Quad Rock 25 Mile Race Report – Julie Urbanski

Race: Quad Rock 25 mile

Runner: Julie Urbanski

Race Date: 05/07/2022

Location: Fort Collins, CO

Results: 6:02.37

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/7104599392

Me and Jeff Urbanski at the start

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  • The course – I love courses where we don’t repeat anything, so it was all new trails the entire way. It was a nice mix of runnable, technical, some flat(ish), and gradual and steep ups and downs. It was also 3 major climbs, so a little easier to mentally break up the 5500 feet of elevation gain, knowing I could count on putting in 3 major climb efforts
  • The volunteers – It was a hot day, up to 83 I believe, and the aid station volunteers were quick to help with sponges, ice in my pack, everything that would help to cool us runners down.
  • My family and friends – It’s a surprisingly good course for your family to see you, considering it’s a trail race. My husband and best friend, and another friend, along with our 2 boys were at miles 10 and 17, and then the finish line. It was just enough to help motivate me to keep going, yet not so often that I took it for granted that they were out there supporting me.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  • No poles! I’m sure there are great reasons for not allowing poles, but why?!?! I would have loved poles for at least that last climb from mile 17 on, as the spring in my step had definitely diminished, and poles would have helped give me a little bump of energy up the hill. I’m also training for a trail race in France in late September, where poles are common, so it would have been nice to practice a long effort with them.
  • Headphones – I’m run with music on road training runs but I don’t wear them for shorter trail races, and I wish others would have had just one earbud in. I tried passing a woman on a downhill two different times and she never heard me, I had to tap on her shoulder to let her know I wanted to pass, and there was a lineup behind me. So if you wear headphones on a trail race, please, just one earbud! Especially on this kind of a course, with lots of singletrack, lots of other trail users aside from the race, and eventually 2 way traffic with the 50 milers going the other way.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

  • The 50 mile course is the 25 mile loop but in the opposite direction, so they literally just turn around at the finish line, go back up the ~2.5 mile exposed, hot climb, and repeat the same course backwards. As we started seeing 50 milers coming back towards us, I was joking with other 25 milers that they couldn’t pay us to turn around and do the course backwards. The day was toasty and any exposed trail sections were so hot, I would have mentally struggled with a course like that. Major kudos to the 50 miler finishers, that is a BEAST of an effort.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

  • My mental game – I went in this race undertrained in the sense that I didn’t run on the icy and snowy Boulder trails throughout the winter, so I knew the elevation gain would be a challenge. I also tweaked a muscle about 10 days before the race, so I started out slow and pretty much kept a steady effort throughout. Just once, around mile 21ish, I threw myself a little pity party because I was ready to be done, but after just a few minutes in a negative place, I was able to focus on my “grandma shuffle” as another runner called it, and shuffled the sh*t out of those final downhill miles
  • I took advantage of every chance I had to use the aid station water and ice to cool down. I poured sponges on my head, down my back, I put ice in the back of my pack, I dipped my hat in a bucket of cold water, and I think it helped keep me cool. I felt hot around the second half of the final climb, but otherwise the heat wasn’t quite as draining as it could have been.
  • I loved having my family there to cheer me on. It gave me such a boost to know I’d see them twice and I got so emotional out there, thinking about how loved and supported I felt by all my crew there.
Paavo, Brecon, and Dionne cheering me on at mile 10

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  • Break the race up into the 3 climbs. After the first few easy miles that parallel the park road, which allows for runners to spread out, you start the first climb, then hit aid at 7, and it’s nearly all downhill until the aid station at mile 10, with some shorter pop ups. The second climb is after mile 10 and felt shorter, yet steeper and more exposed than the first, and the final climb after 17 felt the longest and hottest, likely because I was tired and it was in fact the heat of the day!
  • Use the water and ice at aid stations to cool off. It doesn’t take long but is incredibly refreshing.
  • Train for long, sustained climbs and descents of 800-1500 feet at a time. These are true quad beaters with that much time going up and down.
  • Heat train as much as you can, and not just in warm temps, but in exposed, sunny trails, basically Colorado trails!
  • Don’t skimp on water at aid stations 10, 14, and 17. It might seem frequent, but that’s when it’s getting hot, you’re getting a little more tired, and you’ve got some big elevation gain and descent in there. If you’re getting near an aid station and have plenty of water, dump it on yourself to cool off rather than skimping on it and struggling with not enough water.
  • Train for both runnable trails and technical trails, particularly the descents. I think technical descents are the hardest, and this race has that basically at the start of each downhill, the most memorable parts being after the 3rd climb for me, when my mind and body were most tired of paying attention.
  • Arrive with plenty of time for parking or carpool with another racer and get a spot upfront. I drove up from Boulder with my brother-in-law and another friend racing, and we were able to park 20 feet from the starting line, and therefore the bathrooms and the finish line, because we carpooled. If you drive alone, pad in time to park a little further away.
  • If the weather is anything but hot and sunny, bring a layer, especially for the final few miles, as it’s all exposed and would be rough in wind and rain. The wind picked up during the race and that final descent had some strong gusts, not that I cared since I could see the finish line awaiting me!

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

  • I think I’d still approach the race just as cautiously but hopefully with better training on long, sustained climbs and descents, I’d have more left in the tank for that final climb. My husband said everyone looked terrible at mile 17 and that’s when I wish I’d been better trained so I could have pushed that last up and down and moved up in the race.
  • Definitely get better at downhill, whether it’s technical or not. I’m totally a ballerina vs. a bomber when it comes to downhills, I tip toe around rocks and roots and am generally just slow, I’d love to have faster feet and more confidence on downhills.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

  • Break it up into 3 major climbs and descents. It helps mentally to be able to count it down that way.
  • Lots of exposed sections so if it’s sideways rain and wind or hot and sunny, as in our case, have the right gear and sunscreen, and sun protection. I saw a lot of 50 milers with long sleeve, hooded UV shirts. Definitely a smart choice!
  • This course has a tendency to be dusty as well. We got lucky and it rained a few days before the race, so it wasn’t dusty at all, but I could see that making you a bit more thirsty if there was a lot of dust being kicked up, especially in those final few miles.
  • Be ready to switch gears quickly in terms of speed, hills, and technical trails, whether it’s shuffling a flat section in the middle of an uphill, big steps on a downhill, technical descents, and much more runnable sections, like in the first and final miles.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Definitely beautiful. With all the climbing and many exposed sections of the course, you’ll get lots of great views of the Horsetooth Reservoir. Admittedly, in trail races, I don’t take in the aesthetics as much as I should, as I’m so scared of tripping and falling! I think it’s all the more beautiful since you don’t repeat anything, and if you’re running the 50, it’s like you’re running two different courses since you’re running the loop backwards.

Paavo waiting for me so he could run in the last bit to the finish.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Yes. 5500 feet in 25 miles, so about 220 feet of gain per mile. It’s certainly not crazy by trail standards, but if you’re undertrained or trying to hammer the effort from the start, it’s an ass kicker. Or if you’re running the 50 miler, wowza, that is a beast. With the trails being a mix of technical and smooth, along with some fire roads in there, mainly on the first two climbs, there are plenty of runnable sections, but you should definitely train on trails with rocks, roots, and big steps, both up and down.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Super well organized. Gnar Runners (aka Nick Clark) knows their stuff when it comes to running a race, from the race prep emails beforehand, to the parking the morning of, to great aid stations, and the finish line, all smooth. Nice email afterwards with the results and photos as well. All-star race organization!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

The top 5-10 in each race looked legit and strong and I have to think with a race being in Fort Collins, surrounded by trail running meccas like Boulder, this race attracts some speedy runners. Both the 25 and 50 milers are good tune up races for upcoming summer goal races, or in my case, good “show me my weaknesses” races.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

  • They did have a waitlist of at least 100 runners for the 25 miler, so sign up early if you’re interested in running it. I signed up in late December and there were plenty of spots, so about 4 months ahead of race day.
  • For hotels, when I looked at Fort Collins hotels, the best deals I found were still a 30 minute drive to the trailhead, and I found very few appealing airbnbs, so I opted to drive the ~75 minutes up from Boulder on race morning. Lory State Park is pretty far West of Fort Collins, on the other side of the Horsetooth Reservoir, so if you’re within drivable distance, save the hotel money and drive up race morning. With a 7am start time, it makes for an early morning, but not quite as crazy as the 5:30am start for 50 milers. Another reason I was only going to do the 25 miler!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

  • Miles 7, 10, 14, 17, 21?, and the finish
  • This felt like just the right amount of aid, and I thought the first aid wasn’t until 10, so the one at 7 was an absolute bonus.
  • I also wasn’t expecting water at 21, I had just passed a runner that was out of water and I was afraid to tell him he had to make it to the finish on no water, then this tiny aid station with 2 big jugs of water appeared out of nowhere. Near miracle for that runner!
  • V-Fuel for the liquid fuel and I believe they didn’t give gels, but you could fill up your own gel flask. I carried my own Spring and Maurten gels, and switched to my own Tailwind at 17, as I didn’t love the v-fuel.
  • I didn’t take from the aid station tables, but they seemed to have standard fare.
  • Lots of old water, ice, buckets of water with sponges. Clutch on a hot day.

Weather and typical race conditions

  • Given it’s May in Colorado, weather could be chancy in terms of rain and drops in temperature, but I think this race is typically warm and sunny, in the 70’s
  • The race started around 65 and got up to 85, so it was HOT, I don’t know how the 50 milers did it
  • Be prepared for a hot, sunny day, but also pack gear for a change in weather at the last minute
  • It poured rain a few days prior, with tons of wind, so I would have wanted to run on that day, I gladly took the sun and heat

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

  • I wore an 8 liter vest with 2×20 ounce bottles. A 5 liter vest would have been plenty but it was what I had!
  • A few runners were wearing just waist belts with one bottle. Definitely would need to be speedier to make it on less water, as I was glad I had plenty on each section and if I was getting close to aid, I poured excess on my head to cool down.
  • Poles would be great on this course, but aren’t allowed except for an RD exception.
  • Sunscreen! I covered myself at the start and then again at mile 10 and didn’t get any sunburns.
  • Lube! I lubed up pre-race on my toes, my sports bra line, and bikini line (TMI?) pre-race and carried a tiny, 5g package of vaseline to re-apply mid-race, and when I felt a little chaffage creeping in on my bikini line about 5 miles in, I lubed up mid-stride and was good to go for the rest of the race.
  • I carried my 3 ounce Patagonia Houdini in the back of my pack just in case the weather happened to change. Colorado’s weather volatility scares me, so that 3 ounces gave me peace of mind that I wouldn’t freeze my bum off if some weather moved in mid-day.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

  • For a trail yes, definitely. My crew came to miles 10, 17 and the finish, and that was plenty
  • Easy parking for crew, though the start/finish line parking for them was a bit further away, to be expected given all the runners that got there before them.

How’s the Swag?

  • Short sleeve t-shirt and coffee mug, the t-shirt isn’t amazing but I like the coffee mug!
  • Nice finish line food and drink, they had vegan options, which is rare but appreciated, and fruity bubbly, which is what I really wanted afterwards.
  • Finish line was at a pavilion that offered SHADE(!), it felt so good to sit on a bench in the shade, with a bubbly in hand, within 20 feet of the finish line.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

  • 5 out of 5. Great race organization, an ass kicker of a course for a great training run or if it’s your goal race, and so many other great runners to spend time with out in the mountains, working your bums off!
Paavo finishing with me. Best feeling ever. Thanks to the volunteers for this shot!