Estes Park Marathon



Ah, Sunday—the day to reflect on the past seven days of running and ponder the week to come. I had just completed a 101 mile week with 25k feet of vertical gain so naturally this was done at the West End Tavern over a few pints. Just as I was scheming plans for an even bigger week l I received an email from Vi co-owner Michael Hodges. As official gel sponsor of the Estes Park Marathon Vi Endurance had a free spot or two in the event and offered one to me. I was pretty stoked…Until I realized it was a road marathon.

Over the past eight months or so I’ve likely ran less than 26 road miles total. Even when I go home to visit my parents where there aren’t any trails I run on gravel roads, corn fields, and river levees. Now Michael was asking if I wanted to run 26 road miles in one day…After another pint (or three) I eventually convinced myself that I could use a little speed training and reluctantly said yes.

So, I made my way up to Estes Park on Saturday with the intent of picking up my packet, having a huge dinner, and sleeping in my car like a hobo. As I sat at the Ed’s Cantina bar, sipping on a beer and eating the monstrosity of a burrito rightfully dubbed the 14’er, Michael called to tell me I could crash on his couch. So much for the “sleeping in my car like a hobo” thing…

As always, I woke up ridiculously early before the race and spent several hours staring at the ceiling wishing there were some wet paint that I could watch dry. To avoid my usual last minute scramble before the start I made some basic preparations before leaving the house: pinned on my bib, attached my chip timer, and put on my racing attire. After a quick cup of coffee Michael and I were off to the races.

While waiting for the start I couldn’t help but notice a complete absence of any nervous, pre-race jitters. Since I hadn’t run roads in so long I approached this race with basically no expectations, which likely resulted in a feeling of complete calmness leading up to the gun. Or maybe this is just what I would feel like before every race if I wasn’t hurrying to pin on my bib, put on my timing chip, and get to the starting line?

Not long after the start the calmness was gone and I was in a battle to get my breathing in rhythm. This battle was still raging when I hit the 1-mile marker in a little under 7 minutes and thought to myself, “there’s no way I can do 25 more like this.” I eventually got my breathing under control and crossed the 2-mile marker in around 14 minutes. My thoughts became more positive and the idea of 24 more miles at this pace didn’t seem too far-fetched.

The next nine miles or so went fairly smooth as Luke(another runner) and I kept pace with each other and enjoyed occasional conversation. At the eleven mile aid station I realized that I forgot to eat breakfast or take in any calories before the race. Oops, guess that 14’er burrito must have filled me up…Good thing this was just 26 miles and great thing Vi was one of the sponsors, which meant each aid station was stocked with plenty of Vi Fuel gels. I downed a Vi at the aid station and took off. During the course of the race I think I only took in three Vi’s and maybe five or so cups of water. The low intake of Vi doesn’t really surprise me much since I’ve hammered out some 30 mile runs on four or less Vi’s (this “bang for the buck” effect is one of the main things I’ve noticed and love about Vi). The low water intake is another thing my body is generally accustomed to as a result of my rather minimalist approach to training. This ability to run for extended periods with limited calories/water seemed to help in the later stages of the race when I began skipping aid stations completely to try to put time on runners behind me and gain time on those in front.

Shortly after mile 12 the course turned to follow the north shore of Lake Estes. From this point on we had to endure a series of brutal headwinds that seemingly made any forward progress impossible. One thought kept lingering in my mind as I looked at the white caps on the lake…Why the hell am I out here running 26 miles into this wind when it’s not even on trails? I had to keep telling myself that this was great training for the monotony I’m certain to encounter in the late stages of some of the 100-mile races I have in store later this season. If I couldn’t convince myself of that one thing then I was likely to take off towards the first trail head I laid eyes on to go frolic in the mountains.

I reached the halfway point in 1:37, which felt sustainable and was right on pace for what I felt was a realistic goal of 3:15. However, on the back half as each mile ticked away my hopes of a 3:15 faded. The miles kept passing and my pace kept slowing. At one point I realized that it was taking nearly all of my effort to hold a 7:30 minute/mile pace going downhill into the strong headwinds.

After slogging away for what seemed like forever I finally recognized the familiar territory of the high school. I knew the finish line had to be hiding around there somewhere. Skipping the last three or four aid stations left me pretty dehydrated and ready for the run just to be over so I could get a drink of water. I rounded out the last ~300 meters on the high school track and crossed the finish in a somewhat disappointing 3:24, which landed me in 6th place overall. I suppose that’s not bad for a strictly trail runner competing against what I assume were mostly road runners.

As of now, I can’t say with any certainty how running the Estes Park Marathon will affect my future training. I’d like to say that it’s convinced me that speed work isn’t all that bad. Perhaps getting out there and running some 6-7 minute miles every now and then is more beneficial than just low-gearing up Green Mountain every day. However, everything in me loves getting out in the mountains and running miles with a lot of vertical. This fact alone will make it difficult to substitute speed work into my training. Maybe I just need to add another road marathon to my schedule for a little speed work motivation? Who knows? Right now, all I can say with any certainty is that you can find me on Green Mountain…

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