Yesterday I woke up and dressed in my running gear like normal. But instead of hitting the trail for a training run, I headed to Mile High Stadium (I still want to call it Invesco Field) for the Broncos Back to Football 10k.
The stadium is about a mile and a half from our house, so the walk over served as a good warm-up. I alternated between running and jogging along the path, and periodically stopped to do some stretching. My right knee has been cranky ever since my 10-mile run; I don’t have what I’d call “pain,” but it has been sore and stiff in the morning, and when I do something that rotates it a little (like pivoting on my toe, or leaning one way or the other) the soreness briefly returns. So, I’ve been icing it and babying it, and I wanted to make sure it was warm and limber before I started running.
When I arrived at the starting corrals, I was surprised at the number of people wearing the commemorative race shirts, because 1) they’re cotton, and 2) they’re brand new. I’d be lying if I said the thought of a bunch of guys with sweating chafed nipples grimacing as they crossed the finish line didn’t amuse me a little. What can I say? I’m a bad person. I lined up next to the 11-minute pace sign in the starting chute and… waited. I was running solo, it was a relatively small crowd compared to other races I’ve run (between the 5k and 10k runners, there were probably about 1500 people), so I didn’t have much to do but hang out and stretch. A photographer came through shooting candids, but she only seemed interested in getting group shots. Apparently I was putting off a strong, un-photographable “solo” vibe.
At 7:30, we were off! I had checked the course ahead of time, and I knew we’d start with an uphill climb out of the stadium parking lot and through the nearby neighborhoods, so I tried to pace myself out of the gate. But I shouldn’t have worried too much; it took a couple blocks to get any speed at all thanks to all the walkers. I’m not sure why people walking with their kids lined up at the 9-minute mile pace sign, but I had to weave around them for the first quarter mile. Once we got out of the stadium area, things got a little easier. I was shooting for a sub-11-minute pace, and Runkeeper told me I was right on track.
Just before the 1-mile marker, the pack split; 5k runners went immediately to Sloan’s Lake while the 10k runners took the scenic route through residential streets. I was still feeling good, and I was even passing people, which NEVER happens when I’m running. My first two miles were comfortably in the vicinity of 10:40 per mile, so I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then we got to the lake.
I took my first water break as we entered the path around the lake and dumped most of it down my back to cool off. Sloan’s Lake Park is very green and filled with trees… except around the lake path. Most of the path is in full sun, so it quickly warmed up. And my iPhone GPS chose that moment to wig out and tell me I had instantaneously run to the center of the lake and back to the path, adding almost a mile to my distance and getting me a sub-9 pace for my troubles. I blamed Runkeeper at first, but Jason told me that Glympse, the app we used to broadcast my position so he’d know when I was near the finish line, also showed me running into the lake. Bad iPhone!
I didn’t anticipate how much not knowing my true pace would mess with my head, because between that and the heat I started to wilt. I passed my friend Justin on the course when the path doubled back on itself, and my friend Andrea pretended to attack me as she passed going the other way. I could feel myself dragging, and I tried to run through my form checklist. Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Pull your knees up. Midfoot strike. Deep breaths. It would work for a while, but then I’d collapse again. At mile 4, I took some more water and doused myself again.
After four-and-a-half miles, we finally left the lake and headed back onto residential streets. I savored the shade and cursed the sun, but at least I got little mini-breaks to cool off every so often. I also started to think I was a little dehydrated; my right shoulder was impossibly sore, like it felt after surgery when I had air trapped in my chest, and I kept doing arm circles to work it out. My knee felt fine, but my right ankle was collapsing a little; I had a feeling I was starting to heel strike more than I should. For parts of the last mile, I could see the stadium in the distance, and that was pretty much all that kept me from stopping to walk.
Seeing the stadium was a pretty big tease; we re-entered the parking lot, but then we had to make a loop around part of it before we could actually go down the tunnel onto the field. At least most of that stretch was downhill; I made up some good time and gave my body some relief and let gravity do the work for a bit. As we came up to the stadium, the 5k finishers had already visited the post-run party area and were starting to leave. Some of them cheered us on, but several had confused looks on their faces that said, “Seriously? I walked the whole thing and have been done for AGES.” Whatevs. And my dehydration theory got some confirmation when the side of my head starting to tingle. It was hot, and I’m amazed I didn’t pass out. But finally, after one last little hill outside the stadium gates, I made the turn onto the field.
It wasn’t like the Bolder Boulder, when the stadium was packed with people, but running out of the tunnel was still a pretty cool experience. There were also timers set up for the last stretch so people could sprint to the finish and get a 40-yard dash time like the pros. I did not sprint. I think my 40 split was something like 12 seconds. I did, however, do this:
So, apparently I had some energy left in the tank. I pushed through and past the finish, and even managed to get a decent finish line shot. This is what a PR looks like! I beat my previous 10k pace by a good amount and finished in 1:10:55. I didn’t get the sub-11 pace I wanted, but I’m happy with the result.
Jason and Evan were waiting in the stands just past the finish line, and Evan reached over to give me a high-five before I stumbled down the chute. Coach Richard was allowed to wait for me in the chute (I was his last athlete to cross, although just by a few seconds) and he walked me up the tunnel to the water and Powerade tables, where I stocked up after getting my finisher medal.
So – some things didn’t go as planned, but I’m still proud of my race. And it was a fun course that I’ll probably do again next year if they offer it. I’ve got some things to work on – including my pre-race hydration and how to respond when my pacing tool craps out – so I consider it a success. On to the next race, my first trail run in Breckenridge this Saturday.