The Rock Canyon Half Marathon reflects the personality and hard work of Dave Diaz. None of our many fine races are marked any better, laid out so creatively, or show such an appreciation for running on soft surfaces where possible. When snow came the Wednesday before the race, Dave steeled himself to the extra work that would need to be done, and made the decision that the race would go on, snow or shine.
When I went out at first light and saw a bit of snow on flat surfaces, and more falling, I knew Dave was out doing something to mark the new snow. I had ridden out on the course the day before and saw that he had shoveled the concrete path down to the River Trail, twice, but there were miles of the trail that no ten people could have cleared and the weather gods only made things worse overnight. Nevertheless about 270 hardy, perhaps foolhardy, runners started the 20th annual edition of this classic in lightly falling snow.
After a lap of the park a group of three had a clear lead, and after the second time around had lapped about thirty of the slower runners, and some fast walkers. I had planned to ride my bike with Keith Dugan, a County High runner doing his first race over 4 miles, but decided not to risk it. I knew Id probably fall, and worse, couldnt keep up.
As I stood on the south side of the fountain, directing runners and trying to keep drivers from doing something crazy, I saw a myriad of running styles and ways of dealing with the 24 degree temperature and lightly snow. And, I didnt recognize most of the runners. I did see Paul Koch who told me before the race that he hadnt been training much and didnt expect to do well. He was about seventh after two loops. Paul Murphy is hard to miss and he looked to be holding back. As I extended my right arm to point to the sharp left the runners would take on the first lap, several reached out and slapped five with me.
I was pleased that Keith, who was a 2:03 800 meter runner last spring as a freshman, hadnt started too fast. But he was still close enough to the front that I realized that if I didnt abandon my post before the walkers passed, Id never make it to the Nature Center before Keith. And that was before I realized how slick the roads had become for driving. I slithered to the parking lot near the base of the dam where the runners are briefly on the south side of the river. I saw all but about the first six.
I started walking backwards on the course and when I came to the road below the dam, Dave arrived on his bike, got out a can of florescent orange spray paint and remarked the turn. I told him if the runners couldnt follow the footprints in the snow, they deserved to be lost, but he got back on his bike and rode off to remark just one more turn. I got to see many of the front runners and several well behind them. Joe Stommel was just one of many who slipped there. Even more remarkable, I saw Rich Hadley, who eventually won the 50-54 age division in 1:35:06, put on a long sleeved shirt. Finally Keith arrived looking slightly overheated. I told him to drink all the sugar he could get, then got in my car for the treacherous drive to the Nature Center.
At the Center I started walking west on the gravel road, and realized that the leaders had probably finished several minutes earlier. I met Keith a half mile west of the Center. He was slowing and people were gradually passing him. I got back to the finish line in plenty of time to see him finish, limping a little, in 1:58:06.
The race was won by Adam Rich who took a circuitous route to becoming a college runner. (Clarifications from Adam after posting of the article: He did go to Western State College and was a member of the National Championship Team. He was also an All-American for Western State in cross country, as well as a national qualifier for outdoor track this past May in the 10,000 meter run with a time of 30:12. He placed 13th in the nation for the 10,000. He transferred to UCCS, and could have made the top 7 for cross-country but a conference transfer rule required him to sit out for the whole year. When you are on a financial award at one school, and transfer to another one. Now back to Jeff’s article, webmaster.) Three years ago or so he started showing up at local races and winning them. Last year he ran for Western State. He transferred to UCCS He had fine time of 1:20:16 at this Rock Canyon, especially considering the conditions. I dont know the womens winner, Amy Regnier of Colorado Springs, except that the woman leading always smiled and seemed to be running well under control. A quick search indicates that this was Amys fourth straight Rock Canyon. Perhaps conditions were finally right for her since her 1:34:39 was well over a minute faster than the second woman overall, Emily Brzozowski, also of Springs. In Amys 2003 Rock Canyon debut she ran 1:31:29 and was seventh woman.
Matt Drake, a Pueblo West senior, improved his already very good time from last year by a few seconds. His 1:29:07 brought him a fifth place overall as well as a clear age division win. His freshman teammate Mike Schmidt also had a fine time, 1:34:04, to take second in that division. Ashlee Withrow, a Florence grad won the female 19 and under division with 1:45:13. A third Pueblo West cross country runner, 14 year old Anna Marshall, was second in the 19 and under females with a 2:00:47. That time is much slower than last year but Anna hasnt done any significant run training since state at the end of October. She did, however win the 200 Freestyle in Wests first swim meet of the season Thursday.
Paul Mann of Colorado Springs won the 25-29 age division and second overall with a 1:23:47. Emily Brzozowski won that female division in 1:35:52. Paul Murphy of Pueblo West won the 35-39 division in 1:30:38. Heather Hunt of Englewood won the 30-34 division in 1:36:18. Brad Cooper of Littleton won the Masters division and was third overall in 1:25:45. Tracy Lynn Winterbottom of Colorado Springs was the female Masters winner in 1:47:12. Lani Gendron, also of Springs, won the womens 50-54 division in 1:57:10. Lou Huie, and SCR member from Springs, had a fine race to win the 60-64 age division in 1:49:14. Sally Kennet of Salida Andrea Hatch from Castine, Maine won the 60-64 womens division in 2:24:25 2:44:48. (Correction made 12/4/06.)
There were 245 finishers, the third largest number ever. There have to be 245 different stories of the race, but from what I heard, most folks felt the snowy conditions made this one unforgettable. One of the best stories, to go with the collective courage of the 245 finishers, and Dave Diazs hard work and good planning, was the story of a woman from Littleton, either Andrea Culp, 1:39:09 or Jodey Hart 2:28:39. Last year our as yet unknown heroine was involved in an auto accident on the way to the race that kept her from running. This year she was in another wreck, but this time the car started, the police pulled it out, and she made it to Pueblo. Thats persistence.