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Race Report: Colder Boulder 2015

Let’s define a term I just made up: “Running Fat.” That’s when you’re far enough above your normal racing weight that you can feel it dragging you down as you try to run, but you’re still somewhere within a normal person’s healthy weight range. So when you mention being out of shape to your non-running friends it leads to a host of concerned looks, body image issue pamphlets mysteriously appearing on your desk, and the unnerving suspicion that the people waiting in line outside the bathroom have their ears pinned to the door, listening for you to purge. Those of you who read my last post know I blew out my knee running in Vegas, and the resulting downtime as I try to rehab it, combined with Vegas’s bountiful culinary experiences, and the passing of Thanksgiving along with its subsequent leftovers, and the pre-Christmas goodie proliferation left me in that weird middle ground where I’m woefully out of running shape, but in absolutely no danger of not fitting into my pants.

I’d originally signed up for the Colder Boulder with an eye towards snagging a solid qualifying time for its big brother race in May, the famous Bolder Boulder (with more than 50,000 finishers it often claims the title of biggest 10k in the US). But now, with a bum wheel and expanding gut, instead I started thinking of it as the first test of how far I’d fallen physically, and how difficult the climb back was going to be. Luckily I’d signed up for something pretty short, as per my rule about home grown winter races (I’ll run forever in the middle of pounding snow during training, but the second I’ve obligated myself to a certain amount of miles by handing over a check to a race organizer, a snow storm turns every step into a miserable trek through my own self-loathing), so if the worst case scenario came to pass and the knee gave out again I only had to transition from dead man walking to fat man dragging for a few miles.

As it happens the snow stayed away, and, in fact, the day turned out to be about as beautiful as a December morning in Colorado gets, and by the time my race lined up to start (the Colder Boulder runs in a very spread out wave system based on times from the most recent Bolder Boulder, with a huge “open” wave at the end of the morning for those who didn’t participate back in May) it was even warm enough to forego my gloves and jacket. The course takes you on a big winding loop around the CU Boulder campus, opening with a very mild downhill for the first mile, before casually climbing back to the starting line the rest of the way. There’s quite a few offshoots from the main sidewalk, but the raceway is always clearly marked, often with signs, cones, and a volunteer for good measure (although one very memorable volunteer didn’t seem to realize that since she was facing the oncoming runners her left and ours were not the same thing, but since it was all so clearly marked anyway her confusion was superfluous). The takeoff for the open wave was pretty torrid, and even though I tend to fly away from the starting line like they were burning the whole thing down behind me I quickly, and worryingly, fell off the pace in short order.  I’d come into the race with a dreadful certainty that I was about to notch my worst 5k time ever, and seeing all those well-toned asses fading away in the distance wasn’t exactly encouraging happy thoughts. It wasn’t until I hoofed by the first mile marker with the clock still a shade under six minutes that I started to feel some hope. Typically I should be a little faster than that (especially downhill) but at least I wasn’t dragging as bad as I appeared to be. The only question now was whether I could hold form… And to keep the answer short, not quite. After that first mile my Vegas Buffet and Thanksgiving indiscretions began to outrun me, and I could feel my speed slacken as my body started to struggle, leaving me notching a 6:15 for the second mile. Although on the plus side, thus far my knee was holding up pretty well with only one or two brief twinges of pain to keep it from going completely out of mind. The last mile got even rougher though, and as my holiday paunch led the way around the final turn I could see a final sprint was in order to come in under 20 minutes. Not a great time, but nowhere near as bad as I was worried it might be.

Overall Impressions: This race knows its business. December in the Colorado foothills can get a mite bit frostbitey, so they keep everyone’s outdoor exposure to a minimum. The distance is short (5k), the finish line is indoors, and the starting line is just a few steps out the door from there. The waves keep everyone paced with similar runners (until the end of the morning when the open wave descends like a blanket of chaos). Packet pickup was easy and efficient, and wonder of wonders included a shirt I actually like (along a useless knit winter fuzz ball hat, can’t win em all). And there were enough vendors handing out all sorts of goodies to cover for the post race food pickings from the race proper being kind of sparse. All that being said, the course is a little blah, and while it never actually takes you onto the roads, it does pass close enough to some high traffic areas to occasionally leave you sucking some heavy exhaust fumes as you preform the usual runner’s desperate gasp for air. In the end it’s a solid race to help fill that frigid gap in your calendar, but I wouldn’t go incredibly out of my way to run it again.