Tag Archives: Estes Park Marathon

Throwback Thursday: That Time I Won a Marathon

After I wrote this post and this post, I started to wonder if my readers (both of you) would think that I’m a bit of an idiot. And while that may be true, that’s not the impression that I generally try  to give off, so I decided to change it up and write about something I did that wasn’t stupid. (And, full disclosure here, I wrote this story as an example of a personal narrative for my freshmen last year. It required minimal work to go from “freshman example” to “blog post,” and I’m tired tonight). Don’t worry, I plan to tell you another stupid story next week.

All the photos in this post are from the Estes Park Marathon’s website

Marathon training takes at least eighteen weeks — eighteen weeks of hard workouts, conscientious nutrition, and careful scheduling.The spring of 2012 was the fourth time I had gone through this training cycle, but this time was different. This time, I wasn’t gunning for a personal best or even an age group placement. This time, though I didn’t admit it to anyone but myself, I wanted to win. I had checked the results of 2011’s Estes Park Marathon, and the winning woman had run a 3:30 –seventeen minutes slower than my personal best. I knew that Estes ran ten to twenty minutes longer than the average marathon, so  I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could win.

Training for the June marathon started in February. I despise training in the early spring. I hate the wind, I hate the cold, and I really hate the short days that force me onto the treadmill for long training runs. All that treadmill time had an advantage, though: If I didn’t have access to a treadmill in flat Fort Morgan, preparing for the six-mile climb that starts the Estes Park Marathon, as well as all the smaller-but-steeper hills later in the race, would be close to impossible.

It looks friendlier than it is.

So I trained on the treadmill, and I trained through the bad weather. When I lined up on race day, butterflies fluttered in my stomach, but I hoped I was prepared for victory.

The starting line crowd at Estes was tiny, compared to most other marathons. Not wanting to be too cocky, I eased up near the front of the crowd but avoided toeing the line. As we anxiously waited for race to start, I made small talk with some of the runners around me, bounced up and down, and easily stretched a few times to stay loose.

I am not in this picture, but this is how the starting line looked.

Finally, the gun went off. Every race, no matter how small, starts in a bit of a cluster, but by the time I made it down the first tiny incline and started that six-mile climb, I had managed to find my groove and stick with it. A long string of runners stretched ahead of me, but I didn’t worry yet. I still had 26 miles to make my move. As I climbed that first big hill, I noticed a young woman on a bike ahead of me.  I thought little of it until right around mile three, when a spectator shouted, “You’re the first woman! First woman!”

Holy crap, I thought. That’s the escort cyclist! Not wanting to get over-confident, I smiled at the spectator and said, “There’s still a lot of race to run!”  — as much to remind myself of that as her. But I determined then that no woman would pass me over the next 23 miles.

As we topped that first hill, a hard, hot wind blasted me. I didn’t know it yet, but that wind – sometimes gusting up to 30 miles per hour – would be my constant companion for the rest of the race. I thanked my lucky stars that it was a headwind now, when six miles of downhill stretched ahead of me, so I wasn’t fighting wind and running uphill. The next few miles passed uneventfully. I held my pace steady, enjoyed the stunning scenery, and occasionally chatted with the escort cyclist, smiling to myself every mile when I heard her report on her radio: “Lead female, mile 8.”

Just after the halfway point, as I ran around blissfully flat Lake Estes, I spotted my parents and husband. Jordan brings a cowbell and a poster to every race, but my parents had never spectated before, so their signs surprised me. My dad’s, a bright-colored iteration of an old inside joke (“Use your head!”), made me smile. My mom’s  sign, a joke about porta-potties, made me roll my eyes, as my miniature bladder has long been the butt of family jokes.

As it turned  away from the lake, the course started another substantial climb. By this time, the sun was bearing down, and that hot wind still gusted. At every water stop, I gulped water and dumped a cup or two on my head. Unfortunately, my listening skills started failing around mile 15, and though the volunteer clearly shouted, “Gatorade!,” I grabbed her cup and dumped in on my head. Now exhausted, thirsty, and sticky– but at least slightly cooler– I chugged up the hill.

Oh, I've used this picture before? Right. Credit still goes to the Estes Park Trail Gazette.
Oh, I’ve used this picture before? Right. Credit still goes to the Estes Park Trail Gazette.

By the time I topped that last big hill, my legs constantly screamed at me, and the heat started making me lightheaded. I learned early in the race that I couldn’t stomach gels in the heat, and I’m sure the lack of fuel wasn’t helping anything. I glanced over my shoulder several times to see if another woman was bearing down on me, but the winding mountain roads made seeing far impossible.

I kept plugging away. I feared leading  for 20 miles and then ending up second – or lower.  Despite my determination, though, my pace continued to slow. The hills and heat were taking their toll, and the wind only blew harder. I continued drinking at every aid station, filling my bottle so I could drink between, and dumping water (definitely water) on my head. I started setting little goals for myself – just run to that tree, just back down to the lake.

Finally, I spotted Estes Park High School in the distance, and I knew that the finish line was near. As I approached the school, I wondered how the small incline I ran down at the start of the race had grown into a substantial mountain. As my aching legs stumbled up the incline, I glimpsed the lights of the football field, where the finish line waited.

“How….much….farther?” I gasped to a volunteer, my legs stumbling and begging to walk.

“Just around this corner, then half a lap!” she shouted.

As we turned onto the track, the escort cyclist pulled over. “You’re there! Just finish this lap! Great job!” she screamed. I spotted my family, screaming, jumping, cheering, and I dug deep for a kick, albeit a paltry one on wasted legs.  As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer shout, “Women’s marathon winner!” (I also heard him shout, “You gotta run across the mat so I know your name!”)

Entirely spent but grinning, I stumbled over to the grass and collapsed. My husband brought me some Gatorade (I drank it this time), and my family surrounded me, repeatedly congratulating me. I sat there in shock: I had just won a marathon.

In the weeks and months following the race, my husband loved to brag about my win, and I always blushed and blew it off. “It was a really, really small race,” I said, over and over. And it’s true – Estes Park is the smallest marathon I’ve ever run. But then, I decided to stop blowing it off. I trained hard. I fought hard. And I won.  Although Estes was small, and although I’ll never win a major marathon, I did win this one. And there’s nothing wrong with being proud of it.

What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of?

Do you ever have trouble owning your successes?

Would you run this race? You should. It’s amazing.

A Few of My Favorite Things: Colorado Races Edition

Among many other things, Colorado is famous for being a great place to run. It makes sense, then, that the state is chock-full of incredible races. I haven’t done nearly as many of them as I’d like to (I’ve never even run the famous BolderBoulder…pathetic, I know), but I have run some that stand out as fantastic. Here they are, with their dates for this year, in chronological order (from right now). All the names are linked to the race websites.

Rock ‘n Roll Denver Marathon and 1/2 Marathon: October 20, 2013

I first ran this race in 2009, the year before it became part of the Rock ‘n Roll series and was still the regular old Denver Marathon. Every year since, I’ve run either the full or the half, and I absolutely love both races. Both races start and finish in Denver’s Civic Center Park and take you on a nice little tour of Denver. Both courses take you past Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies), all around City Park (your spectators can catch you at least twice here), and through Cheesman Park. The full splits off at Cheesman and takes you through some more neighborhoods, over to Wash Park (another of Denver’s most popular parks), around some pretty ritzy neighborhoods, and finally back to Civic Center. The course is mostly pretty and very spectator-friendly — and the spectators are out in full force. From the bands to the cheer squads to the ordinary spectators, you’re never without someone to cheer you on.

DENL0381(This is me finishing the half in 2010…such a flattering photo.)

The course is pretty flat; the only significant hill is in Cheesman Park, around mile 9 or 10. A smaller hill at mile 24ish feels brutal just because your legs are dead, but it’s short and spectator-packed, so it’s really not so bad.

I’ve heard some pretty crummy stuff about RnR races, but this is one of my absolute favorites. It’s always been well-organized, and I’ve never had a bad experience here. (Knocking on wood for October…)

Yeti Chase 5k/10k: January 26, 2014

I have done this race only once, in 2012, but definitely hope to run it again. It’s held at Bear Creek Lake State Park, which is a beautiful park near the Denver foothills. I ran the 10k, which was challenging but incredibly fun. The course is hilly…I got tricked by the early downhills and burned myself out early — which is part of why I want to run it again. I know better now.

Anyway, the course takes you past two lakes, which are frigid but beautiful, and along part of the bike path through the park. It’s not a very spectator-friendly course, but I actually kind of liked that. The field is small, so I was running alone a lot of the time, left to take in the beauty and try not to think about how my cheeks were freezing.

One of the best parts about the race was the post-race homemade banana bread. The day before, Racing Underground (who hosts the event) posted on Facebook that they were baking banana bread. So obviously it was pretty fresh, and it tasted SO GOOD. Seriously, that’s a big part of why I want to do this race again. Also, you get to have your picture taken with a yeti.

yeti chaseThis race is now part of a three-part winter racing series: a 5k in December, the Yeti Chase in January, and a half in February. I’d love to do the whole series, but I’m not sure if it’s in the budget right now. Sigh.

Run to the Shrine 5k/10k: 2014 date not announced yet

The website still has the 2013 information up, but based on past years, I’m guessing it will be May 17. It benefits Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which is a pretty stellar cause.

This is the most challenging 10k I have ever run. Unless this is your first 10k, you will not PR. Not even close. The race runs up…waaaay up…to the Will Rogers Shrine at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. If you’ve never been there, here’s how the race website describes it: “The Run to the Shrine is a particularly demanding run due to the 8.5% gradient increase from the base of the Zoo (6,800 feet) to the Shrine (8,100 feet).” And that’s the first four miles. Yeah, it’s hard. I’ve never seen slower splits on my Garmin.

But then you get to run two miles DOWN that same hill to the finish line at the zoo. Yay, fast!

RTTS13_1(This was before the race, so my quads are still attached.)

The best thing about this race is the camaraderie. In just about every race, people are nice, but the runners here are honestly the nicest people ever. Everyone encourages each other the whole way. And with that sweet downhill bit, you’ve got lots of breath to shout encouragement to those still climbing.

The second best thing about this race is the medal. The first year I ran, the first three males and females in each race got a medal made of elephant poo (freeze-dried and in plastic). Last year, it was rhino. Maybe I’m just gross, but I think that’s the coolest thing ever. I desperately want one. In 2012, I was fourth. Last year, I was fifth. I fully intend to come back in May and be at least third. I want a poo medal, dangit!

Also worth mentioning — the post-race party is at the zoo, and there are keepers out with different animals that you can look at and sometimes touch. You also get a day pass into the zoo free with entry. And it’s a pretty sweet zoo.

Colorado Colfax Marathon: May 18, 2014

This was my first half (2009) and my second full (2011). The half course has been dramatically changed since I ran it (for the better — I hear it’s cool now), so I don’t think it’s fair for me to review it. I’ll talk about the full instead.

Like Rock ‘n Roll, Colfax gives you a pretty nifty tour of Denver — and you see things that you don’t during the fall marathon. It starts at City Park and runs along Colfax Avenue for a while, then drops onto the Cherry Creek bike path. The bike path goes through the heart of Denver, so you get to see some cool stuff — the Center for the Performing Arts with its statues, Elitch Gardens Amusement Park, and lots of downtown. Then, you run through Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos (this is new…when I ran it, we just ran around the stadium. Jealous.) You run around Sloan’s Lake (wave to my brother…he lives over there), through the campus of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, through some nice, ritzy neighborhoods that make you scared to even spit, and then back onto Colfax, where you see some of what Colfax is famous for (sketchiness), but it’s amusing. Finally, you backtrack through the stadium and on the bike path back to City Park and the finish.

colfax(I don’t have any pictures from during the race, so here’s one from after with my brother and his girlfriend. It rained that year; hence my soggy noggin.)

I liked this race a lot. I’d love to do it again, but for the last couple of years, it’s been the same day as graduation. It is again in 2014. Lamesauce.

Estes Park Marathon: June 15, 2014

This is by far the most beautiful race I have ever run. Estes Park is one of Jordan and my favorite places, so that made this race even more fun for me. Estes is a mountain town, so although this is a road race, not a trail race, you’re still running in the mountains.

This is the view for pretty much the whole time. (Photo from the race website. I don’t know that guy.)

The course runs all around town, around Lake Estes, up by the Stanley Hotel…and never stops being stunning. It’s definitely a challenging race — I won the women’s division with a 3:37, my slowest-ever time (it was also super windy that year). It’s a small race (obviously), and spectators are spotty, but I loved every minute. If you’re a 50-stater and need a Colorado race, I’d say do this one, for sure.

estesPhoto from the Estes Park Trail Gazette.

That’s just a small sampling of the wonderful races Colorado has to offer. Try them out!

Colorado runners: Any races not on this list that I just have to try?

Non-Colorado runners: What races do I need to do if I come to your state?