Before leaving, I found this note taped to the front door by DiscoPOD which effectively cheered me up:
I could tell that my shins were loosening up when I drove down into town to meet Ben who would be my ride over to Salida. We left before dark, grabbed some coffee at Mocha's, then really started the pre-dawn drive to the race. For the first time since I've moved out to these parts, I had clear skies all the way to Salida. What this really means is that I finally got a view driving over Monarch Pass. It's phenomenal out there.
Salida was cold when we got there. 14 degrees cold. I had a hell of a time trying to attach my bib number to my shorts with safety pins using my casted hand. Gotta get this thing off. With 5 minutes till the gun went off (there was no gun), Ben and I finally got out of his warm truck to walk over the Arkansas River, past the railroad tracks, and to the start line. The event was really low key with probably around 200 folks running. Lots of space between runners as we started the run
It was nice not running in a huge group of runners, which always makes me run harder than I should to get some space. Not so here, and it was perfection. The race started off pretty flat, climbed a tiny bit to a water tower, then shortly after started to climb in earnest. I had read about this climb on other blogs, and was slightly nervous about it. Turns out the climb wasn't all that bad at all, and was very similar to the climbs I do up Trappers Way in Crested Butte. I was able to run most of the uphill, but when I realized that my silly shuffle was no faster than another guy's walking in front of me on a steeper pitch, I decided some times it's best to walk. There were probably a couple of patches of walking in there before passing the first aid station at 3.5 miles. Since I already had enough water to go 6 miles in my hydration pack, I just kept on.
After 3 more miles of steady climbing, we got to the 6.7 mile aid station, and the turn around point for the half-marathon runners. Here I had to refill my water bladder, which turned into more hassle than I would have imagined. The cast was making it really tricky to handle the bladdcattle guardser, and when you factor in the fact that I was trying to rush, made me spent entirely too much time at that aid station. 3 guys who I had passed on the climb caught up to me and passed me as I was trying to coax water out of the water cooler. Back on the trail and frustrated with my hydration setup, I started to work at picking off the runners who had passed me. There was still a little bit of climbing, and after 15 minutes reclaimed my position in the race.
Finally the course flattened out and I decided to pick up the pace. I caught up to a really nice guy Bob, from Boulder, who had run the race last year. He told me that most of the first climb was over ,and then there would be a steep drop down to Turret, the half-way point. Bob was partially correct. Things stayed mellow for a couple of miles before we turned onto a different road. This road had the dreaded cattle guards that all runners despise. Soon we turned off of this road onto a rougher 4wd road that grew steep. This was the steepest section yet. Very rocky.
After a steep climb here, short and mellow run there, I finally got to the top of the climb. I'd say the views of the Collegiate Peaks were pretty okay:Next came a blazing downhill. Lots of fun was to be had here. This is when I started to realize that somehow I'm pretty fast descending, and was able to pass a couple more people. Kept flying downhill for a few steep miles until I hit the old mining ghost town of Turret. I was welcomed with people pounding cowbells. Finally I'd gotten more efficient at filling my water bladder, and was out of that cool spot with a quickness and 40ish more ounces of water. Sadly, I had entered race-mode at this point and didn't take a picture of this cool spot. I had been telling myself that I'd be tickled if I could make it to the turn-around in under 2 hrs, and I did so with 10 minutes to spare. In my mind I figured it would now be possible to finish in under 4 hrs if all went well, which it usually doesn't. So not many more pictures. Bummer.
When you go down a mtn and turn around, you typically have to climb back up. Climb, slowly, I did. My calf was starting to cramp up and I realized I hadn't eaten quite enough at this point. First line of business was to down two Succeed! salt caps to help with the cramping. Then get some calories to maybe help the same issue. I had packed a peanut butter sandwich and some fig newtons which always worked well for me on training runs. Not anymore. I couldn't stand the dry food,and could only stomach a couple of bites of the dry dry sandwich. Still, I was able to get nearly 300 calories down. After 13 miles, I finally decided to start listening to music as well. Refueled and driven by music, I started to run at a decent pace climb. After about 10 min, I saw Ben coming in the other direction, heading downhill to Turret. He seemed to be doing fine, and I told him that I felt "great". No lie.
Passed one guy, but could not catch up to Bob for the life of me. He was running really strong on the uphills and flats. I suck at flats. They bore me and it shows. Climbed some steep sections on that jeep road, caught back up to the main dirt road, then started to fly again. I was getting a bit weak, so I downed a Gu packet. This helped quite a bit. Before long I was somehow at the aid station at mile 17. The guy got my bib number, and wrote it next to the number 13. I now realized that I was only 3 spots away from a top 10 finish. In a hurry, I accidentally filled up a cup with Gatorade. I knew better, and drinking this sugary drink had me feeling nauseous for the next 20 minutes...cursing the crappiest sports drink around with every step.
I could see number 12 and number 11 in front of me so I turned on my hydration/rocket pack and flew on the downhills on a new road which branched left. Rounding a curve I noticed one guy walking away from taking peeing in some bushes. Big mistake. You can't pee at this point in the race and not expect to get passed! Pass him I did and I set my eyes on Bob, who was now only 30 seconds ahead. We hit a fast stretch of dirt road and I really let it go. Caught up to Bob and talked to him about how he felt. I told him that he looked strong, but he told me that it was an on again, off again feeling. I pressed on and left him a little behind. Some steep, rocky climbing on a narrow road nearly the width of singletrack came next and Bob caught me. We ran next to each other for about half a mile. Bob has run the Leadville 100 (who hasn't in CO??), and gave me advice on ultrarunning. We hit another steep downhill, and I started to run fast around the bend, and never saw him again until the finish line.
I still had maybe 5 or 6 miles remaning and the running got really fun, really difficult. Steeper drops. More rocks. Really gnarly uneven footing. Lots of rutted 'road'. As I was rounding a gulch, I spotted the 10th place runner maybe 3 minutes ahead, wearing bright green. This put new life into me and I ran nearly as hard as I could to see if I could gain any ground on him. Soon, the trail got even harder ,and I had to slow down so as to not kill myself on sandy rocky pitches that I haven't gotten used to since 99% of my training has been on snow. I never saw the dude again.
The going was pretty tough, and before I knew it, I could see the town of Salida below me, next to the dry valley, and the 14,000 ft peaks of the Collegiate Peaks looming above it all.
I glanced at my watch and realized that I had 15 minutes or so until the 4 hr mark. Surely I was getting close to the finish line, so I tried to keep up the pace. Sipped like a madman from my hydration tube so dehydration wouldn't end my run at the end. Had a nasty nasty Gu packet. The trail got MUCH easier...mindlessly easy on a nice and smooth sandy road. Saw some mountain bikers and recreational runners out enjoying the absolutely beautiful 50 deg weather. What a day.
Finally I hit the valley floor, the traintracks, glanced back to see another runner 30 sec behind me, and ran as fast as I could to the finish line. Crossed the bridge, thru downtown, then into beautiful Riverside Park to hit the finish line amongst cheering runners, locals, and volunteers. Somehow I managed to beat the 4 hr mark, finishing in 3 hrs and 56 minutes. This put me in 11th place and absolutely elated.
To think that I was so nervous about the run. So angry at myself over the possibility of overtraining, and then finish the run of my life with results that I didn't think were really possible for me right now. Great great day. oh, and I got to wear shorts and shortsleeves in Salida's springtime. Life is good.
Riverside Park was the best park I've seen in a town in a while. I'm not sure if the park was really that awesome, or if I was just in an awesome mood on an awesome day. Awesome.