Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Road To Nowhere: The 2013 Winter Sun 10K

Well, we know where we're goin'
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowin'
But we can't say what we've seen
And we're not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

My 7th Winter Sun 10K started with a bit of a rude awakening. I'd meticulously set my alarm for 4:45 a.m., leaving plenty of time to putter around and be ready to transport a full van of friends, and a gong, to Moab, Utah. Imagine my surprise when I awoke naturally at 5:30 with a departure time of 5:45 a.m. out of Grand Junction, and no coffee to speak of anywhere in sight. I know, it was my basic nightmare too.

I did quickly get my crap together, thankfully, having determined the night before that it was going to be butt-cold for race day, and that I was best wearing tights and as many lightweight layers for the race as I could. I threw my stuff on, packed up a change of clothes, and was ready just in time for friends to begin arriving for the drive to Moab.

My friend Rochelle and I had planned to carpool and take whomever wanted to go; by Friday night we had nearly a full van scheduled to ride with us. This was great news for me as I don't have any extra change these days to cover a full tank of gas by myself for a day trip, and I also think these regional races are best experienced communally, with like-minded friends. The weather had turned cold-very cold-earlier in the week, and we were holding out hope for warmer temps, but it became very clear that this was going to be a cold and snowy one.

Heading down I-70 toward Utah, the snow started blowing. Visibility was crap, and at times I couldn't really see where we were going on the road. It was, quite literally, the road to nowhere when the snow drifted and blew across the highway. I took it slowly, though, and soon enough, we'd made it to Moab.

I laughed to see that everyone who was there bright and early was from Grand Junction-apparently, we don't use snowy, cold weather as an excuse to miss a race, and are willing to get up at ridiculous hours to make sure we don't miss the show. I chatted with race director Ranna a bit about the course, and found out that it really wasn't as bad as it could have been. There were some icy spots at the bottom of the hill in the second mile, and track had only been plowed in one lane. Beyond that, though, it sounded mostly runnable. Our crew socialized with friends coming in to the high school for awhile, not wanting to rush up to the start and the inevitable miserable cold.

messing around with Jeni and Rochelle before the race

We eventually loaded up, no more time to delay the inevitable. A few things were certain. It was freaking cold, and we were going to run from the golf course down to the high school track.

We screwed around at the van for awhile, and finally got about the business of warming up. It was...well, not comfortable, while I warmed up, but less miserable. My friend Cheryl has the Masters course record here, and was running again today for the first time since that race where she set that record, finished second, and I finished third overall with a 10K PR. There was absolutely no danger of that today; even in perfect conditions, I was not at racing weight nor had I been on any sort of regular training schedule over the past few months. That said, I was coming into the race on an upswing; consistent running since Rim Rock, and regular speed work. I knew that my new age group was not any easier than the one I'd just come from; Cheryl would be in there, and other regular podium finishers who left a fifth straight age group podium for me far from certain. I liked it this way; I think I had my mental A-game on much more than other years when the age group wins came with less fight and struggle. We posed for a few requisite photos with our gong, and moved toward the start.

It's all about the windup on the gong

When the time came to start, I was ready to go. It was bitter cold but I just kept saying "tropical sands, tropical beaches" as if it would magically make me not cold. It did work a little bit. Ranna climbed the scaffolding at the start, declaring "Welcome...to the Winter No Sun...." and everyone giggled a bit. It had been 60 degrees here at the finish a year prior; this weather was just stupid. Soon we heard the on your mark, and go. My 7th Winter Sun was now underway, eyes watering from the cold, brain wondering "Why the hell am I doing this?" Then, primal racing instinct kicked in.

This course is net-downhill, allowing a runner to typically go much faster than they would on a flat or hilly course. Today, though, I felt a bit stifled by the cold. I spent most of the first mile fighting the urge to walk and bail. There was no magical zone of pain awesomeness today. Just me, the elements, and a few hundred crazies out here with me. I started out with a good eight women ahead of me. Not good; in recent years, I'd been in the top 3-5 and this was not where I wanted to be today. But (and even though I hate the expression), it was what it was. I focused on trying to establish a rhythm, and not letting anyone else sneak on past. I became aware of snow landing on my face, swirling around, and realized that it had just started up again and was really starting to come down.

Heading into the hill in the second mile, I really felt like toast. I've run this course more than any other race since becoming a runner, not missing a year since my first run in 2007. It took everything I had today to not adopt Walter from the Big Lebowski's "F--- it dude, let's go bowling" approach, and just bow out in favor of anything but dealing with feeling tired and crappy in the weather. Then, racing Karah took over that whiny bitch and dragged her off the road. I got my game face back on and was determined to claw my way back into things.

Of course, right when I was thinking this, my friend Marty's 19-year-old son Tyler passed me. This is not much of a surprise as he's usually a bit ahead of me at these shorter races. I tried to stay on him, and also keep Cheryl in my sights, up the road a bit. There was another gal between Cheryl and I as well. I decided that my mission was to get past Tyler and that gal, and then see if I could reach Cheryl. Cruising along, I essentially held my position, but didn't feel like I was blazing through this section like I usually did when given that gradual downhill section, my one true strength as a runner. I tucked the head. The snow kept coming down. I felt a weird tightness around the bottom of my hat, which meant only one thing; the sweat in my hair had frozen into stiff hairsicles. Awesome, baby. In these middle miles, I got passed again, this time by another local friend named John. The snow was seriously coming down now. I couldn't see anything with the cold making my eyes water heavily. I think I laughed to myself a bit at one point about how absurd this whole scene was, and that I'd paid money to be a part of it.

Coming into the fifth mile, I really felt myself waking up. I crept on, and passed, Tyler, surprised because usually once he's passed me, I can't get back into it. I was also gaining ground on that next gal. Coming to the left turn into the residential neighborhood, the curve monitor alerted us to the ice on the turn. I felt good in my footing and hammered through; the other gal, not so much. I'd passed her and it gave me a surge of energy to stay ahead. She seemed to be less confident in plotting her vector through the neighborhood, first running on the other side of a line of snow and ice in the middle, then jumping in behind me. I fueled on that and pushed even harder.

When I reached the turn on to the bike path to the finish, I nearly missed the turn. It just looked SO different in the snow. The volunteer here directed me just in time, and then I weaved through the funky little gate before pounding down the bike path. Here, the snow looked positively magical. I hurt, and my face and hair were frozen. But, dangit, I'd made it here. I felt good; as good as one can feel here. I was running a bit scared, though. I did not want anyone to catch me.

The bike path runs behind the high school, and then hits a short uphill patch of grass to the track. Today, it was covered in snow. I managed this stretch better than expected, and hit the track feeling nearly depleted but knowing I couldn't quit. Folks were too close behind me; I had no guarantee of anything. I was confused momentarily..I'd heard the track only had one lane plowed and my racing brain didn't know what to do when I saw it was the outside lane. Gongmaster Ed was banging away on the gong, and I heard Marty yell "outside lane..." and got myself in the cleared lane as the snow continued to fall hard. I saw the time rolling over on the time clock and thought "well, s#it," seeing that it was a good two minutes off my performance in three of the last four races, and then quickly threw any frustration aside to hammer it home on what was a truly strange weather day.

Pushing around the track, I could feel without looking back that nobody was going to pass me but pushed to get to that finish as fast as I could. Cruising into the finish, I was not caught by anyone else, and came to a stop knowing I'd done the best I could on this day, and fought to stay in things when I wasn't feeling great. This was a good feeling.

Awards were held inside, in the cafeteria at the high school, for the first time since I'd run this race. After The Other Half, I was still holding my breath to see if I'd made the podium, knowing that it was entirely possible that the small handful of gals ahead of me were all in my age group. Going through the results, it was a veritable parade of Grand Junction runners; Cheryl's brother Dewayne won the race as the only non-GJ racer in the top five, followed closely by Kevin D, Marty, Kevin K, and Jeff.

(Cheryl and her little brother/overall winner Dewayne)

(Jeff, Kevin D and Kevin K cleaning up mens 30-39)

 The women's race produced the first female winner from Junction I'd seen since starting the race with Ezzy, who ran for CMU, taking the overall women's title. They finally got to the Old Chick divisions, and I did not recognize third place, or have a clue if she had been ahead of or behind me. When Ranna said "From Grand Junction...a long-time supporter and participant of Moab races...." I said "phew" in my head and went up to claim my second place medal. Cheryl had won the age group, so it was pretty sweet to be up there with a chick I've got a lot of respect for as a runner. Neither of us killed it out there-far from it-but we both gave all we had today.

The day carried on with celebration at the Moab Brewery. This year, our Triple Crown Award (for those who have completed Canyonlands, The Other Half, and The Winter Sun in the same calendar year) was a nice stainless steel mug/glass, and a complimentary beer at the brewery. This is our typical post-race Grand Junction hang anyway, so free beer went over like gangbusters. Heading out of Moab and back to dodge, I asked everyone in the van if we should take the highway, or up the more scenic canyon/Highway 128 out of town. Everyone voted scenic route, which led us to a true road to nowhere, with near whiteout conditions, wild turkeys, cows on the highway, a stopped train, a game of snow baseball during said stopped train, and somebody (what happens in the van stays in the van) peeing their name in the snow with brilliant peemanship. And many, many laughs. It felt like the perfect fun weirdness to end the day.

they were in the middle of the road before we crept up

didn't go all the way back to GJ with 10 people in the van...promise!
Snow baseball. I have no photos of the peemanship, thankfully

The weather, the race, and everything, seemed like a very fitting end to my official 2013 racing season and year in general. It was a formidable storm to fight through at times; I wanted to quit at other times. Still, I pushed through and was so glad I did come along and take that ride.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am maybe glad I missed it this year! Good on you guys for persevering in the brrrr!