A long time ago, I started my endurance racing life as a trail runner. I raced a handful of 50ks and trail marathons in Arkansas before my trail running friends (the Warthogs in Memphis) took me out on a bike one summer and I gradually left the sport of running for road racing. I still have a love for trail running, though.
So, when I started having a 45-60 minute one-way commute every day, I found that running is a good way to get in a quick workout prior to leaving the house for the day. I’ve been running around 3 miles 1-2x per week, depending on whether or not I’ve got a cross country race on the weekend.
You may remember a while back, I went on a hike-a-bike adventure with Jake. Look at the map so the rest of this makes sense:
We traversed the Bard Creek Trail, which he’d seen on a website for a 50k running race called Devil on the Divide. He wanted to recon the trail as a way to “close the loop” for a popular mountain bike ride up Jones Pass to the Continental Divide Trail and Herman Gulch, which, if you close said loop using the road, looks like this:
The 50k Devil on the Divide makes the loop on trails. Though, as Jake and I discovered, not very ride-able trails. Since the day he told me about the trail race, I was itching to do the 22k version of it, which is a point-to-point of the above map from the start/finish marker to the trailhead by I-70. However, with my lack of running volume, I’d sort of written it off.
Then, exactly one week ago today, I went and ran the Mount Falcon trail. The loop I made was probably somewhere close to four miles- almost two miles up, and almost two miles down. It felt awesome. So, I went home and entered the Devil on the Divide 22k.
Let me interject here some reasoning to make this sound less insane- I know that normally a 4 mile “long run” is not usually considered sufficient to do a half marathon on such extreme terrain. However, it did let me know that the previous overuse injuries I’ve been trying to avoid re-irritating were not going to be an issue in a half marathon. Also, this isn’t my first rodeo. I know how to dress, pace, and feed myself for such an effort. The rest of it is just putting my bike fitness and stubbornness to good use.
Friday morning before the race, I’d had to take little 16-year-old Indy to the vet because he had terrible diarrhea and vomiting the day/night before. He had to get some fluids and anti-vomiting drugs, and I almost decided not to go to the race because I was so worried about him. However, he slept most of the day and seemed a little better. So, Matt agreed to watch after him until I returned home on Saturday.
The race start was so early that I didn’t want to make the drive Saturday morning. Friday night after work, I loaded up the car and drove up to Empire to camp out at the race HQ area. It was cold up there. The Weather Channel had predicted an overnight low of 37, but my tent was covered in a thick layer of frost when I got up in the morning. I made some coffee, picked up my race packet, and changed in to my running clothes with a few extra layers to take off after the shuttle to the start area at Henderson Mine.
The 22k had a single aid station at the top of Jones Pass road- about a 4 mile climb. The remainder of the course was about 2 more miles rolling uphill on the CDT before turning downward towards the Herman Gulch trailhead. My fueling strategy was simple- I had a 16oz handheld water bottle and a gel flask full of Gu Roctane in the pocket of my tights. I carried a windbreaker in the pocket of the water bottle harness. I figured that the 16oz was enough to get me up to Aid #1, about a 1-1.25 hours (contrary to what a man at the start line thought when he looked at me and asked, “what do you think this is, a 5k fun run?”). Then another 16oz would get me up the CDT, and I wouldn’t have much opportunity to drink after that other than the brief uphill punches on the way down.
When the race started, I didn’t really pay attention to the other women around me. I had no idea if there was a method to the bib numbers to determine who was a 50k runner and who was a 22k runner. As I alternated running and fast walking (on the steep sections), I knew that I was pretty far up in the group, and passed a couple of ladies as I made my way up. I finished the last of my water just as I rounded the last switchback to the aid station. There, I refilled and struck out on the CDT. I passed another lady right there… again, not knowing if she was 50k or 22k.
Running the CDT is an amazing experience. I kept up my strategy of running/hiking depending on the grade. The lady I’d passed at the aid station was staying close until I went all mountain goat through a scree field. I don’t know if she had some sort of issue or just went slower than I had, but when I looked back at the high point of the trail soon after, she was a loooooong way back.
I started my way down to Herman Gulch. There was one out-and-back spur to Herman Lake about halfway down. It gave me the opportunity to see anyone ahead of me as well as anyone close behind me. It was on the out-and-back that I really started to feel some pain in my legs from my efforts. At the turn-around, the man punching bibs let me know that I was the 3rd woman he’d seen. I asked if he knew if the other two women ahead of me were 22k runners, and he had no idea. When I saw the woman I’d passed at Aid 1, she seemed close to catching me.
I knew it was almost all downhill (and very technical, even from a running standpoint) to the finish. I was hurting, but I managed to hold her off until I reached the 22k finish/50k Aid #2. The ladies at the finish area said I was the third woman overall. I was OK with that, considering the nature of my “preparation” for the race. The lady that I’d been holding off came through and ended up being a 50k competitor.
While I sat around, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no other 22k-looking women milling around as if they’d arrived ahead of me. There weren’t any on the shuttle bus back to Empire, either. I figured they’d just had a ride back that wasn’t the shuttle and already left. The crew was still working on results back in Empire, so I ate some post-race pasta and packed up the tent.
To my surprise, when they announced female and male overall 22k winners, they called my name. The other two women ahead of me were 50k runners. Hot Damn. I got a finisher mug, a bell, and a $110 gift card for Chaco sandals.
I’m hurting pretty badly today from the miles of downhill running, but all-in-all, I don’t feel terrible. Last night I had a little aching in my posterior tibial tendon, but nothing like the pain I felt there last time I tried to run and foolishly increased volume too quickly and nearly put myself on crutches. Otherwise, it’s just the joint and muscle pain one would expect to feel if one took a somewhat unconditioned body through such an ordeal.
My shoes (Altra Lone Peaks) were not so lucky. The tread on them was previously a bit low from their brief use in Memphis and as occasional work shoes, but after a couple of times on the trail here in Colorado, the aging tread now has chunks torn out of it like a well-used mountain bike tire. A new pair isn’t in my budget right this second, so I’ll likely keep them around for a while. I have a pair of Altra’s Olympus model that I use for road running, which is currently 99% of my runs right now. They’re the only brand of shoe that don’t give me blisters and that don’t make me feel like I need to constantly loosen my shoes as I’m running.
Also, more importantly than all of this… Indy is feeling better. He hasn’t had any more vomiting since he saw the vet, and, with the tiny amounts of food and pepto bismol he’s eaten, he hasn’t had any obvious diarrhea. He has two more days of eating bland can food and anti-vomiting pills and hopefully he’ll be back to normal.