So…. this race was not planned. Originally, I was just going to Breckenridge to support Gunnar as he ran the marathon (and do my own long run of 12-15ish miles). However, on Saturday, I set out to do a 20 miler on the trails nearby. It went terribly. I called it quits at 15 miles, feeling super demoralized. I hadn’t been able to finish a 20 miler in months, and I was really hoping to have a good long run on Saturday to make me feel a bit better about my training. After my disaster of a 15 miler, I started contemplating jumping into one of the Breck Crest races. Gunnar told me that they had race day registration, so I decided I’d make a game time decision on Sunday morning. Originally, I was actually thinking about doing the half marathon and maybe adding on a couple of warmup/cooldown miles and hitting around 16-18 miles total for the day. Sunday morning, I decided that if I was going to do it, I would do the whole marathon. I felt like I needed to prove to myself that I could still run 20+ miles, and that signing up for the race would prevent me from wimping out at the end and quitting early. I definitely wasn’t planning to actually “race” the race. I had done two long-ish steady state workouts during the week and had just done that disastrous 15 miler the day before, so my legs were pretty dead (I was already over 50 miles for the week!). Before the start, Gunnar told me that he expected to see me on the podium. I laughed.
Start – mile 4.2 (13:19 pace, 1,253 ft of gain, 0 ft of loss)
Gun goes off and everyone starts running. A couple guys went out pretty hard, and Gunnar went with them. There weren’t many women signed up for the marathon from what I could tell, but at least 3 or 4 women went off ahead of me and were out of sight pretty quickly. I hadn’t spent too much time looking at the course profile, but I knew the first 7 miles or so were almost completely uphill, going from 9,500 ft of elevation up to around 12,500 ft. I am not strong on uphills, and I am especially bad at running at high altitude. Every single time I’ve gone above ~8,000 ft, I’ve gotten terrible headaches whenever I try to run. I knew that most of this race would take place above 10,000 ft, so I wanted to be really cautious in the first part of the race to try to avoid the headaches as much as I could.
I ran a bit for the first mile or so, and then transitioned pretty quickly to mostly powerhiking. I got passed by a few people, and then settled into a bit of a rhythm. The half marathon started 10 minutes after the marathon, and shares the first 7 miles before the courses split, so after a mile or two I also started getting passed by the half marathoners. Seeing them running up the same grades that I was dying just trying to hike up was pretty humbling. At this point, I was severely regretting my decision to sign up. I started to wonder whether or not I should drop out or see if I could switch to the half marathon mid-race. It had been so long since my last real “mountain” run. It was so stupid and egotistical of me to just assume I could show up and finish something like this. Because I hadn’t really planned to run this race, the only gear I had with me was a new waistbelt, two soft flasks, and two gels. I was going to have to rely pretty heavily on the aid stations, and I hoped I wouldn’t run out of fluids and food in between aid stations if I ended up moving really slowly. When I got to the first aid station at 4.2 miles, I refilled my soft flask with some Skratch mix (brand new to me! never tried it before! luckily didn’t have any stomach issues, but definitely don’t recommend doing this!) and grabbed a pack of Honey Stinger chews before heading out.
Miles 4.2 – 7 (19:37 pace, 1,476 ft of gain, 151 ft of loss)
After leaving this aid station, I continued to get passed by half marathoners, as well as a few full marathoners who had caught up to me with their superior uphill running capabilities. There’s nothing quite as humbling as trudging slowly up a hill while someone effortlessly bounds past you without breaking a sweat. Luckily, the views from the course were absolutely stunning and helped to distract me from the pain I was feeling. Before the race started, I had programmed my watch to alert me every 45 minutes so I could remember to eat something. This was HUGELY beneficial for this race. In the past, I tend to forget to eat during hard efforts (and especially when it’s warm). I made a promise to myself that for this race, every time the alarm went off, I would eat or drink some calories so I could really practice race day ultra fueling. The first time it went off, before the first aid station, I had eaten an (expired) Spring Energy gel that I had brought from home. The next time, in this segment, I ate the pack of chews that I had grabbed from that first aid station.
I was still planning in the back of my head how I would DNF. Maybe once I got to the marathon/half marathon split at 7 miles, I could ask a volunteer if I could just switch to the half marathon instead. But then I thought about how the half started 10 minutes after the full. Surely they wouldn’t let me drop down because those 10 minutes would be annoying to factor into the finishing times. Eventually I struck a bargain with myself. I knew that I always feel like absolute dog shit on uphills, no matter the pace. I decided I had to at least stick it out until I got to some of the flats and the downhills before I could decide that I was feeling too bad to continue. If I still felt crappy going downhill, then I could DNF.
Eventually, we crested the top of the ridge. A volunteer was stationed up at the top, shouting encouragement to everyone. As I slowly hiked up, I heard him tell someone “this is the last climb! it’s all downhill to the finish from here!” . Unfortunately for me, he was talking to a half marathoner. The full marathon course still had several climbs left. After cresting the ridge, the trail flattened out and began to curve downhill towards the second aid station. My legs were still screaming at me after the ~3,000 foot climb that I had put them through, but I managed to break into a painful shuffle as I made my way down into the aid station.
Miles 7 – 10.2 (15:56 pace, 827 ft of gain, 1,234 ft of loss)
After grabbing some more chews and refilling my soft flasks with water and Skratch, I headed out. The volunteers were directing half marathoners down a lovely looking gradual downhill trail to the finish, and full marathoners were directed towards yet another climb. I settled into my slow hike again, having forgotten that I meant to ask a volunteer if I could drop down to the half. After a short period of climbing, the trail leveled out and began to drop down a bit, letting me break out of my hike into something that could possibly resemble a run. The trail was a bit rooty and rocky, and I was a little wary to push the pace after I split open my knee running downhill on Greys & Torreys and breaking my wrist running downhill from Mt. Sanitas.
After shuffling my way down the trail, we hit yet another short climb. I swiftly transitioned back into powerhike mode. I had actually gained some ground on some of the runners ahead of me during the downhill portions of the trail, but they started to pull away again as we started to climb. After this short and steep climb, the trail settled into a really nice gravel non-technical gradual downhill. Perfect for me. I started hurtling down the trail and passed a couple of runners ahead of me fairly quickly. Not gonna lie, I was a little nervous that I would end up with blown out quads by mile 16 and have to death march for miles to the finish. But I also knew that taking the downhills super slowly wouldn’t be good for my quads either. Taking it slowly would mean increased impact forces on my legs, and I’d end up with dead quads either way. Might as well take the free speed while I can get it! I cruised down the trail, heading off the ridge and down into a beautiful wooded section. The shade was very welcome, as it had started to get fairly toasty while we were exposed on the ridge. In the woods, I caught another girl ahead of me and passed her. She had been a lot stronger than me on the uphills, but she didn’t seem to be moving very quickly on the downhills or the flats. I was hoping that we wouldn’t hit a climb soon, and I could gain a good bit of ground on her.
Of course, about 5 minutes after I passed her, the trail started to slope upward again. I kept looking back over my shoulder, waiting for her to reappear and start catching up to me. Soon enough, there she was! I hiked as hard as I could (which is still not very fast), and stumbled up into the third aid station. One of the volunteers helped me refill my soft flasks, directed me to another pack of chews to grab, and told me that the last big climb was almost over. I trudged off onto the trail again, trying to stay ahead of all the people I had passed.
Miles 10.2 – 15 (14:17 pace, 561 ft of gain, 1,831 ft of loss)
After about two straight miles of uphill, I finally reached the top of the climb. Miraculously, I hadn’t been passed by anyone behind me. I had been glancing over my shoulder every few minutes, just waiting to see someone pop up. At one point, I got a little paranoid that I had actually gotten off course. I hadn’t seen any course markings in awhile, and there was no one in sight ahead of me or behind me. But, I also hadn’t passed any intersections and I was definitely still on an established trail. I decided to just trust my gut and keep moving forward.
After reaching the top of the climb, I started heading downhill again. The first part of this trail was pretty technical, and had a lot of loose gravel that I was worried about slipping on. I took it pretty slow down this section. Luckily, after a few minutes of hopping around down the rocks, the trail smoothed out and turned into nice packed dirt and gravel. I started to pick up speed (in comparison to my abysmal uphill pace) and finally got into a “flow” state for a few miles. Somehow I managed to get “she’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes” stuck in my head on repeat for this entire section. These downhill miles flew by, and suddenly I was pulling into the fourth aid station at mile 15. A few hikers hanging out nearby cheered me on as I ran in, and one commented that I looked “really strong”. I laughed internally. It’s not hard to look strong running downhill! They hadn’t seen me trudging my way slowly up the mountain earlier. Again, I refilled my flasks and grabbed some chews. This aid station had printed out a course profile, and they showed me where we were currently at. There was one more extended climb, and then some rolling hills to the finish. I set out again, hoping to keep the momentum rolling and keep my legs alive for the last 8 miles.
Miles 15 – 19.5 (12:25 pace, 407 ft of gain, 804 ft of loss)
This section is where things started to fall apart a little bit. I cruised for awhile after leaving the aid station, coasting down the gradual downhills. Soon enough though, the trail started to climb upwards again. And I was in trouble. My arch nemesis is the “douche grade hill”: a low enough grade that you feel silly walking it, but steep enough that trying to run will spike my heart rate through the roof and leave me exhausted. I began to alternate running and walking, forcing myself to run whenever the trail seemed flat or downhill, no matter how short the section was. It was also starting to heat up, and the trail was beginning to leave the shade of the trees. I started to feel really thirsty and drained my soft flasks.
I knew that the next aid station was supposed to be at around mile 19.5, so my eyes were glued to my Garmin, waiting to hit mile 19.5 and get some more liquids. Mile 19.5 came… and no aid station appeared on the horizon. I keep struggling along, feeling totally drained. All I could think about was water. Eventually, at around mile 20.7 on my watch, the last aid station finally appeared. I’m pretty sure I terrified the poor man volunteering at that aid station with the way I stumbled off of the trail and instantly just started gulping down water. I refilled my soft flasks with Skratch and water, dumped a paper cup of what I think was water onto my head, and hurried out back onto the trail towards the finish.
Miles 19.5 – Finish (9:48 pace, 128 ft of gain, 614 ft of loss)
After about a mile or so of trail, I popped out onto a trail going through what looked like a ski slope on the outskirts of Breckenridge. I knew that there must still be a few more miles left in the race, but I hoped against all odds that somehow I was mistaken and that this meant I was almost done. Now that I was out of the woods for real, I could see pretty far ahead of me down the trail and I noticed a runner not too far ahead of me. After a few minutes, I caught up to him right before we turned down onto a paved road. I joked that I hoped this meant we were close to the finish line, and he told me we still had probably about two miles left. SIGH. I took off down the road, letting my legs take advantage of the downhill for a little boost of speed.
As I turned right onto a sidewalk at the bottom of the road, I spotted another runner ahead of me. She looked like she was struggling a lot, and as I came up behind her, she slowed down to a walk. I was running fairly fast at this point (gotta take advantage of every downhill when you can!), and as I passed her, she told me I was now in second place. I was completely shocked. I hadn’t really been keeping track of what place I was in, as I didn’t really know how many women had been ahead of me at the start. I had figured I probably would end up somewhere in the middle/back of the pack, as it seemed like a good number of women had gone out fast and I hadn’t seen hide or hair of them ahead of me all day. At this point, I started running a little scared. Now that I knew I was in podium position, I became super scared of getting passed from behind in the last few miles and not being able to surge to keep up. But of course, the last mile of the race is absolutely cruel after you’ve been running up and down mountains all day. There are a few short uphills to contend with, and one part where you have to run down and up a flight of stairs for an underpass. I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting to see someone coming up behind me. Eventually, I crossed the street (thanks to a nice cop who was directing traffic for us!), ran by a crowded restaurant, and suddenly popped out into the finish line. I crossed the finish in 5:33:05, as the 2nd female finisher.
After crossing the finish line and getting my medal, I hugged Gunnar and hobbled over to grab some watermelon and Coke. I got to watch him get recognized for winning his age group (an impressive finish considering he was dealing with terrible GI issues from the start and got off course for a moment, adding an extra ~1.5 miles). Right before the male age group awards, the third woman finished. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the woman I had passed in the last two miles. Apparently, the woman I had passed somewhere around miles 8-10 had been pretty close behind me, and she ended up passing that woman and placing third. I’m kinda glad the race wasn’t quite a full marathon distance, as she might have caught up to me too! I ended up winning $200 for second place, which is the first time I’ve ever won money from a race. Not bad for a last minute decision! Overall, I’m really happy with my race. Considering how crappy I felt the day before, and how tired my legs were going into it, I think I did about as well as I possibly could have. Usually by the end of my long trail races, my legs are totally dead and I’m walking it in (with a short run at the end once I can see the finish line). This race was one of the first trail races I’ve done where I was still able to actually run at the end, so that’s a big improvement. Realistically, I know that I got really lucky getting 2nd place. Looking at past years results, I would have been nowhere near the podium. Heck, the women’s winner this year wouldn’t have even made it on the podium, and she beat me by 40 minutes! I’m hoping to not need to take a ton of recovery time so I can get in another big-ish week before my planned recovery week. After that, I have my three big “peak weeks” for Javelina (with a tune up 50 miler in the middle of those peak weeks!). Hopefully the 50 miler goes just as well! I definitely feel a bit more confident now that I finally got in a good back to back (2:45 of running on Saturday and 5:33 of running/hiking on Sunday!).