Sunday, October 14, 2012

Front Range Running

I was in Denver all week for a work conference where the majority of my colleagues spent much of each morning recovering from the night before.  Sporting a slightly different agenda, I awoke before first light each day and drove out to the mountains to meet big Lars, who would serve as my tour guide.  We both had time commitments and so each run was truncated but still thoroughly enjoyable with perfect weather with temperatures from the 30s-50s. 
Trying to break my "good" ankle
Seeped in mountain running history, the Front Range offers a variety of trails and peaks that are easily accessed from Boulder or Golden or Colorado Springs, but staying in Denver made each morning logistically more difficult.  Nevertheless, I wanted to check out the Manitou Incline on Pike's Peak and Green Mountain above the Flatirons.  Lars also recommended Mount Falcon and the Apex Trail near the Red Rock Amphitheater and Golden respectively for quicker outings.  Here's a short synopsis of each trail with some random pictures:
We ran Mount Falcon to the lookout tower and then did a small loop to make the course more like a lollipop run.  The grade is gentle and easily runnable every step of the way.  Total distance was 11ish miles with 2500+ vertical gained.  

We met up with a young fanatical ski mountaineer named Adam Fabrikant for an easy run up Green Mountain.  I know some people have laid down some incredibly fast times up this peak but we took it easy, starting at Chautauqua Park before heading up through Gregory Canyon and the West Ridge Trail. Again, the grade was fairly moderate and as it climbed through fragrant pines to a small craggy  summit.  Lingering snow and ice were a nice reminder of good days ahead. Total distance was around 6 miles with 2500 vertical gained.

Adam and Lars starting up Green Mountain
Summit of Green Mountain

We drove down to Manitou Springs to "run" the Pike's Peak Incline followed by the Barr Trail to the A Frame.   The Incline is a famous segment of trail that was once a steep railroad but is now a vertical gash on the lower flanks of Pike's Peak.  Over one mile, the trail gains 2011 feet with an average grade of 41% and a maximum grade of 68%.  Situated near the Olympic training center, many elite athletes have trained on this slope and there's a deep history of training for speed over this incredibly steep mile.

Unfamiliar with the course (it looks straightforward...just go up), I made a couple mistakes. First, about two-thirds of the way up, there is a false summit and it's disheartening to crest this and see another few hundred meters rising into the sky.  Second, I couldn't see the finish line until almost on top of it, preventing a mad anaerobic dash over the final stretch.  Regardless, I gave it an honest effort and still only managed to go 23:58.  Sitting down to dry heave at the top, I doubt on that day I could have gone much faster.  But by the end of ski season and more specific VO2 and up hill training it will be fun to go back and compare efforts.   

Looking up the Incline from the start

Lars with about 3 steps to go

Once the nausea passed, we moved on to Plan B which was to summit Pike's Peak by the Barr Trail, which is the standard route used during the Pike's Peak Marathon.  Taking our time with flat legs, we moved passed the Barr Camp to to the A Frame (both apparently famous landmarks during the race) and came to a realization that if we were to push on to the summit, Lars would most assuredly not make it back to the office that day.  Already pushing the patience of his boss, we decided to turn around and come back another day. Total distance was around 17 miles with near 6000 feet gained.  

Lars bailing on Pike's summit because he's already late for work

Tired from the day before and even more short on time, we met at dawn again, but this time just outside of Golden to run the Apex Trail.  This is a nice gentle, smooth trail network that loops through a segment of foothills.  For an easy recovery day, we managed 7ish miles with 1500 feet gained. 

Overall, it was a great week of conference by day and mountain running in the morning.  The Front Range is much like the Wasatch except there are more runnable trails and more pine forests in the foothills, both of which add to the variety.  It was great to check out a few of the local classics and now I have a growing tick list for the next time I'm in town.  I'd love to hear any other recommendations from those of you in the know.  

Next up:  Skiing in Crested Butte!


  1. Cool recap! Conferences and work aside, sounds like a blast being able to check those areas out and do some running. The Incline definitely looks dry-heaveable. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gotta love the incline. Tell Fabrikant to get back here ASAP because the ice in Broads Fork is really coming into form.

  3. look at larsy boy in the half tights and nathan pack - looking more like a runner than a blood thirsty mma viking...