This weekend I ran 40 miles, the most miles I’ve ever run in two days. Didn’t really plan it out that way, meant to run Saturday morning with the girls and then Sunday with Team Alpaca, but a spontaneous mountain trail adventure Saturday afternoon added a third run to the weekend that brought my Saturday total to 18 miles. That run was the most necessary of the bunch with the highest stakes and biggest rewards, but I’m absolutely getting ahead of myself.
Saturday’s run in the morning with the girls was easy. Pulled into the parking lot a minute after they started out and noticed that my heart never even got excited about having to hustle to catch them. I knew I’d grab them by mile 2, so took another minute to pull on the arm warmers and let the Garmin find the satellites. Headed up Dowdy Draw in the shadows of the valley and noticed how still everything was in the pink glow of the mountains.
The trail was dry, no trace of the ice that plagued us a few weeks ago. The morning was warm and promised another beautiful, 70+ degree day with clear blue skies.
My mind felt still, like it was resting, or waiting. I noticed the feeling and acknowledged the slight cloud that hovered over my heart. Something energetic was lurking on my emotional horizon. I would watch and wait.
We looped through Dowdy Draw into Eldorado Canyon and back to the trailhead. 6.75 miles. I headed back up the trail a little way to round out my mileage; I wanted to get at least 8 miles in during this run.
Back at the parking lot the last member of our group drove away; I waved and told her I’d meet them at coffee in a few minutes.
The morning was mellow and even though it was good to run with the ladies, my mood was dropping fast. The cloud that had hovered on the horizon was turning black and the brewing storm promised to be intense. Within an hour of returning home the storm broke and hell’s fury set loose in my psyche. This was a full-force hurricane that racked up tsunami floods. I was being buried alive.
I packed a grocery bag of several pieces of clothing; a pair of jeans and a tank top, a sports bra and wicking shirt, a jacket and some shorts. There was no specific plan, just an instinct to Go.
After driving for 45 minutes I found myself in Lyons at Hall Ranch. I ran the trail last summer with someone I used to know and vaguely remembered it was about 10 miles. After gearing up I grabbed a Gu and the half-full water bottle as an afterthought.
I started out running up Bitterbrush and quit right away. The Colorado sunshine combined with the steep incline zapped my energy fast and I didn’t have enough water to run 10 miles. The only solution was to hike.
Power hiking up the trail felt good and I noticed a slight stretching in muscles adapted to running. I sipped water from time to time, determined to make my 8 oz last, and came upon a cyclist sitting on a bench. We chatted for a minute then I left him to his bench-warming. A few minutes later he passed me. A few minutes later I passed him while he paused to talk to a hiking couple that was meandering the mountain (off trails). By this time I was on Nelson Loop, he knew I was low on water and apparently decided to make it his mission to ask everyone he passed if they had any water to spare to fill my water bottle.
Another half mile and I was ready to run, done with this hiking thing already. My mood was shifting and the warmth of the sun was clearing up the cloud cover on my heart. I could almost feel it again.
At the top of Nelson Loop, Cyclist Guy and Girlfriend were parked on yet another bench. We greeted each other like old friends and when the next mountain biker came into view he hustled some water for me. My bottle was replenished by 8 oz, and Girlfriend offered a Clif Bar. Water and food, substance of life.
We introduced ourselves and I sat on the bench in the sun with Robert and Adrienne, chewing thoughtfully. The smile that I thought would never touch my face again popped out, and I heard myself laugh. This was progress.
It was time to go. I told them I’d go first and would listen for them coming up behind me. The trail was getting good at this point and my trail-running athlete’s body knew what to do.
Rocks, rocks, lots of rocks. Dirt and sand, sunshine, and lots of downhill. Eyes focused on the trail and my legs and feet and arms were in perfect rhythm. Each step was intentional and I flew faster and faster. Every so often a group of riders appeared in front of me; I had the right of way and they made room. After a mile or so I heard dirt crunching behind me; Robert was finally there.
“Man, you’re FAST!”
He passed me then pulled over to pee under a bridge. I ran and ran, jumping, coasting, flying through the air. Another set of cyclists crowded the trail; I jumped onto the bank and flew over a little ditch, then another one, two steps and I was around them.
“Whoa…” the sound faded behind me.
At the last possible moment Robert came from behind again and leapfrogged, pushed up the last 50 yards and parked at the next T in the trail to wait for Adrienne. I slowed down and felt the fast pump of blood in my neck and the quick rise and fall of my chest.
“I’ve chased down mountain bikers on the trail before but never a runner!”
I had to laugh at this one… apparently Robert hasn’t been around enough trail runners to know that downhill running is the epitome of FREEDOM. It’s a high that is brilliant, beautiful, life-affirming and endorphin filled to the Nth degree. It’s the best feeling in the world, and I found it again on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.
I finished my run and checked the time on the clock radio of the car; 6pm. In twelve hours I was meeting Team Alpaca at the Boulder Reservoir to run 22 miles. Time to eat and hit the sack.
The next morning I pulled into the parking lot at the Res at 5:55am. Dave wanted us there at that time so we would be ready to run by 6am. He and Nico were there and Jen pulled into the lot a minute later. Geared up and ready to go, we decided to loop around the Boulder Reservoir before we headed onto the trails, just to let the sun come up and light our way. A surreal bubble closed around us; we were lost in our own little world of moving through the pre-dawn light without headlamps and just a sliver of moonlight to guide us.
A cold breeze wafted from the water and as we turned south our exposed skin took the brunt of the temperature shift. My left hand went from chilly to downright cold and my thick, swollen fingers refused to tighten into a fist. Since I didn’t have gloves with me, I told myself that the sunlight would be here soon enough to warm things up.
We meandered here and there and stopped at Dave’s house for a potty break at mile 13.3. When all systems were “Go” again he dropped a little bomb on us; he was hoping to run 5.5 miles of MP paces back to the Res. You know, no big deal, just to keep things interesting.
I’m sure I gave him a small evil eye glare because he looked at me and said “Okay”? Fine, I shrugged, whatever everyone else wanted to do, I was game. It just that my legs were starting to feel a little tired. But whatever, I would do the best I could.
Nico and Dave led, Jen and I followed. She kept at my slower pace and chatted at me the entire time. I told her a few times to let me go and run her own pace, but she was determined to pull my slow butt along. She wasn’t dropping me, no matter what.
We cruised along, Dave and Nico getting farther and farther ahead. Finally, we turned onto 55th Street and headed back to the Reservoir, back up the last of the hills. The guys were waiting for us at the stop sign.
We paused for a full 60 seconds, then started the two cool-down loops around the little neighborhood before ending at the cars. 9:30am, 22.3 miles in the bag, and the wind hadn’t started gusting yet. Perfect.
I checked my Marathon Pace splits: 7:45, 7:49, 7:42, 7:44, 7:56. Dave, my ever-present cheerleader, high-fived and reiterated his premise that if I can run sub-8’s at mile 16 of a 22 miler, AFTER running 18 miles on trail the day before, it’s absolutely possible for me to run sub-8’s at the marathon in May. Sweet, Dave. We’ll see.
As I drove home and felt the wind start to swish against the car, the words “I can do this” kept floating through my brain. I can run strong. I can run fast. Keep running, don’t ever stop. You find the good stuff when you keep moving, keep pushing boundaries, keep moving forward. Keep running.