Sunday, August 21, 2011

Continental Divide Trail Run Race Report

Holy shit.  That is a tough race.  Especially when it starts the morning after one of your best friends gets married and you clipped your quadracep on a rock while tubing down the Yampa River that afternoon and you've been at sea level for most of the week before and...OK, that's enough excuses.  Here's how the race went down:

The 2011 Ski Haus Continental Divide Trail Run, which is a Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series race, sold out with 125 runners, again proving that the Steamboat Springs Running Series is really getting the attention it deserves.   It was another gorgeous morning, the weather clear and cool and perfect for racing.  After meeting at the Knoll parking lot at the Steamboat Ski Area, runners are loaded onto shuttles which take them to the race start at the Fish Creek Falls trail head.  At the race start, runners practically sprinted to the trail to avoid bottle necking and continued down the trail and crossed the footbridge at the bottom of Fish Creek Falls.  Immediately afterwards, runners begin the first of many, many climbing sections.  Gaining 500' in the first mile and 1500' in the first 3.5 miles, I found myself hiking much of the first part of the race.  The trail is not only steep but also very, very rocky for the first few miles, making it very difficult to do any running at all (unless you are one of the rabbits at the very front of the race) since the footing is so sketchy.  I managed to reach the 2nd waterfall in 33 minutes and took a few seconds to go down to a small pool and dunk my hat in an effort to cool off.  After the second falls, the trail begins to climb more gradually and I was able to start running a little more, albeit conservatively, knowing that there was still much more uphill to deal with later in the race.  About 4 miles in, the trail crosses a beautiful meadow that was pretty muddy.  I tried to avoid getting my feet wet at first, but there was an unavoidable section of soupy mud and all bets were off.  I laughed and said out loud, "Yep.  It's a mountain race."  I saw the runner in front of me turn his head a bit and smile in agreement.  At the 5.5 mile mark, the course turns onto the Mountain View Trail, a 6 mile grind up the backside of Mt. Werner.  I paused at the aid station, drank two cups of Cytomax, ate a Honey Stinger gel and pet a race volunteer's dog before I proceeded on. 

I have a real love/hate relationship with Mountain View Trail.  Running in this direction, it's a long, forested uphill run to get to the top of the ski area.  It's a beautiful trail (that's the love), especially in the last 2 miles when the views out to the Continental Divide become really impressive.  But it's tough (the hate).  I always have a hard time on this trail.  I ended up doing most of the trail alone, alternately running the flats, downhills and moderate uphills and hiking on the steeper climbs.  My right quadracep was feeling pretty sore from hitting the rock in the river while tubing the day before but I just tried to keep moving and keep my heart rate from going too high.  I stopped a couple of times to get some debris out of my shoes.  Finally, in the last 1.5 miles, I caught a glimpse of two runners about a hundred yards in front of me and I felt like I would be able to catch them, if not before the summit, then, hopefully on the 2.5 mile descent to the Gondola.  I managed to reel in the first guy and kept steady after the next, catching him in last .5 mile before the summit.   At the summit, I was so relieved to finally be done with (almost) all that heinous uphill.  By now, we had climbed well over 3000'.  On the descent, I saw two more runners in front of me and I ran my fastest to catch them both.  I was able to catch the first runner on Storm Peak Challenge and gave him an "attaboy" as I passed.  There was a short, bushwacking detour to the course due to logging operations on the mountain, which was actually really fun.  There was a ton of flagging to let you know where to run but NO trail. Just low brush, grass and rocks.  I managed to pass the second runner here and then did all I could to stay fast on the remainder of the downhill as we hit dirt road again.  Like the Mt. Werner race I did a couple weeks ago, this course finishes with a very cruel 400+ yard uphill run to the gondola.  I felt like I was moving in slow motion but happily crossed the finish line in 2:30:41 (19th), nearly 6 minutes off my goal time of 2:25 but proud, none the less, to finish this grueling race.  

Nick Sunseri won the race, destroying yet another course record, in a blistering 1:47:50!   We talked before the race and were both a little dubious about the advertised race distance of 15 (or 16) miles.  Both of our GPS watches calculated the course at 14.3 miles.  Nobody disputed the 3400' of vertical gain.  Other locals also recording fast times were Josh Smullin (3rd, 2:05.30),Harry Niedl (4th, 2:07.10),  Bill Goldsmith (5th, 2:08.13) Glen Light (8th, 2:15.34) and Gregg Joyce (14th, 2:25.36).

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