Posted by: ElliptiGO Girl | April 11, 2009

13.1 snowy miles @ 5,280ft: The Platte River Half Marathon 2009

What an amazing experience! Hal and I ran the Platte River Half-Marathon last Sunday – a point to point course that runs from Littleton CO to Denver.

This was a major event for me in a number of ways:

1. My first race longer than a 10K in over a decade

2. My first race longer than 10 miles ever

3.  Altitude:  5,280 feet.  (Oxygen level only 85% sea level.)

4. Temperature: 17°F at start of race, 28°F at finish.

5. It snowed the day(and night) before, with wind gusts up to 30 MPH – and I shut down in the cold. . .

So – here’s my tale. . .

My 24 year old daughter lives and works in Denver. A race is a wonderful excuse to fly out and spend a few days with her. About two months ago, after running 11.5 miles with John B, in  a moment of complete craziness, I had suggested to Hal that we could each run the entire half marathon in Denver this year. Hal and I had run the race last year as a 2 -person relay – Hal had run the first two legs, each 5 miles, and I had anchored the final 5K. The weather for the 2008 race was perfect:  not unlike spring weather here in Santa Barbara.  About 80% of the run was on a bike route. I could run off paved surfaces whenever possible, to spare my toe.

Hal and I arrived in Denver Thursday night, April 2, 2009 – the race being scheduled for Sunday, April 5. Weather was nice – but they were predicting a serious storm, due to come in on Saturday. Friday morning, Hal and I went out for a 4-mile test run – to check out the altitude. Weather was fine: Cool, sunny, minimal wind – highs in the upper fifties.  I did feel the altitude – initially, my HR stayed low, I became breathless, and I felt dizzy.  After running a mile or so, I was able to get my heart rate up, and by the last couple of miles, I felt pretty normal. 

The following day, the storm came in. With a vengeance. Snow. Ice. Low of 11°F, high of 17°F, steady 18 MPH winds out of the north (the direction the race would be heading), with 30 MPH gusts, and wind chill factor at 2°F.  Horrible. We minimized our outside time.  No running. Drove to the packet pcik-up, got our numbers. The race had sold out – they limited the (pre-paid) entires to 1500 individual, 100 relays. No chips – just race numbers for timing.

That night, in our hotel room, we watched the weather channel. Did not look good. I fussed and fretted about my layering. Worried about not finishing. Hal told me he would take the race as a workout run, and would stay with me. That he would not mind if I had to stop early. “Even after just 3 miles?” I asked.  Hal assured me that he would be satisfied with the run – no  matter if or when I stopped. That helped.

I told Hal I would decide whether to run or not the morning of. Tomorrow. The winds continued to angrily howl outside our hotel room.  

Sunday morning. The alarm went off. I peered outside. Magic! Winds had calmed down. Fresh powder on the ground. Rabbit tracks. Sun. I proceeded to act as though I were going to run the race. Ate breakfast. Initiated  dressing sequence: Layer one. Layer two. Layer three. . .

Layering is an art.  Like nested eggs – you have to start with the tightest fitting layer, and work on out to the loosest. By the time Hal started dressing himself, I had six layers on top. Two on the bottom. Two hats ready to go. Was testing out socks to see how many layers of SmartWool I could cram into my shoes. 

We went outside. Not too bad. I added one final layer on top. Lucky seven. 

We drove to the race start. Lined up. In the middle of the pack. They had salted the route, and it was mostly clear, but the officials warned us about slush and icy patches. 

The race started. On time!  After about a minute, we finally crossed the starting line. The early trick was to pick a path through the crowds without stepping into slush or slipping on ice. Slush in the sun, ice in the shade. The non-paved areas to the sides were either frozen or a slushy, muddy mess. I decided, for safety, to stay on the paved road.  As did, it seems, everyone else.  I let Hal navigate.

To my extreme relief, my layering worked. My circulation did not cut off. I broke into a sweat. I actually felt overheated. We kept a steady pace, slowing for ice and to avoid slush. Passing people. The first 6 miles were easy. Geese in the riverbed. Snow on the grass. Snow covered Rocky Mountains to our left. Awesome.

By mile 8, my left big toe was talking to me. A lot. I stopped for almost 3 minutes at a pit-stop – to drink, eat a gel, use the restroom, and regenerate. Poor Hal stood around – probably wondering – would we go on?  I came out of the rest room, still unsure if I would finish. Altered my gait to minimize push off and rolled my foot outward, off the big toe.  Five miles to go. Averaging something around 8.5 minutes per mile. 

Mile 10. Toe still complaining – but with my altered gait, it was hanging in there. We were still doing better than a 9 minute mile pace. I gave Hal the thumbs up. I can do this!

Kept going strong. Sped up for the last quarter, and finished side by side,with an overall 8:41 minute mile pace, overall time 1 hour, 54 minutes, the last 0.1 mile a sprint at under a 6 minute mile pace. 

Platt River

Afterwords, we had to hurry back to our hotel for  a noon check out. And guess what – the clouds gathered. The winds came back. It started to snow. By the time our flight took off that afternoon, the weather was miserable once again.

I did not race this half-marathon – I ran it – but it was a truly amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My husband was a pillar of support and encouragement. The whole snow/mountain backdrop was surreal. Finishing was a real high. (Of the 1600 prepaid registrants, only 1,138 finished.  I came in 4th out of 32 women in my age group – even with my slow start, easy pace, and protracted pit-stop. 

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday.  One week post race.  I have taken this week off, in deference  to my toe – but plan to try an Easter run with John B tomorrow.

Can’t wait!


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