Barr Trail Mountain Race (12.6m)
19th July 2015, Manitou Springs, Colorado, USA
Finish Time (Paul) = 2:24:37
Finish Time (Leah) = 2:44:02
For the first time in a long time we entered an organised event that wasn’t a marathon. The Barr Trail Mountain Race uses the same route as the Pikes Peak Marathon, following the Barr Trail up to Barr Camp at 10,200 feet but instead of continuing to the 14,115 foot summit of Pikes, it turns around and heads back down to Manitou Springs for a 12.6 mile course.
It’s perfect training for the Pikes Peak Marathon, a huge bucket list item that we’ve decided to do this year. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
We parked in the center of the town and jogged the mile and a half to the starting area as a warm up. That was already a fair bit of uphill! The start was at the base of the famous Cog Railway and after a short run on the road it would transfer immediately to the beginning of the Barr Trail. We arrived, picked up our race bibs and got ready for the race ahead.
The toughest start to a race
As soon as we set off we were running uphill, steep uphill. After a few minutes of that we reached the trail and we would have liked a rest already! The trail was even steeper than the road and was a mixture of loose gravel, dirt, rocks and boulders. It was tough going especially combined with the altitude. The trail was narrow and in most places only wide enough for single-file traffic.
I ran when I could and walked when I couldn’t. The people in front of me were doing the same, we’d walk for a few seconds to recover then push on some more before being slowed again by the increasing climb. There were ledges to jump up, boulders to jump over or around and tight switchbacks to navigate. Looking down it was incredible how far up we’d climbed and as I tried to surge forward once more with my calf muscles searing with pain, I felt I must be getting closer to the turnaround point.
I heard my watch beep and looked down… mile 1 complete. Are you kidding me?? Mile ONE?! That means 5.5 more of these going up in this race and another 12 if I were in the full Pikes Peak Marathon. It had taken nearly 14 minutes for me to reach the first mile, and the distance had felt at least double that. Bear in mind for road marathons I am used to reaching the first mile in around 8 minutes.
After a while my calves stopped hurting as much, which was strange as I was still going up hill. I realised it was because my lungs had taken over. Reaching 9,000 – 10,000 feet results in a lot less oxygen in the air and heavier breathing. The course was an out and back, so other runners started flying back down the trail which in some of the narrower places got a bit hairy. Eventually I hit the turnaround point and joined the downhill runners.
Time to let loose!
Flying down over rocks got the adrenaline pumping and it was a huge rush having just split seconds in which to make quick decisions on where to aim the foot for each landing. I ran by Leah making her way up to the turnaround and we high fived. I went down the mountain a lot faster than I intended, partly from enjoying the buzz and challenge and also because I had people right behind me so there was pressure to keep moving, particularly as there wasn’t much room for overtaking. I was hitting miles in the 7 minute range, a far cry from the 15’s going up. Some of the ledges and boulders were so high I had to do a two-footed jump to get down them.
After a few uncomfortable landings but thankfully no falls, I completed the trail section and ran along the short road part of the course to the finish. There was a steep sharp hill at the very end, just to give us one final test and then I turned to run through the finish in 2:24. This was good for 71st place out of 223 runners which I was pretty happy with given we were surrounded by some die-hard trail runners and even a couple of Kenyans. My watch had a distance of 12.8 miles, but who’s counting. I had given it everything I could have out on the trail, particularly coming down. After I stopped running and tried to stretch, my leg immediately and painfully cramped up which spread from one muscle across my entire thigh. It was horrible. I didn’t know what to do, I hadn’t had to deal with cramp like that before. Leah finished in 2:44 and at the finishing festival we were treated to some BBQ food put on my a local restaurant and some pineapple wheat beer.
The days following the run have been very painful. I think we completely underestimated how tough it would be on our legs. Neither of us could walk properly for 4 days following the run. It was “only” 12.8 miles but we haven’t been that sore from a full road marathon in a long time. We had been mixing some trail running and hills into our training but nothing to that degree or speed. We learnt some good lessons for the Pikes Peak Marathon and tested out some new gear. As a training race for Pikes it is perfect, just don’t underestimate the difficulty!
We thought it would just be “a bit of training” and we entered the event knowing we had a full marathon 6 days afterwards, which is our repeat of Alaska for the sub 4. Alaska is a tough, and expensive, state to get to. Repeating it once is one thing but now we’re actually pretty concerned that 4 days on we still can’t walk properly, yet we need to somehow run a sub 4 hour marathon in 2 days time. We’re kicking ourselves, not literally of course, as we can’t raise our legs that high, for going all-out at Barr Trail. Never, never, never underestimate hills.. and it’s the downhill that will actually trash you the most.
Elevation Graph from my running watch: