Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Frost Giant Races: Double Groundhog Day

One of the local, annual running events is the Frost Giant in Estes Park, the last Sunday in January. It features 5K & 10K races, with a late morning start, and staggered an hour apart so it is possible to run both races. The race is guaranteed to start regardless of the weather.

Estes Park is about 40 miles from Fort Collins, you have to drive to Loveland, then take highway 34 west, up Big Thompson Canyon, noted for steep rock walls and bighorn sheep sightings. It's not a bad drive, except on summer weekends when everyone on the planet wants to go to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park is at 7500 feet elevation, so if you live in the flatlands like we do, or worse, come up from sea level, it adds the challenge of breathing with less oxygen. Top that off with steep hills and a challenging, partially cross-country race course, and you get a workout.

I used to run this race most years, but the past several years I haven't, due to my ankle. Dennis used to hold the course record here, I'm not sure if he still does, but we used to both enjoy coming to this race. He has the upper respiratory crud right now, so he stayed home, plus he is barely running enough to call it running, he's still fighting plantar fascitis following his foot fracture last summer.

This year the courses were mostly dry, both races are on pavement for the first and final miles, with a steep uphill for the first mile and a steep downhill for the last. The second mile in the 5K and the middle 4 miles of the 10K are through grassy, hilly, uneven, bumpy, muddy, snowy terrain that challenges anyone with the best fitness and strongest ankles. The bonuses of jumping over prairie dog holes and cowpies are included at no extra charge...

I signed up for both races, of course, I figured I'd do 15 miles today to round out a 90 mile week, actually that's 90 miles in 5 days. I didn't get a real tempo run in this week so I thought these two races, with their effort, would make up for that workout.

I was not disappointed.

When I arrived in Estes Park, it was 34 degrees, with a strong wind, a few snowflakes were flying around but it was mostly sunny. I signed up for both races, got my race bibs and tshirt, and went out to run the 5K course as a warmup. I wore my lightweight Brooks Adrenalines thinking that course was all road. They have changed the courses since I last ran it.

Going up the first steep hill from Town Hall, you see the rock formations on Lumpy Ridge, with the Twin Owls. You also see the Stanley Hotel, where the movie The Shining was filmed. The 5K now goes off the road and up a steep little dirt road, then turns and heads down through a lumpy, bumpy grassy meadow until it rejoins the paved road for the last mile.

I saw several runners from the Fort Collins Trail Runners and the Fort Collins Running Club, I talked to several of them before the race. There were a lot of fast trail runners there from Fort Collins. This was their kind of terrain.

I was a little nervous about my ankle in the Adrenalines, but it was only a mile of cross country in the 5K and it really wasn't too bad, so I decided to stay in those for the 5K. I decided I would change back into my tanks, the Addictions, for the 10K, since it would be 4 miles on unknown terrain.

It turned out to be a good call. I ran the 5K pretty well, even though my legs burned going out in the first mile. I'm a terrible cross country runner, so I got passed by a gazillion people in the second mile, and then I passed them all again on the way back down in the last mile. The 5K was done in 26:31, and that was a lot harder than any tempo run effort. The freezing headwind in the second mile was an added bonus.

I had about a half hour to get ready for the 10K, so I changed my shoes and then changed into a dry bra and shirt, just for comfort. The wind was biting cold, but only when it was in your face. Right before the start of the 10K, I felt a little lightheaded and hungry. I didn't have enough time to run back to my car and grab a fig bar, I thought, I'll be okay, it's just an hour run at the most.

As we lined up for the 10K, someone said we are crazy for going out and doing it again, but doubling it. I thought, it's like Double Groundhog Day, if you screw it up the first time, you're doomed to repeat it, but you have to double it.

The start of the 10K was on a different road, even steeper than the 5K start. For a fleeting moment as we ran by the parked cars, I thought of stopping and grabbing that fig bar. But I didn't.

I thought I was going to die in that first mile of the 10K. I felt like I was crawling uphill. Everyone else around me was, too, though. Once we leveled out on the main road I felt better. When we hit the meadow, I started to worry about my ankle. It felt fine. I kept pushing as hard as I could, without feeling like I would twist something. The 4 mile meadow section was the longest 4 mile stretch I can ever remember, in any race. I thought it would never end.

Up the hill in one direction, then down the hill, up another hill in the shade on pine needles and snow, then down the hill into the freezing headwind on lumpy grass and cowpies. Up the hill on bumpy grass and prairie dog holes, then down the hill into the freezing wind again through mud and sudden twisting curves in the course. It was long slow torture. I haven't run on a cross country course in years, I haven't even run trails much at all since I screwed up my ankle 4 years ago.

So...this was a challenge. Fortunately my ankle tolerated it well and I made it through the slowest, toughest run I've done in years. When we finally got to mile 5 and we turned away from the icy headwind and hit the pavement again, I blasted down the hill, again passing everyone who passed me in the meadow. I finished the 10K in 58:22. Still a much harder effort than any tempo run.

After the race I was talking with a group of runners from the Fort Collins Trail Runners, and one of them had baked cookies and she offered me one. It saved my life, plus it was totally delicious, peanut butter oatmeal M & M or something like that, so good. I didn't catch that runner's name but I thank her.

As you look toward the right in this picture, you can see the lower part of the meadow we ran through in the 10K. The course made several convoluted turns that resulted in running cross-country, up and down these steep hills.

As it turned out I placed first in the 40-49 age group in the 5K, and second in that age group for the 10K. Age group placings used to not mean much to me, except for now, what they mean is when I'm at the upper end of my age group and winning, I'm faster than almost everyone within 10 years of my age in that race. Except I did get sharpei'd in a big way though, by one super fast woman in her 50s, in the 5K. But I still have two years of Frost Giants to catch up!

I finished up my cooldown miles, and drove down the canyon back home. Survived another 90 mile week, next week I will take it easy. Time for soup, shower, sleep, Buffaloes, and maybe a beer.


HappyTrails said...

Love, love, love Estes Park! The bottom pic looks like the road that goes up to the Gem Lake trailhead???
So glad to hear how speedy you are - you will have to do a little extra work to NOT get sharpei'd next time, though. You were just a little off your game. :-) I think it is ALWAYS windy in Estes Park!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Yes Kathleen that is the MacGregor Ranch Road which goes up by Devil's Gulch, and leads to Gem Lake and Lumpy Ridge trailheads. Lots of great trail running up there.

I have a long way to go not to get sharpei'd next time, this woman beat me by 4 or 5 minutes. In a 5K. That's SUPAFAST! The only hope I have is that she slows down before I do!

mike_hinterberg said...

Good to see you out there, and twice in 3 days! Yeah that XC and wind was pretty tough, and made for a good tempo workout.

Thanks also for inspiring ME at the track, I noticed my laps got a tick faster for a few reps since someone else was around and it made me feel too accountable to bail!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Good job to you, Mike! And yes, it does help to have someone else at the track, it does mak you run faster and holds you accountable. Hope to run into you more often this year...

giraffy said...

I know I say this all the time, but how people run in Colorado is befuddling to me. Did you know you have no oxygen!?

Cognrats on TWO great races!!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Who needs oxygen when you have beer!

Thanks, Heather! You'll need to come here and run a race so you can experience this...