Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Silent Trails 2013

All pics: Mike Hinterberg
The Silent Trails 10 mile race up in the Happy Jack area east of Laramie Wyoming is a race worth doing. Fitness be damned.

This year's race marked the 12th year since a crash on Hwy 287 between Laramie and Fort Collins resulted in the death of eight talented guys, basically the entire University of Wyoming cross country team, at the hands of a drunk driver. Laramie is a small, close-knit college town and the accident had a profound effect on nearly everyone in the community. The Silent Trails race commemorates the eight who died that day, while also serving as a reminder to be thankful for the health and ability that we have as runners to be out enjoying a run in a beautiful place at a beautiful time of year.

For 2013 the entry fee had been dropped to $5 and the focus kept squarely on enjoying, running and reflecting. Per Dan Rodesevich, the new RD:
Hereafter, most aspects of the race will remain the same: We'll always gather on the morning of the second Saturday in October to run the course that Cowboys and Cowgirls became so familiar with while running for Wyoming. Given that the only reward that Wyoming runners expected to receive after completing the circuit in training was a drink of lukewarm water and words of encouragement from Coach Sanchez, I want to keep to a minimum the trappings of tokenism that have crept into most other races. I intend to offer few awards, few prizes, few souvenirs, and a rock-bottom entry fee. On the other hand, camaraderie and mirth we'll continue to have in abundance.

Despite the fine fall weather being enjoyed in the tropical climbs of Fort Collins and Laramie, somehow the Happy Jack area had managed to hold onto the 8-12 inches of snow that had come down two days prior. This provided once again for the expected, nay, demanded adverse running conditions so associated with the Silent Trails race.
Hinterberg enjoying a hot beverage post race.
UW XC alum and Horsecow jog a few to warm up.
At the early morning carpool rendez-vous at Vern's it was great to see such a big turnout from the Fort Collins trail running community, with close to 30 of us ready to convoy north on the hour-long trip to Laramie. True to form, the weather turned to crap as soon as we crossed the Wyoming border. Not the usual howling winds, but we did manage to go from a nice sunny fall morning in Fort Collins to a complete sock-in on the High Plains. Nonetheless, 30 minutes later at 7,000 feet in Laramie things looked good again: no snow on the ground, no winds, and wait was that a ray of sunshine? At 8,000 feet by the Lincoln Memorial, however, the story was once again reversed: proper snow on the ground and more dense fog.

The fog would clear, but the snow would be a pain in the arse.

As always, there were a bunch of former UW cross country runners there ready to race - Dirty Dawgs, I believe they call themselves - among other talented runners who perhaps don't take things quite as seriously these days. From the off, I was surprised to find the pace in the lead pack quite manageable so actually gave thought to racing this thing with a proper effort, but I knew I was horrendously out of shape, so stuck to the plan of getting out and enjoying a hard run without totally grinding myself into the Wyoming dirt, err, snow. By the creek crossing at mile three, I was sitting in fourth in a chase pack of four or five guys behind a lead pack of three who were now 10 meters off the front.

On the run up to the staging point for 'Death Crotch Hill' I geared it down and let everyone in the pack get ahead of me, keeping the effort levels firmly in check. We bunched again going up Death Crotch, with Horsecow Lonac setting a particularly shameful pace off the front, and then split apart going over the top and into the energy-sapping snow drifts. Nik Deininger, who I'd beaten handily last time I raced him at the Pilot Hill 25k back in June when I was fit and ready to get started on my summer of Grand Slam racing, took off not to be seen again. Horsecow fell off the back, while Ragan was hanging tough a few meters behind me, and another guy I didn't recognize was a few meters off the front but still in view.

Ragan and I worked together to bring back fifth-place guy, and then with a mile or two left to race, after jogging as a pack of three for 10 minutes or so, I caught a glimpse of Scott Foley through the trees. Now Scott is a talented former Boise State XC runner. I beat him last year at Pilot Hill after his monumental blow up on the sand flats coming home, before being properly smoked by him at a local 5k road race a month or two later. True to form today, he was completely blowing up through the latter stages of the 10 mile distance, again reminding me that the definition of a long-distance race is entirely subjective. For me, 10 miles is a sprint, for other much more talented guys it might be the longest race of their season. Either way, Scott was clearly done racing, so I took the small rush of seeing a runner come back late in the race as an opportunity to break up my little pack of three to avoid what was looking like it would either be a three-way hand holding finish or some kind of horrendous sprint to the line. I was keen to avoid both scenarios.

The injection of pace was enough to get around Scott, enough to drop the former fifth place guy, but not enough to drop Ragan. Having never been beaten by Ragan - in our many encounters - I was motivated for a bit to try and hold him off, but I simply didn't have anything left in the tank on this day. Ragan dropped me with consummate ease, and so I geared down to a pace that would be sufficient to maintain fifth and cruised into the finish for yet another satisfying romp around the woods of the Medicine Bow National Forest on the second Saturday of October.

Mary Boyts and Cat Speights - inspirations both - getting it done in Wyoming. 
I ended up running seven minutes slower than last year. Some of that was definitely the snow on the ground - versus race-day snowfall and no accumulation last year - but most of it was a singular lack of fitness. I have not been this unfit in quite some time. But that's okay. It's the off season, I need the rest, and I'll get back into it when I feel ready. And that ain't now. In the meantime, I'll continue to be thankful for the gift of running and in particular the gift of running through the woods on snowy fall days.

Thanks as always to Perry, Dan and all of the High Plains Harriers who, quite simply, understand the fundamentals of what running is all about: camaraderie and mirth. I hope to share in the Wyoming mirth and camaraderie for many more years to come.

Mike mixing it up with the top ladies. 


  1. It's HUNGRY DOGS, Nick. Taken from the Coach Sanchez-ism, "The hungry dog runs best."

    All kidding aside, we folks here in Laramie really do appreciate you and the other Fort Collins runners coming up for this race every year. You guys truly understand the spirit of this race.

  2. Probably the least expensive entry on my bucket list, but I will run this one someday. I remember the article in Sports Illustrated about the accident like it was yesterday. Reading it in an apartment shared with 4 other collegiate runners I still cannot imagine what the running and local community went through. Plus, there needs to be more than one Horsecow in this race. Naymoo.

  3. MJ - Two Horsecows, one venue. I'm not sure Wyoming is ready.

    Ragan - understood, but Dirty Dawgs is far better name.