Name of the race: Slacker Half Marathon
Where: Georgetown, CO
Date: June 23, 2018
Time: 7:30 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: 2,200 net decline, point-to-point, at high altitude (start: 10,630 ft and finish: 8,400 feet)
Entry fee: $25 New Year’s Eve special
$65: RACE DAY***
13 years & under: $20
65 years and older: $35
Swag: Technical long sleeve shirt, spike bag, finishers medal
Post-race Food: Oranges, apples, bananas, bagels with cream cheese, hot dogs, beer, popsicles, yogurt, Pepsi, and water
Performance: Overall: 157/1129; Gender: 65/746; Age (40-44): 14/120
Weather: 36 degrees, 55% humidity, 16 mph wind (tailwind)
The majestic mountain peaks, towering evergreens, alpine meadows replete with wildflowers, and a swiftly flowing crystal clear river set the scene for views that literally take your breath away – mostly because you’re over 10,000 ft in elevation. At 10,600 feet or so where we were at the start area (Loveland Ski area, not to be confused with Loveland, CO), there is about 33% less oxygen than at sea level. Slacker Half is the highest half marathon in the United States.
I discovered this race last year, and thought a downhill race with over 2,000 ft of net decline sounded like a lot of fun (I conveniently overlooked the altitude part). I convinced Ben that doing this race was a great idea and got our friend Kelly, who now lives in CO, to agree to do with us! We got an excellent price on our race entries because Slacker offered $25 to the first 100 (if I’m remembering correctly) people who signed up at midnight Mountain time on New Year’s Eve. Ben and I conveniently got sick so we weren’t going out that night, so we simply set our alarm for a few minutes before 2 am, in order to sign up.
The Wednesday before the race, Jay asked me if I wanted to do the same 5K that I did with him last year. I told him that I was doing Slacker Half. He was able to find decent airfare, so he decided to go do Slacker Half as well. Jay emailed EC, who is a club member who moved to Denver a year ago and asked EC what he was doing that weekend. EC wrote back that he guessed he was doing Slacker Half with us. So now we had this lovely group of people doing the race with us.
Ben and I flew to Denver Friday morning. We stayed at the Westin Denver International Airport, which was located right at the airport, for that night. The reason why we got an airport hotel is because originally we were supposed to land in Denver at midnight and then we would have to get up at 4:00 am, in order to get ready and leave for the half (Dillon, CO was a little more than an hour away). We needed something convenient where we could crash and sleep as much as possible. The day of our flight, Ben was able to change our flights to a morning one, so we wouldn’t be so sleep-deprived. I love the Westin and this one at the airport was a particularly lovely one. We got a free upgrade to a sumptuous corner junior suite that had floor-to-ceiling walls on two sides. All afternoon and evening, we were able to see airplanes taking off and landing from our luxurious king size bed. Like all Westins, they have the RunWestin program, where for $5 you can borrow New Balance clothes and shoes (the brand new socks you can keep). They have a run concierge for Tuesday and Thursday mornings, otherwise, you can get a running map from the front desk. This Westin is especially nice because of their arts program. They have a number of permanent large-scale artwork, in addition, while we were there was a temporary art installation that was a free mini golf course. We very much enjoyed our one-night stay at the Westin.
Getting up so early for the race wasn’t as hard as we feared because we were still on New York time. We arrived at the start of the race at around 6:30 am. Kelly kindly got our bibs for us a few days prior in Denver, which saved us the hassle of parking in a different location and then walking over to the race start line. Jay arrived and we looked for EC. As the start time approached, we got a bit nervous because we couldn’t find him, but suddenly Jay found EC and brought him over to us. We shared what our race plans were; none of us planned on “racing” this. Kelly was a week out from her dominating performance at IM Boulder, where she crushed her competitors in her age group (and the one below) by beating them by over an hour. Yeah, she’s one badass lady (and if you’re looking for a great tri coach, she’s taking clients!). I just wanted to do Slacker as a workout because I wasn’t quite sure how my body would react to being so high up. I knew altitude would make me go slower, but I wasn’t sure how much the downhill would help me.
The start of the race is a very casual affair. Although technically there were two waves, nothing was enforced and you could go whenever you wanted to. I watched, Ben, Kelly, Jay, and EC run ahead of me. As tempted as I was to run with Jay and EC, I knew I had to go at my own pace.
The first mile of the Slacker Half is a dirt/packed gravel trail. I took this section carefully and slowly as there were some steep descent and loose gravel, along with a fair amount of congestion. I patiently picked my way through and once we were on the road, I picked up my pace. Immediately I thought I was going into cardiac arrest. The rate of my heart beat soared. My vision started to go dark. I gasped for air. I put on the brakes and went back to trotting at the same pace as I did for the first mile. I felt better. I took a few deep breaths. Then I tried picking up the pace again.
Once again, my heart pounded so hard that I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. This was not good. I was frustrated because I could run at a fairly relaxed pace without a problem, but pushing the pace even 5 secs faster immediately sent my heart soaring. Deciding that passing out on the side of the road of a half marathon wasn’t a good option, I continued to trot along. This wasn’t going to be a speedy race, instead, I would have a nice run and good downhill training.
Aside from a few very small minor hills, the race is pretty much a steady downhill all the way. In other words, a marble could pretty much be rolled down all the way to the finish line. I read a ton of warning of a major hill at around Mile 5.5. When I got there, I almost snorted in disbelief. It is the gentlest of long inclines. In any other race, we wouldn’t have registered it and called it flat. I think it just feels like a Category 1 climb is because people take the few few downhill miles waaaayyyyyy too hard, and along with the reduced oxygen levels, the hill feels much harder than it actually is.
The course is really picturesque. As each mile passes, different scenes open up. The first few miles, we ran through an evergreen forest. Then we ran through what looked like a mountain pass. Next came miles of lovely alpine meadows. I tried to look at the views as much as possible, which was kinda hard because starting around Mile 7 or so, running started to suck.
I wasn’t feeling all that great. Not sick. Not hurt or injured. Just simply not 100%. My body hurt in a way that I had never experienced before. Although I had run in several downhill races without a single problem (no quash trashing aches for me!), this race was a totally different beast. I had never done a downhill race that had this much elevation loss and it was taking a toll on my body. I could feel my left toes slamming into the front of the shoe. My quads ached and begged for a break. I spent some time wondering at which race I felt worse – the Goodlife Toronto Half where my stomach rebelled against me or this one where I had no specific ache that I could pinpoint, but a general malaise.
My favorite section of this race was the last few miles of the course. There’s a multi-use path that travels along the freeway, hugging a deep lush ravine with a rushing river swollen with water from the melted snow on the mountains. It was incredibly lovely and I focused on the view to distract my mind from the pain that I was feeling. The multi-use path wound its way through.
Normally at Mile 10 of a half, I push the pace knowing it’s only a 5K til the finish. This time, it was all I could do to hang steady. Around Mile 12, I caught up to Ben. He was fine, but he had slowed down because his calf muscles were cramping. He ran with me for a few minutes and then said that he would see me at the finish line. I nodded in acknowledgment. All was going well, until the last quarter mile of the race, where I once again faced another super tiny hill. Here I experienced something I had never experienced before.
Literally with .25 mile left and a hill so small that in any other race I wouldn’t have noticed going up it, my leg muscles gave out on me. I crumpled like one of those wooden push up toys where you press on the base for the tension on the strings to go slack and then the animal collapses. For a moment I was afraid that I was going to fall. I stumbled and walked a few steps. When I felt I regained balance, I tried to run again. My body rebelled. The leg muscles had turned into concrete blocks. I simply could no longer run. This was infuriating because I had only yards left to go and this is where I would typically be sprinting to the finish line. Instead, I shuffled gamely as Kelly cheered for me by the sidelines. I felt like crying out to her, “I swear I was running before this!”
The finish line never felt so far away. Finally, I dragged my legs across the finish line. Better than finishing were the sweet, sweet ice cold otter pops that were waiting for the finishers. I eagerly gobbled up several while waiting for Ben, Jay, and EC (I passed Jay and EC within the first few miles). Ben came in a couple of minutes later and a few minutes after Ben, came the other two.
The town of Georgetown transformed itself in the Slacker Half post-race party area. There was something cool about wandering around town knowing that the entire town was there for the race. The post-race festival was great. There was music (can’t remember if there was a band or if music was being played through speakers), a huge raffle giveaway, and so much food. I ate an orange, and a yogurt, and drank some Pepsi. Ben wolfed down two freshly grilled hot dogs and quaffed beer. Every runner could have two servings of craft beer. If you wanted beer, then they gently suggest that you give a donation of a buck. Ben was quite happy with his two beers.
We got to meet Beth Luther, the race director of Slacker Half. Serious kudos need to go to her for the awesome job that she did directing this race. She proved her badassery when early that morning, some equipment fell on her head. She got a serious cut, but instead of going to the hospital, she went to the fire department where they patched her up, and she insisted on going back to work. Despite having a huge head wound, she continued to direct and make sure that all her runners had a great time. Mad props to Beth!!!!
All of us decided that we wanted to head back to our cars fairly soon, so we walked over to where we could pick up the shuttle. Because we went shortly after we were done running, we had a shorter wait than most of the runners. This was the first year that Slacker had shuttle buses back to the start line. In previous years, runners parked at the finish line and were shuttled to the start. She couldn’t do this for 2018 because the lot where the cars were parked was sold. Beth acknowledges that the post-race shuttle bus was too small to handle all the runners and so people had wait times as long as an hour and a half. On the Facebook page, she apologized for her error and promised bigger and more shuttles for next year.
The Slacker Half was a wonderful race. The course is incredible. The race is very well-organized. I loved how much care Beth put into this race. At the same time, Slacker is the hardest race that I’ve ever done. Most of the other races that I’ve found difficult, it’s because of weather or stomach/GI issues. Slacker is a physically grueling course. The lower levels of oxygen at over 10,000 feet in elevation is no joke. It makes running difficult. Jay said it was like breathing through a straw. In addition, the constant steep downhill takes a toll on your muscles.
Remember how I said earlier I spent several miles thinking which race I felt worse in? Well, my Slacker time was 1:51:32, whereas Toronto was 1:51:39. What this means is that both races were really hard on me, but hard for different reasons. Toronto because of stomach problems and Slacker for the oxygen-deprived running and muscle exhaustion. Regardless, I still greatly enjoyed Slacker and if you’re up for a physical challenge, give Slacker a try.