Trail Race Ups & Downs

Breathtaking view from the top of one of those "Wake-up" hills.  Collegiate Peaks 25 miler.

Breathtaking view from the top of one of those “Wake-up” hills. Collegiate Peaks 25 mile.

My 25-mile trail race on Saturday was definitely full of ups and downs (and I mean that literally).  I don’t really remember ever running on a flat surface.  Okay, well maybe there was that sand pit we ran through.  That might have been flat.  Oh, nevermind, it was a slight incline.  I kind of felt like I was running on the beach in the mountains.  Very odd.

I only started getting serious about running trails a few months ago.  Winter just seemed like the perfect time to start: deep snow, ice, wind and below freezing temperatures all seemed like good reasons to start learning something new.  Honestly, I think Saturday’s trail race was the first time I ran on a trail that was mud-free, ice-free and warm.  I didn’t know quite what to do when the temperatures rose higher than what I was accustomed to.  I began to worry that I would pass out from heat exhaustion.  Then I realized that the dizziness might actually be related to the extra 3,000 feet in elevation.

Training for an almost-marathon on mountain trails was pretty interesting.  You see, I had some time restrictions when it came to my training.  I was doing the temporary single parenting gig during my training so I had to improvise.  My long runs did manage to get up to 20 miles, but I had to incorporate both roads and trails in order to not spend all day out on a trail.  Sometimes I got in some good elevation, other times it was only a small incline.

I did manage to get out on the trail quite often, but it just so happened to be on a weekday morning.  The bad thing about that time is that NOBODY is out on the trails during regular work hours (my work hours aren’t regular).  Even fewer people will actually go out on trails during the winter.  It was quite amusing to suddenly see people come out of the woodwork on a day when the temps reached 60 degrees.  So, it was calm and peaceful, but very EERY to be out on the trails alone.  Needless to say, I ran a fast pace on those days.

Yep, training was quite fun, but I finally ended up at that starting line wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I looked around at a crowd that I was not familiar with.  Trail runners are a different breed.  Just go to a trail race and you will see for yourself.  I didn’t mind being there, but I kind of felt slightly out-of-place.  I am pretty sure I looked like a road racer.

The next thing I knew the mass of 300 runners was moving forward.  I stayed towards the back for a while until I got my rhythm.  We ran on the road for a bit until we crossed the river and started heading up.  I started passing people and said to myself (as I always do): “you better slow down, you will be dead at the end.”  I didn’t listen to myself.  I really hate passing people and then having them pass me later on.  However, it appears that happens quite often on a trail race.  Yet, I must say that the funniest thing is that when everyone comes to a hill, they stop running and start walking.  Everyone just does this in unison.  But these are not the tiny little hills you might see in one of your road marathons.  Nope, some of these hills in the mountains are just plain nasty.

When I came to “Infant Wake-Up Hill” I wasn’t so sure about the first part of the name.  “Infant” was not fitting.  “Wake-up” definitely was appropriate.  That hill was so damn steep that I could barely even walk up it.  I was hunched over like some kind of sick animal.  I even stopped to take a picture so it looked like that was the only reason why I was stopping.  But the top, the top was amazing.  The one great thing about going up is the view.  Breathtaking.  I know some people look forward to going down, but I am not a good downhill runner.

Thanks for waking me up!  Now it was some minor (ha!) ups and downs to the sand box.  After that, it was the “Lenhardy Climb Full-On Wake-up Hill.”  I don’t know who Lenhardy is, but he sucks.  Yes, I totally understood the “Full-On Wake-up.”  I was freakin’ awake by the time I got to the top of that one.  I was also nearly dead.  As I started the descent I made a friend and was forced to make it a fast downhill.  Then I just couldn’t keep up anymore so I said “I need to slow down now, but good luck to you!”  I know she was only about 20 years old so I didn’t feel so bad.  More ups and downs and then I came upon one of the only sections that was semi-flat if you can call it that.  I was just happy knowing that the city was still below us so we had to go down at some point.

And then there it was!  The Arkansas River was next to me!  That river would lead me to the finish line!  At around mile 21.5 I had some issues with math.  My mind must have been toast because I looked at my Garmin and told myself that I only had 2.5 miles left.  I seriously was counting down.  Soon, it was 2 miles and I was so excited.  At one point I finally realized my mistake.  It wasn’t over until mile 25.  At mile 22 I still had 3 miles left… not 2 miles!  That was quite the downer.  On the upside, I didn’t hit the wall that I usually experience in a road marathon.  I don’t think my body knew what was going on at that point.  It had been through too much torture, so what was a few more miles of mostly downhill?  I just let gravity take me.  And I had passed some dude at mile 24 and I didn’t want him to pass me so I had to run down really fast in order to stay ahead of him.  Whatever it takes, right?

That was freakin’ hard, but I will gladly do it again.  It just felt so good afterwards (well, my mental state felt good).  It might not have been fun at the time, but that was so much more fun than running 26.2 miles through downtown Denver.

Gosh darn it.  The problem is that I am moving at the end of the month to a place with no mountain trails.  “Run on the beach” they say.  It’s just not the same.  I won’t be able to climb over 3,000 feet during a 25 mile run on the beach.