|I took this while approaching Brainard Lake, which can be barely seen. The big mountain in the background is Mt. Audubon, of course. It is 13,223 feet above sea-level.|
This is a super fun, no hassle, bike/run outing that I've now done four times. My best was 5h08m and I thought my chances of every breaking five hours were behind me. I'm on the backside of the fitness curve now that I'm over 40+10 and I'm dealing with it really well. I pull out the age card as an excuse to go slower all the time, even with friends older than me! It doesn't work as well in those cases...
I tried to recruit some hardmen to come with me and only Stefan was in, but he invited Brady. Stefan Griebel needs no introduction to endurance feats, but here's two things about Brady Robinson. First, he and his partner (forgot his name) are the only people that have done the Longs Peak Triathlon (via the Diamond) completely unsupported. Second, he just beat Stefan in a mountain biking race! So, I wonder who the odd man out is...?
We met at the Lee Hill Trailhead on Lee Hill Road, just west of Broadway. This is the traditional start/finish for MAD. Bill Briggs was probably the first one to do this, or at least the first one I knew about. Bill loves biking to trailheads and dashing up peaks. The FKT for the course is at least ten years old and held by my brother in-law Kraig Koski at 4h38m. That's a firm time, but there are people around who could take it down. Not me. But maybe Stefan.
We started at 6:40 a.m. Stefan wore s small pack with his shoes and some food. Brady had a big seatpost bag with his gear in it. I just bungeed my shoes to my seatpost bag and put three gels and two Shot Blocks in my jersey pocket. I took one 24-ounce bottle with Gatorade in it and one 20-ounce bottle with just powered Gatorade and no water in it. I also took a tiny wind breaker and a hat.
Brady shot off the front as soon as things got steep on Lee Hill Road. He went by me and said, as a way of explanation, "I don't have a compact." What he meant was, "I see you riding that compact crank with the 26 in back. Bill, does your husband also ride?" Guilty! I need all the gearing help I can get. I used that 34x26 a lot today and I'm sure it saved my legs for my blistering 1.8 mph hiking speed up the mountain.
Stefan went by me next and he motored right on by Brady as well. I was pacing myself. I just wanted a solid effort today. I had done fifty miles of semi-mountain biking the previous day and just wanted to make sure I broke six hours. I spun away in my tiny gear and gradually closed on and passed Brady. That was weird, but Stefan would tell me later that Brady was just returning from a week at sea level. Going straight to 13,000 feet probably isn't optimal. That would be the last I'd see of Brady.
I caught Stefan at the top of the first crest on Lee Hill and led the descent. On the next steep section, Stefan went by again, but we stayed together. I took a turn in front and we rolled over the top together. I braked hard into the big switchback halfway down the other side and Stefan flew by, cornering like the turn was a banked berm.
Once in Lefthand Canyon Stefan almost immediately went off the front. I kept him in my sights for the next six or seven miles and then closed the gap. We rode together from there to the spigot below Ward, where I filled both of my bottles. Stefan dropped me once again above Ward, but the gap was probably less than a minute all the way to the trailhead. I got there at 2h05m on the clock. We transitioned to our running shoes, leaned our bikes against a tree (unlocked) and took off at a very slow trot. It was all I could do, but Stefan could do a lot more and went by one final time. He'd stretch the gap from here clear to the finish.
I shuffled for maybe 15 minutes before switching to a hike for the remainder of the ascent. Above treeline the trail veers to the right a bit to avoid a long-lasting snowfield, but Stefan made a beeline for the summit and I followed. This entails a bit of bushwhacking in the willows, but the willows aren't very tall as yet and we both only had to suffer for a couple of leg-trashing minutes.
The angled steepened and my pace got slower and slower until it felt like I was barely moving. Cresting each rise in the ridge was demoralizing as the next crest seemed so far away and so high. Nearly an hour into the run/hike I still had a thousand feet of climbing. I knew once I topped out that the return trip was almost completely downhill and that was my motivation. I hit the summit after 1h20m of hiking, which is actually a solid time for me. Stefan did 1h07m. I didn't see Stefan on the descent, which surprised me, but I was way to the south, taking a lucky route directly to the summit. Usually you have to run a minute or two over to the real summit.
I never saw Brady, but Stefan did on the descent. Brady was wondering about the rules for the FKT, heckling Stefan for not revealing the shortcuts. That's a good point. Koski stuck strictly to the trail so if you want to take down that time, you'd have to do the same. Stefan and I went "open course". The Tour de Flatirons is strictly on the trails - to be good citizens in the crowded Boulder Open Space. The Longs Peak FKT is open course. So it just depends. There are only two hard, fast rules in my mind:
1. Report what you did exactly
2. Never stop your watch (you'd be surprised how often this is done by even some elite runners)
There is actually an even more direct route that heads up from the first switchback where the trail emerges from the trees. Bill Briggs showed me this route and I've used it a couple of times. The key with this route is the crossing of the willows as well. But when we went by that section, I figured we'd just stick to the trail. So, it wasn't a pre-planned shortcut. If that was the case I'd still tried to hide it from the others...Hey, I need some sort of edge for having done this thing four times... I'm not getting any stronger, but I think I can get sneakier.
Like Stefan, I was eyeing the big snowfield on the way up and made sure I hit it on the way down. That made for some easy running. Once off that I thrashed through the willows again and then made what might have been a mistake. Stefan reversed course back to the trail. I tried to descent the Bill Briggs Direct route. In the summer you can see this trail and it is even cairned. And by "summer" I mean August. Today it was buried beneath snow and I found no sign of it, but I was committed. I did some wandering around and some thrashing but eventually hit the trail, though a couple of switchbacks too high. I probably didn't lose any time going this way, but I did fall and bloody my leg doing it.
On the trail I knew I'd be getting back to the bike with a decent shot at breaking five hours! I didn't think I was fit enough to do that, but now I was supremely motivated. I hit the bike at 4h04m, doing the roundtrip on Audubon in 1h56m (Stefan was 1h42m for this). I had told Stefan that it was possible to ride from this trailhead to the Lee Hill lot in 45 minutes. I'd done it before. I knew I had a shot.
I transitioned back into biking shoes, stowed my running shoes, got out my last Shot Blocks and hopped on the bike. My legs had cramped switching shoes and I knew I was on the edge of cramping. I drank most of the bottle that was left on my bike and started hammering.
The last three miles to Brainard Lake are still closed to traffic, but this makes the road a bit worse for high-speed cycling as I had to weave around tons of hikers on the road. I gave them a wide berth, but I was going pretty fast. I got stuck behind some law-abiding motorcycles going through Ward and it cost me a bit of time. Once through there, I opened it up...and fought a nasty headwind all the way down the canyon. I knew that wind could take sub-5 away from me and I raged against it with all I had.
I flew by a number of bikers, but I wasn't close to spinning out, which meant I was going slow. The wind was frustrating, but the goal was still possible. I'd check my watch every few minutes and it just didn't seem possible. With 30 minutes to go, I was still 11.5 miles away. I needed to average 23 mph and that included the brutally steep 8+ minute climb up the backside of Lee Hill. I was calculating how fast I could descend from the top of Lee Hill. Could I do it in 10 minutes? It had taken 26 or 27 minutes to ride up it.
I turned up Lee Hill with just under 17 minutes left. I climbed Lee Hill in 8h20s, not bad this late into a hard effort. I had nine minutes left and flew down the upper part. I rolled the climb between the two in the big chain ring and tucked for the descent. One on the flatter section of Lee Hill I had just over three minutes to spare. How far was it to the trailhead? A mile? I put my head down and suffered. And I got there in 4h58m28s. PR!
Stefan was relaxing on his tailgate and immediately offered me an icy cold Mountain Dew. He had done 4h42m - just four minutes off the FKT, though with using shortcuts. He'd been frustrated by the traffic and the wind as well. Also, he forgot his bottle on the hike section and had to stop 4 times on both the way up and down to drink from streams. This was his inaugural effort and with another chance, I think he'd have a great shot at it. I've probably reached the limit of my ability though. But I'm okay with that. Hey, I went under five hours. I know of only three people who have done that. But, as I've said, there are many in Boulder that could take down the FKT and I'm sure hundreds who could best my time. But for me, an athlete of modest abilities, it is about pushing my own limits.
We waited around for 45 minutes to see if Brady would show up, but then we both had to get going. Stefan did hear from Brady. His time was 6h07m. Brady reported that after his initial, imprudent surge, he got it together and had a good road ride. As he descended the trail from the summit, he lumbered along, feeling the effects of not even being able to remember the last time he went on a run!
This duathlon is almost exactly 50 miles long (8 miles of that is hiking) and has nearly 9000 feet of climbing. That's sizable for most people. Sure is for me.