Monday, March 12, 2012

Salida Trail Marathon 2012

Salida at 7000 feet above sea level, is a small town nestled within three mountain ranges in the middle of our amazing state of Colorado.  You can view fifteen, 14,000 foot peaks from various locations in town as the panoramic views never end.  I chose the Salida Trail Marathon as my first race of 2012 for a number of reasons.  The race distance and course set up perfectly for March, the location is under three hours from Denver and the race field attracts top competition.  No sandbagging in this event, these guys are for real.  I wanted to test my metal against a faster crew of runners at a shorter distance.
At the start w/ Heath Kirschner & Rob Kosick. Neighbors and best friends!

My training going into this race had been great.  Running volume was high, getting 8 to 12 hours weekly and even my cycling hours were up to about 5 or 8 a week.  My fitness was growing steadily and I was gaining confidence as each week increased in time and intensity.  Then the Great Head Cold/Flu of 2012 took me down about 8 days out from the race. Life and training came to a screeching halt as I had no energy and congestion beyond belief.  My symptoms cleared a few days before the race, which is more than I can say for a few others I knew toeing the line.  The silver lining had to be how great my legs did feel.  The rest time off (3 days) and easy running loosened my hamstrings and eased a lot of muscle soreness built up over the last year.

I was feeling great as the family rolled into Salida on Friday afternoon and the spectacular views energized my racing spirits. We were so fortunate to rent an amazing little Brownstone home right in town for us and the Kirschners. Never using our cars once we parked. The house was complete with an under stair play nook for the kids and full kitchen, so we could control our ingredients and watch our wives cook another amazing pre-race meal.  Thanks love!

The weather forecast could not have been better with mid 40s to 50 degrees expected for the entire race.  Even knowing with certainty that the sun was shining and the temps were plenty warm, I can't fully explain the hilarity of grown men discussing and choosing what to wear for a mountain race.  Nervous about being too cold, too warm and not matching!  Hours of deliberation still had us shedding layers only seconds before the race started and shorts and tees were the way to go.   

My plan was to take this race conservative and push the effort closer to mile 18, not at mile 1.  Out of the gates, runners pressed and soon the lead pack and half marathoners were well up the road.  Heath and I settled into our rhythm and made a lot of passes when we hit the single track climb at mile 2.  The first section of single track, miles 2 thru 8, was some of the most fun running I have done.  We cruised up and down and around with snow covered peaks viewable from every direction.  My legs and lungs felt great and I was getting really excited about my potential for the race.  
Mile 4.25 mark, big smiles!

We popped out onto a dirt service road that lead straight uphill with no end in sight.  At this time I realized my pre-race research was pretty far off from where the course would lead us to now.  I had found a 2010 course description and elevation chart that was not at all similar to the race we actually completed.  All the more reason trail running is so fun, unpredictable and an ultimate test of your mind and body.  Even at this 'short' distance, not knowing the course and how the elevation gain plays out can be a mental struggle. Dealing with this unknown and enjoying your surroundings and the race camaraderie was much more fun then dwelling on an unexpected 4 mile uphill section.  About a half mile from the top, I was able to see the lead runners descending before heading back into the network of trails and crap they were running fast.  

When I hit the turn around I pressed my downhill pace and felt great.  I was amazed at how many guys were in front of me at that point, maybe 12 runners and many more quite close behind.  At the second aid station, about mile 14, we hit some dirt trails and this is where the snow and mud portion of the race began.  This section appears to be a sustained downhill, but the unsure footing, mud and 20 to 30 foot rolling climbs really made it difficult to conserve energy and cruise.  This is where I find trail running to trump mountain bike racing in level of difficulty.  When I run these sections and realize how little rest there is in a run race, I long for two wheels and sustaining momentum up and down these climbs.  A few miles into this section, my new friend Ryan Kircher caught up and we had some great conversation about ice hockey and running in Evergreen, his training for the Western States 100 and life.  This helped pass the time, as we had to pick our way down some really steep, loose and gnarly rock trails.  Jamming down this section was fun, but destroyed my quads for the upcoming final descent.  When we arrived at the mile 20 aid station I refilled the water bottle and Ryan and I shared a PBR.  Yeah, a mile later, the beer was about as good an idea as it seems!  

The final 6 miles were some of the most difficult running and were somehow not all downhill.  Ryan took off down the trail and I was just trying to hold my tempo and finish strong.  The undulating and tight single track was so hard to run fast. I felt like my leg stability was at an all time low and the back and forth rhythm that trail running requires turned into a downhill survival game.  In my mind, I had planned on this section being a straight section of downhill dirt road, not at all, but this was much more fun.  When we finally rounded a corner and you could see the town of Salida down in the valley, I felt great about the home stretch.  Then I saw my buddy Rob running up along a ridge, about a half mile ahead.  Two thoughts entered my head. First off, I was super bummed for Rob, he is a much faster runner than I and was in 4th place when I saw him at the turn.  He must have blown up his Achilles and was just suffering into town.  Secondly, what the hell was he doing up so high, did we have to climb another damned trail?!

Sure enough, the last aid station was another 4 minute climb that was not bad, but lasted plenty of time.  After a small cup of Coke and some water on my face, I tried my best to speed up and descend into town with dignity.  It was a great finish, swooping under a bridge and up to the tape.  As I looped around the trail, my eyes fixated on Nicole, Rocco and Sawyer cheering and smiling as I crossed the line, all the negative thoughts and pain disappeared.  I had conquered another trail race and was extremely proud of myself.  Being a father at the finish line is the best.  My boys gave me the biggest hug, not that they understood how far we all traversed, but because they hadn't seen me in about 3 and a half hours.  Their love isn't predicated on my placing in the race or even whether I race at all.  They were so excited to say HI and even more stoked to show me their new Toy Story airplanes and fashioned capri pants for stream crossing.

This event is a must do, The Chaffee Cty Running Club does an amazing job with support, trail marking and executing this wonderful event.  I am so thankful for all of the love and support of my family and friends this last weekend, I couldn't have done so well without them.  I will definitely be back for another go around in Salida, this was way too much fun.  The official results place me at 18th place, finishing in a time of 3:49.  Here is my Garmin link for the race statistics, they look so docile, Garmin needs an Embellishment button for times like these, the race was WAY harder, haha, (.)

Next up, Boston Marathon April 16th!