Saturday, June 15, 2013

The New, New Route to Winfield?

Recently I decided to shift my training focus more towards vertical rather than distance. The general idea is to keep my mileage around 55 miles per week for the rest of the season, but steadily increase the amount of climbing I do. This week I started with my baseline recovery run of 6 miles and 680 ft of vertical on Monday. Then each subsequent day I raised the vertical. 1,000 ft on Tuesday (Elk Run), 1,400 ft on Wednesday (Highline-Rock Creek Loop), 1,550 ft on Thursday (Mayqueen to Sugarloaf), 2,000 ft on Friday (Mosquito Pass), and then ~7,000 ft on Saturday (a double crossing of Hope Pass). Raising my vertical each day was a fun micro-goal and kept me motivated. I felt great throughout the week, setting multiple PRs. I managed to shave 4 minutes off of a very stout PR for the Highline-Rock Creek Loop, which I was especially happy about. I set that PR about 4 weeks before the 100 in 2011, so I was in pretty good shape at the time. When I look at my splits, I'm noticing that I'm running both the uphills and the downhills faster than I have in the past. Maybe about ~30-60 seconds/mile faster. Somehow I've managed to increase my speed this year, though I'm not quite sure how. More consistent midweek running? More weekend long runs? Lower body weight? I don't know for sure, but I'm certainly enjoying it!

Hope Pass was gorgeous today. The entire 100 course is officially open for business, with no snow to worry about-- just a few patches on the north side of Hope Pass, right near the top. Honestly, Mosquito Pass had far more snow on it than Hope. The only tricky part of the course right now is the Lake Creek river crossing. I avoided it and started at the bridge west of Twin lakes. The water is really flowing strongly now, and I didn't want to fight my way across-- especially when running solo and without poles. I only ran into one other runner (Joe from Ouray) until I was nearing the top of Hope Pass for the second time. Then the runners starting coming fast and furious. With about three switchbacks to go, a group ~10 runners (!) passed me headed down the south side of the pass. Then I regularly ran into clusters of 1-4 runners on my way down the north side. It was a beautiful, beautiful day and everyone looked to be enjoying themselves.

The old route(s) to Winfield, for comparison.

On my way to Winfield, I kept my eyes peeled for an old jeep road I had seen on one of my earlier runs this spring. It looked like it might descend directly into town rather than looping around like the course did last year. Leadville race officials announced that we'd be taking a more direct route down to Winfield this year, so I wanted to investigate a bit. I'm 99% sure this will be the route we'll take. (I mean, there are no other options that I can think of-- short of building a new trail, which seems highly unlikely.) The old road is actually in pretty good condition, passing a collapsed entrance to a small abandoned mine, and dumping you out on the road just before the town. There's still a bit of a climb on the new single track trail from last year before you divert down on the jeep road, but it will almost certainly save us ~10-15 minutes each way. I piled up some stones to form a cairn right at the intersection. The new route is easy to follow once you're on it, especially heading downhill to Winfield. Just be careful as you're heading back up it as it forks at one point. You want to keep to the left, on the higher road back to the single track. (For the curious, if you look carefully, I believe you can see the faint outline of the road on Google Earth.)

The new route to Winfield?
An overview of the entire route I took this Saturday. 19 miles.
The alternate start to avoid the Lake Creek river crossing.
The snow field at the top of Hope Pass.
It's not as bad as it looks, really.
One of the best views in Colorado.
The old jeep road descends to the left. Note the cairn.
A view of the jeep road, looking back north.
Another view of the jeep road, looking back north.
Here's where it pops out on Clear Creek Road. Note the small cairns.
Two small cairns mark the intersection with the road. Without them, it would be very easy to miss.
Winfield. Slightly less snowy than the last time I visited.
On top of Hope Pass again, looking north.

A few notes about my double crossing. I never managed to run Hope Pass in training last year-- my son, Ethan, had other plans. So, discounting race days, the last time I ran it in training was in early July, 2011. I ran it with fellow locals, Mike and Marvin-- who were both training for Leadman at the time. Having some company on a run (which is rare for me) pushed me a bit and I remember it being a solid workout. This year, as a challenge to myself, I actually ran every step of the way from my car to the snow field at the top of the pass. No hiking. I was certainly moving slowly, but maintaining a running cadence. While I was happy that I had the willpower and endurance to accomplish that feat, I only made it to the top a minute or two faster than when I aggressively power hiked it in 2011. (And I certainly have no illusions of being able to run up the north side of Hope during the 100!) An interesting data point.

I ran down the south side approximately three minutes slower than in 2011, which didn't surprise me at all because I have a very clear memory of recklessly bombing down the trail in 2011. I mean, I was flying, leaping off rocks (KJ style). This Saturday, I was much more conservative. I don't think technical downhill skill plays much of a role in the 100, in fact I think it can lure you into prematurely destroying your quads or even injuring yourself with a nasty fall. (And a three minute difference is definitely not worth it.) The biggest difference between 2011 and this year was how fast I ascended the south side: a full 5 min/mile faster than in 2011. I was really pushing it, panting like mad man, and swearing regularly. I feel like things become slightly more sane once you reach tree line, but-- damn-- the first part of the ascent is brutal. I found myself asking, "Do I really want to do this for 40+ hours at Hardrock?" (Assuming I ever get in.) 1,000+ ft of climbing in a mile is utterly exhausting. However, I am proud to say that I managed to make it to the top (from the junction with the new trail) in less than an hour. I even ran the last handful of switchbacks. That was a first.

While a bit mundane (but, hey, this is a training blog), I'd like to note that I really focused on staying hydrated during the entire run. After my debacle at Sage Burner, I've been paying extra attention to proper hydration during my long runs. I consumed ~150 oz of water (about seven and a half bottles worth or ~24 oz/hour ), stopping to purify water and refill at streams four separate times. I'm finding that I enjoy carrying two handheld bottles vs. a hydration pack. Yes, ideally I'd rather have my hands free-- you can't use poles or push off on your knees easily while carrying two handhelds-- but I find drinking to be much, much easier, and I think that may trump any other consideration. You can more easily tell how much you've drunk, you can dump water on your head to cool off, and you can quickly scoop up water from streams.

Fueling was pretty straight forward: maple almond butter x4, fig newtons x2, chews x2, gels x2.
All-in-all, a great workout in a fantastic setting. Hope Pass is always inspiring.


  1. Good call on the river crossing. We attempted it and wasted an hour of time getting part way and then bailing. Ended up only doing an up and back after the time loss. Gorgeous day up there today! My first time and I LOVED it!

  2. Hope Pass is awesome. Wait until you see the llamas up there on race day! Did we cross paths on Hope today? I was the guy running downhill in the blue shirt. Hopefully I said hi! I would've stopped to chat longer if I had known it was you. Hope your Leadman training is going well!

  3. we must have crossed paths. I was the girl in the cowboy hat. Training is awesome everyday, can't help but be in this spectacular setting! Hopefully we will meet face to face at some point, wouldn't mind picking your brain a bit:)

  4. Awesome write up Andy and thanks for the beta on the potential new course route. That should be sweet!

  5. Andy: I did the Hope double today and took the Sheep Gulch Trail all the way to Winfield, unaware of the coming course change (maybe I missed it in a Leadville Race Series e-mail?). I did, however, note the jeep road and actually wondered for a few seconds where it went. I think this change will potentially be good. My suspicion is that the Sheep Gulch Trail may make the course a tad long. Better to have it as close to 100 miles as possible.

    Also, I, too, took the bridge across the river/creek this morning. I wasn't in the mood to die crossing a raging rapid!


  6. Hey Wyatt,

    Yeah, I first heard of the new course change in a Facebook post from the Leadville Race Series on 2/18. It would've been easy to miss.

    "Runners, good news! The new single track section off Hope Pass will still be used, however, the mileage of that section will be reduced 1.5 to 2 miles total and the single track will come from the trail above Winfield directly to Winfield."

    According to my GPS the new route is 1 mile shorter each way, so 2 miles shorter total. That should bring the race closer to 100 miles. When I ran it in '10 and '11 (post helicopter crash re-route) it definitely seemed a bit shorter than 100 miles, so we needed some extra mileage added back. But, I think they over did it by a mile or two in '12. That said, I much prefer the new single track trail to Clear Creek Road, so the '13 route seems like an ideal compromise.

    Again, I'm just guessing at the exact new route, but I didn't see any other options to get down to Winfield. I'll try to confirm it the next time I swing by their office. (And I imagine the folks who are doing the running camp this weekend will also be able to confirm it.)