Marathon #7 : Denver Marathon 2010
17th October 2010, Denver, Colorado, USA
Finish Time = 3:59:58
I didn’t have any expectations regarding finishing time for the Denver Marathon. Taking place 3 weeks after the Berlin Marathon, at an altitude of 5,280 feet in hot temperatures. I just wanted to complete the marathon in one piece, adding a marathon in the USA to my list.
Once I arrived in Downtown Denver I walked to the start, it was 6am and therefore still dark, which was pretty bizarre for me. All other marathons I had run had started later and therefore always been light. I went to find the baggage area, and got my first experience of “Rock N’ Roll” logistics. I would later find out that the Rock N’ Roll series of marathons don’t have a very good reputation with a lot of runners. For a company that hosts so many marathons they hadn’t really got the basics of start area organisation sorted out at all. There were no signs for anything, no-one knew where to go and the start area was very big, in a park setting. I only found out where to go for the baggage by word of mouth. Then I discovered what had to be the worst part of the organisation ever. The baggage area was split by alphabetical letter corresponding to your surname, but the signs with the letters on were attached at the tables at knee level which you couldn’t see at all with the number of people in the area. To make things worse there were hundreds of people trying to put their bags away, creating a massive group crush of people trying to get backwards and forwards, the only way of knowing which direction to walk in was by asking people around if they knew what letter we were at. To top it off they had set up a large group of the toilets opposite this area, so the ever-growing queues for those meant queuing runners ended up in the group of people trying to put their bags away.
After making my way to start line, the National Anthem played out and then shortly after I set off, it was a good feeling to be starting my first American Marathon.
I decided for this race I would just run how I felt comfortable without worrying about time and for the rest of the race I barely looked at my watch, sometimes just to check my distance or overall average pace but that was about it. Due to the layout of the US cities in blocks you could often look down a block and see the others running back the other way which was a new experience for me. I started noticing some of the banners and signs people were holding up. There were some really funny ones and very different from any I had seen in UK races too.
Some of my favourites included:
“CU at the finishing line” (A play on words with Colorado University)
“Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass” (Definitely not a sign you’d see in a UK race)
“Hurry, the Kenyans are drinking your beer”
“Right, Left, Right, Left, repeat 30,000 times”
At around half-way my watch was on just under 2 hours. I wasn’t really suffering from the altitude but it was definitely still noticeable, it was harder to breathe than at sea level. I needed to go to the toilet and planned to go the next time I ran by a portaloo that was free. I didn’t want to join a queue for one. I would have been happy with bushes too (as everyone does in London), but unusually I hadn’t seen anyone actually using bushes throughout the race. As there were quite a lot of police around helping out, I wondered if it would be best not to opt for the bushes in case that wasn’t something that was acceptable in the US / Colorado. As it turns out, it’s illegal, so it was lucky I left the bushes alone.
I carried on, feeling ok and had the typical thought that “Wow, I feel fine, this marathon is going to be different to all the others – I’m sure I’m in a much better way this time than I’ve ever been before” However, I also knew in the back of my mind that somewhere between mile 16 – 18 that would all change and the pain would begin, I have a fear of mile 18 before I even get to it. I tried not to look at my watch much. Psychologically I didn’t want myself to know when I got to 18, as I feel that by being convinced it will hurt from then on might actually be the cause of the hurt itself. It’s all about the mind game.
Once I did get to around the 18 mile mark I was actually still ok, and wasn’t too bad carrying onwards from that either. At 20 miles my watch was on 3:00 and I started to think wow… only 6.25 miles to go. I can run a 10k in under an hour with ease, maybe this consistent pacing thing is the key! I started to realise, as crazy as it was, that I was doing really well and could… potentially… possibly even beat my PB of 3:59. And then I started thinking how amazing would that be, not only would everyone be surprised that I even ran another marathon and at altitude, but imagine if I could also tell them it was my fastest ever time. It was getting tough though, I was slowing down I knew but everything was hurting and the breathing was difficult. I tried to listen to my music and ignore it. Then at 23 miles we had a really cruel mile. It included running all the way over a long arch bridge which climbed up and then headed down, all the while there were other marathon runners running back in the other direction, meaning we were just running all that way to then turn around and run back. In that sort of situation you just keep hoping for the turn to come soon and it always seems like such a waste. The turn was at the bottom of the arc, so after turning around we then had to run back up the incline and down again. It was a slow mile. At mile 24 it was getting really tough but I was determined to win the mental battle. I forced myself not to walk at all, and I hadn’t done during the whole race – again a marathon first. The only times I would walk were at water stations (with cups) and then only enough for me to drink the water, then I’d get going again – not using it as an excuse for a 5 minute walk afterwards before starting again. I stuck to this in a very determined way, even though I kept hoping for more water stations just to give me a walking-drinking rest even for a few seconds. I kept pushing on but as is always the case in races I was running further than a marathon distance so my watch was out from the mile markers. This always happens because the course is only 26.2 miles if you stick to the exact shortest route which isn’t realistically possible in large crowds, plus you add small amounts of mileage on by zig-zagging around and over to water stations. When my watch hit 26.2 miles I took at split time which was actually 3:57! However unfortunately it doesn’t work like that and although I didn’t know how much extra mileage I would have to run, I knew it is usually around half a mile and I soon realised I wasn’t going to beat my PB. Oh well – that was a huge ask. I rounded a corner and realised I was running toward the finish in the distance.
I gave it everything I could, crossing the line in 3 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds. Amazing. My second fastest marathon ever and 10 minutes quicker than my recent flat, sea-level marathon in Berlin. Apart from leg pain I felt fine and hadn’t really hit the wall like I had in other marathons. My pacing was the most consistent marathon I’ve ever run.
8 marathons on and sometimes I still don’t get it – it just seems some days are your days and others aren’t. Or perhaps it was the consistent pacing that did it. Maybe that’s the key, and by increasing training (which to be honest I’d hardly been doing any of), maybe that will help to increase the pace which I can be consistent. Maybe it’s more mental – perhaps the races where you put the pressure on yourself to get a particular time and watch the times for every mile you run turn out less successful than the ones where you just let yourself run naturally, listening to your body and responding accordingly. Was it that I listened to music right from the start and was able to zone out, run and not think about the pain or the occasional pulls and temporary pains. I don’t know, maybe it will take me a few more marathons still to figure it out, but I like the idea of trying to run my next marathon at a consistent pace again and seeing if I get similar results.
I really enjoyed the Denver Marathon, both the experience of running a marathon in America and the result that I achieved both in terms of finish time and running 2 marathons within my shortest time period to date. I now also know I am capable of running a consistent marathon, not always crashing at mile 18 / 20 and having to drag myself through the hell of the last 6 miles. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t need to fear mile 18 – 20, if I’m clever from the start. It seems in every marathon I run I learn something new, and I’m looking forward to the next challenge and especially hitting marathon number 10 sometime in 2011 and getting into double figures!
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