Friday, June 15, 2012

Pilot Hill 25k

This would be my third year out of four running 'Wyoming's Oldest Foot Race.' I missed it last year but won it consecutively in 2009 and 2010. Sitting two weeks out from Western States and being just 15.5 miles in length (8.5 up, 7 down), this up-and-down hill race was sitting perfectly on the calendar as a last little benchmark sharpener on the way to Squaw, so I couldn't resist.

The goals going in were to register a third win and hopefully run a little faster than 2010, with an emphasis on running the descent at all-out looney pace.

A small crowd was on hand at the start, but with Horsecow Lonac (a mid-15 5k'er when fit) lining up and a few other fit looking dudes milling around, it looked like there would be some guys to help keep the effort solid. From the gun, training partner and perennial first mile over-achiever, Mike Hinterberg, took a flier as we made our way through the opening stretches of rolling sand flats that make up the first few miles of this variably terrained race.

Having forgotten my watch and subsequently borrowed a friend's GPS device, I was to be beeped at every mile for the duration. Annoying, but somewhat unique to have splits along the way. With Mike still ten meters ahead and a young college-age lad (Scott Foley) on my shoulder, the first mile beeped at 5:55. Given the less-than-stellar sandy conditions underfoot and rolling nature of the route thus far, I figured I was probably a touch hot through the first mile.

Scott and me early
Not long after the first beep, Scott and I were passing Mike and starting to tuck into the early sections of uphill that would eventually lead to the communication towers at the top of Pilot Hill (8,829'). And not long after that, I felt like I had to let Scott go; he was clearly a talented runner and any effort to hang on would spell disaster later in the race. Knowing nothing about Scott, I put together a couple of guesswork assumptions: he was a college track or cross country runner that trains for at most 10k races, he would likely smoke me to the top, but I may have a shot at catching him on the deceptively tough descent when post-10 mile fatigue began kicking in.

Pics: High Plains Harriers
And so it went. I watched Scott build a couple of minutes on me, solo in second, as we made our way up to the towers. I had turned in 59:40 in 2010, so was hoping for anything under 60 this year given that the tailwind was significantly lighter. As it turned out, I hit the top on legs that felt 'just okay' in 60:07, with a set of splits that essentially slowed as the terrain turned steeper (5:55, 6:14, 6:45, 6:53, 7:24, 7:52, 8:29, 7:47).

Scott had torched the ascent in a very impressive 57:51, but now the advantage, I believed, turned in my favor. Two+ minutes is a ton of time to make up over seven miles, but I'd come here for the downhill, meaning the rabbit out front was much appreciated. I immediately set to work, running the first flatter mile of the descent into what always seems to be a stiff return headwind, at a much elevated heart rate. I decided to continue pushing the envelope over the more technical rocky terrain in the mid section with hopes that I'd be able to gain some kind of visual on Scott before I blew a gasket. About three miles in (5:56, 44, 47), I got my sighting and it looked like I might have chopped a minute off the lead already.

The effort had caused a good amount of fatigue by the time we were down to the rolling sections around the sand flats, but I figured I had a shot, so I kept pushing. With a couple of miles to go, it was evident that Scott was hurting and I began to feel confident that I would be reeling him in, which I did with a mile left (6:00, 6:01, 6:04, 6:41).

I ended up running a net PR on the course (1:42:24 vs 1:43:45) with a descent almost two minutes faster than last time. Both those facts helped erase some - not all - of the post-Zegama doubts that have been sitting uncomfortably with me for the last few weeks. Yes, this is a small race, but it really wasn't about winning, losing or drawing, it was about gauging fitness. My takeaway is that I'm in at least as good a shape as I was in 2010 (over this course) when I ran my first Western States (4th, 16:04). An additional nugget and confidence booster is that it turns out that Scott has just graduated from Boise State, running a track 10k of 29:52 at the Mt SAC Relays in April and a 68 minute half marathon somewhere else not so long ago.

You take what you can in the mental game before a big race.

I was going to run Storm Mountain up and down the next day as a final effort before Western States, but as it turned out we ended up being evacuated from our home with all hell breaking loose west of Fort Collins in some of my favorite acreage in the whole world. My heart is pretty heavy right now for those who have lost homes and also for the beautiful forestland that is currently burning up, but I'll use that as fuel when things start hurting next weekend. I'm doing this one for The Fort.



  1. Way to cherry pick by not letting last year's King of the Mountain know that you were going!

  2. Had really been wondering how close the fire was to you also. Hope you're back in home now and good luck next weekend.

  3. Nice job, Clark! Take it to the South African at Western States! Sorry to hear of the evacuation.. I'll be rooting for you! Danny

  4. Hope house is ok. No worries about forest fires in the rainiest uk spring on record

  5. Glad your family and house is still OK, devastating fire.
    "I'm doing this one for The Fort" -- awesome!

    To help next week, I'll sacrifice, again, and hit some mid 5's up the escarpment from Squaw to draw out and wear down your competition early. You're welcome.

  6. Let er' rip! The Fort will be cheering for you.

  7. Nice report! Really enjoyed it. Great race and I have high expectations for you at western. You just have to keep an eye on the kill machine and let him be your rabbit and pull you to the finish.

    Good luck,


  8. Not only are you a talented runner,but a talented writer as well; you write my favorite race reports out of all the others I read!

    Sorry to hear about your close encounter with the fires. I can only imagine what it's like to witness total home devistation up close like that.

    Best wishes for WS100!


  9. confidence, commitment, and drive will get you to the track first! Believe it! With Dylan and Timothy by your side, it will come down to who has the most guts, you know that. All the best!

  10. Enjoy the clear air out there. May the Fort be with you!

  11. Way to go Nick. Best of luck at Western States. Hope all news is good regarding the fire and the house. Hope you, Dana and the kids can go home soon.

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  13. Way to kill it at Western, Nick!
    The memories that you create with runs like that will last you a lifetime!