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“3 Hour” Mountain Run Becomes “5+ Hour Mountain Run”

August 14, 2011

When headed out to run a meandering loop that included a pass over the Continental Divide, the semi-plan was to be out for about 3 hours to cover about 15 miles.  That sounds slow but bear in mind that we were starting at about 8,000 feet and climbing to over 12,000 feet, with plenty of lesser ups and downs throughout.  And the terrain was not exactly speedy – the majority of steps were on and over rock and roots or under tree branches or right through ankle-deep snow melt run-off.  In other words, this was just what trail runners think about when going to bed and when waking up, before dark and with insufficient rest, as was the case for this run, like most.

Our large group convened on the outskirts of Eldora, Colorado about 8am.  About half of the 10 or so were out for a two-hour run, the rest of us planned another hour.  The first hour or so went as planned, with steady climbing and a pace that allowed for comfortable conversation in pairs and threes.  A little after an hour in, the 2-hour folks turned back and 5 of us continued on, guided by the intrepid Mike Sandrock, whose boundless energy and enthusiasm were enough to have us all excited about whatever adventure might lay ahead.

As perhaps the least experienced and certainly the least accomplished of any of the runners I spent time with in Boulder, I was somewhat timid about donning my full trail-trekker outfit.  It includes a wide-brimmed hat, trail-running shoes, GPS watch, and a pack full of not only water and gels and Advil and salt pills but all sorts of “oh shit” gear crammed in: a lighter, flashlight, jacket, gloves, hat, whistle, compass, pen, knife, pepper spray, baggies, and paper towels.  And a few other odds and ends, as I generally prefer to have more than I need rather than dying in the woods.

But, without exception, nobody was stocked like me.  Few had more than a small water bottle and most didn’t even have that much.  So I felt sort of like a newbie goof-ball in spite of my not insignificant accumulated miles out on trails over the last few years.

About two hours into our run, when we still hadn’t reached what I believed to be the halfway point, I knew we’d be out for a while.  Hungry or not, tired or not, I diligently downed a gel every 20 minutes with a couple of ounces of water.  Once we hit the three hour point, I was actually feeling really good but I knew that the others had to be starting to fade.  And most of the others were striding along in road shoes, which are far from ideal for the rocky, sometimes muddy, usually up or down paths carved out of the mountain sides.

The views and weather couldn’t have been better.  Lakes and creeks and snowy bowls and meadows painted in the primary colors of countless blooming flowers, all under a mostly blue sky and 60-something degree dry air.  We came across hikers with skis strapped on their backs, en route to the higher points where they could find some runs at the peak of summer.

Close to three hours into the run we crossed the divide, which also granted us surprisingly close views of Winter Park, Colorado.  It is always hard, at least for me, to judge distances by sight in the mountains but it was cool to be close enough to see individual chairs on the lift in the not-so-far-distance.  Running the route back on the loop was a nice net downhill. Nice, that is, provided you have glycogen left in the legs, trail running shoes, and water.  So, I was set and still feeling good but I felt bad for the other guys, who under virtually any other conditions would have been pulling me through the run.

Terrance, who was once one of the top snow shoe racers in the country, seemed indifferent to the long outing but Anders, a strong and super fast 800 meter specialist, was bonking.  A few slurps from my water helped him some but by the time he most needed some calories, my gels had run out.  Having taken them in for the first 3.5 hours of the run, I knew I had plenty in the tank to get back but it would have been a major suffer-fest for my otherwise, as it surely was for Anders, Paul, and Sandrock, though none of them complained at any point about anything.

Obviously we all made it back, finishing in something over 5 hours for what turned out to be over 21 miles.  Once we got fully hydrated and downed some calories, we all felt great.  Having had many such runs with Andres Capra, I didn’t think of this one as being particularly “epic,” though it was a lot of fun and definitely qualifies as a long run worth remembering.  I found out later that this sort of run is not typical, even for many of the talented runners I spent time with.  Sandrock, who I assumed just drinks tea rather than ever actually resting, apparently slept for 16 hours afterwards.

Some time, not too far in the future, I’m hoping that precisely this kind of long run will be a regular part of my life, to be shared with friends, in the mountains, where the land and scenery dictate where we go and for how long.  And once I get, say, another 50 such runs in within a 6 month period, I think I’ll be ready to tackle the goal scratching at me from the inside: my first 100-Miler.  Leadville 2012, maybe?






From → 15M or more

  1. I can’t believe you were so overpacked!!!

  2. Anonymous permalink

    You were prepared. I think you come by your packing-every-possible-thing-you-might-need skill by way of genetics. You undoubtedly remember your Dad’s preparedness when we came to your high school football games?

    It sounds like you had a great run and a great bonding experience with these talented men.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    P.S. Forgot to sign my “Anonymous” comment — just in case you didn’t know, it’s your Mom. 🙂

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