Distance: 13.46 miles
Rate: 11:36 per mile
(Quick Note: As of this writing, I don’t have the chip time, but I’ll add it in when I get it. Also, the total time and pace is slightly off because I started the RunKeeper workout while we were still in the corral and ended it about a minute after completion. The distance is also longer because of the usual GPS irregularities and the fact that I added .15 miles running off-course. Great!)
I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. As you may know, I’ve already done a couple of half-marathon distance training runs, but at some point, I really wanted to do a run back home in Colorado Springs and the American Discovery Trail Marathon was far enough out (Labor Day!) and convenient enough that it seemed like an incredible goal. Being able to win my first running medal ever - or any medal, EVER - back home made me absolutely ecstatic. So, it’s been a number of months waiting and when it came time to finally pack up the truck for the road trip from Phoenix to Colorado, I was more than ready.
I ran the morning we left (M148) which left me three full days - and then some - where I could sit back and relax in advance of the run. We got into town late on Thursday and I spent the Labor Day weekend sitting around, eating and getting used to the air. When I got in, standing up from a lying position made me a little dizzy. I knew I didn’t have weeks to get used to the altitude, but I figured I’d do okay with a few days. Getting into town immediately reminded me of that other challenge I was facing: variable terrain. There are elevation changes out the wazoo here, hills everywhere, something the Phoenix area is completely missing out on. Still, I’ve trained on Murder Hill enough that I figured I’d be okay.
Sunday morning came and we went downtown to the Antlers Hilton to pick up my racing packet, which I’d actually never been to living in town for nearly 16 years. I’d read about these formal expos a bunch in perusing other people’s marathon blogs, but this was the first I’d ever been to. By scale, this was definitely a smaller affair with a bunch of local running groups. This run isn’t as big or as popular a Rock ‘N Roll marathon or a more casual Color Run 5K, but with something like 1500 participants, it was still a big deal. I still don’t remember them ever advertising this run locally.
Anyway, the packet came with the bib with chip (my first!) which was two thin, foamy bricks glued to the back, the t-shirt (100% polyester!), some snacks and a bunch of coupons and other things. Nifty! They put the safety pins out in threes, which I didn’t quite understand since you need four pins to secure it. I picked up the fourth when I got to the run.
Afterward, I had dinner with a ton of local friends and I had to disappoint many when I announced that I hadn’t actually run the thing yet and I’d be doing so in the morning. I have some absolutely great friends who were supporting me through and through and happy to see me for the first time since I’d started this journey.
I didn’t get to sleep until late (11pm-ish) and I was up early that Monday morning (3:45am) to get things together, pin bibs to shirts, shower, paste plastic bandages over my nipples, (it’s true!), etc. It was dark out and about 58F when we got to America the Beautiful Park downtown. The racing crew was still setting up their registration and packet retrieval tables when I got there. Colorado Springs Utilities hadn’t even opened the bathrooms. Aside from the big dinner about 13 hours prior, I’d only had a handful of pretzels plus the trio of Chewy granola bars I brought with me to eat every half-hour leading up to gun time. I was relatively simple on gear. I had my two phones (one for actual phone usage and RunKeeper, the other for pictures), my Gear Live to keep track of average pace and time via RunKeeper), my 1.25L water bottle (ideal for the half-marathon to skip around water stations, but it won’t be practical for the full), my sweat band and a new pair of sunglasses. I know - nothing new on race day (NNORD) - and as I fiddled getting the two to not pinch the sides of my head, I was remember this directive well. Whatever, I got over it.
As the horizon started to pale, the crowds started to fall in line. Across the street, early on, were a trio of school buses that were taking the full marathoners all the way up to Palmer Lake. This half-marathon is a circuit, so everything started and ended here at the park. The were lots of people here, mostly in their twenties and thirties, but some vets sprinkled in, absolutely. There were lots of bright colors and vibrant running shoes. I was wearing Vibram TrekSports, which turned out perfect for the packed-dirt trails, and I think I was the only person there wearing Vibrams at all. No matter!
With about ten minutes left until gun time, we were lead to the end of a road, which served as the sole starting corral. They announced that in advance, a California runner had completed the entire course unsupported in three hours and very little change. A local Lt. Colonel sang the national anthem and moments later, we were off.
With the gun off, this rainbow-colored mass scrambled… away from me. One huge thing about running an official half-marathon versus just running around our neighborhood for 13.1 miles, aside from the water tables very few miles, is the psychological effect of being with a group of other somewhat-competing runners. When I’m running alone, no one’s judging me except myself and I really have no one else to compare to. But, in trying to execute on a good plan (pace myself slow in the big uphill first half, speed up in the second half), I found myself smiling as the entire crowd just ran away from me. I knew that there were a ton of faster runners than me - I am no fast runner! - but as the crowd thinned, I kept track of how many people I would eventually surpass in the long run.
We got off that service road and into the outer edge of the park proper before a bridge lead us out to the Monument Valley trail system. Pay close attention here because this will come up later! Amongst this absolutely gorgeous slice of greenery running along a water way are two paths, one on each side. After we cross away from the park and under Colorado Avenue, we wind up on the east side of the valley, which ends up being the entire course, back and forth. The first mile is the hardest no matter what, it seems and despite feeling good about my pace, knowing I had another twelve miles to go was a little defeating.
The first half is mostly gradual uphill, similar to Murder Hill back home, but every so often, there’d be an aggressive uphill that I wasn’t used to. Turns out my ‘keep the pace’ plan worked because while I would slowly run up these hills, lots of people would resort to walking. I’m not opposed to walking in the slightest, but I’ve trained myself over the past year to keep things going. If I have to stop or start walking, then something’s wrong with what I’m doing. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time concentrating on how much air I was pushing.
So here’s that $64,000 question, the one I was curious about: How does it feel to run long-distance when you’re coming from a lower altitude? I’m glad you asked! Phoenix hovers around 1100 feet and this race is at around 6,000 feet. The answer, frankly, is that I didn’t really know if it was affecting me at all. Friends and family were curious if I’d be able to run in the thinner air, and maybe it was the fact that I was running in 65F air, but I honestly didn’t notice a difference. Maybe the fact that it was cooler overrode any desperate sensation I’d get from not having enough oxygen?
Still, I kept at faster pace than usual and didn’t notice any unusual lack of oxygen to suck down, so I can only say that only if I was running in 90F heat would I be able to make a fair comparison. Otherwise, it’s as I’d read from other runners and described to friends: the elevation difference is psychosomatic. Now, if you’re doing something crazy, like a dash to higher elevations than that, then it might get crazy…
Things are still going great. At about four miles, the first marathoners are starting to come down, lean men (and eventually a few women) just tearing it up with stern expressions.
Everyone at the water stations was great and there was tons available for runners, but like I mentioned, I skipped them all. I found these were often bottlenecks and in my training, I’ve learned to snatch-drink-toss to avoid walking like so many other runners were doing. I didn’t mind moving up in the rankings, though!
The course took us under Garden of the Gods Road with a steep incline/decline and a blind corner. There were plenty of bicyclists on the path, but the people here seem a lot more polite about being around crowds - and older. It was in this second quarter that the crowd really started to thin and I gained some ground. I was around a number of runners in the first quarter that would run past me, huffing and puffing, then revert to walking about a tenth of a mile ahead. I’d pass them doing normal pace and the cycle would repeat a few more times before, by now, they were pretty far back.
In the fifth and sixth miles, the starting crowd that left me behind so long ago was now streaming back the other way. Over a bridge and up a long curve came the turnaround point. It was fun to tell people on the way up that they were almost there. I think some were just too focused on the run to care!
It was at this point that I was matching pace with a lady in a pink shirt who was used to interval runs. She’d run past me, not huffing and puffing, then start walking. I’d pass her and we’d shuffle back and forth like this for a few miles. The entire back half of this race is downhill and it felt super good, although the end of this quarter was punctuated by the course’s steepest incline.
Oh, and this course? It’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. Tons of vegetation and thick wooded sections, all clean and wonderful. Running through shade was so great. At this point in the run, the wind was southerly and very cool, which made me happy. I’d love to do the full marathon here next year.
I’d wanted to keep a 12:00 pace going uphill and then cut that down in the back half for a total of about 2:40:00 — 2:45:00. RunKeeper was shouting out some interesting individual times in the 13-14 minute range, but that was just serendipitous considering where I was when it made those calls. Everything was going great until the Fourth Quarter.
Fourth Quarter, Finish
So I mentioned that steep incline, right? I hammered it, passing a number of runners that had pulled away from me toward the beginning of the race. Right afterward is a water station, so between those two, I was able to pull away from the crowd. One of the volunteers cheered me on and I was on cloud nine. Runner’s High. I was so distracted, in fact, that I missed the course turn off.
I didn’t notice it right away at all. That is, not until I’d noticed I hadn’t seen any other runners for a while. I look to my left to see a loose parade of neon-colored shirts on the far end of the valley.
I was off-course! I knew that these paths would converge at some point, which was my rationale for not doubling back. Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities to cross over. In fact, the only time I stopped running was when I made a left turn into a small picnic table and it turned out to be a dead end. I was getting so mad. I was kinda hoping they weren’t secretly keeping track of my individual mile markers and they wouldn’t push out a hand after the finish line to prevent me from getting a medal because I had been disqualified! That didn’t happen, but the adrenaline was kicking in now. I needed to get back on-course as soon as possible and I didn’t know when that was going to happen.
Lo and behold, we get to Uintah Ave and their course goes under the bridge. Fancy! I cross over the valley, run down the trail ramp, then down another trail ramp under the bridge and I’m back on course. I don’t recognize anyone from this grouping, though. I don’t know how much time that cost me, but I wound up gaining an extra .15 miles in this confusion.
At this point, with less than two miles to go, I am pumped. The plan is going… according to plan and my measured pacing early on has rewarded me with the energy to push pretty hard through these last few miles, passing more and more people with every turn. As inclines would defeat other runners, I would push through.
Soon, we were headed back across the bridge, back into America the Beautiful Park. The course would take us the long way back around the other side past the large portal statue that anchors the park. I’ve got one guy in front of me and everyone else behind. I’m scrounging up every last bit of fuel I got. I’m literally telling myself, “every last bit of energy you got? Burn it all up.” So I do. With a hundred feet to go, I go into full sprint as I hear the guy in front of me’s name announced as he finishes. I’m hoofing it with full abandon and I’m watching the ground so I don’t trip over the finish gates. They call out my name and I’ve got my arms in the air and the biggest smile on my face. They hand me a medal on a yellow lanyard and a bottle of cold water. My legs are throbbing from the work, still feeling like they’re going a hundred miles per hour.
My stomach, however, wants to throw up. I stumble over to the restrooms, avoiding everyone and the nausea lightens up. RunKeeper tells me this is the second-fastest run I’ve done in this range and if I recall correctly, the gun time was at 2:35:xx when I showed up, which is a good five to ten minutes faster than I anticipated. As I swirl around the pavilion, the nausea continues to lighten up, my calves begin to burn and I need to drink something. It honestly feels like I didn’t drink enough throughout the race, but I made it, so… dunno. I chat with a few of the racers, one couple, who call me “orange”, say they were yelling at me from across the valley on my “short cut” and they were happy I got back on course. She said she almost followed me down that path! Oh, how funny.
I consume all the water I can and Jersey Mike’s, a great sub shop, by the way, is giving away free sandwiches. I can’t stomach food right after a race, so it sits in my hands until long after Kelly comes to grab me. Oh, good sandwich, too.
So what’s next? M150 will be a five-miler on Thursday morning and I’ll begin a full 5-8-5-10 next week, followed by a ful 5-8-5-16 and building from there yet again. I want to do another half-marathon around Halloween, then my first full with the Rock N’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix in January.
This being my first medal was something so great. I know running vets shirk the things, but this was absolutely huge for me and I know there are people so happy and inspired by my progress.
It feels great, so I’m going to keep on doing it.