Boulder, Colorado; home to amazing running trails, beautiful views, and an average barometric pressure of 83kPa (625mmHg). 'The'Berkeley of the Rockies' is also serving as my temporary home for a few weeks. I am here to train for the US Cross Country Championships, which will be held in Boulder on February 7th.
It is my first time training at altitude, and I’m excited to be here. Boulder is at an altitude of about 5,000ft above sea level, which is by no means an extreme elevation, but you can certainly feel the difference between Minneapolis, MN (elevation 830ft) and Boulder. Because of the city’s location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the oxygen content of the air is only about 83% of that found at sea level.
In the first few runs here, which were casual runs with my teammates Jon and Eric, it felt like we only felt the effects of the altitude when running uphill. When the grade on our route increased I was suddenly transformed from the graceful gazelle I imagine myself to be, into one of the grunting Elk common to these mountains. For the most part, though, the effects of the altitude didn't feel that bad.
But on Wednesday we went to the track to do our first workout session here in Boulder. 8-10 X 400m, just off of mile pace was the prescribed effort. After completing our warm-up, drills and strides we took off on our first 400. Interval complete, we conferred about how we felt. “I felt great, until the last 100! My legs felt fine, but the last little bit felt like I was breathing through a straw”.
Halfway through the workout, I was telling myself, “Ok, you can do this. Just get to 8 and you can be done.” Not the best mental attitude to be sure. The 8th one came to an end and I gasped with relief as I sauntered guiltily over to my bag. (Meanwhile, Eric and Jon had started their 9th interval). Once I arrived at my bag I was feeling better, breathing normally, lactic acid abating. I looked at my watch and 75 seconds of my 90 second rest period had elapsed….I rolled my eyes at myself and my internal commentator said “Welp…you just admitted that you feel better, you better get your butt moving back to that start line and go again”. DAMN IT, fine!
I quickly jogged back to lane 1 to start again, telling myself that this would make the difference between making the World Cross Country Team and not. My coaches words ringing through my head: “That’s why you take the intervals one at a time, you can’t decide if you are done with a workout until you've given yourself the chance to recover between them”.
The 10th interval finished, I felt proud of myself for having completed the entire workout; and I felt silly for having doubted that I could finish in the first place. I think I was suffering from a little more self-doubt than usual because of my performance at the Houston half marathon just 3 days before. I was off my A game last Sunday, and wasn’t happy with the results. But, “Running is the ultimate faith healer, restoring faith not only in oneself but also in life’s possibilities” (Bart Yasso).