Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heart Center of The Rockies 10K: Race Report and Review

The 2011 Heart Center of the Rockies Half Marathon/10K/5K/kids runs were held on November 6, 2011. After planning in advance to run the Half Marathon, I opted in the end to run the 10K, because it was more affordable. I have to think about things like that in the down economy. Last year, this 5K race was my first organized race, so I was eager to get out there 365 days later and see how much I had improved. 

Runner Disposition
This was my longest run since the Bacon Strip 10 Mile Race, and since that race, I had been doing a lot more consistent hill training, speed work, and threshold/tempo runs, since I was pretty convinced that I had retained a pretty good aerobic base after having trained up for the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon back in August. I was training to improve my threshold pace for the Heart Center Half Marathon, so my preparation was geared to that rather than the 10K.

Both the 10K and 5K Heart Center races are entirely within Boyd Lake State Park, which is a beautiful setting on the Western Edge of the plains, but just a few short miles to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The 10K and 5K races start together at the swim beach, head South for a hundred meters or so, where runners can choose to run on the sand, a narrow paved path, or grass. From there, the course turns West onto section of bike path. From there it veers North, then comes out onto one of the roads in the park, with the 5K runners heading South, and the 10K runners heading North.

The 10K alternately follows concrete bike path and asphalt roadway that roughly parallels the Western shoreline of Boyd Lake looping back around at the northernmost parking area, at the first of 2 aid stations along the 10K course, at about the 2 mile point. Runners then head South on asphalt road, before veering off onto another section of bicycle path, then returning to the road to rejoin the 5K course where the two had previously split, before reaching the four mile marker. Runner continue South along the roadway and into the Southernmost parking area, where they pass an aid station as they merge onto the bike path, then loop on a two-track path around the perimeters of an open field, before coming back onto the bike path heading North shortly after passing the 5 mile mark.

From there, runners pass the aid station at the South end of the park again, and follow the concrete bike path that skirts the lakes shoreline back to the swimming beach to the finish.

The races started at 8:30am. The morning was clear and cool (low to mid-40's F during the race), and there was virtually no wind. The conditions were nearly ideal.

The Race
The start: When we arrived at Boyd Lake State Park, I realized I had forgotten my race belt, with my bib attached at home. It was about 20 minutes to start time, and home was 12 minute away, so I told my wife I would just get a replacement bib. Since the race is not chip timed, getting a new bib should not have been a problem. My wife insisted on going home to get my true bib, and in the hopes that she might make it back in time, I let her go. She didn't make it back before the start of the race, so just before start, I told registration I lost my bib, and they had drew my number and information on the back of an unused bib from a different race, which they had brought along just for that purpose.

I quickly made my way 50 yards to the start, and felt a little strange walking up at the last second with a hand-drawn number on my chest. I wondered how many thought I was trying to be some kind of sad bandit. As this was going on, the National Anthem was being played, so I knew I was just in time. I tucked myself into the cluster at the start, just behind the front lines, and soon we were off. The crowd insured that I didn't go out to fast at the gun, which was good. Unfortunately, since Cele was not there at the start, she had no idea where I had stashed my gear (including my camera), so we didn't get any photos at this event.  

First 2 miles: Steady, relaxed running, after the first half mile, this stretch was net downhill, though much of it was basically flat, so it was pretty fast. I keyed in on a woman in front of me running in a tri suit listing sponsors, and a pair of Newton's on her feet, and just tried to stay with her for as long as possible. By two miles, she was still only about 40 yards ahead of me, and I had maintained a mid-6 ish pace. 

Second 2 miles: Tri suit woman pulled gradually further away, passing two other guys in front of me in the second half of the third mile, where the course started going uphill.  I passed both guys as well, but the uphill put a damper on my pace, which drifted up to around 7, and stayed there through mile four, which continued climbing initially, before leveling and starting a slight downhill stretch to the second aid station  where the course rejoined the bike path. I wasn't able to attack here, so I just maintained and used this stretch for recovery from the gradual climb, and just about the time I had recovered and was ready to pick up the pace, BAM!, we're off paved trail and onto a two-track with uneven ground where that forced me to pick my steps more carefully and kept me from pushing the pace. There were still a lot of kids and walkers from the 5K on the two-track, and every so often one of the kids would sense a runner coming by, and feel self-conscious about walking, and pop out to run in front of me until I passed them. I saw a little girl do so and twist her ankle a little (nothing serious, she kept running), which was a reminder to me to watch my step.   

Third 2 miles: I wasn't sure where tri suit woman was anymore, after watching my step through the second half of mile 5, but shortly after passing the marker, and rejoining the path, I knew I had it in me to push the pace again. I passed the second aid station again, and again refused water and just put my mind on the finish, pushing the pace back down below 7, and mentally preparing to really start pushing it harder once the 6 mile marker was within sight. 

The finish: The final 0.2 miles were over pretty quickly, as I sprinted through them, passing one more man a short distance before the finish. I appreciated the crown that had gathered to watch their loved ones finish, as they clapped and encouraged all of the other finishers as well. As I approached the finish, from a short distance, I saw the clock had still not clicked over to 42:00, and I was so elated to have done so well, that I managed an even harder push to the line at 42:06, and a 2nd place age group finish (M40-49). It turned out that I was only 8 seconds behind the first place finishing in my age group, but we were both about six minutes ahead of the third place finisher. Several of the areas top runners had opted for the Half Marathon instead, but my time was very strong nonetheless, so I felt like I had earned my place. 

Overall, the 10K, 5K races, and kids runs are relatively low-key and enjoyable, but chip timing for the race events would be a good addition. The last two years, the long sleeve tech shirts for participants have been a nice perk of this race, and I hope that remains a feature of these races, even if chip timing is added  in future years.

There were quite a few more participants than last year, and like a lot of races these days, there are those that really don't like running on concrete. Concrete doesn't really bother me, however. I do a lot of my training on concrete, in cross country flats no less (even long runs), so perhaps I'm just "hardened" to it.

In any case, the organization was a little better in 2010 than it was in 2009, when most of the volunteers were lost shortly before the race and had to be replaced by newbies. In 2009, many volunteers were originally scheduled to be members of a local high school cross country team, which helps out with this race every year, but they had to pull out because they did well, and the race was scheduled on the same day as their appearance in the state meet. I don't know if the volunteers this year included the cross country team, but things seemed to go smoothly at the 10K/5K/kids runs start/finish area.

I can't speak to how things were organized at the start, or how smoothly, or not, the Half Marathon start was operated. It was on the other side of the lake, and a shuttle was provided to take Half Marathon Finishers back to the start area, if they needed it.

I would run this event again, but then I might be a bit more tolerance of things like concrete courses and organizational snafu's. Overall, I think this is a nicely run race, even if it's a little rough around the edges.

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