Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pilot Hill 25k, 2013

There's never much fanfare at the Wyoming races, which is a big part of the reason I love going up there to race. Runners congregate around the start, chat for a bit, maybe run a few miles to warm up, then go about the business of running hard for a few miles before swapping stories over a few cold beers and then heading home. Simple. The 2013 rendition of the Pilot Hill 25k (the 37th), a race I have now run four times in the last five years, was no different.

The days leading up to the race here on the Front Range had been exceptionally windy, and closing in on gale force up on the high plains at 7,200 feet in Laramie. Race morning came, and while the winds were significantly lighter in Fort Collins, the trees were still shaking a good bit as I was drinking my early morning coffee. This meant the Laramie trees were being blown sideways, I thought to myself as I got in the car. The weather transition, quite comically and quite literally, always seems to happen as you cross the state line driving up Highway 287. For today's transition, we went from strong winds to stronger winds and from partly cloudy to ominously dark.

Pic: Nora Testerman 
At the start line by the sand flats on the eastern edge of town, the weather concerns were actually muted somewhat with dropping wind strength and temperatures that while cold were certainly preferable to previous renditions that had been a touch on the hot side coming back down off the hill. I recognized Nik Deininger on the start line, a former UW cross country runner who'd beaten me by a couple of minutes last fall at the Silent Trails 10 miler, in addition to some of the usual suspects from home. Sam Malmberg was after the top-of-the-hill premium, I knew, so I was surprised to find myself running solo after just a half mile on the flats.

My pace felt way more controlled from the start than last year, when I'd been chasing Mike Hinterberg (who'd taken off like a just-released caged animal) while trying to hang on to Scott Foley, a much more talented runner than me. At the 180-degree turn this year, a mile and a half in , I was able to see that I'd built a 20 meter lead without really trying. I was surprised, but figured Sam, Nik and the rest of the chase pack were just biding their time waiting for the climbing to begin. I got my head down and continued on, feeling somewhat ridiculous so far out in front by myself.

The climb is not an aggressive one, with just 1,600 feet of vertical relief to cover over six miles, so your foot has to be on the gas the whole way up. The splits from my Highgear suggested that I was running a touch faster than last year, but with the quarter mile added to the ascent portion this year my goal of a sub-60 summit seemed unlikely (versus 1:00:07 last year). Nonetheless, I felt strong the whole climb, if a little clumsy on the rough and trail-less limestone sections and the rutted fields, and rounding the corner under the communication Towers of the Pilot Hill summit the math actually looked good for a 59:xx turn. I threw back a quick shoulder check and saw that Nik was far enough back that I was comfortably going to get the summit first, and indeed I did in 59:24. I stopped briefly to chug a cup of sports drink then took off like a man possessed for the return trip down the hill.

The somewhat bleak top (note tree being blown sideways). Pic: Marie-Helene Faurie
From a training perspective, the descent is the reason I run this race. Yes, it is only 1,600 feet down, but it is decently technical and long and fast enough to be a solid quad workout just four weeks from Western States. Baring disaster, I knew I wasn't going to get caught as I have consistently registered the fastest times coming down in the four years I've run the race. My Highgear splits were beeping in the 5:20 to 5:30 range, which meant Nik would have to be running low 5:00s to be gaining. Given the nature of the terrain, I knew that was unlikely, but I kept my foot on the gas to make sure.
The early stages of the descent. Marie. 

Cruising into the finish on the last two miles of the gently rolling sand flats, I needed to hold just 6:30 pace to dip under 1:40, a target that I had initially considered unlikely. But, as it turned out, I came in a good bit under at 1:39:14, over three minutes faster than last year.

This is a huge boost to the confidence as I enter the final stages of preparation for the showdown at the end of June. There is no better feeling as a runner than that of fitness and preparedness.

Thanks as always to Jeff French, Pilot Hill RD, for managing the proceedings, brewing up the post-race bevvies and generally ensuring a fun time for all at the incredibly reasonable price of $25 (a dollar per kilometer). There aren't many racing deals better than that out there. A second lunch (after the post-race spread from Turtle Rock Cafe) with my parents, wife and kids at Altitudes Chop House (and Brewery), and it was back down 287 into the glorious summer sunshine of Northern Colorado. A good morning.


  1. Good job, Nick, you're in prime of luck at Western States.

  2. Awesome... I'm definitely going to do this run sometime

  3. Nice course record!

  4. I loved the pics. Congrats on another great race! :)

    David |