The Collegiate Peaks Trail Race is next weekend and I felt compelled to pull out 17-19 miles on Saturday, in preparation for the race.
The plan for Saturday was to start by 6am to meet my 9am deadline.
Like all plans, reality didn’t give a hoot about the plan. I was 30 minutes late starting the run and didn’t have any bounce in my step. My left IT Band got tweaked after Wednesday’s 10-mile trail run and hasn’t released yet. There’s a slight pulling on my knee; nothing horrible, just enough to let me know that I better start paying attention to my body and stop pushing so hard.
At 6:30 the sun was out and even though it was cold and the tube of my hydration pack wouldn’t stay attached and I was fiddling with it constantly, I felt good. The easy climbs from the Doudy Draw Trailhead to the service road behind Eldorado Canyon felt fine. My leg didn’t loosen up but it didn’t hurt, either, so I took that as a good sign. There were several stop breaks for pictures, which helped keep my energy up. The bright sunlight of dawn broke over the horizon of the canyon and turned everything to gold, reminding me that any morning I’m awake and moving is a stellar morning.
My first indication that this run was not going to be easy was the first downhill. Instead of easily opening up my hip flexors and giving in to gravity, my muscles stayed tight. It was hard to navigate the jutting rocks that usually are my friends and trusted companions. My legs were heavy, and the effort to lift them cost me greatly.
Even the 1.5-mile straightaway at the base of the canyon along the dirt-turned-asphalt road was slow. I couldn’t pull in a pace under 8 min/mile to save my life. It felt like I was carrying an extra 25 pounds and the burden of the weight slowed each and every step. I was not flying anywhere today, and running was just plain HARD.
I looped into the trailhead with a run-time of 63 minutes, a full 5 minutes slower than last week’s run through the same canyon. There were more breaks during this run, but the Garmin had auto-paused for each Kodak Moment.
The intent was to do another 10 miles at this point, starting at the same Trailhead but looping east, instead of west, at the cut-off a mile away.
The wind picked up and I pulled my hat lower on my head. Friday night I froze my booty at a double-header soccer game in 40mph winds that dropped the temp down to a cool 32 degrees, and the only reason I wasn’t cold right now was the fact that I was moving. Well, most of me wasn’t cold… my fingers were numb, even after a full hour of movement.
I headed up the service road for the second time that morning. The gusting wind slammed against me and stole the breath from my lungs; I struggled for air and ducked my head from the onslaught. My legs stopped moving for an instant and I hung suspended against the very real gale force of the wind.
The moment was gone, I was moving again but not happy about it. There was no zeal for running, no excitement at the challenge and passion for pushing forward. My instinct told me to turn around and head to the nearest coffee shop where I could sit, safe from the elements, inhaling the heady aroma of a Hazelnut Daz Bog coffee with just a touch of milk. My motivation was gone.
I stopped and simply stood on the trail. What was I doing here? Why was I fighting so hard? Because I told my kids I would be out here running. Because I’m training for a race that I’m not ready for. Because sometimes this feels good and today it doesn’t and I don’t know how to quit. Fine. Run already. How about getting to the top of the switchback and seeing how it feels?
I started my forward motion again, and slogged up the trail to the switchback. My mind turned over phrases and words that attached themselves to emotions that bubbled up from my heart, and I thought hard about the truths that were presenting themselves for inspection.
Running has been my constant for many years now. Sometimes I feel fast and graceful and the steps are a salve to my soul. Sometimes each step hurts and I need to take time off to simply sit and recover. Sometimes… I don’t know what I need. And today was one of those times.
I’ve been simultaneously excited about and dreading the race on May 6. I registered for the race back in January when I needed a new goal that was outside my comfort zone, something that was far enough into spring that I could get excited about the warm weather and want to get outside to train. And then my life flipped upside down, shook pieces out of place and all my marbles scattered to far corners. My support crew disappeared and for whatever reason, even though I tried, I couldn’t cobble together another one. I was resigned to going to the mountain race alone, running alone, and recovering enough afterwards to drive myself two hours home again so that I could be with my kids on Mother’s Day.
Since February my running hasn’t been consistent or “training” in any sense of the word. It’s been part of my emotional trajectory through the uncharted waters of my divorce process, and that’s a bad way to head into a 25-mile trail race unprepared to navigate over 4700 feet of elevation gain and loss.
The idea of doing this race ALONE has been scary. Maybe I’m old enough to know that racing as a way to add adventure to my life is probably not the smartest way to approach a physically taxing and exhausting endurance event that I have not trained for. I don’t know how to fuel for 4-5 hours of constant movement on single-track and jeep trails over 4700 feet of elevation at an altitude of 8000 feet. I don’t have a buddy to check in with who’s watching for my changes and will notice if I start to do something stupid like stop eating two hours into the race. I don’t know what I don’t know about endurance racing, and I’m not willing to spend the time and energy learning at this point. I have too many other things on my mind.
The way I’m feeling today is that going to this race will be an exercise in self-destruction, and that the demons I might exorcise over 25 miles will not be the end of the demons that I face as I traverse the landscape of personal change. There is much more likelihood of me injuring myself than there is of coming out of this unscathed, and I recognize that I am driving my steam engine into race mode so that I can dance with the possibility that I might create a physical wound to match the pain that I am feeling within.
I would still like to run this race someday, and maybe I will. Maybe next year. Maybe never. As a runner, I run for personal reasons that have nothing to do with other people’s expectations of me or for external kudos. And sometimes a runner needs to know when to bow out of a race. I’m bowing out of this race a week before it starts. It’s not the right time for me. And with that knowledge, I finished 13.1 miles of a short trail run and headed for coffee.