Cold air hit my lungs as soon as we started puffing up Chautauqua. The goal was to run and out and back on the Mesa Trail from Chautauqua up to the old radio tower site. This was a moderately short distance run at a mere 5.85 miles, but because of the sheer amount of hills, talking and picture-taking, it took us over an hour.
My lungs burned from the second I tried to inhale deeply. My head was cold even though I wore my Smart Wool hat and I couldn’t feel my fingers inside my Smart Wool glove liners. My heart rate soared to 80% capacity within a minute. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t feel the fingers on my right hand, and concentrated on my breathing.
My lungs hurt and it was painful to try to gasp more air into my burning sacs. I ran close to Susan, Shari, Juli, Sarah and Beth. For the first sixteen minutes of the run, it was enough to be close to my friends and enjoy their company.
I carried my camera with me. The fall colors are in bloom and I’m making a concerted effort to take as many pictures as I can. Because of my random clicking, I fell behind the group from time to time.
During one of these moments I stopped in a vantage point and pointed my camera downwards. This location has a lot of stairs built into the hill and is a veritable hair-pin turn fiesta. With the gold and red leaves of the trees and bushes, I waited for the ladies to emerge from a hairpin turn so I could get the five of them together. The valley echoed with their laughter and chatter. It was a wall of happy noise that bubbled up from the brush. No bear or wild animal in its right mind would be anywhere near the group. I clicked my picture of their staggered white hats bobbing along, and ran downhill as fast as I could to catch up. I wanted to be a part of the laughter and the camaraderie more than anything.
And suddenly, their voices were gone. I was almost at the bridge that crosses over a seasonal creek when the sound of their voices disappeared completely, as though the TV had been abruptly muted.
My brief respite from the hills was over; the climb began again to the back side of NCAR. I didn’t catch the group until we descended to the service road that leads to the radio tower. By this time the chatter had ceased. Everyone had their head down and was working on the mile-plus climb to the tower. We usually break apart a little at this point; sometimes a few seconds’ walk is necessary to relieve the tension of the legs. I clicked a few more pictures of scenery and when I heard Kathy’s chattering voice drifting over the wayside, I stopped to capture her ascent as well.
When I reached the top Sarah climbed the rocks to the vantage point that overlooks the entire Boulder valley, and exclaimed at the sight. We all climbed up and I did a group portrait in the early morning light.
On the way back down I zipped past the ladies with my turbo-charged legs. Juli turned around and said, “Who’s that barreling down on me?”
“Sorry, I’ve only got one down-hill speed,” I said as I rolled around her. At that angle, it’s super-hard to slow down. Much easier to just let the legs turn over and control the trajectory.
Pausing to take pictures at the next uphill climb, we played a little leapfrog again and I resumed my position at the back of the pile. Susan, right behind me, was nursing a sore hamstring. I matched her pace and we chatted for the first time since our car-ride to the trailhead. She said something at one point that stood out and managed to pivot itself into the central point of today’s run.
“My husband doesn’t know how we can talk during these runs. He’s hung up on the physiology talking while running.”
“We’re not running 6 minute miles during these runs,” I pointed out. “We’re going at a decent clip but it’s still slow enough to carry on a conversation.”
“Yeah, I try to tell him that. He still doesn’t get it. I mean, he knows that it’s important to me to be out here on Saturday mornings or to get out and run by myself during the week, but he doesn’t understand the talking part.”
“It’s ‘connection’, pure and simple. Sometimes these conversations are the most sustained conversations we have all week with ANYONE. It’s soul food. Why run any faster if you can’t chat with your friends?”
“I try to tell him that. He understands, but he doesn’t really understand. That’s okay, as long as I can get out here!”
The run was hard and my lungs burned for the first twenty minutes. By the end I was breathing fine, could feel all my appendages, and the temperature had risen twelve degrees. It was downright balmy, as illustrated by the high school cross-country team arriving in their shorts and t-shirts. Now, it was time for resting at the coffee shop with a hot beverage and more talk and laughter. I can not think of a better way to begin my weekend.