Saturday, August 15, 2009

There are some good hills in Brooklyn: the steep sidewalk leading up to the Brooklyn Promenade, Mile One of the Summer Speed Series Race, Union Street heading up to the Park, and the far edge of Greenwood Cemetery to name a few. But there aren’t mountains. I’m out West this summer and there are definitely mountains. Below is a journal of sorts, some insights into what it is like to run in Colorado.

The first day I ran in Colorado, after arriving from sea level a few days before, I ran a whopping two miles, at a very mellow pace. I live in a one-room wood cabin at 9,500 feet. There are limitless trails right outside my door, but that day I stuck to the boring dirt road. Adjusting to the lower levels of oxygen meant that speed and deft maneuvering on trails would have to wait. Running that first week felt a bit like what running felt like after I’d come back from knee surgery in high school. Mentally you know you should be able to go faster – you’ve done it before – but your body is telling you otherwise.

After about a week, I felt confident enough to try running with other people. My breathing wasn’t 100%, but I was feeling stronger. I ran several times with the Boulder Trail Runners. One day we ran a somewhat flat course at a conversational pace. The next time I joined them was for a Night Run. The run starts at 8:30 pm. There was a decent crowd, a dozen or so, and we set off. Soon we had our headlamps and flashlights turned on and we veered off the path intentionally. We ran for a few miles through a field with no sign of a path, just following our fearless leader. Occasionally you’d run into a small cactus, but mostly it was just grass and wildflowers. Eventually we met up with the trail, and returned to the parking lot. Half the group hopped in their cars and headed home, the other half set out to go for two more hours of night running. At one point, as we neared the parking lot, a runner went on the road for a moment. A fellow runner teased him, “Are you on the Boulder Road Runners now?” I responded, “I didn’t know there was a Road Runners club here.” In the dark, a voice responds, “Yeah, what is the point when you live around all these great trails?” The group seemed to sneer at the notion of roadrunners. I kept quiet.

One secret about mountain running is that it’s not always running. On another night run, we ran to the crest of a peak that overlooked the spectacular city skyline. That run included a fair amount of fast hiking as we scrambled our way up and down rocky trails. Sometimes running isn’t as efficient as speed hiking.

So far I’ve raced twice in Colorado. The first race was a 3K on city streets. I had the option of signing up for one of two divisions online: “Family and Friends” or “Elite Women.” I hesitated for a moment, but decided to go with the “Elite” category. Boulder is home to many sponsored athletes, as well as former college and Olympic standouts. Colleen De Reuck, the winner of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, set a blazingly fast pace and won our 3K. I didn’t finish last, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t near the front of the pack. A coach I was talking to beforehand told me that fully adjusting to elevation takes up to six months. I’d been there for three weeks at that point, so I added that to my list of excuses for why I hadn’t fared too well in my first Colorado race of the summer. I was so inspired and happy to run in a race with such talent, though. My next race was a 10K on the trails of a local ski resort. Over 200 runners participated and there were giveaways, a huge breakfast, and beer at the end. That course was all up and down, barely a stretch of flat. But because it was also all trails, I barely felt sore the next day.

One other component of running in the mountains is the wildlife. On my runs I’ve seen marmot, hares, deer, and elk. There have been reported mountain lion sightings in the area where I live and run, but so far I haven’t seen one. I’m avoiding running at dusk when they like to hunt and catch their prey off-guard – and I’ve started running with pepper spray when I run alone. I’m pretty sure pepper spray won’t actually stop a mountain lion but it offers me some (false?) sense of protection.

As I’m writing this I received an email from the Boulder Trail Runners list-serve. It is too perfect an example of what running out here is like, so I’ll share it: “Hey guys, Anyone want to run to Nederland this weekend? Total
 distance would be 30ish miles, in probably 8ish hours. I'm totally flex on start time, so long as we're certain to get to Ned 
in time to catch a bus back to Boulder. Daytime, nighttime, whatevah. I'm not picky about pace, either. I can probably do it in 7 hours; and
 would be perfectly fine with spending 11-12. No worries either way. :-)” I won’t be joining him, but I’m sure he’ll have company. Never mind that the elevation gain on that run is over 4,000 feet!

I am a big fan of Prospect Park Track Club. I enjoy the races, the camaraderie, the sense of community, and the-get-you-out-the-door-on-a-cold-day-because-people-are-waiting-for-you mentality that goes along with being part of such a vibrant running club. I look forward to joining you all back on the hills of Brooklyn this autumn.

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