Wake up, kids. I've got the dreamer's disease.
This marked the third time in as many years that I've ventured down to Durango, Colorado, and white-knucked my way along the guardrail-less road on the edge of a cliff out of Ouray to race the Steamworks Half Marathon. Forget flat and fast-this race takes me up 2000 feet or so to a little over 6000 feet, and the hilly course concludes with one long uphill push to the finish. I've resumed a somewhat regular running routine now that my ankle is regaining flexibility and tolerating runs well, but the fact of the matter is still that other than the Boston Marathon, I've only had one other run since then that got up into the two-hour range. Despite that, I still had visions of running a fast race despite lack of recent bit deposits in the bank.
The drive down was actually not as bad as it has been in other years, as there was some road construction going on and a guardrail or two in place along the mountainous route that gave me the comfort (albeit false....it's not like it's going to stop me from going over if I get too close to the edge) to not sweat bullets like I normally do on this drive. It's actually quite a beautiful route, and I marveled at how much snow was still present as I moved past Ouray, Ironton and Silverton. I made it to town with just enough time to make packet pickup, and then joined my friends Ilana with her husband Britt (also my gracious hosts when I am in Durango), and Kevin with his lovely wife Nora (now becoming a runner herself, and nearing the end of the Couch-to-5K plan) for dinner. The weather was picture perfect, the food at the Cyprus Cafe was out of this world, and it was so good to converse and joke with friends I've gotten to know well through running. After dinner, I headed back with Ilana and Britt to their place, laid out my gear, and tried to chill out for a good night of sleep.
I was out decently at first, but remember waking up somewhere around 1 a.m., and probably tossed and turned for a few hours after that. This was rather unusual for me at a race where only I was attending with no family to look after or worry about. The prior several weeks had been very busy and hectic with the end of the school year, and my sleep just hadn't been any good for most of that time. I got up for some coffee and bread, though, around 6, and the ol' caffeine started to wake me up. I caught the bus from the finish area at the Durango Athletic Club, and chatted with Kevin most of the way. Upon leaving the bus, I noticed that the race seemed to adding a port-a-potty a year, up to five from the four in 2010. It still meant for long lines, but we were at least moving in the right direction.
The weather was great for June in Colorado-sunny but still pretty cool. When it was time to line up for the start, I wandered up the hill along the tree-lined road and got ready to go. I really had no idea how I'd fare, time- or placement-wise. Despite the field being limited to 300 runners, many of whom are Team-in-Training participants from New Mexico, there has been a good contigency of talented regional runners and triathletes every year. I just knew I'd do the best I could with what training I'd been able to do since Boston, and that it might not be as fast as if I'd been able to do regular 17-20 milers all the way through late March when I twisted my ankle until now.
As the race began, I got a pretty good, relaxed start but I knew that this wouldn't last as I descended the only true downhill section of the course. This first mile would likely be my fastest as the course would flatten out, and then start rolling. I tried to make the most of the early miles, though, while still leaving enough gas in the tank for the finish. I felt decent but knew I wasn't hammering out effortless speedy miles. I seemed to likely be in the top-15 among women but wasn't gaining anything position-wise.
Continuing on, the temperatures warmed up a bit and I was glad that I had a visor and sunglasses. My breathing was really good, too, but my legs felt a little sluggish. I recalled how back in 2009 I took my very first toning class ever at our dance studio the Monday before Steamworks, and my upper body was STILL incredibly sore five days later on race day. Today, I was noticing that my calves were feeling pretty sore, probably having to do with my adult ballet class two nights prior. It had been the first ballet class for me since March, and boy, had those ballet-specific muscle groups gotten a wake-up. It wasn't so much calf soreness that it was slowing me down, but I didn't have any extra spring today.
Getting to mile eight, the course really was picking up in the hilliness factor. I was tired. My legs didn't have much kick. My breathing was good, though-so at least I had one thing going for me. Make that two....while Moab's The Other Half would be my top pick for most beautiful road half marathon, I'd definitely rank Steamworks second. It's a quiet, uncrowded course with that gorgeous mountain backdrop. I tried to focus on that whenever I really started to hurt. Boy, the hurt sure was coming, too.
I had delusions of running somewhere in the 1:40-1:41 range on this course, but I was realizing that it just wasn't going to happen today with the injury-limited training deposits over the past few months. Heck, I wasn't even on track to come close to my PR time in the 1:43 range from the previous year. I was kind of caught between being frustrated by how this race was going, and knowing that I'm just getting back into the swing of regular running, and should set my goal accordingly. I kept reminding myself to run relaxed, and do everything I could to maintain good POSE running form, which I've been practicing since the fall of 2010.
Getting into the final few miles, I was REALLY wanting to be done with this thing. I was literally fantasizing about the Steamworks beer at the finish, the swimming pool, the complimentary massages, and a black bean burger off the grill. Oh yeah, baby. Dangling a carrot in front of me really works. I felt like I was running pretty ugly at this point, and knew there was no way I was placing today with what was my slowest effort at this race in three runs. Still, I was so close to finishing and pushed myself into not just "one mile at a time" mode, but "run to that stop sign," and "run to the crest of that hill" mode, forcing myself to accelerate as much as possible.
Upon taking the last left turn uphill toward the athletic club, I could see Ilana directing traffic. She was injured but still providing valuable course support, and looked very in charge of that corner into the parking lot. I then saw Kevin and Nora, who cheered for me and took some video as I rounded the corner. I still haven't seen that video and I can only imagine that I look like my "fish out of water" picture in the same spot last year. I hauled buns up the hill and crossed the finish in a little over 1:47, easily my slowest half marathon since 2008.
I was so glad to be done, and wandered over to talk to Kevin and Nora. As it turned out, Kevin had rocked his race, finishing 5th overall and 1st in Men 50-59. I was disappointed in my own finish time but it's kind of a silver lining to see your friends do well. In the end, I was relatively pleased with my placement, though, at 10 out of 90 or so in the 26-39-year-old women age group, and 36th out of roughly 290 finishers. I'm not in to beating myself up, but truth be told, I was thinking a bit about what kind of time I might have run on consistent higher mileage during the spring and early summer. Eventually, though, I pulled myself out of that pity party, remembering that it's just one race, and to treat it as my baseline measure of performance post-injury. I just haven't been able to give as much and put in as many miles as I'd like to while making sure I don't reinjure anything in my ankle. I'm looking forward to giving more love to the roads and trails, though, now that it seems to mostly be "back." Onward and upward from here.
(from left to right: Ilana, me, Nora, and Kevin. Nora is smiling so big and I look so surprised because I'm giving her a spa treatment-er-I accidentally dumped a little of my beer down her back when I reached my arm around her shoulder to squeeze together for this photo. Sorry, Nora. At least your hair will be well-conditioned.)
**As a small footnote, my Garmin has been hiding in a very safe place since my return from Durango. While I am confident it'll turn up somewhere in the next few days, I decided I did not want to wait any longer to do a race report. So, no mile splits for this race. Just know that I got gradually slower as the race went on, my body tired, and the hills got bigger.**