On Sunday, I completed the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in my home town of Denver, Colorado. It felt great to have home-road advantage for this race: sleeping in my own bed, knowing where I was on-course, and acclimated to the altitude. I ran this race last year (3:02:45 for 42nd Place), at that point I had only been living in Colorado for a month and a half, and was far from acclimated to the altitude, nor in a steady exercise routine. I approached this year’s race with an open mind, aggressive expectations, and still little to no specific ‘marathon training’ per se.
New Course: I was a fan of the new route for the Denver Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. There was a nice flow to the course which took competitors through Downtown Denver and around the oft-neglected gem of Sloan’s Lake Park. From there we raced DOWNHILL through the Highlands for a quick jaunt by Coors’ Field and through the diagonal streets of downtown Denver. The route, which headed east from Lincoln Street out and around City Park, found us dodging geese and posing with mysterious statues. The marathoners utilized 17th Street to double-back to Lincoln Street. The final stretch took us on a stale route to Speer Boulevard, where we were teased by the return-route mile markings… Oh what I would have done to fast-forward from mile 18 to 25! We turned along the familiar path of Downing Street, and into picturesque Washington Park. It was a long, heavy jog for me through this park, as I begged for inspiration in the last 4-miles. The course was broken up nicely, never holding racers to a stretch of road much more than 4-miles in length. And once through Wash Park, it was a grueling, yet palpable, slog back to the Civic Center finish line!
Pace yourself Fool: This was just the second marathon in my life where I paid close attention to my pace. I learned a valuable lesson over the summer when I paced a 3:05 marathon group at the Revel Rockies Marathon (4,000-ft of descending!!). I went into the race with a game plan, with time-splits written on a wrist band. I told my pace group (which ended up being zero runners by mile-8) that I intended to run twenty-six 7-minute/mile repeats. Having a plan and intermediate goals during a race (especially in a marathon) encourages a much more stimulating run and creates mini goals along the way.
For Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, I had an ambitious goal to maintain 6:30/mile throughout. I hadn’t clocked a 6:30-mile in training for about 3-months, but I thought it was a doable goal, given the extent of challenging mountain running that I’ve been doing. Also a competitor from the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in Park City two weeks ago, told me that his most recent marathon was a 2:44. I finished about 10-minutes ahead of him in the 50K.
That said, I had a game plan and was excited to test myself to try and implement it. I planned to run four 6-mile sections, each in 39-minutes. I have never negative-split (2nd half-marathon faster than 1st half-marathon), nor really knew what I was capable of, so what the HECK! That said, I was consistent through miles 6 and 12. I was right on my pace, and felt so good early on, that I had musings of running sub-2:50. Back to reality: I started to flounder after the 18-mile mark. I was a minute off my pace by then and starting to feel fatigued. That fatigue quickly settled-in and took over as I hoofed it down to Wash Park for the final 5-miles.
My main man, Nathan White, (whom I wish I had been training with all summer long!) caught up with me at mile-21 at the entrance of Wash Park. He moved like a DEER! He was hippety-hopping along and encouraged me to keep up with his pace. I regretfully declined, as he raced away to finish in an impressive 2:53! One of the more fascinating things about his race was his game plan. He started out slow (6:44/mi) and picked up the pace (6:30/mi) throughout the morning. This fascinates me, because I am far too impatient to try this! I finished with a time of 2:57 (6:47/mi & 15th Place), having accumulated a 43-minute split from miles 18-24.
I’m of the thought that the faster I go early on, the quicker I’ll make it to the finish line. Clearly this method was proven wrong right in front of my eyes. This lesson has renewed my excitement for road racing, as there are many strategies and preparation techniques that I must experiment with!
Form over Function: I entered the race with two form goals: 1) Arms & 2) Propel. I recently watched a short video from the long-distance coach from the University of Michigan. In this DVD, there was a curiously long segment about the effect of arm swing on foot cadence. The faster you swing your arms, the faster you cycle your feet. This gives a sense of speed and freshness that can’t be found simply by asking on your legs to run faster. Similar to mindful breathing practices in yoga, attention to your arm swing speed and the resulting increased foot cadence, can have a dramatic effect on your running.
My other ‘go-to’ thoughts were to PROPEL forward. It was through Wash Park in the 20-something miles, that I noticed myself leaning-back, and sitting in the back seat. This is common with heel strikers like me (yes… still… I know…) who lean back and essentially put the brakes on (heel strike) rather than let their momentum and gravity propel them forward. It’s not easily correctable late in a race when your body and mind lose focus, but, it’s certainly something that can help you manage the later miles in a race, and keep you driving forward.
Nutrition: Again the nutrition bug hit, as I slogged through miles 20-26.2. I opted to take a gel every 6-miles or ~39 minutes. I typically aim for a gel every 5-miles or half-hour, so I think the lack of caloric intake hit me by mile-20. Yes, I will blame a measly 100-calories for being the downfall of my performance. I also felt pretty dehydrated in the hours following the race. While there were adequate hydration stations along the course, I was not able to take-in enough liquids throughout the race. Also, I was taking gels prior to each aid-station in order to wash them down. I’m feeling that this led to me not swallowing enough liquids, while I focused instead on getting calories.
Volunteer Boost: Since joining November Project 2-years ago, my race day experiences have changed completely. What used to be a ball of nerves before a race due to high personal expectations, and quiet reflection post-race, has now become a flurry of pride, passion, and enjoyment. Training used to be a burden: why am I doing this in 20-degree weather? What effect will skipping this run have on my performance? Now through the November Project community, the training part is fun & happens naturally, and the races are wild, joyful parties! There hasn’t been a day that I’ve run or trained alone, because I know that other NP tribesmates are out there doing the same. I think of everyone ofter, and am inspired by how we are all training to become better people, and stronger leaders among our families and communities.
Overall, I’m satisfied with this ‘long run’ on Sunday. I was a great time hanging out with friends at the bar after the race, and I have plenty of takeaways & learning-experience that will help me to become a better, smarter, and more efficient runner in the long run.
Practice doesn’t make perfect: Practice makes a dedicated & educated being who can strive for perfect.