I Ran in Denver, or A Lesson in Failure
5280 feet above sea level. One mile high, according to the football stadium. Everyone warned me that running in Denver was going to be challenging.
“Drink lots of water,” I was told.
“Expect to run 1-2 minutes slower,” I was told.
“Make sure you let me know how you feel after,” one person asked, laughing.
These are not the kinds of things you want to hear as a runner. It was clear I’d gotten myself into something here that couldn’t be quantified by my friends. I’d just have to experience it.
Still, I came prepared as I could: I’d packed my trail running gear. A water bottle, an empty hydration pack for storing food and extra water, goo and Cliff’s bars (neither of which I ever use), and my chilly weather gear.
The rest would be up to nature.
My first run on Thursday – which started at 4:30 am MST because I was delivering at keynote talk that morning – was brutal, an 8.5 mile run at 9:36/mile, which tallied about 1 minute slower than my normal pace. Almost as bad as huffing along the gorgeous Cherry Creek Trail as the ever-present headache just behind my eyes.
On Friday, I was determined to overcome the altitude. I bounded down the 16th Street Mall to Cherry Creek, keeping a relatively steady pace. I wasn’t strong, but certainly better off than the day before. I didn’t, for instance, want to lay down on the path and sleep. The 8:45/mile pace wasn’t brilliant but after Thursday’s disaster I was happy with the result
Then came Saturday and my epic 16-mile run. My epic, 16 mile, disastrous, fall-apart-on-the-trail, oh-my-god-I-want-to-stop run.
The day started fine. I ran down the 16th Street Mall, determined to take a leisurely jog and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
Less than a mile into my run, I stopped at the top of the footbridge that connects the downtown area with the river area. Even with the construction taking place in the city, downtown Denver still looks like a postcard.
You know if the city portion of the run looks like this, the trail portion of the run is going to look even better.
And indeed it does look even better. The trailhead of this section of the run is simply amazing. You’ll notice a small beach on the far side of the run and lots of green spaces.
People were just scattered about the area at all hours of the morning and afternoon. Peppered along the trailhead were cyclists and runners, plus some high-octane dog walkers.
Starting my day with these folks was epic. I felt good.
The bad part about the Cherry Creek Trail is this: leaving downtown, the trail is entirely uphill. Not a brutal uphill, but a steady uphill. For 8.5 miles, I ran uphill. I hadn’t anticipated that eventuality. By the time I’d reached the turn-around point, I was nearly out of water and goo.
Fortunately, there were bike stopping points along the way and I was able to refill my bottle on the way back. By then, though, my energy was gone and I was on auto-pilot. It didn’t help that outside the 4 mile range on the trail, the majority of people I saw were cyclists. I’d run out of the casual runner zone.
I staggered back home – four of my last five miles were more than a 10/mile pace – and immediately made a beeline for the Starbucks at the Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI) store.
This behemoth is the flagship store, built in the old Denver Tramway building. It’s the most unique layout I’ve ever seen, one that totally fits with the idea of exploration.
I spent a few hours wandering the store, drinking my coffee, and chatting with other adventurers. Here, news of my demise on the trail was met with enthusiasm. Not because of the failure, because I’d tried.
That’s the best explanation for why I run, and why I am trying to run farther. Because out on the road, you are met with enthusiasm. There is never a negative runner who survives 16 miles out on the road. And no matter what happens once you go, you are amongst a company of people who celebrate not the destination but the journey.