There were plenty of running options on offer this Saturday. Two hours south in the Springs, the third and final race in the Front Range Fatass series was taking place, while an hour north in Wyoming some truly crazed folk were wading through waist-deep snow in what Alex is describing as the hardest of the three Trudges he's done so far. I've done two and they both sucked, so I can only imagine how intolerable this year's race was, but I was still sad to miss it.
Me, I ran ten miles on a bike path in Denver.
Frosty's Frozen 10 Mile has one of the sillier race names out there in addition to a thoroughly uninspired course, but it was a fun morning nonetheless. The course was essentially a five mile out and back on Denver's Platte River bike path, with a small loop at the start. There was a very gentle net downhill of maybe 100 feet to the turnaround and then a gentle climb on the way back.
I carpooled down with the Slushmeister, Nicole and Sarah Hansen, and enjoyed some good banter which made the drive fly by. Sarah was looking to run 65 minutes, Slush was hoping to hang on to her coattails, while I figured that I'd be happy with anything in the 56-57 minute range. Nicole was just looking to get a race under her belt after a long post-Ironman layoff.
After a gentle 3.5 mile warm up with the Fort Collins crew we lined up and got going. Off the start, I spotted Jonathan Huie, who beat me pretty convincingly in December at the Xmas Classic 4 Miler where I had a horrible run; this after I'd beaten him by a few seconds at the T-Day run in November. For the third time in three months then we'd be racing. In addition, Senor Jaime had filled me in the day before on some guy (Kenneth Foster) who was using this race as a tune up for the US Half Marathon Championships in Houston in two weeks, saying he was good for a sub-50 (per the RD). I told him I'd eat my shorts if anyone went sub-50 today. I also recognized Peter Maksimow in his Inov-8 outfit, after hearing his name called for second place in the five-mile race, which was run 75 minutes before the 10-miler. He'd be doubling down on the morning then, so I figured I might have his number.
Through the first few turns of the opening half-mile loop I took my time getting up to race pace. As we hit the bike path, I was running in fifth with Peter. Two guys - Ken Foster running for US Army and a guy in a Team Nebraska top - already had a good-sized lead, while Jonathan and A.N.Other were a few meters up in third and fourth. The first mile clicked at 5:38, which was right at the pace I wanted to be running. The effort felt very controlled, so I decided to put a little weight on the gas in a bid to keep third and fourth close. Not long into the second mile, it was evident that fourth had gone out way too hard, and I was soon around him sitting ten meters behind Jonathan, with Peter still on my shoulder.
The 5:24 second mile split seemed a little hot on paper, but felt good aerobically. My legs weren't feeling too spry, which is never a good sign early in a race, but I felt strong enough that I made the decision not to ease off, rather just hang in there and see how long I could hold on. Through the third mile, I got some separation on Peter but could see myself losing ground on Jonathan, so settled in and concentrated on hitting the tangents of the curvy bike path.
The third mile clicked at 5:29 and the fourth at 5:27, while the gap on third in front and fourth behind grew. It felt like there was a slight uphill pull on the fifth mile, and there were also some decent patches of snow and ice to negotiate, which caused the pace to slow just a touch. Somewhere before the turnaround, I also began to feel the lactic acid take hold in my legs and knew that the real work was just about to begin. However, having come away from the 5k in Lafayette last week with the sense that I 'd run a weak race mentally, I was bound and determined to give the Central Governor some attitude today.
Mile five, just before the turnaround, clicked at 5:39 for a front five of 27:39. I took a gulp of water at the 180 degree turn and then immediately felt the headwind. Ughh. No wonder that front five had seemed easier than the digits suggested they should have. With Jonathan still in sight 30-40 seconds ahead, I at least had a rabbit to chase in hopes that he would tie up, so I got my head down for the grind to the finish.
Coming back against the traffic, I saw Scott closely followed by Sarah who was running in sixth, not far off the girls directly in front of her, but certainly out of reach of 2008 marathon trialists Paige Higgins and Kara Roy who were running one and two. We exchanged mutual words of encouragement as we crossed and then it was back to the grindstone.
Mile six hit at 5:43, and given how I was feeling, the 5:20s and 5:30s were clearly history. It was now just a matter of hanging mentally tough and muscling as good a time as possible and maybe reeling in third. Mile seven came in at 5:49, and while the wheels felt like they were loosening, it didn't feel like they were going to come off entirely.
The mile eight marker seemed like it took forever to materialize, and in fact it never did, presumably blown down. Miles 8 and 9 combined for an 11:37 (5:48) split, and while the math wasn't coming easy, I finally figured out that I was essentially running at what I hope to be marathon pace in four weeks. As I contemplated this reality, while trying to muscle enough strength to stay on pace, I thought about the increased oxygen that would be on offer in New Orleans, the fresh tapered legs, and the fact that I was going to run a sensible evenly paced race that would involve zero miles below 5:30 pace. Okay, one more mile.
"Is third getting any closer? Uh, maybe, but you're not going to catch him. Keep squeezing for seconds."
While I maybe could have pushed a little harder in the last mile, I doubt I would have earned much more than 10 seconds on my final 5:47 split, as I was feeling pretty tapped. I ended up running 56:37, which was on the upper-middle end of the pre-race goalometer. Ideally I would have liked to have seen 55:xx on my watch, but 5:40s were really where I thought I would be.
If I manipulate, cajole and massage various different performance equivalency calculators enough, then accounting for altitude this performance (54:31 sea level equivalent, apparently) is good enough for a 2:32 in four weeks time.
Calculators smalculators, I say, but this is the first time I've got one of these stupid algorithms to show me a number I want to see. But then there's a reason why we run the races. I'm not giving up on the 2:29 just yet, but my mind is increasingly coalescing around 2:33 as the number.