|Barr Trail (last week, not today)
Lining up this morning outside the Cog Rail station at the end of Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs, I was concerned about hitting the cutoff times, which I never give a second thought to in road races. The race goes up Barr Trail to Barr Camp and back down again, for a relatively random race total of 12.8 miles. I've been running Barr for years and know the trail well, and have been on it a couple times a week this season. The last several times up to Barr Camp I've been getting faster, but I also know it's a different trail each time, and there are no guarantees in trail running.
Barr Trail Mountain Race is primarily a local race, although it does attract some folks from out of state, as it is the second leg of the Pikes Peak qualifier. With the small contingent of out-of-towners, I figured I wouldn't be last, but I did want to not embarrass myself.
The start went off with a "three-two-one-GO!" and off we went. I was far enough back that it was a pretty heavy group I was running with (although I later learned that only 378 toed the line -but that's a chunk on single track!) It was a relatively warm start, and within the first mile I was looking forward to getting up to more elevation and away from the sun. I did quite a bit of power hiking in the "W's" - the first series of steep switchbacks up the mountain. Some days I get into a groove and run these consistently, but I couldn't find that groove today. Part of it was just the number of people and not being able to get space to move. Part of it was just... not today.
Regardless, I made it past the first checkpoint with 8 minutes before the cutoff. I kept climbing and ran when I could. Past the rock underpass (two huge boulders you pass under), the trail was pretty rutted out with the recent rains. It flattens a bit after that, and I made up some time, catching up and passing some folks who had passed me earlier on. I got past the second checkpoint with some additional time to spare. Somewhere between mile 4 and 5, I was running uphill and around a boulder pile... and nearly crashed into the lead runner, blasting back down the hill. I hadn't heard him and no one ahead called out "runner" as is general etiquette. Fortunately, neither he nor I fell. I apologized profusely and he yelled out that it was ok as he continued on. The downhill pack started to come, and the first woman came through at number 5 overall, looking like she hadn't even broken a sweat. Amazing.
There's a high meadow somewhere after mile 5, and that's where I came up on Jason, a guy I presume was from out of town. He had hiked to Barr Camp a couple of months ago and apparently that was enough training for him, and although I could tell he was making an effort to keep up with me, he was hurting and complaining about cramping up. A little before Barr Camp, I lost him, and I don't actually remember seeing him on the downhill...
I hit Barr Camp about a minute slower than last week, but still in range of "faster than before," although I was ready to be done with the uphill at that point. The camp is a turnaround, lined with one of the high school cross-country teams staffing the aid station. There were four on the course, which is pretty amazing considering those kids had to haul ALL that aid up to each of those stations. Good job!
The downhill is where I can make up time - its quite frequently a new race for me, and I've trained to run the downhills. That's not to say I'm fast, but I am quite a bit faster than a lot of folks that otherwise run about my speed on the downs. Down felt pretty good, and I passed a number of people. With two miles to go, I realized I could probably make it in quicker than I originally anticipated. I added what gas I could and went for it.
The end of the race takes you down the trail, over to the end of Ruxton Canyon, and then a hard left up a street that leads to the Barr Trail parking lot we all call "Hydro Hill." I had passed four people down the end of Ruxton, and when I made the turn, I knew that I could take that last tenth of a mile or so. My Thursday night Incline Club finishes our training on - hill repeats up Hydro, and today, I only needed to do one. So I did, passing another four people who were walking up the hill.
Six minutes faster than expected. Not bad for a warm day and an uphill slog. I met up with some of the folks I run with at the end, and we walked down Ruxton, meeting up with Eric and heading to to Soda Springs park in town for the afterparty and awards (only a trail race has you hike a mile away to get to your refreshments and finisher's shirt. Speaking of, you only get a shirt if you finish in time. No "shirt at packet pick up here!). None of us placed in our age group, and it turns out that the 50+'ers were a heck of a lot faster than we all were! Good for them - maybe trail running means you get faster with age?
I guess time will tell!