It seems like ever since I started this blog I’ve been a spiraling mess, finding myself in the midst of one low after another, between injuries, including the first one that’s ever managed to shelve me as a runner, and various personal tragedies, including the drawn out death of my grandfather who filled in for my absentee father for most of my life. The end result is I’ve missed a lot of training and fallen off wagon for eating… well, fallen off, shot the fucker full of arrows, burned it to the grown, buried the ashes, and underwent rigorous mental brainwashing to convince myself neither the wagon nor it’s trail ever existed in the first place ( just in the last few months I’ve ballooned up to over 30 pounds beyond my normal running weight which already included more, um, “padding” then necessary). I needed an honest to god reset. And what better way to do it then running my very first race all over again?
Somehow, back in 2012, I convinced myself that scampering a few miles up the side of a mountain might, in fact, be a good idea. I’d never run before, but I reasoned that while I’m not particularly fast, I’m at least obstinate as fuck, so a good steep hill might let me hang in there a while longer than a lot of other, quicker, people, and put up a decent showing. I ended up finishing 25th overall, which was good enough to be the very last person on the first page of results under the format they had back then. And I’m not gonna lie, the smug elation of that was probably a big part of why I signed up for more races. Eventually that momentum carried me all the way back to the same start line a year later, where I managed to chop nearly three minutes off my time and jumped all the way up to 6th place, which was good enough to let the race rest for awhile while I pursued other goals (the next year I ran my first marathon on the same weekend that the Run to the Shrine takes place). But when signups came around this year, I just found myself missing the race too much to give it another skip.
The Run to the Shrine’s a little iconic in my mind (you always look back fondly on your first… race, your first race), so I usually refer to it in passing like it’s one event, but it’s actually both a 5k and a 10k. The longer one starts off in the Broadmoor area (if you’re not from Colorado Springs you can read that as “collection of large mansions centered around a giant, uber classy hotel) before arriving at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and joining up with the 5k course, which is an out and halfway back that briefly snakes through the zoo itself before turning onto an access road that goes up to the Will Rodgers Sun Shrine, then turning around and sending you careening partway down the hill again, giving the race a little bit of a unique flavor since it’s the only day of the year foot traffic is allowed on that road. In years past the 5k used to start in zoo parking lot, and they’d have fun little side shows going on, like releasing a tortoise with a running bib across the start line before the racers. This year was a bit colder and much wetter than normal, which put a stop to most of the other festivities (although nowhere near cold enough to be running in parkas as several participants choose to do). Worse yet the start line was moved to inside the zoo, which was still half an hour away from opening, so if you had friends and family show up they weren’t able to see the start, finish, or anywhere in between. Although at least they could enjoy the zoo with you afterwards.
I’d resolved to start the race pretty slow, worried about my general running ability, and my hill stamina in particular, but it was still distressing to see something like 40 runners absolutely blow by me and disappear into the distance. But before the first half mile most of them were taking their first walking break (did I mention this thing’s uphill) and I’d reeled the vast majority of the front runners back in. Usually as you run up the road to the Shrine you get some gorgeous views of the city laid out below you, but on this particular day the fog was so thick you really couldn’t see more than a few feet down the side of the mountain, lending the whole thing a wonderful sense of isolation, and turning the look into something similar to an alpine movie set, creating the illusion of being up there above the clouds. I was surprised to find as I chugged along through the switchbacks that I wasn’t struggling at all. My pace wasn’t good mind you, but the quad burn that usually accompanies even walking a course like this just wasn’t setting in and it was becoming clear I’d fretted a little too much. In fact, every year there’s drummers about a mile and a half up the course, which is usually the perfect place for them to give you a little pick me up, since the course crests at about the 2 mile mark before hitting the reverse and zipping you back down the way you came for the last mile, but when I heard them this year I was still cruising along pretty easily, and realized I should have been pushing harder up to this point. I started counting the runners coming back down the hill and tagged myself at 15th when I hit the turn around. The nice thing about having gone up so easy was it meant I had a lot left in the tank for the down hill scramble, and I blew by three runners almost immediately, only one of whom had anything left to mount a challenge. Eventually I’d thought I’d lost him too, but just as I was rounding corner towards the finish line I started to hear the rapid slap of feet behind me and the volunteers let out a cheer as we sprinted in the last tenth of a mile together. But to be honest, I just hadn’t pushed enough early in the race and I had way too much left for him to really edge me out here. After we finished I even ran the last mile from the finish line back down to the after party, just to burn off some extra juice.
Overall Race Impressions: I’m biased as all hell about this race so take what I say with a grain of salt (or if you prefer, a sodium tab, ha ha! Runner’s humor… kill me), but, if you don’t mind the hill, this is a hell of a race. You get some beautiful views, free entry to the zoo, and the post race party is usually stocked with excellent food (at least from the sponsors, the race itself just gives you bagels and bananas, but in the past I’ve seen the various side booths dish out everything from fresh made smoothies and nachos all the way to the giant slabs of french toast that marked the creme de la creme this year). The flip side is it’s very much a family event, which can be a good thing if you’ve got kids, but for faster runners it means those families are still coming up when you’re coming back down, it turns into a dangerous obstacle race with children of all ages zig zagging around, and generally running amok all over the course as you try and turn up the speed while avoiding tripping over someone and flying out into the abyss over the side of the mountain (I actually had to literally do a split leg hurdle over a kid who seemed to just appear out of the fog a half step in front of me). And that hill is a very real obstacle. If you’ve run Pikes Peak, Mount Evans, or something similar, you’re not going to think much of it, but for most runners making it to the top without having to walk a few steps will be a very real challenge, but unlike Pikes Peak, one you can do without totally destroying yourself.