Wednesday, August 20

'Flow like water': suffering downhill in the Evergreen 10k

"I thought you weren't running this", said John Victoria at the start line of the Evergreen Town Race. Hm, well if I'd known just how hard it was going to be, maybe I'd have stood by my original decision... so a word of explanation...

first, I had this race down as a "gimmick" event. I apologise; it isn't. Yes it is a downhill 10k, but it's not one of those super-fast courses that will give you a PR that will mock you for ever more, because it's at 8,000 feet. Not only Derek Griffiths, publisher of Colorado Runner, told me this and urged a re-think, but then Dwight and Em both told me that the downhill was not so fierce that it would wreck my legs.

The final straw was when I checked the Colorado Runner Racing Series points and realized my fellow 55-year-old Heath Hibberd has pulled out a superb series of wins and is now a strong contender to win the series. So I had to turn out :)

Evergreen was the 11th race of the Series, which started in January; there are five races to go.

So, does the altitude offset the downhill gain? Oh yes. Stir in 90-95 degree heat and this race became a desperate battle to keep going.

The first mile is VERY downhill, so comparisons are a little misleading, but I covered that one in 5:53; the last mile, with the heat and the distance taking its toll, took me 6:48.

Yes, distance. Don't laugh you marathoners, but I have been training for a mile and 5k. At the 5k point it took a big mental adjustment to accept I had the same distance to go!

It didn't help that around that point we caught the 5k race tail-enders, by then reduced to a walk. Then ahead of me, I watched women's masters contender Sheila Geere take a walk break, get going again, and then stop for good as the heat got to her. Big problem: my brain latched on to her example and started in on me, whining, that it would be OK to walk, or even to stop, the heat man, the heat....

You know how you can keep some delusions alive your whole life? Like "I could have ridden the Tour de France...blah blah"? I've entertained one about doing one of those ultra-distance desert runs. Kind of, "I could probably do that; I just don't want to". Not any more. I've let that one go. Here I was really suffering in a mere 10k that was a tad too hot.

We could have done with more water stations. On the two I hit it was one mouthful to rinse the dry mouth, the rest tipped over my head. Route-finding became complex on the winding road, sorting the pros and cons of keeping in the shade versus running the shortest distance through the corners.

"Fast downhill course -- extraordinary setting" is the Evergreen tag line. Yes, Evergreen is beautiful, and what took the sting out of the heat was first, plenty of shady trees and second, the continual presence of Bear Creek tumbling alongside us. My mantra became "Flow like water, soar like eagle". I focused on flow, trying to fall effortlessly like the creek. I decided to set my speed at the point where I could maintain good form and stay light on my feet. The mantra sounds Zen-like, but it was American Indian chanting I started hearing in my head. All part of the hallucination :)

So, you're probably wondering.... well, I finished in 40:07; Mr Hibberd beat me by two minutes, but in that last, horrible, staggering mile, I managed somehow to stay in front of Devin Croft, so I get to keep my Series lead, but Heath has whittled it down to a mere 40 points.

The competition is just as close in the 50-54; here Robert Kessler (38:16) handed out a rare defeat to John Victoria (39:13) to retain his lead. John was nursing a problem hamstring, but with this second place to add to his previous five wins, has also closed the gap to 40 points.

Closest of all is the open women's competition. Leader Kara Ford didn't run, so 29-year-old Kris Lawson has now closed to just 20 points thanks to a storming third-place 38:37 at Evergreen.

Top master Tim Jones extended his points lead by taking second at Evergreen as rival Erik Packard slipped to fifth. Karen Smidt scored again to stay clear as women's Master yellow jersey.

Cynthia Flora in the women's 50-54 grabbed another 100 points at the expense of second overall Jenney Weber, who didn't run. In the women's 60-64, Cathy Morgan also didn't show, and may regret it, as Stephanie Weeks won (by almost six minutes) and has taken over the Series lead by 130 points.

Still no let-up in the men's 60-64. Downhill ace Dwight Cornwell didn't have a particularly good day and couldn't take advantage of the slope; he suffered to hang on in front of Stephen Berger, 42:41 to 43:15, and maintain the Series status quo. Their epic is good to watch as they are a complete contrast in build and running styles.

In the 60+ divisions, 68-year-old Jim Romero won at Evergreen by more than 7 minutes (47:20) and consolidates his lead; Connie Ahrnsbark and Myra Rhodes were first and second and stay that way overall.

Every race from now on in is crucial for most of the Series leaders, myself included. Next up is the Peach Fest 5-miler in Palisade; then the Aetna Park to Park 10-miler in Denver, followed by the one we're all dreading, the spectacular Lead King Loop, a mountainous 25k at Marble.

* Impeccable organization was marked by en masse support from race beneficiaries the Alpine Rescue Team, flawless start-finish transportation with a fleet of buses, a bonzer post-race bash that included season's-best grub -- egg and cheese bagles, fantastic! -- AND quick results. A great addition to the Series (thanks Derek).

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