court houseSafe to say I didn’t run this marathon to plan.  And I paid the price.  Weekend itself went well though.  Karen, Ellie and I drove up Friday evening through Poudre Canyon on Hwy 14.  Really cool drive.  Slow, but something you need to do at least once vs taking I-70 and Hwy 40 to Steamboat.  Hwy 14 connects with Hwy 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass – at the Continental Divide.  We ate at some good restaurants – Sweet Pea, Sweetwater Grill, Winona’s and the Ore House.  And the Steamboat Grande is a nice hotel.  Awesome pool.

I closed out Saturday night talking to Kelly poolside while our kids swam.  Kelly was up supporting Jen who planned to run the Half Marathon.  Which she did of course with a super strong showing in 2:07.  I rode up to the start of the marathon on a different bus than Jen.  I sat next to Liliane, a Pediatrician from Denver.  We talked about our kids and running.  The bus ride up helped us to gain knowledge of the course.  Most hills did not appear too steep, although several were quite long.  You can’t get a decent sense of this from elevation charts.  This worked to put me at ease.

Mostly though I was simply in awe of the stunning scenery.  Calling this post card perfect doesn’t describe it.  The course follows rivers that cut through lush valleys dotted with picturesque farms.  We passed through a couple of villages, best described as mountain hamlets.  How many one room school houses does a road need to be labelled idyllic?  This course was surreal.  The picture here is of Hahn Village where the bus dropped us off for the start of the marathon.  That’s Hahn Peak in the background.

Hahn VillageHahn Village was 35° at the start of the run.  I selected to stand in the sun once it crested the mountain.  My Garmin results show 46° but I don’t know how it averages that over a 4 hour run.  It did warm up to probably 70° or so by the end of the run.  I wore a long-sleeve tech running shirt with a cotton short-sleeve top underneath to protect my nipples from chaffing.  And for the added warmth in the early hours.  I also wore Nike Dri-Fit shorts.  Gloves weren’t needed, I kept my hands warm at the start by holding onto hot coffee and doing some windmills.

I warmed up immediately as we began running.  The cool weather might have contributed with the downhill grade to my fast pace.  I ran 7:32, 7:24 and 7:20 for my first 3 miles.  So much for my 9:00 minute pace plan.  This included a sizable rise in the first mile but not enough.  The problem with running downhill is that even at altitude – this began at over 8100 feet – your heart rate isn’t challenged.  And I wasn’t breathing as hard as I expected at that elevation.  I almost looked forward to the hill in the 4th mile which slowed my pace down to 8:10.  I needed help like that to moderate my pace.  This would prove short-lived.  The 5th mile was a second off my Bolder Boulder 5th mile in 6:47, and mile 6 came in at 6:57 for about a 46 minute 10K.  This is my 2nd fastest 10K in 20 years, after last week’s 44:23.

This should have been a red flag to slow down.  I wasn’t even trying to run fast today, but I did tell myself I would run fast if I felt good.  I continued times like this for the next 10K, not slowing down until mile 13 with an 8:25.  My first half came in at 1:40.  One of my fastest ever half marathons.  I knew I was in trouble when my hamstring began to feel like it might cramp at this point – which it did at 19 miles.  From that point on, my pace was never under 10 minutes.  In fact, I walked most of the final 3 miles as my calves replaced my hamstring as the problem area.  I felt fine otherwise and could walk really fast, but running for more than a minute would cramp my calves.  Can’t tell you how frustrating this was.

Seems obvious the cramping was due to running the first half way too fast, but I’m not entirely certain.  I drank at every aid station.  Typically I took both a water and sports drink.  Problem though is I can’t stand sports drinks.  I think they all taste like shit so all I can do while on the run is take a sip.  My throat won’t open for more.  I can down the entire cup of water, and while that hydrates, it doesn’t do much to supply the electrolytes needed to avoid muscle cramps.  I can tell you what I ate that was incredible though – Powerice.  This is a frozen stick of electrolytes.  Unfortunately they were only served at one aid station near the end.  You have to try these.

I believe the culmination of steep downhills and pavement contributed equally with my fast pace to my muscle cramps.  I never run on pavement and do very little downhill running.  This may be the prettiest road run in the country, but it’s a bruiser.  A few downhills were so steep it hurt to run down them.  This is somewhat ironic as few of the uphills were very difficult.  Walking in didn’t help my time much but it wasn’t too far off my goal.  I wanted to break 4 hours and finished at 4:13 – 9th place in my division.

Jen's familyUnfortunately I was slow to recover from the cramping afterward.  It took me nearly 2 hours before I could sit in a car to drive back to the hotel.  In addition to cramps, my knees and back both hurt.  They don’t hurt normally because I never run on pavement.  Even in road races on pavement, they don’t hurt afterward.  I don’t recommend running downhill marathons on pavement.  Jen and Kelly drove me back to the hotel where I showered, stewed in a hot tub for awhile, and received a great massage from Tara at the Steamboat Grande Spa.  I’m fully recovered now.  I think.  We’ll see tomorrow.