Monday, May 2, 2011

Colorado Marathon

Going in to yesterday's race, I knew I was not in sub 3 hour marathon shape. The last time I trained seriously for a road marathon was six years ago and my training then included weekly track workouts, regular tempo runs, and course specific long runs with the final miles at marathon pace and faster. In the last few months, I have done no track workouts (except for a painful set of four 300s with the Blevins track team) only a couple of short tempo runs and not much of anything specific to the race course which consists of 17 miles down Poudre Canyon followed by 9 miles of rolling and flat highway and bike path. What I have done is lots of slow miles on trails, some hills and few races. I ran 1000 miles between January 1 and April 3 and then I tapered pretty well over the last three weeks. I was tempted going in to yesterday's run to just enjoy the long run down the canyon and not worry about pace or finish time, but I made up my mind on Saturday night to be serious and give the marathon a fully committed effort.

I woke up at 3:15 am on Sunday, drank a cup of coffee, ate a bowl of cereal and put on some warm clothes for the trip up to the starting line. I got on bus #4 and arrived at the start at 5:15 am with an hour to go before the gun. It was not as cold as I thought it might be (32 degrees instead of the forecasted 24). I visited the porta-potty (no line) and then found a place to relax and get my stuff together. After a while I decided to find the truck where I could put my drop bag and I ran in to Cat, Celeste, Felix, Dan J., Lindsay, JZ, Pascal, Nick M and Dave S. It is nice to be in a race with so many friends. Everyone was feeling positive about the day as we waited for the start and watched as the canyon began to light up with the early morning sun.

I waited as long as I could before I took off my warm-up pants and jacket and put them in my drop bag. I jogged across the road for one last potty stop in the bushes (no line) and then found my spot on the starting line. A young man played the national anthem on the trumpet and Steve Cathcart commented on the perfect weather and wished us well. I took off with the gun a little too fast, but quickly set in to my planned 7 min per mile pace. I was surprised when my watched clicked off the first lap in 4:16 and then I remembered I had set it to metric units when I was marking the Blevins 4K course on Friday. I switched it back to miles just in time to press the lap button at mile 1 (7:03).

The first 3 or 4 miles didn't feel quite as good as I wanted them too, but I stayed relaxed and told myself that I just needed time to warm-up. I did start to feel better in miles 5-7 and it started to get warmer in the canyon too. I pulled off my long sleeve shirt and tied it around my waist and kept a comfortable pace. I carried 5 Gu's with me and ate one every 30 minutes for the whole race. I have never been quite so exact with my fueling strategy and it worked really well. I never had that big drop in energy level that I have had in many of my previous marathons.

I passed the Grey Rock Trailhead at mile 9 and looked down at the side of the road just in time to see my name and a couple others written in the dirt. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was for me and this must of been written by Pete and the other crazies that had been out running repeat laps on Grey Rock the day before (Pete ran 6).

I hit the half marathon in 1:31:23 with my calves starting to get stiff but otherwise still feeling really good. I knew that I'd be coming to the bottom of the canyon in the next 4 miles and I hoped I could keep up the 7 minute pace when the course flattened out. As we came out of the canyon approaching Ted's Place, the course livened up with more spectators and larger groups at the aid stations. I passed Felix who was still looking strong at mile 17 and we exchanged some encouraging words. I made the right turn on to 287 and was glad to still be moving at a steady pace since I knew this was the least pleasant section of the course. I started to pass half marathon runners and many cheered as I went by. I saw Scott and Jenn jogging out on the course to meet up with Cat and Celeste just before I made the turn up 54 on to Bagel Hill. The short up hill here felt good and helped stretch out my calves. I was very glad to see friend and colleague Molly Watkins at the mile 19 aid station at the top of the hill. I handed Molly my gloves and long sleeve shirt and headed down the hill towards Laporte feeling lighter and ready to take on the last 7 miles.

The muscles in my legs were getting very tight, but other than that I felt great and was still not working that hard to keep up the 7 minute pace. I started to slow down a bit as I moved on to the bike path as I had expected, but I just needed to maintain 7:30 pace to achieve my sub 3:10 goal. There were lots of half marathoners on the path now and I had to weave back and forth on the trail to get though, but I didn't mind since they were all very encouraging and it made the miles go by faster to have so much company. I caught Nick M. at mile 24 and I knew he was having a rough time since he had been aiming for a sub 3. I hoped he would hang with me for the final 2 miles and he did pull out a strong finish just over a minute behind me.

Just past the mile 25 marker is the last aid station and in a tree just off the course was Maddie May. She saw me, yelled, then jumped out of the tree to run with me for a good 150 yards. Ean, Micah, Pete and Kyle were all at the aid station cheering and passing out water.

From here I knew I had just a mile to go and I could see that I could be really close to 3:05 if I could hold the pace a little longer. I pushed with all I had and my legs were just about done, but I knew that the finish line was close. I turned off the bike path on to Linden and did my best to sprint to the line. I finished in 3:05:21 feeling good and very happy to be done.

My splits:
1K 4:16
mile 1 7:03
mile 2 7:01
mile 3 6:43
mile 4 6:55
mile 5 6:55
mile 6 7:03
mile 7 6:57
mile 8 7:09
mile 9 6:43
mile 10 6:47
mile 11 6:51
mile 12 6:46
mile 13 6:57
mile 14 7:00
mile 15 6:53
mile 16 6:59
mile 17 6:55
mile 18 6:56
mile 19 7:08
mile 20 7:01
mile 21 7:04
mile 22 7:23
mile 23 7:08
mile 24 7:11
mile 25 7:07
mile 26 7:24
mile 26.2 3:14

I hung around the finish line for a while and talked to friends and put on warm clothes and then walked/limped back to the mile 25 aid station to find Ean and the kids.

Maddie ran the Healthy Kids 1 mile race at noon along with Alistair, Stella and Sandice. It was fun to watch and cheer for all the kids as they ran their hearts out with all the intensity that I had seen on the marathon course earlier in the day.

This was probably my best marathon even though it was a couple minutes slower than my 2005 race in St. George. I ran a pretty steady pace and felt in control the whole way. This race proves that I am in the best running shape of my life which I can build on going in to the summer ultra season. This race also made me feel confident that with the proper speed and pace work I could definitely run a sub 3:00- next year? . . .this fall?


  1. Nice work, Alex. How about you back that up with a 35-minute Towers effort on Thursday!

  2. Very solid race Alex! You are bound for sub 3 very soon. Boston qualifier??

  3. Nice work! You looked pretty damn good at mile 25. You can knock out a sub 3 whenever you have time to schedule a week or two of focused marathon prep work. But it's time to focus on bigger and better ultra adventures now. Maybe next year after our trails get snowed in again.

  4. Great race, you're set up well for the trails this summer!

  5. Thanks guys. It was a good day on the roads and I hope to have a sub 3 marathon in the near future, but Pete is right now is the time for trails and mountains and Towers. I will be working for that 35 minute ascent, but it probably won't happen this week- with the way my legs are feeling now, I'll be lucky to walk all the way to the top.

  6. Nice race, Alex! I ran the Colorado Marathon a few years ago and got absolutely abused by the downhill. My race was pretty much over at mile 15, but I slogged the final 11. Good job staying strong.

    I'm running the Bighorn 50 this year too, seeking some redemption for my one and only DNF (so far...knock on wood) from last year.

  7. Fantsastic Race Alex! I'm particularly impressed with your restraint and even pacing in the first 10 miles relative to your next 10. All bet are off on the final 6.2 obviously. At CO it's hard not to take off like a maniac on that downhill.