Friday afternoon we loaded up the family car and headed south to start the season. This year it was a perfect Colorado blue sky day and we eagerly anticipated hitting the trails the next morning. I can’t explain why I like the Salida trails so much, but I look forward to them every year and this year was no different. Well except I was finally getting to run the marathon. We quickly settled into our house for the weekend and took James out for a quick run up the first little hill on the course. We were officially ready for the race. Saturday morning when I woke up the cough I’d had since Wednesday had not gotten any better as I had so hoped it would. I honestly contemplated not starting, but I knew I could finish. It wouldn’t be fast and it wouldn’t be pretty but one way or another I’d get back to the finish line in Salida. So I laced up my N1s, threw on my ultra vesta, pinned on my bib and I was ready to go. I don’t normally race with a vest, but after trying the vesta on a long run I wanted to see how it felt in a race. It was definitely colder than I anticipated so I welcomed the first couple climbs. There is a small climb right off the bat. The last time I ran this race I was 7 months pregnant and redlined pretty hard here. I had this memory of a giant hill, but it wasn’t as bad as my memory had served. I kept a pretty easy pace heading up to the first aid station to avoid any coughing fits. There were a couple women I recognized at the start and was hoping to finish relatively close to. I kept them in my sites with the hope that I could reel them in on the downhill. Before I knew it I was in front of both and had lost sight of most runners. This is where I tend to find my groove. I’m not caught up running too slow or too fast, I can just keep my own pace and get in my zone. The section between the first two aid stations is awesome. It’s singletrack with rolling hills and great views. I kept expecting more climbs in this section so I didn’t push it quite as hard as I could have. By the second aid station I realized my water bottles still didn’t need to be refilled, a clear sign I was not consuming enough. All my calories were in my water so if I wasn’t drinking enough I wasn’t getting enough calories either. I made a mental note to consume as much as I could on the way up Turret road. Dan had warned me that the first mile was easy to overdo with such a runnable grade. I kept my pace pretty even through this section and walked some of the steeper grades. While I definitely had the legs to run the whole section I was able to save my lungs a bit. I also didn’t want to bonk in the second half. I hooked up with a couple guys here and together we walked and ran the four miles or so to the aid station before the out and back section. The refueling helped and after refilling my water bottles I was ready to run up to the turnaround. As I counted the women ahead of me I knew I was either running super slow or there were a lot more fast women here this year. I had convinced myself not to look at my watch. I wanted to keep a steady pace that I could breathe comfortably at without worrying too much about time. Turns out while I was running slow there were a load of really fast women. It would have taken my absolute best day to even come close to the podium on Saturday. I was feeling stronger at the turnaround and cruised easily back to the aid station. As I cruised in I saw a green shirt coming up the road. So I decided to chug a bit more water and wait a few seconds for Dan. We exchanged high 5s before he headed up and I started down. I was excited he was doing so well to only be about 10 minutes behind me. The first few miles were downhill-ish and had the only snow I saw of the day. I was freezing at this point and Dan had said it would be about 4 miles before I warmed up. Those four miles seemed to go on and on as I tried to warm up. I was determined not to let anyone pass me on the second half while still maintaining my steady pace. Slowly one by one I started picking off people. Once we hit warm dry trail I started really pushing the downhills. I knew there were a few more hills coming my way and my lungs didn’t have much uphill left in them. One girl almost caught me back on the climb at mile 21, but as soon as we started down again I regained the gap between us. I lost one spot on this climb and that would turn out to be the only spot I lost after the turnaround. I was able to keep him in my sights, but never catch back up. I sort of remembered, but had tried to forget the last climb. You slowly wind right around the mountain back to the first aid station before being able to bomb down lil rattler to the finish. You watch the whole climb as you wrap around the hill. It’s so disheartening. So I put my head down and refused to look at anything other than the dirt right in front of me. And before I knew it I was at the aid station ready to head back into town. I passed several half marathoners on the switchbacks. As I got to the bottom I looked around…there wasn’t a marathoner in sight, no one to catch and no one to catch me. So it was a relaxing cruise into the finish. My GPS measured the course a bit long, 26.7 miles, but so it goes with trail runs. Plus it just meant an extra half mile on some awesome trails.