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Updated: Feb 11


Fort Collins, CO

The human body is capable of incredible feats. After a certain point, our bodies can endure and get used to almost anything — ultramarathons, triathlons, marathons, body building, gymnastics, training and competing at the Olympic level — beautiful expressions of physical human brilliance and athleticism that sometimes exceeds what we believe is within the limitations of physics, medicine, and science in general. And there is a saying that if we get comfortable, we're not growing, which is also true.

I did a lot of growing during this trip. I was so far out of my comfort zone, and put my body and immune system through an unbelievable obstacle course of physical challenges that included travel, staying in two different hotels, adjusting to living at high altitude for a week, running a half marathon at altitude for the first time in unseasonably hot temperatures, and partaking in two significant mass gathering events involving exposure to thousands of people for prolonged periods… all of which culminated in me bringing home the most regrettable souvenir: COVID-19. I’m typing this as I drink herbal tea and listen to my husband feel sorry for himself because he is now sick too.

The 39th Annual Fort Collins Human Race lined up perfectly with my schedule, as I was booked to stay in Denver, Colorado, for a week for a professional conference. Also in perfect harmony with my visit was my family’s schedule – I got to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law, and my dad and his magnificent other during their stay. The race was at the end of my trip, which gave me a week to get acclimated and ensure I was adjusted to the altitude. We don’t live exactly at sea level – we are at approximately 1,024 feet, and Denver, the “Mile High City” sits at an altitude of 5,279 feet. It was still a significant enough adjustment that I noticed a difference.

When I arrived in Denver, I began to experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness – also known as “acute mountain sickness” – beginning with the onset of a headache. The persistent shortness of breath was initially alarming and very uncomfortable. I kept reminding myself to take it slow since my body was still demanding the same amount of oxygen it needs to survive, and eventually I would receive it, it would just take more time. When you go to higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure drops and there is less oxygen available.

It was more of a mental game than anything else, especially since the feeling of oxygen deprivation made me feel more fatigued than usual. It felt like a three-day long hangover. I’d heard that Olympic and elite endurance athletes often live and train at altitude to gain a competitive advantage, and I was beginning to understand the appeal of the challenge. I am nowhere near elite, and as the World’s Okayest Runner, I was feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t breathing normally while trying not to work myself into an anxiety attack.

I asked the front desk at the hotel for a humidifier to help me adjust to the dryness, and to help me sleep more comfortably. Sleeping the first two nights was challenging because I couldn’t stave off the intrusive thoughts about suffocating in my sleep, but knowing the humidifier was running was comforting.

I combated the unpleasantness of the altitude sickness with plenty of complex carbs, sodium, electrolytes, and iron, and was very mindful of everything I was consuming as far as my diet. I drank at least three times the amount of water I normally consume, and made sure I was loading up on vegetables, fruit, and salty snacks, even though my appetite was limited the first 48 hours. My first big meal consisted of a veggie pizza from California Pizza Kitchen, accompanied by a delicious side salad.

By the third day, I was feeling pretty good. This next section covers all the touristy stuff we did in Colorado, so if you’re a runner only here for the race recap, feel free to skip ahead – but you’ll be missing out on some great photos.

Georgetown Loop Railroad Train Tour & Jewel/Train Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

My family and I discovered the best of what Colorado’s Rocky Mountains have to offer when we visited the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mining Park. This historic tourist attraction is only 45 miles west of Denver just off Interstate 70, and it was an immersive, magical experience. To give you an idea of the timeline, this was on August 5, 2022, the afternoon prior to my race.

Prior to our excursion, we stopped at Mountain Buzz Pizza, a charming little restaurant just outside of Georgetown, offering both patio and creek-side seating, and surrounded by beautiful, serene views of nature. A small creek runs behind the restaurant, which adds to the restaurant’s allure as a great lunch spot for tourists. It goes without saying the pizza was incredibly delicious, and I inhaled it too fast to take any pictures of my food this time.

When we arrived at the Georgetown Loop Railroad for the tour, our train departed from Georgetown Devil’s Gate station, which sits at an elevation of 8,615 feet. This was a little over 3,000 feet higher than what I’d become accustomed to over the past week in Denver; however, I was adjusted to the altitude enough that I was unbothered by the incremental increase in elevation that morning. Each of us brought a water source to help stave off any potential mountain sickness. We rode the train to Silver Plume, and did a loop through the mountains and back to Devil’s Gate. To say the scenery was surreal is an understatement. I never fully appreciated the beauty of Colorado until this trip. During the train ride, a light rain began to fall intermittently, with some periods of heavier rain.

The train stopped periodically on the route for photo opportunities as well as maintenance. I took full advantage of each stop and everything in between to attempt to capture the historical beauty of the forest, creeks, and the mountains. There were some wildlife sightings – my brother-in-law spotted a deer in the forest and managed to capture a photo of it. Even with the rain showers, it was such a gorgeous trip, and our spirits remained high – pun intended.

There was a professional photo that was offered for optional purchase, and my dad could not resist and purchased a couple of them as souvenirs. I don't think we really thought about what it would look like with all of us wearing our sunglasses for the photo, but it's a funny memory. Even though it was cool and rainy for a good part of the excursion, there was plenty of sun before our train departed.

August 6, 2022, 7:00 P.M.

Fast forward 12 hours following the Fort Collins Human Race (you can read the detailed account of that in the next section). I ran the race, rode back up to Denver, got a quick shower, had lunch with my family, and then we all took naps. I managed to get somewhere around 2 hours of sleep, which was a good enough amount of recharging to prepare me for dinner, followed by our evening adventure at the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Jewel, American singer-songwriter, actress, and author from Alaska, who is best known for her hits including “Who Will Save Your Soul,” and “Foolish Games,” came together with one of the best-selling American bands from the 2000s, Train, to put on a phenomenal, emotional show that captivated us in the audience from start to finish.

Train performed some of their best hits, such as “Hey Soul Sister,” “Marry Me,” and “Calling All Angels,” while Jewel performed her most famous songs. They joined each other on the stage for a joint performance and surprised us with “Dancing Queen,” and a few others, to our extreme delight at this outpouring of nostalgia.

If you have never been to Red Rocks, it is one of the most extraordinary, historic concert venues in existence, and the outdoor seating under the stars at an elevation of 6,450 feet is quite literally nestled within the prehistoric towering red rocks that were formed millions of years ago. It is the perfect marriage of geology, architecture, and history. The venue’s website boasts that the Amphitheatre is “the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world.”

Our experience became quite the spiritual and emotional experience when a thunderstorm rolled in, seemingly from nowhere. During an intermission, my sister, brother-in-law, dad and I decided to forage for food and see what our options were at the venue. We first made a stop at the Visitor Center, which was perched atop the hill above the seating area. While we made the climb, it was starting to sprinkle, even though the clouds in the sky were minimal. Inside the Visitor Center, I made a comment that we should probably pick up a few ponchos, just in case. As if Mother Nature heard me after we paid for our ponchos, there suddenly was a clap of thunder, and a torrential downpour began. Because there was lightening close by, event organizers and staff began corralling everyone into the Visitor Center, and chaos broke out.

We were smashed together, hundreds of people shouting, pushing, clamoring for the stairs and elevator, clawing, screaming, suffocating each other. My sister and I decided the safest place for us was inside the Visitor Center, even though we were painfully uncomfortable. The storm lasted no more than twenty minutes, and finally when it was announced the concert was no longer delayed due to the weather, we stepped out of our shelter, ponchos on, and were surprised to find a breathtaking double-rainbow stretched across the sky, punctuated on either side by a towering pillar of red rock. The rain let up for the rest of the evening, allowing us to continue to enjoy an absolutely spectacular concert, and also enjoy the barbecue macaroni and cheese with shredded pork offered by one of the vendors. We got back to our hotel well past 1:00 A.M., exhausted, and not at all ready for our early morning flights home the next day.

Fort Collins Human Race Recap: From Denver to My First DFL

This race, celebrating its 39th year, took place on August 6th, 2022. According to my weather app, it was 68° F that morning as I rode up to Fort Collins from Denver, with an expected high of 77° F, and no wind. These conditions were a bit warmer than what I'd normally consider ideal for a half marathon, but it did not seem like it would be terrible since there was no humidity and no wind. What ended up actually happening as far as the temperature was an entirely different story, because the temperature on the course was an average of 84° F and we experienced blistering hot temps that at one point reached 95° F according to my Garmin — which is unseasonably hot for Fort Collins even in August.

Green Events Colorado, the race organizers, touted this race as "a beautiful, scenic and mostly shady, relatively flat course." I concur with all but the "mostly shady" part, because my experience was the opposite. The course was in fact very beautiful, and mostly flat, but it consisted of sun, heat and elemental exposure most of the time, with the exception of a few shady patches that provided much relief from the sweltering, unobstructed sun on that hot, cloudless day. This would have been an extremely delightful, wonderful race course in the fall, with autumn temperatures and fall foliage, and that was the thought I had all 13.1 miles while I willed my dehydrated body to continue functioning as I fought off heat cramps and exhaustion.

The race began and ended on Mountain Avenue at Civic Center Park, and we started the course heading west on Mountain Avenue precisely at 7:00 A.M. What was most surprising to me was how small this race was. For a race in its 39th year, I expected a fairly decent crowd, but the field of runners was only 130 for the half marathon, and maybe 200 runners all together for all three events that morning. There was no crowd support, it was only runners and a small group of enthusiastic volunteers cheering one another on throughout the course. I couldn't help but express my surprise to another runner, who explained that this race used to be really big in the area before COVID-19. He went on to say that interest in the event had dwindled to the point that he would be surprised if the race was still around in a few years.

Hearing this made me sad, and I imagined this event was very lively and spirited before the pandemic, with hundreds of runners and spectators lining the course under the shady trees of downtown Fort Collins. Maybe someday this little race will grow back into its former glory as we emerge from the effects the pandemic has had on small businesses and community events. Metaphorically, the Human Race is still in its protective cocoon, and may emerge once again as the butterfly it once was. Still, I couldn't help but feel a little deflated at the turnout, especially considering the work the race director and staff must have put into planning the event.

From Mountain Avenue we headed to Grandview, then north on Taft Hill Road to the Poudre River Trail. This course was net downhill overall, and I was extremely delighted to find the first 2 miles were a nice gradual downhill mostly in the shade of downtown Fort Collins. I can't remember a single uphill throughout the course — it was either flat, or downhill. I was mindful of my breathing, maintaining a really good pace considering the conditions, and I had the goal of simply completing the race, enjoying the scenery, and not going to the hospital for heat exhaustion or dehydration. I was feeling really good until we got onto the trail, and we were exposed to the heat and sun the rest of the course as the morning progressed.

Just before the trail went under Timberline road, there was a turnaround for the course at mile 9. At some point after mile 10, I hit the fork in the road, and went the wrong direction because it was not properly marked, and there were no other runners in sight to point us in the right direction. I was with a volunteer who was equally as confused, and we walked about a quarter mile off course, which of course added extra time to my finish. At that point I considered my finish time a wash, and felt I would be lucky to just finish and not go to the hospital, as symptoms of heat exhaustion started to creep in.

My blood was pounding in my ears and I felt like my body stopped sweating, with any remaining sweat drying immediately and leaving trails of dried salt all over my clothes and skin. The leg cramps also started, I was desperate for water, but I did not stop. I told myself that even if this became a 13 mile hike instead of a run, I would bring home that medal that I came all the way out here for, 500 miles by plane and $200 in roundtrip Uber fares later.

At each of the aid stations I pounded 3 to 4 cups of water and 1 cup of electrolyte mix, but it didn't feel like enough, even after hydrating all week. I was kicking myself for not bringing my own hydration system to supplement what was offered on the course. It felt like each aid station stretched father and father apart the closer I got to the finish line. Typically I am accustomed to water about every 2 miles with larger races, but because this was a smaller race, the course was a bit less supported.

Unsurprisingly, I was last to cross the finish line, a first for me in 17 years of running. If you ever "DFL" a race, which in the running community means finishing "dead f**king last," it's good to remind yourself the person in last place paid less per minute in registration fees than the person in first. I suppose I also went 13.1 miles farther than everyone who stayed on their couch. I tried not to be too hard on myself and remembered that I was likely the only runner from out of state completing this race — everyone else was local to the area or at least native to Colorado — and they were not only used to the elevation but also likely not as dehydrated as I was... aaaand they also didn't get lost like I did.

Despite everything I tried to tell myself, I was still almost in tears. At the finish line, a photographer snapped high-quality free finisher photos, which were available for download after the race on the event Facebook page. It was advertised that there would be beer and pancakes from Snooze A.M. Eatery at the finish, and I managed to snag the very last pancake in the serving tray as the volunteers were taking down the tents and cleaning up.

The pancake was nice and warm from sitting in the sun, and I quickly scarfed it down along with a banana, desperate for any calories to replenish what I lost. There was still beer available, but at that point my stomach was not in the best place for it, so I opted for water. As I devoured my pancake, the awards ceremony took place. I hurried out of there to get back up to Denver, so I could meet my family for lunch, load up on Gatorade and tart cherry juice, take a nap, and conserve my energy for the concert at Red Rocks later that night... and hopefully forget all about how difficult my morning was.

T-Shirts/Swag & Expo/Packet Pick Up

Because I traveled from out of town, race day packet pickup was my best option. I arrived about 50 minutes prior to the race, and picked up my packet, which consisted of my race bib, a cotton tank top with the race logo, LMNT electrolyte mix, and some business cards and pamphlets for local businesses. All of this was neatly folded into a disposable paper bag, in keeping with the theme of a "green event." There was no gear check, so I had to make a decision and discard what I couldn't run with. This also means I didn't have the opportunity to assemble my customary "flat runner" photo showcasing my gear the night before the race, as I've been doing for the past few 50 states quest races.

I packed the electrolyte mix and my race shirt into my small running backpack which also contained my cell phone, credit card, identification, and race nutrition (Honey Stinger waffles, and Huma gels). I also saved a coupon from Snooze Eatery that was good for 1 free pancake, which I plan to redeem at a later date. The medals we received at the finish were wooden, very light, seemingly made from sustainable materials, also in keeping with the "green event" theme.

Aid Stations

Each aid station had water, Nuun electrolyte drink, and first aid supplies. Portable toilets were also located at the aid stations, though I didn't take the time to actually notice them or need them because I was focused on hydration. The aid station locations were at the following stops:

Aid Station #1, 1.5 miles: Mountain Ave & Grandview

Aid Station #2, 4.4 miles: Shields & Poudre Bike Trail (**Toilet**)

Aid Station #3, 7.4 miles: Bike Trail & Mulberry bridge (**Toilet**)

Aid Station #4, 9 miles: Bike Trail & Timberline Rd

Aid Station #5, after turnaround, at 10.8 miles: Bike Trail & Mulberry bridge (**Toilet**)

Know Before You Go: Parking/Access

All in all I spent about $200 roundtrip in Uber fares to get from Denver to Fort Collins, which ironically was much cheaper than renting a car in my case. If you travel for this race, and you plan to rent a vehicle, or you're local and have your own vehicle, there is plenty of parking available downtown around Civic Center Park, aside from where the road is blocked off in the immediate vicinity of the park.


During conference:

Sheraton Downtown Denver

550 Court Pl, Denver, CO 80202

During race:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Golden

17140 West Colfax Ave

Golden, CO

Happy running and safe travels,



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