Well, quite frankly, I got to "live the dream" again today. I woke up early (as usual) and walked the dogs as the sun began to rise over the Continental Divide. In the dawn's early light, the sky was clear, the air was cool and crisp and the leaves on the aspens, while still mostly green, were beginning to show signs of the approaching autumn. The morning temperatures in the high 30s would eventually give way to a gorgeous day in the 70s. The thought of getting to run a mountain trail race in this weather was all I needed to feel good about the life I have.
I arrived at the base of Howelsen Hill early enough to do a little warm up running on the final part of the course and then, a little more on the bike path with Derek McClung before the race start. This was the final race in the Steamboat Springs Running Series and it was really nice that it was actually a smaller field of runners than at the other races in the series. It gave the race a really "local" feel. Katy showed up to see me off, which always makes me feel lucky and very happy and I was ready to run. My goals for the race were to finish in 1:03 and as the first Masters (age groups 40+, since I just entered a new age group last Tuesday) and, above all, to have fun. Runners assembled behind the yurt next to the Sombrero Ranch's stables at the Rodeo Grounds and, at "Go!", we took off on our 12-kilometer, 1,130 vertical foot mountain tour.
Everyone seemed to be in great spirits and as we made the first hill going past Olympian Hall and there was alot of chatter and laughing. I watched and laughed out loud at the ridiculously fast pace that Nick Sunseri was already on as he barralled up the trail next to the ski jumps. It was obvious he was on to another win as he ran away from the rest of the field. Two other runners chased him with myself, Harry Niedl, Walter Magill and Tammy Jacques already 30 seconds back, and we all began climbing. Before we hit Blackmere Drive and started up towards Emerald Mountain, Harry moved up into 4th position. Then, Walter and Tammy moved up about 10 seconds ahead of me. We stayed like this for a few minutes and then turned on to the winding, uphill single track of Larry's. Here, I started to feel really good and moved past Walter and, then Tammy, a couple minutes later. We jumped back on Blackmere for the climb up to the top of the quarry and I could hear Tammy's footsteps hot on my tail as we neared the race's apex. (In hindsight, it would have been great if the race continued up Lane of Pain to the summit of Emerald Mountain. This would add an absurdly steep climb up another 400(ish)' in less than half a mile and, I think, really legitimize this as a "mountain race.") I managed to hold her off until the top of Little Moab and then bombed down the gnarly, rocky trail to open a gap. At the bottom of Little Moab (just a short 100+ yard, 100' descent), the course jumped back on the winding single track of Lupine. I absolutely love running the smooth single track with it's tight corners in the scrub oak and occasional rocky steps. I kicked it down a gear and did most of the mile or so downhill through the woods at just over a 6 minute/mile pace.
I kept listening for footsteps behind me but they never materialized. After a couple minutes, I saw a white t-shirt in front of me and ran a little harder to catch it. Here, I passed Eddie Rogers, who runs in either Vibram Five Fingers (a "foot glove") or sandals. Today, he was wearing what looked like a home-made, Tarahumara Indian-style sole tied to his feet and ankles with rope or line. While I like his barefoot approach to trail running (I race "minimal"-style trail flats, Inov-8 Talon 240's), I just don't think you can run as fast in sandals or barefooted as you can in shoes. Once I got in front of Eddie, I hammered the pace to put on a good gap on him and to take advantage of the long, gradual downhill of the next few miles. There were a few, small uphill sections but the rest of Lupine was a fun, fast, meandering run through the trees before the course finally broke into a meadow and the made the turn out to the Bluffs Loop.
I ended up running the Bluffs Loop by myself and could feel myself starting to fade on the occasional uphill. Fortunately, there weren't many ups and I was able to keep my tempo quick all the way back to the Rodeo Grounds and the race finish. As I reached the portion of the course I had pre-run earlier in the morning, I opened up to the fastest I could run and sprinted the last few hundred yards to the finish. I managed a 4th place overall and first place Masters finish in a very satisfying 1:01:46. Nick Sunseri killed another course for the win in :50:11 with Adam Loomis of Eau Claire, Wisconsin in second (:56:04) and Harry Niedl in third (:57:37). Local mountain biker extraordinare, Tammy Jacques went on to win the women's race in a quick 1:03:07, followed by Steamboat's Kristin Stemp (1:12:47) and Veronica Ventuno (1:13:30) of Denver. Derek McClung ran the race of the day in my book, finishing 14th in 1:10:28, nearly 5 minutes faster than he expected.
Just as much fun as the race was hanging out with all the other runners afterwards. Steamboat has a small but great community of runners, both road and trail alike. With food catered from some of the town's fantastic little restarants and free water, gatorade and beer(!) to drink, runner's milled about, telling stories from their personal races and talking about all things running. The atmosphere was festive and light. Clearly, the race series regulars have become pretty familiar with one another and are supportive and friendly. Furthermore, the running series consistently raffles off the coolest gear at the end of every race. Tech t-shirts, Big Agnes sleeping bags, backpacks, magazine subscriptions and free nights at the Sheraton make it better to be lucky than fast at a Running Series race.
In all, another fantastic race put on by the race directors and volunteers make me glad to live and play in such a wonderful little town in the Rocky Mountains. The consistently good participant turnout is testament to the quality and enjoyability of the races that are put on by the SSRS. Thanks for the memories and see you next summer, Running Series!