April 28, 2012
Collegiate Peaks 50 Mile Run
Buena Vista, CO
As I sat in the Buena Vista community center listening to the opening remarks of the pre-race meeting I knew I had come to the right place. The race director started spouting off about how the race even began. Like most, “Old School” ultra marathons, the Collegiate Peaks 50 Miler started with a small group of folks deciding to put in some miles in “Fat Ass fashion.” As the years went by, more and more folks started showing up for their group run and before you know it, they knew they needed to turn it into an official event for safety’s sake and to raise a little money for the local youth. Years later, the Collegiate Peaks 50 still regards itself as a runner friendly race, steeped in the traditions of a growing sport, unwavering in their offerings. I knew this was going to be one hell of a race.
There is one thing I forgot however. Which is exactly how old school ultras run. This race is no exception to the rule. The race consists of two 25 mile loops. You run the first in the clock-wise direction and the second in the counter-clockwise direction. There are plenty of aid stations out there, but the aid there is limited and lack variety. Runners are not allowed drop-bags or the use of crews, except, at the 25 mile turn around (Start/Finish Area). I personally really dig ultra’s like this, but I’ve run the pampered races for so long that I forgot how much more challenging races like this can actually be. Either way, I was pumped the morning of the race and ready to run.
An Uphill Battle
A few hundred runners were milling about the starting line area when all of a sudden, we heard short hurts from an air horn. We all looked at each other trying to figure out why we were hearing the sound when we realized it was the start horn. After the confusion subsided, we all lurched out in one large gang of runners and headed for the hills. The course starts out on a two-ish mile section of road. From the crests of the tiny hills we were traversing, we could get a birds yes view of how the field was starting to spread out. Fifty milers and twenty five miler runners were off on the course together. It was easy to spot the 50 mile runners because we were the only ones running with backpacks and a little bit in excess of gear.
A few miles up the road we got off the wretched pavement and began running over the roller coaster trails. I believe the course calls this section warm-ups hills and talk of dips-dos. I’m not really sure what it was actually called, just that these hills were short, rolling, and offered some super fun tight turns. I was truly enjoying myself. For some odd reason it was easy for me to worry about my own race and not get caught up in the running of a faster 25-mile runner. This became ever easier once we reached the mile 6 aid station and the field really started to spread out.
From here the course continues to slowly wind it’s way ever higher into the “backside” of the 25 mile loop. Up here the climbs work out of the roller-coaster variety and more towards longer steep climbs below gorgeous bluffs. All the while, the views of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks made it easy for you to lose yourself in the moment. This, is in essence, why I run ultra-marathons. I actually felt sluggish at the start of the race and it took me a good eight miles before I started to loosen up and really enjoy the course. At the next aid station, I finally caught up to Levin Zelokowski, a talented ultra-runner from New England whom I share mutual friends with but never had the privilege to share any miles.
I caught up to Kevin at the right time. Sharing tales of our adventurous new lives in the West, coupled with tales of old friends from the East, allowed us to click the next few, long, uphills miles off as we worked our way to the top of the course. Mile 18 is the top of the highest point. All long the way we discussed politics, gun laws, amongst other ridiculous topics no one cares to hear about. Kevin and I had only ever spoken to each other in passing or through e-mail. I enjoyed my miles with him more then any other miles I’ve had in a race since moving to Colorado. Thanks Kevin.
After working through the 18 mile aid station, the course begins the 7 mile downhill to the 25 mile turn-around, (aka. Half Way). The downhill is a mix of quad hammering roller coaster trail and semi-long stretches of old mining rail-grade. The downhill is actually a lot of fun from a mental standpoint. I found myself taking my time and being methodical to not blow my quads. This was going to suck enough as a climb on the way back, I needed some juice. And yet, I was passing folks along the way. I passed 25 milers and 50 milers.. and entered into an early game of Pac Man. Mostly after I heard Kevin behind me say, “Sherpa.. I’m worried about the cutoffs.” I wasn’t even paying attention to the cut-offs, had no idea what they even were. But suddenly, I felt a sense of urgency to get to the turn-around, and head back out.
Upon reaching the base of the mountain, I stopped at my car first. I emptied my pack of all the empty wrappers. Re-lubed my loins. Took off all of my cold weather gear seeing as the cold morning finally warmed up. Grabbed a 5 hour energy and stuffed it in my bag. I grabbed some Clip2 powder and headed over to the check-in. They checked me in and I grabbed a PBandJ sandwich. I woofed it down quickly while my fellow Colorado Mountain Ninja’s Laura and Sean watched me at work. I filled my bladder with powder and then water and got hung up on the mixing. That didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
I was wasting some precious minutes in the turnaround trying to figure out my hydration bladder issues. Then I noticed Time Urbine come running in. Tim and I spent some awesome miles at last years Silver Rush 50 Miler and then more at the Leadville Trail 100. I knew he was someone who would be great to work with as we tackled the long 7 mile uphill right ahead of us. So I decided to wait around. In the end, I checked into the turn-around at 5 hours 15 Minutes and checked out just after 5 hours 25 minutes ready to rock and roll. All the while there, the cut-off was 5:45 and I thought nothing of it. Quitting was not an option today and quit frankly.. I thought the cut-off was 6:15.. which would have been a but more reasonable I felt.
Climb That Pig!
Tim and I headed out together, crossed the local river and took it to the climb right off the bat. As we continued to climb, we continued to eat, talk and motivate each other by getting lost in that talk. There was no mall walking involved and a lot more running then I’d normally care to do for an uphill. Tim knew the cut-offs. He was about an hour slower this year then he was last. He beat me by an hour at Silver Rush last year. I was actually surprised to even be running with him today. Regardless.. we had work to do. We summited the mountain and the 50K mark at the 7 Hour, even, mark. I start doing math in my head. I knew 75% of what remained of this course was all downhill. My initial goal, as always, was to finish. But my secondary goal was to break 11 hours. In my mind, I was right on it. It had just taken us 2 hours to climb 7 miles with nearly 2,000′ of gain, As I left the aid station, I stopped to suck down my 5-hour energy extra strength and it truly lit a fire under my butt.
I had plenty of gas in the tank and yet, the 5-hour energy was like drinking the golden gas yogurt gave barf in the movie Space Balls. I was off like a shot out of a cannon. I was running smoothly and effortlessly. Easily getting lost in flow. And at times, so much energy flowed through me that I became a bit dizzy. Regardless of these facts, I continued to motor downhill and made it into the next aid station with incredible ease. I was feeling great. My muscles had yet to tire or get sore. I was truly feeling this race.
And then the winds were deflated from the sails and I reached the mile 35 aid station. There, an aid worker told me that I had made the cut-off by merely 14 minutes. WHAT?!My training has been impeccable. Some of the very best training I’ve done in nearly two years. My heart rate is down. My effort level comfortable.. but maybe too comfortable?? In my mind I still had 3:30 to finish the final 15 miles of this race. What do you mean the cut-off is 14 minutes from now!? I had a conversation with the volunteers about how brutal the cut-offs here are and that runners should get 13 hours to complete this race.. and then I take off.
At 38 miles I enter another aid station and they tell me the same thing, “You just made it by 14 minutes.” After leaving this aid station, myself and the few runners still out here around me started talking about it and we ALL agreed that 12 hours on this course is almost far fetched. That if this race was truly “runner friendly” they’d offer us 13 hours to finish rather then 12. I’d all ready heard of the few good ultra-runners that had been pulled for missing cut-offs.. I was compassionate for them. Something didn’t seem right and yet.. it motivated me to move.
Then I found Brad Bishop. Brad was having serious lung issues associated with the altitude. He could;t take any deep breaths, and actually, was incredibly short of breath. So short of breath and struggling so bad that he could barely even talk. Last time I saw Brad, he was about 45 minutes ahead of me climbing the uphill after the turn-around while I was still heading down. I knew he was in rough shape if I had caught him.. he is an incredible ultra-runner. So I hung back a bit and tried my best to run a pace where he could tag along.. and he did. Brad gestured to me, asking if it was all right that he tag along. It sure was.. ultra-runners run these things together. He told me that if I wanted to run faster and take off.. that I could. It wasn’t even a thought, my main thoughts at this point were to stay ahead of the cut-offs, whatever they were, and run it in comfortably.
At the 44 Mile mark, we found out that we had 1 Hour and 50 minutes to complete the race. This puzzled me immensely. How is it that for the last two aid stations I could be barely making it in by 14 minutes and now, magically, I’m up an hour 50?! We made the final checkpoint a quick stop and continued our way slowly downhill towards the final section of pavement that we all ran at the beginning of the race. As soon as we hit the road, I remember what Tim Urbine told me when I saw him briefly during the early miles, “You’ll be hating this on the way back.” He wasn’t kidding.
The first mile and a half is on dirt road and then it turns to the pavement. Once we hit these flat boring sections, Brad was sufficiently back to life and insistent that we finish together. I shuffled along and put my ultra-walking into practice. Time and again, the skills I’ve gained over the years in my ultra-walking has saved my butt in races.. and frustrated those who have tried to keep up with my walk by walking themselves. Brad found this out first hand as he struggled to keep pace and ended up doing a walk-run routine. I continued to push Brad along the paved road. Who the hell am I kidding.. he could have run it in.. he was pushing me. As soon as we reached the trail that takes us along the river for the last mile of the race, Brad really pushed back. Before I knew it.. I was no longer dragging him through the power-walk but he was whipping me like a whipping boy through running the last mile. It hurt and I struggled but it was worth it.
Together, Brad and I finished those final miles together. We reached the finish line in a time of 11:36:21. Somewhere near the back of the pack. I finished, which is great considering the last few years smattering of DNF’s. I wanted to break 11 hours and I missed it by 36 minutes… time I spent lolly-gagging around the course rather then pushing it to my true potential. So.. In the end I was pleased and yet, a bit disappointed. This race was the first measure of how my training has been leading up to June’s Big Horn 100. I’m feeling a bit under-prepared but thankfully have some stellar runs left before I put my training away and simply get ready to hang on tight. Always forward…
Collegiate Peaks 50
80th out of 88 Finishers
(I do notice many discrepancies in the final results.. To my knowledge I actually finished 78th.. not that it matters that far down in the results).
I need to figure out how the heck to get my speed back and working my way back into the middle of the pack. 😦