Monday, March 12, 2018

Race Report: Revel Rockies Marathon

We were actually fully boarded on our flight about 5 minutes before our scheduled departure time, but then, we sat on the tarmac.  For half an hour, we didn't move from the gate, since apparently there were several planes trying to taxi onto the runway for take off, and they needed to get past us.  And then when we finally left the gate, we sat for nearly another hour, moving slowly down the line, as the pilot announced we were something like the 20th plane in line for take off.  Such is a Friday night at any of the three New York City airports.  So, my optimism for departing early devolved into a late arrival, but thankfully it wasn't as late as we had anticipated; it was only about fifteen minutes late. But I had made it to Denver!  Melissa was ready to pick me up shortly thereafter, and we headed back to her townhouse and I immediately rushed the bed, to get a decent night's sleep before an early wake up call on Saturday morning.

Leisurely hike in Evergreen...
Of course, that didn't really happen.  I stayed up and found a ripped youtube version of the most recent episode of RuPaul's Drag Race that had just aired earlier that evening while I was in the air. Priorities, of course. Alas, we woke up at 6:30am the next morning, and headed out the door to drive thirty minutes across town to the community of Evergreen on the other side of Denver.  At 8, we were going to sweep the 5-mile trail course at Elk Meadow Park, where the Colorado Masters Running Assocation (CMRA) was holding its monthly race.  Sweeping in this instance, meant hiking along with Melissa and her dog, Maggie, as I huffed and puffed at the 7000-8000 foot elevation, yet at the same time trying to acclimate to the altitude as best as I could in the short period of time I had before my marathon on Sunday.  Upon arriving, I was able to say hello to friends Johnny, Francie, and Lisa, all who I met when I was last in Denver in May of last year for the Colfax Half Marathon, and who were all participating in that day's race, either running or volunteering.

Getting my psoas dug into.
The views were absolutely beautiful along this well manicured trail, and we finished in roughly an hour and forty minutes, picking up flags and signs along the way. After we finished the hike, all of the other runners had assembled at the trailhead, where they were already in the middle of giving out awards, and one of Melissa's friends, a chiropractor named Matt Barnes, who had run the race, was providing free adjustments to other runners.  I've had a nagging pain in my right hip flexor, in addition to the usual sore adductors, so using trigger point stimulation, he really got into my muscles... in particular, my psoas... as I yelped out in pain.  But magically, I was like new after he had done his magic.

Black Sheep in Colorado!
Afterward, we headed up to nearby brewery Lariat Lodge, where we all eagerly devoured our brunch, sitting outside in their dog-friendly "Bark Garden," as gradually, others began to arrive for the lunch hour with their canines in tow.  After brunch, we separated, and Melissa and I drove off to the Steinhauer Field House at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, where the race expo was being held.  Of course, as a result of my insomniac tendencies the night before, I lulled myself into a sleep as we drove for the next half hour.  We brought Maggie along with us as we headed into the expo and picked up our bibs and t-shirts, and mingled with other runners including some of my Black Sheep Run folks who decided to take on the challenge of a steep downhill marathon.

With our friend Randy, we headed into the town of Golden for a quick drink at another brewery - this time Mountain Toad, which was a popular destination at that hour of the day.  My tiredness began to get at me as we headed into downtown Denver to order pizza for dinner at Mellow Mushroom, and then we headed right back to Aurora to get ourselves into bed, as we knew we were groggily waking up at 2:45am so that we could get out the door by 3:15 to drive all the way across town again to the parking area in Morrison, where we would pick up the shuttles to take us up the mountain to our respective startlines.

The sun peeking out between the trees
I got onto the first available marathon bus I could find, and at about 4am our bus had filled up and we were off. I just so happened to board the same bus as Lisa, Brian, and his friend Emma, heading up the mountain.  It was maybe five minutes before the bus quieted down, and I (and maybe several others) had fallen asleep; we arrived at our destination roughly eleven miles up Squaw Pass Road near the old Echo Mountain Ski Resort at 4:59am.  This left us with a whole hour before our start, and so we assembled in the chilly 41ยบ air, sitting on the asphalt parking area bundled up in our heatsheets.  I located my Black Sheep Run friends, and we huddled together for about twenty minutes before finally getting our stuff to the Penske trucks for gear check.  At 5:45, I got to the PA system to sing the national anthem in front of the most beautiful sunrise with the mountains kissing the sky, completing state #30 in my efforts to sing the national anthem in all 50 states.

SNOW?!  In July?
After the anthem, everyone headed to the startline, which was about a 1/4 mile away down the mountain from where the buses had dropped us off.  Aidin and I walked down together and took photos with the piles of hard-packed snow that were still present at this elevation on the mountain, a funny sight to us knowing that it's June.  At 6am on the dot, we took off, and immediately, we felt the downhill, as we dropped 167 feet in elevation within the first half mile.  The 4% downhill grade progressed as we continued along Squaw Pass Road, and with this being my third downhill race (after the Mt. Nebo Half in Utah in 2015 and the Revel Big Cottonwood Full in 2016), I knew to dial it back, but still let gravity do its work.

Just before taking off at the startline!

What a beautiful morning for a run!
Positioned with the 4:10 pacers at the start, I let them pass because I knew that if I ran with them, I would be running at an unsustainable pace for me.  The first five miles lose over 1,300 feet and gain less than 10 feet overall. The only climb - which is minor - is within the first mile, and even then, I ran a conservative 9:38 per mile pace. The next four miles each drop 240 feet or more and gain zero. Along the way, I saw friends Monique, Aidin, Mitchell, Angie and Lisa, pass me.  The views were absolutely beautiful the entire way down, as the road wound its way past Squaw Mountain, Mount Judge, Snyder Mountain, and Mount Pence. While there were switchbacks and sharp turns, the camber of the road was never severe enough to have to run closer to the center to avoid having to run at an angle.

Down, down, downhill we go!
At mile 5, the road flattened out slightly, and while I took a short walk break, it didn't mess with my splits, as I was still running pretty evenly.  A mile later, the 4:25 pacer began to pass me, but that was fine, as the goal was to stay close to the 4:25 pacer, and even let them pass, but keep them within eyesight. The next several miles felt like the first five, dropping over 1,100 feet to mile 11.  Along the way, I ran into Aidin, and we ran together for a mile, before my pace began to quicken near where we finally emerged out of the trees, making our way closer to the Evergreen Parkway, about 11.5 miles into the race.  The 4:25 pacer was still within sights, maybe about 800 feet in front of me.

Flattening out as we head toward the Evergreen Parkway

Tough rollers at 7,500 feet in elevation
We crossed Evergreen Parkway, and turned right, hugging the shoulder and one of the northbound lanes of the highway.  Here was where we would encounter short, gradual climbs - or rollers - which were quite obvious in the distance.  The 4:25 pacer had gotten away from me visually, but I still kept up with some decent speed as we made our way over the hills.  Over the next 3 miles, we'd be traversing the parkway, going up a 45 foot hill, then back down, and then a 53 foot hill, then a long downhill over the next mile, followed by another 53 foot hill.  We would then cross the halfway point, and then go up the last and largest hill - a 71 footer - followed by a nice downhill.  We'd cross mile 15, and then making a hard left off of the parkway onto Douglas Park Road, where I took my first GU, and also ran into Angie with two other maniacs.  Angie had run a downhill full - the Utah Valley Marathon - the day before, so she was pacing herself easy on this second day.

Taking advantage of those downhills!

The creek alongside the course
The three of us ran together for the next mile and a half, as we ran along Meadow Drive through the town of Evergreen.  We turned left onto the two-lane Bear Creek Road, running parallel to its namesake, which ran right alongside the road.  The eastbound traffic was closed for us runners, while drivers on the westbound lane gingerly made their way around the tight turns through the mountainous terrain.  The sights and sounds of the creek were a nice accompaniment to the doldrums of reaching this point of the marathon.  Unfortunately, at the same time, the course began to flatten out a bit, and this is where I began to slow significantly, finally succumbing to the difficulties of breathing in the thin air of being at approximately 7000 feet in altitude.  While the course still continued downhill, the drops were much more gradual than what we encountered in the first 13 miles, and also less than the elevation loss on Evergreen Parkway.  We then entered the town of Kittredge, basically running down its quiet main street.  Before long, we reached mile 19, at an elevation of 6,759 feet.

Hopeful motivation
Switchbacks over the last few miles
The remaining seven miles were a gradual downhill, dropping us an addition 1,000 feet to the end.  Miles 21 and 22  were only a 1% downhill grade, and the final three miles were a bit more, with a 3.5% elevation loss, as we curved around the mountain pass.  Compared to the first thirteen miles, the camber of the road was much steeper, and in order to keep from running on uneven pavement, we had to stay close to center, or hug the center line as we made turns.  The closing 5K was taxing on my already exhausted quads, and while I tried to increase the pace as we were met with obvious downhill sections, I still had to take periodic walk breaks just to break of the pain in my legs. With a mile left to go, I came upon Melissa, who had paced 2:20 for the half and was running back up the mountain to meet up with our friend Chavet, pacing 5:40 for the full.  We passed one of the entrances to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, as we heard the announcers at the finish line just over some trees around the corner.  Of course, we were met with a short 20-foot climb right at the very end of the course as we turned onto Union Avenue, literally within the last .10 mile.

Melissa finds me as she ran uphill to get to Chavet, who was pacing 5:30
Official photo by Revel Rockies
25 miles done, and my quads are SHOT.
Coming into the finish!
(Official photo by
Revel Rockies)
I crossed the finish line in 4:52:09, far from my original goal, but the fact of the matter was we lost 4,700 feet of elevation from the start to the finish.  It was 72°, 50% humidity.  I stayed within my abilities and not go out too fast, and relied on gravity as much as I could.  The in the middle of the course really got to me, and having to work hard to run on the flatter elevation points took a toll on my breathing.  As soon as I finished, I took advantage of free pizza and got in line to get some recovery in my legs at the Rapid Reboot tent, then proceeded down to the beer garden to meet up with friends.  The beer had been long gone, but luckily Monique had one that she offered to me, which was refreshing (despite it being an IPA, not one of my favorites).  After the final finishers came in, a group of us headed into Morrison and grabbed much needed food at The Morrison Inn, before Melissa and I headed up into Red Rocks to capture my customary victory headstand photo!

With Revel series race director, Anna Ryan

Victory Headstand in Red Rocks!
We headed back to Aurora and were exhausted from the early morning wake up call, so we took a 2-3 hour nap, and then headed out once again for food - and I got to try some Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) which I had curiously wanted to try ever since coming to Colorado the year before.  We stopped into a local Aurora brewery for one drink before Melissa took me to the airport, and I got on my redeye flight back home to New York City!

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