Have you ever stumbled onto the website for a race that intrigued you enough to stay interested year after year, but never enough to actually break down and sign up for it? I’ve had a few of those pop up, and I’m finally starting to make a concentrated effort to knock a few of them out. Which brings us to today’s topic, the Mine to Mine Challenge, a 9k race that takes place up in Cripple Creek, the local gambling hub that somehow maintains it’s outward veneer of a quaint mountain town. As the race’s name would suggest, it runs you from the entrance of one mine, out to another, which is why the distance ends up being a little weird (the state highways that mark the only real ways to get from one mine to another weren’t carved into the mountainside with a consideration of standard race distances… clearly a shortsighted failure of imagination). This race and I share the same inaugural year of running, and I’ve actually been half-assedly considering it since then, but somehow it never quite rose above second choice when filling in my race schedule for October.
For whatever reason packet pickup started at 7:30 for a 10:00 race, which was a little disconcerting. Why two and a half hours for pickup and registration in a race that only had about 150 people in it, along with two prior days of packet pickup sessions? Did they need the time to custom sew our shirt onto us? Still, being the paranoid control freak that I am I worried that showing up too long after pickup opened would leave me without a parking space, trying to get to the start line after they’d closed the roads for the race, or hell, I dunno, marked out by Rocky Horror Picture Show transvestites for special attention later (it is October), and I ended up rolling into the parking lot a little before 8:00… and as far as I could tell was the first non race-official/volunteer there. Yay, inner demons of random panic, inexplicable haunting fears, and self doubt, you never lead me astray, and always make sure I’m so well rested. In any case, the start line is out of the Cripple Creek Heritage Center parking lot, across from the Mollie Kathleen Mine (as a side note, I’m an adult who’s lived in Colorado near active mines long enough to know better, but I still always expect them to resemble those door shaped holes surrounded by rickety boards like you see in cartoons, and of course they’re never anything like that. In fact I’ve never once heard the song “Heigh Ho” emerging from the depths when near a mine. I feel as though I’ve been lied to all my life), and since I had a few hours to kill I went exploring, and frankly it was worth my time. Maybe not two hours of it, but if you’re ever up in Cripple Creek set aside 15 or 20 minutes to take in the Herritage Center, it’ll make for a nice break from the insanity of losing all your money in a place called “The Brass Ass.”
When we finally lined up to take off I noted that, even though the field was pretty small, several very good runners had shown up to try and snag the gold nuggets they were handing out to the winners (unless you’re local, and routinely get your ass kicked by these people, you wouldn’t recognize many of the names, but for star gazers, after scrolling through the finisher list I noticed the former, and possibly future, number one ranked female Spartan racer April Dee took part) and I readjusted my finishing expectations accordingly, but wrongly as it would turn out. We fired across the starting line through the very steep downhill parking lot (with many of us nearly crashing into an inexplicable skateboarder with a Go Pro trying to film the proceedings, but completely unable to keep up with the oncoming throng) and turned onto the street which eased back the rate of our descent slightly, but still kept us gunning along for the first few kilometers until we hit the town proper, where, in addition to a few cheering locals we were also greeted by one raving lunatic screaming at us about the road closures, whom I’m told received some extra special police attention soon after I’d passed by. In any case the course took on a few ups and downs as it weaved through town, and many of the racers who’d been happily flying through the downhill opening suddenly found their legs unable to adjust and the main body of the race faded back, leaving nothing but the joys of an open mountain road looming ahead. The next few kilometers flipped the script on our opening jaunt, and eased us upwards as we trotted along, although at a very reasonable rate of ascent. Still, it winded a few more of the early would-be contenders, and by the time we crested the hill with one kilometer left in the race I realized I’d moved into a pretty good position overall, and could close on one final runner if I had just a little push left. It was a weird realization that didn’t hit until after the race, but because of the races I’d been training for lately, and the specific goals I’d been trying to hit, I hadn’t felt truly competitive with anybody in particular in quite awhile, instead chasing new PRs, or, in the case of races like the Pikes Peak Marathon, just things I considered reasonable finishing times. But suddenly that old fire came back, and I decided this person was simply not going to beat me. We rounded a turn onto a long straightaway across a bridge and I scooted past her. At first I could feel her pressing to move back ahead of me, until, as though it were a signal from above, we flew by a street sign that declared “No Passing,” and it took every ounce of will power not to yell “See! You have to stay back there! The sign says you can’t go by me.” And even though I didn’t actually say it out loud, it was almost like she heard it, because the pressure looming up behind me abruptly faded away and I could feel her dropping off the pace. A few hundred yards later I crossed the finish line at 34:37, good for 7th place overall, and one mildly stoked ego.
Overall Impressions: I said before I’d signed up for this race essentially just because I’d been thinking about it for a few years now, and I wanted to knock the thing out just to shake it loose from my head. Unfortunately for that plan, but as a generally positive outcome overall, that’s not quite what happened. This is a really good little race, that I’m going to have to think very hard about doing again next year. Sure there are some downsides, first and foremost being that they didn’t use chip timing, which is one of those things that absolutely baffles me when it comes up in a modern race (yeah I know it costs money to do, but charge a little extra because it’s worth it to me, and I can only imagine it’s really worth it for people who line up pretty far back in the pack and don’t cross the line till well after the starting gun’s been fired, cleaned, reloaded, and tucked carefully away for the winter). And of course 9k is a pretty weird distance that you don’t get to compare to many (or more likely, any) other races, combined with the fact that weather in the Colorado mountains in the fall can be unpredictably f-f-f-f-fucking freezing (and has been in the past for this race). But overall the course kinda offsets all that. It’s absolutely gorgeous cruising along next to the changing leaves in the crisp mountain air, and the drive up, and time afterwards if you decide to stay, involves more of the same, making for just an overall nice day, well spent. Unless you get involved with the Brass Ass. Then sparks may fly.