Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coal to Canyon 50K

With the Leadville 100 just under 2 months away, it's time to kick the training into a higher gear. After a stellar month of training weeks with increasing mileage, intensity and number of days run; everything has been going according to plan. Part of that plan was to run a 50K in the final weeks of June to continue to prepare for the big race. Over the course of June, I bought a map of my area trails and started to run from my apartment in Louisville out to Eldorado Mountain in segments. Breaking each section of trail up into parts and then running them in both directions. My plan for this weekends 50K was to tie all sections together and run an our and back from the old coal fields of Louisville to the grandeur of Eldorado Canyon.

I posted to the local trail runners e-mail list and was happy that someone nibbled on my invite for a long run this weekend. It was a woman named Cheryl. Cheryl ran her first 50k at the North Fork races, she's preparing for her first 50 miler and also the Leadville 100. She's got a wonderful progression going on, not unlike the progression hundreds of other ultra-runners have used on her way to the 100 mile finish. She showed up at my door at 5am and we immediately took off for the trail.

It's so nice to walk out my front door and hop right onto a trail. As we started to head out for Eldorado, the sun was still rising and had yet to crest above the horizon. Just light enough to not need headlamps, we carried on casually. Cheryl and I run about the same pace so it was easy to be comfortable when turning the legs over. Though, we quickly discovered on the hills that my hill climbing stride is still a bit much for those "shorter folks" looking to keep up with me. ;) It was nice to meet someone new who was comfortable enough, not only to simply run together, but to get to know each other more personally. Cheryl has this wonderful, motherly, finesse to her that well... only a mother would have. So talking with her came easy and so did the miles we clicked off together.

As we crossed the dirt road in Superior and onto the Singletree trail, we were treated with a delightful sunrise. The sun was a monster red ball having just risen above the horizon and desperately trying to break free of the morning clouds. As we turned the corner, we watched silently as the Flat Irons turned red from the alpin-glow and the Rocky Mountain Snows in the distance did the same. Breathtaking. As the sun continued to rise and heat the land, the cool valley air turned to clouds as it began to rise and a magnificent morning overcast rose up along the sides of the mountains. I wished I was on top of Bear Peak looking down on the undercast that was. Sunrise in Boulder County had turned out to be this amazing dance of weather phenomenon that one simply could not look away from.
From the Singletree horse and cattle pasture we crossed the next road onto the Marshall Mesa. Here is the home to a few thousand prairie dogs which had yet to wake up in the cool morning air. This was the quietest run I've had across this mesa, without the loud squeaks of the prairie dogs. Along the top of the Mesa is Community Ditch, and after crossing CO-93, we were running along the waters of Community Ditch. It doesn't matter which way you run, it always appears like this stream is flowing uphill. Trippy.
We reached Dowdy Draw and began climbing uphill in earnest despite most of our run having been uphill all ready. Along the first climb I looked down and say the lower section of an elks leg. Hoof and all, I wondered where the hell the rest of him was. As we wound our way around to the top of this mesa, I looked to my left and saw two elk, lying low in the high prairie grasses. I wondered if they were lying or injured, or hiding. Whatever it was, they were silent and I felt like I was looking a a painting. Yet as I turned my head back right, under the new days hot sun, we saw Eldorado Mountain right in front of us, We ran into the trees, finally, and started to wind our ways around the side of the mountain.
Can you spot the elk?
The Fowler Trail is one of the neatest I've ever been on. An old railroad bed, this trail goes along the side of Eldorado Mountain, at times cut right through the stone as it towers above. When you come around the corner an into Eldorado Canyon/Eldorado Springs itself, you can look down on the tiny tiny town below, and up and the towering spires of rock that many a rock climber frequents. It's really humbling to look around in this canyon, helping you almost forcing you to realize how insignificant you are in this huge world. But enough of that as we made it to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail and began our hike uphill.
We talked and joked as we continued to climb up the steepest section of our. We started at around 5200' today and in a matter of a mile we'd top out at about 7200'. We'd run almost entirely uphill to this spot. Along the trail is a small side path that we took to the top of a tiny ridge. The views are stunning and then, I saw a rock outcropping. I hadn't been there yet so, we walked on over and as I climbed up to the top of the rock, I realized by looking below that this was not the place to mess up. It was a harrowing drop to the valley below, certainly at least 100 feet unimpeded by even a tree. Yet in the distance we saw, right before us in natures theatre, The Continental Divide. We sat in silence, our mouths agape, followed by, "WOW!"
After our brief stop we made our way to the highest this trail would allow us. And that is the train tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. We took a few photos of the tunnels up here, the ones the train uses to get through and around the mountain. Cheryl's husband is a conductor so we knew he'd get a kick out of these pics. And then, we turned around and began our long winding descent all the way back to Louisville.
Along the way, we cross the stream on a bridge down around Dowdy Draw. I told Cherly we had to run through the water. Initially she wasn't too keen on the idea but I quickly persuaded her to make the run across. "If you don't do it in the game, don't do it in practice." And vice versa, there are quite a few chilly crossings at Leadville. We need to get used to running with wet feet. As Cheryl's feet touched the water I heard her yelp from the cold. As I turned back, she was smiling from ear to ear and even splashing a bit. With that, we ran home with wet sloshing shoes and huge smiles.
Also found this dung beetle pushing a turd. :)
The 50K run ended up taking us 6:35. Good enough for a 13:11/min mi. pace. I'm extremely happy with how well we did and how comfortable I felt. I still have much work to do to prepare for the beast that is Leadville. I'm determined to cross that finish line this year and gaining redemption. Left Right Repeat.. from here, until then.

SJ