Andy in the Rockies

Trip reports, videos, and photos from hiking, climbing,
and mountaineering adventures in Colorado and beyond.

Blue Sky Marathon
October 4, 2009

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Here is a map of the course with my split times....Here is a profile of the course....Milling about at the start line....Scott embarks on his first marathon....Trudging up Tower Road....Scott and I walked every step of Tower Road.  Some people walked some / ran...Descending Stout Loop....Me approaching Aid Station #4 about 1 hour 58 minutes and 11.7 miles into t...This is at roughly mile 15.5 on the Laughing Horse loop.  I'm about to catc...Me approaching the checkpoint at the southern tip of the course.  At this p...Another shot of me approaching the checkpoint at the southern tip of the co...Me after passing through Aid Station #7 about 3 hours and 42 minutes into t...Only 50 meters to go....Crossing the finish line in 4:37:39....Crossing the finish line....Me after the finish.  I was cramping pretty bad at the end and I just barel...There was no doubt that Scott was glad to see the finish line....
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Trip Report [hide]

During the spring and early summer of 2009 I was having trouble finding the time to stay fit enough for real climbing and get out on the weekends to actually do real climbing. The demands of small business ownership and a young family (3 month old and an 19 month old) were stretching me pretty thin. So after Fabio and I climbed Ellingwood Ledges on Crestone Needle I decided to hang up the climbing gear for the season and try something new. I had accomplished my top goals of the season (Flour Power Couloir on Otis Peak, Southwest Couloir on Shoshoni Peak, and Ellingwood Ledges on Crestone Needle) so I was content to focus on a totally different objective: run my first marathon.

Several of my climbing friends cross over from the ultra running / trail running scene and their exploits had motivated me to try it. The Blue Sky Marathon seemed like the perfect race to try - I had a good chunk of time to train for it (two and a half months), it was quite literally in my backyard with the start/finish line being just a 15 minute drive from my house, and it looked like a fun course. I was able to talk Scott (a buddy from church) into joining me in training for this endeavor. (It would be Scott's first marathon too.)

So we trained quite a bit and put in quite a few miles. It was a lot easier for me to carve out an hour here and 3 hours there to train, instead of 20 hours on weekend to go out and do a climb. I got a little Garmin GPS unit at the end of August so I know I ran exactly 157.6 miles in 26:42:32 during the month of September. At first my goals was to just make the time cuts and finish in the generous seven hour cutoff time. After a while I adjusted my objective to finish in less than six hours. By the time October rolled around I was thinking I may even be able to do it less than five and a half hours. There was only one way to find out...

On race day Scott and I rolled into the parking lot at about 6:00am. It was pretty cold - just above freezing - so we checked in, got our bib numbers, and then retreated to the heated car to try and stay warm. A half hour before start time Scott and I left the warmth of the car and headed to the start/finish line to listen to the pre-race briefing and queue up for the start. With the cold temperatures I struggled with what to wear but in the end I opted to wear my lightest long-sleeve polypro shirt for my top and then took a headband to keep my ears warm for the first bit. This proved to be a fairly good choice as the temperatures never climbed much above 40 degrees and the sun never came out. In hindsight I probably would have chosen a slightly heavier shirt, but what I wore worked pretty well.

A little after 7:00am the starting gun went off and we set off down the trail. Not knowing what to expect I started about 3/4 of the way back in the pack. The pace was very leisurely and I moved up a bit as we cruised through first bit that was mostly flat. When we hit Tower Road I started a brisk walk. The hill gains about 1,100 feet in 1.75 miles. Some people ran some / walked some, but my brisk walk was about the same pace as these people. I imagine that the dudes at the very front of the race ran it, but by this time they were already so far ahead that they were out of view and I couldn't see.

I reached the top of top of the hill at the 42 minute mark and made a little bit of an effort to pass a few people before the downhill began. I don't go uphill very fast but I've come to learn that I'm pretty good at running down rough trails so I wanted to make sure I didn't get stuck behind a bunch of slower descenders. If there was anywhere I was going to make up time on the course this was it. I manage to pass about 4 people on the descent of the Stout Loop and another one on the descent of Tower Road. I reached the flats and ran through the start/finish line at the 1 hour and 12 minute mark: 6.8 miles down and 19.5 to go!

By this time all the runners had pretty much sorted themselves out. I was aware of one guy behind me about 100 yards back but I couldn't see anybody in front of me. I set a steady pace through the flats along Horsetooth Reservoir and paused at Aid Station #3 to fill up both my water bottles before the gradual ascent up the valley. I cruised up valley - still with noone visible ahead of me or behind me - crested the top and then began the gradual descent into the low point of the course. I could see one runner way in front of me but that was it. I dropped down across the wash and up to Aid Station #4 at the 1 hour 58 minute mark: 11.7 miles down and 14.6 miles to go. I grabbed a couple of oranges and then set off up the Indian Summer Hill.

The Indian Summer Hill gains about 375 feet in less than a mile and I ran most of it, stopping to walk a few of the steeper sections. From Aid Station #4 I had another runner breathing down my neck so that provided some good motivation, but I let him pass me towards the top. I have no idea where he came from because I don't remember passing him earlier on the course and he passed me almost like I was standing still. Anyway, after cresting the hill I cruised down the side and toward the next aid station. As I approached Aid Station #5 the guy who was leading the race passed me going the other way! He had already run 5 more miles than I had. Anyway, I arrived at Aid Station #5 at the 2 hour and 24 minute mark: 14.1 miles down and 12.2 to go (I was finally past the halfway point). My buddy Eric was manning this aid station and we chatted for a few seconds while I filled my water bottles and grabbed a little bit of food.

The guy who had passed me on the Indian Summer hill was long gone but there was another runner dangling out in front of me to provide some motivation. I passed him on the short ascent up the other side of the valley as we approached the Laughing Horse Loop. At about this point I was passed by another runner - the guy leading the 50k race.

It was about this time that I realized I was on pace to finish this thing in less than five hours. This was quite a bit faster than I had expected. In fact I'd told my wife and other fan club members not to expect me at the finish line until some time between noon and one (i.e. 5-6 hour finish time) so I decided to try and make a cell phone call to tell them to adjust their schedule if they wanted to see me finish. This was a lot easier said than done though. I found that it is extremely difficult to operate an iphone when you're sweaty. The first mistake I made was holding the phone to close to me such that I dripped sweat onto it from my hat brim. Then I couldn't make the touch pad work with me sweaty fingers. After a couple tries I gave up and decided to try again later.

I passed another couple of runners on the rolling, rocky terrain on the way to the southern tip of the course on the Hunters Loop. Another friend, Charles, was manning the checkpoint and took a couple of photos of me and gave me a high-five as I went by at the 2 hour and 48 minute mark: 16.7 miles down and 9.6 miles to go.

At this point I was getting a little tired. I focused on trying to keep a steady, sustainable pace and to continue to keep sucking down lots of water and energy gels. Up to this point I had made myself eat one gel between every aid station but now I was going to increase that a little bit: I would eat two between Aid Station #5 and Aid Station #6.

Now that I was on the return leg I was repeating ground I had already covered (just going the other way). I began seeing the slower marathon runners that were pretty far behind me. I kept my eye out for Scott but I didn't see him - this meant that he wasn't too far back. I worked my way back up the rolling, rocky terrain to the lip of the valley and descended back down to Aid Station #6 (the same one as Aid Station #5) at the 3 hour and 10 minute mark: 19 miles down only 7.3 miles to go. I said 'Hi' to Eric again and grabbed some watermelon wedges before heading back up the Indian Summer hill. Going this direction up the hill I would gain roughly 450 feet in a little over 1.5 miles. At this point I was definitely getting tired and I could feel the hint of cramps coming on. In order to stave of the cramps I walked most of the hill. Now that I was on the Indian Summer hill I encountered a lot of the half marathoners coming the other way. They were charging down the hill as I was struggling to drag myself up it. While I walked I made another attempt to call my supporters and tell them of my expected early arrival time. After much fiddling with the phone I finally managed to leave a voice mail message with my wife. I hoped she would check it.

As I crested the top of the hill I could see three runners out in front of me. They seemed quite a ways off but would provide some good motivation - something for me to chase. With fatigue and cramps setting in I resigned myself to not catching any of these runners, but at least I thought I had a good chance of maintaining my placing and not allowing anyone to catch me from behind (I couldn't see anyone close). I tried to descend the hill as quickly as I could but I had to limit my strides a little to minimize the affects of the cramps. I rolled into Aid Station #7 (the same as Aid Station #4) at the 3 hour and 42 minute mark: 21.4 miles down 4.9 miles to go. I filled up my water bottles one more time and set off.

Immediately after Aid Station #7 was medium sized, but very steep hill. I walked it while I watched the runners in front of my run some / walk some. Down the other side of the hill I tried my best to run and then it was a long and ever so slightly uphill couple of miles. At this point I was catching and passing half marathoners fairly regularly but I kept track of the three marathoners that I was aware of ahead of me (I could distinguish these because I saw them descending the Indian Summer hill whereas the half marathoners had not). To my surprise I was gaining pretty rapidly on one of them. A few hundred yards later I caught him as he began to do an awkward skip down the trail. As I passed him I let 'em know that my legs felt exactly the same - he was clearly cramping badly. He explained with a laugh that his legs just wouldn't seem to work anymore.

At this point it was all I could do to keep up a very slow jog and at times I walked the slightly steeper parts. Just as I crested the final hill at the 23.5 mile mark I passed another one of the marathoners. It was all downhill (or flat) from there and my legs were working better on the downhill than the uphill. If I could just keep from totally seizing up into one giant cramp I would be home free. I pounded my last energy gel as I passed the final Aid Station #8 at the 4 hour and 19 minute mark: 24.6 miles down and only an agonizing 1.7 miles to go!

I could see that other runner not much more than 100 yards in front of me but there was no way I was going to catch him. I just focused on moving my legs and not cramping. I made way along the flat trail as it wound its way past the camp sites and the marina. I crossed the street and it was only 50 meters to the finish line. Apparently my supporters had gotten my voice mail because Carey, Kara, Dave, Julie, Jackson and Layton were there to cheer me the last little bit into the finish and I was done. I stopped the clock at 4:37:41.4. This earned me 16th place overall and 6th in my age/gender bracket (Men 30 to 39). My official pace was 10:36 minute/miles.

I got hugs and congratulations and stumbled around the parking lot for a few minutes trying not to cramp violently. I did manage to stave off the violent cramping and get some more water and some food into me. After a few minutes I cooled off and then headed to the car to put on every stitch of clothing I brought with me (hoody, down parka, fleece jacket, and heavier long sleeve shirt). I had expected the temperature to increase from the start time but really it hadn't. It continued to hover around 40 degrees and the humidity continued to build. After getting on my clothes I made my way back to the finish line to wait for Scott to finish. I hadn't seen him since the top of the Tower Hill climb so I knew he couldn't be that far behind me (i.e. if I had seen him near the southern tip of the course - on the Laughing Horse or Hunters Loop - I would have known if he was waaaaay behind me) so I expected him to finish fairly close behind me. Just as the rain began to fall we saw him charging down the path. He flashed us a huge smile as he entered the finishing straight. We hung around long enough to give Scott a hardy congratulations and then headed for the car. I was exhausted and freezing and the thought of a long, warm shower was all I could think of.

I was very pleased with me first marathon. In a couple of days it was time to think about my next objective... the Moab's Red Hot 50k+ perhaps!?!

Because I'm a total nerd here are some more stats from the race (these are rough calculations so don't sum the columns and calculate the weighted averages and expect them to come out perfectly):

Short flattish loop then big Tower Road hill3.4 miles42 minutes12.3 minute-mile
Descent down to start/finish line3.5 miles30 minutes8.6 minute-mile
Flats around reservoir1.8 miles15 minutes8.4 minute-mile
Gradual up the valley then gradual down the valley3.3 miles31 minutes9.3 minute-mile
Up and down Indian Summer Hill2.6 miles26 minutes10.0 minute-mile
Rolling, rocky terrain out to southern checkpoint2.0 miles24 minutes11.5 minute-mile
Rolling, rocky terrain back to base of Indian Summer hill2.0 miles22 minutes10.8 minute-mile
Up and down Indian Summer Hill2.6 miles32 minutes12.1 minute-mile
Gradual up the valley then gradual down the valley3.4 miles37 minutes10.9 minute-mile
Flats around reservoir1.8 miles19 minutes10.8 minute-mile

Here are the times of all the guys that beat me. (Second place finisher Nick Clark also wrote a trip report. Read it here for a picture of what happened at the sharp end of the race.)

1Steve FolkertsFort Collins, CO373:13:47.47:24/M
2Nicholas ClarkFort Collins, CO353:22:01.27:43/M
3Mark SaundersCO333:53:26.48:55/M
4Mike PorterCO364:00:56.49:12/M
5Ted ZenzingerArvada, CO484:18:41.59:52/M
6Steve BremnerManitou Springs, CO544:18:56.69:53/M
7Erik ZeitlowArvada, CO424:21:23.99:59/M
8Daniel JonesFort Collins, CO364:23:54.610:04/M
9Jon AhernCastle Rock, CO394:25:15.310:07/M
10Kyle WillettBoulder, CO264:28:36.410:15/M
11Max FultonFort Collins, CO334:30:40.810:20/M
12Bryce BradyFort Collins, CO294:31:52.610:23/M
13David TaylorFort Collins, CO374:32:53.610:25/M
14Eric CameronLakewood, CO424:35:48.110:32/M
15Chuck RhoadesFort Collins, CO474:36:22.910:33/M
16Andy LeachFort Collins, CO314:37:41.410:36/M

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