My parents have a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first time I went I was awestruck. It was remote and secluded, but oh-so-beautiful. The second time I went I started to feel isolated and slightly stir-crazy. The third (and last) time I went, I could not shake visions of a heart attack or snake bite requiring a lengthy and hence fatal car ride to the nearest hospital.
This is how I felt when we pulled into the town of Ouray, Colorado on Friday two weeks ago. I felt claustrophobic and uneasy — surrounded by steep high mountain peaks on three sides. It was only a six-hour drive, but it felt like it was light years away from civilization.
Fortunately I was there to run. (It’s hard to go stir-crazy while running.) All I had to do was make it though the night. Which I did, despite the very thin walls of the Comfort Inn.
Nathan, Abby, and I met Jeff and his girlfriend, Michaela, the next morning at the starting line at the Mt Sneffels Half Marathon. (A little background: Jeff is my cadet in the Saucony 26 Strong program. Together, Jeff and I make up Team 7 of 26 teams across the country. We are training for Jeff’s first marathon — Denver Rock-n-Roll on October 2nd.)
This was Jeff’s first time running the distance and he said his goal was ten-minute miles. His dream-goal was sub-2 hours. If he was nervous, it didn’t show.
(If you wanted to see nervous, you had to look no further than Abby. It was her first half-marathon, too, and being the worrisome 14-year-old she is, she could not stop seeking reassurance and asking questions. Never line up with a first-timer in a porta potty line. The nerves are palpable and contagious. Especially when she’s your daughter.)
Jeff and I ran the race together. We stopped for a bathroom break somewhere in the first five miles. We stopped very briefly at a few aid-stations. But that was it. I knew we had a shot at sub-two hours fairly early on, but I didn’t know the race course (point-to-point with a net elevation loss, on mostly dirt with the exception of the first half a mile or so) and I didn’t know how much Jeff might slow at the end (not much). When we encountered a few hills on the second half of the race and our conversation didn’t skip a beat, I knew he was feeling pretty good.
Even if we slowed to a 10-minute mile pace, we could still make sub-2:00. Then came a monster hill at mile 10.5. We turned a corner and there is was. “It looks worse than it is,” I told Jeff. “Just put your head down and get it done.” We passed a lot of folks on that hill. It definitely slowed us down, but Jeff still had gas in the tank. Nobody was passing us. We picked up the pace with a mile to go.
Finish time: 1:59.17
I’ve only run a handful of races that shuttle you from the finish back to the start. My least favorite memory of this process most definitely would be at Mt Evans Ascent where you cram your tired, frozen butt into a conversion van at a windy 14,000 feet with 16 other stinky runners for the trip 14 miles down a winding mountain road.
This was nothing like that.
We hopped on a waiting school bus for the trip back to Ouray from the finish line in Ridgeway. It was a great way to debrief everyone else about their race experiences. Michaela’s knees bugged her some. She finished in 1:55.05. Abby ran a comfortable pace and finished 1:53.57. Nathan had a good day with no puking and ran 1:30.35 which was good for 17th overall and 2nd in 19 and under.
Would I travel to this race again? I still haven’t decided. There are a lot of great races closer to home with even more beautiful scenery. But I like smaller races and this was well organized. Maybe I’ll give the full marathon a try next time.