On second thought. . .

Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a beautiful resort just outside of Winter Park, Colorado, set amidst gorgeous mountain views for miles, set the scene for my first post-marathon competition attempt - a 7.5-mile trail race – on a cold, gray, breezy Sunday morning.

How was I feeling about it? Pretty nonchalant when we first left Denver. Shortly after hitting I-70, though, the race was no longer the first thing on my mind. The rain – a few times impacting road visibility – distracted me from thinking about the race at all, really, nearly the whole hour and a half drive. I don’t much like driving in the rain, especially when I can’t very well see the road ten feet in front of the car.

We finally reached Devil’s Thumb Ranch just after 9:00 a.m., plenty of time to check in, hit the potty – sorry, preschool lingo is a regular part of my vocabulary - say ‘hello’ to my friend Julien who had invited us up for the race, and get to the starting line by 9:30 a.m. Or so, I thought.

We grabbed what we needed for the moment – which included changing from flip flops to my trail shoes – and planned to return to the car after checking in. That’s where the first thing went wrong that morning. I realized it as we walked up a few stairs toward check in. “Ugh, I tied my shoes too tight.”

By the time JD and I did get to the start, bibs donning the numbers ’16′ and ’17′ safety pinned to our outer most layers, or layer, singular, in JD’s case – tough guy! - Garmins cued and ready, I was afraid to jog too far and miss the official start since the race wasn’t chip timed. So instead, I bounced in place for a few minutes to warm up for the race and to keep warm, period.

That’s where the second thing went wrong that morning. Bouncing in place is NOT the same quality warm up as my typical jogging-slash-plyometric combo.

Ugh, it’s cold! Why did I register for this race?! Shivering and alternating between knee-highs and butt kicks in place, I was doing everything I could to convince myself that I wasn’t, but I was. . . nervous. “You said this course is pretty flat, right, Julien?” He raised his right hand and moved it from right to left, making a wavy motion like a snake to indicate otherwise. “There’s some up and down.” Damn, I was hoping for more flat.

For what I think was the first time ever, I lined up and took off at the sound of the race director yelling, “Go!” instead of pulling the trigger to fire off a blank.

The first mile was tough, partly because the course was wet and muddy, partly because my muscles were stiff on account of a less than mediocre warm up, partly because I momentarily regressed to my amateur cross country competitor days and fell prey to the adrenaline pounding through my veins and. . .started out too fast. That’s where the third thing went wrong that morning.

It was during mile two that the fourth – and absolute worst – thing went wrong that morning. It was during mile two that the realization FIRST hit me. Yeah. I’m not ready to race yet. You don’t have to be a runner to get that this wasn’t a desirable thought to float through your head when you still had about six miles of a seven-and-a-half mile trail race to go.

Three other runners had now passed me, and I was afraid to look back to see if anyone else was about to do the same.

I decided not to care, only to try to keep the two girls ahead in my sight for the rest of the race – typical of what I would do in a race any other time. But then, I did something very non typical of what I would do in a race any other time. I stopped running and started to walk. What are you doing?! Don’t walk! RUN! Even if you slow down, just run!

was the first thought that came to mind, followed immediately by a second thought, one that validated what I already knew – for being my first one following Pikes Peak exactly one month ago, this race was proving a little too much too soon. Eh. Walk if you have to. But that was just it. I didn’t have to walk. I wanted to walk, as in I didn’t want to run.

I finally did convince myself to start running again a few feet later, but my run-walk pattern persisted for about the next two miles. I thought it a bonafide running miracle that I found myself gaining, and then right on the heels of the girl just ahead of me as we reached the aid station at the three-and-a-half mile mark.

I took my time at the station, actually stopped and chatted with the volunteer manning it for about a minute – something else I NEVER do during a race. “You’ve got one more long climb coming up, then the rest of the course should be downhill or flat.” “Thank God!”

I took off again, this time a little more determined to put forth more effort. The faster I could run, the sooner I’d be done.

Once the course flattened out, I actually found myself comfortable with picking up some speed. The girl ahead of me was still in sight except for a few sharp turns through the trees. I felt grateful that the course was muddy and offered a variety of terrain challenges on top of it – unearthed tree roots, narrow single track - that required focus and made the next two or so miles go by much more quickly than the first few.

It was then that I saw her again – the girl just ahead of me – and noted that she seemed closer. I’m gaining on her! With as bad as I was feeling that day, I couldn’t believe it. The course just ahead seemed to move slightly downhill; so I decided to make my move. So long as there’s no more climbing, I’ll be all right. I passed her and ran a little harder to lengthen the distance between us for the rest of the downhill before a left turn.

When I did reach that left, a race volunteer told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear. “Turn left, and head up the hill.” OH! Insert depleted mental sigh here. Come on, don’t let her catch you!

Luckily, the hill wasn’t all that bad – and for me to think that at this point tells you just how bad it wasn’t. I ran as hard as I could for the last mile and a half of the race. I just wanted to be done. And, of course, the nearer I got to the finish - now in sight as the trail broke through the trees and followed the ridge overlooking the grassy plains – the further away the finish – and rest - felt.

The crowd was sparse enough that I could have easily looked up to see my trail running pals and fellow competitors Julien and JD waiting for me, but I kept my eyes on the trail just ahead and kept trudging on. Finally, I crossed the line. My first race since my first marathon was over.

I saw them just after the finish; and, once I caught my breath, asked how their races went. “Julien, I am so mad at you right now! That course was hard!” “It was not that bad. You made it.” I laughed. I was right. The course wasn’t easy, especially not with the mud. He was right too. I did make it. And I had the mud caked to the back of my legs and sore quads for about three days later to prove it:


It may not look like much, but it took four paper towels and some scrubbing to clean before we got back to my car to drive home.

All in all, it was a hard race, and a cold – but also a good – day.


One tough trail, some BBQ, and a beer later, I was back – back to feeling more like myself than I had for the previous month since Pikes Peak – and looking forward to whatever running was bringing my way next. But, I highly doubt it’s bringing another race anytime soon.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

There’s still hope!

So as you may have noticed from my last blog post, not only have I not been running all that much, I’ve been eating junk food and drinking beer like my life depended on it. Even after months of dedication and commitment to a rigorous running regimen, it doesn’t take long to put on an extra pound or two when you go from nearly ‘zero’ running and working out to ‘sixty’ by eating everything fattening and awful in sight.

Now, imagine the depth of the feeling of absolute dread that came over me earlier this week when rainy weather made me realize that all I had to wear to work that day were my ’skinny slacks.’ Yeah, you know those slacks - The ones that I can ONLY pull off when a few pounds lighter and make me feel incredibly uncomfortable and just plain old ‘bleck’ when I’m not. The ‘skinny jeans” professional counterpart. Ugh.

Despite the incessant rainfall and gray skies outside, the clouds in my head were about to part; and bright, beautiful rays of hopeful sunlight were about to shine through. Cue a little accidental motivation mojo deja vu stage left. Even after all of the decreased exercise and increased pigging out, they FIT just fine! Sweet! Talk about motivation!

So guess what I didn’t do that day? I didn’t eat one of the muffins in the kitchen at work and, in fact, didn’t eat anything I wouldn’t have eaten while training all day.

Aaaaand I felt so good, I didn’t stop there.

Not only did I pull off my skinny slacks at work that day, I felt skinny enough to wear my spandex running pants to the Snug that night. And you know what else? Even I would say that I didn’t look completely grotesque!

I think it’s safe to say that, one month after Pikes Peak, I think I’m finally on my way back to my old running self, and just in time. I have a trail race tomorrow!

I may not be in as good shape as I was a month ago:

Pikes Peak - Nearing Finish

But feeling half as strong, no matter what my time, will be the best case scenario.

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.


So, I’ve never run a marathon before – until now, that is! – and so wasn’t sure of how I would feel after one. For some time now, I’ve been debating running another marathon this year - this time NOT up and down a mountain, mind you – to get a sense of what I could do for a “normal” marathon and to avoid any funny looks when I answer the question, “So what’s your time for the marathon?”

“I’ll wait and see how I feel after Pikes Peak,” I told myself.

But before I could think about another race - and let alone another marathon - some good, quality recovery would be in order. Enter Coach Jenny of Runner’s World Magazine. Her four-week post-marathon recovery plan includes running, cross training, stretching, and foam rolling beginning on day one and looks a little something like this:

Marathon Recovery 2

According to Coach Jenny, “. . .every recovery is like a fingerprint—unique—and the secret truly is to listen to your body and serve up what it asks.” Well, here’s a list of a few of the things for which mine has asked since my marathon:

  • French fries
  • Sleep
  • Chocolate bars
  • Sleep
  • Diet Coke
  • Sleep

And, of course, let’s not forget. . .

  • Lots and LOTS of beer and more than a few shots. . .of just about everything.

Pair this with the fact that I have still been trying to finish cleaning and settling into my new apartment – yes, yes, I am well aware that we moved in two months ago, geez! - and am trying to catch up with some friends and with several other things I put aside to train for the marathon the past few months, and my marathon recovery ‘fingerprint’ has looked a little more like this:

Three Weeks Post Marathon 2

Some running, check. Some cross training, check. Barely any stretching, check. No foam rolling, check. Lots of socializing and eating like a pig, check. Drinking beer, check and CHECK.

I had visions in my head of myself running at a good pace, looking strong and relaxed and feeling ready to take on the world all over again.

Instead, I’ve alternated pretty much every day between feeling energized and wanting to run for miles, wanting to feel the breeze in my face and the packed dirt trail of Cheeseman Park under my feet to feeling lazy, old, and fat and wanting to feel the comfort of my living room couch against my back, a fluffy pillow beneath my head, and the television remote in my hand.

I miss running almost ever day. I miss the trails of the foothills and neighboring suburbs of downtown Denver. I miss the post-run zen that only follows a solid effort for a tough workout. And, more than all of this, I miss the energy to want to do it all over again.

I know that a little down time following a tough race is a good thing and that I need the rest. Still, I’ve got a touch of the ‘Pikes Peak up and left me ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone post-marathon blues,’ doo-wop doo-wop.

It’s been three weeks, going on four, following Pikes Peak. I’m ready to start feeling back to normal on a consistent basis – and not just every other day – now.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.


The three days following my completion of the Pikes Peak Marathon were some of the most physically painful days I can remember. On Monday, it took me fifteen minutes to walk the two blocks between my parking spot and my office at Ruffato Hall. Even the slightest bit of decline from the sidewalk to cross the asphalt street induced ‘ouch’ noises under my breath.

During the day at work, I got up from my chair by leaning forward, then pushing off of the chair with my arms to best capitalize on the momentum to a standing position. I estimate it took me an extra minute to walk just around the corner to the bathroom, about a mere hundred meters away. That might not sound like much; but when you drink as much water as I do, it’s pretty significant.

For those few days, I held my breath every time I had to do anything that meant either getting to a standing position or standing itself; and my entire body sighed with relief once I sat down again.

I had planned to take a couple of days after the race off; but with as bad as I was hurting, I wondered whether or not I’d be able to walk without pain – let alone run – come Snug run Thursday. Late Thursday morning, though, I could walk both up and down stairs with no pain whatsoever. I’ll just run the course super slow. I don’t care what my pace is tonight.

You know what? I did only run the regular course – and no extra laps – once, but not because I couldn’t have run an extra lap or two. It was raining pretty steady most of the run, and I didn’t want to be too drenched. Had it not been, though, I may have gone a little further.

You know what else? I ran much faster than I expected I would, and even faster than my last handful of easy training runs. I was BACK, baby!

Plus, it didn’t hurt that running a faster pace = getting back to the bar sooner = admiring the gorgeous copper color of a cold brew in my hand.

There was only one way to celebrate our first Snug runs since Pikes Peak. If you’ve been reading the past few months or know me even a teensy bit, I’m sure you can guess what such a celebration might entail. If you haven’t been reading or don’t know me at all, I’ll tell you.

A proper post-Pikes Peak celebration in my book includes three things: (1) Irish car bombs at (2) my favorite Irish pub and one of my favorite spots in all of Denver – the Irish Snug – and, of course, (3) the newest additions to our technical race tee collections:

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up! Guess who finished first. . .

There’s no better way to toast!

I’m guessing this won’t be the last of our post-race celebrations. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Officially part of the club!

Previously in the life of this nerd in running shoes. . .I had just reached the summit of Pikes Peak, a.k.a. the half-way point of the Pikes Peak Marathon. . .

A few deep gasps for air and a fist full of grapes later, I was on my way back down Pikes Peak. I still had a half marathon – half the race – to go, but it already felt like a lot less. Within the first few steps, I immediately felt so much better. I was no longer out of breath. Somehow, it felt like a whole new race; and I felt like a brand new runner.

The first two miles down the mountain will forever remain in my memory as one of my absolute favorite parts of the race. Thanks to bibs donning runners’ names, we were able to offer our fellow competitors personalized positivity between gasps for air.

I so much more than appreciated it, especially during my last mile to the summit, and I was happy to pay my good fortune forward during the first few miles of my descent. ”Good job, Tim, Amy, Matthew!” “Stay tough, Nathan, almost there!” and “Keep going, Todd. One foot in front of the other!”

And, because I felt so much better, I, of course, asked a second favor of the kazoo players. “I’ve got another request.” “What?” “Baby Got Back.” Whether or not they actually played it, I don’t know. I was well on my way down the mountain and out of earshot moments after asking.

What felt like a very short time later, I left the comfort of lots of company suffering with me above tree line and again entered the forest feel of the trail at A-Frame. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would now see only a runner or two at a time along the course for about the next seven miles.

This was one of the steepest parts of the course, and it was riddled with exposed tree stumps, loose gravel, and rock steps. I was dreading this part most on the way down and knew that if I was going to biff it, this would probably be the place. Careful. Lift your feet.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. I was moving faster than I thought I would, and it seemed effortless. It reminded me a lot of the technical decline we’d been down over a dozen times during trail runs the few months prior. I’d even say it was, well, kind of fun!

Next was the spot along the course where the trail widened, was much less technical, and seemed to level off a bit. Now I can RUN. I was now moving much faster, and it felt really good. I purposely ignored my watch each time it beeped at me to signify the completion of another mile – didn’t want to look at how far I’d gone for fear that my mind would tell my body that it was getting tired and achy. I still had a long way to go.

I saw another runner ahead and was slowly gaining ground on him. And then, it happened – just like the last two times - so fast that I didn’t have time to mentally react. I suddenly hit the ground, slid down the mountain – leaving a bright red three-inch long scratch on my right hip I found later Sunday night – then did a crooked half somersault backwards to a sitting position looking up at the trail I had just run down.

I looked around for a second, then behind me at the runner I was trying to catch just ahead. The scuffle made enough noise to distract him from his own race. “Are you OK?” “Yeah, I’m fine, thank you.” And, just like the last two times, I got up, dusted myself off for a second, took note of a new bloody scrape on my knee about an inch to the right of the scar from my previous two falls, then kept running.

Damn! Was hoping I could dust myself off, and no one would know! Oh well. A little souvenir, courtesy of the mountain itself.

Now the right side of my knee felt equally loved

The aftermath. Now the right side of my knee feels equally loved.

Nineteen miles – about half way down the long, lonely seven-mile stretch of trail. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is where I hit the “wall” of the marathon experience. Not a physical one, at least.

Having spent the entire ascent and the first few miles of the descent – the first sixteen miles of the race - with the company of my fellow competitors grunting and fighting their own mental wars, running alone made those three short miles feel so much longer, even despite my now much faster pace. I’m ready to be done running now. I just wanna go home!

Rather than the wall that I hit several times during miles eleven and twelve during the ascent - physically and psychologically taxed beyond explanation, feeling on the verge of literal collapse – I just felt like a big whiny baby in my head.

Shortly afterward, I saw it. The sign signifying that six miles of the race remained, a.k.a. the twenty mile mark. I grinned to myself my first step past it. This is officially the longest distance I’ve ever run in my life! That was all I needed to pick up the pace a bit and push through. About than an hour to go. You’ve got this.

Somehow, those next few miles seemed to go by a little quicker. I managed to continue to pick runners ahead off and then found myself in a game of leap frog with one or two of them as we began to descend the Ws.

I was thinking that they would be an easy section of the course to gain good speed on the way down. Thanks to recent heavy rainfall in the Manitou Springs area, though, the mini ravine dead center of the now more narrow trail – at times just wide enough for my feet to fit, at other times narrowing and threatening a twisted ankle – proved me wrong.

When I couldn’t run down it – which was most of the time – I had no choice but to widen my gait, reaching for the far right or left ends of the trail with every step in an awkward, clunky fashion. Pair that with the now five or so runners lined up directly in front of me, all of us nipping at the heels of the next runner ahead.

Every now and then, I’d hear the all too familiar sound of trail running shoes sliding on loose gravel followed by a “Woah!” serving as a warning to runners reaching that exact same spot only seconds later. I suddenly realized that I was so on the heels of the guy just ahead that I couldn’t very well see what the trail would offer my next step until my foot approached it mid stride.

Even though the few runners ahead were slowing me down, I was relieved that they were there. It was nice to be back amongst everyone else panting, steps pounding, and realizing that the bright red needles on their energy gauges were crawling dangerously close to the ’E' as was mine.

I decided to slow it down a notch to prevent an ill fate. I’ve got to be getting close to the end of the trail. I’ll hit the pavement hard. The switchbacks seemed to grow closer and closer, and I was looking for the opening through the trees marking the end of the trail and beginning of the pavement – a.k.a. the last 1.25 miles of the course – with every turn. I was starting to have those ‘ready to be done’ slash whiny thoughts again.

I heard cheering up ahead past the next turn, and I was praying that it was the first set of spectators we’d meet at the end of the trail. No such luck. It was the last aid station along the course, and the first aid station I ran past without accepting any sustenance offered.

And then, we were FINALLY there. THANK YOU!!! I was a bit nervous that the pavement would hurt my legs, but I didn’t feel anything different. In fact, it felt comfortable to be on stable, solid ground for the first time since the second mile of the race. This is IT. Almost there.

I ran at full speed and was bound and determined to run as hard as I could until the finish line. I tried so hard to catch the two runners just ahead of me, the only two I couldn’t catch along the trail on the way down. And, I knew that at least one other runner was trying to catch me too, thanks to one of the scattered spectators we were now meeting along the course.

“He’s on your tail, Melissa! Don’t let him catch you!” Thanks in large part to her help, I didn’t.

A bit further down the road, I saw him for the third time. Spotted him right away. As I neared, he noticed me too. I lifted my arm and pointed at him, and he extended his arm to point back. Once I reached him, I held up my left hand, and Bart Yasso ‘high fived’ me as I ran past: Bart Yasso High FiveShortly after my third and final brush with running royalty, I saw another of my heroes – Dakin – ready to root me on. He saw me pretty much immediately and started yelling encouragement while crossing the street and snapping a few pictures.

I thought he would stop walking and continue to cheer once he reached me. Instead, he started running alongside me opposite the line of bright orange construction cones marking the course along the street.

And, of course, he continued with words of encouragement I really needed at that point: “You’re doing great! You’re amazing! Only point three miles to go, just up ahead and around the corner. You’ve got this!” I couldn’t speak a word at that moment; but I was screaming, “Thank you, Dakin! Thank you!” in my head.

I kept running as fast as I could toward the left-hand turn marking the home stretch. Stay focused. Almost there. The crowd of spectators had grown more and more dense as I neared, and the sound of distant cheering exploded into full-fledge ‘Wooooos’ and clapping once I turned the corner. I could see the finish line!

And, right before I got there, I also saw my mom and my dad, whose voice I clearly heard above the crowd. ”Come on, Liss! GO!” Every muscle in my body was in full flex, and my eyes were glued to the clock at the finish line of my first-ever marathon.

Just a few moments later, I crossed it; stopped my watch; walked a few steps into the tent; and bent over, resting each of my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath, looking down at the dusty shoes – now still – that had just carried me 26.2 miles up and down one of Colorado’s ‘fourteeners.’ A volunteer placed a medal over my head. “Congratulations!”

A few more slow and wary steps, gasping for air and still coming to the realization that the race was over, I leaned on a table past the quartered bagels, bananas, and orange slices and thought about the many mental and physical struggles along the way. Four words came to mind. That. Was. SO. Hard.

I stood, grabbed a plastic cup of Gatorade in one hand and water in the other, and walked out of the calm and shaded tent into the sunlight of the afternoon and frenzy of runners and spectators passing by. My support crew was waiting.

They offered congratulatory hugs, and I nodded when they asked if I was OK. “So how was it?” “Hard.” And soon, I shared some of my thoughts and feelings about the race and was up to speed on how they all passed their time in Manitou while waiting. And, once Dakin and Joe decided that I was recovered enough, they surprised me with a full-fledged post-victory-locker-room-style shaken champaign shower:

Aww! My boys love me!

Aww! My boys love me!

I was already covered in sweat, trail, and a little blood. Why not add some booze to the mix?

And then, we drank some booze with dinner before heading back to Denver. Our Performance Enhancing Kokopellis were tired. Their work was done, as was ours.


A whole year of thinking about the Pikes Peak Marathon, and four months of dedicated training and mental preparation for it, were over.

PEK Divider

The next morning was, well, not at all unexpectedly, pretty painfully slow. Despite my attempts to curb the ‘AAAUUUGGGHHH’ factor with a soak in Burt’s Bees Bath Salts – AH-MAY-ZING, by the way – the night before, every body part from the neck down absolutely ACHED. When it was finally time to head down three flights of stairs to the front door, then another flight down to my car, I hesitated.

I had joked the day before about how it was probably going to take me a half hour to get to my car that morning. Surely, though, it was only a joke. I’m fine. It won’t be that bad. And so, I took my first step down the first step and. . .cried out loud! OOOOOOWWWWWW!!! I only hoped I didn’t wake my roommate on his day off.

After that, I held onto hand rails and leaned into walls - did whatever I could to try to put as little body weight as possible on my legs and feet – whenever I absolutely had to walk up or down stairs. If I could help it, I avoided it all together. That descent down a mere four flights of stairs – on that day and the next two – hurt WAAAY worse than the entire thirteen point one miles down Pikes Peak the day before.

Once I did reach the bottom of the final flight of stairs at the sidewalk, I  had to wait until I saw no cars coming down the street even from a distance. It took me a while to creep across not only like a zombie, but like the epitome of divine decrepit death warmed over.

Finally, I reached my car; slowly opened the door, then shuffled just inside of it; placed my right hand on the steering wheel, left hand on the inside door handle; fell into the driver’s seat, right leg inside the car, left leg still hanging out on the curb; and loudly sighed in momentary relief and gratitude at not needing to use my muscles to sit a few seconds. I had never been as wrecked after a race than I was after my first marathon.

I grinned to myself. Three words came to mind. TOTALLY worth it.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Keep Calm and Marathon On

On the beautiful, sunny Friday morning of August 16th just after 11:00 a.m., I left my apartment to pick up the boys. Months of training had officially come to an end, and our Pikes Peak weekend had officially begun.

That whole day was pretty relaxing. . .for me. I didn’t have to think about a race the next day. We first hit downtown Manitou Springs to pick up our bibs, bracelets, and hit the race expo. That was the first time that weekend I saw him: the one – the ONLY – Mr. Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World Magazine and running legend. And, of course, I had to say ‘hello.’

“Hi, Mr. Yasso! I followed your marathon training plan again. Running the marathon this year!” “I’ll be at about a half mile from the finish line cheering runners on.” “OK, you’d better look for me!”

Then, after settling into our hotel room, we got to work – Sifted though our bags to load hydration vests with Gu energy gels, salt pills, and extra technical tees; set out running attire; completed emergency information on the back of our bibs. Ready!

Ready for Battle

After dinner, I had something I had been waiting to spring on the boys - a last-minute good luck charm sure to put us in a racing frame of mind thanks to our friends at Trail Runner Nation. Yep, you guessed it. . .none other than authentic Performance Enhancing Kokopellis!

Performance enhancing kokopellis? Could we be any more ready for Pikes Peak?!

Performance enhancing kokopellis? Could we possibly be any more ready for Pikes Peak?!

PEK Divider

Saturday morning, I played a role I’d never played before: race support. I was up with the guys at 5:15 a.m., asking what they needed and offering bids for casual conversation to keep them relaxed.

At 7:00 a.m., JD’s wave of the Pikes Peak Ascent was off. Dakin was next, and he was nervous. And suddenly, so was I. Only 24 hours until the gun went off for my race. Gulp.

Once Dakin was off, I was ready to take off. First, though, I just had to take advantage of what was very likely a once-in-a-lifetime photo opp. Readers, meet Arlene Pieper, the first official woman to finish a marathon in the United States. Which one was it? I’m glad you asked – Pikes Peak in 1959! Kindred spirits? Maybe. A gal after my own heart? Most definitely!

Arlene & I Before PPA

She had some words of advice for me as a first-time marathoner at Pikes Peak that ended up coming in handy: “Whatever you do, don’t stop. Just keep going. You’ll do great!”

After committing these words to memory and offering a whole-hearted ‘thank you,’ I sped walked back to the hotel, quickly got ready, and grabbed a few articles of clothing requested by the boys before jumping in my car and heading to the summit of Pikes Peak.

I had never been a spectator at the Ascent, and I both loved and was completely stressed out by it. It was fun to watch the racers as they approached the finish line, especially because I knew exactly what that was like and empathize with them completely.

I saw the ’death marchers’ and could feel the burning sensation in their lungs and wary legs. I saw those lucky enough to still have some ‘umph’ to run at that elevation, and I felt their hearts pounding in their chests and heard their internal monologues: Almost there. Stay tough! And, after what seemed like an eternity of squinting and studying runners from a distance, I saw JD and Dakin race to the finish.

We wasted no time getting back to my car and down the mountain to pizza, potato chips, cookies, and most importantly, a much higher percentage of oxygen in the air back near the starting line in Manitou Springs. Back at the hotel, the guys started winding down. . .and I started winding up. It was my turn, and the clock was ticking.

Two awesomely calm guys slash amazing friends kept me calm when, right before heading out to dinner, I realized that I had forgotten an essential piece of racing attire – my sports bra. Really, Mel? REALLY?! Ladies, I know you feel me on this one! You don’t mess with the sports bra! A few clicks of the iPhone and a quick trip to a local running store within an hour of closing later, we finally found ourselves at dinner.

After what had been a long, rushed, and stressful day, I was all worried out. I had no energy left to feel nervous about the race the following morning. All that was left was a surprisingly relaxed and even smiling girl enjoying a night out to dinner with the best trail running buddies for whom anybody could ever ask.

They, and a few good luck charms – the necklace my good friend Dave gave to me after I paced him for the last 15 miles of what was then his marathon PR and the shirt that my NC running buddy Melissa bought for me at the Boston Marathon expo after our first year of running together – proved the best possible companions on my marathon eve.

Marathon good luck charms!

Talk to me, Goose. . .

PEK Divider

When my alarm went off at 5:05 a.m. the next morning, I woke within seconds and shut it off before the guys heard it. I thought they might have slept through my getting up; but the minute I stepped out of the bathroom, I was greeted by both Dakin and JD, sitting up straight and at my beck and call. “What are you gonna do now?” “I think I’m going to go grab some breakfast.” “I’ll come with you.”

Their attentiveness and concern the entire morning – and the entire day – was a welcome deviation from our typical razzing each other for every reason under the sun for twice weekly bouts on trails and at Snug runs. In fact, I think they were more nervous about the race than I was:

Shouldn't I be the one with my game face on?

Shouldn’t I be the straight-faced one?

During my warm up, I felt great. My muscles were loose, and I had not even the slightest pain or strain anywhere. Even better than that, I had somehow remained not only completely relaxed, but even a bit jovial leading up to the start – a far cry from my typical ‘get the eff out of my face’ demeanor and straight-lipped game face self before a big race. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that relaxed and positive before a race before.

All systems were ‘go.’ Today’s gonna be a good day.

And then, I saw him for the second time. “Hi, Mr. Yasso!” ”Hi, Melissa!” “You remember my name?!” “Your bib helps.” “Oh, ha ha! You’d better be looking for me at the finish, because I’ll be looking for you!”

Shortly thereafter, I handed my coat to Dakin, geared up, and hugged Dakin and JD before heading over to the start to line up. “See you guys in twenty-six point two.”

And I was now on my own.

The gun went off, and I started my watch when the slow-starting mob of fellow competitors finally started moving and I hit the first chip sensor. A whole year of thinking about that very moment and four months of dedicated training and mental preparation for it were about to be put to the test.

The first mile felt amazing. Maybe a little too amazing. Slow down a bit. Don’t burn up too much energy just yet. But I had no way of knowing my pace. For the previous two years, I carried a laminated chart with pace markers for key landmarks along the course. Hey, I don’t call myself a nerd for nothing, peeps!

Well, most of my belongings were still sprawled out in disarray across my bedroom floor as they had been since moving into my new apartment weeks before. I couldn’t find my chart when I remembered to look for it just before I left my apartment two days before. Too late now!

I thought I slowed enough; but feeling a bit fatigued after only a few switchbacks of the Ws, I wasn’t so sure. The remainder of the Ws were a bit of a physical struggle, but I was finally able to get some good running in when the course flattened out after the last switchback.

Flattened. Ha! “Flattened” along the Barr Trail means that the incline grade is only about five percent. After continuously climbing at a much steeper grade, though, that five percent could feel just as welcoming as a gentle breeze.

The ‘breeze’ was not as gentle as I remembered it last year. Then, I felt so much stronger and gained ground in a good time. At that point during the ascent this year, though, I wanted to run harder; but my body couldn’t. Instead of picking runners ahead off and passing them one by one, I had to spend the easiest part of the ascent catching my breath, knowing that steep and technical terrain – and an extra 13.1 miles – awaited.

At every single aid station, I grabbed a fist full of something – grapes, Skittles, dried cranberries, whatever. I think it was at the Barr Camp aid station that I had some cranberries and felt as I always imaged Popeye did after he downed a can of spinach.


Let me at that trail! LET ME AT IT!

Woah! That helped! And then, it hit me. You moron, when was the last time you took a Gu? I brought several with me but had completely forgotten. Is that why I’m so tired?

I took one then, but I really should have taken one about two miles – and at least a half hour – earlier. During the next few miles, I felt weird. I thought at one point I was dreaming about the race rather than actually running it. Can I stop? And then I realized that if I indeed did stop running in what I thought was a dream, I would actually stop in the middle of the course.

That weird feeling came and left for a couple miles more, then I hit the next big climb of the trail, this one particularly technical and very notably steep, especially when compared to the “easy” part of the trail I had just left. I actually started to feel a little better and managed through this section all right.

And suddenly, I was there - tree line. The switchback passing the A-frame marks the end of forest and shaded trail riddled with exposed tree roots, big rock step ups, and loose gravel and the beginning of the unobstructed sight of reddish colored trail and complete exposure to whatever the elements had in store, which, that day included cloudy skies and distant thunder.

Even on my strongest of days during my past two ascents, tree line - a.k.a. the elevation at which the air is too thin for vegetation to survive - has marked a very different race. Three more miles is all you’ve got, then it’s downhill from there. Keep with it. I ran for the first part; but then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Much sooner than I thought I might be, I was part of the dreaded ‘death march’ along the trail.

During miles eleven and twelve, I winded back and forth along the trail up the mountain alternating between feeling OK and running past a few walkers ahead to walking myself slower than a snail’s pace and feeling like I was going to die. No sooner could I tell myself, “No more running for you until the way down!” I felt fine and wanted to push forward faster again.

I thought of that Tuesday at Mt. Falcon when I did my 6 x 800 workout on the technical ascent up the mountain. Remember how much that first 800 hurt? How you thought you couldn’t possibly do all six uphill? But you did! And Arlene’s advice echoed in my head. Whatever you do, don’t stop. Just keep going. And I did.

Finally, with one mile to go to the summit, I got a most unexpected burst of energy that made me want to get to the top as fast as I could. The faster I got there, the sooner I would (hopefully) stop hurting and have only the downhill left. I ran a few steps past walkers when I could, kept my eyes on the trail a few yards ahead to propel myself forward instead of looking down at my feet to will them to take another step.

I even had a bit of energy to share a little humor. For the two years prior during the Pikes Peak Ascent, there was a set of spectators playing kazoos at a switchback shortly before the Golden Stairs. And, they were there again this year. “Are you taking requests?” “Sure, what do you have in mind?” “The Ants Go Marching.”

More and more spectators and race staff cheered me on as I pushed forward. “Good job, Melissa! Almost there!” “You look good, Melissa, stay strong!” Their encouragement was most welcome, and it definitely helped me to power through the pain. I managed to gasp many a winded ‘thank you’ to them and tried to offer runners already coming down the mountain my own kudos as well.

Still, my body pushed back with a slight pang of ‘ouch!’ in my right hamstring. My fatigue, combined with the elevation and my suspected lack of proper fuel along the way all added up to my hamstring wanting to cramp. Flashbacks to my first ascent – and the terrible cramping pain in both hamstrings and calves during the final mile of the ascent – came to mind. Oh, hell no! Not again!

Finally, I could see the bright yellow banner announcing the summit and turn around point not twenty-five feet ahead, and I couldn’t possibly get there fast enough. The faster I neared it, the faster I seemed to move. The faster I moved, I kept telling myself, the faster I could head back down. And, when I did finally make it there a few moments later, only two words came to mind. . .um, pardon my French, please. . . F$#% ME!

You on the edge of your seat yet? Stay there, and stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the story of my FIRST marathon. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Here goes nuthin’. . .

So today marked my official last training run – a “very easy” three miles, the length of the actual Snug run course. I can’t remember the last time I only ran the regular route and no extra laps. Think it was during my visit home over the holidays. Or maybe last year for my final training run. Huh.

Monday and Tuesday, I felt quite highly strung – a big bundle of nerves, lines around my eyes like a cartoon character expression, agitated, and about to tear my hair out:

AAAHHH! Yup, Tweek. Exactly!

Yup, Tweek. Exactly!

Wednesday, I felt a lot better, even from just waking. Maybe it was my constant self-soothing attempts – Calm down. Just breathe – occasionally paired with an actual deep breath. Maybe it was the good decision I made to reset my alarm to 8:00 a.m. after hitting the snooze button twice, allowing me a full eight hours of sleep. Maybe it was Lauren Fleshman‘s encouraging Tweet in response to my own:

Lauren Fleshman Tweet

Whatever it was, I’m so happy it happened.

Work kept me busy and my thoughts occupied today; but on the way to the Snug, I felt the beginnings of a good pang of “Ouch!” in my left rib cage, much like the one I felt for more than three of the five miles I ran last night. It made me a bit nervous. Luckily, I was able to fight the good fight and maintain a very sloooooow and steady pace for the Snug run and even found myself in a near meditative state of relaxation for part of it.

I’ve wanted just one beer all week but was able to continue my alcoholic abstinence and instead sipped on a tall, tasty glass of the ol’ H2O. In the end, all was just about as right with the world as it could possibly be. The best of friends plus one of my absolute favorite things in the world – the Irish Snug Running Club – equals a few laughs and clear head when I needed it most.

My guess on the rest of the nerve forecast leading up to the race? Tomorrow will include mostly sunny skies with a few dark clouds rolling in and out about mid day, a.k.a. feeling relaxed but fighting anxious butterflies in my stomach most of the morning. The late afternoon will bring beautiful temperatures in the form of excited energy upon reaching the race expo to pick up our bibs and bracelets.

Saturday’s forecast calls for cloudy skies and cooler temps as I focus on supporting the guys and do my best to fill their consciences with positive vibes for the Ascent, then run through my game plan for my own race while I wait for them to cross the finish line at the summit.

Whereas most meteorologists on news stations in Colorado are generally wrong, I have been pretty accurate. We’ll see if that holds true for this weekend’s forecast.

Today marked my official last training run. Tomorrow, Dakin, JD, and I head south for beautiful Manitou Springs - home to the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon - to see what our very measurable training plus our immeasurable grit and ‘go’ will amount to on the mountain. The next time you hear from me, I will have run my first Pikes Peak Marathon and my first marathon ever.

It’s been a great past four months of training and six months full of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ - and I’m not just talking about the trails – since you all first met me. Thank you for ‘running’ alongside me for it. Here goes nuthin’!

“You’ve got this. . .Lead with the heart.” I’ll see you kids on the flip side. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Motivate me!

Saturday included a drive up to the mountains for a weekend camping trip, an opportunity to test out my new tent and sleeping bag, good quality time with the best of friends slash running buddies, beer, and a long awaited date with the September issue of Runner’s World Magazine.

It was to be 24 hours free from any anxiety-ridden thoughts of the Pikes Peak Marathon, a day to relax and to sloooooowwwww dooooowwwwwn, something I’ve been trying to do but failing at miserably. The time in the mountains just over an hour away from beautiful Denver turned out being just what the doctor ordered, and the timing of the trip couldn’t have been more perfect.

A bit to my surprise, though, what I found in those pages while reading about running - and trying to forget about the race - made me feel the most relaxed.

Enter Lauren Fleshman, two-time USA Track and Field 5K Champion, 7th in the 2011 World Championships 5K (the highest American finish in history), and a member of six world championship cross country and track teams among other accomplishments, who, according to well-respected running scientific evidence, has run a 5K 35 seconds faster than should be statistically possible.

If her article title, ‘To Heck with Science,’ doesn’t give the gist away, the subtitle will: ‘Runners love numbers, but we can’t measure heart, grit, or passion.’ The article is great – Well written and engaging with a lot of personality that draws you in to the very last word.

She is absolutely right. You can’t measure aptitude or ability based on mileage, pace, VO2 max, or any other running related number. There’s a lot going on that has nothing to do with any of these and everything to do with what makes runners runners, something that can’t be quantified but most definitely qualifies those who ‘do’ from those who ’don’t’ in the one sport I love most.

Having had to use thought stopping techniques a handful of times yesterday and today at work when it hit me that four months of training will all come down to the gun in a mere five days – down to one hand - and counting, I thought of Lauren’s article and thought a little self-motivation was in order.

So, I reflected on the validation I’ve gotten the past few months - the words of encouragement idolizing the abstract and immeasurable whatever it is – heart, passion, maybe just plain ol’ hard-headed obstinance – that’s running around in this little nerd in running shoes’ body.

Without further ado, I give you the most memorable commends I’ve received while training for my first ever marathon:

  • “Wow, you’re hard core,” said to me on a day I felt particularly sluggish and slow while trudging up a trail incline. Damn, I wonder what she would have said had she seen me on a good day!
  • “She must really be in shape if she can run up here,” said more audibly than necessary to the fellow hiker directly to the woman’s left; and that’s OK with me.


    Good little runner!

  • “How many times are you going to run up this?!” I heard several variations of this on my second trip up and down the first steep section of Herman Gulch on the day I lost my car key.
  • “That’s impressive.” Had I had the breathe at the time, I would have replied, “If you think this is impressive, you should see me spit!” Instead, I painfully gasped a “Thanks.”
  • “You’re a beast!” ‘Nuff said.
  • “You look younger and younger every time I see you! How do you do it?” OK, so that one has nothing to do with running per se; but it came from a running buddy. That still counts, right?
  • “You’re fast!” Not as true this year as in the past. Still, I’ll take it!

I’m not sure of exactly what this says about me as a runner, but I’m hoping that not being able to assign any numbers to it might help my numbers when I cross the finish line on Sunday. Guess we’ll find out if that’s true soon enough. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.