Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dropping the Monkey at the Devil's Backbone

It was an early 7am start for the second running of Paul Stofko's Crazy Legs 10k (6.4 miles), and a crowd capped at 80 runners was ready to run through some of the most varied terrain you'll likely find over the course of 10 kilometers. See my preview here.

Chad picked me up at 6:00 and we got down to the Devil's Backbone parking lot in time for a two-mile warm up. I chatted with Dan Goding and last year's winner, Cris Repka, briefly before the start. Dan had it all figured out, saying that Steve Folkerts was going to take first followed by myself, Chris and himself. I was pretty much in agreement. Dan's dad, Norm, had other ideas saying we'd all be watching his backside from afar!

From the gun (yes, they had a gun) I found myself leading the pack over the 100 meters of asphalt and immediately slowed to let somebody else pick up the pace. Chris obliged and I slotted in behind him. The pace felt fast, but comfortable.

By about halfway through the first climb up to the Keyhole, Chris, myself, Dan and Steve had built a bit of a gap on the rest of the field. The pace felt a little too easy so I eased past Chris to up the tempo a bit and get a clear line of sight for the biggest uphill grind of the day, which also has a few tricky spots of technical terrain. Although I never looked back, I felt like I'd put a bit of gap on the other three leading to the climb, but soon heard a couple pairs of lungs behind as we made our way up the hill. By the time we crested the hill on the last switchback, I was able to catch a glance behind and saw a bit of a gap forming, but not much. However, through the next half mile on the outbound rolling section of Hunter, there was just one guy on me. I wasn't exactly sure who it was, but presumed it was Steve.

Steve is definitely a road guy, so I figured if I was going to have any shot at winning the race it was going to have to happen on the middle two-mile section, which is super technical. Despite being on the back end of a 120-mile week, I felt really strong powering up the Laughing Horse climb and found a good line through the jutting slick rock. However, I was still hearing lungs behind, despite pushing a speed that would have been really nasty if I'd caught a rock and taken a dive. I continued to push on the downhill before hitting the halfway point and the return section of Laughing Horse loop, the gnarliest part of the course.

Figuring that this was my last chance to build a lead, I ran pretty recklessly through here and absolutely flew across the rock hitting lines that I never before had on this section. I built a 5 to 10 second lead here and kept it through the last significant climb of the day on the back leg of Hunter loop. From here it is a very steep drop back to the Devil's Backbone and the last mile sprint to the finish. I felt like I was moving well on the drop, but after a quick glance saw second place was right back on me, with nobody in view behind him.

It's at points like these in a race where I usually get weak. Today was no different. I had been gunning it at about full tilt trying to drop second for most of the race with nothing to show for it. At the best of times (on a flat non-technical course), the 10k is - in my opinion - the hardest distance out there. It's a brutal mix of speed and endurance, which requires runners to find the fine line between going out too hard, while also maxing their speed potential. It hurts. But as with everything in running, pain is temporary and the finish line will always come if you keep moving forward, whether it's one grueling mile or 99 slow plodding miles. However, it's always a tough sell to keep pushing when you're really hurting.

I got down to the Wild loop marker, which meant just over a mile to go, and I was hearing those lungs again. I concentrated on pushing as hard as I could, while taking advantage of the downhill rollers to power the uphill rollers. With three quarters of a mile to go, I started hitting a pace that felt close to a sprint - way too soon - but I wanted to see if second had anything left. I did get some separation, but I couldn't maintain the pace and before I knew it second was on my shoulder making a move. To my surprise, it wasn't Steve, but Chris. I knew I had to get to the footbridge first, because it's wide enough for only one person, and I was sure that whoever got the bridge would win the race, so I put in one final effort to maintain the position I'd held for most of the race. It was just enough. Through the bridge, it's 200-300 meters uphill to the finish. Chris was still there. And so it was, shoulder to shoulder, we sprinted for the line. I managed to get a half step on Chris, crossing the line one second ahead in 42:07 for a four-minute course record.

Hands on knees panting for close to a minute, I was pretty well worked.

Dan and Steve had their own battle for third, with Steve edging out Dan by five seconds for third in just over 44 minutes.

A great morning on a tough course in a beautiful part of Northern Colorado. Kudos to Paul for putting on a great race (he drove 1,000 miles straight from Indiana to be there), and hats off to the volunteers for a well marshaled and well signed course.

Feels good to finally get the bridesmaid monkey off my back, even if it was just a 10k.


  1. AWESOME RACE, NICK! Sounded like an exciting race and a well-deserved victory, duking it out to the end! Couldn't have gotten any closer!

    Congrats on the course record, too! I'm stoked for you, bud!

  2. Impressive! Taking it to the 2:32 marathoner!

  3. For someone who lamented screaming like a girl just last week, I am proud to see that you have finally learned to run like one! Go Nick, Go!

  4. Thanks, guys!

    Alene, lol, I probably look like one, too.

  5. Well done! I would've just pushed him off the foot bridge and show-boated the last 200 meters to the line.

  6. Tim - the thought crossed my mind, but I win so infrequently that I'm not sure I have those show-boating skills down yet.

  7. Holy carp! Nick! You really had to work for it and you did it! Fantastic job!

  8. I have a feeling you'll get used to winning. Good job.

  9. Solid race! I love it that they had a gun, I really would like to see the starter's pistol makes it's comeback.

  10. Nick great race and thanks for coming out. Actually the gun is from my days as a high school track offical in Indiana.