2007 Denver Marathon … Road Report

I kept a weekly journal while I trained for the 2007 Denver Marathon. Here you will find journal entry excerpts, inspirational quotes and non-stop whining about various leg ailments, followed by my race day experience. It’s a long story, but a marathon is a long race.

Nov. 7, 2006
Ordered Jeff Galloway’s book, Marathon, three weeks after running the 2006 Denver Half-Marathon.

March 17, 2007
Met Jeff Galloway at a conference in Denver.

April 9
Began my first official week of training. This is a little beyond daunting at this point, running a marathon, but I know I can and will do it. I’ve only done one road race; the 2006 Denver Half-Marathon. I’ve done some checking into this and apparently a full marathon is exactly twice as long.

Spent the last year
Rocky Mountain Way
Couldn’t get much higher
Out to pasture
Think it’s safe to say
Time to open fire

Joe Walsh

April 18
Watched the movie, “Without Limits,” a biopic about running legend Steve Prefontaine, who died at 24. At the 1972 Olympic Games, where he finished fourth in the 5,000m in a brutal race. Pre gave his all running the final mile of the race in 4:04.

“A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.”
Steve Prefontaine

April 30
Watched my seven-year-old son Sam run a half-mile race in Landsharks against a bunch of skinny kids. Sam’s built like a linebacker. He stopped running with about 3/5’s of a lap to go.

He said, “I can’t breathe.”

As a parent, what do you say to that?

I said, “Take a few deep breaths and just keep going.”

He said he couldn’t breathe, that there were too many people and started crying.

I said, “All of those people are cheering for you. All you have to do is run to the finish line.”

That got him going down the straight. He made the turn and was doing fine as he entered the final stretch, but then he stopped running. The officials in running do a great job of encouraging the runners and they were cheering Sam on. The entire crowd was cheering for Sam.

He was holding his throat. A volunteer was talking to Sam as he tried to walk off the track.

“I can’t breathe.”

He seemed embarrassed by all of the attention. I got to him and grabbed his hand. “Let’s finish this together.”

He held my hand with his left hand and his throat with his right.

The meet director came up to us and he was trying to pump Sam up. I said, “Finish on your own.” The crowd was loud. Sam hesitated to let go of my hand for a moment, then with a burst of energy he sprinted to the line for the last 50 feet and the crowd erupted.

It was something to see.

I asked Sam if he knew what it meant to finish when he was hurting … I told him it meant that he was tough and had a big heart.

May 14
Sam ran his final race for the Landsharks today at Rampart High School. But unlike the first race, the half-mile, when he couldn’t breath, or last week’s 200 in the pouring rain, Sam was smiling at the end of the 400. He gave it his best, even though he suffered from a serious side ache. I was very proud of his effort and willingness to go on the track and do something that is hard. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

May 28
Saw my doctor today. She wants me to go on the diabetes medicine. My numbers are up. I asked about a natural supplement instead; she didn’t seem too excited about the prospect, but she left it up to me. I couldn’t make up my mind.

But then this afternoon, 2:30 in the afternoon, I fell asleep driving the kids home. I cross over my lane into the lane next to me and woke up. Gina asked why I changed lanes two blocks from our house.

The only answer to her question was, “Daddy fell asleep while driving his car filled with his kids at 2:30 in the afternoon.” My blood sugar level was messed up.

June 16
Called my dad on Saturday to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. I told him about running 12 miles last Sunday and that I was going to hike 13 miles this Sunday to train for my marathon. I told him that I hiked Pikes Peak for mom, Mount Princeton for Joyce; I ran the half-marathon for Jon and I’m running this marathon for you. When I got to that last part, it was hard for me to speak and Dad got choked up … that was my Father’s Day present.

June 22
Out on a run, a new song comes on the iPod, Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. The opening verse …

“Well, I stand up next to a mountain, and I chopped it down with the edge of my hand.”

I had always wanted to get this song off iTunes because it was Hollywood Hogan’s entrance music. Hollywood Hogan was Hulk Hogan’s evil alter ego.

When the song came on, it took me a second to recognize it and when I did, I smiled and immediately thought of my brother Jon, I said to myself, “I’m going to have to tell Jon about this.” And just as quickly as that thought came to me, I remembered that I couldn’t tell Jon about it.

Jon was always the best runner in the family. He was a sprinter. Very fast. I thought about Jon. That this was his run, that I was channeling him. Of course, having thought that, I knew that this story wouldn’t be quite as heart-warming if I didn’t break the record, so I kept up the pace. When I got home the record was broken.

51:09 … 2005
51:10 … 2006
51:04 … 2007
50:20 … today

July 6
Watched the movie, “Rocky Balboa.”

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
Rocky Balboa, 2006

July 30
Ran six one-mile repeats at the Colorado College track. It was hot. The football team was practicing … who knew CC had a football team? I did six repeats and I descended them. I was very pleased and not all that concerned that my left knee hurt during each repeat.

But that’s when I first noted what I’d call an injury, versus something that just hurt or was sore. Little did I know, but I was developing a little something that the running world calls, ‘runner’s knee,’ or what a doctor might call ‘tendonitis,’ the inflammation of patella tendon that runs under the kneecap. Hurts like a mother when it’s inflamed.

Aug. 5
Missed my first scheduled run in five months due to my commitments at work. All the while I’m preparing for my marathon, I was also preparing for the Fine Arts Center’s Grand Opening of a new $28.4 million expansion.

Sept. 2
Finished the 21st week of training with a 23-mile run from the city of Monument, down the Santa Fe Trail, to Monument Valley Park. And guess what, it hurt. Kind of very similarly painful as the 16, 18, and 20-mile runs. Each provided its own insight into my soul, information for my training and in roads into new ways to hurt.

The bottom line … 26 miles is a lot of miles. And me not being a runner, is a bit of a disadvantage. I’m not saying that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, because I can and will run this marathon. What I am saying is training for a marathon is more than twice as hard as training for a half-marathon.

Rose dropped me off at the trail head in Monument at about 6:15 a.m. I ran the first couple miles before the sun came up and that was pretty cool, watching the sky turn pink and red for the sunrise.

Rose drove on ahead and met me on the trail on her bike, a nearly pristine conditioned 15-year-old Trek mountain bike that we bought with our wedding gift money. Rose was my domestique; she filled up my water bottle, got me food and rode with me while I ran. It was so good to have her there. I’ve done every run solo, so it was nice to have my honey next to me. It gave me something to look forward to, especially on a super long run, when legs were hurting.

I ran and I ran for about 15 miles and then my right hip (outside) and left knee (tendon on the kneecap), both screamed at me. I limped to the end … for eight miles. Based on that run – my longest, most consistent run yet – I thought I would run the marathon in 5 hours, 13 minutes.

Sept. 23
26 miles was on the plate. We drove up to Palmer Lake, 3.5 miles further north up the trail. Rose drops me off and we do it all over again. However this time, 10 miles in, the knee/hip deal kicks in. I finish 26.5 miles in five hours and 37 minutes. I gained an appreciation for the experience the men of World War II went through during the Bataan Death March. I did finish what I started, but I probably took an emerging injury and blew it up big time. Left ankle, left knee, left heel, right IT band, right hip and even my lower back. I was a mess.

Sept. 30
People started recommending that perhaps I stop running. Doesn’t seem to suit me. Couldn’t do that, got this goal. But I did pull it back a bit. Two weeks out from the race, instead of running, I took the fam up to Denver and drove the second half of the course. I dropped the kids and Rose at the park, while I walked the last five miles of the course beginning at the beautiful Washington Park, walking through the Baker Historic District and the Santa Fe Arts District. I love Denver.

Two Weeks Out
I pulled back on the last few treadmill workouts. I felt better and better. I did one last long one on the Sunday before the race. Eight miles easy, but I felt my knee and hip just 50 minutes in, which meant that one each successive long run, my injuries started effecting me earlier and earlier.

Final Week
I shut it down. No more running. I walked each day on the final week. And each night I would stretch and ice. I took pills every four hours to halt inflammation. No running. Missed three runs. Took lots of pills. All above board. No funny pills from an Internet doctor from Orlando. Just Tylenol. And plenty of ‘em.

Race Day

“That was, without a doubt, the hardest physical thing I have ever done. I can tell you in 20 years of pro sports — triathlons to cycling, all the Tours — even the worst days, nothing was as hard as that and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now.”
Lance Armstrong after completing the 2006 New York City Marathon

I was standing in a line to use the bathroom at a gas station at 7:15 a.m. on Colfax Avenue in the Mile High City. It was dark out, cold and it was pouring rain. Hard.

The woman in front of me said, “I can’t believe I have to run 13 miles in that.”

I could only chuckle to myself.

Weeks earlier I would tell anyone who would listen that I would have enough common sense to come in from out in the rain; that I would not run the Denver Marathon if it were too cold or windy or rainy. I didn’t really have a strategy if it were cold, windy and rainy. So while I waited in the gas station restroom line, the thought of not running just did not occur to me. Not once. I don’t know why, other than I had prepared to do this and I had no plans of backing out now. This was it.

My one and only shot.

Race director Dave McGillivray, better known for serving in the same capacity for the renowned Boston Marathon, seriously considered limiting Sunday’s race to the half-marathon when he heard the weather forecast on Saturday. “Hypothermia was the biggest issue,” McGillivray told the Denver Post. Out of the 7,500 people who signed up for the Denver Marathon, 2,500 stayed home.

“Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, rain fell most of the morning and the streets of Denver were strewn with puddles. It was a gloomy, nasty day to run.

“So why did thousands of runners resist the urge to hit the snooze button and dive back under their comforters? Why did they get up before sunrise and swarm downtown to run the Denver Marathon when they were sure to be soaked to their bones and chilled to their souls?

“Perhaps James Mejia of Denver summed it up best:

“You decide if you want to feel life or you’re just going to be a bystander,” Mejia said. “I want to feel it. I want to live it, I want to be in it and I want to push it a little bit. I want to use what God gave me and I want to push my body to see what it can do.”
Denver Post

Unlike last year, when Rose and I stood side-by-side at the start, holding hands, this year I stood in the middle of the street, alone, surrounded by thousands, head down, water dipping from my cap bill.

The race starts and the pack shuffles forward. I’m having a mini-heart attack, because at first my earphones weren’t working right, and I realize that I’ve plugged in the wrong play list. For the first six miles, all I could think about was … I have to pee and when can I switch the play list?

So I’m shuffling forward towards the start line and then, out of nowhere Rose appears, smiling, in the middle of this massive pack of runners to wish me well. That was pretty funny. I kiss her and tell her move to the side before she gets trampled.

The early miles were spent thinking about taking off my jacket sleeves, changing my play list and going to the bathroom. Nothing hurt, other than my right arch, and I was staying on my pace. When I saw Rose at mile five, she told me to keep the sleeves on … smart advice, it turns out.

At mile six, I find a port-a-potty. I get in the shortest line, three people, but they’re all women … dumb call on my part. I take off my jacket and discover my new Denver Marathon play list … isn’t on my iPod … I never downloaded it! I let out a Homer-esque “Doh!”

I put the iPod on shuffle and shuffle back onto the course. One of the first songs that comes on is Bob Dylan’s “I Believe in You,” a song that Bob wrote when he found Christianity, but has always made me think of my father, it says in part:

And I walk out on my own
A thousand miles from home
But I don’t feel alone
‘Cause I believe in you.

And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

And I, I don’t mind the pain
Don’t mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
‘Cause I believe in you.

No one could tell that I was crying because of all that rain.

That pit stop threw me off my pace … dumb girls! I had no idea how I was doing until I got to the 10-mile marker. I had made up a lot of time and was only one minute off the pace. I got to the 13-mile marker in two hours, 36 minutes, which meant I had a shot at a 5:12. It was also at the 13-mile marker that the crowd thinned out … half-marathoners went right, marathoners stayed the course going straight and, boy howdy, there wasn’t too many folks going straight.

At the very next intersection, a cop made us stop to let a bunch of cars go by. I thought, man, I hope this isn’t how the rest of the course goes … and it didn’t … at every other stop, the police officer would stop traffic just as I was approaching the street. I felt important.

About three hours in, it stopped raining for 10 minutes, and then picked it back up after the brief respite.

I saw Rose three times during the race. She would walk from one spot to the next; stand on a corner for an hour waiting for me with an umbrella and a smile. She’d offer me food or a dry coat. I’d say, no thanks, I love you … and keep on running.

I ate four GUs and one Clif Shot. I liked the GUs, my usual energy gels. The Clif Shot I picked up on the course from the vendor; it was super hard, cold and hard to digest. Rose did hand me half of a Clif Mojo bar, but it was also too hard from the cold to eat. I carried a water bottle that I used sparingly. I drank Gatorade Endurance at the water stops.

I tried mixing up my walk/run intervals to go a little faster between miles 13 and 20. I felt pretty good. My usual injuries were masked under a blanket of adrenaline; however, new sore spots emerged, like my right arch. My right hamstring was very tight and both IT bands were sore.

I joked around a bit, some people laughed; others weren’t enjoying the process or my humor.

“Hey, is there anyone behind me?”

We were running around Washington Park; it’s a big park and we ran all the way around it. Inside the park, I talked to a woman who was having leg cramps. She planned to run the Marine Corp Marathon in two weeks and, from Florida, wasn’t enjoying our Mile High conditions. She wasn’t bitter. I wished her well. Then we saw the Mile 20 marker.

That didn’t flip the switch for me. When I passed Mile Marker 21, I got happy. We were leaving the park, and just like with the half-marathon, once I entered a part of the course that I had walked, I knew where I was and what was ahead of me.

I was happy and I decided to stop looking at my watch for my intervals. I ran until I felt like walking. I wanted to give it my all in these last few miles. Miles 22 and 23 takes you downhill towards the interstate and Santa Fe Drive. You turn right on Santa Fe, which is uphill and into the wind.

During this whole section I thought of Sammy and his experience with Landsharks. What a parallel. Just like Sam, I was a non-runner in a field of runners. He inspired me to push on to the end.

The volunteers were very vocal at this point of the race too. I appreciated their kind words. I tried to run the final three miles without walking. I was already writing my road report in my head and I thought that sounded studly, however, it was not doable. In those last six miles or so, I was feeling cold. The wind picked up at the end and I worried that the conditions were going to take a turn for the worse.

At 13th, I turned right, more uphill, but I could see the Denver Art Museum up ahead and I knew I was almost done. We crossed Speer, only a few more blocks to Lincoln, where the course turns left to the homestretch. I left some people on 13th. I thought the finish was on Lincoln, but no, I’ve got a couple more turns. When I spot Mile Marker 26, my right shin starts cramping. I thought that was funny. I had never felt cramping in my shin before. Then the left shin goes. I’m three blocks from the finish line and I have to walk.

Some guy yells, “The finish line is right around the corner.”

I smile because my shins are cramping, but I pick it up and start running. I turn the corner and unzip my jacket … I want the photographers to be able to see my race number on my shirt. I turn onto Broadway and hear Rose yelling my name. I run over to her, grab her hand and say, “I did it.”

I run to the finish line, look right at the photographer, but I don’t do anything goofy, just cross the line. A volunteer wraps me in some shiny silver blanket, someone else snips off my timing chip from my shoe and a third person hangs a medal around my neck.

There is a lot of metal fencing keeping spectators away from the runners. Rose and I see each other and walk towards the middle of the Civic Center Park. My legs are killing me and I am freezing. We meet in the exact same spot we met last year. The same spot where Rose took my picture, me smiling confidently holding up my medal, but that was last year.

This year there was a different emotion. Rose was smiling until she saw my expression. She reached out, wrapped her arms around me and we both stood there in the rain sobbing.

Anyone can run a marathon, but it was an emotional journey for me. The fact that I did my marathon in freezing, windy rain … at altitude … is beside the point. I did it for three reasons: to honor my father; to show my kids that anything is possible and to prove something to myself, to see what I was made of.

One sweet dream came true today.

I wrote my family and friends a quick email after the race.

Family, Friends:

I ran the Denver Marathon today. It rained the entire race with 15 mph winds; the temperatures dipped into the 30s with wind chill. I will send a full road report soon.

My head hurts.


P.S. I am the Eighth Wonder of the World.


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