A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend and coworker of David’s stating that her husband was organizing a half marathon on the trails of Boulder. The course would start northeast of the city on some trails and end southeast of the city. Aside from a few road crossings, the entire course would be on trails. When I realized it would be the last Sunday of our vacation week, I was in!
The two things about the course that terrified me were: the elevation gain would be near 2,500 feet and getting lost. I get lost easily on courses. Although I was familiar with the majority of trails on this course, there were a few places where I was unsure how trail A linked up with trail B. Furthermore, we started running close to 3 pm, which meant that it would be a hot day. Luckily, temperatures stayed in the low 80s and the second half of the course was almost entirely in the shade.
We headed up to meet the group yesterday afternoon. The plan was to meet at the finish so we could be shuttled up to the start. David was planning to drop me off and meet me at various points along the course. We got a call as we neared Boulder from a friend who was running with his girlfriend. He was having car trouble and needed a ride. We picked him up and I learned that his girlfriend would not be running. We had been planning to run together so I was a little concerned about running alone. When we got to the start, we took a picture of all the runners and I realized I was the only female.
Not only was I the only female, but also many of these guys seemed like tough trail runners. What had I gotten myself into? David assured me I could call him if I got lost and reminded me not to try to keep up with these guys. Knowing I do much better on trail runs where I start nice and easy, I knew this would not be a problem.
We started running close to 3:30 and right away, I was in the back of the pack. It was cool, I knew where I was and I was feeling good. By the second mile, I had pretty much lost all the guys. David met me for the first time and brought me a cold Nalgene filled with Gatorade. Nothing tasted so good! He left with plans to meet me close to the 5 mile mark.
I could do this! Except after I left the familiar trail I was on, I was unsure how to get to the next one. I found myself running through a neighborhood. I panicked but reminded myself to keep running south. I found a bike path and then, eventually a trail. It looked like where I needed to be. However, I soon realized it was not. I texted David my location to let him know I was not on course, but I was close. He called a few minutes later to let me know I should keep running in that direction and he would meet me.
By that time, I remembered reading in one of the emails that there was an option we could take that would be along roads and not have nearly the same elevation gain. At this point, anything to get me to the finish would work. By the time I met up with David I realized I had two options that would make me feel less discouraged about running alone: 1) to skip the next big trail with elevation gain or to have him drive me to the next trailhead. Knowing I did not want to stop, I opted for the first option.
I stayed on roads until I reached Chatauqua park where I could easily get on the Mesa trail, a trail I know very well. The roads, however, were not lacking their own elevation gain. It was a long, steady hill to reach Chautauqua. By the time I was there, I found David again and he told me I had managed to get myself into 7th place. Phew! At least all the runners would not be waiting an extra hour for me (my biggest fear) at the end.
I was near the halfway point, but was on familiar territory and it was shaded and cool. Before too long, two familiar guys approached me. We chatted and one moved ahead. The other stayed with me and we spent the next few miles chatting. He was a lifesaver in terms of taking my mind off the pain. We were doing a lot of hiking at this point, as there were many steep climbs. We got to know each other’s life stories and I kept him from getting lost.
By this point, I was anxious to get to 11 miles because it would all be downhill from there and I knew David would be hiking in from the finish to meet me somewhere. The downhill, when it finally came, felt glorious! I felt like I could do this forever! My new running buddy was still with me and we were giddy to be on such a great trail. Finally, about one mile out, I met David and he told me who had finished and how everyone was doing. It turned out most of the leaders were just 15 minutes ahead of me and there were only a couple runners behind me. I was shocked we were all so close together, even with my slight detour. I ran ahead and finished that last section of the trail feeling great.
By the time my watch hit 13.5 miles, I had reached the end of the course just minutes over 3 hours. The leaders had finished around 2:45 and the “winner” of this non-race had just completed the Boulder Ironman weeks ago. Even with my detour, I managed to climb over 2100 feet of elevation, so it was not too far off the the original course. The people who followed the real course route ran 13.9 miles and gained 2400 feet of elevation. But finishing with the crowd was good enough for me! Most of the guys, when we talked at the end, admitted they thought they could finish this course in 2 hours and were not prepared for how difficult the trails would be. They also all thanked David for being out there cheering them on a various points. Towards the end, he was giving them sips of water when they passed and needed it. He was a one man crew for the whole team. I grabbed a cooler I had packed and handed out orange slices at the end and everyone was so appreciative. Nothing tastes so good post-run than orange slices.
At the finish line, many of us decided we needed to go to the Southern Sun, a local restaurant/brewery to refuel. Perfect end to the day. We had a great day and would certainly do this again. David wished he had been more prepared with bottles of water he could give out to the runners, as a mini aid station. We even talked about courses we could set up in Denver that would be less of an intense trail race and more of an urban run!