The last road marathon I ran was Boston 2014. Somehow in the past year, I had forgotten the pain of running over 26 miles on asphalt and decided it would be a great idea to run another one this past weekend in Steamboat. Never again, I say now. Check back on me in a couple years, though.
After running the ECSDC 50k in April, Dan and I took a week or so off from running and we both felt good physically, weren’t suffering from any training burnout, and started to witness so many friends crushing spring road races. We each got some new Adidas road shoes from my friend, Rob, and that combined with all the race hype was what we needed to get us searching for a race we could throw $100 at. We decided on the Steamboat Marathon because we had the weekend free and because it’s one of our favorite places and we have friends there. So, we pretty much gave ourselves the month of May to “train” and get ready for the race. I’ve got to say, I had some really great training runs in that month. Robyn and I did a handful of runs incorporating miles around 8 minute pace to simulate what could be goal race pace. I also had one of the best 20 milers of my life 2 weekends before the race. In addition to those confidence boosters, I also just had a lot of fun. A highlight was a couple great trail runs with Dan in Carbondale and Snowmass the last weekend of May. I was feeling pretty confident going into the race and felt like I was potentially in shape to PR (3:32). Good vibes!
On Saturday, we drove the course which starts 26 miles north of downtown at Hahns Peak. It’s pretty daunting driving that far and knowing you have to run it all back. The elevation profile for the course indicated that it would be mostly downhill (especially the first miles) with a few little rollers in there. Well, there was certainly plenty of downhill but there was also a lot of uphill. It was hard to find too many sections of the course that were just flat. Dan and I made mental notes of the terrain and I think it was a great benefit on Sunday knowing what to expect.
Race morning went smoothly. I had a bagel with avocado, coffee, a banana, and some Tailwind throughout the morning. We took the shuttles out to the start and had a little bit of a time to gear and sunscreen up before dropping off our bags. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky which made for lovely views, but a little cloud coverage would have been appreciated on a race day in June. It felt nice and cool at the start but I was worried about how it would feel in 3.5 hours.
I decided that for this race, I wanted to try taking gels at miles 5, 10, 15, 20. Even after all the races I’ve done, I still haven’t nailed nutrition/hydration. Spoiler alert: I didn’t figure it out during this one. The aid stations for this race were a little more spread out than what I’m used to for road marathons, with the first one around mile 3. I decided since there wasn’t an aid station at mile 5 when I wanted to take a gel, sooner would be better than later so I would take my first fuel at mile 3. I like taking gels with water (rather than sports drink because I hate the sugary feeling on my teeth) so that was my plan and as I came up to the aid station already eating the gel, I called out for water. There were some sweet Boy Scouts out there volunteering and one of them handed me Powerade instead of the water I asked for. Rather than just drinking it or stopping to get water from someone else, I just threw the Powerade out and ran on. Bad choice. We got to the second aid station at around 6.5 and I was thirsty and ready for a drink. It was around this time that I made a friend (Hey, Kevin!) and we chugged along together for awhile. In my mind, I was thinking that if I was able to hold a conversation with him, I was running a pace conservative enough for the first half of the marathon. Not so sure that was true and I was probably going a little faster than I should have been at that point. But I really wanted the company – I was getting lonely out there!
I ran miles 1-13 at about an 8:00 minute average, with variances for the hills, and was hopeful that it would be my day! I did plenty of mental math and thought about how I’ve never negative split a marathon before, but figured that I’d still have enough wiggle room to come in under 3:35 even if I slowed down a bit. I felt pretty good at the halfway point but not super excited to run 13.1 more. Things slowly started to get harder and harder after that. It was right past the halfway point that I started getting pretty thirsty and anxious for an aid station I was expecting around mile 15. We finally reached one at 16ish and I grabbed a couple cups of water and some Honey Stinger chews. But as soon as I drank the water, I was thirsty again. Shortly after this aid station, Kevin and I parted ways and I was on my own. By my lonesome, I somehow managed to pick off a few people (including 2 women I saw run ahead of me at the start and vowed to find again later) in the last 10 miles which was surprising and gave me a bit of a boost.
I would say I hit the wall around mile 21. I didn’t necessarily slam into it but I had to work really hard to keep moving. At one point when I was thinking about how much I hated that highway 129 we had been running on for 20 miles, I heard a “Go, Jules!” from ahead and I was like “Whaaat?! There’s another Jules? Where? There’s a woman around me?” And then I realized that it was ME that Paul and Morgan were cheering for! What an awesome surprise! It was so great to see them but hard to watch them drive away in their car when I was still running. And by the way, I do not actually hate that highway at all. It’s a beautiful road that makes for an awesome course.
The last 4-5 miles, I was so thirsty I thought I might actually dry up and wither away. I’d take a couple cups of water at every aid station, but it was never enough. In a particularly desperate moment, I almost asked an old lady biking on the sidewalk if she had water she could give me. My mouth was so dry that I couldn’t lick my lips or swallow. I’ve never had that happen to me in a race and I hope that I learned enough from this one that it never does again.
At around mile 24, we finally turned off of highway 129 to head in toward town and while that was such a relief, those were two very long miles. I just kept telling myself that at the finish line there would be all the water I could drink and there would also be Dan and friends. I had no finish line kick to give and I crossed the line in 3:40.
Going into this race, I really didn’t know what time to expect. I gave myself a wide range of 3:29 (if it was the best day of my life and all the stars aligned) to 3:45. So, I finished within the realm of expectations but was not super excited about my time. I did manage to end up 8th woman and 2nd in my age group which is cool. As people have asked me about it, I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve responded with it was “good, not great” a lot. I really am happy with my effort – I went for it! But, I just fell a little short on execution this time.
I learned a lot from this one and took away nuggets that will help me be a better racer. First, hydration is KEY. Especially during a race in June. I needed to be drinking both sports drink and water at every stop. Dehydration is really hard to come back from. It’s also made recovery tougher too and it’s part of the reason that everything on me hurt so damn bad for a couple days following the race. Second, altitude does make things harder but I shouldn’t be too scared of it. The race started above 8,000 feet and while I noticed that I had to work a bit harder to hit certain paces, it’s not like I was gasping for air the whole race. Finally, holy shit trail racing is so much more fun. Racing a road marathon straight up hurts me and I don’t enjoy it as much. I’m glad I got another marathon out of my system to confirm what I already knew – I’m made for the trails!
It was a lovely weekend in a beautiful place with awesome friends. My only real regret (besides throwing out that Powerade) was that Dan and I couldn’t stay longer after the race. I recommend this marathon, just know what you’re getting yourself into! It can be fast for some people (ahem, Dan), but be prepared to work for it.