Someday maybe I will manage to run every race in Leadville, CO. I ticked another off the list this past weekend at the Firecracker 5K, which, the race director announced on the starting line, enjoys a surprising 20 year history.
I spontaneously jumped in this race because it was only $10 (no shirt, thankfully), Jocelyn and a college friend were in town to visit me so I thought I'd do them the courtesy of not spending half the day running through the mountains, and I much prefer the random local 5K/10K as speedwork instead of any actual flat, speed-based workout.
The competition at the start line was a touch stiffer than I'd initially planned: a XC/track runner from Liberty University in town to train at altitude for the summer--Jordan Whitlock--and a Kenyan high schooler from Texas doing the same--David Mogi--provided a competitive push for the first two thirds of the course.
Racing anaerobically, especially at 10,000', is a different kind of pain compared to the more aerobic efforts that I pursue on a daily basis. Well, that isn't entirely true. When I'm tottering up a 14er, straining to sustain a running cadence above tree-line at some absurdly steep grade, my respiration is typically desperately ragged and my legs slowly accumulate with lactic acid and the level of suffering is actually quite comparable to that of a road 5K. My legs just aren't turning over as fast as in a 5K. Instead of 5:30 miles, I can easily struggle to hit 15 minute miles.
I started my Independence Day morning with a 1h45 run to get some mileage in for the day and be good and loose for the race. Nevertheless, my body initially responded with shock after a fairly quick downhill start where David, Jordan, and another runner put a few seconds on me. After a few minutes, though, my body's metabolism equilibrated a little, my breathing eventually settled a bit, and I gradually pulled in the front runners on a shallow, extended uphill. Upon reaching the front group I decided to maintain my pace instead of falling in with them, and continued to extend the effort.
Running that hard for that short of a distance is a distinctly different experience from the type of running I've become accustomed to. Cresting the sharp hill before the slightly downhill sprint to the finish, I could not get any air. It felt almost as if I were suffocating. With approximately 200 meters to go, my brain still half-entertained fantasies of drastically slowing and decreasing the effort, or--shockingly--quitting the race all together!
It brought back a flood of memories from my high school and college track days. I distinctly remember a mile race in the 8th grade where I was leading by at least 200 meters, and yet, at the top of the backstretch on the final lap, I seriously considered how reasonable it would be to just step onto the infield there and have it be over. Severe, self-inflicted suffering plays outrageous tricks on one's mind.
Conversely, upon finishing such a short race, the debt of oxygen is repaid within a few minutes and recovery is so quick that one almost instantly forgets just how painful the experience was. Within moments the body is ready to go running again.
Alas, I persevered and cranked down the Main Street stretch run in fear of being caught by the ever-surging Kenyan runner to record a winning time of 16:53, 34 seconds ahead of the second place David. I had certainly run (very) hard, gone severely into oxygen debt, and turned the legs over significantly (my main goals for the race), but I hadn't really known what to expect for a 5K at 10,000'. I am pleased with the result, and, combined with my many mountain runs will head into this weekend's Leadville Marathon with some fairly high expectations, mostly time-related. It is pretty amusing that my lifetime 5K PR (from 2001) is 16:31, run at an altitude of 1500'.