Another weekend, another Operation Jack Marathon in the books. This time, it was the Grand Valley Marathon in Palisade, Colorado. I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped, but then again, do I ever?
The course itself was very scenic. We ran across and alongside a river, past vineyards, with snow-capped mountains in the not-so-far distance. We also went past a few farms and I saw some horses. We started and finished in a quaint little downtown section of Palisade, a fairly small town about 12 miles east of Grand Junction.
I’ve always thought of Grand Junction as a pass-through area, since I always stopped there for gas or a meal when driving back and forth between Kansas and California when I was in college. But wow, this area was pretty scenic.
This was a nice, local race that was pretty well organized. Probably not something I’d recommend traveling to if flying was required, but I think it’s worth driving a few hours to and staying in Grand Junction or Palisade (I don’t know if there are rooms there).
Anyways, the run. I was a little apprehensive about the elevation. I knew we started at 4,700 feet and climbed to 4,900 or so feet, which isn’t incomprehensible for me, but that altitude is considerably higher than the 700-1,100 foot range I train at every day. I knew we had a climb of about 195 feet between mile 4 and 5 that would sap me a bit, although it was an out-and-back, so I knew I had that on the way back. The only problem with climbs like that is you never get enough back to make it worth it. And when the climbs are early, I worry about taking too much out of myself.
We took off and I felt OK, running at what I figured would wind up being about a 3:10 pace. I was hoping I’d end up in that range, although I knew that hill was coming. The field was small, maybe 100 or so runners. In a race this size, you know exactly where you stand pretty quickly and I knew within a mile that I was in third. I had zero shot at the guy leading, but the man in second wasn’t too much faster than me.
As expected, I struggled up that big hill. My pace dropped to as slow as 12:00/mile or so at one point. I caught up with the guy in second at around mile 7 and we ran together for a few miles. I don’t come out and start talking about the 60-marathon thing right off the bat, but it’s pretty easy to pull out when he asks where I’m from and finds out I flew in for the race from California. He was a super-nice guy, and like everybody else, he thinks I’m crazy. But he ran that race where you trek 150 miles across the Sahara in a week. And he does those adventure races where you need a map that they give you to figure out where you’re going. All I do is play follow-the-leader for 26.2.
We ran pretty close together, either side-by-side or leapfrogging each other, until about mile 15. We hit the half in 1:36 and I thought I could negative-split the course because of the big downhill I’d get at 21, so I thought 3:10 was still in reach. But as soon as we turned around at 13.1, there was a pretty strong wind straight in our face. I don’t why I didn’t notice it at my back much on the way out. But it lasted until about mile 24.
Larry (that was the man’s name) started to pull away at about mile 15. My quads and glutes had been screaming at me since mile 8 and I was no match for the wind. I knew fourth place was about 5 minutes behind me, so I figured I had a pretty good shot at holding onto third. I kept trucking, wallowing in self-pity, enjoying the sights. I could tell I was a good minute or so from second. He’s a pretty quick guy, with a PR of 2:56 from a few years back and he ran a 3:07 earlier this year.
I didn’t have a lot going down the hill. I think I got my pace as quick as about 6:30 or so per mile, but that’s not all that fast for me considering what I’m capable of and how steep that hill was. It was actually kind of painful using my legs as brakes.
Coming out of that drop, I saw Larry and he wasn’t too far off. I could tell he was struggling. I felt bad, because I know how not fun it is to fade late, but all I could do was run my own race. I passed him at 23, he offered some encouragement, and I had two things to work for over those last three miles.
One, I had to go strong and immediately create some distance, otherwise he’d find a way to make a charge at me late. And two, I needed to push, because I knew I was on the cusp of 3:20. I did not want to end up in the 3:20s again. So, I pushed pretty hard over those final three miles. I had been running miles in the mid-8s, but I got down to the low 7s.
I felt pretty beat up, but I went strong to the finish and after doing an over-the-shoulder peek on a turn at 24, I knew I had second place locked up. I knew with about 3/4 of a mile to go I had the 3:19 locked up, although I kept pushing as hard as I could. I finished in 3:19:30, not a great time for me, but it was absolutely not a PR course or PR weather. The guy who won the race went 2:51. So I was right knowing I had no shot at him.
All-in-all, I’ll call it a good run. It was a beautiful course, and while my time wasn’t the greatest, I was content with what I got out of myself given the course and the wind.
Next up, Cleveland. 24 down, 36 to go!
Dang, am I that wide? The camera doesn’t lie. :/
Thankfully my award for second place was a small trophy, not a new car. I wouldn’t be able to carry a car on the plane!