I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Colorado Springs with Amy, and we embarked on a Colo Spgs athletic rite of passage: running The Incline (postcard rendering at left).
The Incline gains about 2000' of elevation in just over a mile, with an average gradient of 41% and maximum gradient of 68%. It makes Alpe D'Huez look like a mild cruise. Of course, when you're running, you don't need to worry about rolling backwards down the mountain.
I was told by my coach that it's a pretty regular Saturday workout for athletes in the Springs, so Ame and I drove out through the amusement park of Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City up to the Cog Railway station (what is it about cog railways and their ability to attract just the oddest kind of tourists? The Mt. Washington Cog is about the ugliest thing in the Whites, and it scatters coal dust over, well, just about everything; yuck). We asked a couple friendly traffic guys where The Incline began, took a short warmup jog, and headed up the trail, jogging from tie to tie. As you stand at the bottom, this is what you see:
For the first half or so, you can jog, and you think This isn't that bad, but then, in Rolf Aldag's words from Hell On Wheels, "Your pulse starts skyrocketing, up towards 200 or more." Soon you hit that 68% grade, and running is no longer a possibility. So you're hiking quickly, and thinking that your heart rate should start coming down, but that's the odd thing about a hugely elevated heart rate: you need to almost stop to bring it down. I didn't have my HRM on (left the strap in OR), but the effort felt like a deep, long one, the kind of breathing you experience twenty minutes deep into a hard 'Cross race: at around 15 minutes, I thought I could puke right now, and I'd feel better.
I topped out at 24 minutes, which is in the realm of respectable. The record is a mind-altering 17 minutes (mind altering in the enzyme-denaturing sense). It's the kind of workout that rewards a ginger start, I think, and a blazing finish, just like the long climbs of classic cycling races. It's about the best workout you can get, if you like 'Cross, time trialling, or triathlons: a long, difficult interval that doesn't shut you down within minutes, one that leaves you gasping like a drowned man and drenched in sweat.
Get out to Colo Spgs and have a go yourself. You'll enjoy the suffering.
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