When I ran this race in 2013, I had a great experience. I suffered around mile 18, threw up, and then felt awesome and finished strong. I made some cool friends during the race and they helped me to run faster. In 2014, things were just rough. The race start was pushed back an hour and we had to take shuttle buses to the start because the parking lot was damaged by floods. Everyone showed up for the last shuttle and so the race started late on what turned out to be a very hot day. The course was two miles longer because of new single track so our times were unexpectedly slower. I felt crappy all day and when I tried to make friends, people were generally cranky. The post-race party got rained on and everyone left pretty quickly. Not the experience I was hoping for.
Going into this year's race I tried to temper my expectations. I was a bit sleep deprived heading into the race due to taking care of a sick dog who was throwing up all night on Thursday. Friday night we only got 5 hours of sleep because we decided to get up to the race start by 4:45am to get one of the few parking spots. It was worth it to not have to take the shuttle buses. One thing I did not anticipate is that I started feeling sick before the race even started. Lack of sleep + anxiety = nausea. Originally my goal was to finish in 7-7.5 hours but at this point I decided that I would just be happy to finish faster than last year's 7:40.
The one change that I didn't like about the race this year was the wave starts. Usually everyone starts at the same time which usually causes a bottleneck as everyone gets siphoned onto the single track. Knowing this, I usually start fast to get a good position. We are all adults and can make our own decisions about race strategy. The RD decided to mitigate this and we had 4 waves this year that started 5 minutes apart. I realize that it's a good idea in theory, but it was very difficult as a woman to decide what wave to start in. Obviously the guys hoping to be in the lead pack all start in wave 1 (people expecting to finish in the 4:30 to 6:00 hour range). Last year, only two women fit in that category, but if you start in wave 2 or 3 then you have no idea how far ahead the few leaders are. It created a weird dynamic where you weren't sure if the people around you were 5 minutes ahead of or behind you. When I pass someone, I want to know that I really passed them.
Enough about that. I started in wave 2 and spent the first few miles staring at Shelly Rollison's backside and her awesome RPF gaiters. That girl got after it and was a perfect pace setter. I was hoping my stomach would settle after getting started, but it did not. Fortunately one guy got chatty near the top of the first climb and we talked about San Juan Solstice. It was nice to get my mind off of how I felt. After passing through Aid 1 my stomach continued to deteriorate. I was very intentional about putting down calories (Tailwind) even though I didn't want to.
Around mile 9 I started getting into a really negative head space. You know the typical stuff like "I suck at running" or "why am I even out here if I'm not enjoying it." As we descended through a beautiful aspen grove with a fantastic view of the mountains I thought about how much I'd rather be camping and exploring the high country. From behind I heard a voice hollering, "I'm going to pass Allisa!!" and without knowing it, Jared Conlin helped me to snap out of those negative thoughts. I decided that even if my body was rebelling I wasn't going to let myself slip into a downward spiral of negativity.
Jared and I left Aid 2 together but he quickly gained ground on the climb up the Coyote Trail. I was in rough shape at the top. I felt like throwing up as I stumbled through the next few miles. During the technical Black Bear Trail section a 50+ woman named Vicki caught me and she runs like a boss! An assertive little spitfire! I wanted so badly to throw up but she wanted me to stay with her on the rocky downhill to make sure that she didn't get lost. As we descended the rough stuff I started to feel better as we got lower in elevation and by the time I hit Aid 3 I was in a new mental and physical state.
Seeing Cory at this Aid Station cheered me up and made me pull myself together. It was time to rally. I had saved my music for this part and so I was rocking out as I picked people off on the climb up the Horseshoe Trail. I soon saw my friend, Will, and we ran/hiked the next few miles together until we caught Jared. I felt like a new person and though it was difficult to eat I made sure to keep putting calories down.
By the time we reached Aid 4 at mile 24.5 Jared was a little bit ahead. I'm normally not happy to let anyone pass me, but Phil came whizzing by! Seeing another friend made the prospect of the last climb seem less daunting. Will, Phil, and I all left Aid 4 together with the unspoken goal of catching Jared. Despite feeling so sick earlier in the race, Cory told me that I was just within my 7:30 time goal and so I was determined to make it. Just before Windy Peak I twisted my ankle pretty bad but I wasn't going to let anything get me down.
As we started the climb up Windy, hands on knees, we could see Jared's bright green shirt ahead of us. Soon all four of us were marching up the mountain together and I cannot tell you how much of a difference it made being surrounded by friends. We were all, more or less, within a quarter mile of each other at the summit and Phil and I let it rip on the downhill. I could tell Phil was determined to not let me chick him, and it was all I could do to keep him in my sight as we passed at least 4 people in the last mile.
I made my goal and finished in 7:21 as the 22nd woman. Despite feeling sick for the first 18 miles I had a great day. The weather was perfect and it never got too hot. The camaraderie was a game-changer and the post-race party was super fun. I will never take it for granted that we have such a great running community here in Denver. I love this place I call home.
Leaving Aid 3 (photo Terry Miller)
Not sure what part of the race this is but based on how crappy Phil and I look it must be near the end (photo Kurt Hardester)
Most awkward thumbs up ever (photo Kurt Hardester)
Climbing Windy Peak, trying to keep the guys in sight (photo Kurt Hardester)
Love these ladies! Julia (left) got 5th!