3 Lessons Learned From Running in the Mile High City (and trail photos to make you drool)

Many of you know that I moved to Denver, Colorado this summer with my family. We’re in the heart of the city and loving it.

Denver Colorado

But last May, I visited for three weeks and explored the city (read: breweries), getting to know Denver’s vibe and trying to decide if it was a place I wanted to live.

Well, I fell in love with everything Denver has to offer: a more relaxed pace of life than Washington, DC, an epic beer scene, fantastic weather, and of course one of the most active running communities in the country.

In just the last few weeks, I’ve run gorgeous trails in the mountains and had coffee with Matt Fitzgerald in Boulder.

I’ve drank more Coloradan beer than I should probably admit (it’s delicious!) and the weather allows me to spend more time outside with my daughter.

In other words, life is good.

And after my experience in Denver last May and the last six weeks of living here, I’ve learned that running in a new city presents challenges and rewards that we can all learn from.

Today I want to share what I’ve learned from running in Denver, how it can help you, and why these lessons are important to runners.

I also want to inspire you with some beautiful pictures from around the state of Colorado. Some will be featured in the newest (free) ebook, so make sure you sign up to get it.

Temperature is Just the Beginning

Colorado Running Trail

The first time I went running in Denver it was 75 degrees and sunny. A beautiful day for a run! I thought…

Until I realized that the sun is a lot stronger at 5,280 feet above sea level. After 20 minutes, I felt like I was in a toaster. After 45 minutes, I felt like I was being broiled alive.

Even though the temperature was relatively low – and the humidity was less than 50% – I was more uncomfortable than during a long run in the swampy climate of DC.

This experience reinforced the fact that temperature is only the beginning. Running in the heat is challenging, but if you add in certain variables it becomes even harder:

  • Sun (UV exposure)
  • Humidity
  • Altitude

Depending on where you live, you may have to deal with some or ALL of these weather variables. I had to learn this the hard way (after 16+ years of running, you would think I had learned this already…) and after a few miserable runs, I caught on. I’m a slow learner.

Now when I ponder how many layers to wear when running in Denver, my motto is: When in doubt, go without!

I feel warmer than the air temperature indicates most of the time, so my clothing choices have changed since I moved out west. Now I’m much more likely to run shirtless – a win for everyone, amirite?

Use the Resources Available To You

Experience the World

In DC, I had technical trails, a 400m outdoor track, and hills galore within a mile of home. In Denver, I have none of these resources.

But I do have altitude and well-maintained cinder running paths. My training has adjusted to what I have available close to home. And even though I can travel to fantastic trail running opportunities, I can’t run them every day.

I see many runners get frustrated because they don’t have access to some of these training resources. But that’s a shame, because whether I’m traveling to Denver for the first time or running in New Zealand or Hawaii, I’ve always found ways to train well.

No trails? Sneak on a golf course or find a city park (they usually have dirt or other soft surfaces).

No track? That’s no excuse not to run intervals! Program your Garmin or find a marked running trail.

No altitude? Run in the humidity.

No hills? Do more strength exercises.

No matter where you are in the world, there are creative ways to train smart and there are always places to run. Take advantage of them, explore new running venues, and enjoy each opportunity.

Effort Matters More Than Pace

Denver Hiking

Hiking with my daughter (can you see Denver?). Follow me on Instagram for more photos like this!

Last week I ran 9 miles at an average altitude of 6,700 feet, gaining nearly 1,700 feet of elevation (most of it during the first 5 miles).

The first mile was run in 9:19 – more than two minutes slower than my normal pace.

I felt discouraged and questioned my fitness after such a slow start. But I realized that there was a LOT working against me:

  • I ran long the day before
  • The first mile was entirely uphill
  • It was my FIRST mile and I wasn’t warmed up yet
  • I was at altitude!

I calmed myself down with this reasoning. In fact, I usually have very similar conversations with my 1-on-1 coaching runners at the beginning of the summer when their training suffers from the heat and humidity.

Outside factors influence your running and your performance on any given run doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s influenced by everything: stress, altitude, fatigue, sleep, terrain, nutrition, hydration, humidity and many other factors.

The data that a Garmin spits out doesn’t tell the whole story. Learn to run by feel. Appreciate the countless variables that can slow you down (and speed you up!).

Discover, Explore, and Get Inspired

No matter where you run, there exists the potential to be awe-struck by what’s around you.

Maybe that’s a sweeping vista of the Denver skyline, as seen from a mile above the city.

Or a freakin’ glacier after you’ve run through a rainforest and up a mountain.

Or simply the natural beauty of a park in the middle of a huge city, a quiet country road to be alone with your thoughts, or the sounds of a stream as it passes through the forest.

Running is one of the best ways to see and explore the world. I’ve said this before and it’s never been more true than today.

With every epic run that leaves me speechless, I’m reminded that our sport is more than a sport: it’s how we experience life. Running reinvigorates our soul and nudges us toward a better version of ourselves.

This inspiration is the main reason why I’m creating the 50 Quotes to Inspire You to Run Down Your Dreams book that I hope you’ll enjoy when it’s published next week. Jump on the notification list here if you want it – it’s free.

With 50 awe-inspiring photos from around the world, the book reminds me that I love running for its simple beauty. Without running, I wouldn’t have some of the best memories of my life.

And I’m sure you feel the same way.

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