Realizing that I need to start working a few hills, rather than jog up them comfortably as is my typical training habit, I put out the call to the Fort Collins Trail Running Group to see if I could get any takers for a hard effort up Towers Road this evening. Eight showed up at the Soderburg trailhead ready to blow the cobwebs off a winter of lazy miles.
Towers is probably Fort Collins' number one proving ground when it comes to climbing and it's a favorite among bikers and runners alike. As far as hill climbs go, it's about as pure as it gets: very little technicality to it, no hopping over rocks, no twisting and turning, just a steady three-mile, 1,800' grind on a dirt service road to a bunch of telecommunications towers, with a .45 mile connector trail from the parking lot to the climb. All told, the FKT route is 3.4 miles and 1,800 feet of hurt.
So last time out in September, Eric Bergman reset Steve Folkerts' FKT (30:36) to a hair over 30 minutes at 30:15, with me 10 seconds back in 30:25, so obviously the goal today was to duck under the elusive 30-minute barrier.
We devised something of a handicap based on people's best guesses or previous best times up the hill, and Jennifer, Kate and J.Z. set out first, followed by Chris (+6 mins), Alex (+8 mins), Kyle (+10 mins), Pete (+13 mins) and myself (+17 mins). There were also some mountain bikers who had set out a few minutes before us, which was good as chasing down bikes going uphill is a favorite sport of mine.
Once Pete set off, I jogged around a bit and then gave myself a rolling start. I hit Towers in a comfortable 2:49 (2:40 last time), then set about getting my head down for the climb ahead. The two faster bikes had a couple of minutes start on me, and they were the first target. I hit the Stout trail in 8:43, which surprised me a bit, because I felt like I was moving pretty well, but had somehow lost 13 seconds on last year (8:30). I wasn't going to throw in the towel just yet though as I also had a halfway split at Herrington to comp from. I figured that if I was still off, I would take the foot off and take it easy from there.
Heading up towards Loggers, I passed the mountain bikers, and while I was working hard I felt like I was also moving well. Through the 'S' turn past Loggers, I continued to hammer to see if I could get a decent split for Herrington, which I hit in 16:25, a full 20 seconds faster than my PR split. Back in the game. I hammered the flats from Herrington and readied up for the steepest pitch of Towers about two miles in, passing Jennifer on the way.
Coming up on Mill Creek, I caught sight of Chris, Alex and Kyle, and also saw that Pete was passing them. By Mill Creek I was past Chris, Alex and Kyle and looking to chase down Pete who had 20 meters on me with a half mile to go. By the top of the final grunt, I passed Kate as we hit patches of snow and ice, and just before the turn into the clearing I got a step on Pete who was working hard despite his pre-run claim that he wasn't going to push. J.Z. was already done and stood at the turn cheering us in.
I told myself that I wouldn't look at my watch past Herrington, but as I made the final turn, I took a quick peek to see if I had a shot at going under 30. Seeing 29:33 on the clock, I pushed out whatever it was that I had left through the clearing, slapping the finish-line building in a new FKT of 29:52, just barely holding off a replay of my lunch. Pete came rolling in a few seconds after me in a new PR of 33:53, followed soon after by everyone else.
We'll be repeating this one in two weeks and then every fortnight thereafter, using previous times as handicaps for a little racing action near the top. Good stuff.