Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Run Revel Rockies 2017

Last running season*, after 2 poor races - the 75K at the Bangalore Ultra in Nov 2016 and the Mumbai Marathon in Jan 2017, I resolved that I will not try such stunts (4 races of marathon distance or over - KTM, Malnad Ultra 50K, Bangalore Ultra 75K and SCMM all b/w Oct and Jan) again, unless there was a good payoff. The ‘payoff’ last season was that I got to do the 10th editions of both KTM and the Bangalore Ultra, both of whose first editions I had run in, bringing a nice circularity to both. Also, I have more than logical reasons to run in events done by RFL. And KTM in particular felt like one long house party with all your favourite guests. So no regrets there.

I had been sitting on the decision on whether to do the 50K or the 80K at the Malnad Ultra this year (the decision to go back was almost done before I finished the first edition and I have wonderful memories from the event) and whether to do the 75K at the Bangalore Ultra and banish a 3 year old demon sitting in my head. Since my stated goal in doing the Bangalore Ultra 75K has been to test my readiness to make a long-awaited attempt at Comrades, I eventually plumped for Malnad since the Bangalore Ultra was too close to Mumbai. And right now, not doing well at Mumbai hurts more than walking at the Bangalore Ultra. 

So I had begun training for the Malnad 80K with loads of easy runs and a decent volume, aided in part by my ceasing swimming with the onset of summer and school vacations. One of the early steps in this process was a visit to a nearby trail which gave a much needed boost to my trail running plans.

Things had been going as well as easy runs can till one day a surprise visit to the US (now delayed by 2 years, materialized.) Suddenly I had to live with a huge hole in my savings and a minor disruption to my schedule, although running in California even for a week is not exactly a disruption. The prospect of meeting my dear nephew (the only person in the world currently who loves me so much) salved some of the hurt. This would be my first trip to the US when I didn’t travel with the sole intent of running an event. I had also been planning a trip to Europe with S later in the year but all that was now kaput. Once I reconciled myself to the fact my savings were servicing a non-running trip, I immediately began making plans to somehow run an event. I had almost registered for a 50K at Los Gatos, which seemed promising and well reviewed. And Los Gatos is so close to where I’d be staying in the South Bay that I could get there in the morning, run the event and be home for lunch. It was all trail, started in the mountains and ended near the water. What’s not to like? So far so good.

And then the decommissioned part of my brain which had been dedicated to Boston, suddenly woke up and asked whether the Los Gatos event was a BQ event. The Los Gatos event was a small event and I had not bothered to check since most marathons in the US are usually eligible for a BQ, even if they sometimes have less than 500 runners. After 2 weeks or so, when I finally found time to check, I discovered that the Los Gatos event was not BQ eligible :( So I began looking for other events in the time I’d be in the US. One candidate was Rock n Roll San Diego, which I have run before (with mixed memories). I’d have to reach SFO on Fri, fly to San Diego on Sat, run on Sun, fly back to SFO on Sun, fly back to India on Mon, which my wife would have loved dearly. Too much strain I thought although I didn’t mind the amount of travel involved. Then I found a race in Denver.

Sometime ago, while I was still in the quest for a BQ, my pal Anil had pointed me to a race called the Run Revel in Canyon City, which was a mile downhill, as a crazy prospect for a desperate BQ! I had not explored that beyond filing away that name for the future. I don’t exactly run well downhill. Now there seemed to be more races by the same organizers. The Denver event was called the Run Revel Rockies. Mile downhill again!
In a very Baader-Meinhof phenomenon sort of way, Ian Sharman posted about his winning the Run Revel event in Canyon City and what one must do to train for it. Not that I had much time for training for a marathon in 3 weeks, much less a downhill marathon. I would finish the TCS 10K on May 21 and I had only done a 30K as my longest run till then which had left me toasted. Since I had no plans of running a marathon till Oct, there had been no long runs or pace targets in particular. 

I did some quick planning and decided I’d go to Nandi Hills on May 23, thanks to K. I had no real targets for May 21, as I was doing that event purely because it doesn’t take much effort to get out of home on a Sun morning and there’s the delayed payoff a possibly nice t-shirt from Nike for finishing fast**.

I decided to use the TCS 10K event as a time trial to figure out whether I could finish under 3 hours in the marathon. 39:14 for a 10K meant that I had a good chance. I did a recovery run the next day and then did a slow run up Nandi on Wed morn. The Nandi descent of 8K went off much faster than my TCS 10K pace giving me much needed confidence that I could handle a downhill and not need knee replacements! I have had several debacles connected to my quads in the past and didn’t want them to let me down. A 32K run the following weekend brought my training to a surprise taper, with 2 weeks to race day.

The Denver event is called the Run Revel Rockies (RRR). You only need to look around when you fly into Denver to figure out why. I landed in Denver on Sat, with a sleep deficit, partly due to jet lag but mostly due to my mum being unwell in the leadup to the race, thanks to an unfortunate allergic reaction. It didn’t matter much but I had this general uneasiness which didn’t leave me pretty much till I landed back in India and had some much needed sleep with some “assistance”. 

I had discovered a friend DD in Denver, who hosted me and dropped me to the pick up point for all participants. There were buses to get us to the start point. This commute meant we had to be there by 4 am Denver time, which is 1 hr ahead of PST. For someone struggling with jet lag, this was not much fun. Having not seen DD in almost 4 years meant we had much catching up to do. However a wonderful lunch (and rather heavy!) after bib collection in a nearby Italian restaurant, had me set up nicely for next morning.

RRR is well organised. There’s a lovely medal, a neat tee. The post-race refreshments are great and the volunteers at water stations and at the finish line are wonderful.

I had planned to try and run a sub-3 with the confidence that I would run 3:10, even if things didn’t go well. But I wanted a PR at least out of this race. So starting at sub-3 pace was the plan.

Even when I was in the bus to the start line, my ears began buzzing with that unfamiliar feeling that dogs people who don’t live at altitude. Denver is a mile high and the start line was a mile higher from there. The buzz vanished only after I got back to SFO. I didn’t bother much but I knew I’d back off if my nose began to bleed or something (as it did for at least 1 runner).

Despite taking 2 pee breaks before the start, by mile 3 I felt the need to pee as it was 11 deg C at the start and waiting for an hour, doesn’t exactly help matters. Though I began fast at the target pace, I reined myself in whenever the slope was high, telling myself that I’d do any stunts only after mile 20. I took a 20sec pee break at the 5 mile mark and was still on pace. Since I had nothing much to do for about 2 hours other than stick to pace, which felt manageable at that point, I could take in the landscape and admire the Rockies. This is quite rare for someone who doesn’t look around much while racing. I ran relaxed and cheerful and my pics till halfway show that I was mostly waiting to tick that 20 mile mark off.

I hit the halfway mark in 1:29:42 and almost immediately, both my calves tightened as if some voodoo was embedded in the timing mats! This was unexpected since I had expected the quads to get sore with all that downhill. From this moment on, I just ran mile to mile. My calves hurt like crazy and I shortened my stride to ensure I didn’t strain them or tear them due to the effort. All my pics beyond this point show me wincing and suffering.

When the 20 mile mark came, I had nothing left to accelerate as I was hanging on for dear life. At one point, I was decelerating so much that I thought I might finish in 3:15 (which was the BQ norm for my AG) or slower. From experience I know that if you beat the AG norm by 2.5 mins, you should get in to Boston unless a large chunk of fast runners suddenly decide to sign up for Boston.

When I got to the 23 mile mark, I realised I had passed/caught up to some runners who had taken off so fast that I hadn’t seen them since the halfway point. In order to keep myself engaged, I began telling myself that I’d run from km to km at this point. I had 5K left and if I could do so under 23min, I’d BQ. There were some uphills which weren’t very long in the 2nd half which was something I hadn’t really paid attention to, while looking at the elevation profile of the race. If the route drops 5000ft from start to finish, you won’t really notice a segment which is 100ft up, would you? But these took some effort and I did ok, not losing much pace. Some of the HM runners who were increasing in numbers at this point also cheered me on.

There were several cops on the route who cheered me (and other runners on). The race has a lovely small town feel to it with sheriffs of various counties on the way, parked with their cars applauding passing runners. The first half has few spectators but spectacular views. The second half has a couple of miles on the highway but isn’t as charming while still being beautiful.

When I got to the mile mark, I felt that my legs could take some damage and I picked up about 15sec/mile. I even passed a gentleman about 100 yards from the finish as he slowed down to join his family for a moment and he cheered me on!

My finish time of 3:05:59 (thanks to a positive split of 6:17 min) wasn’t what I planned or the PR I wanted, but a BQ isn’t something to be sad about, for someone who just 6 years ago, was ready to die for a place at the starting line at Hopkinson, come Patriots’ Day!

Financial considerations of a trip to Boston apart, as I have alluded to, in my annual post last year, my life will see some changes come Apr 2018.
As I did in 2015, I could perhaps raise funds for a charity at Boston, since a regular entry is likely, provided someone could fund my airfare, which still works out to less than a charity entry.

I am not sure whether I will use this BQ to run at Boston next year, given that I had no plans to run Boston any time soon, but S and I, have decided that if we can’t come up with a cooler way to celebrate my 40th, then Boston isn’t a bad place to be ;)

my running season ends with the Mumbai Marathon in Jan of every year, mostly because SCMM was my first ever running event in 2004. YMMY

**This didn’t exactly happen thanks to some bungling by the organisers on my timing chip, resulting in my not getting a finish time, though I finished in 39:14. Just because I folded my bib for convenience, they came up with a rather silly excuse. I don’t really care at this point.

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Blogger Preeti Aghalayam aka kbpm said...

Congratulations! Sounds like a great run! Of course celebrating the 40th at Boston is a great idea for sure!

6/28/2017 7:53 AM  
Blogger manoj said...

Good report D! Great timing for an ad hoc marathon, congrats on another BQ!

6/28/2017 9:06 AM  
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