Sunday, December 4, 2011

Race Report - Rock Canyon Half Marathon

I capped off last week's training with a fairly productive 11 mile run in my home town of Greeley. I did the out and back course at an average pace of 9:34 so it gave me some optimism for the upcoming Rock Canyon half marathon in Pueblo the following week. Then I checked the weather forecast.

What has started off as a high of 43 degrees slowly deteriorated as the week went by until by Friday, the forecast high was expected to be around 25* and with windchill, that would drop it down to 11*. There was, in all honesty, a moment where I considered not running it. Ultimately, however, I needed to make my training worth it and what the's a good war story.

Getting to Pueblo from Parker proved to be some of the most exciting part of my day. I left home in a fairly good snow storm with more than a little of it sticking to the roads. Once on I-25 heading south, I found myself behind three snow plows. Good since they were clearing the road (mostly) but bad because we were only going 30 - 35 mph and I had almost a hundred miles to go.

Fortunately, I cleared Monument Hill to find clearer, even drier roads and I arrived at my brother's home just about right at the 8:00 I had expected. By now, it had begun to snow again and the thermometer in my car was indeed reading 25*.

While this race starts and stops in Pueblo's City Park, the staging was done out of a community center located in the middle which means that were able to stay out of the elements not only while picking up our bibs and sweatshirts, but also during the time before the race. That also meant there were indoor restrooms, a real plus!

Time seemed to go by quickly and before I knew it, I was standing outside with over 500 of my closest friends. That's actually low since this race sold out to its cap of 750 but I'm guessing there were more than a few out-of-towners who did not want to brave the elements.

Though I was concerned about slipping and sliding, I actually did okay on the snow packed roads as the pack made two turns around the park before heading downhill to the path that runs along the Arkansas River. I was somewhat familiar with this route because much of it is used in the Spring Runoff which I ran back in March. That said, we weren't too far into the race before we went off the paved trail and onto what I would best describe as a jeep trail. That is, two ruts with some growth in between.

Being well dressed in multiple layers, I was warm against the chilly air, and to this point, the wind was only a breeze and it was one that was not penetrating my cold weather gear. That changed somewhere along the mile four of five point. The race is so named because this section of the Arkansas River Valley is lined but sheer rock bluffs. It's not a canyon in the strictest sense, but you understand where the name came from. As the wind came over the northern bluff, it did so with a lot of ferocity. Sort of like it had been pent up. Regrettably, all of us running got to feel it's wrath.

Despite the wind and fairly rough course, I was still averaging right around a 9:30 or so pace.  I was starting to feel it a little bit, but I still thought I could maintain. Then I hit the 10 mile marker and the wind that had been annoying at first was now blowing pretty much right as me and in the process, slowing me way down. I pretty much lost all momentum at this point and was really now just hoping to finish under 2:10.

Another thing happened on the way home. I had been told that there was a big hill near the end of the race. In fact, I even ran down it since after the first two miles this is an out and back course. But nothing can prepare you for actually running a hill other than actually running it. This one was a monster. Probably not the steepest hill I've ever run, but definitely the steepest I've done after already having run over 12 miles. My HR monitor had me at 163 bpm once I made it to the top.

I managed to struggle across the finish line at 2:09:26 which was off the 2:05 I hoped for, but not terrible either. The conditions were among the rougher I've done. It is, after all, an event in December.

So as for the race itself:

The bad (or just not so good):

Course: This is a small event so closing off huge stretches of public streets is not really an option. However, I nearly twisted an ankle on the jeep trail sections and some others actually did. It's one thing to have a trail, but another to have one with big rocks that threaten the health of the participants. I think someone should look at keeping more of this race on the paved bike path. I even managed to come up with my own variation here.

That's other criticisms from me.

The good:

Registration Fee: At just $35 including a sweatshirt and finishers medal, plus plenty of food, energy drink and water before and after the race, this is one of the best deals out there. Today's Rock 'N' Roll Las Vegas is about $100 more.

Pre-Race Info: Plenty of it on the Southern Colorado Runners website including a course map. This isn't hard to do but kudos to the director for providing useful information.

Support & Volunteers: Much as I didn't want to run in the bitter cold, I can only imagine how tough it was to just stand in it. The volunteers were ready with water or energy drink at each of the many stations along the route. It was outstanding and my hat's off to their efforts. It was also nice to return to a plethora of food including cookies, donuts, and bananas. I was bonking pretty bad by the end and it all hit the spot!

Timely Results: Results have been posted on the SoCo Runners site and that's pretty impressive since this whole deal is being done without timing chips.

Scenery: I think this course would be very pretty in warmer months when the foliage is out. The twists and turns along the Arkansas River are enjoyable and even when you're struggling to keep your heart rate down, you can't help but enjoy the venue. I just wish more of it was on a flat surface.

Will I be back. Probably. I'm hurting pretty bad today having done much of the race in Z3. I'm fortunate not to have twisted my ankle which are prone to that sort of thing anyway. Those hazards may be the one factor that would keep me out in a future race. On the other hand, I think this might be a fast course if the wind and snow were not factors.

In any case, I'm glad to be done with this one and have a great war story to tell. "Did I tell you about the time I did a half marathon in 11 degree wind chill?" Sounds good, huh?

Now it's back to Z1 training with longer, slower runs. I'm also looking forward to spending more time on the bike and in the pool. I won't feel like I'm neglecting race training but spreading out my training variety a little more.

The next race report for me probably won't happen until April when I'm fairly certain I'll be doing the Horsetooth Half Marathon in Fort Collins. This was not on my original 2012 schedule, but a good chunk of it runs on the same course as the HITS run course so it will be a good chance to see just what I've gotten myself into!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!

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