Race Report: Cheyenne Mountain 50K
The Cheyenne Mountain 50K is a welcome new addition to the growing collection of Colorado ultras. The race is held in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, a 1700 acre trail running and bike riding playground just south of Colorado Springs. The park became fully functional in 2008 and contains about 20 miles of winding trails. The trail surface is mostly decomposed granite, and is primarily buffed and smooth, but there are several rocky sections to change things up. While the trails are singletrack, it is very wide singletrack (think ATV size, though they are not allowed). The trails are fast, and the climbing is plentiful but moderate in grade for the most part.
I have held a state parks season pass for many years now, and have visited several. CMSP definitely caters to the trail running and mountain bike crowd. The facilities are modern and well kept, there are trail signs everywhere (color-coded and with GPS coordinates), and they have done a very good job of utilizing the space they had to work with. In short, a great place to run!
My son Malcolm and I made the drive down Friday after work to camp overnight at the park. We goofed off in the Garden of the Gods area for a while, and then made our way to the race venue. After a short jog on the course, I was very excited by the prospect of racing on such a great trail system in a cool place like this. We quickly set up the tent in the last light of the day, ate some dinner, and turned in.
Race day was cold and cloudy, ideal for running. We would have periods of snow flurries and then sunshine during the race. Some words of instruction were given before the start, the most important being to avoid going on any trails marked with a purple sign. These were spurs to overlooks and most were taped off, but some might not be. I only saw one that they had missed, but thanks to the purple sign I knew not to take it. The instructions were followed by the National Anthem and presentation of the flag by a color guard from the Air Force Academy. That was a first for me at an ultra, and I thought it was a very nice thing to do.
Starting at the low point of the couse, we had about a half mile of pavement and a climb to get ourselves sorted out before hitting the trails for the rest of the day. This worked out well and I was able to find a comfortable spot in the group without any problem. After being sick with a fever, chills, and a cough most of the week, I planned on a very easy effort kind of day. Knowing that just completing the event would be enough for my questionable condition. As long as I didn’t push too hard, which would result in a hands-on-knees coughing fit, I knew I would be able to make it through. My daughter had just been diagnosed with strep throat and was on meds, I was hoping to dodge that one. Luckily, my throat didn’t hurt at all. My ears were plugged all day and I could not get them to ‘pop’ no matter what I tried.
I ran what I thought was a very reasonable and conservative first lap, but deteriorated rapidly after that and averaged 2 minutes per mile slower on the second lap resulting in a 30 minute positive split. Ouch. My heart rate average of 144 showed just how slow I was going – it seemed I was stuck in first gear. Even though walking would have been faster in some cases, I kept a ‘run’ going the whole time and just chalked it up to a good long effort. I was happy to have been able to make the trip at all considering I had been curled up in bed and missed work a few days before. My middle name is Edward (after my grandpa), so my mantra for the day was Steady Eddy.
It would have been convenient to drop out and ‘save myself for another day’, but the only reasons I could come up with were that I was tired and not able to run as quickly as I would have liked. Ha. Ha. Good one. Keep on jogging, buddy. At least my various injuries were being fairly quiet and I didn’t have to deal with those pains – that was SUPER. I reminded myself constanly during the tough times that if I had stayed home and skipped the run, all I would be doing is wishing I was out here doing this very thing. Even if it was tiring and uncomfortable. Time to suck it up, buttercup!
The bright spot of the day was having Malcolm along. He was such a trooper. He scouted out various trails he could use to intersect the race course and cheer me on while running all over the place in his orange Vibrams. He also helped out at an aid station and then ran the last 3 miles of the race with me putting his total at around 7 for the day. He kept repeating how awesome his day had been and it made me very happy to hear that. I was afraid he would get bored just waiting around for me the whole time, but he chose to go out and make his own experience happen. Sharing those last few miles together was a special treat that I won’t soon forget.
The course was a long 33.5 miles (by my GPS) with 4,300 feet of climbing. I rolled across the line in 6:10 which landed me in 34th place out of 76 finishers. I would have very much liked to hang out at the finish to congratulate my friends on their great results, but my body had other plans. I used up all the reserves I had and it was time to hit the road and get home.
I came away with a very positive experience and a great impression of this first-year race.
Since this was a first-year event, I’ll add a few comments about what I liked or thought they could change. At the risk of helping to contribute to the popularity of the race, and making it harder for myself to get back in, I’ll say up front that this was one of the best managed and well executed ultras that I have run (two dozen and counting). There are a few tweaks that I would suggest, but it was refreshing to have things run so well.
Cash for the winners. $500 is a pretty hefty payday for the top man and woman in a ultra. I would suggest paying 3 deep, though.
Quick results, nicely formatted (easy to see overall/age/gender placing).
Plentiful aid stations. I ran with one small bottle and it worked out great. I think some even ran without carrying any fluids. HUGE kudos for having water pitchers – so nice to have a volunteer quickly fill your bottle that way rather than waiting forever for the water to drip out of a cooler.
Great PA system. So many races I go to it is impossible to hear the last minute instructions. No issues here. Good announcer during the races.
Course marking. I was concerned enough about this to carry a small folded up map of my own. There were so many intersecting trails I didn’t want to have to guess which way to go if the markings (typically a weak spot in a first year race) were poor. The markings were excellent, no issues at all other than the one missed spur/overlook which was mentioned in the announcements.
National Anthem. Great touch.
Fast, but challenging course.
Great venue and calendar slot. The trail system was closed to all other users during the race, how sweet is that?!? You can tell the state park really embraced the event.
Splitting the 25K and 50K starts. When running the longer race, it’s nice to know that everyone around you is doing the same.
Two way traffic. There were a couple of sections with fairly heavy traffic as people were entering and exiting the two loop sections on the course. The trails were definitely wide enough to handle it, though. It was fun to greet other runners and see some of my friends running such great races.
A couple of aid stations ran out of gels.
T-shirt color. Powder blue? meh.
By all accounts, the course was substantially longer than 50K. It’s an ultra, so no big deal. There are plenty of long courses out there. However… with the prize money, the ‘elite’ field, and overall champoinship-type vibe of the event, why not dial that distance in and make this a true 50K testpiece? There are so many trails to choose from, the necessary modifications would be very easy to do.
Website info. The course map, elevation chart, and aid station information could have been much better.
As you can see, there was a lot to like about this event. Congrats to everyone involved in putting on such a high quality race!