“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”- Winston Churchill
The goal: To run the first three legs of the Colorado Trail. From Waterton Canyon, to Wellington Lake. Leg 1: 16.7 Miles: Waterton Canyon to the Gudy Gaskill Bridge Leg 2: 11.5 Miles: Gudy Gaskill Bridge to Route 550 Leg 3: 12.7 Miles: Route 550 to Wellington Lake
It was really neat to arrive in the parking lot to Waterton at 6:30 am and find 20 Practical Coaching folks, and friends ready to go on an epic adventure. Everyone had different ideas of how far they would travel, but regardless of distance there was an aura of adventure floating around. We had a support crew of three, Troy, Prescilla, and Parri, and without them we would not have been able to even attempt this endeavor. They were there at 6:30 to get their driving directions from Beth (who organized the entire run) and let me just say they were the true heros of today.
After many kisses and hugs from Troy and Annie we took some starting photos and the entourage hit the trail. It was barely starting to get light.
The first 6 miles up Waterton Canyon are on a very wide dirt road that follows the Platte River. The river is picturesque, but I have run this section of road so many times that I'm a little over it. I'm used to cruising along this road at 8 minute per mile pace, but today we had to run 12-13 minute miles. We had such a long day ahead of us that conservation of energy and keeping the heart rate low was the most important task at hand.
Finally, after 6 miles of blowing head wind and chilly temperatures we hit the single track of the Colorado Trail. This section was sheltered by the trees and temperatures were warmer. We negotiated a series of switch-backs and various people took their turns in the lead. The five of us that were aiming for the entire three legs were in the front group, and we had along with us several who were doing one leg only. Looking back I found it interesting that all of us attempting the long distance were in the front here. I felt like I was running slow and cautious, but you never know the effect that effort truly had on you. We paused for a moment in the gorgeous sun to get a quick shot of the front group. This is my favorite picture of the entire trip.
The views from the top of Section one are amazing, just awesome! You could actually see the Gugy Gaskill Bridge from the top, even though there was still miles of running down to the end of the first leg. I could see our support crew's cars down there and was glad they arrived at the checkpoint safely. After starting the descent Michelle took a tumble and her pelvic bone had a nasty collision with a rock. We regrouped, gave her a little time to collect herself, and Beth and I ran the rest of the way down with her. I'm so bummed she took this fall as it prevented her from completing leg two, but I really enjoyed running the last several miles of leg 1 with her and Beth and engaging in some genuine girl talk.
We arrived at the bottom of leg 1. I used the porta pottie, hugged Annie lots and got ready for the next leg. Layers were shed, goos and water restocked, snacks consumed, photos on the bridge were taken, and the five of us attempting the long haul were off. We had to keep moving so we weren't able to wait for the others that attempted leg 2.
Leg 2 is a little tricky. It's only 11.5 miles, but it runs through a burn area, so at times it feels like the moon. Its rather exposed, and generally hot. On top of that the first 6 miles are quite a climb. Up Up and more up. This was the leg Steve and I ran some time ago, so we were pretty familiar with it. We found out during this leg that John runs slow in the back, and fast in the front. If he were a draft hoarse, or a sled dog, he would be put in the lead. It took some time to get through those steep 6 miles but we made it and we stayed together the whole way.
After the top, things get really exposed and you run on this great single track through the burn. This section had it's own beauty. The views were amazing, and you truly felt like you were in the middle of nowhere.
We got a little loopy around mile 25 or so. It's interesting the phases you go through together. At times we were silent, and at other times we were all laughing, sometimes so hard I would almost pee my pants.
The last mile of this leg was tough for me. I was starting to feel some really bad knee pain. It was in the spot where the IT band and the quad connect. I was getting some sharp shooting pain through my leg but I was managing it. That last mile in to the support crew was one of the longest of the day. But, when we arrived at the parking lot our entire crew was there and I was overjoyed. I took a picture because I wanted to remember just how involved the kids were this trip. Tyler and Anne brought their three kiddos and we had Annie. It was great to see the kids playing and bonding, and at the same time understanding that their parents lead active lifestyles. I think they will remember these times when they get older.
This was a tough rest stop. For the last mile I had been thinking about what I was going to do exactly when I got here, and in what order. I first took three Advil, then I washed my armpits and applied Body Glide liberally. I changed my shorts to a new pair, and refilled my water bottles, two with water, two with borrowed Gatorade from Anthony. Troy helped me with my bottles. I refilled my goo stash and Beth gave me a baggy of her trail mix which is the BEST I have ever had. I put my Core Layers Convertible top around my waist, Beth rubbed out my knee with some anesthetic balm, and we were off. Beth had decided that she was done for the day, and John said he would come one mile further with us to make his total for the day at the 30 mile mark.
This was the hardest part of the day for me. My knee hurt bad and about a mile into it I wasn't sure what to do about it. We were all hurting in some form through these miles. But I think I was the lowest in the group during those first miles in leg 3. When John turned back after a mile I seriously questioned how I was going to get through the next 11.7 miles. As we ran I tried to manage the pain. I tried different running styles, and I tried some running meditation (telling my body to relax an release the tendon). We stopped a few times in those first 6 miles and I did every leg stretch I knew how. At 1 hour and 20 minutes into the leg (about 6 miles) I won the battle. Apparently my brain realized that despite the pain signals it was getting, I clearly wasn't going to stop, so my brain stopped registering the pain. I felt fine, great actually, and was able to cruise along in a very good place.
The last 5.5 miles were the hardest for the group. Steve was hitting the end of his rope and we stopped quite a bit. We walked up the hills and ran the flats and downs. There was a point where all of our heart rates continued to stay elevated, despite our attempts to lower them by walking or resting. We went through a REALLY giddy time were we were joking and laughing and rolling on the ground from hilarity. We also went through some very quiet stretches where we were all dealing with the mileage in our own ways. We came a across a cute little foot bridge that was super painful to negotiate, we laughed our way through it.
The last miles we navigated are really beyond description. I can't even put what we went through into words. It was a bonding experience, and a personal process. I can say that having such great training partners, who will share their Skittles with you is invaluable. We stuck together, we helped each other through the tough parts, and we finished together.
I have never been so happy to see the car, I was crying, but without tears because of dehydration. At the same time it was bitter sweet because life is about the journey, and the journey was about to end. We had been through some hard times in the last miles and to just plop out at the cars, at the end, was like returning to civilization. Waiting there for us were our three spouses. Troy, Michelle, and Andrea. They instantly sprang into action, attending to our needs, taking care of us, and with that, it was over. We were done taking care of each other, we were done relying on the humor, water, snacks, and pep talks of each other.
This was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. It tested me in many ways, and the process was grueling, yet oddly doable. I'm sure I will be back to the Colorado Trail many more times for long distance runs. My training partners were invaluable, as was Troy and our support crew. Many humble thanks for assisting me while I push my limits.
Here are the photos from the day.
Here is the video from the day (kinda fuzzy because of the compressed YouTube nature) .