Between a Rock and a Hard Race

If you read my "Negative Nancy" post, you know that I was not able to run my other "circle the calendar" race this summer; the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon (GTIS.)  I won't re-hash that, but it lead to my frantic search of the internet for something similar to satisfy my half marathon urge.  I selected the Mt. Sneffels (half) marathon in Ouray, Colorado.  Years ago I attended a conference in nearby Telluride, Colorado and fell in love with the area.  The Sneffels course was an overall downhill. GTIS is labeled as one of the fastest halfs in the country so Mt. Sneffels made a lot of sense as a substitute.  An early challenge to this decision was that Ouray is a 333 mile car ride from home--over a five hour drive.  My wife and I decided to make a two day "road trip" out of it by splitting up the drive and getting to Gunnison, Colorado on the first night.
A true "Road Trip" staying here on the way

Gunnison is hunting and fishing country as witnessed by the Sporting Good store in town that only sported hunting and fishing.  In other words, no running department.  It resembled the sporting good store that Rambo busted into to load up on artillery in "First Blood."

Second slight challenge of the trip was leaving my Power Bar Gel Blasts in the pantry at home.  Rambo Sporting Goods did not have the gels, but the nearby "Piggly Wiggly" did.  Panic averted.

We enjoyed our night in the small college town of Gunnison staying at a "slice of Americana" motel and catching an amazing dinner at the Twisted Fork restaurant.  The owner and chef served us at the bar and shared some of the history and characteristics of the area.  He is also a gluten-free chef and served us a "mean" set of Vietnamese tacos.

I'm used to cold in Colorado, but the chef claimed that you could throw a cup of boiling water in the air in the winter and it would be ice cubes by the time it hit the ground.  In other words, it's damn cold.  We caught a bit of pre-season football and a couple beers at the nearby Ol' Miner saloon and steakhouse before retiring at the Long Holiday motel.

Third minor hiccup of the week was screwing up my coach's training plan for the week.  Apparently, my rest day was supposed to be Thursday.  I took it on Wednesday.  If I was a cell phone, I was down to "one battery square" so I took both rest days and had a short shake-out run in Gunnison Friday morning before we took the short drive over to Ouray.  Self-doubt set in a bit as I was tired on the short three mile run.  "How am I going to race at a PR pace tomorrow when a short jog feels labored the day before?," I was thinking.  I "brushed it off" and enjoyed the ride along with the book on tape we downloaded to the iPod.
Box Canyon, Ouray, CO

Driving into Ouray, I began to feel, "Plan B" was an upgrade.  While I'd been to Telluride the other side of Mt. Sneffels, I had never been to Ouray and was pleasantly surprised.  Ouray sits in a valley with a history of mining from its early roots.  We checked into our lodge on the river and head into town to check out the area and take a short tour of Box Canyon.  Box Canyon had a raging waterfall that powered down the tight walls of rock and boiling water from literally the center of the earth was "piped" into town for the hot springs they're known for.  There's a "family friendly" hot spring at the edge of town which would be the backdrop for the start of the race.  There's another one in a nude resort outside Ridgway where the races ended slightly downhill from Ouray. If they'd only routed the race through the later, I could have checked off another bucket list item (nude 5K.)

Race "Eve" was somewhat uneventful other than another great dinner in the town framed by mountains and rock with an aura of Switzerland.  With my trend towards Gluten-free, I was diligent to avoid any evil wheat products the days leading up to my race.  Stomach issues that have marred previous races did not appear on race morning, but the new calamity I'm wrestling with was lack of sleep.

While I got to bed early on Friday night, I watched the minutes and hours spin by until after three in the morning.  I counted sheep, I
Playing "tourist" in my sexy compression socks
slept on my right, left, back, to no avail.  My wife's snoring was a small factor, but a racing mind thinking about racing was the more likely culprit.  Even more likely was doing a "walk-through' of the course the day before.  Mt. Sneffels had altered the course due to mudslides.  I was thinking I signed up for something similar to GTIS with 1000 ft. of decline.  Mt. Sneffels had the same only because there were two 100' climbs in the first two miles of the race due to the course change.  This "played with my head" as I drove the course the day before.  Fortunately, I didn't see the other nasty 80' climb after mile ten.

In Ouray, we stayed at the Hot Springs Inn which was literally a short walk to the start of the race.  The morning of the race was rather routine, but once again self-doubt entered in as I was just plain tired.  Mentally, I had "written off" notions of a PR, but I planned to go ahead and shoot for another sub-1:30.  The race started at the community hot springs pool and ran uphill into town.  At the end of main street, we turned around to head back to the park area where we starte
Downtown Ouray, CO
d only to turn around again to assail the small climb back into town.  I pushed this first part of the race fairly hard thinking that I'd have the gentle downhill course to catch my breath and settle into a rhythm.  Catching your breath is a bit of a challenge when you're at 8000 feet.

2nd Place AG Trophy Made from slate in the area
Over the first two climbs, I averaged a roughly seven minute per mile pace in the first three miles.  I tried to "pick it up" as that was off the overall finish pace I was looking for.  Much of the course heading from Ouray to Ridgway ran along the river on dirt roads.  The temps were cool and the scenery was even cooler.  I wouldn't exactly call it a gravel path as there were larger rocks along the road and a few cattle guards we ran over.  I was glad I didn't race in my lightest race flats.  My coach has suggested treating the last five miles as a race and to "start picking off runners."  There was a bit of a "back and forth" with some other runners at this stage as we also started to see the full marathon runners passing us to go uphill into Ouray (they started downhill in Ridgway.)  I told myself, "thank God I didn't run the full"...a thousand up and a thousand down is not an easy marathon course.  I "peaked out" at a 6:42 pace during this stretch, but sensed I was starting to fade.  As we made a turn around mile ten, I saw that nasty hill up ahead. I was not ready for that.  I continued to push as hard as I could, but I had dropped down to an eight minute mile pace up this bastard of a hill.  Around that time, I saw someone that looked to be in my age group pass me.  If I had more energy, I would have been pissed, but was glad I had passed a few myself.

At this point, it was "mind over body" and I knew that there was no PR today, but a podium was still possible.  I had dropped to around a 7:30 pace the last couple miles, but threw in my "kick" the last half mile and was able to get back to a 6:31 pace.  We ended with the sun beating down on us at the soccer fields in Ridgway.  I looked around before I crumpled onto the grass in the shade and didn't see too many runners ahead of me.  I wound up finishing 21st overall and 2nd in my age group.  I went years without any race podiums and always feel fortunate to get hardware in the state of Colorado that's rich with fast runners.

This hardware was one of the coolest I've acquired.  Locals picked pieces of slate from the nearby hills and mounted the brass plates indicating placement.  This trophy was a hard-earned piece of rock.


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