Thursday, May 8, 2014

Collegiate Peaks Trail Run - 50M

I had originally planned on staying the night in Buena Vista and making this race into another family trip, but due to a number of circumstances, including the fact that local hotels were outrageously priced, that did not work out.  So instead, I set the alarm for 3:00 AM, to give myself adequate time for the drive over from Manitou SPring to the start of the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run.  I wound up waking up at 2:30, and after 15 minutes of tossing and turning, decided to just get up and go, on 4 hours of sleep.

The drive was uneventful.  I listened to an audio book of The Google Story, while enjoying my breakfast – buttered blueberry bagel, 12 oz. of club soda mixed with 4 oz. of OJ, and about 10 oz. of a chocolate Silk and chia seed slurry.

The early departure and quick drive made for an early arrival.  It was nice that all the pre-race activities were housed in the community center – much better than hanging out in the car for an hour+.  I was able to go through my pre-race ritual in comfort and use indoor plumbing instead of a port-o-potty.  Not wanting to stroll around topless, I also used the men’s room to apply a liberal coating of sunscreen.  As I was doing so, one of the guys waiting in line for the facilities jokingly asked “Hey, you want me to rub some lotion on your back?”  “Thanks, but I’d rather get skin cancer” was my reply, and we all had a good laugh.

Outside, I ran into a few familiar faces before the start.  Christy McLaughlin and Sean Wetstine spotted me.  I looked around for Rachel StClaire as she had posted a picture from the start the previous night, but didn’t see her anywhere.  After the race, I saw her Facebook post, noting that she had thought she registered for the race, but had actually not, so she left and did a training run on her own.

I wasn’t paying close attention while milling about the start, and before I knew it, a voice was counting down – 5, 4, 3…  I barely had time to pull off my shirt and push the start button on the Garmin.  Additionally, I found myself right near the front, where I had no intention of being on a race of this length and a field of this size.  We crossed the road and made our way through the parking lot, where I tossed my shirt on top of my car.  With temps starting out in the upper 30’s, the air was chilly and refreshing so I kept my gloves on till the second aid station.  Over the first few hundred yards, lots of runners went zipping by.  Even over the first few miles, more runners raced by, panting.  I kept thinking to myself “if I can hear your breathing a mile into a 25 or 50 mile race, you’re working too hard”.  I wasn’t foolish enough to give unsolicited advice, but seriously…

It’s tough watching runners pass, even early on in a long race.  There’s always a level of self-doubt.  Should I be going out faster while the legs are fresh and the temps are low?  This time, in addition to 165 races of experience, I also had physical issues to hold me back.  I was concerned about my stiff knees after hammering the downhills on the previous week’s 50K.  My calves were a bit sore having done some training miles in my Vibram 5-Fingers, and running some hard, fast sprints as recently as Thursday.  And my Achilles had also been feeling a bit tight.  All of these held me back to what turned out to be a smart pace early on.  It wasn’t until the 6th mile that I started to slowly pass people and other than a few that I traded positions with for a while, no one passed me.

The mileage was pretty much spot on at all the aid stations.  I like the accuracy and predictability.  We went through a few short sections of soft sand, but most of the course was nice and firm.  Somewhere around 6.7 miles, a creek crossed over the road.  Most of us tried to gingerly walk over some branches to keep our feet dry, but that didn’t work very well - one foot was partly wet, and the other completely.  They dried off quickly enough and I looked forward to the cool water on the return trip when the temperature would be higher.

There are two main climbs on each loop, but in between, there are lots of small, sometimes steep, ups and downs.  This keeps things interesting, but makes it hard to get into a really good rhythm for long.  Approaching the final peak of the first lap, at mile 18, I was feeling pretty fresh and continuing to slowly pass other runners.  I caught up to Christy and we chatted for a few minutes  Once we topped out, I tried to relax into what I knew was going to be a fast, yet pleasant 7 mile downhill back to Buena Vista and the half-way point.

A short way down, I came up on JT, from Colorado Springs.  We talked for a while about last weekend’s CMTR, and his upcoming Leadman, but after a mile and a half or so, I pulled back a bit, as he was pushing too fast and I knew we weren’t even half done yet.  My decision was definitely correct.  I wound up passing JT for good a short time later, and after the turn-a-round, he told me he was dropping out.

The top part of the decent had been a bit steep and fast, but the bottom part followed the old Midland railroad grade and was perfect for dropping my average pace, without killing the quads or destroying my knees.  I wound up running for a couple of miles with Andy, who was a Leadville 100 regular and as we got close to town, a gal caught up to us.  It turned out to be Christy.  She recovered well after the climb and was making up time on the decent.  I told her she had a shot at her 4:15 goal, and she was pretty close, missing it by just over a minute.

We made it down to the bottom, ran across a pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas, and made our way through the parking lot towards the turn-a-round.  I stopped at my car, swapped out the hand-held bottle for a fresh one, swallowed another Aleve, and gulped down a can of Coke.  I made it through the turn-a-round 3 minutes behind my self-imposed schedule – not bad!  Negative splits would put me right back on goal.

I was feeling pretty good about my time, but knew that climbing back up 7 miles would slow things down, especially now that the sun was out in full force.  The climb wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated, though.  The railroad grade actually allowed for a somewhat reasonable pace without over taxing me.  I was passing other 50 mile runners, who had clearly gone out too fast – payback!  The bottom half was also nice and social, as there were still plenty of runners headed down.  I exchanged a quick “great job” or “nice work” with each of them, but after a while, it got pretty lonely out there.  I ran the rest of the way back by myself – passing a runner every couple of miles, but never running with anyone.  This made the minutes tick by a bit slow, but at least I was able to run my own pace.

All told, I passed 10 runners on the return trip (yes, I was counting), including Sean - that made me feel pretty good.  Despite the fatigue of all those miles and the strong sun, I was still able to throw down some pretty respectable splits for the last 3 miles (8:24, 8:29, 8:08).  I crossed the line in 8:44:05, 14 minutes past my arbitrary goal time, but I felt that it was a good race, none the less.  Top 10 finish.  My knees, calves and Achilles all held up.  And though I didn’t manage to run negative splits, I was pretty darn close, running the second half only 8 minutes slower than the first.  Hopefully this is a sign of continuing maturity on my part, and not just a one-time fluke.

I kept myself pretty well hydrated throughout, evidenced by the fact that after the race, I was able to squat down to stretch and get back up without any light-headedness at all.  Nutrition-wise, I ate 1 peanut butter pack, 2 Honey Stinger Wafers, more than a dozen cookies from the aid stations, along with handfuls of chips and pretzels, and quite a few cups of Coke.  Though I carried a couple of gels with me the whole time, I only used one, about 4 miles from the end.  I swallowed about a dozen S-Caps throughout the day and used a single bottle at a time, filled with Shaklee Performance, and some lemon juice to cut the sweetness.  Along the way, I just topped off with water, which seemed to work well.  Unfortunately, at the last aid station, the volunteer apparently poured Heed instead of water into my bottle.  Even diluted, it was an unpleasant surprise.

I made a very wise move and bought a bag of ice before settling in for the 2 hour drive back home.  I put some in the cooler and split the rest into 2 bags, each strapped to a knee with a long-sleeve shirt.  I kept these ice packs on for over an hour and they made a huge difference.  The next day, I felt almost no discomfort at all in my knees.

The race was well managed and run.  The volunteers, as usual, were wonderful and supportive.  The only slight disappointment was that they didn’t have results at the finish and took 4 days to post them online.  I know, most people wouldn’t get hung up on something like this, but that’s the overly competitive, obsessive, impatient side of me.

The course was absolutely magnificent.  Most of it was on 4-wheel drive roads in the hills, east of Buena Vista.  Constant views to the snow-capped 14’ers of the Collegiate Peaks were stunning and the non-technical terrain allowed for lots of gawking, without the fear of a face-plant.  I would definitely run this race again and recommend it to anyone who wants a scenic 25 or 50 mile challenge.  The overall distance and the splits are quite accurate and there’s a gain/loss of almost 3,000’ per loop.

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