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I’ve been a little antsy following my recent DNF at the Umstead 100. So early last week, I tried to come up with a tune-up event that I could do before the San Jan Solstice. I considered the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run (25 miler), the Dirty Thirty 50k, and the Sage Burner 50k.

I decided to go with the Collegiate Peaks race and registered on the Tuesday before race day in large part because (unlike the Dirty Thirty) I’d never done it before, and (unlike the Sage Burner) I could make a day trip out of it. I’m glad I chose as I did, because my overall impression of the event was overwhelmingly positive.

Start to Aid 1 (Mile 0 – Mile 5.7):

After the starting gun — which seemed particularly loud, and gave a good startle to all children (and a good percentage of runners) in the immediate area, and sent dogs cowering and scampering in various directions — we made our way though the parking area. There was plenty of space for everyone to find their own pace, and even when we pinched down to a double-wide trail (only about a third of a mile in length), it never felt frantic. I didn’t see even a single runner giving off that unexplainable OH MY GOD I NEED TO RUN SLIGHTLY FASTER RIGHT NOW PLEASE LET ME PASS vibe.

We had almost 4 miles of running on paved and dirt roads, and it was still early enough in the day that the traffic on the road was light. After a stretch on narrower trails, we hit the first aid station.  The volunteers were very fast and efficient. The weather was cool and crisp, but not cold. I was wearing a pair of old socks cut into disposable arm warmers, and another pair of old socks as disposable mittens. I’m glad I had them, but it wouldn’t have been disastrous to have been without.

Aid 1 to Aid 2 (Mile 5.7 to Mile 11.7):

After a fast downhill, we got into some serious climbing. The trail ranged from dirt/jeep roads to something slightly more rugged, but the feel was always open and fast. This section was nice for exploring the area, seeing some of the campsites, and taking in the views. My mindset was to run with a solid effort, but not run “hard.”

Aid 2 to Aid 3 (Mile 11.7 to 14.6):

This is a pretty quick segment, and mostly downhill. But the long climb up to Aid Station 4 begins almost immediately out of Aid Station 3, so it would be a great time to take an extra moment to top off your bottles or hydration pack if you’re low on liquid.

After thanking one of the volunteers for being there, he thanked me for running. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten that response before! It reminded me that there’s something really satisfying about participating in an event that exists primarily to benefit a local charity or public interest organization, rather than simply being an afterthought.

Aid 3 to Aid 4 (Mile 14.6 to Mile 17.9):

This is almost certainly the crux of the course for most 25 milers, and it made me work to find a balance between moving upward at a respectable pace while not blowing out the legs so much so that I couldn’t push it on the downhills later. I actually enjoyed the infamous “sandbox” section (perhaps recent weather conditions kept the sand more packed down compared to recent years?), because it gave me a good opportunity to practice working on my uphill shuffle jog in a race context, where I already have some time on my legs.

I’ve found that it feels easier and more sustainable for me to adjust my running stride a bit and shuffle up long moderate inclines at 12-13 minute per mile pace than it is to try to walk or power hike at a slower pace. There were only a couple sections that felt like “mandatory” walking grades to me, but they were all relatively short.

Aid 4 to Aid 5 (mile 17.9 to Mile 21.8):

After Aid Station 4 the course heads downhill in earnest. Much of this terrain invites the runner open up their stride and fly down, but there were more than a few sections that felt so steep that they were a bit beyond my ability run aggressively. (This was confirmed just before mile 20, when my concentration wandered for just a second, and I took a fall. Thankfully the trail wasn’t rocky there, and after staying down for 30 seconds to assess the damage, I got up and started running again. There were some ugly scrapes and some bruising, but nothing that would slow me down too much for the rest of the race.)

Aid 5 to Finish (Mile 21.8 to Mile 25):

I stopped at Aid 5 for a few seconds to wash out the wounds from my tumble. I still had half of a water bottle full of Tailwind, and I figured, based on past race reports, that the rest of the course would go quickly. The next two miles were downhill road, so I pushed the pace a bit to try to make good time without redlining.

We eventually turned off the road onto a narrower and steeper trail, and how had less than a mile and a half to go. A few twists and turns (and a few little uphill bumps for good measure), and I can finally see the footbridge. Cross the river, run a quarter mile through the parking area, and hit the finish.

2015 Collegiate Peaks Trail Run - Finish Chute

I’m not one to savor the finish when it comes to running events, so my thoughts almost immediately turn to “hmmm…. what if I were running the 50 miler and now had to run that loop again in reverse?” I concluded:

1.   I would not have wanted to bomb the 7-ish miles of downhill I had just run. Moderating the pace and pounding would be key to being able to head back up and still stay ahead of the time cut-offs.

2.   The first 7 miles of the second lap would probably feel like the toughest miles of the 50 mile course, and I wouldn’t want to be caught off mentally by the challenge.

3.   I might consider switching to a hydration solution with greater capacity for the second lap. I ran the 25 miler with a single bottle (via HydraQuiver), but with the temps rising I would probably need more than a single bottle for the climb back up to 9400 feet, even with the aid station at mile 28.2.

4.   I might switch shoes if I were running the 50. The shoes I wore for the 25 (Montrail Rogue Racer) were nice and nimble and got me through the distance just fine, but I suspect they wouldn’t give my feet enough protection or comfort to go 50.

Other thoughts:

*   Some people might prefer a wide open post-race buffet over the lunch-line sack lunch that the organizers have here. (After you finish, you can go into the community center, get your name checked off the race roster, then choose one sandwich, one bag of chips and one soda). But I LOVED this approach. The volunteers made many different kinds of sandwiches, and the way they did things here made sure EVERYONE gets a lunch (and only one lunch) at the end. I’m in the back of the pack often enough to know that it can be frustrating (and almost depressing) to finish a race and find only a picked-through buffet that’s out of many types of food. I was glad to know that there’d be a lunch for me when I was done running this race, regardless of when I crossed the line.

*   Using the GPS data from my watch, and one of the plug-ins on SportTracks, I discovered that my fastest 5 mile stretch during the race (beginning at mile 17.9, with a net 988 feet of loss in elevation) was at 9:36 pace. My slowest 5 mile stretch began at mile 13.02, was at 11:51 pace, and had a net 519 feet of gain. These numbers aren’t particularly interesting in themselves, but it got me wondering about approaches to running a race. Before the race I would have assumed that the maximum difference in pace across any two 5-mile stretches would be greater than that. I was trying to maintain a reasonably steady effort throughout, but do those 5-mile times imply that I ran the fastest section too slow, or the slowest section too fast?

Ultimately, I do look forward to doing this race again…. and I can’t believe it hasn’t already joined the ranks of Colorado trail runs that reaches its participant limit far in advance of race day.