Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015 Denver Colfax Marathon Review

2015 Denver Colfax Marathon
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Denver, Colorado
28th State Completed
Runners: 1,419 (805 men, 614 women)
Start Time: 6:00 a.m. MT
Course: Urban tour of downtown Denver with an
elevation of 5,280' and a 350' climb from
miles 5-15, mostly rolling hills with flat stretches
Weather: 46 degrees and sunny at start, 65 at finish
SWAG: Short-sleeve moisture wicking shirt and free
downloadable race photos
Race Organization: Good pre-race and at Expo,
some issues during race, and poor post-race
Crowd Support: Non-existent until the end of the race
Volunteer Support: Outstanding support from local
fire and police officers, good - but very limited other
volunteers, especially at water-stops
Food:  Bananas, bagels, BBQ
Age: 46
Finish Time: 3:54:09 (5th slowest ever)
Average Pace: 8:55
Place: 336/1,419 Overall, 67/213 40-49 Age Group

If I only had one word to summarize our trip to Denver, Colorado to run the 2015 Colfax Marathon, it would probably be ... DICHOTOMY.  I found it to be true, not only of the beautiful "mile-high" city, but also the 10th annual marathon and race weekend.  From the social conditions that seemed in direct contrast each other, to portions of the race weekend that were flawlessly organized, while others were poorly handled, to even my personal race result which was on the opposite end of the spectrum to where I usually finish, there were just a number of things that seemed to be polar opposites.  But even with the contradictions, we still had a great time a nice event.

Beautiful view of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in mid-May as we approached Denver
My wife, Michael, and I drove from Kansas City to Denver a few days before the Sunday race. Thursday was our 10th wedding anniversary, so we had planned on using the trip not only as an extended race weekend, but also a brief getaway and celebration.  The 9 hour drive was a somewhat boring and uneventful trek, out of Missouri, across Kansas, and into Colorado.  Although on Friday afternoon we narrowly missed a hazardous storm cell that produced a couple of tornadoes in Northeast Denver, which are fairly uncommon to the area.

Colfax Avenue in the heart of Denver, Colorado
We stayed at the Hampton Inn in the Cherry Creek area.  And upon arrival, I immediately noticed being surrounded by an unusually high percentage of Mercedes, Range Rovers, BMW's, etc. in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Colorado Boulevard.  The $80,000 SUV's quickly made sense when I realized that our hotel was located next to Cherry Hills Village, Denver's most affluent community.  The Hampton Inn there was in the middle of a major remodel, which made the stay less than optimal. However as luck would have it, it was directly across the street from a Whole Foods Market, which has become my pre-race "go to" for nutrition, so the location ended up being perfect.

Michael and I enjoyed Bastien's Steakhouse and Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza in the LoDo and Colfax areas

Colorado State Capital Building on Colfax Avenue
While in Denver, we spent a lot of time on Colfax Avenue and in the LoDo area, which is the "nickname" given to Lower Downtown.  LoDo is the location of earliest settlers and establishment in Denver, and has been restored over the years with urban reinvestment. It's now known for it's vibrant nightlife, shopping, eateries, at community, and eclectic lifestyle.  It's nestled in the heart of the city near the Colorado State Capital building, Coors Field, University of Colorado at Denver, and Union Station.  There are also several well manicured city parks sprinkled throughout the metro area that seemed to be great recreational and gathering places.  Over the past few years, Michael and I have really tried to eat at unique local places when we travel, and a couple of our favorites this trip were Bastien's and Marco's Coal Fired Pizza.  The steak at Bastien's was one of the best ribeye's I've ever had.  And the pizza at Marco's was awesome, although the crowd at 6 p.m. on Saturday night was a little too "Jersey Shore" for my taste, bro ... but admittedly I'm old and lacking style.  The whole area really had an "artsy" feel that was unique to Denver, and I wish we would have spent more time to experience all it had to offer.  It would be fun to visit again while not prepping for a race.

But it was in this financially booming and bustling area that we first noticed the most obvious socially confusing, economically polar, and frankly heartbreaking trait of Denver ... it's overwhelming and growing homeless population.  There were literally homeless and transient people wandering around everywhere.  I travel for a living and have been all over the country, and I've never seen anything like it.  Based on news and published reports, the problem is apparently very concerning to city officials, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus on the reason why it's happening.  However, the most popular public opinion is that homeless folks are flocking to Denver because of it's lax laws on marijuana use.  The juxtaposition of so many downtrodden people against the backdrop of neighborhoods representing wealth and privilege was almost a little surreal.  While we were out and about in the area, I wouldn't say that we ever felt "unsafe", so I certainly don't mean to discourage visiting the area, but it was definitely one of the most lasting impressions left on both of us from the trip.

B-52 Strategic Air Command bomber at the entrance of Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
2015 Denver Colfax Marathon Race Shirt
The Race Expo was held the day before the race at Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum.  And quite simply ... it was AWESOME!  It was one of the most unique Race Expos I've ever attended.  Michael and I spent quite a bit of time checking out all of the displays housed in the giant 40,000 sq. ft. Hangar #1 built in 1939 on the former grounds of Lowry Air Force Base.  Parking was a little congested at the event, but with almost 10,000 runners for the 10 miler, half and full marathons, it was to be expected.  There seemed to plenty of friendly volunteers waiting to point the way and assist with information, however this wasn't the case all race weekend.  The Expo was an unexpected opportunity to see many of the military aircraft used over the years up close.  The largest and most impressive aircraft was the B-52 Strategic Air Command Bomber sitting right outside the front door of the museum.  There were several smaller fighter jets on display inside the hangar dating from early century fighters to current day jets.  But by far our favorite was a scaled version of a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter with R2D2 in the cockpit.  And even though there were no signs of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, or Chewbacca, we had a great time at the event.

Michael and me at the Denver Colfax Marathon Expo - one of the coolest packet pickups I've ever attended

The Race
If you've read my blog for a while, or know me in "real-life", you'd probably figure that finishing the Colfax Marathon with my fifth slowest time ever of 3:54:09 was really disappointing or upsetting ... but surprisingly, you couldn't be more wrong!  After dealing with a mild left hip injury all Spring, I wasn't anywhere near peak marathon shape and I knew a marathon literally a mile above sea level would most likely be a struggle.  So leaving Denver healthy and with a finisher medal from my 31st marathon were the only two objectives.  And fortunately, it was mission accomplished for both.
Denver City Park (photo from race website)
I woke up at 3 a.m. to be at the race an hour before the early 6 a.m. start time.  Michael was running the half-marathon, which started about an hour after the marathon, so she had a bit of a wait in the car.  But at larger races, I always like to be at the event early to avoid parking issues, which was a good idea at this race.  Spaces were limited and congested in the parking lot shared by the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science at City Park.  There were a few parking lot volunteers with yellow vests ... talking on cell phones and sitting on the curb visiting with each other, not directing traffic ... so it was basically a free-for-all for parking spots.  It was good of them to volunteer (or possibly be "volunteered" judging by their interest in being there), but I'm not sure what there job was supposed to be.  It wasn't a great first impression for the event on race day.

Thatcher Memorial Fountain in Denver City Park
The race started in City Park, a beautiful and spacious urban park surrounding a small lake.  In the minutes leading up to the race, I found that there were plenty of Port-o-Potties, a convenient bag drop area close to the starting line, and details about the race being communicated over the PA system by the race directors.   It was a nice pre-race environment, with plenty of room to warm up.  The race actually started about five minutes late, which is personal pet-peeve of mine. I just hate waiting around at the start as my legs get tight because someone can't manage a watch.  But it wasn't a big deal on Sunday since I wasn't running the race for time.

Runners were lined up in alphabetical corrals by projected finish time.  When I signed up for the race back in January, I figured my finish time to be around 3:15, which put me in Corral A.  So on Sunday, I just tried to stay out of the way as the faster runners whooshed by me and my slower than usual plan of attack at the outset of the race.  The first mile was spent exiting the green-grassed park adjacent to the lake, and circling two of the beautiful statue monuments, before heading West on Colfax Avenue, where much of the race would be spent.

Colfax Avenue was empty on Sunday morning.  It was in complete contrast to the thick traffic congestion we had sat in only a few hours prior, and reminded me of one of those movies where aliens have abducted everyone and the city streets are left vacant.   I don't think there were more than three or four people out watching the race for the first six miles, which was understandable considering the early start.  Considering the size of downtown Denver, it just seemed strange to be out there without any of the typical fanfare.  It was almost a little weird.  Literally the only people out and about - besides runners - were police officers and firemen, and homeless people gathered here and there watching as we ran by.  And at times, especially during those early miles of the race, it felt a little shameful to simply be passing by, enjoying life, as they looked on.  I can't really explain it, but in many ways, it didn't seem right.

A few miles into the race, I fully expected the "mile high" altitude to be sucking the wind out of me.  But I can honestly say it was never an issue on Sunday.  I just tried to keep my pace at a nice comfortable 8:00/mile, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Denver metro.  And around Mile 4, those surrounding became really cool as we got to run through the open doors of a Denver Fire Station.  There were several firefighters standing there cheering and supporting us, and I thought it was an awesome added feature.  Shortly after leaving the fire station, we ran under a huge American flag that was pulled tight by two fire truck ladders, and waiving in the light Sunday morning 50 degree sunshiny breeze.  The conditions were literally perfect.

Colorfully decorated manikin at the
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
Around Mile 5, we turned off of Colfax and were directed by a clown on a unicycle and a juggling mime to make a right turn - at least I think that's what the mime said.  From there, we made our way along the concrete paved South Platte River trail for about a mile.  The trail was a viaduct type of structure with a concrete wall on one side, and the gently flowing river on the other.  There were also signs placed every twenty feet or so that told the story of how the area had been restored only a few years earlier.  Just before we exited the river walk, we saw an acrobatic gentleman on a kayak doing tricks on the flowing water, and cheering the runners as we headed toward Elitch Gardens.  Elitch Gardens is a botanical/amusement park with several rides and roller coasters.  We would pass this park again on the way back into town, but I can tell you I felt much better at this point than I would later.

Just past the park as we were making our way out of downtown Denver, Sport Authority Field At Mile High came into view.  It's better know as the home of the NFL's Denver Broncos, and on the marathon course, we passed through the stadium and actually ran on the field ... twice ... on the way out and on the way back.  And even though I'm a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan, I have to admit, I was looking forward to running through the stadium.  I'd ran through Kauffman Stadium several times at the end of the Kansas City Royals 5K, but I'd never been on the field of an NFL stadium.  Just like at Kauffman, we entered through a tunnel at the end of the stadium.  Once we were inside the stadium, we basically ran from end zone to end zone.  The Bronco's groundskeepers had the field roped off to keep us off of the grass, so we basically ran around the perimeter of the field.  But I couldn't help but notice how perfect and green every blade had been manicured.  I slowed my pace a little the first time through the stadium, and stopped to walk the second time through so I could fully enjoy the unique experience.  Being on the floor of an actual NFL stadium was one of the really cool things about the race.

The marathon course takes runners through Sports Authority Field at Mile High, twice
Running through the stadium
After the first trip through the stadium, we began climbing the only real ascent during the race.  It's a gently rising 350' over the next several miles, that frankly, never seemed that unmanageable.  Miles 8-10 are spent circling the beautiful lake in Sloan Park.  It was by far, my favorite stretch of the race.  The water on lake was calm and soothing, with the snow-covered peaks of the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop.  It was simply perfect, and I found myself wishing we could run around it again.

Ten of the next eleven miles were spent going still further West on Colfax past typical rural businesses and apartment complexes, turning around in a neighborhood near Morse Park, and then retracing our steps back to downtown on a nice gradual decline East on Colfax.  It was still early on Sunday morning, but to this point, there were still very few folks out watching the race.  About the only crowds that gathered were at the end of the race, and at the post-race party.  However, just before Morse Park, we ran through Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design where several colorfully decorated male and female manikins lined the parking lot to greet us.  But despite the nonexistent supporters, the course was lined with law enforcement officers. There seemed to be three or four officers at almost every intersection.  In fact, it seemed they outnumbered the volunteers at this event. The volunteers in attendance were helpful and did a great job, but there just didn't seem to be enough of them, especially at the conclusion of the race.  At some of the water stops in particular, they seemed to be a little disorganized and scrambling because they were undermanned.  Michael told me that at one of the water stops in her race, there was one person trying to get water to everyone.  And at another, they ran out of cups and were pouring water into the hands of runners.  For a race that was celebrating it's tenth year and has rave reviews on Runner's World and other websites, it seemed a little below average.

Local firefighters handing out medals
at the finish line, really cool

I went into this race fully aware that I would most likely have to walk/run the last few miles.  Although I'd ran a good half-marathon a couple of weeks before, my legs weren't conditioned for the full marathon distance.  So after the second trip through Sports Authority Field, I pretty much shut it down.  It wasn't completely by choice mind you - for about three of those last miles I really fought stomach issue.  But if I would have been a little more focused and committed to running the whole thing, I might have been able to push through.  But I had about five miles left in the race, and a nine hour car-ride back home immediately after crossing the finish line, and I really didn't want to be sick, sore, or even worse, injured on the trip home, so I began a combination of walking and running. Up until about Mile 21, my average pace was a respectable 7:55/mile.  But for the last five miles, it dropped off to about 12:30/mile.  Quite a difference.  I finished the race just under four hours ... a pretty significant contrast to the times I'd been running lately.  But it was just one more thing over the course of the weekend that just didn't seem to match.

Most of the race organization had been pretty good, with a slight hiccup here or there, up until this point.  But unfortunately, I would give some of the post-race organization a "fail".  The best part about the post-race was the firefighters who handed out medals.  That was really cool.  But the bag drop area seemed really far away from the finish area.  Plus, when I  got to the bag drop pickup, there was a line of about 100 people, with only two or three volunteers doing the best they could to retrieve the bags as quickly as possible.  I stood in line for about 10-15 minutes after the race waiting for my bag, which, on tired marathon legs is a long time.  There was the exact same experience at the results tent.  I waited about 15-20 minutes in the results line before I just gave up.  There were more tents than I'd ever seen at a post-race party and literally people everywhere.  Plus, I wasn't getting a signal on my cell phone, so it made finding Michael a little more difficult.  At any other time, these things probably wouldn't have been a big deal, but standing around and dealing with the clusters of unorganized people on exhausted legs kind of left a bad lasting impression to an otherwise good race weekend.

After I found Michael we hurried to the car, got back to the hotel and showered and packed, ate lunch, and then I headed back to KC.  She stayed in town for a couple of more days visiting a friend.  The nine hour drive back to Missouri wasn't as bad as I thought it would be because I'd ran at a comfortable pace.  Plus with the much slower pace int he final miles, I didn't feel too bad at all.
Tons of people gathering at the post-race party
9 hour drive back home across Kansas immediately after the race
We had a great time, as always, just being together in Denver.  And I'm very fortunate to get to share weekends like this with the person I love.  It's great to have my wife's support in running, because she loves it as much as I do.  And I don't take it for granted - I know a lot of folks don't have that same opportunity. I would probably recommend the Denver Colfax Marathon to anyone who asks, but it's definitely not one of my favorites.  But it's a good race, and the few organizational details wouldn't be enough to keep me from running it again.  I felt like we really got to see a lot of the uniqueness of the city and really enjoyed the experience.  But even though I was able to finish the race without the elevation affecting me this time, I'll probably be keeping it at sea level for a while just to be on the safe side.
... Be Great Today


  1. Nice write-up Jim and congrats on another marathon finish. I was very close to signing up for this one (or the Denver Marathon) but I am sort of glad I opted out of it from your description (I ran Ogden Utah instead).

    I'll likely be in Denver for the RnR race this October.

    Either way I am glad you finished the race and had a positive experience.


  2. Congrats on the anniversary you kids!!! Thanx so much for all the photos!! Dig the fire house idea, the air & space expo was like no other, and walking through ANY stadium kicks A$$. I am pleased that you didn't DNF, that you listened to your body, and paced out the rest of the day for soaking up the atmosphere. Healing Vibes Your Way


    P.S. KC is still playing solid ball

  3. The course sounds really unique - not a PR attempt (flat or no - just too much going on) but the slight mismanagement is just odd, given how big of an event it seems to be.
    I feel you on the homeless situation. In the last few years, the already bad homeless problem in NOLA has exploded - mostly young "drifters". They come in on the train, mostly, and are usually from a middle to upper class background, but had a life event (divorce or tragedy, but mostly addiction) that led them to start a new life on the streets. It's bizarre - we have more than enough open beds in shelters here, yet they remain empty. This is because of the high prevalence of drug and alcohol use on the streets; shelters are all dry and clean.

  4. Denver has been working hard, for a long time, to address the needs of its visible and invisible homeless populations. It's important to note that much of the homelessness that you see isn't directly attributable to marijuana, but rather the same things that cause homelessness in other communities such as loss of a job, serious illness, changes in family structures, physical, mental & developmental disabilities and more. It's also important to remember that geographically, Denver is isolated. Local population growth is huge, largely due to people moving into the area--some lack additional supports that would be protective factors in their communities of origin. To learn more, go to

    1. Funny, I almost touched on Mr Jim's homeless comment but held off. Your thoughts are well written out and I would only add that Colorado sees 300+ Plus Days Of Sun. Totally ideal environment. You are correct that there is a full spectrum of "homeless". I have volunteered at our local Soup Kitchen and I am always amazed by the personalities that walk through the door. And I have compassion for the frustration of others when its purely a lazy bum situation. But the fact is, if I "chose" to live the homeless lifestyle, I pick Colorado. P.S. I only wish that the "locals" to Denver had filled the streets with cowbells and cheers and Mr Jim's write up more of a comparison to the crowd in Boston. Let's Have A Great Day

    2. I almost didn't write the line about weed being the main perceived cause because I know it's a debatable issue and hot button topic with most. I honestly don't lean either way on the subject. I have someone in my life who seems to be chronically addicted to it, but in general, I'm not against it. When we noticed the huge homeless population in Denver, I immediately got online and started researching it because it was very curious to me. Almost every report I read, and numerous reports from local homeless shelters and local news organizations, all assessed that it was because of the legalization of weed. Now, maybe that's a perception, I don't know. But statistics show that Denver has experienced probably the biggest spike in homelessness in not only the US, but the world, directly paralleled with the legalization. However, it can't go without mentioning that the Denver metro is also one of, if not the fastest, growing areas in the United States, so maybe it has something to do with that. I've worked and spoken A LOT with homeless folks in my life, and quite frankly, most suffer from addiction, mental illness, or both. I have met very few, if any, folks who say they are homeless "by choice". But then again, I like in KC where it's very cold in the winter, so I could see where you would have more of those folks in warmer climates, or states with more stable weather. To me, the real bottom line is, whatever the reason of the homeless situation in Denver or anywhere else, it is incumbent on those of us who have been blessed with more in this life, to help others who are in need. But, the whole topic has always been a very intriguing one to me, that obviously has many layers of understanding.


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