Last Saturday, I ran a real race (not a virtual one) – the Camp Hale Half Marathon!
There were so many reasons I didn’t think this race would happen. Obviously, COVID has caused the cancellation of most races this year, but it seemed like a few smaller trail races were still happening. But even beyond the barrier of COVID, Colorado has been going through some pretty nasty wildfires lately – including the Pine Gulch fire, which has burned 140,000 acres so far and is the biggest in Colorado history, Unfortunately, all that smoke has made the air quality in Colorado terrible for the last few weeks… even at my home in Superior (about a hundred miles away from the Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fires), the smoke was so bad that I couldn’t go outside for a week. The race organizers said they would make a near-gametime decision as to whether to hold the Camp Hale Half… but some rain and a break in the smoke Wednesday meant that they announced on Thursday the race would go on!
I wasn’t expecting that news, but it didn’t take me long to throw my stuff in the car and head up to Minturn on Thursday night. The drive wasn’t too bad, and after cooking dinner and doing a bit of yoga, I headed to bed early… and then stayed up later than I planned reading. Whoops! But I was able to sleep pretty late on Friday, and didn’t get up till 7am for a quick and easy three mile run before work.
My work day on Friday was amazingly full of breaks to actually get work done – quite a cry from the 10+ hours of back-to-back meetings I’ve become used to! I don’t often work in the mountains, but if this is what it gets me, I’ll take it 🙂 After work, I headed over to the Vail Tennis Center for packet pickup (literally just a bib and pins; I probably should have just done it on race morning), then stopped at the grocery store on my home to pick up some ingredients for a pasta dinner.
But once I got back to my house, I had a fun night planned. Boulder Dinner Theater was airing a livestream of their performance of Ragtime, and my mom and I had each bought tickets to stream it simultaneously! Although I knew the music well, I had never actually seen the show and I was excited. Unfortunately, I found the caliber of a lot of the performers to be pretty lacking… but it was still a fun night spent (virtually) with my mom 🙂
Once again, I stayed up later than I intended… but this time, it was messing around on social media! Ughhh. I have become quite a Facebook addict in the last six months, and I really beat myself up for how much time I waste on it… but then I do it again. In positive news, it’s the sleep you get two nights before the race that matters, so this didn’t hurt me too much.
I woke up before my alarm with plenty of time before the race, and after doing my Peloton core workout, enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast of the spiced chai baked oatmeal I had made on Thursday morning. And when I say leisurely, I do mean leisurely – I sat at the dining room table eating the baked oatmeal, sipping coffee, and reading a magazine! It was such a peaceful, lovely start to race morning, and I hoped it would be a good omen for the day ahead.
Although it was only supposed to be about 20 minutes from my house to the race start at Camp Hale (literally all on the same road), I was stuck behind a really slow driver for most of the way, which was frustrating. But I was listening to an all-Pink playlist to hype me up, and it kept me in a good mood even as I was annoyed at the driver! However, I got to the race start a little later than I wanted…
The race organizers had divided the participants into start waves starting with the oldest participants, and with each age group starting 15 minutes after the previous group. Meanwhile, each wave had its own designated arrival time, which was no more than twenty minutes before your start. With that narrow twenty minute window, and me getting delayed, this meant I was a bit rushed. I parked the car and immediately headed for the portapotties, but as I got in line, I heard them announcing that it was only two minutes until the start of my wave. What?! I started looking around to see if there were some bushes or trees that would adequately shield me, and I must have looked desperate, since the women at the front of the line were prompted to ask, “Oh, are you doing the early start? Go ahead!” While I was in the porta potty, it occurred to me that they must have thought I was in the 20s age group and that I had asked to be bumped up to an earlier state, which made me smile. Hooray for looking young for my age!
I channeled my inner Shalane and was in and out of the porta potty in less than a minute, getting over to the actual start just in the nick of time. The race organizers had spread green dots all over the ground, to indicate where runners were supposed to line up to still maintain six feet of distance, and everyone was wearing their mask. When our wave began, I was a little worried that I’d have to crowd through a ton of people to move up from the very back where I started, but that turned out to not be a problem… nearly everyone was faster than me! Ha. Furthermore, we were on a big wide dirt road for the first three miles – so everyone had plenty of room to pass each other safely.
Last year, the altitude made me feel like I couldn’t breathe right from the first steps I took, and I congratulated myself that I didn’t have that same sensation this year. Either I am getting used to the altitude, or my pacing was better! But then at the two mile mark, my right eye started twitching – something that had happened to me last year as well. Darn it!
Aside from the eye twitch, though, I felt fine – and while it was much colder than it had been the year before, it was a lovely day for a run. I had checked the weather to realize that temps would be in the 40s, and so wore capris and a long sleeve shirt. However, what had escaped my notice in the forecast was the fact that rain was also predicted. This didn’t show up just yet though…
The first two miles were relatively flat. Well, actually a slight incline, but the kind where it’s nearly imperceptible, with gains of only 30-50 feet per mile. I ticked off the first mile in 8:52 and the second mile in 8:50 – steady and not too fast right out of the gate! At about the 2.5 mile mark, we turned off the dirt road onto a rolling singletrack trail for a little bit, which I didn’t remember from the year before. This only lasted for a half mile before we cut back out to the main road, but it was a good taste of what was to come. Mile 3 clocked in at 9:38 – definitely slower than before on the rolling singletrack, but I was still 2.5 minutes ahead of where I was last year.
We were back out on the wide road for only a quarter mile, and then took the turn I remembered that would take us into singletrack for a solid mile. Last year, I had walked a lot in this section. This year, I knew better – each of the uphills were reasonably short, and were followed by a downhill on the other side. So, I needed to suck it up and just keep running!
I maintained about an 11:00 pace in this section, and felt good doing it; mile 4 clocked in at 10:52, and then we popped off the singletrack and back to the dirt road for a lovely downhill, culminating in an aid station right before we turned left to begin what I knew to be a long steady climb up to mile 8.
Just as I came out of the woods and onto that slight downhill, it started raining. But instead of making me frustrated, especially since it was already so cold that I could barely feel my fingers, I was delighted. We have had such a dry summer (see: wildfires), and even beyond the altruism of the rain helping to quell the fires, it just felt like a novelty to run in the rain. And so I flew down the road joyfully, with a huge smile on my face and with the Greatest Showman soundtrack in my ears. Fifth mile: back down to 9:52 pace. I was doing great!
But the next few miles were going to be the real test of my mettle: the dirt road now climbed unrelentingly for two miles, then we turned onto singletrack for another mile of almost pure uphill, before we’d be rewarded with a descent toward the finish. Miles 6 and 7 were about a 4% grade – so not terrible, but enough to definitely feel the road under your feet. It was here that I got passed by a few 20somethings who had started in the wave after me – meaning, I had a fifteen minute head start on them. Wow! I was really impressed by the pace at which they passed me – that was definitely something to aspire to. Although, for all I knew, they were professional trail runners; you never know in Colorado!
Right after mile 7, we turned off the gradually-inclining dirt road and onto another singletrack trail. While it undulated up and down, it was mostly up – but this year, I was determined to keep my streak of no-walk-breaks. I forced myself to run the uphills, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was doable to run all of them… until mile 7.5, when a particularly brutal switchback got really steep. I walked for about 30 seconds, but that brought me to the top of the hill, and then the trail turned right down what seemed like a rocky streambed. The footing wasn’t easy, but at least it was downhill – and then at mile 7.8, we popped out from the rocky trail back onto the dirt road. I remembered this part – the glorious downhill!
I passed a runner in short order, and then set my sights on the runners ahead of me, trying to reel them in. The smooth road made it easy to pick up speed, but I haven’t been doing much speedwork this year (vs last year I was doing Orangetheory religiously), so although I was quite content at an 8:00 pace, I wasn’t breaking into the low 7s the way I was last year. Still, I was far ahead of where I was last year, and not being able to sprint wasn’t that big a deal!
The rain was still pouring down, and my shirt was completely soaked through – plus my hands were numb. But in spite of that, I was so happy as I flew down the road! I had a huge smile on my face (which got even bigger once we turned from the road onto the singletrack, still downhill) and I was just so content to be running along listening to the Greatest Showman soundtrack. While normally the cold would really bug me, after it’s been so hot and smoky the last few weeks, I was just thrilled to be in the mountains and enjoying a run! I clocked mile 9 in 8:26 – a decent pace for being so far into the race.
There was a girl ahead of me who had passed me a few miles earlier – based on the fast pace with which she passed me, I assumed she was in the 20-29 age group and had started after me. However, coming down the road, I could now see her ahead of me – and I was starting to close the gap. I continued to narrow it as I went down the singletrack downhill section, passing all the others who were between us, until she was just a few hundred feet ahead of me when we reached the final switchbacks that took us to the flat section. Switchbacks always give you a chance to feel like you’re closer than you are to competitors, and she yelled back to me to let her know when I wanted to pass her. I wasn’t quite there yet, but I was determined to get there soon!
Right after the other girl yelled back to me, we finished the singletrack descent and moved on to a short doubletrack section that would take us back to the main dirt road – so, no shortage of passing opportunities! I started picking up the pace on the flat ground, and then passed the other girl just before we got to the dirt road. We hit the dirt road almost exactly at mile 10, which meant only 5K to go – or likely even less, since I remembered the course being short last year.
While I was close to the end, the course was not flat (rather than downhill) and we had a bit of a headwind, so it wasn’t as easy to go fast. However, I had clocked mile 10 in a not-so-speedy 9:54 in spite of the downhill, because the technical trail made me have to be careful with my footing. Now, on the open road, I could also open up my stride – and I hit mile 11 in 8:31. I passed several people in this area, but the downside of the staggered start was that I had no idea if I was passing people who started with me or those who started 15 minutes behind me (meaning, they were still beating me). Fortunately, I wasn’t in this race for placement; I just wanted to beat my time from last year – which I was on track to do!
The final full mile (yup, the course was short just like last year) had a 70 foot hill in the middle of it – and last year, I had walked this, totally spent. This year, I knew it was coming, and geared up for it in my mind. When it finally approached, I found that it actually wasn’t that hard to run up it (albeit at a slower pace than I had been running on flats). I was able to pass a few more people on this hill, and then we had one more short (50 foot) uphill that took us to the final left turn – finish line ahead!
Although I could see the finish line in the distance, I had just crossed mile 12, so I figured it was further away than it looked. Still, I knew I couldn’t have much more than one song or so to go. I clicked my Aftershokz forward so I could make sure it was a good one, and ended up getting “Rewrite the Stars” – that worked! (My favorite Greatest Showman songs for running are “From Now On”, “Come Alive”, and “The Greatest Show”, but this was good enough to avoid clicking forever.) The road was pretty rutted, but I picked up the pace as much as I could. I could see my watch ticking closer and closer to 2:03, and tried my best to see if I could finish before it ticked over… but the finish line was just a bit too far, so I finished in 2:03:07, which meant I did the last 0.6 at a 7:44 pace. Not bad for the end of a high elevation race – and 7 minutes faster than last year!
As I look back on the race, I don’t think I was actually better trained this year than last year. I mean, I’ve certainly been doing a lot more hiking and trail running, but I’ve been severely lacking on the speed training, and I think that showed when it came time for the downhill sections. However, what I lost in pure speed, I made up for quite a bit in both stamina and mindset – I was really proud of myself for pushing to keep running the hills rather than giving up and walking! I know that a big part of doing well with trail races is the strategy behind when to run and when to walk, and I thought I really nailed it here, only walking that one hill. In hindsight, even that hill was probably pretty runnable (at least for the switchback part; there was one steep part of it that was not), so I’d like to set a goal of doing this race next year and not only improving my time but also running through the switchbacks on it too.
Distance: 12.6 miles
Overall place: 50/112
Gender place: 19/56
Age group place: 9/12
Post-race, there was no gathering; instead, there were four tents set up – one to grab some free swag, one to grab breakfast burritos and donuts (each individually packaged in ziplock bags and handed to you by a volunteer wearing gloves), and one where you could see if you had won the raffle. Where last year, we had stood around waiting to see if our number was called as a winner, this year, they just posted the bib numbers and names of the winners along with the respective prizes, so you knew within a few seconds whether you had won. I kind of liked that it was fast and easy, but the party atmosphere last year around the raffle was fun! So I’d call this part a draw for whether COVID made it better or worse. Overall, though, I thought the race organizers did a phenomenal job adapting to the circumstances, and this has made me very comfortable signing up for future live races.
After snagging my burrito and donut, I quickly headed for my car – my soaked through clothes and the cold temperatures were causing me to start to shiver, and I also wanted to warm up my hands, which were still numb from the cold. I ended up enjoying my delicious Northside Kitchen donut in the front seat of my car, then drove home to heat my breakfast burrito up in the microwave, take a hot shower, and sit in front of the fireplace for a while to try to warm up. I couldn’t believe how cold I was now that I was done running – this did not feel at all like last year’s normal summer temps!
I finally started feeling a little warmer, but the temps outside were still cold – so I decided that rather than staying out in the mountains, I’d head back to Superior, where it was significantly warmer. My friend Heather texted me later in the afternoon that it warmed up quite a bit, but I was already back home in the Front Range by then. While I missed getting to see her, I was glad to be home and have the rest of the weekend to sprawl out in my Superior house!
One other thing that was still ailing me – while my legs didn’t hurt, my shoulders actually did. I wondered if all the rain had made my sleeves so heavy that I was getting an arm workout during the race?! But a friend later pointed out that it was more likely I was inadvertently hiking up my shoulders due to the cold – ah, that makes more sense. Either way, I decided when I got home to finish burning them out with a Peloton arm workout, followed by the new “The Weeknd” Peloton yoga class with Anna – which ended up having a ton of chest and shoulder openers and was exactly what I needed! Only two more days of my August yoga challenge, and I was really proud of myself for sticking with daily yoga.
I tried going to bed early to let my body recover, but I inadvertently ended up staying up till all hours of the night reading – oops! Unfortunately, that did not get my Sunday off to a great start. I woke up pretty tired and groggy, but headed down to the Peloton for a 45 minute class to shake my legs out. I wouldn’t say that I take Peloton classes easy, but there’s something more mindless than running about clipping my feet into the pedals and following along with the resistance and cadence an instructor suggests. The only thing I had to decide was which instructor to take – and when I filtered for 45 minute classes, I saw that Irene had a new one! Irene is a German instructor, but every so often she does a ride in English, and I’m always delighted to take her classes – she’s like a ray of sunshine 🙂
After my workout, I made a quick breakfast, then kept my gym clothes on to go for a power walk around the neighborhood to catch up with my friend Chris. Along the way, I admired the many beautiful flowers we have throughout town…
And after that – not too much to report, but a full day of reading, chores, and getting things done around the house. I feel like I spend so much time on cleaning and chores since staying home rather than traveling. I swear I am not making the house that much dirtier (especially since I always clean as I go when I cook), but it sometimes seems like the chores are never ending and there is rarely enough time in the day for everything!
On that note – my friend Heather came over to hang out on my deck in the evening, but while we had originally discussed doing dinner, I ended up calling it a night early in favor of just going to bed early. I was zonked by 8pm! I hoped that the week ahead would give me a chance to get back on a more regular schedule.