It was 5:55 on the morning of April 2 and myself, along with about 12 other Special Idiots, were at the Mt. Sanitas trail head ready for a day full of fun! On this annual birthday run, the point(and goal) is to run laps around the Mt. Sanitas Loop until you reach your age in miles. This sounds fun and intriguing, right? We Idiots are known for our desire to suffer in rugged and demanding landscapes and this would be no exception. This is a 3.3ish mile loop with 1,255 feet of elevation gain per lap. So, turning 32 this year, my ultimate goal was 10 laps, but by my training schedule, I’d have been happy with 8 – marathon distance. So the clock struck 6:00 am and we were off, heading up the very steep slope in the pre dawn glow.
That first lap was the roughest on me. My body was stiff and my lungs didn’t seem to want to pull in enough oxygen. But we all pulled it off and made our goal of getting to the summit by sunrise – took about 30 minutes. We spent a few minutes taking pictures of the sun peaking over the horizon, and then began the steep and technical descent toward the valley floor. Once you get near the bottom of the valley, you have a choice. You can either take the dirt road back to the trail head, or take the Dakota Ridge Trail, which ads two tenths of a mile to the loop (from 3.15 to 3.35). This first lap I just ran the road down for a lap time of 52 minutes. Whew! One down, and I was warmed up and feeling much better!
The next few laps were uneventful. However, even though I had just climbed the slope an hour before, the steepness of the trail was surprising on every lap! I did switch directions on one or two laps, just for fun, but going the opposite way was only marginally better. Not quite as steep, but the climb is longer.
The fifth lap is when I hit my wall. By this point I had run 14 miles and climbed over 5,000 feet. About halfway up the trail my uphill gears broke. I managed to keep every ascent to 30 minutes (and every lap to under an hour), but this climb took me 43 minutes to reach the summit. I knew I was hurting and the time proved it. So I gingerly made my way down the back side of the mountain, took the Dakota Ridge trail to the trail head and knew that 30+ miles may be out of reach for me. My longest run so far this year has been 20 miles, so I knew it would be a stretch anyway, but I underestimated the severity of the elevation gain on this trail, so had two things working against me.
I reluctantly went back out for the 6th lap, hoping I could get through it. I went counter-clockwise this time knowing the climb would be longer, but hoping the slightly more forgiving grade would help out my ailing quads. It was a kiss better for a while, but by the top I was spent. My system was stressed enough that I was light headed, I couldn’t keep warm, and was more stumbling than hiking or running. I knew this was my last summit for the day.
On the way down I was able to run, and caught up to Kari, Gerber, and Charles, who all blasted by me on the previous climb. This lifted my spirits a little bit and I decided to try for a bit more mileage. Going counter clockwise again, I would just run up the dirt road and take the dakota ridge trail back down. It would be a little over two miles per lap and not nearly the elevation gain, maybe 300 feet total, maybe. But one very slow lap and I knew I was done. So I threw in the towel, went and sat in my car (waiting for Alan to finish his run – up to 6 hours later, depending), and ate a delicious pb&j, and slammed my recovery drink. I just relaxed for about an hour or so, dozed a bit and started thinking about the day. With my low ball goal of 26 miles not even met, I was a bit disappointed. As it stood, I had done about 22 miles and 7,750 feet of gain. I figured I had at least another lap in me. After all, this is where you have the opportunity for getting stronger. Push hard when you’re tired and ready to quit. So I called Alan and he told me they had just gotten back to the trail head. I grabbed my water bottle, ran for the trail head, and joined them for one more lap!
I don’t know if it was the relaxing, or the additional fuel I put in my body, but that 7th, and final, lap was when I felt the strongest. It was a very weird feeling. My legs hurt so bad, but that was masked by the exhilaration I had from all the power they were putting out, so I didn’t care that they hurt! I was having fun again! I have heard those stories from Hard Rock, and other tough races, of people coming to an aid station completely beat, only to lie down for a couple of hours, getting a nap, then heading back out feeling stronger than ever before and finishing the race in style. Maybe there is something to it. Not to make it a habit or anything, but it was interesting for sure.
That 7th lap was to be the last one. So I ended with 25 miles and right at or just above 9,000 feet of gain in about 8:30. I’ll take it! It was so nice to have clear and snow free trails, which is hard to come by for 7+ months. Living in Estes is great, but for most of the year, you can’t trail run. The trails are covered in snow. If you want to put on gobs of gear, snowshoes (or skis), and wallow through snow, you can get a few thousand feet of gain in, but it will take you all day. So my muscles were a bit shocked to be able to get three times the workout in the same amount of time. And is was definitely a wake up call that I need to get more solid hill training in before the racing season amps up.
This turned out to be a great InSanitas event! Running in circles, up a hill, with good friends is always a treat. One of the best things about the day, my hamstrings felt absolutely perfect all day long. And I mean perfect! No tightness, no soreness, no pain, no nothing! I would even go as far as to say they loosened up as the day went on, which is definitely a first!
With training right on schedule, and my first race of the year on May 1st (Greenland 50k), I’m getting excited about this spring and summers adventures! There should be some good ones…
Thanks, all you Idiots, for another memorable day in the hills!
A few pictures here.