Sunday, July 18, 2010

Barr Trail Mountain Race

Got my ass kicked by Pikes Peak again this morning. I don't know what it is about this mountain, but it seems to do a number on me every time.

This morning was my first time running the 12.5 mile Barr Trail Mountain Race, and my fourth time running to (at least) Barr Camp. And while I seem to be getting a good feel for the mountain, it continues to punish me in ways that other mountains do not. The obvious reason of course is that I always seem to be in a hurry to get where I need to be when running on Pikes.

The stats to Barr Camp are something like 6.3 miles with 3,650 feet of elevation gain to approximately 10,000 feet. The race is pretty much a straight out and back and it has become a classic on the mountain running scene. This year did not disappoint.

Matt Carpenter was, of course, the pre-race favorite given that he's won eight of the 10 times it has been run (and been beaten just once), but this year there seemed to be a sniff in the air that he might be beatable. The usual Colorado/Manitou Springs mountain speedsters were all there, along with Rickey Gates (frequent fixture on the US Mountain Running Team), Martin Cox (top British mountain runner), and there was also some chatter about a 2:12 Kenyan marathoner. As for me, I was just hoping for a strong climb as I've been feeling a bit off with regards to charging up hills of late (very different from ambling up them for hours on end), possibly a top ten and maybe a sub 1:40.

Was up at 3:30 to meet Dan Turk at 4:10 for the two-hour ride down to Manitou. Once there, I jogged the half mile or so to the start and called it a warm up. Saw GZ and a few of the other usual suspects at the start, and then lined up in the second row in a bid to prevent any rabbit-like behavior from the gun.

An absolute herd of people shot out in front of me as we all got into stride, and I stumbled over a few heels as I tried for a clean line of sight. After the first hundred meters, the run immediately got serious on perhaps the steepest pitch of the day just before we hit singletrack. I didn't even bother counting off my position as there were so many people in front of me. I recognized Bernie Boettcher, Megan Kimmel and Brandy Erholtz in and around me, so figured there was no need to be worried about pacing at this point - just getting warmed up, but already feeling a little leaden in the leg department.

On the steep section known as the 'Ws,' I tried to feel out a comfortable pace, something that has eluded me through the first few miles of the Barr Trail in the past, but it wasn't coming. I don't know if it's the grade, which while steep is not brutal, the fact that the steeper stuff comes early in the race, or both, but even at an effort where I felt I was being sensible and backing off, the Ws were still kicking my ass.

Through the first mile or two, I made my way past Megan and Brandy - the lead two ladies - and tried to hang on to Bernie's shirt, a couple of singlets ahead of me. By the top of the Ws however, he was out of sight and I was pretty much locked into position following a red shirt and a yellow shirt with nobody in view behind. As some had predicted, the Kenyan road marathoner did not have a good race and he appeared to be in big trouble when I passed him somewhere before No Name Creek. He apparently did not finish the race.

My legs continued to feel heavy through most of the climb, easing up a bit on the mellower grades, but I was never really feeling it. Even on the fast flat to down sections I was having a hard time pushing. I knew the engine was pumping well as my breathing was okay, but I just couldn't get the wheels to fly. I overtook the red shirt about half way up and then would get glimpses of the yellow shirt from there to the turn. By the .5 mile sign to Barr Camp, the lead runner (who I did not recognize) came flying by and it seemed like an eternity until Matt C came by in second, followed by a procession of guys, including Rickey in third and other familiar faces mixed with less familiar faces. Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and finally the yellow shirt. Wow, I was in 15th at Barr Camp, splitting exactly 1:05 with a ton of work to do.

As I made the tear-drop turn, I immediately felt some energy in the legs. Within a half mile, I had overtaken three guys and was gunning for more. Only one of the guys I passed came with me and I was feeling good about maybe picking up a few more guys for that spot in the top 10. Dodging up-bound traffic was much less of an issue than I thought it would be and people were very courteous about giving right of way to gravity-inspired runners. My adrenaline rush from the turn lasted maybe two miles before it was rudely interrupted by the section of flats and ups - which just a few miles earlier had been so welcome as flats and downs - and then it was a grind for the rest of the way. I still heard footsteps behind me, so I was motivated to keep the throttle depressed for a while, but when I finally lost those footsteps at the top of the Ws and was continuing to see no new targets in front, I got lazy and mostly cruised for the remainder of the run.

Sucking air on the drop. Photo: Beth Garner

I finally saw a yellow shirt as we were getting very near the bottom, so put in a final effort through the last few hundred meters, finishing a couple of seconds off 11th in 12th with a time of 1:42:3x. 1:05 up and 37:3x down. To be honest, I was right about where I thought I would be time-wise given that I'm still not really approaching any degree of sharpness post Western States and that speed has been anything but a focus this year. Some years that time would have been good for top 10, some years not.

Both course records were broken with Ryan Hafer (1:29:02) deposing Matt C as champion and course record holder, while Rickey picked Matt off for second somewhere on the drop. Ryan won by a huge six minutes, while the placings through seventh or eighth were very tight. Brandy won easily in the women's race, setting a new course record in the process.

Picking up the 35-39 award. Photo: George Zack

All in all, a good workout, a fabulously well executed race and fun times catching up with friends new and old.

Next time on Pikes, those Ws will be mine.


  1. despite feeling the "sludge" in the legs still a very solid time. If I remember correct you said somewhere around 1.40 right? Nice job sparky! Hafer, man!

  2. Nice report!!!

  3. Nice run. 12th ain't nothing shabby this year, probably the deepest the race has ever been.

    The Kenyan made it to the W's, puked, and walked back down. He asked for a shirt and the RD didn't give him one.

  4. Solid run Nick, nice to finally put a face to a name. Sure is hard to miss you in that green singlet.

  5. Deepest mens field ever ... 9 guys sub 1:40. I am pretty sure that has never been done before.

    The DNF Kenyan asking for a shirt. Now that is a story.

  6. And oh, crap - nice work out there. Good luck at Speedgoat.

  7. Sounds like you're going to have your work cut out for you at PPM...

  8. Brownie - still not good enough to win more beer from you. I'll leave some PBRs in the fridge for you Pikes/Leadville weekend.

    Patrick - great chatting. And yeah, that singlet is a pretty loud shade of green.

    JM - I'll be ready. I'm even heading to the track this week. You'll need to go sub-3:55...

  9. Nice job, sounds like you were at or above expected based everything. No doubt, if you lived closer and could train there specifically, you'd be able to refine the strategy and hack off some noticeable time.

  10. Damn W's... they still kick my ass every time and I have the luxury of running them weekly. Still an awesome time, though. 37 down from Barr is hard for me to wrap my mind around!

  11. I'll gladly take the beer, but remember you also promised me one of those sweet PI headbands!

  12. Brooks - try 33:18 down (Hafer). Damn!!!!

    Brownie - they're Smith headbands and I have matching wristbands too - nice!! I'll leave a set with the PBR.

  13. Oh Smith headbands huh? Wih the red, white, and blue, I thought you were trying to send Top American a message.