The day finally came when I signed up last-minute for a 50-mile run. I had planned on a long run of 42 miles over the weekend as part of training. But on Friday morning, I found a local 50-miler with spots still available. So I did what any good trail ultrarunner does, I jumped on UltraSignup and signed up for the Happy Camper Fun Run in Westminster, Colorado. – the morning before the race.
Happy Camper Fun Run
The Happy Camper Fun Run takes place at the Standley Lake Open Space near Westminster, Colorado. We’re pretty lucky to have such large open spaces and parks in suburban areas of Denver. The event included four distances – Half Marathon, Marathon, 50-mile, and 100-miles.
All runners competed on the same course, composed of 13.1-mile loops (that had loops within – more on that confusion later). It being the event’s first year, there weren’t a ton of people in attendance.
I chose to sign up last minute because I figured it’d be much more enjoyable to add a little distance to my long run and complete it with aid stations and others around. Temps were good for heat training and trails provided good prep for my races ahead.
Happy Camper Fun Run Course
The South loop circles Standley Lake primarily on well-beaten single track, with some service roads toward the start/finish. The North loop took place on an open space/dog park and was mainly single track with more rocks.
The open space’s trail system is composed over several smaller trails that intersect often and make big loops. In order to make a full course, we covered most every trail in the park. This resulted in several small loops and intersections on the South loop course. Not terrible if you know what you’re looking for.
Pictured above are the course markings. Pretty sure that was the extent of the directional signs. And here’s a tip, orange and red flagging look very similar on a sunny day to runners wearing polarized glasses.
When they’re intended to represent different directions on course and you get several runners who aren’t used to simple flag markings on the course, you get a ton of people missing turns and cutting mileage. That’s what happened at this race.
I ended the day with a full 52 miles (two loops of the marathon course equal 52.4 miles, not 50, but the distance is only a good estimate in trail running), but many runners did not. Keep reading to see why this is a pretty sticky point for me.
A Rough Start To Race Day
Things didn’t start off very well on Saturday morning. When I pulled up to the park entrance and asked where the race check-in was, the gate attendant gave me directions to the parking area where runners in shorter distances were supposed to park. After circling the whole area, seeing no race check-in, I drove back to the entrance and clarified my request. “Oh yeah, that’s across the street, not in the park.”
The pre-race briefing was pretty difficult to hear. The RD wasn’t using a microphone and voice wasn’t carrying very far in the crowd. As a result, the back half of the pack couldn’t hear a thing. Turns out, it must have not helped much anyway.
Exactly 0.55 miles in, I was in the back of the pack with the other longer-distance runners and we noticed the flags made a turn while the front half of the pack had not. HAHA. We made the turn and the others eventually caught up. A good rule of thumb for the day would be not to follow the person in front of you.
I didn’t hear the explanation, but it didn’t take much to figure out the course markings. Orange flags meant we were on the course. Red flags, paired up and crossed-in an X marked the wrong direction. So, when you see the flags, pay attention to see if there is an intersection or turn ahead. SO MANY people couldn’t figure that out. Several people cut course, went wrong directions and ended up confused and lost.
To the benefit of the RD, these course markings are familiar territory in trail running. But many of the runners that day didn’t appear to be paying close enough attention to figure it out or familiar with reading flags on course.
My 52 Mile Race Day
Once I figured out the course markings, my day was pretty smooth. The trail flowed and kept my attention with changing directions. There was little-to-no shade on course, but this also proved as good heat training for my upcoming 100k race.
Aid stations were stocked with Tailwind Nutrition, my fuel mix of choice, and the fuel that’ll be provided in my goal race. I also enjoyed the ginger ale, gummy bears, and watermelon. But I don’t know why races buy off-brand Coke and Ginger Ale. It’s not that much cheaper than the name brands, and definitely doesn’t taste the same.
Once we got the first 13.1 miles out of the way on the South loop, we made our way on to the North loop portion of the course. This open space also doubled as a dog park, so there was plenty of traffic near the parking areas. The trails are predominantly single track with rocks that’ll keep your attention.
This North loop consisted of two 6ish-mile loops, where you have to check-in to the aid station in between. There was one mid-shin deep water crossing on the back side, but kind of welcomed relief after being out in the sun all day. There are plenty of climbs and intersecting trails proved the need to pay attention to course markings, once again.
A Strong Finish
We covered both the South and North loops twice for the 50-miler, making this a 52.4-mile course. Runners were pretty spaced out throughout the day. And toward the end, you barely saw anyone out there with you.
My fueling plan was on point. My socks and shoes fit well. No chafing or blisters. I had a pretty good time out there.
I finished strong with a time of 10:27. Not fast, but not bad for a day that was intended to be a training run. I’m super happy with how the day went.
I ended the day finishing 4th overall and 3rd male. It was my second race to finish in the top 10. Pretty exciting! I look forward to seeing how this training block wraps up with next month’s 100k in Salmon, Idaho.
But, that’s not the entire story. I struggle with how those in front of me ended up placing and could use some help clarifying how others would approach this in the running world. For the rest of the story, read my next post.
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