Monday, June 07, 2004

Steamboat Springs Marathon

Race Report
Steamboat Springs
June 6/04

This marathon was the second and final chapter/race in the visit of my mates from the UK. As you recall we had run the Wyoming Marathon the previous weekend. After that very tough race with high altitude, severe elevation changes and bitterly cold and windy weather we were looking forward to this race. It was advertised as “one of the 10 most scenic marathons of the year” – it was a fast downhill course – and the weather forecast called for nice weather!

Since the race was being run on Sun morning I drove my mates to Steamboat on Sat morning so that they would have time to explore the town and area. I had booked a 3 BR condo near the ski resort that fortunately turned out to be a great location close to the registration, pasta party and race finish. Our first task upon arrival was to find registration and pick up our race packets. Then we checked into our condo and started exploring. After my mates bought their obligatory souvenirs and postcards we decided to drive the last 10K of the course.

The course is a point-to-point one starting 26 miles northwest of town in Hahns Peak Village. Hahns Peak is an extinct volcanic mountain. The elevation at the start is 8128 ft. The course runs downhill over several rolling hills to finish in Steamboat at 6728 ft. The course profile map indicated that there were two big hills between miles 21 and 23 and I wanted to check them out. They did not look not too bad – only 200 to 300 ft elevation change but at mile 23 in the race I figured they would be tough the next day?

We went to the official race pasta party although I don’t normally go to these events. The race organization usually overcharges for a pasta meal that is not even good quality. But my mates like to meet their fellow runners so I went along. Fortunately the pasta meal was pretty good. Later as we prepared for bed we keenly watched the Weather Channel for an update on the forecast. The forecast called for temps in the high 80s on Sun! Since the race started at 7:30am and it would take us 4 to 5 hrs to finish it was going to be HOT by the time we finished! Shorts and singlets would be the dress of the day.

All runners have to be bussed to the start line so we got a good look at the whole course on the way to the start line. When we lined up at the start line at 7:30am with 500 other marathoners the temp was 52F but it seemed cooler than that because of the dry mountain air. I had set a personal goal to finish under 3:45 and also decided that I would go out ‘hard and fast’ in spite of the high elevation to test my hamstring and marathon condition. Thus I took off with the big dogs right at the start. I passed mile 5 in 39:23 and the 5th mile downhill was 7:17. I could feel a slight twinge in my hamstring but no pain so I decided to push on. I reached mile 10 in 1:19:18 but was already starting to tire. I decided to hold my pace through the first Half to finish the Half under 1:45. I passed the Half in 1:44:59 – can’t get much closer than that?

However I knew at that point that I couldn’t hold that 8-min pace and hoped that if I slowed down to an 8:15 to 8:30 min pace I could finish strong? Good idea/strategy but by mile 18 I was struggling to run a 9-min pace. The race only had water stations every 5K which is my only complaint about the race. That is not enough water in the high, dry mountains! And to make matters worse they only had dinky little cups that held about 3 oz of water. During the first Half I had taken two cups of water at every station but now I was taking 3 or 4 cups and still feeling thirsty. The temps had risen to the 70s and it was getting hot!

I reached mile 20 in 2:45:02. I started thinking about those two hills between miles 21 to 23 and slowed down to conserve some energy. I figured if I could just make it to the crest of that last hill at mile 23 then gravity would carry me the last 5k to the finish line? I struggled to run a 10-min pace up those damn hills – they sure seemed bigger than they had looked the day before? I was running so slowly that now I was concerned that someone in my age group was going to catch me. I knew that I was winning my age group but that means nothing if you slow down or start to walk in the last 10K! I had to keep running! Finally I crested the hill at mile 23 and managed to drop my pace to 8:30 over the next mile – but it killed me and now I was really hurting and struggling not to walk! I reached mile 25 in 3:33:21. I only had 11 ½ minutes left to cross the finish line!
It was ugly and it was very, very painful but I forced the old legs to keep moving and crossed the finish line in 3:44:50. This time placed me 54th overall and 1st in my age group. I was pleased with my time but I had run a stupid and painful race because of my decision to go out fast. But it was a very good training run! It is the best way to train your body to run fast and how to deal with pain!

I had achieved my time goal but later learned that I didn’t need to almost kill myself to stay ahead of my age group competition – 2nd place finished 42 minutes behind me! After dumping a few bottles of cold water over my head/body to get my body temp down I walked back on the course to cheer my two mates from the UK to the finish. And I was thinking how glad I was to be finished as the temps were now in the 80s and it was very hot! Roger finished in 4:28:12 and Jack in 4:38:32. I didn’t want to wait in the hot sun for the awards so I told the race director that I was going for a shower and would return later for my award. I was a bit upset when I returned later only to discover that the awards had been packed up and mine would be mailed to me! I actually never expected to see it so I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in the mail within a few weeks.

In summary it is a good marathon. Well organized – the scenery is beautiful and the course is fast. I would love to run this course if it started at say 2,000 ft and finished at sea level? Traffic control on the narrow mountain roads was excellent. Good post race refreshments, etc. Only negatives were the lack of water and the awards presentation.
I may even run it again next year – but will run it smarter!

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