I finished the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty yesterday, and am still grinning ear to ear. That's how fabulous this race is.
With approximately 9,000 feet of cumulative altitude gain (and its attendant 9,000 feet of cumulative downhill) at elevations of 7,500 to 9,500 feet, it definitely represents a formidable challenge. With a spectacular view awaiting around every turn, though, every stretch of tough climbing is completely worth the effort.
I've spent the past few weeks training with my friend Sarah on the trails at Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park: trails whose character and terrain are similar to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, but approximately 2,000 feet lower in elevation. Sarah ran the Dirty Thirty in 2009, and knew that to be prepared, we'd need to climb a lot of hills -- and I am so glad we did!
The race opens with about 1,500 feet of climbing between miles 2 and 4, and there's hardly a stretch of flat trail for the 27 miles that follow.
The course starts with a short climb out of the parking lot, then across a wildflower-strewn meadow.
Soon you descend into a narrow valley alongside a stream, which you cross about a dozen times.
This is the part of the course where everyone is trying to establish his or her pace for the long haul, and my own challenge at this point was to keep to a conservative pace. In the cool of morning, and having slept well the night before, I felt fantastic at this point and it was hard psychologically to hold back as runner after runner passed me. I'm glad I ran my own race and let them pass, though: Sarah and I would pass many of these runners hours later, after they'd exhausted themselves while we were reaping the benefits of a conservative start.
Between miles 7 and 15, the course mostly winds through forested single-track trails. There are some steep climbs in these sections, but we tried as much as possible to take it slow and steady on the uphills, knowing that plenty more climbing awaited us in the second half of the race.
Virtually no flat trail exists on this course: the entire time you're either climbing or descending. Some very runnable portions exist, that feature relatively smooth trail, but many sections are not really "trail" at all; rather, surveyor's tape indicates where you're supposed to climb over boulders or scramble up rocky outcroppings. This, of course, makes the trail challenging -- but a lot of fun.
I took a GU and an S-Cap every 30 minutes throughout the race and experienced no nausea or bonking. Another thing that helped was loading my pack with ice, and drenching my hat & bandana in the cool creeks we encountered. The ice that the Aid Station 4 volunteers loaded into my hydration pack, just before we made the climb up Windy Peak (around mile 23.5), made all the difference. It was like getting a second wind, right when I needed it.
The Windy Peak climb was challenging, as promised. 1,100 feet in two miles, when you've already run 25 miles, takes its toll. In addition, the sun was really starting to bake any remaining energy out of us. But we took it slow and steady and eventually found ourselves near the top. Windy Peak seemed to tease us, especially toward the top: with each switchback completed we'd think we were nearly there, only to view another series of climbing switchbacks around the next corner.
We logged some fast miles on the steep descent from Windy Peak. It felt great to stretch my legs and fly after spending so many miles engaged in steady, measured climbing. After pausing for a moment to dip our hats one last time in the stream, we made the final ascent of the race, and then descended toward the finish.
Sarah and I were lucky to have such an amazing cheering section: friends and family had set up camp along the final stretch and made us feel like rock stars as we crossed the finish line.
It took a while for the finish to sink in; I'd been looking forward to (and getting a little anxious about) the challenge of the Dirty Thirty for many weeks, and I couldn't quite believe we'd really crossed it off the list.
My experience running this race could not have been more different from the... ahem... "learning experience" that Desert R.A.T.S. represented. The intense hills Sarah and I have been running lately served us very well at the Dirty Thirty. The core strengthening work I've been doing since April has also helped me maintain strong running form throughout a long, tough race like this one. And running a challenging race like this one is much more fun with a friend; Sarah and I were able to push each other through tough spots that would have felt pretty miserable to experience alone.
I may be back to run the Dirty Thirty again next year, and would recommend this race to anyone seeking a challenging course that falls toward the beginning of the summer. It's the perfect race to get you into great shape before the rest of the summer racing season begins.
Happy running, everyone... and see you on the trail!