Being a professional runner sounds dreamy, but one advantage of being merely a recreational runner is that you can define your running, instead of running defining you.
For the past four months I took full advantage of this liberty by finding a new approach that allowed me to continue training everyday and occasionally satisfying my competitive fix, but without needing to run 80 to 100 miles per week or to set aside two to four weeks for recovery after each race, which had been my MO since late-2014.
It may seem out of character that my spring season climaxed with a 10K road race that finished just two miles from my front door, but it worked: I’m more enthused about running than I’ve been since last summer. It has no sense of work — it’s been all play.
To describe the BolderBoulder as a local 10K doesn’t quite do it justice. With 50,000 participants it’s one of the largest races and largest Memorial Day events in the country. It attracts top national and international talent for both its Citizen and Pro races. And it’s hosted in Boulder, a small city with a rich running history that looks its best at this time of year — it’s so damn green, and the weather is usually ideal.
This training cycle began in late-February, five weeks after the Houston Marathon. It was enough time to recover fully, enjoy a few weeks of light running, and craft a new plan with David Roche, who has been coaching me since December 2016 and who I adore as both a coach and person.
We decided that BolderBoulder would be the peak race of the cycle, figuring that:
- It was a sufficiently worthy objective;
- Training properly for it would be both feasible and manageable — it was 3 months out, and wouldn’t require more than about 60 miles per week; and
- My fitness could be leveraged into a more ambitious undertaking in late-summer if I had renewed interest.
I had not raced a 10K in seventeen years, when I finished 7th in 31:45 at the 2001 ACC Track & Field Championships. And I had not raced anything shorter than a marathon since 2008, when I ran an after-hours 5K at the Duke Invitational in an unofficial 16:08.
So we added two shorter races to help break the rust: Dash & Dine, a local after-work 5K on a slow course; and a 3K at the inaugural Frank Shorter Track Classic. It proved wise: hard solo workouts cannot replicate the hurt of a true race. If it’s been a while since you body went “there,” it can be a shock to the system.
I ran 16:27 at Dash & Dine (5:17 pace) and 9:14 at Frank Shorter (4:57 pace), which at sea level would convert to 15:53 and 8:55, respectively. Both performances were consistent with my training at the time, and boosted my confidence going into the main event.
The 3K was the more notable of the two rust-busters. I closed in 64 seconds for the final 400 meters, holding onto third. Trail Runner Magazine was there to witness it, and to record a #proudcoach afterwards retelling the homestretch sprint (scroll to the fourth screen in the embed).
TR got out to Boulder this last weekend to enjoy some stout, muddy trails. We also caught up with the lovely and talented @clare_gallagher_runs, the always-inspiring Megan and David Roche (@addiedoesstuff ) and ultrarunner and fastpacker @andrewskurka / Skurka has decided to put those long-distance muscles to use… on the track. Here’s David describing his race. (Did he PR? Of course.) #findyourdirt #findyourvert #trailrunner #trailrunning #runboulder #skurkagoes5k
In a tutorial last year on creating a pace chart for an ultra marathon, I discuss several methods for honing in on a goal time. But even with good data, the projections will always have a large plus/minus element, in the range of several hours for a 100-miler.
By comparison, establishing goal times for road and track races is simple and exact. The night before BolderBoulder, I predicted a finishing time between 33:30 and 34:00.
First ever #BolderBoulder tomorrow, and first 10k race in 17 years! Aiming for mid or high 33 minutes (5:20’s pace), pretty good for altitide and an uphill course, but probably not enough to crack the top 20 all-time for 37 year-olds. #stiffcompetition #onlyinboulder. Good forecast so simple kit with @suunto @defeet @headsweats and #Nike4%.
I finished in 33:47. Talk about knowing yourself.
To make this prediction I relied heavily on Jack Daniels VDOT Running Calculator, which generates “equivalent” times based on a race result, factoring for temperature and elevation if you wish. The equivalent times are no gimme — they just indicate what’s physically realistic if your head is into it.
In my situation, Jack was saying that my:
- 2:28:24 at the Houston Marathon would convert to 33:13 in Boulder on a comparably flat course;
- 16:27 at Dash & Dine 5K would convert to a 34:08, if my fitness hadn’t improved in the final 3 weeks of the training cycle; and,
- 9:14 at the Frank Shorter 3K would convert to a 33:16 on the track.
The BolderBoulder course has 272 vertical feet of climbing and finishes 80 vertical feet higher than it starts, which I figured would cost me about 30 seconds total, or 33:46. Subtract 15 seconds for a “good day” and add 15 seconds for a “slow” day, and I got a range of 33:30 to 34:00.
Wow, we’re 800 words in already and the gun has not even fired yet.
I left the house at 6 AM and arrived at the starting area at 30th and Walnut about 20 minutes later. I had more than enough time to stretch out, stride out, and empty the GI one final time before finding a spot a few rows back from the start line, strategically to the left of four frat boys in costumes.
Among other A-wavers I recognized Clint Wells, who was a standout runner in the mid-1990’s at CU and who remains competitive today, but no one else, and I therefore thought the race would be a solitary affair. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, because around the 1-mile mark I packed up with David Glennon, a local 37-year-old with similar times to me, most recently a 2:26 at California International Marathon in December.
A 10K is not a long race, but it still requires patience and prudence. I settled into a natural pace within a city block, and sat on the shoulders of other runners whenever possible, letting them deflect the morning breeze. I knew that the race wouldn’t really begin for another 15 or 20 minutes.
BolderBoulder is slow and difficult for two reasons: its elevation, at one mile above sea level; and its vertical profile. It subtly climbs 100 vertical feet in the first 2.5 miles and then rolls for another 1.5 miles, hitting its high point just after the 4-mile mark. Miles 5 and 6 are fast, but you can’t wait that long to push — you’ll never make up the time lost in the first four miles.
As a result, it seems that you’re hurting badly for more of BolderBoulder than other 10k races. For example, just 12 minutes into the race my heart rate was already at 95 percent of its maximum (172 bpm out of 180), and it remained at or above that level for the next 21 minutes, except for a 3-minute break during a half-mile downhill when it bottomed out at 93 percent (167 bpm).
I thought the course had just been rough on me, but when Steve and I watched the Pro Race from the top of Casey Hill later in the day, we were both surprised by how rough the pros looked at the 4-mile mark. Some seemed to be hurting even worse than I was at that point.
When we finished the first climb and turned south off Vista Drive onto 19th Street, I was grateful for the break. The pace seemed unsustainable and I was starting to doubt myself. The climb resumed at the corner of 19th and Balsam, but I found this pitch more tolerable: a few people were starting to come back, and I knew that an extended downhill was in my near future.
David and I stayed together, yo-yo’ing in response to each other and to the course. It wasn’t deliberate, but I found strength and comfort in being near him, and I bet the feelings were mutual. It was unchartered territory for both of us, and being near a similarly capable runner helped to affirm our pace and strategy.
My Suunto Ambit3 Peak was reporting an average pace of 5:28 when I crested the high point near Casey Middle School, which put me on pace for a 34:00 finish, the upper bound of my goal time. That gave me hope: with two downhill miles ahead of me, I was certain that I could at least maintain this pace, if not pick it up.
And pick it up we did. David and I ripped into downtown, averaging 5:19 for mile 5. And we carried the momentum back towards Folsom Street, slowing slightly to 5:24 pace on the flatter gradient east of downtown.
As I crossed under the 9k banners I decided to start letting it out. Only 2.5 laps around the track, that’s it. I passed David for the final time; he would finish 4 seconds behind me.
Immediately after crossing Boulder Creek and just before turning onto Stadium Drive, I vaguely recall a trim male in a black singlet passing me on the left. The move was too strong for me to cover, and I remember thinking that he clearly had too much left in the tank. I would learn at the finish line that this was Galen Burrell, occasional training partner and son of famed Buzz Burrell. Apparently he had stayed within 10 or 15 yards of David and me the entire time, then out-kicked us both. Classy.
Folsom Field is a fantastic finish line location, but the scene was subdued for us. It was 7:30 AM and the stadium was mostly empty. I know it’s entirely differently for the Pro race, and I’d like to be in there one year for the elite finish and the noon flyover.
My finishing kick was unexceptional but I held my own. If I’d known that Galen was just up ahead or that I was in the money, maybe it would have been different. Otherwise, though, I was more than happy to take my 33:47 and stop the hurt.
Notes for next time
I don’t know when the stars will align again for BolderBoulder, but here are a few thoughts:
- 5AM wake-up, one cup of coffee, 16 oz of water, one protein bar, and an extra “cup” of coffee (100 mg) at 6:30.
- A 6:55 race start is early for someone who is self-employed and who usually runs at 8:30 or 9 AM. Smooth Move was an effective method (again) of purging completely the GI before I even left the house.
- Arriving 30 minutes before the race, at 6:25 AM, would have been adequate. A 6:15 arrival was a few minutes premature. The starting area is not chaotic at that hour: the 50k participants are staggered over the next 2.5 hours.
- It worked perfectly to run to the start line as a warm-up, and run home from Folsom as a cool down.
- If the weather is less favorable, bring extra clothes and drop them in the charity carts before the gun.
- Line up on the left side of the start line, in preparation for the first two left-hand turns. The field is already spread out enough by that point that getting pinched shouldn’t be a concern.
- It will start hurting during the third mile, sorry.
- Use the short downhill on 19th to regain some momentum and recover before the final push to Casey MS. But don’t surge — you’ll need some legs for the final climb.
- Your average pace at the 4-mile mark probably projects to your “worst case” time. More than likely, you will gain time back in the final two miles of the race.
- Don’t slow down on Folsom Street or the final pitch into the stadium. You’re more likely to pass people outside the stadium. Once inside, the course makes a tight right-hand loop to the finish and the homestretch is very short. Plastic boards have been placed on the infield to protect the surface, and they’re slippery and unstable.