Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fort Collins – A downward journey

I looked at this race almost 2 years ago and thought – this is a piece of cake! 26.2 miles and an evenly graded 1,200 foot elevation drop…Heaven!! Well not so much.

I’ve only been to Colorado as a layover point in Denver and never had the chance to leave the airport. So to actually go there sounded like fun. We flew into Denver on Friday and jumped into the rental car for the 1-1.5 hour drive to Fort Collins. On the way it was overcast and hazy so while there was a view it wasn’t much of one. I can’t say that I noticed the altitude at all.

Saturday morning the wife and I headed out for a short 2 mile run and I tried to push the last quarter mile…I could feel the altitude and the lack of much humidity in the air. I would have to be very careful tomorrow and be sure that I watched my fluid intake…nothing could be worse than not having enough!

The expo was small but it was what I’d expect for this size of a race. My wife even signed up for the 10k while I was getting my number…she figured she’d have plenty of time to do that and still get out to see me on the course.

We took some time and drove the course…beautiful! We kept an eye on the weather forecast because it was calling for snow and temps around 35 for race day…this really was not what I signed up for!

Fort Collins is a beautiful city…we got lunch in the downtown and asked the waitress for some ideas for dinner. After walking to both locations that were recommended and perusing their menus we decided on where dinner would be and made reservations (we were not going to have a repeat of Little Rock today!!)

Early night since the bus that would take me to the starting line leaves at 4:00 am…still looking at the weather and snow is still in the forecast…not good…didn’t bring a long sleeve shirt…Damn!

Got up and did my usual ritual…forecast had changed…45-55 degrees, showers early and clearing up high for the day 60…current temp 39. Why did I forget to bring a long sleeve shirt!!! Luckily I brought a garbage bag…not real warm but would keep the body heat in.

Was on the first bus leaving the hotel…bad idea…the driver informed us as we were on the way that he would not be able to wait with us at the starting line but would need to drop us off…once again cursing myself for not having a long sleeve shirt. As we drove I noticed that the clouds were dissipating. When we got to the starting line there wasn’t a cloud in the sky…no moon…but the stars were amazing! At times like this I wish I would carry my camera.

As we waited for the gun I spent some time looking around, the valley we were in had a river that we would follow all of the way into Fort Collins…it would be my companion for the journey. The water was crystal clear and cold! I watched the sky change colors as the sun rose, even though we could not see it actually rise due to the mountains; the change in the sky was tremendous! I looked to the tops of the peaks right near us (only about 500-600 feet above us) and could see snow. Simply breathtaking.

The gun went off right at 6 am and all 1,000 marathoners took off toward Fort Collins. It was relatively easy to keep an even pace at the beginning. The air was cool the surroundings were gorgeous and the people were talkative but not overly so. The course follows the river so there is always a turn coming up and you do not get to see more than a quarter mile of road at a time.

I held my pace pretty even, just under a 10 min pace for the first 6 miles. Took my scheduled gel and kept moving. The aid stations were positioned about every 2-3 miles so I had a water bottle with me the whole race this helped to ensure that the gel was taken when needed and not when the aid station was there.

At about mile 7 I caught up with a woman who was running her first marathon and we chatted for the next 30 minutes. It was lovely to talk with someone on the course but as we talked our pace slowly picked up to a point that I wished her well and told her to have a great race at mile 10.5. Talking while running is great but I still have not figured out how to control my pace enough so that I do not crap out near the end. I’ll keep working on it because I enjoy the commiseration!

Mile 12. Second gel of the day. I was able to get the gel into my mouth and that was as far as it was going. I nearly threw up right then. The feeling was absolutely overwhelming. I choked a little down and at the next station took in some sports drink…which had the same reaction when it hit the throat! This is not good. To make matters worse within 100 yards of this I suddenly needed a restroom. Thankfully the half marathon starting line was coming up and there was a bunch of porta-potties.

10 minutes after stopping I was trying to get moving again. Much harder that I thought. I was moving in a forward direction so I was happy.

About mile 16 we leave the valley and the space opens before us. This means I will see my wife in about 1-1.5 miles. I’m not on target at all. I’ve now not been able to take any real sustenance in about 10 miles. I still keep trying to take in sports drink…heavily diluted with water in hopes that it will help. I see my wife and tell her my pains…she tells me to keep moving and work on running some…push through it…I’ve been here before…keep trying to take the gels when you should. She gave me a kiss and said she’d see me at about mile 22.

People cheering along the course.

There was more walking than running but I kept doing the 5 min run/5 min walk…whenever I could. The largest hill was at mile 18, I got to the top and was able to take a little sports drink and about a mile later I tried to take another gel. Got half of it in…gagged on the rest.

At this point we are in the ‘suburbs’ of Fort Collins. We run around a school and pick up the river as a companion again…this time it will be with us until the end. The trail around the school is a paved bike trail that leads us into the city. From park to park we go following the power lines into the city (or is it out of the city – who knows?)

Mile 22 my wife is there as promised. I get some sports drink and give her my water bottle – I think I can make it in from here without it. She tells me that I really need to run some so that I’m not disappointed when I finish…’Leave it out on the course is what you always say – so do that leave it out here.’ She points out later that she does listen to me.

I really tried but I’ve now gone too long with out any real calories and I’m dragging. The trail is quite boring for about 2-3 miles as we are running under the power lines near the river (could not really see it from the trail all of the time) and through fields after fields. Unlike the valley, here you can see about a mile ahead.

I was glad to see the 25 mile marker knowing that the misery was nearly over. I see my wife waiting for me at mile 26 and she runs with me (walks too when I need) all the way in. I get my medal and poster. Find my wife. Find oranges. Gag. Suck on the orange. Gag. Swallow the fresh juice. Gag. Repeat the last 4 items 4-5 times.

Wife takes a picture:

Find the beer…I know there is beer here…have a glass…okay about 3 sips. Now you know how bad it is if I can’t drink beer!!!

I stretched a bit while the wife goes and gets some ice cream...we sit and enjoy the day a bit.

I finished The Colorado Marathon (aka Fort Collins Marathon) in 5:25:24.

My wife finished the 10k in 56:25 (clock time) – her actual time is better!

Now that we’ve had some time to think the race over the altitude is what got to me. Not training at the higher elevation my body was supplying oxygen to my muscles and did not want to expend any energy on digestion.

Next marathon is in Maui…elevation right near sea level…shouldn't have any of that trouble!

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