A tiny, humble race in the largest, grandest of settings—that’s how I’d describe Rim Rock Run.
It felt too good to be true. Right smack dab up my frigging alley.
I arrived in Grand Junction, CO on Thursday, November 3, and spent time with family until more than one person texted to ask if I was taking steps to acclimate to altitude prior to the race.
I still don’t understand how altitude works. I have a really great tolerance for beer. And brandy. Is altitude like beer and brandy? The more I have of it, the more I tolerate it? Could I do things to better tolerate altitude in such a short time period? I couldn’t train myself to be so excellent at drinking beer and brandy in one day, that is for sure—my skill has taken years and years to hone.
Meh. I took a stab at it, and took a steep hike at Colorado National Monument the day prior to the race, after picking up my race packet.
Check-in was either race day or the day prior. I’m not sure why I bothered getting my packet the day prior, but because it was my first out of state race, I wanted to be organized.
There were no lines at packet pick-up, and everyone seemed friendly. I stared, trying to discern if CO runners are noticeably different than WI runners. The early packet picker-uppers were certainly more attractive than your average WI runner, but I didn’t want to draw any rash conclusions before gawking a lot more.
On race day, I got up before dawn, borrowed my sister-in-law’s car, and drove to the Fruita Community Center (same place as packet pick-up), where I boarded one of three yellow school buses for the half marathoners.
Again, I gaped at people, trying to draw conclusions and form stereotypes.
Maybe, there were more young people and especially young women. I think in WI they would be sleeping off a hangover on Saturday morning. There were fewer middle aged men. Nearly all were attractive, but there were certainly the usual running weirdos milling about. My final conclusion: runners are basically the same in WI and CO.
The buses set off, reaching Colorado National Monument quickly, and beginning to ascend. Higher and higher we climbed up a winding, narrow two-lane road. Out my bus window I looked down on sheer drop-offs. My eyes constantly darted between our driver and the drop-off, as I tried to gauge how much I trusted him. Did he look like someone who’d drive a bus off a cliff? He wasn’t sweating, which was a good sign. (Don’t suicide bombers usually sweat like the dickens right before they explode themselves?)
It took forever to get to the top, on the same route we’d soon be running down.
The buses parked in a relatively flat spot and three busloads of runners (200 people) darted for four porta-potties, all at once.
I got through the line, thankfully, and headed to the start. The starting line was what looked like a crumpled up piece of athletic tape they had attempted to stick to the ground, but wouldn’t stick, and hence blew away a little in a crooked line. Very official.
The race began. After about a minute of running, I passed the first mile marker. What in the world, I wondered, but then remembered a pre-race email warning that distances might be off slightly, and did a little victory dance that I’d be running less than 13.1 miles.
Not that I would have minded running forever. Because the scenery!!! It was to die for.
Speaking of dying… what if I got dizzy and fell off the edge? Or tripped on a shoelace?
We had the entire right lane of the road. I stuck as close to the yellow lines as I could, as far from the cliff as possible. I wasn’t taking any risks. I watched the runners around me, all focusing forward on the road. I couldn’t, with spires and cliffs and canyons and such great beauty to my right. I craned my neck, and ran with my head turned for most of the race.
We ran past soaring vistas. We ran through tunnels burrowed into rock that said “no pedestrians.” We ran past bikers, flying down or churning slowly uphill. I’ve never seen anything quite so spectacular. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but my knees were too weak with fear.
“I’m from Milwaukee!” I shouted, randomly, to a pack of people, as the glee overtook me. “THIS IS F*CKING BANANAS!”
I got a few snickers in response and a local, originally from Waukesha, identified himself as a former Wisconsinite. What are the chances?
“What brought you out here to live?” I asked, curiously.
“THIS.” he said, spreading his arms, and I understood.
We still have cows, though. And stuff.
I didn’t notice the altitude until I had descended quite a bit, and my head felt clearer, and my body less exhausted.
I hadn’t known what to expect of a race advertised as a “downhill half marathon.” Would I be speedy as hell? Or would it be an exercise in shin and knee torture? I love hills, including letting my body go loose and limber as I fly down them, but could one do that for 13 miles?
It’s an altogether unique experience I can’t really relate to anything else. My time wasn’t faster than it usually is, even with the shorter race distance. Running downhill for so much of the race pounded and beat on parts of my legs I normally don’t use, right down to the bone. I got blisters in random spots.
Instead of being able to fly, I definitely had to propel, contain, and focus myself. There were quite a few flat stretches, including a few miles at the end, and even some slight inclines. I rejoiced whenever I hit an incline, knowing it was stretching my muscles in the opposite direction. On the flats my legs were battered from the hills, and I struggled to move—like dismounting a bike in a triathlon and starting the run segment. But again, I didn’t mind any of it because of my surroundings.
How did I get so lucky to have this experience, I wondered.
And thus the race proceeded. Me, smiling, enjoying, staring, processing, feeling lucky, and loving every second.
Until we exited the park and ran down the shoulder of a boring highway, including around a traffic circle near a highway on-ramp, to an unseen finish line…
…but hey, the rest of it more than made up for that desolate as crap ending. Not sure what could have topped the scenery at that point, anyway—maybe a herd of bighorn sheep!! (Dammit, I saw NONE.)
At the finish was soup, pretzels, fruit, **all you can drink craft beer** (my brother drank most of it) in a complementary glass, a band, and more people-watching for Tara.
The only negative was having to wait for more than two hours for the gear I’d dropped at the start. For whatever reason, they had to wait for the very last runner to finish before they’d deliver it. Last year, they explained, shipping the gear to people post race cost a fortune. I’d snottily suggest a solution somewhere between shipping gear and waiting for the very last runner is the answer. 🙂
All in all, a true bucket list experience. I don’t understand why this race doesn’t sell out instantly.
- Pre-race, the race director was prompt and cordial to respond to e-mails.
- I’m not sure if there were race photos taken, but I did see someone taking pictures with an umbrella over his head at a very opportune spot.
- Last night I googled, “deaths at Colorado National Monument” and discovered my fears of plunging to my demise were VERY, VERY real. Yikes.