Blue Sky Marathon
The painful, creaky morning after finishing the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler in Steamboat, the idea of running a marathon in two weeks time seemed… illconceived at best. But I’d spent all summer training for one big race; why not put that training to use on “just a marathon”. Now, I realize that this attitude comes off as extremely elitist. 26.2 miles is a long way, no matter what and I have a lot of respect for people that train for that distance and can pound out a marathon at wind-in-your-hair speeds. But at my slow pace, I figured I could finish it off in a morning without too much trouble. The Blue Sky Marathon was dreamt up by some friends of mine up in Fort Collins during a training run in January of 2008 and I’ve gone up to help them out for the past two years. It’s always been fun and the racers seem to have a great time. Why not give it a try this year? Heck, my only previous marathon wasn’t exactly a normal race. This wouldn’t be a normal marathon either; 26+ miles on rolling single-track, some of it very rocky and wreck-yourself-technical trails. Why not? Might as well give it a shot.
Times were, a 7am start would mean you’d been in the daylight for hours already. But fall is officially here and it was still dark as pitch (and cold!) at 6am when I showed up at the confusing parking area at the Horsetooth Marina and walked a mile to the new start area. We milled around for a while, getting stuff ready as the day grew lighter (still cold) and more and more people showed up. I recognized a lot of people from previous years’ volunteering efforts and some old Ft. Collins running buddies of mine. In particular, Pete, fresh from his dramatic top-20 finish at Western States and subsequent Grand Slam odyssey was co-Race Director for Blue Sky. Eric, another accomplished hundreder and former RD for this race was toeing the line with me. This would be his first marathon (despite numerous ultras) and his race strategy was “Go out like a bat-outa-hell and see if I can hold it for 26 miles”.
With little fanfare, Pete set the roughly hundred of us loose and off we went, scantily clad and glad to be moving at last. I started at the absolute back of the pack and set a reasonably healthy pace through the campground and marina, past the Soderberg trailhead as the pack started to thin out. Man, it was cold! The first nine miles were the part I was least familiar with and thus most interested in. We hit a trail headed north, then swung back around and climbed the steep Towers Road for a few miles. I walked this and fell in with a couple women with whom I have a number of mutual friends but I’d never met. At 4.5 miles, we left Towers Road and started a very loose, steep descent back down a sunny hillside through tall grass. This was probably the prettiest part of the course and I’d finally warmed up enough (in every sense of the word) to start really enjoying myself.
I had no particular expectations about the race other than to finish and bring my running season officially to a close. My arbitrary goal of 5 hours seemed reasonable, but I wasn’t particularly worked up about timing. At 1:40, I came back through the start area (mile 9) where the half-marathoners were milling about, ready to start their own race. I headed off into the familiar terrain of the Rim Rock Trail and hit the first low of the day. The Rimrock Trail slopes gradually upward for three miles and there are a lot of short, steep, dusty climbs. I’d run all of a dozen miles in the past two weeks and was really feeling it. Fortunately, the sun was behind clouds and it was still in the 50s; perfect running weather.
My mojo had returned by the time I got to the northern of the two Indian Summer aid stations (mile 13, 2:20) and I eagerly run-walked the scenic climb up the Indian Summer loop on the west side of the valley. In the time since mile 9, I’d been slowly reeling in one runner after another and seemed to be averaging about one runner per mile. In an ultra, usually you’d run with someone for a little while and chat, but here everyone pounded along doing their own thing and sociality was at a minimum. I guess that’s the way it is in shorter races like this. After a rolling mile through pretty fall grasses, I switchbacked down toward the southern Indian Summer aid station… and the front-runners began to pass me on their way back up the course.
Shortly after the southern Indian Summer Aid Station, Eric passed me, at speed going the other direction. “Dude! You’re in fourth place!” “Yeah, let’s see if I can hold onto it” he replied, looking pretty worked. I cruised up the hill to the ridge, finding it pretty runnable, and got into the good stuff. The southern loops of the course are the most interesting and by far the most technical. I made great time through here marveling at how quick everything was going. Before lone, I was at the turnaround at the south side of the Hunter Loop where I’d spent many long hours in previous years checking people off and shouting encouragements. My job was being admirably covered by a half dozen folks and I wasted no time heading up the hill and turning for home.
Back to Soderberg. Eight miles to go. Going back over Indian Summer was not as bad as I’d expected, but it was getting hot now and I wasn’t running much. Finally, I had got to the IS-North aid again with four miles to go and 45 to do it in. No problem. Except that it wasn’t down-hill like I’d thought, but more a rolling trail with lots of steep ups followed by gradual drops. Energy levels were low. This was going to be close. Twenty six miles is still a long way. no matter what’s I’d trained for.
At great length, I ran through the tunnel and into the home stretch. Five minutes later, I rounded the final (uphill!) curve and came across the line in 4:58:36. And so ends a great year of running.