Monday, April 9, 2012

Go Where The Lights Turn Dark: The Six Hours of Serpents Trail

"The lights were!"

Last weekend, an event came to pass that started as nothing more than a cool idea born out of casual conversation during an early morning run. While there had indeed been some sort of race on the Trail of the Serpentine, or Serpent's Trail, just inside the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction at one point, it was not a regularly occurring event. We also set out to make this more of a highly organized training run or hike open to any friends who would like to participate.

No fee would be charged, but optional offerings to the Mesa Land Trust for the Three Sisters Land Purchase, something from which all trail runners, hikers, and mountain bikers will benefit, would be accepted. No official timing would take place, but total laps would be counted. There would be no official aid station, but water, oranges, and other treats would be available just in case participants needed hydration and a bite to eat. No official awards would be given, but our friend Ray offered up the shirt he won the last time there was an official race here as a traveling trophy of sorts. I was not a race director or anything else in official capacity, but more of an event host, letting people know ahead of time about the event, and organizing little details. We had no idea what we were doing and this was okay; after all, this was NOT a real race. A number of us do Serpents Trail on our own or in small groups to enjoy the night skies and stars, sometimes able to run sans head lamp when the moon was bright enough and skies clear. This was just putting everyone together for good times...six hours worth.

Saturday started early for me, and was pretty hectic throughout the morning and afternoon. By late afternoon, I was feeling kind of beat and wondering how I'd make it through until midnight. Then I snapped out of it, and started gathering up my small assortment of non-race gear and supplies, including a dry erase board and markers for tracking laps, a "ring bell for service" bell to be rung following completion of each lap, some door prizes/donations supplied to us by Single Tracks, the mountain biking and running store in Fruita, and donation envelopes for Three Sisters. Upon arrival to the Serpents Trail parking lot, it was obvious that everyone was running a little behind schedule after busy days. About six of us were there to start, but my phone was buzzing pretty regularly with texts from people saying "on my way!" or "won't be there 'til after X time, but I'm coming!" I wasn't sure if there'd be more than two or three of us, so this was exciting that enthusiastic participants were here already with more on the way. We chilled out, took a few pictures,

and casually prepared to run, feeling no pressure about starting a few minutes late. Suddenly, I wasn't tired anymore. The six of us decided to start lap one as a group, and hence the Six Hours of Serpents Trail was underway at 6:10 Saturday evening.

On the first climb, none of us were out to hammer up the hill hard. We mostly stuck together as a group, and already saw a few more participants pulling into the lot. Our friend Greg had started early and turned in two repeats already, so there were a lucky seven us out there. I didn't feel so bad, and by the time we made it to the top the first time, I felt like I'd warmed up without too much agony from the 1.75 mile distance and 900 foot ascent.

What goes up must come down, and we took the opportunity to really enjoy the first downhill.

I knew I planned to run until the end, so I kept a steady pace but didn't push like I would if this was a regular double-up, or three-peat. On the way back down, we encountered a few more friends who arrived a bit late but were underway with first laps now.

Getting to the lot at the bottom, we all rang the bell and signed in our times for the first lap. Continuing onward for the second lap, we settled into our own paces somewhat, but there was still a very social aspect to this event that made it exactly the non-race we were calling this. Most of us were adjusting paces-picking it up a bit, or slowing down a bit-to be able to chat and run with others. It was nice, and made the climb go by easily. The next downhill was a lot of fun with the body fully warmed. Several more folks had arrived now. I rang the bell, recorded my lap and found my head lamp. The fun was about to begin now; we were going to need our head lamps on the descent this time around. We were going where the lights turned dark. That's where the magic is on Serpent's Trail; the almost magical feeling of running in no specific time or space. The hill fades away from view, and all one notices is the night skies.

On the third climb, I was feeling a little tired, and ran much of the way, but did take time to hike a few spots. I kept the pace up, though, and when it was time to come back down, I was ready to run. On this downhill, I ran into our friend Bryan near the bottom. He said his wife Elizabeth had a little "treat" for me. I don't want to say much, but it was a Kentucky specialty in liquid form. She was also playing tunes from the car, which made things a lot of fun. This break between laps wound up being somewhat long, and by the time we were ready to go, the group decided we'd power hike together to the top. This was great; we joked around, and also discussed the Imogene Pass Run. Perhaps we'd hold one of these endurance runs the night before registration is scheduled to open, and then get online at midnight to register. The moon, cloaked in layers of color, was rising in the night sky. The city lights were twinkling. It was indeed pretty magical out there.

Finishing the fourth lap, several of the participants were ready to call it a night. It was great...a few had never done Serpents Trail before, and one had done a double-up, so this was twice what she'd ever done. There were stop-ins and visits from other friends who were not running, but knew we'd be out there, which provided additional motivation and good energy.

I was still feeling like I could keep going slowly, and so did Carson, so we committed to wandering up again. Our friend John, who is getting ready to run the Hardrock 100 later in the summer (and who had already run a bunch in the morning) was out here now, and doing a quick lap or two just to be able to join in on the fun night. Now that Marty was running solo after several medium-hard laps with Grayson, he was up there really hammering out the late laps. Carson and I realized on this uphill that the legs knew what was going on, and didn't necessarily want to be out there any more. We were so close to midnight it was pretty easy to keep pushing along, though. Along the way, we chatted about the Leadville Trail 100, where we'll both be pacing this year, kids, general running, and other stuff. The legs were starting to yell at me, so moving along with someone else definitely made things a bit easier. We headed back down, and still had a bit of time before midnight. We decided that we'd start again, and knew we should reach Marty not too far up the hill, and then come back down to the finish together. About a quarter of the way up, we found him, and came back down shortly after midnight. The first annual unofficial SHOS had finished, and nobody had been maimed, injured, arrested or killed. On top of that, the weather was great and everyone seemed to have had a great time.

We concluded with a VERY elaborate awards ceremony, and gave Marty his traveling trophy as the runner with the highest lap count-eight times up and down the hill, or roughly 30 miles.

The same three of us who rode up to the start together had finished together, and we allowed a few minutes to enjoy the effort and check out the night skies before leaving. Failing to do what I call the Idiot Check before pulling out, we almost left behind some of our race gear, but realized it before pulling all the way out. Then we drove away, leaving nothing behind, and things as we'd found them.

Though this was a fairly low-key event, and nothing reaching the level of "structured race," the turnout was encouraging. Things fell into place fairly well. We collected a nice little bit of change for Three Sisters, including some donations from two fellow yogis who just treated it as an excuse for a night hike during which they could also donate to the land purchase. Better yet, fellow runners seem to be rather interested in doing more of these group run/endurance events. We'll likely head back to the drawing board soon, and plot out a day, time and location for another such event.

I'm now two weeks away from the Desert R.A.T.S. 50-miler. While on one hand I'm feeling a little under-prepared, I think I've done enough to get through and finish barring unforeseen illness or injury issues. Now is the time for taper, and then the big show. Twelve hours in the desert is a long time, but I'll be out there with fellow runners, getting through it together-that shared experience-will likely make all the difference.

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