It’s Sunday afternoon, March 4th, and I’m sitting on the couch thinking about how the past two Saturdays I had cut my planned long runs short. I had plenty of excuses for why I did this, the main one being that I had to run alone. I was a few miles away from my third 50+ mile week in a row. And even though I know that is a lot of miles for me, I wasn’t giving myself any credit – Dan can run so many more miles, Robyn can too; why am I so tired? So, I looked at the calendar and realized that the Run through Time trail marathon was the next Saturday in Salida and it just so happened that there were only 3 spots left in the marathon. Dan left for yoga and by the time he got back, I was registered and recruiting Kevin to run too. I thought that by running a race, I would at least be guaranteed to get a good long run in and maybe that would stoke some early-season fire for me.
Because I hadn’t run on trails for a month, I headed out on South Table, planning to do an easy 5-6 miles to cap off my week. The ascent up the mesa was hard – I had been averaging less than 3,000 feet of climbing in the previous weeks, so my climbing legs were dormant. But once I got up top, I had a blast! I had forgotten how much I love trails. Running roads is a means to an end for me, I do it for convenience and ease and to get in miles, but it’s not really what fills me up. So, 7.3 miles later, I got back home and was completely energized and excited for the race the next weekend.
- Monday: Off.
- Tuesday: I went out in the morning for an easy run along the creek and felt like I had never run before. Everything was creaky and I did 4.2 miles instead of 6, like planned.
- Wednesday: It was time for another NP5280 Sunrise 6k! We got there early enough to do a 2+ mile warmup before the 6:00am start at Cheesman Park. I ran one fast (sub-7) mile and then reigned it back in. I felt like I was working really hard to breathe, but legs felt okay. 3.6 miles at 7:09/mile pace.
- Thursday: I promised a good sunrise for PG on Thursday, and boy did it deliver. I loved this morning hanging out with a crew of some newbies plus some crusher gals. I took it easy (5.6 miles) then went out for a 20-minute shakeout in the afternoon.
- Friday: The Friday afternoon yin class with Jerrod at Kindness Yoga is always a treat, and I was happy to use this time to chill out before the race.
Total: 18 miles
- 3:45am: My alarm goes off. I get dressed in clothes I laid out the night before, fill bottles, make coffee (after dumping the coffee Dan prepared to make me all over the floor…) and a PBJ bagel.
- 4:15am: We leave to pick up Kevin.
- 4:20am – 6:45am: Drive to Salida; drink a lot of water and Gatorade; eat most of the bagel. Listen to Kev describe the entire story line and history of Hamilton.
- 6:50am – 7:40am: We arrive at the Steam Plant with plenty of time; pick up bib; roll out feet and butt, stretch, activate glutes; drink more Gatorade and water.
- 7:45am: Everyone walks over the railroad tracks to the start line in the dirt.
- 8:00am: Gun goes off.
Miles 1-3 were mostly flat on a dirt road loop before heading out on the single track. I was first woman for a little bit in here and made a friend named Tanner. I saw Dan around mile 2 before he left for his own run. It was a gorgeous morning, and I was feeling good.
At mile 3, we got on the single track to head up the mountain. I had been having fun talking to Tanner but I had to let him go so I wouldn’t work too hard at the start. I also let a woman go ahead of me, so I was running in 2nd (I shouldn’t say I let her go – she went past me like I was standing still). This section through mile 7 wasn’t terribly steep, but it was fairly technical. From not running trails, I felt so clumsy trying to run the techy sections and like my feet were 3 sizes bigger than they are. At mile 5, I thought, well, you’re cashed already. This should be fun. But, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other – walking when I needed to try to get my breathing under control (this is harder to do when you’re running above 7,000 feet in elevation!). I kept seeing out of the corner of my eye two women not too far behind me. Great, that means I can’t let up.
Mile 7 started a big climb. I had run this race in 2015 so I thought I knew what to expect but this part of the course was completely different. I thought that we were going to be hitting a smooth jeep road and would be on that for the majority of the climb and I was ready for that! But instead, we were on a rocky double-wide trail that I did not like. I kept repeating to myself, you’re just getting the hard stuff over with. The first half is all climbing then you get to go down. The part you’re good at is still coming up. It was around mile 11 that I realized that I was feeling nauseous and really low on energy, so tired from climbing and getting a little fuzzy in the head. I had been drinking Tailwind and had a cup of Coke at the last aid station, but I hadn’t eaten anything yet. Kev, Dan, and I were talking about the importance of eating early and often, before you’re hungry, on the drive up and then I stupidly didn’t do it. I opened a pack of Honey Stinger chews and ate the whole pack at once. Continuing on an annoyingly runnable grade, the leaders started to pass on their way back and I got to see Kev which was a boost, though I was still pretty low. By the time we reached the turn around point at mile 14.5, I was in third about a minute back from 2nd and as soon as we made the turn and I started running down the Jeep road, a flip switched.
The 2nd place woman was in my sights and I cruised into the aid station around 14.8 right behind her. The volunteers were awesome and they filled my bottle with Tailwind while I took a cup of Coke and then filled the cup with water to wash it down. Finally, after some more annoying uphill, we were descending and I felt like I could catch a break. I passed the woman to take over 2nd and thought, okay, I can chill here for awhile. But within a couple minutes, I saw another woman behind me; there’s no rest for the weary when you want to stay on the podium! I took my second pack of chews and finally felt like I was getting the much needed energy. At mile 18.1, we started a long descent on pretty technical trails. And to be honest, I thought I’d have no problem losing the gal behind me – this type of running is what I’m best at! But for miles and miles, she was always just in my rear view mirror. I kept saying to myself, I just can’t shake her! And considered slowing down and letting her pass me so I could relax a little bit. This downhill forested section is awesome and although having someone right behind me stressed me out, it also made the miles fly by. I noticed my shoe untied around mile 20 and didn’t even stop to tie it because I knew if I did, she’d catch me.
After over four miles of fun cruising downhill, there was a nasty sandy uphill section at mile 22. Here is where I passed pro ultrarunner, Alex Nichols, who was hanging with his buddy. Alex came in 2nd place at last year’s Western States, so he’s kind of a big deal, and passing him (even though he wasn’t racing) was pretty fun. I also knew that putting a couple guys between me and the gal behind me could only help and it was worth the extra effort to make the push to pass. We went back downhill for about half a mile and a woman hiking out on the course informed me, “You’ve got a fun hill ahead of you!” Great. The hill was gnarly and I didn’t feel like I was moving fast there at all, but I was working hard and this is where I finally dropped the 3rd place woman for good. I came into the final aid station around 23.2 and refilled with Tailwind and grabbed another cup of Coke.
All I had to do was get down off of S Mountain now. I could see the town below me and I felt pretty relaxed cruising in. The wind finally started to pick up, which I had been worried about, and blew my hat off my head a few times. But other than that and my shoe being untied still, I didn’t have a worry in the world. When I saw Dan at the bottom of the hill, I smiled and yelled. I crossed the line as second woman in 4:30, with 26.3 miles on my watch and about 4,000 feet of climbing.
After finishing, racers were gathered in and outside of the Steam Plant chatting with one another. This race provides one of the best vibes around and it’s exactly why I fell in love with trail running. Kev ran an awesome race, finishing in 6th, and felt good too. We grabbed some food and a beer and shared stories with Dan who had done his own super long run around Salida, before the awards at 1:30. I got to talk with Shannon, the women’s winner two years in a row, and gave a big hug to Sarah, the girl who had been chasing me for so many miles. These ladies were awesome and getting to catch up with the runners I saw out on the course after a race is my favorite part of race day.
We made it back home to Golden around 5pm and I was exhausted but so happy that I took the chance and signed up. I’ll be back to Run through Time again for sure. And now I’ve got the classic post-race runners high when I can’t stop looking up more races to register for. On Sunday when showing my mom-in-law, Kathy, pictures from the day, she said “You always look like you could run another marathon at the end.” That got me thinking that I think I’m ready to take the plunge and sign up for a 50 miler this fall. So if anyone knows of any good ones between Sept – Nov that are at lower elevation than Colorado but still climb a fair amount, let me know!