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?


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