The Barr Trail Mountain Race (BTMR) is essentially the lower half of the Pikes Peak Marathon. The race is a bargain at $35 and has brought good reviews from my fellow Fort Collins Trail Runners. It's also another thing I can cross off the list of "Shit Alex May Has Done". It's a formidable list. There's no rest for the weary trying to conquer that list, yesterday as myself, Scott, and Celeste crossed Barr Trail off the list Alex parried by adding the Silver Rush 50 (sub-10 hours, well done Alex) to the list.
I signed up for Barr Trail months ago. I signed up for it partially because I felt guilty on backing down from my original goal of running my first 50 and running the Pikes Peak Marathon this summer. The Barr Trail Mountain Race is essentially the bottom half of the Pikes Peak Marathon, run on the same trail, Barr Trail surprisingly, up to Barr Camp (10,200 ft) and then back down. I also signed up because I love running up Towers and Barr Trail is essentially two Towers in one (12.6 miles and 3630 ft vert vs 2 times 6 miles and 1700 ft vert if you skip the Swan Johnson connector trail). Next year I'm in for Pikes, now I want to see what the top half of the course is like.
My modus operandi lately seems to be to doubt myself in the weeks leading up to a race. Barr Trail has a 1:10 cutoff at the 3.1 mile mark ( ft gain) and a 3:30 finish line cut-off. I had no doubt I could easily make both times when I signed up for the race, but a recent trip up Round Mountain where I was working harder than I anticipated had me wondering a bit. Just ignore the fact that the Round trip was 2 weeks out from Big Horn and I may not have been fully recovered, I did. I successfully managed to talk myself off the ledge after looking at past race results and set some goals based on about an 80th percentile finish.
Top of the Ws (1.9 M, 7800 ft) -- 34:00
No Name Creek (3.1 M, 8750 ft) -- 57:30
7.8 to Summit sign (4.6 M, 9350 ft) -- 1:23:30
Barr Camp (6.3 M, 10200 ft) -- 1:53:00
Descent (6.3 M, 6570 ft) -- 1:07:00
Finish (12.6 M, 3630 ft ascent/descent) -- 3:00:00
I started about 1/3 of the way back in the pack, further up than I maybe should have been but I've heard how crowded the W's get. I figured the faster guys behind me had a mile to put me in my place! By the time I got to the Ws, steep and sharp switchbacks, I didn't feel guilty at all as I found myself walking more than I wanted to. I took some advice learned from Victoria a few days before the race and carefully timed my passing to be in areas where I could pass 5-10 people at once, and set out passing runners going up the hill. I hit the top of the Ws at 33:00, a minute ahead of pace. I was worried a bit as everyone says not to go out too hard in the first 3 miles, but I was feeling good so kept on pushing. From here to No Name Creek I continued to pass when I had the chance and continued to feel strong. I hit No Name Creek at 54-ish, over 3 minutes ahead of pace, still wondering if I ran too hard but thinking not. Above No Name there are some flatter parts, and even a couple short downhill sections mixed in with the climbing, unlike the bottom half of the climb which is almost all up. Running up Towers teaches you when to push and when to conserve energy and I felt like I aced a test as I made good time to the 7.8 sign, passing several runners too exhausted to take advantage of the easier grades when they presented themselves. 7.8 sign at around 1:16 I think, over 6 minutes ahead of pace. Not far beyond the 7.8 sign the lead runner and I crossed paths, he going down, I still up. I estimated I was still about 1.5 miles from Barr Camp. I'll do the math for you, he was 3.0 miles ahead of me, at mile 7.8 where I was at 4.8. I decided to focus on how easily he made it look as he was flying downhill and push on so I could do the same. Soon other runners started coming down too and a few minutes later I passed Scott in about 15th place. I got a boost seeing a familiar face and set my mind on Barr Camp in 1:45. The closer I got to Barr the harder the gentle grades seemed; I'm still not sure if it was the altitude or accumulated fatigue.
I hit the Barr Camp turnaround at 1:45:34, 7:26 ahead of pace and wasted no time in heading downhill. Going by my highly scientific algorithm of 3 parts up, 2 parts down I calculated a 2:48 finish was in reach. Game on. I bounded downhill, falling in with a group of 3 or 4 runners all moving at about the same pace. I was now very happy I wore my Montrail Mountain Masochists as the sticky rubber soles on them left me feeling very confident and I was running relatively aggressively (for me). And then the irony to end all irony happened.
I think of all kinds of goofy shit when I run. Sometimes I do math, sometimes I sing songs in my head (sometimes, though rarely, out loud), sometimes I think about future races, sometimes I compose poetry. Silly (as opposed to artsy and profound) Haikus are my favorite. So with a little under 5 miles to go in the race I am trying to determine how many syllables are in gryptonite (what Montrail calls their sticky rubber outsoles) and thinking whether it should be in a 5 or 7 syllable line. Bam. I find myself on the ground. If composing a Haiku in honor of the great traction your shoes have causing a fall on trails isn't ironic I don't know what is. For what it's worth, I had just settled on "Gryptonite magic" as the 3rd line of the Haiku when I fell. The first two lines remain unwritten.
Trail runners are awesome, 3 or 4 stopped and asked if I was alright. One guy helped me up. I told them all to get going and took inventory of my injuries. The first thing I noticed was an egg on the side of my right forearm. It was sticking out 3/4 of an inch nearly immediately after falling. I was briefly scared it was broken, but the lack of sharp pain pushed that thought away. I had some road rash on my calf but otherwise thought things were fine. Until I took my first step with my left leg. Ouch. Evidently I took a rock right square in my quad and had a big charlie horse kind of knot in my quad. You may be able to guess this, but running downhill with such a beast isn't pleasant. I ran as hard as I could the rest of the way down which was probably dumb, but races are where you do dumb stuff, right? I am sure my pace suffered from where it could have been, but don't know how much it suffered. The 1:05:45 I ran on the way down was still faster than the 1:07 I had predicted, but after my ascent I hoped to gain 5 minutes on the downhill (and in the back of my mind thought it possible to break 60 down the way I felt at the top of the descent). Next year! My overall time of 2:51:21 was good for a finish 65% of the way down the field, significantly better than my 3:00:00 goal and significantly better than the 80% mark that I used to set that goal. I'll call that success.
Special thanks to El Paso County Search and Rescue for gently cleaning up my wounds after the race, they didn't even make me scream.
And yes, I really should post a Big Horn report sometime. And a schedule for 24 Hours of Towers.
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