I can't believe I've been neglecting the Steamboat Springs Running Series for so long. If the other races they put on are as well organized and fun to be at as this one was, then I'm going to be a regular (at least, for trail races)!
I parked my truck at Steamboat Springs High School and ran a little more than a half mile to the start/finish to pick up my race number. It was cool and sunny at 7:30 a.m., perfect weather for a run. I saw Katy, who was volunteering as a 5K timer, picked up my race number and walked around to stay loose. There was a great turnout. Katy told me that the race had sold out: 100 runners. A few minutes before the start, I made my way to starting line and chatted for a minute with a guy visiting from San Francisco (yeah! Big up, S.F.) Last minute instructions about course markings (which I should've listened to better!) and we were off.
I was really pumped to be running my shortest race of the year. Knowing that I would be done in a little over an hour (I was shooting for 75 minutes), instead of 6 or 10 or 12 hours, made the run seem all the more casual. I felt healthy enough to run a fast time but didn't want to go so hard that I might hurt myself.
The run starts off with a very short climb and descent and then runs ever so slightly uphill along the creek for about a mile. Here, I settled into the second pack of runners and watched the fast guys go blazing ahead of every one else. I felt really comfortable and smooth. We made the short but steep climb up to Spring Creek Trail (proper) and started off into the woods. About 100 yards later, we cut hard up the hillside in a drainage that went up, up, up. I didn't even bother trying to run it. I noticed the woman in front me trying for a while but she just got tired. My hike was plenty fast enough and I stayed behind her for a few more minutes before making a move past her and the next two runners. I picked up the pace and felt good as we neared the 2.5-3 mile mark. It was very thick forest with lots of chest high grasses, branches, roots, mud and downed trees everywhere. Super fun ascent! Ahead, I could see the last two runners of the chase pack about 100 yards ahead of me. I was certain I'd be able to catch them at my current pace.
About a minute after thinking this, I missed a race trail marker and made a wrong turn up a game trail and into the woods. About 20 or 30 seconds later, when I didn't see any more markers, I knew I had made a mistake but had no idea where the trail was. (Oh shit!) Then, I see two guys following me...uh oh. I yell back, "I'm not on the trail!" About that time, I hear, "The trail's over here!" coming from another runner. (Ahhh!) I started laughing and bushwacked my way back across to the proper trail. (Rats!) I wasn't upset, though. On the contrary, I thought that little miscue made the race that much more fun and adventurous. I had to be the only person who was laughing as they climbed up that steep, forest trail.
Still, I lost a few minutes and had to pass a few runners on the tight, uphill trail to regain some running room. Once I settled into this position, I didn't see any other runners for a couple miles. I finished this first big climb and opened up my stride on the next downhill. This was a fast mile-plus on a primitive wide trail. Mostly forested but punctuated with one nice meadow. As I ran down to a dirt road, I saw a water stop and passed it, making a left turn. I asked and the girls at the stop told me the last runner came through about 20 seconds ahead. The course came off of the Tatanka Ridge property and turned onto Buffalo Pass Road right after here and I began the uphill, mile or so run up to Dry Lake on the road. At this point, a runner comes up behind me and we talk a little. (Well, I talk alot but he seems pretty winded. Can't blame him, though. That climb was intense.) I run ahead of him at Dry Lake and begin the sweet 4 mile descent down Spring Creek Trail. I passed the aid station saying, "Thanks for volunteering!" to the person manning the table and they shout back an encouraging, "Have fun!" I do.
Once on the downhill, I just let gravity do it's thing. I let the trail pull me down it's meandering course. I cruise through the woods, over the rocks and across 13 man made bridges that span Spring Creek. You should have seen the frickin' smile I had on my face. I was so aware of it! It's a sublime feeling to just let your mind and legs go and spin downhill. At times, it's like I'm not even there. Only the trail exists.
I passed one runner around the 5.5 or 6 mile mark who reeled me in again with about two miles to go. I started talking to him to see how winded he was and he was happy but didn't want to talk too much. I took this as a sign of fatigue and pushed the pace to see if he wanted to run with me. He didn't take and over the last couple miles I pulled away from him. I looked at my watch earlier and saw I wouldn't make my 75 minute goal and just tried to run hard at the end. As I neared the finish line, I heard her voice and looked over and saw Katy at the finish line with a big smile on her face. I crossed the finish and gave her a big hug. I didn't bother listening for my time or placing because I didn't care at the moment. I had just had so much fun, I just wanted to tell Katy all about the race and talk with some of the other runners. (For the record, I think I finished in 79:13 (9th place!) so 75 wasn't a bad guess. Maybe if I hadn't made that wrong turn...)
It was so much fun to run a race on a trail that I get to do all the time. I saw a few familiar faces and made a couple new acquaintances. The race seemed to have a real hometown vibe to it. Katy said a family finished 1 through 5 in the 5K. How cool is that? I'm going to volunteer to work at some the races I don't run in order to get more involved in the local running community. There are some great people involved in it and they definitely showed up today at Spring Creek!
Earlier in the week, to tune up for this race and recover from the last, I did a VFF run on Spring Creek on Tuesday (6.3 miles, 1:02), then a fast 8.2 miles, 1:12 on Wednesday. I did have some new pain on the top of my right big toe at the end of TRT, now it's worse. So the recovery part didn't go so well. I'll have to take a couple days off from running to avoid a more serious overuse injury. Need to go swimmin'!