Saturday, June 11, 2016

Getting our GECKO on for the sixth time

Every year since 2011, Mrs Notthat and I have timed our family-visiting trips to Pagosa Springs to coincide with one of the trail runs put on by GECKO, a local race company that holds events to raise money for kid's outdoor programs. The races are always a blast and well done, and even better, we have recently been able to get more and more of the family to take part. It's now something they look forward to, and they have even done a few events on their own.

This year we were able to break in three family members that had never been able to participate previously (spoiler alert - they all did fantastic, of course).

For the third time, we picked the Turkey Track Trail race since it worked out well with the end of the school year and is a relatively mild course. All three times we have run this race, the course has been a bit different, although many of the trails have been shared between all three versions.

Simplified course map showing all three distances.
There are four distances at this event, and each is a loop (for the Marathon, you run the Half loop twice). For the Half and Marathon, all of the trails were single-track - some smooth and some determined to trip you up. The course was fairly flat, for a Colorado race (I showed 870 feet of climbing, but suspect it was closer to the advertised 750 feet for the Half), but did have enough climbing to remind you that you were at about 8,000 feet of altitude and oxygen was a bit scarce.


It's worth noting that these charts make this course look much more challenging than it actually was - nearly all the climbs were pretty mild, and a proper runner could run them all.
I'm one of those people that studies the course map and the elevation charts. Above shows the chart from the race website compared to what my GPS watch came up with. The overall shape and actual amount of climbing were similar, but there were some interesting differences.

I find that it's most useful to know the positions of the aid stations relative to the elevation chart - if you look at the position of the second aid station, I was expecting a pretty good climb out of it, but instead, we had more downhill to do. When we hit the third aid station, I expected another mile of climbing and then a nice cruise to the finish. Instead, after a short downhill, we actually started up the real climb, which ended just before the finish.

None of this was much of a big deal since the climbs were pretty mild, but it does give a peek into my mind as I approach a race like this. I knew after the second aid station that the elevation chart was not matching expectations, but I also knew it really didn't matter. The weather was awesome and the trails in great condition, so I just went with it.

* How is this not a real word?

RD: "Turkeys will eat you if you try to pet them." Spoiler alert - we saw no turkeys.
An interesting thing about this race was the large differences in start times between the long distances (Marathon and Half Marathon) and shorter distances (10K and 5K). The long distances started at 8 AM and the shorter distances at 10 AM. 

Usually the races start about 15 minutes apart or so, which means that the shorter distance people have to hang around forever waiting for the long distance people to finish. In this case though, the long and short distances would all finish much closer to each other. The theory was that the short distance people could sleep in and show up later, and not have to spend so much time waiting for us after their race. As it turned out, most of Team Lucas showed up well before 8 AM and thus had a couple hours before their races to hang around. (Mrs Notthat and Shonna were smart and took advantage of the later start by sleeping in a bit.)

We're off!
Team Lucas this year had ten runners (plus two in the kid's race). Two of us, 14-year-old nephew Blailand and myself, ran the Half. Mrs Notthat ran the 10k and the rest ran the 5K.

Team Lucas cheering us out.
It was very nice and cool at the start. It was also sunny, which was a bit of a worry since heat + altitude = misery for me. (Bad math!)

The trail alternated from crossing sunny meadows, like above, to darting through trees. In all cases, you had to be alert for tripping hazards - most of the time the trail was smooth, but there were often little rocks and roots doing their best to bring you down.

And pine cones - there were stretches where the pine cones and pine needles also kept you on your toes (and often concealed the real trip hazards).

But even with all that, and that's not really much, the trails were fantastic.

This was where the Half loop separated from the 5K loop. Really hard to miss this turn!

Blailand's first rabbit.
My hope was to get Blailand to a Half PR. This was his third Half - he was 10 when he ran his first one, on a similar course, in just under four hours. Last year he ran his second, also in just under four hours, but on a WAY tougher course. This year getting under 3:30 was definitely possible.

There were two kids we could see ahead of us - both had gone out kind of fast (just like Blailand did the first time he ran this), and my hope was to get past both of them. Blailand has won a number of age group awards, but they are usually by default. This time, I hoped he would get an award and the satisfaction of knowing he beat someone to get it. That kid in the above picture was about a quarter mile ahead of us, but we were closing in on him.

The rabbit is getting a good look at his chasers.
The first aid station, about mile 3, was nice to hit. Blailand had weirdly decided not to carry water with him, so these aid stations were particularly needed. (I was carrying two bottles and told him one was his whenever he needed it. He held out until near mile 9 when he finally took the bottle.)

Blailand's second rabbit. Eventually.
Shortly after that aid station we passed the first kid and set our sights on the second kid, who turned out to be a girl. Back when Blailand ran his first race, he was bummed to be getting passed near the end, but was REALLY bummed when girls passed him. (He was 10 - these sorts of things mattered.) Now, he was going to get to pass a girl.

But she was tough - it would take a number of miles before we would catch and pass her.

The second rabbit moving well up the rocks.
There were occasional bits of trail that were infested with rocks - the trip hazards were no longer hard to spot.

Seriously hard to miss this turn.
Hi Kirsten and pals! And second rabbit is just leaving!
The second aid station was at about mile 5.3. According to the elevation chart, we were going to start dealing with climbing now, so we both got nicely hydrated and fed. It was still pretty cool out, but we had been warned that the climb was largely exposed.

There were several small ponds along the course.
Second rabbit just ahead.
When we left that aid station, we continued going downhill, which surprised me. But the important bit was that we were gaining on the second kid, and shortly after this picture, we passed her.

We are catching up to another runner!
Most of the trail intersections were marked like this - you had to work a bit to miss a turn or end up on the wrong trail.

We had three cattle guards to cross - none were much fun.
Volunteers cheering us into the third aid station.
The third aid station, mile 9.2.
The third aid station was momentous for a couple of reasons:

  • It was where the 10K runners would join the course.
  • It should have been halfway up that last climb.

In my dreams I had hoped to get here before any of the 10K runners. This was their mile 2, but they started two hours after us, which meant if we could cover that 9.2 miles in around two hours, we would beat them. But according to the elevation chart, we had a lot of climbing to get to this point, so realistically it was unlikely we would beat the faster 10K runners. But I had did have reasonable hopes of getting here before Mrs Notthat.

In the end, because we really didn't have all that much climbing to get here, we really did end up beating the faster 10K runners! So now my goal shifted to getting to the finish before Mrs Notthat.

So fast I could only get a picture of her disappearing into the woods.
The first 10K runner passed us shortly after that aid station - and as a very cool thing, it was a woman!

I believe she was the eventual 10K winner.
The second 10K runner was also a woman. And the third! It wasn't until the fourth runner passed us that a male showed up - Colorado women are truly special!

When we left that last aid station, we started with some downhill, but it wasn't long before we were on the hill I had been looking for since the second aid station. It had warmed up a lot by now, and lots of it was exposed. Blailand started slowing down - I think he had gotten behind on fluids and calories and was now paying the price (even though he had my second bottle - it had Tailwind in it, and that's a bit of an acquired taste, although I think it did him good to drink it).

A minor goal I had was to finish the Half without getting passed by any Marathon runners. Now that I had seen most of the course, I figured there would be several fast Marathoners that would pass me. As it turned out, there was only this guy (who I believe won the 50M race last year).

And then Mrs Notthat arrived, looking surprisingly fresh. The altitude normally does her in here, but for this race, it wasn't bothering her much. This was at about mile 12.5 for us, mile 5.5 for her, and she blew past us.

It's fun to have family waiting to get you into the finish!
We could hear the finish line at about a quarter mile away, and it was great motivation to pick it up a bit.

Blailand is done!
The finish! Finally!
And now I'm done too!
Now that we were finished, the question was how many of us would get age group awards. When we first started doing these races, many of us (especially the kids) would get awards since there weren't that many runners. That's not true any more - you have to really work to get an age group award now.

Denton, who ran his first race ever, got third in the 19-and-under age group in the 5K! That was pretty surprising since there were a lot of youngsters in that race.

Blailand got second in his age group, and not by default either! He worked hard for that and was really happy with the result. Official results haven't been posted yet, but he came really close to a 3:30 finish time, which is a huge PR for him.

Team Lucas! All but two in this shot ran one race or another (Katelynn, on the lower-left, showed her ultra leanings by running both the kid's race and the 5K!). 
This was a blast! I was so thrilled that Shonna, Denton, and Dallas were all able to join us for the first time (and sad that Angie had to sit it out). I think this might have been Katelynn and Kyler's first non-kid's GECKO race.

This race gives out very cool socks instead of a shirt, and the medals are all handmade by the school kids that end up benefitting from the race proceeds.
A HUGE thanks to everyone at GECKO and all the volunteers that made this race possible and so much fun! We always look forward to these events and wish we could do more of them (there are also events involving swimming and biking). Pagosa is fortunate to have such a great group in the area.

And also thanks for making sure we didn't get eaten by any turkeys!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: You can see and download many more of my pictures in full resolution here (taken while going around the course) and here (taken by Lance and Angie in the start/finish area).

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Western Pacific train isn't taking me to Boston

OK, I know that not even a train would likely be enough to get me a Boston qualifier time, but it's fun to run a race where there are real runners that really do have a shot at a Boston qualifier time, train ride or not.

The Brazen Western Pacific Marathon concluded my spring of long and flat races (remember Riverbank and Ruth Anderson?). It also represented the first time since early 2012 (!) that I finished a real Marathon (I got a DNF at one in 2012 and dropped to a shorter distance at one last year).

My A goal coming into this race was to get a PR (which isn't saying much since my current Marathon PR is 5:58); my B goal was to beat 6:30 and the C goal was to beat 7:00. Based on my previous long races this spring, I thought there was an outside chance of the PR, but I knew it was a long shot since I'd have to go significantly faster than those earlier races, and there was no logical reason to expect that to happen, especially since it was going to be warm.

Double-click to see this bigger, but only if you are brave. There be sharks! And not the kind with missing teeth and a hockey stick!
I was never really interested in running this race - it's all on trails, but they are flat and a bit monotonous. There are lots of aid stations, and really, the trails are fairly scenic, especially considering that you are spending a LOT of time right outside of people's backyards. Granted, they are fairly scenic backyards.

Weather sun screen manufacturers love. 
We started at 7:30 AM, and it was already hinting at the warmth to come. What wasn't hinted at was the aggressive breeze that was supposed to kick up in a few hours. We were warned not to freak out if the arch was missing when we came back, and to provide GPS info if we happened to see it floating past us overhead.

The slowest Marathon pace group was for a 5:25 finish - that's her just ahead of me. I knew that if I tried to keep up with her, I would explode spectacularly at about the halfway point. So I kept behind her, which made me the last runner for the first few miles.

"Which way do we go?" I want what that volunteer had for breakfast.
"Which way do I go?"
It's really pretty hard to get lost on this course, but there are intersections where different distances do different things, so it was fun to have volunteers directing us. Especially since I could badger them into posing.

The first aid station (mile 1.8) would also be our last aid station, much much later.

We had twelve aid stations for this race - the idea was that you could run carrying minimal or no water, which is unusual for this long of a trail race. In my case though, I was drinking my Tailwind, so I wore my vest and carried two bottles and ended up skipping about half the aid stations.

"Which way do I go?" at the Bermuda Triangle intersection of the race.
Still right behind the 5:25 pacer. Dang.
After that Bermuda Triangle intersection, we were on the long Alameda Creek trail. This would be our home for the next 22 miles, and it looked a lot like this for most of the way.

The second aid station, mile 3.35, and the 10K turnaround. Note the shade - I was surprised (and thrilled) by how much shade there was along this trail, at least in some sections.

When you run a road Marathon, the best thing are the people that line chunks of the course and cheer you on - it's the closest I will ever feel to being a rock star. So I really loved the few places where there were a few people cheering us on. Granted, it was likely because they had family or friends running the race, but still, it was awesome!

Our third aid station, mile 4.6. It was just before this aid station that the faster Half runners, who started 30 minutes after us, started passing me.

"Hey Racso, not your real name, which way do I go?" The world's most subtle directions.
There is one odd stretch of the trail that's actually paved, and has a short bit out to the road to cross a creek, then head back to the main trail.

The lead Half runner coming back at me after his turnaround.

The fourth aid station, mile 6.75, and the Half Marathon turnaround. After this point, I would not see any other runners outside of the Marathon runners, so things were about to calm down a bit.

Still the fourth aid station. I really hated to leave here.
The Marathon rabbit!
Not long after I left that aid station, the lead Marathon runner came back past me. Yikes!

Another random group of people cheering on the runners - they couldn't believe I paused to take their picture. They didn't realize how hard I was looking for reasons to pause.

The fifth aid station, mile 8.3. By this point I was stopping at each aid station just to get myself wet to help keep cool. It was getting pretty warm, but there was a nice breeze that thankfully was coming at us from the side, so if you were wet, you stayed cool. I also had to stop and mix up a fresh bottle of Tailwind at about every other aid station - I was determined to drink a bottle and hour and it was working out perfect.

Picture by Retep, not his real name, who was pacing the 4:55 group. That I still look a bit like a runner is due to this being only mile 11 or so. And his camera skills.
The 5:25 pace group was about a half mile ahead of me, which is about right. That's the turnaround off in the distance at that white awning.
After that fifth aid station, there is a pretty big gap (at least for this race) before the next aid station, and the trail was completely exposed as you headed out towards the bay.

The sixth aid station, mile 11.9. It was our first turnaround and the only real cutoff for this race, and I was at least an hour ahead of the cutoff. (And you really do end up in the bay if you don't turn around here.)

If you look hard, you can see the seventh aid station (which was the fifth aid station in a previous life) just ahead. In between the time that I left there and came back, Yllom's (not her real name) crew (her squeeze Nhoj, not his real name, and their 5 or 6 kids) put this message on the trail! It was so awesome!

The seventh aid station, mile 15.5. I had a goal of running the whole first Half Marathon, then seeing what I could do after that. As it turned out, I nearly made it all the way to this aid station before my legs started to let me know that they needed a walk break. I was pretty happy with that and was determined to keep my walking pace pretty fast and to mix in many running bits. All of that went pretty well for quite a while - I would pick out a tree or rock and tell myself to keep running to that point, but I was often going farther than that, which really surprised me.

The eighth aid station, mile 17. The wind was a bit stronger so some of the awnings had been taken down.

At this point there were about 6 or 7 runners behind me. I was determined to keep them there, but was a bit nervous about my chances. All of this meant that these volunteers, who had been out there a long time, could see the end of their day. Finally.

"Which way do I go?" 
Remember this point from a few miles ago? It really helped seeing milestones on the way back - it made you feel like you were really making progress.

The ninth aid station, mile 19.2. Way to go Ylrac (not your real name)!

There were a number of small branches that the wind had blown down since I had last been through here. And me without a chainsaw.

What you love to see - a volunteer with an ice scoop on a hot day!
The tenth aid station, mile 20.5. At this point you could look off to the left and see the finish area and hear the runners getting announced as they arrived. But I still had almost six miles to go. Heavy sigh.

See those two runners? I caught up to them and even passed them for a bit, which was enough to inspire them to pick up the pace - nobody wants to get beat by me, especially getting passed so late in the race.
Back at the Bermuda Triangle. The 10K and Half runners got to turn left and storm the finish line. The Marathon runners had to stay on the trail and keep going to a second turnaround.

"Hey mister. Wanna get wet?" That kid had been busy squeezing the sponge over his own head when I walked up - I loved it!
The eleventh aid station, mile 22.9. By now I was really dragging. My walking speed was slowing and I wasn't doing as many running bits as before. I knew that a PR was not going to happen, but that I still had a pretty good shot at beating 6:30.

Hi Miss Chris Bliss!
So I got my last bottle filled, sucked it up, and stormed out of there. I liked the idea of maybe catching those two runners again, although I think they were determined to not let that happen.

Back at that Bermuda Triangle, but this time I get to go right and head to the finish. And just before I got there, and amazing thing happened - I passed two runners! Not the two I had hoped, but me passing anyone at this point was outstanding. I also knew that it was likely to be short-lived if I didn't keep the pace, such as it was, up.

The twelfth, and last aid station! Mile 24.8. Less than two miles to the finish, although the two most significant hills of the whole course were ahead of me. (Granted, they were not significant at all under normal circumstances, but after 25 miles, they were nearly cliffs.)

The finish line, minus the arch.
So, a really cool thing happened on my way up the second of the hills - the really mean one that you have to go up, with the finish line in sight. I was met at the bottom by Alilak (not her real name), who really wanted to pace me up to the finish! (I'm not going to say that her mother had put her up to it since there was a good chance I would have gotten lost, but maybe.)

Picture by Nosaj, not his real name. Pacing by Alilak. Victory pose by a dork that was so ready to be done.

All done.

That really shouldn't have been as hard as it was, but I managed to finish it in 6:21 and was not last. I also managed to stay ahead of those two guys I had passed, although one of them was very close behind me and I suspect had pity on me and let me beat him (you can see him just behind my pacer).

This was my ninth Marathon finish, and my third fastest. An odd thing - my Garmin showed a distance of 26.8 miles, which was a bit dubious since it also showed an elevation gain of a bit over 900 feet, which was not remotely possible. (I think the Garmin just assumes if you went that far, there had to have been hills. The corrected elevation turned out to be 183 feet, which sounds about right.)

I've got a theory about this course that makes a bit of sense, I think - as you head towards the bay you must be going slightly downhill since the creek you are following is flowing that way. That means that, after you turn around, you are going slightly uphill. I think the key word is "slightly." But it's still there.

That was a really fun event. By the end of it I was really sore, but I liked that I had gotten it done. Given my current training, it was well out of my comfort zone, but I was determined to hang in there and squeeze out a finish.

I don't have any more long races planned for a while (Brazen Dirty Dozen?), but we'll see. Right now, 10Ks sound great and I would love to take a serious shot at an "Ageless Wonder" (running a 10K in fewer minutes than your age).

It's not like I really wanted a trip to Boston in any case.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.