Rocky Mountain Double Marathon (52.4 miles)
This race took place in the Vedauwoo area in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was a very pretty area that I remember reading about during my rock climbing days. Lots of cool formations scattered around the land.
The race sounded challenging. The starting point at the Lincoln Monument sits just below 9,000 feet, so there would be a little altitude involved. Then the course profile revealed that it would be a downhill start with an uphill finish (it’s a 13.1 mile course, run out and back – once for a normal marathon, twice for a double). The total amount of climbing is around 5,000 feet. Not as much as the race in Fruita, but still a fair amount.
Then the kicker – it would be all dirt road plus a few miles of pavement = lots of runnning. I tend to fare better on courses that are technical with lots of up/down, twist/turn, etc. Things that require you to frequently change pace and use different muscles. I’m not very good at just pounding out mile after mile. Sounded like it would be a good challenge and a way for me to work on some of my weaker points.
Now that the running is over, I figured I might as well get working on this report since the only thing I can move without a great deal of pain is my fingers. This race HURT. Considering the fact that I wanted to stop at mile 15, it ended up going pretty well, though.
I knew it was going to be a painful experience, because my legs had been feeling very tight and a little sore in the days leading up to it. After recovering for a couple of weeks from the 50 miler I ran last month, I experienced a pretty good rebound and felt my fitness starting to peak. My resting heart rate (normally in the low 50’s) dropped to 44, and I noticed I was running faster in training with less effort. I felt goood. So I pulled a pretty dumb move, I ran faster and faster each run, pushing the envelope, exploring my new limits. I found the limits… I just couldn’t help myself, it was great to finally feel like I was RUNNING. It just wasn’t the best way to taper down before a big event like this one. I did rest a few days leading up to the race, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
That’s ok, this wasn’t a major event on my schedule that I was trying to peak for or do especially well in. I kept telling myself to just treat it like a long training run with aid stations. Trouble is, once you pin a number on and line up at a starting line, it’s really hard to keep from racing.
I drove up to Cheyenne the night before and picked up my number and race packet. Then I used the remaining daylight to go check out the course. I had never been to this area before.
I continued the drive over to Laramie (another 10 miles), got some dinner, and then settled into the north 40 of the Wal-mart parking lot. Most of their stores have a policy that allows overnight parking and semi trucks and motorhomes were already settled in for the night. I was able to fold the seats of my car completely flat and with a little bit of engineering could stretch out completely. I woke up a few times, but it worked well enough. The alarm(s) went off at 4:10 and I was good-to-go. The weather was excellent. 40 degrees and clear skies.
The start was pretty low key, and surprisingly my legs felt really good. I was optimistic, even. There were 38 runners doing the double marathon. Along with that, there were another 100-150 that were doing either the half marathon or the full marathon. As was the case in Fruita, I had to be careful not to get carried away running with people that were doing the shorter distances and try to stick to my own pace. I didn’t do a very good job of that and my legs were downright angry by about mile 5. I ran pretty hard up a mile+ long hill to try and get some blood pumping and open things up a little. That helped somewhat, but it made me tired as well.
There was a 2 mile stretch of frontage road that we ran along I-80. As I watched the countless 18 wheelers go by I thought of my dad and wondered how many times he had driven past that very spot and had seen the same Wyoming view. I settled on LOTS of times.
We then went under the freeway and headed down Vedauwoo Road. This was my favorite part because of the cool views. I really liked that area, plus it meant that I was getting close to the turnaround point. Definitely a good thing. The only downside was that we had been steadily losing altitude up until now, so now it would be time to gain it all back. I knew that was going to be tough.
By the time I made it back up to I-80, I was ready to be done. My mind was full of thoughts like – you’re feeling this bad, you haven’t even finished the marathon yet, and you’re going to do the double?!? Yep. Just keep running. I was determined to make it. I knew that if I just stayed hydrated, and took in calories, and put one foot in front of the other, I would make it. Sure enough, after some downhill sections around mile 20 I started feeling a lot better. I actually enjoyed the stout climb up to the start/finish line where I took 5 minutes to reload with gel packs and Power Bars before heading out for the second lap.
Now, much like I was at Fruita, I was in no-mans land. There were still some marathoners coming in going the other way, but I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me anytime during the 5 mile stretch before the climb back up to I-80. As I did in the morning, I ran this part pretty hard. Mainly to get it over with, plus I was feeling quite a bit better on the uphills vs. downhills. As I crested one of the final rises I caught sight of 3 runners ahead in the distance. This immediately put me into racing mode. I knew I was probably somewhere in the 15-20 range at the marathon turnaround point and wondered if I could make up enough ground to crack the top ten. So much for the long training run plan.
I picked off one guy pretty quickly and put some good distance on him while we were still climbing. I didn’t reach the other two by the top and could only manage to keep the gap steady at around a 100-150 yards as we made our way back down the frontage road section. I couldn’t make up any ground, and was hurting to hold their pace, but I hung on. It’s funny to look at someone ahead of you in a race and think of how ragged their running style is starting to look, or how slow it looks like they’re going, but you still can’t catch them!! Little did I know that this would be the start of a see-saw battle that would last for the next nine miles. I pushed hard before the turn onto Vedauwoo Road because there was an aid station there. I knew that if I could catch them at, or just before, the aid station I could make quick work of filling my bottle and stand a good chance of leaving with them. I pulled it off and ended leaving with the guy that had been in the front for quite a while. We ran side-by-side for a mile or two and put a little daylight between us and the third guy.
Long story short, due to some nature calls we all ended up changing leads again and running together in one form or another for the next few miles. After we hit the turnaround at the bottom of the course, I started feeling a little better (at least better than them) because we were going back uphill. I think we had all been running a little harder than we should, or normally would, have. It was good fun and helped pass the time, though. They started to crack just a little and I finally pulled away for good at mile 42. I had also picked off another runner or two and wondered how close I was to the top ten. I figured the next runner ahead of me (based on seeing him coming back from the turnaround) had to be about 10-15 minutes up the road. Unless he or someone else blew big time, I wouldn’t be passing anyone else for the rest of the day.
My strategy switched to just preserving my lead over the other guys and trying not to crack myself in the process. This took a huge amount of focus to deal with the pain, the steady uphill grind, and the strong headwind going back up the I-80 stretch. I carried my iPod with me for the entire race, but never turned it on. I thought about it a couple of times, but I didn’t want the distraction. For me it was all about trying to focus, maximize my speed wherever possible, and don’t let up. I didn’t even look at my watch. Music, a clock, none of that would make me run any faster at this point. I was just giving it my all and determined not to leave anything on the course.
Finally the last steep climb appeared and I found a spring in my step that had been missing for the last 45 miles or so. I felt like I was flying and ran strongly to the finish. 10:37 – good enough for 11th place. I was really happy with that accomplishment. I came into the race many levels below optimal, and was still able to push to a good finish. Part of my philosophy for these longer events (and the attempt at a 100 miler in the fall) is to learn how to still run effectively when I’m tired, sore, not feeling good, etc. It’s been a counter-intuitive process, but to me, that’s where the results are. As I reflect back on the race, I have the feeling that I didn’t really run any faster than those that I passed, I just didn’t slow down as much. That’s the secret, and will be what I continue to work on. Just as soon as I can move again….
With it being Wyoming and all, the double marathon finishers were rewarded with a cool belt buckle.