2011 Cheyenne Mountain 50K



Cheyenne Mountain 50K
Colorado Springs, CO
32.0mi, +3700ft
4:24:32, 4th overall

This morning I ran the Cheyenne Mountain 50K, a brand new Colorado Springs (at last) ultramarathon coordinated by Epic Endurance Events. First, I want to acknowledge race director Andrea for her incredible efforts; I found the course enjoyable, the volunteers awesome, and the organization spot on — quite a feat for its inaugural year! I will certainly return next year if the opportunity exists. As for the weekend, here’s how it played out.

I left Boulder Friday afternoon and met my dad in Denver for a tour of Dr. Andrew Subudhi’s Altitude Research Center laboratory at the CU Anschutz Medical Center. This guy gets to study the altitude-induced effects of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) on the human body. He does this by placing subjects in an altitude chamber then sucking the air out, or by taking them to the Bolivian Andes — not bad. It seems Dr. Subudhi’s greatest issue is deciding which hypotheses to test — the field is ripe with questions, all of them downright fascinating, especially to any endurance athlete excited by punishing mountain adventures. Public radio recently did a segment on the lab’s work. After our tour, we drove to Dad’s house in Colorado Springs, feasted on chili and rice, then got a good night’s rest.

The altitude chamber at the ARC -- bringing ultramarathon training to the next level.

At 5am we awoke, prepared and consumed our respective bowls of oatmeal, drained our coffee, and hit the road. We picked up my buddy Carson en route, then proceeded into Cheyenne Mountain State Park, located about 20 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs off of Hwy 115, not far from NORAD. Despite growing up just an hour north, I’d never before visited this relatively new park, which features a remarkable trail network and preserves some beautiful Front Range wilderness.

Cheyenne Mountain SP -- plenty of fun, runnable single track.

We arrived around 7am and parked the car, leaving me a full hour to mosey about, snap some photos, and empty my bladder at least four times (well-hydrated, apparently). Tangentially related, I had the privilege of breaking in a fresh porta-potty for the first time in my life; the urinal was dry, all the TP wrapped — until I arrived.

I think the third one from the right was my victim.

Other runners began to arrive including several friends (Patrick Garcia, Sean O’Day, many others), and following a quick race briefing and our nation’s anthem, we 50K-ers gathered at the starting line and precisely at 8am Andrea set us on our way. The spectators and 25K-ers (including both Dad and Carson, who had an 8:30am start time) cheered as we filed out of the parking lot onto the gravel single-track leading up toward Cheyenne Mtn.

Andrea gives us the lowdown.

And we're off!

Colorado’s April weather, as always, proved predictably unpredictable, first providing cool, damp overcast, which then gave way to a chilly upslope shrouding us with large, swirling snowflakes and intermittent rays of sunshine that pierced the high cloud cover — we got a taste of everything.

Some curious cloud cover spilling over the Front Range.

Within minutes, the lead quartet (Jason Schlarb, Michael Dominguez, Dan Vega, and Levi Severson) raced ahead, possibly motivated by the $500 winner’s purse, leaving me amongst a chase trio with whom I quickly grew familiar: Brandon Stepanowich, a young Carolinian transplant who’s lived in Colorado Springs for a year, and Joe Berg, a long-time Denverite with a knack for telling stories without breaking a stride. As we snaked our way along the twisty, gravel single-track studded with boulders and roots, we discussed a wide range of topics, genuinely enjoying each others’ company. In this fashion the three of us proceeded, stride for stride, around both lobes comprising the 25K course (lap one for the 50K), and well into the first half of lap two.

The trail near the start -- it was decidedly more rugged over the rest of the course.

As Brandon and Joe towed me along, I quietly executed my strategy: consume a gel every 45 minutes and resist any urge to push the pace, even if my fickle left knee wasn’t complaining. I vowed to rectify the foolish mistakes I made last month in Salida, and with breakfast alone I was already ahead in the count. My energy level felt great, my stomach graciously processed each gel; my only issue seemed to be some muscular tightness during the ascents. I pondered this awhile, then postulated that the diuretic effect of my morning coffee (hence all those outhouse trips) might be blameworthy. Although I’d diligently replenished my fluids, I hadn’t compensated for all the salts I’d likely expelled, so I popped an S-cap and sure enough, the legs loosened up. Every hour I took another electrolyte, and although I can’t prove this, the S-caps may have saved my race. Well into lap two I sensed Joe’s pace easing up and I considered surging ahead. However, I stifled this urge until the mile 23 aid station, where I seized the opportunity to move ahead of my companions, and began “racing” for the first time all day.

Thanks to the double-loop layout, I knew exactly what the last eight miles held in store: a long, steady (~1000ft) climb followed by a winding, downhill finish. My nutritional diligence paid off and I stormed the hill, pulling away from the others. At some point I passed Dan Vega (no shame on him though — he just won the Antelope Island 100 three weeks ago in a smoking time of 15:31!) putting me in fourth place, and supplying a welcome boost of confidence. I felt strong throughout the climb — perhaps stronger than at any point earlier in the day — then upon cresting the ridge I shifted gears and cruised to a 4:24:32 finish — twelve minutes behind number three (Severson) but a pleasing result nonetheless.

Time for a beer.

Brandon and Joe arrived shortly thereafter, claiming fifth and sixth respectively. In the 25K Dad took the masters’ title, and Carson too had a fantastic trail race debut. I spent the next hour mingling at the finish line, sipping a well-earned PBR (thanks Pat!) and replenishing my calories courtesy of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, catered onsite.

The ultimate recovery beverage.

This coming Wednesday marks the halfway point between my training commencement (Jan 1) and the Leadville Trail 100 (Aug 20). Today’s performance is a welcome relief from a month of knee-plagued uncertainty following three months of good health. That said, my lingering patellar tendonitis did limit my effort today, but seeing as the knee held in there without worsening throughout the race, I feel much more confident about the Jemez Mountain 50 four weeks from now.

I’ve learned many lessons these past four months: the bearing of nutrition, the importance of rest, the dangers of high mileage while neglecting flexibility and cross-training, among others; but I clearly have a lot left to figure out. My experience at Jemez may well be a painful one, but like Salida I expect it will help me identify areas to emphasize my training as I prepare for San Juan, and ultimately Leadville.

At the end of day I enjoyed a greasy burger and a Guinness at Champp’s with my dad and his wife Lauri, before ultimately making the trip (through heavy, wet, springtime snow) back to Boulder. I plan to rest the knee well for the next couple days before (hopefully) putting forth two more solid weeks’ effort prior to a short Jemez taper. All in all, a successful weekend — running makes me happy.

Springtime in Colorado -- nothing unusual 🙂