Sunday, June 26, 2005

Slacker Half Marathon


Sat, Jun 25, 2005
Slacker Half Marathon
Loveland Ski Resort, CO (10,630 ft)
1:41:53 1st AG

This race was another strategic element of Maddog’s ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ – important/necessary to improve leg turnover and speed!

I ran this race last year. It starts in front of the ski lifts at the Loveland Ski Resort on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide – near the Eisenhower Tunnel – elevation 10,630 ft. and finishes in Georgetown at 8,500 ft. It is billed as ‘the highest Half in the country’ (wrong! - Pike’s Peak Ascent/Half finishes at 14,100 ft.) It is also billed as a ‘fast, downhill’ course? They neglect to inform runners that the 1st half-mile is uphill!

I won my age group last year in 1:41:09. I wanted to defend my Senior Title but felt – NO – I knew that a 1:41 was out of the question because I am not (yet) in as good as shape as last year! I figured 1:45 would win my age group so that was my time goal!

Because the race/course is fast it attracts many of the ‘big dogs’ from Denver and the Front Range and the competition is stiff. Thus I lined up with approximately 600 runners for the 8am start. The weather was great – sunny with a temp of 51F. Remembering that very tough 1st half-mile from last year I started slower – reached mile 1 in 8:19 sucking desperately for air/oxygen! Mile 2 – 7:40 so I was right on target with an average 8-min pace.

The first 5 miles of the course are a dirt and rocky service road through a National Forest. The road is in good shape but it is necessary to be very careful not to trip or sprain an ankle on the rocks. I reached mile 5 where the dirt road became a paved road in 38:24. I was ahead of pace? However mile 6 was a tough uphill and I slowed to 8:19. But the next 6 miles were all downhill. I passed mile 9 in 1:10 – still ahead of pace! Miles 9 to 12 are a very steep downhill on a paved bike path from Silver Plume to Georgetown. Last year I remembered having to brake most of the way down but this year I decided to turn the legs over as fast as necessary to keep up with gravity. I flew down that 3-mile section! Mile 11 was a blazing 6:10 pace! I figured the mile marker had to be wrong because I can’t remember the last time I ran a 6:10 mile – especially at 9,000 ft? I knew that the last mile in and around Georgetown was fairly flat with several small hills and I hoped that my kamikaze strategy would not result in a crash and burn? When I reached Georgetown and mile 12 in 1:32:26 my legs were shot but I figured even if I slowed to a 10-min pace I would finish in 1:42!

I dug deep and kept the legs moving even though I desperately wanted to walk. About ½ mile from the finish line I was ready to give in to the pain and desperate need to walk when I noticed a few runners closing on me. No damn way was I going to be passed in the last half-mile! Maddog screamed at me “Dig deeper – ignore the pain – push to the finish line”! At mile 13 there was a short, steep hill – shades of Estes Park last weekend? But this time I charged up the hill and turned the final corner to receive a huge surprise – in fact a SHOCK! The finish clock was reading 1:41 and change? I couldn’t believe I had run/finished that fast! I was so exhilarated that I sprinted the final block to cross the finish line in 1:41:53!

I had won my age group and successfully defended my Senior Title! Needless to say I was very pleased/elated with my time and performance. For once even the Maddog had no complaints/gripes/whining! I had run a smart, disciplined race (well- maybe a few crazy miles?) – had run way over my head and finished in a time that I thought impossible before the race! Proves that the hard work/training will produce improvement and good results!

Maddog says I must stay with the ‘Program’ so he has scheduled another difficult challenge/test for next weekend – the Leadville Trail Marathon. It is a trail marathon with a lowest elevation of 10,500 ft at the start/finish in Leadville and a highest elevation of 13, 185 ft at the summit of Mosquito Pass.

Stay tuned for the next race report - only don’t expect the same kind of results because I am not a good/fast trail runner and I intend to run slow and cautiously since I can’t afford to risk a fall or injury only two weeks before my next European trip/marathon.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Estes Park Marathon


Sun, Jun 19/05
Estes Park Marathon
Estes Park, CO
‘The highest paved marathon in the world’
Marathon # 244
Time: 4:02:11 - New course record for 60+ Age Group
16th OA – 1st AG

This marathon was scheduled as part of Maddog’s ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ in order to beat my old, fat, out-of-shape body back into marathon shape. It was described as a tough, hilly marathon and ‘the highest paved marathon in the world’. Just the right medicine needed to do the job!

On Sat morning the sports manager and I drove over to Estes Park, CO using the back roads through Black Hawk and Nederland – a very scenic route along the western slopes of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When we arrived in Estes Park I picked up my race packet at the high school and then we decided to drive some sections of the course to check out the hills. I had looked at the course map and profile on the Internet and it looked ugly? I had also checked the winning times for my age group last year and nobody had run under 4 hrs so my initial reaction was to set a realistic time goal of 4:15.
However after driving most of the course I decided that the hills did not look that bad and I lowered my time goal to 4 hours.

Enough race preparation – time to explore the town of Estes Park. It is a pretty little town nestled in Estes Valley at an elevation of 7600 ft. The Big Thompson River flows through the middle of the town into Lake Estes on the east side of the town. It has been a ‘tourist’ town/destination for many years since it is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. To the south the Front Range, including Longs Peak (14, 255 ft) towers above the valley and town. To the west Rocky Mountain National Park unveils a stunning array of mountain peaks, 74 of which reach elevations of 12,000 ft or more. The town has a lot of neat shops, bars and cafes overlooking the Big Thompson River.

We enjoyed a great pasta dinner at the main sponsor’s restaurant – Mama Rose’s Italian – overlooking the river while listening to live music being played along the riverbank. It is definitely a neat town to visit! I would have liked to have stayed and sipped some wine/beer while listening to the music but unfortunately alcohol is not permitted the night before a race! So off to bed to get ready for an early race start.

There were 3 races – marathon, half and 10k. They all started and finished at the high school. The marathon and half started together at 7am. It was sunny and a warm 62F at the 7am start and warmed up rapidly to the 80s by the time we finished. I knew a few runners (members of the 50 States Club) as I lined up with about 400 runners to start the race. The marathon started at 7600 ft. The first mile was uphill and mile 2 was downhill. Then the fun began! Miles 3 through 6 climbed 550 vertical ft to the highest elevation (8150 ft) of the course. Fortunately the climb was steady and gentle and my training on my favorite hill loop had prepared me well for the challenge. I crested that BAH (Bad Ass Hill) and reached mile 6 in 53:52. Mile 7 was fairly flat along Mary’s Lake but then the course dropped 700 vertical feet over the next 3 miles. It was difficult to control my pace/speed as I braked all the way down at a sub 8-min pace and passed 10 miles in 1:27:38. I was hoping that those hills had not beaten my legs up too badly?

I passed the Half in 1:55:31 and knew at that point that my legs could not manage that same pace through the 2nd Half. But I had almost 5 minutes in the bank so I decided to hold that pace for as long as possible and try to beat 4 hrs! Mile 15 was another BAH that climbed from Lake Estes up into the hills/mountains north of the town. By the time I crested that BAH I was all alone and never saw another runner until mile 17. Then the fun began again. Miles 17 through 20 were uphill! The hill just kept going – and going – and going! I struggled to run a 10-min pace for the first 2 miles and mile 20 was an agonizingly slow and painful 10:30! I reached mile 20 in 3:02:15. I had 58 minutes to run the last 10K! But the hills had really beaten up my legs. I figured I might still have a chance if there were enough downhills to help me recover and make up some time. At that point the 1st-place female caught and passed me. I remember thinking “she is running so smooth and easy – if I can just stay with her she will drag me across the finish line under 4 hrs”!

I dug deep and stayed with her through mile 21 but mile 22 was yet another BAH and as I struggled up that hill in 10:34 I watched her quickly leave my sad, tired, old butt behind. Not a damn thing I could do about it! I reached mile 22 in 3:21:29. I had 38 minutes to run the final 4.2 miles. Doable - but not with my legs. They were totally trashed and running on energy fumes! And there just wasn’t enough air/oxygen to light the fumes? I figured it was going to be very- very close! Maybe 4 hrs plus/minus one minute. So I kept plugging away and hoping for a miracle recovery over the final 4 miles? The course re-entered downtown Estes Park at mile 24 – time 3:40:13. But no miracles had occurred and now there wasn’t even any energy fumes left in the legs – there was nothing! I started to console myself that 4:01 wasn’t that bad? At mile 25 I was forced to go into ‘survival’ mode – i.e. try to finish the race ALIVE, w/o an injury and preferably w/o walking! At mile 26 there was a short steep hill from the bike path up to the high school. I didn’t think I could make it – I wanted to sit down and rest (and cry) for a few minutes before I tried to climb that mountain! All I can remember is some idiot volunteer shouting “just a short hill up to the track – you look good – you can make it”! I managed to answer “Well I feel like shit”!

Somehow I did make it up that hill and on to the school track. Normally I can muster up one final jolt of adrenaline to ‘sprint’ across the finish line. But not this day! All I could think as I struggled the final 400 yards was that I had certainly not left anything on the course today! I crossed the finish line in 4:02:11!

At first I was a wee bit disappointed that I had not finished under 4 hrs but then I confirmed that I had won my age group and was also told that I had set a new course record for the Senior/ROF (Real Old Farts) Division. I had beaten the old record by 7 minutes. So I guess I didn’t do too bad after all?
Now that I have run ‘the highest paved marathon in the world’ I figure I should change my mind and also run ‘the highest marathon in the world’ (Mt Everest) in the same year?

With the minor failure and major successes of this race I now feel that I am making some improvement/progress in my base/endurance conditioning. But my ability to run a fast pace for a long time is pitiful! Only speed work can correct this disability. To that end I have signed up for a very fast Half next weekend. It starts at 10,600 ft and drops 2000+ vertical ft over the first 12 miles. That should help improve my leg turnover and speed?

So stay tuned for the next race report – or obituary?


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Run the Rockies Half

Race Report
Sat, Jun 11/05
Run the Rockies
Frisco, CO
Half Marathon
1:50:38 - 2nd AG

Run the Rockies is one of my favorite Half Marathons in the High Country. The race starts at the base of the Copper Mtn ski resort (elevation 9700 ft) and runs downhill on a paved bike path to Frisco. The first 10K drops 600 vertical ft to finish in downtown Frisco (9100 ft). For those stupid enough to run the Half the next 11K runs through a series of rolling hills – many of them BAH (Bad Ass Hills) – on a bike path towards Breckenridge and then loops back on the same path to finish in Frisco.

We had rain and snow again on Fri night so it was sunny and a chilly 29F when 400 runners lined up at Copper Mtn for the 8:30 am start but it warmed up to a balmy 40F at the finish. I had set a goal of 1:50. I wanted to run under 1:45 but believed it was unrealistic to average an 8-min pace in my current marathon shape and the high altitude. Thus my strategy was to run sub 8s for the first 10 Km and then try to run 8:30/8:45s over the final 11K. At mile 2 I was averaging an 8:10 pace and sucking air desperately. Mile 3 was 7:30 and finally by mile 4 I had settled into an 8-min pace. I reached mile 6 in 47:32 and was wishing that I had signed up for the 10K and NOT the Half! But I needed the training/punishment/pain to beat the old bod into marathon shape – continue on! Mile 7 was fairly flat with a few hills – 8:46. Unfortunately mile 8 was all uphill and all I could manage was a 9:28 pushing as hard as I physically could! The pain level was increasing and my goal was not looking good? The hills continued and mile 10 was the toughest mile of the race – a very steep BAH! I managed to crest the top of that BAH in 9:31 but my legs were drained and my lungs were on fire! Thankfully mile 11 had a few downhills that allowed my legs to recover and my lungs to get some air/oxygen back into them –a 9:08 pace but the time was 1:32:38. I needed to run 8:45s for the final 2 miles – on dead legs and burning lungs?

Mile 11 was all downhill and I managed to push the pace back down to 8:14. But the time was 1:40:53 – only 9 minutes to finish the last 1.1 miles? I had noticed at least one or two ‘gray hairs’ or competitors in my age group on the return loop and I knew I could not catch them. But I wasn’t going to give up and continued to push as hard as I could but alas there just wasn’t enough energy in the legs and air in the lungs to hold an 8-min pace through the hills on the final mile and I crossed the finish line in 1:50:38.

I was neither surprised nor disappointed to learn that I had finished 2nd in my age group. I had figured a 1:45 would be needed for 1st place and that was the winning time. But I was disappointed in my time and performance. Even though I pushed as hard as I could and left nothing on the course I was not pleased with my progress and improvement. I guess I need to push harder in my training?
I WILL train/push harder this coming week to prepare myself for a very tough challenge next weekend – the highest paved marathon in the world!
Stay tuned for the next report.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Steamboat Springs Marathon

Sun, Jun 5/05
Steamboat Marathon
Steamboat Springs, CO
Marathon # 243
Time: 3:57:58 - 1st AG

This was a totally unplanned, impromptu race. There were so many reasons why I shouldn’t run a marathon:
Lack of training – I had run very few training miles since we returned from Europe due to that flu bug and the move from FL to CO
Only one week of altitude training/adjustment
I was in very poor marathon condition

But then again there were a few reasons why I should run a marathon:
I had logged 70 miles in the mtns in my first week in the High Country
What better way to correct all of the above than to run a tough, hilly marathon at high altitude?

Then Mother Nature added some additional concerns/reasons “not to run the marathon”. As you saw by the photos I sent, the weather was horrific for the two days before the race. It snowed Fri and Sat and was still snowing when we (the sports manager and I) left home for Steamboat Springs at noon on Sat. But the weather forecast called for sun and temps in the mid 60s on Sun? The snow soon changed to rain and we even had flashes of sun on the drive to Steamboat – until we drove up Rabbit Ears Pass (9,500 ft) where it was raining and the fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than 25 ft! When we arrived in Steamboat it was raining so I collected my race package and we secluded ourselves in the hotel. We were disappointed because we wanted to stroll and window-shop in Steamboat because it is such a nice place to visit – an old western town – now a ski resort village with lots of neat shops, bars and cafes. No such luck – it was still raining when we went for dinner. I was beginning to worry about the forecast – I did not want to run at high elevations in such terrible weather!

But the weather Gods smiled on us and it was sunny with few clouds when I lined up for the bus at 6am. The course is point-to point and starts at Hahn’s Peak (an extinct volcanic mtn) 26 miles northwest of Steamboat. It was sunny with a light breeze and temps in the mid 40s at the 7:30am start. The temps gradually warmed up to 60F when I crossed the finish line. What great weather for a race!
There were 500 runners in the Marathon and 900 in the Half. The race starts at 8128 ft – drops about 200 vertical ft over the first 3 miles and then climbs to the highest point of the course –8178 ft. at mile 4. The course then drops 1400 vertical ft over the next 17 miles although there are several rolling hills and many of them are BAH (Bad Ass Hills). Coming down off the BAH at mile 4 a runner with a gray hair and beard blew by me. Could he be in my age group? I decided to let him go. I ran this race last year with two mates from the UK. I had been in much better shape and had trained at high altitude for one month. I had started out too fast and struggled over the last 10K so I was determined not to make that mistake this year – especially for the reasons above. My goal was to finish under 4 hours so I tried to run a 9-min pace for the 1st Half. However the hills made it difficult/impossible to run a consistent pace so I decided to pace strictly off my heart monitor. It kind of worked as I passed 10 miles in 1:25 and the Half in 1:54. That was about 3 minutes faster than desired and I hoped it would not bite me in the ass later even though I felt strong and relaxed. I contemplated pushing the pace for the 2nd Half but wisely decided to wait till I reached mile 16 and then make the decision. However at mile fifteen I passed ‘Mr. Gray Beard’ and I decided to charge up the BAH at mile 15 to bury him! When I crested the top I continued to push the pace lest he try to catch me? But it didn’t last long! By mile 18 my legs started to feel tired and I decided to slow down to conserve energy for a really BAH starting at mile 21. I reached mile 20 in 2:57:20 but I was starting to struggle. Another competitor with gray hair blew by me – I had to let him go because I knew I could not survive a ‘running duel’ with 10K left to go!
The lack of training miles was staring to tell!

The course had dropped to 6700 ft at mile 21 and then climbed about 300 vertical ft over the next two miles. I struggled to run a 10:15 pace through those two miles. Finally I crested the BAH at mile 23. The last 5K dropped down to finish at 6728 ft in downtown Steamboat. The time was 3:27:44. All I had to do was run a 10-min pace for the final 5K? But there was no gas/energy left in the old legs and bod – and I was starting to have trouble sucking enough air to keep the legs moving. Only experience and will power kept the old, tired legs running/moving for the final 3 miles. When I saw the finish line with ½ mile to go I asked the old bod to give me one final jolt of adrenaline so I could push the pace and cross the finish line in 3:57:58!

After the obligatory photo at the finish line the sports manager drove me back to the hotel for a soothing hot bath and shower. I wanted to return to the finish line to see where I finished. I figured I had at least placed in my age group. I was surprised to discover that I had finished 1st! Mr. Gray Hair was a youngster in his 50s. We stuck around to collect my award since this race provides nice/practical awards – running gear!

From a race results viewpoint this looked like a successful race but from a personal point of view there was both Good and Bad news.
Good News:
I finished under my goal of 4 hrs
I won 1st place in my age group
I had no pain/problems with my left knee that had surgery in Feb
Bad News:
My time was 13 minutes slower than last year
I finished 119th overall vs 54th last year
My marathon shape can be summed up in one word– PATHETIC

I need to beat my pathetic, old, out-of-shape body back into marathon shape if I ever want to achieve my goal of running sub 3:30 marathons again! To accomplish this goal I have scheduled races (Halfs and Marathons at elevations from 8,500 to 13,800 ft) every weekend for the next month.

I am determined to beat this old bod into good marathon shape or KILL it – whichever comes first!
So stay tuned for more race reports – or an Obituary!