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Boulder ResSunday starts out with coffee and 40°.  First big race decision is what to wear.  I would normally opt for a long sleeve tech T-shirt, but I want to wear the jersey that came with my registration and it’s short sleeved.  I go with that and layer a gray cotton T-shirt underneath.  Layering turns out to be a good call as the wind picks up at the Boulder Res to what feels like 20 miles an hour.  Rain was anticipated as well but the clouds are stuck over the mountains of the Front Range.  It’s mostly sunny and warms up to 44° as the gun starts us down the back roads of Boulder County.

I begin near the back and crawl my way out of the Boulder Res to the road.  There, I begin running in earnest.  My plans from my last post haven’t changed.  I want to start out fast.  I already know I can run between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile assuming I start out slow.  I want to test if I can start out fast to see where my limits are on hitting oxygen debt.  And once I hit it, can I recover.  This is risky because not training for fatigue, I don’t know that I’ll be able to recover.  The second half of this race could be brutal if I truly run per plan.

And I do.  I don’t wear my Garmin by choice so I don’t really know my pace.  This was another tough decision.  The Garmin would give me great stats to relate in my blog.  But I don’t care about my blog.  I don’t care about you.  This is about me and I don’t want to race a clock today.  I want to feel my body.  And after the first mile, my body is friggin winded beyond belief.  I don’t know how fast I was running but I would guess that after I exited the Res I began running under a 7 minute pace.  Too fast.

The second mile finishes up a long hill and I manage to maintain a strong pace.  Not that I know my time but I have yet to catch my breath.  I don’t have a good sense of how long I can hold this pace.  I really only want to keep this up for the first half – 6.55 miles – but at this point I modify that initial goal to 3 miles.  I should simply slow down to recover, that’s a legal part of my game plan.  If at any point I’m winded and dying, slow down.  But I’ve passed hundreds of runners in these first couple of miles and feel like I’m now running with others who are a good match for my normal pace.  I hang on.

final mileI start talking to a runner from Cheyenne about the wind.  People from Cheyenne are experts on this topic.  At 3 miles he tells me we’ve been averaging a 7:20 pace.  I figure I likely started a half minute behind him so I’ve been running faster.  I can’t imagine holding this pace but at this point in time I begin running behind a girl – twenty something – and I match her pace for the next couple of miles until she stops to pee.  I catch up to another girl about the same age and stay with her to the turn around point.  There are only about 4 women running ahead of her and she knows them all – cheering them as they pass slightly ahead of us on this out-and-back course.

That means she is one of the top women runners and I suspect that’s why I’ve been pairing myself with the women.  As elites their form is noticeably better than most of the guys around me.  And she’s running my pace.  I slow down a bit at the turn around for my first sip of sports drink and an orange wedge.  The turn around is up hill until the 7 mile mark and I keep it slow.  Upon cresting the hill though I discover I’ve caught my breath.  First time this entire run that I can breathe normally.  I was resigned to sort of coast my way back this second half but shoot, I feel pretty good.

I hear footsteps behind me and soon am passed by bib #110 in all black and she is clearly another elite woman runner.  I can tell because watching her run, her perfect form, her footfalls tapping the road like stones skipping across a lake is like watching an artist.  She runs past me and I’m not thinking about racing but I’m drawn by the beauty of the sport and surge after her.  I believe she is in position 6 overall and by the 8th mile we overtake the girl I’d been running with, moving this new girl into 5th place.

my girlsI depleted my strength too much with my fast start to ever be able to race someone at this point in the run should they challenge me, but I find my stride and surge past this elite chic around mile 10 – somewhere while running toward Haystack Mountain.  I’m not naive and expect her to pass me back before this gig is over.

That’s fine because at this point I know, while I may slow down a little, I’m going to be able to maintain a decent pace the rest of the way.  Without wearing my Garmin I know I’m going to finish under 1:45, maybe 1:40 although this run is harder than Moab.  It’s 1000 feet higher in elevation, hillier, and my fast start has everything weighing heavy.  Even my arms feel heavy by mile 12.  This isn’t the painful disaster I imagined though could result from starting out fast.

And I’m totally satisfied with that start strategy.  I was completely winded the first 6 miles but it felt good.  It took me back to my teens with how it felt to race.  I was a bit worried after 3 miles when I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.  The pleasure of the pain was clearly gone by 4 miles.  But I did recover after the turn and this run is turning out to be a good one.  Still, the hill at mile 12 takes its toll and I decide to cool down the final mile.  The two elite girls catch me the final half mile and I let them considering we’re headed into the last sizable hill.  It slows them down too though and Katja, the elite in black, has dropped back behind the other girl she’s been racing – Mikki.  It doesn’t appear Katja is going to catch Mikki with this hill and in fact, she doesn’t.  Technically I beat them both chip time.

awardI see my family near the finish and put on a smile for pictures.  I cross the finish line in 1:42 and feel fine.  Smart decision to cool down.  I’m surprised to find I finished 3rd in my age group and receive my first racing award in about 30 years.  Technically I placed 2nd for my age group in last fall’s Boulder Marathon but not being used to being competitive I went home before they handed out trophies.  And the race Director won’t return my emails so I’ve never picked up that award.  This plaque will find a nice home in my den.  I ended my winter half marathon trilogy with a massage from Shannon Dunlap at Massage Envy.  She knows runners and stretches the tight muscles along with the massage.