This aerial shot shows the general layout of the 2010 State Meet course at Arapahoe County Fairgrounds. The first mile is shown in red, the second mile in green, and the third mile in blue. The yellow lines mark the boundary of the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds property. Note that the aerial photo was taken from the north so that north lies at the bottom of the photo, south at the top of the photo, west on the right, and east on the left. Unfortunately, the aerial photo provides very little feeling for the changes in elevation over the course layout. Illustration by Brian Manley.
Of all the changes coming for the 2010 Colorado high school cross country season, no change is greater than that of the character of the state meet course.
This isn't your older sibling's state meet course.
From 2003 through 2007, the state course was held on The Vineyards Golf Course, the El Pomar Sports Complex, and the adjacent trail system along Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs. Issues of annual alterations in course configuration aside, the course was consistently flat and fast. Essentially the entire course was either groomed trails (of generous width at all but perhaps the first one or two hairpin turns) or grass. One short hill (or two short hills, in the 2007 version), 6000 feet of elevation, and about eight tight turns were all that threatened to disrupt a competitor's pacing. Net elevation change from north end to south end of the course was 15 feet, tops. Probably not that much. The singular hill on the course boasted an elevation change of about 20 or 25 feet.
In 2008 and 2009, the state meet course moved 150 miles up I-25 to the open space south of and immediately adjacent to Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins. The first quarter mile or so of that course traversed a broad swath of lumpy prairie grass before morphing into a well-beaten, but narrow, trail around the perimeter of the open space and up and down the creek bisecting the parcel into north and south sections. At about 1.9 miles was an artificial hill rising perhaps 20 feet above the surrounding terrain. The creek was, obviously, the low point of the property and there was a gentle, downward-sloping gradient from west to east. The high and low points of the course may have differed by as much as 30 feet elevation. From a runner's perspective, probably the biggest challenge was moving out of the worn groove into the prairie grass to negotiate a pass. At 5000 feet elevation, there was plenty of oxygen--at least by Colorado standards.
Forget all of that. The 2010 course bears little resemblance either of the preceding two courses.
A course elevation profile of the 2010 state meet course (also the course for the season-opening Lori Fitzgerald Invitational) neatly encapsulates the first and most important difference:
As the graph (approximated from elevation data collected from 14 checkpoints along the course) illustrates, the 2010 state meet course has something the last two state meet courses lacked--a vertical component.
From the highest point of the course to the lowest point of the course is a drop of a little more than 100 feet. That 100-foot delta occurs four times over the whole of the course--two times down and two times up. Each 100-foot change in elevation comes over a distance of 0.8 miles or less. That averages out to a 2.6% (or greater) gradient over those portions. Not exactly runaway truck ramp kind of conditions, but certainly enough to get a runner's attention.
Did I just hear coaches from all the mountain schools shouting their approval?
The course runs entirely over soft surfaces, making spikes an appropriate choice of footwear for this venue.
Insect repellent might also be an appropriate choice for at least the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational in September. Biting flies were duly noted along the creek bottom section at the west end of the course. There's nothing quite like a horse fly inflicting a puncture wound to the back of the neck to disrupt your front-running rhythm.
Look for the races to get out to fast starts as the first 0.4 miles moves evenly and steadily downhill. For those looking to set a new 600-meter PR, this just might be the place to do it. It might also be a good opportunity to see your coach go ballistic.
The overwhelming majority of the course surface will be mowed and rolled swaths of prairie grass. Apart from the start area, which will be wide enough to accommodate up to 200 runners, the course will be mowed to a 20-foot width. In most areas, a somewhat narrower portion of that width will be rolled to even out the footing. The mowing and rolling operations are not yet underway, so the course photos linked below do not illustrate the grooming of the surface yet to take place.
Nothing on this course has the potential to break the heart and will of a runner quite like the Powerline Climb section. The Powerline Climb traverses about 0.15 miles from the creek bottom at the southwest corner of the course, along the south boundary fence of the property, to just behind (south of) the start area. Runners must negotiate the powerline climb twice--once a little before the halfway point of the course and again immediately before the finish.
Following the second ascent of the Powerline Climb, runners will turn north toward the finish area. Temporary grandstands will be erected along the finish straight both the add to the excitement of the finish and to offer a clear view of the finishing runners to more than just the first row of people behind the ropes. Sorry, photographers, but the finishing runners will once again be backlit--making for more difficult shooting conditions. Not that the backlighting is a deal-breaking kind of concern, but I'm a media guy on the side and I get this sort of issue.
Someday, we'll train northern hemisphere race directors to have all races finish with runners headed south. Until then, photographers get to struggle with the conditions. And that's why your finish photo may not be the artistic masterpiece you were hoping for.
State Course Photos
This large sign along E Quincy Avenue greets you as you enter the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.
The fairgrounds building can host teams if the weather turns nasty. Awards will be held under the pavilion on the right side of the photo.
This grove of cottonwoods marks the northwest corner and low point of the course. The course turns left from here and proceeds up the drainage that keeps the trees watered.
The drainage along the west end of the course provides the only extended stretch of the course that is relatively level. Even so, the route along the drainage takes the runner along a slight incline for about four-tenths of a mile.
This is an up-close-and-personal view of Powerline Climb. The course will run along the fence on the right-hand side of the frame. For the 0.15 miles of the Powerline Climb, the average gradient comes out to about 7.5%. This climb must be negotiated twice, at the end of each of the two course loops.