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This picture captures the first steps of our 7 mile tumble into Telluride.  The weather was as gorgeous as it appears.  Given this event’s history of life-threatening weather – this beautiful September day almost made me feel like I was cheating.  But to be fair, I had to carry gloves, a hat and a jacket per race guidelines that I didn’t need.  I did start out wearing the gloves and shell.  I switched my fleece skull cap for my running cap at the starting line, but after I’d already loaded my gear bag on the bus so I had to carry both hats.  Hilarious how bundled up we are in the picture below standing next to the hotel lobby fireplace at 5am before catching the bus to Ouray.

I’m glad I decided against wearing my running vest.  Not that it’s heavy but I just didn’t need it.  My jacket had sufficient pockets to store the additional clothing.  I bought a North Face Torpedo running shell for $85, specifically for this run.  It’s fairly wind and water repellant and weighs only a few ounces.  Although I tied it around my waist after a few miles, I was still able to easily access the pockets.  And I never once had to retie it, my initial fastening held.  North Face has some newer model shells for twice the price, but I highly recommend this one.

I also purchased some new trail racing flats for this event.  Karen will tell you our house is literally littered with running shoes, but all my trail shoes are too short for my toes.  I planned to run in my road shoes but was concerned about proper traction for the descent and then discovered a pair of Salomon Speedcross3 trail racers on sale for $59.  These shoes are so cool.  They have a waterproof model for $135 that I wanted, partly because I liked the color more, but I went with the bargain price.  The shoe has an integrated tongue so ankle gaiters aren’t necessary to keep out rocks.  And the speed laces don’t require tying as they have a cinch that stores out of the way under a flap.  And weighing less than 1.5 pounds, they are very light.  They performed great although I did get a minor blister on the heel of my cursed left foot, but I blame my too-small socks for that.

So great weather and cool gear.  I also enjoyed staying in Telluride this time around.  Ouray is a cool town but Telluride has a lot to offer.  I left home at 5am and reached Telluride by noon.  Sort of expected an 8 hour drive but only needed 7.  This allowed me to pick up my race packet before the deadline so I didn’t need to drive into Ouray.  I certainly had time to visit Ouray.  I would have had drinks with Janet and Kris but instead walked around Telluride.  I lunched at Baked, a bakery that seems to serve everything.  It’s a quick-serve arrangement with shared picnic tables. I had a bowl of chili for lunch and returned for pasta that evening knowing it would not be too rich.  Didn’t need rich food before a 17 mile run.  And eating by myself, I didn’t need fancy atmosphere.  Baked was great.  We grabbed coffee and doughnuts there in the morning before loading the bus for Ouray at 5:15am.

The bus ride was under an hour leaving us about an hour before the start of the race.  We dropped off our gear bags and hung out a bit in a coffee shop.  Remembering the cold at the start of the 2010 run made this weather seem so surprising.  My Weather Channel app said to expect 45° but it felt more like 50°.  And there was zero wind.  Very pleasant.  And I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I was two years prior.  I knew I could do this even if I wasn’t in quite the same level of fitness as then.  Our plan was to take our time at the aid stations eating and replenishing liquids, and to make it to the top of the pass in about 3 hours.  We were now experienced at this run and were confident of our plan.  The gun fired for the race to start and we were committed to our 2nd IPR – four hours of running pleasure on one of Colorado’s most bad-ass trails – beginning at 7810 feet.

The first payoff from experience was our choice of skipping the alternate trails in the first mile.  They look appealing but you find out after you’ve committed to them that a roadblock forms as runners try squeezing back onto the main path.  Seriously, this probably is worth a full minute or two.  And it avoids frustration.  I felt great with our pace on this ten mile climb.  The amount of water on the trail – jeep road really for the first 7 miles – was different.  But to be expected I guess as Ouray received some rain earlier in the week.  You can see it in this pic – felt like running up a creek at times but my feet never got wet.

We began walking within 4 miles but whenever the grade allowed, we would run again.  Actually, we followed the crowd.  Whenever we saw the runners immediately in front of us begin to run or begin to walk, we fell into their pace.  Rob and I seemed to alternate taking off on each other which was interesting.  If he was in front of me, I would have to continue running uphill when the crowd began walking in order to catch him.  I assume he had to do the same to catch me.  I lost Rob once when I was certain he was behind me but then I nearly ran into him ahead of me.  I think this was near Lower Camp Bird which marked the end of the easy 7% gradient around 5 miles and the transition to the steeper 14% slope for the second half of the climb.  I stuffed my mouth full of M&Ms, oranges and bananas – easily eating more at this LCB aid station than I do in an entire half marathon.  I did the same at the Upper Camp Bird aid station a little over 7 miles up.  Here, the gradient increases to 15% and eventually leaves the jeep road for single track – at which point the gradient becomes 16.5%.  Rob and I were finished passing each other with energetic bursts.  The rest of the way – now above tree line –  would be pure walking.

I carried my iPhone in my hand most of the way in order to film and take photos.  This was easy enough, except for when I was stuffing my face with munchies at the aid stations.  I’ve already posted some 5 minutes of video to my YouTube channel to give you the feel of being there with us.  Rob and I crested the 13,100 foot pass in 2:55 (328 and 329 out of over 1500 runners) just under our target plan of 3 hours.  That’s nailing it in my book.  We made the pass in 2:35 two years earlier but our strategy this time was to run slower in order to conserve strength for the descent.  We enjoyed the view along with some chicken consommé that tasted incredible after having just burned God-only-knows how many thousands of calories.

The weather up top was impossibly perfect.  As cold as it was at the start of our first IPR, it got hot on the descent.  But this time enough clouds kept the sun off our backs.  I suspect there might have been some danger of rain and lightening for the runners an hour or more behind us.  We began a controlled pace down toward Telluride.  I had planned to run faster, and had the initial strength, but changed my mind after realizing how much I enjoyed the uphill run under a strong but not crazy pace.  It feels good to run strong and not be exhausted.  Knowing this was going to be a 4 hour affair, I wanted to enjoy it.  And so that’s how we tumbled into Telluride – not too fast, not too slow.  As the slope evened out a bit the final 3 miles, we began to increase our pace.  The final two miles were even quicker and we easily ran the last mile under 7 minutes.  We crossed the finish line looking good after four and a half hours.  3 hours up, 1.5 hours down.

Afterward, we soaked in the Hotel Telluride hot tub to work out the lactic acid.  Nice hotel by the way.  Staff were awesome.  We then lunched at the Floradora Saloon where everything tasted wonderful to my starved body.  Especially the bacon-wrapped Jalapeño Poppers and Ska True Blonde Ale.  I finished the afternoon with a spa massage back at the Hotel Telluride – brilliant call – and dined later that night at 221 South Oak.  Very nice.  This completes the first leg of my end of year trifecta.  Next up – the Denver Marathon Sept 22nd followed by the Boulder Marathon Oct 21st.