The BolderBoulder is America's favorite 10K, as voted in Runners World. And while Peachtree might be bigger in terms of attendance, BolderBoulder is definitely the 10K that everyone seems to know.
I've done this race the last 4 years. Every year I've attempted to improve on my previous years time. This course is a lot of fun, challenging, visually stimulating, and usually pretty warm. To recap this race, I have to backtrack a bit and bring you to the previous weeks events.
The Week Before
Most of you probably know by now I'm an airline pilot. This last week, I underwent a test. The most important test of my airline career at this point. You see, the FAA has mandated that every airline pilot has to have the rating called Airline Transport Pilot. It's the rating that an airline captain has to have, but not the first officer. The FO has to just have a commercial pilot rating. There isn't a lot of difference between the two; just more or less a demonstrated mastery of the airplane and aviation in general.
A checkride is always stressful. If you go in prepared, know your stuff, and show respect to the check airman, it's a pretty easy event, with a twinge of nervousness. This is why for the last month and a half, I have been studying my ass off. For at least an hour a day, nearly every day since early April, I was nose-deep in my manuals, re-learning the airplane. It's not as if I didn't know the stuff, but I really needed to dig deep. As T said, if you think about it like the Apple iTunes store, I needed to get beyond the initial tracks, but not quite as deep as the deep cuts.
Meanwhile, I've been training for Ironman, getting that going, so you can see that I've actually been quite busy.
Anyway, when I found out I was getting a check airman with the reputation of being a hard-ass, I really threw down the gauntlet and studied. Last week, heading to Cincinnati, I was no longer nervous. I was just over it. I was sick of studying and I just wanted the stupid check ride to be done. A friend of mine was also doing this same checkride the day after me, so we studied together quite a bit in Cincinnati, just reviewing together. We both agreed that there was no way we would fail our oral exams, that we just knew this stuff.
My oral went about as well as any oral I have ever done in my life. I wowed the hard-ass check airman with some of my knowledge. I'm not trying to brag here; in fact, throughout my career, I have generally struggled with oral exams. The flights, they've never been an issue. But the orals have always been my Achilles heel. This time though, the prep and whatnot paid off. I studied and it definitely showed.
The flight went fine. I demonstrated excellent proficiency on the ride and was handed my temporary certificate. I am now an Airline Transport Pilot, which in airline terms, is basically the "best of the best". It's not something that is just handed out. You have to earn it. And I did.
So, the day before the BolderBoulder, a Sunday, I flew home from Cincinnati, feeling the stress over the last 2 months evaporating more and more. I was happy and relieved. My Ironman training could start in earnest now, without anything else really hanging over my head.
The Morning Of
We woke up, in our usual race morning grumpiness, wondering why we signed up and all that jazz. We gathered our stuff together, ate breakfast, and left the house about 5:40 am for the drive up to Boulder. For some reason, we thought this was plenty early, but as it turns out, it was not.
When we got to Boulder, the traffic was...wow. Very very busy. Runners were everywhere. My stress level started to rise as I thought we'd be cutting our pre-race Starbucks ritual short. T told me to stay calm, and we eventually found our way to the parking garage. After parking, we hastily threw our stuff together and made our way to Starbucks for coffee and our favorite pre-race bathroom. I had a brief panic moment when I realized I left the snaps to my race belt in the bathroom, but I quickly retrieved them. We downed our coffee and pre-race food and headed out to find the FedEx mobile locker line.
I don't know if they are learning from their past, but the mobile locker lines are ridiculously efficient now. We checked in our stuff and still had 20 minutes before the start. No need to stress, eh? We found our wave, hopped in the corral and waited. Walking to the start, they had the usual guy at the beginning who plays the Call to Post right before the start. Then the gun went off and we were off!
T and I both knew we wanted to PR in this race, but weren't necessarily sure if we could. The previous week had been really hard on us, since we had just started official IM training and my sleep had been really thrown into whack with the checkride. But we still thought we'd be able to.
The first mile is generally flat and easy. Plus, with the excitement of racing with those around you, it's easy to go out fast. We did exactly that. See, our training over the past month has proven to us that we can generally sustain 9:15-9:45 miles pretty easily. We hit the first mile mark at 8:49, which we both knew was not sustainable, but would also build us a pretty nice cushion.
The second mile starts climbing through residential neighborhoods. It's tougher and more challenging, and neither one of us really had gotten our legs yet. We definitely slowed our pace down, and the temperature was already rising. I dumped some water on my head at the aid station. I read something in a triathlete publication a bit back that said that water at the aid station is for your head, Gatorade is for drinking. I seem to be taking that to heart. We did mile 2 in 9:25.
Mile 3 is even more daunting and challenging. A solid climb, the run becomes grinding. T and I were still on a solid pace and breaking the PR was not in doubt. However, we were only halfway done with the run, and mile 4 does not make it any easier. Mile 3 was done in 10:10, which is sadly pretty typical for us in this race.
Mile 4 is also nearly all uphill. Strangely, I do not remember much about this mile, except that the same kids band is always in the same spot, playing Jimmy Eats World. We hit this in 9:33.
Okay, so now we begin a nice descent to downtown Boulder. I'm actually trying to smile through the pain, as my coach and Ironman Champion Chris McCormack has advised all his athletes to do. Embrace the suck is the mentality. But as we turned, I had this immense pain in my left shoulder. I couldn't tell if it was a side stitch from breathing, a dehydration issue, or something bigger, but whatever it was, it was debilitating. I had to stop and walk, and very nearly stopped moving altogether, it was so painful. I breathed very deep, trying to make it go away, and eventually the pain dulled. I resumed my trek towards the finish line. Mile 5 was hit at 9:37.
So now we're on the final 1.2 miles. To be blunt, you can tell we're still surrounded by the not-fuck-around people. You see, we're in the EG wave, which is the last wave of people that have cracked 60:00 in the 10K the previous years or the people that have qualified in that timeframe. So the focus around us was definitely intense. You could feel it. T and I were definitely conscious of our times and while the PR was not in doubt, cracking 59:00 was now in question thanks to my shoulder issue earlier.
Climbing up to Folsom is always the most daunting part of the race, so people say. I don't think it's difficult per se, but what I do think is always a challenge is not beginning your kick too early. It's very tempting to start and blow yourself out. You see, you'll hit the 6 mile point just outside the stadium, but then you have .2 miles to go. Plus it bottlenecks right there, so you have to be smart. We both turned into the stadium and you could tell we were pushing it. My breathing was ragged and I was hurting, but at this point, I seriously didn't care. I knew I was going to leave it all out there. I began my kick earlier then I wanted to, but I didn't worry about it. My brain just screamed at me to get to the finish line and hit that damn PR!
I crossed the finish line and saw T cross just behind me. I looked at my watch and saw that I PRed. A huge sense of relief flooded me, along with some waves of nausea. T and I kept moving to the stands, where the emotion of the previous week finally overtook me and I just collapsed in a heap. After a few minutes, we collected ourselves, congratulated each other, and moved on. We had both PRed, and we were happy!
We took stock of what we had just accomplished. T had PRed by 4 seconds (I think) and I PRed by 12 seconds. To the average person, that may not seem like a lot, and I bet my friend and pilot friend, Dr. J will give me some good-hearted grief over it, I am very proud of what we did. Is it what my ultimate goal was? No. I wanted to crack 59:00 and I came up just short of that. But is what I did an accomplishment? You better believe it. As my friend Scott and I were talking, I realized I left it all out there. I gave everything I had on Monday. My best effort was left on the BolderBoulder course. And when you are racing, regardless of whether it's a 5K or an Ironman, that is all that matters.