Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away: The Caprock Races, & A White Horse Runs Free
The week following Canyonlands brought a pretty quick return to regular training, and I went right back to what I've been doing; shorter, hilly trail runs during the week, a longer trail run on the weekend, and Wednesday speed work at the track. I didn't have any races on my immediate agenda until several track groupsters mentioned the 5 and 10K races taking place at Caprock Academy, a local charter school. There are very few local 10K road races, and I missed the most recent one due to it being held the same day as the Moab RedHot. So, the night before the race, I put in a last minute registration for their 10K race.
Caprock would be an opportunity to race what was the most popular race distance in the country when my Dad was running and training in the 1980s, but less common these days, especially in more rural areas like mine. This would also be one of my last chances to attempt racing a time that would qualify me for one of the "A waves" at the Bolder Boulder. It's the second largest 10K in the nation (second to the Peachtree Road Race, also a 10K), but is a well-oiled machine with 92 smaller races, or waves, with the first 29 being seeded waves for runners, and requiring proof of time. I qualified for my one and only A wave (the AB wave, actually, or third wave overall) a year ago at Winter Sun, but did not run the Bolder Boulder in 2011. This year, I've run several times that would place me in the B wave, fourth overall, but really wanted to earn a bib with a letter "A" on it.
Arriving at Caprock to check in, it was already pretty warm, and somewhat breezy. Still, this is a relatively flat area near downtown, so I didn't think much about it. My oldest daughter Alexis was along today; something very cool since she used to race with me a few years ago before turning her interests fully to her passion of dance. She'd be supervising/babysitting Ray's daughter Emma during the race. Emma's one of those kids that all of us really enjoy being around, and she's a pretty easygoing kid, making it a nice family hang at the races.
After warming up, the 5 and 10K racers moved to separate start areas, and we got a good description of the course. It sounded like it had a lot of turns, so I hoped things would be decently marked, or that I'd be able to keep my eyes on someone ahead of me. Looking at the 5K starters, there were two extremely speedy ladies (young ladies..one high school-aged, another recent college graduate) who I would've needed my A+ game to beat. In the 10K, I really didn't recognize any of the women, which was rather unusual. I knew the guys that I predicted would be top-4 or -5, and lined up just behind them. I wasn't sure if there were any sleepers amongst the women, so just planned to run my race-relaxed but hard. The start came somewhat surprisingly with an "ok go," and off we went.
Right away, the guys I predicted to be ahead of me were indeed out in front, but there was some teenager who had shot out in front of them all. I'd never seen this kid before, and was really surprised. He seemed to be buying into his own pace, convinced he could run a full 10K this fast. Not a quarter mile in, I thought to myself "I wonder if I will get a chance to catch him later." Then, I settled back into my pace. I was running sixth, and first woman behind the front pack that included a group of the usual suspects. I felt a little icky warming up but was doing okay now. I somehow set my borrowed GPS to turn off the actual GPS, so I was only getting overall time; not pace or distance. This was all well and good. Since the track group formed, it's been a regular practice to learn to run on feel, and maintain a steady pace.
Turning left for the beginning of the 3 mile square we 10K-ers would take, I was running more or less solo. Rob from track group was way ahead. Paul was somewhere up there, and Marty had easily overtaken the high school kid, now already a small blip around the next corner in the distance. I couldn't hear anyone immediately behind me and just focused on a slight forward lean, high cadence, and not psyching myself out too much about the wind.
Making a turn, I could see that the high school kid was dropping back, and closer to me now. My competitive itch needed scratching now, but I was patient and didn't push up to a pace I could never sustain just to catch him early on. He was turning around repeatedly and looking over his shoulder. I made constant adjustments to my stride, making sure to shorten it up with a high rate of turnover. I was reeling him in slowly but steadily.
As I completed the square and ran toward Caprock Academy, I was now right on the heels of the high schooler. Passing the start/finish area, I saw the speedy 5K ladies fly through the finish, one after the other. Can't say if I'd have been able to stay with them for sure, but it was interesting to note that we likely would've been in a good 3-way horse race. Making my way up the road and on to the second half of the course, I had the high-schooler in the crosshairs. I was right behind him as we turned into the Spanish Trails subdivision of Grand Junction, catching him shortly after Alexis snapped this photo.
Moving through the neighborhood, this race was really beginning to feel a lot like the Bolder Boulder with all of the turns through a residential area. Okay-minus the massive crowds. The wind was picking up now, and I was working harder to keep up the same pace. I could hear someone behind me and I wondered if it was the high-schooler. No, it was another guy, and he moved slowly past. I was still running first woman and sixth overall with a slight change to the cast of characters ahead. Reaching a street where I could see who was was coming up behind, I noticed Andy, as well as one of the women. I had a decent cushion but by no means was this thing in the bag, nor was it a time to let up. I also didn't know if there were any other ladies close by. I picked it up some more and it didn't kill me. Leaving the neighborhood, I headed toward Canyonview Park. This popular community park hosts soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and running events, and it was a total mob scene today. The wind was beginning to whip about. This was going to be a very mental undertaking in the home stretch.
The course meandered through the streets and sidewalks along the edge of the park, and as it had been earlier in the race, course marshals stayed on top of sending us in the correct direction. Given that I expect things to be a little wonky in new racing events (especially when they're school or church deals rather than professional event companies), it was nice that I hadn't needed to scratch my head regarding which way to run. What I did have to scratch my head over was which way to move to avoid colliding with young kids and their families making their way to soccer and lacrosse games. There were several times when I shifted one way hoping to avoid a kid only to almost run right into the child when he or she shifted at the last minute. Dodge 'em added an additional degree of difficulty late in the race.
Luckily, it was about time to turn onto the single track dirt path/trail that cut across the sports fields. Or, should I say, "luckily." There weren't hordes of little kids blocking any wind now; just me, and a really nasty headwind. This was Canyonlands-highway-into-town caliber wind. This was a much shorter race, though, and shorter stretch of wind tunnel. I pushed hard to get across this stretch so I could make the turn that would give me a side wind. This wasn't much better, but I knew the finish was near. I circled out of the park and turned back down the road to Caprock.
Looking down at my watch, it was clear I wasn't going to make that 43:00 goal to get into the AB wave. This wasn't exactly soul crushing; I knew it would be a challenge but wanted to give it my best shot. I focused on getting to that finish line as fast as I could. I crossed in 44:35. This seemed a little better than I expected. As it turned out, most friends with functional GPS watches measured a short course. I did cross as first woman, and sixth overall. The high school boy wound up coming in about two minutes after me, so he'd faded hard after that initial charge into battle.
For my age group win, I received a gift card to a place called the Garden of Eatin'. Free food is always a win in my book. When they said "and now for overall winners," I got a little excited, thinking I had extra schwag coming my way. As it turned out, they only did overall for each race, rather than male and female overall, meaning that the two sponsored dudes got the goods. It was a slight bummer but no big whoop. The race was very well managed by the school, and the post-race included massage tables and ultra-like food (Twinkies! Ding-Dongs! Crap you crave when out for 30 or 40 miles!). All in all, an excellent job by the school in only their second year putting on the event. Add mile markers next time, and add women's overall awards, and this will be an A++ event.
Moving on to the big news story in running circles this week-the passing of Micah True, AKA Caballo Blanco (White Horse) one of the central figures in the bestselling book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, was something on the minds of many who read the book. In true, many found someone with whom they could identify, or who inspired them to get out and see what happens when you go "too far." While one might see him as a flaky hippie/free spirit who was naive about undertaking the role of race director in a remote part of the world, hoping to bring together people who would normally never meet each other to enjoy their common love of running, his optimism and drive made this unlikely a scenario a reality.
Without getting into overly romantic and theatrical notions about "dying doing what he loved," there was something quite beautiful about how he left the earth, with feet in the stream, laying back, with half-full water bottle by his side. Nobody knows the cause of death yet, but with no obvious trauma or signs of injury, it may have just been his time to go. While I did not buy wholeheartedly into the barefoot running craze the book spawned, Born to Run did cause me to rethink what I thought I knew, and to stop placing limitations on myself based on things I didn't know. While I probably would have moved to ultra distance races eventually, being able to read about very real and human characters sure made it easier for me to say "hey, I could do that. I have to train and log the time on my feet, but I could do that." His altruistic motivation in putting on the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon as a way to help the people of the region is a great legacy to leave behind as a man who loved running free in the wild, and regarded as the one gringo Tarahumara.
It mind sound silly, jingoistic and naive in today's jaded society, but the quote that has been widely circulating truly says it best. This is why I love running, and why a girl who is much more competent running on roads finds such satisfaction in hitting the trails and the unknown. Run free, Caballo.
“I don't want anyone to do anything except come run, party, dance, eat and hang with us. Running isn't about making people buy stuff. Running should be free, man." — Micah True, as quoted in Born to Run