Among the first things I ever said in my first blog post was- I hate running. If you've read those first 2 posts, you know I started running a few years ago because it was hard and terrible and I wanted to quit nicotine by pairing my loathing of the run to urges for nicotine... an end to wit I have had mixed success. I no longer use nicotine, but I also run all the time- go figure. Today, however threw me a curveball.
A bunch of us doing all 4 States (probably 20 or more) gathered this morning at 7:30 for an early race start since we are almost all slowing down precipitously and no one wants to run after dark in the high desert winter. Tom, the Race Director (RD) guided the group along a path in Colorado that headed out toward a big bend in the San Juan River. We had a pretty steep descent after the first 1/4 mile that started to make some of the older participants a bit concerned. After skittering down a few hundred feet above the river, we turned around and headed back up the same grade which drew even more groaning. Then we took a turn toward Dancing Horse Trail and headed for the highest peak in the vicinity. There were places where you were essentially climbing a rock and earth ladder to the next ridge, then crossed the ridges and began an even steeper ascent through breaks in the rocks and topped out on what felt like the top of the world. Pictures really can't do this place justice- its like looking at pictures of the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon- until you see them with your own eyes, you just can't have a full appreciation. I appreciated it today in living color. A few in the group did not appreciate it as much and felt far more comfortable on a 1 mile flattish loop. It just so happened that there was an option for this crowd-pleasing choice, and the 3 mile trail loop ended into a mostly paved 1 mile course for the monotony masochists to revel in for the rest of the day.
After another 10 miles on a 1 mile loop, my mind was starting to rebel. I had a few follow-up conversations with the characters from yesterday's tale and then was left pretty much with my aching feet, no music because my phoned died of cold, and a hamster wheel course... all the while fantasizing about the trail course I had barely tasted. So, by that time, the main marathon had started at the officially publicized start time, and was taking place solely on the trail we had done earlier. As I saw those runners making the trail loop in and out of the canyon and mountain top, I simply couldn't resist any more. At 13.1 I went back onto the trail and there I stayed until the end.
The pictures and videos here and on the Eternal Endurance Facebook page are all from that second half where I pounded my body just to squeeze all the thrills and beauty out of that trail. Mind you, in the flat first half, I had already been struggling to maintain a pace and my heart rate wouldn't go above about 145 before my body seemed to give out and make me slow back down. Then I went to the trail and found myself bounding down the steep ascent into the canyon, heart beating out of my chest at a sub 6 minute pace. I saw a guy I had met earlier named Mark, who was doing his only marathon of the week today and he said, "Looks like someone is warming up!" and that was all the power of suggestion I needed to keep leaning forward and bounding to the next foot landing one after another all the way down. If it was downhill today, I sprung through it. At one point I was so tickled I truly felt like a little kid again chasing my brothers through the woods down to the river- my mind wasn't on pain, fatigue, or the drudgery of one more step- instead, I was caught up in the high stakes game of flinging my body through the air with a split second to find the next solid landing for my flying feet. This sure wasn't in trail shoes or on fresh legs- it was just the kid taking over with reckless abandon and letting the pain drift to the background.
<technical issues uploading video but 3 of them can be found on the Eternal Endurance Facebook Page and will be added here asap>
On the second back-half loop I had to ditch my dead phone that had stranded me out on the first lap and get another one with a working camera. The rest of the race was a furious set of descents (with some poor video footage- I'll have a GoPro soon!), some quad and calf burning climbing, and a bunch of taking time to smell the roses while catching my breath. I took the pictures you see here and a pile more, I hung out with Native American volunteers at each of the aid stations, and tried to live in the moment. "Becky who has never run a marathon" (that's how she introduced herself), was manning the valley aid station with a few others. She teaches Archaeology at Crow Canyon Archeological Center. They preserve and teach about the cliff dwelling Pueblo Indians that lived near Mesa Verde over 700 years ago. She and all the other volunteers I met made spending a few minutes munching grapes and drinking Gatorade another fulfilling part of this intense day.
So yes, I enjoyed running today- I admit it. But it was less about the running than the peculiar opportunity to experience the blend of nostalgia and thrill seeking that the running presented today. Today was pretty great. My feet are bruised and blistered, my legs feel like they're made of concrete, and I finally resorted to an ice bath to hopefully jumpstart recovery for one more marathon tomorrow, but I wouldn't trade today's discovery of outdoor happiness and connecting with kind, diverse people in their beautiful homeplace, for anything- (especially not the 1 mile loop that I raved about yesterday!)