This week's post is extra long, but I hope you'll enjoy my mile-by-mile description of the first footrace I've run in half a dozen years.
I joined over one thousand runners on June 12th for the 40th running of the Garden of the Gods Ten Mile race. My goal was to finish before the two and a half hour cut-off time, at which point the roads in the Garden would be reopened to tourist traffic.
My race was the culmination of a 14 week training program with Coach Judy Fellhauer and the Women’s Fit Team, hosted by Runners Roost. This wonderful experience involved twice weekly group runs, with training guidelines for the rest of the week. I began the program as a walker. The bug quickly re-infected me, and I started running again.
Once I signed up for the race, I realized I would have to decrease my minutes per mile if I wanted to finish. I took advantage of the training program, and frequently peppered Judy with newbie runner questions. Our training days invariably fell during bad weather. Rain, pelting snow, you name it. I had to show up, regardless. I had a goal, and I knew I needed help to reach it.
The big day arrived. My husband dropped me off at Memorial Park in Manitou Springs at 6:15 am. Past experience taught me to get in line at the porta potties immediately. Then I found the Women’s Fit Team. Hard to miss. We all wore matching bright pink running shirts with our team logo. After anxious waiting, we lined up for the 7 am start.
Runners surged down El Paso Street in a tight pack, women on the left, men on the right. After a half mile, the crowd began to thin as faster runners left the rest of us behind. The sun shone bright below a bank of clouds. As we ran up the first hill into the Garden, a deer galloped to the edge of the road. I feared a collision, and the end of my race. The deer skidded to a halt and watched us run past.
Coach Judy trained us not to get caught up in the excitement at the beginning of the race, and to remember to pace ourselves. I tamped down the desire to run too fast. I would need the energy later. I slowed to a walk up the first steep hill, along with plenty of other folks.
At the top of the hill, we ran between Balanced Rock and Ship Rock, both aptly named. A group of high school track team members manned the first aid station, offering water and Gatorade. They were dressed as zombies, and encouraged us to run for our lives. We circled past the Garden of the Gods Trading Post. A nice bit of downhill, followed by more uphill.
Thankfully, the cheery morning sun slipped behind cloud cover, dropping the temperature. We were spreading out after the initial elbow-to-elbow stampede. I would see some of the folks around me now for most of the rest of the race.
I was beginning to appreciate how training in the Garden had prepared me mentally for the race. I knew the hills I could run, and the ones I should walk. The runners in the shorter 10K race began to fly past, heading back to Manitou. I passed the Scotsman’s picnic area, and another high school team aid station, this time with a Pacman theme based on the Old School video game. Then the grind up a tough hill began. I walked to the turn onto Juniper Loop, out of breath, and saw the beautiful rock formations in the heart of the Garden. Now began a stretch of rolling hills. Time to speed up, and take advantage of as much flat as the Garden has to offer.
Familiar territory. If I wanted to finish before the cut-off, I needed to make good time now. As Women’s Fit Team members passed on the road, we yelled encouragement to each other. The aid station at the top of the hill featured a Prince tribute. Both young men and young women wore pencil thin mustaches and glam clothes. Prince’s many hits blared from loudspeakers. At the bottom of the hill, two drummers sat at the intersection of Juniper and Gateway Road. They beat a helpful rhythm to keep the runners moving along.
Halfway up another tough hill, Lynne Day offered free hugs. I needed one. My legs were getting tired, I had a suspicious pain in my right knee, and I was afraid I was getting a blister on my foot. The wonderful gals at the hug station held signs, and had chalked the road with sayings like “hills are your friends.” My aches and pains went away. Or maybe I was just going numb.
At the big parking lot, the next high school aid station had a patriotic theme. Red, white and blue decorated the area, and rock and pop songs played, such as The Boss Bruce Springsteen’s “American Girl.” One more horrible hill, walking past another deer trying to cross the street, and we dropped into the park.
Mile marker five was a welcome sight. The halfway point. I experienced my first real moment of confidence that I could achieve my goal. I had to keep up the pace, but I could finish before the cut-off, barring injury or loss of the will to live. Getting run over by a deer was a concern, too.
The run through the heart of the Garden of the Gods was the best part of the race for me. I enjoyed the scenery, and regained some strength for the push ahead. The route circled back up to the American-themed aid station, and past the hug station. One of the drummers at Gateway Road was taking a break, his hands no doubt going as numb as my feet.
I trudged up the hill to the Prince aid station. I had to make up the time I’d spent walking up hills by running on the relatively flat stretch of Juniper Way. I felt tired, but strong. Judy’s training tips played through my mind, keeping me positive. Another deer waited to cross the street. I snapped a photo of this one.
We continued on Juniper Way to a turn-around that was needed to make the race the correct official mileage. The volunteers were encouraging, but exuded an air of “just a few more runners, and we can break down our station.” A nice stretch of downhill took me past the Pacman aid station, where they were washing down the chalk drawings on the road, and collecting the paper cups runners had discarded near, but not in, the trash cans.
This time, we by-passed the Trading Post and headed straight for Balanced Rock. I knew these hills. I knew how far up each one I could run, without damaging myself. The desire to run flat out was balanced by the knowledge that I had two miles to go. If I risked sprinting, I might use up all my reserves. I could hobble across the finish line, or save a bit of energy for a better finish. I walked the hill up to Balanced Rock, despite the threat of zombie attack.
One mile to go. Since I had run this stretch in training, I knew what to expect. Steep downhill, a sharp right turn, then a relatively flat road into Manitou Springs. Excitement built as we neared the park. The former camaraderie of the end-of-the-pack folks melted into light-hearted competition as we strained to pass each other. I had saved just enough energy to trot across the finish line.
I passed under the finish line banner. A volunteer placed the medal around my neck. I felt as special as if I’d won. Well, I did win. I won a battle against my own lethargy and laziness, against training in weather that varied from snowstorms to oppressive heat, against the demons of self-doubt and fear. Thanks to Judy Fellhauer and the Women’s Fit Team, I paced myself, remembered good form, and had a solid base of hill training to carry me through the Garden.
The next day, I was only a little achy. No blisters. No hobbling around like I'd been hit by a truck. I actually felt good. Proper training and pre-race tapering made all the difference.
Did participating in the Garden of the Gods ten mile run get the running bug out of my system? Absolutely not! I am more enthusiastic than ever. In fact, the very next weekend I went for a six mile run, just for the fun of it.
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