I’m so excited for today’s Bolder Boulder that I beat my 5am alarm out of bed. I think I’m anxious because I missed this race last year. And because I’m confident my conditioning has me set to PR at this distance. I’m ready to race a 10K. All my workouts since February have been leading up to this.
I set some aggressive goals for myself. The first is to beat my 2013 BB time, which will result in a PR. Second is to run under a 7 minute pace. That’ll just look better on my Garmin stats site. Third is that I’m projecting to run a 6:50 pace. I think it’s attainable based on my 5K races and fast workouts. Finally, I set a stretch goal that’s a bit inane. I want to run close to my first Bolder Boulder time twenty-five years ago – 41:11. A boy can dream.
Despite knowing I plan to push myself hard this morning, I’m not nervous at the starting line. My stomach isn’t full of butterflies because it knows that my idea of hard, if run correctly, will keep me just under my anaerobic threshold. My idea of racing is what track athletes would consider a hard workout where they push their AT or lactate threshold. Because I hope to run my first mile in 6:50, I warm up before with some light jogging. I get in a mile or two jogging from my car to the race start, and another mile off the starting line.
I fall into conversation with some forty year olds in my wave before we launch. The age diversity in my AB wave is more varied than I expected. I would have guessed younger, and there are several high school cross country teams in uniform. Only about 10% women. Bummer because I like to have something to look at. Instead I make a game of looking for other men with larger guts than me. I don’t find any. Hmm.
The wheelchair division launches first, followed by two more waves, then mine. I feel like I’m running on target and have aligned myself a full lane right of the curb. This is to avoid slowing down behind the crush of runners at the first turn, which will be left. Slowing down for crowds isn’t as critical in the early miles but I take the turn a bit wide anyway to maintain momentum. I do the same with the next left hand turn which has us turned fully around now on 28th St. My Garmin reads 6:44 for my first mile, although my official time is 6:51. Either way, right on target.
I am pushing my AT with this pace though and don’t take the hill up Folsom as strong as I’d like. My Garmin time for mile two is 6:53, which again is on target, but my official race pace scores 6:57. The entire race has mile Garmin splits a good 5 seconds or more faster than my official times. This is the problem with running big races, the crowd forces you to run more distance due to the necessary passing.
I surge aggressively into mile three before the grade steepens. My race plan is to optimize fast sections by running them fast. I pass a wall of 5 or 6 girls here wearing tutus. Two of them pass me back a half mile later as we climb a hill. Their tutus act as markers and are useful in crowded events. I pass them again as we head downhill and complete mile three in 6:59. Garmin time. I don’t know the official times of course until after the race. I expected mile three to be slower. I studied my previous race splits, as well as others in my age division and the elites from earlier Bolder Boulders. Every disciplined runner runs mile three the slowest of all six. Mile five is typically their fastest. Very few exceptions to this. I feel sort of good knowing I run a similar pattern. I based my race strategy on it. Big data for runners.
With half the race behind me, I know a couple of things. Key is that I know I’m comfortable at this pace. I’m hovering just under my AT threshold and believe I’ll be able to keep my miles under 7 minutes. The confidence from this counters the disappointment I feel from not being able to push harder up these hills. They’re not huge hills, but man, they are just enough to keep me from unwinding a bit and passing more runners. So the second thing I know is that I can’t speed up. Not yet. I hope I can for mile five.
I push myself a bit harder on mile four and run this in 6:55. This is the high point of the course at 5391 foot Casey Hill, topping out at the intersection of 13th and High Streets about 50 meters into mile five. This mile is all down hill and begins with the biggest drop of the course. I’d like to leverage this down slope to gain momentum but use it instead to allow my heart rate to recover from the uphill. I know the remaining mile is a slight downward slope and that I’ll be able to accelerate once my cardio drops back down. Ideally, before I reach the left-hand turn onto Spruce. Running fast down a steep grade isn’t as smart as on more shallow slopes unless you can maintain proper form. It’s difficult to avoid landing on your heels down extreme slopes, and that jars your body with negative motion. This hill isn’t exactly massive and a better runner could take it fast. One runner does pass me here. I could chase him if I weren’t so fatigued right now. I use it for a micro recovery.
In addition to planning to surge a faster pace on mile five, I also hope to run smart through the two S-curves as we hop from Spruce to Pearl, and again from Pearl to Walnut. Running a straight line seems simple enough but is made complex when trapped behind a wall of slower runners. In the second half of any race, surrendering momentum around a turn is a bigger sin than adding distance by taking it wide. Maintaining momentum not only takes less energy than restarting the engines, it’s more of a sure thing. Having to speed back up requires the mental toughness that for me, expired climbing Casey Hill. Brains over brawn at this point, also known as experience. With all that said though, most runners around me are running the same pace so I don’t find myself trapped behind any bottlenecks and complete mile five in 6:38. A much faster pace but actually per plan.
The bulk of the crowd running with me down Walnut steers toward the right-hand curb. They are optimizing their line for the eventual 90° turn right onto Folsom. I remain oriented toward the left. My thought is to maximize my momentum by starting wide left. Traditionally, a barrier is erected where Walnut intersects Folsom, less than a full lane from the curb, that prompts braking for a surprisingly tight turn. Losing momentum here is critical because it’s where anyone seriously competitive would be starting an early kick. I know that once I slow down, I’m unlikely to speed back up again. My path will consist of two 45° angles – I’ll hit the corner already halfway turned. Only issue might be if I run a cross route into the right-hand runners streaming wide left onto Folsom. If I run into traffic, I plan to assume the right of way. I’m not entirely clear on the etiquette, but I feel momentum trumps runners hitting the brakes. This might sound reckless but at least it’s a plan. Those rattled runners on the right are accidents waiting to happen. The only problem with this plan is that I’ve slowed down dramatically after that fast mile five and probably won’t impress anyone with my momentum into that upcoming turn.
I negotiate the turn fine and maintain a fairly decent pace along Folsom, not slowing down as much as I expected. I must have recovered on my lazy stretch along Walnut before the turn. This is the only part of the race so far that I haven’t run to plan. I wanted to maintain the fifth mile pace all the way to Folsom. Very few runners are passing me though. This is when any one racing should turn on their early kick. Likely everyone is saving their legs for after Boulder Creek, when the grade notably increases.
Climbing up Folsom after crossing Boulder Creek, I feel my heart rate begin to thump inside my chest, strong enough to launch an avalanche. This gives me thoughts of my familial obligations, my life insurance policy, and my spotty church attendance. I was recently talking to my buddy Dave about the issue (fear) I have running through this warning signal. Running those 5Ks in Austin last February aided me to finally develop some speed in my legs. Learning speed is half the battle. Gaining comfort with a heart that’s ready to explode is another. More interval training would have helped me adapt to running with a raging heart rate. Along with hill repeats. Too late for training now. I slow down.
This is expected though, part of my 5th mile, early kick plan to leverage the fast course and sacrifice the slow course. I might climb into the stadium at a snail’s pace, but no one is running fast on this hill. Only one guy passes me running up into the stadium. And a second sprints past me on his kick as we reach the top. I discover a kick of my own and finish stronger than usual. I ran mile six in 6:49 and cross the finish line in 43:09.
My initial reaction is of disappointment that I didn’t break 43 minutes. Further reflection though has left me totally satisfied. I’m not happy with those slower official mile splits, so I’m referencing my Garmin splits. The difference is from running a tenth of a mile longer than a 10K due to crowds. And missing my target by 9 seconds is nothing considering it’s a 40 plus minute 10K. That is on target. And my Garmin average pace is 6:51 – one second off my projection. I’m even more impressed with my 6:38 fifth mile when I projected 6:40. I ran this race as close to plan as possible. I surged on downhills and placed 6th in my age division. First time to break into the top ten for this event. I’m good.
The kids had a good time as well. Amy and Wendy walked with a half dozen girls and boys through the surprisingly sunny Boulder streets. Although it’s raining now, the weather was ideal for running or walking this morning. The atmosphere in Folsom Stadium is unbelievable. Boulder is such a running community, we’re probably the only campus in NCAA sports to fill the seats with more fans for a running event than for football games. Happy Memorial Day!