I have been to Vail for the Teva Mountain Games the past couple of years, and this summer was no exception. The atmosphere during summer's opening week is hard to find elsewhere - a full-fledged celebration of all things outdoors. Tons of stuff to watch, from BMX to fly fishing to dog jumping! Many top athletes from the climbing, cycling, kayaking, and running communities also compete. In some of the events, you do not need to be anything special in order to participate. It is under this guise that I have been able to compete in the 10k in 2009 and 2010. This year, I decided to try the Vail Pass Half Marathon instead. In normal years, the course climbs from Vail Village at 8,100 feet to nearly the top of Vail Pass, at 10,600'. Because of the huge snowfall this spring, they modified the course for the 2011 version. The route was unchanged through mile 9.5, but then turned around and re-descended for 3.6 miles. With only a 5.6% average grade, this modified course took a lot of the bite out of the pain of the last few miles.
I'd been flat and sore all week long and felt terrible during my warm-up. As the start drew near, I ran into many faces I haven't seen since last fall...the trail running community isn't exactly enormous. We set off, and I quickly found myself sitting behind 25 or so others as we came through the first nearly flat mile in 6:15. A group of about ten or so had already separated themselves from the field. I estimate they came through in 5:10 or so. As usual, I found myself running amongst the ladies' leaders - Brandy Erholtz, Melody Fairchild, Megan Lund, and Kim Dobson were all within five seconds of each other as we came through mile 3 in 18:20.
Once we got dumped off the trail and onto the main road in East Vail, the angle increased slightly. Either people began pealing off or my pace had quickened, as only Dobson stayed with me through this stretch. We didn't move up any places on this stretch, but a few guys that had gone out a little faster began to come back into the fold. Additionally, two guys had dropped out, and a third - Ricky Gates - had begun to just jog it in with the intent of saving his energy for Sunday. I believed that I was then somewhere near 18th at the time.
The last few miles of the uphill stretch steepened a bit more, and this is where I finally began to find some life. I passed a good deal of guys on this stretch, and pulled away from a large group behind me. I had found another gear and was really pushing it, seeing just how much time I could put on those behind me. When I came to the turnaround at mile "9.5" (it was really 10.0) I counted that I had moved into 10th place. With nearly a minute lead on the next guy, I knew then that I had somehow scored myself - just barely - another top 10 finish. The last three miles then clicked off - 5:30, 5:30, 5:35. An extra half mile was thrown in by the race organizers just for kicks, and I finished quite happily in 1:28 and change.
Got to hang out with a bunch of cool folks at the finish line, including Peter Maksimow, Dylan Bowman, 10k trail winner Max King, the Erholtzes and Dobsons, and Megan Kimmel. I made little haste getting back into Vail, though, so I could get ready for my Sunday adventure.
The audio quality is average at best. Canadians.