The Snowmass Ragnar Relay is an endless stream of runners, racing around trail loops through the hills above Snowmass Village. Starting Friday evening, I run four loops, green at 6:30 pm, yellow at 10:00 pm, green again at 5:30 am and the red loop for my finale at 12:46 pm. There are 200 other runners out somewhere along the 15 miles that make up these three loops. Math suggests there are over 10 runners per mile. Given the sparse distribution this late in the event, it’s rare that I find myself racing neck and neck against another runner. There are four runners running in the space of 100 yards in front of me as I start out the red loop. I pass three of them within the first mile, running on the bike path alongside Brush Creek Road, and just catch the fourth runner before turning onto Sinclair Road. I fail to pass him though.
We run side by side for the entire second mile, still on the street. We introduce ourselves, both happy for someone to push us up this steep street. Dave looks about my age, which I mostly judge based on his conservative dress. Us older guys show less skin than the couple of kids we passed in the first mile. Dave is relentless on this climb. I would not run this fast pace the first two miles of this seven mile loop, were I running by myself. My plan was to go up slow and try to race down fast. Half the runners we pass are walking, which is fairly typical of all runners on their third loops. We’re both breathing loudly, but I make the bigger grunts by far. I sense Dave is better at altitude than me.
The street ends just after two miles and we turn right onto the Rim Trail North. Dave sprints ahead of me to take the lead on the single track. I described the course elevation profile to him, having run this last year, while running up Sinclair. It helps to know the top of the climb is marked by a park bench at 3.5 miles. Dave is willing to let me pass him at one point during our ascent, because I’m breathing down his neck. I tell him that not only can I not pass him, but that I’ve been power walking for the last quarter mile. When you can walk as fast as someone else can run, you should walk. It’s an interesting phenomenon actually on steep mountain trails. It lowers the heart rate but maintains the same speed. No doubt, this just pissed Dave off.
Dave screams downhill as soon as we begin our descent. I try to follow his pace but he forms a sizable gap. Another much younger runner that Dave has passed runs between us for about a mile. Once I pass that kid, I close the gap with Dave. This is past where the red loop joins the yellow, after 5 miles. I finally pass Dave crossing the first wooden foot bridge. I suspect the 3.5 mile descent was too long for his wicked pace and shredded his legs. Running downhill provides you with unlimited oxygen, but your legs turn to jello. It gets a little scary when you lose confidence in your ability to brake around curves. My slower start to our descent left me with some strength at the end.
These 24 hour relays are all about self preservation. It takes discipline to maintain the strength to finish three or more runs on seriously steep mountain trails. I would have loved being able to race each loop with equal intensity, but I couldn’t recover well enough from my first run, and I wouldn’t have had anything left to run so hard on my final loop. Really happy I chose to run the middle loops slow and easy. My thighs are still sore the next day, which tells me that running the downhills took more out of my legs than the uphills. Running uphill makes an impression on your heart and lungs, but it’s the downhills that thrash your muscles.
This photo is from last week’s Bolder Boulder, just before the 6th mile, turning off Folsom. I like how it shows another mature runner directly behind me. Several of my teammates commented on how this year’s Snowmass Relay seems younger and more competitive than last year. I think us old runners hung in there though.