I came into this race feeling pretty good about my chances of winning, despite a fairly strong field. Unfortunately, last year's winner, Johannes Rudolph, was a no show so I would have to settle for chasing his course record of 3:23. Other runners in the field included Steve Folkerts, a local Fort Collins road marathoner who posted a 2:32 earlier in the year; and Luke Crespin who has run some pretty fast half marathons and trail races in recent years.
Race morning was pretty cold and there was lots of hemming and haring among the assembled runners about what to wear. I finally opted to go shorts, T-shirt, stocking hat and gloves. No more than two miles in I was comfortable and thankful that I hadn't opted for a long-sleeve shirt. Maybe one of these days I'll invest in a pair of those ridiculous arm warmers, but probably not. More likely, I'll wait for a freebie pair to materialize from somewhere and live without until then.
The marathon runners and 50k racers started as a group, and in the opening few miles we settled into a lead pack of myself, Luke, Steve, Ryan Burch (in the 50) and Sam Malmberg (also in the 50). Up Towers I set the pace with the others not far back. By the turn onto Herrington, Sam, in the 50k, was up to his usual trick of gunning the early stuff. I told him to save his legs as the marathon and 50k courses split, but he shrugged it off saying he felt that the pace was comfortable.
As we hit the Stout singletrack, 4 miles in, it was evident that the marathon was between myself, Steve and Luke. I was still setting the pace and held a ten to 15 second gap on the other two through most of this section and the drop down Towers back to the start/finish at seven miles.
The next two miles of the course are on relatively flat crushed gravel, which allows for a much faster pace. Luke got up on my shoulder and we introduced ourselves and chatted briefly before settling in for the Blue Sky singletrack ahead. Steve stayed a few meters back as we hit the dusty, red trail that I know so well. I was starting to get a bit tired of being the pace setter, but also realized that the others probably weren't too interested in leading so I put in a couple of surges to get a read on how Steve and Luke felt with the pace. Just fine, it turned out. I never put much more than 15-20 seconds on them here.
We all went through Indian Summer aid station at the half without stopping and I continued to sit in the lead. The story pretty much stayed this way through the Indian Summer loop and the climb up the hogback to the Loveland loops. Right at the top of the climb on the ridge, I stopped to take a pee. Steve was soon past me, but I managed to get my work done before Luke could get by. It looked like he was slowing considerably, and it turned out that he was beginning to cramp pretty badly. He would ultimately drop from the race, which was too bad as we had a good one going. Steve on the other hand had clearly taken this as his chance to put a gap on the two of us, and had thirty seconds on me midway through the first Loveland loop. By the time we had hit the southern point of the course he probably had a minute on me. I still felt decent, but knew that I wouldn't catch Steve unless he came back to me. I was pretty much stuck at my pace. I knew I could hold my pace and finish comfortably, but was just as confident that chasing the lead would end in serious suffering through the last few miles.
On the switchbacks up Indian Summer, I got a good visual on Steve, who looked to be two to three minutes up on me, and went about trying to up the pace a bit. By the time I peaked out on this loop and opened my stride for the drop, my hamstrings got seriously wobbly on me. A full-on cramp was now a serious threat. Nothing to do but take my foot off the gas and go easy. About half way down the drop, things felt a little better and I was able to push a little harder, but certainly not as hard as I would have liked.
Coming into the aid five miles out, I could see Steve making his way up to the Coyote Ridge intersection, and I knew that the only way I would catch him would be if he blew up - a distinct possibility, so I kept pushing as hard as my crampy legs would allow. By this stage a slew of half marathoners and 50k'ers were coming the other way, many telling me that Steve was just a few minutes ahead, although I doubted the accuracy of their two- to three-minute estimates. I thought his lead was probably closer to five minutes.
I never gave up on the race, but also never got back in contact. I ended up finishing comfortably in 3:22 flat, after having Andy Ames blow by me in the last half mile, well on his way to an impressive half marathon course record.
Steve absolutely killed the course today, finishing in 3:13 and change, setting a massive nine-minute course record. Not only is this a tough, tough marathon, but it is technically an ultra as the distance is a full 27 miles, not 26.2. I beat my time from last year by 25 minutes and was also able to squeeze under Johannnes' course record from last year by a bit more than a minute. Not quite the same as beating him across the line, but I'll take what I can get.
Ryan Burch had a super-strong run in the 50k, finishing in 4:05, followed by Bryan Goding and Sam Malmberg. Nick Pedatella won the hardcore award, finishing fourth or fifth the weekend after running second at the Bear 100. Andy Ames won easily in the half, in 1:24 (CR), and Susan Nuzum defended her title. Victoria Funk won the 50k in the women's division.
The race organizers did another great job, despite some fairly inclement weather, and I do believe a good time was had by all. The volunteers for this race are absolutely incredible and as about as vocal and supportive as they get in trail racing. This whole event is indicative of the wonderful trail-running community that we have here in Fort Collins, and the genuine desire among organizers - all FCTRs - and volunteers to create a great race experience was bountifully obvious today. No surprise the event sold out months ahead of time in only its second year.
So Steve is making plans to run up in Wyoming next weekend, insisting that he's just going to jog it, and there is even a rumor circulating that Justin Mock might be there (?). Dan Goding says he intends to run it, so the field looks like it could be strong. I'm hoping my legs will be recovered so I can be competitive. Either way, two more races left and then I'm going into hibernation for the winter.