|Sunrise from the White Ranch Parking lot|
The format was simple on the front - run as many miles as possible in the 12 hours. But there were some catches - instead of running on the same loops in the same order for the duration, everything was random. Nobody ran the same race, which was part of the challenge. We all started with running up Purple aka Purgatory - 5.48 miles with a gain/loss of 2,205/892. Then everyone one did one Green loop - 2.18 miles with a gain/loss of 488. At this point the half marathoners headed back down Purple to finish their race, while us 12 hour runners started the real party. A bucket of balls waited for us, enticing us to tempt fate with our random choices.
Black - either do a meaningless task like marking the trail to outhouse or making the perfect banana and Nutella sandwich or take a 15 minute time penalty. The task also provided an override ticket. More on that later...
Green - the easiest loop at 2.18 miles with 488 feet of climbing/descending
Orange - the second shortest loop for 3.38 miles, but with 741 feet of gain and loss
Red - the second longest, but slightly easier loop at 4.53 miles and 1,086 feet of gain and loss
Yellow - the hardest and longest loop with an apt distance of 6.66 and 1,988 feet of climbing
|The HPRS banner under the sunrise. We lucked out with nearly perfect - if a bit windy - weather.|
After the pre-race meeting, we headed off into the hills. Or up the hill. Belcher Hill. I remembered riding my bike up it once when we lived in Golden and how much it sucked. Maybe a little easier on foot, but there wasn't much running! Since I'd accidentally started in the back of the group, I had no clue where I was in the race. But I also really didn't care. I wasn't racing anyone but myself, the voices in my head and the fatigue from the day before. The no-pressure attitude allowed me to just relax and focus on smooth hiking. I thought about breaking out the poles, but decided I'd do that after the 12 hour party started. No sense fussing with them with all the half marathoners around and the increased traffic. After we turned off Belcher, I was spending as much time looking around as I was looking at the trail. It was so green! And so pretty! The mountains and clouds all around, North Table to the east and even further east Downtown Denver all illuminated by the morning sun. And then we turned to finish the climb up Mustang Trail and the city vanished.
|Denver from somewhere on Mustang Trail|
And then it was time for the real party to start. I reached into the bucket, stirred the balls around and withdrew... Black! My task? Mark the trail to the out-house. Perfect. I needed to go to the bathroom anyway!
My second ball was only a little better. Yellow. What the heck - I wanted to run every loop anyways. Might as well do Yellow first when I was still fresh. I took off down the trail for a clockwise lollipop down almost to the bottom of Belcher and then back up! I actually really liked Yellow. It was a hard loop, but the run down was really nice. Rocky and technical, but a fun trail. I saw a few runners and hikers coming up to start their day, but it was really quiet. I also pulled my phone out a few times to check that I was still on the right course! The yellow loop was perfectly marked, but I wasn't taking any chances. Then I popped out onto Belcher to start my hike back up. This time I got the poles out. I was carrying them - might as well use them! Having yellow for my first loop was also nice because I got to see some of the Half Marathoners coming down Belcher at the end of their race. A bit of a cheering squad going both ways. The end of yellow merged with Orange, so I was now seeing the other 12 hour runners. And something else... In the distance, just above the trail and another runner. I wasn't sure at first, so when I asked one of the orange runners about it and he looked confused I brushed it off. But really, I knew. When I got closer, I was able to get my phone out for a photo. Not quite close enough to really show him off, but...
|Bear!!! Black spot above the foreground rocks - he ambled across the trail just after a runner and then started heading down the hill|
Back at the Main Aid and I drew Green. Easy loop! I was happy to have the easy loop and set out. I'd grabbed more tater tots and an avocado/hummus wrap at the aid this time. I was also refilling my soft flask every stop and getting some ginger ale as well. The calorie deficit was building. I definitely hadn't done a good job eating the two days before the mountain bike race and I hadn't been able to choke down enough during the race to really keep the stores topped off like needed. I knew that was going to happen, but hey... It's part of a crazy back to back weekend. It was also great training for the longer distances coming up. Green was as easy as I remembered and no time - ultra speaking that is - I'd finished my loop. What would the balls dictate next? Another Red. I thought about overriding it for Orange, but decided not to. Red wasn't that bad. Better to save that override for something else if I needed. A quick stop to tape my heel - I was developing a hot spot on both heels in the same spot, which was a little concerning. I have a few areas that tend to develop hot spots, but the insides of both heels was new. Something to keep an eye on. This time I pulled the poles out when I hit the climb. Much easier! I never really thought I'd be a pole person, but they do serve a purpose. I still need a little practice for running downhill with them - I frequently just hold them so I can use my arms a little better. As I climbed up the last hill on that second red, I was debating. Runner math... I wanted more miles, but I was also really starting to get tired. Sleepy tired, muscularly tired - everything. If I stopped then and headed down, would that be enough? It was tempting. But I hadn't done Orange yet!
When I got to the Main Aid, I scarfed down some more food. Things I don't usually eat during a race, but I was craving calories. The tator tots were hitting the spot and if I'd had a bowl, I would have taken a pile with me on a few laps. The crew at the Main Aid were awesome - they had all the food and drinks ready, were consistently on point for refilling things and just generally there to help us crazy runners. And that was with first trying to hold the canopy down against the wind and then finally giving up on the canopy. I know I said thanks a few times, but should have said it a few more!
I was still pondering my options when I dug into the bucket. John assured me I would have my 50k if I headed down. I was 6:30 into the race, with 29 miles on my watch. Even if I took out the extra mile I had a buffer. But I still hadn't done Orange. I think I'd already planned on overriding anything I got for Orange when I opened my hand. And for once, the balls played in my favor! I would get one lap of every color. Orange was harder then I though it would be. The start was easy enough - a rolling traverse back along where I'd seen the bear. Then the trail tipped up as we climbed to the top of Belcher Hill. Ouch. I wasn't fast hiking, but I was steady. At the top, the trail merged with Purple. A few runners had called it a day already and were heading back to the finish. My turn would be next. I was pretty happy with how I was feeling - legs were tired, but nothing super sore. Just the hot spots on my feet. I was still running smoothly on the gentle climbs and such, and able to switch into hiking quickly and efficiently.
My Garmin distance was 38.8 miles when I finished in just about 9 hours. My official distance when I add all my loops up was 34.5 miles. So either way I got my 50k. I know I added about a mile in distance from the wrong turn and from the out-house marking and had factored that into my runner math.
Overall, Tommyknocker was a blast. Even with being tired and having a really crazy weekend it was such a fun event. The randomness of the course kept me anticipating returning the Main Aid to see what would come next. The loops were challenging - fun technical running with a boatload of climbing as well. It required a different mindset from most ultras - just being open to the unexpected and dealing with the hand er, ball you drew. Every one I saw looked like they were having fun - even in the middle of mindless tasks like carrying M&Ms with chopsticks. I know I bailed early on the race, but I'd met my distance goal. Better to call it a day early and finish strong then to get greedy and have something happen. Besides, in two weeks I'll be toeing the line at Last Call 50! Race number three...