I did it! I came, I saw, I ran a few miles. I prepped, tapered, and raced. The Colorado Marathon fell on a beautiful spring day in the mountains and streets of Fort Collins. The sun was shining, the river water was rushing, and ultimately, no one I knew saw me finish. It was apropos, really; the wins that mean the most are the ones where no one is there to cheer.
The day started out the night before, as it always does for racers. Bill and I left the kids at my Mom’s house in Boulder for a sleep-over, then went home and crawled into bed at 8 PM. The alarm was set for 3:50 AM in hopes we would get at least eight hours of sleepy-time. Luckily I was pretty tired and drifted off quickly.
The next morning we made coffee and egg sandwiches and were out the door by 4:20. I had to be on a bus between 5:00 and 5:45 to get up to the starting line and didn’t want to arrive at 5:45 to find that all the busses were gone. At 5:25 we pulled up to the parking garage. I jumped out, kissed Bill goodbye and joined the surge of people descending on the line of busses waiting to take us up the mountain.
I sat next to a friendly woman named Sarah who came up from Denver. It was her birthday and she was doing a Half-Marathon to celebrate. Her husband was injured and couldn’t run, but she hoped he would do something to surprise her later that day. We hung out together at the starting line for the next hour, chatting, laughing, and doing some moderate stretches. I was glad to have someone to talk with. I lost sight of her at the very end when she went to do a warm-up jog and I wandered away to check my bag.
Racers started congregating as we neared the 7:00 AM start time. A couple of volunteers led us down the road to the starting line. Police were on the right-hand side of the road calling to us through bull horns to stay on the left. The start line was a timing mat on the road between two cones. The volunteers funneled us through the cones, over the mat, and we were off. I started the timer on my GPS, knowing full well that the per-mile pacing my GPS keeps is always a little off of the actual time at the finish line. The point of it is to get a general feeling for a pace, not a die-hard time.
The sun hadn’t broken through the wispy clouds left over from the previous day’s thunderstorms. All the easy banter between runners was gone and the only sounds were of pounding feet and rushing water. The Cache La Poudre River runs parallel to the road. The aural sensation of the two diametrically opposed sounds was somehow transcendent and hypnotic at the same time. The pace was easy as we started out; no one started in a sprint. The runners knew the distance and were ready to go out slow and steady for the first couple miles. I took some deep, calming breaths, and smiled. The pace felt good. No, the pace felt GREAT. I could do this.
Coming up on mile five we hit the one and only hill. It was a piddly thing, more like a bump in the terrain, and took us into the next aid station. My GPS read forty minutes; if that was true then I was dead-on for an eight minute per mile pace. I grabbed a cup of water and slowed to drink it, then ducked into a porta-potty for a pit stop. Less than two minutes later I was running again, heading south. The sun had made its appearance and I was heating up in my Smart Wool hat and gloves. I should have left them in my bag at the start line instead of wearing them. People were shedding their gloves and throwing them on the side of the road. Later, after the race, volunteers combed the course to collect all the cast-offs and donate them to charity. That’s a nice idea, but I wasn’t interested in forking out the money to replace these items. I carried them in my sweaty hand for the remainder of the race.
My right hip was starting to talk to me about this point. More specifically, it was tight. Not horrible, nothing to make me stop or scream in pain; just tight. Everything else felt great. The lungs were doing that expanding/contracting thing with awesome regularity, my shoulders were loose and breezy, and my feet felt great.
Coming up on mile ten it occurred to me that I should start to push pace for a strong finish. The problem was that I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if I had enough “oomph” left for a fast 5K at the end. I decided to go another mile and see how I felt at that point.
At mile twelve a runner pulled up along side me. I had been tailing her in the early part of the race and then passed her around mile seven. She was starting to push pace for the end. Her pace looked strong so I accelerated just a hair and stuck to her. We ran in tandem.
Me: “You’re a strong runner!”
Her: “You’re pretty strong yourself, I’ve been trying to catch you for the past four miles!”
Me: “Well, you’re pulling me along now, so Thanks!”
I don’t have enough will-power to push myself that hard all by my lonesome; that’s why it helps me to have a friend to push pace when the going gets tough. We started passing runners left and right, including an older gentleman whose every breath sounded like it could be his last.
I could hear the crowd. Spectators were lining the road up to the finish line. My buddy pulled out the stops and led us on a strong sprint to the end. I kept up with her and allowed myself to be reeled in like a fish on a pole. The sun was hot and I could feel the dried sweat on my face. I didn’t bother looking for Bill in the crowd, just pushed hard to the very end. The announcer called my name as I crossed the finish line. The clock read 1:45:49.
Someone pressed a finisher medal into my hand. Another person gave me a bottle of water and cut the timing chip off my shoe. I exited the chute and went to wait for Bill.
Half an hour later he finally showed. He had been standing at the front of the spectators and never saw me. He hadn’t heard the announcer say my name as I finished because the sound was garbled at that distance. He kept waiting for me to come through; after the two hour race time came and went he went to the paramedics to see if they had brought anyone in, then started a circuit around the area looking for me. By that time I had climbed onto a bench and was standing there, trying to look obvious to anyone looking for a sweaty girl in a red shirt. I was too mellow to be irritated or panicked and figured we’d meet up somewhere, at some point. I was almost ready to borrow someone’s phone to call him when he wandered up.
Thus, there are no pictures from the race. I took a picture of the finisher medal a few days later, since it’s so pretty and shiny.
I loved the 13.1 distance and can’t wait to do another Half. I’ve heard Estes Park has a good one, the Slacker Half Marathon in Georgetown looks interesting, or the Buena Vista Autumn Colors Run. Anyone have any experience with these? Or, suggest a different one to try, I’d love to hear of some great races!