Friday, June 16, 2017

State #35, Revel Rockies, Denver, CO, Part 2

I set my alarm for 3:45 am and woke up accordingly after a pretty sound night of sleep (thankfully). Andrew wanted to sleep until 4 am, so I tried to be quiet as I went about my morning routine. By the time I was dressed, he was up and getting ready. I don’t know if it was the altitude rattling my brain, but I felt so scatterbrained gathering my things. I had to check everything two or three times to make sure I had what I needed. I didn’t realize until we were at the starting line that I didn’t tape my hamstring, something I always do for half marathons. Oh well, good thing it was a downhill race. 
I left the room around 4:20 to head to the lobby to get some hot water for my oatmeal, and I told Andrew I’d meet him down there. Shockingly, no one was in the lobby, so feeling a bit alarmed, I asked the front desk attendance if the buses were still there and he said they were. Whew! Just as I was getting my hot water, a woman came in to the lobby from the buses doing a “last call” as the buses were about to leave! I texted Andrew in a panic to hurry! They held the bus for us, thank goodness! I don’t know what we would have done if we’d missed it. We had no idea where the starting line was and there wasn’t any parking there, and it would throw off our whole schedule of running, getting back to the hotel and off to the airport if we would have had to drive back to the race start to pick up a car. Oy!

The bus ride was fun. It was jam-packed with runner bodies, and to everyone’s delight, it was a party bus complete with fancy colored lights! Woo-woo! The crowd was friendly and fun, and it seemed we got to the start location pretty quickly (in about 30 minutes or so). We exited the bus and headed in to the parking lot of a dental office, the designated runners village for the morning. We huddled close to the dental office to stay warm. It wasn’t super cold, but a light wind and slightly lower temps than what we had at the lower elevation made waiting around a chilly affair. Andrew and I just relaxed, and I gulped down my oatmeal. With about 45 minutes to the race start, the lines for the porta-potties were getting really long, so we decided it was then or never. Luckily, the line moved quickly, and we made it with still a good 15 minutes or so to spare. 
Prior to coming out to Colorado, I had heard from a fellow Weight Watchers friend that a member of our Thursday group (which I haven't attended for quite some time due to my work schedule) was not doing well in her battle with cancer. I wrote her a note a couple of weeks before the race to let her know I was thinking of her and to tell her that I'd be running for her in Colorado. So, with Cindy in my heart, I headed to the starting line up.
Runner's village at the starting line.
Starting line selfie. Early morning.
I convinced Andrew we should line up near the 1:50 pace group (not that I was expecting a super fast run, but it can’t hurt to try). At the start of the race, a guy lined up a few rows in front of us and was taking pictures with some friends (or so I thought). Come to find out later (Andrew told me after the race), he was Ben, a former guy from The Bachelor. Who knew? My first brush with a celeb runner, I guess. 
View at the starting line (before the bachelor lined up!).

Starting line selfie.
Before long, we were off. Immediately I was hurting. The start of the race was uphill, and due to the lack of oxygen, it felt like I had never run a step in my life. I was huffing and puffing and having a super hard time. The first hill leveled out a bit, but then a second hill appeared. That one was just as tough. By the time I got to the top, I was so out of breath and had to pee again already. Sheesh! What a lousy start. Luckily, there was one lone porta-potty at the top of the hill and no line, so I was in and out quickly, but the 1:50s were long gone. I decided at that point that I better just focus on trying to get through breathing in the high altitude and not worry too much about time.
Thankfully, from that point on, the course was all downhill, and a beautiful downhill course it was. We ran along a pretty major road, but half of it was blocked off for runners only, and traffic was only being allowed in one direction. Beautiful, big houses with seemingly gorgeous views dotted the hillsides, and the pine trees were plentiful. They reminded me of a giant outdoor cathedral. Just majestic! I did my best to keep a decent pace, and I knew the breathing should get easier the lower down the mountain we ran, but I had a really hard time regulating my breath in my normal pattern. I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath and reestablish a rhythmic breathing pattern. Not easy. Still, the miles didn’t feel like they were dragging. I knew I wasn’t running super fast, but I wasn’t super slow either. And the 2:00 pacing group hadn’t passed me…yet.
By mile 6 or so, I was starting to walk through the water stations rather than try to run, drink and breathe all at the same time. The 2 hour group passed me around the halfway point, but I vowed to keep them in my sights. I wanted to be as close to 2 hours as I could for the finish. I hate when I go over that mark. I just kept going the best I could.
By the time I got to mile 10, I felt pretty good, and the downhill slope was pretty strong, so that helped a lot. I tried to visualize my 2.5 mile run around my neighborhood as the last bit of this race. Only one loop around the neighborhood to go until the finish line! The last couple of miles actually felt pretty good, and I passed the 2 hour group in the last mile. Success! I knew I’d finish under the 2 hour mark. Hooray!
The finish line of the race was in a town called Morrison, just at the base of the Red Rocks Park we visited the day before. What a nice way to end! Down the last bit of the hill I came, only to be greeted by an uphill finish! Thanks a lot, race directors! I managed to cross the finish line at 1:58:37, and  I was just fine with that time. Come to find out, I managed to get 25th in my age group! Not bad at all! I collected my medal, met up with Andrew, and after a short chat, we headed back to where the shuttle buses were to pick us up. On the way, Andrew pointed out the Bachelor guy to me, and we had a chuckle about our celebrity runner. We managed to catch the 9 am shuttle back to the hotel, which was perfect. We would have enough time to shower, pack and get to the airport on time. 
Race number, tee, socks and medal. Really good swag.
The Revel Race series again didn’t disappoint. The race was well organized, and the route was lovely. Staying at a host hotel was very convenient, as we had our own bus to bring us to the start and bring us back to the hotel. My only advice would be for non-altitude trained runners to get out there earlier to acclimate to the air. It was definitely more of an issue than I expected. Colorado was beautiful, and I wish I had more time to explore it, but that will have to wait for another trip. State #35 is done, and only 15 more to go!

**Post race follow up: I wrote the above post on the day of the race, June 11th. This morning (June 16) while making breakfast and going through my morning routine, I read Cindy's obituary online. She passed away on June 10th. Rest in peace, lovely lady. Your spirit, drive and sparkle lives on in those of us who knew you. Thank you for bringing me the strength to get through this difficult race.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

State #35, Revel Rockies, Denver, CO, Part 1

It has been far too long since I’ve posted anything, and as such, my next half marathon is here already! Time flies when you are over-scheduled, over-loaded and generally handling too much. 
I left on Friday, June 9th on a very early flight out of Bradley Airport for Denver via Minneapolis St. Paul. The flight was fine, and I got out to the Denver area without incident and on time. 
The half I chose for Colorado was the Revel Rockies series half marathon. I ran their half in Salt Lake City, Utah previously and was impressed with the organization and beautiful run. And, truth be told, I didn’t want to deal with the mountains in Colorado so much. The Revel races hold the niche of being downhill races. Enough said. Done deal. 
My cousin, Andrew, was to join me for this one, but he wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Denver until late on Friday evening, so I had the afternoon to take care of some mundane errands (groceries, shoe shopping, lunch) before I made my way to my hotel in Lakewood, CO. I was thinking I would maybe try a short run when I got to the hotel, but the area I was staying in was very commerce heavy with busy streets, and the temperatures were in the mid-90s, so I decided to ditch the idea and just relax. 
As excited as I was to run in the Denver area, I was very worried about the high altitude. Upon arrival, I didn’t feel any effects of the altitude, but after I had dinner and was back resting in my hotel room, I noticed my heart racing and breathing strained. 
Andrew arrived around 11 pm, and we said our hellos and did a little bit of catching up. We were both so tired from the travel, and I had been up for close to 24 hours at that point (plus I’d had a terrible night of sleep before my flight), so off to bed it was.

Saturday we slept in a bit, then made our way out to the Colorado School of Mines to pick up our race packets and bibs. It is always so interesting visiting various parts of our country, seeing the topography and thinking about how different each state is. Andrew and I mused that Colorado was the perfect place for a college of mining. Can’t imagine there are many of those specialty colleges around the U.S. The campus was nestled in a little valley surrounded by hills and lovely landscapes. It was a small campus, but pretty cool. We easily collected our packets and checked out the elevation maps and race routes. To my great relief, the map I originally thought was the elevation map turned out to be the race route. It was full of twists and turns, which I read to be miles up and down. Upon closer inspection, the elevation map showed a cool, long downward slide. Just perfect!
Photo of elevation map poster at packet pick up.
From the packet pick-up, we headed to lunch at a place called Blue Sky Cafe. We had a great lunch there. Andrew had a doctored up oatmeal bowl and I had a quinoa, peanut, lime, chicken bowl with other great stuff in it. Super yummy. We stopped back at the hotel briefly to drop off our things and figure out where we wanted to explore in the great outdoors of Colorado. We decided to check out the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater because it was so nearby. 

One of the rocks surrounding the amphitheater.
The drive up was beautiful, looking at the sparsely vegetated hills decorated by the massive hulks of red rocks. As we drove up the road to the venue, we had to pass through a tunnel in the red rock. Fun! We parked and went to look at the music stage first. I have always wanted to visit the Red Rocks Theater ever since U2 released their iconic Live at Red Rocks album back in 1983. The venue is gorgeous! I can only imagine seeing a performance there, and I now will have to get back there for a concert sometime in my life. While we were there, the crew for Big Head Todd was setting up and going through some sound checks. 
View of the stage from the top of the amphitheater. You can just see Denver off in the distance to the left.
There were some walking trails around the Red Rocks Park, but the trail map was a little confusing, so we started up on one trail that we thought was about a mile and a half, but it turned out to be a little shorter. The views were beautiful as we walked along, and the red rocks dominated the landscape. It was still super hot out, so it was probably a good thing that we didn’t take on a more strenuous walk. It was hard to breathe on the ascent as it was, and I didn’t want to overdo it the day before the race. We were really sweaty by the time we were done, but it was nice to get out in to the Colorado outdoors. 
Another of the beautiful red rocks in the park.
Back to the hotel it was to shower up and rest a bit before dinner. We tried an Italian place called Brodo, on the recommendation of the guy who was working the check in desk at the hotel the night before. It was a new restaurant in the area with all made from scratch pastas. The decor was hip and the atmosphere was relaxed and cool. We sat at a high top table in the bar side of the restaurant, and had a great meal. We split a green salad and the grilled ciabatta bread. I had the bucatini pasta with meatballs for dinner, and it was divine. A wonderful Italian choice in the area. 
We stopped in a local artisan craft shop across the street after dinner where I found magnets for my kids. We made a quick stop at Starbucks on the way back to our hotel so I could get coffee for the morning, and then it was back to the room and pretty much straight to bed. Race wake up was going to be very early the next morning, as our bus to the starting line was scheduled to leave the hotel at 4:30 am. Yikes! Off to sleep it was.