Running the Rio Grande

So this weekend was the wedding of one of my college buds, Justin, out in El Paso, Texas. Its been a long time since I’ve been in this part of the country but when I realized that the desert is cold in the morning I knew I had to make this my first 20 mile weekend in preparation for the Space Coast Marathon I have coming up. Florida has not really cooperated yet in cooling down so since I had until 2pm for the wedding, there was plenty of time to rock out a 20 miler.

The tough part of running on the road, especially in new places, is that you have to find a place to run.  Its not a big deal if I’m going 6 miles or less but when you’re going on a bigger run you need plenty of room.  And when its 20 miles, well, that takes some planning!  Fortunately as I perused Google maps, I discovered that my hotel was about 3 miles from the Rio Grande.  Perfect.

The weather was everything I could have hoped for when I got up. This is exactly what happened last year when I started training for my marathon back in January. It was supposed to be 55F or so which would have been great by itself but the temperature signs I saw while running were actually 46F. I was definitely set up for a great run! I’m not crazy about running in new places in the dark but El Paso is apparently one of the safest cities out there so I felt ok about it. I figured by the time I made it to the Rio Grande, the sun would be coming up anyway. I was partially right on that.

So the first 2.8 miles were just down the street from my hotel to the river. That part went well enough other than a mile and a half section or so under construction. That left me with no place to run other than on the road which wasn’t that great in the dark but there was very light traffic at 5:30 in the morning so it wasn’t too bad. From my reading of the map it appeared I could get access to the trail by running past the 2.8 mile mark and up a nearby road. Unfortunately I either read the map incorrectly or I’m not even sure what went wrong.


To make a long story short I spent 30 minutes looking for the trailhead. It was dark and noone in the area seemed to know the Rio Grande was down the road. I was about ready to give up and resort to Plan B when I decided to go back to that point where I knew the road crossed the river and see if there was any sign of the trailhead. At this point I’d gone over 3 miles in my search! I did find it this time. Or at least I found a dirt path which took me the half a kilometer to the actual trailhead. It was marked but not clearly enough for me in the dark.

rio grande lost
I should have turned right where the 17 mile marker is. Everything to the west of that marker is me being lost.

But no matter, I was finally running on the river. In my confusion during the first 6 miles, I was not running the pace I wanted. My plan was to do about 10:15 or so until mile 12 and then pick up the pace. Once I hit the trail and wasnt worried about cars running me over or getting lost, I settled into the run and got running around what I wanted. It was a really peaceful morning since I was the only person out there that early. Seeing the sun slowly come over the mountains was beautiful.

Basically what I saw all morning once the sun came up
Basically what I saw all morning once the sun came up

When the sun did come up it revealed something that surprised me. There was no river! The Rio Grande was bone dry. I was told later that its dammed up somewhere and its rarely flowing. That was a bit disappointing but the stillness and the desert off in the distance were still worth it. I did start to run into some other people (who were all very friendly…I chase people down who don’t say hello and trip them) but the entire time on the river was still very solitary.

A nice run along the rio grande
A nice run along the rio grande

I ran for about 5.6 miles along the river before turning around. I originally planned to run most of the trail but getting lost threw that off. By the time I turned around I was nearly at point where I wanted to pick things up a bit. I’m still not sure how to do a long run in a good way to train for goal pace but a common refrain I see is to run your long run either a 60 – 90 seconds slower than goal pace or 10% slower. My marathon goal pace is 9:10 and up until now I had averaged 10:30 which is in line I guess with what I’ve seen. I’ve also seen it suggested that you should run part of the long run faster as a training tool so for the rest of the run I wanted significantly faster. I think I did about 9:45 for the remainder of the time.

Left is last year, right is this year
Left is last year, right is this year

Overall I’d rate this run as a B-grade and only because getting lost threw me off. I’m sure if I had hit the trail immediately it would have been even better. I can’t be disappointed with my results. Last year, I did my 20 mile run in 3:29:31 or so. This 20 miler was done in 3:25:16. 4 minutes over 20 miles sounds like nothing but when I look closer at my run last year, it reveals something much different than this one. Last year I thought that my time indicated I could do the whole marathon in about 4:30. I ignored something that happened at the end of the run that should have foretold otherwise. I had a strong run that day. But I was going pretty much all out from the time I started. Starting in mile 16, I started to fade hard. Those last 4 miles were very rough and I was doing a 12:30 pace by the final 2 miles. While the heat was very rough on me during the marathon in January, it was around mile 17 or so that the wheels started to come off which mirrored my training runs.

This run was different. It was only slightly faster but my conditioning is so much better than instead of that being an all out effort, it was a comfortable run. I had a very significant reverse split for my run this time of <insert time>. Most importantly, I was feeling great still when I finished. Yes, I was tired but not so tired that I was close to walking. At this point, the marathon is the only race I haven’t been able to run from start to finish yet and I’m hoping this is the one. It definitely feels like it. And while I have a goal of 9:10 which is a sub 4-hr race, I’ll honestly be happy with anything under 4:30 and I know now that that is VERY reachable. This run tells me that 4:15 should be an attainable mark.

The last thing I’m really enjoying about this run now the next day is how I feel. My long runs last year just blasted me. I’ve already looked at this before but my long runs were 65% – 75% of my weekly mile which is just asking for injury. Even with a 20 mile run yesterday, that was a little under half of my week’s 42 miles. By the end of December last year, everything hurt all the time. I was just constantly beyond sore. Little aches and pains really built up. That isn’t happening now. My legs are tired to be sure but I’ll have no problems hitting the road this week. The marathon is getting close! Only a month of training left before I start my taper!

Oh, and of course congratulations to my friends Justin & Brenda who tied the knot over the weekend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *