Sunday, August 31, 2014

GECKO Devil Mountain/Demons of Dust trail race - still oxygen free!

For the fourth year in a row, Mrs Notthat and I headed from California to Pagosa Springs Colorado to visit family and run a GECKO trail race.

The first year it was just us running the Turkey Track Trail race, but nephew Blailand came out to watch me stagger to my finish in the Marathon and realized that, if that old guy could do this, he could too. The following year Blailand ran the Turkey Track Trail Half Marathon, and indeed, beat the old guy.

It was last year though that we managed to talk a larger group into joining us for the Chili Cha Cha event, with Blailand being joined by his mother, aunt, and grandmother, while the younger kids ran the kid's race.

All of this lead to this year, when we managed to drag an even larger crew to the Devil Mountain/Demons of Dust event.

This event is really two events:

  • The Devil Mountain 50/50, which is a very challenging 50 mile and 50K race. These runners started at 6:30 AM and we never saw any of them outside of the fastest 50K runners who managed to finish while we were still around.
  • The Demons of Dust race that has Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K distances, along with a kid's race. The primary course is an ultra-10K loop that worked out to about 6.7 miles. It was reasonably flat (for Colorado) with a bit over 300 feet of climbing per loop, with lots of roots, rocks, and puddles to keep you entertained. But it was also at about 8,000 feet, which did our sea-level lungs no favors. 

There ended up being twelve of us, all wearing the bright green "Team Lucas" shirts, participating in this event:

  • Mrs Notthat and I ran the Half Marathon (two laps of the "10K" course). This race started at 8 AM - an hour before the shorter races, which started at 9 AM.
  • Blailand, his mother Angie, and her sister Valerie all ran the 10K.
  • Jesse, his wife Aubri (who both flew out with us from California), my sister-in-law Elisha, and, the big surprise, my sister Elizabeth, all ran the 5K, which took a short cut to the halfway point of the 10K loop.
  • Landon, Kyler, and Katelynn all ran the kid's race which started at 10 AM.

I should also mention that my brother Lance bravely volunteered to ride herd on the kids before and after the kid's race. (During the race he hid so as not to be tempted to jump in with them.)

Bib pickup on the day before the race.
Since Jesse and Aubri were sharing a suite with us (Mountain Landing was awesome, and we got a race discount with them!), they rode with us for our 8AM start, which meant they had to stand around for an hour waiting for their race. But that also meant they could take a few pictures that we otherwise would have missed.

Mr and Mrs Notthat ready to get going.
Race day was overcast and cool - exactly the conditions that I like. There was also a reasonable chance of a shower or two as the day went on, which added some urgency to getting this done quickly.

The Demons of Dust races are a fairly new addition to this event, with the Devil Mountain races being the primary draw. There was still a pretty good turnout for the Half Marathon (there were nearly 100 finishers for the 50M/50K distances, with a bit over 50 in the Half/10K/5K races).

And the Half runners are off!
The only surprise on the day was that we ran the loop backwards from what was shown on the website. My guess is that this worked out better for creating a 5K course, but it really wasn't a big deal one way or the other, and may have been a bonus since it meant our finish would be on a gravel road instead of a potentially treacherous meadow.

The Half Marathon Race

The loop started with a dash across a meadow onto a pretty single-track trail that ended up wandering around a bunch of trees. The trail had occasional bouts of rocks and roots, and a few minor rolling hills, but was generally very fun and fast.

We made it to the first aid station at a bit over two miles into the loop.

One of my favorite quirky bits of the course.
From that aid station we briefly left the single-track and wandered along a gravel road. Just to remind us that this was a trail race, when we came to where we were to make a left onto another gravel road, they had us cut the corner - I loved the wackiness of this bit, although Mrs Notthat admitted later that, on her second lap, she stayed on the road and chose to put in bonus distance rather than stumble through that grassy bit.

We weren't on that road for long before we were herded off onto an ATV trail. This trail definitely had its technical moments, but it also had a lot of beauty.

And a lot of puddles that were generally easy to dodge.

It was along this bit that the 5K course joined the 10K loop. We started an hour before the 5K runners, and had gone nearly four miles by this point. I decided that my goal for this first lap was to get to its end before getting passed by a fast 5K runner.

I knew that somewhere along here we were going to hit the only serious elevation change with a dip down into a gully. What I didn't know was that the trail was going to be pretty rough during that dip.

Which way do I go?
If you survived that rock-infested gully, you had some reasonably smooth trail before hitting the final gravel road stretch to the finish area.

I succeeded in finishing my first lap without getting passed by a 5K runner. The 10K and 5K runners had started about 30 minutes before I got here, so there was little chance of me catching any of the 10K runners (although I'm sure the faster Half runners passed most, if not all of them).

The pass-through aid station.
Generally, multi-lap courses like this are really challenging. When you finish a lap, it's really tempting to be happy with that and call it a day. This can be one of the hardest mental tests in a trail race. But for this race, it wasn't hard at all to ignore the finish and head back out for the second lap, largely because the trails had been so fun and the fact that Mrs Notthat wasn't that far ahead of me.

I think they are trying to say that you shouldn't go straight here.
The course was well marked and, even when I started to tire, I was never in doubt as to whether I was still on it.

That first aid station, a second time, about mile nine. "What's with all these Team Lucas shirts we keep seeing?"

I was right on Mrs Notthat's tail shortly after that aid station.

Mr Notthat taking a break.
There were parts of this trail that had "Tripfest" written all over it. However, I managed to trip and fall on a bit that was some of the smoothest trail on the course. Figures.

Mrs Notthat paused while I counted my body parts, then we took off.

The gully got much deeper and gained a lot more rocks on this second lap.
Shortly after this last climb, I managed to catch Mrs and we stayed mostly together from then to the finish. The lack of oxygen caught up to both of us and, honestly, it was so nice on the trails it was hard to be in much of a hurry in any case.

Eventually, we made it to the finish, for real this time.

Me totally blowing it; Mrs Notthat nearly always beats me, but here I had a chance to do a hand-in-hand finish with her, and instead, I did a last short sprint to beat her. I'm a dork. But I beat her.

The Kid's Race

The (free) kid's race started at 10 AM. There was no way we were going to be able to finish our Half in time to see it, and the kid's mothers were running the 10K (that started at 9 AM) and had little chance of finishing in time to see it either. Our best hope was Jesse in the 5K - he should be able to get that race done with enough time to grab the camera and take a few pictures. (Yes, my brother was there, but trust me; herding those kids around was a full-time job and left no time for niceties like trying to point a camera at them.)

The coolest thing was that Smokey the Bear showed up! The kids loved him!

Smokey, some GECKO people, and many of the runners of the kid's race.
The kids all got bibs and were really excited to go.

And then they were off! The kid's course had them jump over a ribbon, crawl under another, jump through a hoop, and turn around at a treasure chest, where they picked out a prize before heading back to the finish.

I love that little guy in the back. I wish I had his style and determination. And speed.

When each runner finished, Smokey gave them their finisher medal and a few other cool things.

Wrapping Things Up (Finally)

Here are a few more pictures from before the 5K/10K races started.

Three very determined kids that couldn't wait for their race to start.
The 10K runners from our group.
Sadly, I don't have a proper picture of the 5K runners in our group. We do have this group shot though.

I love this shot!
Aubri and Elisha finishing their 5K, a bit after Jesse finished his.
One of these two had a nasty fall less than a mile into the 10K. But she got up and the two of them stuck together and got it done!
This shot is pretty cool. As Mrs Notthat and I were heading to the finish, we saw two green shirts ahead of us. We guessed that they were the twins finishing their 10K. Under normal circumstances, we likely would have sped up to try to catch them, but we were both gassed and let them finish without us. (It turned out that they had seen us and were prepared to speed up themselves just in case we tried to make a move, but were happy that it didn't come down to that.)

In any case, the fun thing about his shot is that their kids went out a bit and paced them in to the finish. (For Valerie and Angie, this was their third race - all GECKO - and their first 10K. I was so thrilled that they took this challenge and whipped it!)

Checking to see who won age group awards.

I believe the very first award that was handed out was the men's 5K winner, which turned out to be Jesse! This was very cool! (And I am NOT going to mention that he was the only male that ran the 5K, along with nine women.)

Aubri also won a 5K age group award.

And so did Elisha. (I was so happy she decided to do this race; she's been fighting health issues since she ran the Chili Cha Cha race last year, and it was great to see her out there!)

My sister Elizabeth was the huge surprise. When I heard she was coming down from Denver while we were there, I put the bug in her ear to come out and run this race with us. I knew there would be several that were going to be taking it very easy, so it wasn't like she actually had to run the thing.

She said laughed and said no. Flying pigs might have been mentioned.

But when we went to pick up the bibs, she changed her mind and signed up (peer pressure can be a powerful thing). This was her first race of any kind, and naturally, she got an age group award!

Blailand played a tough football game the Thursday before this race, and had some knee issues that made it possible he would have to bail. But he ran the 10K anyway, and for the third time in three races, won an age group award!

And then lastly, there was Mrs Notthat who also managed to win an age group award. (No, I didn't win one; I was the last male finisher and fourth in my age group. But I did beat Mrs Notthat, just in case you forgot.)

When you see these shirts from a distance, once you get over being blinded you notice that they all have frowny faces on them.  That wasn't planned, and given that the major climb on the course was out of a gully, I could have made this more of a smiley face. Live and learn.
The medals were the traditional handmade pottery things that the local school kids create. GECKO (Giving Every Child the Knowledge of the Outdoors) is a nonprofit that raises money to fund outdoor programs for local kids. They are branching out a bit and are hosting a Marathon/Half Marathon out of Leadville soon. They also have bike and swimming events.

GECKO events are always fun and casual and perfect for anyone that wants to spend a bit of time on the trails, whether trying to set a PR or just wanting a nice walk in the woods.

OK, that wasn't an easy 5K course, but seriously?
Everyone had a blast at these races. The weather held out nicely and the trails were a lot of fun, with enough challenge in them to keep you on your toes.

This event is normally later in the year, with the Chili Cha Cha event on this weekend, but a scheduling issue made them have to swap the order (the Chili Cha Cha is in late September). I had hoped to get all the locals to do the Chili Cha Cha, but it sounds like they are going to be out of town that weekend.

And that's about it! Well, and a HUGE thanks to GECKO and all the volunteers that made this event so much fun!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures from the race here, here, and here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bear Creek never gets easier

Brazen's Bear Creek Half Marathon always gets me. Way back in 2010, I ran my second trail race ever and first Half Marathon at the Winter Bear Creek race, which was a very different (and never repeated) version of this race, and I had run the summer version three times since then.

The main distinctions of the summer version has been the heat, relentless hills, and occasional rattlesnake. I always start out fine but end up pretty toasted by the end. Slightly oddly, the only time I've broken four hours at this race is that first winter version. So my goal is always to finish in less than four hours. Would this be the year?

Mrs Notthat volunteered to be the It's-It lady for this race, so staying at home and cowering in a corner was not an option.

One thing that made this a momentous day was that it was the day I replaced the frogs on my hat, which had been there since Way Too Cool in 2012 and had become unruly and fragile, with dragonflies made by Yrrek (not her real name).

I had hopes that, in place of the rude frog noises I put up with previously, these dragonflies would give me wings and help carry me up the hills. (Spoiler alert: Ha! All they did was complain about how slow I was going.)

This course can get so hot that there are volunteers with fire extinguishers in case any runners burst into flames. Thanks Yrag (not your real name)!
The Mahtal Nalc (not their real names) showed up in force with a couple of bonus runners!
Hteb (not her real name) bravely started the timer and then cheered as we stumbled by her. It is NOT true that she tried to trip me. Probably.
Eventually the race started and we were off!

"Hey Yrrek, did you know you don't have any shoes on?"
I quickly took up my traditional spot at the back of the pack.

A huge bonus was that it was overcast, and even a bit foggy as you headed up that first hill. For a bit, it was easy to pretend you were running in the Marin Headlands (if you had a good imagination).

I could hear Team Divad (not their real name) shivering as I approached the first aid station.
The first aid station was at the top of the first real hill, about mile 2.9. It was still quite cool at this point, but there were signs that it wasn't going to last.

My emergency backup arch-nemisis Drahcir (not his real name) was catching up to me quickly.
Part way down that first hill the sun started to break through.

The second aid station (mile 5.8) was the first one with a cutoff, but past history shows that it's not a cutoff that I need to worry about too much. I made it with 30 minutes to spare. Nahtanoj (not his real name, on the left) was taking pictures here, and got these of Mrs Notthat and I passing through.

After you leave that aid station, you have some nice single-track to prance through.

Note all the shade. Ha! 

After a brief stop at a well-placed outhouse, the course turns to follow a fun stretch through the trees along a dry creek, which is capped with a root-infested, chin-scraper climb that this picture does no justice.

My emergency backup arch-nemisis is just barely ahead of me.
The mile and a half or so that leads to this aid station (about mile 9.9) is not fun. It's very exposed and uphill. And once you get here, you know you're not done climbing. This aid station had the cutoff I was most worried about, but again I beat it by 30 minutes.

There is basically just a long 5K left to do, and on paper, it doesn't look too bad either, with a lot of it downhill. But past experience has taught me that it was going to be challenging. So I soaked my hat (the dragonflies had been really nagging me, so it was nice to shut them up for a bit) and headed out to finish that last hill.

Those of you with good eyes can see the next aid station way down there.
Before the race, I always look forward to this bit since it is a long downhill where I can make up some time. When I get here though, I am usually so tired that not much time gets made up.

Eventually I made it down to the fourth and final aid station, at about mile 12.2. There is a little over a mile to go from here, and it's a reasonably fun mile, but I was really beat at this point.

The last mile is mostly a nicely shaded single-track trail that normally is fairly infested with poison oak. Earlier in the week though, and couple of brave Brazen volunteers hacked the stuff back to minimize the chances of you touching it. (Nonnahs and Mas - not their real names - are rock stars!)

Sadly, they did nothing to reduce the small hills you have to also deal with along this stretch.

Above is a picture that Nej (not her real name) took of Mrs Notthat approaching the finish well ahead of me. I came through so much later that Nej had given up and went home for lunch.

But I did end up finishing, finally.

There is so much wrong going on in this picture that I don't know where to start.  
Picture by Ecinreb (not her real name).
It took some effort, but I was able to extract Mrs Notthat from the clutches of The Endorphin Dude and pose for this nice shot.

And that's about it. I failed to break four hours, again, but I did set a PR (barely) for the course. Mrs Notthat also set a PR (and beat me by a staggering 45 minutes).

This race also marked my fifth in the Brazen Ultra Half Series, which means I am now eligible for the coveted coaster medal if I can get through the Rocky Ridge race [insert involuntary shudder here].

Oh goody. [insert involuntary heavy sigh here]

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.