Yesterday was the 4th running of the North Fork 50K/50M race in Pine, Colorado, and boy what a great race it is. This was my 4th race ever, and my 3rd race in the past 30 days, so I was more focused on improving my time and performance from the Sageburner 50K. To that end, the race was a great success.
The North Fork 50 is a beautiful ultra that alternates between pine forests, lush creeks, and old forest fire burnout zones as it goes up and down and up and down in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. The day started off fairly cool at around 65 degrees, but quickly heated up to close to 90 degrees. After a quick sprint on the flats, the race hits the first climb up Buck Gulch. This climb is not too bad, but my legs were not feeling as snappy as I was hoping, so I sat just outside of the leader pack. Taking a left onto Skipper, you hit a nice downhill to rolling section and the first aid station. I don't think anyone stops here on the way out, and we all blew past it towards the Gashouse trail. Following a very subtle climb until the real Gashouse, the race up to here is all in the shade, with only the last quarter section of Gashouse exposed to the increasing heat and sun of the day. A quick top-off of the water bottle and onto the next climb of Tramway, again in a nice thick shaded creek valley as you climb up to the Colorado Trail. My legs were feeling good, and I was trying to remember all of my lessons from the Sageburner on drinking and eating. I was still just a bit behind the leader pack. The Colorado Trail section is again all in the shade, with more down then up as it winds around and eventually drops you at aid station 3. From here, you hit your first major burnout section (other then the short bit on Gashouse), as you run down Shinglemill and then Morrison Creek. This section was hot, and the trail was very dusty. Along this section I noticed my first mistake - wearing my new Brooks shoes. The mistake was not that the shoes were new and I was going to get blisters (never did), but rather that the Brooks are closer to a minimalist shoe (in some regards), and the balls of my feet started to get tender (my previous shoes were adidas, but since they discontinued them, I had to get these). This would prove to be my biggest time loser, as the longer I ran the race, the more tender the souls of my feet became, until it was hard to even run/shuffle on any of the downhills. At aid station 4 you head up Baldy, the first half of which is still in a burnout zone and your heat level is rapidly increasing. Lots of people were dropping here or falling behind. Finally, after some climbing Baldy goes into the shade and things pick up. A quick jaunt over to aid station 5 and you start the descent on Miller Gulch, again in full exposure. Hang a left, up Homestead, which is partially in the shade, hit aid station 6, and then it is all downhill to the finish. I ran the race in 5.47:37. Not the best time, but a vast improvement over Sageburner, and this race course felt much harder with longer ascents and descents.
The North Fork 50 is a great race. The director and volunteers were awesome (especially the dude who dumped the water on me at aid station 4), and the after race BBQ is great (tons of food, beer, sodas, etc.). The course is beautiful, and there is a fair amount of shade. It was hot, and that really impacted a lot of people, but it is June/July in the foothills of Colorado, so unless it rains that day, it will always be hot. The course felt harder as I said then the Sageburner course, as the hills are much, much longer. All in all, a great day, and a nice improvement from my first ultra. I'm really excited for Steamboat to see if I can finally get my sh*t together and put in a good showing at a ultra.