The days leading up to the race here on the Front Range had been exceptionally windy, and closing in on gale force up on the high plains at 7,200 feet in Laramie. Race morning came, and while the winds were significantly lighter in Fort Collins, the trees were still shaking a good bit as I was drinking my early morning coffee. This meant the Laramie trees were being blown sideways, I thought to myself as I got in the car. The weather transition, quite comically and quite literally, always seems to happen as you cross the state line driving up Highway 287. For today's transition, we went from strong winds to stronger winds and from partly cloudy to ominously dark.
|Pic: Nora Testerman|
The climb is not an aggressive one, with just 1,600 feet of vertical relief to cover over six miles, so your foot has to be on the gas the whole way up. The splits from my Highgear suggested that I was running a touch faster than last year, but with the quarter mile added to the ascent portion this year my goal of a sub-60 summit seemed unlikely (versus 1:00:07 last year). Nonetheless, I felt strong the whole climb, if a little clumsy on the rough and trail-less limestone sections and the rutted fields, and rounding the corner under the communication Towers of the Pilot Hill summit the math actually looked good for a 59:xx turn. I threw back a quick shoulder check and saw that Nik was far enough back that I was comfortably going to get the summit first, and indeed I did in 59:24. I stopped briefly to chug a cup of sports drink then took off like a man possessed for the return trip down the hill.
|The somewhat bleak top (note tree being blown sideways). Pic: Marie-Helene Faurie|
|The early stages of the descent. Marie.|
Cruising into the finish on the last two miles of the gently rolling sand flats, I needed to hold just 6:30 pace to dip under 1:40, a target that I had initially considered unlikely. But, as it turned out, I came in a good bit under at 1:39:14, over three minutes faster than last year.
This is a huge boost to the confidence as I enter the final stages of preparation for the showdown at the end of June. There is no better feeling as a runner than that of fitness and preparedness.
Thanks as always to Jeff French, Pilot Hill RD, for managing the proceedings, brewing up the post-race bevvies and generally ensuring a fun time for all at the incredibly reasonable price of $25 (a dollar per kilometer). There aren't many racing deals better than that out there. A second lunch (after the post-race spread from Turtle Rock Cafe) with my parents, wife and kids at Altitudes Chop House (and Brewery), and it was back down 287 into the glorious summer sunshine of Northern Colorado. A good morning.