I'm a little late getting to the race recap for my marathon this past weekend in Pagosa Springs. The short version is that the race went according to expectations and I hit all my (very modest) goals.
The longer version starts with a late arrival. Adric (that's the dude to the right) and I beat the start gun by about three minutes. We had intended to arrive a bit sooner but one wrong turn and a trip into the wrong set of hills slowed us down. Some really pretty homes on the south side of Pagosa Springs, but we were supposed to be on the north. Fixable and only slightly stressful.
The start included the marathoners and the half-marathoners in a rush along single track. One of the runners near me was laughing that this was a fast way to sort out the fittest - or at least, those with the most flexible ankles.
The volunteers guided us on to the trails and, within a mile or so, we sorted ourselves out into a single file along a winding single track among the ponderosa pine. The first five miles were on a slight downhill, dropping from 8200' of elevation to about 7500'. The footing was pretty good though occasionally a bit rocky. Passing proved to be a bit of a challenge as the sides of the trail were considerably rougher and not all the runners would yield to faster racers.
In my case, since I wasn't going to win any medals for speed, I figured on trying for the Miss Congeniality award. If I heard runners coming up behind, I stepped over and ran along the edges to let them by.
At the first aid station (there were a total of three,) about 3.5 miles in I decided to slide by without stopping since I had plenty of water in my handheld. I had planned on using the handheld for the full race. The weather forecast was for temps getting into the 80's which at altitude is a touch toasty.
I caught up with Adric there and we ran with a lady who was a physical therapist and a young guy who had his black lab for company. At 4.5 miles there was a small pond and the black lab took a fast dip. At this point, things were flowing pretty well and the air under the tree cover was still reasonably cool.
The next aid station was at 6.5 miles - about half way around the loop. A word about the aid stations. The volunteers were just wonderful and showed obvious experience. The stations were laid out like those I used to put together for ultras when I was in San Diego. The talk was the same, too. "Sweet and salty over there," said one of the volunteers, pointing to the potato chips, gummy bears, M&M's. "Gatorade and water," pointing to the other end of the table.
I grabbed two cups of Gatorade and a couple of chips. Interesting side note - to process carbs, you need a little fat. I discovered this the hard way during a 24 hour Ultra in San Diego years ago when I bloated about eight hours in. I needed calories, so I ate some sunflower seeds. The fat settled things down and I kept going.
The second half of the loop was all uphill. I ran more of this than I thought I would be able to, given the altitude. Most of the way I was with a group of about six ladies. One was super-steady and gained on me as we climbed, passing me before the last aid station at the 10 mile mark. I repassed her when things flattened out a bit and we chatted while we ran together.
She mentioned that we were almost done and I admitted that I had another loop to complete. She shook her head. "Just doing the half is kicking my ass," she said and I knew how she felt. Most of the uphill stretch was in direct sunlight and not a cloud in sight.
I hit the halfway mark in about 2;40 - slightly faster than I expected. I ditched my shirt (in full expectation of a sunburn) to drop my heat load.
Blood gets used by the body to move nutrients and oxygen tot he muscles and also gets sent to the skin for cooling. Two jobs, one blood supply, trained at 700' above sea level. Any way I figured it, the next loop was going to be a grunt.
I was about a minute per mile slower on the downhill stretch and I also took a little longer at the aid stations making sure to get enough food and water. I started with the Hammergel at mile 10. Chocolate flavored. I took the packets in slowly, drinking water to cut the mix. At the second visit to the first aid station, I snagged another one and opened it. I sucked down about half of it and put the packet in my pocket.
Mistake. It worked the first couple of times, but this time, I ended up with brown goop running down my thigh. Ick. I washed as well as I could at the same pond that the lab splashed in and motored on. Provided motored on includes switching to a run/walk cycle, the kind I used to use in Ultras.
Bless the folks at the second aid station, they had wet towels and I got the last of the gel off my leg. Stocked up on more gel, water, and some potato chips and headed out.
The next mile would be my last 'good' mile - it was a downhill jog through good tree cover with good footing. When I turned back up, around mile 20, the legs were done. It was perpetual forward progress time. If I couldn't run uphill, I could at least walk with purpose. The trail to the next aid station took more than an hour to grind out. Grinding I can do.
The second loop took 3:20 - almost the same time as my PR marathon. After the first loop, I was hoping that I was wrong on my 6 hour estimate. Without the heat, I might have beaten it. Ah well.
I hit all my goals - to step to the line, to have fun while I was out there, to finish. And to not be last. I did all that. And even though there was no Miss Congeniality award, I made sure to thank all the volunteers. They did an awesome job and were upbeat all day.