A year ago, I was in a state of abject misery (literally: Missouri) what with my stress fracture/tendon injury and the rest of my life falling apart. I was in this frame of mind where I didn’t know if we’d ever make it to Colorado, and increasingly, if I’d ever be able to run again. I think I was dimly aware of this thing called the Horsetooth Half Marathon that happened in Fort Collins every April, and that it could possibly be part of my future one day if I ever managed to get out of St. Louis, but it mainly just seemed another one of life’s opportunities passing me by.
A year later, here I am. A Coloradan. With a somewhat dodgy tibialis posterior. But a Coloradan, and that’s what keeps me going.
After a successful mileage push at the end of 2014, I was giddy with excitement and decided to commemorate the achievement by registering for the 2015 Horsetooth Half. It would be a nice tune up for whatever ultra/s I decided to run in the spring. Right? At that point I had run the “hilly” part of the course exactly twice, and it was both terrifying and beautiful. I couldn’t wait.
I did the best I could to maintain mileage during the winter, and then I started training on the course a bit more seriously once the snow and ice melted and I felt like it was safe enough to run down an ~8% grade hill.
I ran the course 5 times (all except the flat bit at the end) over as many weeks and loved it more each time. The hills are hard, yes, but there is just something so exquisitely raw and powerful about running them. I didn’t worry about pace on the training runs, I was just out there to get a feel for the hills and enjoy the view.
The day before the race, we loaded up a moving van (twice actually) to make the final move from the house we’ve been renting to our “forever home,” which we’ve been renovating for the past 6 weeks.
Moving the day before a race is probably not the best thing to do, but it was only a half marathon, and we didn’t have much of a choice. Besides, I did exactly zero of the heavy lifting myself—Rob and the movers he hired took care of that. (My arms get sore after zesting a lemon. I’m not good for much lifting). But I did stay on my feet all day, covering approximately 10 miles of just wandering around the house, putting things away. My legs were tired at the end of the day.
I took a small break late in the afternoon to go pick up my packet at New Belgium. Then I came back home and made everybody pasta for dinner in my fully functional, completely organized kitchen (“Your grandmother would be proud,” my mom told me).
Race t-shirt. The women’s sizes came in neon pink. How original. This is unwearable.
Even with a fairly decent night’s sleep, I was thankful that the race didn’t start until 8:30 the next morning. I gathered my things and headed out the door around 7:30 to run to the start line (about 2 miles away). The mountains were so pretty as I ran west—blue and green and still white with the snow we’d gotten earlier in the week.
I’d decided to run with as little as possible during the race—no phone, no hydration pack. I generally always run with my own water even in shorter races because I dislike contributing to the waste generated from taking paper cups at aid stations along the course. But I also knew that I would not be able to run this course at a decent “half marathon pace” if I had anything with me.
We set out up the hill to the start line, and we were off. I loved that the race started up a 6.4% grade hill. I zoomed around slower people who’d lined up ahead of me, feeling like this was my turf. These hills are my happy place.
After a brief descent, there was another 9.2% climb. Piece of cake. I saw the dad of one of Will’s school friends, who had come out to cheer people on. That gave me a boost to the top of the hill and then there was the weightless flight down. Down, down and down. I’d expected I might pass people on the uphills, but downhill is not at all my strength. I’d thought it likely that everyone I passed on the way up would zoom past me again on the way down. Not exactly the case. Some of them definitely did, but I was still running past plenty of people even on the downs. I was going so fast and using so much concentration to avoid face planting on the ground that I was barely breathing. There was sharp pain in my shoulders and my stomach began to cramp. This happens to me often when I’m running a hilly, short distance race, but never on long slow runs. I know from much experience that I just need to take in as much oxygen as possible to fix this—deep breaths instead of shallow—and it will eventually go away.
By mile 3, I decided that I did not like hills anymore. That was just in time for the Dam Hill (5.1%) and then the long, lightening descent at a 7.9% grade.
This whole time, we’d been running north, into an approximately 20mph headwind. It was getting hard, even as the hills leveled off a bit. I eagerly anticipated our turn to the east around 6 or 7 miles in, and I knew we’d have the wind to our backs or at least sides for the rest of the race.
There were another couple of hills after we turned onto Bingham Hill Road, but those never seem as all-consuming as Monster Mountain or Dam Hill.
By about mile 9, I was in uncharted territory—the flat part of the course that I’d never run before. Much of it was along the Poudre Trail (a bike path), and I’d been dreading that because mentally, it is sometimes hard for me to run on flats after hills, and also: concrete.
(Photo by Rob’s friend Terry)
I did fall off the pace a little by that point, but the Poudre Trail was beautiful, and the concrete did not hurt nearly as badly as I’d thought it might. I was in a rough patch around Mile 10 and resorted to music from the tiny iPod Rob had loaned me for the race. That helped, but what helped even more was seeing Rob and Will along the course—I hadn’t been expecting them. I couldn’t react when I saw them—I didn’t say anything or even wave. I can’t believe the picture Rob took shows me smiling, I was working so hard I have no recollection of being able to do that.
I was completely out of energy and just trying to maintain close to 8-minute pace on bombed out legs. I’d brought a couple of gels with me, but there was no way I could eat them at that pace. Nausea took hold. It didn’t seem like I was going to want any finish line beer when this thing was finally over.
A woman in a green shirt, who I’d been leap frogging with the entire race, overtook me a final time about a mile from the end. I knew I couldn’t stay with her anymore. I looked at my watch for the first time and saw I’d be able to finish in about 1:47ish if I dug in. That was a surprise, and I was happy about it—I hadn’t thought there was any way I could finish in under 1:50, and that 2 hours was probably a more realistic goal what with those hills.
One last cheer from Rob and Will, then around a corner and across the finish line. Horsetooth Half in the books. I went straight to the water jug and drank and drank and drank. I’d managed to intake only about 8 ounces of water the entire race, and I was suddenly feeling that. It would have been a different story if the day had been hot instead of cool.
Rob and Will met me in the finish area a few minutes later, and we stood around talking to some of Rob’s friends who are basically elites and had finished the race hours ahead of me. I felt like such a mere mortal.
After about 30 ounces of water, I noticed I wasn’t nauseated anymore, and I could at least talk again. I headed over to the beer tent, where the good people of New Belgium greeted me with warmth and enthusiasm. Although I love beer, I haven’t drank any for about 6 weeks. I’d really been looking forward to this. I bypassed all the lighter selections and took a 1554. Perfection.
A couple of sips into my 1554, I suddenly realized how cold I was and what a long ride it would be back home (Rob and Will brought the cargo bike to pick me up). I managed to finish about half the beer, then Will and I climbed onto the back of the bike and Rob set off to give us a ride home.
The thing I love about Fort Collins is that the sight of a grown man transporting his entire family on the back of a cargo bike isn’t even noteworthy enough to turn a head.
We made it home, where I welcomed a warm shower and some food.
A day or two later, I saw that the results had been posted, and I thought *bam*… nailed it. I’d totally been gunning for 184th place.
- 9:34 (Monster Mountain!)
- 8:12 (Dam Hill!)
- 8:22 (Bingham Hill)
- 8:26 (Uh oh, feeling bad)
- 8:09 (Tuck in and gut it out)