If you want to know more about the run, keep reading.
From the Falcon Trail, looking southwest to Blodgett Peak
I met up with Craig over at the US Air Force Academy Saturday morning for his long run leading up to Pikes Peak Marathon. Quite a few weeks back he showed me his top-secret training plan for shaking things up at PPM. When I saw the Long Run - 2 laps at Falcon for time on feet, I was intrigued to say the least. While I have no interest per se in marathons, or for a large part racing in general, I have often thought about a double loop of Falcon. Number 1, I really like the loop - great terrain, lots of variety, good climbs, etc. Second, it is one of few places locally where you can do a long, continuous loop - 13 miles to be exact. The only problem I saw was doing it solo. I guess now I had that part checked off the list also. So I told Craig I would at least hang for the first loop and see where everything shook out for a second.
The Knuckledragging Runner himself - still sporting "battle bandages" from the last time we ran
Now there was a secondary issue, which I did not share until we were already running. I had only run up to 21 miles previous, and my longest run this calendar year was 19. It did not seem to phase my running comrade, so we were off and running - clockwise on lap 1. While it was warming quickly, there was a strong breeze that really saved our bacon throughout the day. It was, however, a bit of a Catch-22 - when we were in the trees and shaded from the sun, there was no breeze. When we were in the breeze, we were fully exposed to the overhead sun. We managed pretty well though and the first lap rolled very well. OK, maybe too well. We were hitting some time checks a fair amount earlier than Craig's goal pace. Now that is good in one sense if it was a "one and done" event, but there was that whole second lap conundrum looming on the horizon. I let Craig lead out, so it was his fault...
The Chapel overlook - beautiful day to be on the trails
We didn't get too concerned about making decent time, figuring it never hurts to bank some time for the next lap. It was a great day to be chatting about trails, races, family stuff, life in general, etc., although we never got around to solving the problems of the world. Maybe next run. We did get in a great first lap - I logged 2:13 moving time for lap 1, about 45 seconds per mile under goal splits. With the loop nature of the trail, finishing the lap put us back at our vehicles for an unmanned aid station, which is quite convenient. We got a bit of solid food, loaded up some more water in the packs, and started lap 2 counter-clockwise for a fresh look at the trail. I am not certain Craig really knew if I was "all in" for a second loop, but I took the look of relief on his face as a sign that he was happy to not head out for #2 alone. The guy has business to get done on the mountain in three weeks - gotta "man up" and show some support, right? :)
Top of the last big climb - looking due south at Blodgett and the AFA water treatment plant
Where do I start with lap 2?? About a mile and a half in, after some gradual up around the golf course and through some forest, there is a grunt of a climb on a spine above the northern part of the Academy. It is not that it is steep, rather it is long and very very very exposed. It was already in the 80's by now and the sun was directly overhead. Conversation waned, to say the least, and for about 3 miles was reduced to two or three word sentences. Several times
the guy who tricked me into this death march Craig asked if this ever ended. While it did eventually crest, the slog took its toll. I had gone quite a ways without a glimpse at the Garmin, and I think we were so anxious to get that sucker done, we had climbed it a little fast for what was already in the legs. Oops. On the descent off the ridgeline, it was apparent I had put a dent in my reserves as Craig quickly put a gap on me, although I think some of that is his overall descending edge on me. We had to regroup quickly though as the next climb was soon upon us.
We put our heads down and ground out the next climb, first through the deep sand along Interior Drive below the Chapel, then up the long switchbacks to the Chapel Overlook. From there, it was a nice reprieve winding through the forest, before crossing Academy Drive and pushing the tough little climb up to Stanley Canyon trailhead. We took a breather in the shade, knowing we were 75% of the way done. Now it was time for the steepest descent off the backside of the canyon - on tired legs no less.
I was reminded to get a photo of the display once we were past the longest-run-ever point. Too bad my running glasses don't have my bifocal rx in them - I totally blew the focal point on that shot!!!
So near the bottom of the long hill, before crossing the Monument Creek Trail, Craig sounds the first alarm - he got his first draw of "air" from the hydration pack. With 4.5 miles to go. "So, Steve, how far off the trail is it to that Burger King you showed us?" "Oh, just across the road, through the BX parking lot, after the grunt hill past the fire station." "Ok, maybe we better check the fire station." About 5 minutes later, I had my first bubbles. We hadn't totally realized how warm it was getting but both of us had burned through some H2O - and we had a long stretch of exposed meadow to run through between us and the vehicles.
You can imagine the relief when we rolled up out of the creek drainage and saw people swarming around the fire station. There was some sort of community event going on, with barbecue - OK, that part was rude having to smell bbq 22.5 miles in to a run - they even had a Big-Air Jumper for the kids shaped like a fire truck. Frankly, we didn't care about any of that. When the fireman said past the kitchen and refrigerator, cold drinking fountain, blah blah blah, we were all over it. Plus it was air conditioned inside the fire station. So we lingered a bit, filled the packs, drank a little more from the fountain, then eventually had to get out before we decided to climb into the fridge and take a nap....
Not too far to the finish - luckily most of the rest of the trail was not too technical
Coming out of the fire station, there is a steep trail that climbs up to the community center/BX area. Not sure, but I have a feeling
we I looked less than amazing climbing that. It was hot, and I was getting pretty tired. I think the stop at the fire station had given Craig a fifth wind, as he was starting to push me a bit. We hit the descent from the BX with a "rabbit" out in front - a lanky guy had hopped on the trail and was pushing a decent pace out ahead of us. I was struggling a bit for the first time to hold an even gap and I think the lure of finishing off strong was taking hold of Craig. Somewhere in that foggy zone of tiredness, I am on my face. It is weird how when you are tired, you hit the dirt before you are even aware that you hooked your toe and are falling. There is none of that slow motion business where it takes 5 seconds to hit the ground - that only happens when you are alert! Luckily, I was in the deep sand so there wasn't much in the way of damage assessment. It did wake me up a bit, though, which was apparent by my first thought - "Crap, I never restarted the Garmin at the fire station..." - like that mattered at this point! So, I dusted myself off, got my senses, and took off. Craig had enough gap that he didn't hear me hit the ground, so I was a ways back now. At the bottom of the meadow, he yelled that he was taking a shot at sub-4:30 and I was all for it.
I reeled it in a bit, knowing that I could easily faceplant again if I tried to push the pace with my feet barely leaving terra firma with each step. I was already well into the bonus round and had been fueling off reserves for a bit of time so that strategy was just fine. I finally rolled in for 26 miles at 4:32:45 moving time, for a second lap split of 2:19:45 - not too shabby to drop only 1/2 minute per mile pace on the second go round. The gain for the double loop is about 3100', which is by no means huge but does add up. Oh yeah, and the whole longest run ever thing comes in to play as well. I thought about running out to the golf course and back, just to say I was an ultrarunner and so forth - however, I didn't really care. I was more interested in having a seat in the shade and "not running" for a while... BTW, five gels, 2 S-Caps, 130 oz. water and one Strawberry Yogurt granola bar fueled the effort if you wonder about such things.
I have to say, in all seriousness, this was a great run. I was glad Craig threw it out there because it was on the list for a while. I think, although he will have to confirm, that this was a good confidence boost for some overall pre-race fitness. But all that fitness, goal oriented jazz aside, it was just a fun day on the trails. Definitely good times.
Shoes - Brooks Pure Grit
On a side note, you may be asking where Mrs HT has been. Good question, and you'll soon be seeing more photo evidence of her on these pages. As has been the case (too often to count) in the past 18 months, we had a couple setbacks related to the Graves Disease recovery. Things that were unpredictable but happen and are common issues related to fall-out from the disease. I am biased, but I am also in control of the keyboard, so I have to say Kathleen has been absolutely rock-star at dealing with all these crazy roadblocks - her grit and determination are astounding to me. That being said, we are rolling with it all, and are most thankful that we still have biking legs as she (we) has had to do more biking this summer than we really wanted to have on the schedule. However, good progress is being made on the running front and along with it, we have a couple scenic long rides on tap, and maybe a few runs, to report on in the coming weeks. Stay tuned...