Well, let's start from the very beginning. I hear it's a very good place to start.
My relay team for Laramie wound up falling apart pretty late in the week. It was clear that Nick would not be anywhere near healthy in time to race, between his doctor's assessment and how he was feeling. Sara scheduled her surgery to repair her torn meniscus on Friday, Julie's foot still hurt from a chronic injury of an undetermined nature, and that just left Jen and myself. I'd gone ahead hoping that Jen and I might still be going up as a team, but some time late Thursday the plug was officially pulled on any team running in Laramie. I thought seriously about going up as an individual runner-this would be my first ever DNS (did not start), and I hate to pay money for nothing. I had several people, though, essentially tell me "Do what you want, but that's gonna be a lot of time, work, and money to do it alone." After sleeping on it, I did decide that it was probably a good idea for me to let this one go. I was bummed. The Moab experience was great, and I think we'd all been looking forward to Laramie as a team before the Dirty Girls became The Sick and The Gimpy.
Once I got over the bummy frustration of pulling the plug on our 24 hour relay, I shifted into "Lemons to Lemonade" gear. Looking at the racing schedule, I realized that it was a very rare kind of weekend in Grand Junction, Colorado, for a runner. There was a Saturday race, the Children With Hope 5K and 10K, which is an event I've run each of the prior two times it has been held. It benefits a children's group home/orphanage in Eldoret, Kenya, the race directors are on the board of the organization, and have a running background so it's been a solid, well-directed event each time out. Then, on Sunday, there was a running club trail race up past Glade Park, approximately 15K, starting at about 8000 feet and climbing 1000 feet over the course of hte race. Best of all, this event featured my favorite four-letter "F" word...FREE. No tee shirts and no awards-just good times on the trails, wildflowers in bloom, cooler temperatures, hanging out with a small group of the usual suspects, and even some nice snackage and refreshments at the end. I decided that staying in town while my kids were camping with their father, having some rare time being able to hear myself think, doing a little bit of deep cleaning around the house and running a bunch would be a great plan B.
I didn't really crawl out of bed more than about twenty minutes before I needed to get out the door on Saturday for Children With Hope, and still wasn't sure until I got there whether I wanted to run the 5K or 10K. When I got to the start, though, I decided that running the 10K made the most sense. 5K races are a dime a dozen around here, I don't care much for them, and the 10K would be a good training race and workout for longer distance stuff. I said howdy to, and chatted it up with several friends prior to the race, and was pleased that even though it was hot, it seemed like things were going to start on time this year. Last year, it was the first time racing in this location, and they'd opted to start the two races in different spots. It was kind of a logistical nightmare from what I could tell. This year, though, they opted to start both races in the same place, but about ten minutes apart, and routed the courses through different neighborhoods in the same area. This was a nice change and improvement from one of the few things that didn't go quite perfectly the year before, in my opinion. It was also going to be chip-timed, another improvement that reduces the margin of error, especially with two distances being contested at the race.
I wasn't feeling terrific during my warm up, but just went into things like I always do in trying to stay relaxed without thinking too hard or getting down on myself for being a bit tired. This course is sort of a butt-kicker. It goes uphill for most of the first half of the race, and a little bit of the second half. By the time you're running downhill, the heat and effort from the first half can still leave a runner feeling drained and fighting to kick it in. Last year, I really didn't feel good in the last mile and just kind of held on rather than kicking it in. This year, if anything, I wanted to run strong and with consistency. Right around 7:50 a.m., I lined up with the other 10K folks, determined to give the best I had today.
From the get-go, my legs were feeling very un-springy, and I wasn't feeling awesome going uphill, but then again, that was a good sign that I was putting in the right effort. Feeling good in a 5K or 10K at any point means to me that I'm not working hard enough-it's short distance stuff, and if you're trying to be competitive, with yourself or others, it should hurt. My breathing wasn't awful in the heat-I have done some evening trail runs as of late, so it did seem that I'm beginning to acclimate to that after being kind of a baby in other years about avoiding anything over 80 degrees.
Mile 1: 7:50
Onward and upward. Boy, this uphill summer road running did not feel awesome. I forced myself to relax, though, and just tried to relax everything, from the shoulders and arms down to landing my feet in a way that allowed the ball of foot to totally relax, falling forward, and keeping that cadence up as I've been trying to do for some time while practicing POSE running. "Practice" would really be the right word, too. I'm picking it up but am by no means a master. Just being dilligent about it, though, and practicing every time I run or race, though, has resulted in good progress.
Mile 2: 7:50
Well, I still felt kinda crappy, but hadn't dropped off the pace any on the uphill. Not too bad, not too bad. After the early sorting-out of runners, and passing one woman in the first mile, I found myself running what appeared to be fourth woman overall, and I could see the third place female (an 18-year-old high school cross country runner) not far ahead. I wasn't making up any ground on her but kept her in my sight, trying to not lose any ground as we turned to the right into one of the residential neighborhoods. We curved through the streets, pitching slightly uphill most of the way. Man. I really did NOT feel good, and I wasn't halfway through.
Mile 3: 8:26
Oy. Feeling pretty icky. I knew the climbing was almost done, though, and kept pushing. That high schooler started pulling away little by little, and I wasn't able to hang or catch up.
Mile 4: 7:24
We had now looped through the neighborhood and would run back from whence we came. As I passed one of the aid stations, I grabbed some water from a course volunteer, and dumped it over myself to cool off. This was a good idea. I'd hydrately decently in the morning and didn't really need anything right now, and the water kept me from really feeling the heat. I was fighting a bit, though, to keep my head in this and push as hard as I needed to. I heard someone behind me, and pushed to fend them off but a woman who looked like she was surely in my age group, 30-39, slunk on past. CRAP. I wasn't going to go down without a fight, and pushed hard to not let her get too far ahead, and try to make up some ground.
Mile 5: 7:43
Now we were being rejoined by the 5K runners and walkers, and I was doing a lot of weaving in the final mile. Converging courses and dodging walkers three-astride from other distances is a frequent pet peeve amongst runners, but today it was a good distraction from the late race fatigue and pain. I just focused on the next person I needed to move around, keeping that woman who had passed me earlier in my sights, but just not catching up any on this downhill.
Mile 6: 7:18
Okay...now I'm almost there! Yahoo! I'd actually succeeded in a decent late-race surge in the last mile, and kept it up as I turned into the parking lot and toward the finish. I pushed my way in, and registered a pace of 6:42 and split of 1:02.2 for the last .15 Garmin-measured piece of road, finishing in a time of 47:33.
This wasn't close to my PR by any stretch, but this was a hot day on a hilly course that I think had a bit more to it in the hills department with the slight re-routing from the year before. I always want to do better than the previous outing, but was relatively pleased with how I'd hung in there and finished strong rather than fizzling out. I had indeed been passed by someone from my age group, and finished second in women 30-39, and was fifth woman overall, just like I thought. For the third time in three years, I won a lovely piece of art from Eldoret, Kenya, as my age group award. This time, it was a lovely bowl with elephants on the inside. I joke that I do this race for the awards, but that's really no joke. All the awards are quite beautiful and unique-not your typical medal. Several of my friends figured into the overall and age group award mix as well, which was awesome. It just kind of makes the race an even better experience when you get to cheer on your friends who worked hard and hustled out there.
Moving on to the second race of the weekend, I had been chatting back and forth with my friend Loralie, whom I'd met at one of the weekly running club trail runs several weeks back. We'd been talking about the Turkey Flats trail race, 9.6 miles in the Grand Mesa National Forest past Glade Park which is just off the Colorado National Monument. It would be at altitude, but this also meant it would be a welcome escape from the heat down in the city. It would also serve as a great early-season training race for the Imogene Pass run, which Loralie and I were both registered for, and looking to really do well at this year.
When it was clear that I'd be in town for the race, and not in Laramie, Loralie let me know that she was house-sitting up in Glade Park, just about 20 minutes from the race start, and kindly offered to let me come up and spend the night there before the race, thus shaving about half an hour to forty minutes off my travel time to the race. It's so nice and peaceful up there, and since I could bring my old chocolate lab Wilson with me, I gladly accepted that offer. Other than temporarily panicking when Wilson wandered off with the other dogs, and then couldn't quite find his way back at dusk, it was a mellow evening, and I got a great night of sleep. This was SO strange to have a whole weekend without the responsibility of caring for four children, or working, and I my body must've gotten that it was a good time to sack out and sleep hard.
In the morning, we chowed down, geared up, and headed out on a beautiful western Colorado morning. Loralie was going to try out my Nathan hydration vest, an item I'd purchased at the Boston Marathon expo that I have been testing out as a possible gear item for Imogene, and really liking. I just planned to hydrate well beforehand, and carry my Ultimate Direction handheld. We made sure the dogs were set in their dog run with water before leaving, and then drove over to the start at the Turkey Flats camping area and trailhead.
There we found Tom Ela, race director for all of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council ski races, and for this annual trail race. Tom's that guy you see all over the place. He runs, skis, does adventure races, even turning up in a photo on the Mesa Monument Striders Facebook page riding a mechanical bull at some recent event. He knows how to put on these lowkey, no-frills, high-quality events, and we chatted with him a little at the sign-in table before moving around to say howdy to others who were there to run (shout-out to Scott Jones, who mentioned that he reads my ramblings here sometimes, and got a little bit of Imogene information going into his first run there this fall. Glad that I can put my many mistakes at that race out there so that others do not make the same ones. And there are MANY mistakes from which to choose.)
Medium to long trail runs seem to attract a different variety of folks than your local road 5K. Looking around, we were definitely kind of an older, bigger and taller bunch. At 37, I think I was still one of the younger runners there. I recognized a good handful of folks, and quickly got to know the ones I hadn't met before. I also saw Shannon, one of my Dirty Girls teammates from Moab, who was up there with her friend and my former neighbor Kathaleen and her family. It was a little warm but felt pretty good at the start area, which was at about 8800 feet or so. The mosquitoes were out, but Loralie and I had coated ourselves pretty well with bug spray so they weren't biting too bad.
Tom had a good map posted, and the lollipop-shaped course, largely single track trail with a bit of dirt road, seemed like it would be pretty easy to follow. Tom gave us some quick course details, handed the timing device off to his brother, and then we crossed the road from the campground to the start at the Turkey Flats trailhead. We got a little countdown, and then about 28 of us got started on the course. There were already several other runners/hike-walkers who had opted for an early start, so roughly 32 of us were on the course.
I didn't have a ton of excess energy to burn from the start, and at first I was really feeling the altitude. The trail was absolutely beautiful, though-the wildflowers were in bloom, there was a lot of shade on the course, and there was none of the noise and bustle of modern life. This could be a really kick-ass, hard trail run if one wanted to be competitive on the course, and was also the ultimate in berry-picking, become-one-with-nature, zen run race. I was kind of balancing between the two, wanting to really work at running as much of it as possible with minimal hikes, but also taking everything in and not turning it into a joyless, hard run or pushing that ankle to what could be an easy re-injury on some of the roots, rocks, and slippery spots along the way. I let myself relax and didn't really worry about competing with others. I just wanted to run MY race and pace accordingly.
After the first mile of gradual uphill pitch, we started downhill toward a clearing, and I started to feel a little bit better. My lungs were adjusting a bit to the altitude, and my heart rate had come down and didn't feel like it was on the verge of redlining. I had briefly been in a short line of runners, but we thinned out soon after. I found myself running with a woman who was a little bit older than myself up ahead, and another guy who is frequently at around my pace in races just behind. One or two other runners moved on past early on, but this would essentially be my spot in the pack for most of the race.
The trail continued to meander through the trees, sometimes pitching upward for a bit, and flattening out at other points. It was a pretty steady climb, though, and soon I came off the trail and onto a bit of dirt road. This was great practice for Imogene, in my opinion, because of the two-thirds uphill, one-third kind of downhill course. I soon found myself running past a small lake, and got the smile/nod from several folks camping and fishing in the area. As I picked up single track trail again and headed uphill, thus began the mudbogging, log jumping and bushwacking portion of the race. Good times. This is what it was all about.
I did the best I could to keep moving in the old "zero gear" whenever possible, but sometimes it got so steep and slippery that I would momentarily revert to a hike. I say hike, and not power hike, because I tried to stay true to POSE running here, expending as little effort as possible, staying relaxed, keeping my gait short and cadence up. Though I was doing some hiking, I knew I'd already done a lot more running on a steep course than I would have likely done a year ago, so I felt more than okay about how I was doing today.
At what must have been somewhere around six or seven miles in, the trail kind of flattened out, but it was a true mud bog. After kind of trying to move around it, and bushwacking through the sides of the trail, I finally reached a point of saying "screw it....let's get REALLY dirty." (After all...if you ran on a relay team called the Dirty Girls, you should kind of live up to the name, right?) I sort of jumped right into the single track mud trail, but it was SO thick that it was almost pulling off my shoes. The mud and water was surprisingly cold, which definitely kept me alert, and kept me moving. I hurdled over several more logs, splashed around in the mud, and finally got to a point at which I was coming out of the woods and back to that clearing, completing the loop around the "lollipop," and ready to turn back down the "stick." I was pretty gooey and mushy feeling but wasn't fading, and kept plugging along. I wasn't really speedy on the downhill portions of trail, but most important to me was that I was running with good control. I wasn't braking or being tentative, but wasn't flying down the hills, totally out of control.
Somewhere in the final mile or so, Paul, the guy who had been running behind me, moved a bit ahead and was now just behind Sue, the woman who had been ahead of me most of the race. Rather than getting discouraged about moving back another spot, I just kept moving along, and tried to stay focused and dilligent with my POSE with as much of an increase in turnover as I could muster. That said, I was holding back just a little bit because of that ankle. I was so close to being finished, and didn't want to have a careless trip or fall that would put me out for any length of time. As I came back down the Turkey Flats trail I could see Tom's brother there with the timing device, and pushed in for a strong finish, crossing at roughly 1:50:52 by my watch for the 9.6 mile course. I wasn't the fastest person out there, but I was relatively consistent, ran much of the course, finished strong, and did not get hurt. All in a good day's trail run.
Next, I moved over to the finish area, and grabbed some Gatorade and watermelon. After proper rehydration, I grabbed a tasty malt beverage from the Beer Cooler Of Awesomeness, and checked out the results board. The first guy was through in about 1 hour 19 minutes, with Cynthia, one of the others who participated in the alcohol study last summer, coming in as the first woman and third overall at a hair under 1:21. Another gal, Kelly, who has a small sponsorship running for Aquafor, was the second lady, with Sue and I finishing about a minute apart as third and fourth woman. The remaining four ladies were just a few minutes back, finishing pretty much together with all regular starters completing the course solidly in under two hours.
We hung out for quite awhile after the race, and just enjoyed hanging out with the other runners away from the 95-degree temps down in town. This was a strong bunch of runners, but it was quite a different vibe from the road race the day before. While this wasn't all tiptoeing through the tulips, the vibe today was largely about pure enjoyment on the trail, and having a good race for yourself rather than getting into serious cutthroat competition. Not a bad way to end the weekend of racing. Today, there wound up being a very good article on the first page of the Daily Sentinel's sports section about the race, and given that running goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press, it was a nice piece that summed up Turkey Flats, and why people run it quite well. I was especially amused by the fact that in the results, mine was nowhere to be found, yet a runner by the name of Jose Cuervo (whom I speculate is actually a guy named Doug who is a regular at the weekly club trail runs, and grooms the trails for the Nordic Council) had a finish time listed. It's all good, though-I was in this for training and the fun, not public acknowledgment of a 23rd place finish.
In the end, the Weekend Double was a great idea, and other than feeling pretty tired today, I'm no worse for the wear. It was a good weekend of trying new things, and the new things seemed to help me make good progress toward the goals I've got on the table for fall. I don't know when I may have the chance again to run two races locally in a weekend, but the experiment was successful enough that I will surely try it again if and when the opportunity presents itself.