Last year I had thought to do the full marathon version of this race, since it was the national championship that year. I ended up going to Santa Fe for a relaxing weekend instead, and do not regret it. This year, the half marathon was the national championship. Since my fiancée and I had planned to head back to Moab in any case, I decided to make this my fall race.
After the numerous injuries of August and September, my training had finally picked up again and I was feeling about as well prepared as could be expected. However, a little under two weeks before race day, I caught a cold the same day as my peak workout: a double of North Table Mountain in Golden, negative splitting and setting several PRs during the second loop. That cold lingered, and still does.
Nevertheless, I felt pretty good race morning, minus the lingering cough, and figured a no-excuses route was the best way to go. I saw several big names on the start line, notably Sage Canaday and Mike Foote, who were fortunately in the marathon and would go 1-2 in that race. For the women, Stevie Kremer and Melody Fairchild both showed up, and would go 1-2. I did not recognize any of the men contesting the half, but then since I tend to follow ultras more than shorter distances, that didn’t surprise me very much.
After an interesting safety announcement, where we were duly informed that we were likely to pass out from dehydration if we didn’t trip over a cactus and fall off a cliff first, a band gave a funked-out version of the national anthem, and we were off.
The first four miles of the course climbed about 1000 feet up a Jeep road, sometimes rocky, often sandy, and occasionally steep both uphill and down. During this section, I consciously kept the pace fairly conservative but still up tempo, not wanting to waste myself in the first third of the course. Because of this, I actually found myself running almost toe-to-toe with my friend and coworker, who would eventually come in 6th woman.
It was also during this portion that I noticed something interesting: while I was competitive and keeping pace on the non-technical sections (up, down, or flat), I quickly picked people off on the technical ascents and descents. Any point with any scrambling whatsoever, I pulled ahead of several people, often to have them catch up a bit later. This was new for me, as I have in the past often been less capable at the technical sections. It seems that my subsequent focus on technical trails, combined with my recent foray into Parkour, has yielded results. Later this race would teach me that, though it’s important to keep the technical skills up, I need to focus a bit more on speed training as well.
Four or so miles in, we topped out the first climb after a short, sharp technical section. On the other side, the Jeep track quickly dropped down a fairly technical ascent, where I picked off at least six to eight people in quick succession. The course then flattened out into a smooth, sandy track where I could just cruise the mile or so into the first of three aid stations at 5.7 miles. (As a side note, why do half marathons always seem to have an aid station at mile 12?)
I moved quickly through the aid station, taking a quick cup of water on the run, and the course took a rolling turn. For the next two miles or so, we remained on rolling Jeep trails, where you could often see the runners up to a couple minutes ahead of you, and likewise behind. I lost a bit a ground on this section, most likely because I have not trained much on rollers lately, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the race, now halfway gone. However, I don’t think I let more than three people pass me here, and would rectify that soon enough.
The next section was easily my favorite of the race. After another decent climb, we hit the Pritchard Canyon section of the course, where it changes to technical singletrack along the edge of a rather deep canyon. One woman, wearing a black top, had passed me in the previous section and now led me onto the single track, and here I made my first mistake of the course. She was clearly uncomfortable with the combination of technicality of the course and the precipitous drop off to our left. I was in my element. Rather than ask to pass immediately, though, I gave it a couple minutes, and so lost some time.
I finally did pass her on a section where the trail ran down between a few boulders. Rather than wind between them, I hopped on top and boulder-hopped my way down, using my newly acquired Parkour skills to vault a particularly large rock. I quickly left the woman in black behind and danced down the trail, letting out the occasional whoop as I weaved, jumped, and skipped down the trail.
Soon enough, the trail began to drop down the side of the canyon wall in a series of semi-technical, nearly scramble-worth drops. I caught up to two more guys on this section, and again, rather than asking to pass them immediately, tagged behind them for a brief period. That was my second mistake of the race.
I eventually did pass them, sacrificing a bit of skin on my arms to a few particularly thorny bushes to do so, and dropped down the remaining single track into the second aid station at 9.7 miles. I again took a quick drink of water and continued on through to where the half marathon course took a right on the road while the marathon took a left.
This led to the second, and final, major climb of the course. I was a little surprised by this one since I had thought the second major climb came before the second aid station. This climb consisted of a mile or so up a dirt road. I kept the cadence as high as I could up this climb, consciously pushing my legs knowing that the rest of the race was (almost) all-downhill. I did not pass anybody on the road, but I made up some ground on those both ahead of me and behind me.
The subsequent downhill saw a first for me: my right calf was threatening to cramp up. If I attempted to keep up a forefoot strike, my calf tightened, so I lifted my toes heel-struck my way downhill, keeping my pace up. The course eventually turned off the road and down a mountain bike trail, which promptly dropped us into a creek. I had heard about this from my friend who ran the course last year, but was not prepared for the sheer amount of water in the creek, or how cold that water was.
Nevertheless I caught two people almost immediately, both of whom were a bit more tentative than I was about crashing through the creek. Perhaps I should have been more tentative as well, for at about the 4th of a dozen creek crossings, I jumped into what I thought was a shortcut, only to find myself chest deep in water and unable to breathe from the cold. That didn’t slow me for long, though, and I quickly climbed out, and slogged through the remainder of the creek to climb out at mile marker 12.
The race directors here must be slightly sadistic. The last mile starts fast down a dirt road, straight towards the finish, but just when you glimpse the line it turns you around, and dumps you down into the creek again, where I promptly took a wrong turn. This cost me about 20 seconds, and nearly cost me beating my coworker, who was fast coming up from behind. Another short singletrack section, a creek crossing, and a short, sharp climb up a muddy slope, and I crossed the line in 1:45:40, for 42nd place over all, and 9th in my age group.
I turned around in time to see L crossing the line and give her a high five.
Over all I feel pretty good about this race. I pushed hard with everything I had, but managed to not go out to fast and still have a good amount of push left during the last three miles of the race. I had a solid month’s training, after a brief mileage ramp-up, and focused more on quality workouts than I have in the past. My Parkour training and focus on technical trails paid dividends in the more difficult, technical sections. Had there been more of these, I might have placed even better.
Of course there are always improvements to be made. Primarily, I need to be more sure of myself. I have evidently vastly improved my technical abilities over the past year, particularly when tired. I should realize this for my next race and play to my newfound strengths. I also need to work on my turnover, adding interval and hill workouts (more than just running up a mountain) to help this along.
With my impending move, my running will likely be shaken up for a little while as I adjust to being back in Minnesota. However, I anticipate having significantly more time available to run, as I will not be commuting at all. And if a few schemes I have in the works work out the way I hope, I might be in a better running position than I have ever been.
As ever, we shall see. But the future looks interesting!