As a civilian, access to the trail is not allowed until 8 am - and I was at the gate today then, ready to do a lap. The weather was good, 70 degrees when I started just after 8:15. Cloud cover had the humidity level up a bit, but not too bad. I think the faster direction to go is clockwise, my nemesis is counter clockwise because of an ascending climb that seems to take forever that begins less than 2 miles into the loop.
My previous best time (for either direction) has been 2:14. I usually run through the parking lot at the end of the loop to round out the distance to an even 13 miles. Today - I wanted to push, believing that if couldn't break 2 hours then I should be left on the trail as food for wildlife.
And so off I went, counter clockwise, with a couple of bottles in hand, keeping the first mile at a smooth 8 minute pace - it is slightly downhill and a good way to start - easing into the run. It was a good opportunity to see how my body was feeling after Mondays Pikes Peak effort of 6 1/2 hours (26 miles). I was glad there was no soreness in my legs. A good start.
2 miles in and the climbing had begun - I focused in moving smooth and steady. In every previous run I have struggled on this 1 1/3 mile long climb because it's such a mind numbing section to do in oppressive heat because it is quite exposed - today however, there was a bit of a breeze and the sun was not bearing down so hard.
Approx 3 1/3 miles in and my pace had slowed to an 8:49 average - pleased with that because I was hoping to be at 9 or faster. Then a downhill stretch that takes the trail close to the Academy chapel, followed by another climb - less severe than the first - but still needing effort to achieve and maintain pace.
My plan on the climbs (5 noticeable ones in this direction) was to be slower, but steady and smooth - while trying to not redline and bonk out later. At the end of the second climb the trail comes past an overlook for the chapel - about 5 miles in - and this was where my pace had slowed to a 9:02 average. Again I was quicker than I was expecting. Encouraging signs so far and a gentle downhill followed for approx. 3/4 of a mile before the 3/4 mile climb to the high point of the trail - the parking lot to the Stanley Canyon trailhead.
My desire was to be there as close as I could be to an hour - 62 minutes being my initial target. As I approached the halfway point I fueled up quickly and at 6 1/2 miles my watch read 59:20. A 2 hour loop was reachable now - with the finish being 800' lower than the high point I was now at. There were still 2 tough climbs to go, and of course 6 1/2 miles - but the downhill sections, especially near Stanley Canyon were long and smooth. A chance to drop my average - which was now up to 9:08 per mile.
I was feeling okay, no real big fatigue in the legs and I felt like I had fueled well so far. I was also feeling confident I could go sub 2 hours, maybe even pull off a 1:55 if I pushed it. So, I dialed up the effort a bit. The miles clicked off and the average dropped below 9, then below 8:50 before I got to the fire station where 2 or so weeks ago I had spent 15 - 20 minutes trying to recover from dehydration and exhaustion on a 2 lap / 26 miler.
Today - I shuffled by, barely even glancing at it, instead looking at my watch and then the quite mean uphill section just past the fire station that is possibly the steepest part of the trail. Fortunately it is less than 3/4 mile long. Unfortunately it beat me up and I slowed dramatically. But I eventually made it to the top and had just over 3 miles to go.
Some tired math in my head resulted in me thinking that if I could push a bit more now, then not only could I get under 2 hours, but 1:55 was reachable. I dialed up the effort as the trail eased downhill. An 8 minute mile resulted. My quads were now reminding me of the 7800' descent they had carried me just 3 days earlier and I was getting weary. I began to wish for company, someone to push and motivate me to keep moving. The memory of last years PPM descent came to me where for long sections of trail below tree line it was just me running alone. I couldn't rely on anyone else but me to stay focused and keep pushing.
2 miles to go, one more climb that was looming, my math was telling me that sub 1:55 was possible - especially if I could navigate the final climb because at the top of that it was only a 1/2 mile to go till the parking lot. I struggled and pushed, fatigue a factor now, as well as a desire to be done. I made it to the top of the last hill, overlooking the Football stadium, but I didn't even glance at it.
I pushed on - it wasn't easy, but trail running isn't easy if you are in a hurry - which I was. Finally to the parking lot and 12.9 miles. I ran a weird little loop of the parking lot to bring the total distance to 13 miles. My 2nd half of the course was a zippy 53:30 for a total time of 1:52:50. A new PR and feeling good about my improving fitness.