ilanarama: me in Escalante (yatta!)
[personal profile] ilanarama
The morning of the 39th Annual (and my fourth) Imogene Pass Run dawned clear and surprisingly warm in Ouray. In previous years I'd worn arm warmers along with my short-sleeved shirt, as well as fleece hat and gloves, and kept my rain/wind jacket on as I lined up for the start, stuffing it into my pack at the last minute. This year, it didn't matter that I had forgotten my arm warmers back home in Durango; I wore a headband instead of a hat, and the jacket stayed in my pack as my friends and I headed for the start line.

imogene 2012 imogene 2012

(I'm #844 in the first picture and the short chick in the middle in the second; note that Karah and I have matching shirts, socks, and gaiters!)

Not that it was hot, exactly; it was in the mid-40s, perfect for running. For the first time I took the slightly longer but less steep option getting onto the Camp Bird road, rather than heading cross-country up the hillside, but I think it worked out exactly the same time-wise as the woman who'd been ahead of me when the course split merged right in front of me when the paths rejoined! This made my splits wonky at first, so that I hit the orange cone marking Mile 1 at 1.16 on my Garmin, but as the course usually works out to be 'short' due to the sharp switchbacks not being easily tracked by the GPS, I knew it wouldn't be a problem (and in fact the course and the Garmin matched at mile 8 - and then each mile was 'shorter' from then on).

This also meant, though, that I really couldn't compare my splits to past years. I had decided to remember only a few important numbers from my last two races, in which I had run nearly the same time, to compare to my hoped-for goal of 3:45 or faster. (If you missed it, I wrote about my past times and goals here.) I had reached the Upper Camp Bird aid station in 1:48 in 2009 and 1:50 (after a potty stop) in 2010, and I had reached the summit at 2:45 and 2:47, respectively. So I had in my mind that I'd like to get to UCB around 1:45-1:46 and the summit around 2:40.

I felt like I was moving well through the first mile; my HR was right where it usually is at the beginning of a marathon, which is the effort level I strive for in this race, and I was slowly but steadily working my way through the crowd. But shortly after the first mile mark, I started to feel Decidedly Not Good in the gut region. As I mentioned above, I had had an unplanned potty stop in 2010, and I had hoped to avoid that this year. I had drunk only coffee for breakfast, an hour and a half before heading out to run; usually that's sufficient to, er, get things moving. But it hadn't, and I had been dreading the consequences.

Fortunately, right around mile 1.5 (by my Garmin) there was some construction equipment (maybe for road work?) and a porta-potty in a pull-out, and I pulled out to use it. Unfortunately, someone else had had the same idea, and I had to wait for half a minute or so, but it was a necessary thing, and I exited the potty feeling much, much better.

Of course, this meant I had to pass all the people who I'd passed before, including several of my slower friends who were surprised to see me coming by, but I gradually moved up to where I was running in a pack at about my pace - which over the first four miles averaged about 11:30. Then things got steeper. I was already walking the steepest bits, but gradually the amount of running I was doing decreased, and the amount of walking increased.

I had been training on a very steep hill, that I had to walk rather than run, in order to improve my walking-up-a-steep-ass-hill pace. Alas, it was still pathetic; every time the grade increased and I had to walk, a dozen people passed me. When I could run again, I passed them all back. I felt like apologizing: "I know, you're just going to have to pass me again, I'm sorry!" But it also depressed me a little, plus, when I started looking at my pace (which had dropped to around 14 minutes/mile) I calculated that I wasn't going to get to my checkpoints any faster than I had in previous years. (Spoiler alert: apparently I can't do math while running walking up a steep mountain at high elevation.)

For the first time I wasn't carrying water (or food, other than one emergency gel) so I drank water at the first aid station and also at the second, around 5 miles in, where I also picked up a handful of gummi bears which I ate a few at a time as I ran. (Also, at the second aid station, someone was smoking. ICK. It's hard enough to breathe at that elevation without stupid stinky second-hand smoke wafting into my face!)

I got more depressed when I arrived at Upper Camp Bird at 1:43 elapsed time. Of course, this shouldn't have depressed me, because I was actually right on schedule - but somehow, all I could remember was that I'd been at UCB around 1:48 and the summit around 2:48, therefore it was an hour to the summit, therefore even though I was in so much better shape I was clearly going to get to the summit around 2:43, which was only two minutes faster than the 2:45 that was my previous best time. I don't know! I'm usually good with numbers! But my pace had dropped to about 18 minute miles, and I remembered that the last miles before the summit were basically all walking, really steep and nasty, and...I just felt glum. Nevertheless, I soldiered on - and it's a good thing I did.

I had forgotten something I'd noticed in 2010: when the going gets really steep, all the fast walkers slow down to about my pace. I was not just keeping up with everyone around me, I was passing people little by little. I was also pacing myself such that I had enough energy to run the few flat and downhill bits, which - okay, there weren't a lot of flat and downhill bits, but it made a difference to my average pace, and surprisingly a lot of people just continued plodding through them, so I passed even more people.

But it wasn't until I hit the orange cone marking the official 9-mile point (8.8 miles by my Garmin) that I realized that I was on target not for a tiny PR but a huge one. I would beat my 2:40 summit goal by at least a minute...and as I got closer, and my pace seemed steady, I kept sneaking amazed glances at the elapsed time on my watch. I hit the summit at 2:35:42, nearly ten minutes ahead of my hoped-for time. My fastest descent, in 2010, had taken me an hour and seven minutes; if I only matched that time, I would beat my A goal of 3:45. But I hoped that I might be a little faster on the descent this year, and that meant I might even make my seekrit stretch goal - which I'd only confided on one of my running forums - of 3:40.

I'd taken off my hat and gloves a few miles in, and my shirt around mile 8, when the course finally broke out into the sun. Because of the warm day, I didn't feel the need to put anything back on; it was a little chilly, but I knew I'd warm up once I'd descended a few miles. I grabbed a cup of hot chicken broth and a couple of Twizzlers, drank the soup, and headed down the mountain.

imogene 2012

And this was where my trail running training really paid off. I'd noticed at the Kennebec Challenge last month that I'd felt faster and more solid on the descent, running easily on loose rock and steep terrain. I found myself passing lots of people, especially in spots where the worn-in track didn't follow the shortest tangent of the road; I'd zip down the tangent line while they wasted time trying to find the most secure footing. I did slip in a few places, but caught myself each time before actually falling.

One indication of my improved trail skills is that the first mile after the summit - a ludicrously steep and rocky plunge of over 880 feet - was 11:42 in 2010, and 10:00 this year. Another is that as I approached the summit, Cowbell Woman (she sits in a lawn chair just before the summit and cheers people in, ringing a cowbell) was calling out the women's placements, and I was the 80th woman to go by; I finished as 66th woman, so I passed 14 women - as well as many men, of course.

At Kennebec I didn't quite have the endurance I needed, and toward the end of the run I faded hard, even walking the few short uphills. I'd also had a slight fade at Imogene in 2010. I think the extra four weeks of solid mileage helped a lot, and I kept a good pace all the way down. My previous fastest descent was 1:07:26; this time, I rocketed downhill in 59:17, a better than 1 minute per mile pace improvement over the seven miles. My last four 'miles' (by Garmin) were 8:13, 8:17, 8:13, and a blistering 7:23 pace over the remaining 0.6 miles of the GPS-measured course. By contrast, my best mile in 2010 was 8:37, and in 2009 was 8:21.

I won't make you do the math (even though you're sitting comfortably in front of your computer rather than gasping at altitude): I crossed the finish line at 3:34:58, 10 minutes faster than my 'A' goal, 5 minutes faster than my seekrit stretch goal, and a nearly 20-minute PR. I placed 10/65 in my age group (yes, there are a lot of fast old ladies), 66th/552 women, 281/1170 finishers. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic.

So, analysis time. I had mentioned I was reluctant to project my Kennebec time directly to an Imogene time, but that would have been pretty accurate. I ran 3:04 this year, and 3:19 in 2009; the ratio of those numbers (converting to minutes) is 184/199, or 92.5%. Applying that to my 2009 Imogene finish time of 3:55, or 235 minutes, I get 217 minutes = 3:37, which is not that far off from my actual time!

In 2010, I ran a 3:54 at Imogene, followed by a 3:36 marathon at St. George on October 2nd. It's tempting to apply that 92% ratio and say I'm on target for a 3:18 marathon...but I suspect that would be a big mistake! Not all my improvement is attributable to fitness. The weather meant less messing around with gear; I carried no water, which meant my pack was lighter, and I wore more lightweight shoes as well; and most importantly, my improved technical skills made a big difference on the descent.

So let me wave my hands a little. I improved by about 10 minutes on the uphill. But let's say 2 minutes (12 seconds per mile) were due to factors other than improved fitness (better trail technique, lighter gear; I also lost 4 pounds of me-weight, but that should be applicable to the marathon as well). The downhill improvement of 9 minutes, well, let's say 6 were due to better technique - 1:30 for each of the first two miles, which are the worst, then 1 for the next, and :30 for each of the last four. So that's 8 minutes that 'don't count' - apply the 92% ratio and I get a 3:25, which magically is my NYCM goal!

Well, except that NYCM is a lot harder than St. George. A 3:25 at the latter 'equals' a 3:31:30 at the former, according to my friend Greg Maclin's course comparison spreadsheet (which can be downloaded from his site - he's the guy I ran Houston with). Oops. Although I have a whole month longer to train for NYCM...and at this point I stop waving my hands and throw them up and admit I have no idea! Other than to say, YAY nearly-20 minute PR!
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ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)
Ilana

July 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

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