Saturday, September 19, 2015

Center of the Nation Series day 6: Colorado

Day 6: Sterling, Colorado. 

There were times this week when I really wasn't sure if we'd get through it. The races were fun -- even when they were Very Hard Work (I'm looking at you, Sundance) or A Bit Wet (that's you, Chadron), our fellow runners were awesome, the organization was fantastic, and WHEN ELSE DO I GET TO EAT FRITOS FOR BREAKFAST?!?!

But six half marathons? In six days? That's more miles than I have ever run in a week. That's more miles than I run in many months. Let's be honest. MOST months. 78.6 miles. 

But a great evening -- fantastic Chinese and Thai food, eaten while sitting in the sunshine outside of our super comfortable hotel room in Sterling -- and a solid sleep, and the knowledge that we could certainly "leave nothing in the tank" made us raring to go on race morning.

Okay, maybe not RARING, but ready.

The fine people of Sterling, Colorado had allowed us to set up in absolutely gorgeous Pioneer Park -- even pointing us toward where we should park. Special thank yous to the folks from Sterling, who -- despite having two other big events going on on the same day (Sugar Beet Days, Pedal the Plains), welcomed our ragtag group of runners with open arms. 

Clint got up on his ladder and made a few announcements... we had some more people who would achieve Titanium level (WOW), some others who would be hitting their 25th race with Mainly Marathons, and a lot of thank yous. 

Clint making his announcements

Oh, and this course. This absolutely GORGEOUS course. Six laps, a bit of pavement, then some lovely groomed trails through some woods, with some very gently rolling hills. This was my absolute favorite course of the series -- well done, Clint!

into the woods!

Okay, maybe it doesn't look great from above... but it was a really pretty, very nice course to run on.

Because we didn't need to save our legs at all (what little we had left, I guess), we just ran and walked whenever we felt like it. This somehow meant we were much faster today -- getting a lap or so ahead of our usual running buddies. But we were happy, and it was nice to just tick off the last few miles of the series.

Here we are in the early laps, heading toward the sunrise on the trail in the woods.

See, there were some hills...

And a pretty sunrise.

The wooded stretch was my favorite. Clint said that when he was in the woods last night marking the course, he could hear owls hooting and critters scrabbling. So nice!

The morning was perfect -- a little cool at the start, and it warmed up a little but never too much. The sun came out and the sky was robin's egg blue.

I started getting a little weepy at the end -- a mix of the usual endorphins and the realization that we wouldn't see these wonderful, crazy people every morning. Like Trisha, who was the sweetest person, saying hello every time she passed and cheering everyone on. Here she is, zipping away from us, in her Wonder Woman outfit. (Not sure how we missed knowing that everyone wore superhero costumes on the last day of the series... because you KNOW we would have brought costumes!!!)

Trisha, aka Wonder Woman

On our last lap, we said our goodbyes to a lot of folks -- to "Nads" (Go Nads! -- funny every time), to Terri, to CJ, to Tim, to Luz, to Clint and Honore, to Jeff and Jane, and to all the ladies. It's still astounding to me that we ran with these people ever single day. And that most of them were running MARATHONS...

We came running in, holding hands, and with huge smiles on our faces. (Thanks to whoever snapped this pic!!!)

Kisses, hugs, high fives.... Of course. We checked in with the lovely ladies at the timing table ("You guys were fast today!") and said our goodbyes to them. 

our expert timers, Kate and Cathy
 We returned our last set of rubber bands (sniffle):

We picked up some recovery chocolate milk at the drinks table:

I'm horrified to admit that I have forgotten these ladies' names ... but thank you so much for keeping the glasses full!!!
(By the way, I really need to start drinking chocolate milk after every race. It's awesome!)

Then some more goodbyes... Sabra, queen of the food table, who came out and ran a 5K every day, wearing a different great hat every time:

thank you, Sabra, for the groovy dancing and the cheerful support! 
Then we visited Norm... though we passed on the Victory Dogs. Norm kept us well fed with real food every day -- because NO ONE should eat that many gels. Hooray for real food! (Breakfast burritos! Breakfast pasta! Blueberry pancakes! Veggie wraps! Chili mac! Cookies! Brownies! The list goes on and on!)

thank you, Norm, for keeping us so well fed!
 And then a quick goodbye to Clint, the mastermind behind Mainly Marathons. ("Are you really gonna take my picture while I eat this hot dog?" Yep.) I admit that I was skeptical about it ... but I'm a  true believer now.

thank you, Clint, for putting these races on!
We had a few quick hugs with some runners who were coming in, took a few quick photos, and then, poof, we left. We didn't want to keep dragging out the goodbyes (I was getting weepier...) and we had a lot of miles to get under the tires. So we skedaddled, back to the hotel, where we had showers and hit the road in under an hour.

The rest of the day included a lot of driving. A lot. We did stop at the first visitor's center in Wyoming we hit... Normally there's a giant Lincoln head on this pedestal, but it was recently removed for restoration:

No, really, there's normally a giant Lincoln head. Really.

Why Lincoln? This highway is the old "Lincoln Highway" -- the first intercontinental highway across the U.S. Mmkay. We did, however, pick up some sweet stickers -- Yellowstone or Bust!

(BTW, the Wyoming State Tourism Board's sticker program is awesome. I wish I could have ALL THE STICKERS!!!)

Then, really, just driving, driving, driving. We pulled into Jackson Hole and were, well, stunned at how big it was. I'm not sure if we had just gone into the town from the other direction before? Or whether it's grown a bunch in 10 years? We did, however, find our home for the night: The Virginian Lodge.

This place is a sprawling old motel -- most of it a single-story complex arranged around courtyards, and with a pool, big hot tub, bar, and restaurant inside. We were in one of the few rooms in a two-story block -- happily upstairs. The rooms were solid 70s rec-room -- with old Wyoming tourism posters on the walls, wood paneling, and one of those lamps with the bumpy glass shades and the cord that runs through chains. Most of you know exactly what I mean by this. The rest of you are either too young or not American. :)

But the room was quiet, and we were only a 15-minute walk from "downtown". (Oh, also big props to the front desk staff for telling us that it was a 15-minute walk to town, rather than feeling like 15 minutes is waaaaay too far to walk.)

Then we walked into town to go here...

 Why there? Because of my Dad, of course. See, my Dad told this story about going through Jackson Hole and trying so hard with his bum hip to get up on one of the saddle bar stools... a couple of fellas helped him up, but then the photo they took didn't come out -- maybe no film in the camera? It was one of the few regrets I remember my Dad ever talking about. So when Wil and I took dad's ashes back to Indiana 10 years ago, OF COURSE we stopped in Jackson Hole, and OF COURSE we took pictures on the bar stools. Well, duh.

We also have super fond memories of that visit to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar ... the place was empty, and we chatted with the bored bartender for a long time. This time, a different story.

First, there was a $10 cover because a band was going to start in 45 minutes. And it was rammed. But, we still had to go in, for Dad's sake. :)

But we managed to find a pair of saddles to climb up on, and order a couple of reasonably strong (if tourist-overpriced) cocktails. Did I mention it's pretty dark in there?

We didn't bother to stick around for the band -- we had started to get hungry -- so went and got a couple of very nice little pizzas from Pizzeria Caldera to eat back in our room. We had a couple of slices and then still had time to have a quick dip in the hot tub -- a fitting end to an amazing day, and an amazing trip. More tomorrow!

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