As I wrote in my weekend recap last week, I woke up on Saturday morning to a ton of snow – and immediately knew my race wasn’t going to be nearly as fast as I had hoped.
I went back and forth a bit on what to wear (should I layer a tank top under my turtleneck?), but eventually realize that with temps in the 30s, it wasn’t going to be particularly cold… just unfortunately wet and snowy. I had some coffee at home (with caffeine, which I normally don’t drink!), and also brought a travel mug of it in the car to sip on the drive.
I spent half the drive listening to podcasts, and half listening to music. Thanks to the new partnership between Hulu and Spotify, it was only an extra $3 per month for me to get Spotify Premium, so I’m finally upgrading from the free version of Spotify. No more ads, and I can play Spotify from my Amazon Echos! Plus, I will also now have the ability to make my own playlists and skip songs I don’t like, so I’m looking forward to putting together some special playlists just for race day going forward. I hadn’t done that before the race, so I’d still be running to my standard Orangetheory Fitness playlist for this race, but I was psyched that I’d be able to skip any songs that weren’t keeping me pumped up.
The drive up to Fort Collins passed by quickly, but also got me a little nervous. The snow was still falling down hard, and visibility was really limited. Although I usually listen to podcasts strictly in order, I jumped ahead a little bit on Ali Feller and Lindsey Hein‘s podcasts in order to hear their post-Boston interviews of Sarah Sellers. The weather at Boston had been pretty brutal, and I knew I was going to face somewhat similar conditions in my 7K (though obviously for not nearly as long), so I hoped to get some inspiration and strength from the elites. When I arrived up in Fort Collins and the snow / visibility was still just as bad, I also put out this little joke on Instagram:
After parking my car and picking up my packet (which had been moved indoors to the barn), I had about 40 minutes to the start… but I didn’t feel like walking back through the snow to drop my extra stuff off in my car. There wasn’t a formal bag check (since the start and finish were at the same place and cars were also able to park pretty close by), so I decided to look for a place in the brewery to store my fleece jacket and race tee. I didn’t want to ask an employee in case they said no and then kept a close eye on me, so instead, I just stashed the small bag in some crates against a wall. Shhh… don’t tell 😉 I waited inside the lobby as long as I could, along with a few other runners doing the same thing. The less time I had to be out in the snow, the better! But finally with five minutes till the race started, I headed out.
Even though it was a small race, the race organizers had us organized into corrals, which I loved. It’s nice to have things divided up so you’re not tripping on each other at the start! I was assigned to the A corral, and since I had come in the top 3 last year, I made my way all the way up to the starting line. I arrived just in time for the National Anthem and a few announcements, but still also had time to get my Garmin GPS connected. Perfect!
When the race started, I took off at a decent clip with the lead pack, but also had firmly in mind my propensity to go out way too fast. Last year, I had started at a 5:30 pace and then finished the first mile in 6:00! I didn’t know how much the snow would slow me down, but my goal was to keep fairly even splits throughout. Since I’m usually decently comfortable at a 6:40 pace when I’m in Florida, I was hoping for a 20-30 second slowdown due to the altitude, and was targeting around a 7:00-7:10 pace… but I really had no clue how feasible that was with the conditions.
After the first quick little turns to get us out of the Anheuser Busch Biergarten parking lot, the pack thinned out – and I found myself in second place overall, with one guy in front of me. Looking at my Garmin, I was still faster than I would have liked, but I’ve now just kind of accepted the fact that I always go out faster than I intend. So much adrenaline at the start! I clocked the first mile in 6:21 – faster than my goal, but still 20 seconds slower than my way-too-aggressive start last year, so I was happy with that.
We turned right shortly after the first mile marker (the course was basically one big box), and my pace slowed a tiny bit as I felt some wind. It wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable. Meanwhile, several of the guys who had started in the lead pack but then ended up behind me started making their moves and passing me. Fine by me – but I kept my eyes peeled for any women trying to do the same. I was really happy to be the first female and wanted to try to keep that lead! I ended up reaching the next right hand turn with no women having passed me, and hit the two mile mark in 7:18. That was 8 seconds slower than last year’s 7:10 for this mile, but pretty close to the overall pace I was hoping to run throughout.
We were now on the long stretch that I remembered from last year as being my slowest of the race, and with the two splits I had just clocked being much closer to my 7:10 goal pace than last year, I wanted to try to keep it up. I consciously tried to pick up the pace and avoid slowing down, but I was also well aware of the snowy conditions – it was here that I started feeling like I was getting wet from the snow landing on my shirt. Just after the 2 mile marker, my bib actually ripped through the safety pins, so it was only held on by the two pins on the right side. Yikes! There was no way I wanted to stop to pin it back on, but I was also worried that the wind was going to rip it off entirely and I’d lose a lot more time chasing after it. Instead, I stopped my usual arm swing and tried to hold it on a bit so that it wouldn’t get blown off.
But pretty quickly, we reached the final side of the block course, and I saw some of the winning males on their way back from the out-and-back that made the course deviate from a pure rectangle. Almost to the three mile mark, and then I’d be in the home stretch! No one had passed me on this section of the course (male or female), and I knew that the out-and-back would give me a chance to scope out any competition potentially coming up from behind. The aid station workers were cheering for me as I ran up, but I didn’t stop for a drink – less than ten minutes to go!
On the return of the out-and-back, I kept my eyes peeled for other runners. There was one guy about 20 seconds behind me, but no females for a while. I could do this!
I turned left onto the main road, and shortly after my watch ticked over 3.3 miles – which meant less than a mile to go. I reminded myself that meant only about two songs before I’d be done, and tried to pick up the pace a bit. Overall, I felt like I wasn’t running particularly strong though. I was fairly comfortable rather than being totally spent… but I was also in first place! So I didn’t want to risk pushing hard and then getting totally burnt out. Or at least that’s what I told myself so that I could be lazy rather than going all-out 🙂
I kept checking my watch in the last half mile, but calculated that I wouldn’t beat my race time from last year (30:35). Knowing I wasn’t going to break pace also made me less interested in pushing hard, but I stayed pretty steady. Last year I ran mile 4 in 7:24, and this year I ran it in 7:22 – so it was pretty consistent, even if I didn’t feel like I was pushing it as hard this year. That’s not a bad thing! And when I got to the final zig zagging turns that led us across the corner of the rectangle back to the finish line, I remembered my experience last year and kept my eyes laser focused on where I needed to go ahead, so that I would be running the straightest tangents possible.
As I turned into the biergarten parking lot, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, which was kind of neat. I picked up the pace a bit more on the final sprint to the finish, with my Garmin saying I paced the final 0.39 in 6:55. Definitely not as much as I kicked it last year (6:39 for 0.35 – clearly did a better job running the tangents last year), but I still felt strong and awesome when I finished.
After crossing the finish line, I was tired, but wasn’t totally bent-over-hands-on-knees-breathing-hard spent. I later learned that six guys had finished before me, but I got to run that final stretch in all by myself, so it truly felt like I won the race. One thing that has been bugging me though – can I say I “won” the race when there were men who finished in front of me? Races of course always have a male and female winner, but am I allowed to say I won if there were guys who beat me? (Goal for next year: beat the guys!)
I spent the rest of the day incredibly proud of my accomplishment. I couldn’t believe that while I had joked about pulling a Desi, I had actually done it and won a race in tough conditions. Although my time was 48 seconds slower than last year’s attempt on the same course, that’s a difference of less than 12 seconds per mile – which is more than made up for by the poor conditions. Data nerd that I am, I compared this year’s results against last year’s results, looking for people who had run it both years, and found a few guys in the top 20 who had run both… and they were finishing 2-3 minutes slower this year. So I think that means I’m getting faster, even if my time doesn’t reflect it.
Even if I’m not getting faster, I’m proud that I ran this race much more consistently than last year:
So… what now?? I am running Ragnar Chicago in mid-May, followed by the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day. I’d really like to PR at the Bolder Boulder and break the 48:00 I ran last year… but I also recognize I need to start putting in some solid “distance training” (distance meaning 4-7 miles rather than the 3 I often run) if I’m going to have the stamina for it. Altitude is no joke, but my ultimate goal is to take the 7:12 I ran here in the snow for 4.3 miles, drop the pace just a bit to 7:00, and then sustain it for 6.2. Even if I can’t drop the pace, maintaining a 7:12 average would put me finishing in 44:44 – which still more than three minutes off my time from last year. Time to make it happen!
Distance: 4.3 miles
Overall place: 7/401
Gender place: 1/248
Age group place: 1/83