Friday, April 9, 2021

Three Creeks Half Marathon Recap

 A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 15; 1st Edition 
13.1 mile raced in 2020 races
Race: Three Creeks Half Marathon
Place: Denver, CO
Miles from home: 949
Weather: 50-60 degrees; sunny, windy

A week before this race, I had no idea I would be racing. After a 2020 where I only squeezed in a half-marathon in the last few weeks, it had now been a year and a half during which I had only put a race bib on once. For someone who used to run 30 or more races a year on the regular, that is an odd thing to type. However, 2019 and 2020 had been the years where I had run the most miles ever in my life. When you aren't racing, and aren't traveling, you don't have to take days off to recover or prepare, in order to stay sane, you run.

In January I felt a twang in my achilles on a rather routine run. I had to shut down my longest running streak ever: 306 days. I took a few days off and fortunately, while the heel/achilles pain I have had for over a year now is persisting in some ways, I am very glad I took that break. Not only did it allow what seemed to just be a minor injury heal (or not get worse) I was getting a bit obsessed with the streak, something I think happens to many people who start to focus too much on making sure they run every day, and not what the running is doing for them.

Since taking those days off, I had backed of my mileage overall from last year as well. Part of that was because, in spite of a freak snowstorm in Austin in February, the overall weather this year had been warmer than last. As such, I couldn't run as hard or as long.  Plus, I think the toll the last year (or last four really) took on my psyche was finally beating me down. So I wasn't even looking at races to run.

Then, a business opportunity arose in Denver that had me getting on a plane for the first time in over a year, the longest non-flying streak I have had in probably 15 years.(This is the All-Streak Race Recap, folks!)  I figured if I was going to be in a city I hadn't been in for close to a decade, I should try to find a race. When I noticed there was a half-marathon in a park that didn't look to difficult (I would be coming from just above sea level to 5500 feet) I saw a perfect opportunity to add to the list of states I had run a half-marathon in. Then I realized I had in fact already run one half in Colorado and had simply forgot.  Given it happened just two weeks after a solo running of the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay, maybe I should cut myself some slack for not remembering. But I had paid the entry fee and was going to run it regardless.

You see, I do best when I race myself back into shape. I am not that great at training for races. I thrive on competition and in hindsight it is not surprising that my first ever sub-3 hour marathon came as my 42nd marathon in a row in 2006 during the middle of my 52.

Race Morning:

After an absolutely wonderful business meeting the day before the race, I was in exceedingly good spirits.  It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. To be quite honest, I wasn't exactly even wanting to race as my friend Heather drove me to the start of the event. What I had come to do in Denver had been a success and this was just an early morning distraction somewhat. Yet as we got closer to the start, I knew what I had been missing lately and that was the competition of racing.  

In the past few years many of the races I had run had been glorified training runs. Often I would be on trails or in sparsely populated areas, rarely surrounded by all that many runners. The races weren't the huge events many seem to prefer and I am blessed enough to be fast enough that I usually don't have that many people around me. As such, it tends to lead to lonely racing conditions. As we pulled into this event's parking lot, and I looked around at the small amount of competitors, I realized in order for it to be as safe as possible given the pandemic, it was likely I would be experiencing more of the same.

As the minutes counted down for my wave of runners to take off, I looked around at my environs and was at least pleased it was dry, relatively cool, and I was healthy enough to race on this day. The metaphorical gun was fired and away we went.

First Three Miles:

I had NO idea how this race was going to go for me. I was under-trained, at elevation, and on an unfamiliar course. The race website touted the course was "as flat as it is scenic, with a total elevation gain of just 291 feet spread out over the 13.1 mile course." While 300 feet of elevation change is not a mountain by any stretch of the imagination, it is not, by any means, flat. We started off by leaving the parking lot starting area and after a short uphill had a slight downhill for a quarter of a mile or so.  Immediately three guys took off and I knew I had zero chance of keeping them in my sights today.  Next up two other guys were bit further behind them, and then another fella a tad behind him. I sat soundly in 7th place.

The first mile passed in 6:51 and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't feel like I was pushing it too hard and I thought I might actually go sub-1:30 (6:52 pace) today.  As we continued on the winding paths, which to this day I have never understood why winding golf-cart-esque paths slow me down so much, I was just trying to keep runners in sight. We had a bit of a wind in our face and the sun was surprisingly warm and bright. I concentrated on my breathing the best I could, especially as we began to run up some small hills. I could hear some runners behind me but they didn't seem to be catching up just yet.  That's good.

The second mile was a bit slower in 7:10 but I was hoping maybe the mile markers were a little askew and I was still running the same pace. I could feel it a little more in my lungs on this mile as approached 5700 feet above sea level. The first set of runners were nearly out of sight. Man they were going to kick my butt today. 

As we approached the third mile, which would be a very disappointing 7:2x, signifying I was indeed slowing and the markers were perfectly fine, we began passing a few of the people who had started running before us. They were taking 0n the marathon and I couldn't even fathom doing that today.

To the 10k:

I began to climb upward at this point in the race and around mile four we left the paved roads and began running on trail.  This is my fault for being ignorant of this terrain as it was listed on the website. Nevertheless, the racing flats I had on were not doing very well on this dirt. I laughed because these shoes had never been worn but were at least eleven years old. I am trying to use all the shoes I had accumulated over the years and this pair were pristine when I put them on that morning. Lord knows how I would fare in them even without the difficult terrain given the last time I had worn the same style was at in a triathlon 6 or 7 years ago.

Down a dusty dirty path we went when suddenly I saw saw pock marks in the surrounding dirt.  something darted out of one of them am stood tall and high. Prairie dogs! They were every where!  Zipping and running, surveying the runners from what was obviously avast network of underground tunnels, these chunky little rodents made me smile through the thinning air. I don't recall having ever seen prairie dogs in the wild before and this was quite a treat.

The lead runners were coming back to me now and now it was down to two guys in front with a third trailing by a bit more. I can see from the results the top two guys were just a second apart through the first 5 miles of the race, trading places even at one point. The eventual winner would only build a few second lead through 8 miles before finally beginning to make a move at mile 10 to win outright by a minute.

I hit the turn around on the dirt path and was a little bummed to see one runner a little too close for comfort behind me. Another was a little bit further back and didn't seem to be a threat. Soon after though, the first female runner came into sight and I knew she had started in a different wave. I was fairly certain her chip time would be faster than mine today once all hings were said and done. I just ached to be back on solid ground with a slight downhill to help my lungs.

To Mile 10

Not long after the 6th mile I heard footsteps behind me and knew the closest runner was about to pass me. Most of my miles had been a disappointing 7:2x or 7:3x and I as just doing my best to not run my worst half-marathon ever.  OK, it wasn't that bad but it wasn't great. When that runner, named Ryan, did pass me, I just thought I would do what I could to stay with him without putting myself in a position that would be too difficult to recover from.

We turned off the bike path and onto a paved road. As much as I don't understand why golf cart paths slow me down, I will not understand how running on a paved road that stretched on straight for a while gives me life.  Ryan had but a good ten yards or more on my but soon I was in his back pocket.  and just like that we were back on a path again. Soon thereafter we began climbing not only a pretty steep hill bit one on dirt. Drats. But as we crested the hill, I was still hanging onto Ryan. In fact, according to the timing mat, I was only two seconds behind him.

Now we turned and headed back and the downhills were giving me life. I didn't want to pass Ryan here as I didn't feel it was time to make my move. But it was starting to get a little tough to hold back.  If I am good at anything it is downhill running. Soon the downhill slowed, we were on those twisty paths again and I held my position. That was until we got back on the road again. I could tell Ryan was slowing and holding back any further was not a good choice. So I bit the bullet, made a definite passing move and steamed towards the tenth mile.

Coming Home to Finish:

Even though this had been a tough race for me, I saw that if I maintained what I had run the past couple of miles I still had a chance to go under 1:35. Far from what I wanted but respectable. I knew the course did not follow the same route back to the finish as we had run out so the unknown was how much uphill would be. The answer is a lot of uphill.

Right at the 11 mile mark, we turned and immediately went up a big hill on dirt. In fact, most of the last 5k was on dirt. Having made my move on Ryan, I knew I wasn't going to run a time I wasp leased with but I was going to do my best to keep him behind me.This is hat I had been missing. The racing. The small battles with the runners around you. The surges. Seeing what they have and trying to figure out what you have to battle it.  

Normally I would sneak a glance behind me to see where my competition was but as the hills grew under my feet, I was too preoccupied with getting oxygen to worry about anyone else. There were a few on-racers out on the paths and they were mostly polite enough to get out of the way. We had to cross over a few roads here and there and the volunteers were excellent and making sure we knew which way to go. Someone, of course, had a cowbell and it made me laugh to think that April 8th would be the 21s anniversary of that cowbell skit on SNL. Yep, you are THAT old.

I could see the finish line arch in sight but it was way too far away. Another hill popped up in front of me and this might have been the worst of them all. Eyes on the prize, I kept chugging. Finally cresting this beast, we were back on sidewalk and soon running downhill.  I gave it all I had to make sure I would not get passed in the final quarter of a mile and finished the race in 1:37:12- my 94th slowest half marathon ever (out of 106.)

But it sure was nice to be out racing again. I thanked Ryan for pushing me along when he finished about a minute after me.  It turns out that he had come from even lower in elevation than I had - Los Angeles! In fact, he mentioned he came to Denver to watch the Rockies-Dodgers game that I would be going to later as well. I spoke to him and a few other runners, some from the area, who all agreed this was neither flat nor easy course. That made me feel better about my own conclusions!

When it was all said and done, counting the superb business meeting setting up some massive changes in my life and  getting another race under my belt, it was one hell of a successful stay in Denver!

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