Into the Unknown - Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 50k

What a difference a week makes...
On April 16th, I was getting ready to run a 50k in a blizzard, only to have that race canceled. But I wouldn't lose my chance at my first ultra as the race directors from the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race offered all us snowed out Rattler Runners entry into their race. So on April 23rd, I was once again getting ready to run a 50k. I had a small drop bag packed with some food, new shirt and spare socks. My Osprey Rev 1.5 was ready to go with number pinned, food tucked in pockets and a half full bladder. But I still didn't know what to expect - I knew it would be a long day and my legs would be tired at the end. I also knew that the climbs would be the challenge, not the technical running at Palmer Park. I also knew that while I'd done one run of 24 miles and several of 15-20, a well as long mountain bike rides, I wasn't as trained or tapered going into the race like many of the other fast women toeing the line. Not only was it my first ultra, it was my first race past the marathon distance since 2010, when I finished the 50 states with Vermont.
The starting line as the National Anthem was played.
Photo Peter Maksimo

Into the unknown indeed. With the tongue in cheek advice of "start out really fast" from past winner and college teammate Amanda, rattling around in my head I lined up next to her. Amanda is a seasoned ultra runner - having done multiple 50ks, 50ms and even placing top 10 at the Leadville trail 100. As such, she's smart when it comes to pacing and she knew the course better then I did. I figured running with her for a while would be wise. The start wasn't actually as mellow as I anticipated since the first loop of the course started with the narrower, rocky singletrack of Coyote and Boulder Run trails. We ran out through the parking lot and onto the road, climbing the hill to the trail crossing. I was in a good spot, right ahead of Amanda and with another woman in front of us. Onto the first long climb and I knew I needed to stay steady and relaxed and keep the effort level low. It was too early in the race to start actually racing!

The course for the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run is deceptively hard - but everything at CMSP is harder then it looks! It's a figure eight loop, starting in the north west trails like Blackmere and Cougar's Shadow. We climbed up Coyote Run, then took the left on Boulder Run to keep climbing. All the way up to Blackmere, where we veered left again and dropped down to the start of the loop, only to climb back up and across to the north junction with Cougar's Shadow. The first aid station was at that junction - so even the volunteers had a bit of a hike to get there! Across Cougar's Shadow and descend Blackmere to Zook and back to the start-finish area. Past the main aid station sponsored by Achilles Pikes Peak and drop bags and we'd only finished half of the figure eight. The second half was a clockwise loop on Sundance with the Talon climb and a counter-clockwise North-South talon loop thrown in for fun. There was another aid station at the start of the Talon climb, which we hit twice per lap - another long hike in for the volunteers! One loop would be hard - with 2000' of climbing. The real test would come on the Sundance/Talon half on the second loop.

On the climb up Boulder Run, I felt like the pace was a little faster then I wanted for that moment. But I was in a good group of guys and everyone was chatting about different races and such. So there I stayed. I noticed right away that I was slower then Amanda on the climbs, but able to stretch the elastic on the rocky and somewhat technical descents. We moved into first and second on the descent down Blackmere, but not by a lot. The top three women were all really closely matched on the climb back up to Cougar's Shadow.  I felt good running and was drinking regularly, so only wanted a cup of water at the first aid station. Across Cougar's Shadow and the guy behind me started talking about how smooth I was on the rocks. I only half jokingly responded that I might not be as smooth the next lap, to which he responded that it was his first 50k and he was sure that he'd be much slower on the second lap. I just laughed.

The awesome aid station at the center of the figure eight was ready when we all came through the first time with food and pitchers of water for easy refills. I was still good with liquid, so again just took a cup of water and kept running. I'd gotten a bit of a gap on Amanda on the descent, but not much. It wouldn't take long for her to reel me back in on the long winding climb up Sundance. I was in a strange place mentally - caught between wanting to run harder and open up a solid lead and realizing that there was still a long way to go. We'd only just covered 10 miles - there was a good 20 miles left to run. My pace was right where I wanted it, so I opted to just maintain and silence the demons entreating me to speed up. As expected, Amanda caught me on the Talon climb. I had started power hiking one of the steeper pitches. Power hiking is a skill I'm still working on, so I figured there was no better time then the present to practice. She asked if I was okay as I stepped to the side to let her around. Yep - just working on my hiking! As it leveled out, I started running again, getting right behind her. We talked for a short bit about the course and the turkeys we'd heard on the Blackmere loop. Then I decided to walk again. Amanda took the opportunity and kept running - pulling away easily. A moment of panic as I watched her run away from me and vanish around the endless corners of North Talon. I decided to eat a rice cake and keep hiking till the summit of North Talon. I wouldn't catch back on if I didn't take care of eating and drinking. As we meandered around South Talon, I kept seeing glimpses of Amanda's green shorts. She wasn't too far ahead - just far enough to be mostly out of sight. More worrisome was the third place women, hovering almost the same distance behind me. Again, silence the mind and the doubts saying that it was my first 50k - Amanda was a prior champion and trained and tapered for this race; I should just settled down and enjoy the run. That thought hovered in my mind for the entire descent down Sundance and back to the start/finish.

The Achilles Pikes Peak Aid station - they were awesome!
As we approached the main aid station for the second time and to start the second loop, Amanda looked over her shoulder. And I was right behind her, having been able to float through the descent. She stopped to fill her handheld and left just as a I grabbed a cup of water. I still had plenty of Skratch mixed in my pack and didn't need a refill. I'd originally planned on getting some treats from my drop bag, but I still had some food tucked in the pockets of my pack - a waffle and some gummie squares. I had a hot spot developing on my right heel, but it was shoe related and changing socks wouldn't have helped. Then Amanda pulled over to the side and started digging through her drop bag. My decision was made. While not the best training for my 50m race in terms of utilizing bags and aid stations, I had enough to keep going. So I did. And I charged, knowing that every second that she was stopped was further up the trail I could get. Perhaps not the fairest of attacks, but one that I hoped would work. I dug deep on the next two climbs up Coyote/Boulder Run and Blackmere. My legs were getting tired and I wasn't as fluid on the descents, but I wanted the time. I had to take the chance that I'd blow sky high on Talon to gain a gap. At the same time, I needed to stay on top of eating and drinking - I couldn't forget about the little things focusing on the big picture.

I didn't see Amanda at all on the climb up Blackmere, but I did see a flock of very annoyed turkeys. Big ones. And they weren't all that happy to be sharing the trail with us runners. I also had company for the entire loop - I think his name was Dave and he was more then happy to just keep chatting. I might not have been the best conversation mate, but it was nice to have someone to keep my mind off the demons and the doubts. I was regretting wearing a bright shirt, knowing that the pink was super visible to everyone behind me. Another cup of water at the aid station and I started nibbling on half my waffle on the descent. Need to keep the stores kinda topped off. As we dropped back down Blackmere, I was feeling the effort up the climb. Quads were getting tired and I wasn't nearly as smooth as a few hours ago.

Another cup of water at the main aid station and we ran past the start/finish for the start of the Sundance/Talon loop. There were runners in the 25k finishing as we ran past and all the spectators cheered us back out into the park. I lost contact with my companion on one of the climbs on Sundance and couldn't make contact again. I could see his red shirt just ahead. I also kept looking over my shoulder, searching for green shorts. I didn't know what the gap was and was starting to get worried. I could hear voices behind me, but couldn't tell if they were runners catching me or 25k racers getting some extra miles. I was running scared when I got to the Talon aid station. Took some water and a chunk of banana and headed up. As anticipated, the Talon climb was rough the second time around. I was mixing running and walking, trying to keep my power hike going as fast as I could. I kept drinking and nibbling - having finished the other half of my waffle, I started in on the gummies. Each time I started walking, I glanced around. Was there anyone around me? I started doubting my fueling and drinking - I wasn't feeling all that good - a little dizzy if I stopped moving. Had I been drinking enough? Small sips regularly, but how much had that added up to? I slowed a little as I approached the summit to get a few big drinks of Skratch, then turned downhill. Even that was starting to hurt a little and I wasn't moving nearly as well. One foot in front of the other, just keep moving.

Somewhere on South Talon my watch ticked over the magic 26.2 mark. Granted, it's trail miles and the GPS isn't as accurate as they claim, but there it was. Uncharted territory. I still had to get down and finish out Sundance. There was no sign of anyone behind me throughout the Talon loops, so the "crowded" trail on the Talon descent with the runners coming up was a bit of a shock. I'd gotten used to the solitude of the prior miles. Just me and my mind and the mental chatter of a long run. I hit the final aid station again - ahh Root Beer! Not coke, but just as good. The volunteers said I was well in front and there were only a few miles left. I asked about Amanda, assuming she was still just a few minutes behind me. You've got at least four minutes on her was the response - but you can't walk the rest of way! as I started walking out of the aid station. I started running again after finishing the chunk of banana I'd taken. The running wouldn't last with one more punchy climb over the ridge. Then mostly downhill to the finish. I just had to get over the ridge. Focus - one step at a time.

Yay! I made it! First ultra in the books!
Photo Tim Bergsten

The Achilles crew started cheering when I rounded the bend and came into view of their aid station. Across the bridge and just a few hundred feet to the finish line. Success - my first ultra and faster then I'd anticipated. I'd slowed considerably in the second lap, but held it together to finish close to five hours.  The Mad Moose crew of Denise and Malichi were ready for me, with Malichi snipping the chip off my shoe. Then time for some food - after the ginger ale I had in my bag to settle my stomach. I wanted to take my shoes off, but didn't have a second pair with me - and didn't want to disturb the hot spot on my right heel. I didn't know if it was a blister or just a raw area and really didn't want to know. Just sitting felt good. Amanda finished a few minutes behind me, and Shannon a bit later.

From exhilarated at finishing to pensive - there's a lot to do for the next 20 miles...
Photo Tim Bergsten

Women's 50k Podium
Me 1st - 5:05:07, Amanda Ewing 2nd - 5:10:12, Shannon Meredith 3rd - 5:28:54

Then the real excitement for the volunteers began - fitting yes, but kinda scary at the same time. Plenty of the snowed out Rattler runners (myself included) had taken Justin, Tim and Michael up on the offer to just roll our entries over to the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race. We didn't anticipate that the real star of the race would be the Rattler... I'm sure he just wanted to lay in the trail and soak up some rays, but those darn runners....

Someone wasn't  happy about his daily routine getting disrupted...
Photo Tim Bergsten

Comments

  1. Great Race Tracy! I was one of the guys tucked in with you and Amanda during the first lap chatting about other races. We were excited to see how your race played out! I was sorry when I had to watch you guys run off into the distance when things started going awry for me. Congrats on the win! - Tim

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