Jelm Mountain is 25 miles southeast of Laramie and the drive down was as stunning - if not more - than the drive north on 287. Jelm is visible from miles away, so I was able to get a good look at the impending climb. It was somewhat intimidating, but then most mountains are when you know you're about to run up them as hard as you can.
Got to the start location and immediately saw Sam Malmberg and Michael Huntington, two road and track speedsters who on any flat run would destroy me. The mountain, as ever, was the equalizer, but any thoughts of an easy tempo run were instantly dismissed.
I've developed a few simmering rivalries through the course of the season, and today solidified a couple of those. I raced Michael in May at the Pilot Hill 25k in Laramie, and beat him by 30 seconds after being out-climbed by a minute or two. The fact that I can even hang with a guy like Michael kind of blows me away as he is a former UW track star and sub 31 10k guy. On a good day, I can run close to 35 minutes.
Sam was a high school standout in Nebraska and has a low 2:30 marathon PR. I was able to get the better of him at the Leadville Marathon earlier in the summer, after being left in his wake on the climb up to Mosquito Pass. In Leadville, as at Pilot Hill against Michael, it was on the descents that I got the upper hand.
Jelm is 5.25 miles up and 5.25 straight back down, with a net gain of 2,040' and a cumulative gain of an extra few hundred feet once you add in the short climbs on the way down. The track was a forest-type road and was in generally great condition, but included some loosely strewn rock and soft, sandy patches.
From the gun, as usual, Sam blazed the pace. I sat on his shoulder for the first quarter mile, but let him go, content just to keep him in sight. I knew that if I was close by the turn, I could probably pick him off on the drop. Michael eased by me a mile or so later, just as he had at Pilot Hill, and sat 20 seconds or so behind Sam for the next two to three miles, before passing him a half mile from the summit. I was just trying to stay in contact, hoping that I would have the legs on the drop to claw back the minute I had given up on the climb.
The view with under a mile to go. Photo: UW Physics
Thinking about the data before the race (5.25 miles and 2k climbing), I figured I could run sub eights to the summit and be on Greg Schabran's 2002 course-record pace. Greg had run 42:30 up, but I was way slower - hitting the split at 44:23. Not knowing the course, I assumed it would be a relatively even and easy grade up, but as it turned out there were a couple of major grunts, which really slowed the pace.
The Observatory at the top is in view for most of the run. Photo: SURAP
After finding my downhill legs through the first two minutes of the drop, I let rip and was soon passing Sam and locking my sights on Michael. It was evident that I was eating into his lead on the steeper pitches but pretty much holding pace on sections where a total loss of control was less likely. By the two-to-go point I was close enough to Michael that I was thinking through my strategy for overtaking and hopefully getting a lock on first. I decided the best course of action was to blow by him on a steeper pitch and try to build a big enough gap that he'd settle in for second.
Soon after devising my plan, the requisite drop came into view and I put the hammer down, hoping desperately that I wouldn't pick up a stray rock and go flying arse over tit for what would have been a really nasty spill. I took the lead halfway through the 100-meter screamer, and continued to push at full tilt as the grade evened out.
Knowing that Michael had much better leg speed than me, I was just hoping he was burned from the climb. As it turned out, he hung about ten meters back on me, gaining as the grade eased and falling back on the steeper stuff.
Prior to the race, I had warmed up over the first/last mile of the course, and I knew that there was one last bump of maybe 80 feet to climb before the last 400 meters down to the finish. I figured that if Michael had anything left, this was where he would come at me. However, I failed to push the climb hard enough - I was hurting pretty bad at this point - and by the crest had Michael right on my shoulder. He was flying, but I managed to find the extra gear I needed to stay competitive. With 50 meters to go, I was still holding first, but knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to hold Michael in a sprint. He hit his top gear with 30 meters to go and breezed by me. I tried desperately to find one last ounce of power, but it just wasn't there, and I dropped it all the way back down to first gear and actually walked across the line - seven seconds behind Michael and 40 seconds slower than the course record. Sam came in two to three minutes later to round out the top three. I think my drop of 27:13 is a record, so I'll take that.
So, Michael and I are now one and one in the Laramie Triple Crown with the rubber match to come at the Silent Trails 10 miler up in the Medicine Bow National Forest in the Happy Jack area. Unfortunately, the race comes six days after my rubber match against Johannes Rudolph in the Blue Sky Marathon, but hopefully I won't be too beat up (yeah, I know, lining up the excuses early!).
A big thanks to Patrick Eastman and all the others at the High Plains Harriers for putting on such a great race and race series. If you haven't run up in southern Wyoming, you really should get up there for some of their races, which, while small, are competitive and just a bag of fun. Oh, and somebody always has a beer on hand post race. Thanks, Jeff!