15 May 2012

Grand Valley Half Marathon - May 12, 2012

I absolutely adore Saturday races. Maybe it’s because races feel like they should be on a Saturday or maybe it’s because I still have some weekend left to celebrate the race and recover. Whatever the reason, I feel like I am more relaxed and have more fun with them.

I have done this race once before and enjoyed it. Mammoth Marathons does a good job putting on an event. There is always plenty of race support, plenty of food (even for me, the back-of-the-packer), a nice medal and shirt and a decent entry fee. With my Half Marathon Club discount and an early entry, my race cost me $35.00. Having spent $125 on a Rock-n-Roll race, $35.00 was a steal. Small races are nice, too. You never have to worry about parking, getting stepped on, spending hours looking for your corral or hoping there is still hydration left at an aid station. You can arrive 15 minutes before the race, park, stretch, get a cup of coffee or water and wander to the start line with plenty of time to spare. The Grand Valley Marathon was no exception. This event included 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon distances with staggered starts for the individual events – enough time for the crowd of the previous event to be out of the way of the next event – a concept that is physically impossible for an event with 20,000+ participants.

My friend, Tami, signed up to do the 10k event and I was signed up for the Half. Because it was a small race and because it had a 6 hour time limit, I began to develop a plan to have Tami do her first half. When we picked up our packets Friday evening, I changed her registration to the Half. I figured I could just ask her to walk with me a “little bit more” until it was too late for her to turn around. I was so excited about my evil plot that I had a hard time keeping the secret.
We got to the start area at about 0615 on Saturday morning. The full was to start at 0630, the half at 0700 and the 10k at 0730 (5k at 0745). Knowing that I was going to “encourage” Tami to do her first half, I suggested we start early to “beat the heat”. Even though her event was to start 30 minutes after mine, we decided she would start with me and walk with me to the 10k turn-around (all events shared the same course). So after the marathoners headed out on the course, we set our trackers and began our race.

This out and back course begins in the heart of Palisade and heads out of town, following the Colorado river for a bit before turning onto Highway 6’s Scenic By-Way through the heart of the Grand Valley’s Fruit Orchards and Vineyards. It is not an easy course. It ascends and descends gradually throughout the course and at Mile 4 you get a rude awakening – “Throw Up Hill”. At mile 4 you find yourself staring up at the hill wondering why in the world you even bothered to get up that morning. The hill at mile 4 ascends 195 feet and it is not gradual. Tami and I drove the course the night prior because I wanted to see if the hill was as bad as I remembered it being. It was. And Tami even said to me, “There is no way I’m doing that hill with you tomorrow.” It was like she read my mind. But I just said to myself, “Hmm. We’ll see.” In any case, I digress.

We started off at a gentle pace heading out of town. I knew I was going to be asking a great deal of Tami so I didn’t want to have her feeling exhausted before she even hit the 10k turn around. So we worked on a 19 minute mile pace and chatted while enjoying the scenery. Before we knew it, the 10k turn around was upon us. I then asked her to keep walking with me, just a little bit, she could turn around any time she wanted. She said she wasn’t doing that hill. I said ok, let’s wait and see. She said there was no sense in doing the hill if she wasn’t going to get the medal for it. I then told her that she was, in fact, registered for the half and she might as well do it ‘cause we had 6 hours any way. Before we knew it, we were at the base of the hill. The hill is a killer. I kept rambling on, trying to get her mind off of it, and she was not happy with me as we climbed up. We reached the top and I turned around and looked down. The view was amazing.
We walked to the aid station, filled up our water bottles, used the port-a-john, got a banana and continued on our way. It was at the aid station we learned that the local high school cross country track team calls the hill “Throw Up Hill”. Now we came into the really pretty part of the course. US Highway 6 goes through local vineyards and fruit orchards and the view is amazing. We hit this part of the course probably about 0900 – and the sun was just playing with the lush green fields, sparkling off the dew on the leaves, highlighting the sandstone in the mountains and generally just making you feel glad to be alive.
We kept an average 19 minute mile pace, slowing down a little bit going up the hill and then the long gradual incline back over the hill and back into town. By mile 9 I had hit my wall and I was really ready to be done. My hips hurt, my feet hurt, my knee began to hurt and it was starting to get hot. Tami mentioned that she hit her wall a couple of times – at the 10k mark and then again at the 9 mile marker. By the time we hit the gradual climb that seemed to go on and on and on leading up to the hill, it was warm and the sun was no longer playing on the vineyards or teasing us through the mountains. Now it was an evil fiend, sucking the life out of me. But this course had no SAG wagon. The person I usually call when I get to that point in a race was suffering right along with me and there was so little traffic, I doubt we could’ve hitched our way back in to town. So we kept plodding along - one upping one another in aches and pains and talking about food. For some reason I was really hungry during this event. Maybe because I had more time to think about food or maybe because I actually ate breakfast (a first for me). Whatever the case, I was fixated on food. And it got me through.

Finally we come up on the “1 More Mile” marker and I get excited. We’re going to finish and we’re going to eat! I picked up our pace a little and before we knew it, we were crossing the finish line, getting our medals and searching for some place to sit in the shade and just revel in Tami’s accomplishment. Tami crossed that finish line and completed her first half marathon. She told me then that there was no way she was going to do the Slacker Half Marathon in Georgetown, CO with me – she was done. But that was Saturday. Today we made plans for the Slacker Half and she even mentioned it without me asking…

Mammoth Marathons does a good job. With the exception of being handed the medal still in the little baggie and no photographer on the course (well, there was one, but he stuck with the fast people), I have no suggestions for improvement on this course. If it continues to grow, they might actually have to block off the road for a while (the hill had no shoulder on which to walk which meant we were in the road and there were quite a few blind spots going around corners) and that would mean a more strict time limit but for now it is a small-town race with small-town charm. And it was Tami’s very first half marathon.

Is it a coincidence that Tami’s time for her first half was the same as my time for my first half? We walked across the finish line 4 hours and 25 minutes after we started.
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