Monday, May 5, 2014

Home/Colorado: The 2014 Colorado Marathon

Settle down, it'll all be clear 
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
You get lost, you can always be found

This song came like a message especially for me at the 20 mile aid station at the Colorado Marathon on Sunday. Imagine my complete delight when I looked up the video, which I'd never seen before, and quite clearly spotted Mount Garfield and the Bookcliffs in Grand Junction (Wikipedia says I am was shot on the road between Denver and Salt Lake City on tour). All the more apropos for the weekend.

I hadn't trained seriously for a road marathon since about 2011, and really hadn't had much of an interest since then, with a Rim Rock Marathon in 2012 when the weather was crap, and I felt like crap. Then there was the "one 20 miler in five months" training plan for Rim Rock 2013, when I knew, going in, that it was a fun effort, and a guaranteed personal worst. It was fun, and a personal worst. 

But, before that, there was Boston. 

I was hurt, angry, pissed, and wanted to get back to "our" race. I signed up for a race that several friends had finished, and enjoyed tremendously-the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins. Also racing was my friend Rochelle, who started running with regularity two years prior, and would be completing her first marathon this weekend. Then there was friend Tom, a longstanding active member of our local running club who has done every type of race in many sports under the sun in his 61 years, except, surprisingly, a road marathon. We went to Fort Collins on Saturday, staying with my friend Kim, who answered our "thanks for letting us all crash here!" with a shrug and "Runners are runners!" assertion. We all grabbed some food together and wandered Old Town for awhile.

Eventually, our friends Marty (and brother to Rochelle) and Cheryl made it to town after supporting another friend of ours, Marco, at a trail race in Buena Vista, the Collegiate Peaks 50-miler. Tom and I chilled out and wandered Old Town Fort Collins with them while Rochelle chilled out back at Kim's, and eventually made our way back to turn in for the night. I was tired and ready for a good night's sleep, not really thinking much about the race. My training cycle had been far from perfect, but was also far from a high suckage percentage. There had been virtually no speed work, with my summer racing goals in mind, and knowing how that was not where my energies needed to be spent in base building for those races. I did, however, rack up a bunch of runs 20 miles or longer, and finished my fourth RedHot 55K in February. I was also, er, a few pounds up from ideal racing weight. I was pretty curious what the over/under would be on all factors. Regardless, I was going to have fun out there, give it my best, and enjoy.

Sunday started out comically. We boarded the buses, and were the last three runners put on the bus. I made my way to the three open seats in the back of the bus, where I was seated next to a young man who had his head in his hands because he'd not trained for this race, and was just realizing that no training and his only race ever being a 5K on Super Bowl Sunday might not be the best training plan. As we rode along in the dark (we'd boarded buses at 4:30 a.m.), things got more exciting. Rochelle came back to use the bathroom on our luxury bus and says "We're going the wrong way." No way, I said. Way. The driver had followed two other buses and missed the turn up Poudre Canyon, where we'd run the first 17 miles of the course. What followed was pulling a u-ey through some farmer's dirt circular driveway, with the bus pointing straight down at a point where the circle dropped sharply. I was imagining how surprised these people would be to find a bus on its side in their front yard at 4:45 a.m., but we made it through and got up the canyon.

When we reached the start, things felt great. Temps were cool but not cold. No wind.

 We found our Junction friend Angela's sister Elizabeth/Lizzie, who had some injuries and down time but decided to go ahead, enjoy the race, and let it be whatever it would be. She found us a much shorter port-a-potty line that the massive one everyone else was in. This was great, except for the first time ever, uh....(sensitive readers, avert your eyes), I was having gut troubles for the first time ever in a race. As in...could not get myself cleaned out. This has never once been an issue. We'd barely gotten through the bathroom line when they started calling for the start. Rochelle, Tom and I jumped into the corral, and I made sure I had the Garmin I'd borrowed from Marty ready to go. My good friend Kevin O'Brien from Paonia had advised to not get too carried away with the early downhill miles, because it would flatten out later, and there was the matter of a big hill at mile 19. I just committed to racing on feel as the gun sounded.

Crossing the starting mat, there were a few moments of being a little bit slowed down, but we got moving freely surprisingly fast for a race with 1500 racers. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with so many people using this as a Boston qualifier, and being capable of being in that striking range, or if having the full two lanes of road to start made things space out early. Probably a little of both. All I knew is that I took off like a relative bat out of hell, with Kevin's voice kind of in my head. I also had that voice of go big or go home, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

The first four miles rattled off at 8:00-8:05 mile paces, and being quite a bit ahead of 3:30 and 3:40 pace groups. This should have been my first clue to really heed Kevin's advice. But, I did feel good, and I know that my very best races have come from overshooting what the pace charts and tables said I should be expected to do, and just going with how I felt on days when all systems were perfect. So, on I went. It was quiet; the only noise I could hear was the flow of the Poudre River. It was slightly overcast and temperatures were perfect.

In the next few miles, I slowed a bit, but not dramatically. I had consciously told myself to back off the 8:00 miles and was hitting closer to 8:15-8:20 now with some surges and slowdowns at different points. Around mile ten, though, it began. My stomach started talking to me. I ignored that sensation and convinced myself I could will it to away. Crossing the half in roughly 1:49, it seemed like I was in good shape, with room to positive split and still BQ. My gut, though. It was ANGRY. And making more noise.

In miles 13-17, I could tell I was slowing more and more and the business I couldn't do earlier....yeah, if you're going to do something new on race day, blowing your entire cushion of time for a several minute pit stop in the port-a-john at mile seventeen is not something I'd put at the top of the list. On the upside, I felt so much better to have finally cleared the plumbing. But, not where I needed to be timewise with the big hill on the course coming, and no more downhill to get that free help from gravity. I climbed the hill feeling frustrated that I'd pretty much paced entirely wrong for this course, and that a factor that has never, ever hampered me had made such a dent in the day. Oh well, suck it up and trudge on. I passed folks with "May The Fourth Be With You," "May The Course Be With You," and "Your Feet Hurt Because You Are Kicking Ass!" signs and embraced the energy. 

Then, that big hill came that Kevin mentioned. It was long, not steep, but just kept coming. I felt okay other than knowing that I was slowing down when I didn't need to put myself at a more of a deficit, and digging myself a hole on any chance at a BQ. I was having moments of "screw this," when I came through the aid station at 20 miles. That popular song, "Home," came on, precisely on the verse that gets repeated multiple times. Settle down, it'll all be clear. Don't pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear. It was the roundhouse kick in the ass I needed then. Heading out of that aid station, I got out of my head that I was going to rack up my third personal worst in a row and just started running again in the moment. Maybe I could pull something out of my ass to BQ, maybe not, but I wasn't going to roll over and give up.

We then entered what I will now lovingly refer to as the barren wasteland section of this course. Canyonlands has the "on the highway" two miles that I'll NEVER complain about again after the "concrete path under the powerlines with sand and scrub and no soul" section of course at the Colorado Marathon. It sucked.

I was tired, and tried stopping once or twice here, only to kick my own ass and make myself start running again after a few walking steps. That was only going to prolong the time out here. This eventually gave way to a section with a few trees and more people, and then a long, wooden bridge that I realized was suspension once I felt it moving under me. My gut immediately started rearing up again. I thought I was going to puke...for real. Again, something new. I have never had motion sickness but something about that bridge swaying gently was not awesome for me in that moment.

Moving down the bike path, we were entering shadier territory, and moved through a tunnel. Soon, the last mile was there. I wasn't sure if or where I would see any friends. I can't tell you in which order I saw them-it's a blur-but I think that I first saw Cheryl and Marty. I shook my head going past...Marty looked at his watch and knew I wasn't going to BQ, and Cheryl hollered something about digging my outfit. Still, it was great to see them and it gave me a little levity when I was feeling rough. And then I think I next saw Laurie, who is a fellow INKnBURN ambassador. We hadn't met before but she knew I'd be here, and we spotted each other immediately. Her fiance Kurt started snapping pictures like crazy, ran down the path, took more pictures, and so on, for a stretch (he's a runner too). Again, I felt a little lighter from that interaction with Laurie and Kurt. 

Finally hitting the home stretch, I was over 3:45 now. There would be no BQ today. But, I could still finish strong and fend off a PW. That was just shy of 3:52 at Rim Rock. I was thrilled to see that finish chute coming, and was determined to leave it all on the course. The dude on the mic was awesome, and seeming to catch everyone as they came in. I soon heard my name and my hometown, and kicked it through the finish, 3:50, a good five minutes off that BQ goal. Nowhere close, a lot I could've been disappointed about, but feeling like I'd salvaged a bad race in the places I could. 

I got my water, and finisher poster, and then headed out of the finish chute to find Cheryl and Marty so we could watch for Rochelle and Tom. My legs were throbbing. Along the way, I hollered and cheered on finishers, many of whom I'd shared the road with at multiple times during the run. Getting back on the bike path, I reached Laurie and Kurt first, and visited with them for a bit. My legs were killing me and it felt great to stop on the grass. They told me they'd seen my friends move on up the path a bit further, and I told them what my friend Tom was wearing in case they saw him and could get a quick picture, but that Rochelle would probably be harder to spot as a 40-something female in black shorts and generic yellow shirt. Then, I headed down to meet my friends. 

They asked if I'd seen Rochelle just to make sure we hadn't missed her, but I'd walked the full reverse from the finish and had definitely not spotted her. It's so hard to say how one's first marathon will go, and we just didn't want to miss that moment. Right when we were having that conversation, I was the only one facing that direction and spotted her coming. We jumped in alongside Rochelle, and suddenly my dead legs were moving again. Kurt spotted us and started snapping away, getting a great shot of all of us running alongside Rochelle. 

We ran with her until we reached the street into Old Town Fort Collins, stepping out and running alongside the course. I told Cheryl that we probably needed to get ahead of her because they were directing traffic about two blocks out, and we might get held up there. Luckily, we made it across that intersection, and on down to the finish, to see her chasing down the 4:15 pace group leader and coming in just under that mark, 4:14 and change. What followed were hugs and happy tears from all that on one hand, I wished I'd pulled the camera out to save, but on the other hand, was just so nice to be present in the moment to enjoy. 

That extra bit of running sort of (very much) hurt, so I was happy when we decided to station ourselves on the sidewalk in the final three blocks to watch for Tom. I didn't think I had it in me to run most of the last mile again. Sure enough, just under 4:30, we saw that orange "The Other Half" race shirt coming, and started hollering "Tommy Toast!" Hundreds of running races, a number of triathlons, adventure races, ski races and the awesomely hard Pike's Peak Marathon, Tom finished his first road marathon with a smile and a woot. There were more high-fives, hugs, pictures, bluegrass, margaritas, leg soaks in the river, Cinco De Mayo festivity walkthroughs, and just the enjoyment of all of us being "Home" with one another. 

Despite being a really imperfect race in a lot of ways, it was a really perfect weekend. I had some momentary thoughts of "revenge marathons", getting back on the wagon really fast to try to BQ again, but the fact of the matter is that's not my goal for the summer. I quickly talked myself out of that, because the focus has got to be on the three races this summer here in that state we all love so well, as sung by probably my favorite musical act in the past few years, Paper Bird. I blasted that tune several times on training runs, and on the drive over to the race, so I think it's appropriate to end/continue the next chapter with that. Hop on board or just run because we ain't gonna stop until we had our fun, doing the things we'd never thought we'd do.