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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  1. Hi Coach Jason, I loved this article – so beautiful and heartfelt. I especially loved this line: 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. As a marketer, may I suggest that you use “Click-to-tweet” around profound statements like this one? Your audience would love to share your wisdom, I’m sure!

    Thanks for an uplifting read! And your daughter is adorable!

  2. I lived in Silver Spring, Md. for 10 years. Now I live in South Florida at sea level nad hot and very humid. My daughter lived in San Diego for several years and that is supposed to be the best running temperature in the country. There are lots of hills, temp. is great but sometimes in the evening there is FOG where you cannot see your hand if you stretch your arm out.
    Needless to say you adapt to where you are. If you love running the weather, altitude, humidity, etc. does not matter.
    As a running coach I try to get people motivated and attempt to get them running with the proper FORM. Fortunately here in Florida I can keep them off the dreadmill. It is most important to strengthen your body (not body build). Do Yoga; spin for lack of a hill; stay motivated and competitive if you are so inclined; most of all remember that RUNNERS LIVE LONGER.

  3. Melissa Austin says:

    Thank you for this great article! I am newer to running and had a rough summer in the humidity on the East coast. I was spoiled with the cool climate of the Cascades. Finding new favorite running spots can be fun but also daunting. Thanks again!

  4. I can’t recall where I read that “Life happens on the way there” And… “How you’re going is just as important as where you’re going” and lastly, “The journey IS the destination” and reading your words about experiencing the world through running is SO true. Even taking just a walk around a neighborhood that you’ve lived in for YEARS you’ll notice so much you never even realized was there. I love reading posts from people who are as passionate as I am about what I love most. BTW: your daughter standing before such a stunning backdrop of Denver? GREAT PHOTO!!!!

  5. I live in Denver now after 11 years in the foothills just southwest of the city. Love that you are here now, and what an inspirational post. But…as to the thought that it is better to underdress rather than overdress, I must comment. Yes, I almost always find I heat up really quickly in this climate and find myself wanting to stash a jacket somewhere on the trail. But if you are on a trail in the mountains, you will also eventually see why people say, “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait a minute.” It can change so fast and if you are caught in wet and/or cold and/or windy conditions, you become vulnerable to hypothermia very easily. And though you can move to keep warm, a misstep could render you unable to do so. There’s also the lightning…Keep in mind I am one of those people who will run in any weather (just got in from our first September snow-ish fall) except for really close lightning. Oh, and I am so glad I have one pair of waterproof (Gore-tex) running shoes.

  6. Welcome to the Southwest, Jason! (Shortly ater I left…)

    One thing to keep in mind living at altitude* is that it’s really hard to get in a quality high intensity workout, even after fully acclimatizing. The lungs just plain hold the legs back too much, so you get great cardio training but can’t get in a really good leg pounding. The guys who live in Flag drop down to Sedona weekly; unfortunately there’s nothing near the Front Range that is such an easy drop. Getting in a hard workout whenever you’re on travel somewhere (I always had a hard time resisting the temptation to just put in a long run where I could suddenly *fly*) is about the only solution I’ve found.

    *I’m being somewhat gracious to Denver here, as when I lived at 7500′ I got sick of people in Denver warning me about “oooh, the altitude here!”

  7. Running is the best exercise. It works like switching on the machine called body. It activates the whole system.

  8. Wow! Denver is beautiful! And an amazing trail too for running 🙂

  9. When trail running how close to a snake have you gotten? I was on a very rocky terrain therefore I was looking down a lot and got within 12″ before the snake and I saw each other. Luckily it was just a 4′ black rat snake and I didn’t get hit. I think he was just as startled as I. Do you carry a snake bite kit?

  10. It sound like a challenge to run here. I’m running every day but just around a lake. May be I will try this someday