In mid-October I ran in the 3rd annual Indian Creek Fifties 55k, the final race of the year in the Human Potential Running Series and a big goal of mine for the summer.
As anyone reading this probably knows, Colorado plays host to several dozen trail “ultras”, a few of which can take a couple tries to secure a spot in (the San Juan Solstice comes to mind). Dabbling in the sport more and more has only increased my interest in potentially trying a few of these events at some point in time. And like anything in life that’s hard, the best way to work towards a seemingly impossible goal is to break it up into many smaller, more manageable goals. Well, along those lines, there was no better time than this summer to start thinking about signing up for a 50k race.
The race is put on by “Sherpa” John Lacroix of HPRS and this year was its 3rd running. Snaking up and around the hills of Indian Creek above Roxborough State Park, the course racks up a decent amount of elevation gain and is relatively tough. And beyond that, 55k is the shorter distance offered as there is also a 50 mile race that kicks off 2 hours before the 55k start. All I can say is kudos to those people. Something to work towards for sure.
Something that was encouraging for me to realize about trail ultras is that the term “running” (in the traditional sense of the word) isn’t always an accurate descriptor how most people operate on these courses. Lots of times, particularly when ascending large hills, people walk/hike in a manner that can best be described as hike-running/shuffling. Well I didn’t exactly have a small summer in terms of hiking miles and vertical gained, so this type of course felt like familiar territory to me at this point in the year and I was able to cash in on all of that “training” by moving uphill fairly efficiently.
Regardless I still made sure to log some running miles leading up to the race, which included running in the Blue Sky Trail Marathon in Ft. Collins 13 days prior (congrats again to my buddy Kyle, who completed his first race of any kind there). Although that race didn’t go as well as I had hoped (85 degree heat and an exposed course made for a harsh intro to what the term “heat exhaustion” really means), it made for a great lead-in to the Indian Creek race.
The course is around 80% singletrack and consists of 2 loops – a 14.2 mile counterclockwise loop back to the starting line, followed by a longer clockwise loop from miles 14.2 to 32.8. The loops are situated such that the 2,500 ft hill you run down at the very beginning of the course is the same hill you wind up climbing at the very end of the course. Good stuff.
The day started off nice and cool, which everyone knew wasn’t going to last. The month of October has resembled July in Colorado this year and that wasn’t about to change for this race, unfortunately. A tough lesson in staying hydrated at the Blue Sky race prompted me to really focus on water and electrolytes this time around, and although my strategy wasn’t perfect, it made a noticeable difference.
I also hoped to maintain a slower but more consistent pace throughout the race. In prior races it was easy to develop a bad habit of starting off too fast and then letting others around me dictate my pace later on, which is just a bad idea in any race and especially in one like this.
After completing the first loop at mile 14 things were feeling good and the daytime temps were staying reasonable. Not long after staring the second loop I started to feel the heat for the first time. It’s a long 9 miles from the starting line aid station (aid #2) to the Rampart station (aid #3) and I managed to run out of water after finishing off about 6 of those miles. Pulling into aid #3 (mile 24) the beginnings of the same dehydration issues that had plagued me 13 days earlier began to creep in. Downing a quart of water at the aid station and popping a few electrolyte pills seemed to get things back on track.
From aid #3 the course drops down into an exposed valley before the big climb back up the east side of Thomas Hill. Being in the midst of that stretch right around 1pm made the heat borderline unbearable. I think everyone struggled up this hill except for the front runners who managed to get it out of the way early enough to miss peak afternoon temps.
Once back in the trees things cooled off a little bit, and with a nice breeze coming in from the east I was able to make decent time uphill. Finishing off the vert was a welcomed milestone, and meant there was only one downhill cruiser mile to the finish line.
I coasted in at the 6:35 mark (full results are posted here) and I was certainly happy with that. What made me even happier though was not feeling like complete crap like at the end of my other races. I’m learning that strategy, nutrition, and experience can sure make days like these feel a lot less painful. Thankfully I’m starting to figure out how to piece a successful race together.
I hung around the finish line for a long while, stretching and eating pizza and talking with other runners. Eventually it came time for the short drive home. A bath and an imperial pumpkin on the back porch put a fine end to another great day in the hills.
I liked this race a lot and I think I’ll head back next year. Whether it’s the 50k or the 50 miler, only time will tell.