As the weekend approached I had some trepidation. After (ok, a bit before) the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon, I had developed an overuse injury. It wasn’t a bad one, it was soreness in my right quad and IT band. I was foam rolling both more than usual, stretching religiously and hoping this effort would let me keep up my normal running routine. It had to. I was nearing the end of the late summer Rock n Roll gauntlet – an event every two weeks that started with Rock n Roll Chicago. Most were halfs with Denver being the sole exception and the gauntlet would end with Rock n Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon a mere week after Denver. So I couldn’t afford to get injured. But with that brutal training schedule it wouldn’t come as a big surprise.
As noted in my race report from San Jose, the injury didn’t affect me in that event, in fact, I felt great the whole way through, including the extra 10 or so miles of coaching that immediately followed. But by the Tuesday after this race, soreness in both muscles had returned. I kept at the recovery routine and, since I was now officially in taper for Denver, I pulled back on the running. But by the weekend run between San Jose and Denver, the pain was back. I quickly called in the big guns – Sports Medicine Institute in Palo Alto for a sports massage and an assessment of the injury. Of course, I was only looking for one answer: “yes, you can run Denver with this injury. It’s minor.” And no, I didn’t bias the therapist (not too much) by prefacing my massage with the need to run Denver.
Thankfully, Victor, was able to determine that the soreness wasn’t major and his healing hands were able to get it back into shape. That and a short session in the SMI ice tank – something to be feared and embraced.
After Victor’s work, I took most of the next week off from running. I had already done the miles and a last push wouldn’t buy me much anyways. Friday I flew into Denver and after a day of client meetings went for an altitude-adjustment run. The first mile or two were brutal. I couldn’t get enough air to my lungs or muscles, it seemed. But as the miles came, so did the oxygen and by 45 minutes in I was feeling great. Well, at least in terms of breathing. My IT band and quad were another story. They kept talking to me through most of the run. Not much more than a twinge to say hello, though; no warning bells, tearing or lightning bolts of pain. And I was really enjoying a gorgeous day in Denver and some great tunes, so I ran on.
That night, however, my quad was more than saying hello. I had flown to Denver without my foam roller and Victor certainly wasn’t available. I was staying with my great friends Steve and Michelle who had a fabulous converted basement that was a Shangri-la of an apartment. I searched the space looking for something that could substitute for my foam roller. Nothing seemed close. I popped open the fridge and found little there either except for a can of Sprite Zero. Hmm. I wonder?
I found an open section of carpet, laid the can on its side and tested it to see if it would hold my weight first, then began rolling. Bingo. While it was harder than my foam roller it gave me a very nice self-massage and the coldness of the can felt great. Instant relief.
The following day I repeated this routine in the morning and to ensure I was fully used to the altitude we went on a short 4-6 mile hike through the mountains behind Boulder. It wasn’t a poles-and-hiking boots jaunt, just an easy hike – I did it in flip flops. Afterward my IT band and quad were back to their chattiness so I reached for the Sprite once again.
During dinner that night, though, both muscles were unhappy and more than happy to tell me so. I Sprite-rolled extra that night and went to bed hoping they would cooperate for the marathon. What choice did I have?
That night, I dressed my chair as usual and planned out the morning, working backward from the 6:55am start. I gave myself 30 minutes for the drive from Lafayette to Denver, 20 minutes to park and 30 minutes to get to my corral, do a few dynamic stretches and be ready for the gun.
I had made a few changes to my plan for this marathon. The first was that I planned to do the event in a different pair of shorts than usual. I normally run my marathons in New Balance or Asics shorts that have two large pockets on the front where I can store my 4-5 PowerGels, some money and my ID. But sometimes the gels bounce around a bit too much and get uncomfortable against my legs. Plus sometimes when I reach into the pocket while running to pull out a gel I get paranoid my ID will fall out. So this time I decided to try a pair of Nike shorts that had a zippered pocket in the back and a small Velcro-sealing pocket on the side that was roomy enough for 3-4 gels. I had also bought a running case for my iPhone 4 and decided to try running with it for the first time. The last couple marathons, I had felt I could have used a bit more constant music during the last 8 miles or so, which can be a slog.
The morning of the race, I was up at 5:20am, washed, applied sunscreen and BodyGlide, hit the Sprite-roller one more time and was out the door at the planned time. The drive to Denver was also exactly as planned leaving ample time to get parked at Metro State and head over to my corral. That was when the backup hit. I got off the highway at Colfax Street and slowly inched over the freeway, a distance of no more than 0.3 miles in 15 minutes. And I had another mile or so to go. This wasn’t good. I saw a few cars cutting over to the right lane to bypass the traffic going into Metro State and chose to join them and try my luck on the Denver streets outside the race closure zone. Street after street had no parallel spots left. I passed two pay lots that were full and began to get a little more stressed. It was 20 minutes to the start of the race and I was still looking for parking. I tried another street, again no parallel spots but two large lots and very few cars. I pulled in after a couple other cars feeling I had found a hidden gem. I got out, went to the pay station and saw, “Reserved Parking. No Public Parking.”
10 minutes to the start and I was running out of options. The folks in the cars in front of me shrugged their shoulders, locked their cars and started for the race corrals. I looked around, next to our lot was a pay lot and it appeared to have a few spots left but then I saw a line 20 deep of runners waiting to pay for their spot. I was in corral 3 and would never make it. I decided to do as those before me had – I shrugged my shoulders and started towards the race corrals. I did lock the car, right?
I got into the corral as the national anthem was being sung and felt my stress level start to rise. Oh no. What if they towed my rental car while I was running the marathon. I had left my wallet in the car (hidden; as was Reesa’s iPad) with my credit cards and ATM card in it. If they towed my car I knew Reesa could get the money necessary to get it out of the pokey but would we have time? We both had flights home that left around 4pm meaning we had to get to the airport by 2pm. I immediately felt my stress level jump another level. I contemplated rushing out of the corral, moving my car and hoping I could jump back into the race with the last corrals and weave my way back up to my pace group. But by then the national anthem was over and the announcer was counting down the start for corral 1. I’d be on the course in less than 3 minutes. Oh well. I reset the chronograph on my watch, moved forward with my corral and crossed over the start line with just one thought, “Man, I hope they don’t tow my car.”
The first mile added to my stress even more because the side pocket of my shorts, weighed down with four gels was bouncing around uncomfortably and the iPhone on my arm was bouncing up and down my bicep in an alternate rhythm. Oh great.
But I quickly forgot about both as the course unfolded. It was a gorgeous morning in Denver. Not a cloud in the sky and the pre-dawn temperature, mid-50s, was perfect. We started out in Civic Center Park and quickly weaved our way through downtown Denver which has some great neighborhoods, eclectic eateries and a mix of modern and rustic buildings and condos. By the time we passed Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies baseball team plays I was immersed in my music and feeling good. So far no word from my quad or IT band and the bouncing on my left and right had settled into something I could get used to.
I held a consistent 8 min/mile pace through the first half and felt good the whole way. I usually eat a gel every 40 minutes which helped lighten the load in my side pocket a bit, but they were a pain to get out as I couldn’t open the Velcro pocket with one hand. I hate to stop when I’m running. Competitor Group served Gu Energy Gels on the course and just as my second gel time came up, there were volunteers holding out a gel. Sweet. This happened nearly right on my 40 minute interval at mile 20 as well.
I finished the first half at 1:45 and had good energy which helped me hold the 8 min/mile pace the rest of the way. The course wound through some great older neighborhoods of Denver, in and out of each city park and out and back a few times so you could see the runners ahead and behind you. The occasional cheerleader group helps supply some needed energy as well as the spectators who saw my name on my shirt and gave me a special cheer. Thanks!
By mile 20 neither my quad nor my IT had said a word, the sun had broken fully above the course and the heat began to rise into the 60s. I welcomed this change because my right hand wasn’t responding well to the morning chill. It was numb most of the way and a bit unresponsive. I had never had trouble squeezing gel from a gel pack before but found it rather difficult with my cold hand. Hope that isn’t a circulatory problem, but being in my 40s, it wouldn’t surprise me.
By mile 22 the bouncing iPhone had become a bit too loose on my arm and I had to stop and adjust the strap. I normally hate to stop because getting started again is tough but no problem in this race. I jumped quickly back up to my pace and rejoined the runners I had been shadowing. The 3:30 pace runner went by but I didn’t let that stress me out – I wasn’t shooting for a PR today. I just wanted to survive this toughest challenge of the Rock n Roll gauntlet.
As mile 23 came along my stress about the rental car returned. Oh no, it was past 10 am and I’m sure the tow truck was up and making its rounds. I swear the stress of this was pushing me during these normally very tough miles. By mile 25 I was plotting how fast I could get from the finisher’s chute to the parking lot to see if my fears had indeed been fulfilled.
Reesa, Steve and Michelle were at the turn at mile 26. I gave them a high five, entered the chute and was all about saving the car. I picked up a bottle of water and some apple slices but immediately left the chute, told my friends what I had done and led them quickly to the lot. Please be there. Please, please please be there.
It took a while to work our way around the finisher’s area and walk the mile or so to the lot and as we turned the corner there it was. Whew. I dropped my Amphipod running bottle, pulled off my Mizuno Wave Mushas, slipped into some flip flops and immediately moved the car to a legal space.
Now I could finally relax. We headed back to the finisher area to see the headliner band, Semisonic. They put on a good show as I stretched and regained my breath. My stress level returned to normal in time to hit a local British brew pub, Pints Pub, for my traditional victory dance. They didn’t have Guinness but did have a nice Irish stout that was a very close second.
Back to Steve and Michelle’s a shower a bit more Sprite-rolling, pizza and relaxation. Now that’s the way to celebrate the completion of number 11.
Thanks to everyone who gave a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in September and October. Thanks to you we crossed the $10,000 mark this week! This was a big milestone for me but I’m not stopping there. There’s still time to give, so please make a donation today if you can.
Next weekend is Rock n Roll number 12 and the last of the half marathons – Rock n Roll Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to this as a recovery run as just three weeks later is Rock n Roll San Antonio, the seventh full marathon of the series. Look for more race reports as I move closer to the final goal.