Wednesday, June 16, 2010

RR - Estes Park Marathon

Race Report
Sun, Jun 13/10
Estes Park Marathon
Estes Park, CO
Marathon #331
4:36:29 – 2AG

After my race in Steamboat Springs last week I was not looking forward to the marathon in Estes Park.
The Estes Park Marathon is billed as the ‘highest paved marathon in the world’ although I have informed them that billing is false. I have run two marathons that are higher: Bhutan and Colombia and am searching for a marathon in Bolivia that will surely be higher than both of them!
But the course is higher and harder than Steamboat Springs and I wasn’t confident that my legs had recovered? However we were looking forward to our visit to Estes Park. 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.

We drove via Denver to pick up our 4-Runner at a Toyota dealer where we had left it for a major tune up/maintenance for 100K miles. Since I drive the SUV on some difficult 4X4 roads into remote 14ers I am adamant that it always be in excellent mechanical condition. We continued our drive on through Boulder and approached Estes Park on Hwy 36 from the south east. It is a narrow winding road with some pretty scenery. It was raining when we arrived in Estes Park so we went to the school complex to pick up my race packet before we checked into our hotel. I had booked a nice hotel with great views of Estes Park and the mtns but it was a waste of money because it rained all weekend.

It was cold and rainy Sat afternoon so we didn’t even try to enjoy our usual stroll along Main St. We went for an early pasta dinner at Mama Roses hoping to enjoy the musicians along the Big Thompson River; however the River was only a few inches below flood stage and many sections of the bike path were sandbagged and closed down. So far the weather was wrecking a good weekend?

Sun was ‘M’day! The weather forecast called for cold temps and continued rain! Unfortunately it was accurate! It rained all night and was still raining when I left for the race at 6:15 am. The temp was 39F!
Now 39F can be pleasant for running – if it is sunny and dry! I often start my morning run in temps near 39F but it is sunny and warms up to the mid 50s by the time I finish. But believe me when it is 39F and rains hard constantly for 5 hrs - it is friggin COLD and MISERABLE! I would normally dress in a T-shirt and shorts for that temp but I wisely –and thankfully- had worn running tights, long-sleeve T-shirt and gloves. Even so I refused to get out of the car until 10 minutes before the start of the race. I wore a customary garbage bag to keep warm and dry with the expectation to discard it a few miles into the race.

As I lined up at the start line with about 200 other crazies/fanatics I seriously questioned my sanity and asked “what the Hell am I doing here”? We were soaked and cold when the race started at 7am! The race started at the public school complex (7550ft) and climbed 100 ft over the 1st mile. I ran this race two times previously and knew that 1st mile was difficult and resulted in lots of “sucking for air”. And based on my still-painful memory of going out too fast at Steamboat I decided to start slow – a 10-min pace. By the time we reached the top of that 1st hill and started a 200 ft descent on mile 2 we were totally soaked. The roads were covered in deep puddles and streams running off the mtns so my feet were soaked and frozen – and my gloves were also soaked and my hands frozen. I passed mile 2 in 20:16 and began a long, relentless climb to the highest elevation on the course (8150 ft) at Mile 6.
An old fart passed me at mile 3 and I let him go. Either I would see him later on the course or he would beat me? I was struggling just to maintain a 10:30 pace up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill). I reached a water station near 5 miles and tested the ‘green’ concept of the race. The race was advertised as a cup-free
(no paper cups) race. Instead each runner was given a ‘hydrapouch’ – a pliable, plastic pouch that held 6 oz of liquid. There were special dispensers (1 for water and 1 for Gatorade) located at each water station that filled the pouch in a few secs. They did work but this concept would never work for a large race – in the early part of the race there was a line up to fill up the pouches. I was leery of the concept. The pouch had a clip to clip it on to a waistband but running shorts don’t have a strong waistband so I was concerned about losing the pouch or having to carry it for the entire race. Instead I wore a waist belt with a water bottle and filled the bottle when necessary. Unfortunately at that 1st water stop my hands were so frozen that I couldn’t get the top of my water bottle and had to ask a race volunteer to fill my bottle so I could wash my 1st carbo gel down. That ‘concept/process cost me more than 2 min at that 1st stop – another reason it will never succeed! I considered discarding my ‘rain gear’/ garbage bag but it was still raining and I was still COLD! I figured if my T-shirt got soaked I could suffer hypothermia so I wisely decided to keep wearing the garbage bag!

I reached the top of that 1st BAH at Mile 6 in 1:05:51 – an average 11:00 min pace! Not good! The next 4 miles were a steep downhill that dropped 800 ft. In past races I hauled ass down that hill only to find my legs trashed by the time I reached the Half so this year I deliberately held my pace at 9:30 to reach Mile 10 in 1:43:29. Obviously a sub 10-min pace or 4:20 marathon wasn’t going to happen. The course passed through downtown Estes Park and climbed another hill along Hwy 36 before dropping down to Estes Lake (7420 ft) at the Half. I passed the Half in 2:15:20. A sub 4:30 marathon was now dubious – but I didn’t care – survival under those miserable conditions was becoming more important! There was a restroom located on the bike path at that location and I decided to make a major pit stop (still some lingering effects of the GI problem). Also my heart monitor was not working properly and I figured the strap needed to be adjusted. With a waist belt and garbage bag that required a major process to half strip and I wasn’t going to do that in the cold and rain. I lost 5 minutes to ‘necessities’ but when I hit the bike path again I felt much better and my heart monitor was reading accurately. It indicated that my heart rate was 10 bpm lower than my normal race level because of my slower pace.

I wasn’t concerned about the 5-min delay/penalty – it wouldn’t have much effect on my overall time or position in the race because the most difficult part of the race was about to begin! I started to climb another BAH at Mile 15 followed by a series of rolling hills. When I crested a hill at Mile 16 in 2:48:32 and a split of 10:50 I wondered why the rain suddenly started to sting/hurt so much? I looked down at the road and noticed ice crystals (sleet) bouncing of the asphalt! Oh Goody! Can these miserable conditions get any worse? Luckily there were only a few short bursts of sleet over the next few miles as I started the long relentless climb back to 8000 ft at 20 miles. Somehow I managed to hold a slow but steady 11:00 min pace up that long BAH as I passed many runners who had succumbed to walking!
I crested that BAH at Mile 20 in 3:33:37. Holy crap! 3:33:37! I am normally finishing or running the final mile in that time – and I still have 10K to go! My legs felt OK but a 1-hr 10K at 8000 ft wasn’t likely to happen so I would be lucky to finish under 4:40?

Mile 21 was downhill and gravity helped me lower the pace to sub 10 min before climbing another BAH that climbed back to 8000 ft at Mile 22. When I crested that BAH in 3:55:07 I noticed the old fart who had passed me at Mile 3. I used gravity again on the next downhill mile to catch and pass him at Mile 23 (4:04:45 and a split of 9:38). I realized that I needed to bury him quickly so I continued to push that sub 10-min pace up the final BAH at Mile 24 and down a steep hill to Mile 25 (4:23:58 and a split of 9:20). But now my legs were trashed! I sneaked a peak over my shoulder – the old fart was still chasing me and about 800 ft behind. There was only one thing I could do – call Maddog! I handed the final mile over to him and as expected he ignored the exhaustion in my wasted old legs – and he ignored their screams and cries as he continued to push the pace over the final mile. He refused to let that old fart catch him!
As we approached a short/steep hill at Mile 26 I sneaked a final glance behind – the old fart was still 800 ft behind! That was enough incentive for the old bod to provide one final jolt of adrenaline to push us up that hill and across the finish line on the school track in 4:36:29!

I waited for the old fart to finish 3 min later and learn that he was in the 50+ AG! Shit! Double SHIT! I nearly killed myself for nothing! I need to learn how to guess the ages of old farts better if I want to save myself a lot of pain and agony.

As I walked to the car for a camera for a finish line photo it finally stopped raining. I took a photo – still wearing my garbage bag – and waited for results to be posted. I wasn’t surprised. The results followed the typical pattern for this race. A fast, young runner in the 60+ AG usually finishes under 4:15 – the next two places finish close to 5 hrs – and everyone else finishes between 5 to 7 hrs! I finished in 2nd place! I was happy with my strategy and performance. I ran a smart race and managed to run a slow/smooth/steady pace throughout the race w/o any problems except for the needless pain over the final 5K. I wasn’t unhappy with my time but more discouraged/dismayed? I set the course record (4:02:11) for the 60+ AG five years ago and if this rate of time degradation continues due to age I will have a difficult time breaking 5 hrs when I turn 70!

After a long hot soak at the hotel the weather stayed nice (no rain) long enough for us to make a stroll along Main St and stop at the Estes Park Brewery for a few micro brew. But then the rain returned and continued to spoil our weekend and trip! We stayed in Estes Park Sun night with plans to visit RMNP on Mon on the drive home. The sun was actually shining on Mon morning when we stopped at the visitor’s center to learn that the Trail Ridge Road (12,000 ft) through the Park was closed due to heavy snow all weekend! We had to back track on back roads through Blackhawk to I70 and drive though 20 min of snow storms when we crossed the Continental Divide! Oh well – one bad visit/trip out of three ain’t so bad?

Fortunately the weather has improved in the High Country – sunny and mid 70s – as I contemplate concerns about my next race/challenge in 3 weeks. I rate the Leadville Trail Marathon as the 4th toughest marathon in the world! It starts/finishes in Leadville at 10,500 ft and climbs to a highest elevation of 13,200 ft at the top of Mosquito Pass at the Half. I will need to do some serious hill and trail training above 12,000 ft during the next few weeks. My plan is to go out my back door (9000 ft) and run the Ptarmigan trail that climbs 3500 vertical feet over 6.5 miles to Ptarmigan Peak (12,500 ft) – and then turn around and run back down! I will complete that run a few times plus a trial run on Mosquito Pass. That run starts at 10,000 ft and climbs 3200 vertical ft on a 4X$ road over 3 short/steep miles to the top of Mosquito Pass. Believe me – there is a lot of walking and ‘sucking for air’ involved in that run.

Are any of my readers interested in joining Maddog for a few ‘easy’ training runs during the next few weeks?

Stay tuned!

No comments: