Wednesday, October 22, 2014

One Second! - Tour de Flatirons Concludes

Mark Oveson high on the North Ridge of the First Flatiron while previewing the course

One second. Less than a second, actually.

That was all that divided first place from second place. A tiny stumble just before the line cost Matthias the victory and Stefan reigns supreme once again. It's also the difference between his time today and his course record.

The 2014 Tour de Flatirons concluded today with Stage Five on the ultra-classic Direct East Face of the First Flatiron. It was another banner stage with a big field and competitive races occurring all across the ranks. Up front, though, it was still the Big Three of Stefan, Matthias, and Ryan, despite the entry of Anton Krupicka, whose times on the First rival the top scramblers. Alas, Anton was injured, somewhat, and only pressed a bit on the ascent and hiked the entire way down. This allowed for some of us to take our first and likely only victory over the international ultrarunning superstar.

The incredible First Flatiron

The course was once again expertly rigged by Stuart Paul and Chris George and his crew. Despite this, many of the scramblers skipped the rappel, preferring to run sans harness.

I was excited to see my good friends and great rivals, Buzz and Willie at the start and indeed things went as they have in the other stages. I start out at the front because I start the stage, but it isn't long before Willie comes by me, where he stays just a few seconds ahead of me into the base. Surprisingly, Buzz didn't come by before we hit the rock, and I tried desperately to maintain my lead to the summit.

Early on, Willie stepped aside for me to pass and I motored up this lower section, spurred on the spectors at the base. Homie and Jeff Valliere were on hand to witness the battle. I climbed efficiently and with no mistakes, polishing off the first 200-foot pitch in around two minutes. On the second pitch I caught David and he graciously let me by as well. I poured on the speed and put a nice gap on him over some of the more technical ground. But below me I could see Buzz coming. He wasn't gaining fast, but he was relentlessly closing the gap.

I pushed hard, probably a bit too hard, to stay in front. I got to the Route Junction Know - about the halfway mark and still had ten seconds or more, but I was fading, hurting badly. I pushed to keep my lead up to "no passing possible" slot. I went through that with Buzz directly on my heels. The jig was up and I stepped aside just after the slot to let Buzz by. I tried to stay with him, but I'd given too much to keep my lead until now. I quickly fell back and was surprised when Davide appeared on the ridge above me and overtook me. I stayed right on his heels and snuck by him just before the summit. He did the downclimb, like Buzz, and I got on rappel.
The full course: 3 miles, 1600 vertical feet, 11 guidebook-pitches of 5-star slab climbing! 
I hit the ground pretty quickly and had some trouble getting off rappel because the rope was stuck around a tree, but soon I was off and running. As I came around the west side of the First and started to descend the trail, there was Buzz. He hit the trail directly behind me, telling me "Great job, Bill." I said the same, though with considerable less breath. I was pushing hard to get away from Buzz and David. Buzz was supposed to be taking the descent easy and I wasn't worried about him, but then he stayed way too close for comfort down the first couple of switchbacks. I took some chances here to get a gap.

Further down was Homie, watching the racers. He fell in behind me, going as fast as I was. I tried to put on some speed here. I am sensitive to Homie's opinion and wanted to put in at least a decent showing. He stayed right on me and I know he could have descended faster, which is why last week, when he raced I had pushed so hard to beat him to the rappel lines.

With Homie spurring me on, I descended as best I could. A couple of glances over my shoulder did not reveal any signs of Buzz or David. I was probably secure in my position, but never relaxed my effort. There were quite a few people on the trails, but they always gave me track before I got to them. I guess I was making about as much noise as a herd of elephants.

Further down, almost out of the woods, I passed Anton walking down with Jeff Valliere. They cheered me on and I almost yelled over my shoulder, "Hey, this will be my first time beating Anton!" The only reason I did not was because I was afraid he'd start running, despite his injury, and deprive me of my one and only chance. I wisely stayed silent and only uttered this remark later, at the finish line.

I tried to push it under 43 minutes, but I didn't have the foot speed or the agility to get it done. I finished in 43:10.

Of note was Joe Grant. He's also a very accomplished, international ultrarunner, photographer, writer, filmmaker, etc. This was his inaugural Tour de Flatirons stage, though he's quite familiar with zipping up these rocks. He finished a solid fourth. Impressive!

I'll update/add other stories as I get them, along with the results. I know I'm forgetting some races, but it's late and I'm tired. No offense intended. Overall Tour results are still being calculated, by double-secret formula. Send me updates/times, please:

1. Stefan Griebel, 33:06
2. Matthias Messner, 33:06.5
3. Ryan Franz, 35:43
4. Joe Grant, 37:59
5. Michal Matyjasik, 38:39
6. Scott Bennett, 39:15
7. Dylan, 41:20
8. Jon Sargent, 41:40?
9. Bill Wright, 43:10
10. Buzz Burrell, 45:10
11. David Glennon, 45:10
12. Willie Mein, 46:??
13. Anton Krupicka, 49:25
14. Tony Bubb, 51:??
15. Adam Massey, 56:12
16. Alan Doak, 1:01:??
17. Mike Schlaugh, 1:03:??
18. Stuart Paul, 2:00:??

Stefan's comments:

That was, without a doubt, the closest Flatiron race I've ever participated in! Only a high-speed stumble and near digger at the end prevented it from being an outright tie.  Still, considering the self-timed margin for error is around a couple seconds, I claim it was a grand tie for the stage win AND the overall FKT on the 1st Flatiron!

What is most impressive to me is that this was Matthias' first 1st Flatiron race! During the race last year, I was running down the switchbacks chasing some unknown guy wearing jeans and a backpack, who wasn't even part of our little event.  I tried my hardest to catch him, but never made up any ground. Once down at Chautauqua, I met the backpack-jeanie Matthias for the first time and told him about the Minions and Tour de Flatirons. Earlier in 2013, I also met Ryan Franz while riding Sargents Mesa, the most demoralizing part of the entire Colorado Trail Race. Since then I also convinced him to come out for the Flatiron races he's crushed every one.

Enter 2014, and these two have had the most impressive rookie SMSC Race Season ever! If Matthias comes back again next year, it is doubtful anyone will be able to catch him on any course. The only reason I beat him on earlier courses, was seriously 100% due to route-finding. This evening, we both knew the course well, and my marginally faster scrambling proved to be an perfectly even match for his faster trail running.

I love that we've had such a great turn-out this year, and I hope everyone has enjoyed pushing themselves as much as I have for these. Most of all, I'm stoked that every last beer I've brought to the finish gets consumed!! Strong work, Minions!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 4: Third Flatiron

The course!

Well, that was fun, in the usual painful way that Minion masochists seem to enjoy. Once again the camaraderie and competition from Buzz and Willie, and even Homie this time, made the race much more interesting for me. The field was huge - 20+ scrambers - and quickly separated into the haves and the have-nots. The haves having superior lung power! I didn't in last place, but Buzz did.
Bijon just after getting off rappel

As we suffered up the Mesa Trail, I found myself well behind the giant Bijon Mustard, who looks like he should be playing tight end in the NFL, Tony Bubb, and a newcomer wearing a pack bigger than the ones Mark and I carried on our two-day Canyonlands adventure. Yet, I wasn't worried about going out too slow, since Buzz was still behind me. I knew he'd be coming by eventually, and I wanted to tack onto his train, but when he did come by, he towed Willie as well and now I was definitely at the tail end of this race. The one saving grace was that Homie was behind me. He's a fit and fast dude, even when he isn't fit or fast, so I knew I was okay. I was pacing myself. I was hurting, but prepared to suffer for 40+ minutes.

I lost sight of my sometime-competitors Dan and Jon on the run up and never saw them again. Alas, Willie has always been by my side, or just in front or just in back, at every stage. Our fitness getting to the rock is nearly identical. Buzz got to the Third probably 15-20 seconds ahead of me and Willie about 10 seconds behind me. In between us was newly-minted Minion Darren. He stuck on my heels for the half the climb until I finally gapped him. Buzz was off to my right and I gained ground on his initially, but he gained it back at the top, with his more direct route. He doesn't cross to the left side of the big gash, like the Regular route does, but instead just makes a beeline for the top. This is a good strategy, but I think the Regular route is a bit faster, despite being a bit longer, because of the easier scrambling.

Halfway up the face I could see the green shirt of Homie closing on me. I tried to raise my game and keep ahead of him. I wanted to beat him to the top and hoped to gain some advantage with the queue for the rappel lines. On top, expertly rigged by Chris George and company (thanks, riggers!), were three rappel lines. The first three obviously raced over the top with no delay. Most everyone else probably had to wait a bit. I was surprised and flattered to see Anton Krupicka (one of the best mountain runners in the world and the record holder for climbing all five numbered Flatirons) on top, cheering me on, along with everyone else. I was hoping he'd be scrambling with us, but having him on top allowed me to actually see him during the event, so that worked out.

On top with me and the riggers were Scott Bennett (currently holder of the Naked Edge speed record) and Buzz. Before I got on the rappel lines Homie arrived and then Willie. Once I got on a rope, I zipped down it at high speed, catching Buzz at the bottom, who descended at a more prudent pace. This was only possible for me because I wore biking gloves to protect my hands from 200 feet of rope speeding through it. As I hit the trail, I think Jeff Valliere and maybe another person were there spectating.
Homie being chased by Willie

Once on the ground, Buzz bid me good luck on the descent and settled into a more knee-saving pace. I descended, recklessly for me, which doesn't mean fast, as I'm pretty reckless at any speed on steep, loose talus. Still, I pushed myself trying to stay ahead of the more agile runners behind me, mainly Homie and Willie.

A couple of running friends were in the talus taking some photos and they encouraged me as well. A couple of hikers gave me track and I sped by. Down by the bouldering, the boulders gave me some props as I stumbled past, breathing like a warthog with stuffed up sinuses. I risked a glance over my shoulder a couple of times. I knew if I saw anyone, I was done, as that would mean they were gaining on me. I didn't. Once I hit the smoother trail I still worked hard, suffering at my limit, nearly hurling, as I feared the finishing kick of Homie and Willie so much. If they have passed me up in the boulders, good for them, but now, so close to the finish, no one wants to get passed, least of all me.

I pounded down the last finishing straight and crossed in 42:55. It was nearly a minute before I had caught my breath enough to ask who had won. It was Stefan with a blistering time of 33:44, his second fastest time ever. He's one of only three scramblers to break 34 minutes (Dave Mackey is still the record holder and Anton is currently third fastest). Ryan took second and Mattias third. These three have battled the entire Tour and occupied the top three spots in every stage so far. Apparently Matthias had a bit of an issue with the rappelling. That's unfortunate, but, hey, it's all part of the game.
Most of the field
Full Results:

1. Stefan Griebel, 33:44
2. Ryan Franz, 34:24
3. Matthias Messner, 34:40
4. Dave Mackey, 37:02
5. Dylan Cousins, 37:27
6. Dan Mottinger, 40:05
7. David Glennon, 40:17
8. Jon Sargent, 41:28
9. Scott Bennett
10. Bill Wright, 42:55
11. Willie Mein, 44:00
12. John "Homie" Prater, 44:12
13. Darren Smith 45:11
14. Buzz Burrell, 46:03
15. Tony Bubb, 49:55
16. Bijon "Mustard" Tuysserkani, 50:39
17. Peter Hamel, 52:04
18. Kendrick Callaway, 55:59
19. Adam Massey, 56:55
20. Alan Doak, 1:04:50
21. Stuart Paul, 1:17:12

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 3

Mark Oveson and Peter Bakwin on the Slab the morning before Stage

Best stage yet! Why? Because the routes were the best? They were super fun, but not. The rocks? The weather? The trails? No, no, and no. It was the field! It was super competitive up front with the top three within seconds at the top of both rocks, but it was also great back in the middle of the field where I was. I changed position many times with the scramblers around me.

We started with ten and quickly split into two groups: the fast...and the faster! Heck, we're all pretty fast when it comes to climbing these routes trailhead to trailhead, so, while I feel like a pregnant hippo when running near Matthias, none of us are slow. The faster group included the top three combatants this year, Stefan, Matthias, and Ryan, plus 4-time Tour Champion Dave Mackey and Jon Sargent. The trailing group was led originally by me, followed closely by Willie and pioneering scrambler Buzz Burrell, with Adam and Tony at the tail end.
The scrambling on the course
I'm know the top three stayed together, pretty much, until the run out where they spread out just a bit, with Mattias taking his first stage win! I know Jon Sargent fell out of that top group early, as I could see him for at least 5-10 minutes at the start. I think Dave let the others go early as well and probably ran most of the course solo.

I led for maybe 6 or 7 minutes and then Buzz came by towing Willie. We stayed in that position, until nearly the Slab. Buzz had maybe ten seconds on Willie and I and I moved just in front of Willie before we hit the Slab and started up Syzygy. Knowing the route a bit better I caught up to Buzz and he fell in behind me, knowing he wouldn't get lost and could just have me guide him to the top. Our fitness level was very similar and this worked out great. We expected Willie to fall in behind as well, but I think he got a bit off route to the right, got gapped, and lost the advantage of a guide. He rapidly fell back from there.
High on the Slab
Buzz made a nice route finding decision before we hit the ridge and saved himself the slight downclimb that I had to do and he moved back in front. Just before the downclimb I went by again, as I can motor along the top of the ridge quickly by grabbing a tree branch and swinging through. I raced across the final ridge, swung over the side and had myself on the ground in seconds. Buzz urged me on and I did the same for him. This type of camaraderie, of cheering on your competitors, is one of the special aspects of the Tour de Flatirons. Everyone wants to do their best, but they want everyone else doing their best as well.

I pushed the descent, at least for me, hoping to get a bit of a gap on Buzz, as he seemed to have a touch more in the tank when going uphill. I knew he wouldn't be pushing hard on the descents. Pushing hard and flowing pretty well for me, I got to the base of the Southern Goose Egg, just as Jon was starting up it. He called out, "Let me know when you want to go by." I knew I wouldn't be passing Jon now that we were going uphill again, as he is also fitter, as was proven on the approach. Jon had a taped up ankle and I knew he wouldn't be pushing the pace on the descents either, since he had jacked it up a bit last week.
The crux start of the Southern Goose Egg
Jon and I topped out within seconds of each other. I could see Buzz maybe a minute behind me down on the face. Jon and I did the downclimb off and then tried to descend too early. I was trying to mimic what Stefan had told me, but screwed up. I had already checked out that descent and knew it didn't go. Obviously I didn't have much oxygen going to the brain at this point. We reascended and went further west, like I told everyone to do. We only lost probably 20 seconds, but I was afraid that Buzz was going to close the gap on me.

With this error I got ahead of Jon and raced down the descent. Jon even paused at one section to let me descend further because he didn't want to risk knocking a rock down on me. What a guy! I flew down the dirt and pine needles, getting a gap on Jon, and hitting the Fern Canyon Trail just in front of Adam Massey. He was headed to the Goose Egg. I was headed to the finish.

I knew Jon was in hot pursuit, but he was supposed to be taking it easy on the ankle. I pushed hard on the more technical upper Shanahan Trail and got a pretty decent gap on him. I hoped it would be enough, but I didn't want to encourage him by being in sight. I continued to push hard on the now smooth, fast trail. Yet, I could still feel him. A quick look over my shoulder and I could see him back there. Dang it! Jon, why aren't you taking it easy on the ankle. I pushed hard, thinking if I could just get to the single track, 90 seconds before the finish, it would be too steep, technical, and narrow for him to pass me. Alas, about a minute before that single track, Jon caught and past me. Bastard!

I continued to push hard because my watch told me I could break 50 minutes. This was actually quite a surprise. I thought this course was similar to last week's course where I didn't break an hour. I guess it is quite a bit faster or I ran quite a bit better today, as I did break 50.

This didn't seem to hurt nearly as bad as last week. I don't know why. Maybe I wasn't pushing hard enough, but I had such great competition the entire way that I don't think that was the case. I think I just paced things better. Either way, it was a blast!

Buzz came in next at a bit over 52 minutes and then Willie, and then Adam and Tony. What a great time.

Stefan's mini report:
Now THAT was a serious race! Matthias, Ryan and I were 30 seconds or less apart the entire time, and pretty much side-by-side going up the Southern Goose Egg.  Once we hit the Fern Canyon trail for the run out, Matthias hammered out a good lead all the way to the finish. Ryan and I traded places twice, both hurting incredibly badly, but could never close the gap on Matthias. I stopped my watch at 40m01s, I think Matthias was 39m33s and Ryan at 40m22s, but I'll let them post up corrections. Man, I'm gonna be sore from that one for sure.

1. Matthias Messner, 39:33
2. Stefan Griebel, 40:01
3. Ryan Franz, 40:22
4. Dave Mackey, 44:15
5. Jon Sargent, 49:14
6. Bill Wright, 49:37
7. Buzz Burrell, 52:37
8. Willie Mein, 56:00
9. Adam Massey*, 1:01:54
10. Tony Bubb, 1:03:00
11. Dylan Cousins, 1:09:27*
12. Stuart Paul*, 2:00:59

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Tour de Flatirons: Stage 2

The field: Mattias, Dylan, Dan, Ryan, Willie, Jon, Bill, David

Ouch! That hurt. And I was nearly last (thanks, Willie!). And failed to break an hour. My wife asked if it was fun. " a really, really painful way."

Conditions seemed to be perfect at 10 a.m. Sunny skis and the temps were not yet in the 50's. Still, at this effort, it felt like the 90's. The trails were quite crowded but we agreed that it didn't add much to our times, as everyone heard us coming and was cool about giving us some track. I didn't see a single other climber on the course, but we didn't do the most popular routes, despite being great scrambles.

At the gun it was Mattias, Ryan, Dylan, and David going off the front. Jon Sargent trailed the pack and Willie and I, shoulder to shoulder, brought up the rear. Dan would arrive a minute or so late and catch and pass Willie and I on the Second Flatiron.

I can't say much about what happened up front as I didn't see any of those guys after five minutes or so. I got a glimpse or two of Jon and mainly saw Willie and Dan. I finally pulled away from Willie just before starting up Freeway on the Second Flatiron, but my lead was only about twenty seconds. I knew I'd need a lot more before the final run out, but if I went any harder, I'd blow up. I was shocked to see another scrambler off to my left catching and passing me. It was Dan. I could see Jon above, but he was moving fast and pulling further away.

I topped out with maybe 30-40 seconds on Willie. We were in a desperate battle for last place. I ran down the three switchbacks (indeed it was three, the last two really short) and started up Atalanta, trailing Dan, who was maybe 45 seconds in front of me. I was hurting so bad here. I made a bit of a climbing mistake at one of the cruxes and lost 10 seconds or so sorting it out. Ten precious seconds that I lost to Willie.

Stuart was on top and had expertly rigged the rappel lines. Thanks, Stuart! He took some photos and I thanked him before speeding down the lines. This went really smooth and I felt I had opened a significant gap on Willie. I ran down the trail smoother than normal for me and started up the First Flatironette not far behind Dan.

The pain had built to an extreme level and I wasn't moving too quick by the top of this rock. I staggered down to the start of the Spy and pulled onto the last rock, Dan still in sight above. Near the top of the rock was a friend of Mattias taking photos. Vanity consumed me and I powered on the speed to make it look like I was at least moving faster than a normal scrambler. Though I don't know if I achieved this goal, it nearly made me hurl and I was barely moving over the top as I tried to recover and keep down breakfast.

I hit the ground and still couldn't go faster than a walk. After twenty seconds or so I was able to start trotting again. I grabbed numerous tree trunks for balance as I struggled to stay upright on the steep loose trail. I hit the saddle nicely and followed the trail down to the base of the First Flatironette and out the approach trail. I felt secure in my lead over Willie and I knew I had no chance of breaking an hour. This allowed me to lessen the pain slightly. I weaved amongst the hikers and crossed the line to the encouragement of the other finishers.

Mattias had taken the stage and the prize, even though Stefan was faster solo. Prizes are given out to the main field stage winner. Ryan was second and Dylan filled out the podium. Willie came in just two and a half minutes after I did.

Full Preliminary Results (asterisks are for racers who ran separate from this stage):

1. Stefan Griebel*, 46:22
2. Matthias Messner, 47:39
3. Ryan Franz, 48:55
4. Dylan Cousins, 54:00
5. Jon Sargent, 58:25
6. David Glennon, 58:34
7. Dan Mottinger, 1:00:07
8. Bill Wright, 1:03:28
9. Willie Mein, 1:05:52
10. Adam Massey*, 1:17:11
11. Tony Bubb*, 1:32:59
12. Stuart Paul*, 2:38:52