2011 Rattlesnake Ramble Race Report
Eldorado Canyon State Park, September 17, 2011 - This is the first year, of the seven years I’ve been running this race, where we had fewer finishers than the year before. That could be reason enough to pout, but I’m not. In a lot of ways, this was our best year yet. Our numbers were down only because I was lazy and got going too late to promote the race. With only a couple of emails to the local running groups, we got 90 people to sign up and over 70 to finish the race. Plus, I’ve signed up Buzz Burrell (actually, he volunteered) to take over the promotion of the race for 2012. With him at the reins I think we’ll fill this race (our limit is 100 runners) early.
Timing has always been our toughest area of logistics and we’ve always been slow with the results. This just emphasizes why there is a thriving business for professional timing services. Last year my friend Mark Bockman of RaceRite.com timing offered to chip time the race for free. Unfortunately, it was his first time doing it and we had a number of problems. Since then his business is booming and he’s a true professional. His services are so in demand that he wasn’t available to do the Rattlesnake this year, but he did train us and give us his back-up, manual-timing machine. I got my tech-savvy friends, Kate, Chris, and Tom to take control of the timing and Danny and Michael to handle all the computer results and it worked great! The last finisher came in just under an hour and we had all the results for the awards five minutes later.
Sponsors gave tons of schwag and everyone in the race walked away with some free gear. The top racers got down jackets, shoes, Microspikes, packs, gym memberships, great clothing, hats, water bottles, ultra-running belts and mini-packs, tech shirts, etc.
I did screw up two things and I'll fix next year and have done right in the past. The first was that I didn’t have water/Gatorade at the finish. It was just up at our one aid station. This was entirely my fault and something that I just overlooked. We got the water down to the finish as fast as we could and everyone was cool about being patient with me. The other thing was a handled the kids’ awards badly. I had to be prompted to announce them. I feel terrible about this, as I love that kids run this race and work so hard. I only charge $10 for the kids but I need to give them a better experience if they are to come back. I rallied a bit and I hope they all (four of them including my niece Marissa) will be back so that I can redeem myself a bit. But enough of the logistics, on to the race report.
The nice thing about our course, Y-pattern with two out-and-backs, is that a middle-of-the-pack runner like myself can do a credible job at reporting the entire race. That said, I’m going to concentrate on my race this year, as it proved to be one of most satisfying, exciting, and painful races.
One of the three people who have run every Rattlesnake Ramble, is Eric Coppock. Eric is a great friend who just happens to be very close to me in fitness. By ‘close’, I mean that most of the time he isn’t very far ahead of me. He had beaten me in 4 of the previous 5 times we’ve done this race (I missed one year). Also, each time John Christy has done this race, we’ve dueled nearly to the finish line, also with me falling short. My two best running buddies, John “Homie” Prater, and Mark Oveson have become ultra-running machines and in the process have also gotten faster and faster on shorter distances and steep hills. Homie and I are nearly identical on short, (less than an hour) uphill efforts. It’s ironic that when racing it is much more important to beat your friends than the people you don’t know, and that was the case here. I was a bit fitter than usual this year and was hoping to notch a victory over all my friends, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Speaking of friends, this race is morphing into a friends and family race for me. I had seven family members (not including me) in this race and my wife was injured and couldn’t run. Just my family is more than 10% of this race! Of the remaining 90% half are probably already my friends and I’m working on the other half.
After my pre-race announcements, I jumped down into the pack of runners and maneuvered myself behind Eric. I knew he was in shape for a marathon next weekend and my only chance was to gain time on the big hill. This year the big Eldorado-Trail hill came on the second branch of the Y. This works to my advantage because if I can get a lead on the hill, then there won’t be much time for Eric to run me down. But for that strategy to work, I had to be close to Eric by the start of the hill. None of this is a secret to Eric. He’s a very experienced racer, especially against me, and I knew his strategy was to build a big lead early.
Indeed, Eric took it out hard, up the deceptively steep opening half-mile on the road. I knew it was too fast for me and I fell back, keeping him insight. I noticed John Christie up with Eric and even going by him. John has dueled with Eric in the past as well, as all three of us are so close together. After a minute or two I hear someone breathing just off my right shoulder. A backwards glance reveals Homie and he says, “I’m drafting off you.” I respond with my only words in the entire race, “I’m trying to get up there to draft off Eric.”
That brings up another great aspect of this race. Because you pass everyone in the race twice, due to the out-and-backs, you get to cheer on your friends. If you have the breath that is. I’m amazed that so many runners, both ones ahead of me and ones behind me, would take the energy and breath to cheer me on. I regret that I could not respond in kind. I was using every available molecule of oxygen to fight a no-lungful-wasted, cage-match battle against my best friends. Even race leader John Tribbia, on a near course-record setting pace, had the breathe to encourage me. Obviously everyone else had friendship ahead of racing.
As we turned onto the flat Fowler Trail, Eric’s gap over me was shrinking a tiny bit. I was working hard, but trying to relax, knowing I need to save as much as possible for the Eldorado hill. John Tribbia came by going the other way with a huge lead. He’s the course-record holder and appeared to be making an effort to best himself. He’s the only runner to ever break 28 minutes on this course and today he’d just barely miss it, but win easily. Behind John were two young runners I didn’t recognize. They were Adam St. Pierre and Tobias Albrigsten, with Andy Ames, previous winner and former course-record holder, as well as one of the best Masters runners in the country, only a few seconds behind. The next tier down included TDK, my good friend Stefan, Russ Bollig, and my brother-inlaw Kraig Koski. Kraig and Stefan are local endurance legends, though Kraig is better on the longer, tougher courses, while Stefan holds most of the speed records in the Flatirons. Bottom line: these guys go uphill faster than most people go downhill.
By the turn-around I had closed up to just a couple of seconds behind Eric. Of course Eric noticed this and turned the screws on me on the way back. His lead grew continuously from there until the base of the hill, and I started up probably 10 or 15 seconds behind him. I was at my limit and could barely maintain a run on this steep terrain. I tell other runners that I’m the slowest person in the race that actually runs the entire hill. And I usually get beat by people (Eric) that walk parts of the hill. As I turned up onto the start of the hill I once again felt someone directly behind me. I assumed this was Homie and was now worried. Homie would climb this hill at least as fast as I would and definitely come down faster. My only chance against him was to have a lead before this hill. Thankfully it was only my friend Craig Daugherty. Craig is Kate’s husband (Kate heading up my timing team) and is a young, fit guy. He isn’t one of my targeted rivals, not yet anyway, and when he went by me it didn’t bother me. I had to keep my eye on the ball - Eric.
The start of this hill is the steepest and I was just about to starting walking, the pain was so great, when I noticed Eric walking. I couldn’t now walk, no matter how I justified it to myself about it being more efficient and saving some effort for the finish. The angle eased and I kept running. Slow as I might be running, it was marginally faster than walking and I gained on Eric. When I inched by he gave me encouragement. This is what racing your friends should be like and always is with me and my buddies. I love that.
I noticed John Christie take a short walking break and I closed on him as well. When I caught him he did a remarkable thing for someone in such a heated race. He stopped stepped to the side and waved me by. John is a phenomenal athlete who has climbed 5.13 trad routes and is a big, muscular guy more suited to rock climbing and rugby than trail running, but ability to suffer makes him a decent runner as well and his competitive drive helps him beat me almost every time. Yet, despite all that, he steps off and gives me the easy pass and breaks his rhythm. Once again my friends show that competition, while up there, is not at the top of their priority list.
On my way up, John Tribbia has an unassailable lead. I’m not surprised to see mountain-goat Andy now in second place, hotly chased by Adam St. Pierre who descends like a skier (he’s a Nordic ski coach), flying down the trail as if it was smooth and not dangerously rocky.
I worked as hard as I’ve worked all year to get over the top of the hill and then down the backside to the turn-around. Craig tells me to “come get him,” as he heads back the other way. Little did he know that I’d take that literally. Now ahead of all my friendly rivals, I was running scared and what I saw upon turning around was not encouraging. John Christie was ten seconds back, then Homie only five seconds behind John, and Eric behind him. I could still lose to every one of them.
One of my advantages over Eric was my descending and I pushed it a bit beyond what was safe to earn more of a buffer. John and Homie however are powerful, agile descenders and without pegging my abilities, I’d lose time to them. I came down like a boulder tumbling downhill, with no grace, arms and legs akimbo, struggling to maintain vertical orientation, trying not to hit uphill runners who gracefully gave me lots of room. Near the bottom I saw a grouping of three runners. Led by someone I didn’t know, Russ and Craig were up here. In a controlled fall, I closed at breakneck speed, yelling out, “Coming by on the left!” Russ and the other guy moved right and I flew by and onto Craig, who had already gone by. I had so much momentum that I told Craig, “I’m going by, you’ll pass me on the road.” I did and he did.
One year flying down this descent with John Christie on my tail I asked him twice if he wanted to go by and he refused, but once we hit the road, John buried me to the finish. This year I had a gap on John, having drove myself so hard on the descent, but I vividly remembered him running away from me in the final downhill road section. I had worked so hard on the descent that I nearly puked once I turned onto the road. I slowed a bit, trying to control the heaving. Craig pulled away. Russ went by and pulled away. I threw a frightened look over my shoulder for John, Homie, Eric, and still had a gap. I did what I could on the final, short hill to the only aid station and the start of the fastest half-mile of the race.
Now going downhill steeply and continuously on a relatively smooth road, I increased my pace. I’d average a 5:22/mile pace on this section and the race winners will come close to 4:00/mile here. I caught Russ again and he put out his hand to give me five as I went by. But then I didn’t go by. Russ picked it up and ran stride for stride with me. Russ is generally in a tier above me and though my friend, wasn’t a real rival in this race. He’s always been way too fast for me to compete against. So when he moved ahead once again, I didn’t care. I was hurting so bad and still ahead of my main rivals. If I could just maintain this lead I could keep the pain manageable.
With 90 seconds to go the worst thing happened. I heard John Christie coming for me, fast. He was pounding down the road and by the time I noticed him, he was within 2 or 3 seconds of me. My anxiety level spiked and my heart rate jumped. If he was on me with a half mile to go, that would be that. He would have been too fit, too fast, but now with a minute to go, it was all about who wanted it more and who had the foot speed. Not known for my speed, I did however have another gear and this close to the finish I wasn’t going to go down without giving it absolutely everything.
I burst into a full-on sprint and stopped the bleeding to John. We both absolutely blasted by Russ, who I was content to finish behind just moments ago. The pain momentarily was completely masked by fear and competitive drive and I ran as fast as I’ve run in a decade. No 5K kick was ever this fast, mainly because it was never this steeply downhill, but I was now truly and absolutely at my limit. We battled that way, just a second apart for ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, with the finish coming ever closer. Finally, blessedly, my gap started to grow. I had broken John’s resolve to beat me and little did he know, I had done it with only a few seconds of effort left. I eased slightly in the final 100 meters, as now the pain surged to the forefront. I crossed the finish line, doubled over, and hurled. I was still bent over, hands on my knees, as John came in and patted my back, Homie patted my back, Eric patted my back. Still I couldn’t stand upright. Man, that is what racing is all about! I gave absolutely all I had and that is the most successful race you can have. I’ll never compete with John Tribbia, Andy Ames, or Kraig Koski, but that doesn’t matter. For me the best race is when I’ve emptied the tank, sucked it completely dry, and this is what I did today. The fact that I finished ahead of my friends is not very important, actually. The drive to do it, got me to my limit, but win or lose, getting there is my goal in racing. Thanks, John, Homie, and Eric!
I wasn’t the only one having a great race, though. Adam St. Pierre caught Andy and passed him on the steep descent, but Andy came back on him a bit in the final mile, though not enough to catch him. Adam finished just over the coveted and rarely broken 30-minute-mark. TDK finished with the overall Masters victory for the second time. Kirsten Kindt, past winner of this race, won easily but got into a furious duel with Brian of AOV at the finish, edging him out by a second. Lisa Goldsmith, two-time past winner and course-record holder, ran injured and promised herself to take it easy so as not to exacerbate the injury, but then couldn’t control her competitive juices and ran the final stretch faster than she should to hold off 14-year-old Ellen Considine for third place. Derek won the under-16-division that I just invented now with a time of 40:02. His cousin Arthur, running in Five-Fingers (ouch!) finished second in 41:43. Mark Oveson, running 1/20th the distance of his visionary Pfiffner Traverse, finished five minutes faster than last year! He is a new man now and not nearly reaching his limits.
Special thanks to all the sponsors: La Sportiva, which is a great local company that does more for trail running than any other company. Golite, Kahtoola, CAMP, The Spot, Boulder Rock Club, Sharp End Publishing, Starbucks, Dueter, Walmart, Movement Climbing and Fitness, Big Stone Publishing, Verve, Deuter, AOV printing.
Thanks again to all of you and see you next year for the 8th Annual Rattlesnake Ramble!
Race Director Rattlesnake Ramble