Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wavin Flag-The 2011 Rim Rock Marathon

(video by John Kohls from the Frunners, a group of, well, fun runners in the area. Blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Sandra and I in the last 30 seconds)

Give Me Freedom, Give Me Fire, Give Me Reason, Take Me Higher

I normally wait a few days to try to form coherent thoughts about a big race, but I thought this one was best written while still on the sore, exhausted, euphoric and hungry post-race high of the 2011 Rim Rock Marathon from Grand Junction to Fruita.

This weekend marked my third time running the Rim Rock Marathon. The race has been a surprising acquired taste; I volunteered at the final two Rim Rock Runs, 37K gate-to-gate across the Colorado National Monument, and swore I'd never do that crazy climb and descent. I was hooked in, though, in 2009 at the inaugural edition of the full marathon in the snow and mist. I wanted to run sub-4 since I knew it was not a "flat and fast" marathon, and was thrilled with a 3:41 finish, handling the uphills, but running the downhill a little too fast and hitting glycogen depletion in a marathon one and only time, at mile 25 that year. It was good enough for fifth place, and the next year I came back with plans to run it smarter. I managed that, and also set an unlikely marathon PR, running 3:29 with a strong uphill, slightly controlled downhill, and solid trip down Highway 340 to the finish at the James M Robb State Park. I moved up two slots to third place, and felt pretty good about that finish in a race with some strong regional ladies.

This year, my racing has been pretty inconsistent. After bombing out and having one of my worst races ever at The Other Half, I kind of had the gift of knowing that I couldn't take anything for granted on a course that felt good and homey. To that end, I'd spent the final few weeks prepping on the course, getting in numerous short runs at the start and two long runs that incorporated most of the course. I'd also participated in the first workout for a grassroots speed work group that we're getting up and running for local runners, and it was a perfect way to get the pre-race heebie jeebies out. I knew the race could go a number of ways but was feeling that I'd truly done everything in my power in these past few weeks to be ready for race day. My mileage base was smaller than a year ago, and I'm somewhere in the 5-10 lb range over my best racing weight, but I had a lot of optimism and confidence in really knowing this course, having the muscle memory, and a definite game plan in mind. Though a 5K has no bearing on marathon performance, my most recent race made me think I was back on track. I knew that two-time defending champ Keri Nelson was NOT registered; she's in an entirely different league and would have been the easy favorite. Knowing the field was wide open, and with a recent crappy race, I was hungry. With experience being everything on this course, I felt I had every reason to expect a good result on race day.

The day before the race, I decided on short notice that a pedicure would be a good idea, and roped in my friend Elizabeth for that. I got my gnarly runner nails cleaned up a bit, got the feet and calves rubbed, and had a kind of badass coat of purple and black crackle toenails when we walked out. Don't ask me why this kind of stuff is good for my race day mojo sometimes; it just is what it is, but in a good way. A nice pre-race dinner with friends and fellow runners got me deeper into that relaxed and focused zone, and an excellent night of sleep followed this day of chillaxation.

See The Champions, Take The Field Now, Unify us, Make
Us Feel Proud

Getting up early the next day, I had some coffee and nibbled on some cinnamon bread in a quiet house. Sandra came over to my house, and we got a ride down to the start, picking up my son's teacher Molly along the way. It was pretty cold, but not miserable, and the skies were overcast. Perfect. I'd thought long and hard about going Garmin-less, but in the end, opted to borrow a 405 from my friend Jess. I felt good about how I would use it; I'd just check my time at several key points, and other than that, it would be pure racing on feel. Lining up shortly before the start, I felt pretty free and ready to run. We were counted down by Chris Reed, the race director, and then we were off.

This first mile was a nice opportunity to warm up. There are purists who were opposed to this race becoming a marathon, but I kind of love this chance to let the body get in race mode before the climb begins. From the get-go, there seemed to be a small pack of ladies together. I recognized one local, but was unfamiliar with the others. After we hit the Monument, I tried to remember anything I've ever been taught about efficient, short strides, high turnover, and relaxation. Things felt a little hard today, though-much harder than last year. I did what I've been working on lately, though, and focused on a space just a few feet ahead of me without a focus on how high I needed to climb. Run in the moment and enjoy the gift of running was where my head was at this point. I was at the tail-end of what seemed to be 6-7 women, and had all of them in my sights. I fought the urge push up front when I wasn't ready, and just worked on being relaxed and keeping that rate of turnover high.

Getting into the second half of the climb, I found myself REALLY not feeling good. My effort and heart rate felt a little beyond where they should be here, and I was moving more slowly to boot than I needed to be. Today, though, I had a cool head prevailing. I disconnected from the ick, and kept that gaze a few feet ahead. It was a little ugly, but I was now getting close to Cold Shivers Point, and still with what seemed to be the lead pack of ladies. It was a bit confusing, though, because there were also relay teams in the mix, and there were some speedy ladies on these teams.

When we finally hit the high point on the Monument, I momentarily had a break from the feeling crapola, and took this opportunity to "relax" by getting the shoulders out of my ears, boxing nuns fists back down and swinging loosely, and increasing turnover. I did this for a bit on a flat section and felt okay, but the next time we started climbing (it's not over after the initial five miles), I found myself feeling worse than I did at the start. I'd briefly hopped ahead of two of the ladies-one in pink and one in purple-but they popped back ahead here. On one of the climbs in the shade, I felt so yucky that it seemed like this could turn into my Other Half death march. I was resolved to not allow that to happen again under any circumstances, and tucked the head again, blocking out any negative thoughts that tried to creep in about how things were going so far. I focused on the fact that even though I felt crummy, I was hanging in there, and none of the other women looked to be on fire either. The uphill was a challenge for all runners and we all looked the part.

Approaching the halfway point, I made my first real pass of one of the "Gang Of Five Or Six." I expected an answer, but that was the last I saw of her. I was feeling slightly more settled in and human, and took the opportunity to look around now at the amazing scenery. This course is gorgeous on a bright and sunny winter day, but it's almost sacred on a cold, overcast and grey day. Being out here with people who feel the same way about races like this felt good; every time I was running near someone, there would inevitably be a comment about the beautiful day. These are my people, and I drew off that positive energy.

Approaching the half-marathon point where relay runners exchanged, I was curious to see who dropped off but knew there were also possibly runners far enough I ahead that I couldn't tell for sure the positions and placement. Still, I watched closely to see who dropped off from the group. It appeared that one woman had handed off but I wasn't really clear at this point if there were other women up ahead. I was now pretty close to the pink-shirted girl and purple shirted girl, and was running behind the two of them, third in our small pack. The pink-shirted girl just didn't look 100% comfortable to me, and I kind of smelled blood in the water here. The purple girl was not running aggressively but looked okay. When we finally got up and over the big hill at 13 miles, I started working at moving ahead. If I was to make a move, it needed to be on the downhill section. Moving closer to Pink and Purple Girls, a relay runner told me "that pink girl's the leader!" I said "Oh, I know!" and could feel that suddenly, I wasn't feeling crappy anymore. I felt ready to race, and that I'd done a good job of running my pace and dealing with the race without regard to others. I slid past Purple Girl here, and found myself about 25 feet behind Pink Girl.

We were now starting to enter the part of the course that features several flat-to-downhill sections, but there were still little climbs here and there. I found myself very relaxed now, and let gravity do its thing, carrying that momentum into each small climb. Soon, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with pink girl at about sixteen miles. We chatted briefly, and she was a pretty cool lady. I found it a little surprising, though, that she was willing to carry on conversation as the leader of this small pack, and possibly the race leader.

I learned that not only was this her first Rim Rock, but it was also her first marathon-period. She had been a collegiate swimmer so there was a good athletic background, but the running thing was a new endeavor. I told her that I was on the beer drinking and quarters playing team in college, and got a chuckle out of her. We agreed that when aid station attendants told her that she was the leader, that it was best to assume nothing. When she said, though, that this was much faster than she'd trained, and "felt great," I just knew in my gut that I could come out ahead. Purple Girl was a little behind but close. I continued to run shoulder to shoulder with Pink Girl, and was just surprised that she was neither dropping off or making a big move ahead. It was a good pace for me, so I just stuck with it. Heading up to the 20 mile aid station, though, I knew that it was time to be aggressive, go for broke, and see what happened. I grabbed my drink on the fly here, pouring out half and continuing to run. From what I could tell, Pink Girl walked this aid station as she did not wind up catching up to me as I moved through. I hammered ahead and got my game face on for the section that I'm best at, and needed to nail.

When I Get Older I will Be Stronger
They’ll Call Me Freedom
Just Like a Wavin’ Flag

Moving ahead, I caught up to and passed one or two men in the race, but didn't see any women in sight. I let gravity do its thing, and did pay attention to my pace on the downhill. My undoing at the '09 race was flying through here like it was a 5K. When I got off the Monument and hit Highway 340, I slowed down, and then had a total collapse at mile 25, slogging through what felt like wet cement to the finish. I found a pace that felt as aggressive as I could run, and still have a little something left for the end.

Coming down through the two tunnels on the Fruita side, I looped around and through an aid station where I was told I was second woman (had been told third woman at the last aid station), and was able to get a look up. Purple Girl was now clearly past Pink Girl, but still easily a minute behind. I ramped up that turnover as much as I could while gravity was still giving me free help. As I came down the shorter switchbacks, I looked up and saw that there was one man behind me, and that Pink Girl was a full switchback behind, but I couldn't see Purple Girl. I was getting too tired to turn around and just focused all my energy again on the here and now, tucking down for the most mentally gruelling part of the course.

Turning on to highway 340, I was now running in the shoulder with traffic zooming by; many drivers gave thumbs up or waves, though. That's the great thing about Colorado-not everyone runs, but everyone spends time outside and most tend to support stuff like this. I could feel natural attrition setting in and knew I'd slowed down some but I wasn't on the verge of collapse. I remembered a drill we did at group speed work earlier in the week with jogging in place on the balls of the feet as fast as possible (to work on strengthening the calves and increasing turover). I applied it here, and felt like it was saving me from a total dropoff. Still, I knew I had to fight as hard as I possibly could until the end and then some. I was SO ready to be done as I ran across a bridge over the river near the finish, but tucked the head again. Finally, I could see it...the last turnoff into the park. And then, I heard it...footsteps behind me. Looking over my shoulder for the first time, I saw someone I hadn't seen in a long time...Purple Girl.

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes

I hit mile 26 and pushed as hard as I pushed as hard as I possibly could. She'd made up a huge amount of ground and for a moment I thought I was dead in the water but again just shut the brain off and set the body to an even higher gear than I thought was possible at this point. Turned out her pass was NOT inevitable and I found myself still ahead of her approaching the final left turn toward the finish. Then, it happened. All I saw were high knees, arms pumping, and I threw myself into it with everything I had to stay ahead of the purple. She surged ahead, though, and my best was not matching it. As we hurtled toward the chute, I was incredulous when I heard "Here come our first two women, and it's going to be a close one!" I thought we might be the lead two but didn't really think we were for sure. I threw everything I had into the last stretch but it wasn't enough today. She crossed the finish and doubled over immediately; I flew through right after her, and we exhanged a high five/back slap/"good race." My friend and Dirty Girl teammate Shannon was working the finish and removed my timing tag, and then I collapsed on the ground outside the finish chute.

I wanted to win-REALLY bad. Laying on the ground, though, I wasn't imagining anything I could have done differently to make it happen, and was in a sublime moment of knowing I'd raced well, pushed myself, and attacked opportunites. I fought through the icky stuff, and ran aggressively as soon as I could, not allowing others to dictate the race. I didn't concede, either, when I found that the subsequent winner was right on my tail. In the end, I learned that a mere three seconds separated me from the winner...3 seconds over the course of 26.2 miles. I can't imagine a better ending than going to pure guts and desire at the finish. I really wanted to be able to say I won a marathon today, and yes, there is certainly the part of me that says "where could you have made up those three seconds?" There was something supremely satisfying, though, about coming from behind, learning in hindsight that I'd led a marathon from 19-ish to 26.1 miles, and slugged it out with a woman who wanted to win as bad as I did. It leaves me hungry, and there's nothing more motivating and satisfying that working to fill that hunger.


Girl In Motion said...

What a race! Epic. Congratulations and girl, 2nd place OA is pretty damn cool. Wonderful job!

Elizabeth said...

WOW!!!!! That is amazing! You were 3 seconds away from winning and you had an amazing finish. 2nd Overall female in a marathon is HUGE HUGE HUGE!!!!!! Congrats to you! Well deserved.

Brenda said...

Holy crap! You're my new hero - way to go!!

Jonesy said...

Nice job! A podium finish at Rim Rock is an incredible accomplishment. Congratulations and good luck at the Winter Sun 10k.