Where do I begin to list why I wanted to run the 55K at the Indian Creek Ultras in Colorado? Visit our daughter Rachel in Denver. Cool weather. Fall color in the Rockies. A small, low-key event. And a chance to run an ultra with another family member. Pretty much a no-brainer, which is appropriate for the lack of oxygen up there.
I’d signed up to run this race in 2021. But then Joyce got sick and couldn’t travel, so I cancelled. This year, with her cancer under control and her energy back, the trip was a go. And there was a bonus! My niece Robin, who ran cross-country for Michigan Tech, now lives in Denver, and in June, completed her first 50K. I signed up for Indian Creek that day, and told her via text while she was still on her finisher’s high. (Yes, I’m evil.) She signed up, too, and our joint ultra was on!
Now the question was how to properly train for an ultra at altitude. The race’s average altitude is 7,000 feet, ranging from 5,800 to 8,100 feet, with 7,000 feet of elevation gain. I’ve run many times in Estes Park (7,500 feet), but never more than ten miles, and nowhere near the total elevation gain of this race. What’s a flatlander to do? The answer: Run hills. Lots of them. Hard. And run a 50-miler as prep, which I did at the Miakonda in September. Except for a nagging stomachache, all went well.
We arrived in Denver two days before the race and hung out with Rachel, her fiancé, and their dog Teddy, who has zero trouble running full tilt, and understands the importance of naps after a hard workout.
The day before the race, Robin and I did a four-mile checkout run on South Table Mesa near where she works, and I wore full park with water bottle and hiking poles. Everything went smoothly, and I was encouraged by how good I felt.
Robin drove us to the campground in Sedalia the next morning. As predicted, temperatures were in the 30s, but it would warm up quickly as the sun rose. All signs pointed to a perfect day for a trail run, and to take in the fall color. And so it proved.
As Robin’s much younger (not that it matters…), and lives at altitude (does matter), I told her it was fine if she wanted to go on ahead. But she wanted to run with me, so we could spend time together, and because she trusted me to set an appropriate pace.
It helped that this race has another distinguishing feature – no overall winner or age group awards. You finish first or DFL, you get the same recognition. With a generous cutoff time, we could relax and really enjoy the event, taking plenty of photos and enjoying the fare at the aid stations.
We took the course seriously, running the downhills and flats, and aggressively tackling the uphills, while taking the time to take in the fantastic views and fall colors. I had no altitude sickness. The climbs were tough, but I always recovered quickly. Robin couldn’t believe it. “He’s crushing it!” she told everyone we came across. Our finish time of just under nine hours was right in the middle of the pack.
Unlike some ultras, where in the midst of suffering I ask myself what the hell I’m doing out there, I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute. I felt great the entire way, loved the views, and felt really blessed to be there. And having Robin to run with was a special blessing. I really enjoyed her company, and sharing stories and lessons learned from other races.
Now what am I going to do to top that? It’ll be tough, but I’ll do my best. Lining up my next two races already. Stay tuned!