Beginner’s Race Guide: Colfax Marathon Relay Race

colfax marathon relay team beginner runner

So your coworkers have peer-pressured you into running the Colfax Marathon Relay. Don’t worry! I was in your shoes. You’ll have a great time, I promise.

Between my aversion to paying a bunch of money to run somewhere I already go all the time and the fact that the Colfax Marathon Relay didn’t have a leg under four miles, I politely bowed out of my workplace’s team earlier this spring.

So how did I end up at the start line, excited to run? Well, a little peer pressure. And a lot of boundary setting.

One of our coworkers had a travel conflict and had to drop out, leaving me as the lone person in the office who was both available that weekend and theoretically capable of running four to six miles.

My first line of questioning was around performance expectations. I don’t mind being slow unless everyone else is very invested in me being fast. In fact, I can totally suck at something and still have a great time as long as everyone I’m with isn’t attempting to coach me to greatness.

Admitting you’re a slow runner or that you will have to walk sections of a race is very hard to do without feeling self-conscious. I get that. But each time you speak up and unashamedly set boundaries and expectations, it gets easier. And you feel much more empowered.

My coworkers said they were okay with me being slow. But how okay were they…really. I’ve been fooled one too many times about “slow” running groups to take that at face value. I love my coworkers, but I needed to test the waters.

As luck would have it, three of my four teammates were on a work trip with me a few weeks out from the race. As the peer pressure encouragement hit a fever pitch, I organized a group run the next morning. I wanted to see if they would be frustrated with my pace or if I would feel intimidated running with a bunch of super athletic guys.

In general, I never run with anyone besides my husband because I’m always worried about slowing people down. So I was admittedly nervous when I met everyone in the lobby of our hotel bright and early the next day.

“Doing it anyway” is hardly the easiest advice to follow when you’re self-conscious about being a beginner. But since starting this outdoorsy journey, I’ve promised myself I’m not going to not do something just because I’m scared of looking stupid.

Telling your teammates you’re slow and going for a run with them and setting your own pace feels super intimidating. But pushing through and doing it anyway is not only the best way to find out if your relay team is going to be a fun fit, but also a great way to build your own confidence in your abilities. Just because you’re slow doesn’t mean you’re “bad” at running.

So back to that morning. Despite being very nervous, I did it anyway and went for a run with my coworkers at the nearby state park. (Because why run on a flat surface when you could make an already intimidating situation more difficult?)

Considering how much I like working with this group, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that they were equally fun to run with. I was incredibly relieved that they were all happy to run slower with me, and not once did I feel anything besides that I was enjoying a run with some friends. This was a group that had absolutely no expectations for the relay besides fun.

I know the Colfax relay comes with substantial fundraising opportunity, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of that, but if you’re a beginner not on a team prioritizing fun, you’re probably going to have a bad time.

The other way to make sure you don’t have a bad time is to negotiate for the shortest leg of the relay, the four-mile “Screaming Downhill” section. As you may have guessed, it’s completely downhill. But not in a way that destroys your knees…in a way that makes it really easy to run! Even if the sections may vary year-to-year, the bottom line is to be upfront about wanting to run the shortest parts.

And no, four miles does not seem like a short run to me. But if you’re doing the relay, it’s the best you’ve got.

Relay teams have runners of all sizes, shapes, and abilities, from the seriously fast to the people out for a Sunday stroll (and everywhere in between). You’ll fit in no matter how beginner you are, so don’t worry!

Piling into one race car that traveled to each of the relay hand-off points was fun, but a little more hectic than I was expecting. The race is really well organized, but you can’t not have chaos when thousands of people are doing a relay race together.

Because you have to drive between each leg and they’re all spread across Denver, we eventually just had to rush from place to place (I literally ran from the car to the hand-off zone to meet my teammate in time). The traffic and driving wasn’t helped by the fact that it was cold and rainy, so it’s not like it was ideal weather for hanging around outside.

I was hoping for a little more camaraderie, but it was still really fun to cheer on my teammates, even if only for a few seconds. And you get an actual baton to carry and hand-off, which was super fun.

If you’re an anxious beginner runner like me, you want all the information ahead of time for where you’re supposed to be and how everything operates. So how does the organized chaos actually work?

Each leg of the relay has a hand-off zone that is organized by bib number. The entire team has one bib number, so you’re always going to the same zone. You meet your runner at the section for your bib number, grab the baton, and get on your way. When you finish running and hand off the baton, there are bathrooms, snacks, water, and freebies to greet you.

Traffic is a legitimate nightmare, so stay north of the course as much as possible to navigate from leg to leg. Don’t bother dropping your first runner off at City Park unless you get there so early you can walk from one of the surrounding neighborhoods. 17th, part of York, and part of Colorado are all barricaded off and everyone and their mother drops runners off on 26th and Colorado. I normally live a five-minute drive from my boss, and it took me more than 20 minutes to get to his house on race day. Not terrible, but not great.

One last hint is to bring a backpack with you to pack snacks and extra layers that you can easily carry around when you’re walking to and from a race leg or around the festival. After running my leg I was obviously sweaty, but I didn’t bring a change of clothes or extra layers which really put a damper on the post-race festivities for me.

This was truly unfortunate because City Park is totally transformed for the Colfax race weekend. Your entry into the race includes at least one alcoholic beverage, lunch, and there’s a smorgasbord of snacks and freebies. Kaiser Permanente has a free produce stand (and you’ve already gotten a free reusable grocery bag when you finish your leg). It would have been a blast to hang around, but by the time we all reunited at City Park I was freezing and grumpy.

At $50 a pop, the race isn’t cheap. Since my portion was just running past strip malls on West Colfax, I can’t say I would’ve paid for it myself. But if you’re workplace is covering it like mine did, the relay is a really fun way to spend a Sunday in May. The race atmosphere is great, the freebies are awesome, and you get to set a personal record if you get the downhill section!

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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