Collegiate Peaks Trail 25 Mile, Buena Vista, CO

Elevation Gain: 4700'; High Point: 9390'

May 2, 2009 - When I toed the line for the race early on Saturday I fully intended to complete the 50-mile race in Buena Vista that I had registered for. Having the option to stop after 25 miles with a completion never crossed my mind, but was probably a saving grace after all is said and done.

Annie and I had taken four days to travel to Colorado for the first of the two races I would run on our three-week vacation. I have increasingly found that driving so much really puts a strain on my legs and back from so much sitting. So as we arose at 5 a.m. to head to the start of the race I was doing so with a persistent knot in my right hamstring, one that refused to break up despite repeated kneading. Nonetheless, I was feeling rested overall and ready to go.

The weather had been overcast with chilly rain or snow for several days so I was pleased that at least it wasn't raining for the start, even though the temperature was 41 degrees. At the last moment I donned a windbreaker in the event that rain would begin during the day.

The course at the start is level and heads north along the Arkansas River for a couple miles on pavement before crossing the river and heading up into the hills. Pace was comfortable as the field sorted itself out, but I could feel my leg hurting immediately after three days of not running and lots of sitting. Though the starting altitude is about 8000 feet there seemed to be plenty of air without any sign of labored breathing. Having lived at altitude for so many years, I have generally not been affected by oxygen deprivation below 11000 feet, so I wasn't worried for this race.

The course would follow sandy jeep trails nearly the entire distance, with negligible rocks and roots to negotiate. It seemed smooth sailing with gradual inclines mostly but I just couldn't find my groove. Breathing was good but it was a labor to lift my legs after so much time in the car.

I went through the first aid station at about mile six in one hour and the second aid station at about mile 12 in two hours, for a six-mile-per-hour pace uphill, a much quicker tempo than I would normally experience in an ultra event. There were moments going downhill where I extended a bit to try to kick into gear, but to no avail. It seemed like a casual jog without leg power.

Elevation Profile

The cramp in my right hamstring was joined by one in my right quad, probably again from working the accelerator in the car for days, only to be further aggrevated with a mild condition of hypothermia from the cold temperatures and breezes. I went up over the high point of the event without the need for walking and seemed to hammer along with the same people mile after mile. A few exchanges with others let me know that they were cold as well and fatigued like myself. No one seemed to be having a great day.

A couple guys running the fifty-miler like myself intimated that they were already considering stopping at the turn-around back at the start, calling it a day with a 25-mile completion. This became an option I now started thinking about, given the way I was feeling.

After three hours and about 17 miles I was starting to warm a little as temperatures started rising mildly by 9:30. My tempo was slowing, however, as my perennially sore left heel became increasingly aggrevated by running through deeper sand as we crossed washes regularly. The pain started creeping up the inside of my left leg, so I backed it down a notch to accommodate.

The last eight miles are largely downhill with views of the Collegiate Range of mountains to the west of Buena Vista, most notably Mount Princeton as would have looked like this from the trail had the weather been clear.

View of Collegiate Range

As it was, the view was partly occluded by clouds, but nonetheless frequently took my eyes from the trail. Somewhere after the top I decided to conclude my effort with a 25-mile finish. While I was well ahead of any cut-offs, it was just not a great effort for me... more like a 25-mile jog in the mountains than a race.

I love the passion in racing, but my enthusiasm is diminished when I am kept from charging the trails for a good showing. So, I kicked back another gear, engaged in more social exchanges, and just enjoyed the ride down the hill as I floated through ponderosa forests, with leafless aspens in patches here and there, and finally pinyon pines and sage as we dropped quickly back to the river. For about three miles we followed a former narrow gauge rail path down the mountain, which was enjoyable thinking about how things must have been in the former glory days of gold mining in these hills.

Annie was waiting for me at the start line with replacement supplies for the second half of the 50-miler. I have had many better days, but I enjoyed the experience and will rest for the next event. I was surprised that I was sucking air a few times during the second half of my run. I didn't expect to be affected by only 9400 feet of elevation. And it was also surprising that both cramps in my right leg worked themselves out by four hours into the event. I never experienced anything like that before. My shoulders were extremely painful from holding the steering wheel of the car for days, and my left heel was very tender. If I had continued with my original plan I believe I could have finished the 50-miler in under 12 hours, but the misery and damage would not have been worth it.

During the event and subsequently while reading posts on the ultra list online the general consensus seemed to be that this was a tough course. Those coming up from Denver or already living in the mountains seemed to genuinely suffer from the difficulty. Honestly, this course was easy from my perspective, despite my difficulties. At worst it was moderately challenging... run almostly completely on hard-packed sandy jeep trails up and down moderate grades, without the challenge of roots and rocks. I don't run six miles per hour uphill on a bad day at other challenging trail races. Just thought I'd add that observation for the record.

On the day after, I am still sore, especially my butt, but I am considering jogging from our condo in Steamboat Springs maybe tomorrow, but probably not until after I get a serious soaking in the hot springs a time or two. With another 50-miler scheduled in two weeks in Los Alamos and most of a thousand miles of driving between now and then, I have some things to think about!!!


finishing 25 Mile event