One Month Marathon
By Jonny Morsicato of the Coyote Collective
PHOTOS: Colin Rex
The 1 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 over 500,000 people recreational access 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 Lab 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 agreed on the idea to structure out a 6 day a week training plan that you can see below. For anyone trying to follow this plan, I strongly recommend setting time goals instead of mileage for winter trail running because trail conditions can change a lot and the most important thing is to actually spend time on your feet putting out effort. Also, for those of us that are more Type A, give yourself a little bit of grace for the actual time you run. If we finished a trail loop or a hard effort, we didn't find it necessary to run circles in the parking lot for 10 minutes to make up the time period. The only thing I would add in hindsight to this plan is a few HIIT hamstring and hip strength workouts a week.
Getting into the Flow
I am often asked how to maintain motivation while working towards an athletic goal. I am of the opinion that motivation is only a small part of the equation to succeed. 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.
Embrace The Night
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.
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. 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 and we didn't bring our winter traction spikes. Every step we would slip and slide just enough to start slowly knocking down our times as we ran. 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 and to eat some snacks. 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 an ethereal 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.
About Jonny Morsicato
I’m a mountain athlete and Data Scientist from Denver Colorado with a passionate heart for helping people into the world of adventure. I live to splitboard, run, bike, climb, and explore the high alpine and hot desert. I culminate all of my interests while helping run a small media house called The Coyote Collective.
Follow Jonny’s Adventures: @jonnymorsicato
Follow The Coyote Collective: @thecoyotecollective
About Dikshya Ban
I am a fitness enthusiast based out of Denver, Colorado and enjoy fueling my body with plant-based whole foods. Running has transformed from being merely a fitness activity to a personal reverence for the outside as I was introduced to trail running.