3:00am is a pretty early time to wake up for any sort of activity, but today was the Golden Gate Dirty 30! 2016 would be my second running of this race. My first was last year which was also my first sanctioned trail running ultra. That’s a funny sentence to write; I’ve done so many self-supported style FKT challenges, I’m not exactly new to all of this, I’ve just been a little more underground with my events. I’ve found though that the Golden Gate Dirty 30 gave me a great goal to hit for getting into the running form I needed for other challenges later in the year, like Nolans 14.
Except this year, I had injured myself while bouldering. One evening last December, I tried a tricky dyno move to a far-reaching hold. I swung out onto it with a bit too much, let’s say: passion, and found myself swinging right off, and landing a little disorganized and crumpled. Crunch! A bad high ankle sprain, followed by some peroneal issues further down the road really changed my Winter training goals. I didn’t think too much of it when it happened: I even ran the few miles home that very night. But the pain persisted, so running hard was out, but hiking (in time) seemed fine and cycling caused me no pain at all. So, this past Winter I’ve focused a lot of my time outdoors cycling, even doing a few overnighters and a few quick trips to the local Front Range 14ers.
By late Spring, the ankle still wasn’t 100%, but I still wanted to run the Dirty 30, even though my goal of being competitive – and at the very least beat my time from last year by a good margin (I was hoping by 30 minutes) was out. What to do? Why not ride to the event, run at a pace I thought was sustainable given my touchy ankle, then ride home? My cycling fitness seemed pretty good, so let’s make this more interesting: if I was to run a 50k, why not stretch the ride into a complementary 300km – and since I’m sort of in the area, let’s summit a 14er: Mt. Evans! Evans conveniently has a road to the summit that just opened. My kind of trip!
With my plans finalized, I was packed and out the door at 3:30am. The race, a full 38 miles away from my house in Boulder, started in only three and a half hours. If it wasn’t for the 4,000+ feet of elevation difference to the race start, I’d say this would be no big deal. But I quickly found myself already riding with a bit of vigor to make sure I wasn’t late.
While riding, the environment around you before the sun starts rising seem particularly beautiful: the colors are muted and the sometimes jarring activity of a city is silenced. It’s one of benefits of these super early starts. I made good time riding from North Boulder where I live, to outside the southern borders of town, passing Eldorado Springs, and onto Highway 93, straight towards Golden. This highway isn’t always the funnest to ride in the daytime, as it’s fairly exposed to the sun/wind and the traffic can be heavy and loud. Even with my loaded down bike, I was flying down the road, and before long, I was staring up Golden Gate Canyon Road… but with only two hours left to get to the start!
The sun was certainly starting to rise as my anxiety that I was going to pull this off without being late and my pace slowed down in tight correlation with the grade of the road going up. I worried that traffic from the race itself would make the ride a bit more touch and go, but this didn’t turn out to be the case: traffic was very light indeed, allowing me to focus on the task at hand.
My cycling this Winter has almost exclusively been hunting down the steepest roads I could find (the road to Gold Hill outside of Boulder being a favorite), and my legs gave me good sensations, while I tried to make quick work out of this particular ribbon of tarmac. The higher the sun rose, the more features of the canyon I could make out, and the more anxious I became in getting to the start. Grind, grind grind: upwards!
2hr 50min into the ride, I finally crested the high point of the route, and I could see the southern side of Golden Gate Canyon State Park before me. Beautiful! With little hesitation, I cruised the last 5 miles down, losing 1,000 feet of elevation in the process in a flash. I found a place to stash my bike in the horse stables, I grabbed my race number, wolfed down some candy (nutrition is important!), put some sunscreen on, and did a quick costume change into my running outfit. I hurriedly put on my short shorts, a singlet and cinched on my Timothy Olsen Race Vest with a single Body Bottle Plus. All of which I had stashed in the back pocket of my cycling jersey. I crossed the street to loiter around the start with everyone else as if it was no big deal, all with ten minutes to spare! My prologue was over, time to race.
My legs were certainly feeling a little more stiff than I would have liked, but given that I just put 50km on them already while cycling, and was looking immediately at another 50km run, my spirits were pretty high. In the back of my mind though, I was already thinking of the 250km I had still promised myself I’d do after the race! Funny how ideas a week before turn into bad ideas when you’re about to do them, and then hopefully transform into GREAT ideas after it’s all said and done!
But still: my ankle. Wanting to be as kind to it as possible, I decided to start the race off slow, way slow. I probably was one of the very last people to hit the single track, walking the first kilometer in, as the course hits its initial choke point towards the singletrack. Surprisingly, I found myself really enjoying hanging back for the first couple of kilometers, meeting people I only knew/followed online, chatting, and testing out my slowly warming-to-the-task ankle which seemed, surprisingly, to be handling things quite well.
Feeling a little sheepish to be so far back with a low race number, plainly labeled, “Elite” pinned on my shorts, I reminded myself that I should give this day more than a simple phone-in performance, and run it smart. I can’t walk the whole thing, anyways – I had things to do! As my group approached the first rocky, technical descent, I found it impossible not to go full gas down the trail – it looked like too much fun! Away I cruised, passing people with gentle abandon. Being able to set my own pace was important – even on the downhills, as I knew what could potentially aggravate my ankle.
I had perfected my downhill skills to new levels this Winter, as my ankle would tell me right away when I plunged down too eagerly, or my stride was too long. I now skittered efficiently down the wonderful trails of Golden Gate Canyon State Park, towards the first aid station. For the rest of the race, I was able to get into a classic rhythm through the course: power hiking the ups, running the flats, and bombing the descents (probably a little too fast!), getting food and water at the aid stations – but not lingering too long. Compared to last year, where my goal was to positively bury myself, this go around felt like pure fun: a perfect training run!
Before I knew it, I was already power hiking up to the summit of Windy Peak – the last major hill of the course, and retracing my steps for the last super fun descent to the finish line. I felt strong, and happy that my ankle held out, and that my all-day fitness was coming on form. A little after 7 hours before I started the race, and 10 hours since I started the day propelling myself from my house, I crossed the finish line for my second Golden Gate Dirty 30 finish! Even though my time wasn’t what I had initially targeted I did hit my goal of not hurting myself from just completing the course, as well as cycling to the course itself. Hurray!
Now with food and beer in hand, I took a breather while soaking my poor feet in the creek. Ahh! Not too long after finishing lunch, I said my goodbyes, changed back into my cycling kit, and was already pedaling up once again up towards Highway 119. I took a quieter gravel/4wd track detour I had reconnoitered this Winter south to avoid the not very bike-friendly towns of Blackhawk and Central City and found myself on top of Two Brothers Road high above Idaho Springs ready for one of the best descents in the area, complete with tight switchbacks and sweeping views of the Mt. Evans massif, with its road leading up to the summit. Which, incidentally, was my next main objective.
Barreling down into Idaho Springs, stopping again for food ad topping off my bottles, I started riding up the Little Bear Creek gravel road, as the sun quietly began to set. As night settled into the area, I found a good spot to tuck away for the night off the main road in National Forest, perfectly close to the road, but hidden enough to feel like I was a thousand miles away form everyone. I unrolled my ultralight sleep system I brought with me, and bedded down. This is one of my favorite times of the day on trips like these. I love to reflect a bit on the wonderful day I was having and anticipate just what the next day will bring. Within a few minutes, I was out!
In the morning – well, after sleeping in a little while more than I had planned, I gathered what little gear I brought, lashed my sleep kit back onto my handlebars, and finished up towards the Echo Lake Lodge at the base of the road up to Mt. Evans and treated myself to one of the lodge’s amazing cinnamon buns – and about 5 cups of coffee. Then, it was up the 14 miles and almost 4,000′ additional gain in altitude to the top of Mt. Evans (14,264′). My legs felt pretty good all things considered, I may not be the fastest 50k runner in my best form, but I enjoy having that diesel engine that never quits. The weather was holding out well with only a slight breeze to accompany the unlimited visibility before me. I’ve done this ride at least a dozen times on all sorts of bikes: from loaded down touring bikes, to fixed gear’d track bikes. As road riding goes, it’s one of the best in the world.
The road and the surrounding slopes were busy with a cacophony of activity. Skiers skiing down, runners running up, cyclists everywhere and tourists in cars, wherever there wasn’t skiers, cyclists, or runners. I passed each mile marker with great enthusiasm, as I inched up the Evans Massif. To keep the stoke, I’d yell out the numbers as I passed them: “ONE!”, “TWO!”; and finally: “FOURTEEN – WOO!”.
After running out of road, I took the quick hike up to the very top for the amazing views of all the snow capped peaks to the west: The Tenmile, Mosquito, Gore, and Sawatch ranges taking the spotlight. I thought of all the future trips and adventures to be had on the spread of peaks in front of me. But soon enough, it was time to go down – way down: back to Boulder, more than 8,500′ below me. The anticipation alone of losing all that altitude in one enormous downhill is enough to forget how sore my legs were becoming. Nothing another cup of coffee can’t take the edge off!
All I had was 60 more miles to go, to wrap up a sub 48 hour romp in the Front Range: 50km of trail running, and 300km of cycling. Within a couple of more hours of pedaling, I was home. The sub 48 Dirty 350 micro adventure was complete!