Sunday, April 21, 2013

Niwot's Challenge Report

It was the race designed to get harder and harder the further in you went. The 2013 Niwot's Challenge ended up being a greater success than even I could have hoped for. This morning, through the exhausting fog of directing such a race, I am proud of the performance of all those who came out; and very much enjoying viewing the pictures of what failure looks like.

This Is Niwots
The Niwot's Challenge was designed after two iconic running events in Ultra-running lore. One, obviously being, the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee. The other being the More and More Difficult (MMD) 50K in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Runners would be tasked with negotiating some of the most rugged and taxing terrain in Colorado's Front Range. They search for books along the way to prove their presence at mandatory mountain top locations. They had 10-hours to make it to the 25.5 mile halfway point of the run, and 24-hours to complete the entire course.

The Entrants
At one point we had 15 runners registered to run in the event. Our race day starters totaled 10 hearty souls, willing to see how far they could go. Their names, ages, hometowns.. and the results of this weekends run are listed below. All of this years runners were either experienced ultra-runners, mountaineers, or souls just hanging on for the ride. They all went through the Niwot's application process and were selected to embark on this adventure based on their will, grit, and proven track records of determination.

Why April?
I chose to hold Niwot's in April because it's the most unpredictable month weather-wise in the Front Range. If we had held this race a month ago, runners would have been treated to warm, dry conditions, with no trace of snow anywhere on the course. Instead, after the snowiest April in nearly a decade, runners were forced to endure soaked, muddy, snowy conditions from beginning to end. Snow depths ranged from a few inches to waist deep on the course. Warm daytime temps caused melting on some of the steeper slopes, which as Mr. Ebel discovered in the night, was cause for erosive landslides.

Future Installments
It takes a long time to build tradition and we'll work hard to continue to build ours. The race location and course will change from year to year. The event will meander up and down the Front Range foothills. Some courses will be harder than others, but never very forgiving. Next years event will take place on Saturday, April 26th, 2014.

2013 Results/Report


Runners Name
DNF Location
Jeremy Ebel
28/Boulder, CO
50 (Timed)
JP Bordeleau Jr.
38/Chicago, IL
37 (DQ)
Garrett La Force
24/Littleton, CO
32.5 (DQ)
Jeff La Force
52/Littleton, CO
25.5 (DQ)
Jerry Armstrong
36/Broomfield, CO
25.5 (DQ)
Mark Larson
26/Cheneyville, LA
25.5 (DQ)
Brad Bishop
27/Denver, CO
25.5 (Timed)
Tony Kay
48/Boulder, CO
20.5 (DQ)
Robin Swank
42/Lakewood, CO
Rich Haefele
45/Lakewood, CO

Race Directors Report
It was a great day for a challenge in Colorado's Front Range. The 1st Annual Niwot's Challenge took place in the foothills of Boulder County. Runners would have to navigate Boulder's Hogback, Old Kiln, Sanitas, Red Rocks, Flagstaff and Green Mountains. Travel towards Nederland to summit Twin Sisters, then return and run to south Boulder to take on Scar Top, Jack, Crescent, Coal Creek Peak, Plutonium and Eldorado Mountains. Finally, the runners would take on Shirttail Peak on Boulder's Southern Skyline before heading to the finish on the Mesa Trail. In all the adventure lasts 50 miles with nearly 18,000' of gain and 18,000' of loss (net 118')

Our runners did a great job keeping the course a secret, up to and even during the event itself. It was my goal to design a course that got more and more difficult the further in to the adventure one went. As I was planning, plotting, and book setting.. I was giddy with thoughts of "If they don't quit here, they'll surely quit after this." The further into the race one got, the steeper, the deeper, the more ridiculous it became. At the end of it all, Niwot's proved to be badder than any runner.

It was a chilly morning with temps in the upper 30s in Boulder and lower 30s up high. Despite recent deep snows, runners were able to locate all of the books except those which had been discovered by hikers in the weeks leading up to the event, and removed by them. I had a front row seat while monitoring participants along the course for the entire day.

Jerry Armstrong got out to an early lead and held on to it for much of the day. The first book on Hogback proved to be tricky for Team La Force while they saw some early navigational issues and missed it by a few hundred yards. After Hogback, all of the runners watched the sun rise while climbing up and over Old Kiln and then heading for Sanitas.
Descent of Old Kiln
After the descent of Sanitas, runners humped over Red Rocks. This is where Tony Kay DQ'd himself, by being the only runner unable to find the book located there. I let him continue his run until he was comfortable dropping. I drove to Flagstaff Road then ran over to the summit where I saw Jerry Armstrong digging for the book with a stick. I went over to discover that the Flagstaff book was missing. Jerry took off running, and I ran the course in reverse to inform all of the runners of the situation. Despite the book being missing, each runner stayed true to the test of Niwot's and summited the peak anyway.

Green Mountain was a book I thought would be buried by deep snow. I was surprised to hear that everyone found it. I drove out to the Gross Reservoir parking lot, then ran the course backwards on Flagstaff Road until I found the Mountain Ninja's running together in a group, (Jerry Armstrong, Mark Larson and Jeremy Ebel.) I ran back to the car, aid station, with them where they geared up for the hike up Twin Sisters. As they left the aid station, Team La Force came in with JP Bordeleau. I tended to these folks, then saw them on their way. I ran the course backwards again, down Flagstaff Road, until I found Brad Bishop and Tony Kay coming in together. I ran in with them. At mile 20.5, Tony called it a day and went home with his family who had arrived to cheer him on.

After Brad departed for Twin Sisters, Rich Haefele and Robin Swank sauntered in to the aid at mile 20.5. Robin took a spill on Green Mountian and was moving slowly. Rich has tweaked his ankle back on the days first peak, Hogback. Unsure if they could get to Twin Sisters and back before the 10-hour, halfway, cutoff; they threw in the towel as well.

Team La Force was the first crew to return from Twin Sisters. The Twin Sisters out and back is the first section of off-trail travel of the day. Runners must navigate themselves to the top of the peak to locate a book up there. Team La Force and JP arrived at 8 Hours and 53 Minutes to confess that they were on a peak, but it was definitely the wrong one. All three of them had just DQ'd themselves. However, JP and Garrett wanted to continue on and see the second half of the course, so I allowed them to continue anyway. Jeff called it a day.

The next to arrive was Jerry Armstrong and Mark Larson. Both of these men went past the proper turn off for Twin Sisters, and ran an interesting "lost" route to the west of where they needed to be. They returned to the 25.5 mark having actually run over 30 miles. They were now DQ'd as well, and both had had enough anyway. They threw in the towel with a 25.5 mile time of 9 Hours and 8 Minutes.

Jeremy Ebel was running with Jerry and Mark before peeling off of the group to locate Twin Sisters himself. He met up with Brad Bishop on the proper summit to report that either the book there was missing, or deep snows had buried it. Jeremy raced back down to make it to the halfway mark before the 3:00 P.M. (10-hour) cutoff. He came in at 9 Hours and 23 Minutes. He packed up and headed out for the second half, giving chase to JP and Garrett.
Early View of the 2nd Half Ridge line
Brad Bishop was trying to get back before the 3pm cutoff as well, and missed it by 3 minutes. Unsure of his abilities to navigate the treacherous second half alone, in the dark, he was done anyway. Together, Brad and I drove on a portion of the second half to see Jeremy gaining on JP and Garrett. The Scar Top bushwhack ended up being Nasty. JP and Garrett took about an hour and a half to travel the 0.9 miles from the road to the top. They endured chest deep snow, steep terrain, and a lot of over growth. A true bushwhack which they did most of on their hands and knees.

Jeremy Ebel missed his turn onto Chute Rd. and instead ran clear down to Coal Creek Canyon. From there, he had to backtrack and unnecessarily climb a few extra thousand feet before finally bushwhacking up Scar Top. Once on the summit, he met with JP and Garrett. Jeremy returned to the mile 32 aid station where he and JP decided to team-up and continue into the night. Garrett called it a day at 13 Hours and 10 Minutes.

At 32 Miles, only Jeremy Ebel remained in contention for an official finish of the event. With JP Bordeleau, the two men navigated through the darkness, bushwhacking across a treacherous ridge line on Boulder Counties southern Front Range peaks. Traveling at an average of 1 mph or less, their headlamps were visible from North Golden, CO. I spotted the two on Crescent Peak, which begins one of the more harrowing sections of the entire course. They scramble up and over rocks, hands and knees, frozen rocky ledges, and eventually made it to Coal Creek Peak. While on the summit, JP fell, and lost his maps.

I hiked in on the northern side of Coal Creek peak and met the two men on the old Plainview Road. It had taken them nearly 5 hours to travel the previous 5 miles. With both men starting to travel at different speeds and Jeremy wanting to push towards a finish, JP bowed out of the race based on his losing his maps. 37 Miles in 18 Hours and 30 minutes.
Ebel gearing up
Jeremy pushed on and bushwhacked to the top of Plutonium Peak, where he struggled to obtain the summit as the summit high point was covered in snow and ice. From here, he summited Eldorado Mountain before bushwhacking off of the top down into Eldorado Canyon. I saw him at Eldorado Springs at 2:30am some 21 Hours and 18 minutes in to his adventure, having gone 43 Miles. 

Jeremy's last summit was Shirttail peak. His chosen approach off of the Old Mesa Trail was a mess. He had to scramble and lift himself up over slick frigid ledges. The melting snow caused soft, muddy conditions on the final incline. His efforts to grasp large boulders for leverage was futile, as 200 ton boulders easily came lose and careened down the mountainside. Still, Jeremy reached the precipitous summit, after a 1,600 foot climb in just one mile, before descending, then running to Chautauqua for the finish. He arrived, 1 hour and 2 minutes after the races official 24 hour time limit. 25 Hours and 2 Minutes.. a Timed-Out DNF.

I was nervous for hours that someone would actually finish this thing, Niwot's proved to be the curse of all runners this weekend. The score now stands, Niwot's 10 - Runners 0. Until Next Year.

Thanks to this years runners, over $200 was donated by them to my fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport via the Vermont 100. Their donations have all been directly donated to VASS.