Ever been to Livermore? First time for Keith and me. Livermore sits up against the foothills about 25 minutes northwest of Fort Collins. They have a post office and a church. And a trailhead. This town leads to the Red Feather Lakes which I’m told are gorgeous. We meet Beth and Ken Risdon here for the Fort Collins Trail Half Marathon this morning.
Keith and I are running this to prep for a mountain trail relay in Snowmass, two weeks after the Bolder Boulder. I’m also interested in running this for the hill workout to condition myself for the Bolder Boulder. Mountain trails require training. It’s a bad idea to go directly from street running to a trail race. You need to shorten your stride and develop good footfall coordination. This is my favorite running and I have a blast this morning.
The first mile is a cruel wake up though. When I begin to feel pain in my arms, I know I’ve started out too fast. The course begins at 5900 feet, quickly drops about 50 feet, and then rises up to over 6000 feet by the first mile. At this point, we leave the dirt road for a single track trail. I run the first mile in 9:04, which was my plan target pace before I knew how steep this would be. I probably should have run a 10 minute pace.
The move to the trail causes runners to speed up in order to position themselves. There’s a bit of passing as we find our pace on the rolling hills. I find I can take the downhills fast but am slower than some of the other runners on the inclines. This girl in the yellow shirt and I pass each other incessantly over the first 8 miles. She passes me up hill, I pass her downhill. Through two miles of this roller coaster, I run mile 2 in 8:03 and mile 3 in 8:09. Which is too fast.
I run mile 4 in 9:51 and mile 5 in 9:45, a much more sensible pace for my abilities. Even once the trail flattens out, which it never truly does, I find I’m unable to catch my breath the entire first half of the race. I’m fine with this, even though I’m a bit worried that I started too fast, because that’s why I’m here. I would never push myself this hard running solo. I’m not trying to race necessarily but am looking for a good workout. Miles 4 to 7 contain significant elevation gain. This acts as nature’s governor to slow me down.
On a flat course, my miles 4 and 5 pace would be good enough for me to recover. It’s not flat though and I continue to breathe like a banshee. The 5th mile contains numerous water crossings, which I happen to like but the yellow shirt girl I’m mostly following slows down for them. I don’t know if she’s being cautious or simply doesn’t want to get her shoes wet. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch her footfalls by this time and can tell she’s a strong trail runner with good foot placement. The difference perhaps between guys and girls. I take the water full speed without regard for the consequences.
Mile 6 is tough. I slow down to 11:11. Tougher yet is the part of mile 7 that contains the turn around point. A hill just before the turn is stupidly steep. A total momentum stopper. To be fair, runners have been walking everywhere on this course, including the first mile, but this begins the massive slowdown for many of them. My yellow shirt companion begins walking here and I pass her. Only to be passed back by her on the subsequent downhill after the turn. She’s a badass racer.
I stay on her heels and return to a 9:40 pace for mile 7. We’re running much faster than that but this mile includes the steep up hill before the turn. I run mile 8 in 7:19. We’re in a strong race now, screaming down this mountain. I lose yellow shirt though as we cross a stream and she slows down. I don’t. I continue to race down for as long as the trail drops. I run mile 9 in 8:34 and mile 10 in 8:11.
Mile 11 begins an unrelenting climb back up the final hill. I slow down to a 13:26 pace and for the first time walk a bit myself. I encounter my buddy Torin on this hill. I didn’t know he was here until I saw him ahead of me before the turn. The middle four miles of this trail are actually double track which makes it easy to support runners in both directions. I pass Torin for a moment but the competitive bastard takes me right back. Neither of us are running fast just now but his slow is less slow than mine up hill.
Mile 12 is still mostly up hill but at less of a slope than previously and I run a 9:09 pace. I also pass Torin here but not in a proud way. His calves are cramping. I know what this is like at the end of a race, extremely dispiriting. I suspect Torin wanted to race me in. I was looking forward to it myself. The final mile is back down the dirt road and I unwind with a 7:30 pace, crossing the finish in 1:57:57. Twenty minutes off my typical half marathon pace when running on flatter streets, but this beats my expectations. I didn’t think I could break two hours on this course. Beth and I both take second place in our respective age divisions. Really tough course, but beautiful and highly recommended.