Monday, May 07, 2007
With just two weeks until Ironman Florida 70.3, I was unsure how to run the Colorado Marathon. Part of me wanted to "redeem" myself for the two less-than-ideal marathon experiences I had earlier this year. Part of me wanted to run the race very conservatively to make sure I didn't get injured and could recover quickly knowing that the half ironman tri on May 20th would be a much more challenging 6+ hour event for me.
Well, altitude made the decision for me.
The marathon started out at 6100 feet and before we even got running I was noticing its dehydrating effects, most notably the frequent need to pee. It's happened at two other marathons I’ve run that started out at similar elevations and often on planes, too. No matter how little I drink, I seem to have to pee often. I felt like one of those women in those "Gotta Go" commercials.
So I made three visits to the porta-potties before the race started and still ended up needing to stop 5 (or was it 6?) more times by the halfway point. And there always seemed to be a line at the porta-potties -- 5 people in front of me at the first stop -- so obviously I wasn’t the only one having this problem. A couple times I just made a little detour from the course and hid, but there weren’t that many places to hide along this canyon. I figure I probably lost around 10 minutes total from making all the stops.
However, the stops weren’t the only thing slowing me down. Did I mention that the race started at 6100 feet? Yes, the thin air was also making breathing much more difficult. And though we were running downhill, a 9:00-9:30 min/mile pace made my head start to spin so I backed off to a 10:00+ pace. No way was I going to be able to run a 4:00 hour marathon at this altitude.
But, what better race to run slower?
The views of the Poudre Canyon and the Poudre River were simply gorgeous. As I moseyed along, I searched the canyon walls for mountain goats and other critters that may be up early in the morning. I listened to the invigorating sound of the river and watched the water make its way around rocks, turns and other obstacles. I enjoyed the cool, crisp mountain air and the scent of pine trees. And I reminisced about being here 10 years ago when Dave and I had gone river rafting and hiking together in this very same canyon during our first trip to Colorado together.
From the get-go, this race was to be a fun run and I WAS having fun, even with all the stops. Besides, I also knew that running faster on this downhill course would make me regret it dearly later (last August I'd run another downhill course in 4 hours and my quads were fried by mile 18, and for nearly a week afterwards). No, it was good to be running slower.
At mile 13.1, a volunteer called out my split: 2:25, and I knew for sure that I was on course for a new PW. Oh well ...
And then, just like at the two previous races that started out at 5000-6000 feet, the need to pee disappeared after mile 13. Now sips from the bottle of Gatorade that I was carrying with me didn't result in having to make a pit stop (this race was serving HEED electrolyte drink, something I'd never tried before and was not about to after what happened to me at the Olathe Marathon). Finally, my body found a happy equilibrium -- Hooray!
The other good news was that runners were starting to come towards me. Yes, indeed, 13+ miles of downhill running had begun to take its toll, just like I knew it would. There was nothing I could do so I just tried to say something positive as I passed folks who were obviously not pleased. I made no mention of the fact that there was still over 10 miles to go.
Around mile 15, the course actually started rising a little as we exited the Poudre Canyon. We passed by the gas station where I remember Dave and I had met up with the river rafting group and also the first sizable group of spectators, which was really nice. Until then, the only spectators had been the race volunteers (for the safety of the runners, spectators were not allowed to drive up the canyon road).
Here I noticed I was breathing a bit easier than before (we'd dropped nearly a thousand feet in elevation since the start). My legs still felt quite fresh, fortunately, so I picked up my pace a bit while the course went past grassy farmlands. This part was not as scenic as the canyon, nor did it smell as nice, but there were some people in cars going by honking and cheering for us runners, pockets of spectators here and there, and some good-looking 4-legged ones (horses) watching as well.
At miles 17 and 19, there were a couple hills for us to climb. Quite a few people were walking up them but I always find walking up hills to be harder (for one thing, it takes longer) so I shifted into my “granny gear” (shortened my stride while maintaining my cadence), found a runner ahead who looked strong and imagined there was a rope between us pulling me up. The strategy worked better than I expected as I caught up to both runners by the time I reached the top of the hills.
After mile 20, we turned onto a bike path that was nearly flat, as flat as Colorado probably gets. I decided against picking up my pace further since we were still at around 5000 feet and the level of effort actually felt a bit harder because of the hard concrete surface. Nevertheless, I still kept passing folks including a female triathlete I'd met at the start of the race, several college students half my age, and one unfortunate runner who was on the side vomiting (thankfully, he had a friend next to him to make sure he was OK).
I kept my steady pace going until the aid station at mile 25 where I took my last sip of Gatorade and tossed out the bottle I’d carried with me the entire way to begin my final kick to the finish. My legs still felt strong and now with both arms free to pump hard, I knew I was going to move up a little more in the overall rankings.
1, 2, 3 ... and just before the final turn I passed three more including a kid who looked to be only about 15 or 16 (wow, great job!), a short woman (shorter than me :-), and a woman who looked to be in my age group (woo hoo!).
Then I saw the finish line straight ahead, but what the heck??? A railroad crossing and then an intersection with cars driving through in between? YIPES!
OK, just keep running. Keep breathing. Don't worry about the traffic. Someone will stop the cars by the time I get there (I hope). Just don't trip on the tracks.
I made sure to pick up my feet as I crossed over the tracks and just like the parting of the Red Sea, police officers stopped the traffic as I went through the intersection and on towards the finish line. There was a good crowd cheering as I sprinted home with nothing else left in my way and no other runners in front. I thanked them with a big smile and a wave and then heard someone yell my name on the right as the announcer said "Here comes Shirley Pratt all the way from Orlando, Florida! Look at that smile! Shirley, you can come back and run this race any time you want!"
Final race result: Net time 4:32:05, 11th out of 22 F45-49
So, a new personal worst race time but a number of things to be happy about: 1) This is the highest and one of the most scenic races I've ever run (the other 5000-6000 feet altitude races I've done dropped down to 3000 feet by the end); 2) NO ONE passed me the last 10 miles; 3) I ran the second half in 2:07, an 18-minute negative split (~8 minutes if you take out the pitstops); 4) I received a unique, hand-painted ceramic medal to add to my collection and now Colorado is colored in on my U.S. map; and lastly 5) I've never had so much fun running a PW!
PS - The guy who yelled my name at the finish turned out to be Cory from Time On Legs. Thanks Cory!!!