Last summer, I attended the Denver launch of Back on my Feet (BomF), a nonprofit that seeks to combat homelessness by first building confidence and self-esteem through weekly group runs, then enrolling participants in financial literacy classes and job skills training. I haven’t been able to volunteer with BomF since that first run, but my good friend Heather sits on their Board, and I joined her team for their fundraiser 5K, which was supposed to be last weekend.
But… COVID19 happened. And the 5K turned from a physical race around Sloan’s Lake, to a virtual race. The “race” kicked off on Sunday at 9am, and participants have a week to complete a 5K on their own and track it in Strava (#proof). So yesterday morning, I went out to do my virtual race.
I’ll be honest, I was pretty bummed about the race being virtual. Sloan’s Lake is a flat, fast course, and when I ran the Patriot’s Day 5K there in 2016, I PRed by a lot. I was really looking forward to the opportunity to test myself on the same course, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to head down there to run it now – it’s a pretty popular path that would definitely not lend itself to social distancing! Instead, I decided to go to Westminster and run the Big Dry Creek Trail (actually a paved path) where I’ve done numerous 3W races. I knew it would have some people on it, but I also knew that it was pretty wide to accommodate passing, and I figured it might be reasonably quiet at 6am on a weekday.
I was originally planning to run this on Thursday, so that I could join Theodora and some of her friends in a new Peloton running accountability group (oh boy, do I need some accountability for my running workouts). They are running four days a week (three weekdays and one weekend), and my plan was to run Tuesday, Thursday (after my 5K), Friday, and Sunday. But on Tuesday morning, I went to find the first workout… and then realized they were doing the Peloton outdoor runs, not the treadmill runs.
I tried the Peloton outdoor runs once, and honestly didn’t love them, since the terrain near me is pretty hilly so it’s hard to match the effort up with what the instructor is looking for. What I want to focus on is treadmill speedwork, since I like that the treadmill forces me to be precise about how fast I’m going (meaning I can’t cheat any intervals). I have been totally neglecting true intervals and speedwork lately, mostly just doing easy runs with my foster dogs, and I really want to get serious about hitting the treadmill hard. So when I learned that Theodora’s group wouldn’t work for me, I ditched the treadmill altogether and turned Tuesday into mostly a rest day – I did 30 minutes of easy rowing, and a 20 minute arms and shoulders strength class. Between that and the carb-heavy meals I ate all day Tuesday, I woke up Wednesday pretty well-rested and ready to go!
I skipped my morning core class in order to get out of the house faster (and also skipped my dog walk… sorry!). On the way down to Westminster, I had a mug of caffeinated vanilla black tea, and some zucchini oat breakfast cookies I had baked a few days before. That’s more than I usually eat before a short race; I hoped they wouldn’t sit weird in my stomach.
Unfortunately, when I got to the Westin Hotel parking lot where the trail began, I needed to go to the bathroom…. but the hotel seemed to be closed. (Turns out, while hotels are deemed essential businesses, most have closed due to lack of demand.) So… time to run anyway? Now I kind of missed the porta potties that are present at the start of non-virtual races! 🙂
I headed to the place where 3W normally sets up their start line, and found a rock to tuck my fleece jacket and mask behind (hopefully no one would pick it up thinking it was trash). And then, after pressing play on my Racing Power Songs playlist (first song: Fall Out Boy – The Phoenix), and then clicking my Garmin… I was off!
I headed out fast (as I always tend to do at the beginning of a race), then settled into a more comfortable pace after a minute or so when my heart rate started to climb. I wanted to push the pace and see how fast I could do this 5K, but I also knew that while a 5K is short, it’s not like a mile where you just gun it and grit your teeth the whole way. I was going for hard, but sustainable.
Right away, I was happy with the course I had chosen for myself. It was a sunny, beautiful day (albeit colder than I expected – temps were in the high 40s, which deterred me from the racing shorts I had planned to wear), and the paved trail was smooth while the open space made for some pretty views. About a half mile in, I passed someone walking their dog, but there was plenty of room for me to move way off to the side and give them a wide berth. I ended up encountering 2-3 people each mile, which I think is about as empty as I could expect for a public paved trail.
I knew about where the first half mile was, checking my watch to be sure. My Garmin didn’t beep at me as a heads up, though? Garmin had just exchanged my watch for a new one due to some technical issues with the altimeter, and I realized I must not have set this new one up to give me splits every half mile. I ended up checking my watch a lot during this “race”, not so much to worry about my time / pace, but to see exactly how many miles I had done at any one point. I told myself that the course should be roughly a new song every half mile, which meant three songs out, and three songs back. Piece of cake!
After about two songs, my first mile beeped on my Garmin… in 6:43. Wow – that was much faster than my goal of a 7:30 average! But I also knew that I have a tendency to run my first mile much faster than everything else, so that didn’t mean I was in the clear. (I also realized afterwards that this first mile had a net drop of 51 feet, which made it the easiest mile of my course.) I was working hard, but also felt reasonably comfortable, and it felt good to know I had only another half mile out before I’d turn around and come back.
The last half mile had some baby ups and downs on it though (over bridges, under overpasses), and I could tell I was going to have a bit of a climb on my way back. Now, to be clear, this course is really flat (or as flat as you can get in Colorado), with grades of no more than 3%. I think I worried about the “hills” more than they actually changed my pace / effort! But the second mile soon clicked off in 7:04… which meant that I was well ahead of my goal. Now, I hoped I could maintain a 7:00 pace for this last mile in order to have an average pace that was sub-7.
The song at this point was Gloriana’s “How Far Do You Wanna Go?”, and between that and the stunning views of the mountains ahead of me, I was so happy and having a great time. I did my best not to slow my pace, but held my phone out in front of me to snap a photo of the beautiful course and the beautiful day.
I tried to push it a bit in the last mile, but in hindsight, I definitely could have pushed more. (Hindsight is always 20 / 20 when it comes to racing, huh?) With a quarter mile to go, my last song of the “race” came on (Marianas Trench – Here’s to the Zeroes), and I found myself disappointed it wasn’t something better… but I didn’t want to potentially slow down by trying to change it. Instead, I tried to focus on picking up the pace for this final stretch.
But… where to stop? I knew a 5K was 3.1, but I couldn’t remember the decimal after the tenth of a mile. Was it 3.10 or 3.19? I had in my head that it was 3.16, so I sprinted past where I knew 3W sets up their finish line and stopped my Garmin only when I saw 3.16 on there. And my time? 21:53! Wow! I couldn’t believe I was sub-22… I definitely did not think I was in good enough shape for that! And if I was honest with myself, I probably could have pushed it harder. While I was certainly out of breath at the finish, I also knew that it hadn’t taken that much out of me after that, and I felt up for another workout later that day.
After the race, I learned that a 5K is actually 3.106 miles (I knew there was a 6 in there somewhere), so I had run about an extra twentieth of a mile. Fortunately, Garmin / Strava told me that my actual 5K split was 21:32, which I couldn’t believe. That is only 38 seconds slower than my 5K PR, which was set at sea level! I am in much better shape than I thought.
While you might think that my great time would encourage me to be lazy, quite the opposite… it’s actually showing me that I’m fitter than I think I am, and therefore can push myself harder. I have definitely been mentally psyching myself out from getting on the treadmill, for a few reasons. One, my treadmill is old and crappy and doesn’t go below a 2% incline 🙂 Couple that with the fact that I’m used to running on a treadmill at sea level rather than at altitude, and all my paces are slower than what I’d like to see, which is kind of demoralizing. But what this race showed me is that I am actually in quite competitive shape… so I need to start pushing it harder!
Now that we’re about to start a new month of this quarantine, I’m establishing some new quarantine health goals for myself, and one of those is to do at least two hard speedwork efforts on the treadmill a week. If I can do this well in a 5K without that kind of training, imagine what I’ll be able to do when I buckle down! I am even wondering if I might be able to break my 5K PR (set at sea level) while staying in Colorado and running it at altitude! I am currently less than 40 seconds away, which seems attainable.
This virtual race goes through Saturday, so I am still waiting to find out the actual results and if I (maybe) placed. But regardless of how I do compared to everyone else, I’m thrilled with how I performed. What a mood boost! BomF’s work clearly changes the volunteers just as much as the members. Thank you to BomF for pushing me outside my comfort zone and giving me the confidence to pursue even more aggressive goals and make the most out of my time in quarantine!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Placement: To come!