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Race Report: Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon 2016

If there’s one thing I do consistently well it’s make bad decisions. One of which has obviously been avoiding this write up for so long, but I’m pinning that on fallout from a series of other poor choices I made right around the race, which are going to lead to this being a bitchy, self serving post that I haven’t been particularly keen to inflict on anybody. The flip side of that is I want to get a report up for every race, so ready or not here comes the whine.

A little over a week before the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon I was doing a training run and I noticed my right foot was angling a little inward with every step, so I decided the focus of what was otherwise meant to be a leisurely mile accumulation would be ironing out this random kink in my form (one among many, I assure you). So far so good. In fact, I noticed when the foot was landing properly my pace would nudge up a notch without any extra effort. But when I woke up the next morning my ankle was stiff as hell and I could feel the beginnings of some ache settling in. A normal person would have taken these as warning signs, but I’ve had many a morning where I woke up with a pain somewhere in my legs or back, and worried about how that day’s run was gonna go, only to discover when I went out and did it anyway that the run itself would loosen up the trouble area and more or less solve the problem it had caused in the first place. Essentially I’ve got everyone’s high school football coach in my head telling me to “walk it off,” except he berets me for being lazy when I walk, so I have to run. In any case, I decided to give my scheduled 16 mile run a shot, and see how the whole thing shook out, vowing to turn around and come back if the pain didn’t get better. And it did. For the first seven or so miles I was doing pretty well. But as I was rolling through mile 8 towards my turn around I started to feel the first little hints of a problem. That’s right, it was fine until I literally reached the apex of my run. Once I got as far as I could away from my starting point, the pain began rolling back in. The return trip was a lesson in ever increasing misery, culminating in a series of uphills where I couldn’t push off of my right leg (even when walking) and was essentially hopping up the damn things. Chalk one up for stupidity. But I wasn’t done. I only gave myself one extra day off for healing (I had one off day coming up anyway), before I headed back out for some abbreviated runs, hoping to combine a bit of a taper with some, I dunno, active recovery healing I guess. By the time the race itself rolled around my leg looked pretty ugly, felt even worse, and I wasn’t sure I could make a full 13.1 miles. Hell, to be honest I wasn’t sure I could do a 5k, but if you’ve followed along so far in this paragraph you probably know that didn’t stop me from wanting to try. So I laced up my shoes and headed into the mountains to see if I was fast enough to outrun both doubt and sanity.

The start of this race has been really tight the last two times I’ve tried it. A lot of the runners up front seem to be barely moving, which leads to push back from the faster runners behind you, and before you know it you’re boxed in and trapped running an unpleasantly slow pace for first two miles before the road and the runners really open up and you can start to move like a human being. I told myself not to worry about it this year. Those early miles run a loop through Georgetown itself, before sending you back by the starting line, and my plan was to casually drift along, see how the pain developed, and bail out at the end of the loop if necessary. But, of course, instinct took over as we crossed the starting line and I found myself scampering to the outside edge of the course, and amazingly, for the first time in this race, I immediately found some daylight, darted through it, and was running free. So much for easing in.

Luckily the pain wasn’t so bad, at least not at that point. Essentially it felt like someone was kicking me in the back of the leg, just below my calf, over and over and over again. Maybe not with a ton of force at first, but as time went on their gusto was picking up. Moreover, while my pace was pretty good (I was stringing together a steady collection of sub 7 minute miles) I was conscious of how my form was being effected. Essentially I was jerking my right leg away from the pain at the end of every step instead of rolling all the way through my footfall. Again, just like when I was attempting to fix the initial problem the alteration in my stride wasn’t much, but it was costing me. I wasn’t drawing as much power as I should from every stride, and I was compensating by taking slightly shorter steps at a quicker pace than normal, which was eventually going to wear me out. Around mile 7, the 1:30 pacer caught up and asked if I thought I could hang with him through the last 6 miles, and I told him I’d damn sure try, but if felt like I was dealing with some achilles tendinitis and things were turning ugly. I stayed with him and his pacj for another mile and half or so, and then things just really started to come apart (as a side note, that guy’s the best pacer ever. He was constantly encouraging the people running with him, giving pep talks to the runners they passed, and came back out along the course after leading his runners through to cheer on all the people still out there. If you’re a race director, find him, recruit him, and let the positive reviews roll in). Somewhere between miles 8 and 9 the kicking feeling turned into stabbing, and by mile 12 it felt like there was an ice pick sinking into my ankle with every step.

I’ve never been a big fan of the last mile of this race. After drifting along a peaceful, empty, frontage road for the last 10 miles, you suddenly cross into town and from here on out it’s nothing but up and down, up and down, over and over again. And for whatever reason it just drags on forever. I guess that’s true of the last mile of any race, when the sun’s had time to come out and raise the temperature to something unpleasant, you’re worn down and just hoping to hold out for that last little bit, meanwhile you can feel the end, but can’t see it and no matter how much you tell yourself you should be closing in by now there’s very few signs that you actually are. And then, out of the blue, you turn a series of corners and it’s over. I slammed my way across the finish line and was done. With running, with walking, with standing, with everything. My right ankle was swollen up wider than my calf, which sounds bad in and of itself, but I’ve got otherworldly tiny joints, wrists and ankles particularly, and the contrast between my two legs made it look like I was having a hospital worthy allergic reaction to something on one side of my body.

Still, for all that, would I do it again? Despite the pain, despite the setbacks it gave me in the healing process and my marathon training? With the benefit of hindsight am I really that kinda of long term hard headed and stupid… Um… null

Overall Impressions: I had a miserable run, but this is a good race. I ran my first half marathon here 4 years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone else looking to do the same, provided you live at a halfway decent altitude, because while it is downhill (net downhill, there’s a decent amount of small rolling hills along the way to keep you from pounding your quads into jelly the way a pure 13 mile downhill run would) it’s still in the mountains, and if you’re not used to some thin oxygen you might find yourself sucking a lot more wind than usual before you can cross that finish line. The course is pretty, the after race gathering at the local school’s football field is well stocked, and for the most part the race is pretty well managed. My one serious complaint, sadly has to do with the locals. The police do a good job cutting off traffic from the highway and major feeder roads, but a lot of locals (I’d say upwards of 30-40 vehicles while I was out there) still manage to get onto the course (usually because their driveway is less than a block away, and you can’t shut down every single driveway and sidestreet), which wouldn’t be such a big deal, but they’re driving really fast and with the runners all over the road they end up weaving like crazy. Every time you take a blind turn you feel like flipping a coin for your life as you try and guess which lane a car might come flying out of. But that might just be paranoia on my part. As far as I know no one got hit, or ever has in the many years they’ve been doing this race. Worst case scenario, it’ll get your adrenaline pumping and move you faster for a few steps.