Two weeks ago I said goodbye to summer by participating in the Rim Rock Marathon out in Grand Junction. This was my first marathon and I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience. I’m not sure exactly what spurred me on to deviate from my normal regiment of hiking peaks through summer’s end, but it probably had something to do with Anna-Lisa making me run with her as she trained for her own half marathon in August. As I got out there more and more I seemed to gain a genuine appreciation for running (the massive trail system that extends throughout Highlands Ranch definitely helped keep things interesting) and after stumbling across the Rim Rock race website, I decided to sign up.
A three month training regiment of running 20 to 30 miles a week tapered off into race day on November 7th. After staying in a hotel in Fruita, Anna-Lisa drove me over to the community center where I was shuttled down to the starting line in Grand Junction. A brisk 8am start had 140 of us beginning the route up and over the Colorado National Monument (which as an added bonus, I had never visited prior to race day).
The Rim Rock Marathon has earned a reputation of being one of the more scenic road races in the country. As it winds up and over the monument along Rim Rock Drive, runners are treated with panoramic views of massive canyons, sweeping vistas, and iconic red rock formations. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to this particular race, but the scenery also comes with an added challenge: a net elevation change of over 4,000 ft over the course of the 26.2 mile marathon distance. The course gains a little over 2,000 ft in the first 9 miles, plateaus off after attaining Rim Rock Drive’s high point, then drops 2,000 ft down a steep and windy set of curves before finishing off at Circle Park in downtown Fruita.
I started off feeling pretty cold (the temperature at the start of the race was around 35 degrees) but with the sun getting higher in the sky and a bluebird day in the works, it didn’t take long for things to start to warm up. I tried to start off at a comfortable pace, knowing that if I tried to push it too much early on I’d probably pay for it later.
The high point of the course coincides with the halfway mark (mile 13.1) of the race, beyond which the majority of remaining running is all downhill. With aid stations positioned every 2.5 miles or so, I was able to run without any kind of hydration and just grab water/gatorade cups as I ran by. At the halfway mark of the race I was still feeling pretty good but welcomed the downhill with open arms. Miles 13 through 20 went pretty well, and I made sure to distract myself by admiring the views and focusing on trying to run with good form.
My longest training run wound up being 21 miles, so I knew I was good up until that point but legitimately had no idea how I’d fare beyond that mark. I had heard that the last 5 miles or so of a marathon are where things can start to become noticeably more difficult, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when that’s what started to happen. With the legs really starting to feel fatigued and the knees starting to hurt, I recalled the best advice I had heard which was to just try to keep the mind distracted and rely on the training miles. Certainly there’s an element of having to just bear down and continue putting one foot in front of the other, which I’ve become pretty well-acquainted with doing over the years.
After what seemed like an eternity the course finally flattened out, then it was a gruel-fest for the final 3 miles.
Things started to really get difficult in the final mile of the race. It’s funny, I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing that caused me to start to bonk knowing I was so close to the end, or if that’s where things were always going to start to come unhinged and I just lucked out that it happened with only a mile left to go. I’ll never know, but suffice it to say that last mile was a tough task.
I was met by Anna-Lisa and Jax, who were ready to give me with a down jacket and ply me with chocolate milk, bagels, and orange slices at the finish line. After walking off some cramps, I was able to sit down and enjoy watching others cross the finish line. The race organizers also provided free soup, beer, and a live band.
I finished with a time of 3:25:20, which was good enough for 3rd place in my age group (34 and under) and 8th place overall. I was a little surprised and definitely proud of that result. For a full list of the 2015 race results, click here.
Thanks is due to my wonderful wife and four-legged family member, who helped me out a lot, particularly after the race was over but also throughout the entire journey. The organizers did a great job putting on such a unique event, and I’d also like to thank to my buddy Zambo for sharing a lot of his knowledge, past experience, and encouragement leading up to the race.
Well that’s about it. After having time to reflect on the experience I can say that I’d like to run another race, but perhaps not until after ski season as skiing is still officially more fun than running :).