Sunday, April 2, 2017

Canyonlands Half Marathon 2017 {Race Recap}



Ahh, another year at the Canyonlands Half Marathon. I don't know what it is about this race, but I just love it. From the nostalgia of it being my first Half Marathon, to the beautiful peacefulness of the canyon you run through, and even including that horrible, terrible stretch from Mile 11-12, it's still remains one of my favorites! Every year I debate doing it again, and then every year, there I am...registering for it again! This year was no different, I was once again going to skip it, but low and behold as soon as they sent out an email saying that this was going to be the last year it would be a fully closed course, I just knew I HAD to do it!

My friend Kellee was once again heading up for it as well - she's ran it every year since 2013, while I've ran it 4 times since 2013 (I missed 2014 when I chose to run an Ultra in Moab the weekend before), and the last three years we've made sure to meet up for the race!

This year, I'm trying to be a little more budget conscious with my racing, so I opted to stay home the night before and drive up in the morning. It always sounds rough, but it's actually not too bad - I got up at 5am, was out the door by 5:40, and made it into Moab by 7:15 - perfect timing for pre-race packet pick-up which went until 7:30. After I got my packet, I drove over to the bus pick-up and waited a few minutes to meet up with Kellee before we made our way up the canyon to the start of the race.

The sunrise as I made my way to Moab!

The weather forecast for this year was the hottest it has ever been in the four years I've ran this: 2013 was PERFECT with overcast skies and high's in the 60's; 2015 was hot, but high's in the 70's, last year was also hot with high's in the 70's, but the wind kept it cooler, albeit at the cost of being windy). This year the forecast was for high's in the mid-80's and no wind... I've said it before and I know i'll say it again, I do NOT do well in the heat. Nevertheless, I also knew I wasn't going to really "race" it this year, so I wasn't as concerned as I would've been had I been gunning for a PR or something.

In fact, I wasn't really sure what pace I wanted to run this in at all. I had put a lot of training into the Houston Marathon back in January, including a decent amount of speedwork. But after that, I spent the next two months doing a whole lot of nothing. Don't get me wrong, I've been running, but just haven't had any specific goals. It's actually been kind of nice - just running what I want to run. Nevertheless, I know I typically get into a little bit of a "racing" spirit once I get going, so I decided about 30 minutes before the race that I would go for sub-2:00 hours. I knew this would be challenging enough that I would have to put in some serious effort, but not so challenging that it would be miserable, especially with the heat.

After sitting around in the canyon for close to two hours (yep, be prepared to be bused up super early if you run this race, and be prepared to be COLD while you wait, even if the high says its going to be HOT), we finally made our way over to the starting line to get ready. I shed my extra layers into my drop bag, and then tried to squeeze my way up to the 2 hour pace group. If there's one thing that's slightly annoying about this race, it's that the pacers stand way too close to each other, making the start line insanely difficult to work your way through (I always go back too far, and then realize I'm back by the 3 hour pacer and it's pretty difficult to work my way up).

Kellee and I waiting for the start!

Trying to stay warm with my trash bag

The gun went off right on time and I started on my way. I knew I wanted sub-2:00, which is a 9:09 pace, but decided to just see what my first mile came in at without looking at it too much, and just running a moderate pace. I ended up running Mile 1 in 8:47. This actually felt pretty good, so I decided to stick it out at this pace for a bit and see how it went. My next few miles came in at 8:30, 8:49, 8:51.




A few miles in and I remembered that I had wanted to make sure to get pictures, so I made sure to pull of the road a couple times and snap some quick ones. Around Mile 4 I saw my friend Jan and chatted with her for a few minutes. By this time, we were no longer in the shade and it was definitely getting HOT.






I contined running pretty consistent miles (for me), 8:31, 8:41, 8:30, 8:50, 8:42. The only significant hill is right after you hit 9, so mile 10 was my slowest of the day, but I still came in under 9 minutes - running an 8:55. These splits actually felt pretty good - not "easy", but not too hard. It was definitely hot out, but I was still feeling pretty good. At this point, I was fairly confident that I could push my pace at the end of the race. I ran Mile 11 in 8:38, as I made my way out of the canyon and onto the "horrible stretch".





This is when you exit the beautiful, traffic-free canyon, and get to run alongside a stretch of road that leads into Moab. Because it's the main road into Moab, they can only "cone" off part of the road, so you're running right next to a lot of traffic including lots of big trucks. This year, I swear it felt like the temperature SOARED 10+ degrees the instant I got onto this stretch. Nevertheless, I continued on, trying not to let my pace slip.

With about 1.5 miles to go, my friend David, who had paced me at the end of The Other Half last fall, was here again this year, and met me to pace me in for the end of this one too (he had already finished "officially" pacing the 1:30 group... yeah, that's a 6:52 pace...that he just ran casually.., and then came back for a few more really slow miles with me!). He's a really good pacer and knew just what pace to run right in front of me to get me to pick up my pace... although this year I struggled a little more than last fall at picking my pace up - I did pick it up but not as much as I had hoped - running Mile 12 in 8:26.


Right after 12, you turn off of the terrible stretch, and get to run on back neighborhood roads to the finish line. I tried to increase my pace as much as possible, but the heat was really getting to me by this point, so the most I could muster was an 8:18 pace, which I ran Mile 13 in. I then tried my best to run as fast as I could through the finisher's shoot, which was a 7:46 pace (for .1) - not as fast as I like to finish in, but I could definitely tell I gave it my all...because the second I crossed the finsh line and stopped, I felt like I was going to puke... (that's how you know you had a good race - I know, lovely). Thankfully, I didn't end up puking, and just had to take a few minutes to cool off. I ended up finishing in 1:53:55 - not bad considering I was just going for under 2 hours!

RACE STATS:
Race: Canyonlands Half Marathon
Date: March 18, 2017
Location: Moab, Utah
Distance: Half Marathon; 13.1 Miles
Elevation: 354 ft gain / 451 ft loss
Bib Number: 1655
Weather: HOT - 60's at the start, 70's at the end
Gun Time: 1:54:58
Chip Time: 1:53:55
Average Pace: 8:41 per mile
Overall Rank: 355 of 1663
Gender Rank: 124 of 984
Age Rank (F25-29): 16 of 138

The one good thing about it being an unseasonably warm day, was that it was the perfect weather for sitting and hanging out in the beer garden! This race gives you up to three free beers with your race entry, so I had a great time sitting with some running friends and having beer (I only had 2 though! I did need to drive home later that afternoon!).



After relaxing in the beer garden for a bit, I went and had lunch with Kellee and Dan at Zak's - which has been our tradition for post-race lunch the past three years! After filling up on their pizza and salad buffet, I then hit the road and headed home from another great year at Canyonlands!

One other tradition about this race that I now have, is going for a great race picture! Haha, no really, it was actually just kind of a funny coincidence that I got great race pictures in 2015 and 2016, so this year I had to try for one again (since I also now know where the photographers typically hang out). This year's isn't quite as good as the last two years, but still not too shabby! :)



Sunday, March 5, 2017

#WestSlopeBestSlope Trail Series: Lunch Loops / Tabeguache Trails

Since I'm stepping my running down a little this year and not racing quite as much, I'm excited to use this blog to do a little something I've thought about for awhile now, but just never had a chance: a blog series highlighting some of the awesome local trails I get to run all the time!

If you follow me on social media, you've also probably seen me using the hashtag, #westslopebestslope. I love using this hashtag, as I truly feel like the Western Slope of Colorado is a hidden gem for people who love the outdoors. Grand Junction, while it may not have as many glamorous things as the Front Range / Denver area, has some seriously AWESOME outdoor recreation opportunities. We've got trails upon trails with a fraction of the people (and no traffic)! While I mostly just run and hike, there are also tons of opportunities for Mountain Biking (actually what this area is best known for), Canyoneering, Rafting, etc. We've got access to the largest flat top mountain in the world - the Grand Mesa, which sits at over 10,000 feet, but we've also got some seriously cool desert and canyon trails as well. And if that's not enough to keep me busy (or, more likely in my case, I'm being picky about the type of trails I want to run), I can also get to Moab, Ouray or Aspen, all within two hours or less!

So without further ado, the first trail I am going to highlight are the trails you've probably seen me post about ALL. THE. TIME - the "Lunch Loops", or Tabeguache Trails. These trails get their name because they are close enough to town that you can ride them on your lunch break (I say ride, as they are primarily a mountain bike trail system...but running and hiking is also permitted - thank goodness!). While I haven't actually gotten out to these trails during my lunch break, this is typically my"go-to" trail for before or after work because of it's location!

These trails are also sometimes referred to as the "Tabeguache Trails", as this is the start (or end depending on how you look at it) of the Tabeguache Trail - a 142 mile trail from Grand Junction to Montrose by way of the Uncompahgre Plateau! I always knew the "Tabeguache Trail" continued on, but had no idea that it went that far until just discovering this on the BLM website this evening - pretty cool!

Trail: Lunch Loops / Tabeguache Trails
Location: Grand Junction, Colorado
Trail Head Access: The main trailhead is located off of Monument Road - to access from town, take Grand Avenue West over the River, then make a left onto Monument Road. The trailhead will be about 1.5 miles ahead on your left. Note - there are also a couple of access points to the backside of these trails off of Little Park Road.
Distance: Varies - this is an entire trail "system" with multiple shorter trails intertwined. It takes awhile to learn them all (I'm still working on it actually!), but you can get anywhere from a couple of miles to 12+ miles. (Note - all of the different small trails can also get confusing, so if you're a first timer, I highly recommend bringing the map with you!).
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Best Time of Day/Year: I run these year round, but in the summer, I stick to early mornings as they do get extremely hot in the warmer months. There is very little, if any, shade on these trails.
Map: http://copmoba.org/trail-map-pdfs  (copmoba.org has AWESOME, extremely helpful maps of all of our mountain biking trails - definitely check it out if you are looking to explore any of these!)
Elevation: Trailhead - 4,700'; High Point: 5700'
Notes: This is a mountain bike trail, so be on the lookout, but most mountain bikers are very courteous to pedestrians!

Since this is a trail "system" with a lot of intertwining trails, your options for routes are endless. I have two "go-to" weekday routes in the 4-5 mile range - either taking Curts Lane to Miramonte Rim, and back (5 Miles), or doing Pet-e-kes to High Noon, to Ravens Ridge, and then back via Curts Lane (4 Miles). If you're really wanting some good climbing, taking Eagles Wing to the "high point" of the trail system will get you over 1000' of climbing in about 3 1/2 miles.

Trail Map that you can find at copmoba.org


















Friday, February 24, 2017

Course Sweeping Moab's Red Hot Race


Three years ago I was blown away by the beauty of Moab when I first did the Moab Red Hot 33K. I was running it as a training run for my first 50K that would also be in Moab later that month. Ever since running this, I've always wanted to go back and do it again, but my racing schedule just hasn't allowed for it (I typically tend to be training for road races in the winter and early spring). So, when I found myself without any upcoming goal road races, and the race announced that they were looking for course "sweepers",  I jumped at the opportunity!

A course sweeper is someone who goes out after everyone else has started the race, and pulls the course markings / flags while making sure to stay behind any runners. It's also important to keep an eye out for any runners who may have fallen behind or gotten off course. Essentially, this was a great way for me to experience this awesome course again, without any added pressure of racing (which I really didn't need, since I know I wasn't in shape to really "race" anyways!), all while giving back to the running community!

When I ran this several years back, the weather was just about perfect. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans this year, and we ended up with rain in the forecast! Luckily, my friend Randee was also course sweeping a section of the 55K, and had offered me a ride to the aid station I needed to start from (my original plan had been to run an extra 5.5 miles to this aid station - but with the rain, I gladly took her up on this offer. I'm also extremely glad I did, as my starting point wasn't in the spot I thought it was in - so I would've been a little lost out there before even beginning!). To get to this aid station, required going over a fairly rough 4WD road that thankfully, her and her Toyota Sequoia, handled very nicely!

Views from the drive up with Randee!
Once we finally made it up there, she headed off to sweep her loop, while I waited around for about 20 minutes or so until it was time for me to start (I could not start until after 12:00, as that's when the course cutoff for runners to go by this point was). It was still raining out, and while it wasn't too bad, and I knew it would be fine once I got moving, it was COLD while just waiting around. Thankfully the aid station volunteers let me sit in their car for a bit while I waited.

Randee and I prior to starting our sweeping!
At about 12:10, I headed off to start what I thought would end up being about 15-16 miles (it actually ended up at 18.5!). I had never course swept before and while I knew it would be more time consuming than simply running the course, I was in for a surprise at just how incredibly slow going this day would turn out to be! Nevertheless, I set out to start my adventure!

The first mile was a fast downhill, and even with pulling tags, I ended up with my fastest mile of the day at about a 10:30 mile. My job was to pull all of the pink/black tags - which were the "follow me" tags, as well as the green tags - which meant "don't go this way". Often times these green tags were fairly off course, and required some extra distance to go pick those ones up.



After that first mile, things slowed down significantly as the course turned flat, and then eventually up, up, and more up. About 3 or 4 miles in I came across two runners who were quite a bit off course. I slowed as I heard people talking and looked around a bit, just as they called out to me asking where the course was. I told them that I was right by a flag so if they just came back towards me, they would get back on course. After this happened, I decided to slow to a walk for a bit and let those runners get ahead of me quite a ways. My biggest fear was that someone would get off course, but I wouldn't see them, and I'd go on pulling tags, leaving them stranded out there (trust me, it can be difficult to find your way WITH pink flags showing the route - I cannot imagine how it would be without those!).






I spent the next few miles going pretty slow - to allow those runners to get a good head start, but also because the course had turned to uphill slick rock - which is one of the hardest things for me to run. I don't know why - the grade isn't even that bad, but it's a struggle for me. So I just kept at it, nice and slow, as I finally made my way to my first aid station of the day (which is the 2nd aid station for the 33K runners, and the 4th aid station for the 55K runners). The aid station volunteers were pretty happy to see me, as this meant they could pack their aid station up and go home for the day. Meanwhile, I was happy to see them, as I had about a million pink and green flags stuffed into my hydration vest and skirt pocket that I was extremely happy to be able to trash! After emptying my pockets, I grabbed a mini hersheys bar and went on my way.

It was supposedly only 6 1/2 miles to the next aid station, but this next section took FOREVER. I am not kidding - I was probably out there for close to 3 hours between these two aid stations. These 6.5 miles were also entirely on slickrock, which did not help my pace out! However, it had stopped raining about a mile back, so I was able to start taking lots of pictures again, including one stop at an awesome overlook where I probably spent one too many minutes attempting to get a selfie on the edge of a cliff... it never did turn out that great either!

Selfie Fail!

Overlooking the entrance into Arches National Park!



These next few hours were definitely the most lonely. I did come across one other runner, who had also gotten off course. Once he got back on course, he was quickly off and out of my sight, and I was once again alone, zig zagging between the various flags spread all across the course! After what felt like forever, I got to my least favorite section of the race - some very steep slickrock climbs, which were actually somewhat slick today given the rain, and subsequently sand, that had been tracked up onto the rocks because of the rain. Nevertheless I made it over those sections, and FINALLY made it to my second and last aid station of the day!







Once again, these people were pretty happy to see me, since they could now head home. I was pretty thankful that they still had a couple cups of Coke out, so I had some of that while emptying the two million flags I had collected during this section (this was seriously the most flags ever...I don't even know how I fit them all!). They let me know that the last runner was only about 5 minutes ahead of me. This was actually a welcome statement, as it meant I couldn't have ran any faster even if I had really tried, since my job was to remain the last person on the course (being alone for the past several hours had left me feeling like I was the slowest person ever, since this was taking me much longer than I had originally anticipated).



Overlooking the "Behind The Rocks" area and the La Sal Mountains!

As I remembered from three years ago, the course is quite a bit easier after this last aid station, since the slickrock section is mostly done. You are also welcomed to the most amazing views of the Behind The Rocks area with the La Sal Mountains appearing behind them (although they were a little cloud covered today - still gorgeous though!). The race course continues on a nice sandy dirt road for about a mile and a half before it turns much more rough for a couple more miles, until you finally get to the overlook that means you're almost there:


Once you hit this overlook, you've got a bunch of downhill switchbacks (which were WAY more rocky this year than the first year I did it), and then you're essentially finished. As I approached the switchbacks I came up on the last place runner - chatted briefly with him, and then let him go ahead again as I made my way down picking up my last few flags before finally finishing in just shy of 6 hours, right as the sun was coming down! There was a little bit of running, a lot of walking, a fair amount of picture taking, and SO. MANY. FLAGS. but it was pretty awesome nonetheless!

All Finished!

Overall, it was a great weekend! After the race, we went to the official race "after-party" where I got to hear legend ultrarunners Ian Torrence and Scott Jurek talk, and then the next day a few of us went for a hike to Morning Glory Arch before heading back home!

Meeting Scott Jurek!

Recovery Hike on Sunday before heading home!