Alex and I carpooled up to Estes (which is an intriguing 50k from my house) with a ton of time to spare. Ryan B was at registration as Alex and I were picking up our race bibs, so the three of us headed out to run the 5k course as a warm up. It essentially involved a 1.5-mile, 250'-foot climb out of town to MacGregor Ranch on first asphalt and then gravely dirt, before cutting cross country on clumpy and pot-holed paddock for 3/4 of a mile and then rejoining MacGregor road for the one-mile, 150' descent to the finish.
Going in, I figured I'd race the 5k hard to work up a good amount of of lactic acid for the 10k effort. However, with the uphill start and the altitude, I was laboring almost immediately from the gun. Three guys got out in front of me with last year's winner Mark Saunders trailing two other guys that I didn't recognize. It took me about a half mile to get on the back of the pack, and I figured then that I would just race the 5k for positions and not worry about running as hard as possible, so I sat back and drafted at what seemed like an increasingly easy effort. Just before the mile, Mark decided to up the effort waving for me to come with him. I did and we immediately dropped the guy who had been setting the early pace. Through the first mile of asphalt and 150' of climbing we were at 5:40.
Once we hit the gravel road in MacGregor Ranch, the grade increased significantly and - not surprisingly - the pace dropped. We gained probably 100 feet over the next third of a mile before the road leveled out, and at the 90 degree turn onto the cross country section, I was able to get a look behind and saw that I'd built a decent gap on second (Peter Swank). Given that the paddock section was pretty pitted, I figured I should be careful and go easy to the road so as not to twist an ankle or do something else stupid. The 1.1 mile section in MacGregor Ranch split at 6:55.
The last mile was almost all downhill and all on asphalt, so I was able to cruise at a good speed into the finish with a 5:18 last mile and 17:55 overall. Ryan finished strong, almost picking off Peter Swank for second, but just running out of real estate.
Alex, Ryan and I reconvened shortly thereafter and went off to jog the first 1.5 miles and last half mile of the 10k course in a bid to keep loose in the 40 minutes between races. The first mile of the 10k course was very steep, with over 200 feet of climbing before dropping down for a quarter mile to rejoin the half-mile point of the 5k and then climbing back up to MacGreggor ranch for an additional 170 feet of ascending, so 400 feet of climbing in the first two miles. Nice.
From the gun, the race went out noticeably slower than the 5k, almost at a jog, so it was a fairly safe bet that most everyone in the 10k had also raced the 5k. Within 100 yards we were tucking into the first section of the opening one-mile climb, which was probably close to a 10 percent grade. Once things eased off a bit, I actually felt my legs tell me that they were comfortable and ready to run again, so I switched from just wanting to tempo the effort to feeling like I wanted to make this hard on myself to make it feel like the last 10k in New Orleans might. By mile one (6:24), I already had control of the race so concentrated on working a steadily hard, marathon'esque effort.
At the top of the second climb, which happened to coincide with the two mile marker (6:03), I was ready for some fun paddock action. The course repeated the 5k cross country section, then cut across Devil's Gulch Road at mile 3 (5:52) for two more miles of pretty serious cross country. Cutting back east up the Devil's Gulch fenceline and then south through some trees, the course climbed another 150' or so before dropping sharply through some dangerously low pine canopy and heavily pine-coned terrain. Out of the trees, the course had us run through some really tall grass with stretches of heavily off-cambered action thrown in for good measure before sending us back towards Devil's Gulch Road for the last mile of asphalt. Miss Colorado was directing traffic at the last cross-country turn, and I took it so tight that I almost sent her flying. Ooops. The splits through this section went 6:17 & 5:33 (mile 5 was obviously way short).
Image: Estes Park Trail GazetteOnce back on the road, I checked over the shoulder and saw Ryan a ways off in second. Knowing that the fifth mile was short, I took at a split at the 1 mile marker of the 5k course to see what I could push out for a last mile, which I covered in 5:25, crossing the line in 36:22, which surprised me. Figuring that the course was short then, I checked with Ryan and Alex who both had GPS watches on, and as suspected the course was .2 miles short at 6 miles. That said, the 5k course was a touch long, so I guess it all evens out in the wash. Ryan ran a strong 10k, finishing about a minute back on me and comfortably ahead of Mark Saunders in third and way ahead of the guy who had earlier beat him for second in the 5k.
I picked up a couple of pewter game trophies to add to my buffalo from the Antelope Island 50k last year. All I need now is a cougar.