It was the first running of the Black Squirrel Half Marathon in Fort Collins and it was a great event. Were there black squirrels? Yes. More on that later.
With an 8am race start on a hot morning, everyone seemed pretty antsy to get started. As we waited for things to get going, it was intimidating how many intense people were there. At ultras you tend to expect a pretty fit crowd, but at half marathons there is usually a more diverse group. A group of pretty tough looking women were gathered near us and one woman said she was saving her legs for the Wasatch 100 the following weekend. Then another woman came running up and proclaimed that she had run 15 miles that morning. Others began to arrive on bicycles. I started to feel like a slacker.
I was a little nervous going into the race because I had gotten really sick the previous weekend and had just got off antibiotics. My whole body was still a little off and I was unsure of how my stomach would hold up. After coming off a DNF where I had dehydration issues I was determined to make hydration a priority since it was going to get into the 90s by mid-day. Since it was just a half marathon, I knew I could gut it out even if I was having a bad day. I'm not sure when 13 miles became "just" a half marathon to me. I remember my first half marathon and thinking that it would never be possible for me to run another mile. Now it's a pretty routine training run.
The race finally got going with a mile of dirt road before about 1,500 feet of ascending. It was a pleasant climb with bits of shade and lots of switchbacks. The trail was pretty smooth and so it was quite runnable. I got caught up in a train of grunting men and a few tough ladies and probably went a little faster than I should have. No one seemed to be having fun, which I thought was a problem, so after about 3.5 miles I drifted off the back of the train to get in my own groove. I was running out of water, but I knew the first aid station was close.
Another train started to catch me and I sure as hell wanted to stay ahead of them, so I pushed on. Soon we came to the aid station where I promptly dumped the rest of my bottle on my head and refilled. It was already so hot. We had about 1.5 more miles of uphill, but it was double track, so the trains dispersed and people did their own thing. I took a gel and had to walk a bit to digest it. I felt a little sick but I'm glad I kept it down because the rest of the race was so hot that there's no way I could have eaten anything.
The descent was fun and comfortable. Not too steep and not too rocky. This is where I saw my first black squirrel. She was over five feet tall and instructed us which way to go. This was probably the best part of the race. But really, that squirrel costume must have been so hot. Poor girl. I passed a few people on the downhill, but a few people also passed me so I'm not sure if my downhill skills are improving. I tried not too bomb it too much because I wanted to save some quads for the 5 miles of running in an oven that I knew we had to look forward to at the end.
I almost ran out of water again before the next aid station at mile 8.5 where another black squirrel was hopping around. Then we embarked on the "Death Valley Trail" as I heard one person call it. I hate flat stuff (it was rolling with about 500 feet of gain). I knew that to keep my spirits up I needed to start talking to the people around me. There were some great people. One guy was doing his first trail race. Another girl thought she had strep but decided to do the race anyway and then head to urgent care.
The best part, though, was when from behind me I hear, "Hey, Allisa." One of our friends, Brandon, had caught up to me and was running strong. I know you'll probably read this, Brandon, so thanks for helping me get those last few miles done. You definitely made me run faster!
A very happy Cory was there to cheer me on at the finish. He had finished in 2nd place in a time of 1:37. I was the 19th woman and I finished in 2:21. At the finish line I got to meet Nick Clark and I was regretfully rather sarcastic. He seems like a pretty salty guy himself, so I thought he could take some razzing. I said, "Now we know what it was like for you at Western States," and he didn't seem to like that. Clearly Western was much hotter and running a half in nothing like running a 100, but then I realized that he doesn't know me and therefore would not know I was kidding. Oh well.
Cory filled me in on his race and said he was happy, but obviously he would have liked to win. He led for a bit, but the other guy also named Corey, overtook him on the downhill. It was Corey's home turf and he was clearly very familiar with the course. Cory didn't eat anything and only had his bottle of Cytomax, but the other Corey didn't even have a bottle and there were no cups at the aid stations. Cory hoped this would slow Corey down at the end, but it didn't. They finished about a minute apart. I was pretty proud of my Cory.
The post-race party was hot but fantastic. Great food and great beer. Cory got a crazy black squirrel trophy that he loves and planted on our mantel. I didn't think I would have so much to say about a half marathon, but it was a great day.
Shoes: Pearl Izumi Trail N2 - First race in them and they were AMAZING!
Clothes: Salomon Light Shorts and Runner Tank
Socks: Injinji Run 2.0
Nutrition: 1 Hammer gel