I hate long layoffs between races. You’re already dealing with a lot of anxiety on race day. You’ve spent mile after mile, hour after hour, building to this point, and now you’ve got the opportunity to make it all worth while, or blow it in front of a large crowd of abnormally excited people, who you suspect are all secretly judging you behind their fake, fake smiles… Yay! But the unease gets worse if I go more than about two months between start lines, because without constant exposure, all the weirdness of it stops seeming even remotely normal. Instead it’s fresh, exciting, new, and every bit as terrifying as the first time I did it all over again. For various reasons (mostly injury related) I went about three months between running this race and the Colder Boulder, and to be honest that last one barely counts since I showed up injured and with hardly any training (two runs… two days before hand… fucking two), immediately jumped into my starting group, semi-jogged my way to the finish, and hung out for about three minutes before deciding the self loathing was too overwhelming and climbing in my car to go home. Before that, I guess the St George Marathon was my last real race, and that was almost 6 months ago. So I was not feeling exactly comfortable going into this race. The good news is though, my groin injury had finally healed and I’d gotten back into a training routine around the beginning of February. But I’d done a lot of damage during my long layoff, and a month of a half of training wasn’t nearly enough time to knock all the goo off my midsection, and rust from my legs. I knew going in this wasn’t going to be my fastest race, but since it had nothing to compete with it would at least be my fastest in awhile.
A few days prior to the race we got a final email update from the organizers, which included a few celebratory lines about how perfect the weather was looking for race day. Within hours the forecast changed, and when I showed up on race day it was cold and very windy, with odds of getting worse before it got better. However, about 5 minutes before the race started the cloud cover broke a little bit, the wind inexplicably died, and it actually did end up being exactly the type of weather you want to run in… unless you were dressed for that wind like I was. Oh well.
There was also some weirdness before the start that left me thinking I was in for a cluster fuck of a day. Prior to the race we’d gotten that email about the weather, but it also included a warning to get into a corral early (especially the lead one) because they would fill up fast, and once they’d reached capacity that was it. However when I showed up on race day we’d all been assigned a corral (and I have no idea how they did this, I don’t remember giving a predicted finish time or corral preference when I registered and neither did anyone else I talked to, maybe our collective memories are slipping, or they scanned past results on athlinks). I understand limited space in corrals when they’re self selected, but if you’re assigning them and they’re overcrowded I think the problem’s on you, not the poor runner who shows up only to be denied access to exactly the place their bib says they should be. But in the end it didn’t really matter one way or another. The lead corral had plenty of space, and everyone seemed to be actively ignoring the warning. The corrals opened at 9:30 for a 10:15 race, and I spent some time hovering nearby so I wouldn’t get shut out, but even when I actually climbed in a little after 10:00 I was easily within the first 10 or so people there. Aside from that bit of eccentricity though, things went pretty well.
The first half mile was flat as it wound us through downtown Denver (and I tried to resist the urge to punch a guy in the back of the head who’d aggressively pushed his way up in front of several of us in the corral, then proceeded to run like the starting gun had blown one of his knees off, complete with a heavy random weaving motion that continually filled any gap near him, leaving a good half dozen or so of us desperately bobbing towards any sign of daylight as we tried to get around). And if you run this race, enjoy that half mile because nearly every step afterwards is going to be up or downhill. In fact the entire second mile is a upwards haul, and because it’s not a clean out and back you never quite get to enjoy the payoff of a full downhill mile in the same way. It’s nothing like the undulations of a trail race, but it was more than I expected going into a fun holiday race that gathered just as many non-runners as uptight pace pushers like me.
And now it’s time for a confession that won’t come as much of a surprise to those who’ve followed this blog long enough to see my frequent patches of venom, but in any given race (and occasionally in training runs) I tend to look for random things to get angry about and use as fuel. In this race that ended up being the Runners Roost team. Actually, they weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just cheering for one another whenever they passed, or they spotted someone going the opposite direction in places where the course doubled back on itself. I realize that’s a completely normal thing, even admirable, and if I were part of a running team that’s exactly what I would want and expect… and I hated it. Yeah, I get it, my reaction makes me sound like an antisocial psychopath (which, in fairness, I am), but there were an awful lot of people on that team and the constant din of them screaming at each other was really grating. So somewhere around the middle of the second mile I decided the best way to not hear any of it anymore would be to just pass every member of the team I saw in front of me. I knew some of them would be too fast to catch, but hoped those people were all far enough ahead that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. So, one by one, I started to pick them off. And for once my hateful nature paid dividends, because pretty soon I realized while I was clawing my way past one after another, I was absolutely tearing through the race. I ended up finishing with a 27:38, good for about a 6:22 average mile, which I’m willing to call blisteringly fast in light of all the hills and the fact that I’m still not entirely in running shape yet.
Overall Impressions: Aside from the peculiar way they handled the corrals this was a pretty good race. There was plenty of pre and postrace fun (beer, Irish dancers, beer, probably other things as well, beer) going on for the families just looking to enjoy a day out celebrating an oncoming holiday, with a well marked, fun, course that crammed about as many local landmarks as you can into such a short distance. The volunteers were cheerful and on point, and I rarely see that much post race food for runners (provided by Shamrock Foods for holiday synergy). Although, my mom came along to the run with me and discovered there was a really long line between the late finishers and their first sip of water. I’ve never understood how the grab and go nature of post race food/liquid turns into this huge waiting game (are there people agonizing for minutes at a time over their bagel choice?) and while I’m usually far enough towards the front of a race that the crowds haven’t developed yet, I hear this is a frequent problem at most races. To mitigate that a little in the future it would be nice to see this race to have water at the finish and not as the opening salvo of the food line so runners can hydrate before moving into the endless line. But again, solid race overall. A little hilly for PR seekers, but since it’s a rare 7k you’re probably only competing against what you did last year over the same stretch anyway.