April 5, 2014

Race Report: Colfax Marathon

This is a delayed race report; I ran the Colfax Marathon on May 18.

I knew going into the weekend that it was going to be a fairly low-key one, since most of my friends in Colorado weren’t going to be in town. In spite of that, though, Friday ended up being pretty busy after all – I took a cool training class on the retail/consumer products industry, attended an all-advisory meet-and-greet lunch at the office, worked on a really fascinating new proposal, and also stopped by the Colfax Marathon expo.

I had agreed to pick up the packets for my friends Chad and Hillary, so I decided to head over to Sports Authority Stadium right when the expo opened. As it turned out, I was really glad that they had asked me to go and that I got there so early – because there was a team of masseuses offering free massages, and I only had to wait two minutes for mine. (Normally the wait is something like 30-45 minutes and I just skip it.) Plus, the free massage was far from short – it was full-body, and lasted about twenty glorious minutes! Amazing, especially since I was still trying to work out the soreness in my glutes/hamstrings from the killer CitySurf and Bodybar sessions earlier in the week. Overall, I really liked the expo. There were a ton of different vendors, and most importantly, tons of different vendors with free snacks ūüôā I particularly liked the Perky Jerky, which I had never had before.

As for the rest of my Friday night, I went to a Meetup group’s happy hour in Boulder, which was held at a really cool bar – Press Play. In addition to a pretty good lineup of taps (and¬†dirt cheap prices – non-happy hour had pints at just $5!), Press Play also had a ton of old-school arcade games, like Ms. Pacman, The Simpsons, and skeeball. I played a few rounds of pool and a few rounds of giant Jenga before calling it a night and heading back to my apartment for a quick carb-heavy meal before bed.

Saturday morning, I headed down to Cherry Creek to meet Chad and Hillary for lunch and give them their packets. Hillary suggested True Food Kitchen, which turned out to be a great pick, and I devoured their yummy chicken sausage pizza while enjoying the warm weather on their shaded patio. But that was really all my activity for the day – after some errands, I headed home for a homemade pasta dinner (with fresh basil from a plant that I bought on Friday and hopefully won’t have killed by the time I get home next Friday) and an early bedtime. I had to get up at a really early hour, so I tried to get into bed at 8pm. All my friends tease me about being early to bed and early to rise, but unfortunately, even 8pm was too early for me – and I ended up just reading in bed for a few hours before I could finally get sleepy enough to fall asleep around 10pm…

…which was not enough sleep. When my alarm went off at 3:45am (ugh), I briefly considered just going back to bed and skipping the race. In fact, I had dreams of doing exactly that! But after a few minutes of being up and about, my body started to wake up, and I decided that I would run the race after all. I got myself together quickly, and marveled at the joy of being able to have a home-cooked breakfast. Okay, so it was nothing complicated – a piece of wheat toast with some Trader Joe’s cookie butter on top – but I was thrilled to be able to have that instead of some kind of powerbar, which is my normal I’m-traveling-for-a-marathon pre-race meal. I had forgotten to pick up coffee, so I couldn’t make a pot, but instead I had a glass of caffeinated cherry lime Nuun to wake me up. Despite the fact that it was pitch black out for the drive to the start, I was awake!

I arrived at City Park at 4:50am – just five minutes after the 4:45am cutoff that we had been warned about making. After that time, supposedly no one would be able to park and cars would have to drop off runners only. But “supposedly” seems to be the operative word in that sentence, since there were very few cars that had actually gotten to the park at that ridiculously early hour. I snagged a parking spot that was only a few minutes’ walk from the starting line, and when I realized how close I was and that there was absolutely¬†zero need for me to be there that early, I ended up sitting in my car and reading my Kindle for about 45 minutes until it was closer to race time. (A woman in the car next to me was doing the exact same thing.) Dear race organizers: I admit that it was nice to get such a nice, close spot, but I definitely would have traded that for some extra sleep if you had been honest about what time we¬†needed to be there. I am more than happy to slip into the start just a few minutes before the gun, rather than hanging out for 75 minutes!

But finally, it was time to head for the starting line. I was thrilled to find plenty of portapotties over there (and almost no line), and it was really quick to be able to drop my bag over at Chad’s company’s booth rather than having to do the official bag drop. After slathering my neck, chest, and arms with sunscreen (I had learned my lesson about¬†doing that in Colorado a few weeks back when doing a long run), I headed over to the starting corrals. It was time to go!

The Colfax Marathon does one of those really neat staggered starts, where each corral starts about a minute apart with a separate countdown for each one. I really prefer that to everyone slowly inching up to the start, because it means you get to run as¬†soon as you cross the starting line, rather than¬†dealing with congestion. I frequently try to get to the front of my corral when I know it’s one of these staggered starts, since it can be¬†really¬†fun and exhilarating to go out way too fast and get to lead the pack for a minute or so, but today, I was kind of worried about the altitude, and figured I’d just take it easy.

The first mile wasn’t terrible – we wove around City Park, circling a big fountain before heading out to Colfax Ave. However, the fact that this already felt like it was on a slight uphill (even though I knew it was perfectly flat) got me a little bit worried. I was really exhausted (and getting up at 3:45am hadn’t helped), and I could tell that I was definitely not going to be running my best today. I had never hoped to run super fast, but I had thought maybe if I was lucky, I would be able to run about as well as I had the last time I did the Colfax Marathon, in 2012. Right in that first mile, though, I knew it wasn’t happening – and that I would need to find other motivation to keep going rather than a fast time.

When we turned onto Colfax, I took advantage of the straightaway to switch from listening to music to listening to podcasts. I know that¬†processing intellectual content while doing a physical activity (like running) means that you won’t perform as well at the physical activity… but since I didn’t care about time, distraction was more important to me for now. At the gym, I frequently watch TV shows while on the elliptical/treadmill; outside, podcasts serve the same function. If you get a good one, the time flies by!

But while my podcast was good (Jillian Michaels’ therapeutic episodes¬†basically never fail to inspire or make me think about things in a new way), I realized I was actually having a ton of fun just seeing the city of Denver. When I ran this race a few years ago, I didn’t really have a plan in mind to move here; I was just visiting, and psyched to be running the race and getting my RRCA certification all in the same weekend. But now, this city is my new home – and I was really excited to explore it! I saw the course with completely new eyes as I tried to figure out where I was in relation to the few landmarks I did know, and try to keep track of the places I saw so that I could go back sometime when I wasn’t in the middle of a marathon.

Mile 3 of Colfax Marathon
There was an awesome-looking Belgian beer bar around here, right on Colfax, that I want to check out soon.

The first few miles went by fairly quickly, helped in large part by the slightest of downhills that made me feel extra speedy because it didn’t¬†seem like a downhill. We ran into the central part of downtown Denver, and around mile 4, we got to run through a fire station!

Colfax Fire Station
How cool is this?!

We then turned down a little ramp to run right alongside Cherry Creek, passing some Taiko drummers as we went. Taiko drummers always make me think of the Assault on Battery at the Vermont City Marathon (which forever holds a special place in my heart as my very first marathon), and I gave them a huge thumbs up as we ran by. As we ran along the creek, the sounds of the drummers gradually faded in the distance, and I decided to switch what I was listening to yet again, back this time from podcast to music. I wanted to just relax and enjoy the ride!

Running along bodies of water has always felt calming to me, but this time, it also made me think of new possibilities. Like: getting toward the end of the creek and seeing stand up paddleboarders doing cool tricks to show off for the marathoners! Stand up paddleboarding has always intrigued me, and I’m hoping I get to try it sometime soon. Colorado friends, suggestions welcome for¬†where to go and how to learn!

We zigzagged to take a footbridge up and over the creek, and then had a quick mile along the Platte River, with the roller coasters of Elitch Garden on our left. Ahead of us loomed Mile High Stadium (okay, so now it’s Sports Authority Stadium, but I’m going with the historic non-branded name). I couldn’t wait to get there! In this race, you get to run right through the stadium not just once, but twice, and I was excited for the experience.¬†The arrival of the stadium coincided with¬†the start of mile 6, and it felt good to know that I would soon be about a quarter of the way through the race.

Approaching Mile High Stadium

We circled the stadium and then ran down the tunnel to come out… well, not quite onto the field, but on a sidewalk that circled the perimeter. Good enough! I attempted some selfies here, with the iconic scoreboard in the background, but they didn’t come out that great. Didn’t stop me from shamelessly posting them on Instagram, but I’ll avoid embarrassing myself further by posting them here, and instead give you this panorama.

Running Inside Mile High Stadium

When we came out of the stadium, there was a decent-sized hill – but I also knew that this was one of the team relay handoff points, and so there were lots of crowds cheering. Plus, there was an aid station handing out not just water and Gatorade, but also Gu! Sweet. I grabbed a chocolate one and walked up the hill to eat it, then started running again as we turned left to return to Colfax – this time heading toward Lakewood.

Once we got to Colfax, we had an uphill section, but the grade wasn’t too steep – just a long, slow, steady climb. This part of town wasn’t super nice, but I did really enjoy a mural on a playground¬†wall. I knew it hadn’t been put there for the race, but the message sure seemed appropriate!

Strong Smart And Bold
“I can do anything! I will succeed!” Those are exactly the type of self-empowering mantras that marathoners should be saying to themselves.

Next we turned right, off Colfax, to head over to Sloan’s Lake. I remembered this as being a really gorgeous part of the course, and it did not disappoint. In fact,¬†I got a major runner’s high as I ran around the peaceful lake with the snowcapped mountains in the distance and the blue, blue sky. Right at this point, “Wide Open Spaces” by Dixie Chicks came on my playlist, and I felt like the lyrics just really fit where I was in life. I had taken a really big leap to move thousands of miles from my family and every place I’ve ever lived, but I am¬†so happy that I did so. Colorado and the Rockies region just feels like exactly the right place for me, and where I’m meant to be.

Sloan's Lake
“She found a dream and a life of her own… it took the shape of a place out west. But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed. She needs wide open spaces.”

From the lake, we headed back out to Colfax, then up and over to the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. This was another relay exchange point, as well as the place where the runners doing the “Urban 10 Miler” started. My coworker Chad was in that group along with his wife Hillary, and I tried texting him to see if he had started yet or if maybe I’d see him (since it was a pretty extended wave start), but we ended up not catching each other there. No matter – we’d see each other at the same finish line eventually!

I felt great circling the art school, and then we headed out into the neighborhoods – taking a nice steady downhill to do so. But then we turned east again, heading on a long steady uphill, and I was a little less enthused. My energy was definitely waning, and I started taking some (semi-strategic) walk breaks to get it back. In the meantime, I loved looking at the houses in Lakewood. When I moved to Colorado, I launched a campaign to get my mom to move out there too, and the homes in Lakewood were¬†exactly¬†her style. I made a mental note to log onto Zillow and check them out later ūüôā

With ten miles to go, I was tired – I just wanted to take a nap and finish later! Unfortunately, that isn’t really an option when you’re technically supposed to be “racing.” However, I got a second wind of energy when we turned back onto Colfax to begin the trek back to the finish line in City Park – especially since most of Colfax had a really slight downhill grade to it. It was getting pretty hot out there though – Colorado sun is strong! – and I was really grateful for how frequently the aid stations came up in this part (basically every mile). I tried to keep my pace steady in between the water stops, where I’d walk and drink.

Colfax Marathon Mile 17
And take photos like this one.

I cruised back to Mile High Stadium at a pretty steady pace, though I had lost enough time in Lakewood that I knew I wasn’t going to finish in a very respectable (for me) time, especially since I had really gritted it out two years ago to finish in an awesome (for altitude) 4:10. But soon enough we were back at Mile High, and I grabbed another Gu in celebration before entering the stadium. Only¬†a 10K left and I’d be done!

Mile High Selfie
Selfie time!
Running through Mile High Stadium
And here’s what I looked like when I was actually, y’know, running.

The last 10K, though, was tough. I found myself taking way more walk breaks than I honestly needed, in large part because I didn’t have any kind of time goal in mind at this point. I didn’t really care if I finished in 4:40 or 4:45, so it was hard to motivate myself to keep the pace up and make it the former.

I did, however, enjoy running through the streets of downtown Denver. We had only 3 miles to go at that point, and I got a kick out of snapping this photo and tagging it with some reinvented Katy Perry lyrics.

Champa Street
Cause I am a “champa” and you’re gonna hear me roar!

We turned onto 17th Avenue for one of the biggest hills of the race – albeit a short one – and then had a mostly flat/slightly uphill section on 17th, just two miles from the finish line.¬†17th has a ton of cute-looking brunch places along it, and I had fun people-watching all the brunchgoers who were hanging out and paying varying degrees of attention the marathon. One left turn into a final neighborhood, and then we’d be at the park and the finish line. Hooray!

I had an extra little burst of energy in this mile,¬†but when I got into the park and had less than a half mile left, I lost that energy. I knew how close I was, but I also knew that my finish time wasn’t anything special, and I didn’t care whether I finished one minute slower or faster. This is kind of embarrassing, but I even took a walk break¬†after the 26 mile mark. Oops! But when the finish line was in sight, I did pick up the pace¬†for that last tenth of a mile.

Finish Chute of Colfax Marathon

It was definitely not my fastest marathon, but I was psyched that I had managed to get back in the marathon game after six months off. I didn’t have much soreness at all, and it felt like I had been doing marathons all along – which was great! And I did have enough energy after the race to enter a Chobani-sponsored contest: do 25 full body pushups, take home a case of Chobani.

Chobani Pushups
Yes, I now have a case of Chobani Black Cherry in my fridge at home. YAY!

All in all, I was pretty pleased with how the day went – and even more pleased when I got to hang out with Chad and Hillary in City Park for a while after the race, then retreat to their gorgeous apartment’s pool for some more relaxation. I definitely counted this as a successful day in Denver, and most of all, I’m just so happy that I live here now and can have more fun times like this in the future!


Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:41:37
Pace: 10:45/mile
Overall place: 839/1323
Gender place: 276/554
Age group place: 98/197
Personal marathon rank: 82nd fastest out of 103 run


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