Garden of the Gods 10 Miler:
The first race of the series was the Garden of the Gods 10 Miler. This race, if you look up the TCR option without qualifications, requires you to complete it in less than two hours. Kim and I were pretty confident as we had been training pretty good all summer for the Chicago Marathon in the fall but on a whim decided to do a training run in the park. It quickly became evident that this wasn't going to be a walk in the park. The Garden of the Gods is EXTREMELY HILLY, now even though Kim and I were in pretty good shape we struggled with that first run in the park. We eventually decided that we needed to train specifically for this race or we wouldn't make the cutoff time for the Ascent, which was our primary goal. This was a really important lesson for me. I have never really trained on running the same course as a race before so starting to learn where I could push myself on hills and where I needed to take it easy were invaluable on race day. I really came up with a race strategy for this one and it worked out great. Kim and I started by working 5-7 mile runs through different segments of the park each weekend as our long run and then were really able to map out the hills that were going to be difficult. It also helped that I trained by pushing the baby stroller so on race day I literally felt 30lbs lighter.
|Training Runs in Garden of the Gods|
|Training Run in Garden of the Gods|
On race day we really felt prepared. My plan was to try to keep 9 minute miles for the majority of the course and to slow it down on the two really big hills (at miles 2 and 5) On those hills I would let myself drop to 9:30 miles and had my watch set to show lap pace, that way for each mile itself I wouldn't let myself lose too much time. I ended up doing almost exactly that and completed the race at 1:31:34 almost a half hour under the required time. I felt great and actually had some gas left in the tank, I think I could have gone a little less conservative and beat the 1:30:00 time. If you complete the 10 miler in under 1:30:00 you actually qualify for wave 1 on the ascent (which I will get into later). Kim did great too, and despite giving birth only 5 months before she finished in about 1:50:18 or about 11:00 minute miles on a really difficult course. The race support was great and I loved the high school water stops (the minions were my favorite) the end of the race also had free beer! and pizza which was definitely welcomed. The only issue I had with the organization was that the handout of the medals and shirts took forever. We had to wait in line almost 30 minutes to get ours. Not something you want to do after running a race. So that was that and we both were set to conquer the Ascent. All we needed to do now was complete the Summer Roundup.
Summer Roundup Trail Run:
We didn't train specifically for the summer roundup like we did for the 10 miler. In fact we really just went back to our Marathon training plan and assumed we would be able to finish. This was nice as it was a low stress event that we could really just have fun on. I took off from the start expecting to be able to keep an 8:30 or so pace for the 12k trail run. This didn't work out quite well as the course was single track for a large portion of the way and passing was difficult. My first mile split was over 10 minutes and then really alternated between 8:15 or so when I could break out and 10:00 when I got stuck on single track behind slower runners. Overall it was a really nice race and I didn't mind too much getting bogged down. It actually allowed me to enjoy the run a little more than constantly pushing the pace uphill. I ended up finishing at 1:06:33 or just under a 9 min mile and Kim finished at 1:23:52. That was it, we were now officially set to run in the Ascent!
Pikes Peak Ascent:
We woke up early on Ascent day and headed down to the starting area as we knew parking was going to be a nightmare. Manitou springs is notorious for being difficult to park and on this day that was no exception so we got there early enough and grabbed our spot to stretch and get ready. I wore my Camelbak Hawg and came prepared with a ton of GU's and a peanut butter sandwich. I knew that on this race I was going to need good nutrition. This was probably the biggest lesson I learned from the Ascent. On most of my other long runs I have really run out of fuel, especially during the St. Louis Marathon so I wanted to be prepared here and it worked out well for me. The build up to the race was really interesting and since we were in wave two we got to watch the start for wave one a few minutes before us.
Once I hit treeline, I don't know if it was a mental thing or the altitude actually getting to me but I felt it was much harder to breath and my run/walk cycle started to turn more into a walk/run cycle. I continued to push up the hill though and was buoyed by the sound of the announcer at the top. That was one thing that I really didn't expect, I still had miles and miles to go but I could hear him announcing others finishing and that made it seemed like the end was near. Above tree line there is a long series of steep ascents and quick switchbacks which helped break up the monotony. At this point in the race my goal was really just to not stop and take any breaks but continue forward progress at all costs. This worked out pretty well too as I passed quite a few people who were sitting on the side of the trail. With about two miles to go I started to get a bad cramp in my right calf but stopped to stretch a few times and was able to keep moving with my walk/run.
Overall a really well put together race and an awesome series. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge or for something to break up your training with something a little different.