We’ll get back to the daily how-tos soon, I promise (because I know everyone is on the edge of their seat wondering what random thing I’m going to learn in a belated fashion next). But I wanted to document my experience this weekend with the Hot Chocolate 15k.
Thanks to road closures and a 7:50 am start time, race morning didn’t really dawn (since the sun wasn’t out) so much as slowly warm up. BFWR (Best Friend Who Runs) Beth and her husband Andrew drove down from their house in the northern ‘burbs and parked at our place since parking anywhere close the race route would be difficult thanks to closed streets. Beth and I left the boys behind at our place to fall back asleep and plan their route viewing strategy while we headed down to the starting line on foot just after 6 am. Our place is a pretty convenient walk into downtown, and once we got there we could take a shuttle from one end of downtown to the other, where the state capitol and starting line were. The shuttle filled up with other runners as we traversed LoDo, and it was a pretty chilly morning so I was glad to be inside.
When we arrived at the start, Beth hit the port-a-potties and I ditched my sweatshirt and bag at gear check so I could start getting used to the temperature. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so – except where my hands were concerned. I tried everything I could to keep them warm, but I didn’t have pockets to stick them into or sleeves long enough to pull over them, so as time passed they got more and more frigid.
The 15k didn’t start until 7:50, but there were four thousand other runners starting the 5k at 7 am. We got to see them start, as well as the pre-corral start of the handicapped runners, each of whom had a partner running with them for support. It was pretty inspiring to see people with actual challenges – not just the things we use as excuses like “not enough time” – still commit to their goals. And I was glad that even with the temperature and early hour there was a healthy crowd to cheer them as they headed out on the course.
We made a lap around the staging/finish area and decided to go ahead and start stretching and warming up since it was so cold. Beth hit the bathroom one more time, and then we headed over to our corral (conveniently the last corral). I saw our friends Jake and Talia, who were also running the 15k, as they arrived, and we just generally people-watched waiting for the start. And the race actually started on time – which never seems to happen! All the pre-race materials said corrals would be released three minutes apart, and even that was on time; Runkeeper shows my run starting at 7:59 am.
I had made it my goal to try and keep my pace as close to 11 minutes per mile as possible. I would have to challenge myself, but it was doable. So when Runkeeper told me I was at a 10:20 pace after five minutes, I was excited but I also knew I had started too fast and was going to wear out. Beth had worn her sweatshirt to start the race, and at about half a mile in, she decided to take it off. She was also having some stomach discomfort, so I kept running so she wouldn’t feel like she couldn’t stop as needed. The first couple miles of the course were the closest the course would get to our house, so I’d assumed Jason and Evan and Andrew would be somewhere along that stretch cheering for us, but as we got closer and closer to leaving downtown, they were nowhere to be found. I let that get in my head a little. I worried something had happened, I was upset that they might have been running late and not made it out to cheer… I just let it get me down and distracted, and I really started to slow down. Eventually, though, we headed into another neighborhood; knowing they wouldn’t be on this stretch and that they probably just picked a different spot let me refocus and pay attention to my form.
Through the stretch from miles 2 to 4, a flat out and back stretch through a more industrial area (near my office, incidentally), I was able to pass several people from my corral that I had noticed before the race. Plenty of people passed me, too – I’m not all that speedy, you know – but I hung in pretty good and was still under 11. My goal was still salvageable! And finally, just past the four-mile mark, I saw our cheering section. Evan was bundled up and holding the sign that “he” made, and I gave him a little fist bump before continuing on to the back half of the course.
Just before mile 5, the course climbed out of downtown into residential neighborhoods and a series of rolling hills. Also, up to this point the road had been relatively flat; going onto the more residential streets, the roads had noticeable crowns. And sometimes only half of a street was being used for the course, so it was hard to stay in the center so my feet could strike evenly. My right ankle began to feel the slant. By this time, my splits were over 11 minutes and creeping up, and I knew I wouldn’t make my pace goal. But my ultimate goal was still in reach – just keep running. No matter how slow I got, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I lost track of the course’s turns and just followed the pack. At one point, we passed people in earlier corrals who were going the opposite direction, finishing the loop we were in and heading toward the finish. I had no idea how big the loop was, so seeing them made me feel like the finish was in reach, even if I had a few miles to go. Up, down, left, right… I just kept going. Finally, as we entered the last couple of miles, the course started to slope downhill and the road widened. I passed the last person on the course when I reached the back half of the loop myself, a girl I had seen in my corral just 90 minutes earlier. She was definitely struggling, and there was a police car and medical van a short distance behind her, crawling along with her. I gave her a high five as I passed and told her she was doing great; I know if it had been me at the end, I would have appreciated the motivation.
Finally – FINALLY – we made the turn onto Broadway. One of the volunteers at the turn yelled out “only a mile to go!” In my head, all I could think was “False!” It was closer to a half mile at this point, and I could see the finish line in the distance. My tricky knee felt fine, but my feet hurt and I knew I had hit a wall. Not enough fuel! I was carrying gummies, but I hadn’t even thought to eat them and it came back to bite me. And no matter how much I ran, it seemed like the finish line wasn’t getting any closer. I told myself to sprint, like I was doing a fartlek to the finish, but I don’t know if my pace actually changed much. I just know that suddenly I was closing in on the finish chute. And I saw this little guy waiting for me:
I surged ahead (as much as what I was doing at this point could be called surging) and crossed and then popped out my phone to stop Runkeeper. As soon as I stopped running, I could feel my legs cramping; I was glad I hadn’t stopped and walked earlier, because I don’t know that I could have started running again. Jason brought Evan over to me and we walked through the finish chute together before getting our photo snapped by the finish photographer and heading back to the street where Andrew was waiting for Beth. She crossed 20 minutes later, not feeling great – her stomach had bothered her the whole way. But we finished! Which meant we got our sweet finisher goodies.
Between the great race hoodies and the finish line snacks, I feel like we definitely got our money’s worth. Despite my persistent pacing problems at the start that became my downfall at the end, I had a good time; I definitely think I’ll do this race again next year! And now we’re less than two weeks from my first half marathon… eek!