High Line Canal Run
April 5th 2013
I have run countless miles on the High Line Canal Trail (HLCT) as it has been only about a mile from the two places I have lived in Colorado. It's great for a fast flat run and all three of my girls have covered many miles of the trail in the jogging stroller. For years I had thought about riding my bike to work via the trail, but still haven't accomplished that. The thought of running the entire length never crossed my mind until I came across Sherpa John's 100K report of his 2012 run and Peter Bakwin's report of his 2010 FKT run (above). After reading those the seed was planted.
I'm running the 100k C.U.R.E. on April 20th a figured running the HLCT would be a good pacing experiment as well as a chance at setting a new FKT. I'm well aware that running 100k+ two weeks out from a race doesn't make for a very good taper, but I've always hated the concept of tapering. It gets in the way of training (i.e. running for fun). The above reports give a good description of the trail so I won't go into too much detail about that. As Peter notes a self-supported run of the trail can be a logistical headache, unless you happen to live near one end and work near the other. I was going to treat this run as a really long commute. I work at Buckley AFB, about 7 miles from the trail's end and had considered having someone from work pick me up, but my co-workers already think I'm crazy enough (including those that have finished the Leadville 100). To keep in the vein of self-supported from home to work I instead drove out to the end of the trail on the day before and locked up a bicycle in the bushes. Then on my bike ride home I stashed various bottles of Perpetuem, Heed, Gatorade and water at miles 60,53,42,30 and 23.
After a 1:15AM alarm and mandatory coffee I was out of my house in Highlands Ranch by 1:30 and hopped in the car for the 8 mile drive to the trailhead (with two additional bottle drops at miles 10 and 17). The parking area at the trailhead on Waterton road was closed for construction so I parked in the Roxbourough shopping center about a mile away. During the short jog to the start I back tracked on HLCT for a few hundred yards discovering a section was closed off for the construction project. This brings up a dilemma myself and many others undoubtedly have come across while attempting an FKT run. What is the proper way to handle trail closures, detours and short jaunts across private property? Imagine being hours/miles into a run only to discover an unplanned trail closure. No one wants to have their efforts voided by trail conditions out of their control but it's also important to adhere to the rules of the trail. For now common sense will have to prevail and as small as the FKT community is I doubt it will be much of a problem. Only when there is a deluge of people making FKT attempts on the HLCT on a daily basis do I see this being an issue. A couple of fence hoppings found me back on Waterton road and at 2:10AM with my foot on the white line I started the clock.
My plan was to run 8:30 miles for as long as possible. This seemed reasonable as two weeks earlier I ran 40 miles (much of it on the HLCT) in just under 8 minute pace. Still being relatively new to ultra running I always find it difficult to run as slow as I need to from the start. Between the excitement of finally running and the slight tailwind today was no different as the first two miles were covered in about ~8:00. I discovered that if turned off my light that helped slow me down a bit. The primary users on this first section of trail seem to be horses so the trail was a bit choppy and sandy but not a problem with fresh legs. After a bit I settled into something resembling my intended pace.
The first and biggest trail issue comes in crossing Plum Creek at mile ~8. The options are a mile+ detour on Titan and Santa Fe roads or foraging across the creek. This section is only a few miles from my house so on a recon run I plotted an intended course across that involved running down a farm road to the right, running up the banks of the creek for about 200 yards, then across the creek up a hill and back on the trail. This meant getting wet feet but the 100k C.U.R.E. has something like 20 creek crossings so I better get used to running in wet feet. On this route there are a couple of signs that say no bicycles but no fences to hop so I could justify it as not trespassing. Tracking the route in the dark with a weak bike light is a bit different then broad daylight so I ended up getting wetter and had a bit more bushwhacking then I intended, but after only a few minutes I was back on the trail. I quick check of the Garmin showed I was 1:06 into the run and still on pace @ 8:28. I few minutes later showed I was still @8:28 and still at 1:06!!! The stop button had gotten bumped while bushwhacking; I was a bit bummed that I wouldn’t have a perfect GPS track, but had only lost about .3 miles or so. The trail at this point was a farm road that joined the proper canal trail at about mile 10 where my first bottle of Gatorade awaited.
The next 20+ miles of the trail I have ran dozens of times and just focused on maintaining pace and enjoying the experience. At mile 23 I passed the sight of my worst ever running injury; rolled my ankle badly on a piece of cottonwood bark in 2002. Why is it always the simple things that wreak the most havoc? Not long after that I encountered my first person on the trail (it was only just a bit after 5AM), there was very little traffic on the trail today. Here is where the trail gets quite loopy and you run what seems like 10 miles for every two as the crow flies. Crossing Belleview at mile 32 I had stashed my big bottle of Perpetuem and was happy to find it cold and palatable, Perpetuem is not something you want to drink warm and had held up well from the day before.
At this point I was starting to fatigue a bit and my pace dipped into the 8:40 range for the next 10 miles. The only real trail detour occurs around Wellshire golf course at mile 36.0. This is a detour you want to follow and there a good signs leading the way. I’ve played golf there and know there is no trail along the canal to follow anyway. Even though the trail is paved along this section there are almost always good dirt side trails, this is true for pretty much all paved sections the length of the HLCT. Sunrise had occurred about an hour before but it would fortunately stay behind the clouds for almost the entire run. The temps were ideal and still in the mid 40’s.
Miles 40-55 were the only real tough mental sections… Why am I out here? This is madness!! Trying to figure out if I’d drank too much? Not enough? The longest distance I’d ever run was last year’s Leadville Silver Rush (47 miles) and I was way past that. My pace was now in the 9:00 range and I smartly switched my GPS to a screen that I couldn’t tell how fast (slow) I was going. Knowing I was well ahead of the FKT pace helped push me on. Heed Gatorade and a fresh shirt at mile 44 and another big bottle of Perpetuem at 54 were much needed. By the time I crossed 6TH ave. at mile 56 I knew I was going to make it and a tiny bit of euphoria set in. Euphoric or not I still had ~10 miles to go and tried to find a pace that wasn’t going to leave me wrecked for days to come. Convincing yourself you could run faster if you had to is a good mental trick but in reality it was probably a big lie J. Any faster would probably have led to a complete meltdown.
Some trail meandering around Colfax Ave. lead me to my last Gatorade/water drop at mile 60. The next section is a bit tricky but as it only a mile or so from work I had run it several times. The canal trail disappears near Spinghill golf course and Sand creek. It is easy to follow the trail off to the south but this is not High Line canal, even though some maps label it that way. Instead I veered to the left off the main looking trail and ran up Sand Creek a ways (fortunately it’s aptly named; all sand no water) and up an embankment. After running across Colfax and then Tower the trail proper begins again at about mile 61.
The next few miles are the least maintained along the entire trail but have a nice soft surface. Just watch out for that cottonwood bark!! The last trail conundrum is crossing I-70, unless you’re a trail purist I would recommend taking the Tower/32nd bypass. For this run I was following the canal and running under I-70… There is no trail, just a trash filled low clearance drainage ditch. I had to be careful not to bang my head on the steel cross beams. I wasn’t careful enough and rung my bell pretty good on the last two. That actually cleared my head a bit for the final 3 miles.
The final stretch through Green Valley Ranch would be really tough if the end wasn’t so close. It’s a paved trail which is great for the local residents but not If you’ve just ran 62+ miles. I run on pavement more often than not but at this point it hurt!! Instead I ran in the uneven grass/weeds along the trail. Before I knew it I has passed mile marker 66 and was on Piccadilly Road at 11:45AM. It was over…. No finish line, no crowds, just the blissful feeling of completing a good run.
The most difficult task of the day was pushing my bike up from out of its hiding place, not fun on tired wobbly legs. A short ride to Buckley, a shower, and I was at my desk by 12:45 where I pretended to be working for the next few hours. The last piece of the run was taken care of later that night when my wife and I drove out to Roxbourough to collect my car, which was fortunately still there.
Total Elapsed Time 9H35M29S
Time stopped for bottle retrieving, clothing adjustments and nature calls: about 4min
Garmin Mileage 64.8 (+ about .3 miles for the time watch was bumped)
Total mileage via mile markers ~64.4
Average pace: 8:48/mile
Strava Activity Report