Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Collegiate Peaks 50M - 2015

After 2 disappointing races in a row (Zion 100 and Cheyenne Mountain 50K), I was more than a little worried heading into Collegiate Peaks.  I really needed a good performance.  I wanted to beat last year’s time, hopefully break 8:30, and try to run negative splits.

The night before the race, I got very little sleep (much like the previous year) and finally got up at about 2:45.  I made it into Buena Vista just as they were starting to set up.  This at least gave me a good parking space near the start line and convenient for accessing my stuff at the end of the first loop.

I saw Hawaiian Shirt Ray before the start and as we exchanged pleasantries, he let me know that he had forgotten to bring any rain gear.  I was happy to find a disposable poncho after fishing around in the back of my car and gladly took it, though I never found out if he got caught in any weather.

I also met up with Steve Bennett, my Shaklee supplier, right at the start line and we posed for a quick picture.

We were all ready to go but unsure if someone had called out “start” when all of a sudden, a small cannon went off with a very full bang.  There was no doubt about that, so we all took off, 25 and 50 milers together.

Pretty soon, I bumped into Eric Hubbard, from Evergreen, who I had run with at the McDowell race in Arizona back in December.  We chatted for a few miles, but then he pushed on and I fell back into a comfortable pace.  I was bound and determined to run a smart race, so up to the first aid station, I was mainly being passed as we all settled into our appropriate spots.

After the first aid, there weren’t too many position changes, other than just shifting back and forth with the terrain.  I was being very conservative on the uphills, but was flying on the descents, thereby see-sawing with others who were maintaining a more consistent pace, yet an inconsistent effort (at least in my view).

After the second aid station, I slowly started to pass a few runners.  I didn’t think I was doing as well as last year on the climbs, but didn’t pay any attention to my watch.  I was going strictly by feel.  I was quite glad to hit the final summit as I was looking forward to a fast, yet somewhat relaxing descent.  I passed a few more runners in the upper section where it was steeper and I wasn’t holding back.  By the time we reached the flatter section of the old Midland Railroad bed, I settled in to a more manageable pace as we were not yet half way done.

With about 3 miles to go to the turn-a-round at the Start/Finish, I came across the first returning runner.  Up until this point, it was impossible to tell who was running 25 or 50 miles and I didn’t much care, but now I started counting.  By the time I got down to the bottom, I had counted 11 runners ahead of me.  I didn’t know how many had started, but since I had come in 10th last year, I figured this was a pretty good spot to be in at the halfway point.  I also looked down at my watch for the first time and was pretty pleased with the 4:13 time for the first half.  I had hoped for something in the 4:00 to 4:15 range and was still feeling pretty good.

After a quick re-fueling stop by my car, I headed back out for the second half.  With my good time and mostly clear skies, I decided to take a bit of a chance and went out without my rain jacket.  I hoped that even if it did rain, it would pass through pretty quickly and I wouldn’t suffer too much.

Heading back up the railroad grade is slow, but still runnable.  I kept a steady pace, but tried not to overdo it as the sun was blazing down and there were still over 20 miles to go.  I passed Eric and another guy pretty early on, but the next runner that I could see up ahead was a decent way off and seemed to be increasing his lead as I struggled up the climb.

Once at the top, I was pleased to see that they had brought out the soda (which was missing from the aid station in the first half).  I re-energized with some Coke, grabbed some snacks and stretched my legs out on the long downhill, catching that elusive runner and another one before the next aid station.

It was pretty lonely out there at this point.  No more oncoming runners, and no one up ahead of me that I could catch.  The clouds moved in and cooled things down, but only let loose a few intermittent drops - perfect running weather.

The last runner that I had passed was looking pretty strong and was within sight behind me for quite a few miles.  I would stretch the lead on the downhills and he would shorten it on the climbs.  I really feared that he would catch up and that would have been a bit demoralizing.

On this second half, I looked at my watch quite a bit, especially in the last 10 miles or so.  I kept calculating and recalculating, trying to figure out what kind of finish time I should expect.  I was moving pretty slowly up the climbs, but was still able to run some sub-8 minute miles on the descents.

Breaking 8:30 was starting to look out of reach as I headed into the last aid station.  Fortunately, their little mileage sign was off, reading 44.95, whereas my GPS said I was only at 44.  Though the halfway mileage spot on, I just assumed that my GPS was now off (maybe it couldn’t keep up with those fast downhill miles), so I was elated.  Having a whole mile less would give me a really good shot at breaking 8:30.

As the miles ticked off and I neared the road, I caught a glimpse of another runner ahead.  This was just the push that I needed.  He was a tough one to catch and it took me a while, but just as we got on to the asphalt, I was able to drop him.  I wasn’t quite sure of the remaining distance, but this last guy was moving pretty well so I kept pushing the pace not wanting him to catch back up.

As I crested the little hill after we crossed the river, I saw yet another runner way off in the distance.  I didn’t think I would have enough distance left to catch him, but I pushed on.  It turned out that I was able to average a 7:30 pace on these last 3 miles - not bad for the end of a 50 miler.

As he made the second to last turn up ahead, I thought all was lost as turned back he saw me.  I figured he would make a final push also and would be too difficult to match, but he had nothing left and I was able to pass in the final half mile, encouraging him on to a strong finish.

There, in the distance, was yet another runner.  It seemed like everyone was bunched up at the end.  I pushed with everything I had, but soon realized that it was futile.  I just pushed on to make sure that I broke my goal, and I did.  I crossed the line in just over 8:28.  16 minutes better than last year, 2 minutes ahead of my goal, and only 2 minutes off of a negative split (4:13 and 4:15).  And I finished 6th overall.

Those last few miles really made the difference between a decent race and a great one.  I would definitely not have done as well had it not been for those last couple of runners teasing me on.  Though it also made for one of the toughest ultra finishes I’ve had to date.

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