When the hard work pays off.
In its short history, the Fortitude 10k has become a Colorado runner’s favorite, and Fort Collins one of the most runner friendly cities in the state. (Link to Daily Camera Article)
The Fortitude 10k is a great race for runners of all levels — whether you are chasing a time goal or are trying the distance for the first time. It is very flat and fast, and has long stretches of shade. Usually the race finishes in the football stadium, but on this particular weekend the Rams played at home, so the finish line was moved just north of the Stadium entrance.
This 10k is also a special race to me, because in 2018 I set my all-time fastest road race PR at 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 3 seconds (which still stands, even after this year’s event). It was a great training cycle, but my fitness level is very different from how I was running back then. Setting realistic expectations was paramount prior to race day.
I trained using the 10k “Own It” plan from Train Like a Mother. The plans were written by my former coach, and I’ve always found success with her programs. This plan had me shifting from my usual 5 runs a week down to 3 or 4. There was more cross training, which included strength work — lifting weight and developing a total body strength that I had been lacking. It was a really good training cycle overall, and I went in feeling prepared for race day.
My goals were well defined, too. After a lackluster Spring racing season with a 10 Mile and 10k, I wanted to improve my performance. I used some race predictions based on Heart Rate and Power to set my goals: A goal (stretch) — sub-1:04; B Goal 1:04-1:05; C goal, beat my Spring 10k of 1:06:42.
Race morning felt cool, but a cloudless sky meant the temperature would rise quickly. I had foam rolled at home before first light, had my Eggo Waffle and coffee, and I drove the hour from Denver to Fort Collins as the sun rose. Hydrating with Nuun Prime and topping off the tank with a Honey Stinger Waffle, I made my way to the start with an easy jog, stopping along the way to get some dynamic warmups in. Ready.
Then I stood in the corrals. My quads started to get stiff, so movement was going to be very important. The Mayor of Fort Collins was the emcee, the trumpet sounded, and we were back to in person races. I stood with my fellow runners knowing that whatever happened with my performance, we were back to racing. It just felt…normal.
Somehow I ended up on the very front of the start line. Lesson learned number 1: next time avoid the fear of getting trampled by moving to the back of the corral. I definitely went out too fast, and even though I realized it quickly and tried to get my pace under control, my first mile came in almost 45 seconds faster than my goal race pace. It wasn’t sustainable, and I knew I would pay for it later. I know better.
Lesson Learned number 2: get your first two miles under control. I had broken down the race into three 3-mile sections and a final kick. I probably should have broken it down in 2-mile chunks. I had a brief thought, “if I could sustain this pace, I could PR!” Let me be clear: I trained for a 10:18 race pace. My first mile was 9:38. I talked myself back to sanity all within 100 meters. By mile 3 I was already paying for that first mile.
The second 3 miles I had slowed significantly, and had a hard time staying within my target paces. It was a push to keep going. By mile 5, my slowest, I was fighting the urge to slow to a walk, so I allowed myself to drop to my training pace — easy pace — where I live much of the time. Doing that for about a kilometer, I was able to reset and put enough back in the tank for the final kick. I kept thinking about the line in Iron Man, “save it for the turn, J.”
There was a final turn, a DJ spurring us on to the finish line, and I found the song that always fires me up. It is a third of a mile to the finish now, and I can see it the whole way. Every step was work. My legs were on fire, I wanted so badly to just be done. I fought the urge to walk it in, because I know I was close to my goal. I looked down at the pavement in front of me, and every time I looked up, the finish line seemed no closer. Finally, about 200 meters to the finish, it was all I could do to just keep running. I felt the grimace on my face, knowing that my photos would look rough, but I didn’t care. I crossed the finish line, knowing that I had left every drop out there.
In the end, I knew where I stood with regard to my goals. I didn’t get a sub-1:04, but I knew that by the first 5k, even though I was still on pace to do so. The trick for me was to hop on that struggle bus, keep running, and claw out the last 5k to meet my B goal. And I did.
I am very happy with how I finished that day. Not necessarily happy with how I executed, but happy with my performance. My 10 Mile race in May was a complete disappointment, and the 10k a few weeks later was less so, but at least I knew what work needed to be done.
So I did it. I put in the training, I shifted my whole perspective on my running, and there was a marked improvement over the course of one summer.
After 18 months of uncertainty and a couple of less-than-great races, I feel like this is the fresh start I need to look forward… to see what else I can do.
This race was far from perfect, and it took some Monday Morning Quarterbacking with my former coach to identify those areas on which I can improve. During my recovery week, I’ve been daydreaming of my next 10k race. I’m motivated, I have drive and desire to kick-start this next leg of my running journey.
I am hungry for more.