Despite my misgivings about running this race so close to my main goal race of the year, it went off without a hitch: not too much stress, no twisted ankles, and one more confidence boost before the big day.
Jogged the short half mile to the Horsetooth trailhead, and race start, from my house and chatted with a few of the local runners already assembled. Got out for a short warm-up with Dan Turk, who was also running the short course, and chatted briefly with The King of Horsetooth - Corey Hanson - who was looking for a four-peat over the long course. We scoped out the competition a bit, trying to locate the fabled 'German Trail Running Champ,' who we identified as a guy in a green and white Werder Bremen running club outfit.
Steve Cathcart - owner and operator of Runners Roost Fort Collins - got us assembled for the start, reminding us that this race has raised over $7,000 for Larimer County Parks over the years, before setting us off to the tune of his bull-horn siren. My usual plan of starting out slow and gauging the lead pace went the way it normally does, with me blasting out from the gun and setting the pace. I managed to rein myself in within the first few hundred meters and let someone else lead up the hill. I thought I recognized the guy who took up the pace, but couldn't put my finger on where I recognized him from. He had built a 10-meter lead by the time we passed the Southridge access road 3/4 of a mile up the hill, and he promptly made a wrong turn onto Southridge. I shouted him back on course and we continued together the last 1/4 mile to the Horsetooth turn and the start of the singletrack section. We got to the turn, at exactly one mile, in just over seven minutes - quick.
Setting the early pace. From left to right: Sam Malmberg, German dude, Dan Turk (red), Frank Antonelli (yellow), Steve Saleeby (goatee), me, Corey Hanson. Photo: Pete Stevenson.
I should mention here that I run this section of trail on an almost daily basis, so I know each and every rock, root, twist and turn. With this in mind, I wanted to make sure I got to the turn first so I could build a lead, which I was confident would happen, without having to wait for a spot to pass. I got the corner first and set off up the trail. By the first switchback I had already built a ten-second lead and continued to build as we made our way up the one-mile section of the Horsetooth trail. By the time I topped out (18 minutes flat), at exactly two miles and over 1,000 feet of vertical, the chase pack was out of sight. I was pretty surprised to be moving this fast at what felt like a relatively easy effort, so decided to keep hammering to see what kind of time I could post.
I had checked results from the last three years, and knew that Zach Crandall had run 55 and change in '08, so made that my goal. With nobody to push me, this was adequate motivation to press. I can't really remember my splits for the rest of the run, but cruised the ridge to Towers without killing myself on the few remaining climbs. Chugged a bit of water at the Towers aid and ran the descent pretty hard, without totally killing it. I kept it this way down Herrington, making sure to pay very close attention to my footing on some of the more technical and muddy sections. Pushed hard on Spring Creek to the final mile and a half on Soderburg, which I again pushed in a bid to get under 54 minutes. Crossed the line, feeling good and in control, in 53:58.
Mission accomplished: no injuries, a hard effort without totally blowing a gasket, a win, and a sub 54.
Steve Saleeby crossed second in 56:55 for a PR and Frank Antonelli rounded out the top three in 1:00:23 (a rough day for Frank - chin up buddy). Dan had a great run, even letting out a rebel yell as he crossed the line in just under 61 minutes (a PR) for the masters win.
I hung around to watch the end of the half marathon, as I was eager to see if Corey could pull off the four-peat, or if he would be beaten by the early leader or our mystery guest from Germany. Corey (of course) came in first in a smoking 1:45, followed four minutes later by the early leader, Sam Malmberg, with Steve Folkerts rounding out the top three in 1:56. The guy from Germany came through in fourth in 2:02. I think he had a tough time with the altitude and hefty climb.
Chatting with Sam after the race, I finally placed him as the guy who had taken up the pace at the Wyoming Marathon before dropping off the pace at the halfway mark, having run a 2:48 a couple of weeks earlier at the FoCo Marathon.
A great morning with friends and family. My parents were on hand to watch me race for the first time in Colorado, having arrived from the UK just two days prior. They will be making the trip up north to the Bighorns on Thursday to help Dana and Alistair with the crewing.
This is a great race on the best trails Fort Collins has to offer. The winning streak continues. Is there one more in the tank? I'll find out in the Bighorn mountains in five days...Bring It On!