2013 Salida Marathon
March 9, 2013 — Salida, CO
3:26:39 — 9th (out of 163)
Despite it being a no-frills, early season, non-ultra, sans prize money trail race, the Salida Marathon never fails to draw a crowd of Colorado speedsters anxious to shake the winter stiffness from their legs. Snow and all, this year’s edition was no exception.
I left Durango Friday afternoon, beat the incoming blizzard over Wolf Creek Pass, and arrived in Salida by early evening where I met up with several Front Range friends. We proceeded to race headquarters where, although I’d originally registered for the half marathon (the thought being that the shorter distance would provide a more suitable “tempo-like” workout for my upcoming road marathon), I caved to peer pressure and transferred to the full marathon knowing I’d never hear the end of it if I only did the half. I’m a fool — what can I say. I justified the move thinking of this as “good UTMB training” (i.e. spend as much time in horrendous weather as possible).
I ran Salida just once before (in 2011) and this year noted several changes:
- More single-track. Race organizers have added additional single-track early in the race, hence reducing the amount of dirt road running — always a good thing!
- Cold and snow. The last two years have been sunny, mild and dry. This year we got a good dose of late Colorado winter.
- More runners. In 2011 there were about 120 finishers; this year there were over 160 — a 33% increase!
- I am a smarter, wiser runner — right? That’s what one might think having two additional years of ultramarathon experience to my name. Nope. I failed to read my notes from Salida 2011 and repeated history (a schmuck am I!). More on this below…
On race morning, runners conglomerated beneath the cold, wet ice fog that engulfed Salida and the surrounding hills. Rumor had it we’d dodged the worst of the snow, and judging by the lack of white ground-cover Id have believed it. Off the start, a pack of 12 moved out in haste. I tried to hold on for the first few miles but quickly realized that this would likely not be a banner day for the weasel. My legs felt sluggish — I struggled up climbs with a short, uncomfortable stride.
As we rose into the hills east of Salida, the lead pack faded out of sight. Snow began to fall and before long I found myself entirely alone, grinding slowly up a slushy dirt road toward the 12-mile aid station. I cursed the hill, my legs, the snow, my shoes (one of which seemed to be chafing through the top of my big toe), and anything else unfortunate enough to be within range of my foul demeanor.
A funny thing happened when I arrived at the 12-mile aid station. For only the second time ever in a race, I was hit with the sudden urge to evacuate my bowels (pleasant, I know). I warned the aid station volunteers, tossed my handheld water bottle aside, and hopped into the convenient pit toilet to do my duty. Fun fact: the only other race at which I’ve confronted similar “GI distress” was at: (you guessed it) the Salida Marathon — two years ago. Coincidence? Probably. History repeated.
Beyond the aid station the route climbed further (at a lesser grade) until we reached the course high point at 9000 feet — around mile 14. I tackled this section alone, and much more comfortably than I’d felt earlier. As the trail angled south and eased into a subtle descent, a sweeping view of the lower Arkansas River Valley emerged: Simmons and Hunts Peaks of the northern Sangre de Cristos to the south, Shavano and Antero of the southern Collegiates across the valley, and quiet Salida (meaning “exit” in Spanish — perhaps a nod to the point at which the Arkansas bids farewell to these mighty peaks and flows east toward the Great Plains, Atlantic-bound), 2000 feet below. This gorgeous sight, framed by thick clouds and wet snow, dulled my misery and actually brightened my mood a little.
Like a runaway dumpster gathering speed I accelerated with every undulation of the serpentine single-track, rolling, banking, and cruising my way past a handful of fading competitors toward the valley floor. Big, wet flakes obscured my vision around each bend and “on your left” became cliche as I shoehorned myself past dozens of half-marathon stragglers. While I can confidently say the first 20 miles sucked, these last six were heavenly. I barreled across the finish line in 9th place — a result I decided I’ll be happy with given the day’s circumstances.
Minutes later I warmed my insides with a bowl of hot corn chowder and vegetable bean soup served at the old Salida steam plant and mingled with all the runners who had so handily beat me: Josh Arthur, Nick Clark, Travis Macy, Timmy Parr, Ryan Burch and many others. Dozens of shivering finishers continued to trickle into the steam plant — friends new and old, strangers, wet, cold, but happy to be done. Before long we had a reunion on our hands.
The Salida Marathon is not a boutique race. Entry is cheap, prizes are humble, and the shirts are plain. I think this was the first year entrants didn’t have to actually put a check in the mail to register. Yet the race beautifully captures much of what the trail running community means to me. The race organizers do not pocket fistfulls of money, nor do they pretend the race is something it’s not. They simply wish to share Salida and it’s surrounding beauty, and provide us runners an excuse to reconnect and revel (and pubcrawl!) as winter finally winds down.
That evening I feasted upon a traditional Irish supper (courtesy of Burch’s “aunt”) in the warmth of an old wood stove and the company of a dozen friends, several of whom I’d met just that day. We laughed and shared our meal like brothers and sisters. This family defines the running community and I’m so grateful to have stumbled into it.