2015 Backcountry Half Marathon–Highlands Ranch, CO


Straight up stole this picture from Google.

I originally wrote this to post on a running forum, but I’m reposting it here.

Let us first cover the many ways in which I am a dumbass, which will hopefully lead to people understanding that I know that I am a dumbass and maybe not call me a dumbass in the comments too much.

  • I was barely half trained for this half marathon. My longest training run was 8 miles. I got caught by time, mostly (and my own dumbassery). I ran my first half in May of this year (Colfax Marathon in Denver), and over half-trained for that half. Maybe even three-quarters trained! If nothing else, I now have a couple of race times that should be easily shatterable if I ever get around to wholly training for races.
  • I noticed like 4 days before the race that it was a trail run with a 900 ft change in elevation. Did I do any of my training runs on hills? I surely did not. So on the one hand, this made me feel better about my 8 mile pitifulness, because clearly even if I’d gotten all the way to a 13.1 training run and done an amazing taper and nutrition plan, I would’ve been unprepared. On the other hand, I can’t recommend enough that you read the fucking packet and materials they send you. Like, even just once. (I was a little bit thrown by them calling themselves the “Backcountry Wilderness” half, when it was neither backcountry nor wilderness, but rather suburban open space, but still. Read your fucking race materials, people). Luckily I have an older pair of trail running shoes so I wore those (for stability) and just resigned myself to blisters (which I got. I tried to head them off by using Dr Scholl’s moleskin. Don’t use that stuff. Total garbage. Fell off my feet before I even took off. On the bright side, at least I didn’t try to run with moleskin floating around in my socks.)
  • Failed to fall asleep early enough the night before.
  • Forgot to bring a coat or any extra layers to wear while I was hanging around before the race waiting for the start. I was fine once I started running, but it was 30 degrees with a nice crisp wind.
  • Didn’t bring hydration with me. I don’t usually bring hydration, even on long runs; I hate carrying stuff when I run so I make sure I’m well hydrated before I leave my house and then I drink water when I get home. But I definitely would’ve benefitted from carrying a water bottle yesterday. I spent a little extra time at the aid stations drinking water (slowly) and even drank the free Gatorade even though it is sweet and gross and tastes like syrup and makes me more thirsty.

By contrast, the group that organized the run, the HRCA (Highlands Ranch Community Association) was quite efficient and organized and on top of it. This is the 7th BCWHM, and they sign up about 1000 runners (I was number 1089, so probably one of the last to sign up, which I did in early September). Leaving the starting line was pretty casual and easy (they had us sort ourselves into 4 heats, which worked well for me and the rest of the tail-end charlies, anyway, I don’t know how the fast runners felt about it. There were timing mats at the start and the finish and chips in the bibs). The first two miles or so were on road/pavement, but then after that we got into the cow pasture/open space, and by mile 5 it felt like how I imagine “trail runs” (that is, a hiking trail, going through trees and up and down hills and stuff). Race volunteers had gone through a day or so before and put up lots of orange cones with arrows to keep everyone on the correct course, mile markers every mile, yellow cones over gopher holes, hay over the worse mud holes, bright pink ribbon over tree roots half obscured by autumn leaves. There were only 3 aid stations (I could’ve used more, due to my previously mentioned dumbassery), but those stations all had plenty of water, preemptive S&R guys and paramedics, and a fair number of people saying lovely encouraging things. Also I was glad they were still cheering and encouraging people even though at that point they’d been doing so for at least two hours, because of how near the end of the pack I was. (Seriously, if you’ve ever been the person standing on the side of the road clapping and cheering, thank you for that. I don’t usually acknowledge it because I’m concentrating on running, but I hear it and appreciate it.) The only hiccup I saw was that they didn’t order enough portapotties to be at the starting line, with the result that the line was really long and they delayed the start of the race by about 5 minutes to give everyone a chance to get through it. I heard some runners saying they were just going to walk home, pee at home, and come back, because that would be faster than waiting in line.

The people who were running around me were also great. People were running in little clumps and taking turns leading. Someone would step off the path to walk for a bit and I’d pass them, and then we’d trade places when I started walking and they had started running again. I noticed that when I passed people, a lot of them would say (with however much breath they had available at the time), “Good job, go, go, you’re strong,” which was a little weird but also really encouraging. I guess I respond a lot to people saying I’m doing good.

I swung in and out of my “zone,” as it were. There were times when I felt like i was on a regular run, had good energy, was pacing myself, and could run forever. Then I would just as quickly swing back down into “this is hard this is hard why did i do this it’s too hard i am a dumbass.” A lot of this was related to the hills. Much of the first five miles were uphills with some flats or short downhills; then around mile 5 there was a big fucker, then it went back to ups/downs until about mile 9 when there was a REALLY big fucker that me and almost all of the other tail-end charlies that I could see around me walked up. Mile 10-13 was when I finally felt like we were going more down than up. By that time, I was still running because every time I stopped to walk I felt sort of quivery and hollow inside, and the feeling wasn’t as bad when I was running. I tried to listen to my body and walk a little bit even early in the race (because I knew I’d have to walk eventually and didn’t want it all to be the final 4 miles), but still, probably pushed myself a little too hard.

It was so pretty! The leaves here are still turning, so everything was gold and red, and it was a little on the crisp side, but the sun was bright and the sky blue blue blue. When you got to the crest of a hill there were clear views of the mountains (as well as of Denver and all its suburban sprawliness). I also really like when you get to the top of a hill and you can see a lot of people running in front of you. And it was quiet except for the breathing noise of me and my fellow runners.

One of the most hilarious moments was when I was running through a stand of trees around mile 7 and heard a noise from somewhere in front of me. It sounded like Chewbacca, and for a second I was afraid I was going to run up on some kind of rogue moose (there’s moose in Colorado, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one coming down from the high country the way the bears and deer do). So I run along, prepared to take evasive action, and I come around the corner of a stand of bushes, and….yep. Totally a dude in a Chewbacca suit, standing on the side of the trail, doing a most excellent Chewbacca roar and high-fiving runners. I saw him later, walking back to his car, still wearing the suit but having taken off the head. He had a Corgi on a leash.

My time for my first half (in May) was 2:33. My time for this one was 2:46. So, lots of room to improve, but also not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, considering my training level and my level of hill preparedness. Post-run lunch was biscuits, gravy, cheesy grits, and beignets from Lucile’s. Then there was a beer and watching of Battlestar Galactica and drinking water  for most of the afternoon. I feel pretty good today, sore in my quads, but not nearly as old-man-staggery as I’ve sometimes been in the past. The times report that I saw this morning said that 870 people finished (out of 1000 or so), 460 females and 410 males. The winning time was 1:17:29 (male) and 1:30:33 (female).

I would really recommend this race for any Colorado runners, especially if you want something smaller but still really well-organized, and with a motivated (though also smaller) crowd to watch. And especially if half marathons are your thing (they don’t have any marathon/5k/etc options, at least not that day. I believe the HRCA puts on other races of other distances, and a mountain bike race). My suffering was all of my own making. I now want to train on some hills and come back next year and truly conquer the course, which I guess is how runners get sucked into continuing to run.

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