This year is our family's fifth Thanksgiving in Colorado and indeed my fifth consecutive year running the Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day run. This has to be my favorite road race in Colorado, and not just because I've got the streak going, but because it's the largest race in town on a fast course that always attracts a stellar field and loads of my local running buddies. I've even got a simmering rivalry going with the fastest lady in town.
Two years ago, I got caught up in a very close women's race, essentially pacing the lead pack of four through the first 3.9 miles before watching Adriana Nelson produce the strongest kick for the win and the cash, beating me and the other ladies by a second or two. Fast forward a year to 2010 and Adriana won the women's race again. This time, though, I was able to put her away midway through the fourth mile, thereby avoiding the need for any kind of unseemly sprint down the home straight. So the scene was set this year for the rubber match on what was turning out to be a perfect morning for racing.
After a four-mile warm up with Slush and a pause for a very well executed rendition of the national anthem, it was time to race. As always, the field was stacked with many of the state's fastest guys and girls, and it was immediately off to the races. Within 10 strides, it looked like I was about 20 strides back on the lead pack.
The first mile or two of these sprints are just hard for me, and it takes forever for me to get my breathing under control. A half mile in and it looked like I was running in about 30th place. Then just like that Nuta Olaru and Adriana come cruising by - one already an Olympic marathoner (Olaru) and the other looking to qualify for the US team in Houston early next year, after recently being cleared to run for her adopted home country. Watching Adriana cruise effortlessly by me today, it was evident that she's in great form right now.
I got on the train and tried to hang on. The first mile popped at 5:17, which was a touch hot for the 5:20s I was hoping to run, but then the first mile is always hot in this race. Grinding up Mulberry, I slowly watched Adriana pull away and settled into what I thought was a sustainable pace. Brian Goding was in his usual spot watching near City Park, and he jumped in to run with me for a quarter mile or so, just as I was starting to feel a little more comfortable with the pace.
Turning the corner into the park on Bryan Ave, I was starting to reel in and go by a few guys who had pushed by me early in the race. The second mile up the hill came in at 5:22. Feeling strong and finally in control of the run, I thought I might have a shot at my pre-race goal of going under 21:30. Horsecow Lonac, who had gone by me shortly after Adriana, was coming back a bit and I was still passing guys as we made the turn onto Mountain Ave for the long mile and half down to College Ave and the finish. And, wait, maybe Adriana was coming back a bit too, albeit from about 20 meters ahead.
Mile three popped at 5:24, just I was beginning to feel my form break down and the pain set in. I was now firmly stuck in no-man's land and with nobody to race it was time to work on the mental game. I found myself drifting in and out of wanting to keep pushing. I knew I was losing precious seconds. With a half mile to go, it looked like I might be able to reel in Jonathan Garcia - a regular at the Tuesday Night Track workouts - so I made that the motivational goal to keep pushing. With 50 yards to go, on the College Ave turn, I was by Jonathan and ready for the finish line, which came eight seconds late for my goal (5:33 last mile) but was still an 11 second PR at 21:38. Good enough.
Adriana found me soon after the finish to rub a little salt into the wound, informing me that I had been smoked. And indeed I had. Her 21:14 (5:18) at altitude is impressive and a good indication that she has a good chance of being in the mix for one of the three London spots up for grabs next year.