Collegiate Peaks Trail Run (50M and 25M)
As it turned out the race day weather was absolutely perfect, mostly sunny with just enough cloud cover to provide snow flurries all day and to create a hide and peak game with the Collegiate Peaks across the Buena Vista Valley. The air all day was brisk; perfect for running. I was nevertheless, glad to be wearing long running pants, a long sleeve shirt and long sleeve Polartec jacket. I also wore my gloves and hat most of the day becoming only slightly warm as I descended from the hills into the race finish, just around 1pm.
I signed up for the 50 mile race and almost immediately regretted my decision since the cut-off for the first 25 miles is 5 hours and 45 minutes. I had no chance of making that given the altitude, starting at 8000 feet and the hills, 2 climbs up to 9000 feet at about a 5.5 percent grade. But the rules said that 50 mile racers could drop after one loop and become 25 mile racers, which is what I did.
As the racers gathered outside the Buena Vista Community Center at the East end of Main Street, waiting for the race to start, I spied Anton Krupikca dart around the corner of the building to join the crowd. Anton ran Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, completing the 100 mile race just before I completed the 50 mile distance. He would complete the 50 mile Collegiate Peak run in record setting time just before I came in for the 25 miles. Anton is an amazing runner to behold.
The race started to slightly sunlit skies at 6:30 and we ran along the Arkansas River for about a mile before cutting east up into the mountains. Almost immediately I was struggling to catch my breath. While I had expected the altitude to play a part in my run, feeling a stranglehold this soon had me worried. I thought, “If this persists all day this is not going to be a very fun run for me.” Fortunately by the time I had run about 3 or 4 miles I was able to accommodate and my normally strained breathing took over.
Several runners, me included missed the first flag indicating it was time to turn off the road and onto the trail. Fortunately a runner behind me called out and asked, “Isn’t this the turn off?” Sure enough he was right. The trail was well marked and I did not have any problems the rest of the day knowing I was on trail.
Just before the first aid station we crossed the first of several dry creek beds filled with pea sized gravel. I guess these get filled with water during the snow melts in early spring or during rains. As I was crossing I heard the sound of hoofs on stone and looked up to see two large deer doing ballet across the rocks, having been spooked by a couple of runners ahead of me.
The trail was a mixture of dirt single track and dirt jeep roads meandering over hill and dale. After the first aid station the trail headed east I was faced with a large, rocky promontory and I wondered if we would have to climb to the top. As it turned out the trail reached 9000 feet and ran along the front of this rocky foot hill.
This first upward climb would persist for several miles with a few short downhill intermissions. The views on all sides were just magnificent! From the vantage point of 9000 feet you can see for miles. The several 14000 feet, snow covered tops of the Collegiate Peaks across the valley seemed almost close enough to touch yet imposing enough to say don't! Their magic cast its spell upon me and I would stop again and again to take in their beauty and be charmed by their romance!
I found myself walking most of the uphill portions of the two ascents up to over 9000 feet. For a stronger runner they were certainly run-able. No rocks or roots like the trails here in Texas; easy footing and glorious views of natural rock sculptures on the left and deep blue and purple mountains to the right. The peaks of the mountains peeking out above the clouds that wrapped them like an apron. There are two ascents from 8000 feet to just over 9000 feet in each 25 mile loop; one which peaks at mile 12 and the other at mile 18, the second being a bit longer and a bit higher.
While going up was difficult and slow, going down hill was much easier and faster. I was able to run all out, the jeep road trails affording great footing. I remembered running down hill at the San Diego 50 on the Pacific Crest Trail several years ago, and how it took its toll on my quads but these two descents that I made this day, were accompanied by none of that discomfort. I ran happily down the mountainside, sunbathed and snow sprinkled in the cool mountain air.
Just before the second climb I came across a creek which appeared to be dammed by some beavers. There was an aid station at the bottom and top of this second climb and both were eagerly anticipated. This section of the trail was lined on both sides by large conifers and the trail was a bit sandy.
As I passed 16 miles, as indicated on my GPS, I saw Anton come into view. He had already reached the turn around point at 25 miles and was now at 40 miles and was running effortlessly in his typical “naked guy” attire. I snapped a few pictures of him and continued on.
After the aid station at the top of the second climb at about 18 miles, the trail is mostly down hill into the start/finish area at the Buena Vista Community Center. The jeep trail descends about 1000 feet before we are back on a single track mountain bike trail which at times is open on both sides and at others threads itself through rocky canyon walls on either side. The trail gives way to jeep roads again for several miles just before the Arkansas River comes into view and then the last mile or so of bike trail to the finish line.
This is a great trail and fun run. Buena Vista is a great town and the cabin I stayed in would sleep 6 easily. The race is in off season so the price of the cabin was only $60 per night. Several deer were grazing outside each evening. Buena Vista is also close enough to make me seriously consider making this an annual event for me.
© North Texas Trail Runners