Thursday, April 8, 2010

Towers Spring Time Trial

Realizing that I need to start working a few hills, rather than jog up them comfortably as is my typical training habit, I put out the call to the Fort Collins Trail Running Group to see if I could get any takers for a hard effort up Towers Road this evening. Eight showed up at the Soderburg trailhead ready to blow the cobwebs off a winter of lazy miles.

Horsetooth and Towers off in the distance beyond the reservoir. Towers starts at Rez level.

Towers is probably Fort Collins' number one proving ground when it comes to climbing and it's a favorite among bikers and runners alike. As far as hill climbs go, it's about as pure as it gets: very little technicality to it, no hopping over rocks, no twisting and turning, just a steady three-mile, 1,800' grind on a dirt service road to a bunch of telecommunications towers, with a .45 mile connector trail from the parking lot to the climb. All told, the FKT route is 3.4 miles and 1,800 feet of hurt.

So last time out in September, Eric Bergman reset Steve Folkerts' FKT (30:36) to a hair over 30 minutes at 30:15, with me 10 seconds back in 30:25, so obviously the goal today was to duck under the elusive 30-minute barrier.

We devised something of a handicap based on people's best guesses or previous best times up the hill, and Jennifer, Kate and J.Z. set out first, followed by Chris (+6 mins), Alex (+8 mins), Kyle (+10 mins), Pete (+13 mins) and myself (+17 mins). There were also some mountain bikers who had set out a few minutes before us, which was good as chasing down bikes going uphill is a favorite sport of mine.

Once Pete set off, I jogged around a bit and then gave myself a rolling start. I hit Towers in a comfortable 2:49 (2:40 last time), then set about getting my head down for the climb ahead. The two faster bikes had a couple of minutes start on me, and they were the first target. I hit the Stout trail in 8:43, which surprised me a bit, because I felt like I was moving pretty well, but had somehow lost 13 seconds on last year (8:30). I wasn't going to throw in the towel just yet though as I also had a halfway split at Herrington to comp from. I figured that if I was still off, I would take the foot off and take it easy from there.

Heading up towards Loggers, I passed the mountain bikers, and while I was working hard I felt like I was also moving well. Through the 'S' turn past Loggers, I continued to hammer to see if I could get a decent split for Herrington, which I hit in 16:25, a full 20 seconds faster than my PR split. Back in the game. I hammered the flats from Herrington and readied up for the steepest pitch of Towers about two miles in, passing Jennifer on the way.

Coming up on Mill Creek, I caught sight of Chris, Alex and Kyle, and also saw that Pete was passing them. By Mill Creek I was past Chris, Alex and Kyle and looking to chase down Pete who had 20 meters on me with a half mile to go. By the top of the final grunt, I passed Kate as we hit patches of snow and ice, and just before the turn into the clearing I got a step on Pete who was working hard despite his pre-run claim that he wasn't going to push. J.Z. was already done and stood at the turn cheering us in.

I told myself that I wouldn't look at my watch past Herrington, but as I made the final turn, I took a quick peek to see if I had a shot at going under 30. Seeing 29:33 on the clock, I pushed out whatever it was that I had left through the clearing, slapping the finish-line building in a new FKT of 29:52, just barely holding off a replay of my lunch. Pete came rolling in a few seconds after me in a new PR of 33:53, followed soon after by everyone else.

We'll be repeating this one in two weeks and then every fortnight thereafter, using previous times as handicaps for a little racing action near the top. Good stuff.


  1. It's always enjoyable to pass mountain bikers on the way up a mountain. And if the trail is technical enough, sometimes on the way down, too.

  2. Good stuff Nick. Sometime you'll have to race Scott J up Mt Falcon... +2100' in 3.8... I gotta get my ass up on that thing soon...

  3. This was an awesome idea Nick. Hope to join in when I get the chance (still looking to break 40). The staggered start is not only good for you in chasing people down, but would give us leadfoots motivation to hold you off. No doubt a good workout for all. I was doing repeats of the climb 2 weeks ago and was busting through knee deep snow at the top. Congrats on the sub 30!

    Brother Pine
    BH100 minus 10

  4. Yeah Patrick that would be a good one! But to be quite honest I think Nick is afraid of Falcon... I'm afraid of Falcon! Hurts me every time.

    Nick's run - 3.4 myles, 1800ft: 29:33, 8:41 pace, avg grade 10%
    Scott's run - 3 myles (turkey trot, shelter) 1900ft: 27:15, 9:05 pace, avg grade 12%

  5. Jon - it's even better when the mountain biker says something to the effect of, "no way" as you blow by them.

    BP - yeah, it's cleared up nicely. Still a bit of crud near the top, but that'll be gone by next weekend. Hope to see you out there next time - sub-40 should come easy with a little pressure from behind/front. Good luck in the Bighorns, too. Great race.

    Patrick/Fasted. I fear not the Falcon - just the drive out there ;). Not surprisingly, Scott, looks like we would run each other pretty close. So Towers minus the connector is 3 miles w/ 1,700', and my time based on yesterday's run would be 26:40 or thereabouts. Too close to call. Isn't there a race on Falcon in the Fall...?

  6. Hey Nick, that was a lot of fun! And I recall that you also claimed that you weren't going to push too hard either and were going for a reasonable 34min ascent. So when I hit Stout in 8:32 I figured I had a nice lead on you after convincing you I'd run a 37. ...I should have known you were sand bagging worse than I was! Congrats on breaking the 30min barrier. I have a feeling you'll get even faster with a regular bunch of rabbits to chase down.

  7. Dude, you hit Stout in 8:32! What happened?

  8. Great post Nick! I have a couple of similar Hill Runs of the 3-5 Mile length that I may have to start getting after in a similar manner. Keep at it! See you soon.

  9. Nick - this is one of the so called fabled if we ever get organized series events - right?

    I think if we did it here, it would have to be Green now that EVERYONE is doing it since that kid does it every day.

    Agree with your sentiment ... it is time to start blowing some of the dust off the lazy miles.

  10. Thanks, Matt. Looks like you had a strong 50k the other weekend. Congrats! Team's looking good right now - just got to keep it together for a couple more months...

    GZ - I'd probably take you guys up Round Mountain, a few miles west of Loveland. Closer in if you're coming from the south and a better climb, I think: decent to rocky singletrack most of the way w/~3,000' over 4.8 miles.

    Green would be good. Was just out there this morning with Scott J and Josh Brimhall. Ice was treacherous above 7k.

  11. Great post, Nick! I absolutely love uphill time trials. Getting some friends together for a handicapped race is great idea; I may have to talk your Central Oregon teammate and her husband into doing something like that.