A race?! That’s right, with the Pro race at IRONMAN Arizona recently being cancelled, I decided to jump in to a local race known as the “Run to Whitewater”. Since arriving to Grand Junction in April of 2019, I had somehow managed to not jump into any local running races yet. Probably a combination of my somewhat injury-prone legs and always being hyper focused on the next big event on the horizon. My running legs certainly had been on the back-burner while focusing on my long ride 2 weeks ago, but I know it doesn’t take too many sessions to get at least some run speed back. Especially with such a large depth of endurance backing me.
The run was brought to my attention by a small group of 3 other local runners that I’ve begun training with known as the Fruita Ultra Club Boys (Boyz, Bois? haven’t gotten a consensus here yet). All 3 of which are strong runners, but I had never actually raced against. Max had already dropped me once in our Flowing Park FKT attempt. Ryan who I share a Course Record with at the South Park Marathon (different course his year). And James who has a ton of endurance, when he’s not in a bathroom on the trail. They had all done the Run to Whitewater in prior years, and in 2019 swept the podium as well as setting the Course Record.
With the race being on Sunday, I still had a somewhat typical Saturday of training. Just with a bit less volume than normal with just over 3 hours of riding/running in hopes that the legs would be a bit fresher. The run didn’t start until 8:30 am so there weren’t any crazy wake up times. But we did need to organize dropping off the minivan in Whitewater since this was a point-to-point race. This 17 mile trail run was put on by the local run group known as the Mesa Monument Striders and had a couple dozen runners in addition to supporters. So fairly easy to distance ourselves at the start and finish areas. We rolled into the start at Bangs Canyon Trailhead with just enough time to say hello to everybody, get organized, and get ready for the start!
As soon as the run began, I knew that my legs were going to respond well for the day. The first 2 miles were primarily downhill and I took full advantage, immediately getting a gap as nobody seemed to want to start that frisky. Luckily the Tabaguache trail we were to follow was very well marked, as I was bouncing off rocks and sand on the technical trail at around a 6-minute mile. This immediately changed as the trail immediately turned up at some INTENSE grades. Climbing over the next approximately 6 miles from 5,400 feet to 7,200 feet in elevation.
There was definitely a lot of power hiking and sucking wind in that hour, but I knew the long downhill was coming. I worked in hopes that I’d be able to hold off the Boys until that point, as I didn’t want it to come down to an all out sprint down the mountain. Somehow I managed to reach the top of the climb without seeing anyone approaching from behind and not being completely spent. Though I had been tasting lactate the entire way up, the legs still some punch left in them and were ready to let loose on the descent.
The entire descent I hovered between 5:40-6:05 pace, really opening up the legs and trying to just let the body “fall” down the descent. Some sections were pretty open to move super quickly, while others were quite technical and took a lot of focus to stay upright with good line choice and foot placement. I was pretty confident that I was moving quickly enough to prevent the Boys from bridging the gap based on their splits from prior years. In the final few miles I could tell my legs were getting a little sloppier as all the descending was starting to take its toll. I attempted to take in some of the amazing view occasionally, but was more preoccupied by not wiping out!
I started to assume I had the race wrapped up and was trying to do the math of what my finish time would be. In a very technical final switchback I nearly took a wrong turn before correcting myself and making the last drop down the mountain. As I approached the road to the trailhead, I missed a quite obvious gate in the fence and decided to run all the way around the fence. This added maybe 30-ish seconds as I was confused why the people across the road were yelling.
Once I reached the official finish, I turned around to see Ryan finishing his descent and coming in around 20 seconds behind me! I had apparently dodged a massive bullet. Despite having a 2-3 minute lead on him at the end of the climb, Ryan absolutely crushed the downhill and nearly made up all of that ground. Max came in just over a minute later, and had apparently been with Ryan until his massive downhill surge. We had all crushed the prior Course Record by 5-6 minutes and James came rolling in 4th just a minute behind the prior CR time. Claiming he thought we were all going to blow up!
Meeting more of the local running community afterwards was great and I’m looking forward to jumping into more local events in the future. The community in Grand Junction is super supportive of each other and Rebekah and I are glad every day that we made the choice to make this our permanent home!