Ironically, it took not going for a run today to allow me the time to write a race report for last Saturday's outing, which turned out quite well. I headed down to the Grand Junction area on late Friday afternoon with Aaron Baker, who was cool enough to invite me to stay at his parent's house for the weekend. The drive down was stunning as we paralleled the Colorado River and Aaron's company was hilarious, as usual. We fueled up on some delicious Mexican food courtesy of Los Jilberto's and I got a great night sleep in a comfortable bed, rather than sleeping in my truck.
I woke up around 4:30 a.m., early enough to get to the race start area, check in and then run a couple miles on the course to warm up. I returned to the start area, grabbed my vest and water bottles, took a few pictures and jumped into the last quarter of the pack of about 200 runners (both 25 and 50 mile racers). The first mile was on a wide gravel road and I slowly worked my way to mid-pack before the course turned onto single track. I kept the pace very manageable but still found myself moving faster than the people I was running with, so I picked my way past small groups when the trail was wide enough. After passing one small group, I heard someone whine, "Let people know what side you're passing on!" Gee, I thought this was a race. "Right on." I replied. The climb continued on for about a mile before we hit an awesome rolling, technical, slick rock section that went on for 3-4 miles. After cresting the ridge, the views of canyons and the Colorado River below were spectacular. I was still able to pass every now and then but I noticed myself being overly cautious about passing when OW! I rolled my right ankle and heard it make a popping sound. The pain was immediate and I started to consider dropping from the race before I even hit the first aid station. Damn. Not an auspicious beginning. I slowed a bit but kept moving and reassessing whether or not my ankle was OK to continue and finish. As I ran into the first aid station, I decided to keep going and see how things would play out. On the next climb, I felt like the pain would be manageable and was determined to finish. After that, I would only experience an occasional sharp pain when I ran downhill. I decided to just stick to my original plan and run slow, hike all the hills, take some pictures, enjoy the views and concentrate on staying hydrated and nourished.
From there, my run played out really well and I felt good the rest of the morning (with the exception of my ankle and, later, my tender feet). I had started eating gels after the first half hour and continued eating one every 45 minutes as well as drinking water quite often and eating something quickly at each aid station (chips, a banana, M&Ms, etc.). As a result, my energy levels never decreased and I didn't get tired during the race. I maintained a moderate pace that was still fast enough for me to keep catching small groups of runners, pass them, then keep working away until I got to the next group. The beautiful desert rock kept me inspired the entire time. Around the 10 mile mark, I hiked, then ran, for a couple miles with a guy named Rob (Ganger) from the Denver suburb of Englewood and struck up a conversation. It turns out that he will be running all of the ultra-trail races that I'm doing this summer. I enjoyed his company and the pace he was running so it was a pleasant to continue with him for half an hour or so. He was doing the 50 miler, so his pace was a little slower and I passed him in the late teen miles and pressed on by myself. Around the 20 mile mark, I hit another aid station, where I had my water bottle filled for the third time and also had my electrolyte bottle filled. The morning had been pretty cool but it was starting to warm into the high 70s/low 80s, which felt quite warm to me. After that, the course began it's last major climb, about 800 feet back to the top of the Mack Ridge. I was still feeling so good that I reeled in at least 6 more runners before hitting the top. It was clear to me that staying fueled early was really paying dividends at this point in the race. Everyone I passed looked so fatigued and was really struggling. One guy pleaded, "I'm a road runner!" as he slowly hiked up the rocky trail. I couldn't help but feel like I knew something that my contemporaries were not privy to, so I just kept the tempo even. The only issues I had at this point were that my feet were feeling pretty tender from miles of rocky trail that I wasn't quite accustomed to after running on dirt roads and snow all winter. The final descent, perhaps a mile and a half or so and very technical and steep was a little painful and I was glad to get back to the last mile of gravel road as it was just slightly less rough on my feet. As I neared the finish, I didn't really charge to the end like I usually do, but rather casually jogged it in, wondering if I should do the 3 extra miles I had planned on doing before the race started. I did about a half mile and decided I just wanted to stop, relax and enjoy the scene at the start/finish area. I milled about, ate some post-race food and talked it up with some of the other runners. When I saw Rob going back out on his second lap, I ran out to wish him luck and told him I'd be looking for him at a future race. I stayed around for another half hour or so, took some more pictures then decided it was getting too hot out for me and it was time to head out and begin my recovery.
In all, it was another wonderful celebration of running and worth the time and energy to come and run in another beautiful Colorado location. I ended up with a 28.29 mile/5:04:30 total effort and race result of 25.5 miles/4000+' in 4 hours, 22 minutes. In the following days, my quadraceps were very sore but I've recovered nicely and went for a hike/run last night for about 45 minutes. Since Quad Rock is in only 3 weeks, my plan from here is to get some decent 2-3 hour runs in the next two weekends and keep my weekday maintenance runs very modest or just rest altogether. At this point in my training, most of my fitness base is already set, so I don't have anything to gain by running hard, especially so close to doing a 50 miler. Looking ahead, I think Quad Rock is going to be a really tough race, with alot of elevation change (+/- 11,000') and, probably, high temperatures, so it could turn into a death march if I'm not careful!