Monthly Archives: October 2013

New Run Club

When we moved to Colorado, at the suggestion of our father, my sister and I joined the First and Main Run Club, hosted out of Rock Bottom. Soon, Trisha and Christina joined us as well.

Wednesday after Wednesday through the summer, we sweated up the biggest hill they could find in Springs Ranch (these run club route designers really are sadists) until all four of us earned our shirts, my sister the last week before she moved off to Boston.

Then, as we lunched after the Great Pumpkin 10K, our delightful server told us about Jose Muldoons’ running club, Muldooniacs. They boasted a free drink each run, a 10K route, another shirt, and a free drink when wearing the shirt.

We switched immediately.

This week, Trisha and I attempted our inaugural run. Trisha decided to indulge October brain and throw a wrench in the works, forgetting her inhaler. When she was audibly wheezing over the sound of our feet in mile 1, we walked it out. I didn’t mind though; I was just content to be out testing a new route.

The route includes some pretty epic hills in the first mile and a half, hills that would have stopped me in my tracks before Cripple Creek. But  that same path is beautiful, snaking high into suburbia to yield excellent views.

The miles were long and slow going, but as the terrain leveled out, we started jogging. The night was gorgeous. As I was running with the autumn air on my face, the fall leaves crunching under my shoes, and the sunlight dying in the sky, I experienced that perfect running bliss again. I was just in that moment.

Guided by the shittiest, most worthless map I’ve ever used, we only missed one turn (losing .75 of a mile). But the run felt good. The sprint down the last steep hill felt amazing.

And a free margarita at the end was even better.

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Progress

I started running in Chattanooga, TN (altitude: 680 feet). After two years, I was up to 10 mile runs and sporadically flirting with my goal pace of 10 minute miles. Then I abruptly relocated.

I resumed running in Colorado Springs, CO (altitude: 6,035 feet). The altitude and hill-laden terrain, coupled with the summer heat, was like running into a fucking brick wall.

I felt like I was dying. I felt like I had never run before. I honestly felt like I had completely lost every stride of those two years of work.

It was so disheartening. I kept telling myself that fall would bring its usual avalanche of progress with the dropping temperatures as I heaved myself up hill after hill, drenched in sweat, chasing my sister. I did not believe it though. Internally, I was defeated.

But I just kept running. And running. Back up to 5 miles. Back up to three runs a week. Then four. Back up to 10 miles. Back up to racing once a month. Twice a month. Five races in four weeks.

I learned to steady my pace up the hills, lengthen my stride. I learned to adjust my pace expectations to accommodate for incline. I relearned to just accept the runner I am.

And then it came. Just as I should have known it would. I started to see progress. At last!

My pace leveled out. Hills became incidental. I was no longer a slobbering mess at the end of anything less than 10 miles.

Two distinct instances helped realign my perspective.

(1) When I returned to the South for the first time, my original running mate, Carmen, and I were finally able to run together again. I had always feared that she had continued down our path of progression while I was headbutting into my altitude road block. I thought she would dust me and leave me behind.

However, I didn’t find myself chasing her heels. We jogged through the camps of Alchemy, pseudo-trail running. There were some gentle hills and one descent one. I didn’t even notice them I was so oxygenated back on flat land.

Carmen kept apologizing, but I didn’t care. I thought she did awesome. I was euphoric at being able to run with her again and at seeing that all my work had propelled me forward rather than held me back.

(2) When I started running in Colorado, I desperately (and futilely) searched for flat. I thought I discovered a route by my work. It seemed temptingly flat.

NO.

Like all Colorado routes, hills. Then epic hills. When I attempted the route by one summer sunrise, I was greeted by the hardest hill I had yet to run. I barely wogged up it, and it killed me. I couldn’t even limp through the full 4.5 miles. And I always finish.

I abandoned the route. Until this week.

I decided running in the pitch black 5am on an unlit greenway, even with a dog, still felt unsafe. I opted to try going to work early and running after, though I have always preferred the early run. I figured might as well brave the route by work again.

I kicked its ass.

I ran that hill like it was no more than a handicap ramp. I aimed for 5 miles but hit 6.8 without noticing. And I could have kept running.

Progress. Undeniable fucking progress. And suddenly, it’s all worth it again.


Mine to Mine CHALLENGE

The Cripple Creek Mine to Mine Challenge 9K is exactly that–a fucking challenge.

That is what I had to keep repeating to myself as I wogged up the mountain road. They call this a challenge for a reason. They call this a CHALLENGE for a REASON.

Zombie turtle in full effect.

This race was the most intimidating and hardest I have faced (to date). I worried about it for weeks, but I also never felt more accomplished than when I ran (wogged) the entire distance.

Cripple Creek is gorgeous in the fall. Christina was kind enough to accompany me for moral support to ease my nerves. We had a beautiful drive of golden aspens and snow dusted hills on the early October morning.

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Christina dropped me at the heritage center, and I spend on hour doing yoga on the floor beside a stuffed deer. Once again, I was surrounded by the hardcore Colorado runners, maybe even more so at this altitude, and feeling inferior, intimidated, out of place.

The route commenced at the Mollie Kathleen Mine (heritage center parking lot) with a steep grade down highway 67, descending into Cripple Creek. Even running downhill, at an altitude of 9,494 feet, I was instantly winded. As the professionals dusted me before the hill spilled into Cripple Creek, I wondered if I was really going to be able to do this.

But I just continued on, slow and steady.

I had done my research. I had read multiple race descriptions; I had found an account of a person who ran it the previous year. Somehow, they all neglected to mention the entire second half (or more), after looping out of Cripple Creek, was all uphill.

To say I was unprepared would be an understatement.

When the leading pack was so far ahead of me they were out of sight, I was convinced I was the last. I asked the portly man chugging beside me if we were tied for the caboose.  He said a whole mess of people were behind us, and that lightened my step a little.

Hill after hill, mountain highway serpentine after mountain highway serpentine, I just kept wogging along. I was convinced I had to be at a 15-17 minute mile pace, but I was not walking.

I gradually began to grow and gain on the stragglers. I passed the sprinters now walking red-faced. One woman continually jogged past me; then I wogged past her as she walked. We chatted and joked; she complimented my steady pace.

It was hard. The hills kept going. Around every bend, I prayed for flat, for the smallest decline. It was always another hill. Over halfway into the ascent, the road curled around the mountain again. When I crested the bend, the road curved to the left before turning into a straight, seemingly never-ending incline. I could see the entire length of the huge hill from the side, waiting for me. My heart sunk into my shoes, and I breathed, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” The woman beside me laughed.

I thought I was going to die, but I just kept going. I didn’t care how fast I was going; I just kept going.

Slow and steady. Slow and steady.

Breathing through it. Wog it out.

I tried to remind myself to look the hell around me. I was on top of the Rocky Mountains with the sun on my face and the cool air in my hair. I tried to press the pain to the sidelines of my mind and cement the moment, what I was doing.

A woman who had already finished had jogged back and was cheering us from the shoulder of the highway. She said there was only a mile and a half left; we just had to finish the hill and crossed the bridge. She chased us, reminding us, encouraging us.

I was revitalized.

I crested the hill with my legs screaming and let gravity pull my long strides down the hill. I was creating wind against my face again. I could see the bridge.

The bridge was flat. I just had to get across it. The distance exceeded my excitement; I felt my body trying to pace down, trying to give up on me. Heat bloomed in my stomach as I felt the back of my throat contract.

No. No stopping. No slowing down. Suck it the fuck up and finish it.

I gritted my teeth, breathed back against the nausea. I pushed harder on legs I was starting to not be able to feel. I could see the finish line. Up another little hill. Of course. I was squinting to see the clock through my sweat.

I could have just as easily fallen across the finish line at the Victor Gold Mining Company, but I ran across, tossed up a high five, and indulged a couple dry heaves.

My goal was :55. I finished in :59. It didn’t matter; I did it.

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This race changed me. Accomplishing it affected me in a more concentrated way. I am no longer intimidated by any run or route; I no longer question if I can do it. I now know I can zombie turtle through.


My First 10K

When I extended from a 3 mile run to a 5, I knew I was done. The 5 has always been my favorite. Long enough to really feel the rhythm and find a float, short enough to not dedicate a chunk of day or be limping the next day.

Ever since that switch, 5Ks are the harder distance for me. I am striving the whole time and dry heaving at the end. They just never got easier. I could hear the 10K calling to me.

My first 10K was The Great Pumpkin Run at Venetucci Farms. Trisha and Christina joined me. For me, it was the perfect run.

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The morning started brisk, in the 30s–my favorite running temperature. The early sun was painting Cheyenne Mountain in the distance. It felt like fall for the first time, and I was drunk on the sensation.

The run started by weaving through the pumpkin patch. The hardcore Colorado runners rapidly left me in their dust as I committed to my zombie turtle pace. Christina hung back with me to avoid burning herself out at her own pace.

The route rounded through the patch into a trail through the trees. There was no street or established path; the route for this run was beaten down just for the event. We were just running through farmlands, and somehow that was appealing to me on this autumn day.

The route was relatively flat, undulating with the brief incline and decline of trail running. After the first mile or two of striving and reminding myself not to care about where the other runners were, I feel into an intoxicating float.

We crossed into the Pinello Ranch and traced the farm roads before edging the lake for the halfway turn around. I lost Christina shortly before halfway; my float was too compelling.

Alone, I found myself euphoric. I was running without effort; I was diving into the fall farm scene. I heard myself laughing (and thinking, what the fuck?) as I crested moguls back in the trees. It felt like I was skiing.

I continued on through mile 4 and 5, gradually noticing my muscles starting to protest. I knew it was getting close; I was starting to recognize surroundings of the start. When I hit mile 6, the final stretch lay straight out the field ahead of me. I unleashed whatever meager sprint I had left in me.

I had set the goal to finish in 1:15. I crossed the line in 1:09.

Panting, I walked back and crossed the finish with Christina then Trisha.

If Christina were to write this post, it would paint quite the alternative picture. When I caught up to her, she was livid, layers and camelbak dangling haphazardly, practically in tears. She had experienced her first “shit run.” My camelbak she borrowed drove her insane; she fell on a mogul; she got lost; her shorts fell off.

Driving to lunch, as she recounted her run of woe, I asked her if perhaps a kid also passed her and kicked her in the shin. We laughed too hard at her shorts falling off as icing on the cake. Levity broke her out of her well-earned frustration.

The three of us sealed our race with Jose Muldoons. Sitting at the table, still vibrating with my runner’s high, with a belly full of margarita and queso, I had a moment of pure, unadulterated bliss.

This is why I do this.