Sunday, January 31, 2010

Waterton Canyon - Colorado Trail Long Run

Time: 3:30
Distance: 21.7 miles
Effort: Moderate
Body: Fair
Weather: Sunny and Cool

After reading JM's post from last week about a tempo run up and down Waterton Canyon, I figured this would be a great place for a long run. JM indicated that the canyon dirt road was in good shape ice-wise, so a plan was up the canyon, hop on the Colorado Trail and do enough of an out-and-back to get in about 25 miles. Ahhh, if things had only been that simple.

I got to the Waterton Canyon lot around 7 a.m. and quickly headed out up the canyon's packed dirt road. I pushed the pace a little on the way up (400 feet elevation gain over first six miles) and hit the pavilion at the dam overlook right at 48 minutes. To get to the Colorado Trail, one keeps going up the now steadily climbing road past the pavilion. At the Colorado Trail sign, glorious singletrack begins. The first couple of miles climbs up via a series of snowy/icy switchbacks to a saddle between two big hills with views of the canyons and mountains to the west.

Here, one has two options, head southeast toward Roxborough State Park, or continue on the Colorado Trail. Since the Colorado Trail here drops down a south-facing slope, I couldn't pass up the chance to run on snow and ice-free trails. Unfortunately, the snow and ice was back the minute the trail snaked around to the north and west sides of the hills. The going wasn't too bad for the first two miles, then the trail dropped down into a drainage where the snow was still pretty deep and not well packed. I slogged another mile or so on the crusty, uneven snow before surrendering and turning back.

I ran back to the sunny saddle and took the .3 mile spur up to the Pike National Forest's Indian Creek Trail, which links into the Roxborough trail system. I did a 3-4 mile dash through this forested area, which dropped me back into Waterton Canyon just above the dam. I was very happy to see the canyon road again. The slog on the snowy trails took its toll. Twas hard and slow going.

After a brief stop to use the facilities (Brandon, of Team Shart fame, would love Waterton...there's bathrooms every two miles in the canyon) and eat a final gel, I headed back down the canyon at a good clip. I ran the first couple of miles around 6:15 pace, before falling apart and slowing down. Ran the final few miles at an average pace of 7:30.

The return down the canyon was quite a bit different than the ascent. I must have seen 10 runners and an equal number of walkers/bikers. The sun was luring folks out. I even ran into another of Waterton's denizens, a couple members of the big horn sheep herd that lives in the area. This guys wasn't at all shy, but his comrade perched high on the rock outcroppings above kept his distance.

Ran today in a new pair of La Sportiva Crosslites, my second pair. I really like this shoe. Decided on the way home, though, that the new Crosslites were lonely, so I stopped by Runners Roost in Lakewood and picked up a new pair of Brooks Cascadias (15 percent store discount for members of the Denver Trailrunners group...just ask). Hope to break out these shoes now and then to give tired feet a little break, especially with all the hard surfaces I've been running on this winter.

Finally, great article from Running Times about the relative advantages of handheld bottles vs. packs for carrying hydration/food.

Here's the nut of it:  "When the one bottle, two bottles and pack were measured against the no-load control, the hydration pack, even though it greatly outweighed the bottle or bottles, did better than the hand-held options based on performance data of heart rate, perceived exertion, VO2 and ventilation rate (ease of movement of lungs). The only category of measure where the heavier pack scored lower than the single- or double-bottle method was the respiratory exchange ratio, which measures how much carbohydrate the test subject burned."

Research done by the High Altitude Performance Lab at Western State College here in Colorado.


  1. Quite the run. I need to check that place out.

    And I agree on the Camelbak.

  2. Bummer about the snow...sounds (and looks) like a tough run in places. Nice job....