Lining up on 14th Street in downtown Boulder last night, hundreds of kids—from infants in Ergobaby carriers to sporty toddlers and svelte middle-schoolers—waited for pro runner Jennifer Simpson to fire the starting gun and kick off the 18th-annual Pearl Street Mile.
The kids’ race, which gave way to the novice men’s and women’s mile and then the professional sprinters, was actually just a half mile. But, this being Boulder, it was easy to see that a good portion of even the grade-school age participants could out-run me in a mile-long race. Maybe even a couple of the kindergarteners.
Although I ride a bike nearly every day of the year—rain, snow or shine—and am an avid adventure cyclist who completed the annual 400-mile Ride the Rockies earlier this summer, running is a grind for me. Maybe it’s my lack of running shoes, or my comically disastrous gait, or my inconsistent breathing (surely linked to countless bouts of the croup as a child), or just my lack of interest in running unless something is chasing me. Point is, it’s ugly.
Yesterday, however, I decided to suck it up and act like a true Boulderite. Even with the news that this summer’s Ironman Boulder resulted in the death of a man who completed the 2.4 mile swim and 112-mike bike ride but apparently pushed himself too hard in the marathon portion, which he reportedly did not complete.
That the man finished as much of the Ironman as he did would be impressive in many American towns. Lightweight endurance athlete—and Pittsburgh native—I am, I figured biking Poorman’s Pass on my lunchbreak, running—if that’s what you call what I do—the Pearl Street Mile with about 500 other participants and then taking a bath was as close to an Ironman as I’ll get.
After watching the kids, whose false starts as Simpson held the starting gun aloft cracked me up, I lined up with a couple hundred other locals and got going north on 14th Street around 6:30pm. From my first steps it felt not so good; like the two Bolder Boulder 10k’s I’ve completed, I alternated between jogging, running and looking like a person who might pass out at any moment.
My goal had been to finish in under eight and a half minutes, which would have been a personal one-mile record. When my right side started hurting halfway through, my goal was just to finish. At one point, I said aloud, “I am so bad at this.”
I had to laugh as we headed east on Pearl Street and then wheeled around to Spruce Street, thinking to myself, “Why is only about two blocks of the Pearl Street Mile on Pearl Street?”
As we made our way back to 14th Street I saw the big Pearl Street Mile clock ticking down. Surprisingly, if I picked up my pace I’d finish under eight minutes, well ahead of my pathetic record one-mile pace. After running—yes, really running—across the finish line at the 07:54 mark, I had another participant take my photo, feeling slightly like a Boulderite. I’d finished in 136th place, out of 257 runners in the Open Wave. All that was missing, to top off the experience, was a bottle of kombucha and a trip—maybe the whole 30 miles on foot, at a sprint—to see the String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks.
Then, after listening to some speed metal on my iPod and eating a totally unhealthy candy bar, I biked home feeling only like a guy who’d just barely run a mile.