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5280′ Race at 5430′ of Elevation: Pearl Street Mile

August 12, 2011

Pearl Street is the cultural and social center of Bolder, lined with all sorts of restaurants and shops as well as the courthouse and other downtowny attractions.  Tattooed, bedazzled, sometimes talented, sometimes cringe-worthy street performers dance with snakes, juggle knives on unicycles, play harps and clarinets and buckets and banjos, or walk around dressed as “mirror man” or a shaggy dog or robot or, well you get the idea.


Once a year, for about an hour, Pearl Street is home to a 1-mile road race that attracts many of the local speedsters and a number of top international runners who train in the area.  The course, along with being at 5430 feet above sea level, is made tougher by virtue of its 6 right-angle turns, a slight uphill for much of the second half, and a sun-filled 90-degree day.  I had heard it is a relatively tough one, at least as far as 1-mile road courses go, and it sure seemed to be judging from the pain I was about to endure.  I’m not a 1-mile racer and the only one I’ve done in the last few years was in sea-level Austin, in cool weather, with one curved turn, and a slight downhill.

There were waves for mascots (furries!), kids (half mile), masters (all runners over 40), competitive men, competitive women, and “friends and family”.  There were fast runners in all categories and it was quite properly suggested by a runner friend Marty that I enter the “friends and family” wave, which he referred to as the “civilians race”.  The race for “competitive men,” you see, is for guys who, at a minimum, were high school milers and most have or had mile times that start with “4”.  And all but a small handful were younger than me, typically an advantage for running fast.  (I’d have ended up #56 out of 60 in that race, I saw afterwards.)

Right before the start of my race, which was to start just after the finish of the kid’s race, I saw a sad Sagan and flustered Alison at the registration table.  Earlier, Sagan had dismissed our offer for him to run with the kids but, when he got to the race and saw all the kids finishing, he changed his mind.  But, that race was just about over and, at any rate, too late for him to do.  Alison saved the day, getting him and herself registered for the “friends and family” race, just before the race started.  Since neither had planned to run a race, Al was in jeans and Sagan was wearing cowboy boots.

We all toed the line with 187 other, with me towards the front and Sagan and Al somewhere behind.  A mile race is hard.  Harder, in some ways, than a marathon or ultra-marathon.  There is no real settling in period and, at least for me, pain from the starting gun.  I was roughly stuck three deep in the start, having to maneuver around 25-30 others, with some stutter steps and lateral hops.  Not exactly ideal in a race where every second counts but I just didn’t feel comfortable elbowing my way to the front of the start line, even in – especially in – the “friends and family” race,  where I very much felt like the out-of-towner crashing an iconic, locals-centric race.

As expected, I was hurting within the first minute.  My watch stopped working earlier in the day so I was, for the first time in years, running “blind” as far as my pace and distance.  Going purely on feel, I was going as hard as I figured I could hold for about 6 minutes.  I passed quite a few people and just focused on enjoying the pain and catching people one at a time.  I think I ran pretty evenly but was annoyed to see a guy dressed as Scooby Doo ahead of me, even with a quarter mile left.  I’m talking fully costumed: no human skin showing, large plush Scooby head, flopping tail, the whole thing.  With less than a quarter mile left, I dug in and was determined not to be beaten by a cartoon character, who was, by the home stretch, high fiving every Hanna Barbera fan cheering his name.  I passed him with maybe 75 yards to go and powered towards the finish, only to be passed by the brown dog with about 20 yards to go.  I pushed as hard as I could but was still out-sprinted by Scooby, who finished seconds ahead of me.

This wasn’t the actually mascot nemesis who beat me but it’s close and the image might give you an idea of the desperation of running as hard as you can and still being BEHIND the one getting steady crowd chants of “Scooby! Scooby!”.

My final official time was 5:47 (though I was 5:45 on the clock as I crossed the line), which was good for 13th place.  With a bit better race strategy, I think I could have run 5:40 and broken the top 10 but, given the conditions and my tired legs from recent heavy training, I felt good with the effort.  Sometime I’d like to try a mile on the track at sea level to see what I can do.  Maybe in the 5:20s?

Much more fun that my race was doubling back to find Al and Sagan and run with them to their finish.  Sagan was a bit stumbly in the boots but he was determined to run.  With about a third of a mile left, we all three were doing a run-25-steps-walk-ten-steps routine, which kept us moving really well.  When we rounded the final bend and the finish line was in view, we all three ran to the end to the cheers of the crowd and encouragement of the announcer, who enthusiastically commented on Sagan’s racing boots.   Al and Sagan crossed in under 14 minutes, which was likely closer to 13 minutes since the finishing time didn’t account for the time from the start gun to crossing the start line, a fact that penalizes anyone who isn’t right at the front of the wave.

A good day all-around, followed by a nice dinner where pooped-out Sagan fell asleep at the table.  And race shirts for all!

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