Two years ago, before we moved, I decided to participate in a little trail run in Estes Park, Colorado. It was (only) 4.5 miles of beautiful hills and trail, breathtaking vistas, fresh air and silence. It couldn’t be that bad, right? I convinced Andy and my sister to join me in the little adventure. Included in the entry fee was a t-shirt, or course, but also, an all-you-can-eat breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage following the race. I remember that was really the best part.
The course was on primitive trails, (meaning not-really-a-trail-at-all) with plenty of elevation gain, the highest point of about 8000ft. We showed up early to pick up our packets. It was freezing. There were patches of snow on the course. The mob of about 400 racers lined up at the starting line, waiting for the signal to go. Then, when the cow bell rang, the mob moved. It was flat at first, and the trail was well defined. Everyone was going along swimmingly. That was the problem. By the time we reached the first incline, the mob was still together, but velocities had changed. Some sprinted up the hill like mountain goats, while others moved at the speed of centenarians…without legs. Now the trail more closely resembled a washed out creek bed. It was virtually impossible to pass someone and stay on the path. One slow centenarian grew quickly into an unwilling convoy of dozens. It was very frustrating. Not that I was fast, or anything like that. In fact, I was quite humbled by the run. Ok, totally whipped. It was much harder than I thought it would be, and much more technical. I was unprepared. I couldn’t walk normally for a few days afterwards. The breakfast was good, though.
So, a few weeks ago, after two years’ hiatus, I decided to try again. Why? Because, um, I don’t know. I just happened to be in the neighborhood and I have been running regularly (albeit at about 400m elevation vs. 2300m) so I thought I’d be better equipped to handle the hills, rocks, and cold. Plus, who really needs an excuse to head up to the Colorado mountains in the fall? It’s beautiful.
Again, I convinced my sister to come along. Bright as she is, she must not have figured out that following me around isn’t the best idea. Again, when we got there, it was freezing cold, but at least no snow. A similarly sized mob had assembled and t-shirts were again given out. To our great surprise, they had two waves of runners; one for Sub 60 minutes, and one for over 60 minutes. Overly confident, we chose to join the sub-60 group. I think it was a good move. 4.5 miles, right? At least we weren’t stuck behind any leg-less centenarians creeping up the hills. But perhaps, we had become them ourselves. We started out fine. The mob moved together. The first few hills were tolerable. The ground was so dry that dust was flying all over. People smiled, and their teeth were brown. At about half-way, we were at the top. I had some water, and tried to clean the dirt out of my mouth. (I must have swallowed about a cup.) The aid station worker told us it “was all downhill from here.” What a whopper that was!! Once the pack separated, it was very clear. (No, not the air.) It was clear that there was actually more uphill left than down. It was clear that I was throughly whipped by this race, again, and I wasn’t even finished. Every time I ascended beyond a certain elevation, I hit a wall and felt like a fish out of water. Once the trail dropped below, I could run again. I thought I might die, or worse, have to be carried down the mountain by one of the cute cowboys on horseback at the ranch. It was agonizing. I stopped to take a picture of the beautiful view. I kept thinking only crazy people like to do this…crazy people like…Kyle Kelly. I decide that I must be crazy, too.
Pressing though all the pain, self-doubt and oxygen depletion, I did finish. I’ll live to run another day. Maybe even another Sombrero. The breakfast was delicious.