Saturday, May 08, 2010
I am really starting to like quirky little mountain trial races. These races are not listed on any web site. Advertisement is largely by word of mouth. The organization is informal and somewhat amateurish. There are no race packs or electronic timing chips. Races do not start on time. Bibs are made with ink jet printers or by hand.
What do you get for your $15 entry fee?
You get to run on interesting and challenging terrain. The settings are beautiful and remote. The fields are small. The racers are extremely friendly. The organizers are happy to see you. There is a bond among the runners. These are hard races. Just showing up earns you respect. Nobody cares who wins. Even the winner doesn’t care.
High-altitude mountain races are not everybody’s cup of tea. The runners tend to be confident, poised and usually pretty darn fast. There is no such thing as a PR. The conditions and terrain are so variable that time is irrelevant.
Earlier today my son and I ran the in Lake George 5K. Ben is my oldest boy and is pushing 30. He can’t resist a trail race. I called him last night to invite him to the race. I knew he would be hooked. We had to leave at 6:00 am this morning to make the race. The race was a fair distance away over winding mountain roads.
When we arrived at Lake George the temperature was 33.8 degrees F. The wind was 11 mph gusting to 19 mph. I really didn’t know what to wear. The wind was very cold but the sun was shining. I considered wearing my fleece pull-over and long pants. In the end, I decided to wear a heavy long sleeve T-shirt, shorts and a headband. I was plenty warm during the race.
Lake George is at 8,200 feet of elevation. The course varied between 8,200 and 8,700 feet. There is not a lot air this high. At least I live and train at this altitude. The air is dry. The sun is bright white. Sunburn and cracked lips are a problem. In the cold a runny nose is annoying.
The field was pretty normal for a high-altitude race. There were 37 runners. I bet this was the smallest race on May 8th in the state of Colorado. Right before the race started, Ben looked around at everyone lined up at the starting line. He said to me, “Hey dad - I think you are the oldest and heaviest runner here!” I looked at him and shook my head, “Thanks Ben – that is exactly what I needed to hear!” The Starter blasted over a bull horn, “Runners get ready - GO!”
The course started on a narrow dirt road and was flat for ¼ mile. After the flat stretch the course went up a long hill. Why do these courses always have a long hill at the beginning? My Garmin recorded that this hill was ½ mile long at a 10% grade, which is not bad. After the first hill the course started to roll up and down. The course would go up for an 1/8 of a mile, and then down for an 1/8 of mile. Eventually we dropped down near the water and ran across a flood control dam near the west end of the reservoir. This was really pretty. The water was clear and crystal blue. The top of the dam was flat and I could really get rolling. At the end of dam the course turned left and went down a narrow path. The path went through Buck Brush and Pussy Willows. These scrubby trees smacked against me and hurt a bit. Since I was the widest person in the race, I think I took the worst of it!
The course then went over another flood control dam at the eastern end of the reservoir. At the end of the dam and course went up a very steep hill. When I got to the top of the hill I saw the most amazing sight. A long set of stairs snaked up the hill in front of me. These stairs were made of railroad ties and dirt. The stairs were equal to about 5 flights. Each stair was 2 to 3 feet long. I tried to bound up the stairs. Man did that hurt!
After climbing the stairs I could see the finish line off in the distance. I was really hurting! This last part of this course was hard. I drove to the finish line. Ben was already there cheering me on. As I crossed the finish line the time keeper called out 27:36! I thought that was pretty fast. I was pleased.
I moved out of the way, bent over and put my hands on my knees. I was breathing like a freight train. Ben came over and asked, “Do you want to know how you placed?” I gave him a breathless, “I don’ care!” He said, “You would care if you knew.” I snapped, “Ok Ben, how did I do?” He goes, “Well if you don’t care, I won’t tell you that you took 4th place!” I was shocked, “No way!”
Two high school cross-county runners took 1st and 2nd. These guys were wearing their cold weather Cripple Creek cross-country uniforms. I found out later that 1st place kid has an athletic scholarship to run for the Air Force Academy. Ben took 3rd and I took 4th. There was another guy running that was 50. (I am 53) He came in about 5 minutes behind me. I gave him a high-five and said, “Old guys rule!”
This is Ben. He is having shoulder surgery on Tuesday. He said his shoulder was "wonky" but he could run.
Here I am after the race. The temperature had warmed up to 36 degrees F when this photo was taken.
This is Lake George. I had this photo in an earlier blog. I just think it is a really pretty picture.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
I am drawn to high-altitude trail races. I live in the Colorado Rockies on purpose. I have been known to gripe about the lack of oxygen at extreme altitudes. Some of you have heard me curse the wind, cold and snow. I really don't mind winter weather. I just don't like nine months of winter weather!
Although I hate to admit it, the nose-bleed zone is my element. I seem to be pretty good at high-altitude running. A dubious skill at best. My next race is a 5K run around Lake George this coming Saturday, May 8th.
At least I will be freezing and gasping for air in a pretty place. Wish me luck.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Yesterday was race day. I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00am. I looked outside. Icy snow covered the ground and wind howled through the trees. The temperature was 14 degrees F. I thought, "Time to go back to bed!" I had gotten in late from California and had about 4-hours of sleep. I felt absolutely terrible.
Oh well, I decided to go run the dang race anyway. The race was scheduled for 9:00am. I hoped it would warm up by start time. I put on my shorts, shoes and a long sleeve T-shirt. I stuffed my cold weather gear in a bag. I downed my pre-race "meal", which is some stuff called "Endurance" by Champion Nutrition.
I fell into my car. I didn't bother to turn on the heater. I didn't want to get used to being warm. I put on "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves and tried to imagine what warm feels like. As I drove to Scraggy Ranch I noticed that the snow became spotty, and then disappeared. The thermometer in my car showed the temperature had started to rise. The sun came out. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
I got to Scraggy Ranch early. My friend, John, was the race organizer. I was there mostly because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend. I helped him set-up the food and registration table. I gave him the entry fee and signed my name on the list of runners. He had the ages listed on the form. I noticed I was the oldest person that had registered, by a lot! People came trickling in. 21 people registered for the 4-mile race. Another 10 people, mostly my age, registered for the 1.5 mile walk. I noticed that the other racers, both men and women, looked extremely fit, lean and muscular. These are crazy high-altitude runners. I was pretty sure that this old guy would be dead last!
The race started late. Mountain people are pretty relaxed. We all stood at the starting line talking and joking. The temperature had risen to a balmy 30 degrees. There wasn’t a speck of snow. A few runners were bundled-up. Most of us, including me, just wore shorts and long-sleeve T-shirts. John explained the course. He said the course record was 38 minutes. I though “How in the heck can that be? That is pretty darn slow.” I would find out later that 38 minutes was blazing fast! John said the first part of the course was a hill. He told us, “That hill will humble you!” He was making a huge understatement.
John’s wife was the starter. She said, “Runners get ready. GO!” She clicked the stop watch. We ran up the Scraggy Ranch access road, turned right, and started up the hill. Oh my goodness, what a HILL! The hill went up and up. The hill went on forever! I found out later that this killer hill was 1.4 miles long with a 20% grade! (20% means the hill rises 20 feet in every 100 feet) I was moving up this monster very slowly. I just knew the whole field was about to blow past me. I checked over my shoulder and found that everybody else was struggling just like me. My legs felt like rubber. I could barely breathe. We were running at 9,000 feet where there ain’t much air! I was sweating profusely. At least I wasn’t cold any more.
I finally got to the top of the hill. The course started rolling up and down. I tried to gain some speed on the downhill sections but my old legs were shot! There was a place where the course made a left turn off the dirt road and onto the Colorado trail. Unfortunately, I missed this turn and kept running up the road. I got to CO Highway 126 just as a semi-truck roared by. I stopped and thought, “This can’t be right!” I knew I was lost. Oh great! I stood there totally befuddled. I heard a faint shout behind me. I turned around and saw another runner signaling toward the correct route. I had lost a couple of minutes at least. I got back on track and caught up with the young man that showed me the right way. We ran together for a while. I found out later he was 26, which is half my age. After a while I sped ahead of him and tried to catch the runner in front of me. My Garmin timer told me I had ½ mile to go. I had burned up 38 minutes! I tried to push it. The tank is was empty. I was dead dog tired! I turned toward the finish line. I gave it everything I had, which wasn’t much! As I crossed the finish line John’s wife told me my time, “42:56. You are number 5!” WHOA – 5th place! There is no way to tell you how satisfied I felt! I came in 5th out of 21 good runners! I wasn't dead last by a long shot.
After the race we ate some good food and listened to a Bluegrass band! The winner got bragging rights and a $30 gift certificate to Dick’s sports. He set a new track record of 37:15. Even though the course was brutal, everybody had a great time.
We are the few, the proud, the insane.
This is my bib. I think the race name is hilarious!
Scraggy Ranch is a Christian camp for wayward youth. The race is a fund raiser for the camp.
Here is the rustic registration building. This is pretty typical of where I live.
This is the starting and finish line. How many starting lines have you seen like this? I was uncharacteristically nervous at the start. I knew this race was really going to hurt!
Here is the big bad hill. The County dumped ground pavement on the road the day before the race. Not only was this hill steep, it was also slippery.
This is the trail sign I missed. The wind had turned the sign backwards.
The high-tech sign was pointing the wrong direction.
Here is where I ended-up after I missed the trail. Where are the other runners? This is embarrassing!
This is the Colorado Trail. Does everything have to keep going up?
You have to watch your step on the trail. Roots, rocks and tree branches make things interesting.
The Colorado Trail pops out back on the road. Is that another uphill section coming? Yup!
This is the last downhill stretch to the finish. There is a trick to running downhill. Don't over-stride. A heavy heel strike is a good way to get injured. Take short quick strides. Fast leg speed really helps. To slow down, take shorter steps. To speed up, take quicker steps. Never lean backwards.
After the race we had a good meal and listened to Bluegrass music.
This race is an annual event. Come on up and run with us!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 at 5:00pm, it was time. Time to attempt a 5K PR. I am visiting Newport Beach, California. My 5K PR is 23:12 set in Phoenix in February 2010. I was shooting for a sub-22 5K.
I didn't make the sub-22. Not even close!
I stepped on the trail. There were a lot of people running, biking and walking. I saw more people than live in my small town of Bailey. I warmed-up and got ready to go. I hit the "start" button on my Garmin timer and launched myself forward. I checked my pace after the first 1/2 mile - 6:18! That pace will work! I know from experience that my first mile is fast, my second mile is slow, and my last mile is fast.
I blew past more sensible runners like they were standing still! I know the other runners could care less that I passed them. They were doing what they want to do. If they even gave a thought- they think I am an idiot!
Then the trail started going up. I was unconcerned. I can handle a few hills. The trail dropped a bit then went up again. The trail got steeper. There are actually hills in California but I hadn't noticed them before. I was running at an 8:30 pace up this trail. 8:30 just won't work for a PR.
The trail eventually flattened-out. But at that point I was beat! I finished the 5K at 25:43. Not a bad time. Way short of my delusional expectations! I dejectedly walk back to the hotel.
When I get back to Colorado, I am going to be running in the Craggy Ranch 4 mile trail race at 9,000 feet of elevation. I don't know if I want to beat myself trying another assault on the California hills. I may just jog like the sensible California runners.
If you can't beat 'em - join 'em!
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