Running the Rim Rock

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Independence Rock (the one shaped like a big Coke bottle) seen from Rim Rock Drive inside the Colorado National Monument.

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 starting line for the Rim Rock in the outskirts of Grand Junction.

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.

Runners along the first couple miles just before the start of the ascent.

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 course winds up, over, and through lots of interesting tunnels, canyons, and rock formations.

Steep hairpins. Photo courtesy of Kate Avery at Kate Runs Colorado.

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.

Here’s the 17 mile marker beyond which the road starts to drop off more steeply.

Typical vistas seen along the route.

Taken by Kate Avery (Kate Runs Colorado) somewhere around mile 18 or 19.

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.

Emerging from a tunnel near mile 21. Photo courteously of Kate Avery at Kate Runs Colorado.

A look at the course as it descends down into Fruita (photo taken later in the day when Anna-Lisa and I drove up and over the monument in the opposite direction).

After what seemed like an eternity the course finally flattened out, then it was a gruel-fest for the final 3 miles.

The last mile or two looked like this.

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 pretty happy to see this big green dinosaur (marking the finish line) after coming around the corner.

The finish line. This guy ran the entire marathon with an American flag in hand. He must have strong arms!

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.

My awesome support crew.

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.

The course map, marked out by 5 mile increments.

…and an elevation profile, courtesy of Kate Avery.

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 :).

8 thoughts on “Running the Rim Rock

  1. Brandon Chalk

    Buddy, you a BAMF! But, we all know that. Well done, dude, and congrats! I love CO Nat Monument – its a gorgeous area. Great climbing too 🙂 I have never done a marathon, but if I ever did one this looks like the one to do!

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Brando! I agree, the monument is sweet. I had never even seen it prior to this race and was definitely impressed. I bet there’s a lot of sweet climbing in the area. It’d be fun to head out there in the summer with a good group and and have you tour us around. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any legit rock climbing 🙂

  2. FAJA

    Wow Ben – great pictures of the Monument and 3rd place to boot and what a great place to run a Marathon.- Bet the last mile was a bear !!! I have road biked that entire area a lot and know where all of the pics were taken. . Congratulations! FAJA

    1. Ben Post author

      Dad, thank you! I’d like to head over there and road bike the monument at some point with you if you’d still be up for it. Something tells me road biking it would be easier on the knees…

  3. DKYarian (Zambo)

    Great work brudder! Congrats on your first full marathon finish. After all that hard work, long hours, and many miles of training, I’m glad it was such a success. That’s a smokin time for such a tough course. Great work and well done. Wanna be on a Colfax relay team in the Spring?

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Zam, and thanks again for all the insight and encouragement. Definitely feels good to have a solid result after all that training. I can imagine preparing for something like this and then tanking on race day would be a major bummer.
       
      That sounds fun! What’s the date on the Colfax? Let’s talk…

  4. Stephanie (Lynn) Hinds

    Congrats! I ran that one back in 2013 and really enjoyed it. Probably the most scenic road marathon I have done so far. Given your finishing time, and your trail background, I recommend you give the Moab Trail Marathon a try. I think you would do really well – and it’s an excuse to go to Moab.

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Stephanie! That’s awesome that you got a chance to run this one. I haven’t done any other road races but I can imagine this one ranks high on most seasoned veterans’ list as far as scenery is concerned. I’ll definitely check out the Moab Trail per your recommendation. I’d like to do another race at some point and something out of state would be fun.
       
      P.s. I was thinking about our epic on Holy Cross just the other day. I hope you and Zion are well 🙂

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