While the course changes they've made at Salida over the past two years are all good improvements in terms of the running experience, I'm a fan of picking a course and sticking to it so times and performances are comparable through the years. There has been a really good history of runners at Salida in the six or seven years that they've been running it, so it has always been a good yardstick to measure yourself against. If I had to guess, I'd say the new course is six or seven minutes slower than the original and three to four slower than last year's. Not that anyone really cares.
So the race got out much the same as it has in years past, with Timmy Parr assuming the lead behind a handful of half marathoners through an uptempo early couple of miles. My legs felt astoundingly flat and plain old heavy almost as soon as we started running. This of course is never a good sign, so I chose to sit back off the lead to see if I could warm things up a bit before we started the big climb to the course's high point at 9,000 feet.
Tucking into the Tenderfoot Mountain switchbacks, I could see there were three half marathoners, Timmy, Jason Koop and two others I didn't recognize ahead of me, with Rob Kosick - who had beaten me twice on the same day in Estes Park in January - close behind. I ducked in behind Jason and followed his heels up the initial singletrack climb, passing second and third along the way. At the first aid I went around Jason and set about chasing down Timmy who had built a bit of a lead by the time we started a rolling traverse on tight singletrack across a number of gullies.
|Early in the climb, with a couple of the Collegiate Peaks in the rear view.|
The shaded sections of the jeep track were about average in terms of snow coverage, but it was decently packed so the running was pretty good for the most part. My legs opened up a bit through the rolling terrain and after a few miles of occasional shoulder checking on sections that afforded a bit of a view, I figured that I had a lock on the race. I put the run into steady mode and started thinking about Sunday's run.
At mile 20, it was a left turn off the rocky jeep trail and on to the new section of super-twisty singletrack from last year. My legs were starting to feel a little tired, but at the same time as open as they had all day. On the last big climb of the course, with perhaps five miles to go, I checked down the switchbacks and all of a sudden saw Jason. Ughh. He can't have been much more than a minute behind, which of course meant that I needed to refocus and push.
I was glad to find the required gear and be able to move quickly enough over the remaining miles to chalk my first win in Salida. I've always enjoyed this tough little season opener, so couldn't be happier to finally get my name up there on the winners' board. I ended up running about five minutes slower than last year, which is probably an equal effort given the course changes. I definitely felt more in control this weekend, as I remember struggling last year through the closing miles when trying to hold off Dan Vega for second.
I'll take that as a positive and see what two upcoming test-pieces have in store over the next few weeks. First up on Saturday is a speed test, with 5k of road racing at the St Paddy's Day run where I'm really hoping to register something in the low 16s, and then in April it will be the Lake Sonoma 50 miler, which promises to be quite the race.
And finally, for those keeping score at home, my margin of victory over Brownie this year was a full 75 minutes. So despite giving him a generous 45-minute handicap, I again walked away with free beer. Last year it took Brownie 10 months to make good on his debt, but this year there was an immediate post-race pay off with a nice growler of Irish Red from the famed Moonlight Pizza. Next year he gets 75 minutes.