June 2, 2012

Race Report: Colorado Colfax Marathon

I ran this race on May 21, 2012 and had a blast – apologies for the delay in posting!

The night before the race, despite having a good amount of beer to knock me out, I didn’t get much sleep – I tossed and turned thinking about a ton of different things. I woke up on race day feeling like crap. I wasn’t well-rested, and my cold had gotten even worse overnight – blossoming into what I thought might even be the flu, based on how hot I felt and how I kept sweating through my sheets during the night. And now it was time to go run a marathon? Ugh.

I got ready quickly and headed down to the hotel lobby to catch a cab, finding a ton of other runners down there attempting to do the same. Unfortunately, since the race started way outside the downtown area, there just weren’t enough cabs to go around, and no matter how many times the front desk called for more, they’d end up not making it to the hotel because they’d find other people to pick up before they got to us. Finally, one arrived, and I piled in with three other runners. Hey, at least it made the fare that much cheaper!

The cab dropped us off on the outskirts of a big park, with about 20 minutes left until the race began. I hightailed it in the same direction as all the other runners, around the pond and to the starting area. Once there, it wasn’t entirely clear where the bag drop was, but the friendly volunteers kept pointing me in the right direction so I eventually found it without much trouble. Bag drop went pretty smoothly, so then it was just a matter of squeezing into my totally packed corral before the National Anthem started. After a bit of trouble picking up my Garmin signal (but fortunately not so much that I had to stop and wait before crossing the start line), we were off. Here we go!

I wasn’t running today for time – just to finish – so I took off at what felt like a fast but still moderately easy pace. When I’m not pacing, I typically do the first miles of a marathon a bit fast, since my legs are fresh and I’m feeling good, and then decide after that whether to keep it up or drop down. It’s all about running by feel! Today, however, I was shocked to look down at my watch and discover that what felt like about an 7:45 pace per mile was actually an 8:30. This was going to be a slow one!

At first, I thought it was the very slight uphill in miles 1-2 that were responsible for making me work harder than I felt like I should be for my pace. However, I quickly realized that it wasn’t the uphill; it was the altitude. From my coaching training the day before, I had learned that the difference in running at sea level (like New Jersey Marathon two weeks before) vs 1600m (where Denver sits) is about 8% – meaning that what feels like an 7:45 pace to me would actually be a 8:23. That’s a big difference! The worst effects of altitude are felt 3-6 days after arrival at a high altitude – and lucky me had touched down in Denver three days before the race. In terms of what I expected my finish time to be, I had run New Jersey in 3:54 when I was feeling great. Today, altitude alone would push me back to 4:15 – and who knew how my cold would affect me. This was going to be a long day for me!

Fortunately, mile 2 gave us a slight but steady downhill where I didn’t have to work as hard – but still was only pulling around a 9:00 mile. While that’s a pretty standard pace for me in a marathon, this was downhill, so it should have been faster – what was going to happen when I got to the uphills I had seen all over the course elevation map?

At mile 3, we didn’t hit an uphill yet – but I started feeling the effects of the altitude and my cold. We got to run through a firehouse, which had both doors open and firefighters lined up cheering – so cool! I had never done that in any marathon before. I wasn’t feeling great, but I still appreciated the experience. Next, we turned down onto a path by a creek – bringing us into mile 4.

Since we would be coming back the same way at the end of the race (it wasn’t quite an out-and-back but rather a lollipop; however, the section from miles 4-8 would later be repeated as mile 19-23), I could see the mile markers for the end of the race. While I normally joke with other runners about “wow, we’re at mile 23 already?” on courses like this, today it was hard to joke about that because my body actually felt as tired as if I had been running 23 miles already. How was I going to complete this marathon?? I began to contemplate just giving up right then and there – maybe I could switch to the half marathon or the 10 miler? However, since my RRCA coaching session had been so dissatisfying, I didn’t want to make it a total bust of a weekend (aside from seeing my friends, of course, which was awesome). I had to make this trip to Colorado count – and that meant finishing the race.

Summoning all the motivation I normally use for other people, I reminded myself that the slower I went, the longer it would take to finish and be done – so I was better off just pushing it as long as I could. No walking – that would slow me down significantly and would only encourage more walk breaks later on. I had already done one tough marathon in Colorado when I did the 50 states – and come in with a pretty miserable time of 6:17 (though honestly I’m not ashamed of that time at all given how the course literally went up a mountain). Today I wanted to make sure I dropped at least an hour off my Colorado marathon time – and ideally two hours. But with how I was feeling, two hours was not looking promising…

We turned from the pretty creek path onto a multiuse trail for runners/bikers, and I knew that we’d now be heading toward Mile High Stadium. In the meantime, we got to go by a cool amusement park (of course, not yet open) – and it was here that the 4:00 pacer caught up to me. No biggie – there was no way I was running 4:00 today. However, it gave me a good idea of where I stood in the race, and I hoped that I wouldn’t be letting the 4:30, 4:45, and 5:00 pacers catch me too. I had to hang on!

Approaching mile 6, we finally came to a place I recognized – the parking lot for Mile High (where the packet pickup had been held). We circled the stadium before heading through the big doors and bursting out – well, not onto the field, but on a track that lay inside the stadium but around the edges of the field. I was surprised to see how small the stadium actually was – they look so much bigger on TV! – but it was neat to imagine how the players must feel when the stands are packed with cheering fans. Today, though, there was silence – but not for long.

Exiting the stadium on the other side, tons of cheering awaited us – we had come to the first relay exchange point, which was also a popular spot for spectators to cheer their runners on. I was thrilled that the organizers had chosen this particular spot as the relay exchange zone, because there was a pretty decent uphill coming out of the stadium and going back to the road, and having all those people cheering (plus an announcer who alternately announced relay finishers and cheered everyone on) really helped to scale it. But at the top – geez, were we really only a quarter of the way done? Still so much left to run!

We headed out to Colfax Ave (the namesake road of the race), and were quickly faced with yet another uphill. I reminded myself that “what goes up must come down”, and that near the end of the race this part would be downhill. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and tuned into my music for motivation. Mile 7 marked the top, and we only had one more mile to do on Colfax before taking another turn into a neighborhood (thank you, race organizers, for changing the course from last year – I could see how a run down Colfax might be boring, but this part was pretty great!). I soon heard cheering ahead, and found the next relay exchange zone (though the actual exchange would be after completing a loop that would take us back past that point). Next up: a loop around a stunningly beautiful lake, with tons of spectators all around to cheer us on.

While the weather had been pretty nice so far, it got really beautiful as we headed around the lake (or maybe that’s ust me and how I love running near a body of water). The sky was bright blue and littered with puffy white clouds, and and the sun was shining just enough to make it nice but not enough to make it hot. I was wearing my Athleta Any Sport Skort (seriously the most comfortable running skirt ever, and has so many pockets that I was actually able to run this race without any kind of fuel belt strapped onto my waist – a first for me!), the Athleta Energy Tank in a gorgeous Hydrangea color, and a light white jacket that I ended up keeping throughout the race – just perfect weather for running. Although I still was tired and worn out from my cold and the altitude, this part of the race really reminded me why I love running. It was just beautiful!

I started thinking about running goals and came back to the question I’ve been pondering ever since finishing my 50 states – what next? One thing I’ve considered is doing something based on speed, but I just don’t think I have it in me to go for a sub-4 marathon in every state, like some of my friends are doing. But maybe I could work on getting the times faster for some of the states where I had gone slow the first time around – like Colorado! My Excel-oriented mind began thinking of ways to design a spreadsheet that would sum the total time of all 50 states by taking the fastest marathon in each state – maybe I could work toward getting the total time under 225 hours (4.5 hours/marathon), and then keep pushing it down from there. That could be a fun goal to strive for!

As I daydreamed about running faster, I found myself coming back around to the beginning of the lake loop. This meant we were also approaching mile 10, where Gu was supposed to await us. I had relied on the advertised Gu stops and only tossed one of my own into my pocket – so I was really disappointed to find that the station was out of Gu completely, particularly since I was still on pace for a 4:10 or 4:20 marathon at this point, and definitely not back of the pack. I thought about it over the next mile or so, and deduced that the organizers had probably made a big tactical error in putting the Gu stop right next to the relay runners – I bet a lot of them were taking Gu despite the fact that they were only running a 10K or so and didn’t actually need it. Still, I knew this was a new course for them and that there would be bugs to work out! I just hoped that later stops wouldn’t run out of Gu as well, because after eating my one, I was fresh out – which did not bode well for the second half of the race.

We headed back out to Colfax Ave and I got to enjoy watching the lead runners coming back at mile 18 as I approached mile 11 – dang, they are fast! – as well as seeing the front runners in the 10 mile race, which apparently started out here instead of running the same course as the marathoners. (It should be noted that the half marathon course also seemed to be completely different – they split off from the full marathoners in the very first mile, and I have no idea where their route went.) We climbed a short hill to get into the campus of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, and here I saw the start of the 10 miler, which looked to be very different from any race start I’ve ever seen. Despite having seen plenty of runners well into their 10 mile run, there were runners still at the start, and they were getting released one by one by an announcer through an archway that marked the beginning of the race. Interesting! I made a mental note to look up what was the deal with that after the race (and then promptly forgot until writing this race report – oops).

At long last, I reached the halfway point, coming in at 2:08. Given my penchant for positive splitting marathons, and also given how exhausted I felt and like I didn’t want to run a step further, I couldn’t imagine what my finish time was going to be. I set a goal of finishing under sub-4:30, which would mean an average pace of about 10:40 from here on out. Normally, that’d be easy – but could I do it today? I didn’t know.

It didn’t help that after turning back out of the College of Art and Design, we had an uphill. Fortunately, I could see the top not too far away, so I focused on getting to that without walking – and was rewarded with a nice downhill on the other side. Yippee! My joy was short lived, though – I felt awful, like my lungs were going to explode, despite the fact that I was running a pretty slow 10:30 pace (yup, on the downhill). How on earth was I going to break 10:40s the rest of the race?

But beyond that, I had bigger fish to fry. I know y’all are going to laugh at me for this (and rightly so), but I was seriously convinced that I had an embolism in my lung. I didn’t know if this was even possible, but all I knew is that I felt this weird thing in my chest, and it made it hard to breathe and even harder to run. I contemplated calling my best friend to ask him to Google it, but ultimately didn’t want to have to expend any breath talking. Instead, I melodramatically decided to tweet it out to the world, half-joking and half hoping someone would write back with “OMG it’s totally possible and therefore you have to stop running or you will die.” We hadn’t learned about this in my coaching class! (Because it is not true and I am a big baby, obvi.)

Mile 14 clocked in at 10:49 – still way off from the 10:40 average I needed to hit sub-4:30, and I knew I’d have to be a lot faster in these middle miles if I was going to achieve that, because I knew that miles 23-25 were all uphill (and also when I’d be even more tired than I was now). But then some magic happened – despite still feeling like crap, I ran mile 15 in 10:22, and mile 16 in 9:28. I discovered that while running felt awful, it made me feel awful whether I was running fast or slow – so I might as well run fast and get it done. Challenge accepted!

Mile 17 ended up being glorious – I had some great old school music on my phone that was helping me relax and rock out (O-Town “All or Nothing”, because I am a total nerd for pop from my middle school days) and ran it in a speedy 9:09, feeling like a gazelle as I took long strides and knew that my form was good. I started feeling strong, and as I felt that way, I started picking up the pace. While this part had been all a slight but steady incline on the way out, it was now a nice gradual downhill on the way back, and I tried to make the most of it. 9:29, 9:13, 8:54 – the miles fell away as I headed back to Mile High Stadium for the final 10K.

We headed back to the creek path, and I started getting pretty darn tired. The race was taking its toll on my body and all I wanted to do was go to sleep – not keep running. But while this was the point that had me wondering if I should quit on the outbound leg, there was no question in my mind now – I was finishing this race, and I was going to do well. I’ve always been someone who does well when pushed to the limit, and now that my limits were tested, I wanted to excel.

That said, it was taking nearly everything I had to continue at the pace I was going. We had a quick hill to get back up to street level from the creek, and then after another 1/2 mile of flat ground, we turned to find a giant hill in front of us. Not going to lie, when I saw it, a cry came out of my mouth, and my face was such that a spectator nearby actually stopped her general cheering to turn to me and say “oh, honey, you’ll be okay – you can get through this!” I walked a little bit on that hill, saving my energy, but when I got near the top, I gunned it again. Only two miles left in this race, and I was still short of 4 hours. It seemed that I was going to be able to break 4:17, which would mean dropping more than 2 hours off my Colorado state marathon time! Yippee šŸ™‚

That said, the final two miles were tough. Since I knew this was a time I was going to be proud of (vs just a marathon that I ran and couldn’t care less what my finish time was), I knew that every second counted. When I got to the water stop at mile 24, instead of walking to enjoy a drink, I checked in with my body and decided that I didn’t really need it – I could push through till the end of the race and be just fine with getting a drink then. Soon enough, I hit the 4 hour mark and knew there were less than 15 minutes to go. So close!

I thought that the final mile would be a slight downhill, since I swore it was a slight uphill on the outbound – but apparently that wasn’t hill, it was just altitude slowing me down, because it was pretty much pancake flat. I tried to keep pushing as much as I could, reminding myself that every second counted, but it seemed like that last mile just stretched on forever. Had we really run this way at the start? It looked a lot different with a random stream of 10 milers and marathoners than it did with a huge pulsing crowd of everyone all at once!

But at long last, I saw the 26 mile mark – and not too far away in the distance, the finish line. Here I come! I pushed the pace as much as I possibly could, not quite resulting in a sprint finish, but at least finishing strong and giving it everything I had. And when I looked at the clock? 4:14. I broke 4:15, the altitude-predicted time based on my awesome race in New Jersey!

But past the finish line was where I found my favorite part of the race – tents for beer and tents for barbecue, all FREE for runners! (Thank you, Colfax Marathon, for not being like the stingy OBX Marathon that looked at you dumbfounded for not running 26.2 miles with a wallet on hand to pay for food at the end of the race.) Barbecue has never tasted so good šŸ™‚

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:14:32
Pace: 9:42/mile
Overall place: 532/1165
Gender place: 171/ 500
Age group place: 54/157

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12 thoughts on “Race Report: Colorado Colfax Marathon”

  1. OMG this post was so inspiring. I have such a hard time pushing myself, I hate being uncomfortable and here you did it for four hours! Congrats on a great finish time on a tough marathon.

  2. Great race report, and congratulations on such an awesome job running at altitude.

    I haven’t thought about that O-Town song for ages. Thanks for getting it stuck in my head, haha.

  3. Because I read your previous post just before reading this one, I accidently saw your race stats before reading about the race.

    It was exciting to read how your race unfolded, knowing how fast your time was. Congrats for finishing so strong.

    MM 2629

  4. Glad you too were able to take advantage of that nice, gradual downhill from miles 15-21. That made the race for me. Regarding your surprise at the late hill– don’t you ever tour marathon courses (drive them) before you run them? You must like surprises more than I do.

  5. Lisa – now you know I feel with all the bloggers writing about Call Me Maybe. (And now that I mentioned it I’m sure it’s stuck in your head too).

    Anonymous – I usually don’t tour marathon courses, since I like being able to see the scenery for the first time when I’m running (which is a big part of why I like running marathons). If I’m going for a fast time, I do study the course map, but here I wasn’t trying for anything in particular. I glanced at the course map beforehand, but didn’t memorize it. Glad you had fun too though! I thought the course was really nice šŸ™‚

  6. Thank you so much for your race summary. I am running the Colfax Marathon this weekend. Although it is my 8th marathon, all my previous marathons have been in Florida. This is my first one at altitude and with hills. Although I am recently local and have trained here in Denver I am nervous about the race. Thank you for the descriptions by mile. It helps me know what to expect and where others found the challenges. Thank you again and congratulations on your great running accomplishments.

    1. Good luck this weekend Brian! Colfax was a really excellently-organized race and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Keep me posted on how it goes!

  7. The Urban 10 Miler has a staggered start because it filters into the ongoing marathon. This helps prevent traffic jams.

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