Saturday, April 26, 2014

Desert RATS Trail Marathon

Well, don't' let the name fool you. Absolutely nothing about this race felt like I was in the desert. It normally would, as you can see in the photos I took while running part of this course back in March. But today it decided to rain. And rain a little more. And a little more. But what was about 10 times worse than the rain was definitely the never ending mud caused by the rain.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting day and I don't regret doing this race. In the world of running, especially trail running, there are bound to be some bad days. And what can I say, I have been pretty lucky thus far, in that most of the races I've done have been nice weather. So I sucked it up and finished. Plus it gave me a nice excuse for my incredibly slow time!

This race is part of a trailrunning festival taking place over the entire weekend. On Saturday there is a Marathon, 50K, and Double Marathon, and then on Sunday is a Half-Marathon and 5 Mile race. I signed up to race on Saturday and volunteer Sunday, so it was a bit of a crazy weekend. Because the Marathon started at 6:30 am on Saturday, I didn't really want to make the hour and a half drive that morning, so I planned to stay with Melissa on Friday night. Then after the race, Scott and Argie would meet me up in Grand Junction on Saturday afternoon, so that we could camp at the National Monument that night, and I could volunteer Sunday morning.

So Friday after work, I headed down to Grand Junction, picked up my race packet (which took a pretty long time actually - I wasn't expecting that. But at least it wasn't as long as the Red Hot 33K line  - although I had to ask myself, why is it always races where I'm by myself that the line for packet pick-up takes forever? I never have anyone to talk to). Anyways, after that I met Melissa for dinner at Noodles and Company (YUM! Great pre-race fuel IMO). Then we went back to her place and watched a movie, before I ditched her to go to bed early (in my defense, I did have to get up at 4:45!!).

I slept OKAY. Not great, but not terrible. Unfortunately, it was raining out. The week before the race, the forecast said it was supposed to be beautiful! As we got closer, it slowly kept getting worse, until it finally said it was supposed to rain all morning. When does it rain in the morning in Colorado?? I always thought that was supposed to be an afternoon thing? But I kept holding out hope that maybe it would stop by the time the race started.

I left Melissa's at 5:15ish and made the 20 minute drive west to Mack. It was lightly raining. I was glad I got there somewhat early because it meant I got a decent parking space! Not too far from the start/finish line. I sat in my car for awhile trying to decide what in the world I was going to wear in the rain. I was incredibly thankful that I brought my old trail shoes, as I knew it would at least be somewhat muddy (although I definitely underestimated the amount of muddiness!!). After awhile I got out, circled through the restroom line, and then hopped back in my car until about 10 minutes before the race. Right before I got out, I made the impulse decision to fashion myself a "rain vest" out of an extra trash bag (surprisingly this actually worked out very nicely - kept the rain off, but I didn't get too hot, like I probably would have had I worn my rain jacket). I also decided to wear my visor (and WHAT A LIFESAVER - it seemed silly at first since it wasn't sunny, but this seriously saved my glasses!!! I barely ever had to wipe them off).

Finally, it was about 6:20am, so I got out of my car and looked for some people I knew. I eventually found Robert and Brad - 2 guys from Delta that I run with sometimes. Brad had texted me the day before to see if we wanted to run together to start out with, since he was planning to do the Double Marathon and wanted some company to help pass the miles. I agreed, as long as he was okay going slow with me!

Waiting for the start.

And the gun went off (once again, if there was a gun, I can't remember). The route starts off on a nice dirt road. We took this slow and let a lot of the faster runners pass. About a mile and a half in, we got to the Moore Fun Trail (don't let the name fool you, this section is one of the steeper sections of the course) and the power hiking commenced. Because there were several hundred runners, we were still fairly congested at this point, so it was pretty much just a single file line up the trail for awhile. But once we got to the top, the views were phenomenal (which I already knew - as I have done this section before, BUT it looked completely different in the rain).

View from the top of Moore Fun Trail

Once we got to the top of this section, it was time to start heading back down again. This is when I got my first experience of just how muddy this run was going to be. It got pretty slippery in sections, and I had a couple of "almost falls". GREAT. Somewhere during this section I heard a runner behind me ask if they could pass. Not thinking, I stepped off the trail. And a swarm of around 30 people kept rushing past with no one willing to let me back on. Annoying! I eventually got back on the trail, but I had clearly lost Brad. So for the next couple of miles, my motivation was to catch up with him. And I eventually did (surprisingly without falling), probably less than a mile from the first aid station.

The first aid station was about 6 miles in. There were port-a-potties here and I didn't know if there would be anymore else ware on the course, so I decided to go ahead and wait in line for them. So I lost Brad again. For the rest of the race. I was a little bummed about this since it meant I still had 20 miles to go, all by my lonesome. But that's okay, I'm used to running alone anyways. I was just hoping to get a few more miles than that with company.

Anyways, after surviving the port-a-potties (they were very tilted...scary!), I grabbed a couple snacks from the aid station and continued on. This next part was definitely my favorite. Mary's Loop. For starters it's relatively flat compared to the other sections, and second of all, it's GORGEOUS! You're running right along a ridge line with views of the Colorado River below. I definitely had to stop a few times for pictures. This section is also more rocky than others, so it was a little less muddy (yay!).

The ridge line that we ran along
One of my favorite pictures from the day!

The next aid station came up pretty quickly at around 9 1/2 miles. I was still on the Mary's Loop section and enjoying myself, so I grabbed a quick snack and headed on. We were still along the ridge line until eventually going up a bit, to a section overlooking where we had just been. This was the only time I actually got off the trail and stopped to take a picture because it was such a cool view:

Probably my favorite picture from the day!
 The third aid station was about at the half way point - 13.2 miles. There was another guy that got to the aid station at about the same time as me who had decided to drop from the race. I won't lie, I was VERY tempted. This aid station was only 2 miles from my car...and I had definitely witnessed a lot of terrible mud already. However, the rain was starting to lighten up a bit, and I wasn't about to get my first DNF just because of a little (okay, a lot) of mud. So I decided to stick with it and keep going.

What I didn't realize, was that this next section would be horrendous. I'm calling it my "Debbie Downer" portion of the race. I might've been a bit negative. For starters, I didn't know that I had to go from 13.2 to 19.9 without any aid stations, and it took FOREVER. Secondly, I swear I got passed by a million people, including Robert, who was 5 miles ahead of me (he did the 50K, and they had to do an extra 5 mile loop shortly after mile 6). Now don't get me wrong, I knew he was going to pass me at some point because he's pretty fast, but he passed me so soon! Right after the 13.2 aid station. That was depressing! And the mud... It just kept coming. It was slow going up, and slow going down. It was slippery. I was so afraid I was going to end up face planting into it. Or worse, sliding off a cliff. By mile 16, I was ready to be done. By mile 19, I honestly felt like I was going to be the very last person to finish the marathon. And then, just to add to my "Negative Nancy" attitude, I got passed by a few double marathoners coming back out for the their second loop.

Finally, after what seemed like FOREVER, I made it to the mile 19.9 aid station! What a relief that was. Had we been a little closer to my car, I probably would've dropped out. The aid station volunteers were pretty awesome though! They were super helpful, and one guy held my pack for me while I finally shed my trash bag vest and long sleeve shirt, and another lady assured me that I was not the last person out there and that I only had a 10K to go! So thank you to those aid station volunteers, they were AWESOME! I stayed at this aid station a little longer than the others, fueling up, and getting my attitude back to normal. I had some soda, which was delicious, and then headed on to what I figured would be the longest 10K ever (until I do Leadville and Pikes Peak this summer anyways!!).

The last 6 miles starts with quite a big hill. It was up, up, and more up. I tried to work on my power hiking (since I will definitely need this for Leadville and Pikes), and actually passed a few people. Probably about a mile into this section I caught up with a lady named Anne, who I had seen a few times earlier, and we ended up staying together for the rest of the race. This really helped my attitude. I finally had someone to chat with, and it turns out she lived in Boulder and worked in Broomfield! Small world!

The big hill right after the 19.9 aid station. It was a lot steeper than this makes it look!
The last high point before descending for the LAST time (finally!)
Although the chatting definitely helped pass the time, I swear, it felt like the climbing didn't ever seem to want to let up on this section! Finally, probably a little after mile 23 we started descending! This made me extremely happy. It meant we were almost done! The sun had also come out a little which was AWESOME, although the mud was still very much alive and well. I was actually running for the most part. It was a slow run, but a run nonetheless. And then, I spotted it, we were almost done with trails and onto the dirt road that would lead us to the finish line! What a relief! We ran the roads as much as possible (although, not going to lie, there were a few hills that kind of pissed me off, lol - we were supposed to be done with that by now!!). And then the finish was in sight! I ran through the finishers chute, got my finishers memento and was FINALLY done with what seriously felt like the longest marathon ever (again...until I do Leadville and Pikes...why do I keep saying that?!? What did I get myself into!?). What a relief to be done!

Brad and Robert were at the finish. Robert had finished in 5 1/2 hours (for a 50K? in those conditions!?! How are people so fast?), and Brad finished in around 6 (and decided not to do the second lap for the double because of the conditions). I came in at a whopping 6:30:55. Longer than the 50K I did last month! But meh, what are you going to do? The fact that I didn't drop out, and pushed myself to finish, is an accomplishment in itself, in my opinion. It wasn't fun, but I committed to running this marathon, so I'm glad I stuck with it and did it! I do think I probably could've done it in around 5 1/2, had it not been for all of the perhaps I'll just have to challenge my time next year?! We shall see! ;)

Date: April 19, 2014
Weather: 50's and RAIN
Distance: Marathon (my Garmin clocked it at 26.36 miles)
Bib Number: 229
Official Time: 6:30:55
Garmin Moving Time: 6:21:40
Average Pace: 14:50 min/mile
Elevation Gain: 3,140 feet
Overall Rank: 95 / 133 (honestly, WAY better than I expected)
Gender Rank: 35 / 53
Division Rank (Females 20-29): 3 of 5 (I placed - what!?!?)
Miles 1-7: 10:28, 14:50, 14:35, 13:47, 12:06, 12:36, 17:46
Miles 8-14: 11:04, 11:08, 14:40, 10:39, 13:11, 13:03, 17:18
Miles 15-21: 14:20, 18:15, 15:16, 17:41, 20:31, 20:43, 20:42
Miles 22-26: 15:31, 16:17, 14:19, 13:39, 13:06, 9:56 (last .3)

More Pictures:

Map and Elevation Profile
All finished!
The Finish Line!

Lots of mud!

So now that it's over and done with, I can look back, and say it wasn't actually that bad. I'm glad I pushed through my negative attitude and finished! I am extremely surprised with my rankings. I really did think I was going to be the last person to finish the there's some good news there! The views on the course were PHENOMENAL. I knew that going in, but they were still awesome. Seriously, I never used to know that Colorado had this kind of terrain. Pretty awesome! I definitely would like to run this again another year in dry weather to compare. I think it would be very different.

I do want to try something a little new, and do a "what worked" and "what didn't work", so I can keep a record for future runs in these kind of conditions:

What worked:
  • My visor - seriously SAVED me! My face and my glasses didn't get wet!
  • My trash bag vest - pretty awesome solution for, obviously, a minimal cost. Plus, I could toss it later without worry.
  • My trail shoes (Brooks Cascadia 7's) - for the most part, these worked well. Obviously there's nothing that would've been amazing in the mud, but I think they got the job done
  • Running skirt (Brooks) - I was glad that my legs were bare and I wasn't wearing tights or compression socks with this amount of mud. That would've been a pain to clean.
What didn't work:
  • I forgot my gloves. I ended up being okay, but there were a few instances where they would've been nice
  • Fuel - my last couple trail runs, I just haven't had a lot of energy at the end, and I think I can contribute this to the fact that I haven't been taking enough fuel. Since trail runs don't have as many aid stations, I need to be better about remembering to take things myself (vs. road marathons that have them every 2 miles to remind you)

The rest of the weekend:

After the race, I stuck around for a bit and ate some food, then drove up to the Colorado National Monument to reserve our campsite before heading back down into Grand Junction to meet up with Scott and Argie. We got dinner in town and and then went and set up camp. The rain had definitely stopped and it actually ended up being a gorgeous evening. I had originally wanted to drive back to Grand Junction to go the awards / after party, but the thought of making the 30 minute drive AGAIN that day didn't sound to appealing, plus I was kind of exhausted by this point in the evening. So I ended up heading to bed early, before waking up for my volunteer shift the next day.

Beautiful evening at the Colorado National Monument

Tent all set up!
This picture makes me laugh - it's like he was posing!

On Sunday, I got up at 5:45, got dressed, and then drove to back to Mack to help out at the Half Marathon. It ended up being a seriously, PERFECT day. I was a little jealous that I wasn't running. But at least I had nice weather to stand around outside in. I snapped a few pictures from the day:

View from the starting line. I could tell it was going to be a much nicer day than Saturday!
I might be in love with this picture! Doesn't that just make you want to go run!?
View from the aid station I volunteered at.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway

Canyons, deserts, mountains. Rain, snow, hail, sunshine. Essentially I saw it all today.

This is the cool thing about western Colorado. Before I moved over here, I never really realized what a diverse landscape we have in this state. It's definitely not just mountains (although those are still my favorite).

My foot has been hurting since my ultra marathon last month, so I've been taking some time off of running. What saddens me about this is that I haven't been getting out and enjoying the outdoors as much as usual. So, I convinced my husband that we should go for a scenic drive this weekend! My first thought was Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, but then I decided I didn't want to drive quite that far, so, since the weather was supposed (big emphasis on supposed) to be nice on Sunday, we decided on Durango by way of the San Juan Skyway scenic byway (we were going to do a loop - heading to Durango using Lizard Head Pass, and then coming back home via Silverton and the million dollar highway). However, all of this was scratched when we woke up Sunday morning ready to go and the internet said all the mountain roads were icy. Yes I wanted to go, but I didn't want to risk driving on icy mountain roads for no specific reason. Luckily I had a backup plan - driving a different scenic byway - the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway. The actual scenic byway starts in Whitewater (just south of Grand Junction), heads west to Gateway, then south to Placerville.Since we couldn't just do one way, we did a loop - driving from Montrose to Whitewater, onto the Byway, then once we finished the Byway in Placerville, headed back east via Dallas Divide and to Ridgway and then north back up to Montrose.

Map of the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway

 It actually worked out pretty nicely other than the crazy weather. I figured by doing this more desert route we would be safe from any bad weather. But I was wrong. Shortly after turning onto the byway at Whitewater we hit rain and snow. It wasn't sticking to the roads and we could tell there were clear skies ahead, so we kept going. This first part was in the Unaweep Canyon. It definitely had some beautiful views:

Finally some blue skies coming in!

The weather cleared up about halfway through the canyon, so we had absolutely gorgeous views of Gateway. Gateway is mostly known for the large resort in the town which includes a car museum. We had Argie with us today, so no stopping at the museum, but maybe next time (I've heard it's pretty neat). As the crow flies, Gateway is only about 5 miles from the Utah border, or 30 miles from Moab, so there's no surprise that is has a similar look to Moab - with its red rock formations.

Gateway is pretty well known for this particular rock formation.

Argie and I!

After leaving Gateway, the drive meanders through red rocks until you get to the Dolores River Canyon and the Hanging Flume. The Hanging Flume is a national historic landmark that was built in the late 1800's for placer mining.

Dolores River Canyon

The Hanging Flume

Close up of the Hanging Flume

The section between the hanging flume and Placerville was fairly uneventful. We drove through Naturita and Norwood, both small towns - although not quite as small as I was expecting given how remote the area is. Between the two towns the weather changed again, from sunny to cloudy and snowy. I was a little bummed that the clouds came in, as I think there might've been some good views of the San Juan Mountains had it been clear. Shortly after Norwood is a fairly steep decent and the landscape changes to a more mountainous environment. We passed several campgrounds and picnic areas along the San Miguel River. It was right along here that the weather went from bad to worse. It started snow/hailing. It was coming down pretty hard and started sticking to the roads, so we decided to pull off at this point and just let it pass.

San Miguel River

The crazy snow/hail we ran into - looks like dip-n-dots!

After waiting it out for 15 minutes or so, it had lightened up a little, so we continued on. Not to long after this we reached highway 62 which goes over Dallas Divide. I, as usual, wanted to stop at Dallas Divide (I mean who can honestly drive highway 62 and NOT stop there - no matter how many times I see them, the views always take my breath away). Of course with the crazy weather we were having, it wasn't the same - you could barely see any of the Sneffels Range, but it was still beautiful!

Dallas Divide Overlook

The weather continued snowing off and on until we reached Ridgway, and then it seemed to stop and we had clear views back to Montrose.

View towards Ouray from Ridgway

I had a lot of fun on this drive! Scott and I don't tend to do a lot of things like this in the winter, so it was fun to spend some time together exploring a new part of Colorado!

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...