Estes Epic 24K (~15 miles) – Estes Park, CO
September 2, 2018
What better way to celebrate a birthday, which happens to fall within Labor Day Weekend, than by running up and down a mountain?! Last year I did a 10K – this year I thought I’d step it up a notch.
The race offered camping at the Estes Park fairgrounds, so I decided to camp and guess who came with us?! Kelli and Jake! We decided to leave around 6:30am on Saturday so that we could get to Estes Park, pick up my packet during the MTB race, then have time to do a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s only about an hour and a half away so we ended up getting there right at 8:30, which happened to be when the MTB race was starting. 8:30am start? Sheesh! They weren’t ready to give me my packet yet so we wandered around and found an alpaca market to check out! They were so cute and fluffy! There weren’t so keen on being petted unless you were feeding them.
When I finally got my packet, we decided to go ahead and set up our tents and claim our spot. We kept looking around the fairgrounds for where we’d be camping but only saw RV parking. Nope, that’s where we were supposed to camp also. It was literally in a parking lot with a bunch of RVs. It was not optimal by any means, but it was $30 and on Labor Day weekend; a hotel room would have been MUCH more expensive. We finally got to the park around lunch time and it was PACKED. We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get in, then once in we couldn’t even go to where we wanted to hike; all parking was full and they were turning people around. We found a trail to a waterfall and decided to hike that. I didn’t want to do too much, since I’d be running the next day. It started raining as soon as we got back to the car anyway. We headed to a brewery after, had a couple beers, then I devoured a big bowl of pasta; I think I was lying down in the tent by 10pm.
The effing MTB race started at 8:30am on Saturday but they made us start at 6AM on Sunday! I slept decently that night, especially since it was my first time camping out before a race. At one point, an elk was bugling and an owl was hooting! It sounded like they were talking to one another! I rolled out of my sleeping bag at 5am, and took all of my things up to the start line where there were bathrooms (which included showers!). I told W, Kelli, and Jake not to worry about getting up that early just to see me start. I really didn’t need them to be there, but they did anyway. So sweet! The race was much smaller than I expected (57 total for the 24K and 55K, actually). I really felt bad for them waking up so early just to see me off, especially since there was apparently no spectating spots (they were VERY vague about the course – more about that later).
I was in shorts and a t-shirt at the start, and I wasn’t going to even bother with a headlamp. Lots of folks had on arm warmers that was part of the race packet but I hadn’t gotten any (I did later)! It was in the upper 40’s when we started and I was actually quite chilly. There was not much information on the race website about the course. They had a Strava route posted but I didn’t take the time to go through it all. What I didn’t know or expect was that the first 5K was on pavement!
The longer I was running on pavement, the more annoyed I was getting. I had started off conservatively, as this was my third mountain race of the year and I knew not to start off too fast. However, that first 5K was pretty flat/gradual uphill; I definitely could have gone out a bit faster. Finally, the pavement ended but we were running on a well-maintained dirt road – not even a fire road. Parts of the road appeared paved at times because it was so packed down. The real “trail” didn’t even begin until about 5 miles in and even then it was fire-road grade. The first big hill was at Mile 5 and they had this sign:
See the lady in the pink shirt ahead? Remember her for later…
They only had one aid station which was at 5.5 miles. I remember I hadn’t even drank anything until I was coming up on the aid station, and I had gels with me, so I didn’t even need to stop. There was a loop around the halfway point, which I forgot about until I started thinking about where the turnaround would be. Because of the loop, I didn’t get to see who was in front of me, which was probably a good thing anyway. I ran by myself for pretty much the whole race. I played leap-frog with a few folks but we never spoke.
I did catch a good view as I was going up that hill
I felt like I’d made it to the top (which wasn’t an actual peak) pretty fast and was surprised when I was already heading back down – based off what the time felt like in my head. When you could tell you were going back downhill, there was a tiny little section of single-track which had been carved out by the MTBs the day before – it was really dusty. By the time I knew it, I hit the aid station again (mile 9.5) and topped off my water. I’d barely drank anything and had only taken one Huma gel. At mile 10, I got back into 8:xx min/miles and passed a few people.
Again, before I knew it, I was already hitting the pavement and had 5K to go. I kicked it for a couple miles averaging 8:05, 8:04, and 8:40 for miles 11-13. Around mile 13, we were on a straight stretch of pavement where I noticed a van that kept pulling over on the side of the road. I remembered seeing it towards the beginning of the race and at other times, but it hadn’t registered anything in my mind. Turns out, it was following the lady in the pink shirt from my picture above. I’d been running behind this lady, almost the entire race. I remembered her a lot because of how badly she leaned over and looked down while she was running. I remember thinking, Wow that’s really not good for your neck and back. I always make sure to look where I’m running on trails, but I do it with my head up. One time the van stopped, a man got out and I could see him hand her something. Then, after I’d gotten closer, he stopped again and gave her a jacket. He was crewing for her! It’s a freaking 24K for crying out loud! They didn’t say that we couldn’t have a crew, but for something like that it just rubbed me the wrong way. And who needs a jacket a mile from the finish??
I didn’t have any initial goals for the race except to finish. My end goal ended up being to beat the lady in the pink shirt! I was hauling ass on the pavement and I could tell she was slowing down. We were about a half mile from the finish and there was a decent hill we had to go up. I walked a tiny bit at the beginning and then took off. I passed pink-shirt lady and another chick on that hill! Once at the top, we still had a bit to the finish and I didn’t want her to pass me again, so I used the last bit of gas that I had.
That last hill was significant enough to clearly show up on the profile!
Even though the race was tiny, I still didn’t win an AG award! I was in the top 10 women but there were a ton in my 30-39 age group. I actually ended up finishing 4th (they didn’t take out one of the top 3) in my AG which I’ve done sooooo many times.
What a great pal I have made
Overall, the race was great but I just expected something completely different. When you say things like, “This race will rip your legs off.”; when you’re offering prize money for winners AND an actual belt buckle to everyone who finishes, one (I) expects this race to actually be EPIC. Honestly, and not to dog on anyone (the race was well organized, minus the lack of details), this race was a bit laughable when you consider how much it was fluffed up and how they described it. I could see this being a great race for someone who is considering starting mountain racing, or even a first trail race for someone. I believe this was only the second running of this event and I don’t know if they were just trying to get more interest in it or not. Last year they had a total of 53 for both races – only 5 more this year…
That sucker is heavy!
The swag was really nice which included a credit-card sized bottle opener, a nice pint glass, race-specific arm warmers, and a good long-sleeved t-shirt. The medal is actually a belt buckle, which is nice but… well, you know. I think all of that was just another way to entice people to sign up. I would probably do this race again, but I would certainly have different expectations next time.
Since I was finished before 9AM, we got back to our house pretty early. I took a shower, nap, ate, and then we went to a couple breweries to finish celebrating my birthday. I’m so glad to have been able to run a race on my birthday, and to ring in 37 that way! It was a good one!
Thanks for reading,