Sunday, September 7

Now that's more like it! 10 miles of hard fun at the Aetna Park to Park

Definitely from the ridiculous to the sublime: the getting-a-bit battle weary Colorado Runner Racing Series points chasers moved to Denver to find a welcome contrast to our last race, which was such a fiasco that the "results" were dropped from the series.

* Picture: me (on the right) with team-mate Susan Brooker, winner of the women's masters race. Photo by David Merrill,

The Aetna Park to Park 10-miler had everything; this is a race on its way to the major league. We got 40 Portaloos at the start, a mobile espresso bar, hundreds of marshals backed up by more police officers than I've seen all year; we got a superb USATF certified course that included long stiff climbs, screaming descents and plenty of corners as it took us from City Park, to Cheeseman Park (mind the geese!), on to Alamo Placita Park to finish in Washington Park. We got medals and flowers. We got goodie bags that doubled as kit bags that were transported to the finish for us. We got the unmatched efficiency of Benji Durden and his timing crew, who had the results up almost as soon as we'd finished. Two hours after getting home I got an email telling me the results were already up on the Net. Like it! We got food - lots of it, including chocolate chip cookies AND popcorn. Plus an Expo to wander round. All we didn't get was an awards ceremony.

I know, I shouldn't bang on about all these "peripherals", but unless you were at the not-so Peachy 5-miler last time, you have no idea how much we enjoyed the pampering :) Oh and just one more thing for co-directors Alan Lind and Maureen Roben: given we're distance athletes permanently on the verge of immune system breakdown, I can't tell you two how much I appreciate having my drink handed to me by a volunteer wearing latex gloves... the norm is to get a drink with someone's who-knows-where-they've-been fingers round the rim.

And the word is getting out about this race. Entries just about doubled from around 600 last year to 1100 this Labor Day. Yes, its promotion to the Colorado Runner Racing Series helped, but so did the buzz from runners delighted with the inaugural event last year - plus this 10-mile epic is a nicely positioned test for anyone targeting a fall marathon.

The race itself? Well, I got hammered again. Heath Hibberd took 4 minutes out of me and Devin Croft 2, as I finished third in the 55-59 age group in 1:08:16. But I was well pleased to have kept my overall series lead over the longest distance I've raced this year. It might well have been a disaster, except for a serious pre-race strategy session I had with coach Ric Rojas and team-mate Susan Brooker.

A former Olympic trials marathoner, Susan knows how to plan a race. She ran the course the week before, so when we sat down with the course profile and her feedback I was treated to a good dose of reality. With Ric's prompting we worked out mile splits based on a conservative start. Boy, was I glad we did! Because the first mile is a totally inviting long straight downhill that most of the field couldn't resist. I would have been one of them...and like them, I would have paid the price on the huge hill between mile 4 and 5. But we stuck to the plan, held back and started easily at 7-minute pace; I was catching runners all the way through.

To give you some idea of the ups and downs, my mile split on the hill was 7:11; my split on a downhill stretch two miles later was 5:39!

The day after our planning meeting, we had a great track session at Potts Field dedicated to dialling in our proposed race pace with a set of mile repeats. Based on that and my performance on a 15-mile training run the previous Sunday, plus a comparison with the 7:00 pace I managed in the VERY hilly Greenland trail 8-mile in April, I devised a slightly more aggressive schedule of splits just in case I felt good at the top of the hill.

On the day I did. Susan kept to the plan. A 6:32 last mile brought her home in 1:09:24, about 14 seconds faster than the plan. She won the 45 to 49 Age Group by FOUR minutes -- and earned herself $100. I wasn't just impressed, but scared: if it had been a half-marathon she would have caught me.

It was a good hard race. There wasn't really anywhere you could relax and go on cruise control, as the course really grabs your attention, especially if you're trying to run the shortest line. The hills were longer than I'd anticipated; the opening miles not as flat as I'd thought. With two miles to go it felt great to burst downhill into Wash Park, where I've run so many 5ks that it feels like home.

How the guys at the front ran this in 51 minutes I have no idea. Hats off to Josh Eberly of Gunnison (27) who averaged a tad over 5 minutes a mile to win in 51:00, and to Jesus Solis of Littleton (24), second in 51:23. Unbelievable.

One of the performances of the day must be that of Longmont's Kelly Liljebald, who at 36 ran 1:01:50 (6:11 pace)to beat 26-year-old Maren Shepherd to be first woman home. Three others who stood out were Mark Bell of Denver, who at 51 got 29th overall with his 1:01:44...the next guy in his age group was near enough 5 minutes back; Hibberd, who was 42nd overall; and Erie's 61-year-old Dave Dooley, 50th overall in 1:06:12, who hauled out a similar 5-minute gap over Dwight Cornwell, the 62-year-old from Fort Collins who is leading the 60-64 division in the series.

We've got just 3 races to go before the Colorado Runner Racing Series is done for the year. It's been a long campaign since the January start, so some of us will be breathing sighs of relief. But not yet... the next race is a doozy.

Marble, at 7000 feet, is beautiful this time of year. So beautiful that we're going there to run 15 miles -- the first 5 of which take us up nearly 4000 feet. Um. Yes. Some of the guys are telling me that the only way up is to walk. They've also told me it could be snowing at the top and bad-weather clothing may be in order.

Believe it or not, the Lead King Loop is followed by 2 5k races to finish the series. I can't wait!

* Links to current standings and latest results are up at the Colorado Runner site here.

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