Monday, March 12, 2012

Salida Marathon

This was my fourth straight year running the Salida Marathon, a race that offers up a nice early season test of fitness on a challenging higher altitude course that typically takes place on trails and roads that are largely clear of snow. The course had been tweaked again this year to include a new six-mile section of snaking singletrack on the front end. This replaced a fair portion of the 'Ute Trail,' a long railroad-graded dirt road that on the original course took runners out to the ghost town of Turret. As it turned out we would only run a few miles on the Ute Trail on the new course, with the road out to Turret having been cut out altogether.

While the course changes they've made at Salida over the past two years are all good improvements in terms of the running experience, I'm a fan of picking a course and sticking to it so times and performances are comparable through the years. There has been a really good history of runners at Salida in the six or seven years that they've been running it, so it has always been a good yardstick to measure yourself against. If I had to guess, I'd say the new course is six or seven minutes slower than the original and three to four slower than last year's. Not that anyone really cares.  

So the race got out much the same as it has in years past, with Timmy Parr assuming the lead behind a handful of half marathoners through an uptempo early couple of miles. My legs felt astoundingly flat and plain old heavy almost as soon as we started running. This of course is never a good sign, so I chose to sit back off the lead to see if I could warm things up a bit before we started the big climb to the course's high point at 9,000 feet.

Tucking into the Tenderfoot Mountain switchbacks, I could see there were three half marathoners, Timmy, Jason Koop and two others I didn't recognize ahead of me, with Rob Kosick - who had beaten me twice on the same day in Estes Park in January - close behind. I ducked in behind Jason and followed his heels up the initial singletrack climb, passing second and third along the way. At the first aid I went around Jason and set about chasing down Timmy who had built a bit of a lead by the time we started a rolling traverse on tight singletrack across a number of gullies.

Early in the climb, with a couple of the Collegiate Peaks in the rear view.
The traverse took us over to the Ute Trail and back on to the old course. I saw Timmy run through the aid station there and timed his lead at 40 seconds. On the road my legs still felt terrible, as if I'd had a really heavy dose of vertical the day before, so I resigned myself to grinding away at what felt like a pitifully poor pace. On the four miles up to the 9,000 foot turnaround, I watched Timmy extend his lead by half a minute or so, before suddenly seeing it shrink to next to nothing in less than a mile. We hit the 12.5 mile turnaround essentially together, chatted for a bit, and then I assumed the lead as we descended the mile or so to the 181/173 jeep track turn.

The shaded sections of the jeep track were about average in terms of snow coverage, but it was decently packed so the running was pretty good for the most part. My legs opened up a bit through the rolling terrain and after a few miles of occasional shoulder checking on sections that afforded a bit of a view, I figured that I had a lock on the race. I put the run into steady mode and started thinking about Sunday's run.

At mile 20, it was a left turn off the rocky jeep trail and on to the new section of super-twisty singletrack from last year. My legs were starting to feel a little tired, but at the same time as open as they had all day. On the last big climb of the course, with perhaps five miles to go, I checked down the switchbacks and all of a sudden saw Jason. Ughh. He can't have been much more than a minute behind, which of course meant that I needed to refocus and push.

I was glad to find the required gear and be able to move quickly enough over the remaining miles to chalk my first win in Salida. I've always enjoyed this tough little season opener, so couldn't be happier to finally get my name up there on the winners' board. I ended up running about five minutes slower than last year, which is probably an equal effort given the course changes. I definitely felt more in control this weekend, as I remember struggling last year through the closing miles when trying to hold off Dan Vega for second.

I'll take that as a positive and see what two upcoming test-pieces have in store over the next few weeks. First up on Saturday is a speed test, with 5k of road racing at the St Paddy's Day run where I'm really hoping to register something in the low 16s, and then in April it will be the Lake Sonoma 50 miler, which promises to be quite the race.

And finally, for those keeping score at home, my margin of victory over Brownie this year was a full 75 minutes. So despite giving him a generous 45-minute handicap, I again walked away with free beer. Last year it took Brownie 10 months to make good on his debt, but this year there was an immediate post-race pay off with a nice growler of Irish Red from the famed Moonlight Pizza. Next year he gets 75 minutes.


  1. Free beer from Brownie always makes for a good day.

  2. If he gets 75 next year, make sure he wears the lobster gloves again.

  3. Way to get it done, fun to witness the growler-earning in person.

  4. Congrats again on finally getting the win at Salida! The course was certainly slower, but year to year comparisons are always a little hard due to different conditions. A completely dry course would probably be a couple minutes faster.

    Just curious but what did you get for elevation? I had ~3200 which I think is less than the old course.

  5. PG: Lobster Gloves and 50 degrees = WTF was he thinking?

    Nick: I was wearing the new Highgear GPS watch, but have been having some teething troubles with the Altimeter. It read 4,200', but I'm not sure there was that much. I'd guess somewhere between 3,500' and 4,000'. The race organizers say 4,750'. What did you get for the old course? It should be about the same.

  6. I had 3800 from two years ago. Looking at your archive you posted 3900 so those are consistent.

    The lower number on the new course seems right to me. I think we lost quite a bit of climb by turning around a lot earlier, and that last grunt with about 6 miles left was not quite enough to make up for it.

  7. Forgot to tell you this morning....Congrats on a great race!

  8. Congrats on a fine win, Nick...that is a nice course that I hope to return to every year.

  9. The side bar looks like a Nascar outfit with all the sponsors now. Just need to add Brownie's beer to the list.

  10. Great to see you finally get a win there. Gives me hope that if I keep trying, maybe someday I can actually win a beer off a FoCo runner.

    Lobster gloves and two layers of cotton. Already starting my Badwater training.