I woke up cranky after not getting a single, solid REM cycle of sleep. My intestines were in a full-blown revolt for no apparent reason. Foul gas exploded from my butt forcefully and often, jolting me awake with a smell that resembled something dead in a small, dark place. There was a little relief after making a stop at the bathroom, but more gas stunk up the kitchen as I gathered gear and fed the dog, making me worry that I would be hitting all the pit stops during the race, or worse yet, carrying a load in my shorts.
Red, watery eyes stared back at me from the mirror as I stood in the bathroom braiding my hair. My body was tired and there was zero Oomph in my legs. This was not going to be a great race. I could already tell.
The weather forecast called for warm temps at the starting line and full-blown Colorado sunshine all day. There would be no relief from the sun at the Boulder Reservoir.
I pulled into the dusty parking lot and let loose a big fat smile at the sunrise that blasted over the horizon. It was hard to stay cranky faced with the beauty of a Boulder Reservoir dawn.
After packet pick-up I met up with Dave and his friend Andy; Jen was running late and would meet us when she could. We had just started jogging up the road for an easy warm-up when she caught us. We hugged, laughed and talked splits and race goals. Dave, our fearless leader, has the McMillian pace calculator memorized and told us what to shoot for based on all factors (except intestinal ones). I secretly wanted to hit a 1:35 time, knowing it was in my wheel-house based on the training and racing I’ve done recently, but also knew that that would be a 7 minute PR over my fastest time. And given my physical circumstances, I didn’t want to be too hopeful.
After the warm-up and a potty stop where no dead creatures emerged from my hiney, I made a show of stretching on the little grassy hill next to the Start Line where I could fart in peace. The gas was still rank and utterly obnoxious and I didn’t want to be close to people until the last possible moment.
Minutes later the Starting Gun went off and runners shuffled over the mat. I hit the Start button on the Garmin and began the slow slog through a sea of people.
The course has two initial hills that are long and involved. Whenever we train out here I settle into the distance and know that after two miles I’ll be nice and warmed up. Last year I started too far back and ran way too slow. Today I was determined to run by feel, get in a groove and not embarrass myself by being years slower than my speedy friends.
The field evened out quickly and there was room to see the uneven dirt road in front of my feet. At one point I glanced at my watch and did a double-take at the average pace; 7:37. Serious? For the first mile? You gotta be kidding. Dave thought that I should go out at 7:45 and I had laughed in his face, saying, “That’s way too fast Dave, I have to start slow and negative split. I don’t run like you!”
Even though my watch said I was going at a good race pace, it didn’t feel like it. My legs were lead and within a few miles the heat of the day appeared in all its glory. At the first water stop I grabbed a cup and managed a sip before sloshing the rest up my nose and down my chin.
I ran along at a decent clip until somewhere in Mile 5 when my right foot started to feel weird. It was landing with a SLAP on the ground instead of rolling through the motion. My toes felt like they were frozen open and as I kept running, my knee and glute started to twinge; I couldn’t lift my leg very high anymore. I ran for a few minutes like this before pulling over and stretching out the foot, trying to release whatever was happening and losing precious time.
I quickly got on pace again and walked through the next two aid stations, drinking fully. Most people were doing this, so I never got too far behind Mr. Blue Shirt that was just ahead of me.
My goal was to open up the legs at the turn-around point and negative split the race. As soon as I headed into the return of the out-and-back it was obvious I didn’t have anything in the tank. The best I could do was hold pace and try not to get left in the dust. I was running on empty.
I started looking at the faces and bodies of the people still running out to the turn-around. It was fascinating to see the various postures and gaits. Some people were struggling, some were plodding along, some looked squarely at the ground in front of them. Some looked happy and a few looked absolutely tortured. I watched with a curious detachment as my mind wandered.
The average pace on the Garmin had crept up to the 7:43 zone and stayed there. I hoped to be able to knock seconds off the pace in the last two miles. Miles 8, 9 and 10 felt okay but somewhere in mile 11 the massive cramping started in my glute and worked its way down my leg into the foot, where it froze my toes open again. For about 60 seconds I hoped to plow through it but gave up that pipe-dream when it occurred to me that I might hurt myself my running with a compensated gait. Again, I pulled over and stretched.
A minute later I caught up to Mr. Blue Shirt, the guy I’d been trailing for about 8 miles. A few times I had almost passed him but he’d glance up and step on the gas to stay 10 yards ahead. Apparently he has serious issues with being chicked by runner-girls with pigtails.
Last year I pushed hard on the downhills and negative split the race by 9 minutes. This year I couldn’t push hard. My legs had one speed.
I ran hard through the last few hundred yards and raced to the finish line where I stopped the Garmin and slowed to a walk. My average pace was 7:43 on the Garmin, with an overall time of 1:42:01, which didn’t take into account the time I had stopped to stretch my foot. The volunteer lady fumbled to get the chip of my bib for a good minute while I stood there breathing hard and trembling.
At the beverage table I alternated between Gatorade and water, downing about five cups before my hands started working again. Then Jen appeared and we headed to the toilets; my gut had started to rumble. I exited the porto-potty two pounds lighter than when I entered, having emptied my intestines fully and extensively.
Splits for the race: 7:37, 7:32, 7:42, 7:50, 8:04, 8:08, 7:52, 7:32, 7:29, 7:28, 7:55, 7:43, 7:37, 7:25.
My two slowest miles were miles 5 and 6, when I stopped for the first foot cramp and then walked slowly through the aid station at the turn-around. The second foot cramp came at mile 11, where I stopped for a full minute to stretch. When Jen and Dave asked how I did I was embarrassed to tell them my time; it wasn’t the sub 1:40 any of us thought I’d do.
The race directors had a new thing going this year; they input your bib number into a computer and a machine spits out a “receipt” with your gun time, chip time, pace, overall place, and age group place. Dave had picked up his receipt right after he finished and got Second in his Age Group. We ran an easy mile cool-down where we talked about our races; I grumped about my foot cramps and tried not to cry.
When the line for the receipts thinned out Jen and I headed over to grab ours. I looked at the little piece of paper in my hand and gasped; I had placed Second in my Age Group. For the first time ever, I was about to get an award for ranking high in a race. I couldn’t believe it. Jen was so much faster than me and placed fourth in her age group. She deserved the award more than I did and here I was, about to get a pretty because I was older than her.
We hung around, got more food and beverage, found sunscreen at the Info tent and sat on a bench in the sun while awards were handed out to amazingly talented runners of all ages. Dave and I clomped across the stage to receive our decorations, and Andy snapped a picture of us afterwards.
This was a brutal race with completely unexpected results. Poor sleep the night before… intestinal trouble… heat… foot cramps… culminating in a Second Place age group finish. Go figure.