The Quad Rock 25 turned out to be a very solid race for me. My time was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but my nutrition was dialed in perfectly and I finished strong without any low points to speak of. My GPS recorded 6,347 ft of climbing (with elevation correction). That's more than the Leadville marathon and almost equivalent to the amount of elevation gain in 25 miles on the San Juan Solstice course! (The toughest 50 mile course I've ever run, er... hiked.) For that much climbing, I feel fantastic. The climbing was tough, but it wasn't that bad. I think the cool temperatures and the lower elevation helped. My calves are a little sore from all the climbing, but that's about it. (No ITBS!)
I packed up Friday morning and drove the 3.5 hours down to Ft Collins in a nasty spring storm-- it rained and snowed almost the entire drive. I made my way through Ft Collins' 10,000 stop lights to Horsetooth Reservoir and found my campsite at the South Bay campground. The campground was very much biased towards RVs-- not tents-- and my spot was directly (and I mean directly) beneath a giant set of buzzing high voltage power lines that cut across the campground. Ugh. Really? Luckily I was able to swap sites without too much trouble. However, at my new site, the only flat spot to put up a tent was a patch of grass two feet away from a pair of dumpsters. I paid $64 for that privilege (minimum length of stay: two nights, plus a daily fee to get in the park). Well, it would have to do. I've camped in worse spots.
After securing my site, I fought my way back through 10,000 stop lights to pick up my runner's packet at a running store in town, ate some pizza, and then returned to the campground as a light drizzle began to fall. I sat in my car as the rain pitter-pattered on the roof, organized my gear as best I could, and jumped into the tent around 9pm. I slept in my running clothes.
After a few hours of sleep I woke up at 3:45am, hopped into my car, and drove to the start line at Lory State Park at the other end of the lake. (It's a long damn lake!) No rain, thankfully, but the lack of stars indicated complete cloud cover. By the time I got there I had to park half a mile from the start. I fumbled around in the dark getting the rest of my gear together, eating what would have to serve as breakfast, and putting together a small drop bag for mile 11. Everything felt rushed. I quickly got my bib number and slurped down a gel while taking the last 5 minutes before the start to stretch my IT band. Lines of runners 10+ deep stood in front of all the toilets, so that wasn't happening! The morning's chaos made me very appreciative of the races I run in Leadville where I just have to roll out of bed and walk a few blocks to the starting line.
At 5am, head lamps bobbing, we set off into the night. After a short stretch of dirt road we switched to a sweet single track that ran parallel to the lake. The first few miles were relatively flat with only a few rolling hills. Unfortunately, I didn't quite position myself correctly and I got stuck behind a long line of runners that were moving just a bit slower than I ideally wanted to run. No big deal, better to start off too slow than too fast. I had to make a few off-trail passing moves on some of the hills, though, which is always a little risky in the dark. After two miles, there was a small aid station where we could drop our head lamps. I dropped mine but neglected to top off my water bottle. I was already about half empty and there were five miles to the next aid station. Hmmm. In the end it wasn't a big deal, but I should've paid more attention.
As we began our first 1,500+ ft climb of the day, I switched to power hiking mode. As we gained elevation we were engulfed in the clouds. At the top there was even a smattering of snow that had fallen overnight. I had on long running tights, two shirts (one short sleeve, one long sleeve), and gloves. I felt perfectly comfortable climbing. I was a little worried that the tights would be too warm, but I ended up being happy with the choice. Better to err on the side of warm legs (muscles) when recovering from a leg injury.
Next came the first big downhill. Again, more beautiful single track. Beautiful, but slow. The narrow trail, the just-tricky-enough footing, and the aggressive, curving descent made picking up speed difficult. I actually train on similar trails every week, so I'm used to it, but this was a far cry from CPTR where the downhills were gentle, wide, straight, and smooth.
At mile 11 I grabbed my drop bag (skipping another line for the bathroom, dammit), dropped off a jacket I was carrying (not wearing), dropped off my gloves (a mistake: my hands would grow numb on the next climb), and then unleashed my secret weapon: I chugged 16 oz of lowfat chocolate milk! Laugh if you want, but chocolate milk has the perfect ratio (1:3) of protein to carbs and has a ton of salt for electrolytes (520 mg-- more than the S! Caps they were handing out at the aid stations!). Better yet: 400 calories that I could consume in less than 30 seconds. Now, there's no way I could drink that much milk and immediately bomb down a hill, but after the aid station was the longest climb of the race. It would be slow going so there would be plenty of time for me to digest. By the top of the climb I felt great-- actually full! That's such a great feeling to have deep into a race.
The miles ticked by. Again, the downhills weren't going as fast as I'd like, but I was enjoying running through the clouds. A good way to measure my fatigue is to see how I respond when a prolonged downhill switches to an uphill. Do I keep running or do I drop to a walk? I was happy to see that I was holding steady and running the gentle uphills. These downhill/uphill transitions are where I found myself passing a lot folks as the race wore on.
At mile 18 or so, I hit the last aid station. (Finally, a free bathroom!) Next up was the third and last big climb. My chocolate milk was starting to wear off and I knew I needed to re-focus on my nutrition so that I was in good shape for the final downhill. I took the base of the climb slowly, nibbling on my homemade rice/egg/bacon/almond butter/cashew bar and taking shots of gel every 10 minutes or so. Headphones were forbidden during the race, so there were lots of opportunities to chat with fellow runners. It was refreshing. I had a lot of great conversations and shared quick words of encouragement throughout the entire 25 miles. One such conversation helped the time pass quickly on this final climb. At the top of the uphill the first 50 mile racers started passing by in the other direction. I expected to see them much sooner, so I felt a little bit better about my slightly-slower-than-expected pace. This course was tough. Again, more narrow, twisting downhill. I started raising my intensity a bit in the final miles as I felt like I still had a lot in the tank and that maybe I had taken things a little too easy. Just a short training run left to run! I saw the finish line far below me at the 5:00 mark, but there were still two miles to go. Luckily those two miles were probably the most runnable of the entire course. Two 8:00 min/miles later I had crossed the finish line! (I averaged ~10:00 min/miles for the first two miles for comparison.)
I felt great at the finish. Not too hungry. Not too beat up. I felt I had accomplished what I had set out to do: run 25 miles with a ton elevation gain, focus on nutrition, and finish strong. I was certainly glad that I wasn't turning around to run the course again! Most of the runners in the race were 50 milers and they still had hours and hours to run. My hat goes off to them! I'll run two 50 milers this summer before the 100 (the first is just six weeks away!), but I still need to get some more miles under my belt before I tackle one. A death march right now would only set my training back.
While the unnaturally cold weather was great for running, it wasn't so great for post race festivities, which was too bad because there was a lot of cool stuff planned. I hung around for a while, enjoyed some burgers and tasty local brew, and chatted with a few folks, but then I grabbed my head lamp and drop bag and headed back to the mountains. Back to Leadville. This was the first time I had to turn the heat down as a climbed back to my home. Usually there's a point on every drive to Leadville when I find myself reaching for the climate controls and setting the heat just a notch higher. Not today. The only sun I saw all weekend was when I crested Freemont Pass at 11,200 ft and saw the Arkansas Valley stretching out before me.
In two weeks I'm headed down to Gunnison for my third running of the Sage Burner 50K. I can't wait!