Rob had emailed a couple of days ago about bringing around some of his wife's homemade goodness and getting out for a run at Horsetooth, or more specifically for a hard effort to the top of Horsetooth. I, of course, agreed (to both the food and the run), and so at noon today it was off to the races.
Rob is convinced that the fastest way to the top is to go hiking trail as far as the second Southridge merge, then Southridge to its end where it merges back with the hiking trail. My fastest two times have both come by taking Southridge the whole way, which of course has led me to believe that despite being 0.2 longer, it is in fact quicker because of the more predictable footing and lack of switchbacks. Today, I decided to take another go at the (2.34 mile) hiking trail route, as that was what Rob was doing and, well, it's a more engaging route.
With the weather as perfect as can reasonably be asked for in late December (sunny, still and in the 40s) there would be no excuses.
From the get go, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go full on, so eased into things at a strong, but controlled effort. Half way to the Soderberg bench, I decided that I felt good enough that I would give it a proper go. Went past the bench in 4:43 (12 second PR) and rejoined the Rock trail in 7:43 (17 second PR) feeling like things were nicely under control.
The crux of this particular route is the .8 mile stretch of singletrack before the second merge with Southridge. I used to time myself on occasion during longer runs on this stretch and had an 8:22 PR from last year, so figured today that if I could get to the Southridge intersection in anything under 16 minutes I'd be well on my way to a summit PR. Again, feeling largely in control and comfortably under the blow-up zone, I went past the intersection in 15:53 (for a 10 second PR on that .8 stretch alone). From there it was the loose grind up Southridge, a quick sprint across the flat section past the Wathen turn and then the last .5 effort up the rockiest and hardest part of the ascent.
Last time I TT'd The Rock I imploded on this section and dropped to a walk near the top after running the 'wall' entirely too hard, but this time I got through the rocky wall at a controlled effort and was able to keep the torque on my wheels such that I could grind a steady run the whole way to the base of the rock. After dodging a few kids on the summit scramble, I topped out in 23:50 for a huge 1:36 PR.
I am now convinced that I was wrong about the Southridge route, and that in fact it is quicker to take the more technical, but shorter route up the hiking trail. But I'm also going to give myself some credit and say that the PR is part route and part fitness. My PR for the hiking trail all the way is 26:17 from last year, but that is most assuredly slower than today's route (not 2:27 slower, but definitely slower).
Any which way, 23:50 is now the new trailhead-to-summit standard.