Having spent most of my life living in Aurora and Denver, I've been playing on parts of the High Line Canal Trail since I was a kid. Right now I live about two miles away from mile marker 42. Earlier this year, while out running with a friend, I learned that there was an established FKT for the whole trail and I became intrigued. Researching the FKT, I learned that it was held by Andy Palmer, whom I had never met in person, but was familiar with due to all the Strava CRs he's set around town. When I saw that Sherpa John was hosting a Fat Ass run on the first 100k of the trail in March, I figured I’d join the group and take a shot (albeit a long shot) at existing record. I found the link to Andy Palmer’s FKT on Strava and started communicating with him about the trickier parts of the course. Displaying great sportsmanship, he generously offered to meet me on the run and guide me through the route he used for crossing Plum Creek. Glad he did, because it’s some serious bushwhacking to find your way through that section.
Long story short, I ended up finishing the full length of the trail that day, but not at record pace. In fact, I missed it by over a full hour. Basically I fell apart around mile 40 and then just slogged my way to the end. I had a 100 mile race the following weekend and figured that even slogging can be good training (turns out that might not have been such a great move since I ended up with a minor Achilles injury that was problematic for the next few weeks. But I really just wanted to establish a baseline on which I could improve. Seems like persistence is everything in this sport. In the following months, when I had a free weekend, I went and stashed drinks along the trail and made two more unsuccessful attempts. The first one I went too fast and burnt out around mile 30. The next one, just the weekend before the last successful attempt, I paced better, but around mile 42 decided that I didn't have it in me to hold that pace for another 20+ miles. And on this last successful attempt, I think I got it just right and ran a pretty steady pace throughout. Since I didn't leave myself much wiggle room, the last ten miles or so were a little more frantic than I would have liked. Kind of hoped to bank some time and then just cruise it in at a comfortable pace. But as it turned out, I had to keep pushing hard right up until the end, besting the former FKT by only 4 minutes.
I should also note that this fourth attempt was about 1.5 miles longer than the prior existing FKT. This is because I was unable to cross through the private property at Plum Creek (around mile 9) and was forced to take the road detour. On my attempt the weekend beforehand, I was seen crossing the creek and was chased down by a three-wheeler riding landowner who scolded me for cutting through his property. Since I could only get away with playing dumb once, I took the trail detour on Titan Rd. and Santa Fe for this last run. Due to the extra distance the detour adds, I had to increase my pace by about 13 seconds per mile to contend for the FKT. I ended up averaging an 8:35/mile, which allowed me the FKT by a mere 4 minutes.
The whole undertaking turned out to be an incredible challenge and was great training for my summer ultra season. I’m fortunate that the trail is so near my home and afforded me the opportunity to make repeated attempts. Unlike being in a race, I was able to really assess my fitness and hone my strategy with repeated attempts. And unlike a training run, I was motivated to push myself hard and far as if I were racing. But probably best of all, it was free. Other than the few bucks I spent on sport drinks, which I stashed along the trail, it didn't cost a thing to keep trying. And although I’ll be glad not to see the High Line Trail again for some time, I can see myself returning to this challenge come fall or winter. Can’t help but think I might have left a few minutes out there.
Here’s a link to the Strava file for the successful run (6/7/14 - 9:31:14): www.strava.com/activities/150768801
Total Elapsed Time 9H31M14S
Garmin Mileage 66.6 (Including extended road detour)
Average pace: 8:35/mile
And here are links to my first three failed attempts:
1st: (full course - 10:39:39) (3/15/14): www.strava.com/activities/120964420
2nd: (aborted at mile 29.2) (4/24/14): www.strava.com/activities/133855438
3rd: (aborted at mile 42.7) (5/31/14): www.strava.com/activities/147923222