Golden Gate Dirty Thirty
Black Hawk, CO
I had heard a lot about the Dirty Thirty since moving to Colorado. Friends tossed around words like challenging course, relentless uphills, beautiful scenery, tough. I had to find out for myself if the race lived up to it’s reputation and, thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. The way they get this thing off the ground is humbling. 300 runners start the 50K and they all squeeze into less than 100 parking spaces. Runners are requested to carpool to the event. But wait a minute.. 300 runners for a 50K! I marveled at the size of the field at the starting line. I looked at Jeff Friedman and said, “Jesus, this is the new marathon now-a-days huh?” It sure is..
The Vermont 100 is inching ever closer. This race was to play itself out as a tough long run where I accumulated some time on my feet. But I needed more. How do I truly train for 100 miles? I want to be prepared for the last 30 miles of a 100 mile race. How do I do that. I stayed up far too late the night before the run, and drank. I then only got one hour of very broken sleep. Which means that when my carpool crew showed up at 4:30am, I was still a bit drunk and incredibly sleep deprived. Perfect… let’s race!
After a wonderful rendition of the Star-Spangled banner, all 300 of us were off. We ran up a short dirt road to the main parking area and then boom!.. single-track trail. We all slowed to a crawl. A lot of the runners were trying to figure out how to pass or if they could pass. “We’re not supposed to step off trail” I heard one rookie quip. Whatever… I snuck by a few by stepping off trail. I slogged up the first hill as hard as I could and then spent the next mile trying to get my heart rate to come down. My biggest worry for the day thus far was not barfing and not having to take a drunk crap in the woods.
I felt awful.. and for some reason it was perfect. I needed this. I settled in to a pack of runners who seemed to want to go my pace, but let’s face it.. it was crowded out there. I took stock of the group of runners around me, and promised myself to see them later in the race when they died out. Most of them were running every hill… except for me and one other runner. A female, whose name escapes me. Every single incline, slight or steep, which started to take more energy than she cared… she’d stop to walk. I honed in on her and stuck with her for awhile.
“You’re obviously an ultra veteran!” I said to her. Come to find out she’d run many many ultras, and her and her husband coach folks to realize their true potential as athletes. She was upbeat and moving at the perfect pace. I stayed with her while I continued to rehydrate and sober up. We chatted quite a bit. The first half of the course indeed showcases brutal never ending climbs. I don’t think there’s much in the way of a downhill for the first 12 miles or so. Just the big one before the 5 mile aid stop. When we finally reached the top of the first climb, I took off running down the rocky slope of the first big down.
The rocky trails in Golden Gate Canyon State park remind me of what I used to run on in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Scree covered, rock strewn, mess of a trail where it is easy for the unsuspecting to ruin an ankle. I didn’t care though, and I flew down passing about a dozen runners with ease. I’m sure I made others feel uneasy as I snuck by.. and I do apologize. I ran into the first aid stop being manned by Brad Bishop and some of the other Denver Trail Runners. I snagged form fruit and left. No time to stay, just a quick hello and I was gone, working my way up the next hill.
The next section of the course takes us through an awesome fir forest and past a few of the state parks camping areas. It’s pretty mellow with plenty of run able uphill sections. We still take to walking though, conserving our energy for what is sure to be a long day. 50K with 8000′ of gain is nothing to joke about. Running the early hills spells disaster for the late ones. I stay with my veteran as long as I can. After passing through the 11 mile aid station, we started to slow and I was finally starting to feel good. I was sober now, hydrated, and feeling good. So, I picked up another runner to tag along with. Josh Gray.. a southern boy who now lives in Fort Collins.
Josh was great company as we ran about the same pace. We had some really awesome conversation about typical ultra topics “in the news.” We also enjoyed bantering on about some of the races out East like The Barkley and Massanutten. Conversation into dove into talking about ultra-runners who we greatly respect, like the Pero’s.. and how they are all about Hardrock and the MMD in New Hampshire. We gladly agreed on the wealth of knowledge the old goats are and how we’ve both hung on to many of their spoken words over the years.
The miles just seemed to role on by as the further into the race the better I felt. I was no longer drunk or buzzed, no more headache, I was well hydrated and feeling like a million bucks. I started to push the pace towards the finish, as my goal of sub 7-hours was teetering on the brink. After climbing “wood-chip hill” we finally enjoyed some long downhills as we cannonballed down into Forgotten Valley. There, Brad Bishop grabbed my hand held, filled it with water and no sooner as I had turned around.. there he was with the filled bottle. Creepy fast! Every aid station should be like this.. sadly.. they’re not. Thanks Brad.
After Forgotten Valley, we had 8 miles to go and most of it was the formidable Windy Peak. We picked up another runner as we climbed the warm up hill before Windy, then the three of us stuck together. We trudged to the top of that sucker about as fast as we could. What a grueling climb that never seemed to end. Before reaching the summit, I started to see some of the folks I had run in the Grand Canyon with, and carpooled up with in the morning. Jeff Friedman, Walter Olsen, David Hill, Bill Ahlers, Missing Nail.. they were all there.. and all of 10-5 minutes in front of me. I smiled at each of them.. and they knew damn well in seeing my smile that my mission would be to hunt them down in those final miles.
I got to the top of Windy where Chris Gerber and Misti Hurricane were tagging numbers for proof of being there. I thanked Chris for taking a great picture of me last year at Big Horn.. where someone asked if I had lost a ton of weight. Chris replied, “No.. it’s the camera angle.” That lit a fire under my ass. I thanked him for for the flame.. and took off down the trail. Like a New Englander.. I bounded down the trail dancing over the rocks as if they didn’t even exist. I pushed hard in those final miles to try and track down those who were ahead of me. But I was also just tracking down that sub-7 hours.
With 2 miles to go.. it happened. The “prairie dogger” was making his presence known. I just wanted to finish before I had that bio beer moment. I did my best to gut it out and get into the finish shoot and across the line before the 7 hour mark.. This was a tough course. Nothing forgiving about it. It is gorgeous, grueling and challenging. More climbing than not and downhills that always seem to short. Crossing the finish line in 6:56 was a testament to my training this year. I’m feeling amazing. The Dirty Thirty is a race I’d assuredly run again.. but it’s definitely one not to take lightly. It deserves the respect of a solid training plan.