Living in the Colorado Springs area over the past 9 months certainly has had it’s benefits. One of them being that on any given day I can hit the incredible local trails and possibly run into some of the creme de la creme in the sport of mountain running. The Ponderous Posterior 50k was the final installment of the Front Range Fat Asses (preceded by the Boulder Basic on October 30th and the Fort Collins Chubby Cheeks on 12/18/10) and it was a loaded turnout to say the least. This was an event which followed the Fat Ass Rules of no entry fees, no aid, no whining. That last bit could be a challenge for some given the full route included over 7,000′ of climbing. Basically, you show up, run, and have a great time.
Course aid, markings, and general hospitality were supplied by the CRUD Runners, while a special thanks goes out to JT for opening up his home for complete strangers and providing the sole aid station on the course. The course began by running through picturesque Garden of the Gods and hooking up with Rampart Range Rd. We then proceeded to hit Williams Canyon and Waldo Canyon where the one aid station was set up about 14.5 miles in. The run then progressed up Long’s Ranch Rd. (2,000+ ft. of climbing over 3 miles roughly) and connected with the Barr Trail down to Manitou Springs and then onto the Intemann Trail. Finally, 50k’ers enjoyed some final hills up Crystal Park Rd. and through Red Rock Park.
This being my first trail run over 20 miles, I was eager to experience what a casual trail run with the world’s best would be like. I chose the 9 a.m. start group, which included Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Alex Nichols, Joe Grant, and Jacob Rydman amongst its ranks, and we set out at a leisurely pace. While winding through Garden of the Gods I realized that there are very few venues, sports, or activities where a complete neophyte like myself could show up and run with world class mountain runners and not be scoffed at. Earlier groups in the day included Matt Carpenter and Justin Ricks to name a few, and I’m sure involved the same lack of pretension that truly makes trail running and its gatherings great events.
By the beginning of our first significant climb of the day up Rampart Range Rd. I got sense of how easily these guys were running as casual banter persisted throughout. As the weather warmed and we began to wind through the sheltered canyons the pace increased as the runners stretched their legs a little on downhill sections. I was thankful that Tony K. usually stopped at trail junctions and allowed everyone to regroup and refuel which kept me out of lactate land and feeling good. I’m always amazed at how accomplished mountain runners handle technical downhills with ease. I was downright impressed watching these guys ahead of me flow down rocky snow-covered singletrack while maintaining conversation. As we made the final descent towards the Waldo Canyon trailhead, and our one and only aid station, I was feeling quite confident in my ability to hang on to the back of this group and maintain some dignity.
After cramming down some calories and shedding some clothes (52 degrees in Colorado really does feel like 65 most of the time in the Midwest) we started out again crossing Highway 24. We then started our ascent up Long’s Ranch Road, a dirt road that relentlessly winds up the foothills and base of Pikes Peak. We started the climb at around 6,800′ and topped out at 9,150′. Making this climb more difficult was the sand-like snow that had just melted enough on the north facing slope to make footing truly awful. As I was passing the 26-mile turnoff my brain asked, “Why are you going up this road? The loop goes that way.” But after being called out by my fellow runners I persisted up the mountain at an incredibly slow and pathetic pace.
Now, let me digress a little and portray what it was like for the world class guys from my vantage point. I had managed to hang, at their mercy, for 15 miles and was feeling pretty good. Now, one 3.5 mile hill with an 11-15 % grade was all that it took to separate them from me in what seemed like an instant. Within 200 yards of starting that hill in the slushy snow it was easy to see why Tony and Scott are truly world class (as well as Joe and Jacob). They simply ran up the son-of-a-bitch and down the other side on the Barr Trail without giving it a second thought. What I learned by observing them run away from me as they could’ve at any time on the run, was that they do possess another level of fitness and talent lacking in myself and the other runners they left in their wake. But, what they also possess and, frankly, I lack, is the mental resiliency to run up an incline like that and not even think twice about it with 17 miles left to run. It is something that all successful ultra/ mountain runners possess to stay mindful, positive, and focus on the immediate task at hand.
As I continued the run down Barr Trail I was thankful that my friends, who are much more seasoned mountain runners, allowed me to catch up and we enjoyed a nice tour through Manitou Springs on the Intemann Trail. My group finished the approximately 26.5 mile loop in 4:54 and as I changed into dry clothes in my car I saw Tony, Scott, Joe, and Jacob finishing up their run just as they had started; no worse for wear. The fact that they had finished a 32+ mile run in the time it took me to run 26+, and added on some significant hills was amazing.
I hope that this becomes an annual event in Colorado Springs, and next year I would really like to hit the rest of the series. I hope that this series inspires other clubs to hold informal trail runs that gather everyone together in a casual atmosphere, united by passion and masochism. I hope that with more experience, wisdom, and some 50ks under my belt I can learn to hang with the fast and strong a little longer. Either way, I’m thankful that I am able to participate in a passion that allows me to rub elbows with the very best.