After taking second place for two years in a row, I finally landed a win at the Blue Sky Marathon this year.
This year, more than ever, I went in with some iffy training. I had run all summer, focusing on long outings with lots of vert and doing very little in the way of speedwork. This was all in preparation for the Bighorn 100 and Leadville 100, the former of which went well and the latter of which…well, didn’t go very far before I pulled out with early symptoms of a hernia.
I had taken a month off of running, from mid-August to mid-September, but I had done at least one Tower’s time trial. Add in a century ride up to Estes Park the weekend before and I was skating a fine line between being modestly prepared and totally out of racing shape.
It’s amazing what a long period of rest does for you, though. You reanalyze your training, your attitude toward racing, and your strategy. I realized I’d been playing things far too conservatively during the last year of racing, in the process screwing up my race-day nutrition and finishing races without the satisfaction of having really pushed myself to the limit. I think it’s far too easy to overthink racing, because in the end it’s still just running. You should just go.
So I showed up Sunday and threw it down from the starting line. It was cool but not cold at the start, which predictably involved a sprint down the Soderberg trail that I willfully indulged in. There was someone way out front but I happily settled into second on the way up Towers. I kept the pace relaxed up the first few steep pitches while others pushed around me and I drifted back a bit. However, by the Herrington turnoff I’d moved back into second behind Kory. From there until the Stout turnoff onto Towers I kept close behind him. I took the lead for about 20 seconds until Tony stormed past. I gave chase and kept him within sight on the way back to the start/finish area.
Running or...crashing...down Stout trail less than an hour into the race. Photo by Erin Bibeau.
The Blue Sky trail on the way out always seems so easy, but it’s easy to overwork yourself there. I let Tony build a lead on me until he was basically out of sight behind the many switchbacks and rocky outcroppings, wanting to bank some energy for the return trip.
By Indian Summer North Tony was about 2 minutes ahead of me, and I was 2 minutes ahead of Kory. On the way up Indian Summer Tony pulled ahead even further, but I managed to reel him back in a bit on the descent after a quick pee break.
The Devil’s Backbone section was unnaturally hot. When I crested the short scramble up the ridge I could feel the slickrock and jagged boulders heating up fast. I’ve never been great at running on this section, with its tricky footing and abrupt drops off rock ledges, but I settled into what could be called a groove and, soon enough, started catching glimpses of Tony once again. By the time we started climbing back up to the ridgeline he was only 45 seconds ahead.
He’d grow that lead for the moment, though. I had to stop at Indian Summer South and chug ice water. I left the aid station with one gel’s worth left in my flask and popped that just before the climb. I also sprayed my head with ice water and it was like I lit a fire inside.
I went to work on that hill and passed Tony about halfway up the switchback-y section near the aid station. When I hit the meandering contour trail on top of the hillside I really started to open it up. My stop at Indian Summer North was just to refill with Tailwind and head on out. I could still see Kory and Tony in the distance, but I had momentum.
And very little energy. With about half an hour left to go and only a bottle of Tailwind, I was redlining the whole way back. As always, the Blue Sky trail back to the finish is psychologically torturing and physically demanding, despite the shallow grade. Because of the jarring, jackknife curves and abrupt, rolling terrain, there’s no way to tell how much of a lead you may or may not have. Horsetooth Rock, looming in the distance, never seems to get much closer, either.
I knew I had it in the bag when I looked back at the tunnel under the highway and saw no one behind me. It wasn’t going to be a battle over the last hundred yards, but I was still going to finish strong. Crossing the line in first after two years of near-misses was exciting, but it did feel like it had an asterisk next to it. I had a real slow winning time and my slowest finish at this race.
Blue Sky: the only race where you can win a corgi. Photo from the Coloradoan.
I think I need to look back on this past year and try to learn from it, because not a lot went right. But at least I can say I ran Blue Sky with the intensity that I’d been lacking all year, and I’m just happy to be in the mix again.