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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jones

Estes Park Marathon

Sunday I completed my 24th marathon. I ran 3:33:41 at the Estes Park Marathon. Good enough for a BQ to mark Colorado off my list. 14 states down. That time was also good enough for a second place overall female finish! There are the results, but how did it go?

I chose this race because I love the Estes Park area. And, it coincided with a work trip. Well, I got it to coincide. I did not do my due diligence of scouting the race course at all. As this neared, I started wondering about the soundness of my decision to do a train-through race at altitude. Hey, I had the entire week before in Denver to acclimate. Should be no problem. Friday, I realized that Estes Park is at 7,522 feet. About 2,000 feet higher than the mile-high city. Eh. Then, Saturday, we scouted the course. It starts about 5 miles outside of Estes. At 9,200-ish feet. Oops. The good (and bad) news is that those first 5-7 miles are all downhill. Or, down-mountain. Completely down. Note to self: check elevation maps before signing up.

All day Saturday the forecast had cool temps, ~50°F, and rain at the start. Ugh, another cool, wet race. I bought a rain jacket and a Buff for my ears. Okay, $90 later, I’m ready for anything. It can’t be as bad as Boston. So, up before 4:00am Sunday morning to check the forecast. Thankfully, it had cleared. Beautiful running weather predicted until late afternoon (which, actually turned out to be the case)!! Boarded a trolley to the starting area at 4:30am. We got to hang out inside a lodge until the start, which was very nice. Start was at 6:00am sharp. The 140 or so of us marathoners took off towards Estes Park.

The course started with a gentle downhill wind through the property of the lodge, then a short (~1/4 mile) incline onto CO Hwy 7. I could barely breathe once I got up that incline. This is going to be a long race. I guess the nearly 4,000 feet of extra elevation does make a difference. Assuming I was even really acclimated to Denver. Now, for the long decent. I really didn’t want to go out too fast. I knew I’d pay for it later. Try to stay steady. First mile, 7:52. Okay, goal pace is 8:20. Build a little cushion going down, and even it out later. Next few miles ~7:25. Not too bad. My quads were screaming. Mile 4, 6:55. Uh oh. My left knee that flares up after a hard bunch of downhill racing is making itself known. Oh boy.

But, I made a good recovery as the course started to level out a bit. 7:45-8:00 for the next few miles. Potty break at mile 11. Then, started into some ups and downs, miles 11-14. Paces stayed ~8:10. Still in good shape, time-wise. And, feeling okay now that I’m off the constant decline. Maybe a 3:30 is in sight. Then, the uphill. The long, long uphill. It started right around 14.5 and ended around mile 16. All uphill. No leveling out. No up and down. Up, up, and more up. I was trudging, struggling, to get a comfortable breath. About halfway up, I got into a rhythm. Still breathing harder than I would like, but no longer struggling. Mile 15.3 I checked my watch. I had been ~8:40-9:00 during the climb so far. My time was 2:00:58. If I kept 9-min pace for the last 11 miles, I’d be right at 3:40 (BQ time). Forget the 3:30. Remember my goals for every race? 3:30 was an A-goal. 3:40 the B- and must-do-goal. As I was struggling to catch my breath, I could not imagine trying the altitude a second time. Nope, Colorado needs to come off the list. Today.

Some gentle downhills and relatively flat sections for the next few miles. I caught my breath, and my pace, quicker than expected. I actually started feeling pretty good. Miles 18-21 were 7:50-8:10. Well under 3:40 pace. Mile 22 had the last incline of the course, as we ran past the historic Stanley Hotel (inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining). Took a bit of breath out of me, but the rest of the miles were gentle up and down. I recovered quickly again and comfortable coming in the last few miles between 8:10-8:20. The course finishes on the high school track, so I bounced around the last 300 meters to the finish. I say bounced, because I haven’t been on a surface that forgiving in a couple of decades!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this race. You’ve got to be prepared for that initial decent, but it is a well-organized even for one so small. 140 or so marathoners and about double that in the half-marathon. If you don’t like running alone, bring a running buddy at your pace. I passed a 4-5 people between miles 11-18 and I didn’t see another runner until I finished! Either way, there is some great scenery to take in along the course (disclaimer: most of the photos here are from my visit to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park Monday, not along the course, but you get the idea). And, there are some surprising pockets of people (usually only a handful) to cheer you on along the way!!

Training Log June 11-17, 2018: Planned, 50 miles. 50.5 miles for the week. Slight taper this week for the marathon, including cutting back on non-running activities.

Paces: BF = by feel; E (easy) = 8:08-8:36; HS = hill sprints (8-10sec); PU = pick up

Monday – planned: 8R

4.6mi @ 9:33. Nice and cool in the morning, so an easy R-paced run. Surprisingly, didn’t notice the altitude much.

4.5mi @ 8:52. Much warmer in the afternoon, but a comfortable run. Too nice to stay at R-pace.

Tuesday – planned: 8BF w/HS + stability

3.1mi @ 9:43. Nice and easy. Cut mileage short because needed to take care of some things before work.

3.7mi @ 9:07. Another fairly comfortable run at altitude. A little breathing struggle going uphill. Added 4 hill sprints to the end of this.

Stability: 12x kickbacks, 12x one-legged deadlifts, 20x side lunges, 12x adductor leg raises, 24x leg cross-overs

Wednesday – planned: OFF

Thursday – planned: 4BF

4.1mi @ 9:23. A little warmer this morning, but still comfortable. Slightly sore from Tuesday’s stability workout.

Friday – 4E

4.1mi @ 9:05. Felt good. Was at E-pace for 3 of 4 miles (1st mile was a warm-up).

Saturday – planned: OFF

Sunday – planned: Estes Park Marathon

26.4mi @ 8:07. Overall, a good run!!

Until next week, or so.

Own it. Live it. Be it.

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