I love small, local races that benefit local organizations, and the Loveland Sweetheart Classic 4-miler is one that I return to year after year. I first ran it in 2009, when I was just learning to be a runner and the race route was really kind of boring. Since then, the race and I have both grown — I’m a smarter and stronger runner, and the race has moved a couple of times, ending up with its latest course that starts and finishes at the Loveland Sweetheart Festival. Since the race is around Valentine’s Day, I’m always coming out of my winter down time, so it’s a good race to find out the starting point of my fitness as I head into spring training.
The last couple of years, J has walked while I ran, and that makes it even more fun.
This year’s race started at 2:30 p.m., which is kind of a weird time, but it coincided with the Sweetheart Festival downtown. The afternoon start time actually worked out well for me; I was at a conference in the morning, so I would have had to skip the race if not for the new time. As it was, I got downtown around 1:30, picked up my packet, did a little warm-up jog, and met up with the husband before wandering over to the start. As we waited for the gun, I saw my friend from work, Chris, who used to be slower than I but has been training hard and is now WAY faster. We chatted for a few minutes, and then a quartet sang the anthem, the gun fired, and we were off!
The new course is a challenging one: the first half mile is downhill, steep enough that my legs wanted to hammer but gradual enough that I knew I should rein it in. I didn’t rein it in enough, though, and ticked off mile 1 in 6:40 — not a bad pace, if I was in better shape. But I wasn’t in better shape, and that quick start would come back to bite me.
About a mile in, the race turns into River’s Edge Natural Area, one of my favorite places to run in Loveland. The crushed-gravel paths were pretty snowy, so that slowed me down (excuse? Maybe), but the little ponds were pretty and the sun came out for a while, making the loop around the ponds a lot more fun.
Fake smile for the photog. I think I look like a velociraptor in this picture.
I looped the ponds in a more-reasonable 6:53 for mile 2, but then the wheels started to come off. The wind was in my face, and the gradual downhill of the start became a gradual uphill for the finish. My motivation to push also started to wane: I knew the lead woman was WAY ahead of me, as was Chris, and no one was very close behind me, either. I know I’m supposed to compete with myself at races and all, but without a not-me competitor, I couldn’t muster the gumption to push hard. Miles 3 and 4 ticked off in 7:07 and 7:06 –disappointingly positive splits. Nonetheless, the finish was soon in view, and Chris, who had finished long before me, cheered me in as I approached the line.
I finished in 28:18 — not terrible, given my lack of speedwork since… June, I think.
I talked to Chris for a while, then went to get my coat (I got cold when I stopped running) and waited for Jordan to come in. As the awards started, I found out that the lead woman was registered as part of a couple (since it’s a Valentine’s race, couples can register together, and couple-runners aren’t eligible for single-runner prizes). That meant that I was the first-place woman!
I won a nice plate (Sweetheart City races always have handmade prizes/medals, a nice touch for local races) and FREE SHOES! I was stoked — that’s a heck of a prize for a $30 race entry.
After the quick awards ceremony, I waited for J’s dramatic finish:
I’m pretty sure I say this about this race every year (see here, here, and here), but this is a great little race, and if you’re local (or visiting), definitely worth your time. Sweetheart City Racing puts on great events — they’re well-organized, affordable, and benefit local charities/groups, and they have the BEST race shirts. Although I was out of shape (and probably will be again next year), I loved this race and will definitely be back!
The summer so far has been busy, but in a good way — I’ve done some work, sure, but I’ve also had a lot of adventures. Which is why we’re now a month out from the Skirt Sports 13er and I’m just now recapping. Oops.
The 13er is one of my favorite races of the year. I first did it in 2015, before I was a Skirt Sports ambassador. That was just a few weeks after the Lincoln Marathon, so I treated it as a get-back-to-training run. In 2016 we were job-shopping, house-shopping, and generally stressed out, so I didn’t race the 13er, but still came in third. That ignited my competitive spark, but I was injured and spectated instead of running in 2017, This year, I’m still trying to get back into pre-injury shape, but I wanted to race, to test my limits and see where my fitness is now. And, to be honest, I really kind of wanted to win. Winning, of course, all depends on who else shows up, so I kept that goal in the back of my mind and told myself to just run the best I could and see what happened.
The race starts at 6:30 a.m., which seems early but is actually a blessing, as that Colorado sun gets warm fast in June. I got up around 4:30, ate a banana with peanut butter, drank some coffee, annoyed my husband, and arrived at the start a little before 6 — just enough time to hit the porta-john, say hi to some friends, run a warm-up mile, try to hit the porta-john again but realize the lines were too long, and pose for a start-line picture with Kate.
The gun fired right on time, and off we went! I tend to start races way too fast, so my mantra for the first mile was “ease into it.” The first mile is slightly uphill, so that makes starting at a reasonable pace easier, but even so, I still started faster than I should have, ticking off the first mile in 6:49. My goal time for the race was 1:35 — about 7:15 pace — so that mile was much quicker than it should have been. I was already in the lead, and I wanted to keep it and not get passed at mile 12, so I eased up on the pace, hitting the next few miles right on target: 7:13, 7:19, 7:19, 7:14, 7:04.
The course was different than in years past: This year, it made two loops of Davidson Mesa, instead of one big loop including the roads around the mesa. Miles 5-6, then, meant meeting 5k and 10k-ers as they started the climb up onto the mesa and I hustled down it. This was my favorite part of the whole race. The energy was incredible: Women were pushing themselves; Running Start beginners were achieving something they never thought they could, and everyone cheered for each other, high-fived, or just smiled.
The halfway point was just outside the finish line (by the porta-johns, which I kinda needed to use but I didn’t want to lose my lead); I turned around and headed back up the hill and onto the mesa. Once back up the hill and away from the crowd, though, my energy started waning: my legs were tired, it was getting hot, and there was still a lot of race left. I wanted to walk, or at least slow down. But I knew the second-place woman was not far behind me, so I thought back to the tricks Colleen Cannon had given us the day before. I imagined little energy fairies, waving their wands and giving me bursts of energy. I imagined a finish line fishing pole reeling me in. And I smiled. And you know what? It worked!
I rounded the lake and headed back up to the mesa, knowing I had about 2 minutes on the second-place woman (because I asked at the aid station). I just had to hang on for a few more miles. As I headed back toward the finish line, I remembered why I love/hate out-and-back and double-loop courses: It’s awesome to get high-fives and see everyone, but when you’re using up the last of your energy, dodging the back-of-the-packers and walkers gets frustrating. But no matter: I kept imagining those little energy fairies, and I just kept pushing. That uphill first mile turns into a downhill final mile, so I felt like I was flying as I dropped down the hill, rounded the corner, and saw the finish line.
It’s a small race. It wasn’t a competitive field, and 1:34:14 isn’t my PR. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that I did what I set out to do. I pushed through the hard places, fought the mental battles, and won the race!
Skirt Sports founder Nicole DeBoom met me at the finish line with a big hug, and I got my medal and some water, kissed Jordan, and ate some cake while we cheered in the other racers.
What I love most about this race is that, while I was on Cloud 9 after winning and received more than my fair share of congratulations, so did everyone else. Nicole stayed at the finish and greeted every runner the same way she’d met me: with a hug, congratulations, and a huge, genuine smile. Spectators cheered and even made cheer tunnels for the final finishers:
At this race, whether you’re the first finisher, the last finisher, or somewhere in between, you are greeted as though you’re a world champion. The sense of community here is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Winner or not, I can’t wait to run this race again next year.
What’s your favorite race? Should I do it?
Which course type do you prefer: out-and-back, loop, or point-to-point?
Coming into the Horsetooth Half, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although part of why I signed up for this race was so I could attend the training runs, where I would experience the course and meet some people (because Connect), I didn’t attend a single group training run and trained on the course only once. Oops. I knew this would be no PR — both the challenging nature of the course and my mediocre fitness would keep that from happening — so I viewed it as a where’s-my-fitness run and planned to give it the best I had on that day.
The weather on racc day was downright perfect: sunny and just a little chilly. We arrived at the race around 7:45 for the 8:30 start, and while Jordan parked, I jogged a little, grabbed my bib, and jogged a little more before getting in the porta-john line. Although I made it in and out pretty quickly, the start was delayed a few minutes because of long bathroom lines, but finally, the anthem played, the runners cheered, the countdown began, and we were off!
Before I get too far here, I think you need to see the elevation profile, or my recap won’t make much sense. Here it is, courtesy of the race’s web pageI have a bad habit of starting every race too fast, and I knew that if I went too hard on those first climbs (and subsequent downhills), I stood a good chance of blowing up and putting myself into a major sufferfest before I was even halfway through. Having trained on the course only once, I wasn’t really sure how to pace myself, so I lined up with the 1:45 pace group. I hoped to be faster than 1:45, but I also hoped they’d keep me reigned in for the first couple of miles, and then I could pick it up later.
This strategy had both pros and cons. The pace group did, indeed, keep me from blowing up early (my first two mile splits were 8:50 and 8:57), but I also ended up doing more weaving and passing throughout the race than I would have preferred. I don’t regret starting conservatively, though, since that’s a skill I desperately need to work on.
I pulled away from the 1:45 group after topping “Monster Mountain” and ran on my own (but in a crowd) for the rest of the race. The course was beautiful: from paralleling Horsetooth Lake to the farms and horse pastures beyond the lake, the views made the miles tick by. Before I knew it, I was up and over the final climb of the course, Bingham HIll, and turning toward downtown.
The final few miles run along the Poudre Trail, and mentally, that’s where the race got hard for me. The trail is flat, and while it weaves through some nice little natural areas, they’re not particularly exciting, and late in the race, my mind starts making excuses for why my legs should slow down. I told my mind to shut up, though: starting conservatively had left my legs with more pep than they usually have late in the race, so I dug in and sped up.
I had to hit a porta-john just after mile 10, which was frustrating, but my bladder was making it quite clear that another 3 miles weren’t happening. I made the stop, then picked my pace up again and headed for the finish.
One great part of this course was the spectators, and they were in fine form as we made the final turns into downtown Fort Collins toward New Belgium brewery. Cheers and cowbells helped me push through the finish, and I crossed the line in 1:40:04 (darn that bathroom break!).
That’s nine minutes slower than my PR, but I’m still satisfied: it was a tough course, I’m far from being in PR shape, and I paced myself well on a course that’s hard to pace, and that’s a win in my book.
Race Review: Pros
This year was its 45th in existence, and the experience shows. It’s well organized and well planned.
It’s beautiful! There are no ugly spots.
Challenging and fun
Great after-party (it’s at New Belgium, and while I didn’t want a beer at 10:30 a.m., New Belgium has yummy beers if you’re so inclined.)
Huge prize purse, if you’re super fast.
Race Review: Cons
Crowded. Over 2000 people ran this year, which made for more bobbing and weaving than I like. Of course, that’s MY fault for starting too far back.
Weather in April can be sketchy. We lucked out this year, but the two days before had been windy (as in, 60 mph gusts) and rainy/snowy. If you sign up, know that April in Colorado is unpredictable.
Overall, I highly recommend this race and would certainly do it again… maybe even next year. Who wants to join me?
Back in June, when my physical therapist told me not to run the Skirt Sports 13er, I was disappointed, to say the least. But when 3W Races let me transfer my entry to another race, I felt a little better — at least I hadn’t lost my registration fee. I chose to transfer to the Westy Half Marathon at the end of October, thinking that I’d have plenty of time to heal up and get back in shape.
I was half right. I’m 90% healed and healthy, but in shape I am not. In the weeks leading up to the race, my PT had approved long runs of 12, 13, and 14 miles, plus the barest semblance of speed work (I’m talking a few fartleks and hill repeats). I knew I was far from fast shape, but I was happy to be racing at all.
The race started at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Not knowing how long parking and packet pick-up would take, J and I left home around 6:15 and arrived around 7 — much earlier than we needed to. Parking was a breeze, and packet pick-up took about 30 seconds. Luckily, the Westin across from the start line had warm bathrooms and comfy chairs. We hung out in there for a while, and then I headed out for a one-mile warm-up jog… on which I realized that my weather app had lied to me and my full tights and long sleeves were going to be a bit much for the warm Colorado sunshine. But there was nothing I could do about it now, so I shrugged, peed one more time, and lined up at the start.
Since I knew I wasn’t in speedy shape, I had a pretty simple race plan: run at or slightly faster than normal long run pace for the first half, then pick it up a bit from miles 7-10, and then, if I felt good, lay the hammer down for the last 5k. To help myself keep it easy, I lined up farther back than I normally would … which ended up being too far back, and I had to weave a little before I settled in. No matter: I just relaxed and enjoyed the lovely views as the trail wound through a nice little open space.
The course went up a small hill around mile 2, looped around the open space, and dropped back down, then left the open space for maybe half a mile of road running before rejoining the bike path. Miles 4-6.5ish were uphill, and those same miles repeated as 6.5ish-8, so running down was WAY more fun. I felt good at the half, so as planned, I kicked it up just a little, passing a few people as I went. I didn’t see many women ahead of me after the turnaround, but I didn’t want to think about racing just yet. I focused on relaxing, grabbing a drink at the aid station, and enjoying the downhill flow.
At this point, I started reeling people in. I passed a few men and kept a brown ponytail in my sights for a few miles. Finally, when we hit the same slight uphill at mile 11 that we’d hit at mile 2, I passed her. Mile 11 ended up being my fastest of the race, thanks to that little surge.
As I entered the final mile, the half course rejoined the 5k course, and I got stuck a few times behind some walkers. At that point, I was starting to tire, but still feeling pretty good, for being out of shape. The finish line loomed ahead, so I gave one last push and crossed in 1:41:35 — 10 minutes slower than my PR, but good enough for fourth place and first in my age group. Gotta love small races!
Even though this wasn’t a fast-for-me race, I’m happy with how it went. This was the smartest I’d ever paced myself — I usually go out too fast and pay for it later — and I’m hoping I can apply that lesson to future, more race-y races.
The Westy Half is a delightful little race: about 150 runners, a beautiful course, a pint glass for AG placing, free photos, and the nicest volunteers and race staff you’ll ever meet. I’d run it again, for sure, and I highly recommend it as a great fall half!
What’s your best recent race story?
Are you a smart pacer, or do you start too fast like I usually do?
I struggle with crowds. Getting to know new people is hard. I’m shy and awkward, and it takes me a while to warm up to people before I can act like my true self. So even though I’d gone to last year’s Skirt Sports Ambassador Retreat and had a blast, I was still a little nervous (but a lot excited) about this year’s retreat. Would anyone I’d gotten to know be there? Would I stand around awkwardly while everyone else chatted and caught up, or would I be able to edge out of my comfort zone to make some new connections and strengthen old ones?
Of course, I didn’t need to worry. Skirt Sports has compiled a group of kind, uplifting, and delightful women, and last weekend’s retreat, like last year’s, left me rejuvenated and inspired.
Friday night: Mixing (drinks) and Mingling
The retreat started Friday night with a cocktail party at the Skirt Sports store in Boulder. We shopped and hobnobbed, reconnecting and meeting new and new-to-us ambassadors. Noodles and Company provided our dinner (nom nom nom), and we ate, drank, and socialized for a bit before Skirt Sports founder and all-around badass Nicole DeBoom and Skirt Community Outreach Manager (and also badass) Noelle Wilson spoke to us about the company, the program, and the Skirt community in general. As Noelle put it, “This program is not about product. It’s about community.” That’s how I’ve felt at every Skirt event since I learned about the company more than two years ago.
We also had a little fashion show previewing the fall products. I even volunteered to model. In front of people. Aren’t you proud of me?! I can’t show you photo proof, though, because the fall styles are still on the DL for a while, but trust me, I did it. Also trust me: there’s some fan-tas-tic stuff coming out this fall. I need to start saving money now. (She says as her husband sets up an appointment to get new windows…)
The night wrapped up with drinks, cake, and chatting. I shouldn’t have worried about my awkward self; I had a wonderful time catching up with my Skirt family. And LOOK AT THIS PICTURE:
Do you see who’s sitting across from me? That’s Mirna Valerio of Fat Girl Running. She’s pretty much a celebrity (seriously, she’s been on CNN and Buzzfeed and a bunch of other places, and she has a book coming out in October), and she’s a Skirt ambassador, and WE HUNG OUT. The next day, we took a selfie. LOOK AT IT.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m just so excited. Since we’re here now, though, why not talk about Saturday, which was my favorite day of the retreat?
Saturday: Hiking, Learning, Inspiration
Saturday started with a hike at Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder. I haven’t spent much time in Boulder (because I’m a CSU Ram and Boulder was home of the enemy, the CU Buffs), but now that I live less than an hour from it, I need to go more — and specifically, back to Eben G. Fine. We had four options for hikes, and I took the longest one. Our group was the Snot Rockets.
Our hike was about 1.25 miles up a hill, and while it was hot and steep at times, the views at the top were more than worth it.
If you looked the other way, you could see all of Boulder, including the CU campus, but I didn’t take pictures of that, because who cares.
Nicole gave us a snot rocket clinic at the top.
Maybe now I can blow them without getting snot on myself. Maybe.
Although I could have stayed at the top all day, we took a group shot and then headed back down for more fun.
After our hike, we had breakfast and listened to four wonderful speakers:
Maria Uspenski of The Tea Spot (who also gave us tea samples and those neat bottles a bunch of people are holding in the picture above). She spoke about how tea basically saved her life. Seriously.
Mary Sutter, a Skirt ambassador who taught us how to social media…we’ll see if I improve. I promise I’m trying.
Mirna, the bomb.com, who talked about and read a chapter from her book, A Beautiful Work in Progress. It was just one chapter, but man, it’s good. I preordered it on Amazon. You should, too.
Dr. James Rouse of Skoop. I’ve used Skoop for quite a while, ever since they sent me some to review (read that here), but until recently, I thought they were just a company that made good protein powder. After I listened to Nicole DeBoom’s podcast with Dr. James, and especially after hearing him in person this weekend, I learned that it’s so much more. Dr. James is one inspirational fella, and for me, his talk was the most impactful part of the weekend. He talked about “delusional optimism,” and about how it is essential for life. He talked about love, and how love should drive all we do. He suggested that before we do anything — eat, speak, exercise, whatever — we should ask ourselves, “What would love do?” Although it’s a bit reminiscent of those once-trendy “WWJD” bracelets, I love this advice. I even changed my phone’s lock screen to an image (that I stole from Google) that says “What would love do?” so that every time I open my phone, I ask myself that question. I hope it will help make me a kinder, more loving, and more conscious person .
Dr. James’s talk was a emotional but perfect end to the day, and we all headed our separate ways to prep for The Big Day on Sunday.
Sunday: The Race
Last Monday, my new physical therapist told me to take 7-10 days off running. Since Sunday and Monday are not 7-10 days apart, my options were 1) stay at home and pout, 2) be an idiot and run anyway, or 3) spectate this year’s 13er. I am trying to be less of an idiot, so I made a sign and parked myself about 3/4 of the way through the giant hill on the 13er course.
Once everyone made it past me, I spectated at the finish line. Hanging out at the finish of a race that I had once hoped to win, but couldn’t even run, was harder emotionally than I expected, but the vast amounts of positive energy there didn’t let me spend too much time feeling sorry for myself. Just like last year, I was amazed by the positivity and support that all these women exude. At most races, the last finisher comes in to a mostly-taken-down expo and maybe a handful of straggling spectators. At this race, the last spectator was greeted with screams, cheers, cowbells, and high-fives, plus a hug from Nicole DeBoom.
And that, my friends, is why I’m proud and honored to represent this company. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, injured or healthy, fat or skinny or somewhere in between, these people support you and encourage you and push you to go far beyond what you think is possible. In a world full of division, anger, negativity, and polarization, we could all use a little more of that “delusional optimism.”
Before last weekend, the last time I had raced was in June, at the Skirt Sports 13er — and even then, I didn’t really race until the last couple of miles, when I realized I could place. Then I got injured in July, and moved and started a new job in August, and continued fighting that injury, so I hadn’t raced or trained hard for months.
Nevertheless, I decided to race the Loveland Sweetheart Classic 4-Miler last Saturday. My hamstring was feeling about 85% of healthy. I love this little race (this was my fourth time running it), and I figured that even though I’d have a slow-for-me time, it would give me a good baseline for getting back in shape for this year’s 13er. So I registered, and last Saturday morning found me lining up in the Loveland High School parking lot, enjoying the unseasonable warmth and getting re-familiarized with pre-race butterflies.
One of my injury-healing (and -preventing) strategies is doing a thorough warm-up, so I did some dynamic stretching and ran an easy mile, returning to the start just in time to hear the National Anthem. Soon, the gun went off, and so did the runners. I wasn’t really sure how to pace myself, since the only fast running I’ve done recently is a few strides and a couple of fartlek workouts. I figured I’d just go by feel, playing it by ear and not paying too much attention to keeping even or negative splits, since the first mile-ish is downhill and the last mile-ish uphill.
I ticked off the first mile in 6:50, feeling pretty decent. I picked it up a little for the flat second mile (6:42), passing a few people and high-fiving a few spectators (high-fiving little kids mid-race is the best. If you don’t usually make time for it, you need to start). Mile 3 is when I started to feel my lack of fitness, and it was also my slowest mile (6:53), I guess thanks to a slight headwind? That’s when I started mentally repeating the mantra that got me through the end: “Just gut it out.” I knew that a race this short, even with minimal fitness, was mostly a mental game, and I just had to, well, gut it out.
Mile 4 ends with a mild uphill push, then a rewarding downhill sprint to the finish line. I managed to pass one more woman just after my watched beeped for mile 3, and then I was alone until the finish. I pushed it hard, hitting mile 4 in 6:47 and finishing in 27:36, good enough for fourth place.
After catching my breath for a few minutes, I jogged back along the course to meet my friend Christine and run her in, so I finished the day with just over 6 miles. We wandered around the post-race expo, I got a free post-race massage in the hopes that it would keep my hammy healthy, and then we stuck around for the awards ceremony. Since the overall top three women were excluded from age group awards, I took first in the 30-39 category (and my time was faster than all the 30-39 men. I like to brag). My prize was a handmade medal and a $15 gift certificate to Runners Roost. I was stoked, since I need new running shoes!
After the awards, I took a baby-wipe bath in the bathroom (races with access to indoor bathrooms are the best), put on clean clothes, and headed to the Loveland Fire and Ice art festival with J.
Overall, I’m satisfied with how this race went. I ran hard but didn’t get reinjured, and I feel like I have a good baseline now as I build fitness for this year’s 13er, which I do plan to race (if you want to race with me, use code SKIRTAMB15 for 15% off!). Time to start training harder (but smarter)!
Have you raced lately? How did it go?
What’s your favorite local festival/event? We’re pretty darn excited to live closer to artsy things..
Last week, I recapped all the Skirt Sports fun of Friday and Saturday of the ambassador retreat, but Sunday was, by far, my favorite day of the weekend. I mentioned once or twice on the blog that I was running the 13er, but since my training had been minimal, I’d decided to run it as a training run: nice and easy, soaking in the scenery and the camaraderie with my newfound buddies.
Early on, everything went according to plan. The race started at 6:30 (sounds early, but in June, I’ll take an early start any day), so I rolled out of bed at 5, ate a granola bar (one I’d never tried before, breaking the “nothing new on race day” rule because, training run), slathered on sunscreen, woke up Jordan, and drove the 20 minutes from our hotel to the start. Once there, I wandered around, chatted with some of the ambassadors I’d met earlier in the weekend, and of course, stood in the porta-john line.
Before long, I heard the “line up” announcement, so I filtered in somewhere in the mid-pack, trying to ensure that I’d treat this as a training run and not push, especially at the beginning. Soon, the gun went off, 125 watches beeped, and we started a long, easy downhill run. I kept my pace easy, but I realized that I’d taken this mid-pack thing too seriously and I couldn’t run comfortably, so I did a little bob-and-weave until the crowd thinned out and I settled in to my long-run pace — a little faster because of the downhill.
As I took in the beautiful scenery, I realized that I could see the lead bike, so I counted women in front of me. I was in sixth. I told myself to calm down. “This is not a race for you, self. You’re not in race shape. Start pushing it now, and you’ll die by the hill at mile 7.” Believe it or not, I actually listened to my own advice. I know. Maybe I’m learning something in my old age. So I kept cruising at a nice, easy pace, enjoying the view and the coolness of the morning, even taking a couple of pictures along the way.
On the first hill, a pretty small one (even for flatlander me), I passed one woman and told myself not to think about how I was now in fifth. I kept running and kept smiling, waving to the cyclists passing on the other side of the road and telling myself to take it easy. I stopped and filled my handheld at the last aid station before the infamous hill, and then I started up.
This hill is nicknamed “The Bad Relationship,” because it hurts, but you’ve “just gotta get over it.” It’s not very steep, but it’s long, and by the time you get to the steep part (the last quarter mile or so), your legs are getting pretty tired. Last year, I think I walked part of the hill, so my goal this year was to just keep running. “Eat that elephant,” I told myself. “One bite… er, step… at a time.” And so I did. Up, up, up, past the fourth-place woman, up.
Just after the crest of the hill, I also passed the third-place woman, but 0.1 miles later, I had to pull off and hit the porta-john. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter, because I’m not racing. A mile or so after the hill, the course heads into some trails at an open space for a few miles, and at the entrance to the park was an aid station manned by high schoolers. When I turned down their water (my handheld was still half full), one girl said, “Oh, please take some water!” Since I wasn’t racing, I said, “I didn’t know it meant that much to you!” and I turned around, jogged back, and chugged her water. The kids all cheered, and it made us all laugh. That moment was well worth the few seconds I lost off my final (non-racing, remember?) time.
At around mile 10, the race has a short out-and-back. I saw the lead bike and the lead woman coming back past me. I saw the second-place woman coming back past me. And then I reached the turnaround without seeing anyone else. Somehow, I’d gotten into third place! “Okay, self,” I thought. “You’ve got three miles left. You’re in third place. Let’s keep it that way.” I let myself pick it up, then, finding speed that I didn’t know my legs had after so many months of slow running. I cruised down the long, final downhill, watching the second-place woman and hoping I could catch her. I didn’t — she ended up finishing six seconds ahead of me — but I finished third, in 1:42:40. That’s more than ten minutes slower than my PR (from 2012, the last time I actually raced a half), but third place in a race in which I expected to be mid-pack was pretty darn exciting!
When I crossed the line, Skirt Sports founder (and my hero) Nicole Deboom greeted me with “Are you freakin’ kidding me?!” and a big hug — despite my sweaty grossness– and then Nicole and the top three finishers posed for a picture.
Here’s an example of why I admire Nicole so much: she greeted almost every single person who crossed the line in the same way, from the first three to the Running Start participants to the final finisher. Take a minute to scroll through the pictures from the race, and you’ll see Nicole hugging, high-fiving, and celebrating each person. I know I said this in my last post, but this is why I love Skirt Sports so much. Yeah, the clothes are amazing (and they have pockets!). But the community? That’s what makes this company amazing.
Anyway, back to me. #narcissism. After I finished, I drank some chocolate milk and got my award (a champagne flute, a Skirt visor, and a box of Love Grown Power O’s. Not sure which part of the prize I liked best). I’ll admit it, I kiiiinda want to pick a race and actually train for and race it. That podium is addicting.
J had to take off to be on time for a meeting in Breckenridge, but I stayed and cheered for the rest of the race, alternating standing at the finish line and chatting with my new friends. And dancing in the sprinklers.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’d never stayed until the very end of a race before. Now, I will whenever I can. Seeing those final finishers come in was inspiring. They put so much time and effort into their training and their race. They deserve to be cheered on just as loudly as the pointy-enders, and, as I learned from this article, that doesn’t always happen.
This race was a perfect wrap-up to a weekend of inspiration, camaraderie, empowerment, and celebration. I’m prouder than ever to represent this company, and I’m already excited for next year!
Have you run any races lately? Tell me about them!
Any recommendations for a goal race later this summer/fall? I’m thinking a half or 10k.
P.S. If you want in on the Skirt Sports love, use my 20% discount code: RRR20.
I intended to get this recap done sooner, but … life. The week after the race was Homecoming week, and since I’m the Student Council adviser, it’s one of my busiest weeks of the year. And because I’m really smart, I assigned essays in two different courses that week. So I had to grade essays for two different courses between Homecoming events. Blogging went on the back burner, but now that’s over and I want to get this written before I forget all the details.
When I registered for the race, J and I decided that we’d camp at the trailhead instead of getting a hotel in Fort Collins, because $15 camp site > $100 hotel room. As we watched the forecast during race week, we grew a little nervous, as rain was predicted for Saturday, but we decided to stick with the original plan. We headed up to the Fort on Saturday afternoon, set up our tent, and wandered around the campground for a while before cooking a simple pre-race dinner of chicken and potatoes with a Clif bar for dessert.
The weather held off until we finished dinner, but shortly thereafter, thunder and lightning started, and soon the clouds opened up. J and I retreated to our tent and spent the rest of the evening playing Go Fish, because we are adults.
After a few rousing rounds of Go Fish, we called it a night and burrowed down into our sleeping bags. Neither of us slept great, thanks to the wind wiggling the tent and my typical nervous pre-race sleeplessness, so I was awake before my alarm went off at 5:30. The rain had stopped, but the morning was foggy and chilly. I’d been indecisive all week about wearing my compression socks during the race, but when I discovered how cold the morning was, I decided to wear them, and I’m glad I did.
While Jordan started some coffee, I ate a Clif bar and a banana, then headed up the trail to pick up my packet. I ended up in line behind the eventual women’s winner, whom the RD encouraged to try for a course record (spoiler alert: she got it). Packet pick-up was easy, and “swag bags” were simple — the race t-shirt, plus a toothbrush and toothpaste. I pinned my bib on and headed back to the campsite to drop my bag off and get a cup of coffee, then came back to stand in the porta-john line (because coffee).
As start time approached, the RD told everyone to line up at the start line, but he waited to start the race until the porta-johns were empty, which meant a 10-minute or so delay. Though I wasn’t still in the bathroom line, I appreciated this move — I’ve started more than one race late because I’m in the bathroom when the gun goes off. I thought waiting for everyone was a cool thing to do. Once the johns were empty, the RD gave us a few simple directions, and we were off into the foggy morning!
The first couple of miles were a little crowded, but at least that kept me from going out too fast, and soon, the crowd spread out — especially when we hit the first big climb. I did a lot of hiking (as did everyone around me): jogging when I could (or when there was a camera) and slowing to a hike when I needed to.
Just like the time I ran it in training, the hill seemed to go on for eternity, but eventually, we reached the turn-off and got in some glorious downhill. I actually got passed more on the downhill than the up; especially since it was so wet, I wasn’t too confident in my footing and didn’t want to take a race-ending tumble this early in the race.
Before I knew it, we hit the first aid station and headed back down toward the start and (eventual) finish. I made up some time on the long, smooth descent, and soon was cruising back past Jordan and our campsite. Originally, I planned to toss him my arm-warmers as I ran back through, but I was still chilly and wanted them on. In fact, I ended up wearing them for the whole race!
I passed back through the aid station/start line at mile 9 and headed out the other direction on the Blue Sky Trail. I hit a really low mental spot shortly thereafter, around mile 10 — probably the lowest I’ve ever been in a race, actually. That first big climb and descent left my legs pretty tired, and some foot pain I’d been dealing with for two weeks flared up pretty badly. I walked hills that weren’t even hills. I cursed myself for training for only 12 weeks, for thinking I could run a trail race when I live so far from trails. I wondered if I could even finish, or if I should just turn back, take a DNF, and go home.
But then, I thought about how a month before, I watched Logan run 100 miles — almost four times as much as I was running — on relatively limited training. Using her as inspiration (thanks, Logan!), I told myself to stop being an infant. I reminded myself that this was my choice, that I get to run trails. Eventually, I talked myself out of the grumpies and started enjoying myself again — and my foot stopped hurting. Although it bothered me before the race, and has a little since, I seriously think that at that point, it was all psychological.
Once I got out of my funk, I realized that I was now on the part of the trail that I’d trained on several times this summer, and that helped my confidence, too. Soon I passed another aid station and headed up to the Indian Summer loop… the loop that had messed with my head every time I ran it this summer. It’s not super steep — definitely runnable — but the trail winds around, and it makes you think the climb is almost finished… then you round another bend and up you go. Of course, what goes up comes down, so you also get a nice, long descent. On Indian Summer, I chatted with a nice older guy, also running his first trail race, and conversation made the time go faster. Seeing the leading men, already heading back the other direction, was less encouraging, but quite impressive. Those dudes are speedy.
After Indian Summer, I headed on out toward Devil’s Backbone and the technical, rocky trails there. I was thankful that I’d trained out there and gotten more comfortable with those rocks; they were tough as it was.
The course loops all around on the rocks, and before I knew it, I was headed back toward the finish, counting down the miles as I headed back around Indian Summer, past the final aid station, and up the final “big” climb. My legs were tired and hurting, but I felt pretty good, overall. Even though I was tired, I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the race. At this point, I knew I’d make it, and unless the wheels fell completely off, I’d meet my goal of going sub-five.
The last mile, however, was a struggle. The course is 26.7 miles, not 26.2 (which I knew going in; it’s on the website), and that last half mile seemed like a cruel joke. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I stopped to walk while I could see the finish line. Seriously. I had nothing left. Then a guy came up behind me and said, “Don’t walk now! Come on, come on!” That gave me the jolt I needed, and I ran with him to the finish, crossing the line in 4:50:41 and finishing in 10th place among women.
Jordan and our friend Shane, who lives in Fort Collins and came up to watch, cheered as I crossed the line, then hobbled with me (okay, I was the only one hobbling) to the food and drinks. Nothing appealed to me except ginger ale, which is weird because I don’t even like ginger ale, but my stomach was a little upset, and that stuff tasted heavenly. I chugged three cups of it. I knew I should eat something, too, but solid food sounded horrid. Instead, I took a shower at the campground while J and Shane took down our camp. Once I finally felt like eating, we headed back to the post-race bar-be-que, watched the awards, and stayed for the raffle (I won some Smartwool armwarmers)!
I think I’m hooked on trail races now, and I definitely want to do this one again. Aside from my mental breakdown at mile 10, I loved everything about this race. The course is pretty, and it was ridiculously well-marked. It’s also probably more runnable than I made it, which is part of why I’d like to run it again, with a little more training under my belt. The other runners were super friendly and supportive, even the wicked-fast dudes in front. The RD was well-organized, and everything from the start to the aid stations to the bar-be-que and awards ran smoothly. The aid station volunteers were fantastic, standing out there in the cold, misty morning, screaming and cheering for every runner as though each was winning the thing (one of my favorite parts of the whole race was coming through the last aid station and telling the volunteers “You’re the best!” and hearing the reply, “No, YOU’RE the best!”). And the raffle at the end was incredible — they gave away sweet prizes ranging from socks to Ultimate Direction hydration packs and Altra shoes.
This race was everything I hoped it would be. I proved to myself that I can run trail races, even living out here. I pushed myself to keep moving for more than an hour longer than I’d ever run before, and I finished something I wasn’t sure that I could. I’m proud of myself… and I can’t wait to get out there again.
Ever since the lovely ladies at Skirt Sports and Sweat Pink reached out to me about running the Skirt Sports 13er (yes, I got the entry and gift certificate for free, but all the opinions here are my own), I intended to treat it as a training run. I knew that a month and a half after my last marathon, I’d be coming into the race with little to no speedwork. I also knew that I’d spend the week prior to the race running trails, which would leave my flatlander legs tired. So I really had no goals for this race, other than to have a good time. Spoiler alert: That’s exactly what happened!
The race started at 6:30 a.m. Yes, that’s early… but it’s Colorado in June on a course with no shade, so really, the early start time was fantastic. Jordan and I had stayed in Estes Park with his family the night before, so we were on the road by 4:30 and at the start at about a quarter to six. I picked up my bib and goodie bag with no trouble, did a warm-up mile, and hit the porta-potties (of which there were plenty, thank goodness… at a race this female-filled, we need a lot of them!).
The race started on the other side of an overpass from the expo/finish line. I guess that last year, racers had to run over the bridge, which caused bottlenecking, so the organizers moved the start line this year. As we headed up the bridge, Skirt Sports founder Nicole DeBoom (who is pretty much my hero) gave us all high-fives.
We received a few instructions and some encouragement at the start line, and soon we were off! Because I’m a chump, I got caught up in the start-line energy and set off WAY too fast for a training run. And then, at my too-fast pace, I fell in with a couple of super cool women, and we started chatting, and so I continued at that too-fast pace for a few miles. Whoops. By the time we hit a steep-ish hill at around mile 4, I caught my error and made myself slow down. I was not in race shape; I should not be racing.
Once I slowed down, the group of women I’d been running with pulled ahead, and I was running on my own for quite some time. The course was gorgeous; I was kicking myself for not bringing my phone; since this was a training run, I could’ve stopped to take some pictures. Instead, here’s one that Nicole sent me a while back to use for race promotion:
We had views of those mountains, plus cattle pastures and open spaces, pretty much the whole race.
At mile 7ish, the race heads up a massive hill (nicknamed “The Bad Relationship” — ha!). Confession: I walked a bit. I was being a baby and really had no reason to walk, but… I did. Then, the course turns into an open space for a little out-and-back. Races with those little out-and-backs bug me for some reason, but it wasn’t long.
From the open space on, the race is either flat or downhill, which was nice. I did run out of water in my handheld (totally my fault for not refilling it at the last aid station), and because it was getting warm, I started to get a little lightheaded and chose to walk again. Had I been racing, I probably would’ve just pushed through, as the next aid station was near, but again: being a baby.
The last couple of miles were uneventful but HOT: I was really glad the race started so early. I crossed the finish in 1:46:something — my slowest half ever.
And this is why I usually don’t do races as training runs: I was mad at myself. That’s dumb, and I know it, but sometimes my emotions get the best of me for a bit. The mad didn’t last long; I reminded myself that it was a training run, and that I had intended for it to be all along. I drank some chocolate milk and all was right with the world again.
Here’s a list of key points about this race. I was going to break it into pros and cons, but some things are subjective, so it’s all one big list. You can decide if you want to run it without me classifying things for you.
Girl-power vibe. The racers are almost all women, and everything from the pep talk at the start to the finisher skirts to the kick-start program participants was women-centered and focused on making us all feel like badasses. I loved it. Plus, it’s always fun to see women as the overall winners, since that doesn’t happen in most races.
Awesome little expo. There was gluten-free cake (I heard it was amazing, but I was all hot and no food sounded good), EVOL burritos, chips, salsa, fruit, Two Moms in the Raw granola, kombucha, chocolate milk, Skratch … all sorts of tasty business. Plus, since Home Depot was a race sponsor (and the start and finish lines are in their parking lot), they had a booth set up where kids could make crafts while their moms ran. They also had a DIY race bib display project. I did not make one, because I don’t do crafts, but it’s cool for those that are crafty.
Finisher skirt. And bucket. I have about 12 million race t-shirts, so I LOVED getting a cute little skirt.
(photo from 13er website. Obviously.)
I also was pretty excited about the free Home Depot bucket, because with all the yard work we’re doing, we needed another one.
Hot, and no shade. It’s June, so of course it’s going to be hot. If you run this, be prepared. I was wishing I’d worn a hat and carried my bigger handheld.
Great aid station support. Carrying the small handheld wasn’t a big deal, because there were plenty of aid stations, and all the volunteers were super friendly and encouraging.
Well-marked and well-staffed. If you get lost on this course, you’ve got issues. Bonus: Every mile-marker/directional sign had an “I run for…” poster, each with a different picture under the “I run for…” headline. Everything from margaritas to shirtless firemen was featured. The signs were funny and provided nice little pick-me-ups along the course.
Not many spectators. Aside from the aid stations, I saw only 3-4 groups of spectators along the course. That’s fine with me, but if you’re big on crowd support, you might have to recruit some friends to cheer along the course.
Beautiful and challenging course. This course is at the base of the foothills, so if you’re a flatlander like me, train for the hills — there are several, and that “Bad Relationship” is serious business.
I thought this was a great little race, and I’m planning to be back next year — racing it this time! I’m grateful to Skirt Sports and Sweat Pink for the opportunity. If you have a chance to do a Skirt Sports event, do it (even if you’re a dude)!
Can you do races as training runs, or do you get frustrated like I do?
For 18 weeks, I focused on one number: 3:10. Whatever my actual pace was on easy, tempo, and long runs, three hours and ten minutes was always in the back of my mind. I’d targeted that goal twice before, instead running 3:13s both times. Lincoln was going to be my race, the one where I finally broke that barrier.
I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even come close. Unlike the past two races, though, I’m not beating myself up about it. Sometimes, the weather is challenging. Sometimes, race day is not your day. And last Sunday was definitely not my day.
We left home a little after 7:00 on Saturday morning and drove the six-ish hours to Lincoln. Jordan deserves the Husband of the Year award — he’d spent Wednesday through Friday in the mountains with sixth-graders, then got up early Saturday to drive me to Lincoln, got up early again on Sunday to watch me run, and then drove me home. He’s a winner.
Our first stop in Lincoln was the expo. It was really crowded, so we didn’t stay long. Instead, we checked in to our hotel and I went for a short shakeout run, then stretched and Sticked to work out the stiffness from the car ride. We grabbed some pasta from Noodles and Company, then just relaxed in the room and went to sleep early.
I slept surprisingly well for the night before a race, waking up just before my alarm went off at 4, when I ate my bagel with PB, popped some Immodium, then crawled back into bed for a while. Finally, we got up, got ready, and headed to the start line. Lincoln knows how to start a race: there was a huge indoor space to wait in (which wasn’t necessary, since it was already 60 degrees, but it would’ve been really nice in colder weather), and approximately 12 million porta-johns, to which my nervous bladder sent me several times.
Finally, it was time to find my corral and get ready. Lincoln’s corrals are sorted by bib color, which makes it easy to find the right spot. As I lined up, I saw the 3:13 pacer and told J, “I’ve got to beat that guy!” (Spoiler alert: I didn’t). The National Anthem played, the wheelchair racers started, and then — BOOM — we were off! The first few miles ticked along right on pace, but the weather was heating up and getting humid fast. By mile 5, my tank top was already getting soggy, and I was getting nervous, though I was still on pace. By mile 10, the sun came out in full force, I was sweating hard, and my pace started to drop from 7:15s so 7:25s or so. At that point, I knew that my 3:10 goal wasn’t going to be realistic.
Miles 7-12 were mentally challenging, as the half-marathoners were starting their negative splits, and I was getting passed like crazy. Since so many more people run the half, a lot of the spectators were shouting things like, “You’ve got this! Just two more miles!” It made me laugh… and also really tempted me to turn right, toward the finish, at the split. But I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t finish the full, so I turned left, leaving the half crowd behind.
The second half of the race had much less shade, and my pace started dropping significantly. I was seeing eights on my watch, which I didn’t like, but if I crossed a certain speed threshold, I’d get lightheaded and nauseous, so the slower, safer speed won. At about mile 15, a little twig wedged itself down into my shoe. I had to stop and take my shoe completely off. I was not thrilled with losing even more time, but there was no way I could run another 11 miles with that thing rubbing my foot.
J caught me shortly after mile 15, and I made a “shoot me now” gesture. The heat and humidity was dragging me down — training through the winter certainly didn’t prepare me for it — and a headwind was blowing to boot, but he cheered me forward.
At this point, my pace was shot, so I simply focused on moving forward, breaking the race into 2.5ish-mile segments — from aid station to aid station. At each stop, I chugged at least two cups of water and often dumped one on my head, too. Several aid stations and friendly spectators also handed out cups of ice, which I’d dump down my bra for a few minutes of sweet relief. I probably should have been drinking Gatorade — I’m sure my electrolytes were way off; my body was gritty with salt by the end — but since I hadn’t trained with it (thanks to that strict diet), I didn’t want to race with it. I’m not sure which was the worse decision — risking it and having it destroy my stomach, or skipping it and getting more and more dehydrated. I did take three Vfuel gels, the last one at mile 17 or so (I think). I carried five, planning to take one every 45 minutes, but after a while, I just couldn’t stomach them in the heat.
I finally hit the turnaround just before mile 20, expecting to get some relief from the wind. Nope — it shifted, too. I thought that shift was all in my head, but several other runners said the same thing. I read an interview with the women’s winner, and she even said so! That made me feel like less of a baby. The last 10k was a slog — I had to stop and walk several times to keep from blacking out, and I continued my chug-dump-ice routine at the aid stations.
At least everyone else was struggling, too, so we cheered each other on as we leapfrogged. One nice guy even offered me water from his Fuel Belt when I was hurting. That’s the best thing about this sport — sure, we’re there to compete, but everyone looks out for one another, and I love the camaraderie.
Finally, I turned the corner into the stadium and toward the finish line, which was at the football field’s 50-yard line. That tunnel seemed to go on for-ev-er, but I really appreciated that the half and full marathon were split all the way to the finish. Dodging walkers at the end of a marathon is rough, so I liked that we had separate paths. I also loved that they announced each marathon finisher over the loudspeaker in the stadium. I felt like big stuff.
When I was finally close enough to see the clock, I saw 3:27, and gave it what little kick was left in my legs.
It looks like I’m passing all those chicks, but they’re in the half lane.
The race sent a finisher video, but I’m not smart enough to embed it. If you want to see what a 90%-dead redhead looks like, click here.
Once I crossed the line, I stopped to catch my breath and wait for the world to stop spinning, hobbled back into the shade under the stadium and grabbed some Gatorade and water, then shuffled back out to the stadium turf. I wasn’t sure where J was, and I didn’t think nonrunners were even allowed where I was, but I desperately needed to sit down, as I was pretty dizzy. I eased myself onto the turf, rested my head on my knees, and drank my water and Gatorade. I even managed to choke down some chocolate milk. After a while, I felt okay enough to try to find J… but I couldn’t get up. I had to ask a stranger to help me. Ouch.
I finally found J, and then found the showers (another perk of this race: not having to stink afterward). Then, we found my favorite post-race lunch: a burger, a beer, and sweet potato fries. It was everything I wanted.
My official time was 3:27:14 — my third-slowest marathon, and far slower than the 3:10 I originally hoped for. I was disappointed, sure, but I honestly feel that there’s nothing I could have done differently. I’m not a good heat runner anyway, and I didn’t have any opportunities to train for those conditions, since the last 18 weeks were, you know, winter.
I felt better about my finish when I got the official results e-mail Sunday night: I crossed the start line 133rd overall, 15th woman, and 5th in my age group, and I crossed the finish 130th/16th/6th. So yes, I struggled, but so did everyone else. Later, I read that the men’s winner — who also won last year — ran 10 minutes slower than he did in 2014. So yeah, the conditions were tough. I wasn’t just a wimp.
I was impressed with the race as a whole and would definitely run it again. It was extremely well-organized, and the volunteers and spectators were awesome. I also think it could be a PR course if the weather cooperated — it’s flat, but not painfully so , with just enough little rollers to keep it interesting.
So what’s next? I’m not sure. I’d like to try again for 3:10… sometime, but not this fall. I don’t want to register for another goal race until my stomach stuff is straightened out, and with all our travelling and adventuring this summer, I don’t want to be committed to a hefty training schedule. For now, I’m going to recover, then run for fun and lift a little more weights. And then…. whatever I want, I guess!
Anybody else race this weekend?
How far off is your personal worst time from your personal best?
Any suggestions for what my “next big thing” should be?