Thursday, September 7, 2017

High Line Canal Trail FKT

Anyone who regularly follows this blog is probably well aware that I'm way behind in posting.  That's what happens around an expedition race - more details about that will be available eventually.  At this point, I just need to get a few notes down "on paper" about my run across Denver so I can move on with our summer blogging.

As with my other Fastest Known Time (FKT) runs this year, this one was for training, for fun, to explore a new place, and to set a new (and only) posted female FKT.  The novelty here was that this one was pretty darn flat.  And urban.  The High Line Canal Trail stretches from the southern part of Denver, across a variety of landscapes and neighborhoods, and finishes toward the area of the airport in the northeast (bypassing downtown).  It follows an old canal that in some places isn't more than a vague divot and in others is an obvious ditch.

There are several spots where we aren't allowed near the canal, so I followed the route from the most recent (and quite fast) FKT set by Jeremy Bradford.  This included starting at Waterton Road, detouring on Titan Road/Santa Fe around mile 9, the short Hampden/Colorado detour at mile 36, and finishing at Picadilly Road.  The route was the only thing I copied from his run - I had the benefit of a crew (thank you John!), a pacer (thank you Tom!), and no particular time goal to hit.

Info from the FKT board:

More info with downloadable details and a nice map:

John dropped me off just before sunrise at the southern end.  I was ready with my InReach tracker, water bottle, some light clothes for the morning chill, a handheld light that I mostly didn't need, and my new running vest.  The vest was great!  It holds just enough stuff (phone, little med kit, mileage table and notes) and I don't notice that I'm wearing it.  An excellent alternative to my small pack for a supported run like this.  Prep for the run was minimal, mostly making sure John and I both knew where we would be meeting up.

I started up the tracker and was on my way:

This picture makes it look dark and stormy, but in reality it was a beautiful calm morning:

I enjoyed running along pastures and watching for the outline of the mountains as the sky started to lighten.  It felt like the middle of farmland, complete with cows and horses and running basically through the yard of a farm.  A couple road crossings, a view of downtown Denver WAY far away, a lovely peek at the sun before it was lost behind clouds, and soon I was at the first crew stop.

A bit of morning sunshine:

Hi John!  And thank you for the most excellent camera work!

One way I knew I was still on the right path:

Spiz refuel and a bottle swap - it's so awesome having a crew person:

I dropped off the light and some clothes and was on my way:

Right after this I heard some rustling in the canal and looked over to see a couple little foxes!  Maybe young ones.  I don't think they saw me as they were running around.  Super cool!

I had chosen this day because it was supposed to be not quite as hot as the others around it.  I was rewarded with clouds for much of it and wasn't affected by heat until toward the end, thankfully.

There were mile markers, awesome!  I tend to run better when I have short intermediate goals and can monitor my progress.  I haven't gotten to the point of wanting a heavy GPS watch on my wrist, so I appreciate all external help with mile markers and the like.

Well, so much for mile markers in the next section.  Here is the major detour of the route.  Previous FKT runners have found ways across the private land along the canal, but it sounds like the landowner is less happy about that these days.  So I had already determined to go around.  Even that wasn't great.  The cutover from the trail to Titan Road is marked as private, plus there was construction on Titan that required a barrier hop-over.  Not sure if this might require more rerouting in the future?

Anyway, I got to Titan without issue and commenced the road run over to Santa Fe Drive.  There is plenty of shoulder (besides getting through the construction zone), also plenty of morning traffic.  So it was safe but loud.  I was happy to get back onto the trail 1.2 miles down at the small powerline.  The detour added perhaps a mile and a half to the optimal route, putting my current mileage after that point close to the posted mile markers (which started at 1.7 because the accessible trail doesn't begin right at the beginning of the canal).

I started wondering if/when people might be able to begin at mile 0, 1.7 miles up Waterton Canyon (probably requiring a walk to the start).  Interesting to contemplate how an FKT route could evolve over time.  Or not, if people settle on a standard.  It's good to know the history behind the run and the route.  Just something to ponder.

Back on the quiet trail, back to my podcasts!  It was the perfect day to catch up on podcast listening.  Fun stories, feeling good.  Lots of little bunnies hopping around and across the trail to make me smile.

Another excellent photo by John!

Just to show that some of his pictures weren't quite as good  :)

This was mile 12, a good refill spot before heading up the road to finally cross Santa Fe Drive.  The area felt a bit industrial, opening up into a golf course.  Looking at the map now, apparently I crossed Marcy Gulch and didn't even know it!  I might have seen my first fellow runners in here, finally a little company for the morning.  The trail seems to be known by a few people but not heavily used.

People walking dogs, runners, people out walking.  It was a lovely morning for a stroll.

I crossed under C470 and the trail wound around a bit along it.  I knew the trail would wind this way and that, with lots and lots of S-turns, doubling back, zigzagging every which way.  I determined not to pay too much attention to which direction it was going so as not to get frustrated by the lack of northeastern progress sometimes.  The mile markers were what mattered.

The trail looks quiet in this photo near County Line Road (mile 16.7)...

...but I think this is where a large group of runners came barreling toward me.  Maybe right after my stop with John.  It looked like a training session.  They were running a lot faster than I was!

At the next little park I ran over to the bathroom, happy to have a real toilet and also an enclosed spot to pee.  It was getting more difficult to find a tree to hide behind, with all the people on the trail.

The trail was mostly flat, except where it crossed under roads or through (?) creeks.  The canal might temporarily stop, the trail would dip down to the creek and then back up, and the canal would resume on the other side.  Sometimes the canal flowed across inside an enclosed wooden tunnel.  Sometimes there was water in the canal, sometimes it was dry.  Interesting to watch.

The next several miles were beautiful, tree-lined, shady, nice running.  I saw John when I crossed Broadway the first time, but he said the truck (and actual "meeting point") was at the next crossing point.  Without a view of the mountains I had no idea which was I was facing.  Pretty funny.  It was better that way, just running and not trying to keep up with my position on the map (at least for now).

Coming to the next resupply point, almost 1/3 done:

I think this is where John showed up with some croissants from a French bakery that Tom had recommended, yum!

Continuing on, one more Broadway crossing, then more shady path.  I found DeKoevend Park and the many ballfields, then lost track of the trail.  Somewhere around the intersection with Big Dry Creek, Arapahoe Road, and University Boulevard, there was a lot going on at once.  I tried a couple quick things and then pulled out my phone to check.  Ah, OK, I see.  Back on track, only a couple minutes lost.

Running through nice neighborhoods.  Hey, there's Tom!  He had just parked and was coming down the trail looking for me, hoping he hadn't just missed me.  Perfect timing.  I think he asked a group of runners ahead of me if they had seen me, mentioning what I was doing.  I expect not a lot of people consider the idea of running the whole way along the canal!

We had a great time running and talking, Tom adjusting his pace downward to my easy lope and occasional walk.  The next miles passed quickly, and there was John again.

More excellent photography from John today:

And good company from Tom:

Thank you John for finding and documenting this somewhere along the trail:

More good conversation and company from Tom.  It helped me keep up a decent pace, as I was starting to feel the effects of the miles but still feeling good.  We talked about our upcoming expedition race, training, and various random stuff.

It even looks like I'm actually running in this picture near Dahlia Street:

Tom grabbed a picture of me with a mile marker, thanks Tom!

A couple street crossings, Tom mentioning where he has been biking and running in this area.  We reached Jefferson Street, and it appears that the trail is signed to the right and over to Colorado Boulevard at that point.  I'd recommend taking that route, for any future FKT'ers reading this.  We followed the direction of previous FKT reports and ran up to Hampden before turning right for the detour around the golf course.  There aren't any sidewalks along Hampden so we were running on the grass.

Once we got to Colorado we had a sidewalk and all was good again.  I'm guessing Jefferson Street is a better option (and the same distance) vs. Hampden, and the reason for the signage in that direction.

Eisenhower Park, yay!  Mile 36.6, over halfway done.

Well, not all of John's innovative photo techniques worked out:

Thank you for the running company, Tom, that was great!

Teammates ready to take on Cowboy Tough:

John shuttled Tom back to his car and I headed out on the next section toward the highway crossing:

My pace slowed a bit with less motivational company and a bit of sunshine warming up the day.  I still managed to keep moving OK, happy to have mile markers to keep me honest.  The tunnel under the highway was a nice milestone and a nice shady spot before popping back out in the sunshine.

The east side of I-25 was rather quiet for a while, and I think I found a good porta-potty in here somewhere.  The trail loops way around the bottom of Bible Park on a wide dirt track and you can see the other side the whole way.  There's John waiting in the shade, excellent:

I wasn't too hot (yet) but the shade was greatly appreciated.  John might have had a cold yogurt for me to eat here, if memory serves.

More zigzags that I was becoming more conscious of, with the direction of the sun and more views of the mountains to work with.  I was just running along, minding my own business, when something stung me on the leg!  I guess it was a wasp or something.  Nothing like a stinging pain to get me to run faster for a while.

Somewhere around Evans and Yosemite streets I was supposed to see John again.  I noticed those street names over to the left, but no sign of John.  I stopped to check my phone - yep, I'm in the right place, and John's Google Map icon is not far away.  There's the truck!  He continued a short way down to a new parking lot, nice spot.  He ran up to the trail with the cooler, all apologetic for being late.  No worries, I don't mind a short break, especially since I'm not on any time schedule and it's later in the run (around mile 45).

I think he did miss taking a photo in here, also no worries.

I'm not for certain since I'm writing this 2 months late, but I think this next section had a lot of trees, a nice neighborhood, and plenty of wonderful shade for which I was thankful.

Back out in the open toward Expo Park and our next meeting spot.  Closing in on 50 miles!

Down to the final 3 sections, all over 5 miles.  I made sure to drink up and carry a full water bottle each time.  I crossed I-225, I think also the commuter rail line.  Now there were fewer neighborhoods and more wide open spaces.  I could see quite a ways ahead, not worrying about getting there quickly, just "being" and listening to my iPod.

A brief sit-down break in the shade at mile 55 - with grapes, yay!  I love fruit on a warm day.

Back on the trail:

Working some heat management strategies, doing more fast walking and trying to be efficient.  Somewhere up here the prairie dog towns took over part of the landscape - mounds of dirt out to the horizon, dogs standing and watching and scurrying away.  Too funny.

I went over and along Tollgate Creek for a ways, in fields with the canal fainter at times.  Sixth Avenue was a larger road crossing, then back into more of a neighborhood feel.  It was interesting how the character of the area changed in each large block and over the course of the journey.

It was nice to reach Colfax Avenue, with a sense that I was getting into the northern sections.  More prairie dog villages, more open space, more sunshine.  Thank goodness this wasn't actually a "hot" day, just moderately warm.

Listening to some excellent "This American Life" podcast episodes.  Finally to mile 60!  I had scouted the section from here to the end, and I was really glad that I did.  Everything up to this point was pretty well-signed and mostly obvious.  After mile 60 there are some questionable sections, and it's good to either know it already or have enough battery in your phone/GPS device to figure it out.

My last pre-set meeting spot with John!

I asked if he would mind meeting me for an additional water refill, since I was draining my water bottle after about 5 miles, and this last section was almost 6 miles long.  No problem, he was happy to help me finish this thing up without too much suffering.

Out across Colfax one last time, then along the confusing parts by Tower Road.  Still following the faint traces of the canal.  The crossing under I-70 was interesting, wading through some vegetation and ducking under the bridge supports.  Open field to the business park.

John was going for a wider perspective (from inside the truck) by this point in the day, it was funny how the photos got further and further away:

He gave me more water for the last several miles, thank you sir.  The next field has indications of private property; this might be the next required reroute if the owner gets serious about keeping people out.  For now it seemed OK to head across the field.

Back to "civilization", a paved path through a park.  Into the last neighborhood and a nice way to finish up.  The trail (and canal) still does a fair bit of winding around, but at least there are interesting things to see along the way.

The end of the trail at Piccadilly Road!

My final time - 14 hours, 4 minutes, 29 seconds for 66+ miles:

The remnants:

I made it before sundown!

Hitchhikers from the last field (I was glad to be wearing the mini-gaiters):


Feet in good shape, ready for a bath:

Leftover pastry for breakfast!  Thank you John for that and everything else you did!

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