Ran the Horsetooth Half Marathon this morning. This is a classic Fort Collins race, the 39th edition this year. The course starts at Hughes Stadium, and immediately climbs up the dam to Centennial Dr., which is about a 500' climb right off the bat. From there the course rolls a bit, with a net downhill, to Mile 7, and then the last really substantial hill through Mile 8. The last 5 miles are gentle downhill along the Poudre River Trail, although is more or less flat. All in all, it's a 230' net drop from start to finish, but is probably the hardest half course I've done due to all of the hills in the middle. For the sake of record-keeping, today was my 26th half marathon.
Weather was good. A little warm, with temps in the mid-60s by the end, but it was the sun more than the actual temperature that made it warm. Still, can't complain, especially right after Boston. A little bit of breeze, not bad by northern Colorado standards. Had a cross-wind or tailwind on the first half, but then a headwind for the last 5 miles.
Prize money was $500-$300-$100, so I knew there would be decent runners. On top of that, there were tiered time bonuses for breaking 1:11, 1:10, 1:09, 1:08, and 1:07. After doing a few workouts on the course, though, I knew that even sub-1:11 would be pretty darn tough, and close to impossible with my recent slacker training. But one can dream.
The race started, and we had a pack up 4 guys for the first uphill mile, which I was surprised to hit in 6:14. We separated down to 3 people during the second uphill mile, which was a 6:12. So far, so good, as this was faster than I expected, and I felt pretty relaxed.
During the third mile (or maybe sooner, I don't really remember), a guy in orange separated, and put about 50 yards on everyone. I soon left the people behind me, and established myself as a clear 2nd place. This is how the race remained for the rest of the way (not be a spoiler, but you probably already read the race report heading anyway).
I was trying to stay patient, and wait until after the last hill after mile 8 to really push hard and catch the first place guy, if he didn't come back before that. I thought that if he was a poser, there was a good chance he'd come back before that though. Mile 3 was mostly downhill, and was 4:55. Mile 4 had mixed up and down, and was 5:19, followed by 5:16 for Mile 5. The guy in orange would come back a little bit, and then extend again, so the gap remained about 10 seconds. Still lots of time though...
During Mile 5 we made a short climb before the dam, and then "fell off", a 6-8% downhill. Painful more than fast. The next mile was nice steady downhill though, and I was 4:57 for Mile 6, but the guy in orange still extended a little bit. He might be for real, but the Bingham Hill at Mile 8 would reveal that for sure... Miles 7 and 8 were both 5:24, and included the final hill (Bingham Hill). I might have closed on the guy in orange a little bit, but he was still running strong.
Mile 9 was 5:21, coming off the downhill. Not fast enough, and my legs were, and had been, feeling pretty hammered from the first half of the race. The good news was that I ran really well on the hardest parts of the course, but the bad news was that I didn't have legs left for the flat part along the Poudre River Trail. Up until now I was thinking I might break 1:11 or even 1:10.
On top of that, the paved trail was very exposed, so we got direct sun and a headwind that I estimate at about 5-10mph. Ordinarily, this wind would not be a big deal, but it was enough to put a hurt on at a point when I didn't have much to give.
I was hoping to hit close to 5-flat for the last 4-5 miles, and close the gap on the leader, but instead was 5:34, 5:35, 5:27, and 5:35 for miles 10-13. The guy in orange ended up beating me by 50 seconds, 1:11:07 to 1:11:57. Third place was about 1:13-flat. For a while I was sure that I'd get under 1:11 and get a $100 time bonus, but that quickly fell apart during the last miles. Oh well, $300 is still good for a morning's work. I feel like I ran a pretty good race, and hit the time that I was hoping for. First half of the race was great, but then I just wasn't fit enough to recover from the hills enough to engage the flats, or deal with any sort of headwind.
Turns out the guy who beat me was Jason Delaney, who I ran with at Boston last year for the first 10 miles or so. Jason ran the 2008 Trials, and narrowly missed qualifying for this year's. He has also won Des News and Top of Utah marathons several years ago. Nice guy, and a worth opponent to get beat by.
Next up is the Colorado Half Marathon, which should be MUCH fast than this race, as it is a classic "Utah-style" downhill half marathon. It is the reward for running this race.
Some pics from the local newspaper:
Delany in foreground, me in background. Going up Bingham Hill, near mile 7. Note Delany's sweet 'stache.
Going up Bingham Hill, near Mile 7.