This weekend was a running double-header. I wanted to do 16 miles in preparation for the 25-mile Collegiate Peaks trail race coming up in two weeks, but the stars were not in alignment for that plan on Saturday. After seeing how short I was after Saturday’s run, I decided to run again on Sunday to make up the shortfall.
The alarm went off on Saturday, but there was zero motivation to get up and head out the door to meet my Saturday Morning gang. Instead, I made a leisurely breakfast, sipped tea, and dozed in bed for another two hours. Sleep and Rest are two of my best friends right now, and I wanted to spend more time visiting with the back of my eyelids.
By 9am I was ready to move to the shower. The warm water and soap on my head felt like heaven and energized me. After toweling off I decided that I really did want to run. The clouds were heavy and spitting pellets of snow that immediately melted on the pavement. I found some running clothes, braided my wet mass of hair, pulled the SmartWool hat down tight and pushed play on the iPod. It was time to roll.
My dog, Kirby, saw the preparations and reminded me that she hasn’t been on a good walk in two days. She’s been patient with my busy schedule, but even humans need verbal reminders that the fuzzy-butts in the household have needs, too. With leash firmly attached, we headed up the Greenbelt for a Kirby-constitutional.
She had a great time trotting along, and in 15 minutes we covered 1.3 miles that included some stellar sniff-breaks and unloading. We circled back to the house and she wagged a happy goodbye as I closed the door and headed out on my own run.
I headed up the Greenbelt trail and started the three-mile journey to Davidson Mesa. The air was chilly on my bare face, and the SmartWool hat kept me warm in spite of my wet hair. I hadn’t fully settled on a route or mileage at this point, and was doing the basic legwork that could get me to 8, 9 or 10 miles. I would decide the full loop after mile 6 when I left the Mesa.
Because the morning had been so sleepy, I didn’t have any expectations for quick leg turnover or pace. I knew I wasn’t running the full 16 miles, but didn’t know how many I would actually put in by the time the run was over. This was the epitome of spontaneous running. I didn’t have water or nutrition, so I was at the mercy of whatever calories were currently sitting in my gut.
I never try to push pace at the beginning of a run. The first two miles, no matter where or when, are warm-up miles. Because I had just run a little over a mile with Kirby, my pace dropped to an average 8:52/mile for the first 1.5 miles of my solo adventure. On the last push up the hill to Davidson Mesa I slowed down a bit to 9:05/mile, but felt strong and steady.
The wind was stronger on the Mesa, and the pellets of snow flew from the west and tap-danced on my face. I kept my eyes on the trail in front of me and wished for my sunglasses for eye protection, though realistically I wouldn’t have been able to wear them with all the moisture.
My muscles felt loose and easy, and on the flat surface of the trail the pace dropped into the 8:30 range where it stayed for the remainder of the run. I wasn’t trying to do a tempo run, I wasn’t trying to create a set of parameters for this day; it just felt good to run at that pace, so I closed my eyes against the snow and ran by feel.
Circling around the Mesa the wind gusted and the pellets shifted direction, suddenly coming from the north as I headed east again. The left side of my face was hammered by snow and the left eye wasn’t excited about being open anymore. I wiped the moisture from my face with the dry palm of a SmartWool glove, and passed a walker who was huddled in her jacket with a muffler and earmuffs drawn tight around her head. She barely acknowledged me, though her dog looked curious as I trotted by.
Coming off the Mesa was a blessing because I was protected from the wind. An internal check told me that all systems were still Go… no hunger or thirst, and the legs were totally fine. May as well run the full 10-mile loop. I briefly considered another add-on that would put me at 16 miles, but decided that since I didn’t have water or fuel it was probably not a good idea to run 2+ hours on reserves alone.
By the end of the run I was still running steadily, and pulled up to my house finishing with a solid 8:25/mile pace. This told me that the run the next day would be fine; no need to worry about injury or exhaustion.
Twenty-four hours later, I pulled into the Doudy Draw Trailhead parking lot. I ran this loop on Wednesday with my friend Joe, and was excited to climb hills and fly fast in the same workout. My energy was up after sleeping soundly, and my mini warm-up with Kirby around the Greenbelt had gotten my heart rate up. It was time to go.
I held my camera and stopped to take pictures of the mountains. The low-hanging clouds were moving swiftly on air currents, and patches of blue sky and bright sunlight filtered onto the craggy rocks and yellow grasses that still cover the meadows.
A huge black crow perched on a fence post next to the footbridge that spans a wide ditch with rapidly flowing water. I pulled out my camera and pushed the “Power” button, but he flew away in the two seconds that the camera needed to be ready for action. Hoping for a miracle, I held up the camera, focused quickly and caught him in flight.
The first two miles were an excellent uphill warm-up, and I easily navigated the rocks on the single-track trail, slowing briefly to snap pictures of the majestic Front Range Mountains that tug on my heart.
After running south on the trail that’s cut into the hillside I headed west on the next turn. A biker was making his way through the rocky landmine of the trail, and we smiled and said Hi when he rode by.
The undulating trail felt so good under my feet, and my legs were so happy to be moving. My arms swung easily in rhythm and breathing was effortless. Coming up out of a gulch, I raised my eyes to the top of the mountain far above and something inside shifted. I was running in the mountains that I love, alone, wild and free, capable and healthy. This is Church. This is Easter Sunday, and I felt the power and energy of the earth.
At the top of the hill the trail leveled out and my stomach growled. So hungry, and three miles to go! I didn’t push pace, just relaxed my form and let the body do what it does best. Run faster.
I paused a few times to snap pictures, then kept running. As I came through the rock wall into Eldorado Canyon the sounds of rushing water far below mingled with voices from the scree field on the south side of the rock wall. Siblings were climbing the rocks while protective parents watched, their postures alive with studied nonchalance while their eagle eyes recorded every move of the youngsters.
When Joe was here four days ago, we ran moderately on this section so that we could talk and he could see the sights. Today, all my breath was channeled into movement. Instead of the 8:34/mile pace we held on Wednesday, I dropped to a sustainable 8:05/mile and ran down through the canyon.
I hit the pavement and dropped another 70 seconds from my pace. Like the crow, it was time to fly home.