Sunday morning, it was clear and 40 degrees as I prepared to drive up the valley to Steamboat and partake in the annual running of Ski Haus' Continental Divide Trail Run, a trail race from the bottom of Fish Creek Falls to Long Lake and then up the backside of Mount Werner via the Mountain View trail and finishing at the top of the Gondola. Roughly 100 people lined up at the start and, as the final race directions were given, the mood was fun yet focused. My goals for the race were to run under 2 hours 20 minutes and/or be first Masters. I wanted to run hard to gauge where my overall fitness was going into Run Rabbit Run in three weeks. That said, I went out with the lead pack of runners and decided to try and run my race "from the front" instead of starting slower and gradually trying to build speed as the race went on. Of course, that only lasted about 5 minutes into the race as the trail started climbing up the canyon for about 1000' in the first mile. I managed to keep the speedy Harry Niedl in sight all the way to the top of the first climb but there was no way I was going to hang with the rabbits longer than that. I felt good though and continued running all but the steepest uphill sections.
The morning air was nice and cool and it felt really good to be running hard up the rocky canyon trail. Flecks of gold leaves decorated the otherwise green canopy. I reached the Second Falls in 30 minutes and felt like I was right on pace to make 2:20 but it wouldn't be easy to hold on. Mercifully, the trail begins to even out and there aren't any steep climbs after the Second Falls. A few, short tough ones but after conquering those, the trail opens up and a beautiful alpine meadow is revealed. Even in a dry year like this one, there was still a little water to cross. After that meadow, there was another short section in the trees before we crossed another meadow and began the gradual ascent to Long Lake and the junction with the next section of trail, Mountain View. During this time, I talked a little with the runner behind me, Stephen Castle from Ft. Collins. Stephen had been chasing me up the canyon and breathing HARD the whole climb. I thought he was pushing too hard and was going to fade but he just kept crushing it. He actually apologized for breathing so hard but it didn't bother me a bit. I just told him he was killing it and doing a great job. I gave him a brief synopsis of the rest of the course and he was really cool and gracious. Just before the first aid station, I was able to pull away from him just a bit and I made the turn onto Mountain View ready for the next 6 mile grind.
At the aid station, I was down to half a bottle of water and had fallen 5 minutes behind where I thought I should've been. I filled the rest of the bottle with Gatorade ate a little gummy, chewy looking thing and took off on Mountain View determined to run as much of it as I could. I've run this trail many times now and it is almost never very forgiving. In this direction, it is a gradual, 6-mile climb up to the back of Mt. Werner. The trail is mostly smooth single track but there are just enough rocks to trip you up if aren't paying attention. Not long after getting on the trail, I got passed by one runner (Paul Datsko) who seemed totally relaxed and in control of his effort. He was just steady plugging and I gave him an 'attaboy' as he passed. He commented that he had to take advantage of the ups because he wasn't a great downhiller. I just called after him, "Maybe I'll catch you on the downhill. Probably not." (I didn't. But I might have if the race had been another half mile or so.) About a minute behind him, I heard Stephen closing on me and I could tell he was going to pass, too. He was still breathing pretty hard but I could tell that he was getting used to this extra gear and was going to fly up Mountain View. He passed, gracious as ever, and soon caught and passed Paul, too. Killing it! I hung behind for another mile or so but soon found myself running up the trail by myself. I was moving pretty good through the pine forest, thanks to a couple of downhill and rolling sections that were smooth enough trail to get a good leg turnover going. The trail just continued on and on through the forest. Another runner, kindly passed me with a couple more miles left to go to the summit and I tried to hang onto him as we power hiked some of the last steep climbs. The guy kind of looked like Leor Pantilat, so I imagined for a moment that I was racing one of the fastest ultrarunners in the country, and had a little laugh to myself about that. Then, reminscent of Leor, he left me in the dust. About 3 minutes after losing sight of "Leor", I made the last bit of ascent to the top of Mt. Werner. My watch read about 2:10 and I didn't think I had two 5-minute miles in me but I was still super stoked and ready to slay some downhill. In hindsight, my 1:05 split for Mountain View is the fastest I have ever run that trail in the uphill direction.
Next year, the race organizers are going to reroute the race so that runners descend to the Gondola via single track trails. So on this running and, I guess for the last time, the course finished with a 2 mile run down Storm Peak Challenge, a dirt road with tons of "baby head" sized rocks. My first few steps down the road were a little unsteady but I soon found a rhythm and started working gravity for all it was worth, running about as hard as I thought I could for two miles and 1000+ feet. I checked the switchbacks ahead of me for someone to chase but didn't see anyone until the final 3/4 mile. I tried hard to close the gap but couldn't reel him in more than a couple hundred yards before the last quarter mile climb up to the Gondy. I pushed the last uphill and sprinted for the finish line under a bluebird, cloudless sky. As it turned out, I did have two 6 minute miles left in my legs and I ran strong all the way to the finish and completed the course in 2:22:51. Not quite hitting my time goal but good enough for 9th place overall and 1st Masters. I finished feeling good despite pushing hard the whole race and my legs felt surprisingly unaffected once I was done. I jogged a cool down for a few minutes after I finished and I even considered running down to the base area.
Fortunately, I wised up and decided it would be more fun to kick it at the finish and spent the rest of the morning talking it up with other runners and locals who had come up to cheer on their friends. The post race food, drink and company was great and I got to meet a few other Steamboat runners that I didn't previously know. Probably the most fun I had though was chatting it up with Stephen Castle after the race. The hard-breathing, hard-charger from the Front Range delivered a 2:20:48 run despite being, by his own admission, woefully unprepared for the gnarly course. (Stud.) Unfortunately, we were both losers when it came to the post race raffle. I may never win a race but by golly, I'm going to win a raffle prize one these days!
I'm very happy about how my race went and I think I proved to myself that I am fit enough to give the 100 a good effort. I have no idea what kind of finishing time I could expect to run and coming up with a pace schedule feels a bit daunting. Still, I'm ready to get it done. Mostly because I am tired of waiting and, in many ways, tired of training. Not that I really did a stellar job in my training. I could've logged more miles. Or maybe SHOULD have but I still feel good about the running I did do this year and how my prep races went. I just started losing motivation to train as Katy's pregnancy progressed and I wanted to spend more time with her. I kind of feel like I ended up doing kind of a half-assed job of both...well, I hope not but it's hard to split what little time you have between all the things you want to do and the things you need to do.