I'd been looking forward to last weekend's race for weeks. The Great American Beer Run, or GABR in its short form, is an event put on by Jeff Recker, a local runner and triathlete whose voice you may have heard at the finish of the Canyonlands Half Marathon, where he does finish line commentary. The original race was a half marathon. After a several year break, Jeff decided to revive it as a 15K, beginning out in the desert outside of Fruita, Colorado, and ending at the Hot Tomato Cafe. It was originally supposed to end at the new Suds Brewpub, but with the restaurant not open for business, the location was switched to the pizza place right around the corner. This run had a lot of things going for it; no entry fee, no crowd, beer at the finish, and really, most exciting to me, a distance I'd never raced before. The course was also similar to the Canyonlands Half, making it a nice early season tuneup opportunity.
Sandra showed up at my place and we carpooled out to the Hot Tomato at 9am. When we arrived, there was a small group of regulars signing in. Race Director Jeff, and course director/photographer dude Ray were wearing sweet shirts with a very bosomy St. Pauli girl reading "The Great American Beer Run-Where Dreams Come True." Everyone signed in and visited with one another, and then cars were loaded for the start. Pre-race directions included "turn left at the dead coyote" and "don't worry, if you take a wrong turn, everything in Fruita is a square and the distance will be the same anyway." Once we made it to the start, Jeff thanked us for showing up on this "dead weekend" before the Super Bowl with no races on the schedule, and then had us recite a Beer Pledge of Allegiance. A few moments later, we were started, and headed off down the road.
The borrowed, frequently malfunctioning Garmin was on my wrist again today, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was functional. I didn't look at it, though, after my first check to make sure it had started without pulling up some graph or chart. Kevin, the RD from Bangs Canyon and track night regular, shot off like a bullet, with Ben not far behind, along with a few other guys from the local triathlon club. Quinn, another track group newcomer, was a bit ahead of me as well. I tried to settle into my pace and see how I felt, and how hard I thought I could push today. The downhill start and incredibly fast pace by the men up front, though, had that natural effect of drawing out those of us right behind them. I didn't feel bad so I just went with gravity on the rocky dirt road. I looked down at the beep at the end of mile 1, finished in 7:09.
Somewhere near the end of that first mile, I gently eased past Richie and Kevin from the triathlon club, and Quinn. They all looked strong, thought momentarily about staying back and whether I might be starting too aggressively. Instead, I just went for it. I didn't feel bad and I was operating on the premise that I should run how I felt, and really push since this wasn't a goal race and there was nothing at stake today other than a beer song mix CD. I really wanted that CD, though, and a good PR for the distance, so I opted to push. My second mile split came in exactly the same as the first at 7:09.
We'd hit regular paved road now, and also flattened out. My next few splits were indicative of that, with a 7:17 for mile 3 and 7:23 for mile 4. Somewhere in this stretch, I reached Greg. I wasn't sure if I could hold onto his pace because he usually beats me, but I still wasn't feeling awful. I thought about the various things we've worked on at track, like a high cadence, short stride and good form. I did feel like I was walking that edge, and had maybe started too fast, so coming back to basics really helped to settle me down and avoid heading in the blowup direction. Greg and I agreed it would be good to pace together and pushed on down the road. This is when that four-letter W word appeared-wind. We ran toward the big hill on the course and it really picked up. Most of the drivers on this country road slid over a bit, or moved all the way over into the other lane. Approaching the hill, we had one driver of a big truck give us NO room at all, and appear to even creep closer to us. It was close enough to scare me a bit, running on the edge of the road and not anywhere near getting in his way in the lane.
Tucking my head down up the hill, it was almost a relief to have a change in the flat terrain. I slowed in the wind but it didn't suck altogether. The short, relaxed stride was getting me up the hill, though more slowly than I'd have liked. Approaching the top of the hill, Ray was there rocking the tunes from his truck, and taking pictures. When another truck came flying over the hill ahead of us, Ray gave the guy a very clear "slow down" hand motion, a deed that did not go unnoticed. 99% of the drivers were sharing the road with us, but all it takes is one to change lives forever. Finally cresting the hill and coming down, I regrouped and tried to take advantage of gravity. Mile 5 was over in 8:22. Quite a dropoff from the first four miles, but I felt good to make it back up with the hill behind me.
Getting into the second half of the run, I realized that I'd probably taken the first few miles a little too fast. I did another assessment and knew my form was getting crummy, and refocused to the short strides and high cadence. Every time I thought I was going to drop off Greg's pace, I was able to settle down. I was tiring, though, and not sure how long I'd be able to hang with him. Miles six and seven came in at 7:32 and 7:27 respectively.
We began to see the beer arrow signs with more regularity now, and it was nice to be running with someone else so that we could confirm that we were, in fact, running the right way. Yeah, it shouldn't be hard to run a square course, but on racing brain, some simple things become incredibly hard. We'd turned left after heading straight south for some time, and there was a wicked crosswind that seemed more difficult to run through than the headwind we'd just experienced. Turning that corner, I could see that the tri-guys were about a minute back but didn't see anyone else. Greg and I hit the end of the road and got momentarily confused about the sign at the end of the road. It was on a left corner, which didn't seem like the way to go. As we got closer, we could see that it was pointing downhill/south/toward Fruita. Okay, phew. That made sense. Mile 8 was finished in 7:52. Yep, getting tired now on this new distance but not dead yet.
Now in the home stretch, Greg asked if I had any kick left. I said I wasn't sure. We turned left again down a neighborhood street, and then made another right. Again we found Ray directing traffic at the next big intersection like a pro. I booked it across the street, ready to be done, and get to that beer. Mile 9 was a slight negative split, finished in 7:44.
Greg was really dropping the hammer now and I pushed to stay with him. I could feel that I was accelerating, but he was stringing out just a bit ahead of me. As we ran down the last few blocks, I saw Jeff, and he was pulling something out. What is that....tape? My first time getting to break tape? I smiled when I saw that my first ever finisher tape to break was police tape saying "Do Not Cross." How apropos...I didn't get into running the traditional way, and this was a delightfully bizarre and nontraditional race. My last .5 mile (course was slightly long) was at a 7:22 pace, run in 3:40, with a total time of 1:11:35. Greg finished six seconds ahead of me, third overall male, and winner of a coveted beer songs CD. Kevin had won the race, and was the only runner to go under an hour, finishing in 56 minutes and change. Ben had finished second in about 1:01, I believe. Stoked kind of sums up how I felt about my first try at this distance. My hill climbing is still kind of crummy, and I need to work on that. My overall race experience was good, though. I listened to my body, but pushed beyond a safe, comfortable race effort.
I watched for others to come in, hanging out with the other finishers, and Sandra's husband Eric who had arrived to see her finish, and hang at the Hot Tomato post-race. She wound up with a top-10 finish in a field of non-beginner runners, continuing her steady progress since picking up the running thing a few years ago. Once most runners were in, we meandered inside. I changed my clothes and had a beer and a calzone. Once everyone was in, we had the awards ceremony. The top three men and women received Beer Song CD's, the hat was passed for the Three Sisters Land Purchase, a project to which donations were encouraged since there was no registration fee involved with this race. This was yet another cool thing about the race; the land purchase will connect all major trail areas in Grand Junction, allowing access that runners, hikers, and mountain bikers have never had before to get around the city. We also passed the hat for silly pictures. You have to act like a nut when wearing a hat like this after a race.
Yes, I will run for beer.
Jami and D
Quinn and Ben throwing the 2's, each second overall by gender
Randee showing off her door prize...a 6-pack shirt
I didn't catch this guy's name, but hey, BEER!
While this may have been a small race, it goes to show that there's a lot that goes in to putting on a good event when things flowed as well as they did at the GABR. We're kind of on an unprecedented run of freebie/cheapie local races lately, and this was yet another case to me to stick with more of these, and avoid the bigger races for the most part, other than my beloved Moab events.
The next day, I'd planned on 3-4 hours of trail running with Sandra, Ben, and Ben's eyeball sniffing, ADHD dog Leila. The mood was set with some awesome songs on the drive out to Loma and Mack with some Vanilla Ice, Michael Jackson, and the little earworm at the top of the blog, How Bizarre, a one-hit wonder by OMC. When we started running, it was obvious everyone was more sore and tired from the race the day before than expected. Still, we plugged away, going a little nutty quoting the latest in the "S#it _____ Say" Meme. I don't like all the videos out there, but this one was fairly spot-on in my short experience training for ultras. I don't need a toe sock for my junk, but can appreciate that sentiment.
We decided it might be better to take this as more of a cutback week, and do the "listen to your body" thing. None of us was feeling good for 4 hours of running, and it seemed like a better plan to make this day easier than planned with a peak weak for the RedHot the next weekend in mind. In the old days, I might have beaten myself up a little bit or considered it wimpy to do this. When I was able to get up today, though, and put in a quality run, I was convinced that this was the right thing to do. I'm excited about getting in good mileage this week, running a long time next Saturday, and then tapering off for another 34 mile adventure on the trails above Moab.