I rise at 4:30. AM. Per my nutrition plan, I forgo coffee. Discipline. I’m serious about this run. Not in a stressful way. I’m going to have fun today. This run is going to feel awesome. My goal is to run an even, steady pace. Maintaining my pace in the 4th quarter of a marathon requires a slower start and not prematurely boosting my metabolism before the event with coffee or breakfast. I don’t really know if this will work. My experience running suggests I’ll benefit from the slower start. As for delaying my metabolism, well, I read the Internet.
Chris picks me up at 5:15. We drive down together to the VIP parking spot close to the race start. We are there an hour before start, but I almost feel rushed. Time goes by fast. I do take a sip of coffee before the race, but this is within 30 minutes of start time. At least I think so at the time. The 7:15 start is delayed by nearly ten minutes waiting for street closures. I take some potassium supplements too before the start. Trying to avoid muscle cramps in the 4th quarter is the focus of my nutrition plan.
This year’s course has some key changes. We still run down 14th Street, past the Pepsi Center. Instead of crossing Speer, we turn west on it and run up and around Sloan Lake. The lake neighborhood is pretty once we reach it. This is a much hillier course. This doesn’t bother me since it’s early in the run. I pace with Chris the first two miles as he starts out with controlled 9 minute miles before accelerating to a 7:30 pace. My Garmin records 8:58 the first mile, and 8:32 for mile two. This is the last I see of Chris for awhile as he quickly surges away on an uphill segment. The road conditions are a bit disappointing with significant construction debris. I later meet a woman who fell and was injured from this.
My goal pace for today is 8:30 but I speed up after these initial hills. I complete mile 3 in 8:00. The course around Sloan Lake flattens out for miles 4 and 5. I run these in 7:53 and 7:27. I’m speeding up but it’s early. I feel very comfortable with this pace though and feel like I can maintain it without much effort. Mile 6 is another uphill. I run mile 6 in 7:28. This completes the first 10K – at a faster clip than I planned. Sloan Lake fades from view but we continue through some picturesque neighborhoods painted yellow, red and orange in the fall colors.
Mile 7 continues the incline. I begin chatting with a runner who is complaining about the hills. I tell him I’m pleased with the course change up. Hills aren’t bad when they are early in a race. I maintain a decent pace with a 7:41. Mile 8 begins the drop back into downtown Denver and with it my pace falls half a minute to 7:19. My pre-race plan, from studying the elevation profile, is to leverage this descent and run miles 8 and 9 with some speed. I run mile 9 in 6:53. I’m not concerned about running too fast here because it’s part of my plan to bank some minutes under pace before the half.
I suspect I’ll be able to maintain this momentum through downtown. Well, on paper the night before in my planning. Partly because the streets should be flat and because the crowds should be thick and motivational. This turns out to be the case and I find myself catching back up to Chris. He stops at a port-a-potty before I can call out to him. This puts me ahead of him. My evil side considers speeding up to put some distance between us. I know though it’s too early for moves like that. I run mile 10 in 7:34.
While I know Chris will eventually catch me, I’m surprised he closes the gap so quickly. He calls out to me in the warehouse district north of Coors Field – just before mile 11. I record 7:24 and Chris pulls even with me heading into mile 12. Chris’ wife Renee and daughter are here and take some photos. We run mile 12 together, chatting along about how we feel. We are both starting to feel some fatigue at this point. At nearly halfway, that’s to be expected. We run mile 12 in 7:44. I want to hang with Chris until we reach 17th street, where I expect to slow down from the hill that begins past Broadway. Chris surges though to return to his race pace plans and I lose him again.
I’m a little bummed that I slow down on mile 13 to an 8:04, but it’s not unexpected. This is a real hill. And it’s still well under my 8:30 pace plan. In fact, I complete the first half with a 7:50 overall average pace at 1:41 for 13 miles. I’m happy with this. Mile 14 is similar in 8:02, also uphill. I’m starting to consider I might be able to maintain an 8 minute pace and begin to reset my pre-race goal of 8:30. For this, I want to drop back down under 8 minutes per mile and I do. The course flattens out through colorful City Park. I run mile 15 in 7:39, mile 16 in 7:45 and mile 17 in 7:58.
Again, my pre-race strategy included the hope I could pick up some momentum on the return downtown via 17th Street, because it’s a downhill mile. Instead, I post 8:08 for mile 18. My surge through City Park costs me. This is also a critical point in the marathon, where many runners hit the wall. Fatigue is to be expected here. I’m stoked that I’m still running around an 8 minute pace. I begin though taking it mile by mile. No more grand expectations. I set my objective each mile for 8 minutes. Mile 19 comes in at 7:55. This will be my last mile under 8 minutes. I pass Chris again here on Lincoln Street as he slows down for water at the aid station. He passes me back almost immediately, but slows again on Speer. Chris is hitting the wall.
I’m feeling it too. Speer might appear flat to drivers. I can tell you though, 20 miles into a marathon, Speer has a definite incline. The slightest inclines become monster hills this deep into a marathon. I slow down to 8:03 for mile 20 and 8:43 for mile 21. This worries me that the wheels are starting to fall off but the course flattens out as we head into Washington Park. This helps me to post an 8:29 for mile 22 and 8:24 for mile 23. My total time here is 3 hours and 2 minutes. It’s amazingly difficult to perform simple math when you’re this physically exhausted, but I begin to think I might have a chance at finishing in 3:30. That would qualify me for Boston.
This excites me and I try to speed up. I’m too tired by now though and despite some down slope, I slow down to an 8:39. Bummer, but this is what happens near the end of a marathon. The legs stop responding. Mile 25 is mostly along Speer again and has a good downward slope too. I run this in 8:18. I’m pushing for that 3:30 but my updated calculations suggest it’s out of reach. The hill up Lincoln on mile 26 doesn’t help. My final mile is in 8:34 and I cross the finish line in 3:31. 7th place in my age division.
I’m disappointed to be so close to qualifying for Boston, but elated overall that this run went so well. My overall pace is 7:59 because I actually run two tenths of a mile further than a marathon. That oddity is from weaving side-to-side along the course, elongating the official distance. I never cramp, even after the race. I feel great and that was my goal for today. My time is a PR by over 5 minutes. I meet up with Chris and his family later in the day at Shoes and Brews in Longmont for a couple of beers. From there, I get a pedicure at Main Street Nails. Their location isn’t on Main Street in case you try driving there. I’m currently ensconced on the couch watching Manning school the 49ers and set some passing records. Great day.