Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pilot Hill 25k

They don't make their races easy in Wyoming, but going in I was two for two in the Cowboy state and looking to keep the streak alive.

With an 8:00am start, the alarm didn't go off quite as early as it did for last weekend's Wyoming Marathon, but any time I'm conscious at 5:xx, it's tough. Got a call from Ryan B the night before saying he was in, so I picked him up on the way down and then picked up J.Z. and David Bohn from the Fort Collins Trail Runners group, and we made the 70-minute trip north to Laramie.

Pilot Hill in the distance

I figured it would be me and Ryan duking this one out, and from the gun Ryan shot off and built an early 20-meter lead through the sand flats. It always takes me a mile or two to find my rhythm and breathing early in a race, especially a shorter one like this, so I just let Ryan go maintaining my position in second. A mile or two into the race, as the climbing was beginning, I caught up to Ryan and eased past him to take up the lead, a position I didn't hold for long.

Starting the climb

A tall, comfortable and efficient-looking runner eased past me at three miles or so and began to build a solid lead. Normally you can tell when someone is running easy or working hard, and this guy had an effortless stride as he was working up the hill. I figured the winning streak was probably going to stop at two as I continued to watch him pull away from me. However, there came a point five or six miles into the climb when it didn't seem like he was picking up any more ground, but the lead was still a fairly substantial 90 seconds or so.

The course at Pilot Hill is a real mixed bag in terms of terrain, with knobbly awkward rock sections, stretches of sand, looser jeep-track stuff, stretches of grass, with nasty jutting rock sections to really spice things up every now and then, and a couple of ditch jumps thrown in just for fun. The climb, however, was pretty consistent; one of those in-between grades that is never too steep and never flat, just a steady grind. The run is a straight out-and-back, with a mile or two of extra turns on the way out, making the outbound distance just under 8.5 miles and the return just over 7 miles.

As I'm watching the leader grow his lead up the climb, I hear a set of lungs close at hand behind. I figure it's Ryan. The turn comes after the steepest section of the climb, right under the T.V. towers, and I was energized to see Alec and Cathy Muthig manning the aid station at the top. They gave me a good cheer as I rolled in, just north of 62 minutes. The lead runner was still a good minute and half ahead at the turn, with another guy I didn't recognize close behind me, and Ryan about two minutes back in fourth. Ryan is such a strong downhill runner that I doubted I'd hold that two minutes and actually liked his chances of winning or coming in second, so I decided to bolt the opening and steepest sections of the drop.

The first two to three miles of descent cover some pretty technical terrain, and I could tell that the leader was not in his element through this section, which allowed me to close to within ten seconds by the first aid station on the way back down. As the terrain eased up, I was keeping pace - not gaining ground but not losing ground either. Game on. This one, I figured, might come down to a sprint and if not, it would be about who had gas left in the tank through the always-tough 3/4 point of the race. By the final aid station (3 miles or so out), I could tell the leader had run out of gears, so I made my move and eased past him. As I was doing so, he told me not to worry about him as he was "cooked": music to my ears. I took a quick look over my shoulder to see where third and fourth were and saw nothing but scenery.

Fearing the bluff, I kept the foot on the gas through the sand flats, crossing the finish line in 1:45. A total 62 and change up, 42 and change down. Second was 30 seconds back, with third 90 seconds back and Ryan two or three minutes back in fourth.

Finishing up. Race photo credits: Pilot Hill Classic

Chatting with the guys after the race, I learned that second, Michael Huntington, is a member of the UW track team with a 10k PR of 30:4x(!), while third, Martin Stensing is a 9:50 Ironman and, well, Ryan is Ryan. For a field of 47 runners this was an impressive group of athletes. All four of us came in under last year's winning time of 1:49.

Michael, me and Ryan

I cannot say enough about this race and the organization. The course was marked every 100 meters with flags, which, over the course of 8 miles, is a lot of flags. The post-race meal was gourmet and plentiful, the atmosphere was super friendly and just about everyone went home with some kind of prize. For my troubles, I got a free entry into next year's race, or one of two other races in the Laramie trail series later in the year; an etched pint glass; and a massive bomber from the Grand Tetons brewery: my kind of race. I'll be back for years to come and hope that others will too. For $17 you will not find a better deal (except maybe Alec's free Twin Mountain Trudge, but you've got to be slightly loopy to run that one).

Three wins in Wyoming this year, one race left. We'll see what happens in three weeks.


  1. Wow, 3rd win in three weeks.. you are definitely on a roll! Congrats!

    I almost was going to come to the race, as some other friends (Dan, Scott, Bob) were carpooling over there. I didn't realize you were going to run it too. Ultimately I passed at the very last minute thinking it made more sense for me to do a long, hilly bike ride since I have a bike race (hill climb) next weekend but no long running races coming up.

    Good job!

  2. Too bad you didn't make it out, Felix, it was definitely a fun morning and a great race. I chatted with Scott (the kilted man) after the race. We were two among many from the Fort.

  3. Damn! Four of you under last year's win? That's very impressive. Great job pushing!

  4. Wooohoo Nick! Great race. Kathy and I were really surprised at how close the first six were in making the top. Kathy knew the second place runner from working in the UW training room and said he was pretty fast. I thought "he must be if he's in front of Nick" but I also figured that the last few miles of Pilot Hill are mentally tough and your recent 50 mile races would be one of your strengths over him. Nice job my man!

  5. Thanks, Alec. The guy in second, Michael, said he hadn't run longer than 1:20 all season, so I guess that explains him tying up at the end. Definitely a track/cross country guy.

  6. Time to change this blog to Mr. Wyoming Dirt Running