Unlike a couple of weeks ago, when I did the PPRR Winter Series III in a blizzard, the Winter Series IV was run in absolutely beautiful conditions. With an expected start time temperature in the 40's, I would hazard to guess that it was more like 50 degrees when we finally got underway. When I arrived at the race, I was equipped with a hat and gloves, but wound up leaving them both in the car, as they were completely unnecessary. I could have left the long sleeve shirt off as well, but wound up running the first 5 miles or so with it.
The Winter Series IV Long Course is a 20 kilometer event set in the hilly woods of Black Forest, a few miles north of Colorado Springs. The majority of the course is run on dirt roads, most of which were snowy in parts, although there was a fair mix of both slushy mud, and dry dirt, as well. I've divided my report into three sections to reflect how I progressed through the race.
Miles 1-4: I'm always surprised by how fast people start out a race. After the starting announcement (no pistol start here), we were off and running down a short downhill. In my effort to run a little slower, the majority of the field spread out quickly before me. We soon turned and worked our way across the next few miles, and I kept a very easy pace, averaging somewhere between 9:30-10:00/ mile. The race is run mostly on dirt roads, and consists of gentle rising and falling hills. People seemed to be of two minds with these hills. Some folks would slow way down going up, and then rocket down the other side. Others (including myself), would try to keep a consistent pace going up the hill, and rely on the backside to recover. The result of this was a lot of back and forth passing through the first portion of the race. Note- about 1/2 mile into my run, my HR monitor was giving me some funky readings. It had been acting a little squirrely all morning, so I decided to push the strap down around my waist and not bother with it anymore.
Miles- 4-8: The next section of the run proceeded much like the first. I maintained a pace that was probably somewhere between 9:00/9:30 per mile, but I was still feeling very comfortable so I didn't worry about the increased speed. I guess I still have too much of a competitive edge, because I felt really challenged in trying to run slower. I would see someone up ahead, and start calculating how soon I could pass them. I was also passing a lot of people on the hilly portions, and I didn't really want to be see-sawing with them the whole way. As a result, I kept my pace a little faster. At mile 7, I decided to do a couple of miles at a faster pace. I figured if I did two miles at a sub 9:00 pace, I would be in good shape to finish the last part of the run in well under 2 hours. From 7 to 8, and again from 8 to 9, I would estimate my pace at approximately 8:00/ mile. A slight breeze had developed at this point, but it was very mild, and didn't really impact things too much.
Miles 9-12: I would estimate that 65-70% of the last portion of this race involved uphill running. There were only a few sections (including the last 1/2 mile) that were downhill. During miles 7 through 9 we had descended a fair amount, and it seemed to take most of that same distance to climb back out. The hills were long, but gradual, and while I felt my pace slowing a little, I continued to push a little harder going up these. I can certainly see how this portion of the run is both physically and psychologically challenging. It seems like every time you turn, there's another long hill stretching out ahead of you. Still I kept climbing, and managed to pass a few more folks along the way. We finally reached a turn onto a downhill stretch that carried us all of the way to the finish. I came through in 1:50:40 which was good for 10th out of 17 in my age group and 70th overall, out of 190 runners. My average pace was 9:13/ mile which seems fairly slow, but really I had split the race in two, so my first half average was probably around 9:30, and my second half around 8:45.
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this race, and while I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to the entire Winter Series again (it intrudes on a lot of weekends), I would definitely enjoy #4 again. I also think that this area offers great potential for training. Here's why:
1) The availability of hills makes it ideal for training for other races this year including the Horsetooth 1/2 marathon, HITS 70.3, and Pueblo XTerra. These races will all including some hilly sections.
2) The traffic factor is low, which is great. It's nice to run somewhere where you don't have to worry about cars every step of the way.
3) Although it's an hour north of me, it's also only about 30-40 minutes from my brother's place, which means it could be a great location for a weekend, or even a summer evening run.
4) It's somewhere new, which is always a nice thing when grinding out a longer run!
So my early year races are about to wrap up. I've got the Chieftain Spring Runoff next week, which I will be running with my daughter (just a 5K, but she's been training so it should be fun). After that, there's about a five week break before I start looking at two weekends of racing in April (woohoo Spring time!). First will be the recently revamped Ordinary Mortals Triathlon at CSU-Pueblo, followed a week later by the Horse tooth Half Marathon. I'm particularly excited for this one, as it will be a chance to run a race that I haven't done for years. Perhaps even more exciting, is the fact that it ends at the New Belgium Brewing Company!