Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mountain Chili Cha Cha Cha!

For the last two years, we have flown to Colorado and driven to Pagosa Springs to run the GECKO Turkey Track Trail Run. This year we had a conflict, so instead we headed there for the Mountain Chili Cha Cha event.

Unlike the TTT event, this one starts and ends downtown and has a bit more challenging Half course. Even better, there are shorter distances offered, including a 5K and 10K, plus a wildly fun Kid's Race (half mile).

Above is a simplified Half course map of sorts (click it to see a larger version). This was not a simple course, but it was very well marked and had volunteers at all the key locations; I never spent time wondering if I was still on the right trail. (I did spend time wondering whether whoever created the trail should be locked up or not, but that's different.)

The coolest thing about this race was that, with the shorter distances available, I was able to talk various relatives that live here into running their first trail race!

Of this group, only Dnalialb (not his real name, on the far left, who ran the TTT Half last year and ran the 10K in this race), Mrs Notthat (also ran the 10K), and I have run a trail race before. The Pink Trio ran the 5K and the three little ones ran the Kid's race.

Speaking of the Kid's race, it was first up.

The kid's got to chase a six foot chili pepper for half a mile. Almost all of the kids were really into it - they really pushed hard and the chili pepper had to stay hot (ha ha ha) to keep up. There were a few kids that took a minute or two to warm up and understand what was going on, but even they were charging hard when they approached the finish line. (Click here to see a short video I made of the race.)

Running is hard work!

A very cool thing about the GECKO races are the awards they hand out to the winners - these things are seriously great.

Once the excitement of the Kid's race wore off a bit, we were ready to start the main events. All three distances started at the same time, and everyone ran the 5K course to start.

A lot of the trails were in the woods, and we started out on a dirt road.

I cannot tell you how jealous I am of that pepper hat!
There were several paparazzi around taking pictures, so I had to focus more than normal on looking good(ish).

After a bit, we were off of the road and on some very nice single-track. This was a great stretch of trail, and I really liked that all runners got to go on it - this was a great introduction to the first-timers of how cool these races can be!

At about 1.4 miles in we hit the first aid station. This aid station was kind of the Bermuda Triangle of aid stations since they had runners coming in from and heading out to all directions (I saw them three times!).

After that aid station, we all headed back to the start area. For the 10K and Half runners though, we took a turn a bit before the bridge and headed up a set of switchbacks to go back to that aid station. Mrs Notthat had already made that turn and yelled at me to pick up the pace.

A volunteer separated the 5K runners (who were about 300 yards from being done) from the 10K and Half runners,  who took a right here. Up a hill. Naturally.

I loved blowing past these No Trespassing signs!
The switchbacks took us up to the top of Reservoir Hill where we were all able to cruise on some fairly flat, fresh trails on private land.

I'm not exactly sure what he was protecting us from, but it was great to see this volunteer along the course.

After spending some time running along the top of the ridge, we finally started our descent to the aid station.

Alert readers will note that the table has migrated a bit since the last time we were here.
At about mile 4.8 we were all back at that aid station again. The big difference this time was that the 10K runners made a right for a pleasant little jaunt to the finish line a little over a mile away; the Half runners made a left onto an out-and-back bit of trail (the stick of the heart-shaped lollipop) that was one of the hardest, meanest, most fun bits of trail I've been on.

This was all new trail that was created just for this race (as had been a lot of the trail along the top of the ridge). It seemed to take a particular delight in making you go uphill when there was perfectly good non-uphill places it could go. When I look at elevation charts I always look forward to the downhill bits since they are my best chance at making up some time. But I'm not nearly a good enough runner to make up time on some of this downhill - it was some kind of technical!

Shortly after I got on that bit of trail, I was met by this guy, who was a proper runner and had no trouble flying down this trail (and he ended up winning the Half overall).

Shortly after he went by, this equally fast woman flew past. (She won the women's race and ended up less than a minute behind the guy you saw earlier! Very nice!)

Seriously - that's a running trail! (Note the pink marker flags.)
All the hay you can eat!
At about mile 6.6 you arrive at the third aid station, which is at the base of the heart-shaped lollipop. This part of the course was very non-technical, and a section where you could make up some time. (By this time, my sea-level lungs were voting early and often for me to not try to do any time-making-up though.)

This bit of the course was very exposed and could have been really hard on my heat-fragile body, but note all the clouds. They provided enough shade to make this stretch easy to deal with.

At the end of the lollipop, at mile 8.4, I was back at the aid station (number four if you are keeping track). This meant I had a bit more of gentle trail then would face that other stuff again.

The views were great along this stretch of trail, but it was easy to miss them since you needed to really watch the trail.

Eventually I made it back to that Bermuda Triangle aid station again, this time at mile 10.3. At this point, they only had one more runner to wait for and they were done! I asked them to look like this had been a horrific duty today and this is the best they could do. The volunteers at this race were so wonderful!

From here the Half runners retraced their steps back up to the top of Reservoir Hill and down those switchbacks.

About halfway down those switchbacks I caught up to this runner. After I explained how embarrassing it would be for her to get geezered by me, she picked up the pace and finished strong (that's the finish line straight ahead, more or less).

There was one more runner on the course after I finished, and he wasn't far behind. The amazing thing is that he was 71 and looked MUCH more like a runner than I did. When I grow up…

Once the race was over, GECKO held their awards ceremony. Dnalialb won second in his age group for the 10K - the kid's run two races and won age group awards both times!

And as proof that it's good to be in an unpopular age group, I even won a third place age group award! (Yes, I was next to DLF and still came out a winner!)

The very cool socks and goody bag we received.
My age group award (on the left), bib, and strands of chili beads. The shirt was from last year.
This race was a complete blast. It was very scenic with lots of fun, if somewhat torturous, trails. The organization went off without a hitch and everyone had a great time. Also going on in the park was the Chili Cha Cha festival, with a chili cook off and lots of fun things to eat and drink around, not to mention the live music.

I've always been impressed with GECKO, and love that they work so hard to get kids involved in the outdoors. I know Dnalialb was hooked last year, and the kids that ran that Kid's race are all ready for the next one.

GECKO has a very challenging race up next - the Devil Mountain Ultra. A cool thing is that they have added a set of shorter distances to the event, so there will be 5K, 10K, and Half distances (Demons of Dust) to go along with the 50K and 50M distances. We won't be able to make it there, but I'm hoping various family members will make it and do us proud again!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: You can see a great movie covering the event and read more about it here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

No bears, no creek, but no sunstroke either

Brazen's Bear Creek event is always memorable. The last two years that we've run this it has been very warm, and to add some excitement, several rattlesnakes have shared the trails with us.

And the 2013 version promised more of the same. Both Mrs Notthat and I were signed up for the Half (this race completes my four-race requirement for the Brazen Ultra Half Challenge and gets Mrs Notthat to within one race).

I REALLY like my shoes, but Nivek (not his real name) literally puts his on a pedestal.
We arrived to a bright, sunny day that was already warming up.

Goldilocks and the three bears. (Picture by Ecinreb, not her real name.)

Eventually we were off in a cloud of dust. Literally. The trails were very dry and dusty.

One thing that never changes are the hills. There are lots of long climbs that are mostly on exposed trails, which allow you to enjoy stunning views while slogging along. And to soak up LOTS of sunshine.

The sun-drenched first aid station at mile 2.9.
At the top of that first long climb is the first aid station. In addition to the perky volunteers, the cool thing about this aid station is that you get a nice downhill bit from here.

Another cool thing was that you could see a lot more clouds forming, which inspired some hope that we would get a few breaks from the sun later on.

A fun thing about this downhill is that it's pretty mild, which makes it easy to run with few cares while admiring the views.

Once you reach the bottom, you get to spend some time in the woods.

There seems to be a tiny issue with the shade at this aid station. But the clouds seem to be compensating nicely!
At mile 5.8, you arrive at the second aid station. There was a 1.5 hour cutoff here that I didn't know about, or I might have been freaking out a bit (I made the cutoff by nine whole minutes).

The brave volunteer paparazzi you see on the left took these pictures of Mrs Notthat and I coming through here:

WAY perky Mrs Notthat.
Pretending to push hard to make the cutoff.
Done pretending. If I had known how close I was to the cutoff though, I would not have been this relaxed.
Once you leave that aid station, you have some rolling hills to cover. Again, very exposed, but look at all those clouds!

Drahcir (not his real name, who I had weirdly passed a bit earlier) flew by me as I stopped to take this  picture.
One thing I forgot to take a picture of is the bathroom that you hit at about mile 7. It's a little awkward to get to, but worth some trouble if you are needing one.

Once you pass that bathroom, you start on a very fun stretch of single-track trail that follows a creek that is always dry this time of year. That trail culminates in a wickedly steep, but short, climb where you  find yourself grabbing tree roots and such to help pull you up.

That cliff climb signals the beginning of a long, fairly mild climb. About halfway up that climb I came across Chris Bliss, who was impatiently waiting for me to catch up to her. She pushed me up the hill to the next aid station.

Photo by volunteer paparazzi.
The third aid station, mile 9.9, also had a cutoff (3 hours). Again, I wasn't aware of this and would have been freaking a bit, but as it turned out I made it through here with 7 minutes to spare.

The fun things about this aid station were the bucket and sponge for cooling off (it wasn't all that hot out, but this still felt very nice) and the popsicles.

Picture by Brazen volunteer.
This is what Mrs Notthat looked like when she came into this aid station. Show off.

It was sad to leave this here, but since there was basically only a 5K left to do, it was time to continue the climb up that hill.

It takes a bit to get to the top of that last hill from that aid station, but eventually you get there and get to start down a nice long hill. And as a nice tease, you see the last aid station off in the distance. (In this case, you could actually hear it long before you could see it.)

Two of the loudest aid station volunteers you will ever hear.
The last aid station, mile 12.2 (less than a mile to the finish), had the Mahtal (not their real name) family and a bonus volunteer. This is a tough aid station since it sees every runner and is the first to open and the last to close.

This aid station also had a bucket with a sponge, but with two bonus things: There was ice in the bucket and there was a volunteer brave enough to squeeze a sponge on my head. That was an amazing rush and made that last 0.9 miles to the finish fly by.

All that fun looking red stuff is poison oak.
The trail for that last mile is great. It's got some mildly serious rolling hills and a lot of serious poison oak if you happen to wander off the trail. And there is a nice reward at the end - a creek to soak your feet in.

This was a first - the creek was bone dry. But there was a volunteer (with amazing stamina - I couldn't believe she was still there as late as I was in coming through here) taking great pictures of us as we came down the steps to the dry creek.

After crossing the dry creek you have a flight of stairs to go up, you make a left, and there you are - the finish!

I beat all the cutoffs (by not much) and managed to finish standing up.

At least I wasn't farting bags of ice like Lliw (not his real name).

Mrs Notthat finished hours before me, won an age group medal, and bought a pair of gaiters. And somehow managed to score a baby.

These two are so amazing. Today was their 26th anniversary, and they chose to spend it running an absurdly tough Half. Congratulations and way to go Oel and Ainigriv (not your real names)!

The baby's sisters were anxious to get their brother back from Mrs Notthat. (Wait until he grows up and excels at tormenting them - they will look back on this moment and roll their eyes very hard.)

And that's about it. This is a sneaky tough course that was made a lot easier because of the clouds. I didn't see any rattlesnakes (the guy who won the Half said he had to chase one off the trail) and didn't get to soak my feet in that creek near the finish, but I got two great sponge squeezes so I'll call it even.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.