It’s about the adventure. Friday evening I headed out by myself to run the Sky Mesa Pass Trail Marathon. Although I’ve done a 50K and run 46 twice and many weekend runs in the 20′s I’ve never participated in a true blue trail marathon. I was excited for the adventure. I opted to stay in Grand Junction friday night and drive the last hour to the race early in the morning. My iPhone said it would take 1.5 hours so I left at 3:45 am, but it only took an hour to get to Gateway Canyon Resort (they were directing the race). I had the music cranked up, I was sipping my morning Mix1 and I was probably driving a little too fast for being a mother and a wife and not just some single chick with nothing to leave behind.
I found the sign to registration, but the door was locked so I parked and waited. At 5:15 the lady opened the door and I went in to sign up. Simon from RunColo gave me his comped entry into this race (get involved with the RunColo forum, start writing about your races, and you can get comped entries too). I saw the email where my registration was verified, but I was not on the list. The lady had no problem with it and gave me a race number, but it’s always a little terrifying when you show up to packet pickup after driving 6 hours and your name isn’t on the list. The race information said that we would take a provided shuttle 9 miles to the starting line, but at packet pickup she told me we were now supposed to drive to the start line and they would shuttle us back to our cars at the end.
I went back and sat in my car and started thinking. I started to get a little worried. The race director didn’t seem to be totally on top of things and I got nervous that I would have to wait around a long time for the shuttle, or they would forget about me, or something would happen that would make me wish that my car wasn’t stuck 9 miles away. I looked at my watch and contemplated running to the start, but I decided to get bold and ask the next runners that came to packet pickup if they would let me ride with them. I figured I could return the favor after the race and get them back to their car quickly.
I walked up and introduced myself and had the PLEASURE of meeting Whitney and her husband Cory. Cory was spectating so it worked great b/c they weren’t “leaving” their car there either. They made room for me and I got cozy in the back of their car. So cozy and relieved that I forgot my hat, my sunglasses, my SPOT, and my arm warmers. Whoops. I did remember my drop bag. While Whitney was changing Cory told me that she was a triathlete and she won the Vineman Ironman Distance race. My eyes got big, here I go out to a 35 person race in BFE and there is triathlete champion racing. Wow.
As we drove to the start we were chatting and I kept thinking “These two are super cool”. They kinda took me under their wing!
So I drop my bag off, hoping that I will see it at mile 15 and before I do that I shove evrything I have on me that I don’t want to race with into it. My watch (Steve told me “No Watch” today), my fleece. I contemplated my cell phone, but decided to keep it with me.
A few announcements including “Keep all flags to runners right” and “It’s well marked” and we were off. Right away Whitney and I are running side by side (lower right corner).
I was looking forward to some of the new music I downloaded for the race so I was cruising along to that. Whitney and I ran very well together, we ran a very similar pace. About 3 miles in I had to pee in the worst way and stopped to do that. Then Whitney and I ran about 15 yards apart because we were running the same pace, it was a little funny.
We hit the mile 4.5 aid and I noted that there was only water. The race material said there would be water, Gatorade, bananas, bars, and other snacks at the aid stations, so it got me wondering whether I needed to start thinking about there only being water the whole way. We turned onto a more rugged dirt road and it took a fair amount of concentrating to run the correct line. Whitney started pulling away and I could tell she was a strong hill climber. We hit the 8 mile aid station and again, just water.
From here it got crazy. I swear we were running up a steep dry stream bed. Rocks and boulders everywhere, footing very loose. You really had to pick your way through this section, walking at times. Whitney got just out of sight, but sometimes I could see her during a long open stretch. Suddenly there was a flag. It was the first course marking I had seen since we started but the two turns we made up to this point were at aid stations. I saw a second flag and thought “Keep flags to the right” so I continued on straight staying on the road type trail I had been running on.
All of the sudden I am descending. I know that we climb from mile 8-12 up to the top point of the race. I think, “Well maybe it’s just one of those little downhill sections that you can’t see on the race profile”. But then I keep going down down down and finally I know something is wrong. So I start looking for footprints. There should be like 5 sets, and I can only find one. I stop and yell really loud “Hey”… … … no answer. I get a little teary thinking to myself “I’m lost, my race is over. I can never make up this kind of ground on Whitney with this set back”. I decided to turn around and run until I found a person. After what feels like forever I start to think about the two flags, and that maybe I should head back to that spot. I find another guy and convince him that we’re lost. He turns with me.
We find our way back to the flags and sure enough you were supposed to take a right BETWEEN the flags. There are arrows on the ground AFTER you take the turn (not before) and there is a tree obstructing the arrows from the right direction. Somehow seeing all this makes me mad. I get back on course, look up the way and there are like 5 guys in sight. I was so defeated. I felt like I was in last at that point. I was mad. This section was very tough and everyone was walking. It was steep and rocky. I would feel defeated and walk, then I would get mad and run, then defeated and walk, then back to running. Several miles later I came to the top and there was a guy there taking pictures and manning the aid station. I tried to give him my angry look and I told him I got lost, and he said “I’m sorry”.
I got to the top and there was water, and a can of Gatorade powder. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see Gatorade in the race again so I proceeded to dump two huge scoops into my hydration bladder, all the while cussing under my breath. At the stop there was a guy sitting down attending to a blister and he said “Are you Sonja”? I said yes and he says “I read your blog”. I was mortified. Here I was in one of the most GORGEOUS places I have ever been, lucky to have the strength to be a runner and I was being a poor sport in front of someone who reads my blog (if you are reading please send me a message so I can apologize and give you credit for knocking me out of my slump. edited to add: Alex Robertson he revealed himself in the comments!). I was like “I have to change my attitude”. Right when I said that…
Whitney runs up to the aid station, she looks at me and says “I got lost”! I look at her and say “I got lost”. I guess I know who the other pair of footprints belong to. She didn’t turn around and ended up back at aid station #2. We took off running together, vowing that we were going to change our attitudes. We did a little “I can’t believe that happened” session and then we settled into getting to know each other. We have a lot in common. Looking back I am really stoked that we both took a wrong turn because it was great to run with her and to get to know her, and we wouldn’t have done that if we were running #1 and #2 in the race.
At mile 15 there was an unmanned aid station and sure enough there were our drop bags. I grabbed some goo and laughed because I didn’t need the spare pair of shoes that the race director said we should put in there. Apparently the course was very muddy last year. Whitney and I were passing people left and right and chatting chatting chatting. We come around the corner and there is Cory, her husband. It was totally cool to see him up there, he drove really far and then had to run the rest of the way up. He ran with us and I got a charge off of how excited Whitney got. Usually it’s Troy that is there cheering and it was neat to see it through someone ealses eyes. I asked how many ladies were ahead, he said three. I asked if they were getable, he said “Probably not”.
I got a little focused at that. Like it was a challenge. I knew that all the climbing was done and I started to pick it up. Suddenly we could see a lady and we rolled right by her with smiles and “Good Jobs”. I was feeling really good and the downhill was starting to get steep. When it gets steep I like to just let my body go. I am less sore when I don’t hold back. I knew that my body could take it, and since my legs weren’t sore yet, I let it loose. At mile 19 there was another water stop (and by water, I mean water) and I departed just as Whitney came into it.
I got a runners high at this point, and no, I’m not going to show you the video that I took. It’s immmmbarassssing. I screamed and sang…loudly through the downhill and it was fun, but it wasn’t pretty. Lets just say that I have two toe nails that were sacrificed. Cory drove by in the car and he treated me just like we had known each other for years. I seriously felt like I was part of the family. The next miles I just remember begging for the steep downhill to flatten out, which it didn’t, and trying to curl my toes up into a ball to preserve my toenails. It was by far the steepest downhill I have every run in my life.
I passed another water aid stop which was nice to just have a break for a second. I tied my shoes tighter in hopes that my feet wouldn’t end up so far into the toebox. The last miles were steep and then suddenly I knew I was there. The resort was within sight. I felt like the finish would never come and when it did I stopped 5 feet before it and walked across the line. Don’t know why I did that, but I did. Who walks across the finish line of a marathon? Apparently I was second woman, 5th overall. I don’t know where the other woman went that Cory thought was in front of us, I hope she’s not still out there, lost.
I sat down on the ground and started fishing $20 out of my pack for the post race massage, I wanted it so bad! Whitney came in with a big smile. The race director fired up the grill and they threw on burgers and brats. It was like a back yard BBQ as we all sat there in the sun, with our feet in the grass.
I talked to the most amazing guy who I just found out his name from the results and Googled him: Steve Bremner. Here is his blog, and here is his website. You have to check him out. This year he is running EVERY Colorado marathon. There are 18 of them. So what did he do today? The day after our trail marathon? He ran the Colfax marathon!! He’s a pretty studly guy and I really enjoyed chatting with him for a little bit.
On my way back to the car to get a change of clothes I ran into the lady who did packet pickup. She asked me if I wanted a towel and a shower. Uhhh, YEAH! The Gateway Canyon Resort is a pretty schwanky place They are the ones that put on the race, I think to attract people to the resort (it’s in BFE). Everyone associated with the resort was extremely nice, but there is a difference between nice, and putting on a solid marathon. The latter needs a little more work.
The day ended with me heading home in the car only to realize I forgot to pick up my drop bag. I headed back to the post race celebration, talked to the race director, at which point I think he realized that he didn’t even think about the fact that he would need to get our drop bags back to us. Wow. He said he would mail it back to me. I’ve got a pair of shoes in there, and my snowshoe nationals fleece, I am hoping he comes through with his promise to mail it back. On active.com where you register for the race he said there would be vests, prizes, finishers hats and drawings. There were none of those (except for hats), and no awards. I don’t need an award, but I would really like my spare pair of running shoes back.
So I learned a lot from this race but one thing that stands out is that I never realized that the job of a race director is to gain your trust. If things don’t line up then you start to distrust the organization and you start to feel alone and vulnerable in a race. I have taken that trust for granted, not even realizing how well run most of the events I attend are. The basics are usually well covered.
Also, I had a great time. It doesn’t matter that I got lost, it turned out to be a blessing. I still had a great time. The back of the t-shirt says “Worlds Longest Marathon”. Wow, didn’t know that was going to be “too true”. All in all, 4:20 for a technical, tough, mountain marathon + some is pretty awesome.
* Photos from Whitney and Cory Henderson, Event Staff, and my own camera.