The Skyline Traverse isn't really a big adventure, but it is another step in Derek's transformation into a complete outdoor athlete. Last weekend he did his first ultra, sort of. It was 30 miles of travel and over 15,000 feet of climbing, but broken up with rather long stays in our "aid stations". Still, all those miles and vertical were mostly above 12,000 feet, making it considerably harder than it sounds at first. We did climb ten fourteeners...that makes it sound as hard as it actually was.
Anyway, we first did the Skyline Traverse as sort of a consolation training day, though it proved plenty challenging when we started with about ten inches of fresh snow. I originally predicted it would take us six hours. We made it, barely, but the snow made it a lot tougher.
After Denali I gave it a try and it was just too hot. I cramped up badly - everything from my feet to my quads and hamstrings. I barely limped down off the Red Rocks and called it quits. A month ago I tried again, in ideal, cool weather conditions. I ran much better and finished in 4h06m. That was just too close to four hours to leave it. So today I went out with Homie and Derek to see if I could break four hours.
I was going to track the run on my watch, which has a great feature where I can race a previous track. I was focused on this goal and would try to stay on it, regardless of my partners. I encouraged both Derek and Homie to run at their own pace as well.
We started at the South Mesa Trailhead and stayed right together going up Shadow Canyon. We met a young guy in the parking lot doing the same thing. He has just done the Leadville Marathon and was training for a 50K. We'd catch him in Shadow Canyon, but he was moving along and we stayed together until he stopped to take a photo.
At the saddle Homie dropped the hammer and took off toward the summit. We'd see him as he descended past us but then not again until we were climbing up Sanitas and he was just about done.
I gapped Derek just a bit at the top, maybe by 20 seconds, but he closed up on the descent and we stayed together over to Bear Peak and then all the way down Bear's West Ridge to the start of the Green Bear Trail. We were up 3 minutes at the summit of SBP, but gained nothing over to Bear and lost a bit on the top of the descent. Throughout the run I found that I was climbing (which means hiking, mostly), a bit faster than last time, but descending no faster and I had to push the pace to keep up with my previous effort.
We ran all the way up Green Bear and then power hiked to the summit of Green. I gapped Derek again, this time by maybe 40 seconds. He shut down that gap remarkably fast and came up on me at double my speed. He said he needed to go by and I gave him track and he was gone. I had been having some stomach issues and had to stop behind a bush, losing a minute. I had worked hard to be up 4.5 minutes at the summit of Green, but I was now back to be up only 3.5 minutes.
I tried to run smoothly and quickly, but I was already getting a bit stiff legged. I worked hard going up Flagstaff, hoping to catch a glimpse of Derek and hoping Derek knew where to go. He's still pretty new to these trails. Just as I topped out Flagstaff I caught a glimpse of Derek running down, across the trail-less field. When I got down to the Amphitheater Road I spotted Derek running down the road to the left. I yelled at him to get back on the trail. He cut across the woods and met me a little ways down the trail.
Derek led the way down to the Flagstaff Road crossing with me yelling out directions at each junction. I took over the lead here when Derek walked the tiny uphill over to the trail on the other side. We followed right behind me down to Eben G. Fine park, where we arrived 5m25s up on my previous time. We stopped here to get some extra water for our Camelbacks and to cool off. We left there only 4m55s up. It was going to be close...
We power hiked up the hogsback and then scrambled to the summit of Red Rocks. Derek was just a tiny bit behind me on the climb. We descended together and hit the concrete bridge at the base of Sanitas at 3h12m into the run. Last time I had done the roundtrip in 48 minutes. I just needed to go one minute faster.
Almost immediately I gapped Derek and after ten minutes was out of sight of him. The trail was super crowded with a couple of big groups of kids, though they didn't really slow me down much. I was working hard, breathing hard, sweating profusely, hurting greatly. I was trying to get enough ahead so that I didn't have to come down any faster than last time. I got up 6 minutes and then 6m20s and then it bounced back and forth from 6m40s to 6m20s. I couldn't gain any more. I'd have to come down faster. Halfway up Homie came running down. He looked great. I told him I was only 6 minutes up and it was going to be close.
I topped out at 3h40m and immediately started to descend. I just needed to come down in 19 minutes. Last time I came down in 18 minutes. I passed Derek about 35 seconds down from the summit, so I figured I was up about 80-90 seconds on him. He was hurting bad and just shook his head at me, as if to say, "I can't make it." I told him, "You have it. Definitely."
I tried to move along on the descent, but I was hurting big time and my normally limited agility was now severely limited. The casual observer would think I had no agility whatsoever. I hobbled down as fast as I could, mindful not to trip and fall or cramp up. Despite this, when trying to pass a woman at a tricky slabby section, my right calf locked up in a painful cramp. She had stepped to the side and wondered why I wasn't going by. I was painfully waiting for the cramp to release, trying to pull back my foot. It was only ten seconds and I was moving again.
Further down, maybe two third of the way down, Derek comes blasting up behind me at warp speed. Cool. He was moving so fast that I thought he was just going to yell, "Track! Get out of the way, old man! I feel great!" Instead he said, "I'm SO tired!" A short bit further down, I caught a toe and sprawled to the ground with my right calf locking up badly. I bashed my knee on the ground and blood ran down my leg. I was groaning in serious pain and asked Derek to pull back my foot. He tried once, twice, and stopped, thinking it was done. My groans and pleas told him otherwise. He pushed hard and got my foot back and the cramp released. He pulled me to my feet and took off. I did as well, albeit at a much slower pace. My knee hobbled me for a bit, but then loosened up. I was fearful of any sudden movement that might force another cramp upon me. I looked at my watch. I knew I had it if I could keep moving.
As I neared the finish I could hear Homie and Derek yell up some encouragement. I hit the concrete bridge at 3h56m58s. Yeah! Derek finished in 3h55m and change. Homie in 3h38m. Sweet. We all made it. I was sure glad to stop running. I checked my watch and saw a text message from Sheri. She was parked just down the street and two minutes later we joined her.
It is probably silly to most people to try to break an arbitrary 4-hour time, but to all of my close friends they understand completely. Derek does too. I was incredibly impressed with Derek's effort here. He doesn't run long. Never really has before. Last weekend was all hiking. The sky is the limit for that kid.