Although I had slept a ton in the days before the race, I woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty terrible. I was kind of hot and tired, and I half-wondered if I had a fever… but forgot to take my temperature to find out for sure. (I did later learn that my resting heart rate was a whopping 45bpm, which is a RHR I haven’t seen in weeks… I’m usually 39-41, and haven’t been over 43 since early July.) Instead, I hurriedly got ready for the race, making a to-go mug (this is the best ever!) of coffee to take with me. Although the race didn’t start until 8am, I needed to be there by 7am in order to meet neighbors and do a bit of campaigning.
I had created a pace chart on a big piece of poster board with specific splits for each mile depending on what finish time you were hoping to achieve. Since I had run the course preview a couple of weeks earlier, I knew exactly what the course looked like in terms of elevation, and I was able to customize the pieces so that it wasn’t even splits, but even effort. This ended up helping me out a lot while I was running, too!
The start area was pretty empty when I arrived, since it was so long till race time, but since I had friends that were part of the Superior Chamber (who was putting on the race), I still had plenty of company. My sign ended up going right under a sign for free coffee inside… so that made me pretty popular, even though the coffee had nothing to do with me 🙂 I have no idea how many people actually used my pace chart, since this race had a pretty small turnout and didn’t attract a lot of serious runners. But, the pace chart had my intended effect of spurned conversation, and a number of people came by to chat with me before the race. That was exactly what I wanted!
The time talking with people flew by, and before I knew it, I had only 10 minutes till the start. I hurriedly ran into the bathroom in the Sports Stable (yay for real bathrooms at a race start instead of porta-potties!) and made it back out with just a few minutes before the start.
I quickly tried to get my Garmin to pick up the satellites and popped my headphones in. However, here I ran into a snafu. I was planning to run with my Airpods, which fit me pretty poorly and so are perfect for running, since they allow me to hear everything around me. Unfortunately, when I put them in, only one bud seemed to be working; the other didn’t have any sound coming out of it. What the heck? I also realized that I had forgotten to bring the little rubber hook accessories that go over my Airpods and make them comfortably stay in my ears. Double bummer! So, I ditched the airpods and went with my backup headphones, which were fortunately in my purse. The Soundbud Slims are my favorite headphones for travel, because I can wear them around my neck like a necklace when I’m not actually using them, but they’re not ideal for running because they don’t let me really hear what’s going on around me. On a closed-course road race, though, I’d take my chances. Desperate times!
I jumped into the crowd lining up at the start with just a few seconds to go, and quickly tried to get Strava going. Yes, I track with both my Garmin and with Strava… someday I need to get a Garmin that syncs with bluetooth so I can consolidate these devices! When the gun went off, I didn’t start either of them quite on time, but I got them going within a few seconds, along with my music besides.
I started right at the front of the pack, and while a couple guys took the lead, there were no women ahead of me. Last year, I came in third place overall for this race, so I was pretty happy to be starting out front… and hoped I could keep it that way.
After going up and around the Sports Stable, we turned onto the Coal Creek Trail to run alongside highway 36. This was a slight downhill all the way to the half-mile mark, and I reminded myself to try to push the pace as I went. I didn’t want to go out too fast, but I also didn’t want to lose time by taking it easy on the downhill. As I ran, I marveled at how clear the skies were, and the perfect views we had of the Flatirons. Since we’ve been getting a lot of the smoke blowing over from the California fires, this was a nice treat to have a clear blue sky and no smoke in my lungs!
At the bottom of the hill, the roads switched briefly to a heavy / deep gravel, which was a little tricky to run on – kind of like running on sand, which is never easy. Fortunately, that was short lived. After going under the McCaslin Road underpass, we headed uphill on pavement toward Original Town and the Marketplace. The uphill was much more subtle than I remembered, which felt great. And speaking of feeling great, my knee hadn’t hurt at all this far, which I was thrilled about! Since I had taken the last week off running, I had no idea if the race was going to be amazingly rested or terribly injured. So far, it seemed like it was the former.
Passing Grasso Park on the left, I got to a water station manned by a group of Cub Scouts, organized by my friend Laurie. I didn’t want any water, but I said thank you to the Scouts as I passed by. Up ahead, there was also a group of volunteers from Bishops Salon, with huge signs cheering the runners on. It was wonderful to have so many people out cheering on the course!
Now that I was on the city streets, I focused on running the tangents for the turns that I knew were up ahead. I was still holding the female lead, but I didn’t know who was behind me. Rather than focus on that though, I focused on getting to Founders Park up ahead.
Founders Park was special for two reasons: one, that my friend Cathryn was volunteering as a course Marshall, and I was excited to see her; and two, that the far side of Founders Park marked both the halfway point in the race and also the high point in the race. Downhill from there! (Well, mostly.)
As I approached Cathryn, I could see her cheering me on… but I realized that with my headphones, I couldn’t hear her at all. This is why I normally don’t wear these headphones for running! I gave Cathryn a big thumbs up, and focused on making it up the final part of the incline to the top of Founders Park.
As I neared the corner of the park, I could see on the sidewalk the shadow of another female runner coming up behind me. I didn’t want her to pass me! I picked up the pace infinitesimally, and when I rounded the corner of Founders Park, she was still behind. This is where knowing the course helped me a lot. I knew that I could pour on the speed here because I had a solid mile of flat-to-downhill before the last hill of the race.
Getting to the far corner of Founders Park, I stuck to the tangent as I turned onto Eighth Ave, and focused on not letting up on my pace on this long straightaway. When I did the course preview, I had time to admire the beautiful homes of Coal Creek Crossing in this area; today, though, I wasn’t really looking anywhere but straight ahead, and focusing on my running.
I was doing pretty well so far. Although I originally had a goal of going under 21 minutes in order to PR, I also knew that was an aggressive goal (particularly given how I woke up feeling), and so I was pleased that while I wasn’t hitting it, I wasn’t too far behind either. Strava clocked my first mile split at 6:57, and my second at 7:14 – so I was still running a solid pace.
Turning off of Sixth Ave and back onto Coal Creek Drive, I started seeing a few runners on the out part of the lollipop out-and-back loop. I was thrilled to still be the first female, but I knew that lead could evaporate with the uphill that was coming at the end of the race. However, I reminded myself that it was only a third of a mile of uphill, and then I’d finish only a minute later. I could do this!
After going back under the McCaslin underpass, I switched my playlist from my generic racing power songs to my Experience Camps playlist. I wanted to listen to “This is Me” for the uphill, knowing that I’d push hard thinking of all the kids I met at camp. As I passed the course marshall at the bottom of the trail right before the uphill started, I gave him a big smile and a thumbs up. “Yes, I’ve got this,” I thought!
As soon as the quiet opening to “This Is Me” started, I knew I had picked the right song. “This Is Me” is such a powerful song, and as the drums picked up and the music crescendoed, I felt myself getting more and more in the zone. The uphill wasn’t nearly as bad as I had remembered, and I felt strong instead of tired. I was making a pretty good effort, though I would also say I wasn’t going as fast as I absolutely could have. I was still alert to any woman coming up on me, but so far, so good.
I reached the hairpin turn exiting the Coal Creek Trail and going to the back of the Sports Stable. On that turn, I looked down the trail saw that the next woman was about ten seconds behind me. Could she catch up? I hoped not… but I picked up the pace a little bit for the final incline to the end of the Sports Stable, just to make sure. “This Is Me” had ended at that point, but rather go on to the next song, I flipped it back to start over. I wanted to finish while listening to this power anthem!
Reaching the corner, it was 15 seconds of flat ground, and then a beautiful tenth of a mile downhill to the finish line. I picked up the pace a little bit on that final downhill (Strava clocked me at a 6:34 pace for the last tenth of a mile), and crossed the line with my arms above my head. I was the first place female! I was so proud of myself for winning my hometown race.
I cheered people on at the finish until the last person had crossed, then got to hang out for awards. The timing company had tablets where you could check your time, but mine first said I was in “0th” place, and then “2nd” place. I was pretty sure that there were no women ahead of me (unless I mistook a woman for a man), so I double checked with our Mayor, who was passing out water at the finish line, and he told me that I was first. And the award confirmed that – I was so thrilled to get to stand at the top of the podium!
When I went to check my results post race, though, I discovered that I was not, in fact, the first finisher. The second place runner had finished 8 seconds after me… but she started 11 seconds after me. By chip time, she beat me by 3 seconds, but awards were determined by gun time, which is how I ended up in first.
I’m really bummed about that. I definitely had more energy in the tank and think I could have outkicked her if she was right behind me (though who really knows). But because she was 10 seconds behind me on the course, I didn’t know I had anything to worry about – so I didn’t push it that extra little bit. (One could argue that you should always give it your best, but sometimes you don’t know what your best is until you have a reason to go faster / harder.) I kind feel like I cheated by getting first place when someone ran the course faster than I did – but the rules are that gun time wins, which is why you’re supposed to start close to the front if you think you might have a chance of placing. Argh! I hate that my win is marred by this… very similar to the big 5th place Boston Marathon fiasco this year.
But since the rules are the rules, I’m not going to let it get me down – I’m psyched to do so well at altitude! Looking forward to my next 5K this weekend (in Saratoga at no altitude!) to see if I can finally PR and break 20 minutes.
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 6/128
Gender place: 1/68