A black Infinity is parked outside my front door Friday morning at 4am. This is my ride to Idaho Springs, where I’m expected to launch the first leg of our Here Kitty Kitty relay team’s 165 mile, 30 hour race across three Colorado mountain passes. I sit up front and comment to Keith we have to stop meeting like this for these sleep-deprived, weekend socials.
We’re entered in the masters division – meaning over 40 years old. To be competitive at this age, shoot to be half-assed athletic and running period, is a statement. That’s less obvious in Colorado where it seems everyone is so incredibly fit. But then my world might suffer from sample bias. I seem to attend events where everyone looks a lot like me. There’s no Xbox on the trails. The runners on my team though are exceptional. Elite amateurs. Semi-pro, masters-class runners. I’m not intimidated necessarily but feel special to be included, flattered to hang with them. Joining me on Here Kitty Kitty are Keith, Jen, Steve (all neighbors) and Kristin, Jill, Eve, Carolyn and Tom. We’re joined by a second ultra team, Flaming Oven Mitt, with Beth, Ken, Rafe, Brian and Joie.
My kickoff leg starts at 6:30am from a parking lot in downtown Idaho Springs. I have to wear a safety vest and lights as the sun has yet to fully rise. Only three other runners launch with me in my starting wave. It’s a fast start, likely due to excitement but I suspect also to stay warm. The September mountain air is crisp and ideal for running. I regret my fast start almost immediately as we climb a steep single track trail to a bike path that leaves me gasping for oxygen the rest of the 4.5 mile run. Our route follows I-70 toward Georgetown with long, rolling hills. My intent is to run an easy warmup pace but somehow I average 7 minute miles. I credit the cold air and initial race-start buzz. My plan was for a warmup and to save my legs for my second leg, but this strong run gives me confidence.
I hand off to Jen. Because our team is short a 10th runner, Jen runs two back-to-back legs, 7.1 miles into Georgetown. Jen was part of my Longs Peak climb two weekends earlier. She hasn’t been running much this summer. She’s a busy working mother of two, running her State Farm insurance agency in Longmont. After recent trips to Europe and Minneapolis, she’s back home and ready to run. She does regular bootcamp workouts that leave her core strong, and she’s simply a natural runner. She has no problem with this high-altitude, uphill run into Georgetown.
Jen hands off to Keith who begins the climb up the course’s first mountain, Guanella Pass. His 6.1 mile route is scary steep but Keith is a strong hill runner. He knows how to find his zone and maintain incessant forward motion. Keith is a poli-sci professor at Colorado State, teaching their honors program in Ft. Collins since 2002. His daughter recently graduated CU-Boulder and his son is now attending CSU, leaving Keith and his wife Susan empty nesters. Running nearly thirty miles without sleep for two days gives him something to do with his new-found free time.
Keith hands off to Kristin, still on Guanella Pass Road. Kristin is a school teacher, also with two kids. She jokes about leaving her husband Brad with the kids while she plays in the mountains. Truth is, she often gets her husband and kids up here. Skiing seems to be the one sport her entire family enjoys the most, but Kristin is a big-time mountain biker. Brad and Kristin even lived in Summit County for a few years early in their marriage. I didn’t know Kristin before this weekend and learn that she’s an incredible athlete. She soars up this mountain road as if it’s flat.
Kristin hands off to Jill. This completes the running by the team members in my van – officially Van #1. I don’t get a chance to speak much to the runners in Van #2 although Jill rides with us to Exchange 5 because there’s not enough parking for both team vans. Like Kristin, Jill is a school teacher. I discover what an extremely strong runner Jill is after she summits the seriously steep final stretch of Gaunella Pass for the team. I know I would have had to walk it. Glad I ran the first leg.
Jill hands off to Eve, pictured here, who begins the descent down Guanella Pass. The rest of our team in Van #2, Carolyn, Tom and Steve, run jeep roads, cattle trails, and finish up on the Colorado Trail at the Jefferson Creek Trailhead. Their trail runs are challenging and unfortunately poorly marked with signage. The official race course descriptions are poor at best and navigation is as difficult as the terrain. Eve is an accountant and is married to Brian, an engineer with Crocs who is running with the ultra team. I learn Carolyn owns Panorama Coordinated Services in Longmont. Tom is the founder and CEO of Threatwave and is a stud trail runner. Steve is in product marketing at Rally, a software development firm in Boulder.
Those of us in Van #1 feel certain we have the best legs. We run less on busy highway shoulders, enjoy more opportunities to dine at real sit-down restaurants, and we finish first. It goes without saying that we are better looking. Without question, both our vans sleep more than the ultra team in Van #3. And again, we are considerably better looking.
Our ultra team launched 90 minutes before us and remains ahead of us the entire event – some of Boulder County’s most bad-ass, masters-class runners. I see them for the first time at the Jefferson Creek exchange. Brian’s legs are bloodied from falling on the trail. Beth leads the charge up Georgia Pass, pictured here near the start of her run in the thick trees of the Colorado Trail. Beth is a social worker well known for her very real and hilarious running blog. Click to enlarge this pic and tell me those aren’t runner’s legs. Beth runs the 4th fastest time of all females in this relay over Georgia Pass. Other members of her ultra team are Joie and Rafe, Brian’s life-long friend from Albuquerque. I don’t get an opportunity to chat with Joie but hope to run with everyone again in future events where we can become more familiar.
Jen and Kristin, sitting together here at the Jefferson Creek Trailhead, meet for the first time on this relay and become instant friends. Our entire team, both vans, are able to meet at this exchange to wait for Steve to finish and me to start. They tease me later because I’m as antsy as a schoolboy waiting to begin the run over Georgia Pass.
It’s a long story, from my first snowshoe adventure over Georgia Pass to the relay two years ago that was cancelled due to the great flood, but I’ve been waiting for my chance to own this hill. And I don’t mind telling you that I absolutely kill it. The slope up the eastern edge of the pass is quite runable – if that’s a word. My type-ahead feature thinks not. The slope is graceful enough that I am never forced to walk. There are even short downhill dips where I’m able to surge. My slowest mile uphill is 13 minutes, which I consider pretty speedy for running up a mountain at 11,000 feet. Oddly enough, my slowest mile overall is near the bottom of the west side running downhill in 14 minutes. I scream down on my descent but by the bottom my legs are so fatigued that I have to slow down for safety. Falling might hurt. This run is everything I could have asked for, satisfying years of anticipation.
The relay runs through Breckenridge, Frisco, Leadville, and finally ends in Buena Vista shortly before noon Saturday. There are so many more stories to share. I won’t, mostly to protect the guilty but also so I can watch some football and prep for a travel week. We ate at some good restaurants, like the Sunshine Cafe for breakfast pictured here. We spent the night at a condo in Silverthorne to recover – and drink. I suggest clicking on my link to Beth’s blog for an entertaining recap of the ultra experience. Wonderful weekend overall. Next Saturday is the Boulder Marathon.