On July 19, I ran the Revel Rockies Marathon. This race starts in the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation above 10,000 feet. It finishes in the suburbs of Denver. It’s almost all downhill, descending roughly 4,500 feet. That makes it a lightning fast course.
Last year, I ran this race in 3:08:46. At the time, I was doing more typical road marathons in roughly 3:25. When I signed up for this year’s race, I assumed I would be aiming for a similar fast time. Instead, I went into it hoping simply to finish without any major problems. In particular, I was crossing my fingers that the downhill running wouldn’t aggravate a groin injury that hasn’t quite healed.
I didn’t set any time goal for this race, but I knew I’d be tempted to compare this year’s result to last year. It would reveal how much fitness I’ve lost.
In the days leading up to this race, I had a surprising amount of discomfort in my right groin. I felt so good earlier in the week, that I got a little overconfident. When I went for a short run on Tuesday, I didn’t wear an elastic bandage or compression wrap. At the time, I felt OK. Later in the week, I realized it was a mistake. As recently as yesterday, I still felt considerable soreness. That made me especially nervous about this race. Running downhill put me at risk of reinjury.
There are lots of flights between Minneapolis and Denver, so I was able to get a non-stop flight with convenient times. I left Minneapolis in the late morning, and arrived in Denver in the early afternoon. That gave me plenty of time to drive to my hotel in Lakewood, stop by the expo in Golden, and get back to Denver for a pre-race dinner with other runners.
While I was at the expo, I bumped into JC Santa Teresa. This was JC’s 200th marathon, and one of his friends made a batch of special race bibs that said, “This is JC’s 200th Marathon.” JC gave me one to wear on my back during the race.
I saw lots of friends at the dinner. I knew quite a few people who were doing this race. We had a good time, but I was still able to get back to the hotel in time to get to bed early. My alarm was set for 2:20. It’s been a long time since I had to get up that early.
I didn’t sleep well, but there was a silver lining. For the first time in days, I didn’t feel any soreness in my leg while I was trying to sleep. I woke up feeling better than I have in days.
For the second straight week, I wore an elastic bandage on my right thigh for the entire race. It worked out well last weekend, but I had one concern. I didn’t know if it would make it more difficult to run downhill.
The race started at 6:00, but we had to take buses to the start. We needed to be at the island parking lot near Bandimere Speedway to board buses between 3:30 and 4:15. That’s why I had to get up so early. At the expo, they recommended being in the parking area by 4:00. I was there closer to 3:30 and boarded the second bus.
I took about an hour to get to the start. We were traveling on the same two-lane road used for the first half of the race. There are a lot of sharp turns, so the bus had to go slow. I closed my eyes and relaxed for most of the ride. If it wasn’t for an occasional bump, I probably would have fallen asleep.
We were dropped off at a parking area alongside Squaw Pass Road. That’s where the race started. In Denver, the overnight low was 60 degrees. In the start area, it was closer to 40. The race provided space blankets so people could stay warm until the race started.
It was dark when we got off the bus, but soon, I could see the sunrise through the trees.
Besides the blanket, I also had a wind shirt and wind pants. There was a gear check, so I could wear them in the start area and then have them transported to the finish.
Around 5:45, there was an announcement that the start would need to be delayed. Some of the buses couldn’t make it on time. At first they tentatively said 6:20. I decided to make an extra trip to the bathroom. Eventually, we were told all the buses had arrived and we would start at 6:10. That wasn’t quite true. More on that later.
It was almost 6:00, so I quickly took off my warm-ups, checked my gear bag, and headed to the start. The start was on a narrow road, surrounded by tall pine trees.
As I was walking to the start, I overheard two runners talking about the half marathon. One of them said it was cancelled because of a problem with buses. That seemed hard to believe. The half marathon was a larger race than the marathon. If buses couldn’t get there on time, why not just delay the start like they did for the marathon? That race started in a different place, so I wouldn’t learn any more until after the race.
I knew I wasn’t sufficiently trained to run as fast as last year. I didn’t know how my groin would hold up running downhill for so many miles. I also didn’t know how I would feel running downhill with the elastic bandage. In last week’s trail marathon, I had more than a little bit of discomfort.
I really didn’t know how fast I would run. I had three goals:
1) Finish the race
2) Don’t make my groin injury worse
3) Don’t trash my quads.
The second and third goals were almost equally important, as either could endanger my chances of finishing the Swissalpine K78 next weekend. I had to come out of this race feeling OK.
All weekend, people were telling me I should just go slow or just go easy. In a downhill race, going slow isn’t necessarily the same as going easy. Forcing yourself to go slow can trash your quads even quicker than going too fast. The last thing you want to do is to resist the pull of gravity. My intent was to always run at a pace that felt comfortable for my legs, whether that was fast or slow.
I lined up about where I did last year. I didn’t expect to run as fast for the whole race, but I suspected I might start just as fast. As I started running, I kept my legs relaxed and let gravity do most of the work. I continually reminded myself to maintain a rapid turnover, so I wouldn’t overstride. I didn’t have any discomfort in my groin. The bandage also wasn’t causing me any discomfort.
I felt like I was going fast, so I was surprised to reach the first mile marker in 8:46. That had to be wrong. I’m not in peak shape, but I really felt like I was going fast. My two mile split was 15:58. That was more believable, but it still felt like I was running faster than that. I suspected 7:30 per mile, but my sense of pace could have been way off. Before today, I hadn’t run a single eight minute mile since April!
Most of the time, I was focused on the road in front of me, but every now and then there would be an opening in the trees, and we could see the whole valley.
I reached four miles in 30:17. After that, my mile times were in the 7:15 to 7:30 range. I suspect the early markers were off.
Aid stations were every other mile, starting at three miles. I found taking a drink made me feel temporarily short of breath. Even after descending for several miles, we were still at a pretty high elevation. Interrupting my breathing to take a drink reminded me of that. It never took long, however, to catch my breath. Running downhill, even at a fast pace, didn’t take that much work.
After about seven miles, a runner asked me if I my name was David. He had read the race report that I posted after doing this race last year. He wasn’t the only one. At least three different runners approached me this weekend to ask me about my race report. There was a link to it on the race website, and hundreds of people read it.
After 10 miles, the road started to level off a bit. There was a clearing on my right, and I could see another highway in the distance. I realized we were getting close to Evergreen. That was the starting point for the half marathon and the halfway point for the marathon.
Just before 12 miles, we made a right turn. We were entering the tough middle section of the course. It’s tough because we actually had to run up a few hills. None of them were very long or very steep, but we were still 7,400 feet above sea level. At that elevation, running uphill is tiring. It’s easy to get spoiled when you’re running downhill for mile after mile. Now we had to work, even if only briefly.
I maintained an effort that felt sustainable, knowing I would slow down. My intent was still to always run at a pace that felt comfortable. The next few miles each had short hills, and my pace slowed.
I reached the halfway mark in 1:38. That put me on pace for 3:16, but I knew the second half would be slower. For starters, the average grade in the second half was only about half as steep. Also, those hills in the middle took something out of me. I had hopes of possibly breaking 3:30, but I knew it would take some work.
By the 15 mile mark, we were past the hills. Now we once again had a long uninterrupted downgrade. It wasn’t as steep. In the first half of the race, we descended 2,888 feet. In the second half, we would only descend 1,651 feet. It was still downhill, but I could no longer let gravity do all the work. Now I had to do at least some of the work, and I wasn’t up to it. I’m not in peak shape, and I never recovered from those few short hills. Also, my legs were beginning to get stiff. I wasn’t in any pain, but my stride was inefficient. I just wasn’t moving smoothly.
After another mile, we made a left turn that brought us alongside Bear Creek. It was obvious that we were following it in the downstream direction, because we could see the water flowing downstream. The creek had rapids for its entire length.
I found myself unable to run eight minute miles. At the 17 mile mark, I determined I would need an average pace of 8:34 to break 3:30. I think my previous mile was slower than that. I missed the next mile marker. By the time I reached 19 miles, I had slowed to 10 minute miles. Clearly 3:30 wasn’t happening. I wanted to at least break 4:00.
I tried to use the hills to regain some speed, but I couldn’t. I was like a shopping cart with a rusty wheel. I just couldn’t roll with the hills. I ran the same pace going downhill as I did when it leveled off.
With five miles to go, we had one more hill. There’s a place where the road climbs away from the creek. I could tell I was slowing down significantly. I felt better on the next downhill, but never regained my pace. Now I was running 11 minute miles.
In the late miles, we were running through a canyon. You could look ahead and see which way the road was going to turn by looking at the canyon walls. This is a beautiful course.
With about four miles to go, I started having discomfort in my right leg. It wasn’t my groin or my quad. It was my hip flexor. That’s the muscle that was probably most affected by wearing the bandage. As other muscles got increasingly fatigued, my hip flexors had to pick up the slack. The binding effect of the bandage was now making my right hip flexor sore.
I could live with the discomfort, but I didn’t want to risk an injury. I considered walking, but I knew I couldn’t maintain a fast enough pace to break four hours. After each mile, I recomputed the pace I would need. With two miles to go, it was finally plausible that I could switch to race-walking and still break four hours. I decided to hold out for another mile.
At 25 miles, I knew for sure that I could afford to walk the rest of the way. Then it occurred to me that JC would probably break four hours. If he caught up to me, I wanted to be able to finish with him. Once I started walking, I might not be able to switch back to running again. I kept running.
At 26 miles, I started looking for JC, but I didn’t see him. I kept going and made the final turn.
Last year, we finished in the parking area next to Bandimere Speedway. This year, they moved the start and finish lines, so we could finish in downtown Morrison. The final approach to last year’s finish included one last hill at end. I was happy to hear we didn’t have to do that this year.
I made the turn, only to discover that the new finish was also uphill. What a cruel joke. I kept pushing and got to the finish. My time was 3:51:50.
After crossing the line, I heard them announce another runner from Minnesota. I turned to see who it was. Then I heard them announce JC’s name. I got to see him finish his 200th marathon. The volunteer at the finish let me give him his finisher medal.
As me made our way through the finish area, we bumped into more and more people we knew. Eventually, we made our way to the gear bag retrieval. My quads were getting stiffer by the minute. I wanted to stay and talk to the other runners, but I realized I needed to get into an ice bath as soon as I could. I was already thinking about being ready for my next race. It’s a 78K trail race through the Swiss Alps. I can’t afford to have sore stiff quads.
I eventually found my way to the bus back to the parking lot where my car was parked. I learned more about the bus situation. The half marathon was, in fact, cancelled for most of the runners. When the race was supposed to start, most of them were still in the parking lot. The buses never arrived. About 20 people managed to make it to the half marathon start in Evergreen. They got to run.
There were also a few buses that never made it to the marathon start. Two buses left too late and roads were already blocked off. They couldn’t make it to the marathon start, so they brought those runners to the half marathon start instead. I also heard that there were marathon buses picking up runners at hotels. They didn’t arrive to pick up runners until five minutes before the race. It takes more than an hour to get there.
I was glad that I didn’t wait until the last minute to catch a bus to the start. They ran out of buses for the marathon. They only had one bus for the half marathon. Apparently, the bus company was contracted to provide 52 buses, but only provided a fraction of that.
I rarely do inaugural races, because there are too many things that can go wrong. I made an exception with this race last year, and everything seemed well-organized. It’s rare for an established race to have problems as bad as this one, but try telling that to all the runners who traveled to this race and didn’t get to run.
Revel has already issued a statement. They say they’re going to find a way to make it right. I hope they can, but I don’t know how.
As for me, I’m cautiously optimistic that I met my goals. I finished. I don’t appear to have made my groin injury worse, but I won’t know for a day or two. I have sore quads, but the ice bath seemed to help. I need to keep moving. Again, I’ll know in the next few days.
I have one other small concern. After doing this race last year, I had a flare up of Achilles tendonitis. During and immediately after the race I felt OK. Later, I felt some tightness in my left Achilles tendon. I’ve been stretching it and massaging the calf muscle. Hopefully, I can keep it from turning into anything serious.
I just have to get through one more race. Then I can take a break. Unfortunately, it’s a really tough race.