miles. I went easy but steady down the mountain paying attention to my breath and cadence. My hamstring was still a little sore as always, but I blocked out the nagging throb and made sure my heartrate stayed low.
I hit the 10 mile aid station and refilled my hydration that would take me through the end of the race. I even had to hit the port-o-potty and pee so I knew I was hydrating well. I was not planning on stopping at any more aid stations, so I spent 2-3 minutes at that one to make sure I was ready for the rest of the day and remaining 15 miles.
The weather was actually perfect for racing. The morning cold didn’t seem so bad once I was on the move. I started up the next climb which was over 1200 feet of gain in less than three miles. I took my time here and power hiked with a guy named John who was training for the Never Summer 100K later this year. The conversation made the time go by quickly, and before I knew it, I had crested the top of the climb and ½ way point in the race. I had kept my heart rate well below 160 to this point and still felt pretty good. I could start to feel the miles in my legs, but they still felt okay. I knew I had one last big climb in the race to make it up.
|Climbing up the second climb|
Descending into the next valley was fun. There were a couple of runners ahead of me pushing pace, but I settled into my own rhythm and watched them yo-yo with each other burning matches each time they raced harder. The irony is that I was still the same distance behind them even though I ran steady.
I had a lot of time to think during this stage. I had set out to race differently and was staying true to plan. I knew I could have gone faster, but when my ultimate goal is Leadville in August, learning to pace my body was much more important than placing in this race. I also admired the scenery out there once again. The fog was breaking and I started to catch glimpses of Horsetooth Reservoir below. It was stunning.
|Horsetooth in the distance|
I ran right through the aid station at the base of the climb and passed all four of the runners that were in front of me on the descent. They all stopped for water and I just kept chugging along.
The next climb is close to 900 feet over 2.5 miles and it seems to go on forever. I jogged the runnable sections and power hiked the rest of it. About a mile from the top of the climb, the trail has some uphill rollers that I could hike up and run down to the flat for a few seconds and hike up the next one. I got into a zone that felt great and I passed three more people on the way to the top.
I crested the top around mile 20 and the trail opens up onto a jeep fire road that is fairly flat. My legs were really feeling it at that point. I had topped over 5,000 feet of climbing for the day and the flat road was taking its toll on my hammy. I could tell my mind was turning south so I told myself to stay in the moment. Look at the scenery, listen to my feet, and stop thinking about the mileage I had left. Soon enough I’d be on my way back down towards the finish. The mental tricks worked and before I knew it, I was on the way down.
I took the first part of the descent easy and steady. The trail was pretty runnable minus a few bigger boulders and tree roots. Some of the 50-milers were making their way back up it, and I offered encouraging words to all of them. I was surprised how good I was feeling at this point in the race. My legs were opening up and my speed was picking up. I rounded the corner and could see the finish line in the valley below. Only 2 miles left!
I started pushing pace. I passed two runners and caught up to a third that didn’t want to let me pass him so he pushed harder. We were sub 7-minute-mile pace flying down the hill. I stayed on his heels and we passed another runner. I could see one more guy up the trail about 200 yards and told the runner in front of me that we should reel him in. The runner in front of me told me he was all-out and didn’t have any juice to go faster so he let me around. I started sprinting to try and catch the final guy before the finish. It felt like my old days of bike races trying to sprint up and bridge the gap.
I was maxed out running 6:45 pace when the trail spilled out onto the road leading towards the finish. I caught the final runner and we both joked how we may throw up at the finish. I sprinted as hard as I could for the final 200 yards and crossed the finish line in 4:45:00.
I executed this race exactly how I wanted to. I still have some work to do to learn more about my pacing, but this was a step in the right direction. Despite the cold, this was a well-organized race and one I will likely return to.
Link to my Strava file: https://www.strava.com/activities/576158230
-Starting slow and finishing strong is much better than starting fast and burning out
-I still have to work on my uphill to downhill transitions but they are coming along
-Don’t discount the flats
-Stay positive and encourage others.
-2 cliff bars (500 calories)
-90 OZ Infinit Liquid Nutrition (1250 calories)
-2 cliff bars (500 calories)
Next up: Dirty 30 50K