I was up at 4:00 this morning for a quick trip to Breckenridge for the 14th running of the Breckenridge Mountain Marathon. I ran in the 13th iteration of this event last year, but after being directed down the wrong path at the second-to-last aid station I ended up running somewhere in the vicinity of 30 miles, so I was back this year for a spot of redemption and another trip across Breckenridge's outstanding skyline.
There's no doubting this race's credentials as a mountain marathon. Not only are there two big climbs of approximately 3,000' and 1,500', but this thing starts at 9,500' and spends significant time up above treeline in the 12,000' to 12,500' zone. Lung-busting stuff. Better yet, however, it offers incredible views of surrounding peaks, while also offering a wide variety of mountain footing, from blanketed pine-needle trail to extended stretches of talus hopping to marshy tundra running, with lots of extra rock and root action thrown in. A technical, yet varied course with some fun and extended screaming descents. Nice!
From the off I ran with Bryan Goding and watched the early pace-setters settle in. The race starts with about a half mile through town, before hooking into a short stretch of singletrack. By the time we hit dirt, there were five guys ahead of me. Bryan Dayton was setting the pace with another guy I didn't recognize (might have been Chris Grauch), and he was followed by a guy in a green running singlet and Johannes Rudolph in his now-familiar orange singlet - the same one I failed to reel in for the three miles from A-Frame at Pikes Peak a few weeks back.
The singletrack soon gave way to a rocky forest road which took us the first three or four miles towards our first crossing of the Tenmile Range. By the top of forest road, there were just four of us in the lead pack. I sat at the back of the pack for most of the climb, but jumped ahead as we got close to our turn onto the singletrack that would take us above treeline and up onto the crestline with all its stunning mountain vistas. The going here got very steep, but was still mostly running with a few stretches of power-hiking.
Once up on the crest, I probably had a minute or two on Johannes and Bryan (who, as it turned out, was running the half marathon), with others out of sight. As soon as the climb tapered off, I hit the gas hard to see if I could drop Johannes through the technical stuff. I didn't look back until the end of this two-mile stretch of rocks and marsh, but on a tight set of climbing switchbacks before the first big drop I was able to get a 'five-minute view' and could see that I'd put three or four minutes on Johannes with the only other guy in sight a long way back.
After peaking-out on the switchbacks, the course headed downhill ... fast, on some pretty rocky trail. I pushed as hard as I could here to build my lead. Johannes is a fast marathoner (low 2:30s), so I knew that if I was going to win this thing it would have to happen on the technical stuff, as there was four to five miles of fast and well groomed trail waiting at the end of the race.
By the time I bottomed out and started climbing again, I was able to take a few glances back and figured that I had at a minimum four minutes on Johannes. I was still feeling strong, so continued to press through the second big climb and its long traverses. This section is probably my favorite part of the whole course, as not only does it offer great views, but the terrain is classic Colorado mountain trail with nasty stretches of talus trail combined with skinny climbing singletrack cut into the side of the mountain, before dropping off on some sweet traverses into the woods and then screaming through 2,000' of heavily rooted descent.
With nine miles to go, I hit the aid station where it all went wrong last year, pushing through without stopping, while switching back into climbing mode. I knew these last miles were where I could lose my grip on the lead. The trail smoothed out and the grade never got too steep in either direction, just a rolling net downhill all the way back into town.
While I felt like I had a good grip on first, you never know in trail racing so I kept pushing as hard as I could, and ended up finishing in 3:29 (a 19 minute CR on the new course). Johannes came in ten minutes later (3:39), followed by Chris Grauch, who edged out Saul Aguilar by seven seconds for the third paid place.
I picked up 150 bones for my troubles and came away feeling like I'm getting back into great mountain running shape, which considering I'm supposed to be focused on running a road marathon is pretty meaningless, but it sure felt good to be able to push that hard through the early going and not pay too dearly at the end. Another fun day in the mountains.