Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fort Collins Marathon Race Report

There were scattered showers throughout the day on Saturday, and by Saturday night the sky had really opened up. But, having endured the Denver Rainathon 2007, I felt like I was prepared for anything. Knowing that it would be an early start, we were all off to bed at 8 to the sound of rain on the windows. I had a restless night, with nerves and a youth baseball team on our floor keeping me awake until after 10, but I was able to get a few hours sleep before rising at 3 to begin race preparations. I questioned many times, as I ate breakfast, why the race started so damn early. I took some consolation in the fact that the rain, persistent through the night, had stopped and the skies were clearing. I had just enough time to eat, dress, and pack my race bag before it was time to head to the buses. I arrived at the parking garage at 4:15, and made my way along with throngs of other marathoners to the buses that would carry us to the start. I boarded the bus, thankful for the warm environment, although it was clear that rain and cold were not going to be issues for this race.

The bus ride to the start was uneventful, as I could not see much of the canyon in the dark. I chatted with a guy in the seat next to me about our marathon training strategies. Driving the marathon course beforehand can be daunting as it becomes apparent just how long 26.2 miles is. In this case pleasant conversation made it pass quickly. The bus arrived at the start at 5:30 and parked as we waited for the race marshal’s signal to exit the buses. Some of the runners were antsy waiting and elected to get off then, but I was content to remain in the warmth and comfort as long as possible. At 5:45 the buses started dropping people off and we were informed that the race start would be at 6:15, leaving plenty of time to hit the port-a-potty. There was a long line, but plenty of “potties” so I was through in no time. All that remained was for me to doff my warm clothes and head to the bag check before lining up at the starting line. Soon enough the announcement to “go” was made and we were off.

The sun was just starting to rise and light the sky, and mist was descending off the canyon walls from the night’s rain. The field stretched out quickly and soon the sound of footfalls gave way to the chirping of birds as the sun began to illuminate the canyon. The canyon walls were wreaking havoc on GPS signals and I chuckled as a runner urged his friend to slow down as, according to his watch, they were running at 6:30 pace (we weren’t going faster than 7:30). By the 3-mile mark I had settled into a reasonable pace and was no longer having to pass slower runners. I tried to focus on my pace, but it was easy to drift with the scenery of the canyon flowing by. There are no spectators on the canyon part of the course, and the aid stations are 2 miles apart, which makes for a solitary run the first half of the race.

Soon after the half-marathon start is passed, the course starts leveling off into farmland. The confines of the canyon give way to open spaces remarkably quickly and added to the solitary feeling. All I would see for long stretches of road were a couple of runners in front of me, and occasional livestock. This was interrupted only by the arrival at “Ted’s Place” and the first spectator area of the race. Here the supporters crowd into the road forming a single-file space for you to run through. The cheering gave me a real charge as I finished one of the few uphill sections of the course. I fed off of the energy and ran one of my few sub 7:00 miles for the race here.

It was at this point that I began catching up to some of the people in the half-marathon, which had started an hour after the marathon. At first I did not understand why there were people walking along the side of the course, but soon I started passing people who were running slowly and realized they were half-marathoners. It was a strange feeling after running most of the race near the lead group to suddenly find myself at the back of the pack. Now it was even more difficult to find other runners to catch up to and pass, and motivating myself to keep running quickly was even harder with everyone moving so slowly around me.

Around the 20-mile mark that the race transitions from the road to a bike path, and it was here that I hit the wall hard. I found myself cramping up and I had to slow my pace substantially. This was hard for me as I knew that I had been on pace to make my goal (3:10), but now that goal was slipping away. I did not give up hope, however, and I battled to keep my pace as fast as I could, fixating on achieving a personal best time. Others were struggling around me though, and I passed a couple of other marathoners who were beginning to fade in the final miles as well. Each step became more of a challenge as fatigue set in, but I knew I would finish. Finally, we turned off of the bike path and the finish line was in sight. I fought hard to the line weaving through groups of half-marathoners as I went. As I approached the finish I heard the announcer call my number, “Marathon runner number 28…hold on we’ll get a name for you here…” I never heard my name, but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered is that I was finished.

Exhausted, I moved through the finishing chutes in a daze, but I heard the announcer calling the arrival of the fifth female marathon finisher behind me. I turned around to congratulate her. For most of the race she had been nearby, sometimes in the lead, sometimes behind, but her pace was amazingly consistent, and she had fought through to the end. She is only 23, so I have a feeling we will see Amanda Brown on the leader board again in the near future.

As I met up with Melissa and the kids I found it hard not to get emotional. It is difficult to miss a goal that you had been confident in achieving, even though the actual result is still a significant victory. I realize now that I ran this race better than I have run any other marathon, and was on pace to achieve a 3:10 time right up to mile 21. This course is deceivingly tough, with the continual downhill and banked curves taking their toll. Also, I realize now just how much energy I take from spectators, and the solitary nature of this race made motivation difficult. While it was certainly a scenic race, at the finish I felt like I was lost in a sea of back-of-the-packers. The announcer’s comment as I crossed the finish line seems to be a humorous reflection of the anti-climatic feeling of this race.


Cate said...

you're amazing my friend. well done!

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