So this year, with fantastic weather in the forecast, I brought the family with me. This meant a nice hotel room - as opposed to the back of the truck - a fun afternoon at the Salida hot springs pool and a night of earache torment for poor Alistair. Needless to say, it was not my best pre-race night of sleep, but as a parent (and an ultrarunner) you gotta roll with the punches. And anyway, as I have come to learn, a poor night's sleep before a race is by no means a valid excuse for a bad race. I'm pretty sure, in fact, that my better race performances have come on the back of hours of tossing and turning and endless clock checks than they have after 8 hours of undisturbed shut eye. So anyway, I rolled into packet pick-up and the pre-race briefing in the morning pretty un-enthused about the task ahead, but happy to see and catch up with many familiar faces.
Salida has become one of those great local races that brings in the hardcore trail crowd, in addition to a pretty strong field. This year was no exception. I knew beforehand that Timmy Parr was going to be running and looking for the three-peat, on advice from Burch who would be running his sixth (of six renditions). Brendan Trimboli had also advised that he was in, and then at the pre-race meeting I was surprised to see Geoff Roes lurking in the shadows, but less surprised to see Dan Vega who is a regular fixture at Salida. Marco Peinada and Brooks Williams were both there looking for redemption from last year, and JT was also in attendance to log his sixth start, in company with a large CRUD contingent. Unfortunately Nick Pedatella didn't make it out, as he was nursing a bum ankle, but the field still looked strong, so I knew I'd have my work cut out if I wanted to get on the podium.
From the off, a small pack formed, but unlike years prior there were no half marathon rabbits to chase through the early going, so it was me, Timmy and Ryan up front with a few others close behind as we made our way out to the Ute Trail county road that would take us up to the 10.5 mile, 9,100' turnaround an hour and a quarter later.
Once you get on the Ute Trail climb, two miles in, it is approximately six miles and 1,800 feet to the Turret Road turn on a gravely dirt road that follows a wash up into the hills above the Arkansas River valley. This is one of my all-time favorite race climbs as the grade is at that perfect in-between point where you can run fast and get a good pant going without feeling like you're digging yourself an early grave for the rest of the race, which, while mainly downhill, should absolutely not be underestimated.
As we settled into the climb, Timmy and I built some separation on the rest of the field, but before long I decided to ease off the gas letting Timmy go as I found an effort level that seemed wise and appropriate. As we pushed on up, I heard footfalls a few meters back, and at one of the many twists in the road I shot a look back to see that it was Dan Vega sitting as he had last year close behind me. At this point - a few miles into the race - there was nobody else in sight. Timmy was 20-30 seconds up on me here, which is essentially where he would stay until the end of the climb, while Dan was equidistant behind in a position that he too would maintain through to the turn.
So by mile eight and the Turret Road left, it was Timmy, me and Dan running 1,2 & 3 across a two-minute span. The views of the mighty Collegiate Peaks at the high point of the race, a couple miles down the road, were as stunning as always on this beautiful bluebird morning and it was all smiles as I passed Timmy on his way back from the turnaround (which had been moved a couple miles in from Turret to accommodate a new stretch of singletrack at the end of the race). As previously described, Dan was a minute or so back on me, while Ryan was a further couple of minutes back on Dan, followed by a procession of runners from there.
By the mile-14 (ish) turn on to the jeep track return off the Ute Trail, it looked like I had closed on Timmy a bit and maybe extended my gap on Dan. Seeing that I was within striking distance of Tim, I began to think that I might have a rare shot at taking him down, and continued to feel that way as I kept him in sight through the next couple of miles of rolling double track. However, after a while, the glimpses of Timmy dried up, while Dan looked like he might be making up ground, which led to the obvious conclusion that I was slowing. I knew here that I needed to get some calories in, having consumed just one gel early in the climb, but I just couldn't be bothered with it. The sun was strong on this morning and the thought of gel was just not a good one, so I decided here that I'd see what I could do on fat reserves and water alone.
As we made our way on to the new six-mile section of singletrack at mile 20, I hadn't caught sight of Timmy in quite some time and I had pretty much given up on catching him - and didn't really care anyway - while Dan was essentially on my shoulder. The trail was stellar and I immediately got a boost from that and felt way more comfortable than I had on the hideously loose and rocky jeep track descent that we had previously been negotiating. However, the trail was exceptionally twisty and very narrow, which slowed the pace considerably. In addition, there were a couple of real grunters early in this section that reduced the pace to close to a hike. I had been suffering for a bit by the time we hit the steepest of the climbs and I told Dan, who was now just a few strides behind me, to jump by whenever he was ready, but pretty much as soon as I said that he began to fade and through the remainder of the twisty turny descent I rebuilt the gap on Dan to a minute or two. This thankfully meant that I wouldn't have to engage in a late-race battle for second, and I was able to cruise to the finish in 3:08:55 and a 10-minute course PR.
All pics pilfered from Burch's website.
Dan finished up 60-90 seconds behind me in third, suggesting that he has found some good early season form, while Ryan was a few minutes behind Dan in fourth. Sean O'Day had a good run for fifth and Brendan 'Solar Weasel' Trimboli was solid in sixth. I was also super stoked for occasional training partner and friend Aaron Marks who ran 4:00:00, having set an 'A' goal of breaking 4 hours. After hanging around waiting for JT to finish, I got bored and headed back to the hotel for a shower. By the time I got back he still wasn't finished, which means I beat the handicap by more than an hour in our two-race wager despite his strong showing in New Orleans. Something about stopping for a beer break at mile 20.
To cap off a great weekend, it was off to Ryan's aunt's place for a fabulous Irish feast of corned beef, cabbage, boiled veg, fabulous home-baked breads and thoroughly enjoyable company.
Always a fun time in Salida.
First Aid: 51:44
Turret Road Turn: 59:08
10.5 Turn: 1:15:45
Jeep Track Turn: 1:37:12