Superior – South Boulder, CO
A month or two ago I received a FaceBook Event invitation to a Fat Ass run being organized in the South Boulder area of Colorado’s Front Range. It’s not often that I’m the one being invited to a Fat Ass event this time of year as I’m used to being the one organizing them. And even though it’s a week before my own first fat Ass of the winter, I knew I had to take the chance to hop on board. The starting line was to be at the Superior Town Hall, which is quite literally .93 miles from my front door. It quickly became the first time I’d actually run to the starting line of an event I myself hadn’t organized.
|2nd Annual Southside 50K Route (Courtesy: Eric Lee)|
After running to the start during dawn, I arrived at Superior Town Hall to the rumblings of nearly 40 trail runners from the Boulder/Denver Metro Area. They huddled around and danced about, attempting to keep warm on a morning that is cold to this winters standards, but balmy to mine. I hung around realizing that I only knew two people there. The organizer and Chris Gerber, a Louisville resident who lives a mile away from me. I’m still waiting for the Boulder Ultra crowd to come around and say hello to this complete stranger; I’ve been told it will happen… someday. 🙂
After a quick photo, the organizer passed out maps, described where the aid stations were and went over the course. From there, we heard a “Have Fun!” and we were off. I love Fat Asses. I was very glad that my good friend Jerry Armstrong showed up to keep me company. Jerry is what I would classify as an ultra-phenom. A self proclaimed dark horse who is under-appreciated in the ultra community.. mainly because he doesn’t have a sponsor. Jerry’s enthusiasm for our sport is contagious. His knowledge unmatched by many and his ability to simply run.. special.
As the sun finally rose above the horizon of the great plains, the waving fields of open range grasses was glowing red, orange, yellow and then traditional for this time of year – the dead brown look. Speaking of dead brown.. I ran beside a guy who has been to The Barkley 6 times and is returning this year to try his luck at the Fun Run. I started telling Jerry that it kind of hit me as he talked to other runners.. that just as I didn’t care that he has done and is going to Barkley.. no one cares that I’ve been either. 🙂 Ahh.. Boulder.
We continued down the trail through Superiors backside. our route runs gradually uphill along an old rail grade where mine cars dragged coal from the holes still visible in the ground here. Tailings line the sides of the trail which is indicative of the hard work done here just over 100 years ago. The trails we started out on were the scene of a historic mine strike in one of Western America’s busiest coal fields. It’s always great to appreciate the history of the area we merely run across.
As we reached Marshall Mesa, the winds kicked in. Forecasts called for a warm day with temps in the 60s. Unseasonably warm for January in the Front Range and you could feel the fight between warm and cold air happening around us. We ran through cold pockets buffeted by warm breezes.. and warm pockets thrashed by chilling winds rushing down from the snowy (snowing) Continental Divide. Regardless, on the Marshall Mesa the winds gusted to near 45 mph as we struggled to make it across. Winds so strong that they stand you up and nearly stop you in your tracks as you continue to turn your legs over. After crossing CO 93, we sunk down onto Community Ditch and was suddenly protected from the gustiest of winds.
Funny, Jerry talked the entire way across Marshall Mesa and when we reached Community Ditch, I admitted to him that I only heard bits and pieces of what he had to say. The wind blew so strong that all I heard for the last hour was the wind rushing across my ears. Sorry Jer. I had to stop to walk because, par for the course, nature called. Jerry was puzzled when I sunk down along the back of the ditch. Jerry thought for sure that the water that flowed through here, UPHILL (no seriously it does), that I was taking a dump in water that people drank. When I caught up to him at mile 8, at the Dowdy Draw parking area where the first aid stop was, I explained to him that the ditch is for irrigation and cattle drinking water only. I don’t think he was too relieved.. but I was. Get it?
I had planted water and some aid in a bush near the parking lot the night before. I ran into the aid station around the same time as the bulk of the runners. They watched as I ran off into the high plains scrub, trying to figure out what I was doing. Then I pulled water out of a bush and the organizer wondered why I had done that. She told me to carry all that I needed for the day and there would be limited aid. So I prepared and it was no big deal. I was actually doubly appreciative of her and her husbands kind generosity in having an aid van set up here with cookies, pretzels, fruit, etc. After nomming down some oranges and half of a rotten banana, Jerry and I were off.
We spent the first 8 miles wondering if our pals Kurt and Val were going to show up or not. As we started to pass Sherpa Shack, we actually saw them sitting there refueling their bottles with jugs of water. Jerry took the gallon jug Kurt had and we showed them where to stash it on our return trip back through here. We got to the junction where the Spring Brook Loop splits off. These cats quickly got acquainted with who I was, this having been the first time we’ve met. It was pretty clear though that our time together just got better.
Jerry lead the charge up Spring Brook South and eventually onto the Goshawk Ridge. We talked about running 100s and Kurt is training for his first and Val is training for redemption at Leadville. This really left our group open to countless possibilities for discussion over the next few hours. The winds finally began to die and the air was warming up. The snowy sections we started to come across nestled in the mountains shadow, were sticky and wet as the snow continues to melt. Val doesn’t do well on these sections and she didn’t really have the footwear for it either. It was a great excuse for us to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
After descending off Goshawk, we took back onto the old rail grade around Fowler and into Eldorado Canyon. Eldo is notorious for it’s incredible wind speeds as the air coming down from the mountains gets squeeze played out onto the plains. The wind was easily gusting to 60 in the final rock cut of the rail and it was tough to slip through here. I managed to use Jerry’s camera to take a pic of our crew sneaking on through.
After we passed the windy section, we started our climb up Rattlesnake Gulch. The front runners came rushing on by us, a good 2+ miles ahead of us which was about an hour at this point. As we started to climb, we continued to experience some of the icy/pack snow that still graces the gulch. The sun rarely makes it in here this time of year and without traction, those not accustomed to these conditions were going incredibly slow. We stopped to give Val my micro-spikes which she was buying her own pair of on the way home from the run. After slapping these babies on, she was a cruise missile taking it to the trails like she hasn’t ever before this time of year.
We saw a few more mid-packers running the loop in the opposite direction of us. We climbed steadily and took a break near the top. I had heard the whistle of Union Pacific in the distance and we debated waiting for the train to come by so we could act like kids as it chugged on by. “I heard it Jer but that doesn’t mean I know how close it is.” We elected to keep moving, and then.. within 5 minutes we saw the train rolling by up high. CRAP! We missed the excitement but continued to have our own. Val had my micro-spikes on the descent and I was now focused on not falling on my ass. I planted every foot step with purpose and poise ensuring that I stayed up right. Half way down, Jerry said his good byes as he ran home to family obligations. It was just Kurt, Val and I now and the sun was definitely warming the place up.
After running out of Eldorado Canyon, We ran around the North loop of Spring Brook. Val and Kurt grabbed their stashed water and I continued on as they hung back and filled their bottles. I needed a walk break and with the new cement mud that was hanging around on these trails, I took the opportunity to just pick my way through the slop. As I reached the Flat Irons Vista Trail (North), I slowly made my way up the hill and soaked in the views.
Near the top, Val and Kurt caught up to me. I guess Val took a spill back around the corner. She was smelling the barn now, her car parked at the Green Belt Plateau, she was done for the day. This became tough though. As Val smelled the barn, she picked up the pace. Right in the middle of me fighting a bonk. I struggled to keep up with her. But I knew I had some rest time down near her car as I planted a bottle of water in a ditch. Upon reaching the cars, we said our good byes and I was excited to hear that Kurt was going to finish the run out with me. Even though I would have enjoyed the last 8 miles alone, I enjoyed company much more.. and the company of a new friend. Maybe these Boulder Runners aren’t that bad after all. (Kurts from Westminster via Southern Cal).
After refilling our bottles and dumping our access food and such off to Val, kurt and I took off around the Green Belt Plateau. I look at my watched and realized I had a good chance at finishing this in the 7 hours I had wanted to finish it in. Which in my mind, was a rough goal. By now the sun was hot and the temps are in the low to mid 60s. I’m still wearing man-pris and my long sleeve tops (2). I make kurt stop so I could get down to my short sleeves. You have no idea how good this feels in January. After this, Kurt and I tackle the minor hills that remained with purpose and vigor. We ran when we felt like it and walked when our legs tired. All the while we talked and told stories.. and I started to wonder where the hell all the other runners were at.
Near the top of the Coalton Trail, I stopped to take one last picture of myself with the Flat Irons behind me. I’m so incredibly lucky to live in an amazingly gorgeous location. In the far distance, we watched as even though it was 63 degrees where we were, a blizzard was raging on on the Continental Divide.
Kurt and I made it back to Superior around 2:00pm. I managed to finish the 32 miles in 6:58. Two minutes under my goal for the day. I’m sure I could have run it another 20-30 minutes faster if I had tried; but some days you just want to enjoy the journey and being out under the warm sun. Upon reaching Superior Town Hall.. the car which had the sing out clip board was gone. I thought I came in last and perhaps I did. It’s a Fat Ass so it doesn’t matter. I later learned that about half the field decided to not run Rattlesnake Gulch because of the snow and ice in there. Probably a good choice. The best part of the day though was not even caring about that clip board. I figured, “meh.. so it isn’t here.. guess I’ll run home.” And that’s what I did. I ran along Goodhue Ditch on the Coal Creek Trail. Watched some golfers take a few swings on the course next to my place and the sauntered the rest of the way home. I showered up.. and headed out for groceries for the next days Pats game.
|Southside 50K Elevation Profile|