Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Silverton Blue Ribbon 10k: Bridesmaid, or FTW?

The Silverton Blue Ribbon 10k race was a fun time with a little bit of everything -- pavement, dirt, hills, and water crossings -- all at 9300 feet. Spending my first time in Silverton, this race also had a few notable firsts for me: first time being attacked by a dog during a race, and first time finishing a public race higher than 3rd place. So, how did it all play out?

It began with waking up in the woods on Kendall Mountain, with the sun not yet clearing the mountains enough to reach our campsite. Our car window was frosted, and I put on several layers and moved around stiffly in the cold as I boiled water for coffee....Nay, actually, it began the day before, actually, hiking Handies Peak for 7 hours, and then sampling ethanol wares from Silverton Brewery and Montaya Rum Distillery; tapering and carbo-loading, as it were.

Back to the morning: J and I ambled out of the woods, into the sunlight, and made our way out to Memorial Park at the edge of town, plenty early for the 7:30AM start. It turns out there was a 2k, 5k, and 10k, all starting together in the grass field at the park. J was doing the 5k, and since it was advertised as being on paved and dirt roads, I kind of assumed it might be much of the flat roads in town, but this ended up being wrong -- whoops! The course went across the field to a non-trivial paved uphill, then dropping onto the dirt road parallel to the river for the rest of it. All 3 races were out-and-backs. Anyway, we hung out, nonchalant, at the start, ready to ditch extra layers at the last minute.

I lined up a few rows back, next to a guy with an unleashed dog named Marley, who wandered throughout the crowd and didn't much care to listen to his master, but also was a friendly dog Who Did Not Attack Me. The starter got us ready, and fired a legitimate 7:30 wake-up shot that echoed off the cliff walls, and we were off. Taking off like a shot in the lead: Marley the dog, who zigzagged around us and then tore off into nearby fields before circling the runners again.

Otherwise, there was enough room to quickly find a good spot without too much trouble or weaving. I set my breathing on 10k-autopilot before I even needed the oxygen, and we hit the hill. One guy was pulling away slightly, while I was near two other guys but reeling them in up the hill. I felt great and it was nice to be pulling away from the crowd.

Soon enough, near the top of the hill, I caught these 2 guys and passed with a slight wave and a "Hey." I felt good about my pace, maybe a little fast but not uncomfortable, and they felt good about theirs, as neither gave chase. I thought we might be continuing up the paved road, which would have been a sizeable hill, but saw orange flags that branched us on a downhill to the dirt river road. Soon after that, we hit the 2k turnaround, and I got my first split at 3:56 for 1k. Considering the uphill, and that I figured on low 40s to 45 minutes based on previous results, it was a little fast but manageable, and since I had a gap on the guys behind me, I consciously slowed a tick. I still had contact with the guy in front of me, but he was consistently pulling away. I could only hope he was running a 5k pace, not a 10k.

The river road was quiet and cool, and went right near our camping area, so I felt almost like I was running past "home" and something slightly familiar, which was nice. It was a gradual uphill, with enough rocks, ruts, and puddles in the road to force you to pay at least a little attention. An occasional sleepy walker or waking camper was on the side of the road, but for the most part it was a peaceful solo morning run by myself. Except for all the people chasing me, and that one guy ahead.

Finally, we got near the 5k turnaround...where I saw the guy ahead of me turn around. Sweet! Now I was in the threshold of the unknown: leading a public footrace. I just focused on keeping a consistent pace, and not doing anything stupid. I hit the 2.5k mark at 10:25 or so. With a downhill return suggesting an even or negative split, that seemed good for my goal of low 40s.

However, the 10k had one surprise in it that the other distances didn't: a stream running solidly across the road. Ankle-deep, not enough rocks to cross in the immediate vicinity, but no time! I've practiced this enough before -- splash, splash, splash, splash...4 or 5 steps that soaked each foot, each road shoe, and each Target White POCS (Plain Old Cotton Sock). Exiting the stream, my feet felt like cement, and I slowed noticeably. I wondered if I had missed an easier crossing and would soon be passed by dry-socked rivals. I listened for the next runners to splash behind me, but didn't hear anything above the general murmur of the river.

Onward and upward on squishy feet. After 20 minutes, saw a camper on the side of the road but knew it was too early for a turnaround. Instead, it was a guy with 2 loose dogs which didn't like runners. They barked and circled around me, I slowed and dodged but didn't stop, hoping they'd back off but also wondering if this was making them more angry. One of the dogs essentially jumped up on my side a few times, and clawed and tugged at my waist. Eventually, as the guy was trying to get control of them, I got out of the dogs' self-declared personal zone, and they backed off.

Not long after this, I saw the turnaround. A guy hurriedly ran over and got some water ready. I hadn't planned on anything, but I kind of splashed water up at my face, drinking a little, as it didn't cost any time. I was around 21:25 or so now. Now the moment of truth: how far back were the other guys, and would the dogs attack again?

The guys weren't that far back, maybe 20 or 30 seconds, but I hadn't really checked my watch as I was focused on the dogs. Fortunately, they were leashed up on the return trip. I ran more easy and relaxed on the way back, probably the same pace but easier effort. I didn't let myself look back, I just focused on moving ahead. A stream of well-wishers were still approaching -- I've never been in the position of being "that guy" that's leading and heading back. Pretty cool, but more work to be done, as I hit the stream again. There were a couple of guys slowly picking there way maybe 15 feet above the stream, but I didn't see many rocks up there, so I stuck with what worked the first time, but with a clapping and smiling audience this time.

My feet were cement blocks again, which meant that they had actually dried off pretty much on the way back. I didn't hear a splash behind me, so I still had a decent lead, but I was getting tired. I reached the 5k turnaround and asked, "Can you see anyone chasing me?" They didn't really 'get' my question in time. Ugh, I was starting to feel it. I thought I might slow down enough to make the next guy do more of the work, this is the first time I've ever understood something like that. But I kept reminding myself that he must be hurting, too. Finally, back onto the road, around the 1k mark, where we had to re-climb before dropping to the finish. I peeked backward, and cursed audibly.

Now we were going up the hill, and my will was draining. I heard footsteps getting closer. I was tired. 2nd place would still be a great finish, and my time was better than expected. All the negative thoughts. Like Captain Yossarian, I couldn't help wondering why all these people whom I've never met were chasing me. Then I thought about all the brave men and women doing brave things for our country, and even more brave men and women doing stupid things for our country, and stupid men and women doing brave things for our country, before finally settling on stupid people doing stupid things, which is where runners generally fit in. Along those lines, I thought about the WS reports and all those great battles amongst 100 miles -- surely I could muster something in this little 6-miler.

I thought about having to blog about a 2nd-place finish vs. winning.

So as we approached the top of the hill, I surged, and then hit the downhill, letting gravity take me down in big strides, and then using every muscle to go faster. I saw the park and the finish line, but couldn't find an orange flag or any people marking the turn into the park. I almost freaked out and ran the road around the park, before I remembered the pre-race words: "All races are out-and-back." That means I had to sprint straight across the field, after crossing on some mud that was clearly marked by yellow tape. Deja vu, as I remembered the crossing. Now it was a sprint across the field, as I pumped my arms, knife-like, and felt like I kept accelerating all the way to the finish line.

I was not passed.

I finished 3 seconds ahead of John Beard, from Austin, TX, but who has spent the last month in Colorado, and is running Hardrock next weekend. A great race that pushed me faster than a mere watch would have -- it was a blast to run through a finish line without even thinking about the actual time. I appreciate that push from him, and wish him the best at HR!

My wife was there, she had only been there a few minutes and got to see the sprint to the finish. She said she was yelling for me to keep going in case I didn't know there was a guy that close behind me!

We stuck around for the rest. No trinkets, just breakfast-for-2 at the Bent Elbow, which is just what we needed, along with an electronic subscription to the local newspaper, which I probably don't need as much, but certainly enjoy anyway.

Granted, it's all about who shows up on race day, but for today it was myself and John. From what I can tell, winning times are generally in the 40s. I had to check the records, but this is a 10k PR for me, as I guess my previous PR was 59-something. Whoops! To be fair, that was on a trail, on a hot day, lots of hills, just weeks after I kinda started running. (To be unfair, though, it was 9000 feet lower, in San Diego) And, I've done 25 laps on the track out of curiosity before -- maybe it's time to do that again.

Anyway, this course is a fun mix of hills, trail, scenic dirt road, water crossings, and dogs. Definitely one to check out if you're in the San Juans for the 4th of July.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice one Mike! FoCo is ON FIRE. Keep bringing 'em home.

  2. Damn, and I thought my 3rd place finish at the Leadville 5K would win me the blogger championship for the 4th weekend. Great job down there!

  3. Saw a lot of the Blue Ribbon 10K t-shirts over the weekend!

  4. Brownie, nice job on finishing HR again. Yeah, getting out of all the competition in the Front Range helps with Blogger championship points.

    Hopefully you didn't see t-shirts *on* the HR course -- "Cotton Kills!" Good job also for John Beard in the top 10 after running the 10k the week before!