Training / Sightseeing in Colorado

A few weeks ago Matt and I went to Colorado for the first time. Prior to this trip I’d never been west of Minnesota, so I was pretty excited to see the mountains. Matt had the opportunity to attend and present at a conference in Denver, so I jumped at the chance to go along with him.

Just as it was climbing into the 70s at home, we headed right into a winter storm in Colorado. Luckily it was still raining when our flight landed and we made it to our hotel in downtown Denver before the snow started. Matt had a conference to attend on Saturday, and all I had on my agenda was to run 10 miles. I’m glad I was deep into marathon training during this trip. With 7-12 miles to run every day but one, I got to take in a lot of new scenery.

Our hotel was a little over half a mile from the Cherry Creek Trail, where I did several of my runs. It was perfect – paved, flat, and nearly 40 miles long. One of the nicest features was being able to run continuously through downtown without stopping for traffic. I was relieved to find that the snow had not accumulated and the path was just wet on that first morning.

The Cherry Creek Trail

The Cherry Creek Trail

I took the trail west and joined up with the Platte River Trail, which took me by Mile High Stadium.

Mile High Stadium

Mile High Stadium

I was kind of surprised by the number of homeless people under the overpasses along the trail, but plenty of runners and cyclists were also out despite the poor weather. It was a very wet and snowy run, but a good one.

I didn’t know if I’d react to the change in elevation, but it didn’t affect me at all. At home I typically run somewhere around 700-1,000 feet, and I ran at 5,100-5,300 feet in Denver. All of my runs during the trip were right on target pace-wise, so I was relieved that I never noticed any difference.

One great thing about running on vacation is getting to refuel with hotel breakfasts every day. Eggs, waffles, cereal, etc. I could get used to that!

I’d hoped to go hiking quite a bit during the trip, but the first day wasn’t going to be ideal for that. I decided it was a good day to bundle up and see the downtown. It was very wet and I had snow blowing in my face the whole time, but I still enjoyed it.

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Looking down at the Cherry Creek Trail on a very snowy afternoon

I got to see REI’s flagship store, which is huge and awesome. I also checked out the mile-long, pedestrian-friendly 16th Street Mall. It has a ton of shops and restaurants, so I scoped out some good places for us to eat throughout the week.

The sidewalks downtown were just wet all day Saturday despite the constant snow, but the snow had accumulated by Sunday morning. We were lucky that the downtown area didn’t seem to get hit as hard as many of the surrounding areas. I had 10 miles to run that morning and decided to venture out to Denver’s City Park.

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Denver’s City Park

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This blooming tree thought winter was over

Some sidewalks were in decent shape, but many were not. It was probably one of my sloppier runs this season – in mid-April!

Matt had a free day and we had originally planned to spend the day seeing the Rocky Mountains. We changed our plans when we realized how much snow there was. We decided a short drive to the Denver Zoo might work better for such a messy day.

A snowy Denver Zoo

A snowy Denver Zoo

A few people braved the weather…but not many! Our admission was half off, and I understood why as we walked around and saw that all of the concession areas were closed. We still enjoyed ourselves and the animals did a nice job of posing for some photos.

A sample of animals from the Denver Zoo

A sample of animals from the Denver Zoo

Boulder Running Company had a location just down the road from the zoo, so we checked that out next. I was very impressed. The store was huge and seemed to carry any brand I could imagine. They had a lot of things that I only seem to find online.

Matt was back to his conference Monday through Wednesday, so I was on my own for a few days. The weather had settled down by mid-Sunday and I was ready to venture out of the city on Monday. I was curious to see Boulder since I know it’s a hot spot for running.

I headed northwest on the highway out of Denver and my mind was blown as I drove over a peak and saw the mountains for the first time. The view was amazing! I couldn’t help but wonder if people who live there appreciate that view every day or if they’re so used to it that they don’t think twice.

As soon as I got to the park in Boulder, I had to take a picture with the mountains in the background. Though it’s not the most glamorous motel, the scenery sure is awesome.

Foot of the Mountain Motel in Boulder

Foot of the Mountain Motel in Boulder

I was relieved to find that the Boulder Creek Path was snow-free. With eight easy miles on the schedule, I headed out four miles then came back. Most of the run was flat and on a sidewalk that followed Boulder Creek. I passed by some of University of Colorado Boulder’s campus. It was a nice run, but it got better when I turned around and ran back towards the mountains. I loved the view!

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Boulder Creek Path

When I finished my run, I drove to Eldorado Canyon State Park for my first hiking adventure of the trip. Although it was snowy, a pretty decent path had been cleared for the first part of my hike. I saw a handful of people during my visit, but I was mostly on my own.

A somewhat clear path through Eldorado Canyon's Fowler Trail

A somewhat clear path through Eldorado Canyon’s Fowler Trail

Eldorado Canyon

Eldorado Canyon

The views were breathtaking. After hiking for a bit on one of the easier trails, I ventured to a couple others. I don’t think as many people had made it to those trails because there was a little more snow to walk through.

Eldorado Canyon

Eldorado Canyon

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Eldorado Canyon

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Trekking through lots of snow at Eldorado Canyon

Despite the snow, it was a beautiful day and a nice park to visit.

On Tuesday I started my day with a rainy run on the Cherry Creek Trail. I had a workout of 3×2 miles at 10 seconds under marathon pace, plus I ran two miles to warm up and two to cool down for a total of 11 miles. I was impressed to find that so many people were out before 7am. I realized that a lot of cyclists must use the trail to commute to work.

After my run (and another nice hotel breakfast) I drove to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The legendary concert venue is open to visitors until 2:00 on days when they have shows. It was amazing, as expected.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Working hard to clear all of the snow from the seating at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Shovelers working hard to clear all of the snow from the seating at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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A view from Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Wednesday was my rest day, so no running. I decided to head to Golden to check out Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The scenic drive was half of the fun. Most of the parks I visited required a lot of driving through winding mountain roads. I was in awe most of the time.

After stopping at the visitor’s center, I started with one of the easier trails. I think fewer people had been on the trails at this park compared to those at Eldorado Canyon. There was a clear path to follow, but I’d take a few steps then one foot would sink way down in the snow. This happened continuously and made for a slow and challenging hike. I came across some women who had snowshoes and realized that was probably more ideal. I was talking to one of the women as we approached a spot where the path seemed to stop, even though we knew we hadn’t made it to the end. It wasn’t clear where the path continued, and as I watched the woman try to snowshoe her way through the deep snow, I knew we were all turning around and heading back.

A snowy path at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

A snowy path at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

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A pretty view at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

I tried a couple other spots in the park but the trails were even more snow-covered, and some spots weren’t cleared at all. It was a pretty park, but it’s probably better to explore with less snow.

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So much snow at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Next I went to Lookout Mountain, also in Golden. It was a very scenic drive through the switchbacks up the mountain. I was impressed by the cyclists riding up the mountain. I saw cyclists throughout our whole trip doing workouts on mountain roads. They are hardcore!

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The city of Golden from Lookout Mountain

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A view of the mountains from Lookout Mountain in Golden

I got moving early on Thursday morning because I had 12 miles to run, with nine at marathon pace. I went back to Cherry Creek and Platte River Trails for a solid run. Matt was done with his conference and we finally had a chance to explore beyond downtown Denver together for a couple of days. We planned to spend some time at the Rocky Mountains and stopped at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park along the way. It’s the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. We didn’t go inside, but it was beautiful outside.

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The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park didn’t look so intimidating on this beautiful day

We were very lucky that our trip coincided with National Parks Week, which meant free admission! As expected, Rocky Mountain National Park was much busier than any of the other places I had explored during the trip.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

There was plenty of snow that was packed down, sometimes to the point of being too slippery. Bear Lake was covered with snow, so you wouldn’t even know there was a lake there! We spent most of the time hiking to Alberta Falls, taking in the sights along the way.

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Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to Alberta Falls

Matt and I by Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Matt and I by Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

We had considered hiking to several different spots, but the snow made things challenging and it took a lot longer than we thought. We drove through the park a little bit and stopped a few times for photos, but we knew we had a long drive to Colorado Springs and didn’t want to get there too late. We’re definitely interested in going back to the Rockies in the future. It would be more ideal when the snow has melted and there’s better footing.

We chose a hotel in Colorado Springs that was close to the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. That turned out to be a good choice. It was nice to get off the pavement and onto a trail made of crushed stone and dirt. I had seven easy miles to run on Friday morning and was lucky enough to have Matt join me for most of it. The elevation reached 6,000 feet there – the highest for any run during the trip. Still, it wasn’t noticeably harder for me than the run would have been at home.

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Pikes Peak Greenway Trail in Colorado Springs

Our next stop was the U.S. Olympic Training Center. They had tours starting every hour and I thought it would be a cool place to see. We watched a video at the beginning then took a walking tour of the facilities.

The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

The pool at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

The pool at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

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Weights and an indoor track at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

I was hopeful that maybe we’d see some Olympians training for Rio. Most of the areas were pretty quiet when we walked around. We walked into one area that had a few people running on treadmills behind glass. As I looked, I nearly squealed as I said, “Is that…Shalane? That’s Amy! Oh my gosh!” Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg, two of the Americans who will be running the marathon in Rio, were right there in front of us. I had watched the Olympic Trials race on TV when they qualified and knew exactly who they were. They were training in a heat and humidity chamber and getting feedback that will hopefully help when it comes to hydrating properly in Rio.

Olympic marathoners Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

Olympic marathoners Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

I was a bit giddy for the rest of the day after getting the chance to see them training. We were pretty lucky that we happened to be there on the right day at the right time!

Our last scenic stop of the trip was Garden of the Gods. A stop at the visitor’s center gave us an amazing view.

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Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Finally, a place where we could hike without snow!

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

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Matt photographing the mountains from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods was fairly busy. We had to bypass a bunch of the parking lots because they were small and full. We stopped at a couple of spots, got in some good sightseeing, then called it good. We had to drive back up to the Denver Airport, return the rental car, then catch a shuttle to our hotel.

During the day I started to toy with the idea of running a double. I’d run seven miles early that morning and I had eight on the schedule the next day. We had to leave the hotel pretty early on Saturday morning and I wasn’t too excited about running on the hotel treadmill. I also didn’t think it would be a great idea to go out alone before the sunrise in an area I didn’t know. I thought it might be better to get the run in that night. Matt was supportive of my idea and even joined me for half of the run. We got out sometime after 6pm and it was a nice, sunny evening. I think it was the first time during the trip that it warmed up enough to wear a t-shirt for the run! Aside from that, it was the least exciting run of the trip. Our hotel was surrounded by nothing but fields of dirt. We had several blocks of hotels with a few restaurants mixed in. At least there were sidewalks and I could still see the mountains off in the distance.

Around and around the hotels

Around and around the hotels

Luckily I felt fine and felt accomplished after running 15 miles that day! I managed to run a total of 66 miles during our time in Colorado. It allowed me to cover a lot of ground and see a bunch of things I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It was pretty nice to be on a vacation where I could concentrate on getting some good runs in, then keep my legs loose by walking around canyons and mountains the rest of the day. I sure could get used to that kind of lifestyle.

However, it’s back to reality now. We enjoyed our first trip to Colorado and definitely want to go back…hopefully when there’s less snow. I’m about three weeks out from the Bayshore Marathon now and feeling strong. This Sunday I’ll run my first race of the year – the Borgess Half Marathon in Kalamazoo. It was my first (and fourth) half marathon. I’m not tapering at all and I know I should NOT “race” it. I have 16 miles on the schedule that day and plan to use the race to get through most of those miles. I’m looking forward to getting back to the racing environment and getting some practice in before the marathon!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @janetboltz







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