Spoiler alert: I should actually name this post “Race Report: Quad Rock 25 Miler.”
Although the day didn’t go as planned, I had a blast at this race. It was challenging, and stupidly hot (hence the 25 instead of 50), but the course was beautiful, and it was well-organized, well-supported, and well-marked. No complaints here. Well, actually just one, but we’ll get to that later – nothing horrible.
Molly and I arrived at Lory State Park very, very early on race day. We stayed at a friend’s house in Fort Collins the night before to make the morning trek to the race less unpleasant, and we completely overestimated how long it would take to get to the start from there. Whoops.
We sat in the dark at the ranger station for a few minutes, waiting for it to open so we could get a parking permit, when someone from the car behind us said they thought we could get them at check in, so we decided to drive into the park to the start and find out. We figured we could always walk back and get a permit if we needed to. Turned out we were fine.
Since we were so stupidly early, things weren’t quite set up yet, so we didn’t really know where to park or what to do. But that got sorted out within a few minutes. We hung out with a couple other runners in the dark, hovering around the check in table while the RD and volunteers set up. Check in was quick – race packet, bib, safety pins, race shirt, and… toothbrushes and toothpaste? That was random. After check in, it was back to the car to nap for a bit before heading to the start.
At dawn, we headed down the dirt road to the start area, where people were milling around, chatting, lubing up, drinking coffee, and playing the game I like to call “ride the port-a-potty line.” We wandered our way to the back of the crowd to find a spot for the start. Promptly at 6:30am, the RD got on the microphone and said a few words, and then we were off.
We headed down the main park road for two miles, until we got to the first trailhead. I was stressing about the cutoffs (my one complaint about this race – the cutoffs are very, very fast). I had made my peace with the fact that I likely wouldn’t make them and would have to stop early at some point, but I was still trying hard to bust ass and see how long I could hold on.
At this point in the day, I was actually feeling really good. I passed a ton of people on the first bit of trail, and settled into a nice rhythm. I even had a sub-10 mile! On a trail! For now, Molly was behind me by about 1/4 mile, but I knew she would catch me early on the first big climb, so I wasn’t worried. I also knew that all these people I was passing… yeah, I would be seeing them again soon too. As of now, I am NOT a good climber. I have a lot of work to do in that area.
After about a mile on the trail, we started the first big climb of the day. There are three big climbs in one 25 mile loop, and for the 50 miler, we would do the loop twice – once in each direction. So there would be six big climbs today. For now, I was trying to haul ass. I knew that would change quickly, so I was trying to bank some time for later.
I hauled my way up the Towers climb as quickly as I could. Molly caught me early and informed me that she had tripped and wiped out in the very beginning – which became important later in the day. We ran together until the little downhill in the middle of the climb , when I pulled ahead (downhill is my jam). As we neared the end of the climb, she caught me again, and I told her to go on ahead. It was stressing me out and making me frustrated that I was killing myself to keep up with her longer legs. I just wanted to be in my own head for now. So Molly wandered ahead and I continued to plod along, hoping the Towers aid station wasn’t far.
I arrived at Towers in time for the fantastic volunteers to fill my water, and catch Molly and her new friend, Tony, for the descent to the Horsetooth aid station. This was a nice little trail down the valley, with some rolling hills along the way. I was able to keep up the whole way to Horsetooth, which was nice. It would have been wonderful to stop and enjoy the views – it was a beautiful trail – but there was no time to linger. As Tony kept telling us all day… “no lingering!” I loved that guy and hated him at the same time.
We cruised into Horsetooth and I dumped my long sleeve in my drop bag. Then it was time to scope out the amazing food spread they had laid out. I was super excited to see that they had peanut butter and nutella, so I grabbed a couple cookies and one of those, and headed back out for climb #2 – back up to Towers.
Molly, Tony, and I stuck together for about half of this climb. Somewhere in the middle, we spread out a bit, with Molly in front, and Tony and I leapfrogging back and forth. By now, it was getting really hot, my right arch was constantly aching, and my left hip flexor was very angry with me. I wasn’t a pretty sight.
By the time I reached the top of the second climb, and the Towers aid station, my race math was solid – there was no way I was making cutoffs today. I had to maintain a 16:21/mile for the first 25 miles, and by the second time through Towers (about 15 miles), I was averaging around 16:45/mi, and certainly not getting any faster. All I wanted to do at Towers was sit down and call it a day. It was blazingly hot – the air temperature was mid-80s, but here in Colorado, it always feels 10-15 degrees warmer in the sun – and there was very little shade on this course.
I forced myself through Towers and didn’t give myself any time to even think about stopping to sit down. A volunteer refilled my water as I came in, I grabbed a couple pretzels, and I was on my way. No time to think.
The downhill out of Towers was more rolling than I expected, so I couldn’t go as fast as I had been hoping. Tony and I continued to leapfrog, and I did the same with another girl – Kim. Kim and I started chatting as we ran along, and it turned out we live quite literally across the street from each other. Small world! We made mental notes to get each other’s contact info after the race so we could run together sometime.
Eventually, the trail opened up into the valley, and we could see the Arthur’s aid station ahead. Kim and I arrived at the aid station to Molly looking very unhappy. Turns out that trip and fall she had taken first thing in the morning had tweaked her back, which was now a complete mess. She couldn’t run anymore, and was just going to walk it in to the 25 mile finish. I knew there was no way I was making cutoffs, so this was perfectly fine with me.
As we were leaving the aid station for our third, and now final climb of the day, the 50 mile leader came through going the other way. Absolutely unbelievable – he had done 33 miles in the time it took us to do 17. Granted, we’re slow, but we were in awe. That guy was flying.
Molly and I slowly made our way up the third climb. At this point, we were a strange mixture of grumpy, exhausted, overheated, sore, relieved and at peace with the fact that we were done at 25 miles, and partially run drunk. We cheered on those who were running the 50 and coming back the other way on lap #2, and chatted with a few girls we kept leapfrogging with along the way.
Somewhere around the top of the climb, Molly was really fighting the pain. That girl is the toughest person I know (and now she’s finally writing about her story!), so to say that she was digging deep is really saying something. I decided it would be a good time for some entertaining/inspiring theme music, so I turned on my little speaker, and put on “Always look on the bright side of life” (from Spamalot) as we slowly trotted our way down off the final summit. Everyone we passed got a good laugh out of that one. It seemed appropriate given the day we were having.
As we continued down the final descent, a few more 50 milers came back the other way, but there weren’t too many of them. And a lot of them looked pretty rough. Even the leaders. Weirdly enough, that made us feel a bit better about getting our asses handed to us by this course.
Finally, the trail opened up and we could see the plains, valley, and finish line in the distance. We knew we didn’t have far to go, and the trail was runnable, so we did our best for a final push to the end.
As we were running along, all of a sudden I heard Molly trip behind me, and the sound of her flying off the trail into the scrub. I hadn’t seen any of this, and my first thought before turning around was “oh shit. I hope she didn’t land on a cactus!” Fortunately, when I turned around, I saw Molly laying in the scrub on the side of the trail, NOT on a cactus. She didn’t look happy though. Her back was in a lot of pain, and her back and leg muscles were just done for the day. She had nothing left for stability.
After picking herself up, and a quick blood check, we were on our way again.
We wound our way down off the hillside, and could see the road and the finish growing closer and closer. 100 yards from the end of the trail, from behind me I heard Molly bite it again, and I turned to find her laying on the side of the trail, blood streaming from her knee, and looking VERY pissed off. After making sure she wasn’t broken, I forced her to stand up, and laugh it off. I knew if I let her sit there and stew about it, she was just going to get mad. I believe her exact words when she fell were “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” She was SO over this day.
With some run drunk giggles, we ran out onto the road, and into the finish area. In our happiness to be done, and not doing another 25 miles, we both sprinted for the finish line, trying to beat each other – because we’re morons like that.
We crossed the finish line (you have you actually run through it if you are doing the 50), and immediately turned to the volunteers and told them we were done. They grabbed the tags from our bibs, and gave us our 25 mile finisher pint glasses, and pointed us in the direction of the food.
We hung around at the finish area for a bit – eating, and getting massages (the woman who worked on both of us was WONDERFUL), and watching the last 25 mile finishers come in. Not too long after we finished, the leader of the 50 also finished. He must have had a pretty amazing day out there. I can not imagine running that course so quickly. That was impressive. Before leaving, we asked the finish line volunteers how many 50 milers had dropped to the 25 – turned out over half the field had dropped, which made us feel MUCH better about our decision!
After food and drink, we slowly hobbled our way back to the car, and made our way home. It was a long and challenging day, but overall, a great race. I’m not thrilled with my performance, but I really liked the event, and would love to do it again next year. Redemption race, 2016?
Final time: 7:43:22
Read the official Gnar Runners race recap here.