Some people suffer from insomnia. I’m cultivating it to a high art.
Last year, in preparation for Big Horn, I decided that running all night in training might be a good idea before I ran all night in a race. This turned out to be the most valuable piece of preparation I did! The importance of staying warm, staying moving, and staying awake can’t be underestimated and I saw a lot of people at Bighorn laid pretty low in the wee hours. All-night runs are also, perversely, kind of fun, especially in retrospect. Even other runners who “get” the enduro thing will give you strange looks. That’s hard to do in a place like Boulder.
This year I decided to merge the all-night run idea Brian and I did last year with the Boulder-to-Nederland run idea Nate and I did into one, big training suffer-fest. Jason and Ben required surprisingly little cajoling to join me in my guaranteed-to-be-stupid escapade. The moon was full and the weather pleasantly warm under a high cirrus layer. This would be the theme of the night; while last year’s run was very cold and really really dark, this year was more temperate (lows in the 40s) and never entirely dark thanks to the moonlight. Also, having run through the night twice before, I knew something of the mental and physical challenges ahead.
We rolled out of downtown Boulder at the stroke of 10 pm and quickly climbed the front side of Flagstaff Mountain, detouring to the amphitheater to take in the bright city lights (11 pm). Next, it was up Green Mountain with a brief detour to the summit at the stroke of midnight (12 am). Then down toward Walker Ranch (1:30-2 am), and onward to our aid cache at Gross Reservoir (2:30).
Things were getting pretty low by this point. I’d carefully divided a bunch of food items into thing to carry and things to put in the aid box… then carefully put everything into the aid box. Running 4.5 hours on nothing but gel and a shotgunned cold coffee on top of Green Mountain made me jittery and clumsy and I never really recovered from this mistake. A hot beverage and some solid food (better late than never?) at the 14 mile mark cheered me immensely, but my intestines were acting up and I was dog tired.
We faced the witching hour (2-4 am is always the hardest part) with a moonlight walk through the Lakeshore Park community and onto 68J road by Moonlight. 68J is the key to connecting the Boulder-area trails to the Nederland-area trails. It’s definitely a public road, but is heavily signed with various variants of Private Road, No Trespassing, Vicious Attack Dogs Will Eat You. Despite being within our rights, we ran by moonlight; getting into the wrong road (and the narrow, high-clearance road looks just like the narrow, high-clearance driveways) at 3 am could be more complicated than we wanted. My only previous jaunt through here (in the daylight) was helpful, but we were still glad to finally be over the ridge and into the “suburbs of Magnolia road” area where things became easier.
By 4 am we’d reached the Forsythe Canyon trailhead on the west side of Gross Res. and my colon was all kinds of unhappy. The psychology of the wee hours worked their evil magic and keeping moving was very very hard indeed. The road was runnable, but we mostly just trudged along into terra incognita. The turn onto Winigar Ridge was pretty obvious and the ensuing trail quickly became the real high-point of the whole route; a faint trail climbs steeply up the ridge and then runs along the crest at the boundary between forest on the north (right) and open land dropping steeply to the south.
The time was 4:30 and the night was clearly almost over. The moon, our constant companion, had lighted the way all night, but the sky to the east was starting to lighten and color from more than just the light domes of the Denver suburbs. The first hint of daylight brought a huge sense of relief; no matter what was still ahead, we’d survived the night and it was going to be easier from here on. At 4:45, we distinctly heard the first bird of the day out getting his worm. The moon set spectacularly at 5 beyond the snowy Indian Peaks and we could mostly run without lights in the growing dawn. The upper portion of Winigar Ridge became a lovely trail winding through open forest with all the feel of a forest preserve.
The original plan had us crossing Magnolia Road and running a loop through the “Dot Trails” east of Nederland. However, we were pretty whipped at this point and were looking forward to being done. We ran a mile or two on Magnolia, then took a short section of the Blue Dot and Dog trails down to Ned. We finished with a triumphant mile or two on city streets to the Train Cars (the first place we found that was open at 6:45 in the morning). Refreshed but still sleepy, we hopped on the 7:30 bus back down to Boulder and thence each to his own abode to steal a few hours sleep.
So, how did it go? It felt about the same as last time. It was a harder route than last time: (27 miles with 6200′ of gain, mostly gradual climbing). The weather was warmer and the conditions lighter which made it easier. I re-learned important lessons about the importance of fueling and making sure everything is in it’s place (not the aid station ten miles farther on). Relatedly, I learned that you should put the aid station at the half-way point in time, not distance. But I also learned the power of having no alternative; at 3 am ten miles from your car, what option do you have but to keep moving. Relentless forward progress.
Thanks to Jason and Ben for their stalwart company and enthusiasm; I was definitely the weak link in the chain (I’m not nearly in the shape I was this time last year) but I’m the only one without a 100 mile race in the next few months. Jason is having another tango with Hardrock in July and Ben has been convinced by some sadistic friend that running Bighorn would be a good idea.
I look forward to my next all-night adventure with Ben at Bighorn. Hopefully a few hours of sleep beforehand (not to mention the long downhill grade from Jaws to Footbridge) will keep things better than on this trip.