Monday, November 8, 2010


There are some runs that just make you feel like a tough guy (or tough girl). This one I did on Sunday was one of those runs. You can find all the stats as an uploaded GarminConnect ( - but I think the little picture on the left of this post hits the defining characteristic of the run; a little over 14 miles with a significant climb of about 1600 vertical feet over 6 miles.

But even with those statistics in front of me, I'd still be missing the bigger picture of what made this run 'epic'. Even throwing it into Google Earth, and knowing the topology of the run, still would somewhat 'dry' the experience out. Because statistics alone don't define a route (although they can help you plan it). Rather, it's the experience of how the run went that really makes it memorable. It's the inclusion of the 'runner' into the route that adds the perspective that doesn't jump off the page at you when you're just looking at data.

So first off, a little about that climb that dominates the elevation profile. That is our famous "Lookout Mt." climb in Golden, CO. Every town has a route by which local athletes measure themselves. 'Lookout' as it's known here among cyclists and runners is one such measure. Every serious cyclist here knows their PR up 'Lookout'. They know that the clock starts at the 'pillars' and ends at the 'Buffalo Bill Grave' sign. So much that if someone asks you, "What is your time up Lookout?" - that is the only query required to rattle off the measure of your ass-kicking worth on a bike. You can offer all sorts of clarifying terms; "it was snowing / hot / cold / raining. I was hung-over / recovering from a 100 miler the day before, etc.." - but nobody cares about those excuses. You are remembered for your time, and every other piece of information is ignored. That's between you and Lookout. Go do it faster if you want to gain more respect.

Now I've never seen many runners on Lookout - at least on the road. There are trails that snake their way up, but on the road, it's pretty much a cyclist domain (I saw two runners coming down on Sunday while I was going up, but probably about 25 cyclists). That was part of the draw for me to plan this route. I've ridden it a million times, but never run up it. I wanted to know what that felt like - and it would make 14 miles interesting.

My route started out perfectly with a nice rolling descent down from 'the cut' (another local landmark) arriving at the 'pillars' around the 4.5 mile mark. Now, to get to the pillars, you actually have to climb for about a 1/2 mile - which is part of what makes Lookout a little cruel. The official 'starting point' is after you've climbed for a bit already. In other words - you don't get credit for that 1/2 mile pre-pain fest. (strategy-wise; if you're trying for a PR, you want to recover before crossing the pillars. That is considered acceptable).

Once I crossed the pillars, I told myself I'd just run a steady pace just below LT to see how it felt. The route has a completely different feel than when on the bike. It required a different strategy and approach. On the bike I can tell you exactly where I get out of the saddle and stretch, where I attack and where I spin out the lactate for a bit. But running - it was like running a route I had never been on.

I had a lot of fun 'holding off' the cyclists. Road bikes are faster all things being equal, than a runner. You expel less energy and can recover easier on the flats. But when I saw a cyclist a ways back from me, my whole goal was to make them work hard to pass me. It really motivated me and added fun to the run. Some would pass and then fade a bit - telling me that they had pushed a little too hard to pass 'the runner' and were now paying for it. I knew what they were going through. Lookout is that way. It doesn't forgive mistakes easily when you go into a little O2 debt.

At the 3/4 mark, there is a brutal set of switch-backs. On the bike you always need to make sure and keep a little in reserve for them. It's easy to die there. I had planned for them running, but they still kicked my butt. They were a lot harder running than riding. My heart rate was now well into LT zone, but I knew I was getting close and I started to pick it up. Near the top, I held off a pack of cyclists until the flat final stretch to the sign. As they passed, one of them remarked - "Ok, now that is fairly impressive", I laughed and responded, "I'm trying" and picked up a little of a sprint to keep with them for 100m - after which I had to fight out of the O2 debt tree well for about 30 seconds.

Finally I rounded the final corner and crossed the sign. A large group of cyclists that had passed me on various parts of the climb were regrouping at the sign. A couple of them remarked, "Nice job." and "Truly impressive" comments. And it absolutely made my day because anyone that does the Lookout climb is a well respected athlete. I thanked them and slowed a little bit to recover, heading off the 'back-side' - 42:38 - my first 'running PR' up Lookout.

Now it's a little deceptive to call the back-side 'recovery'. There's actually quite a little bit more of climbing once you reach the 'sign' to get to the downhill frontage road back. But it just feels easier because the clock is off and you know you've deserved to slow the pace a bit.

I dropped off the back-side and started the 4 mile downhill to the parking lot where I had started. It had gotten a lot colder and was spitting rain, but it felt good to be turning my legs over quickly on the descent, knowing there were no more significant hills ahead of me. I rolled back to the parking lot 4 miles later at just about 2 hours for the whole run. I felt like a million dollars - having put a route behind me that I could proudly call a 'quality' run for the weekend - one that would make my 'day-off' on Monday guilt-free.

And I will be back to try and best that time and experience it all over again. But it won't be the same as that first 'run' up a mountain I grew to know so well on the bike.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just read your blog, Kevin. Nice. I've run Lookout Mtn many times, always starting at the pillars and then I do the extra loop on top up to the Nature Center. I don't know what my PR is! I'll have to run it soon, before the snow comes, so I can find out. I'm sure it will be much slower than yours!