exercises in compound storytelling

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Collegiate Peaks Trail Run 2008

I'm not really a runner, but I run sometimes. I've done seven marathons in six states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia), I think, with a personal best of something like three hours, forty minutes, and after the Valles Caldera marathon last year I more or less took the winter off, doing one race in the interim, and that on snowshoes. My travel schedule has been chaotic since then, and I spent my available weekends learning to ski instead of putting in the miles.

A few months ago I took a look at Collegiate Peaks but I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it, so I worked in a couple of long runs (18 and 21 miles) and a couple of longish bike rides (40 and 50 miles), and at the last minute my travel schedule cleared up and I sent off my registration.

I sent it off so late in fact that I missed the last posting of registrants, and when I called the reference phone number on Friday the woman at the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce told me I might want to make it up there before six-thirty to be sure I registered. So at noon I grabbed my traveling companion and we hit the road, stopping only at the Dutch Mill in Antonito for a green chile cheeseburger and some enchiladas. We rolled into Buena Vista around five and discovered that I was indeed registered and would not need to write another check.

We grabbed some dinner (skipping the offering of pasta at the Community Center and had a fairly ordinary penne with meat sauce at a steak place on the west end of town) and went back for the pre-race briefing. This was short and not entirely informative: they said they weren't expecting bad weather, but recommended rain jackets anyway, noted that there was one stream crossing that would get most people's feet wet, indicated that for the first time there would be an ice feature that would require careful attention, and warned that the forest roads would not be closed to traffic, so we should look out for Jeeps and ATVs.

The race director also told us that in the history of the race there had been one deer encounter, where a runner had suffered a punctured lung and been airlifted off the course.

There are two races on the same course: one twenty-five-mile loop or a fifty-mile course, running the second loop in the opposite direction. The elevation profile features two major hills and a bunch of small rolling hills, with not an awful lot of flat sections. I wouldn't say it's a tough course necessarily, but it's easily the toughest I've done so far, with the possible exception of the La Luz Trail Run, which is just one nine-mile-long hill. 

The five aid stations were well-provisioned, with water, Hammer Nutrition HEED, oranges, bananas, pretzels, potato chips, M&M chocolate candies, and two kinds of cookies. They were also well-staffed, and the volunteers were friendly and helpful.

I was out of shape, so I just went out to finish, with an unacknowledged desire to make the 50-miler cutoff time (5:45) for twenty-five miles. After the first major climb I was on pace for a five-hour finish, but I ended up walking the second major ascent, and at nineteen miles my legs started letting me know in multiple ways they didn't want to run any more. I mixed walking and jogging the next three and a half miles, mostly level, and jogged the last two and a half miles to finish at about noon, or 5:30. It was really painful and highly educational. I'm really glad there were no significant climbs after twenty miles and no real chances to drop out.

We hung around to wait for the fifty-mile winner and saw the age-group awards handed out. I was amazed how fit many of the older twenty-five-mile finishers were: one woman who must have been in her sixties finished for the eighteenth time (meaning she's run this race every time it's been run) and looked like she'd just stepped off a cross-town bus. There was one finisher in his seventies, and apart from a bad haircut and some poorly-chosen tattoos he looked great too.

There was news of an older runner dying halfway through the race; the stories I heard suggested he had a massive heart attack and died on the spot. A couple of people knew him, but I didn't hear enough to say anything more than what I've said. These races are an odd business, a gathering of mostly strangers for a common purpose, most of them melting away as soon as their done unless they think they've won an award.

The twenty-five mile run was won by a man in his twenties, finishing in something like 2:57, a respectable time for this distance on a flat course. I can safely say I'll never run that fast that long. The fifty-mile winner finished in something over seven hours, looking young and almost fresh as a daisy. Some of these people are otherworldly, and oddly enough the most fit runners are often not the most fit-looking or runnery-looking. 

I'm at a loss to know what to do about this race next year; it was a beautiful course, and I'd love to drop a half-hour or so off my time, and I'm drawn to longer distances like a moth to a flame. I'll probably look at doing a 50k next and see where I can go from there.

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