Saturday, March 17, 2012
Fat Ass Fun Run
High Line Canal Trail
I planned a series of Fat Ass events through the winter season here in the Front Range of Colorado. The High Line Canal 100K, was my third and final planned event. The plan was to run the length of the High Line Canal from Chatfield State Park, South and West of Denver, to it's northeastern terminus in Aurora, CO. The High Line Canal Trail is the longest recreational trail in America. It's over 70 miles in length, but with the southern most 8 miles closed off, it stretches exactly 100k from end to end. Perfect.
Who is this kid?
I arrived at the trailhead just after 5:00am for the start of this epic run. In the dirt parking lot are quite a few folks. Dennis Durst showed up to run with me again, the ONLY person to have participated in all of my fat asses this winter season. Then there was AJ and Val and one other young man who I'll refer to as Zippy. A young man, all of 18 years old with only one 50K under his belt. In the weeks leading up to this run, he questioned if I was "serious about using gas stations and convenience stores for aid." Of course I was. His plan was to run the entire 100K at 8:50 pace. He showed up with a make-shift crew in a Ford Explorer and started running with his garmin watch on, and nothing in his hand but a water bottle. This would't be so bad except his crew had no clue where to meet him next and he wasn't wearing a head lamp.
We all started pretty casually, except for zippy whom after I told him the trail record time, looked at his watch and took off like it was a 5k. I hung back with Val and AJ but discovered that they were at a quicker pace then I would have liked. I hung back near Dennis, and eventually found myself in the middle of the gang. We ran through the dark and wound our way through a series of closed cattle gates. As the sun began to rise to the east, the cold air begin squeezed out during the rising sun caused for some early windy conditions on the trail. It was rather enjoyable hearing the wind brush up against the leafless trees, listening to sticks and branches clack together, the howls of coyotes in the distance; running past various pastures with the horses out to graze. And then.. the canal. Which at this point in our run is as dry as the Sahara.
Which way do we go George?
In the days leading into the run, I sent out an e-mail about there being a detour to the trail at around mile 8. As we began to approach this section, young Zippy was seen on the trail running in my direction. "you're going the wrong way!" I said. "There's like 5 different directions to go up here, I don't know which way to go!" he exclaimed as he ran by me in the other direction. Seconds later he ran past me again heading in the right direction. Then he turned around and ran past me going the other way again.. circles.. ya know? I asked if he had got the e-mail I sent about the detour, "My phone has been dead for days." I then said, "Well if you'll stop running circles around me, I can get my bearings and tell you the way to go." His reply, "I can't stop, I'm tracking myself." Now I'm incredibly annoyed and even a little offended.
I managed to get him to slow down enough for me to tell him to run to the end of the section we were on, take a right at the gate and head out onto the road, then a left on Santa Fe, run a mile, go under the power lines and take your next left onto the trail again. "So.. right, right left, right?!" "NO! RIGHT! LEFT! LEFT!" After he started to speed off, I felt like I was getting my bearings and felt like I was sending him the wrong way. I stopped him - re-thought a minute, heard him swear at me.. and I yelled, "Whatever, just go!"
As I approached the road I started to follow the same directions I gave him. About a mile in and at the top of a very cold and windy hill, I watched him disappear into the distance as he headed towards the mountains. It was then that I realized that I had sent him the wrong way after all. There was no getting ahold of him now. So I turned around, and got myself back on track. Along the way, I e-mailed one of his crew members informing her that he was now lost, and in need of a search party.
At this point, I was a mess. Now 10 miles into this run and I'm angry, frustrated, annoyed, sad and looking for answers from myself. I knew I needed to let it go. It's a fat ass. Ultimately this young man is responsible for himself.. and he's terrible at it. Down the road I saw Dennis with his map out. IMAGINE THAT! Someone with a map! I called for him to come to the road and I got him on track as well, he was having a hard time negotiating the detour but doing a good job rationalizing it out. We both took a left onto Santa Fe, and started running again. At the end of the off ramp we were running down, I met up with Sean Westine and his S.O. Laura.
Out of the woods and into the hoods
Now I had company and they were willing to run my annoyingly slow pace. They ran some miles to catch up with me and now were just running along side. Sean and Laura are two of the most positive people I've ever met and two of the friendliest folks I've met since moving to the area. Their company was greatly appreciated and dare I say, inspirational. After running for the first two hours through prairie and pasture, we now crossed busy roads and entered suburbia. From here the views were ever changing. From Middle class neighborhoods to apartment buildings. From town homes to condos. It never stopped changing and it was intriguing to see how the neighborhood changed in a matter of a half mile.
At one point we ran along side an older gentleman who was easily in his 70s. He talked about the days in which he used to run the Pike's Peak Ascent (good on him!) and he even knew what ultra-running and Leadville was. He had a friendly disposition, and a steady clip. After a short conversation with him, we leave him behind and Sean and Laura click another two miles off with me. All told, they've run about 14 miles today and have escorted me to mile 18 of the canal.
Now I was alone and after my two friends bailed, I crumbled hard. Running 21 miles without aid is never easy to do. I needed a refill and was praying to make it to the first gas station area pretty quickly. I received a phone call from Zippy's crew that they had found him. He had to borrow a cell phone from a stranger to call his crew for help. Apparently not only was he running without a headlamp in this early dark hours, but with no phone, no credit card, no nothing. There's more to this story but...I'd heard enough.
I started to shuffle through Littleton and notice that traffic on the trail in certain neighborhoods was increasing. People walking, running, biking, horseback riding.. you name it. If it's legal on the trail, they're out doing it. It's a gorgeous morning as temps rise into the 60's early. After running through busy sections, I run through lonely sections around a bad part of town. This is the theme for the day it seems. Nice home, then the dumps. I'm intrigued. Soon, I reach a road crossing, mile 20, and head down to a nearby gas station for more gatorade and a bag of chips. I'm in contact via text with my next runner, Kyle, who had come out to keep me company next. I'm excited.
Pleasure to meet you!
I head back out onto the canal path and walk slowly North East while munching on a back of Lays Potato chips and guzzling a gatorade. I'm so incredibly ecstatic at this point to get some food and drink in me. 21 miles is entirely too long to travel without aid and I guess, in my sleepy stupor this morning, I didn't prepare by packing enough food in my bag to take with me. So at mile 22, while staring at a McDonalds across the street, I waited for the crossing light to tell me it was ok to go. I crossed the road and saw up ahead two young men, Kyle and Joshua. Kyle was wearing a pair of Huracha sandals akin to those worn by the Tarahumara Indians. His are home made. These two guys are smiling right away and I knew they'd be good company.
The very first thing these poor guys had to endure with me.. was me stopping to reapply BodyGlide to my various parts. The worst part was when my body glide got lost in my back side.. up.. it came apart during application and I needed to fish a brick of lube out. I'll stop there. I thought it was funny but I was worried that these poor guys would have had enough all ready while looking at me with twisted expressions. Regardless, they stayed on and we ran together through countless neighborhoods. As we entered Englewood, their friend Drew showed up pushing a baby jogger with his son in it, and his wife. Drew came in 33rd place at last years Leadville 100. Complete with thick british accent, this dude is the real deal. He's humble, real, friendly and willing to run my pace.
This great group kept me company for quite a few miles. Drew and his wife for about 4 or 5 miles total.. or maybe it was 8. I can't recall because I remember being out of water, in and out of the weeds and dying to get to my next aid stop.. a local golf course. This was yet another long stretch without aid.. I believe it was 14-16 miles without a stop. I was struggling, shuffling along, winding my way around this god forsaken path. Getting tired of seeing the same damn thing, using the same tired and tightening muscles. Thankful for the company as it's currently the only thing willing me to continue. I also knew Dennis was behind me and he had a goal of 52 miles. I had to push on.
Drew and his family left us and we said a friendly goodbye around mile 36. Kyle and Joshua stuck with me as we sauntered on. Once again we entered the concrete jungle, winding our way around a large church, crossed a street and there we were.. the golf course. Signs try to aver Canal travelers to the opposite side of the street from the golf course, we didn't care. I B-lined it for this castle looking club house that appeared to be preparing for a wedding. We walked inside. Kyle and Joshua hunt down a bathroom first thing, and I.. I hunt down the restaurant or bar.
I walk into the basement and find the bar. I step up to the bar top and ask the woman behind the counter if she has any gatorade. I buy two bottles and fill up my hand held, chug the rest. I order a hot dog. It comes with a opiate seeded bun, and it's spicy. Not good. Either way, the woman asks me where I'm running to and from. I tell her I started in Waterton and am on my way to Aurora. She places her hands on the counter, leans forward and says, "Now why the f*^& are ya doing that for?" I told her I could be doing this or getting drunk and angry on a golf course. I liked my personal option better. As we walked back outside, I held the door open for the bride and groom. Funny.
Back on the canal we work our way together through another neighborhood. At the other end of this section is a very large park. People are out enjoying the warmth and Kyle and Joshua let me know that they are parked here. Kyle reaches for his car keys and suddenly he realizes that.. he's left them in Joshua's car, way back where they started. I'm so tired but I can't help but laugh. They leave me early, mile 41.. so they could figure out how they were going to get home. I was so incredibly appreciative of these guys and their company and their positivity. As new ultra-runners, I'm not sure they can fathom just how helpful their time with me truly was.. and someday, I know they will.
Losing Steam and grasping the towel.
As I am now alone, I continue to push around the park. Very slowly. I run in this huge 2 mile circle that circumnavigates the park. Then head off down into another neighborhood. I'm truly losing steam now. Everything is meshing together and I feel like i'm losing my mind just looking at this same, flat, un-interesting path. This truly is hardcore mental training. I begin to notice that there are bars on the windows and sliding glass doors of the local houses. Businesses have bars on the windows and are littered with graffiti. I arrive at Quebec street where I witness a drug deal some 30 feet in front of me and closing.
I cross the street and head into a gas station. I buy more gatorade, water and a popsicle. As Is it on the curb and watch the humanity around me. I begin to realize that I could be the victim of a crime if I hang out any longer. This place is sketchy, and in my current condition, I am defenseless. So I get right up and push on out of here hoping no one follows me. Not but a quarter mile away, it's one of those "other side of the tracks" moments in life where I realize the next neighborhood is clean and very much suburbia.
Though.. I'm tired still, bored, lonely.. and ready to be done. In my mind, I've all ready admitted that 50 miles is plenty far. So, I call for a ride home and tell them to meet me in an hour. For the next hour I push along past my 3rd or 4th golf course of the day, view a gorgeous waterfall, maneuver a detour due to road work and begin to have to deal with cyclists who are the leads bit interested in sharing the trail. As I reach mile 47.. 50 for my day.. I see my car ahead. I hop in, and head home. I call Dennis to find out where he is.. he's hurting just as much as I.. and calls it quits at the same exact location. Cheers to him.
I'd like to take this canal path on again some day. But I know it'll always be a winter run. I can't see myself out there in the dead middle of summer. I'll plan my aid a lot better as well.. dropping off hidden aid stations the night before the run. This is necessary as gas stations and convenience stores aren't plentiful enough and generally unreliable and expensive. I did have a great time though, made some new friends, learned much of new friends, and got in a decent 50 miles of mentality.