Running for a happy birthday - Rock Canyon Half


Me and the birthday girl at the start
Photo - Tim Bergsten
Not to me, but one of my friends! And how do we crazy mountain bikers decided to celebrate a birthday? By running a half marathon! I'd done the Rock Canyon Half Marathon down in Pueblo last year, and off and on for a few years before that - back when I was a runner. So when Kerri posted on Facebook that she was going to run it this year, I was all in on that. I was just hoping for better weather then last year's blizzard.

Well, the weather wasn't an issue at all. It's been a very mild November and the start to December proved to have more of the same. I did bring warm clothes with me and was planning on wearing a t-shirt and arm warmers and shorts. But it was already warm when I did my warmup - with just a slight chill in the breeze. It was perfect running weather. Running in shorts and tank top was a far cry from the layers and layers of clothes last year required!

My goal at the start was to run smart and run my own race, regardless of who else was there. Without a huge base of running miles, starting out fast would have led to serious suffering in the last few miles. When the gun went off, I surged a little, found my stride and rhythm and settled into solid pace. A little faster then I wanted, but I felt relaxed. I was also in the lead, but I didn't know by how far - and I wasn't gonna look around to find out! The first two miles were two flat loops around City Park, with plenty of spectators lining the roads. I paid more attention to the Garmin during those first two miles then the rest of the race  - trying to stay relaxed and run smart. After the drop down to the Arkansas River, I pretty much ignored the Garmin for the rest of the race - just taking my splits at the miles and the occasional glance to make sure the comfortable pace didn't slow too much.
Staying focused in the first mile
Photo - Tim Bergsten
Rock Canyon is a funny course. It's not a road race, but it's not a trail run either. There's four solid miles on blacktop and concrete to start out, then dirt road for a mile or so, then double track trail for two miles. Back to blacktop for the little lolly pop at the very end - right under the Lake Pueblo Dam, and then retrace steps back to the finish line. A mix of everything, with the changing in footing that comes with dirt roads and double track. This year, the terrain was great for running - just a little sandy in spots. Without having to worry about snow and ice, I was able to just focus on the running. My mile splits were right where I wanted them and I was gradually reeling in some of the guys around. At the Dam, I was able to take a quick peek around. There were some men around, but I couldn't see any women close by. I just needed to maintain the pace.
Almost at the Dam and over halfway done!
Photo - Tim Bergsten
Heading back to City Park is always fun. Despite being over halfway done and starting to get tired, the runners still heading out provide a lift. Lots of cheers, lots of encouragements and everyone telling me I was the first women. I tried to acknowledge as many as I could, even with just a nod or a little wave. But I was starting to get a little tired and the uneven footing required some attention. Expecting my first slow mile split as I approached 10 miles and I was pleasantly surprised. Still in the goal range! Now for the hard part - running fast in those last three miles when the longest I'd run all year was 10. My endurance was great from all the long distance mountain biking, but my legs were starting to feel the pounding of running. But at that point, it's an easy count down. Just three more miles, just go find mile 11 - still where I needed to be. Then just run to mile 12 - getting closer and holding the pace! And finally, crossing the Arkansas River again and facing up at the steep, kick in the pants climb to get back to City Park. This year, I did "run" the whole hill - and was able to pick up the pace for the last little bit. Mile 13 is at the top of that hill and I was very happy to make the right hand turn for the finish line.
Heading for the finish
Photo - Tim Bergsten

And very pleased with my time (1:28:30) and the win. I've never been able to win at the Rock Canyon - second last year was my best showing. But this year, I was able to run a minute faster and hold onto the lead I grabbed at the start. And that was on a lot less run training! We kept a few runs per week in for the entire year, but nothing serious. All the long distance mountain biking gave me the endurance to run the race without issues - I just needed a few weeks of focused speed to be able to feel comfortable running fast. But now it's time to focus on the bike again - another trip to the desert is coming up in two and half short months!

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