Saturday, May 14, 2016

Race Report: Race to the Shrine 10K

I know, you're thinking: another weekend, another race. This is getting boring.

Well, to that I say both "no it's not!" and "well, that's my life right now!"

Actually, this is the last race for a couple of weeks. And it was a good one!

The Race to the Shrine 10K (and its 5K component) is a fundraiser for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Now, a number of you know my tenuous relationship with zoos at best, including this one (exhibits are too small, in my opinion). However, it's also one heck of a race, and I've considered it for a couple years now.

The 10K starts down at the Broadmoor Hotel, runs through the fancy neighborhoods, and then over to the zoo and part way up Cheyenne Mountain to the Will Rogers Shine of the Sun, then back down to the zoo. Local legend has it that the patriarch of the Penrose family (read: early rich family in town) was actually going to build the landmark tower high on the mountain to himself, but the bad press caused him to dedicate it to his recently deceased friend, Will Rogers. Anyway, Spencer Penrose is actually buried there, but it's called the Will Rogers Shrine.

So! Friday night I checked the weather. 42 and partly sunny. Score! Because we're at elevation (the zoo is at 6800 feet and the Shrine is at 8100 feet... yes, you climb 1300 feet in elevation to get to the highest point of this race... 42 and partly sunny is good weather - my favorite pair of capri's (the ones that didn't get shredded) and a t-shirt should do it. I set my stuff out because I would need to be to the registration by 6:15 to pick up my packet and be ready for a 7:15 start.

As has become quite the habit for me lately, I managed to wake up every hour on the hour overnight, and 5:30am was a teeth gnashing affair. I did however, decide at the last minute to grab a jacket since the sun wasn't up yet.

I walked out of the house and realized that 42 and partly sunny had transformed overnight to 38 and drizzle, with heavy fog. Good thing I brought a jacket.

Things had not improved much, weather-wise, by race start. The gun went off and we were on the road, out of the hotel property and winding through the neighborhood. There were only 315 racers for the 10K, which meant nice spacing and no overcrowding. The 10K also started and finished in a different location and at a different time than the 5K, which cut down on ancillary traffic.

I had looked at the route (confession: I don't always look at the race route before I run. I probably should, but I don't), but I had made the assumption that the neighborhood would roll up and down before we got to the zoo. I knew once we hit the zoo, there would be an uphill, and then we would really start climbing once we hit the road to the Shrine. However, I didn't count on the neighborhood being a consistent uphill as well, with no levels or downhill at all after mile 1. Whew. That meant a solid 4 miles up constant uphill, and overall at least 4.5 miles uphill over a 6.2 mile course. This was not going to be a 10K PR for me.

The slight advantage I had was that House 6 is located up the side of a mountain itself, and I can do at least one mile intervals of uphill at a time in my daily runs. These aren't easy or pleasant, but I'm doing them since I'm trying to eventually slog myself all the way up Pikes Peak later this summer. I haven't done 4.5 miles in a row in training yet, but at least I know I can do it now. Make no mistake. I am not fast, nor will ever be fast, uphill. Some people in front of me on the road to the Shrine gave up and started walking. I never walked, but I didn't necessarily catch up and pass them while they walked either.

Not a great photo since it was taken while
running, but there's the entrance to Jurassic Park,
Will Rogers Shrine
With the weather, the zoo run was a little less "petting farm" and a little more "Jurassic Park" this morning. Fog limited visibility to maybe 50 feet in front of you, meaning that animal noises came out of the fog, and people appeared and disappeared as you went. John Williams music played in my head for much of the run.

Fortunately, I felt like at times that, while not fast, I was settling into a rhythm on the uphill climb, and it felt mostly even. Closer to the top of the Shine,  drum music started filtering out of the fog. Since you couldn't see where you were going or how close you were to the top, I assumed that the drums were at the Shrine (and that we had left the Jurassic Park set and entered Joe and the Volcano.)

Nope. Talk about your disappointment! Just a random drum circle on the side of the road! It wasn't terribly much further to get to the top, but I seriously had no idea if it was 50 yards or 50 miles.

When I got to the top, I realized that you didn't actually run to or around the Shrine, just to the end of the parking lot, then make the turn to go back down the mountain. Totally fine, but I'd never been to the Shrine before, and in the fog, you couldn't even see it! Oh well, that's what next year is for, I guess!

Down was beautiful. It was fast,  but I felt in control, and for the first time in a while in a race, I felt like I knew my pace, could push it and still stay in control. I blew down that mountain, hit the switch backs, targeted runners in front of me, and picked them off one by one. That was a glorious feeling, especially after the strain up the uphill, and the ankle pressure from the crowned road.

I crossed the six mile mark, and the last part of the race was through the Colorado Wildlife exhibit of the zoo. Turkeys cackled as I ran by, and a bobcat or lynx (not sure which) ran out beside me for a couple of yards, fortunately on the other side of a fence, but for long enough that I had time to think, "This is going to be the only time that running with that animal is going to be acceptable to me." I turned the last corner, piled on the last bit of energy I had, passed one more runner, and crossed the line. I finished in the top half of runners, which I'll take, and plan to improve on.

The race was really well organized. Water was available at just the right places. There weren't a ton of volunteers, but there were enough, and they were friendly, enthusiastic and cheered everyone one consistently. I used to think that the cheering didn't matter to me, however, as I get older, I realize that it helps. Its nice to have someone watching and cheering - it helps keep you going!

Best finish line food? Definitely up there!
The finish area was fantastic. The race had gathered a number of supporters who had booths at the end, along with information about other zoo events. Kneaders Bakery was there and gave every finisher a hot French toast breakfast. I'm not a big "eat right after a race" person - in fact, often I can't eat anything for a while after a race. However, I can now say with authority that Kneaders French toast with syrup after a race tastes like paradise and goes down exceptionally well. Because the start and the finish of the race were in different locations, the race had arranged for shuttles back to the start. I didn't have to wait long, and I was back to my car.

The race even gave you free admission for the rest of the day to the zoo with your race bib, should you want to stay and/or come back. I didn't end up going back, but what a nice gesture.

In for next year? Sure. If nothing else, there's French toast to be had.

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