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Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend, I got to run the Broncos 7K in Denver. It’s part of the same series as the fabulous 7K I ran in Fort Collins, but this course traded finishing at the Anheuser Busch Brewery for finishing on the 50 yard line of Broncos Stadium. Pretty fun!
I spent the night before the race out in the mountains, which meant that I had to get up pretty early to get to the start. Between running the Waneka Classic 5K the day before, drinking a few beers while watching football, and staying up late / getting up early, I wasn’t feeling great about how I would run. I had already decided I wasn’t going to try to PR the 7K, but I still wanted to give the race a solid effort. I stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Silverthorne to grab coffee for my drive, and went with caffeinated rather than the decaf I usually drink, hoping that would help.
The drive back to town at 6am was so peaceful – no traffic, good music (I was listening to Ed Sheeran on Spotify), and beautiful sunrise scenery over the mountains. I’m buying a condo this fall and had originally thought I’d buy one out in the mountains, but then decided I’d save that for a year or two and get something in downtown Denver for now. Boy, though, this drive made me want to change that plan! I’ve had some great weekends in the mountains lately, and it would be nice to do that more often with my very own place…
Thanks to the early hour, I made it back to Denver in record time. VIP parking was offered free for those who had picked up their packet ahead of time, but I hadn’t made it downtown to do that, so I was pretty happy that I still had no trouble getting a great parking spot in the main lot. I followed the crowds around the stadium to where both the start and the packet pickup were, and then went back and forth to my car to drop off the extra swag before lining up in the corrals at the start.
Although the race didn’t start until 8:30am, we were told that we had to be in our corrals by 8am. I thought that seemed pretty early, and I was right – they kept letting people into the corrals all the way up until the actual race start, so there had been no reason at all to line up so early. This meant I had about 30 minutes to stand there and wait for the start, and the longer I waited, the more nervous I got.
As I mentioned before, I already hadn’t been feeling great going into the race. On Saturday I had that tickle in the back of my throat that indicated I might be getting sick, and while it wasn’t any worse on Sunday, it wasn’t any better either. I felt sluggish and tired, and I saw that my resting heart rate was elevated.
Can I just say how much I love that Fitbit tracks my RHR and makes it so easy for me to check?! I usually don’t check out my RHR until late in the day or after a workout/race, but I see a definite correlation with good performance on the days my RHR is normal (40bpm) and poor performance on the days it’s slightly elevated (42-43bpm). It’s also really easy to see the correlation between a good night’s sleep and a normal RHR, which further encourages me to rest up.
Anyway, as I waited for the start and made conversation with the runners around me, my expectations slipped lower and lower. Originally I would have liked to try to beat my 7K time from Fort Collins and average a 7:00 pace (aggressive, given that the FoCo course was flat and this one had some hills). After standing at the start for 10 minutes, I decided I wanted to average a 7:15 pace. Ten minutes later, I dropped that to 7:30. And by the time the race started, I really didn’t have any time goal at all. Instead, I told myself I’d take the first mile as easy as possible (especially since it was an uphill, as I had figured out before the race), then try to match that pace for the remaining three miles and change. This “race” for me was going to be more of a steady state training run.
The race started with an advance start for athletes with disabilities, five minutes before the regular start. However, after the advanced start, the other runners in the area and I realized that the corrals weren’t really divided well. When you signed up for the race, you were able to select your own corral (without proof from prior races). And apparently if you registered late, many of the slower corrals were full so people were told the only way to register was if they started in wave A. Bizarre! You can never really judge how fast someone is by the way they look (I, for one, look a lot heavier and slower than I am), but there were a few people toeing the start line who had on backpacks and were talking about walking the course. Not ideal…
So when the gun went off, I was bobbing and weaving quite a bit. Thank goodness I wasn’t going for a PR! But within about the first mile, the crowds thinned out and I was able to hit my stride. The first left turn of the course was a bit hairy / crowded, but then we were going up what I knew was the one good-sized hill of the race, so I focused on taking it easy and breathing deeply. I was still passing a few athletes from the advanced start, but they were spread throughout the course so I was able to run pretty straight rather than weaving around crowds. I felt good about my first mile – not too hard, even with the hill, and I clocked in at 7:26. That was now the pace I was going to try to match for each subsequent mile.
Mile 2 was mostly flat, running along 23rd Ave until just before Sloan’s Lake, at which point we did a little loop around the corner before continuing alongside the lake path. I found myself inadvertently speeding up a bit here to pass some runners on the turns, and it was fun to get to see the other runners coming behind us as we looped back to Stuart Street where we had first turned off 23rd Street. I always like getting to see as many other runners as possible on a course! I ended up clocking this mile at 7:22, and was really happy how close it was to the 7:26 benchmark pace I had set in mile 1.
As I circled the lake, I felt good pushing the pace just a tiny bit, reminding myself of the Patriot’s Day 5K from last year, whose course looped the entire lake. At this point in the Patriot’s Day 5K (around mile 2), I was feeling terrible; today, also at mile 2, I was feeling reasonably good. But I was also going a lot slower now! Haha.
We reached the edge of the lake and turned right for a quick out and back on 17th Ave. I was starting to get tired on the out-and-back, but I reminded myself that once I turned around, it would be nearly a straight shot to the finish. And mile 3 turned out to be almost exactly at the turnaround! I clocked it at 7:29 – so it was just the slightest of slow downs, but still pretty darn close to the 7:26 first mile. I was really thrilled!
Straight shot down 17th Ave, here I come! This was a really fun part of the race. It started out pretty flat, but gradually transitioned into a big downhill right before we got to the stadium where we’d finish. Even though I like the challenge of trying to figure out tangents, I loved not having to turn even once in this mile! I didn’t try to push the pace here, but I inevitably ran a little bit faster due to the downhill at the end, and reached the 4 mile mark in 7:19. I couldn’t believe how on track I was with my even splits! A 10 second overall spread isn’t bad at all, and I am usually far more up-and-down than that. This race was going exactly as I had hoped.
Now, just a little over a third of a mile to go! Though silly me hadn’t paid attention before the race and I thought it was closer to 0.2… whoops. We ran past the starting corrals and up to the sidewalk by the stadium, then turned left to circle down toward the players’ entrance. I abandoned my even pacing strategy once we reached the sidewalk and just tried to pass as many people as I could.
But since I thought the last bit was only 0.2 rather than 0.35, this went on much longer than I was expecting! By the time I entered the tunnel to the stadium and then burst out onto the field, I was really feeling it… but I pasted on a big smile for the many cameras I saw around. Funny how those help!
No super strong finishing kick… but that’s because I had been pretty much kicking since the four mile mark. I ended up covering the last 0.38 (according to my Garmin) at a 6:13 pace… so I was hauling. Hooray for finishing strong!
After crossing the finish line, I grabbed a quick selfie, and a volunteer also offered to get a picture of me at the finish line.
From there, I exited through the tunnel on the opposite side of the stadium, where I saw a woman getting one of the biggest medals I had ever seen. Now I regretted not going faster, as that would have been awesome to win a medal like that. But then I saw volunteers handing out more of the giant medals. As it turned out, this race had massive medals for all finishers! I gleefully took my medal and headed out into the Colorado sunshine, where more volunteers had water and goodies, and a photographer was there to take another official finishing photo.
One thing that was unique about the Denver race in the 7K Fit Series was that there was a huge expo in the halls of the stadium afterward (whereas the Fort Collins race had just a few booths). So I spent the next 30 minutes or so wandering the halls of the stadium, checking out vendors and collecting free samples 😉 In addition to a bunch of football-themed meet & greets and giveaways, there were tons of health tests and several free workouts (Zumba, kickboxing and pilates classes, etc), so that anyone in the family who hadn’t done the race could still do something good for their body. I didn’t really feel like taking a class, but next year I’d definitely come to this race more rested so that I could do all the fun stuff afterward.
And after wandering around the expo for a bit, I was able to meet up with a blog reader, Hilary, who was visiting from New York! We had emailed back and forth before the race about things to do in Denver, and so it was fun to meet her in person and get to chat about running. I know I’ve said it before, but it always feels special to go to a race where I know someone (even via email) rather than just being there all by myself. And Hilary and I were able to get a great pic outside of the stadium on our way out 🙂
Overall, this race reminded me that I definitely need to get more steady “long” (aka 4-6 mile) runs like this in, rather than relying so heavily on the short intervals I do at Orangetheory. I think I’m good on the speed, especially given how I banged out that speedy last third of a mile to the finish; it’s my endurance that needs help in order for me to get the race day results I want.
As for this race, I didn’t go into it with high hopes. I knew based on the days leading up to it that I wouldn’t PR, but I’m incredibly proud of how I reset my expectations and instead went in with a good goal for how I was feeling: to run a steady pace throughout, and avoid burnout. And I nailed it! My races have been all over the place this year when it comes to pacing, so I’m thrilled that I was able to stick to my plan and run a solid pace for the entire course.
And, while I might not have gotten a podium finish like I did at the Fort Collins race, I was thrilled later that day to find out that I took fifth woman overall – in a field of more than 900! Despite the age group wins I’ve been getting in the last year or so, I keep telling myself it’s only because they’re small races… but this proved otherwise. Finishing in the top 0.5-1.5% is better than I ever thought I could be, and I’m really happy with that result!
Thank you to the Denver Broncos for providing me with free entry to this fun race 🙂 Now I can’t wait to come back to the stadium to watch them in a game!
Distance: 4.35 miles
Overall place: 90/5682
Gender place: 5/919