Monday, October 26, 2009

Denver HM '09 Race Report

Alright, it's time. I've been putting this off for over a week now. And I have good reason...

My first instinct was to file the 2009 Denver Half Marathon under "N" for "Not impressive"... or maybe "Not awesome"... or even "Not even worth mentioning"... I wanted to strike it from my memory and any/all record books. It was the suck in all imaginable ways and I wanted to forget it ever happened.

But that is not an option.

The day started out well enough. I ate a PB&J for breakfast (last year's pathetic PBtoast & banana was hideously inadequate) and I was up and ready to go earlier than I'd planned. Miah even woke up on time and didn't waste a lot of time getting ready to leave. We didn't hit any traffic jams and only one detour on our quest for a parking spot near the start/finish and we ended up finding one only a couple of blocks away.* We got to the start/finish area and there was Gatorade and water everywhere, and I even bumped into my Runner's Edge coach waiting in line for the port-a-potty. I was feeling a little mix of nervous and excited, but I have to say it was probably 70% excited and only 30% nervous because I had enough confidence to poke fun at Miah over this thing or that, and we even got into an acorn throwing contest, which abruptly ended when he nailed me in the forehead with one.**

Eventually, the announcer screamed into his mic*** that it was time for us to all line up (which, as we all know means that there's only another 30 minutes to stand around before the race actually begins, but now you have to wait in your teensy little running clothes rather than the fleece jacket and warmup pants you had to hastily stuff into your gearbag). I lined up just like last year: at the front of the fast walkers. Actually, I lined up right next to a lady holding a 5:30 sign, which I thought was a bit ambitious for me, but, like I said, I was overloaded with confidence.

The lining up process always gives me a few things to think about. On the way there, Miah and I were talking about how people don't just "show up" for a marathon or a half marathon. I mean, it's possible to decide on a whim that you want to run a 5K (much like my brother, Brandon, did when I was in Newbern earlier this year). But you don't decide on a whim to go out and run 26.2 (or even 13.1) miles. Right? Wrong. Here are two conversations I heard while in the start corral:

Exhibit A
Girl in front of me to her husband: "So, how many Bolder Boulder's is this, anyway?"
Husband: "A little more than two."
Girl: "So, how many 5K's is that?"
Me (thinking): "oh dear...."

Exhibit B
Other girl in front of me (with full makeup and HOT-ROLLED HAIR): "So, where are we supposed to line up? We don't know how fast we run."

So, obviously, there are people who decide on a whim to run this distance (with lots of make up and hot rolled hair, even!). This is 75% depressing.

Anyway, eventually, the whole herd of us began to inch forward and then we picked it up a bit and we were running. Yay! And I was going at a pretty nice clip, too, even weaving and dodging and passing people (what a feeling!). My first mile was 11:something, my second mile was 11:something. I was shocked but I felt great because I knew I had to average 12:30s to hit my (A) time goal.

My Garmin managed to keep a signal through the early parts of the urban canyon, but somewhere near the 5K mark something screwy happened and I lost about a quarter mile. So, at this point my splits are completely screwed up and I have no idea how fast/slow I'm running. The timer part was still working, though, so I did glance down at each posted mile marker to see how I was doing and I crossed the 5mile mark at 1:02:something. Awesome. I was right on pace!

Well, as you can imagine, this is where things started to fall apart. There was no Gatorade and very little water at the aid station at mile 4. By the time I hit mile 6, I was wilting. Jeff and Kevin and Miah had caught up with me on their bikes and they were doing an awesome job cheering for me and ringing cowbells while riding bikes (and not crashing). And I tried hard to put on a brave face for them. But when they got close enough, I heard myself say: "I need Gatorade. They were out at the aid station. I think I might throw up." Yeah... That was sort of the beginning of the end.

Miah ran to 7-11 and came back to find me with bottles of water and Gatorade. I turned into my old nemesis - City Park - for miles 6.5 through8ish.**** The nice chilly morning that had started the day had turned into an all-out sweatfest in the high 60s. And right at the relay transition zone, I slowed... to ... a walk. It was crushing. I just didn't have it anymore. I wanted to keep running. I tried everything to will myself to keep running. But I just didn't have any gas in the tank.

I did my best through the rest of the race, but it was a struggle. My goals slowly changed from hitting a time goal to just simply surviving. I ran as much as I could and I tried to be tough. But when I turned into Cheesman park, I cried. I was so upset with myself as I watched my time goals slip away. I was upset because I'd made poor decisions that had led me to that point. I was upset because I just didn't have it.

Finally---finally---I came to the finish. But I did so with a much different feeling in 09 than I had in 08. As I finished, I hung my head in defeat. I didn't feel proud. I didn't feel like I'd overcome an insurmountable challenge. I felt like the challenge had overcome me.

I crossed the finish and got my bottle of water and my medal. And my time? A whole 38 seconds slower than my time last year. I immediately laid down on the grass and wondered why I fell apart.

Eventually, I got my sorry ass up and dragged over to meet up with Miah and Kevin and Jeff, who were cheering for me as if I'd just won the entire race. They were awesome and I felt ashamed for putting up such a pitiful effort in front of them. I tried hard to dry my shameful tears and joke with them and laugh off my lack of performance, but I'm sure they could see through it. But, because they're amazing and wonderful friends, they pretended not to and instead they just encouraged me to keep going and they reminded me that everyone has a bad day sometimes.

I had a hard time recovering after the race, but eventually I was able to get up and walk again and Miah drove me home, where we promptly took a 3 hour nap.

* A couple of blocks away seemed like a prime parking spot until after the race, when I didn't want to even walk another step. Then it seemed like it was at least 100 miles.

** Perhaps rather than throwing things at my spouse like a juvenile, I should have been trying to focus on my upcoming race?

*** Do us a favor, Denver, and next year don't even bother giving that dude a mic. He certainly doesn't need one with all that yelling he does.

**** I kept trying to psych myself out of feeling icky over City Park. It's only a couple of miles... it's only a couple of miles... I just HATE running there. There's no logical reason for it.

Now that the race is a week behind me, I've had a little time to reflect on it and because of that reflection, this blog post has certainly turned out differently. Like I said earlier, I wanted very badly to forget this whole race ever happened. I can now definitely say I'm not proud of my "accomplishment" this year, but I'm also glad it happened. So I won't forget this race happened because I learned some difficult and important lessons out on the course this year that I wouldn't have learned if I had had a spectacular, PR-breaking run:

  1. Eat more than a baked potato for dinner the night before a half marathon. Even if you are scared of gastro-intestinal problems. Chances are, if you eat nothing, you'll still have gastro-intestinal problems, you'll just also have any empty stomach.
  2. Carry your own GU (sport beans, etc). Even if the race says they'll be provided on course, sometimes they run out before you get there (if you're slow like me) and even if they don't, chances are you will get a disgusting flavor that you can barely choke down (especially if the GU station is a half mile ahead of the water station).
  3. Don't speed out from the start at a pace you know you can't maintain. This seems fairly obvious, yet it still escaped me on race day.
  4. When it's hot out, make sure you drink more water on the course than otherwise would. If it's available. Denver.
  5. It's ok to re-assess mid-way through a race. This year, my goals shifted from running fast to just running to just finishing without dying. And I learned something during each one of those phases.
So, an award-winning run? Definitely not. But a memorable one nonetheless. I have two real running medals now. My first one, from last year, which has a story because it was my first. And the one from '09, which has a story (albeit a tragedy) of its own.

I won't quit. I'm still eyeing R'N'R Arizona in January. Because I know I can do better than this. I know I set myself up for a bad day and I know I can do better.

And it always helps when other things in life happen to help you keep your running goals/achievements/failures in perspective... more on that later.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It's 4:30AM. I'm up and ready to go. But in my mind, I've run this race twice today already.

During my first time through the race, I forgot to turn on my Garmin and was all out of sorts. I don't even remember having shoes on. The second time through, everything went perfectly... I was running like a Kenyan. It felt awesome. And then I woke up and realized "Oh no, you haven't even gotten started yet."

After a great deal of thought yesterday, I think it'd be a good idea to put down my real goals for today...

  1. Finish without feeling like I've been hit by a truck. This is ambitious, considering how I felt after last year's race.
  2. Finish in 2:45. This is my (A) time goal, the one that is a reach.
  3. Finish in 3:00. This is my (B) time goal, the one I have a good chance of hitting. It's a couple of minutes faster than last year's time, so if I manage to do this, I can at least say the race was a PR, even if I miss my real time goal.
  4. Get past mile 11 without wishing I was dead or wondering why I signed up in the first place. It's just a few more miles, after all. I've done 10 and it wasn't so bad. Another 3.1 won't kill me. I need to maintain perspective.
  5. Avoid feeling bad about myself and doing a lot of beating myself up, regardless of my time. This is a tough spot for me.
  6. Have fun and remember why I'm out there. It's not supposed to be easy (at least, not for me). I'm doing it because it's hard.
Let's hope the third time is the charm.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

T-15 hours

Though it doesn't seem possible, I'm sitting in my house the day before my second half marathon. It doesn't seem possible because I don't feel nervous (really) or excited (really) about it yet. At this time last year, I was already shaking. I felt worried and scared and really really nervous. But this time around, I feel a little disappointed, but that's about it, I guess.

Maybe it's because I'm no longer a half marathon virgin. It's not my first time, so it doesn't come with all the anticipation I had last year? Still, I'd like to feel something.

When I went to the expo yesterday to pick up my bib and whatnots*, I did feel a little excited. It's hard not to, with all the running gear and race advertisements and free stuff, you know? I also felt a little unprepared. Maybe it's because I didn't train at altitude this year like I did last year? Maybe it's because I took those 2 weeks off when I was having foot problems? Maybe I feel like I haven't trained hard enough or have been too lazy with my diet? There were all these other people around, and in my mind, they'd all had a perfect training season with no missed runs, no bad runs, no runs that kicked their butts. They were all perfectly trained and simply waiting for the gun to go off so that they could have the race of their lives. Why do I let my imagination run away with me?

Truthfully, I'm a little nervous because I've set a time goal for myself that I know is going to be tough for me to meet. I'll give it my very best effort, but there is a good chance I'm going to come away from tomorrow with a great big FAIL.

Maybe now is the time to re-frame.

Good luck to all of you racing tomorrow!
* Speaking of the Denver Marathon whatnots, way to go DM for splurging on technical shirts for all runners this year! My 2009 NewBalance running shirt is FAR better than the cotton print t-shirt you gave me last year. I'm not sure if the logo on the front was supposed to be crooked last year, but mine certainly was.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Awesome ice helmet

Saturday's run was exactly as I expected: cold and wet.

But it was also something else that I didn't expect: pretty freaking awesome.

It was snowing and 16 degrees out when I got out of the car, and I felt drastically unprepared with my non-waterproof gear. But, I was out there, running in the elements like one of those really hard-core people you see on the pages of Runner's World.

Well... not exactly like them, I guess... I was still slow.

I only had to do 6 miles on Saturday, since the Denver Half Marathon is coming up this Sunday. I found a knitted ear warmer and a cheap pair of gloves to wear, and I ended up deciding at the last minute to wear my fleece under my non-waterproof windbreaker. I was cold, dude, I thought the extra layer would help.

In the early miles I had a few slips on the sidewalk, but nothing dramatic like a real fall because I was taking every step quite gingerly. By the third mile, though, I was sort of just trucking along not worrying about slipping anymore. The snow kept getting caught in my eyelashes and at one point I reached up to find the entire top of my head frozen solid (seriously, it felt like an ice-helmet). But I kept on running, with that image in my mind of all those really tough runners I see out every winter... When I'm safe and warm and being lazy in the car on those winter days, I always say "Man, I'll be they're totally hatin' it!"... But in reality, they probably aren't. They're probably just as smug as I was last Saturday thinking "Damn I'm tough."

All in all, the run wasn't my fastest ever, but it wasn't my worst, either. It was one of the ones where I felt the strongest, though. I probably was slightly distracted by the weather and I probably could have pushed a little harder, but hey, I used to be distracted to the point of not even running at all in the rain and pushing harder might have led to a serious fall that would have kept me out of the race this Sunday. I'm glad I was out there. Cold and all.

And now, as the race comes up on Sunday, I'm still not really sure it's hit me that it's actually this weekend. I'm starting to get nervous, but I've not yet reached that point where I'm not able to sleep and I feel like I might puke, so there's still a ways to go.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Snow, Denver. I dare you.

I did it! I ran in the snain yesterday. I just learned that word and I find it a great explanation of the weather we had yesterday.

Anyway, I'm totally tough now.

When I started running, it was fully snowing. Then it must have warmed up a bit because the snow turned to rain and eventually stopped altogether. I wore my full-length tights and long sleeve shirt and topped it off with a huge windbreaker. I don't have anything that is officially waterproof (except for my ski jacket, but come on dude that thing is way too heavy for running), so I wore an old adidas jacket and I did alright.

For tomorrow's "long" run (only 6 miles, woohoo!), I plan to use the same kit, but I'll also try to find a pair of gloves and an ear-warmer/headband. Why all the planning and concern over my attire? We run at 7AM. There's a 70% chance of snow. Not even snain because it's going to be too flipping cold.

6 am


Feels Like
9 am


Feels Like
12 pm


Feels Like
3 pm


Feels Like
6 pm


Feels Like
9 pm


Feels Like

Bring it on. I'm tough now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Layer up!

Last night's 4miler was pretty good, all things considered. I wasn't in the mood to run, but I knew I really needed to get out there anyway, so for the first half mile or so I had really heavy legs. But eventually, my mind sort of gave up fighting it and things got easier. The leaves are turning in town now, and every run along the creek is beautiful with orange leaves. Last night was no exception.

At one point, I ran up behind an old couple taking a walk along the creekside path, holding hands. They were probably in their 70's at least. I wondered "Will Miah and I take walks like this when we're that age?" It was a very sweet moment. Which I immediately ruined by thinking "Well, if we do, I hope I don't have blue helmet hair like that lady does..."

It is freezing and raining/snowing today in Denver, but I brought along my huge bag of warm running clothes and my shoes. I'm trying to decide if I'm tough enough to get out there in the drizzly, freezing cold this afternoon for a teensy little 3miler. I'm not sure yet. There's always the dreadmill downstairs...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Things are pretty good here...

At last, a good long run.

Last Thursday, I did a 4-miler from the office down to the park. It was chilly and windy out, and I was determined to be done with all of the really terrible outings of late. I tried to put all the negative thoughts and doubts out of my head and just tried to relax and run. And it went GREAT. I finished with an 11:30ish average pace. It was a really gorgeous run with all the leaves turning yellow along the creek. This time between seasons is always my favorite time of year.

But, I would be lying if I said it's not c-c-c-cold here in the mornings. So, on Saturday, when I met up with the group at the Highline Canal it was a brisk 38degrees out. And there were folks there with sleeveless running shirts and shorts on! I was freezing my butt off wearing long sleeves and capris. At least I had a fully charged iPod and Garmin.

The group was small because a lot of people were running the St. George marathon, so our pace group was a bit scant. But it really didn't matter. I felt, even from the very first step, like I had to do this run just for me. I couldn't focus on the conversations of the people around me. I couldn't hope to compare my own pace with the others in the group. I just had to turn up my music and sort of do my own thing.

And that is exactly what I did. For 10 miles. I completely ignored everyone and everything else, and just tried to focus on how I was doing. I did a complete body inventory every so often, and nothing hurt. I enjoyed myself. I walked when I needed to during mile 9, I went faster when a great song came on. I laughed at the little tiny tots playing baby league football, with their little shoulder pads and their shiny little helmets. It was... a great run.

But I was ready to be done, too. Because, I'm going to be honest here.... 10 miles... is a long freaking way (for me). I look forward to the day when it isn't, but this is where I'm at right now.

All in all, I feel a lot better than I did a week ago. I know that Denver is going to be a tough day for me, and that is ok. It's just a goal. Not the only one, just the first one on the list of all the ones that are left.

I was very disappointed to learn that the half-marathon I'd been planning on running in Memphis has sold out. So, now I'm thinking of shooting for another half in January at the RNR Arizona. I figure mid-January will give me enough time to get a few more 10+ milers under my belt and maybe combat the accompanying mental struggle.

In completely non-running-related news, Miah and I are trying to buy our first house. We put in an offer weeks ago on a short sale property and we've been waiting and waiting to hear if our offer is accepted. In the meantime, we've spent many hours at the Home Depot designing a new kitchen and picking out carpet and paint. And we're supposed to hear something from the seller/seller's agent pretty soon.... Or else I'm going to lose it.