Monday, July 10, 2006

RR Copperman Marathon

Race Report
Copperman Marathon
Copper Mountain, CO
Sun, July 9/06
4:15:33 - 4th OA – 1 AG

After the disappointing collapse and DNF in my last marathon at Estes Park in June I had mixed emotions going into the Copperman Marathon. It was a new/inaugural marathon for Summit County and since it is the only marathon in the County I must consider it my hometown race for Colorado. Thus I wanted to do good but had concerns:
a) Was I truly over the strange virus/bug that had knocked me on my butt?
b) Copperman was advertised as a very tough high-altitude race.

The marathon started in Copper Mountain, Co (elev 9600 ft) and climbed 1500 ft over 7.5 miles to the top of Vail Pass (11,100 ft) then dropped 2000+ vertical ft over the next 6 miles to a turn-around point where the course returned to Copper Mountain on the same route! The whole course was either up or down – very few flat sections – with a total elevation change of more than 8,000 ft and an average elevation higher than 10,000 ft!
The weekend before the race I ran the last 6.5 miles of the course from the finish line to the top of Vail Pass and drove the middle 6 miles from Vail Pass to the turn-around point.
It was indeed a tough course as advertised. There were 5 miles of paved bike path that climbed gradually from Copper to a dirt 4X4 road called the Shrine Pass Road that climbed steeply for 1.5 miles to the top of Vail Pass. That was the easy section of the course! The next 6 miles dropped 2000+ ft on the Shrine Pass Road through the Sawatch Range and the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Around 13.5 miles the course turned around and returned to Copper Mountain. The scenery was beautiful including spectacular views of the Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005 ft) a 14er that brought back vivid memories of the day that I inadvertently hiked down the North Face in haste to escape a dangerous thunderstorm – only to find myself trapped at the bottom of the mountain! As many of you will recall I was forced to spend the night on Holy Cross (dressed in shorts and T-shirt) and hike back up the mountain and finally out to safety the following morning (see ‘A Night on the Mountain – Aug 2003’).

Since I completed my ‘practice’ run in 2:12 I set a target of 4:30 for the race but expected to finish closer to 5 hrs? As race day approached I became concerned about the weather. The July monsoons had moved into CO and it was raining every day. The weatherman was forecasting sunny and dry weather for the weekend – he was wrong! It rained steady for the two days before the race. This is unusual for CO – we normally only get afternoon thunderstorms and rain but the rain wouldn’t stop? Now it was forecast to rain all weekend. The race would be miserable!

However as I drove over to Copper Mountain early Sun morning the skies were overcast - but no rain! The bad weather had scared away many runners and only 15 runners lined up at the start line for the 8 am start. The temperature was a pleasant 50F and never warmed up above 58F – great weather for racing! I was concerned about water on the course so I checked with the race director. He advised that me that there would be water every 3 miles except for the bike path that had a 4-mile stretch w/o water. I decided not to carry water with me – that turned out to be a bad mistake!

The race started about 1 mile East of the finish line in Copper. This meant a longer run to the top of Vail Pass and a longer run down Shrine Pass Road to add the extra mile to the 2nd Half. My plan/strategy was to run a 10-min pace on the 1500 ft climb up the bike path to the top of Vail Pass so that I could conserve energy and hopefully run the whole course? When I passed the 1st place female (half my age) at mile 5 in 47:57 I decided to make her chase me through the race. I reached the top of the bike path at 6 miles (58:32) and started up the Shrine Pass Road. The 4X4 road was muddy and slick from all the rain but the footing was still much better than a trail. I passed a male runner near the top of Vail Pass and calculated that I must be in 5th or 6th place Overall. I reached the top of Vail Pass near 7.5 miles in 1:16 and was forced to stop at the water station because they did not have any water ready. From that point on I ran the rest of the race alone except when I passed runners coming in the opposite direction!

I started down the 2000+ ft descent on Shrine Pass Road. I wanted to run an easy 8-min pace but my first mile was a blazing 6:59 – way too fast especially when I was still above 10,800 ft! I tried to slow down but still averaged 7:30s over the next 3 miles. And no water! I had run over 4 miles and no water! I was so focused on my pace and concerned about the lack of water that I didn’t even notice the spectacular views of Holy Cross as I screamed down Shrine Pass Road – probably saved me a lot of painful memories? As I reached mile 12 in 1:50:40 I passed the two lead runners returning on the course. They informed me that there was a water stop at 12.5 miles. At that point they had a 3-mile lead on me and were running smooth and easy up the 2000 ft ascent on Shrine Pass Road so I knew I would never see them again! Turned out that they ran across the finish line together and tied for 1st place in 3:35.

Thankfully there was a water stop at 12.5 miles but that was 5 miles from the last water stop. I stopped and washed down a carbo gel with 16 oz of water to make sure I stayed hydrated. I also took time to ask the race volunteer to contact the race director and demand that he add another water stop in that section of the course. Unfortunately she had no way to contact the race director so that meant there would be no water stop on the return leg! I passed a 3rd runner around mile 13 and he informed me that I was in 4th place Overall. He had a 1-mile lead on me so it was doubtful I could catch him unless he crashed?

I passed the Half in 2:00:27 – much faster than expected/planned. But I had no false illusions/fantasies of running the 2nd Half that fast. I was hoping to ‘run’ all of the 2nd Half but really didn’t believe that was going to happen? I reached the turn-around point near 13.5 miles and began the long, grueling and painful climb back up to the top of Vail Pass. I met the lead female shortly which meant I only had about ½ mile lead on her and near mile 14 I met three more runners. I had a 1-mile lead on them but I needed to ‘run’ the ascent up to Vail Pass if I wanted to stay in front of those runners!

I stopped at the water station to guzzle down another 16 oz of water to prepare for the long climb back up to the top (w/o water). I was really concerned about the health of the slower runners who might take 2 hrs to complete that section w/o water? I managed to keep the legs churning/running until mile 15 (2:21:02) but then I hit a very steep hill and the lungs just couldn’t suck in air fast enough to keep the legs churning. Time to revise my strategy. I decided to ‘walk’ all the steep sections and run everything else! Using this strategy I managed to run/walk a 12-min pace over mile 16 but then the lungs started having difficulty supporting the legs after 2 to 3 min of running. Revision #2 required! I decided to run until the lungs couldn’t keep up with my legs and then walk for a minute to recover – except for the steep sections where I would walk the whole section! Using this strategy and process I was able to maintain a 12-min pace over the next 4 miles except for two very long, steep sections where I slowed to a painfully slow 13-min pace! I was going so slow that I kept looking over my shoulder fully expecting to see the lead female and even other runners closing in on me. But I never saw a soul on that 6-mile climb up the mountain? I assumed they were having as much fun and difficulty with the hills and altitude as me?

Finally I reached the top of Vail Pass again at 20 miles in 3:22:34. I had to stop at the water station and wake the race volunteer up because she was sleeping in her car? After washing a carbo gel down with another 16 oz of water I was ready to tackle the 1500 ft descent over the final 10K to the finish line. Still no sign of any runners behind me!

I wasn’t sure how much was left in my legs after that grueling climb but I knew that I had to give my legs a chance to recover so I tried to run an easy 8:30 to 9-min pace on the steep section down Shrine Pass Road. I reached mile 21 in 8:32 and the legs stared to feel better. When I reached the water station at the entrance to the bike path I stopped again for water and to request that the volunteer contact the race director and advise him to get another aid station out on the course.

I still couldn’t see any runners behind me so I started down the bike path at an easy 9-min pace. I passed mile 22 in 3:40:51. Still no runners behind me and I was starting to hurt and wanted/needed to slow down so I began to calculate. My target/goal of 4:30 was in the bag even if I crawled – if I slowed down to a 10-min pace I could finish close to 4:20.
I tried to slow down and was thus surprised when I reached mile 23 in 8:32? But then I stole a glance behind me – I could see the lead female and she was closing on me – fast! Where in the Hell had she come from? The answer was obvious – she was hauling ass down the bike path and would catch me if I also didn’t haul ass! I needed to haul ass to keep my 4th place position but wasn’t sure if there was any ‘haul ass’ left in my legs - especially for another 3 miles?

There was only one answer! Call on Maddog! I handed control over to him knowing that “Hell will freeze over” before he would allow a woman to pass him at the end of a race!
He responded immediately by lowering the hammer and pace to 8:15s over the next two miles. Our luck with the weather finally gave out around mile 24 and it started to rain. When I reached mile 25 in 4:06 it was pouring but I couldn’t see the lead female behind me anymore – but I knew she was still coming and hauling ass – because that is what I would do! I was hurting so badly and desperately needed to slow down to let my legs recover. I wanted to cruise to the finish line – but not Maddog! He started screaming one of his favorite phrases “Quit whining – any old fool can hurt for a measly 8 minutes”! And that is exactly what he did – he lowered the pace to 8:01 over the final mile while I used every last once of willpower to block out the pain and hang on for the ride! As I passed mile 26 in 4:14:01 and crossed a covered wooden bridge into the village center of Copper Mountain I could hear the race director announcing my name and I thought I heard someone shouting my name? But I was so focused on blocking the pain and reaching the finish line that I couldn’t see anything or anybody – except the finish line!

Only after I crossed the finish line and stopped to allow my aching/burning lungs to suck up some much-needed air/oxygen was I able to look up and notice my neighbors, Stinky and Karen - standing in the rain and cheering for me. Stinky is a minister and had told me that he would be in Copper Mountain on Sun morning for a sermon so I asked him to be near the finish line around noon in case I needed ‘last rites’ administered? Thankfully there was no need but I did thank them for their support and cheers. Perhaps I should consider hiring them as ‘new’ sports managers – after all the regular sports manager was not standing in the rain cheering me across the finish line? She was still home in bed – claimed she never heard me get up and leave at 7am?
Ummmmm! Maybe it is time for a new sports manager?

I finished the marathon in 4:15:33 – much faster then expected. Results were never posted at the finish area but I confirmed that my time was good enough for 4th Place Overall. The 1st place female finished 3 minutes later. I also won 1st place in my Age Group and because it was an inaugural marathon have the honor of holding the course record for at least one year. After collecting my award(s) – running gear that I consider a useful award - and granting a brief interview to the local press I was ready for the best reward of the day – a long, hot soak in the hot tub with a few Colorado microbrews!

I have no more races scheduled before my trip to Europe and Greenland in late July but I may slip in a Half Marathon in Vail in a few weeks as a tune up race before I leave.

Stay tuned for the next race report.

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