Although I had just PRed the week before in Albany, Adam and I were already signed up for the Patriot’s Day 5K on Saturday September 10, and I saw no reason not to run it. I thought it would be really fun to see the difference in my times at sea level and at altitude, and I was also really looking forward to running with Adam at my side :)
My friend Claire is an ambassador for 3W Races, the race organization, and I somehow had it in my head that the race was right near where she lived in Westminster. So on race morning, I pointed my GPS to Standley Lake in Westminster, assuring Adam that we’d get there about 45 minutes before the race start. Adam told me that he thought the race was actually in Denver, but I chalked that up to his not being as familiar with the area as I was. However, when we got to Standley Lake and didn’t see anything like a race, I checked the address on the pre-race instruction email… and saw that we were going to be racing around Sloan’s Lake in Denver. Yikes!
I drove as fast as I could to get downtown from where we were, but we ended up only arriving about ten minutes before the race start. Thank goodness for small races with quick packet pickup lines! I parked the car and walked over while Adam got our bibs, and we ended up with a few extra minutes to hit the porta potties and stretch a tiny bit. No time for a warmup jog, though! I still haven’t done a warmup jog before a race, but after reading Meb for Mortals a few weeks ago, I’m convinced it would be a good idea. Looking on the bright side, though, our late arrival meant there was also no time to think too much about my pacing and get nervous :)
Adam and I headed toward the front of the runners lining up, and we sized up our competition. “I don’t think I can beat the guy in the purple shirt,” Adam whispered to me. I too had noticed a few ladies (slash girls, as some looked much younger) who looked really fit and fast, and I had my doubts about whether I could keep pace. But after a quick singing of the National Anthem, it was time to put our money where our mouths were and find out.
We took off fast on a winding sidewalk toward the lake, and Adam and I quickly found ourselves relatively close to the front. A few speedsters flew out ahead, but we were in a small pack of about a dozen people all going at roughly the same pace. What pace that was, though, I didn’t know, until we settled onto the main paved path around the lake and Adam told me, “Babe, you’re running a six minute mile.” I retorted, “But it feels so good!” (TWSS) However, I (and all the other runners in our pack) slowed down in response to Adam’s astute coaching. And I noted that whatever coaching Adam gave me out loud was going to be heard by my competition ;)
After the pack slowed down, it also thinned out, and I found myself running right behind two women who looked to be about my age. I have a weird thing where I hate running right behind someone if there is clear space in front – I prefer to be able to see what’s ahead. (Similarly, if I’m sitting in the backseat of a car, I prefer the middle so I can see out the windshield.) So I sped up in order to pass the two women in front of me (hooray, age group improvement!), and then settled back into about a 7:00 mile pace after doing so; Adam followed suit.
The first mile went by pretty quickly, and our split was almost exactly a 7:00 mile – 7:04 pace. It felt pretty good, but I also knew that how you feel at mile 1 of a 5K doesn’t really mean much :) There was a girl about my age in a green shirt who was a few seconds ahead of me on the course, and I tried my best not to let her get too far ahead. Meanwhile, Adam kept reminding me that on a winding course like this, it was really important to pay attention to direction and try to run the tangents. I was really grateful that he kept looking out for this, because I did a pretty poor job running them on my own. It’s easy to unthinkingly follow the curve of the path, but since the path kept curving alternate directions, it was really valuable to look ahead and try to keep my lines straight – less distance run that way.
We reached the northwest corner of the park, and the path now curved right much more to keep hugging the lake. It felt like we were now running into the wind (though not terribly so). I kept watching the green shirted girl ahead of me, but I wasn’t yet close to passing her. Instead, Adam and I were keeping pace with a guy – so, not someone I’d be competing with for an age group award. I thought it was funny that I was actually trying to keep track of what my chances for an award were. Ten years ago, I never would have thought I’d be able to run a mile, let alone a marathon. Five years ago, I had run plenty of marathons but never thought I would be considered a fast runner. And now, I was scoping out the competition for awards! Life can surprise you sometimes, and I love that you can always improve your running.
The course headed out on what I quickly realized was an out-and-back, kind of a sidewalk pier that stuck out into the water. I had thought the course was a simple loop around the lake, so it surprised me that we were doing an out-and-back; I wondered if they had changed the course and it was now a complete out-and-back the way we came? We were just about at the halfway point, so that could make sense. But it didn’t really matter what the course was going to do – since we were just going to follow it and try to keep the pace.
I took advantage of the out-and-back to see who was in front of me. Only three women! That meant I had a chance not only to get an age group award, but actually to get an overall award… if I could pass Green Shirt Girl in front of me. We turned right off the out-and-back pier to keep going around the lake (so I hadn’t been wrong about the course being a loop), and I quickly closed the gap between me and Green Shirt.
Just before mile 2, Adam and I made our move, passing Green Shirt with a little surge and then going back to what turned out to be a fairly steady 7:21 pace (our average for that mile). I spent the next few minutes looking over my shoulder to see if Green Shirt would catch up, but while she didn’t drop way back, she also didn’t show signs of swapping places with me again.
With only one mile to go, Adam started trying to get me to push the pace. Admittedly, I tend to pick up the pace way too late in the game, and I knew that, but I also didn’t feel comfortable enough in the 7:20s to go faster – I was afraid I’d burn out before the end. I was a little grumpy at being asked to go faster, but did my best not to convey that to Adam, since I was really grateful he was pacing me! Instead, I turned up the music a bit on my phone (I was running with these comfy wireless headphones), and mostly tried to ignore what he was saying to me… while still keeping up with the pace he was setting ;)
At mile 2.5, though, I gave in. Half a mile left in the race was definitely time to try to start pushing the pace, and I thought we did so aggressively. I was getting pretty tired toward the end, but I reminded myself that in less than five minutes (in fact, less than one song), the race would be over and I could catch my breath. In the last quarter mile (so, around 2.85), I really tried to push hard. We had come around the final corner of the park, and I knew there wasn’t much left to run. The path got really swerve-y here, though, and we were further hurt by several walkers/joggers who were on the (public use) path that served as the course. Some generously stepped out of the way, but others we had to weave around, which took some extra steps and energy. I didn’t think much about it at the time, though – just tried to focus my thoughts on squeezing out every last ounce of energy to go fast. However, mile 3 clocked in at a 7:25 pace – so perhaps we weren’t going quite as fast as I thought ;)
When we reached mile 3, though, and I saw the finish line ahead – it was on. I knew that I was coming in with a pretty good finish time, and I didn’t want to leave anything on the table. Meanwhile, a male runner all of a sudden came from behind me to where a woman was standing on the side of the road, and the two of them sprinted it in together at a ridiculously fast pace (sub-5? Adam can tell me if I’m making that up). I got scared when I heard him pounding his way up from behind me, and was so glad it was a guy and not Green Shirt making her comeback! But nonetheless, I picked it up to an all-out myself (6:24 pace, Adam later told me), and proudly finished sprinting with Adam at my side. Best race finish ever :)
After I crossed the line, I had a lot of trouble catching my breath – I had definitely finished strong! I wasn’t quite sure how strong, though, until I glanced down at my watch for nearly the first time since I had started it. (Ah, the benefits of having a personal pacer.) 22:33?! I had somehow managed to beat my PR from the previous weekend, and also won third woman overall!
I spent most of the next hour or so in awe at my time. I had run faster at altitude than I had in New York the weekend before – so maybe it really is my mental game that’s limiting me more than my physical abilities?? But furthermore, that meant I’d be able to go even faster if I could do another flatland race! I just couldn’t believe I had done so well at altitude, and I will fully concede that much of the credit goes to Adam for being an awesome running buddy and pacer :)
So after a lot of research and discussion, we picked out the Drawchange 5K this weekend in Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia. Adam had to be in Alabama for work this week, and we’ve been wanting to visit one of his friends in Atlanta anyway, so we decided to make a weekend of it. And what better way to kick off a weekend getaway than with a 5K race? The course winds its way around a park, so tangents will be tough to run. But it’s reasonably flat, and it’s at sea level – so I’m still hoping for another PR. Wishful thinking? We shall see on Saturday!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 9/119
Gender place: 3/80
Age group place: 1/20