Monday, September 18, 2006

RR Crested Butte

Race Report
Mountain Air Marathon
Crested Butte, CO
Sun, Sept 17/06
3:52:43 9th OA – 3rd Male – 1st AG

Why did I run this marathon? I seriously asked myself that question when I lined up on the start line on Sun morning. It was not on my race calendar. It was a last minute decision based on a good race the previous weekend in Vermont and a personal goal/desire to run every marathon in Colorado. The Mountain Air Marathon was held in Crested Butte, CO which is a pretty area in southwest CO and close to Black Canyon National Park that we wanted to visit. So I registered on Tue and then watched the weather forecast become very ugly! It called for a deep freeze to hit the Rocky Mtns over the weekend with snow and temps plunging into the 20s. Oh Goody!

Thus we left Summit County on Sat morning in a blizzard – the 1st snowstorm of the season to reach down into the valley – and a definite sign that it is time for us to return to Florida! As we drove south we escaped the snowstorm but noticed that the peaks were covered with a nice new blanket of white powder. And the temps continued to plunge! We arrived in Gunnison, CO in time for lunch and picked up my race packet before exploring Crested Butte and Gunnison. It was the end of the tourist season but we didn’t expect the towns to be completely ‘dead’. We had planned to stay two nights but decided one night would be enough. We would visit the Park on the way home on Sun. We drove the marathon course to check it out. It was a point-to-point course starting in Crested Butte (8880 ft) and ended at the Mountaineer Bowl at Western State College in Gunnison (7700 ft). The first 20 miles was along the paved shoulder of Hwy 135 from Crested Butte to Gunnison. There were several rolling hills but no nasty hills (no BAHs). At 20 miles the course finally left the Hwy and turned on to a side road for the final 10K into Gunnison and the finish line in the stadium. It seemed to be a relatively easy course except for the altitude?

After our traditional pasta dinner on Sat we checked the weather channel. The news was BAD/UGLY! The temps were forecast to plunge into the low 20s and the marathon started at 7am in Crested Butte so it was going to be very COLD! I prayed that the 20 to 30 mph winds that had prevailed all day Sat would stop? I had wisely packed cold-weather running gear but was still not eager to run this race.

It was bitterly cold when we left the hotel in Gunnison at 6am for the drive to the start line – temp was 19F! When we arrived at the start line in Crested Butte the temp had soared to a balmy 21 F. I refused to get out of the car until a few minutes before the start – I was not too enthused about running this race and kept asking myself that opening question: “what am I doing here”? I asked the sports manager if she would take my place? Her response “I’m not crazy – maybe I am – because I should be in a warm bed”!

I wore polypro tights and top with a 2nd layer (T-shirt) on top plus a green garbage bag to trap my body heat. Of course I wore gloves and for only the 2nd race in my life I wore a hat/tuque to keep my body heat from escaping through my head. We were lucky – the winds had calmed to 5/10 mph so the wind chill was only 15 F! Fifty runners had registered for the marathon but only 35 ‘crazies’ showed up at the start line. Sissies!

I tried to take off with the lead pack but my legs were cold and stiff and my lungs were burning from the cold, thin air and all I could manage was a 9-min pace for the first 2 miles? I finally started to warm up and lowered the pace to 8:30s. When I reached mile 5 in 42:38 the sun started to rise and the temps warmed up quickly to the mid 20s and I discarded the garbage bag and tuque. By that point the race positions had already been established. I had lost sight of the lead pack already but there were 6 runners about ½ mile in front of me. I felt confident that I could/would pass all of them before the end of the race. I passed four of them before I reached the Half in 1:51:44. When I passed mile 16 in 2:17:00 I realized that I had slowed to a 9-min pace and the two runners in front were leaving me behind. I was alone and there wasn’t much motivation to push the pace - and hurt. I tried to push the pace just to reach the 20-mile marker and get off the Hwy but the old legs refused to go faster than 9min/mile? I wasn’t sure if it was the altitude or the marathons the previous two weekends (or both) but my legs were wasted?

I finally passed mile 20 in 2:53:34 and turned off the Hwy on to the side road. I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me. The race was just starting and I was hurting! I repeated the opening question many times to myself! I knew that I was winning my age group and decided that my finish time was not important (as long as it was under 4 hours). I calculated that a 10-min pace would get me to the finish line under 4 hrs so I decided to let my tired/wasted old legs set a pace that they felt comfortable with. That strategy/relief only lasted for 1 mile! At mile 21 I could see two runners in front of me again – they were about ½ mile ahead and slowing. I decided to pull them in. I tried to push the pace but all the push that was left was a 9:15 pace. I passed the 1st runner as he walked up a short steep hill at mile 23. When I crested the hill I couldn’t see the other runner which meant I was not going to catch him/her (turned out to be a her) and I reverted back to my previous strategy. I was now more concerned about my wasted old legs recovering for a marathon next week in Nebraska. I switched to ‘survival’ mode and slowed my pace to 9:45s for the last 5 Km. As I struggled up the final short steep hill into the Mountaineer Bowl I finally removed my 2nd layer T-shirt (it was a toasty 35F at the finish) so they could see my race number as I crossed the finish line in 3:52:43!

After a few finish line photos we returned to the hotel for a long HOT soak in the tub. It was soooooooooooooooo wonderful. Not only did it soothe my tired/wasted legs but I was WARM for the first time that day! We returned to the stadium to check the results and arrived just as my name was being announced – I assumed for 1st in Age Group? Surprise! I had indeed won my age group and I also was the 3rd male finisher! Notice that I did not say 3rd Overall as one would expect? Confused? So was I until I looked at the results. The top three and top 6 out of 8 finishers were females! I was the 3rd male across the finish line and 9th place Overall! In 271 marathons I have never seen a race with results like this? The women handed the men their asses on a silver platter in this race! I asked the race director who the ‘fast’ ladies were? There is a group of very good female athletes/ runners/triathletes/skiers in Crested Butte. I am convinced! No need for any of my single friends to move there – you would never be able to catch any of the females!

After collecting another beer mug for all my painful efforts we left for Black Canyon National Park located 60 miles west of Gunnison. It is a canyon that has been cut into the Rocky Mtns by the Gunnison River over the past 20 million years. It is 50 miles long with steep/sheer walls over 2700 ft and very narrow – ¼ mile from rim to rim at its narrowest point! The rugged views are spectacular but the visit is not for those with acrophobia or any problems with heights because the trails and viewpoints are perilously close to the edges of the canyon. But it is well worth a visit! We visited the south rim that has the most spectacular views.

We then drove home through the back roads of western Colorado. This lengthened the journey but we saw a lot of CO that we had not visited before. When we arrived home we immediately turned the furnace up and the fireplace on, opened a bottle of wine and toasted our feet and bods in front of the fire! I may stay there until we leave on Fri?

Although the race did take a toll on my old legs I am hoping that if I reduce my training miles this week and taper that they can recover enough to carry me through a good race at the Omaha Marathon next weekend? We plan to leave the High Country on Sept 22 and drive a northern route across the US through Nebraska so that I can run the Omaha Marathon on Sun and complete my 45th State (2nd loop).

Stay tuned for the race report (from sunny and WARM Florida).

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