Ladies and Gentlemen(man – Hello, Rob!): We had a race! Or participated in a race! That feels monumental at this point, so I’m giving myself lots of pats on the back.
To be honest, just getting to the starting line was something of a big deal for me, as I contemplated a DNS, especially as the forecast changed in the days leading up to the race, from cloudy, to partly sunny, to rain, to snow, to cloudy again. After living in California for 10+ years, I am still a fair weather runner.
Plus, did I really want to start a non-triathlon race at 6:30 am? Absurd! However, I had a great run on Wednesday, and, even with the weather threatening to be everything except nice, I told myself “How bad can it be?”. Add to that, someone said to me on Friday (as the snow was coming down) “This will be your first race as a Coloradoan.” Okay, enough said. Time to put on my big girl pants (and gloves and hat) and get to the start line. As I told a friend via text on Saturday, it was time to suck it up!
The race is in Fort Collins, an easy 45 -60 minute drive from Boulder, and packet pick-up is mandatory on Friday or Saturday. Michael’s nephew is getting his master’s at CSU, so we spent the night with him which allowed us to get in some family time and was much more convenient for me and Michael (sherpa extraordinaire) on race day morning! We headed up Saturday afternoon, and it took me all of 5 minutes to get my race ‘stuff’. I forget how uncomplicated running races are! The Colorado Marathon (official race name) actually hosts 4 events on the same day – a marathon, half-mary, 10k and 5k, but despite having multiple races, it seemed pretty low-key. This may partly be due to the Fort Collins vibe, which is a more laid-back locale (as if Boulder isn’t laid-back compared to LA!). It’s a LOT more agricultural there, so that gives it a different feel. This translated to the race, I think, as there were WAY less type-A, “I-need-to-prove-something” people, as far as I could tell. Also, Michael said that he saw a lot of spectators wearing cowboy boots and wranglers, and not ironically.
Anyway, back to Fort Collins – there’s a great little old town area which we didn’t explore too much except for dinner, which we ate at Coppersmiths. No complaints there. I planned to eat a lighter dinner, but then I thought, “Oh, hell, who cares” and ate way too much before a race (onion rings + pizza). Ah, well, choices. The pizza was decent, especially the peppered crust, and the boys enjoyed their beer (I had a few sips off of Michael’s IPA, but I tried to abstain to make up for drinking too much on Friday night. Seriously). After dinner, I tucked myself into bed by 9:00 pm and was probably asleep by 9:15 to give myself a good amount of shut-eye before my 3:45 am wake-up call.
I thought that I might sleep through the wake-up call, but no such luck. Up and at ’em, with plenty of time to make it downtown. Michael dropped me off around 4:45. It was chilly out, but I felt better about the day’s weather – it wasn’t supposed to start to snow until 9:00 am. For all of the different races, the organizers bus runners to the various start lines, and then everyone ends downtown. The ride up to Poudre Canyon took about 20 minutes, and I had no desire to get off the nice, warm bus. But, get off we must, and I did, along with everyone else. The pre-race routine was typical stuff: warm-up, go to the bathroom, stretch some, go to the bathroom, drink water, warm-up… I begrudgingly shed my layers around 6:15, so then I jogged some more to keep loose and warm. We arrived at the start line in the dark, but just after 6:00, it started to get light, and everyone could see the snow falling. I’ve come to “appreciate” spring weather in Colorado.
Around 6:20, people began to line up, so I went in search of the 1:40 pacer. I wasn’t expecting to cross at that time, but there wasn’t a 1:45 pacer, so I decided “What the hell”. The plan for the race? I wanted to hang on to the 7’s since the course is NET DOWNHILL. Based on training, I knew that a PR was highly unlikely, but I also thought to myself “Why not at least see what you’ve got?”. Which is exactly what I did. Looking back, I thought that I started out way too fast, but then when I checked my Garmin splits, the first 6 miles were really the pace that I wanted – in the 7:50’s and 7:40’s. To be honest, I felt GREAT for those first 5-6 miles, even until mile 8 or so.
And then, around mile 10, things seemed to fall apart. Or so I thought and/or felt. I just stayed focused on the race and on moving forward at a decent (to me) pace. But this is how I felt:
While the race is known as one of the most scenic courses in the US (so the organizers claim), and while I do remember that the canyon WAS beautiful, especially with the snow falling lightly and dusting the top of the canyon walls, that’s about all that I remember about the course. Mainly, I focused on running and finishing – so much for the “run happy/run with joy” ethos that I sometimes try to have. Based on the furrow that is still indented in my brow, I think that I ran with a frown the entire way. By the later miles, 9-13, the light snow had turned to wet, heavy flakes. I put on my gloves again because I was getting chilled, and I just wanted to try hang on to the pace that I had set. Or was trying to set. I started mile 11 right at 85 minutes, and I thought to myself “If you can push it, you might get a PR.” However, that “if” was an issue, and in the final mile-and-a-half, I quit hoping for a PR and just hoped that my hamstring wouldn’t cramp up too much and force me to walk it in. My form, at that point, was total shit, and I just couldn’t kick it in. I’m sure that I just hobbled in those final meters, and I swear that the .1 mile was the LONGEST tenth of a mile of my life.
However, I crossed the finish line pretty happy with my overall “performance”, still thinking that I might have landed myself a PR but that I had not run a very smart race. I ended up being wrong on both counts. I did NOT set a PR, missing out by a measly 26 seconds. I did, however, run the race that I had planned – starting out in the 7:50’s and 7:40’s and finishing around 7:30’s (‘hobbling in’, or so I thought/felt). It definitely hurt to run that fast for that long – it’s been a while for me! And, while I missed out on the PR, I don’t regret how I ran, or how I’ve been training. Thinking about my current half-marathon PR, which I set over 2 years ago at Carlsbad, I *really* focused on running in the lead-up to that race, and this spring, Boulder 70.3 is my main goal. I don’t use this as an excuse, but as a reason, and I have to acknowledge that I’ve had some heavy training weeks recently that have left my legs feeling fatigued. Finally, I’ll be honest – I didn’t deserve a PR, not just because of my training, but I’ve been eating too poorly and drinking too much. Again, no regrets there, just acknowledging the reality of my life and that my priorities do not lie 100% with training. While it wasn’t a “fun” race, it was a GOOD race, a solid race, and I definitely pushed myself, which I haven’t done in many many months. Add to all of this, I discovered at the end of the day that I placed in my age group, thanks to one speedy woman being bumped from the age group results to overall results. This was highly unexpected and, not to knock the race, indicates that it wasn’t the MOST competitive field (I have no doubt that, were I to race in Boulder, I would place closer to the bottom of my age group).
In terms of a race experience, I would recommend this race, but with a few caveats. If you need a lot of crowd support during a race to enjoy the experience, this wouldn’t be a great course/race. For the first few miles of the half marathon, and a majority of the marathon, spectators aren’t present – the canyon is closed to anyone except participants and race personnel, and even once you hit the area where spectators are allowed, there weren’t throngs of people. I didn’t mind because, again, I didn’t seem to notice anything about the course, and I was happy to just zone out. Additionally, there is plenty of water on the course (at least on a chilly day), but the port-o-potties are few and far between. That said, it’s a very well-organized race, and I swear that there were moments when I took in the beauty of the course (I just don’t remember those moments). I’ll also admit that I loved that by 8:15 I had my medal, some water, food and was headed to Starry Night Espresso Café for some amazing coffee – and no line! I was a bit sorry to pass up the beer garden, hosted by Odell’s, but that just didn’t appeal with the temperature at 38 degrees and snow falling.
Finally, here’s proof that I smiled, at least at the finish line, happy to be done. How very Colorado – a medal with the state “C” and some Noosa yoghurt! Please ignore the terrible fashion statement and pose and the fact that I ran the race with my number tucked into the race belt because I ripped it. As always, I am so smooth, especially when ‘racing’!