The Road to the Estes Park Marathon
For my family’s summer vacation this year, we went camping, although I still have a hard time using camping as a description to what we did. I think of camping as tents, sleeping bags, and possibly backpacks. What we did is pull a small house behind us for 2500 miles and park it in a few places where it waited while we enjoyed hikes, bike rides, and general outdoorsy stuff. We visited Zion National Park for a few days, and then moved on to Moab, Utah so we could hike around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Finally, we moved out to Rocky Mountain National Park for 6 more nights of camping among the Elk (lots and lots of Elk). Along the way we saw some amazing things, but most of that is reserved for other stories. This story is about one particular morning of the trip – Sunday June 17 – Father’s Day.
On father’s day we were scheduled to be in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, so I thought, hey why don’t I find a race. Just so happens there is a race in the town of Estes Park that day. Estes Park is literally only 4 miles from my campground within the national park so it seemed like destiny. So long about March, my thoughts began to wander, “How about the 5K, we could all run,” I thought, but Peter isn’t really ready for that and they don’t close the roads to traffic so Kari would have to stay and watch him and I would have to run with Harrison. “Well, as long as we can’t all run, I’ll do something longer,” was my next thought. “Let’s see, they have a 10K, half marathon, and full marathon. Hmm, I’ve never run a marathon in Colorado. Hey, the website says it is the highest paved marathon in the world and I just ran a below sea level marathon in December….” Now I don’t know if those were my exact thoughts, but 3 months later there I was standing at the starting line of a marathon in a city whose elevation is 7522 feet. Add to that the 1900 or so feet of climbing and the fact that my college classes kept my training to 3 runs per week with my longest run in the preceding 2 months being 11 miles, and I am understandably a little on edge.
Aside from bonking at mile 23, it turned out to be a great experience. There were only 122 finishers in the marathon, so there was a lot of alone time to spend enjoying the scenery and lack of oxygen. Did I mention “highest paved marathon in the world?” At one point about mile 20, I could see a long way ahead down a hill (the air is actually clear there, I know that is weird not being able to see the air) I was able to time the next runner as being just over 2 minutes ahead of me. How’s that for lonely in a marathon? The organizers did a great job. There were aid stations about every 2 miles stocked with water, Gatorade, oranges, bananas, and encouragement. Four of the later aid stations even had power gel. During the race, EMT’s zipped by every now and then on motorized scooters just to make sure we were alright. Post race food included the standard oranges, bananas, etc., but also included turkey sandwiches on rolls made as you walked up, hand scooped ice cream, and beer to mention a couple of things. Also, get this – not just for the athletes, but their families as well!!!
At a turn early in the race, I was able to count the runners in front of me. I was in 19th place. Then we looped past the start area at just over 1 mile into the race and there were my boys yelling “Go Daddy!” Those two little voices encouraged me more than all the cheers at the LA Marathon put together – this is already a great father’s day. Then we turned uphill… and ran uphill for the next 5 miles. I passed a few people, and subtracted them from my overall place, but mostly I enjoyed the scenery. Estes Park and the surrounding area are beautiful. Green meadows, healthy forests, snow capped Long’s Peak at over 14,000 feet, Mary’s Lake, and Lake Estes all combine to make this one of the more scenic marathons I have competed in. After the uphill were a few miles of downhill back into the town, and I passed a few people. I like talking to people during marathons. There was one guy from Wisconsin who motivates himself through marathons by thinking about the beer afterwards. Another man was running his 122nd marathon. A female runner from New Zealand was running as a diversion from her boyfriend’s cycling training in nearby Boulder. Talking to these runners helps pass time, and now I was at 11 miles. I caught another runner, but he looked over to decide I was in his age group and surged a bit. I passed him later as we began a 3.5-4 mile long climb in what was now 80 degree temperature. As I mentioned earlier, I hit the wall in mile 23, but the elk in the lake distracted me, as did those 2 little voices at just over ½ mile to go, “Go Daddy, Happy Father’s Day.” How cool is that! Anyway the finish on the high school track came none too soon. I finished 8th overall, good enough for 3rd in my age group with a 3:41.
Maybe next year Peter will be ready for a 5K.
Check out their website at www.epmarathon.org and have a little father’s day run of your own in 2008.