Race Report: 2012 Denver Rock and Roll Marathon (and a half)
The Denver Marathon has been around for a few years now, but my schedule has never lined up in a way that I could participate. While I’m not particularly fond of road marathons, and my training hasn’t been geared towards running one, I jumped at the chance to participate in a ‘big city marathon’ in my own city.
Since I have been chewing on the idea of running another 100 miler this fall, I decided to make this in to a training run. 26.2 miles wasn’t quite far enough, though – so I cooked up my own little plan similar to the Boston double I did a few years ago.
I decided to show up early, run the half marathon course on my own, then hop in the marathon just as it was starting. Since I would have to park a few blocks from the start/finish, everything added together would give me a little over 40 miles on the day. I hoped to be able to do the total run in under 6 hours, which is just under 9:00 pace and would be a good speed for me to try and dial in for that type of distance.
I was really excited about my plan when I first came up with it. Then as race day approached, sanity started to prevail and it all just seemed like a really bad idea. 40 miles of pavement?!? What was I thinking…
I dragged my feet through planning the logistics, and going downtown to pick up my packet. Once that was all completed, I started to feel a little bit of excitement coming back. I knew it would be a decent day when the 3:30 wake-up didn’t even feel that bad.
My biggest logistical challenge was finding a place to leave my car for the day. There wasn’t anywhere (that I knew of) very close to the start/finish area at Civic Center Park. I had to find one of the public lots scattered around the surrounding area. I settled on one a few blocks away and got my gear on and was ready to run by 4:45. The marathon start was at 7:15 and I wanted to be finished with my half-marathon loop before 7:00 so I could drop off my pack, change shoes and get my timing chip on, and jog a few blocks to the start.
My plan was already going sideways when I tried to pay for parking at the electronic kiosk and figured out that it was still charging the evening rate and it would expire at 05:00. Rather than wait around for 15 minutes so I could pay for a full day starting at 05:01, I decided to get back in the car and try to find another lot. I ended up finding a better one south of the library, but it put me behind schedule a bit.
I finally headed out a little after 5:00 with my headlamp on and carrying a waist pack with a full bottle and a couple of gels. It was very cool to be running through the streets downtown in the dark. My legs felt surprisingly decent and I settled right in to the pace I was looking for. I had counted on things being pretty quiet, but it turns out I underestimated how much traffic there would be. Not a ton, but enough that it was always causing me to slow down at every block and run with my head on a swivel the whole time. That, combined with trying to navigate with the turn-by-turn directions from the race website, made for some slow going in the early miles. Even though I knew things would be a little tight getting back to the start, I didn’t get in too big of a hurry. A few wrong turns and some doubling-back, and I was finally on the long straight approach to City Park down 17th. I could finally put navigation aside for a while and just run.
Things were much quieter out here and I ran in the left lane of the 3 lane one-way street to try and get away from the slope at the side of the road. I could hear approaching traffic easily enough to get out of the way when I needed to. Except for one time when I about got waxed by a pickup truck. I heard the approaching car behind me and deduced that it was in the center lane. I moved to the left just a little and was pretty shocked when a truck blew past me. I hadn’t realized there were actually two vehicles approaching. Stupid of me.
The miles in the park were uneventful and the sky started to ever so slowly brighten on the horizon. I was able to shut off my lamp once I was out of the park and concentrated on holding a nice easy pace for some long stretches of road. The volunteers that were setting up the aid stations would consistently do double and triple-takes as I ran past. I had my bib number pinned to my shorts already, and I think that threw them off for a moment. I could see their brains trying to work out why someone would be out at mile 10 on the course at that time of the morning.
I rolled through the first 13.1 miles with an average pace of 8:50 (1:55). Right where I wanted to be. No reason to push at all while running in the dark avoiding potholes, jumping curbs, etc.
My very loose goal was to complete the overall run in under 6 hours. Two for the half, and four for the full.
With the time spent navigating and stopping for a bathroom break, I ended up getting back to my car at 7:15. I still had to change and get things sorted out, before jogging a few more blocks over to the start. I was a little frustrated I was late, but tried not to stress too much. I knew that with 15,000 people in the race (they start the half and full together), it would take a long time to get everyone underway.
I used 3:45 as a time estimate when I registered, and that placed me in the 4th corral. Each corral held approximately 1,000 people. They used ropes to separate the corrals, and when one would start, they would walk the next one forward to the line and hold it for a minute or two and then release that wave before repeating the process over and over. Since I was late, my wave was long gone and I hopped in the group that was walking to the line. It turned out to be the 12th wave, which meant that 10-11,000 people were already on the course ahead of me.
I was right at the front when we got the start and loved running the open road ahead, quickly settling into a nice pace. Then we rounded a corner and BAM! Wall-to-wall people as far as the eye could see. I did my best to hold pace while dodging and weaving my way through the crowd. I was super careful to not be a jerk about it, though. It was my own fault for being late, and it wasn’t a real ‘race’ for me anyway. I wanted to see if I could finish in under 3:30 and did my best to run sub-8:00 pace. That was tough, especially when I had to come to a complete stop several times.
I felt good, and was mostly just making a game of it all. After about 4 miles, things finally started to stretch out enough so I could run some longer segments without altering my line (like 20 meters). I caught up with the 4:30 pace group at mile 5.
When we were in City Park, a guy running the half marathon (different bib color) eased past me and seemed to be holding around a 7:30-7:40 pace so I hung back from him a bit and locked in to that speed. We traded leads a few times and generally stayed together for the next 5-6 miles until the half and full courses split from each other in Cheesman Park. That was fun and a most welcome distraction. I couldn’t get over how packed the road was with people right up to the course split around mile 11.
Then it was crickets.
I think probably 85% of the people in the race were doing the half marathon. Things got really quiet once the course split and the runners were spread out quite a bit. My stomach started tightening up here and would kick my butt for the next several miles, making it hard to maintain the pace. The legs were still responding ok, and other than some mighty twitchy hamstrings, everything else was doing fine.
The lap of Wash Park was nice, then it was mostly very long, very straight, roads to the finish. JY hopped out and ran with me for a bit as I went past his house. That was a great boost to see a friendly face and get to share my little secret of being on mile 34 for the day, and not mile 20 of the marathon. Even though he’s an ultra-runner, I think it still left him shaking his head a bit. Ha!
After being slowed by the crowded start, then making up time running with the half-guy, then losing a little time with stomach issues, my average pace was 7:59 from mile 18 through mile 35. I needed to be under 8:00 to crack 3:30 for the marathon and knew it just wasn’t going to happen. I struggled to hold 8:30 for the final 5 miles as my legs became a little less than peppy after the last 4-5 hours of pavement running. I had to drop into grind mode and just get it done.
Chip time for the marathon was 3:35:00. Total for the day was 40.15 miles, 5:35 (8:21 pace overall). It was a very good training run and I’m super happy with how everything worked out. I would definitely do it again given the chance.
After I recovered for a while, I walked around with the camera and got a few shots.