This past Saturday, I ran in the 16th Mount Werner Classic trail run. There are 5 and 12 mile versions of the race and I participated in the 12'er, which starts at the base of the ski area and climbs 3,400+' to the summit of Mt. Werner before a two mile run descent to the finish at the top of the Gondola. A few weeks ago, I thought this might be my best race of the season but injuries to my feet in the past two races had me thinking otherwise. In the week preceding the race, I should've returned my normal training runs but, instead, I had taken a week off from running and went on two very light, short trail runs during the week. The Achilles tendon on my right foot remained slightly sore to the touch and my plantar faciitis in my left foot seemed to be neither better nor worse. Neither ailment really affects me while I am running but I certainly feel it post run and first thing in the morning. Waking up Saturday morning, I was unsure if I would run the whole race or if I might even hurt myself further if I even ran. I decided to run very slowly to the start (only a mile or so from the house) and see how I felt when I got there to decide whether or not I would race.
I got my race number and lingered at the start at the base of the Gondola, watching other runners file into the area. I was struck at how fit everyone looked and it occured to me that this being such a tough race, it was bringing out the more serious crowd of athletes. On top of that, the race had sold out it's 125 entries for the first time in the history of the race. There were some good runners in this crowd. It may have just been the fun, pre-race atmosphere, but I immediately felt well enough to run. Saying "hello" to the other runners, watching people stretch and warm up, it really got me into the mood to get out there with like-minded people on what was already a beautiful, sunny but cool Steamboat morning.
I decided to go out very easy and only run uphills if I really felt good. My goal if I had been completely healthy was to finish in 2 hours, so I decided that 2:15 was a reasonable goal considering my foot issues. If I really felt good, I thought I might run back down the mountain and back home. I wanted to run slow and easy enough to do this.
After a quick run down of the course by the race director, we were off at 8:00 a.m. This race is essentially a 10 mile climb to the top of the mountain with a 2 mile descent. The climbing starts from the very beginning, although gently, and we all started snaking our way up the ski area. I fell into a relaxed pace, making sure to breathe through my nose only, ensuring I kept it nice and easy. (I did not want to blow up! I kept on thinking about pacing Katy at Leadville in two weeks.) By the time we had completed the first .75 miles up to the bottom Thunderhead I had found a comfortable groove and started to really enjoy myself.
The next couple miles up to the Gondola, first on dirt road and then on the Valley View trail, I felt energized and happy. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling good. Much like the Spring Creek race, I was running on trails I was very familiar with and knew what to expect as we climbed higher. I had plenty of water in my handheld so I passed the first water stop at Snowmaking.
At one point, we passed the game trail that I run up from Whistler Park and I couldn't help but feel like I was right in my backyard. I spent a little bit of the climb talking with a cool local guy named Ryan. I was in such a great mood thinking about all the previous times I'd been on this trail as we cruised up the aspen strewn mountain side. After about 4 miles of steady climbing, I hit the Duster cat track and ran with Brian, a dude from Orange County, for the relatively flat 2 miles out to Rendezvous. He was fun to run and talk with and made the race alot more fun. He was primarily a mountain biker but had done some cool adventure runs like the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. He and his girlfriend were on vacation by travelling and mountain biking or trail running at various places. We filled our water bottles at the Rendezvous water stop and I left first but felt nature's call and pulled over on the side of the trail to relieve myself. Here, Brian passed me and so did one other runner (Roy Cardwell of Vail). I knew the next section was a 2+ mile long climb to the summit so I just hung back and did a fair share of hiking to take it easier on my feet. I passed Brian after a while and then checked the GPS. Once I knew I had 3 miles remaining in the race, I began to run again and decided to run the rest of the way to the summit and cruise the downhill to the finish. Roy and I pushed each other to the top and started downhill. His shoe came untied and I ran past him as he cheered me on. (Nice guy!) I opened up my stride and cruised the switchbacks on Storm Peak Challenge, passed the Four Points Hut and finished up strong on a short climb back to the Gondola. I ran in easy to the finish and the timer said I looked like I didn't even break a sweat. I ended up being the 8th finisher in 2:06. I hung out at the finish to see a couple of the other guys I had run with finish. I ate a little at the finish tent and socialized for a couple minutes but I felt so good I decided to do the run home. I ran another 5 miles down the mountain and back to the house to finish with about 18 miles and 3 hours of running for the day. My feet were definitely sore afterwards and I've decided to only run in the pool for the next two weeks until Leadville. Speaking of ...
Katy and I went down to Leadville this weekend so that she could show me some of the important points in the race. We walked a couple of the trails and drove over the road sections and looked at the places where some of the aid stations will be located. It made the upcoming race all the more real and looking up to Hope Pass (12,600') from Twin Lakes (9,200'), all the more epic.