I started looking for a mountain race after the Tuscobia 80 mile Winter Ultra back in December. After finishing Tuscobia, I knew I was ready to test myself in the mountains, but I also knew I wasn’t ready for a mountain 100 miler. A quick search on ultrasignup.com brought up the Dirty 30.
Matt and I had also decided that an out west camping trip was on the agenda this year. This looked like the perfect excuse to do both!!
We left Minnesota on the Wednesday evening prior to the race and we made it to Sioux Falls, SD, where we camped for the night. The next day we were on the road bright and early with Black Hawk, CO, our next destination.
It was long, but beautiful; and at the end, a little sketchy on the winding, two lane mountain road to the campground at 9,000'. But we made it safely and had the camper set up before dark.
Friday we hiked, hit packet pickup, and enjoyed a beer at a local brewery, dinner at the camper and an early bedtime.
The race offered 3 Start times: 6am for 9-11 hour finishers, 7am for 7-9 hour finishers and 8am for the 4-6 hour finishes/elite runners. I opted for the 7am start time, figuring I could finish this in 8 hours or so. Leading into the race, I wasn’t worried about cut offs.
The race offered a shuttle that picked up runners across the road from our campground. I got up at 4:15am, got ready and headed to the bus an hour later.
While riding the bus to the start by myself I thought of the previous pre-race buses I’ve ridden and how different, yet similar they have all been. I found a kind of peace in this right of passage. It wasn’t long and we were pulling into Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
It was chilly as the sun came up, but there was a spot at the start to drop coats and bags. We had to wait in line to check in so I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me. He was a Colorado transplant from Cleveland, and we swapped stories about Midwest winters while we waited.
Soon enough it was time to line up. They sang the Star Spangled Banner and after a few announcements, we were off.
After short jog up the road, we merged into a single track trail. Prior to the event I was concerned about the race being too crowded for my liking (I very much do not like crowds.) Come to find out, I needn’t be worried, as I ran alone most of the day.
The Congo-Line of runners jogged up the trail, and it wasn’t long before I found myself totally out of breath and needing to walk. We were starting at 7000’ elevation and climbing, after all. My bib clearly indicated that I was a “lowlander” (coming from somewhere below 2000’,) and I was feeling the lack of oxygen already. I stepped aside to let some folks pass, and within that first mile I was alone. Another mile or so in I was warming up and stopped to take off my wind shell. There wasn’t another runner in sight. I honestly think I was the last person on the trail from the 7am start time.
I was so happy to be out there; it was a picture perfect morning with ideal temps and a clear blue sky. The single track trail was lovely and when it flattened out or went downhill, I thoroughly enjoyed running it. But otherwise, I was hiking.
After 5 miles and a glorious downhill section, I came to the first aid station. I was good on water and nutrition, so kept going. The trail turned upward, I started hiking. It was so glorious; I didn’t mind the slower pace to take in all the amazing scenery.
There were course marshals on the trail at the potentially confusing trail junctions, and they were all having a blast. It was fun to come upon them having a mini party in the middle of the wilderness.
Another seven miles got me to the next aid station. I was feeling good and just so happy to have the sun on my shoulders (possibly a bit too much by the end of the day!) and dirt trails under my feet. I felt like I was moving well.
The next five miles were really tough. A lot of climbing on some technical single track very much like the Superior Hiking Trail - except at 9000’ and climbs that lasted for miles. The downhill of this section was equally technical and I wasn’t making good time. I caught up to another runner and we chatted a bit which was a nice diversion, until we went off course… We only needed to backtrack a little bit before we found the course markers, thank goodness!
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got into the next aid station at 17 miles. The runner I had been chatting with earlier was also there and she was asking the volunteers about cut offs. There was some concern that we may not make it ahead of the cutoff times.
I took care of what I needed to at the aid station and headed out. The other runner was with me and she was really worried. I told her I wasn’t going to worry about it. I knew I was giving it everything I had, and that they would have to pull me, but I was going to keep moving and keep putting out the effort to get this done. I didn’t give the thought of not making it much time. I would do what I could and if that wasn’t enough, well then, so be it. But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying!! I came out here for looking for a hard mountain effort and I found it. I was soaking up every hard minute of this beautiful adventure.
The climb out of aid station 3 was long, but there were some lovely down hills to run to make up some time and my legs felt great. I was thrilled to run when I could!
I made it to the next aid station still feeling good, but knowing there was at least one more major climb after mile 25.
Fueled up, I ran the downhill out of the aid station passing a number of runners. It wasn’t long before a course marshal pointed us to another trail that would lead to the windy peak section. The runners coming up this trail were looking rough. I was smiling and having a blast. I should have been worried about how bad those runners looked... I had no idea what was ahead.
It was during this section that I decided that Colorado miles are different from Minnesota miles.... as this loop wasn’t that “long” but it took me forever to get to Windy Peak and back. This section was a loop with an out & back to the top of Windy Peak. The initial trail I had turned onto split to the left and we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. I was dying, or so I thought. I kept thinking that we had to be almost there. Then in the woods we came to a course marshal for the actual turn off to Windy Peak. He said it was just another .6 of a mile to the top. It felt SO MUCH FARTHER THAN THAT! I’d already been climbing for probably 45 minutes. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears. I was moving at probably 30 min/mile pace & struggling to keep that. I leapfrogged another runner, Rich, on the way to the top. When we finally got to the top and our bibs marked with a “W” we took a picture and quickly headed back down. The other runners still coming up looked exactly as I had felt. Defeated. Tired. It was hard telling them it was farther to the top than then they wanted to hear. Rich and I ran down to the final aid station together. There was a Colorado “Eagle” there and I was so happy to have made it down from Windy Peak that I took a selfie with the eagle to celebrate. It was 2.1 miles to the finish. Yes! I would make it after all!
I filled my bottle with some water and got moving. Still running the down hills, my legs felt great. It was just my lungs that were tired from breathing so much that I was struggling on the up hills. I started up the climb back to the main trail & came across Rich taking a break in the shade. He caught up to me and we ran the last mile or so downhill together and finished with high fives at the finish line.
It was super fun to run this race!!! I was glad to be done, but had the most amazing time in the mountains, even if my 9:40 finishing time said otherwise!
There weren’t many people hanging around, as we were only 20 min under the final race cutoff of 10 hours! I found my drop bags & the shuttle back to the campground. It had been an epic day, but I was ready to get back to Matt and the dogs. As I got on the bus, the remaining seat was next to my new friend, Rich, and we chatted about what an epic day on the trail it had been.
It wasn’t long and the bus pulled in across from the campground and I shuffled my way back to camp. What a fabulous adventure I’d just had. I was gloriously tired and dirty. I have to say, I have the most amazing hubby ever, as he never once complained about me taking a day from our vacation to go do this. I am so lucky and so grateful.
May the sun be on your shoulders and a trail be under your feet. Until next time.