Monday, June 10, 2024

Race Report: Garden of the Gods 10 Miler

This time, its my race report! 

I signed up for the Garden to Peak challenge this year, three races in the Pikes Peak area, all of which I have run before, but its been a couple years. The first is Garden of the Gods 10 miler, so Sunday morning I made my way down the pass to the Garden for the race. I found myself getting a little emotional on the drive, remembering this is the first "real" race since last summer's unfortunate events.  "Don't go there," I told myself, and turned up Rage Against the Machine on the radio to drown out my brain. I'm sure the other drivers seeing this middle-aged woman in her top-off Jeep blasting metal punk at 5am were impressed.

I prepped in the parking lot, then walked toward the start line, where I decided I should pee one more time before the race start. After 22 minutes in line and with 5 minutes before the start left, I determined I was just going to have to hold whatever was in there for the race. Spoiler alert, I definitely peed a little, but at least I didn't completely wet my pants, and that's a win.

The race sold out this year, and there were notably more people than I have encountered in races past. Mile 1 is uphill, from the parking lot into the main entrance of the park. Its a dramatic view, with the features of the central garden lit up in the morning light and Pikes Peak rising in the background. Add in crystal blue skies, and it was a good site to start the run. You follow the park road up, and then twist in to the backside of the central garden, then out onto the park road, curving up with long rolling hills for another several miles. The temps were cooler than previous years, so I skipped the first few aid stations and plowed on. I was feeling strong and steady. 

Mile five takes you by Balanced Rock, and curves you back the way you came. After miles six, there's probably a 3/4 mile uphill slog, and by the end I was feeling it more than I knew I had in years' past. I ended up taking a short walk break, which was disappointing as I don't particularly like to walk in road races. However, I was back to running and had a relatively good downhill stretch to recover. We curved around to the front of the park, where I used my handy-dandy (and free from the race) reusable cup clipped to my hydration belt to fill up on some electrolyte drink and continue on to the only place in the park where spectators can see our sweaty selves, and then curve back in to the park through the central garden. It was getting warmer by this time and I could smell the juniper bushes as we cruised through mile 8. 

The uphill after mile 8 was tough. I had to walk again, and more than I wanted to, but such is that. The lesson out of this is that I need more hill work, and maybe not to visit the Midwest for two weeks prior to a race at elevation. I got myself going again and crested the final hill. There is a long downhill stretch that takes you from the central garden parking lot around to the front of the park with the rock formations to your right. Coming down the hill is unusually quiet- you've passed the aid station and there's no sound except the slapping of your feet on the road, and then crickets and birds. With the rock formations, the bird song and the blue sky, my thought at the moment was that this had to be one of the most picturesque races in America. No wonder it sold out. 

Through mile nine, and then you take the curve back out of the park entrance, right at the parking lot and down the dirt track to the historic ranch on the park property. A loop around the ranch and by the barn that smelled strongly of farm animal, and then it was the last stretch. I pulled my remaining energy and found my kick, picking up speed, passing a number of people and feeling strong. I wish that energy had been available at miles 6 and 8, but I finished with an average time of only about 6 seconds per mile slower than I wanted to be. Knowing those seconds all came from the walk breaks, I know my actual running pace was where I wanted it to be. Now I just need to lock it in and sustain it.

I met up with running buddies and cheered in others until a friend ran in, then she and I toured the after party expo for a bit. We parted ways and I caught up with other runners from Achilles and the Incline Club, before taking a seat and having a drink at the special tent set up for Garden to Peak registrants. I felt pretty spoiled sitting in the sun in an Adirondack chair, chatting with others and watching the race awards.

Time to hit the trails again.