In a whirlwind of a trip out to Denver, Christie put Aaron on a lightning deal flight to run the Colfax Marathon and cross Colorado off the state list.
Christie Finds a Super Flight Deal
Growing up I did not do much traveling. My family would go on a summer vacation to the beach, but it never involved flying or super-long road trips. Throughout my professional career I have done some traveling in the continental United States, but always with a small group of peers.
On our way home from the OCMD Half Marathon as we were crossing over the Bay Bridge in Maryland, Christie said to me, “Do you want to fly out to Denver and run a marathon in three weeks?”. I thought she was joking. Turns out, she was dead serious. She had been researching travel deals on her phone while we were driving and had come across a one-person, three-day, weekend round trip out to Denver from Baltimore for under $200. She told me the deal was too good to pass up. As we will need to do quite a bit of flying in the future to hit the western states for the 50 State Marathon Challenge, traveling with four people (myself, her, Corinne, and Caitlin) can get expensive. It made sense to her to take advantage of this amazing flight offer to knock another marathon off the list. I couldn’t believe she was suggesting this…shocked actually…but immediately agreed and said to book it.
At the age of 38, this would be my first time doing any significant travel alone. To get there would involve a whirlwind of a trip. I would need to leave on a Friday evening 8 p.m. flight from Baltimore, arriving in Denver around 10:30 p.m. or so. I would have all day Saturday to pick up my race packet and rest up, as the marathon would be Sunday morning at 6 a.m. After finishing the marathon I would not have much time, as I would need to leave Denver that same night around 11 p.m. and arrive back in Baltimore close to 4 a.m.
Crazy? Maybe a bit. Exciting to me? YES, especially since I would be able to do this with the blessing of my wife (her idea!).
The Course, Recovery, and the Trip
The race would be the Colfax Marathon, held in the heart of Denver, Colorado and run around (and through) some notable icons of the city. In studying the race course and reading reviews, the marathon did not look to be overly challenging. There would be an incline in the middle of the course over a few gradual miles, with the same decline coming back down the hill after the mid-point, ending with another smaller hill towards the end. The race would actually be less hilly than the marathon I had run two weeks previously…The Flying Pig.
In running the Colfax Marathon only two weeks after The Flying Pig Marathon, my two weeks of training in between included mainly recovery runs. I took it very easy, save for a faster-paced run the Monday before Colfax…then back to easy runs leading up to the trip. My goal for this race was to run without getting injured since I would not have much time in between marathons. I also would not be expecting a PR (needing to run under 3:43:56 set at the Carlsbad Marathon this past January 2019).
The day of the trip arrived and after working for half a day, I drove to Baltimore to catch my flight from BWI. Arriving around 4:30 p.m., I gave myself plenty of time to get through the airport, get settled in, and do some more work on my computer while waiting for the 8 p.m. flight. The flight was not bad at all, and while the airline (Spirit) is known for cheap flights without extra amenities, the attendants were friendly and the flight was very smooth. I spent the time people watching, and even helped a flight attendant realize they had mistakenly locked the lavatory door and forgot it was unoccupied (causing one poor little lady to wait an extended time to use the facility). The attendant offered me anything I wanted as a thank you, but I declined as I only wanted to help that poor lady’s bladder from exploding.
I arrived in Denver around 10:30 p.m. or so (2 hours behind East Coast time at home), and after catching a train to a station, and then an Uber from there, arrived safely at a small little house I would be staying in thanks to AirBnB. As I got ready for bed I realized that I had been on planes, trains, and automobiles all in the span of a few hours (not a big deal to many…but I’m a traveling rookie).
A Relaxing Saturday in Colorado
Waking up the next morning my first order of business was to acquire food for the day. Christie told me a Trader Joes was only a mile walk from the house I was staying in, so I made my way over there and grabbed enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I even picked up some Hedgehog Cookies to take back for the family.
My next order of business for the day was to obtain my packet and race bib. The marathon expo was being held at Bronco’s Stadium, so I took an Uber over there right after breakfast. The driver and I talked about how he really enjoys Denver and that there are no real “super bad spots” in the city. I told him that seemed foreign to me, having grown up around Baltimore.
Packet pickup was the norm for a big race…getting my bib and then having to walk through the entire vendor expo area to make an exit. It was a little crammed in spots, so I was glad to get through before things got crowded later in the day. I was also awarded a special swag gift…a duffle bag…for running a marathon this year prior to Colfax (their multiple marathon challenge). This would be my 5th marathon of 2019…but you only needed to run one other January – May to get the bag ;).
The rest of the day was not very eventful. I spent it at the rental house doing work on my computer, eating healthy carbs, and resting up the best I could. I felt a little bummed about not having Christie and the girls here to do something with…like drive out to see the Rocky Mountains or go to the local zoo. However I reminded myself the purpose of this trip was to get in a quick marathon, and that we would probably find ourselves close to Colorado at some point in the future.
Before settling into bed, I took a look at the race day morning temperature to lay out my running gear, and saw that it was going to be rather chilly….temps in the low 30s with moderate winds. This is pretty cold to me for a late May race, but I’ve learned to always come prepared, and had brought along some warmer clothes just in case. This was a good thing as I would need them the next morning. I decided to go to bed around 8 p.m. to get in as much a sleep as I could prior to the race.
Keeping Warm with a Trash Bag and Go Time
With a race time start of 6 a.m. that meant a 3 a.m. wake up call based on my traditional schedule. After my breakfast of coffee, water, a banana, and bagel with almond butter, I read some sports news, got dressed, and began my walk to the race starting point at City Park by the Denver Zoo (roughly 1.5 miles from my AirBnB house). I was thankful for the bag check services provided by the marathon as I was wearing a sweat suit and coat over my race attire to keep myself warm right up to my warm-up time. After taking off my layers and checking in my bag, I began my warm-ups and then used the ever-popular runner trick of a trash bag to keep warm from the blowing wind until go time.
The marathon would release via starting corrals. There would be around 1,500 participants for the full marathon (many more would be part of the half marathon starting an hour later). I was set to go in Corral D and as the race began, waited my turn to get going. As it came time for our corral to go, I took a moment to turn and shake the hand of each runner around me to wish them “Good luck.” I’m not sure if they were in the “zone” or nervous, but several of them seemed a little shocked by this gesture. I’ll chalk it up to their pre-race nerves…but I plan on doing this at every marathon moving forward.
The first few miles of the race took us through the heart of Denver, passing by the city capital, running by an Elvis impersonator at one of the street corners serenading us with tunes, and through an operational firehouse. The firemen / women were lined up out front and through the house, so I made sure to give them a few high-fives. We then wound through a few parks along the South Platte River. The course here became rather narrow as it ran along a paved path by the river. It was roughly two people wide, so if you wanted to pass someone, you were going to have to wait for an opening to avoid tripping.
Next, in what was the coolest part of the race. We ran through Bronco’s Stadium at Mile High (home of the NFL Denver Broncos) running right along the actual football field! I thought how cool because not many people probably get the chance to do that. Next we made our way up a gradual incline over a mile or so, and then around Sloan’s Lake Park. Here we were met by performers in dragon costumes and traditional Chinese attire, which was awesome. As I made my way around the lake coming into mile 10 there was one runner who was motivating and saying encouraging phrases to those around him. While passing him I complimented him that I loved his positive attitude.
Well Above Pace and Pulling Back the Reigns
Heading into mile 13 I had not been paying very close attention to my pace, but realized then I was well under the 4 hour marathon mark and stood a chance at even possibly breaking my PR of 3:43:56. At this point I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was obviously encouraged and excited about possibly running a PR, but then also wasn’t sure that was something I wanted to do if my family was not there to celebrate with me.
The next ten miles saw us running along city streets and avenues that were flat and downhill…but otherwise nothing spectacular. Every once in a while I would pass a crowd with signs and cowbells, but in comparison to the incredible Flying Pig Marathon (which is constant crowd support), there were definitely a few lonely stretches where you found yourself battling your mind to stay focused.
Making our way back through Broncos Stadium and again winding around the South Platte River, my pace was starting to slow a bit. I was also noticing a small dull ache in my foot. Nothing that wasn’t tolerable, but I was starting to get warning signs from my body that it was either going to be push harder and get the marathon PR…or ease up and save yourself for your next marathon (only 3 weeks away). With three miles to go I eased up my pace some and was no longer going look at my watch. I wanted to play it safe. My next marathon in Michigan would be on a pancake flat course ripe for a PR, so I made the decision to save myself for that one.
Heading up a final hill towards the last mile, I made conversation with another runner who I had been exchanging places with throughout much of the second half. He lived in the area and was training for an ultra marathon in a month or so. He began to slow down as we got halfway up the hill, I got his name (to maybe look up his results afterwards), but for the life of me cannot remember it (yes I’m bad with names).
My foot was feeling pretty sore at this point as I rounded the turn towards the finish in City Park, so I knew I had made the right decision to slow it down a few miles back. I crossed the line with a finishing time of 3:45:22…just 90 seconds off my PR.
A Bitter-Sweet Celebration
The race volunteers placed the finisher medal around my neck, and then loaded me up with plenty of post-race snacks. This was by far the most food I’d ever been given after a race, which included: a bagel, a banana, an orange, a bottle of water, non-dairy chocolate milk, fruit cup, two protein bars, energy jelly beans, an ice cream banana, and several honey wafer snacks! The bag I was carrying them around in was quite heavy with this haul.
I kept walking to prevent the usual post-race muscle soreness as best I could (my foot was hurting, but I had made the right decision to ease up as it would eventually feel fine a few days later). Looking around I saw runners celebrating with their families, friends, and peers. This is where I really missed Christie and the girls. I was happy to have run another successful race, but the celebratory excitement wasn’t there as usual. I picked up my checked bag, and walked back to the house to shower, nap, eat a post-race junk food meal (chicken cheese steak sub with fries), and catch a ride to the airport train to make my way out of Denver at 11 p.m.
Overall the race was very well organized and I would highly recommend it. The course is not super difficult, but be warned that the crowd support is limited. Whereas the residents of Cincinnati goes all out for the Flying Pig marathon, I wonder if many people in Denver even knew if the marathon was going on. This in no way matters to me…but is something to consider if that is a requirement of yours for a race. However this is made up for the fact that they really reward you after the race with plenty of treats, and even provide FREE high-quality race photos a few days after the race.
I really enjoyed the experience of traveling alone for the first time in my life and getting to run a marathon in Denver. However when my family is around it makes it a ton more enjoyable, especially at the end when celebration is in order!
Oh, and one last thing…I’ve been asked if my running was affected by the high altitude. To be honest I didn’t even notice. I felt just like I was running at home in the mountains of Virginia. Maybe if I was really pushing it hard I would have felt the effects…but it never even crossed my mind when I was running the race.
Official Race Results
Overall: 267 out of 1536
Male: 213 out of 958
Male 30-39: 92 out of 352
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.