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Magnolia Road Sunrise Run

Posted Nov 30 2012 12:00am
Lately I've been talking about how much I enjoy running at night, and I don't do enough of it. I have also been getting slightly burned out on my usual running routes. I've been seeing way too much of the Power Trail and the Spring Creek Trail.

So when Shannon (aka Wheaties Boy) brought up the idea of organizing an early morning run on Magnolia Road above Boulder on Friday morning, starting at 4 am, other than the fact that I'd have to get up by 2:15 am and drive to Boulder, I was all over it.

Then I thought about it. I don't have to be at work until Monday, I have no important plans other than running some low key 5Ks this weekend, it's my easy week for running, and I can sleep whenever.

I knew Shannon would have to go to work and I'm not as fast as he is, but I really wanted the chance to run the entire 15 mile run, all the way to Peak-to-Peak Highway and back. I decided I would stick around until at least sunrise, so I could take some pictures. It sounded like some other people might run, too.

It's been a full moon and the weather has been perfect, not too cold, not too windy, and in Colorado, you need to take advantage of those times.

A few times I wondered, am I absolutely out of my mind?


No, this is a mini-adventure run. Yes getting up that early does border on the insane, but sleep is like money, and it ain't everything. It's a renewable resource and you can always find more of it, somewhere.



Magnolia Road has its own story, it's been written up in Runners' World, it's been written about in stories about the University of Colorado Buffaloes cross country and track teams, it's well-known as a training run for many of the elite atheletes who come to Boulder to train from all over the world.


I had never run on it, it's not a long enough run that I can really justify it most of the time, because it involves a two-plus hour round trip drive from Fort Collins, and the run itself is only 15 miles. It violates that rule in the stone tablets: Thou shalt not drive longer than thou shalt run. Something to that effect.

But I had plenty of reasons to do it, plus the fact that I am actively working on becoming less of a cold weather wimp, and running at 4 am through sunrise in the mountains of Colorado at 8700' in the winter is perfect for a cold weather wimp like me. I told Shannon I was going to wear 5 layers.

When we got there, it wasn't even that cold, but there was a stiff breeze when we started. It never got cold until right around sunrise, for about an hour, and then it warmed up again. So much for cold weather training.

So I got my stuff together, set my alarm for 2:15 a.m., just enough time to swill some coffee, take care of business, get dressed and drive to Bouldah. Shannon would have to go to work afterwards so we planned to drive separately.

As it turned out, I woke up at 12:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep, so at 1:30 I got up. Didn't get much done at that hour, but at least I wasn't rushed. I was so worried about getting up at the butt crack, and here it wasn't even the butt crack yet. It was the tail end of the full moon, and there were stars visible, partly cloudy skies and 32 degrees. Nice weather.

Driving down I caught up to Shannon in Longmont, we left only 2 minutes apart. I followed him up to the parking area. You have to drive through Boulder and up Canyon Blvd, up the canyon toward Nederland a little ways past the tunnel, and then turn left on Magnolia Road. It's about 4 miles to the top of a steep, steep climb where the pavement ends and there's a little parking area. Really small. Like, big enough for 2 cars.

It turned out to be just us two, no one else wanted to get up that early. As we got started, Shannon said, "You know, this really is borderline crazy." But those are always the best runs.

We got going, I brought an extra heavy shirt and wrapped it around my waist in case I needed another layer. I only wore one layer, though, plus my running vest. I was proud of that.

At first I was having a hard time seeing, my eyes weren't adjusting to the moonlight, which was filtered by the clouds. I brought my wimpy road headlamps. I love my little Petzl e-lites for road races like Badwater, or for running in town at night, but on dirt roads they aren't strong enough to illuminate the road surface. It was a lot of washboard at first, finally it evened out. Shannon stopped and switched headlamps with me after about a mile and a half. That was perfect. I needed my stronger headlamp, which I left at home.

Then we got going. I told him not to worry about me, we both had our phones and I didn't want to slow him down. There was very little traffic, only 3 cars passed me before the sky got light. The road is 7.5 miles each direction, and climbs about 750 feet each way on the rolling hills, low elevation is 8300', high is 8700'. The hills are not bad at all. Good for someone like me, who has slacked off on the hill training.

I took it super easy and slow, there are some good climbs but not very long. I thought about putting my music on but I was content to run under the moon without it. It seemed like it was taking me forever, but at the same time, I was enjoying the shadows across the road, the tall lodgepole pines and spruce and the bare branches of the aspen trees in the moonlight. The wind was barely noticeable.

Finally I saw Shannon running toward me. He was only 3/4 mile past the turnaround point. I thought I could hear the highway but didn't want to be disappointed if it was far away.

We talked for a few minutes and then he took off, I went to the turnaround, and at that point I started taking pictures. There was just barely a hint of light on the horizon.




Then I got serious about photo ops. It's more downhill on the way back, so I'd run in between photo ops. I took almost 200 pictures. First there were a few purple and pink streaks in the sky, then the oranges appeared, then different shades of lighter lavender, peach, and blue.





Eventually the sun came up and then there were more pictures to take, of the light illuminating the roacks, fences, aspen and other tree trunks.








I finally got back to my car around 7:45. I was starving.

I drove down into Boulder and stopped at Whole Foods to see if I could find something for breakfast real quick and get out of there. I encountered some really weird people in there. Whole Foods tend to attract a few oddballs anyway, and Boulder is full of them, so I must have picked the right place for people watching. Except I didn't care to watch people. I wanted food and to go home. I bought my food and went over to sit down at a little bar set up in front of the window overlooking the parking lot. There were about 10 chairs and only 3 people at the bar including me.

Suddenly the chair right next to me got pulled out, scraping across the floor and startling me. This woman, maybe 60 years old, fairly well-dressed, bundled up in a big sweater, jeans, and boots, sat down right next to me, while I was eating.

She got up real close, a lot closer than I prefer to have a stranger sitting, especially with my food open there. I looked over at her, and she gave me the evil eye, evil stare. She didn't say a thing. Then she got up and went somewhere, but left her bag sitting open on the bar.

Then she reappeared, this time, muttering to herself. She was speaking English, but I couldn't understand the words. I looked over at her again. Same evil stare.

I realy didn't want to introduce myself. I finished my food, but before I could finish, this man sat down on the other side of her. I don't think he knew her, but he sat down next to her the way she had done with me. I looked over at him for just a moment and saw that he was making some weird facial movements, like exaggerated chewing motions. He didn't say anything, just sat there chewing.

It was time to go. I tried to get out the door and the door wouldn't open. There were a few people behind me and they all tried the door, too. It was stuck. So I went over to the main entrance and left that way.

Very weird. I almost got stuck in the Boulder Whole Foods with some Zombies, I think. Perhaps the Zombie Apocalypse has come to Boulder already.

I drove home, body intact, and the Buffaloes greeted me at the door. I unpacked, got in the hot tub, went through my pictures, and took a nap.

A mini-adventure run, borderline crazy, close to home, well worth a few hours of lost sleep.
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