Making it look easy
Simoens sets pace with course record
Dustin Simoens came and conquered the Rim Rock Marathon, and smiled along the way.
Looking as refreshed as an awake Rip Van Winkle, Simoens chatted with family and strolled around after his dominating record-setting win on Saturday.
A little after the 10-mile mark, Simoens put a sleeper hold on the field and pulled away, finishing with a course record of 2 hours, 41 minutes and 17 seconds.
“It was good, very satisfying,” Simoens said in quite the understatement.
This is the second Rim Rock Marathon win for the 2006 Fruita Monument graduate. He hammered out a 2:44.28 victory back in 2010.
“I ran 2:44 last time so I’m happy about my time. I was hoping to be in the 2:30s but 2:41 isn’t bad,” he said, offering back-to-back understatements.
Longtime local runner Marty Wacker, who finished second at 2:52.23, did his best to throw some mental tactics at Simoens during the race.
“Like surging in parts of the race to make the person behind you think that you’re pulling away and maybe he will let up,” he said about a tactic.
Simoens didn’t let up.
He let Wacker, 42, surge and then took his time to reel him back in.
“The longer the race the more mentally focused you have to be and not get too excited,” he said.
Simoens was patient, focused and kept his pace steady.
Wacker, who recently finished third in Moab’s The Other Half Marathon, ran the uphill hard.
“I did want to be the first to the top and figured that I would pay the price,” he said.
After easing over the top, it was obvious that Simoens was going to cash in on his patience, and he slowly pulled away from Wacker and the field.
Simoens, 25, who now lives in Crested Butte, said coming to Mesa County was like hitting the banana belt.
“I’m used to running in snow and like 5 degrees, so this was like running in the tropics,” he said, smiling.
The passionate trail runner said he’s only run on pavement a handful of miles this year, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“This was quite the shocker,” he said. “I was really satisfied because I really didn’t know what kind of shape I was in. All I do is run on trails high up in the mountains. I really had no idea coming into the race.”
The grueling Rim Rock Marathon is a unique race with its long uphill followed by the long downhill off Colorado National Monument. Simoens and Wacker had different views on what was the most difficult part of the race.
“The downhill was really the hardest part for me because I don’t run on the road that much and my Achilles (heels) were really tight,” Simoens said. “It was almost a relief when I got off the hill, running on the flats felt good.”
Not for Wacker.
“It’s a big relief to hit the downhill and get some speed, but when it goes flat you really feel like you’re hitting the brakes,” he said.
What both did agree on, and what is the great appeal of the race to most of the runners, is the beauty.
“I can’t imagine any road race that is more scenic than this,” Wacker said.
“I really love this marathon, it’s really one of the most scenic races you can do. I don’t come back here very often so it’s really cool,” Simoens said.
Both said they took some time to soak in the surroundings while the miles clicked by.
Checking out the canyons and the cool rock formations serves as motivation for Simoens.
“I had a goal today, I wanted to force myself to look around.”
His other goal in a demanding marathon isn’t necessarily easy.
“I told myself that I was going to crack a smile every mile and I did that,” he said with a big satisfied smile.
Wacker, who ran a 2:53.30 back in 2009, got an even closer look.
“A couple of points, I ran over to the edge to look down at the canyons and let out a little primal scream that echoed off the canyon walls,” Wacker said with a huge smile of his own.
Waiting at the finish, Simoens’ family was waiting, which he said was very special.
“A lot of these races I do, I finish and I don’t know anyone, so this was great,” he said.
His 21-year-old sister Morgan Simoens is also a runner but admits that Dustin got all the running genes, and says that she’s always amazed at her brother’s abilities.
“He’s always been like this, he’s such a beast. He’s always been like this,” she said with a laugh.
Grand Junction runner wins women’s race
Kara Roper glanced at her watch as she crossed the finish line as the women’s winner.
A satisfying time — 3:20.41
Then her small children greeted her. Owen hugged her legs while her husband brought over 18-month-old Gwen.
Roper, who finished ninth overall, admits that she’s a little obsessed with running. Some family and friends think that she’s a little crazy when it comes to running.
“I ran all through pregnancy and actually ran the day I delivered her,” she said with a laugh.
Then she confessed that they almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time.
During the race, Roper went out fairly fast and thought she was the leading female racer but she came across a couple of women who confused her.
“There was this one runner and we were yo-yoing back and forth,” Roper said. “About the eight-mile mark she told me that she was part of a relay.”
The Ropers moved to Grand Junction from Tucson, Ariz., in July and she researched the Rim Rock course, but she was concerned.
“I didn’t know what to expect, I knew it was steep,” she said. “I tried to go hard on the way up and figured that I would be able to survive the downhill, and it worked.
“I wanted to stay within my limits but go hard,” she added.
The uphill did worry the Utah native.
“I was pleasantly surprised, I was kind of worried that I under prepared (for the uphill),” she said.
Roper, 32, said that she started running in high school and has never stopped. She didn’t stop but she did slow down and smell the proverbial roses that Colorado National Monument has to offer.
“I definitely made an effort (to look around). It’s really amazing, very beautiful and spectacular,” she said.
Roper said she’s won all four of her races since giving birth to Gwen.
“She is my good-luck charm, I haven’t lost since I had her,” she said.
Local team finishes second
For Esmeralda Martinez-Ramos and Andrew Mohler, a second-place finish in the relay was extremely satisfying.
The suddenly formed relay pair actually work together at Primary Care Partners but never trained much together and decided fairly late to do the Rim Rock race.
“This was kind of a whim. We just met each other this summer and ran a race together, then she asked me if I wanted to do this marathon together,” said Mohler, 42.
“It went great, the day was beautiful,” Mohler said. “She’s definitely the strength of the team, she’s the all-star.”
Martinez-Ramos ran the uphill part and tagged Mohler at the top of the climb to run the remainder of the race.
“They said it wasn’t very gentleman-like of me but I made her run the uphill,” he said, and they both laughed.
They decided last week that Martinez-Ramos, 27, would do the uphill.
“It was rough, I do a lot of trail running with a lot of uphills, but this was rough,” she said. “I’ve done downhills before and I don’t really like them.”
It’s not like the downhill is a piece of cake.
“The downhill is tough because your quads are burning but you’re really not that short of breath,” he said. “Then once it’s flat it feels like it’s straight uphill.”
The pair finished with a time of 3:14.52, second to Brandon Worthington and Anne Martin of Aurora, who finished with a time of 3:09.31.