That incessant forward motion is what this race's founder repeated over and over in the pre-race slide show/orientation. Incessant forward motion is what will get you to the summit, so never stop moving-and they were important words to live by on this course, not just something clever he thought he'd say!
I got down to Ouray a little after 5 on Friday, and Ilana, whom I met on my marathon rac training forum and was sharing a room with that night, had gotten to the hotel just before me. We grabbed dinner with one of her friends, hit the orientation (alternately laughed and cringed at slides of people doubled over, huffing and puffing up to the summit), scored some chocolate at the chocolate shop and went back to the hotel where we were able to soak in the hot tub outside under the stars before laying out gear and getting some shuteye before the race.
The hotel wound up being literally two minutes from the start (elevation of 7810 ft), so it was a great setup to just hang out in the room until about ten minutes before the start. It was a cloudy at the start but the forecast was still for great weather on the course. A few minutes later, we were off.
My strategy for the day was just to take an easy pace on segments where I could run, and be really careful on the parts where I would be hiking and walking. The first bit of hiking came a few tenths of a mile into the race, and for the first few miles I was able to alternate walking and jogging. The first time checkpoint, Upper Camp Bird (11,235 ft) was roughly 7.5 miles in to the race, and you have to make that in 2.5 hours so my main objective was just to come in ahead of that mark. The sections of uphill hiking and walking were really slippery with lots of scrabbly rock underfoot so I just tried to watch a little bit in front of me and go cautiously. I made it to the UCB checkpoint in a little over two hours, and spent about five minutes there having some food, taking in some electrolytes, and snapping a few pictures before moving on.
The next roughly 2 1/2 miles is probably THE hardest thing physically that I've ever done. This is where the "death march" nickname that one of my Team Tiara coaches/mentors gave to this run came from. If you look ahead it's just a stream of ants marching up switchbacks to the summit, and the closer you get, the slower you're moving. Because it's really steep in most spots, and it's all slippery rocks, I also had to pay very close attention to where my feet were going. Other than my planned stop/photo op at the Upper Camp Bird checkpoint at 7.5 miles, though, I never stopped on the way up, so I was really proud of myself for that. I just kept following the sound of the ringing cowbells, and a woman whooping it up, hooting and hollering at the point on the course when the climb finally stops. I reached the summit (13,120 feet) in a little bit over three hours, I believe (I don't think they have those splits up on the website yet).
It was cold, but sunny and about as nice as you could possibly expect the summit. Again, I took my time to look around, take a few photos, snack on some cookies at the aid station (they had chicken noodle soup up there too!), stretch a little bit and get ready for the downhill. I think I spent close to ten minutes in total at the summit. Not a typical thing for me to do at a race but then again, this wasn't a typical race, and since I was proceeding with caution anyway with my hip, I figured I might as well enjoy it. It was really cool to turn around and look down and say "I got up here on my own two legs".....not in an ATV, not as part of some luxury adventure sightseeing tour group in jeeps or whatever.
My legs REALLY felt like Jell-O by now, and the aspect of my running that needs the most work is definitely downhill trail running, so I decided that my game plan going down was NOT going to be push for a fast finish, but go the other way and turn it down a notch or two to get down safely on tired legs. I had mountain goats flying past me left and right, but the three times I kind of gently skidded and landed on my butt and hands on the downhill, I knew I was doing the right thing because those harmless slides could've been nasty injuries if I'd allowed myself to get too concerned with what others were doing, and tried to take it the way some of the better trail runners did.
The weather was gorgeous coming down into Telluride, and I was surprised to see that wherever I was in the pack (which was somewhere at the back of the midpackers) had really thinned out. I guess most of the front-to-mid-packers were well ahead on the course, and the back-of-the-packers well behind. I wound up getting a good half mile stretch in what I think was the 15th mile where I was TOTALLY alone, just coming down the trail along the tops of aspen trees on the downslope, and it was awesome.
I finally could see Telluride approaching, and then I was finally on pavement for the two blocks downhill to the finish line. DH and kids didn't see me and I didn't see them until just before the finish but they'd managed to plant themselves just before the finish. I didn't hear the announcer, but I guess they were announcing each runner and their hometown as they came in to the finish, and DH was impressed that the guy got my name totally right, haha. I finished in 4:41:xx, which was 64/95 AG, 765/1071 overall finishers (there were I think about 50 more who started but either didn't make the time cutoffs or stopped on their own).
That's WAY WAY off my goal marathon time (which the training plan on the website said should be pretty comparable to your marathon time), but I am happy with my performance and not going to split hairs too much about it since I went into this wanting to start and finish healthy, and basically just keep moving at the most consistent but conservative pace possible since I knew there would be many ways to get hurt or sick out there.
So that's my novel. It was one hard "run" but the event is VERY well organized, the volunteers and search/rescue personnel on the course were GREAT and I don't think this will be the last time I do IPR. I'm thinking that next year I'll train specifically for IPR and run it for time, and use it as a tuneup for my first running in '09 of our local 22.6 mile race across the CO National Monument.
A footnote-I took photos but on a disposable camera so I wouldn't smash our "good" camera, and I haven't filled it up so if I have any good shots once I've taken all the pictures, I'll share them in a week or two. Ilana had a real camera and posted some great photos on her flicker account and blog so I'll check with her to see if she doesn't mind me linking in to them.