I park at the Gunbarrel Trailhead near 1pm this afternoon for a 12 mile run. Maybe not the smartest time of day, considering the mid 70° weather, but Ellie’s puppies have increased my weekend chores. The Bolder Boulder is considered a tough course due to the hills. Other than entering Folsom Stadium, and maybe that high point at four miles, I would describe the race as a route with many slopes. But even slight slopes at altitude can be ball busters, especially at race pace. I need to begin training on these hills
The East Boulder Trail contains nearly 700 feet of elevation gain, and again that much loss, over my 12 mile route. There are few trails outside of the mountains where you can expect over 1000 feet of elevation change. I discovered this gem when I first moved to Boulder in 1989. I’ve been running this trail for nearly 26 years. Assuming today goes well, this is going to be my secret training weapon to condition myself for the 2015 Bolder Boulder.
The run begins with a half mile rise to the water tower. The slope is smooth though and serves as a nice warmup. The water tower marks the trail high point with a quarter mile flat top. The trail then drops through a two mile roller coaster to Boulder Creek. It can be tempting to gain speed. Momentum propels me into each rise, in this direction. But I know I’ll need my strength for the return. I maintain discipline with a controlled pace. I know that after reaching the bottom of the creek valley, I’ll have another nine miles to run. And it should go without saying, I have to turn around and climb back up.
Shortly after the foot bridge that crosses Boulder Creek, I come across a washed out section of trail where a small lake empties into the creek. This must be from the great 2013 flood. Have I not run this trail since then? I guide my feet across rocks that sit flat above the flowing water and reach the other side dry. The trail is flat for the next mile before resuming up a shallow southern slope through Teller Farms.
I begin to feel the heat. In Colorado, clouds count as shade. There are none today. There is a strong wind, which normally I hate. Today, this warm wind is my friend. It joins my hat and 16 ounces of Skratch to help me through this hellfire. There are many more runners in the Teller Farms flatlands. I pass a woman running the opposite direction, toward the hills. She appears at least ten years older then me. I’ll know by where I see her again if she actually runs the hills above the White Rocks cliffs.
I see her again on my return a half mile before I reach the washout, along the creek where I floated my dogs’ ashes almost twenty years prior. Teddy and Tara loved these runs in the late ’80s and early ’90s. That is, before I knew dogs were illegal on this section of the trail and received a fine. Well, not fined exactly. The Ranger only had one ticket left and he messed it up. But he gave me and the dogs a stern warning. That woman must have run to the water tower before turning around. What a bad ass. She’s easily in her sixties. I wonder how many years she’s been running these hills.
I think of Brittany as I launch up the first flight of hills. It’s arguably tougher than the water tower hill. If I can continue running up this hill, it’s possible I’ll complete all the hills without walking. When this hill defeats me and I begin walking, I typically walk all the other hills too. I introduced Brittany to this trail when she ran high school cross country. I recall her yelling at me once on this hill to slow down. I think she actually cried, but she made it without walking and ran up all the other hills too. I thought she might lie down and die after the final hill near the water tower, she was breathing so hard. But Brittany knows what all other runners out here know. Lie down and the White Rock Hills will steal your soul.
I make this hill and all the others. That final slog is long and turns steeper as it rises to the top. The wind hits me in the face so hard as I crest that I don’t notice immediately I’m no longer running up hill. About this time, some shirtless twenty year old brushes past me from behind and quips, “This breeze feels good, doesn’t it?” He’s running too fast for me to respond. Kids can be so cruel. I scan the stunning vista in front of me. I can see the entire Front Range. Directly ahead are the snow capped Indian Peaks. Longs Peak and Mount Meeker to my right. The Flatirons over Boulder to my left. This is the other reason I run here – the motivational views.
I almost always run alone out here. Pace doesn’t matter on a course like this. The slopes provide the workout. Not just cardio, the steepness forces me to pick up my feet. These hills are my running partner. After 26 years of running the White Rocks Hills on the East Boulder Trail, I’m out here again looking for them to guide me back to the speed I ran at that age. My runs with the dogs, and later with Brittany, make up only a fraction of my great experiences out here. I hope these hills remember me.