April 24, 2014

Race Report: Westminster Half Marathon

What a fabulous weekend! As expected, I spent Friday night at Coors Field for the Rockies/Phillies game with my friends Kelly and Den, and then headed out for dinner and brews in LoDo. But the unexpected part was that Den, who graciously gave me a ticket, had scored front row seats for us right above one of the dugouts! SO awesome.

Front Row Coors Field
Kelly was in Phillies red, while I wore Rockies purple.

I spent most of Saturday doing errands, and then met up with Kel and Den again Saturday night, this time to check out the great restaurant scene on Larimer Street. We were able to get into Rioja even without a reservation, and the food was absolutely delicious. However, the star of the meal was the bread basket, which featured four different kinds of breads that all sounded incredible. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I gave up cheese for Lent, I was unable to try the rosemary goat cheese balls. But wow, the onion foccacia was to die for, and the lavender wheat bread was amazingly refreshing and perfect for soaking up the delicious sauce on my entree! After Rioja, we headed next door to Corridor 44, a gorgeous champagne bar that reminded me a lot of Lillie’s in NYC.

Corridor 44
I just love the chandeliers – they are gorgeous!

After Corridor 44, though, I tried to call it a night fairly early. I was doing a half marathon the next day!

Westminster is the next town over from where I live in Broomfield/Superior, and as I noted on Friday, although this race was called a “trail” half marathon, it was supposed to be easy. I was looking forward to running in Colorado for the first time since I moved, and hoped that since the route was so close to home, it would become one that I could (and would want to) do on my own in the future. It didn’t disappoint!

I woke up feeling pretty good, and when I peeked out the window, the sunrise looked pretty gorgeous. (One big perk of living in Mountain Time but working in Central Time is that it makes me an earlier riser than I already am. I love it!) It was such a nice treat to be home and with my full kitchen at my disposal for pre-race breakfast, though I didn’t end up having anything all that complicated – just a slice of toast with Trader Joe’s crunchy cookie butter. Whatever, it was delicious!

I drove to the start in only about 10 minutes, parking at the Westin hotel next to the city park where the race would start and finish. I was kind of intrigued that the start was by the Westin, since Starwood has long been one of my favorite hotel brands. It also made me think of my application for the RunWestin Concierge job last summer. I was devastated at the time when I didn’t make it past the top 10, but now in retrospect, I think my life has gone in a great direction even without it. (That said: hey, Westin, you can still call me anytime!)

Westin Westminster

I headed down the hill from the parking lot into the park, and found a more extensive setup than I expected given how small the race was. There was a big arch marking the start/finish, a few rows of porta potties (with a very short line), and several tents with different local vendors sharing their products. I was also really impressed that the race offered free pre-race breakfast (bagels, coffee, OJ, etc), and also promised a pancake breakfast after the finish. That’s pretty nice! I browsed around the stuff for a little while, and then met up with my friend Kelly for a pre-race photo before it was time for the start of the half marathon. There was no formal bag check, but one of the volunteers at the check in table told me I could just leave my sweatshirt/car keys there. Nice and easy!

Kelly & Laura at the Start
Yup, I wore pastel Easter egg colors 🙂

With only about 100 people running the half marathon, the start was nice and relaxed – just a few announcements, a quick rendition of the National Anthem after we had taken the two minutes to line up, and then we were off. I was especially excited about the announcement that there were Easter eggs hidden along the course for us to find – what a neat idea! So far this race was getting lots of points in my book.

I used my KossFit headphones to listen to a Jillian Michaels podcast, which I hoped would entertain me all along the way. However, what ended up entertaining me even more than the podcasts was the beautiful course. I guess in retrospect it wasn’t all that special, but I am still enthralled with the Colorado scenery. How cool was it to be running in a skirt and tanktop, under blue sunny skies… but with snow-capped mountains in the distance?!

The first mile took us on the Big Dry Creek trail – but I was intrigued to see that Big Dry creek was not, in fact, dry. We actually circled a pond in the first mile, doing some switchbacks to weave our way around, and I really liked seeing the runners ahead of me stretched out in a (well-spaced, since it was such a small field) line. After the pond, we ran by a line of nice new-ish homes, and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it would be to live there. Gorgeous views, beautiful homes, and a running trail in your backyard? I’m sold!

Almost the entire thing was pancake flat, though the last mile or two of the out-and-back had a few small hills that provided a little bit of a challenge. However, the race was far from easy for me – just one mile in, I was huffing and puffing. I wasn’t too concerned, since I didn’t care about my finish time and was doing this race more as a way to force myself to run 13.1 miles without getting lazy and quitting early. Hey, everyone has different reasons for signing up for a race – not wanting to “lose” the money (yes, yes, sunk costs and all that) is one of my ways to motivate.

But regardless of how my lungs felt, my heart was singing – I just loved being in Colorado, running under the blue sky and white puffy clouds, and knowing that now I live here and don’t have to leave! (Okay, except for work four days a week… minor detail.) It felt so wonderful to be back to running in the outdoors, rather than just on a treadmill, and I felt like this race was the final reassurance that my gamble had paid off. Colorado just feels like absolutely the right place for me. In such a short time, I already feel home here.

The first 5K went by pretty fast, literally and figuratively – I was averaging about an 8:50 pace for that, which was speedy for me given the altitude. Of course, I paid for it in the next 5K – now starting to average around a 9:10 pace as I fatigued. (I may be great at pacing marathons for other people, but all that steadiness goes out the window when I’m just doing it myself.) But now I was able to keep myself even more entertained by looking for Easter eggs!

So, I hadn’t known about this when I signed up for the race, but since it was being held on Easter Sunday, the organizers had decided to hide plastic Easter eggs on the course. Each egg had in it a raffle ticket for a drawing that would be conducted after the race. During the pre-race announcements, the organizers asked that the half marathoners not pick up any eggs before the 10K turnaround, the 10K runners not pick up any eggs before the 5K turnaround, etc, so that even though the starts were staggered, participants in each race had a fair shot at finding eggs. Unfortunately, I saw plenty of 5K eggs and 10K eggs, but while I kept my eyes peeled, didn’t find any on the half marathon part. Darn it! I was hoping that the runners who were faster than me wouldn’t want to jeopardize their times by egg hunting, but apparently they beat me to the punch.

Circling the pond and seeing all the other runners in a line ahead of me was neat! Too bad they took all the Easter eggs.

At the mile 5 water stop, I was looking forward to getting some of the Honey Stingers fuel that had been described in the pre-race email. (I had intentionally not brought any fuel with me, since I like Honey Stingers and figured I’d just have that.) Unfortunately, when I got to the aid station, I found that there weren’t any Honey Stingers – there was just the same water and sports drink that had been at the other aid stations, plus some cookies (windmills). And the sports drink, Vitargo, I found really difficult to get down. I don’t usually have a sensitive stomach by any means, but I thought it just tasted awful – sticky sweet in a very chemical way. Sure enough, when I looked it up after the race, I discovered that it’s made with sucralose. Why?! If you are running, you are burning enough calories to consume a bit of real sugar rather than nasty chemicals. This was a big disappointment! I grabbed a windmill cookie and a cup of Vitargo (ugh, but I wanted the fuel), trying to eat as quickly as possible. There was only one trash can for each aid station, and it was always placed only about 5-10 feet past the aid station, so I usually had to wait to finish my drink if I wanted to throw the cup into the trash can instead of littering.

But now I was at the top of a hill, and had only about 1.3 miles till the turnaround. Yay! I know some people don’t like out-and-back races because of the boredom factor, but I really like getting to see everyone else who’s out on the course. Plus, a 6.1 mile halfway point is just long enough that you feel like you’ve made good progress, but you don’t feel like you have so much more to go. (For more on this, check out my Chasing the Unicorn Marathon race report, which featured a double out-and-back course that I really loved.) Plus, once I reached the halfway point, I had seen the whole course and knew that there really weren’t any crazy hills or anything else to worry about. Onward to the finish!

I know this looks really remote, but I25 is just another 1/2 mile past the turnaround. Way to go, race organizers, taking us through the pretty parts and stopping just short of the ugly highway! That was smart planning.

After the turnaround, I decided to take advantage of the shade of an overhead bridge to switch from podcasts to music – I figured that would help get me going a little bit. However, what I decided that I wanted to listen to was “Burn” by Ellie Goulding, which I don’t actually have downloaded, so I had to go to YouTube to get it. That would normally be fine, but apparently in this (totally not-all-that-remote) area, I didn’t have solid enough service to stream the song. Darn it! Instead, I opted for my old standby music, the “Some Nights” album by Fun. “Carry On” always gets me going!

I was definitely getting passed by a lot of runners in this area, since I was for sure positive-splitting the race. But I didn’t mind at all, and I was mostly just excited to get to see other runners and say good job, looking strong, etc. It’s one of my dirty secrets that when I cheer other people on in a race, I end up with even more energy for myself. Plus, it made me super psyched about how friendly everyone in my new state is!

(Just glanced up and saw that I’ve ended the last three paragraphs with exclamation points. I will try to rein in my excitement from here on out.)

The small hill going back up to the aid station sucked a little bit, but I reminded myself that it was over pretty quickly, and that the aid station was on the other side so I’d get a break there. A guy passed me going back up the hill, but I was proud of myself that I kept trying to push it as best as I could, and I ended up passing him on the downhill on the other side. It doesn’t matter to me who I finish ahead of or behind, but it felt good to know that I had pushed more than someone else on this particular part and that I wasn’t a complete disaster. And then, my phone decided to get better service, and was able to play “Burn.” Yippee!

So, the day before the race, my Flywheel instructor Thomas put up a pic on Instagram of him running a mile on the treadmill.

Thomas One Mile
His caption on the pic: Hey @50by25! Look who against his better judgement, hehe, ran a mile in 9 min! In HS I ran a mile in 12 minutes!! 🙂 now off to foam roller !! #crosstraining #tryingnewthings #Imarunner

I was so unbelievably excited for Thomas when I saw that. One mile is a very, very, very big deal. I remember when I couldn’t run one mile without taking tons of walk breaks, and when I finally did run a mile without stopping, it was like that unlocked the door to everything else. If I could run one mile without stopping, maybe I could run two. And then that led to three, which led to five, which led to ten… which led to me doing a half marathon that day without having trained for it at all. So much of long distance running is the mental blocks that we put upon ourselves, and the reminder that you have to work hard to get to where you want to be.

I can be really lazy when I’m running a marathon (or half), because it’s so easy to tell myself, “don’t push too hard; you still have a lot further to go.” But when I think about how I push myself in a Tread or a Flywheel class, I get a lot sweatier and a lot more out of breath then. I thought about how Thomas and several of my other favorite instructors play Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” in class, and it does get me really fired up (just like it says in the song) and energized. It reminded me that I had a lot more left in the tank… and I couldn’t be afraid to “let it burn” and pick up the pace. With that thought in my head, I came to the 9 mile mark. Only four miles to go! I could do this.


I flip flopped between a lot of different music for the final miles, settling on a playlist of all Rascal Flatts country songs. I remember listening to this same playlist the very first time I ever went further west than the Mississippi River, when I did the Run with the Horses Marathon in Wyoming. I remember how in awe I was of the wide open spaces and big sky country, and how much I just absolutely loved it. Looking back, I guess that was my first sign that I needed to move out here! I loved listening to “No Reins” as I came to the final mile of the race, still just so happy to be right where I was.

I tried to push it a little bit in the final mile, but I didn’t have a ton of incentive, since I knew I wasn’t near any kind of time goal for myself. (1:57 would have beaten my time in the NYC Half and 2:00 would have been a good round number to beat, but those were too fast. 2:05 would be the next round number time, but was too slow.) Instead, I tried to just go steady but at a pace that I was proud of, and perhaps pass another person or two on my way to the finish 🙂

When I came across the finish line and stopped my watch, I saw that it was about 2:01:45. Not bad at all! Plugging that into the Jack Daniels calculator to adjust for altitude, I found that my flatland estimated time would have been 1:57:17 – or about a minute faster than what I had run at the NYC Half the previous month. This is not to say that I believe in adjusting race times (you ran what you ran, no excuses), but it was nice to compare and see that I had perhaps worked a little bit harder in this one.

Unfortunately, there was just one more organizational flaw with this race. My time didn’t appear in the results! I tried emailing the race director (no response), the timing company (no response), and even posting on their Facebook page, but just got a promise to follow up that hasn’t actually happened (at least as of yet). I know I did some complaining about the aid stations on the course, but that would have been completely forgiven if it hadn’t been for them losing my results. There were a few other snafus as well (e.g., people who did packet pickup on Saturday were missing things that people who picked up on Sunday got), so I’m hoping these were just growing pains of a new race organization. I love how frequently they are organizing these races, and will probably sign up for another one just for the chance to race in another pretty place, but I hope they can get more consistency in what they promise and what they deliver.

All in all, I had a really great time at the race – it was the perfect way to feel confident in my decision to move here, and know that I’m in the right place. Running is what first brought me west, and I’m thrilled that it’s going to continue to be a big part of my life now that I’m out here permanently 🙂

Results may go here someday if I get them, but for now, no dice.


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