Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race - 50K

I have run the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race each of the 4 years since it started – the first 2 times in the 25K, and the past 2 in the 50K.  It’s been a well run race from the very beginning, and is one of the earliest ultras on the calendar in Colorado.

Before the race, I ran into a Doug and Joy, from the Belmar Running Club, as well as Mitch, a Colfax Ambassador who I had met the previous year.  It’s always nice to see familiar faces.

The course is basically a 25K figure 8, with a lollipop section on each of the loops.  The 50K runners run the same course twice.  The pinch point of the figure 8 is right by the start/finish, which allows for access to a drop bag.  This year, they changed the drop bag location by a hundred yards, which made it accessible 3 times for 50K runners.  I took advantage of this set-up by placing 3 bottles in a small cooler, allowing me to quickly swap bottles prefilled with my Shaklee Performance drink, with minimal fill-ups at the aid stations.

This year, I started a little closer to the front, hoping I could avoid any early slow-downs as we hit the single-track.  This turned out to be a pretty good move, but the second part of my plan was to shift it down a notch once we started climbing on the trail so I could pace myself for the long haul.  I didn’t pull back as much as I should have and paid for it with an extra 7 minutes on the second half of the race.

It only took a couple of miles for the runners to get spread out.  By the time I hit the first aid station, I could barely see those in front or behind.  I ran for a bit with Tina Lewis, who was the third place female at the time.  I was pushing just a bit too hard on the uphills, but I felt relaxed on the downhills even early on, as we headed by the start/finish at about mile 7.  I felt like I was moving pretty slow on the next segment, out on the open, eastern part of the park.  By the time we hit the next aid station and started to really climb again, I had caught up to Tina, but the small group of guys in front had disappeared.  I kept calm and ran my own race, as I knew we were only 1/3 into it.  The couple of miles of climbing on the southwest end of the park was slow and taxing, but once I topped out, things really started to feel good.

The next 3 ½ miles were mostly downhill and I was able to pick up my pace considerably, while still allowing some recovery from the uphill effort.  I passed a number of runners here, and with the additional energy of the 2-way traffic, I was having a blast.

My Garmin was off by about ½ mile when I came through the aid by the start/finish and this accounted for some of the 5 minutes that I was ahead of my goal time.  I was smart enough to know that I probably couldn’t maintain the pace, but adrenaline also fed some hopes that I might be able to push the next 15 miles.  The thin morning clouds had all burnt off and the strong sun made it feel much warmer than the mid 60’s that the thermometers were reading.  Luckily there was a pretty constant breeze that kept things from getting too bad.

As I started climbing into the second loop, I was definitely feeling the fatigue of the miles, along with the warm sun.  I was now walking up lots of the small inclines where I had run a mere 2 ½ hours earlier.  I knew I had a bit of a time buffer to work with and I could still throw down some speed on the downhills, so I didn’t worry too much.  But it was becoming quite evident that I was paying the price for the fast first lap.  At some point, I passed Amanda, the second place female.  This gave me a bit of a mental boost, as she is a strong runner and has beaten me on a number of races over the previous years.

I made it back up through the last big climbs on the southern loop and was really looking forward to the upcoming downhill where I needed to make up some serious time.  I was pushing the pace now and feeling pretty good racing downhill.  Approaching the last mile, I saw a runner up ahead and convinced myself that he was number 10.  If I wanted a top ten finish, I would need to catch him.  Running a 7-minute pace, it took me about ¾ of a mile to make up the few hundred yards he had on me, luckily he didn’t have enough in the tank to outsprint me.  My Garmin showed a sub 5-minute pace for the last bit from the aid station to the finish line.  It was probably one of the fastest finishing sprints I’ve ever managed, though only for two hundred yards.

I was quite happy to have beaten last year’s time and broken the 5 hour mark by a couple of minutes.  This was the first real benchmark test since the Run Through Time Marathon in mid-March and showed that I am ahead of last year’s training.  The only slight downer was that I didn’t manage my pace well enough on the first lap and slowed down by 7 minutes in the second.  Had I managed myself just a little better, running negative splits, I think I might have shaved another couple of minutes off my time.  Oh well.  That’s what ultra running is all about – making an endless number of minute adjustments, in search of that ever-elusive perfect race.

In the day or two after the race, I definitely felt my knees and lower back.  This was the price of hammering on the downhills.  I’ve developed pretty decent downhill speed, but I need to keep working on the form to avoid long-term injuries.

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