After my last post, I thought I was on the mend. My business trip was mostly successful, and for about a week, I got my crying time down to 1-3 hours a day. That may sound bad, but I thought it was amazing compared to what it was before. Crying for only a few hours today meant that I could work, could exercise, could start trying to repair friendships… and it felt manageable, at least in the short term.
Then on Thursday, I woke up at 4am in my hotel room in Chicago, crying hysterically. Why? I don’t know. There were only two things I could possibly think of that made me sad. First, a call with my new therapist on Wednesday didn’t go well, which made me wonder if she was really a good fit or if I’d need to find someone else. And second, after a night out with my team on Wednesday, they freaked out about me walking 1/2 mile back to my hotel in Chicago, warning me that cities had gotten much more dangerous and insisting that I take an Uber. When I posted about this on Instagram Stories, I had several people corroborate the warning – with one saying that the week before, she had been on a business trip in the same area (River North) and a man was literally set on fire outside her hotel. It made me rather lonely to think that I couldn’t walk around the city the way I once used to.
But those things shouldn’t have caused what happened: that I woke up crying, and couldn’t stop for hours. I stayed in bed for a while, eventually calling my best friend at 7am to get help getting myself out of bed and pulling it together for a breakfast meeting with my boss at 8am. I somehow made it through breakfast without crying (well, a bit of tearing up, but I don’t think my boss noticed), and then I headed to the office. Any other day, I would have called out sick, but I was hosting an all-hands for about 200 people – it was not something I could skip. And while I kept it together for the pieces of the program where I had to talk, for the rest of the meeting, I kept my camera off and just cried and cried and cried. By afternoon, I was literally lying on the floor of my office, curled in a ball and trying to figure out how I could get the mental strength to pick myself up and go to the airport and fly home. Somehow, I managed to do it… though I cried the entire flight, keeping my mask on and pretending I was reading a sad novel so my fellow passengers wouldn’t notice.
And then I was home… but home didn’t help either. I kept crying until I went to bed, and woke up crying on Friday. I cried all day Friday, and all day Saturday, and all day Sunday. Friday night, out of desperation, I called my now-ex-boyfriend in hysterics, but managed to say all the wrong things – and it made me realize that anyone I talk to, I hurt. I have ruined so many relationships in the last six weeks, and feel like I’ve already lost pretty much everyone and everything I care about. In an effort to preserve what little bit I might have left, I turned off phone notifications and tried to isolate myself from causing more problems. At this point, I think I need to figure out next steps on my own, without upsetting anyone else any further.
So I spent the weekend crying, and reading (5 books in 3 days), and trying to drink electrolytes to make up for all the crying. I was signed up for the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday, but I wasn’t sure about doing it. Would I cry throughout the course, as I had done on my run Friday? I knew I wouldn’t run a fast time, given my lack of training and long hiatus from running. But it was something to do, and in a crowd of 50,000 people, I probably wouldn’t see anyone I knew, even if I did cry throughout. So maybe it couldn’t hurt.
I tried to eat carb heavy meals on Sunday – a bagel for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and a big serving of pasta for dinner. When I logged my food in MyFitnessPal, I realized it had been kind of a light calorie day in spite of all the carbs. Normally I eat a little extra the day before a race, but I’ve mostly had a poor appetite since my surgery, and I couldn’t think of any more food I could stomach. Instead, I told myself I’d have an energy bar in the morning, rather than running fasted (my normal MO for a morning workout / race).
For once, I got a decent night’s sleep – 7 hours, waking up at 5am. This was the longest I’ve slept in several days, which I figured was a good sign. I got up and got dressed / washed up, let Sadie out, and brewed some coffee to drink from my favorite “Today Is Your Day” mug. I am still continuing my norm of drinking decaf 99% of the time, but allowing myself caffeinated coffee on race day – and zing! It definitely worked. I was careful not to have more than about 2 cups, since I didn’t want to get jittery, but I ended up driving to the start feeling energized and ready to go. I put on This Is Brothers Osborne on Spotify, the playlist that had helped me run to a 2nd place overall finish in the Rockledge Rumble 50K in November (oops, sorry, no race report from that one), and as I drove toward the mountains, I was dancing in my seat and getting pumped up.
I was a little later than planned getting to my usual parking spot by the old Fate Brewery, but since Bolder Boulder has a wave start, it didn’t matter all that much; I just wanted to start close to my assigned wave so I’d be mostly with people going at my pace. Meanwhile, while it’s taken me years to learn this lesson, I finally acknowledge that a warmup run doesn’t tire me out but helps me run faster. So I jogged the half mile from my parking spot to the porta potties, and then jogged another quarter mile to the start line.
My start time was 7:14am (BA wave), but I ended up starting at 7:19 (CB wave), which I was fine with. What I was not fine with, though, is the terrible start I had. I had specifically worn capris with pockets, which I’ve worn probably hundreds of times and which have always kept my phone secure. But this time, my phone flew out of my pocket just 20 feet into the race – bouncing onto the pavement, with my wallet case popping open so my credit card and ID were also strewn all over the course. Are you kidding me?! I had a similar mishap at the 2021 Superior Mile, where I attempted to hold my phone in my hand but then didn’t grip it tightly and flung it out onto the course, but I had specifically worn these pants to avoid that problem. I had to pick my way back through a crowd of fast runners who were angry that I was in their way, then try to pick up my stuff without tripping anyone or getting trampled, and… it was a mess. I didn’t look at my watch, but I think I lost a solid 30 seconds here. And it wasn’t even midway into the race where a break might have helped; it was right at the beginning. UGH!
That said, my time goals for this race were fairly relaxed. My course PR was a 45:30-something, set in 2019, and I knew I was nowhere near that kind of shape. I didn’t run much during ski season this year, and while April is usually my time to start training again and get the mileage up, this year, I spent April on strict exercise restrictions. I had just started running again in the beginning of May, but neither my mileage nor my speed was anywhere near where it used to be. Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t continue my tradition of always running the course faster than the previous year, my goal this time was to just run sub-50 minutes – an 8:03 pace. I aggressively wrote my 2019 splits on the palm of my hand, and told myself a good stretch goal would be aiming for 30 seconds slower than each of those splits.
In 2019, I had run a 6:54 in mile 1; this year, in spite of my yard sale pitstop, I somehow ran a 7:01. Only 7 seconds slower?! I was really surprised by that, but reminded myself that I always tend to go out too fast – so it was likely I had done that here, especially when I was trying to pick up the pace after I picked up my stuff. A quarter mile in, I actually jumped up on the slanted median so I could pass people without bobbing and weaving. I was a little nervous I would trip with this strategy, but I stayed upright! And now I was at mile 1 well before I had planned… but we’d see if I could keep it up.
Mile 2 was a wee bit more uphill than mile 1 (30 feet of gain), and I didn’t have the adrenaline of a race start to push me harder (than I probably should go anyway). But, I did have the group of partiers with a sign saying “You cartwheel, we drink!” With how strong I was running, I didn’t want to stop and cartwheel, but I did give them a thumbs up and yell “I’m so glad you’re back!” as I passed. It was not lost on me that this was the first Bolder Boulder since 2019, and I had a feeling that some of the regular sights might not exist this year, so I was thrilled that this tradition, at least, was continuing post-COVID. I ended up finishing mile 2 in 7:13 – now 9 seconds faster than I had run in 2019. While I thought mile 1 was a total going-out-too-fast fluke, mile 2 made me think I should try to hang onto this aggressive pace and see how well I could do.
One thing I really like about the Bolder Boulder is that in addition to big clear mile markers, the race organizers also mark each kilometer – and in a 10K, each one means you’re another 10% closer to the finish. Yes, I have a great GPS watch, and I look at it a ton, but there’s nothing like frequent course markers to reassure you that you’re on track – and to give me an excuse to distract myself with a lot of mental math. At this point in the race, my math was trying to figure out if I could still break 50 minutes if I soon crashed and burned, but later in the race, the math was reassuring me how well I could do if I could just hold on. (Ah, a good metaphor for my health struggles right now!)
While I’m talking about things I like about the Bolder Boulder: it is a twisty, hilly course. It is not easy at all, and my general guideline is that a Bolder Boulder pace is about 3 minutes slower than a relatively flat course at the same altitude. But I think the twists and turns actually help me pass people, since I know to look to the crowds ahead to figure out the upcoming turns, and then run the tangents. (It is always surprising to me that almost everyone follows the curves of the roads and doesn’t run the tangents, especially when my wave start means I should be with fairly experienced racers.) And while the hills are tough, the ups and downs are similarly good for mental motivation if you know the course well.
As I was going up the big hill to mile 4 (and the course summit), I could tell myself to suck it up and I’d soon get a downhill for recovery. And then once I got to the top of that hill and started to descend, I actively reminded myself that the downhill was recovery enough and I needed to keep pushing the pace, not ease off. I thought about how in Peloton treadmill interval classes, I always want to walk after the hard intervals – but slowing down to a jog is recovery enough. I don’t think I actually pushed the pace like I should have on the downhill, but I at least didn’t slow down and take it easy. In 2019, I ran mile 5 in 7:05; today, I ran it in 7:11.
But stepping back to mile 4, the uphill to the summit. In spite of the race organizers setting up a “Strava segment challenge” for this mile (and you know a competition is always motivating to me), this ended up being my slowest mile of the race. I ran mile 4 in 7:23, whereas I ran it in 7:11 in 2019. While the slower pace might have been a sign that I was burning out and couldn’t keep the PR pace up, I chose to look at it as a challenge. How much longer could I hang on before burning out entirely? I calculated that even if I slowed down to an 8:00 / mile jog, I’d still finish in about 48 minutes – quite respectable, and well ahead of my goal of sub-50.
And as I already noted, I ran mile 5 in 7:11 – not burning out yet! I was still listening to This is Brothers Osborne, and for the second half of this mile, I got to listen to “Make It a Good One” – a good reminder to “leave nothing unsaid or undone”. I had only 2 kilometers to go, and while my brain wasn’t sharp enough to figure out my minutes per kilometer pace, my mental mileage calculator told me I could run 1.2 miles in 9 minutes if I could keep a 7:30 / mile pace. That was not going to be easy, as I knew there was one more big hill going up to the stadium. (A 40 foot hill that I have nearly thrown up on in years past, BTW.) But my watch time crossing the 5M / 8K mark was only 36:10… which meant I stood a fighting chance of coming close to what I thought was my course PR of 45:28.
The last mile, though, is tough. I already mentioned the steep hill that starts at mile 5.9, but there is actually a steady uphill before that, starting just before the 9K mark. Just after 9K, I saw a spectator I didn’t expect – my friend Chris’ BFF Laura, a ridiculously fast runner who is 9 months pregnant and therefore was only cheering today. Although I really didn’t want to see anyone I knew, I figured I couldn’t ruin any relationship by smiling at her when she cheered, and it gave me a little boost for this last kilometer.
I knew I had probably just one song to the finish, particularly since the stadium would probably have its own music drowning out my own, and while I had already listened to a lot of my favorite Brothers Osborne, I quickly flipped forward through the upcoming songs until I hit something with a good beat: “All the Good Ones Are.” With that, I focused on trying to pass the people around me and keep a solid pace. And according to the Strava segment called “The Folsom Hill Starts at Arapahoe” (ha!), not only did I not throw up on this hill, but I actually charged up it a solid 25 seconds / mile faster than 2019. Almost there!
I glanced at my watch as I passed the 6 mile mark, and realized I only had 80 seconds to get through the last 0.2 miles if I wanted to PR. I didn’t think that was possible (especially when I turned onto the field and was reminded that while the field is flat, the plastic they put over the top to protect it is super slippery), but I still couldn’t believe that a PR was anywhere within reach. With only a minute left, I pushed it hard, and then when I finished turning and hit the final straightaway, I sprinted for all I was worth.
Final (watch) time – 45:29. Was it enough?! I was pretty sure my official course PR was 45:28, so I thought I had missed it by one second. But I was still so proud of myself for coming that close when I genuinely thought I would be several minutes slower!
And after I had caught my breath, I opened up my phone to see what my official time had been in 2019. Was it 45:28? 45:30? Thank goodness I have a blog to make checks like this easy – and it turns out, I actually ran a 45:37 in 2019. With my official chip time of 45:28, that meant I had actually PRed by 9 seconds! I couldn’t believe it, especially with my terrible headspace and complete lack of training.
It’s nice that there are so many Strava segments for this course, as it made for a lot of data digging to see where I was slower and faster than in years past. I ran the first 5K in 22:20 (compared to 22:37 in 2019) and the second 5K in 22:56 (compared to 22:52 in 2019) – so I slowed down just a tad bit in the second half, in spite of that charge up Folsom Hill. But 45:28 was good enough for me to not just squeak in with an age group award (which at Bolder Boulder are given 15 deep, given how many thousands of people run the race)… but squarely nail the extended podium, as I took 8th in my age group!! And just for fun, as I was browsing the searchable results, I put a filter on for my town – and out of the 182 women from Superior who ran, I came in 2nd… to professional runner Laura Thweatt! Never mind that I was literally 10 minutes behind her; that still made me really proud 🙂 (And is a good reminder of the absurd caliber of running talent in my town… no wonder the July 4th Superior Mile is always so fast.)
So… score one for something I love not being lost entirely? I’ll take that small victory, even if I’m still scared to risk my friendships by talking to anyone right now. And maybe focusing on running will help me build back the confidence I used to have, and make me feel more positive and happy about life. I sure hope so.
Distance: 6.2 miles
Pace: 7:19 / mile
Overall place: 1300 / 28,068
Gender place: 223 / 14,488
Age group place: 8 / 293