Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rock and Roll Denver Marathon 2015 Race Report


Backstory

It all started when I tried to use $81 in Southwest credits which would be expiring shortly... I was trying to book a ticket for December. I couldn't! On calling customer service I learnt that I needed to use the credits by Oct 23th... Which practically meant the weekend of the 18th.

What could I use it for and where could I go?

I scoured the race calendar for the weekend of the 18th and the closest and cheapest match turned out to be the Denver Rock and Roll marathon.

To keep the race entry fees down I purchased a 3-pack, which effectively let me run RNR Las Vegas, and then 2 other races for $29 (I intended to run RNR Denver and RNR Vancouver).

Of course an important detail was that I was racing the Chicago marathon on the 11th. I had never tried to run another marathon a week after racing a marathon. It would however be a good test for me to proceed with the registration for the Boston2BigSur challenge where I would have just 6 days between marathons.

The course

After registering, I learnt that the course for the marathon was changed in the last month because the race could not get permits for the city course because a lot of people complained about being inconvenienced the previous year. I guess for an active city, the folks in Denver are not too supportive of athletic events. The marathon would not be held again after this year. From the comments on the event page, I learnt that the new course would not be too inspiring. Essentially, RNR was cutting their losses with the marathon and focusing their energy on the half. This would end up resulting in the half being a great event and the marathon being more of a side show (a crap-shoot).

The new course was going to start away from Denver in a place called Henderson (effectively the middle of no-where). It was going to start at 5000ft and gradually climb all the way to the finish for a net uphill course (finishing at about 5300ft)!!

Goals

My expectations needed to be tempered because of the following:

- Tired legs: Week after racing Chicago
- Altitude: Starting at 5000ft and I would not be acclimatized
- Net uphill: Gradual incline all the way through
- Sub-optimal temperatures: Highs in the lower 70s and sunny

Therefore my objectives were as follows:
- Finish
- Avoid a personal worst
- Sub-3:25

Pre-race

Temperature: 51F- 73F, 26% - Sunny
Humidity: 52%-26%
Sunny

I took a 9:40am flight from Seattle which got me to Denver airport at 1pm. I got into Denver city at 2pm and immediately headed for the expo... The expo had the usual RNR feel. I checked out the medals display as did a lot of others. The motivation to run more RNR events to gain extra medals is palpable - great marketing!

I also spent some time watching the course video for the marathon. It set my expectations for a race on a boring bike path. I'd say any bike path in the Pacific Northwest would have offered more scenery - yet here I was travelling to another city to run on this!

I normally do pretty well with altitude but in the night I had a horrid headache. I guess my body was also recouping from a race effort less than a week back.

On race day morning I was out of the door by 5:45am... I walked down to the Denver Civic Center where we were to board the shuttles to the marathon start. On the bus I chatted with someone who was using this as a training run for a 100 miler (which he really had not trained properly for). As we rode the bus, we were greeted to a spectacular sunrise. That was the most beautiful sight I saw during the trip.

The race start in the Adams County Fairgrounds (in Henderson) had a pastoral feel to it. Getting off the bus you could inhale the odor you'd expect in a farm-land. I could not have expected anything more from the start - short porta-potty lines and gatorade/water/food... The temperature at the start was just perfect. I actually shivered as I waited in the corrals. Unfortunately, the 8am race start would result in horrid conditions at the finish. If only we could have started at the same time or earlier than the half (which started at 7:15am). My "expected" time of 3:15 got me a corral 1 assignment. The corral starts were staggered by a minute so if nothing else this meant that I did not have to wait to start.

Race

mile 1: 7:43
mile 2: 7:18
mile 3: 7:32
mile 4: 7:36
The first few miles were a loop along a golf course. It would end up being as scenic as things got on this course! In the beginning I was feeling a tad light headed (from the altitude?) but I felt fine after a few minutes...

mile 5: 7:39
mile 6: 7:54
10k: 46:13
The course entered the bike path. We would be on this path for most of the race. Oh the irony - to come all this distance to run on a bike path!

I ran in the vicinity of the same few folks for a few miles - a guy pacing his girlfriend, a lady with a Packers shirt,... There were actually more Packers support/signage on course than for the Broncos! They weren't even playing in town this weekend... Just goes to show how passionate their fans are (as I discovered/learnt when I ran the Green Bay marathon :) ).

mile 7: 7:47
mile 8: 7:33
I was very impressed that there were spectators at every opening on bike path, with signs, cheering. There were little kids high-fiving runners. I remember a kid counting, as runners high-fived him. I was number 29...

mile 9: 7:38

I was running on a pair of Nike test shoes. For the life of me I could not get the shoe laces to stayed tied today. I had to stop four times to tie them before it finally stayed tied! I had to keep playing "leap-frog" with runners. It's a good thing this was not a PR attempt!

mile 10: 7:43
mile 11: 7:47
mile 12: 7:47
mile 13: 7:50
The half way point was very unceremonious indeed. I don't think there was even a sign marking it.

I saw the second set of race pacers waiting to take over. It reminded me of Seattle RNR where it would be us doing the waiting/pacing :)

mile 14: 7:51
mile 15: 7:51 
mile 16: 7:57
It was getting pretty hot and I was gradually fading in the bright sunshine. It was around this point that the course passed a sewage refining plant. How motivating! The bike path was paved with concrete - ideal for biking but not running. My legs weren't too happy with the surface either.

mile 17: 7:54
mile 18: 8:04
I saw a lady with the elite bib F2 stopping with her friend friend with bib F3. One of them seemed to have run into an issue and was struggling... Looking at the results later, I noticed that they spent over an hour in the last 10k. An elite from the men's side spent 75 minutes on the last 10k. This was not an easy race, course or day. I would encounter several runners walking.

mile 19: 8:17
mile 20: 8:18
mile 20: 2:35:59
It is at this point that I needed the water stations most. A previous one didn't have anyone manning it and was effectively self-service. This one had Gatorade with such a strong concentrate that I almost puked on having a sip. Aside, I had not done a very good job in fueling with gels during the run...

I was able to see the city skyline from the distance. However that did not seem to be of much consolation.

mile 21: 8:34
mile 22: 8:59
mile 23: 9:13
In the marathon when you give up and start walking it's game over. I started walking and the game was over. The numerous white lines in the pace chart for the final miles shows the instances where I walked. It was most definitely a mental thing because in-between the walk breaks, when I did run, I ran at a decent clip.  

mile 24: 9:19
I saw a couple wearing last week's Chicago shirt. I felt like telling them - "Hey! I ran that too...". We were now in the city... Running on the empty streets devoid of people. What a contrast from Chicago last week!

mile 25: 8:36
I found some will to run more continuously without walking.

mile 26: 8:48
The 3:30 pacer passed me in the last .4 miles. He started later than me in corral 2 so I'd be over 3:30 :( Him passing me was an occasion to start another walk break :p

mile .22: 1:30
I looked like death in the race pics. I think they were a fair reflection of how I was feeling at that point in the race :)

The ONLY thing marathoners had over the half marathoners in this race was that we got a finisher jacket. I therefore, made it a point to pick-up mine. Except that it looked exactly like the Seattle RNR finisher jacket. I guess they just mass produced a whole bunch of jackets for all their races and changed the labels :)












Results:
Chip: 3:30:57 @ 8:03
Gun: 3:31:07
OA: 74/1595
Div: 13/158
Male: 66/915

Reflections:

Marathon #38. Finished and completed. A marathon a week after Chicago and a good sanity check for Boston2BigSur.

Even with all my walking no-one but the pacer (who only ran half) passed me in the last 10k. I ended up 74th of 1600 finishers. Most of these people were from Colorado and acclimatized to the altitude. This was a tough cookie all things considered. Challenges are good - uphill course in altitude.

Part of me wishes I had run Detroit, which was happening on the same day. It would have been a richer experience and would have given me another state.

Onward and ahead!

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