The One Month Marathon is a crash course training plan to run a self supported trail marathon in 30 days. The marathon we created follows the historic Highline Canal in Denver, Colorado, stretching from Highlands Ranch to Greenwood Village. The Highline Canal is the longest continuous urban trail in the country, ringing in at over 71 miles, and providing recreational access to over 500,000 people each year. On December 20th, 2020, we started our 9 minute mile pace over the icy interior artery of Denver. Carrying only a liter and half of water with some Skratch Labs snacks (Matcha Green Tea Chews, Savory Miso Bars), we ended our run 4 hours and 20 minutes later at a King Soopers 26.2 miles away.
For months at the beginning of 2020 my girlfriend, Dikshya Ban, had been training to run her first marathon (in celebration of turning 30), but due to the onset of COVID-19, the marathon was canceled. As 2020 edged closer and closer to wrapping up, we began to brainstorm possible ways to do this on our own. Eventually we agreed on the idea to structure out a 6 day a week training plan that would mix a small amount of speed training, with a lot of timed outings on foot.
I am often asked how to maintain motivation for accomplishing an athletic goal, small or large, but motivation is garbage for accomplishing actual goals. I would wager that there is not a single person on this planet that wakes up every day feeling motivated. The first week of our training came easy, motivation definitely was on our side, but not after that. Week two, the weather in Colorado grew substantially colder. Dikshya didn’t have any previous history with running in the cold. Cold is one of the worst motivation monsters there is. Regardless, Dikshya gracefully maneuvered herself into the flow of spending cold nights out on some lonely Colorado trails. To accomplish anything hard, motivation will come and go, but dedication and the deliberate creation of habits will guide your hand through to the end.
At the end of a normal work day, 7am to 4:30pm, Dikshya and I would immediately leave her apartment in downtown Denver in hopes of catching the last light of the day. This failed. In late November and early December in Colorado, the sun was setting by the time we got out the door, and left us in the early hours of night instead. In those first steps of a winter night run, the cold attacks every inch of exposed skin, and your mind resists the aggressive change from the warm car, but then something happens. After a mile or two, the sound of the microspikes on our feet crunching the trail ice would lull our brains into a hypnotic state. During the day the whole world would beg for our attention, but at night we existed only in the tunnel of light (our headlamps) that guided our path through the hills west of downtown Denver. Once we reached week three, training turned into a ritual, foot by foot we both started to feel stronger and more capable of actually running an entire marathon without stopping.
Naturally the 29 days of training, eating, and working disappeared in what felt like instant. The future always seems to feel so far away, until it is actually here. On race day, we both woke up and ate some lentils and rice for breakfast (one of our favorites for a long day out) and also added a Skratch vegan recovery shake for some extra electrolytes. Dikshya was feeling restless and a little nervous, but I felt confident she was ready and would do great. The days in Denver had been warm, and I had never thought to check the actual trail conditions of the Highline Canal. To our surprise the entire trail was packed with snow and ice. Every step would slip and slide just enough to start slowly knocking down our times. Eighteen miles passed with relative ease, but soon enough came a bonk and our first stop. Our legs were starting to feel sore and we both felt mentally drained from the ice and absolute flatness of the trail. I could see the defeated look in Dikshya’s eyes that I have seen in others before. The only cure is to keep moving. Miles slowly passed by and my mental calculator ticked off the time we had left. We made it to mile 25 and turned off of the canal trail towards whatever street we could see. By some good play of luck, I realized we were about a mile away from a grocery store. Our last mile felt relentless and just to make sure we actually finished we decided to run a little extra.
At King Soopers, we chugged coconut water and waited for our ride in a delirious state. Dikshya was ecstatic with the accomplishment and also totally drained from the effort. As with everything that seems scary in the future, the marathon became the past and turned into our foundation for something else ahead. 2020 is now behind us. All we can do is use it for a stepping stone to the future. Hopefully completion of this project helps us step with a little more strength through 2021.
Jonny Morsicato is a mountain endurance athlete based in Denver, Colorado. Life led Jonny to the mountains and left him enamored with the struggle for higher altitudes, where his outdoor interests are honed on endurance sports and type 3 fun. He is a Colorado 14ers finisher and currently holds the FKT for his North to South crossing of Iceland.