Monday, July 15, 2013

RR: North Fork 50K

June 29, 2013
North Fork 50K
Pine, CO
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North Fork, a race run in Central Colorado on trails notorious for being hot. A majority of the race traverses through some old burn area terrain in Pine, CO. Wildfires that happened nearly 20 years ago, and the vegetation is rally only just starting to come around again. I've heard enough about this race to get me up the hill to check it out. I was on the fence for awhile.. do I run the 50K or the 50 Mile? 3 Weeks out from the Vermont 100, I decided the 50K would make a great last test before the big race.

My goal, as always, was to finish. A sub 6 hours finish would be great.. but setting a new PR for 50K would be the perfect day. I needed a good race for my confidence heading into Vermont. I'm all ready worrying about if I trained enough. Did I run enough miles? Did I do enough climbing? Am I ready? Questions I haven't asked in a long time, which is good because it means I'm scared. I respect the sport, I respect these distances. Standing on the starting line, I was feeling all warm inside. Once again, I had made a great choice. Here was a race that was old school to the core. There was no inflatable start/finish line. My shirt had no sponsor's littered all over it. It was as grass roots as it gets. The race is directed by an ultra-runner, all of the aid stations were manned by ultra-runners.. this was a race for ultra runners.

Water?! WATER?!
I scurried around before the official start looking for water. I couldn't believe they didn't have any water at the start for us runners. Thankfully, a little begging found me a few runners who had some left over water stashed in their cars. I ran into the parking lot, gnawing some water from here and there, then returned for the pre-race meeting. There weren't many of us out there. I like that.. the race wasn't crowded. It had that family feel to it. Janice, the RD, kept the pre-race meeting short and sweet.. then told us we had about a minute till we took off.. and then.. off we went.

Jerry has been training hard for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Missing Nail, who writes for TrailAndUltraRunning.com was in the group.. and so was fellow ninja Kurt Hardester. Kurt hasn't run in 3 weeks, so I know I want to stay ahead of him. Nail beat me by 5 minutes at Golden Gate, and is running the 50 miles today.. sticking with him awhile wouldn't be bad. Jerry is a faster dude than I.. I thought I'd keep him in my sights early then let him go.. which wouldn't be a problem. Perhaps I'd catch him later if it got hot.

The course is like a big roller coaster. A long winding up, long winding down.. repeat. 32.5 Miles with 4600' of gain and 4600' of loss. It was perfect for a last run before Vermont.. especially since it's mostly run at an elevation of 7500' above sea level. Everything goes according to plan. I see Jerry up ahead, Kurt behind and Nail is within conversation distance but he's not much of a talker. In fact, the only thing I can concentrate on early is his friend.. who reeks of B.O. I don't mean to be a jerk.. but I think it's bad form to show up to a race without having put deodorant on. There's no way this guy couldn't smell it, no way nail didn't smell it.. and personally.. it's a big F.U. to the runners around you. I spent a good few miles trying to get ahead of this guy and stay ahead of him so I didn't have to engulf his stench. Yeah.. I'll be the jerk who points it out and says it.. with the hopes that the guy will think again next time.. for the rest of us. :)

After the first hill Jerry is gone. And I mean gone. I didn't see him anywhere and wouldn't see him again until the finish line. Jerry has a great sense about him. Settling into the race and then at mile 2 or 3.. he takes off like it's a 10K. He can though.. he works for it. Nail and I are still in the same area, but I'm starting to pull away a bit. Which is good because I'm in the shorter distance and can afford to push some. I meet two new comers to our sport, running their first 50K. Kelly Stevenson and Eliot Lee. They ask me for some first timer advice and I'm happy to share. We walk together, run together, and head into the Homestead aid station together.

Fruit and Pancakes
At the last aid stop I grabbed some fruit and a pancake. Here, it would be more fruit and a refill of my bottles. I didn't want to hang around the aid stations too long. So I grabbed liquid and did the rest on the go. I left the new kids behind, hoping they'd catch up. The next section of trail features a lot of awesome winding singletrack downhill. I wanted to get into the zone, feel some flow, and just get lost on the trail. I was never pushing it out there, just a nice easy run on the trails and see where it shakes out. I enter the next burn area and start to head down towards Buffalo Creek. I can see it in the valley below, and there are some runners between me and the station. I aim to catch as many of them as I could and pass em by. I love the downhills. One of the runners is Carson Greenhaw who is running his first Ultra.. and it's the 50 mile at that. He took off in the early start. I enjoyed the conversation with him as it slowed me up a bit and helped me relax a bit more. A generally friendly guy.. who reminded me a lot of my old friend Josh Robert back in New Hampshire. "This is a guy I could have some beers with," I thought. I bid him adieu and wish him luck.. I'd later find out he made it to the finish line! I feel really good about that.. for him.

Not long after saying by to Carson, I'm back in the zone. I trip on something. To this day I have no idea what it was. There was no rocks or roots anywhere on that trail. Somehow I trip and superman forward. I somehow manage to roll into my fall, to a forward summersault on the ground, and pop right back up onto my feet.. and continue to run.. in one fluid motion. When I checked into the aid station down below, I was covered in dirt. Everyone had a comment for me about my falling. But the best came from the dude who was behind me. "That...was amazing.. like nothing ever even happened." "That's because nothing did.." I said back with a smile. I grabbed some more fruit, filled my bottles and was off.

Up the trail a bit from the aid station, I notice that during my fall, I popped a gel that was hidden in my hand helds. I'm sticky now. My hands, legs, bottles. I'm angry too. Thankfully a frigid stream is rushing by and the temps are starting to rise now. I pull off and get down into the stream. I suck down what's left of the gel, wash my legs, hands and bottles.. dip my hat and buff.. and I'm good to go. All clean, cooled down and fueled. Perfection. I start to slog up this next hill alone.. and soon, I come to the fork in the road. 50 Milers go straight and us 50Kers go left. I take the left and look back to see Kelly again. I decide to wait for her and enjoy some conversation for a bit.

We take to the hill and share a few laughs. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was moving a bit faster than she was. Or maybe she was just starting to slow down a bit. A runner was coming up from behind us, and she held back to wait for him, while I ran ahead and tried to catch the guy in front of me. This guy was tall, with super long legs. Always annoying when traveling uphill, at 5'6", trying to catch someone. I caught him eventually, and moseyed on past. Then, a few mountain bikers came flying down the hill from ahead of us. Obviously they weren't too keen on us having a race today. The rules in Colorado state that us runners have the right of way over the bikes. They're supposed to pull over for us. Not only did they ride through, but they almost hit me. I got a good chuckle out of it, but felt sad that those few are giving all mountain bikers a bad rap in our running community.

Teeny Greeny Bonker
After topping out on the hill I continued on alone. Winding my way back downhill on winding single track that seemed to be never ending. The sun was out.. and it was hot. But in the distance, storm clouds were gathering. I came upon a petite female runner wearing bright green florescent shorts. She turned to me when I asked if she was ok coming upon her walking downhill. She turned back and slurred her speech trying to explain that she was all right. Clearly she wasn't. I asked if she had had any salt. She hadn't. So I gave her 2 pills before taking off.

I made my way into the Shinglemill aid station, about 20 miles in and feeling great. I grabbed some fruit while the aid folks filled my bottles. I asked where the Duncan family was. The family of another runner on the course. I thanked them especially for being out there today, and since all of the aid workers were part of Todd Duncan's family, it explains why they were so darn good to us runners. I warned them about the girl in green shorts behind me, and asked them to give her some extra attention when she staggers in. Then, I asked what time it was, which escapes me, but knew that if I pushed a little, I might be able to PR for 50K today. With that in my mind, I took off running.

Run To The Buffalo
I started downhill towards Buffalo Creek for the final time. After a short downhill, we were heading back up again. I followed a few bikers for a time. They were moving slow enough on the uphill that I let them pace me for awhile before I hiked on by. The clouds have finally moved in and thunder is cracking in the distance. The wind is picking up and the temps have cooled. The remained of the race features us running through some pretty exposed burn areas. With the sun behind clouds, those wouldn't be nearly as scorching hot as they would have been otherwise. I picked up the pace when I could, eventually starting to catch other runners. The first runner I came to was Joshua, another 30 something new father who I ran with during my High Line Canal Fat Ass in 2012.

Sharing miles with Joshua is fun. We caught up on fatherhood, our friend Kyle, kept things light and fun and the pace always moving forward. We run into Buffalo Creek aid station together. They refill my bottles, I grab more fruit, and prepare for the final 8 miles into the end. I ask what time it was, and I was running out. Doing the math and figuring the elevation gain ahead, I knew a PR was going to be a close call. I was encouraged to stop talking and leave the aid station before it slipped too far away. I left Joshua behind and climbed the last long hill as fast as I could. I slip into the zone, singing to myself, experiencing flow and trudging on towards that final aid station.. Homestead 2.

Running into Homestead I saw Ryan Lassen with a camera. He's taking photos of the race. I grapped a huge hunk of watermelon and scarfed it down, filled my bottles one last time and asked where Jerry was. Ryan was telling me about Jerry laying down next to a tree and chugging water at the aid station. But he was 30 minutes ahead of me and probably finished by now. Well.. so much for chasing him at the end. I asked what time it was, and knew my PR was gone. Now.. it was just time to finish strong, and not let anyone pass me on the way in.

Clock Chaser
I was still chasing the clock into the finish, wondering how close I could get. I see a few runners ahead of me in the next burn area, but they're moving strong and not within reach. They would soon disappear into the woods. I'd later find out that I was only 2 and 3 minutes behind them in the end. It was behind me that I grew concerned. I could see a runner in a green shirt coming up from behind. He was about a half mile back with 2 miles to go. I kept running, resolved to look ahead and not behind.. at .8 miles I checked back and he was within 200 yards of me. After we leave the trails, we empty out onto a gravel path next to a fishing pond. I looked back and he was all of 50 yards back and closing in. CRAP! "This guy is going to make me race it in.. for real?!" And so it was. Whatever I had left in me I dug for and pushed for the finish line, ensuring that this guy would not pass me. He wouldn't...

I finished the run in a time of 5:46. 10 minutes shy of a PR for 50K and my 2nd fastest 50K time ever. Not bad considering this race is held at an average elevation of 7500' with 4600' of gain.. when my PR race was at sea level with only 2500' of gain. I'll consider this a huge success, and the momentum I needed heading into the big race I've ever run. 14th place out of 97 finishers.. 5th in my age group. I LOVED this race, and so long as I can, I'll be keeping it on my schedule to either run or volunteer.