Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RR- Estes Park

Race Report

Sun, June 16/08
Estes Park Marathon
Estes Park, CO
Marathon #305
4:13:39 – 1 AG

The “highest paved marathon in the world” so the race brochure claims? Even though it is a tough, hilly course with elevations between 7420 to 8150 ft I like visiting the town of Estes Park and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. I planned to use the race as part of my high altitude training program but little did I foresee the obstacles and difficulties in getting to the start line?

First I had been struggling with severe pain in both my lower back and left foot since my last marathon two weeks ago. Then I had to interrupt my altitude training for one week while the Sports Manager and I traveled to Seattle to look after our son who got T-boned by a truck while riding his bike. Luckily the only serious injury he suffered was a broken kneecap! But the week in Seattle negated what little altitude acclimation I had attained and I was only able to run twice because of the injuries and the miserable weather in Seattle. We returned to the High Country on Thu before the race and I ran my ‘favorite’ hill loop on Fri to test my injuries in the hills. That short run went OK so we left for Estes Park on Sat.

Estes Park 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. After registering and picking up my race packet we strolled along the shops on Main Street and enjoyed a pasta dinner at Mama Roses (the main race sponsor) overlooking the Big Thompson River.

On Sun I had to get up two hours before the race to apply heating pads to both my back and foot to ease the pain enough so that I could make it to the start line. I ran this marathon three years ago and set the course record (4:02) for the 60+ AG. (See archives – June 2005). I knew there was no way I could even consider challenging my own record due to the above factors but I hoped that if I ran a smart race I could at least run a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time of 4:15? The weather was perfect for running – sunny and a temp of 50F at the 7am start and temps in the mid 60s at the finish. There were about 150 runners in the Marathon and 300 in the Half. There were several runners from the 50 States Club and one runner from the Country List – Andy Kotulski.

The marathon started at 7600 ft and the first mile was uphill so I started real slow and still I was sucking desperately for air until I reached Mile 1 and started the second mile downhill. I passed Mile 3 in 28:01 and then the fun began! Miles 3 through 6 climbed 550 ft to the highest point of the course (8150 ft)! I struggled to hold a 10:30 min pace up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill) and reached Mile 6 with a 10:59 split – my slowest split of the race! But even more disturbing was the time of 1:00 – 6 min slower than when I ran the course record. At that pace any hope of a BQ time was gone? The only good news at that point was that the endorphins had killed all the pain in my back and foot. The back felt fine and the foot felt uncomfortable/not normal but OK – no pain? Fortunately the next 3 miles were downhill and I stretched out my stride and let gravity pull me down the hill at an 8:30 pace. When I reached Mile 10 in the center of Estes Park in 1:34:55 I figured I was back on a BQ pace as I continued through a series of rolling hills to Mile 12. The next two miles along Estes Lake were the only section of the course that was flat – and also the lowest elevation of the course at 7,420 ft.

I passed the Half in 2:03:44. I knew the 2nd Half would be much slower because there were more BAHs in that Half and altitude really starts to have a negative effect as mileage increases. However I felt good and I figured if I could run the 2nd Half in 2:10 – a 10 min pace – I could achieve my goal of a BQ finish time? The challenge began on a BAH at Mile 15 (9:59 split) and continued through a series of short rolling hills to Mile 17 (2:41:18). I was still on a BQ pace but I remembered the next three miles – the toughest part of the course! It climbed relentlessly for three miles back to 8000+ ft!
Once again I struggled to hold a 10:30 min pace up that BAH. I passed a lot of runners who were walking and almost succumbed myself before I crested the BAH at Mile 20 in 3:13:07 and a split of 10:47. I had 1 hour to run the final 10 Km! Mile 21 was downhill so once again I was able to stretch out my stride and let gravity assist and give my legs a chance to recover.

As I screamed down the hill in a blazing 8:53 split I was not happy to see another BAH facing me at Mile 22 that climbed back up to 8000 ft? Damn – I didn’t remember that final BAH! I struggled up that BAH in 10:51 – my slowest split of the Half – and reached Mile 22 in 3:32:52. I had 42 minutes to run the final 4.2miles! The good news was that the course dropped almost 500 ft over the next two miles and I was able to reach Mile 24 on the bike path along Estes Lake in 3:52:00. I had 23 minutes to run the final 2.2 miles! However the bad news was that my legs were trashed from the hills and altitude – I had no energy left and the final two miles climbed gently about 100 ft to the track at the high school!

I was too close to give up and I realized the only solution was to call in the Big Dog – er – Maddog and hand the race over to him! He has an uncanny/unbelievable ability to focus so strongly that he can shut down every non-essential part of my body not needed to run to conserve energy and he can block out all pain and the outside world. It’s like I am inside some kind of protective cocoon where there is no pain or distractions as I float toward the finish line? Only when I passed Mile 25 in 4:01:09 and a split of 9:08 did I finally have confidence that a BQ time was in the bag! I could walk/crawl the last mile in 14 minutes! I asked Maddog to ease off the pace and let me cruise to the finish line. The only remaining obstacle that I remembered (too well) was a short steep hill from the bike path up to the school at Mile 26. That damn hill felt like Mt Everest (again) but I struggled up it and entered the track at the high school. I managed to shuffle the wasted old legs the final 200 yards to cross the finish line in 4:13:39! Once I crossed the finish line I barely had enough energy to walk through the finish chute. But I felt good because I knew that I had left absolutely nothing on the course!

The Sports Manager had arrived at the finish line only a few minutes before me and after the obligatory finish line photo and a short walk in the infield to hydrate and recover I tried to check the results. They had not been posted yet so I decided to try a short massage in the hope that it would prevent the back and foot from flaring up again? Strangely they both felt OK at that time. However the second I layed down on the table both cramped and locked up! Fortunately the masseuse was able to work the cramps out and the foot felt much better but the back continued to hurt like Hell! I have appointments with docs in the next two weeks to check out the problems/injuries. I am hoping for a miracle/quick fix since my next marathon is in three weeks?

Just as I was crawling off the massage table they announced the awards for my Age Group. I finished 1st AG and at that time nobody else in my AG had even crossed the finish line. I later learned that 2nd and 3rd place finished exactly one hour behind me!
I was happy with my time and performance. Although I finished 10 minutes behind my own course record I ran ‘smart’and accomplished two things I had not been able to do the first time - I ran the entire course and finished with a BQ time! Even Maddog was pleased with my performance (all due to his assist at the end of course!).

We stayed in Estes Park one more day to enjoy a nice victory dinner and the next day we drove home through Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the magnificent scenery and wildlife. I took some photos that I already shared with my readers.

Now it time to visit doc/quacks and hope that I can heal in time for my next race.

Stay tuned!

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