Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lead King Loop 25K

I'm going to go a little out of order on this post in order to not get terribly behind. Ideally I would've had my Alaska post up already (I went to Alaska the first week in September), but I took about a million photos there and just have not had the time to go through them all yet. So in order to not get too far behind, I'm going to go ahead and post about this past Sunday's race first - the Lead King Loop 25K - and then hopefully I will have my Alaska post up sometime next week!

My original race for this weekend was going to be the Blue Mesa Marathon, put on by Ever Run Racing (who put on the Cimarron 50K), but the race director ended up canceling it in order to focus on some of his larger races. I was a little bummed, but definitely understood - he just put on the first Ouray 100 which turned out awesome (and may be on my bucket list now - IF I ever decide to be crazy enough to attempt a 100). Anyways, once that race was cancelled, I decided to look for another and quickly had two pretty good options: Big Cottonwood Marathon in Utah, or The Lead King Loop 25K in Marble. Big Cottonwood is a downhill course, and probably would've given me the chance to go sub-4:00 in a marathon, but it was a bit of a drive, and given that this was my only weekend NOT making the 4 hour trek to Denver, I decided Lead King Loop would be the better fit. Plus it would give me another trail run before the end of summer and Marble is just gorgeous (check out some of my photos from our camping trip in a Marble early this summer).

Thankfully Scott had the weekend off from work so we decided to head to Marble on Saturday afternoon and camp before the race. We got into Carbondale early enough for me to pick up my race packet which was nice. The swag was pretty great - a really nice shirt, pint glass, good coupon to the local running store, and raffle tickets for the next day. After that we stopped at the grocery store to pick up breakfast for the next day and then grabbed a pizza from Dominos and headed to a local park to eat some dinner.

After dinner we headed to the campsite. My plan was to camp at the McClure Pass campground - about 15 minutes past Marble. Unfortunately the campground was full which had me slightly worried!! There were 2 more campsites near Marble as backup, but I assumed if any were to be empty it would be this one. Apparently I was wrong though because we got into Bogan Flats campground in Marble just as it was getting dark and there were tons of open campsites (what a relief!). We quickly grabbed a site and set up the tent before heading to bed.

After an okay night of sleep (and Argie waking us up at 5:00 am), we got up around 7, then headed to the race start at around 7:30. The race started at 8:30, so we had some time to hang around for a bit. The raffle was supposed to start at 12 - so if you didn't think you'd be back by then, you had to put your tickets in before. They did the raffle in a unique way where you could pick what you wanted your raffle ticket to go into (everyone got 4 tickets). So I did that, stood around for a bit longer, and then finally it was almost time to start. I shed all my extra layers and gave them to Scott before lining up at the start.

Waiting for the race start!
The race director made a few announcements, then the local school kids sang the national anthem (this race is a fundraiser for the local charter school) and then we were off! I knew the first part of the course from when Scott, Argie and I hiked to the Crystal Mill earlier this summer.  You go around Beaver Lake then onto a dirt road that immediately starts sending you up. After about a mile and a half you come to a fork in the road. When we hiked to the Crystal Mill, we took the right fork, but for this race we went left (but would come out the right side, hence the name Lead King LOOP).

And it was more and more up. I knew it would be though - this race is pretty similar in difficulty to the Leadville Heavy Half - it's about the same distance (~15.5 miles), and about the same elevation gain (~3500 feet). The main difference is simply the altitude (Leadville starts higher and tops out higher). Overall the grade wasn't too steep though - just a nice steady uphill. I was taking it slow - as I knew I would. This was really my first weekend getting back into long runs since Pikes Peak so I decided to just take it easy and enjoy the day! My goal was to keep my uphill miles under 20 minutes though which I was able to do.

I took a lot of pictures during the uphill (since I was walking and it was easier to do!) - the views were gorgeous! I was hoping some of the leaves would have started to change, but honestly barely anything at all had. It still looked like summer.

It was pretty out!

Around 5 1/2 miles was where the fun started. I really can't even begin to describe the feeling well enough, but these next several miles were one of the best feelings I've ever had while running. I crested the top of the hill we had been climbing, came out of the trees and saw the most gorgeous mountain views along with the most runnable dirt road. It was smooth sailing as I ran down, down, and more down hill. And the views... There was this one mountain in front of me and the way the lighting was hitting it - it didn't even look real. It was like I was running to a green screen, and yet I wasn't. It was so awesome. This is why I run in the mountains! Yes the uphill gets old fast, but the downhill is SO much fun. There's a quote in an ultra running book I have that says it so well:

"There will be trying times in an Ultra but enjoy what you can of it. Take in the scenery. Talk with friends and strangers alike. Lose yourself in thought or zone out. Marvel at your accomplishments or laugh at your foolishness. Laugh. If it's a rainy mess, jump in some puddles. If it's hot, jump in a stream. Let out a triumphant cheer at the top of a climb and a joyous holler as you fly down a hill. Be a kid. Be happy." 

-Bryon Powell, Relentless Forward Progress

No this wasn't an ultra, but I love that statement and it is so important to remember. I thought of that as I crested that hill and got my first look at that beautiful long stretch of downhill. In my head I was running down that mountain with my arms out cheering (of course I'm too embarrassed to do it in real life - maybe someday though). That truly is one the best feelings that you just cannot understand until you've been there. It is my "runners high" and my definition of a real "Rocky Mountain High"!

That was the amazing dirt road I was going to get to run down shortly!

It really was incredible, I could go on all day...but don't worry I won't. Moving on... There was about 3 miles or so of that beautiful, smooth dirt road before the road started to get rough and rocky. The rocks gradually came on until we had a mile or so of REAL pain in the butt rockiness to deal with. This definitely wasn't as fun as before - but at least I wasn't going up again!

Around mile 10, we made it to the ghost town of Crystal and then the famous Crystal Mill. Once passing the Crystal Mill I was in familiar territory - I essentially was going to be retracing the "back" of our "out-and-back" hike from June. I got a quick picture at the mill and then continued on. The next few miles were more of a very gentle rolling downhill. It was still rocky, but not as much as before so I was able to keep an okay pace (for a trail run). I didn't take as many pictures along these sections as before since I have tons from our hike.

The Crystal Mill!
I look terrible in this - but have to prove I was there! :)

There were a few more short uphill sections until reaching the fork that we got to at the very beginning, but coming out the other side. After this it was smooth sailing - just like the section earlier, the dirt road was nice and smooth and I could run freely. I was more tired by this point, so it wasn't quite the same feeling as before, but I definitely still enjoyed it. It was about a mile down before getting back onto the road that goes around Beaver Lake, a small uphill, and then the finish line was in sight! I kept my pace up and finished in 3:56:06 (not great, but at least I got in under 4 hours!).

Overall I really enjoyed this race - awesome swag, a seriously BEAUTIFUL course with a good amount of climbing (but the altitude only topped at 10,900 - so I could actually breath the whole time!!!) and some awesome descent. The post-race festivities were great too - pulled pork BBQ sandwiches (probably my favorite post-race meal yet!!!) and an awesome raffle (oh yeah and I WON!!! 2 free tickets to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park! Pretty excited!). My only main complaint was the lack of good food at the aid stations. The aid stations themselves were well placed, they had water and some sort of electrolyte drink which was all fine and dandy. The volunteers were all awesome. BUT the only "food" they had were Hammer Gels. In a road race, that's all I would expect, and I wouldn't think much of it. But this is a TRAIL race. All the trail races I've done have so many awesome things at the aid stations: fruit, candy, chips, etc (I know this sounds weird to non-trail runners - but this is seriously the norm in trail races). So I was pretty disappointed in that, and definitely glad I brought a few things with me. Still overall an awesome race though, I definitely wouldn't let the aid stations effect my decision to do it again - just be prepared and pack your own stuff if you want it (unless you like hammer gels, in which case you're set! And also weird.. ;).

Race: Lead King Loop 25K
Date: 09/14/2014
Distance: 25K / 15.5 miles (My Garmin clocked it at 15.98)
Minimum Elevation: 7,952'
Maximum Elevation: 10,914'
Weather: Sunny and gorgeous for the first 3 hours or so, hot for the last hour!
Bib Number: 8
Garmin Time: 3:56:06
Official Race Time: 3:56:08
Average Pace: 14:47 minutes/mile
Overall Rank: 120 / 148
Gender Rank: 69 / 89
Division Rank (F 20-29):  10/10 (Last - but I decided I don't care - I had so much fun and it was such a gorgeous day!)
Garmin Splits: 11:31, 19:47, 18:04, 19:20, 19:54, 15:26, 11:23, 10:10,13:14, 16:14, 13:44, 12:50, 16:46,16:44, 11:56, 9:20

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