Some beautiful fall weather gave me the opportunity to head out into the high country for (possibly?) one last good effort before the snows hit. I had been feeling good in training and wanted a chance to test my fitness - heading back to the route I had set an FKT on last August, especially since that time had been bested by Gabe Joyes this summer, seemed like the perfect measuring stick.
Trail head temperatures at the start were chilly, necessitating gloves and a long sleeve, but the crystal clear skies promised warmth later in the day. I felt great cruising along the relatively flat Middle Fork trail, and was able to put in a strong effort on the first substantial climb after taking the turn towards Pinto Park. I hit the Deep Creek Cutoff in 1:18:30, just about 10 minutes faster than last year. I was still moving well heading towards Deep Creek Lakes and the end of the trail section, with the only delay being a brief bathroom stop. I left the trail around 1:45 in, and started my way up the steeper off trail slopes of "The Ramp".
Weirdly enough for the beginning of October, the temperatures felt sweltering as the intensity of the effort cranked up. Direct sunshine, no wind, and a bit of an inversion no doubt contributed to the discomfort I felt. Fortunately, as I moved higher a bit of a breeze provided some relief, but I started to feel the leg power falter just a bit as I neared the summit - maybe it was the unseasonable heat, or maybe just the sustained effort level.
I hit the summit in 2:46, 12 minutes up on my time from last year, but 6 minutes back from my target time (paced for a very optimistic sub 5 hours). A few seconds to snap the obligatory summit picture, and I was on my way back down. The legs recovered fairly quickly as I picked my way through the technical talus, and I was able to let loose once I got onto easier terrain. I got back on the trail at Deep Creek Lake around 3:25, knowing I was going to have to hammer it in to get under 5 hours.
The first few miles of rougher trail didn't help me make up any time, but as things smoothed out, 7 minute miles were ticking by, and for a little bit I thought I might still hit my goal. Unfortunately the final 600 ft climb up Sheep Bridge exists solely to crush these sorts of hopes and dreams, and despite putting in a strong effort uphill, I watched 5:00 tick by on my watch with a little less than a mile to go. Still, I pushed hard all the way to the trail head, and was stoked to stop the clock under 5:05, chopping almost 50 minutes off my time from last year - a good sign on the fitness front!!!