I was scheduled to run my 34th marathon at the Runs With Scissors Marathon in Brighton, Colorado on Sat Apr 23, 2016. But the lead-up to this one was very interesting, to say the least.
First, quickly, the reasons for why I chose this race. Obviously, reason #1 is that I still needed Colorado. And this fit my schedule. Also, the Race Director is a fellow 50 Stater, so I knew it would accommodating for folks like me. In addition, the race is quite unlike any other that I've done. First of all, it's tiny: There was a cap of 40 marathoners. (Plus another 40 slots for a Half Marathon, and 40 more for a 50k). Previously, the smallest ones I had done were about 120 marathoners, in both Wyoming
. And lastly, the course was a 1.31 mile loop around a lake. That would be 20 laps. I had done two-loop courses before, (New Jersey
). But never anything like 20 loops. For some people, that would seem like torture. But I do many of my long runs at a park with a 2-mile loop. On my longer runs, I'll do 9 or 10 laps there. Yeah, 20 is more than 9 or 10. But I wanted to give it a shot and see how it was. Besides, this ensured it would be a fairly flat course. With the mile-high altitude in Denver, I figured a flat course would be a very good thing.
My previous three marathons (Kalamazoo
, and Houston
) were all a bit of a slog. I know that's because I hadn't been putting in the proper amount of training mileage. So I had decided that I would train better for this race. Maybe not the same volume that I had been doing 5 years ago or so. But more miles than I had done lately. For a while, training was moving along just fine...
But then the problems started. One night in the middle of March (about 5 weeks before the race), I woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible pain in my left leg. This happened to me about two years ago. It was diagnosed then as sciatica, and I recognized this as the same pain. When I had it two years ago, it hurt like heck for a couple days, then it gradually got better. I think I only missed two days of work because of it. This time, I was still in excrutiating pain a week later. I could hardly stand up, couldn't walk, couldn't sit. (Sitting was the worst, because that puts the most pressure on the spine). I finally convinced my doctor (and my insurance company) to send me for an MRI. Turns out I had two herniated discs in my lower back that were pinching the sciatic nerve. No idea how it happened. "Just one of those things" was basically the only answer I got. I went on temporary disability and missed three full weeks of work. I finally was well enough to go back, but I still had trouble sitting down for any extended amount of time. I had my desk at work raised to a standing height and got a tall barstool-type of chair. (Lots of people at work had already done it, so I was just the latest to join the craze, although I did it out of necessity). Slowly I kept improving.
When this happened to me in 2014, it was also about 5 weeks before a marathon (in Idaho). The sciatica wasn't nearly as bad that time, and yet I still ended up bailing on that race because I didn't feel prepared. This time, as soon as I realized how bad the shape I was in, I was convinced that I would have to skip this race. In fact, I was also worried whether I'd be ready to run in Kona, Hawaii, which I have scheduled during our family summer vacation this June.
However, on one of my visits to my spine doctor, he told me that I was healing well, and that there was no need for me to abandon the idea of running in Colorado so soon. If I continue to heal on schedule, he thought I should be healthy enough to run. Of course, even if this were true, I would have missed a ton of training. So while I might be healthy enough to run a marathon, I might not be trained enough to complete it. Once I was well enough to try running again, we agreed on a very abbreviated training plan. My first run back was just over two weeks before the marathon. I ran, and felt great. In fact, I had less discomfort running than I did doing just about anything else. Over the next few days I increased the length of my runs and had no problems. I still felt a little soreness in my left leg for most of the day, but the discomfort always seemed to go away when I ran. Exactly one week before the marathon, I completed a 15.5 mile run without any issues. This was enough to convince me that I would attempt the race. While I didn't have any problems running, I still felt some discomfort if I sat for too long. So I was almost more worried about the plane ride to Denver than I was about the race. But one week before the race, I was feeling pretty much back to normal.
A couple days before the race, my left hip started to ache a little. I had no idea if I was a lingering side effect of the sciatica or not. Then on Friday morning as I woke up early to catch my flight to Denver, I woke up with some pain in my right foot. Until this point, all my pain and discomfort had been in my left leg. I have no idea why my right foot was bothering me. Anyway, while I had been feeling pretty good one week before the race, it was suddenly the day before the race and I was hurting again. I was now really worried about how I was going to be able to run 26.6 miles, but at this point it was almost too late. Everything was booked and paid for, so I might as well fly out there and give it a shot. The way I was feeling, I was convinced that between the altitude, the lack of training, and these nagging aches and pains, that I would shatter my Personal Worst here. But I was fine with that. I would rather get a new PW than a DNS (Did Not Start), which would force me to arrange an entire other trip to Colorado some other time.
When I arrived in Denver, it was late morning. I paid for an economy rental car, but they ended up giving me a Ford F-150 pickup for the same price. That was a bit more vehicle than I needed. It was fun to drive, but a little scary to squeeze into parking spaces. Anyway, I took my rental car to City Park in Denver to try out my usual day-before-race shakeout run. While I had been feeling sore and achy all day, all discomfort went away as soon as I started to run. I found this extremely strange, and I had no idea whether the discomfort would stay away long enough for me to complete a marathon. I didn't know if I'd finish the race, but at least I was convinced that I would start it.
My hotel was in Thornton, a bit north of Denver. The race was in Brighton, just east of there. The race began at 6:00am on Saturday. Since the race was so small, I knew there was no need to arrive terribly early. I got to the park at maybe 5:45am. My left hip and right foot were still a little achy, but it was too late to bail out now. We started the race and began running laps around the lake. As soon as I was running, all discomfort went away.
One thing definitely in my favor was that this was to be a cloudy day in Colorado. As I have stated repeatedly in my Race Reports, I always wear down over the course of a marathon on sunny days, even when in cool temperatures. This day was in the upper 40s at the start of the race. There was enough of a break in the clouds off to the eastern horizon so that we could see the sunrise, but as soon as the sun came up it went behind the clouds and we didn't see it again. The temps rose throughout the morning, but with the sun hidden, it was never unpleasant. I'm sure these clouds helped save my bacon.
I ran my first mile in 9:18. That was probably faster than I needed to be going. I slowed down after that, and that was my fastest mile of the day. I kept a 9:30ish pace for the next bunch of miles, and continued to feel fine. I finally decided to take a walk break after Mile 10, so my 11th mile was a little slow. I resumed running and completed Mile 12 in 9:47. However, from this point onward, my pace kept gradually dwindling. Mile 15 was my last mile under 10 minutes.
I kept slowing down and kept walking more. But since I was still moving and was still pain-free, I really didn't care. After 20 miles, I knew that I would be able to finish. It even seemed as though I would be able to avoid a new PW. I chugged along, and finished my 20th lap in a time of 4:29:25. So not only did I avoid a PW, this became my fastest marathon in over a year! I am surprised and thrilled with this result. While I am convinced that the clouds helped versus the sunny days in Kalamazoo, Omaha and Houston, I am still amazed that I could end up faster.
Okay, this Race Report didn't really talk much about the race itself. I guess when you run over the same territory 20 times, it doesn't take long to describe it. And I won't have a ton of pictures added to this report. But I thought it was a nice course. The park was scenic and quiet. The park was open to the public, so anybody could have mingled in with the runners. But it was not crowded at all. There were a few people fishing in the lake early in the morning, but that's about it. Some of the course was run on a concrete sidewalk. I'm no fan of running on concrete, but it wasn't for too long. For a race of this size, it was extremely well organized. There were plenty of supplies at the one aid station, and there was a ton of food for the runners at the end - about 20 feet from the finish line. There were hardly any spectators, but there was more interaction between the runners than I had ever seen. People were passing each other all day long, so there was never an extended stretch without having a chance to chat with someone. There were plenty of walkers in the race as well, so there were some people that I passed numerous times. As it turns out, I finished 8th among the 33 people who finished the marathon. Coming in 8th place here isn't quite the same as 8th place in Boston or New York, but I will happily take my first-ever top-ten finish in a marathon!
After the race, I went back to my hotel for a nap, then went into Denver that night to catch the Rockies-Dodgers game at Coors Field. I flew home Sunday morning. I will take a little time off, and then get back into training mode for Kona. Overall, I am thrilled with the outcome of marathon #34.
And now on to the pictures. They might be less interesting than most of my reports because, well, it was 20 laps around the same things...