mountains run

Winter’s Back Baby (aka Headless Horsetooth and Vail Uphill weekend recap)

By on February 26, 2015

For a while there I was beginning to think I had somehow time-traveled to spring. The weather in Denver was sunny and in the 60s for most of the beginning of February. Well I’m sad to say that I did not accidentally time travel. It is actually still winter and the weather in Colorado decided to make that abundantly clear. Over the weekend Denver received 9-18″ of snow (depending on where it was measured) and we’re scheduled for another dumping of snow over the next couple of days.

Unfortunately for my running, winter decided to reassert itself on the weekend of my longest training run for a while (direct quote from my coach in my training plan). This run was supposed to be 31 miles of grinding through Devil’s Backbone Open Space and Horesetooth Reservoir slightly southwest of Fort Collins.


Starting the run bright and early

When I woke up Saturday morning, the weather didn’t look too bad. There was definitely snow on the ground, but not too much and the roads were more wet than snowy. I made the hour drive up to Devil’s Backbone Open Space in Loveland, CO where the snow was pretty much the same as Denver. It was still dark out but the sky was lightening enough that I only needed my headlamp when I used the pit toilet before the start. At around 6:30, five of us started off into the dark. I knew my ankle might be a problem since this was the first time I was running on anything more technical than crushed gravel since I strained my peroneal tendon a couple of weeks ago. I tried to keep up with the other four runners but quickly lost them when I stopped to take off my down jacket and put on my rain jacket. Which turned out to be fortunate because almost immediately afterwards I stepped on some rocks funny and felt a strain in my ankle. A couple steps more and I realized it was going to be a slow day, especially over the first 3 miles which were littered with tilted, slick rocks.

The run was scheduled to start in waves, show up between 6 am and 8 am and start running at 15 minute intervals with whoever else was there. At 8 am whoever was left would start. I knew the weather was going to be an issue and that I also didn’t want to be out too late because I had to drive up to Jason’s house afterwards. I thought I’d make it for the 6 am start, which didn’t exactly happen but I was close. I had barely started mile 3 when the group behind mine caught up with me. They passed by like I was standing still. It was pretty demoralizing, especially considering my ankle was hurting, my stomach was bothering me, and I was alternating between too hot and too cold. I really thought about turning around right then and there but didn’t want to be a baby (and the run organizer posted a very inspiring Facebook post about forced adversity training being good mental training for ultras). Before I started, I made the decision that I would turn around at 9:30, giving me time to accomplish everything else I needed to do on Saturday so I kept that as my goal.


Scenes along the course. I definitely need to go back here and explore more. It was BEAUTIFUL!

At the five mile mark I was passed by and then re-caught a really nice girl from Colorado Springs. She stopped to wait for her friend since they had to turn around to make it to a beer fest in Colorado Springs. We chatted for a bit before I had to head on my way because I was getting too cold standing still. At this point the ground became a lot less rocky and I’m pretty sure under the snow it would be nice buffed single track. The fog also cleared enough for me to be able to see more of my surroundings which significantly helped improve my mood. Although I was feeling much better, I decided to stick to my 9:30 turn around time, extending it a little bit so I could get to 8 miles. On the way back I had to stop multiple times to step off the trail for the main group of runners. It was awesome how many people remembered me from the last run and stopped to ask how my ankle was doing and I got to stop and chat with Tracie and Antonio, my saviors from the last HPRS Fat Ass. I really LOVE the ultra community and the Front Range Ultra Runners in particular. I guess I really was feeling better and moving faster (and chatting with people I know definitely helped) because my time back to my car was faster than the way out, even with about 15 minutes wasted stepping off the trail. I finished the first run of the day with 16.4 miles in 3:56.

When I made it back to Denver Moose had a bunch of energy so I decided to take him on a quick run to get out some of his energy and to pick up some lunch for myself. We did a quick loop around the local park and stopped at Whole Foods on the way home to pick up a Gentle Lemons Prefer Blondes juice (acorn squash, lemons, apple, pear, and ginger – yum!). That little jaunt brought the total for the day up to 20.41 miles in 4:32 with almost 3600 ft of elevation gain.

I was feeling like a wus while driving up to Jason’s house, so when I got there and it was sunny, I decided to lace up my sneaks for one more run to get me to the 31 miles I had scheduled. The Eagle Valley bike path extends uninterrupted from Avon to Edwards which is 4.6 miles one way, adding on the 0.4 miles from Jason’s house to the bike path and a little extra jog around Edwards and again in Avon, I managed to get in an extra 10.56 miles in 2:12. That brought the total for the day up to 30.97 miles in 6:46 with 4,380 ft of elevation gain. Not exactly the 32 miles and 6,800 ft I would have gotten during the fat ass, but pretty darn close.


Along the Eagle River in Avon

The next day was the Vail Uphill. I’ve done this race for the past three years and each year I forget how challenging it is. The race is in honor of Lyndon Ellefson, a former US Mountain Running Team member who passed away unexpectedly when he fell into a crevasse on a glacier head first and drowned during a training session in Italy. The race raises money for the Vail Valley Foundation’s Athlete Commission and the US Mountain Running Team. As such, it is extremely difficult and attracts world-class mountain runners and skiers. It takes an almost-direct route from the base of Lionshead Gondola up to the top, covering 2,250 ft in 2.18 miles. To say it’s a leg burner is an understatement.

After running 31 miles the day before, I decided to take this race slow, although I secretly had the goal to break an hour (my previous times were 1:10 and 1:05). I started off with a jog before quickly switching to power hike mode. When I had to take a quick break at the top of the second “climb” (which is quotes because technically the entire run is one big climb, but there are climbs and then there are climbs). Although I realized my goal of breaking an hour was slowly slipping out of my reach, I was happy that I was solidly in the middle of the pack instead of the very back where I’ve been the past two years. At around the one mile mark, my savior caught up with me and offered me some water. In my rush to make it to the race, I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all morning. And then Kevin Folley showed up and offered me some water. After taking a quick sip he passed me until we got closer to the final climb. When he stopped to take a drink himself, and graciously offered me another sip, I caught up with him and chatted with him for the rest of the race. He had been friends with Lyndon and shared stories of his inspiring friend. He also clued me in on the fact that the Vail Valley Foundation is starting a ski mountaineering series – I can’t wait for that next year! At the top of the final, and biggest, climb, Jason was waiting with his camera, snapping away. He told me I looked great, which was a total lie and the pictures confirm that fact, and then jogged ahead to get a picture of me at the finish line. Except I picked up the pace and crossed the finish line before he did!

The only decent pic of me during the race. I really need to learn to smile while suffering! Photo Credit: NinetySeventy Photography

After the race is the post-race breakfast complete with all the fixins for breakfast burritos, muffins, and fruit. I piled my plate high and chatted with Jason while we waited for the awards to start. Unfortunately I didn’t place in my age group although if I had made my sub-hour goal, I would have gotten third in my age group! There weren’t any standout performances this year, unlike last year when both a 75 year old man and 14 year old girl beat me – this year I beat the old and the young! We spent the rest of the day lounging around and trying not to fall asleep before 8 pm. Trust me, the struggle was real.


The pups waiting to play in the snow