We really couldn't have asked for better weather this morning for the Heart Center of the Rockies half marathon around Boyd Lake. In fact it was so nice out that it almost seemed criminal to be running roads rather than singletrack up in the mountains, but that was compensated for with the stunningly beautiful mountain vistas we would enjoy while running around the lake.
Having not run a half marathon in almost four years, and with a PR of 1:25:49 (Horsetooth Half), I was pretty sure that barring disaster I would be setting a new standard for myself over the distance, but really had very little to go on in terms of road form. Dakota and I did a bunch of intervals from 400 meters up to two miles at the track on Tuesday in the 5:20 to 5:30 range, which felt fairly comfortable, so I figured 5:50s for 13.1 would be a reasonable goal.
I met up with Chris Aronson at the start, before getting out for a four mile jog to warm up. Chris told me that Kelly Christensen (1:11 at Crossroads) and Ryan Donovan (2:28 at Foco in 2009) were starting, so I figured at best I was running for third. Chris beat me by a couple of minutes a month ago at the Bacon Strip 10 mile, so by no means did I think a podium finish was likely, especially after spotting the ageless Andy Ames on the start line. Figuring there were likely to be other speedy road types in the field, I quickly reassessed and set my sights on a top-5 finish.
From the off, I settled quickly and comfortably into pace and watched seven guys head out in front of me. With Chris still behind, I found myself reassessing again and started thinking about winning my age group. I watched the lead pack of five go through the first mile in 5:30, and thought that two maybe three would hold that pace. I hit the lap button on my watch 20 seconds later at 5:52. After dropping off the paved bike path onto the gravel, the footing slowed a touch and I felt myself working just a little harder to keep on pace, splitting the second mile - still in eighth - in a steady and comfortable 5:51.
Soon after the second mile, I could hear Chris pulling up on my shoulder and figured a repeat of the Bacon Strip was getting set to play out. On the rolling dirt roads of the Bacon Strip course, Chris had breezed by me before the half and despite my best efforts had gone on to beat me convincingly. However, today I was clearly fitter and it was easy for me to keep pace with Chris as we began to work together. We chatted a bit, speculating about the guys up front, and I guessed that we would be rolling a few of them up before it was all said and done.
I missed the three-mile marker, but Chris called it at 5:49, which for me meant about 5:51. With mile four coming in at 5:53, I was feeling really good about the pace from an aerobic perspective, but was beginning to get a little concerned about my legs which just felt a little sore and lethargic, probably because they're not used to the faster turnover just yet. That will come.
We hit some pretty soft footing on the last mile of bike path around the two small lakes that make up the first section of the course, which may have accounted for a slow 6:02 fifth mile, before we headed out on the long, straight stretch of road to the north end of Boyd Lake. Shortly after hitting the road, Chris and I rolled up our first guy and then were soon on a second guy who was having some mechanical issues (Peter Vail, I think), which put us in sixth and seventh. The gap to the next guy was lengthy - probably two minutes - so through these gently rolling middle miles it was time to get the head down, focus and knock out some splits: 5:55, 5:48, 5:57.
At the turn west, I got a split on fourth and fifth, who were 2:00 and 1:35 up on Chris and I respectively. Feeling strong, and sensing that these guys had gone out too hard, it was soon evident that I was eating up the gap on fifth. Mile nine, which probably had a net downhill, was my fastest of the day at 5:41 and I was soon within shouting distance of fifth. By mile 10 (5:53), I had rolled past him and had also put a bit of a gap on Chris.
From here on in, we were back on the bike paths and it was time to squeeze out the remaining juice in search of the finish line. I knew I was going to catch fourth and was starting to see Andy in third come back to me. Mile 11 split at 5:48. Catching up to fourth, I realized it was Ryan Donovan who was obviously having a tough morning. The last two miles were just about getting the head down, blocking out the pain and pushing out whatever was left, which turned out to be a 5:53 and 5:44, with a final .33 into the finish for fourth overall.
Earlier in the week I was thinking a 1:17 would be a decent result, and so I was definitely pleased with the 1:16:47 I ended up with. However, if I'm going to hit my goal for New Orleans then there is clearly much work still to be done. With that said, I definitely think I'm heading in the right direction.
So Chris and I are now 1-1 in our impromptu mini-series with the coin flip to come at the Turkey Day 4 miler where we'll both be lucky to finish in the top 20. Speaking of Turkey Day, Mr. Top American will also be toeing the line where no doubt he'll be looking for some redemption after the half-hour spanking I handed out to him on the Big Hill in August. Should be a good little race within the race.
1st four: 23:28
2nd four: 23:44
3rd four: 23:44