Tour de Red Rocks

Yesterday was 207 days out from my goal race for the year, the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler. Yes, 207 days is still a long time away! However, I don’t feel like my training has gotten off to a very good start over the past several weeks. I haven’t really been focusing on core work or doing any weight training, which is disappointing and could be a problem. For the most part, I’ve gotten my runs in, but they have felt very unconvincing. I’ve felt out of proper running shape on the roads and have been feeling complacent to walk a little too much when on the trails.

In reality, my performance this far out from the race is probably typical and doesn’t matter. I just haven’t been feeling quite right though and I fear settling into a quagmire of accepting sub-par training efforts. It is pretty much impossible to go through a major training endeavor without having high and low points, but I felt like I needed to snap out of a negative spell yesterday. In part, I just felt like I needed to engage mentally with training to enjoy it a little bit more. It is one thing to go through the motions physically, but going through the motions mentally is perhaps the most draining exercise of all.

So, I decided to push myself and perform a fitness test yesterday. A test I named the Tour de Red Rocks. Before we get started, I should note that I did this in the middle of February when the temperature was very pleasant. Unless you intentionally want to train in heat; start early as this course provides almost zero shade.

The Tour de Red Rocks:

  • Climb Mt. Morrison from Red Rocks Gate #4. Ascend around 2,000ft over 1.7 miles to the summit and retrace your steps back to Gate #4. (The start of Run Rabbit heads straight up the ski hill, so starting a long training run with a steep climb seems like a great way to train).
  • From Gate #4, run up the steep Titan Rd. and turn left on Ship Rock Rd. toward the amphitheatre. When you reach the amphitheatre, enter via the steep Upper South Lot ramp. (There is not much of a shoulder on the road, so use caution on this stretch).
  • Go all the way to bottom of the stairs, past the stage to road (Trading Post Rd.). Climb the stairs and see how far you can make it “running”. Transition to power hiking if/when you’re too fatigued to continue.
  • After reaching the top of the stairs, curl out to the right into the parking lot. Now you get to enjoy a nice downhill stretch! Due to construction I ran along the road through the tunnel, but basically you want to pick up the Red Rocks Trail on your way down. The Red Rocks trail is just below the Lower North Lot.
  • Continue on the Red Rocks trail until you reach Red Rocks Gate #2, where you will cross Highway 93 to the Dakota Ridge trail.
  • The Dakota Ridge trail (known as the Hogback to many) is deceptively steep and includes an above average amount of rocks to contend with in stretches. You will briefly pop out on a road, where you will head down slightly and turn left just past the small wooden port-a-potty enclosure. A wooden plaque saying Dakota Group is there as well and it is pretty obviously marked.
  • The ridge provides a nice overlook on C-470 (less exciting) and Green Mountain to the northeast (more exciting). In fact, you can run about a mile on the Zorro Trail to reach on of the Green Mountain parking lots (this may be a future addition to my fitness test, but I had enough on my plate already).
  • The final pitch down the Dakota Ridge trail will bring you back to Highway 93, which you will cross before heading down to the left for the Matthews/Winters Park trailhead.
  • Start out on the Village Walk Trail for about .5miles before joining the Red Rocks Trails for another .5miles. You’ll reach a decision point to continue on either the Red Rocks Trail or the Cherry Gulch Trail. I recommend the Cherry Gulch Trail, which puts you in better position to continue on the Morrison Slide Trail afterward. The Morrison Slide Trail is one of my favorite sections of trail in the area, but you’ll end up on the Red Rocks Trail either way, so it doesn’t really matter (Staying on the Red Rocks Trail is slightly easier, but less scenic as well).
  • The bottom of Red Rocks Trail meets back up with W. Alameda Parkway. Follow the road to the Lower North Lot by the amphitheatre. Then, continue down Trading Post Rd. past the bottom of the amphitheatre.
  • Here is another decision point in the fitness test. You can run the stairs at Red Rocks again if you want and exit on the ramp you used from the Upper South Lot earlier in the day. Or, just stay on the road until you reach Ship Rock Rd., which goes right by the Upper South Lot.
  • In case you’ve forgotten from earlier, you’ll want to turn right onto Titans Rd. from Ship Rock Rd. to get back to your car at Gate #4.
  • You’ll mileage may vary slightly depending on which options you selected, but I arrived back at my car with 14.5 miles and 4,551’ of elevation gain.
  • My initial plan was to head up Mt. Morrison again at the end of the day, but I was conveniently running low on time!
  • Go enjoy a milkshake or omelet at The Cow in Morrison!

So, how’d the Tour de Red Rocks go for me? Great, the strawberry milkshake was delicious and hit the spot! The hike up Mt. Morrison went way better than I expected and I was pleased not to stop the entire way. I rarely listen to music when hiking, but I was blasting some techno and I was happy with my pace. The only other time I climbed up Mt. Morrison was doing hill repeats last year, but my time up was several minutes faster than each of those repeat times. I’ll call that a win since I was much further along in my training when visiting last year.

When I reached the summit, I was tempted to take a few pictures of the great views, but I decided at the beginning of the day that stopping was unacceptable. I took several pictures on my prior visit to Mt. Morrison and today was a business trip! I sort of wish I had some pictures to share in this post since it was a really cool route, but it felt good to just keep rolling and move non-stop.

When I got back to the road sections over to the amphitheatre; I was a little disappointed to have to walk. Although, the road was legitimately steep, so it is probably ok. If it was dirt instead of asphalt, I would’ve been fine with walking. Asphalt and pavement always make me feel like I should be running no matter what though. The Red Rocks stairs section could’ve gone a lot better, but I was able to run the bottom section alright. The top section turned into a fast power hike and my hamstrings showed a little weakness. Then again, this section isn’t supposed to be easy either.

The rest of the run went well and was pretty uneventful. My mental game was largely on track, but I definitely would have liked to have been able to push myself harder on a few of the more subtle uphills. Also, I was running low on time toward the end, so I opted to do the stairs a second time instead of climbing Mt. Morrison again. I was feeling pretty good about the way my run/hike went on the day, so this wasn’t a big deal though.

Overall, I was happy with my performance and I think the day showed me that maybe I’m more fit than I thought. The design of the day was to be challenging, so the fact that it was shouldn’t be alarming. On the other hand, it also showed me that I have an incredibly long way to go. I feel a little more confident about being ready for the Run Through Time Marathon in about a month, which was the main objective of the Tour de Red Rocks.

Sometimes you just need to rattle yourself a little bit to recalibrate your training and focus better. Onward and upward!

Here are some GPS tracks from my last trip repeat up Mt. Morrison from the past June. Some pictures are available on Strava as well.

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