Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weather With You: The 2012 Rim Rock Marathon

Great song which I have used on a prior blog, but it's my blog so I reserve the right to bring it out again.

 Last weekend, I ran the 4th annual Rim Rock Marathon. This race went on for many years as the Rim Rock Run, a 37K run across the Colorado National Monument from the Grand Junction gate to Fruita gate. In 2009, about a mile was added from the start, and a little over two miles from the finish, to make this annual tradition a true 26.2 mile marathon. After swearing it off as a volunteer the last two years of the Rim Rock Run, I joined in for that inaugural marathon, which was far and away an experience well beyond my expectations. Since then, I've been back every year.

Preparation for this race seemed to be going well. My lineup of fall races, from 5Ks to the Imogene Pass Run, had all gone well to quite smashingly, in the case of the IPR. The Other Half would probably fall in that territory as well, with what was not a PR race but a strong bounce-back from a poor performance the year prior. Additionally, Rim Rock has always been a course where I could "show my stuff." A lot-a LOT of Colorado runners will tell you how much they hate running roads, and especially hammering downhill on roads. Well, I love that stuff. And, that tends to be an area where I excel. The layout of the Rim Rock course, with the climb early, rolling middle miles, and downhill nearly to the finish are well suited to me. I went in feeling like I was trained and ready to go. Wondering what the next year of my life will bring has been a constant concern and worry. Still, I'd been compartmentalizing pretty well when it came to racing, and able push away storm clouds when I felt them looming over me on race day.

Watching the weather all week, it was clear that there would, indeed, be "weather," as we like to say in Colorado, of some sort. First it looked like rain. Then snow. Then a possible combo of the two. And cold. This was an odd juxtaposition to the 65 degree days we were experiencing leading up to the race, but weather forecasters assured us that there would indeed be weather on race day. With that in mind, I started considering various race day possibilities. I'm usually all about the "battle armor" for race day, usually consisting of some brightly colored skirts, socks, and other apparel that fires me up to race. Rim Rock, though, has some cold and shady sections even on nice weather years. I opted for something I'd never done before-a compromise-with a favorite skirt plus tights underneath. My product sponsor, Wizbang Hats, did bring some added color to this year's show, so the bright orange and pink on the head would be kind of taking the place of my bright pink socks on the legs this time.

The night before the race, I had a very chilled out dinner with Cheryl, and our friend Bryce, a local chiropractor who had run one marathon many years prior, and was now diving back into the game. We joked around, I gave Bryce my .02 on his options on race day attire, and had a good time carbing up for the next day. In the morning, Cheryl and her fiance Skip showed up to get me, and Skip gave us a lift to the start. This was nice; most other people were taking a bus from the Fruita side. I live close to the start, but there's no parking allowed at this funky little "Gem and Mineral Society" building where race staging takes place. 

When we arrived, the bathroom lines were long. I immediately saw Keri Nelson, a 4-time winner of the Rim Rock Run/Rim Rock Marathon, and was pleased to see she'd made it. She'd been noticeably absent from regional races, and I'd heard it was due to a back or some other injury on the job. I was curious, though, if she was healthy and ready to put on a clinic for the rest of us, or if injury had caused some changes to her running.

I'd barely gotten through the bathroom line when they began calling us to the starting line. Skip was hanging out until then, and Cheryl and I made our last second clothing drop in his truck. BRRRRR. It was definitely cold out, but I felt like I'd made the right choice with a long-sleeved compression tech shirt, hat, gloves, and of course the skirt/tight combo. Others were in all garden varieties of dress and undress. I lined up near my friend Kevin from Paonia, who had been scheduled to run the New York City Marathon but elected well before the cancellation of the race to stay local and run Rim Rock. We didn't have to wait long before an executive from US Bank, the race's title sponsor, counted down and sent us off. Here we go! Trip number four for me across the Monument for a race I swore off as a course volunteer in 2007.

I don't know what it was like to start the Rim Rock Run without this first mile of the marathon, but I have to say that I think it is fabulous to get in a nice warmup before the climbing begins. Moving down the road, I was close behind Keri and some other ladies, and near Adam, whom I'd paced at the Hardrock 100. I passed Jessica and Morgan, two ladies who sometimes come to Tuesday morning speed group, and we waved at one another. They were supposed to run the marathon relay together, along with a number of other teams. Unfortunately, that portion of the event was called off. It was way cool, though, to see them along the course, sending runners on their way.

Approaching the Monument, Adam and I chatted here and there, which was cool. We joked about Hardrock, and kind of kept plugging along at a good warmup clip. Keri was right ahead of me, and this was my first indication that she might not be at 100% health. She owns the course record, has won major races like the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Imogene Pass Run, and is a general badass. Finally, she started lengthening out a little bit, and Adam moved up ahead a bit as well. I am not a standout climber but Imogene taught me that I can still make gains and use good technique for better times uphill. I relaxed and just focused on keeping my cadence high, and eyes focused a few feet ahead on the road. It was cold but the sun was shining. There was a breeze but it wasn't gusting. 

This first, challenging section of climbing switchbacks seemed to go by with the least mental effort I've ever expended. It was kind of like climbing from Ouray at Imogene; challenging, yes, but after doing it several times, experience was on my side. I just kept plugging away, and eventually, Cold Shivers Point was visible. And then, I saw her-Keri, with hands on hips, walking slowly downhill and away from this first major marker on the course. She was out. What a bummer; I felt her pain, as a runner, at having to quit due to whatever was ailing her. Her gait had looked a little "off" for the little bit of the course I'd been following her, though, so it seemed like she made a logical decision to call it a day early rather than an emotional decision to power on and risk long term injury.

Things ain't cookin' in my kitchen
 Strange affliction wash over me

It was right around now when that damned w--- word first reared its ugly head. Wind. It was no longer just breezy. A headwind started smacking me in the face, just like the past several half-marathons in Moab. Really? C'mon. It also felt like the temperature had dropped as we'd climbed 2000 feet. I tucked my head down, and just ran into it. I didn't feel like I had bucketloads of awesome to spare, and wasn't sure why. I'd rested the day before, slept well. Things just didn't feel great. I'd been in this position before, though, and didn't let myself fall apart mentally. This came right back to the basics of "run the mile you're in, run the moment you're in." Thinking about how much of the race lay ahead of me would've been a losing proposition. It was about dealing with the weather and the conditions RIGHT NOW. Or, as I was actively trying to do, tune them out. Shut off my brain. Just run.

Once I hit the high point on the Monument, the reward was a few rollers with some downhills-finally! While it was still sunny, that Mother Nature was becoming a feisty gal. The wind picked up, trying to demoralize me with every step. I did my best to ignore it but I just wasn't moving as fast as I had other years here. Eventually, arriving at the big hill climb halfway through the race, I felt a little sense of victory at being a half marathon away from finishing, with my strong suit still to come. Climbing the 13 mile hill with two men who had been pacing near me for a bit, we saw a runner ahead of us drop and start walking back down the hill to the aid station. IT Band, he said. While I've logged a DNS, I've never logged a DNF. I felt for this guy when he had to call it a day; I had an IT band injury several years prior, and it's just nothing one can tough their way through.

The next stretch, while rolling much of the way with no significant climbs, is one that requires a lot of focus. In a way, the climb is "easy" because one is so singularly focused on getting through it. Here, in the middle miles, there's still so much ground to cover. And that mothertrucking wind. It was becoming furious at times. The skies darkened as clouds moved in. There were some frosty patches on the road. This was a Rim Rock Marathon unlike any I'd run prior. After some Garmin repair mishaps which left me concerned that I might not have one at all for race day, I'd been able to secure a loaner. Looking down at my loaner Garmin, I checked to see how I was doing. This was definitely a lot slower than I'd been at this point in prior races. Undeterred, though, I kept pushing forward. This wasn't over by a long shot.

Over the next few miles, I just kept my head on combatting the weather at any given moment-and it was changing dramatically from moment to moment. There were periods of brief sunshine, but mostly, there was a lot of gusting wind. It was so loud I couldn't hear anything much of the time. It was tiring. A little bit of me really wanted to say screw this. It's just a stupid marathon. But then I realized that was an attitude that would get me nowhere.  Literally, nowhere. Nobody was going to hold my hand or carry me in to the next aid station if I decided to bail. So, onward I went. I was struggling but so was everybody else; as I focused on getting to the Visitors Center at 20 miles, I was passing runners occasionally. This gave me a little levity at a time when I was feeling very heavy and fail-y. My friend Nick is the Head Interpreter on the Colorado National Monument; he's a runner and knows how much this race meant to me. I knew he was working today, and hoped I might see him when I got near the Visitors Center.

After several more miles, I realized that some of the aid stations seemed to be in totally different locations, or just absent from where they were in previous years. It kind of threw me off, as I was expecting to see them in the spots they'd been since I started running this race, only to find out they'd been moved. Oh well, keep rolling with it, I told myself. Then, hitting a downhill stretch, the wind became nearly unbearable. I felt a few wet,hard, things, hit my face. Yep, now it was snowing. Hard, dry, angry little flakes to the face. I felt like a sail being caught by the wind, unable to make forward progress. It made me angry. This was the one thing in my life I was supposed to have control over right now. And I had no control over this snow and wind.

Finally, it let up a little. The snow ceased, but the wind was still nasty as ever. I could, though, see the Visitors Center approaching. 20 miles. From there, I'd take a big plunge down and off the Monument, and then had just that short but tough stretch of Highway 340 into the park in Fruita awaiting. There was a gradual but steady climb to the VC. I saw one truck blocking the way into the lot, and continued up the road. There was a park truck at the other end of the lot, and as I drew near, I saw a door fly open. A familiar park ranger, distinctive Ranger hat on head and coffee mug in hand, jumped out, ran over, and gave me a high five. Seeing Nick right then was exactly what I needed-he yelled something like "finish it!" and I focused on doing exactly that.

The next section is my favorite part on the course. I've run downhill races or section of races before, but nothing beats this series of back-and-forth switchbacks leading up to a tunnel and then a huge curve downhill through a canyon. At the 2009 Rim Rock Marathon, I actually hit the wall of glycogen depletion at mile 25 for the first and only time in a marathon due to hitting this section too fast. It's just fun to run. Oh, and spectacularly beautiful. This section is what makes the race for me, and why I think all the Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters ought to visit us in Western Colorado for this race.  The wind was coming from all directions, though. And I was simply getting more worn down at this point than I'd ever been in other years here.

Rounding down through the tunnel, around the huge curve, and hitting the switchbacks off the Monument, I knew it was time to focus. Traffic flies by on the road, most of the drivers unaware and not really caring that you're now more than 24 miles into a footrace, and ready to be done. The exhaust fumes and concern about being hit by an errant passing truck are now piled on top of all other fatigue and race day concerns.  I looked at the Garmin somewhere along here, and it all but confirmed that I was on track for my slowest marathon ever. Not just slowest Rim Rock, but slowest since I started tackling this distance. And on the course where I'd run a PR two years prior. If I were more of a novice runner, this might have gotten to me. But, I know that some days are rock star days with great conditions. Other days, you don't feel your best, and the conditions don't exactly help your performance. My goal was to push with anything left in the tank now. "It is what it is," and make the most of that "is" in the moment.

There's a small boat made of china 
 Going nowhere on the mantlepiece 
 Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard 
 Or do I sing like a bird released

I don't remember much of this section here. I didn't feel great but lots of speed work and experience in marathons was on my side. I knew I couldn't and wouldn't collapse and die. I wasn't going to walk, even when the wind was clobbering me. I was going to show the elements that they couldn't deter me, even if they had slowed me down. Onward I moved, marking off traffic cones in my mind as I passed them. Getting to the bridge over the river, the air grew very chilly again, and the wind was about to blow me sideways into traffic. Screw this, I thought. I am getting over this bridge one way or another. I was angry. At what or whom, I'm not sure. But it got me over.

Finally, I could see that I was approaching where I needed to turn into the park, but I felt a little disoriented looking for the turn. Finally, I saw the path. Some high school boys working the turn cheered, and then one, in mock emotional moment, said, "you're an inspiration to us all!" He picked the right girl and right moment for that one-I busted out laughing momentarily. I mean, really. As much as I hate not killing every single race,  that's sort of a first world problem to not be killing it. I hit the final stretch of gravel trail to the finish, and kept plugging away, and finally saw that turn to the finish-sans arch, because it would not have been able to stay up in the wind-and hammered toward it. I crossed the finish line in 3:47:37, my slowest marathon finish ever, 7 out of 64 among women, and 2nd (really, 3rd, but the overall woman came from my age group) out of 19 in the 30-39 ladies. I'll repeat what I said after my stinkfest at '11 The Other Half in knowing where that puts me in the grand scheme of things, but acknowledge that I was disappointed in falling way short of my own expectations for this day.

Getting through the finish, I was immediately medaled and greeted by my friend Angela who had been volunteering since 6am on the Fruita side of the course, and just never left because the help was necessary. She said everybody had finished, looking and sounding like me, and that our friend Kevin had totally killed the race with a second place finish overall, but wasn't doing well at the moment. I eventually caught up with Kevin and Nora, and it was apparent that he'd given it all to the course, still shivering and not quite his normal self (thankfully, later in the day, after warming up and getting some food and beer in the system, he was good as new).  Cheryl was soon through in a little over four hours, doing a great job running her own race after training well, and putting up with listening to those of us with experience here doling out well-meaning advice. Bryce was in not much later, and then went promptly to work doing his A.R.T. thing on race finishers. And Liz, a regular at our speed groups about to cross into the 60-something age bracket, took about an hour off her time from a year prior. So, all in all, a great communal experience with a bunch of freaks like me who think this stuff is pretty cool. (I really wanted to use The Samples' "Underwater People" for this blog had it rained, as promised, for the element of being where you belong with your weird friends. Alas, that'll be saved for a day when I'm really running in a downpour.)

I won't lie...I was totally okay with my performance on Saturday, but on Sunday, Monday, into Tuesday, even feels kind of rotten. I avoided blogging until now because it would've been a darker and more self-absorbed piece on writing than it needed to be-and that's not who I am. But, the upside is that those rotten races have always fired me up to come back and tear it up, not go away, tail between the legs. Will I run Rim Rock next year? I don't know. But I am still focused more than ever on running the Leadville Trail 100 next year, come hell or high water, with everything in my life in a state of flux. And I do have one more shot to close out my thirties an age group win, at the Winter Sun, in three weeks. I plan to take this disappointment, and use it to light the fire to do something big there. In the end, "it is what it is," but I plan to define that "is" with a lot of pure, unadulterated hard work, and heart for this sport that I love so much.


cburns said...

Ive followed this blog from time to time especially around Rim Rock time. This was my 2nd Rim Rock for the marathon and it was a beast out there. Youre a super strong runner (read your past race reports) and as you know we all have days where the run is not as easy.
I did Leadville in 2011 and can tell from your blog that youll do awesome out there. Go for it. Its an event like no other.
Be fun to meet you sometime-- Rest up and enjoy some winter running!

Christy McLaughlin

Anonymous said...

Aw, Kazz. I am right with you on hating the wind, and I know what it can do to both your physical and emotional state! Your PW is still way better than many people's PB (and not much slower than my best Rim Rock! And faster than my worst!) so take heart and move on!

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