This was the hardest race I've ever run.
It wasn't just the 15.5 miles - severely over-distance for a miler/5k-er like me - but that the combo of gruelling uphill sections and technical descending often on loose rocks that were training to become scree meant there was no let up, anywhere. Oh, except maybe on the log over the river.
Within half a mile of the Beaver Lake Lodge at 7,300 feet the course started up. And up. My GPS told me we topped out at 10,800 feet after a little over 5 miles of ascending. This on a jeep "road". Imagine a classic zig-zag Tour de France climb crossed with the hell section of Paris-Roubaix. Yes eventually I took walk breaks. We all did. Well not the leaders of course. Check out the pictures on the Colorado Runner website here - and bear in mind that these were taken by 25k winner Bernie Boettcher; he carried a camera with him. Now there's a guy confident in his downhilling ability.
But don't get me wrong: this was a fantastic race in outstanding scenery, marked by severe good humour and laid-backness among competitors and support crew volunteers alike.
As I staggered and swayed up to the final feeding station with little more than a mile to run, I had to ask, "Are we nearly there yet?" This provoked a riot of information... most important being the most welcome, "Yes and it's all downhill from here1" Yeah, I've been hearing that for miles. "No really". And in short order I was offered water, Gatorade, beer.. and a cigarette!
In total contrast to a certain race a few weeks ago, organizer Craig Macek and his team impeccably marked and marshaled a 25k course in mountain country so that no one got lost or starved. Splashing across a shallow stream around the 6-mile mark I was temporarily startled when I registered out of the corner of my eye an impassive figure in drab forest gear, on horseback, rifle in scabbard by the saddle. Time warp. He may have been a "marshal", or maybe a hallucination; it was that kind of race.
Oh and there was schwag unbounded. Cancel everything I ever said about those irritating prize draws. Where Craig and co got the goodies from I have no idea, but they were top quality and there were lots of them. Having got fourth place in my age group, rather than my usual third, I was out of the running for the grand chunks of solid Marble marble. But, no sweat... I scored a stupendous $150 voucher for a full-on dinner for two at Olives Restaurant in the impossibly swish St Regis Hotel in Aspen. Someone got a leather jacket; someone else a pair of skis. Dwight Cornwell, whose win in the 60-64 division clinched the Series title, was presented with a gorgeous spruce tree!
Way to go
There are just two races to go in the Colorado Runner Racing Series and - glory be! -- they are both 5ks!
Next up is the Eerie Erie on October 25 (in Erie, of course. On November 16 the Panicking Poultry 5k in Boulder brings an end to the 16-race series begun in January.
We're waiting for the official Lead King results; latest standings will be updated on the Colorado Runner website here.
Results are now up and I did get my usual third in the 55-59 age-group: excellent! However, I am still not home and dry, and in many of the divisions, the final overall Series winners won't be decided until the final race. For some runners, though, the long campaign is over. These are the men and women who, with two races left, can't be caught and are winners of the Colorado Runner Racing Series:
Masters Women: Karen Smidt, 42, Brighton (2nd in the LKL)
50-54 Female: Cynthia Flora, 51, Littleton (3rd in the LKL)
55-59 Female: Jan Huie, 59, Colorado Springs - has more than 1000 points and is so far ahead she didn't have to run the Lead King Loop, although she made the trip.
60-64 Male: Dwight Cornwell, 62, Fort Collins (1st in the LKL with an age group course record 2:42:35, 14 minutes ahead of the next guy)
60-64 Female: Stephanie Wiecks, 61, Palmer Lake (1st in the LKL)
65+ Male: Jim Romero, 68, Denver, 15 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor in the LKL and another one with more than 1000 points.