There is a such thing as race magic, where you go out there and everything is just right. You just know from the moment the race starts that you can conquer the whole world and do exactly what you set out to do. Usually that’s because of a combination of preparation, race conditions, and timing. The Colfax Marathon had that magic, but it was largely because of the people.
At mile high for bib pick up the day before the race
The weather was predicted to be a crisp 40 F with a bit of cloud cover and a high of 60 F… perfect marathon conditions. The race started at 6:00 am, so I woke up at 3:15 am to make sure that I got a parking spot and didn’t get lost heading to the start. I was feeling nervous and my stomach was giving me a bit of trouble. I was in and out of the bathroom constantly pretty much until the gun went off. Food was not working out, so instead I opted for water and coffee and hoped for my stomach to calm before I toed the starting line. Around 5:50, I gave Frank my extra clothes, got into my corral and put my game face on. The 4:00:00 pacer was up ahead a bit and I planned to use the first mile to catch up to him. The race began, but I mostly just stood there waiting for the few hundred people ahead of me to go. By 6:05 am I made it over the starting mat and was running my first marathon.
I took about a half mile to find the 4:00:00 pacer and decided to just hang on to him for a while. His name was Corky and he was funny, outgoing, and pretty much everything you could hope for in a pacer. I told him that I would stay with him until mile 16 and he was happy with that plan. He told us that he wanted to start off slow and get faster during some of the downhill sections of the course. We had a group of about 5 people and for the first 8 miles, we were chatting, laughing and getting to know each other. Troy was hoping for a sub-3:50 marathon and wanted to hold on to us through the half way point. Matt was hoping to shave a few minutes off his PR and Dan and I were just hoping to finish our first marathon in one piece (and hopefully with a 3 as the first number).
Mile 9 took us to a park with a lake. It was very flat and Corky started to up the pace a bit. I could definitely feel that we were going quicker, but I still felt comfortable. So far, the miles were breezing by. There were tons of people cheering us on. This was the point in the course that I realized that I was running terrible tangents and dodging too much. I was already over .1 of a mile off from the mile markers. There were a lot of slower runners around because of the relay, and I was finding myself dodging them often. In total, there were 4 races going on; a marathon relay, a half marathon, a 10-miler, and a marathon. Run Colfax staggered the start so that all of the races would end at the same time. In total, there were about 20,000 people on the course, but less than 2,000 were running the full marathon.
We reached the half-way point of the race and another pacer, Lauren, joined us. My shoulders were starting to tighten up on me, but everything else felt great. The race went through the Colorado Institute of Design, weaving between statues and sculptures. We had taken a bit of an uphill since the lake and I was starting to feel it in my quads. Lauren reminded me that at 16 we would have a big downhill and I just had to get there. The group hadn’t changed much besides occasional people that would run with us for a few miles and then go ahead or fall behind.
At mile 16ish, we got to the top of the hill and you could see Mile High Stadium out ahead. I was ready to do some cruising, but wasn’t feeling ready to let go of the pace group. Corky reminded me of my race plan, but I told him that I wasn’t feeling mentally strong enough to do 10 miles alone. I stuck with the pace group and just churned a few miles out. By this point, I was starting to feel a little weepy. I had already eaten 3 gels and at mile 17, decided to have another. I was scared of hitting the 20 mile mark, that I would suddenly hit some wall and be unable to move, so I stayed with the pace group. Frank was on his bike and found me around one of the water stations. I quickly hugged him, told him that I was going to do this, and ran off.
We got close to Mile High Stadium, and once again, Corky reminded me of my race plan. He told me that I looked strong, and that I should take off, but to watch out for the hills at mile 23 to the end. From there, I just went. It was past mile 20 and I felt like I could take on the world. I ran into Mile High with a giant smile on my face, because I just knew that I had this, and that today was my day.
The climb out of Mile High was tough and I entered into Downtown Denver. This was no doubt the roughest and least scenic part of the course. It was hilly, I was tired, and there was little to no crowd support. Everyone around me was either running the 10-miler or the relay, so they all looked fresh as daisies and I certainly was feeling the miles. This is where I made a really weird mistake. I had a water bottle in my hand that I needed to ditch and I wanted to be “environmentally friendly” and not litter, so I stepped up to a curb to throw it into a garbage can. Boy, should I have just dropped it. I stepped back down and my hamstring seized up. For a moment, I thought I had torn it. I half ran/half hobbled and looked down at my watch. I still had a 5K left and I was starting to get worried that I had just wrecked my race.
This was when I had to dig deep. Everything else felt fine. I wasn’t bonking, no real issues, just this hamstring cramp. As I was starting to feel sorry for myself, one of the guys, Dan, from the 4:00:00 pacing group came up from behind me. He tapped my shoulder and asked if I wanted to crush our sub-4 goal with him. I, of course, said yes and we were off. Dan kept repeating “we only have a few miles left, we got this” and “let’s go crush Sarah Palin’s time” (I had told the pace group how Sarah Palin had run a sub-4 marathon). We were hurting, but we were still smiling. We had another gel and we kept laughing about how awful we felt, but how good everyone else (all those freaking 10-mile runners) looked. My hamstring calmed down and I was feeling pretty good again.
In the last mile, we could see the finish line and all of the people. The crowd kept telling us we were almost there… although by this point, a mile felt like a freaking marathon. As much as it was hurting, Dan and I were smiling and thrilled. As we were heading into the finishing chute, I thanked him for catching me and pulling me along. He had found me as I was going into a dark place and he made everything better. As we crossed the finish line, we both threw up our arms and had big smiles on our faces. The final time was 3:57:19. We crushed that 4:00:00 goal. Dan and I hugged, congratulated each other and went to meet up with our families. As soon as I got out of the finish chute, I saw Frank and gave him a huge hug. I was happy to be done, but honestly, I was most happy to have had such a great time doing it. Maybe I am crazy, but running that marathon was a thrilling experience, and I seriously can’t wait to run another one.
I worked so hard to get to that finish line. Between injuring myself before Chicago and training for this race, this journey has been a long one. As I was running through mile high, all I could think about was how thankful I was for being able to do this and for finally not being injured. I ran a solid and smart race, definitely a negative split and my two fastest miles were in the last 6. I did not bonk, I never found my wall, and I had a ton of fun. I am so glad that I got to run with Corky, Dan, Matt, Lauren, and Troy. They really made the day perfect.
After the race, Frank and I chilled out for a bit and waited for my leg cramps to subside. Our friend, Mary, joined us at the finish line and helped me message out my hamstrings (she’s a message therapist). After a little food, Frank and I loaded up in the car, and drove home to Kansas. I gotta say, driving 7 hours after running a marathon is not advised.
I am still over the moon about this race, and to be completely honest, I can’t wait to run another marathon. Everything about Sunday was perfect and I couldn’t have asked for a better race.
Thanks, everyone, for your support! I loved receiving the texts messages from my friends after the race and knowing that all of you were tracking me and cared about my race really meant a lot.
I’m a marathon finisher, and I have the medal to prove it!