Saturday, August 27, 2005

Silverton Alpine Marathon

Silverton Alpine Marathon

Race Stats:
Sat, Aug 27/05
Silverton Alpine Marathon
Silverton, CO
Marathon #247
4:53:05 - 19th OA – 1st AG – 2nd Masters
New course record (60+)

This marathon was everything it was billed to be – a very difficult and challenging high altitude marathon. It is the 4th toughest marathon in the world based on Maddog’s rating scale! Extreme/exotic marathons such as Antarctica and the Sahara Desert do not compare in difficulty/challenge with a race like this. Is it strange or just coincidental that the first three on Maddog’s ‘Most Difficult’ List are also marathons in Colorado and all are courses above 13,000 ft? Anyways time to get on with the story.

I had missed the inaugural race last year due to a severely blistered foot at Pike’s Peak the week before so I was determined to erase the ‘no show’ from my record. I made the 6- hour drive to Silverton on Fri to pick up my race package and to drive part of the course. The course follows a circular loop out of Silverton through the San Juan Mountains as it passes through four old mining towns high in the mountains. The old mines are connected by a 4X4 road that is actually in pretty good shape. I only drove the last 7 miles of the course to realize that the roads were in better shape than expected and should allow for faster times than trails. I had researched the times for last year’s race and discovered that the winning time for my age group was 5:35. I figured I should be able to break 5 hours?

So I set three - er - 4 goals:
1) Win my age group
2) Finish under 5 hours
3) Place in the top three in the Masters Group
4) Run a race at very high altitudes as a good training run for Everest

The race started at 7am on Sat at Memorial Park in Silverton (9318 ft). The weather was sunny but a cool 38 F. I was still at my car double-knotting my shoes and making other last-minute preparations when the gun went off to start the race. I spent the first few miles just catching up and passing the last half of the field of 80 runners. By mile two I had settled into an easy 10-minute pace. The course climbed gradually (about 100 ft per mile) so I was quite happy and comfortable to average a 10-minute pace for the first 8 miles. I knew that pace wouldn’t last when we started the steep climb to California Pass at 13,000 ft!

The race director had recommended that all runners carry water and warm clothes because of the high altitudes. I had decided to wear a fanny pack to carry these supplies. By the time I reached the 2nd water stop at Eureka at 8 miles in 1:19:40 the pack was really bothering me and putting a strain on my back so I removed it and left it at the water station. I was already wearing my warm clothes (rain jacket and gloves) and figured I could just wrap them around my waist if it got too hot. Water did concern me because the water stations were only located every 4 miles and it could be a very long time between stations when you are climbing? I would have to make do somehow.

It turned out to be a wise decision because I was immediately 10 pounds lighter as the course began to climb 1200 vertical ft to the next water stop at Animas Forks (11,300 ft). I managed to run all of that 4-mile section in spite of some steep grades and reached mile 12 in 2:06:11. I forced myself to drink plenty of water and took a bottle of water with me as I departed for the next water station at the top of California Pass (13,000 ft). The course got ugly/steep very quickly as it climbed 1700 vertical feet over the next 4 miles! I was determined not to walk before I crossed the Half- marathon mark. But as soon as I reached that point I changed my strategy so that when the grade/slope was greater than 30 degrees I walked – whenever it was less I tried to run as long/far as I could until the legs refused to run/move anymore. When we reached mile 14 we could look up and see the road climbing to the top of California Pass at a steady 45 to 60 degree slope! What a bummer! There was not a lot of running on the next 2-mile section but I managed to pass about six young male runners half my age as we all struggled to the top of California Pass. I reached the Pass in 3:07:40 – it took 1:01:29 to run/walk those 4 miles! I had no problem forcing myself to drink plenty of water before beginning the descent down the other side of the Pass.

The course dropped about 800 vertical feet to Poughkeepsie Gulch. The slope was so steep that I lost control of my speed and momentum and as I approached the first switchback I couldn’t make the 90-degree turn! Oh shit! I was going so fast that I ran straight through the switchback. Miraculously the Running Angel was looking after me. There was about 25 ft of mountain on the other side of the switchback and fortunately it was a steep incline that allowed me to slow down and finally turn around and run back to the switchback. If there had been a cliff or drop-off on the other side of that switchback I would have ran straight off the mountain! Would have cut about 500 vertical feet and 5 minutes off the course though? That almost-fatal accident scared me enough to make me over-react. I started over-braking with my quads so severely that by the time I reached the bottom of Poughkeepsie Gulch it felt like my quads had been shredded to pieces. Fortunately the course then climbed another 400 vertical feet to the top of Hurricane Pass (12,600 ft). That climb relieved the stress on my quads and allowed them to recover.

Once we reached the top of Hurricane Pass the next/final 8 miles dropped 3,300 ft to the finish line. I passed mile 18 in 3:39:40 and at that point the road changed to a nice, smooth dirt road with a gentle slope of about 10 degrees. I decided to lift the legs - lengthen my stride and let gravity pull me down the mountain. I blew by another four young male runners on that section as I averaged a 9-minute pace. Doesn’t sound very fast but believe me after 18 miles and about 6000+ vertical feet of elevation change the legs were not feeling too springy or fast. Truth was they felt like they had been severely beaten with a 2X4? The dirt 4X4 road dumped out on to a main dirt road and another water station at mile 21 – time - 4:08:24. I had 50 minutes to run the last 5 miles? All I had to do was average a 10-minute pace?

I had driven those last 5 miles the day before and knew that the road was a gentle downhill. If I could just keep the legs moving gravity should help me maintain the required pace? I managed to hold a 10-minute pace over the next two miles and passed mile 23 in 4:28:24 but my legs were fading rapidly. When I reached the final water stop around 23.5 miles there was nothing left. But I couldn’t give up! As I pulled away from the water stop one of the young runners I had passed a few miles back caught up to me. As he passed me he shouted, “ I have no idea who you are Sir – but when I grow up I want to be just like you”! It was a nice compliment and it stirred up my competitive juices. I decided to dig deep, ignore the pain and push the pace for the final few miles. There were a number of small rolling hills over the next 1½ miles and each uphill felt like Mt Everest but I charged up each one as hard as I could knowing that the reward was a downhill on the other side. Unfortunately I could not find/see another mile marker in the last 3 miles and I had no idea what pace I was running so I just had to push the pace and hope that it was faster than 10 min/mile?

By the time I reached the point where the dirt road changed to pavement for the final mile I had passed and left my young protégé behind. That last mile of paved road dropped steeply at more than 10 degrees and my time was around 4:45. I knew sub-5hrs was in the bag if I could just keep the legs moving. So I focused every last once of energy fumes and willpower on lifting the legs – stretching my stride and letting Newton’s Law (gravity) pull me down that last hill and across the finish line in 4:53! I had done it!

My legs were so wobbly when I crossed the finish line that I could barely stagger around the park trying to suck some air/oxygen back into my lungs while trying to stop my legs from shaking. But I recovered quickly and soon made my way to the car to towel dry and change into dry clothes. I had to check out of the hotel and that meant no shower or hot bath to soak the legs before driving back to Silverthorne. I couldn’t wait for the awards ceremony so I checked with the race director to find out how I did. She was kind enough to check the results. My official finish time was 4:53:05 – I had finished 19th overall – 1st in my age group and 2nd in the Masters group! I had also established a new course record for my age group – the first one to break 5 hours!

Needless to say I was very pleased with my time and performance – I had achieved all four goals! The race director gave me my awards – race gear that is useful and practical – so that I could leave immediately. It took me 4:50 to drive 300 miles through several mountain ranges and passes to get back home in time for a neighbor’s birthday party. I don’t know which was harder – the 4:53 marathon or the 4:50 drive?

I am giving myself Sun off as a rest day because I plan to run/hike three difficult 14ers on Mon with my son Chris and then Chris and Jason and I plan to hike another 14er on Tue! These hikes will have to serve as my training runs for my next marathon next weekend. I am scheduled to defend my Senior Title at the American Discovery Trail Marathon next weekend in Colorado Springs.

Stay tuned for the next race report.


1 comment:

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