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.
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.
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.