I ran the Lee Martinez Park 10K, a Tortoise & Hare race organized by the Fort Collins Running Club. It was an impromptu decision, as I had just arrived in Fort Collins from Spain the day before. My friend Mel, who lives in Fort Collins and learned that I had booked last-minute flights on Thursday, suggested I sign up for this race. After all, I had written the prediction algorithms and scripts for the Fort Collins Running Club nearly a decade prior, and they are still in use.
Fort Collins is about 1500 meters above sea level, while my current home city of Pontevedra is near the coast. I knew that running at altitude can affect your performance and make you breathe harder. I decided to do a slow two-kilometer run around my neighborhood on Saturday morning to test how I felt. It was not easy. I could feel my lungs working harder than usual and my legs feeling heavy.
Still, I thought I was in reasonable shape because I had been running five times a week in Pontevedra. I hoped that I could run a decent time at the 10K race–which I defined as 45 minutes–on the out-and-back course on the Poudre Trail. The trail follows the Poudre River and passes through some scenic natural areas.
The Tortoise & Hare races are different from other races because they use a handicap system based on your previous race times or computer-predicted times. The slowest runners start first and the fastest runners start last. The idea is that everyone finishes around the same time and has a chance to win.
My computer-predicted time was 46:30, which meant that I had to start at 8:53 a.m. with four other runners. We were among the last groups to start, as most of the runners had already left before us. We ran together for most of the first kilometers, but then I slowly started to pull away from them. I felt good at first, but then I realized that I was laboring pretty hard by the turnaround point.
On the way back, I struggled to keep my pace. Every breath felt like a challenge and every step felt like a drag. The second half of the race was slightly downhill instead of slightly uphill like the first half, but it did not help me much. I only managed to keep pace instead of speed up.
I did manage to sprint the last 200 meters. My final time was 46:06, which was 24 seconds better than my predicted time but worse than I had hoped for. In fact, it was one of my slowest 10K races ever, especially considering that it was a sunny and near-perfect running day with no wind. We were lucky because 45 minutes later, the winds really picked up.
This race confirmed what I had suspected: running at altitude is hard! My performance is generally about 15-20 seconds/mile better at sea level than at Fort Collins elevation (5000 feet, or 1524 meters). That means that if this race had been at sea level, I could have run it in about 44 minutes instead of 46 minutes.
But despite being disappointed with my time, I enjoyed this race experience very much. It was fun to run with my former running club. It was also nice to see old friends, many of whom are in the photos below.
So if you ever have a chance to run a Tortoise & Hare race in Fort Collins, I highly recommend it. Just be prepared for some challenges along the way, especially if you haven’t acclimated to the altitude yet.
Final time: 46:06 (7:25/mile)