Saturday, January 10, 2009

Round Mountain Time Trial

Round Mountain (a.k.a Sheep Mountain) is a few miles west of Loveland on Highway 34, accessed via a pull-off to the left, a few bends past Big Thompson Canyon. The first and last time I ran Round Mountain, I decided it would make for a great test of mountain fitness. Not only do the stats suggest a major climb (4.75 miles, 3,000+ ft climbing), but the trail is in great shape and ... get this ... there are mile markers!

My time to beat from a steady effort the first time was 1 hour 10 minutes, which I knew was more than do-able. The real test was to get to the summit in under an hour.

Chad and I met at the Conoco on Highway 34 at 6:30. It was still dark out and the full moon to the west was sitting just above the mountains, slightly shrouded by early morning mist. The sun to the east was just starting to spray orange over the plains. Another perfect morning for a run.

Chad hadn't gotten home until two that morning, so was working on less than four hours sleep: a victory in itself I later told him as we were getting back into the car from the run. I wasn't feeling particularly perky either and was ready to take it easy. However, like a tightly wound energizer bunny, as soon as we got going I found adrenaline from somewhere and rocketed up the opening jeep track section of the trail.

There are a couple of short downhill sections in the opening mile, which make for possibly the fastest mile of the five. It still being dark out, and with loose rock strewn across the trail, the downhills were pretty precarious. Luckily there were no spills. I hit the first mile marker a bit under 11 minutes.

The second mile is a real grind of unrelenting switchbacks. I was beginning to feel my two cups of early morning coffee on this section and felt like I might be revisiting them sometime soon. I clocked the second mile at 24 minutes and continued the upward grind, detouring off trail a couple of times to get around trees that had come down in the wind earlier in the week.

About halfway through the third mile the trail relents a little and one has a chance to open up across some nice rocky formations and sandy footing. I hit mile marker three at 36 minutes and felt like I was well on course for a sub-60 minute summit. My legs were beginning to scream, but on the plus side I was pretty sure the coffee was going to stay down.

After a reasonably easy section, the switchbacks started back up and there were some tricky patches of snow and ice through mile four, which I clicked off at 48 minutes, a steady 12-minute-per-mile average. At the best of times, the last .75-mile section is probably the toughest; on tired legs and lungs it is a real grind. However, I knew that if I could continue to push I would meet my goal for the day. And so it was that I was able to get the last three quarters of a mile done in just over 10 minutes for a total ascent time of 58:23. I was pretty beat and spent a good half minute panting for air.

As I was waiting for Chad I took the time to sign the summit book and leaf through the comments from the last year. The fastest recorded time in the log book was 1 hour, 1 second. After consulting Jonathan Vigh's Fort Collins fastest known time (FKT) website, it looks like I bettered the previous record from Aug '05 by a slender 14 seconds, so I am going to put my time out there as an FKT to beat. With a clear trail, and in similar shape, I reckon I could probably go under 58 minutes. Come spring, I hope to run it in under 55 minutes.

Chad ended up limping his way to the top with knee-tracking issues, so we took it real slow on the way back down, taking time to snap off a few pictures and throw in a couple of "free running" moves. Chad's high air heel click won the day!

We talked about following the ridge line to the summit of this peak on the other side of the river sometime in the future, possibly coming in from Bobcat Ridge.

An unusual formation in the middle of the trail

Someone had the clever idea of naming it!

The Big Thompson winding its way down the valley

Chad's arse obscuring a cool little section of the trail that runs through the rock

That section minus the arse

Our original plan was to come back down and go cross country to take in the two peaks in the foreground. My hands were so cold and Chad's knees so beat up, we bagged that idea for another day.

Update: Ran 52:55 in July setting a new FKT.

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