It’s taken 43 marathons this year, but I think I’ve finally gotten to the point that I’m not stressing about my finishing times. I know at this point that I’m banged up and I can’t run like I’m fresh. If all I can do is go out and beat myself up and go as hard as I can, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Sunday’s Mountain Air Marathon in Colorado was a perfect example. I expected to be slow, I was two minutes slower than I thought I’d be, and I’m totally fine with that.
This race was a last-minute addition to the schedule. I originally planned to run in Yonkers, N.Y., Sunday, but I switched that to Boulder, Colo., about three weeks ago, because it was going to be a lot more effective for Operation Jack.
However, the race in Boulder was postponed six days in advance, which left me scrambling to find something to run. Fortunately, I found the Mountain Air Marathon, which was 225 miles southwest of Denver, starting in Crested Butte and finishing in Gunnison, and didn’t force me to change my airline tickets. It just added 450 miles of driving to the weekend.
Boulder was going to be a challenging race, because it had lots of rolling hills and the elevation varied from 5,200 feet to 5,600 feet — serious oxygen deprivation for a sea-level guy like me. The Mountain Air Marathon, appropriately named, started at 8,955 feet and ended at 7,850 feet. The highest elevation I had previously hit was in the 7,200-foot range at the peak of the Park City Marathon four weeks ago.
The elevation, combined with the fact that I was coming off of back-to-back weekends with ultramarathons, didn’t give me much hope of a great day. Regardless, I knew I’d go out and give it my all. I wasn’t hoping for much better than a 3:40, though.
Once we took off, I took it fairly easy, taking my time to get my heart rate up. Breathing was a little tough and it was chilly. I knew I was in for a long day and I did my best to make sure it wasn’t any longer than necessary. I was feeling fairly winded by about 3-4 miles in, but I comfortably locked into a groove of about a 7:30 pace. By about mile 5, my hamstrings started feeling pretty tight, which hasn’t happened yet this year. It made sense to me, though. I normally stretch my hamstrings pretty well after my training runs, but I’ve only been riding the bike at the gym for the past two weeks, so I haven’t stretched at all. I didn’t stretch after my 54-miler last weekend, because I was cramping pretty badly.
Although my hamstrings hurt, that didn’t really slow me down. I kept knocking off miles in that 7:30 range and went through the half in 1:42 and change. I felt better than I thought I would and was hoping to have enough to hang on to a sub-3:30. I kept an eye on the elevation, hoping we were dropping at a consistent pace. If the race ever leveled off, I knew I’d be toast. Everything seemed fine and I was encouraged about the second half.
However, out of nowhere, both of my legs got extremely stiff at about mile 15. I didn’t hit the wall. I was just in a ton of pain. I’m getting used to running through pain, and while I don’t like it, I deal with it. The only bummer is that it slows you down and the miles seem to drag on forever. I started running in the 9:00 – 9:30 range, just trying to hang on and breathe. I got passed by a few people and didn’t really care. It was me against myself and that’s all I could focus on.
The course seemed to be running a bit long — I know what kind of tangents I’m running and I truly believe they measured it about 2/10 of a mile long. It wasn’t a huge concern to me, though. If you’re going to run 26.4 instead of 26.2, you might as well see what I saw. It was nature at its finest. It was exactly what you think of when you think of Colorado. Mountains, plenty of trees, leaves turning gold, rivers, open fields — it was a beautiful course, definitely in the upper tier of courses I’ve run this year. Probably not a destination race, because it’s difficult to get to and it’s a small race, but it’s a great course.
Anyways, at mile 22.5, we were at about 7,800 feet. And then at mile 23.5, we were at about 7,950 feet. It was a brutal mile that seemed to leave a lot of us for dead out there. By mile 25, I saw three guys a few hundred yards up. I don’t have much speed right now, but I have endurance and I decided to kick for the last mile and try to pass them. I caught two of them at about 25.4 and I could tell they weren’t going to catch me. The third guy had passed me at about mile 22 and was moving pretty well, but I felt good and went by him with about a 1/2 mile to go. I kept pounding because I didn’t want to give him any hope of passing me back.
As luck would have it, there was final climb at about 25.9 before we headed into the football stadium on the campus of Western State College to finish with 300 meters on the track. I was limping a little bit but kept going as hard as I could. The WSC track team was there volunteering and cheering us on, which was a bit of a boost. I went somewhere right around 3:42 flat, good for 9th overall. They had an ice tub, which was nice to sit in for a little bit. I also stretched afterwards this time!
All in all, a tough day, but really, I can’t complain about running a 3:42 at that altitude in my 43rd marathon of the year after running ultras each of the previous two weekends.
So there you have it, 43 down, two ultramarathons in the books, 18 to go! Next weekend, the Tahoe Triple.
If I looked like I was on top of the world, that’s because I was. This race finished at about 7,850 feet above sea level.