[Guest written by the birthday boy, Ryan]
A 3:30am wake up call on a Sunday is not ordinarily how most people would want to kick off their Sunday’s but if you are a runner then this goes with the turf. Today we were planning on driving 2 hours south from Boulder for the rather early 7am start of the Hellacious Trail Challenge race, a 9.5 mile trail race set in the heart of Colorado Springs.
We picked this race for two reasons; first, the pictures on the web site made it look pretty fun and second but probably more importantly, it was the only race nearby that fell on my birthday!
Now we assumed from the pictures that this race would be held somewhere in the foothills of the Front Range near to Colorado Springs, so when looking into the details (after signing up of course!) were a bit shocked and sad to see it was held in the middle of the city in a park called Palmers Park. I mean, how cool can a trail race held in a city park be?
Oh, that’s were we were wrong…..
This was probably the best short trail race I’ve ever run. Now thats a fairly bold statement so let me explain why
1. The Course – The course was like running a roller coaster, a really old wooden creaking one that scares the hell out of you! It was brilliantly designed to maximize the use of the park, snaking and turning constantly, but not awkwardly, throughout the entire extent of the park. To craft a 9.5 mile course within an area like this without creating a dreaded loop was refreshing. I mean who likes multi-loop courses anyway…!
As any ex cross-country runner can attest to, an important component to any course is a suitable wide start to thin out the field. We were lined up facing away from the entrance to the trails and made to run around a grass field before entering the trail network. This is classic cross-country, and I love it. Unfortunately I’m one of those idiots who sprints out ahead (I just cant help it!) which I would later regret as soon as we encountered the first climb!
The course was hilly but never sustained, rather it was interspersed with short sharp inclines followed by fiercely fast and technical downhills. Palmers Park happens to comprise of some awesome geological features in the way of a number of large sandstone crags which the course wriggles around and sometimes over. This made for fantastic technical climbs and gnarly descents where on more than one occasion I had to use my hands. The uphills were never too long but most certainly took everything you had to constantly lift your feet up over the large boulders. The downhills were quite simply some of the most fun I’ve had in a trail race yet. You almost forgot that you were exhausted just seconds ago from the climb as you clung to the edge of control bouncing from rock to rock, avoiding a trip or overshooting the tight turns. I felt like a rally driver, navigating my way through on the edge of calamity.
Despite the terrain this course was seriously fast (for a technical course anyway) requiring 100% commitment to go full throttle on both the uphill and downhill. Between the ups and downs there were enough flat(ish) sections were you could really open up. The winning time was around 61 minutes which for a 9.5 miler, gives you some idea of the speed.
2. Markings – Navigating your way around the course is part and parcel of trail running and so I’m never one to complain too much about course markings. The first rule of trail running is ‘know thy course’ which is why it irks me when people complain about getting lost. Getting lost is a rite of passage.
I don’t think anyone can complain about this course though, it was brilliantly marked with both flagging and extensive chalk arrows. The latter of which was crucial for maintaining your pace and especially during the downhills. I rarely had to take my eyes off the trail to locate flagging as the chalk was always right where i needed it.
4. Atmosphere – One of the reasons I enjoy trail running is the atmosphere and this race was no exception. It was a small event with around 150 runners or so. Everyone was super friendly and it really felt like a community. The start was as refreshing as ever with nobody jostling for the front line as is usually the case with road races, no matter if its a 5k or a Marathon!
There were a lot of cheerful volunteers at the start/finish and along the course at the many aid stations. With 4 stations in total it was a lot for a 10 miler but it allowed me to run without a water bottle which was really great fun. I certainly needed that Gatorade after the heat and the hills!
5. Competition – There was a lot of good competition in the field with a good turnout from seemingly fast local runners including the Boulder Running Company team and the Denver Mile High track club. This was great in helping me keep pace when feeling beaten on several occasions on the course (mostly on the uphills!). Despite the fast crowd, the race still felt very relaxed with a decent spread of abilities throughout. Most people hung around at the end to chat and to watch other finish which again made the atmosphere feel very relaxed.
6. SWAG – Despite being a small local race there seemed to be some good local and national sponsorship via the Boulder Running Company and The North Face. This meant there were some great prizes for not only the winners but also for the top 3 Age Group winners too. How often do you see that! Silke and I won 1st place AG and got a $15 gift certificate to the Boulder Running Company store! On top of the prizes, everyone got a $15 coupon off any North Face item in the store and also two race t-shirts (a generic north face one and a cool Hellacious t-shirt!).
Overall, Silke and I had a great time at this race. Despite feeling pretty awful on the first half of the course I soon settled down and tried to cling to my position, swapping places a few times with people along the way. I had a strong finish, finally regaining my position on the last downhill and fighting to overtake a rather swift 17 year old in the final sprint…. unsuccessfully however. Good enough for 7th overall and within sight of the 5th and 6th place.
Silke had a fairly relaxed first half unlike me, taking pictures and enjoying the sights! She eventually put the camera away and picked it up to start chasing down the lead women. After me hassling her the previous few weeks for running the downhills too cautiously she really let it rip this time and flew down. She cruised into the finish in 4th place looked comfortable as always. Perhaps she should of tried a little harder like the 3rd place woman who collapsed over the finish line and proceeded to throw up the contents of her breakfast. No doubt if the course was another 10 miles longer she would have continued in the same pace and overtaken the 2nd and 3rd place woman!