Let the games begin!

St. Patrick’s Day. You still OK? Good. I gave you enough time to recover from your inevitable day – weekend? – of wasty face binge drinking to hear those words without a green face and the gag reflex. Ya lush! Just kidding. Or. . .am I?

St. Patrick’s Day for me marked the first of many races on my calendar for the year: the Runnin’ of the Green 7K. Dubbed ”Denver’s classic Irish jog,” the race starts and ends in the heart of Lodo – lower downtown to those of you not familiar with the beautiful city of Denver that I more than joyously call home – and includes a bit of a hilly course that I remembered to be tough during my first Runnin’ of the Green in 2010.

I was so excited for the first race of the season, but I got to the starting line feeling horribly unprepared. Thanks to a grant proposal deadline - including what I call my first ‘big girl budget’ totaling just under a cool half a million - a mid-week work dinner event, a conference for work, and an impromptu invite to the Imagine Dragons show for FREE, I ate like crap, lost tons of sleep, and didn’t run at all for the five days prior to the race.

THEN, of course, on race day, I had a hard time getting out of bed; ate too much for breakfast - leaving a brick of a peanut butter, Cheerios, honey, and chia seed sandwich in my stomach - and didn’t feel as though I warmed up enough before having to find a suitable spot among the crowd at the starting line, which left me no choice but to jump up and down in place as high as I could and to stretch a bit. iNo bueno!

And, before I knew it, there went the gun. GO!

I started out stuck in the crowd going waaaay slower than I wanted. So, of course, I bolted out ahead - too fast, mind you - once I broke away, only I didn’t know it because my watch averaged my total pace for that first mile at that point – the first, super slow part of that mile plus the super speedy pace ended up averaging. . .still faster than I thought, which meant the super speedy part was too speedy to maintain. Mile one.

OK, just keep going. Run how you feel, even if you have to slow down a bit. You can always speed up later.

The uphills weren’t so bad, and definitely not as painful as I remember. What’s one of the best things about an uphill along the course? Mmm hmm, right. The subsequent downhill. Nice! Speed things up a bit! Aaaaand a right past the REI store, a one hundred eighty degree turn at the end of that short straight away, and back past the REI, I was officially headed back. Ah, crap. Don’t remember THIS uphill being here.

Ugh.

Luckily, the hill was short, just like all of the hills along the course; and I found myself  leveled out to a straight away back to 20th Street. One right-hand turns, one gradual downhill, one final short but steep uphill, then one last right-hand turn toward the finish line to go. . . And voila! Made it.

So here’s a quick glimpse into the depths of madness of my running brain for a sec. . . Anytime I run a race, I have two goals: the goal I think is more feasible and borderline ambitious – the race goal I tell others when they ask – and my actual, “secret” race goal – the one I don’t tell anyone to spare myself embarrassment and excessive verbal self-deprecation in the event that I don’t reach it.

How did I fare on this fine day of Irish-inspired debauchery, you ask? All said and done, my average pace for my first race of the year was faster than my actual, secret race goal by a few seconds per mile, meaning. . .you guessed it. . .a PR for the course!

I bested my time by more than two minutes since the same race in 2011 and by nearly four and a half minutes – over one minute per mile faster – than the same race in 2010. Huh. Not bad for this old lady.

All obstacles aside, I had experienced an amazing streak of luck in the days leading up to the race. And, with a bib number like 1313, my good luck was bound to continue on race day:

Lucky number 13. . .twice!

Lucky number 13. . .times two!
Photo compliments of Delcarmen Gilkey, a.k.a. finish line cheerleader extraordinaire

Fact: Beer ALWAYS tastes better when you earn it. Beer and pancakes. Yeah.

I was happy with my time but, at the same time, pondered how much faster I could have run had I trained appropriately, slept more regularly, and ate healthier that previous week. But then again, this was only the first race of the year. There’s still plenty time more to find out the answers to this – and oh so many more – questions in my head.

Ready? I hope so. It’s bound to be an interesting ride. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

It’s about that time. . .

So. . . It’s about that time of year. That time that I cut out all junk food and very carefully think about the balance of carbs, protein, and good fats in everything I eat. . .that time that I make every effort possible to be in bed early most every night. . .that time that some of my friends rely on their memories of what I look like because they come to know me almost exclusively via text messages for months.

Between the Pikes Peak Marathon, the Bear Chase 50K, and guiding for the New York City Marathon, training this year means that I’ll be MIA until early November.

January, February, March April May. . . Sing it, Wyclef!

January, February, March April May. . . Sing it, Wyclef!

It’s about that time. . . Marathon training – trail runs with beautiful, serene views from an incline of about two thousand feet and a quite distinguishable notation of where my dirt-coated ankles end and my socks began; anxious anticipation of speed workouts and a delicious feeling of accomplishment to cross them off my training plan; the consumption of countless Gus and granola bars, all a.k.a. absolute bliss - is about to begin!

The race is officially 134 days, 7 hours, and 43 seconds away; and training starts exactly twenty-five days from today. Really, though, it’s already begun. Not only have I got the first race of the year under my belt; I have also given changes I’m going to make to my training regimen a lot of thought.

Although I’ve only run the Pikes Peak Marathon once, I’ve followed the same marathon training plan twice now. My ascent for the marathon was one second shy of a whole twenty-two minutes slower than my Ascent PR the year before – an ETERNITY in any runner’s world. Yeah, yeah. . .ouch! I know. . .and I’m bound and determined to make this year’s ascent portion of the marathon a lot faster than last year – as it should be!

In thinking back on my training for the past two years, I noted three small things – things I will most definitely do again this year – that were different and that I think made all the difference in running performance.

One: Spending more time on my feet. Two summers ago, I had a part-time job in an awesome little Greek restaurant near downtown Denver, Melita’s – the best chicken souvlaki I’ve ever tasted, by the way – which meant I spent a minimum of twenty-five hours on my feet in addition to marathon training. At my new job, I spend a lot of time at my computer, which last year equated to a lot of time sitting.

My solution? Yup, you guessed it – a self-fashioned standing desk:

Never thought old dissertation materials and all three volumes of Bowlby's attachment series would come in handy like this!

Never thought old dissertation materials and all three volumes of Bowlby’s attachment series would come in handy like this!

Add to this calf raises and a few inclined pushups at the edge of my desk here and there to get the blood flowing, and voila! Even cheaper than anything you can find at Ikea.

Two: Riding JD’s bike – Yes, JD, I know you’re reading this (thanks, by the way!); and I still refer to it as your bike that I will one day return – rather than driving as much as possible to and from the Snug on Thursdays, to and from friends’ houses, to run errands nearby. Just got air in the tires the other day. Good as new!

Three: Doing my Friday run in the morning before work rather than in the late afternoon or early evening after work. I suspect that doing my Friday runs after work last year didn’t afford me enough rest to make the most of our long trail runs – VERY important runs – on early Saturday mornings. And, it’ll afford me more time on Friday evenings to share my running thoughts will y’all on a twice weekly basis. Lucky you!

I think these three things are a very good place to start for a Pikes Peak Marathon PR. Guess we’ll see if I’m right on August 17th. I hope you’re ready for what’s bound to be an awesome ride to the starting line. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

BIG FAT check, check, and check. . .

March 1, 2014. It’s been about five weeks since I made my list of running resolutions. On one hand, it’s already March. Already! On the other, it’s only March; and I can already check a few items off my list:

  • Increase my daily “comfortable” running pace by twenty to thirty seconds per mile.

CHECK! I’ve been feeling strong and relaxed the past few weeks, and I’ve been running faster than is typical for me lately, especially for this time of the year. I’ll take it though, just in time for my first race of the season – the Runnin’ of the Green Lucky 7K in beautiful downtown Denver two weeks from tomorrow. PR, here I come. YAY!

Tentative the one time I’ve mentioned it this year, and a reality come late September. . . CHECK! That’s right, peeps. This marathon newbie will soon also be an ultramarathon newbie, and I’ve got the confirmation screen shot to prove it:

No turning back now!

No turning back now!

Though it was a ‘no brainer’ in a number of ways, I’ve given it a decent amount of thought. Dubbed an “excellent race for first time ultramarathoners,” the 50K course includes one small and two large loops, all of which overlap for two short ‘out and backs,’ which means that I will have multiple opportunities to see any friends that tag along to offer moral support.

That, three water crossings, only 1,930 feet of elevation gain – 3,860 feet of elevation change total - and the promise of ”sweeping panoramic views throughout the race” make the Bear Chase sound like an excellent pick for a first timer.

Besides these logistical perks, I talked with someone about the idea of the leap to the ultramarathon from Runner’s Edge of the Rockies after the Great Candy Run back in November. He said – and I quote – “If you ran the Pikes Peak Marathon, you can run an ultramarathon.” Thirty-one days since I first thought seriously about the idea, here I am.

A few years ago, I stopped asking myself “Why?” when I pondered a new venture. I now ask myself, “Why not?” and that philosophy has served me well. I haven’t thought of a single reason why I shouldn’t do many things – and have learned from the experiences - ever since, and I can’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t attempt my first ultramarathon now.

A mere five weeks after my second ever Pikes Peak Marathon attempt, I’m counting on this ‘check’ to help me out with the only item on my running resolutions list worth mentioning twice - NOT falling off the running map like I did this past year after Pikes Peak.

And last, but not at all least, is one final item. . .

  • Feel like and BE a bad arse. Period.

So far, so good; but I won’t check this one off my list just yet, nor will I ever, really. I’m on my way to what I hope will be a great year of running, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover - countless gallons of water and lots of Gu to consume on the trails, tons of sweat to wipe from my brow - between now and December to call it a successful year indeed. And that’s just for this year, not long-term ‘bad arse’ status.

As Collective Soul once sang, “I’ve got a long way. . .to run.” Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though – I’ll never know until I try.

Ever get that feeling while on a run that it’s gonna be a good year? I’ve had that feeling during and following every run I’ve completed in that past few weeks. Time – and checking additional items off of my running resolutions list – will tell if I’m right. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Little Pretend Broken Hearts

So. . . I’m about as single as a girl can get. . .which means I’ve entertained myself with a few ‘pretend’ boyfriends at times. You know, just for kicks. I had one in North Carolina I called my ‘gym boyfriend.’ He was not too tall but cute from head to toe, and he always wore a baseball hat when he worked out. Weird! Or. . .balding prematurely?! Hmm. . .

At any rate, I mentioned to a girl friend from my gym that I thought he was attractive, to which she replied, “So why don’t you talk to him?” Uh, what? And, more importantly, why?! I would never do that for fear that he’d instantly become unattractive the second he opened his mouth to speak, poor little meat head. Then, I’d have no eye candy at the gym. “Nah, I’ll just look every now and then.”

My latest ‘pretend’ comes compliments of my absolute favorite Denver band – an amazing little outfit who shall remain nameless because, although it’s the slimmest possible of slim chances that one of the band members would ever read this – and an even slimmer chance that any of them would actually know me - it would be pretty darn embarrassing if, by some miracle, one of them actually did.

Just for the record, I never would have acted on my pretend crush. He seemed nice, kind of quiet, a pretty humble guy slash awesome drummer; but, he was also 1 – not my style; 2 – too skinny and not anywhere near my ideal of the male physique; 3 - not the type that looked like he worked out on the regular; 4 - last but most certainly not least, taken!

And, as if all of these reasons still aren’t enough, I saved the best for last – I had my eye on a supah hot boy of my own - Just in case you were wondering; and just for the record, of course.

Long story short, the lead singer of the “hardest working band in Denver” played a free solo acoustic show at one of my favorite grub spots – which shall also remain nameless to protect the innocent, a.k.a. to save me from turning the brightest red ever possible - a few Friday nights ago. A free show by a member of my favorite local band? Um, yes, please!

After his set, said unnamed lead singer retreated to the bar at the back of the venue - and about five or six feet from where I was standing – to hang out with his fellow band mates and allow the second act full attention on the stage up front for their show.

Now, I can ordinarily find a way to strike up a conversation with just about anybody at any time; and I certainly would have loved to chat it up with my boys, no doubt! This particular Friday night, however, I was feeling a bit shy. For those of you who know me personally, YES, it does happen from time to time, believe it or not.

So there I stood, donning my UBER orange Elway jersey to show my support for my beloved Broncos on Super Bowl weekend – that game we shall not speak of, don’t even ask! – undoubtedly looking like that single, out of place, wide-eyed girl scanning the room and dancing ever so slightly in place to mask true feelings of awkwardness and sticking out like somewhat of a sore thumb.

A girl hanging out with the band a few feet away noticed me, took a step in my direction, and said, “You’re rocking that jersey!” and I was instantly back in the game and out of my awkward wall flower state. “Thanks!” I was grateful for her taking pity on the quiet girl that could be spotted a mile away by her ’white girl’ dance moves, let alone a bright orange, oversized shirt. We chatted a few minutes. She was so nice! I felt a little better.

A few songs later, the second act was done, as was the live music for the evening and my stamina. It had been a long but good day; and although the night was relatively young, I was ready to call it a night.

Back home, I logged onto Facebook for a pre-’nighty night’ update on my friends’ random posts and pictures from the evening. . .and a quick peek at the band’s Facebook page too. I consider myself a pretty good sleuth when I want to be – let’s call it being “resourceful” – and ended up finding my pretend crush’s Facebook page, only to respond with a dropped jaw when I saw. . .

Wait for it. . .w a i t    f o r    i t. . .

That the sweet girl who struck up conversation about my jersey was his girlfriend!

“Son of a [bleep]! Aww, man!” Aaaaand just like that, my pretend crush was over. I knew he had a girlfriend, but now she was real. . .and really nice to me. I’m a lot of things, peeps, but a home wrecking hussy is not one of ‘em, even if continuing my pseudo crush had only made me a pretend home wrecking hussy.

Just like that, a mere eleven days before Valentines Day, I was nowhere near having a pretend boyfriend – let alone an actual boyfriend – and even more single than before if at all possible. I’ll admit, it was silly anyway.

Sigh.

So. . . What is a girl to do to mend a little pretend broken heart? Let me count the ways:

  1. Gobble up Valentines Day chocolates – candy you buy for yourself – and wash it down with a pint of cookie dough ice cream – real ice cream, mind you, none of that ‘fat free’ wanna be stuff? Nnnnnnnope. Besides, I prefer Oreo cookie ice cream.
  2. Spend an entire weekend watching sappy ‘chick flicks’ and fighting back little pretend tears? Uh uh. No thank you.
  3. Create a profile on a free online dating website? Um, not only no, but OH HELL NO NO NOOOOO!!! No offense to those of you that have tried online dating, it just ain’t for me.

These were not at all viable options. Not for this girl, anyway. There was only one possible option left: an extra trip to the gym. And pistol squats. And handstand pushups. Yeah. I could feel my spirits lifting instantly.

Pistol Squat

Handstand Pushup

NOTE. Neither of these are me!

Valentines Day 2010 was the first time I’d ever done pistol squats – successfully on each leg – all the way down to the ground. I remember thinking that it was the best Valentines Day gift to myself ever. I wanted that feeling again, and my extra trip to the gym just happened to fall on Valentines Day 2014. The best part? I can do them all! Who woulda thought?! I can’t think of anything much sweeter than that.

Running and working out are two of my many loves, and certainly two of the few that have never let me down. And a little love from the both of them is something any single gal can always truly rely on, whether mending a real or pretend broken heart.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Orange and Blue, and Glorious Running Too

Happy new year, fair readers! I can still say that since this is the first time we’ve met in 2014. . .right? Right. Thought so.

So. . . I don’t really believe in new year’s resolutions. I used to make them all of the time, and they were good ones – start playing the piano again, read more books. . . I’ve kept NOT a one over the years. Now, rather than wait for the clean-slate promise of a new year to make positive changes in myself, I do it year round. And, instead of new year’s resolutions, I call them life resolutions.

As many of you know, I’ve been a bit MIA from the blogging scene recently. There, there. . . Dry your eyes, take a deep breath. . . I’m back! What you may not know, though, is that I’ve also been a bit MIA from the running scene ever since my first marathon – the Pikes Peak Marathon - WAAAAAAAY back in August.

So, aligned with my hated of new year’s resolutions, I’ve made several running resolutions for the near future and for the year as of late. Ah-HEM! And they are:

  • Follow a training plan for the Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K on April 13th. This will mark the first time I’ve trained specifically for a 5K since 1999 – For all you math majors out there, that’s about fourteen and a half years ago now!
  • Follow a training plan for the Bolder Boulder 10K on May 26th.*
  • Devise my own marathon training plan – a cross between Bart Yasso’s intermediate and a more advanced plan – for none other than the Pikes Peak Marathon – one of the absolute truest of my loves – on August 17th.
  • Increase my daily, “comfortable” running pace by twenty to thirty seconds per mile.
  • Inspire others to give running a try or to pick it up again.
  • Enjoy some of the most beautiful views that my lovely home state of Colorado has to offer from the peaks of hard-battled trails thousands of miles above sea level.
  • NOT fall off the running map like I did this past year after Pikes Peak.
  • Rejoin my Florida Ragnarians for a rematch, this time in California for the Ragnar Relay Napa Valley - yes, you heard me right when I said NAPA VALLEY - in late September.
  • Run the Bear Chase Trail Race 50K in late September.*
  • NOT FALL OFF THE RUNNING MAP LIKE I DID THIS PAST YEAR AFTER PIKES PEAK.
  • Feel like and BE a bad arse. Period.

*Note. Tentative at this point in time, but MOST DEFINITELY on my radar in general and occupying my thoughts always when finding myself in boring conversations or long meetings at work.

To reiterate, I DON’T do new year’s resolutions. Not anymore. These just happen to coincide with the beginning of the new year. OK? Good! I’m glad we got that straight.

Is there any better way to start a brand new year of running than with summer running gear on an unseasonably perfect day? I think not!

Sunday, January 19th brought a gorgeous, sunny, short-sleeved tee and shorts day and a 26-16 Denver Broncos victory – PFM! - over the New England Patriots to secure a trip to the Super Bowl - le football crème de la crème. Before the big game, junk food, and beer - um, but of course! - the beautiful weather beckoned me out for a run. What’s that, you ask? How many miles did I go? THIS many:

You're welcome, Denver. Photo courtesy of the one and only Bryan Krause

You’re welcome, Denver.
Photo courtesy of the one and only Bryan Krause

 

Those are, as a matter of fact, my ‘skinny jeans.’ Now ladies, certainly you can understand just how significant this moment of comfortably fitting into my skinny jeans in January must have been. Not that anyone’s keeping track or anything, right?!

Here’s to stunning days of randomly amazing running weather. . .to fitting into skinny jeans year round. . .to a brand new year of running resolutions. And, um, GO BRONCOS!!! WUUHOOOOOOOO!!!

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

A New Kind of PR

So, the last time we met, I gushed about the beauty and splendor of a day on the trails, a day that just happened to be sunny and gorgeous – short and short sleeves weather – at the very end of November. That was not the case for the Snug run a few Thursdays ago. Much to the contrary, in fact, that run represented a new kind of PR.

Nine forty-three in the morning. “You still going to run tonight?” “. . .Supposed to be below zero tonight as of 6:00.” Eleven thirteen. “Sounds like JD’s running so I’ll give it a shot.” Five fifty p.m. “I’m going to heard out to run. Be careful. See you soon.”

And, just like that, we were all running in a temperature that surely marked PRs for all of us – for our coldest run to date.

The air was still, and it actually felt great when I arrived at the Snug. This isn’t so bad. It’s a gorgeous night for a run! About forty minutes later, though, I chewed up and swallowed each letter of those words and washed them down with a cold beer.

Everyone else I knew to also be running were already on the course; I was the last one from the usual crew who had yet to start out. As I signed in and was just about to head up the back staircase toward Marion Street to start out, JD was just getting back.

He was all bundled up, from head to toe. The only bare skin you could see was the bit of his face around his eyes, just wider than what a pair of binoculars might hide if held up to his face. Not much, right? Even exposing so very little skin, the weather had still found him; and it left its mark. . .in the form of icicles on his eyelashes. Yep, you heard right! Actually looked pretty cool, like some fancy Hollywood movie makeup.

If I don’t go right now, I’m not going to!

The first mile wasn’t so bad, just a few frosty fingers and toes, nothing I hadn’t encountered before. Still, the trail through Cheeseman Park was empty; and the frigid night air felt a bit lonely. Almost there. Then, my watch beeped. Finally done! Mile two.

I was too concerned about the icy patches on the sidewalk eastbound on Eighth Avenue and then along northbound York to pay much attention; but by the time I reached the Denver Botanical Gardens entrance, I noticed. And by the time I was about to leave Eleventh Avenue to return to Cheeseman Park, I could no longer ignore it.

My fingers – all ten despite two pairs of gloves - were beyond chilly, beyond cold, beyond needing yet another pair of gloves. They were devoured in searing pain.

I still have a whole mile to go. I don’t think I can take much more. OOOWWW! So, I did the only thing I knew to do, you know, besides knock on a random door and ask the kind stranger who answered to allow me to stand inside the door until my hands stopped stinging. I unzipped the pockets in my coat and ran the rest of the way with my hands balled up in them, right hand holding onto the icy metal case of my camera.

Lucky you, my hands warmed enough to snap a quick photo to document my coldest run yet – a new kind of PR – with about a quarter mile to go:

ONLY eight? Are you sure, UMB Bank?

A whole eight? Are you sure it was that warm, UMB Bank?

Once back, I wasted no time getting through the wrought iron gate and side door leading to the Irish Snug basement, out of the frigid air, and into the cozy company of my fellow crazy running peeps – back to the great indoors where warmth, and, arguably most important – BEER – were waiting.

I think it took a good fifteen minutes before my fingers and toes thawed out enough to stop tingling, a feeling I certainly did not miss.

Wise? Absolutely not. Gutsy? Mmm, maybe. Would I do it again? Most definitely.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Long way to run. . .

One of the oh sooo many things I love about my beloved Colorado is the wonderfully wacky weather, like Mother Nature momentarily loses her mind in a bipolar fit of rage.

Sometimes it means experiencing spring and winter on a single trail run as I did in Steamboat Springs in September, and sometimes it means a high of a beautiful, sunny fifty-seven degrees one day and a low of one negative degree and several inches of snow the next, as was the case very recently in Denver.

And sometimes, it means a freakishly beautiful day during winter, which was the case the weekend after Thanksgiving. Dakin’s text on Friday morning was like a breath of fresh mountain air: “Anyone interested in doing a trail run Saturday afternoon?” Um, YES, please!

We headed out around one o’clock to Apex, one of our typical locations with which we rotated Mt. Falcon Park on Tuesdays this past summer while training for Pikes Peak. Neither is easy, but Apex is the easier of the two, or at least I think it feels that way.

A nice five or six-mile jaunt through the Enchanted Forest, up to the top, then back down would be just enough of a challenge and still offer the serenity of the trail and a beautiful view without overwhelming my current running state – marked by an undeniable lack of physical prowess since Pikes Peak. . . Or so we thought.

Instead of the wide-open parking lot and row of trees hiding the trail entrance, we were greeted by chain link fence, brightly colored tape, and signs telling us that the trails were closed for maintenance. “Guess we’re running Falcon instead.” Ugh!

I love running the trails at Mt. Falcon Park, don’t get me wrong. It’s one of my absolute favorite places to run, no doubt. It is, though, like I said, hard. Most of the first mile alone treads up steep, technical terrain with a pristine view of neighboring Red Rocks Amphitheater and a distant downtown Denver. If you’re smart, though, you don’t see either because your eyes are locked on foot placement between sharp rocks.

Dakin and I are the best and the worst running duo out there because we are so much alike. “Ugh, I’m nervous now!” “Me too!” But, no matter how much we both dreaded the burning in our legs and possibly also our lungs and the mental strain that was to come with it, turning back was not an option. And so, we took off.

“Oh, I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. At least I’ll die in a place that I love.” OK, here goes.

The first mile hurt a little. The arches of my feet started to cramp - a feeling I hadn’t felt in quite some time while on a run – and I’m sure it was pretty slow compared to the last time I had met the trail. The beginning of mile two at the top of the first climb meant a little bit of a break. From climbing, at least. Made it! Thank God!

Snow covered trail forced me to slow a little bit when I wanted to really run, but I don’t think it was such a bad thing. I knew what was waiting once the short break was over: more fancy footwork while climbing over lots more rocks, every step bringing with it the possibility of further burning in my legs and cramping of the arches of my feet.

And, where the Turkey Trot and Castle Trails meet, the climbing continued. And continued. . .and continued. . . You’ve come this far. Just a little more. . .

And, after a little longer, I finally saw the picnic table where the trail leveled out a bit just shy of the three-mile mark. A quick right-hand turn to head toward the Summer White House Site, I made it; and, much to my surprise, it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I had anticipated.

My work for the day was done. Going downhill - in my opinion, at least - is the fun part. Don’t believe a word from Dakin and JT when they say it’s not. It wasn’t as fast a downhill trek as I would have liked, but it reunited me with the undeniable, unconditional, true blue love I have found in trail running and left me looking forward to more next spring in preparation for a Pikes Peak Marathon PR.

Oh yes, it will be mine.

Look back, so many miles I’ve come, and yet, still have a long way to run.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Sour Girl

Sunday was supposed to be a GREAT day of crossing an item off my running off season ‘to do’ list: volunteering with Girls on the Run of the Rockies (GOTR). I registered for the Great Candy Run 5K in Wash Park and was officially a ‘running buddy.’ I couldn’t wait to “share a girl’s exhilaration and excitement as she crosses the finish line of her first 5K,” according to my e-mail. Wuhoo!

I had it all mapped out in my head. . .a picture-perfect morning of new-found big sisterly bliss while warming up with my little gal – introducing her to my pre-race regimen combining high knees and butt kicks – yes, that’s what that particular plyometric is called – talking race strategy; and calming her nerves, you know, if she felt nervous. I was so excited to bestow some of my best winged-feet tips onto her eager and ready little ears.

And, to be honest, I was also kind of excited to run a race completely focused on someone else and not the clock when I crossed the finish line - NO pressure. In the fifteen years since my first-ever 5K, that would be a first.

I reached the parking lot and within a mere few minutes had checked in with registration to pick up my race packet, checked in with staff at the GOTR tent, found the cardboard sign on the side of South High School building donning the same name as my assigned elementary school, and was waiting to meet other volunteers and runners. Soon afterward, another ‘running buddy,’ two girls, and their parents joined me.

The girls – twin eight-year-old sisters – were so cute, matching ponytails and pink tutus. “Is this your first 5K?” “No, we’ve run them before. This is our third.” “Oh, cool!” They’ve raced, but maybe my girl hasn’t. I can’t wait to meet her!

And then, another girl and her dad joined us. . .and then, another pair. And together, they were a small army of pink tutus and running shoes jumping up and down in place and rubbing their hands along the opposite biceps to keep warm in the shade of the building on a chilly early November morning.

And then, their GOTR coach arrived with unexpected news to me. One little gals from the group was sick and wasn’t going to make it to the race. “There were two girls that needed a running buddy. We only need one of you for today.” “OK, I can let the other running buddy race.” “I think there was another school that needs a running buddy. Go check with the tent to find a girl.”

I did and was soon headed back in the direction of the swarms of girls in matching get ups, their parents, and coaches and looked for the Ashley Elementary group. “All of our girls have running buddies. We’re all set.” OK. Try, try. . .try again. My third trip to the GOTR tent lead me to West Jefferson Middle School, whose coach and girls were nowhere to be found.

No one I asked knew where they were, and no one from a seemingly astronomical number of people I polled needed a running buddy for a girl with their group. In some cases, as a matter of fact, it was quite the contrary. “Some of our girls already have two running buddies. But thanks for checking.”

What?! Really?! Now what?! I’m not ready to race! I could go home. Nah, I’m already here; and I’m a runner. Suck it up. I looked down at my watch, 9:45 a.m. The longer I try to find a girl, the less time I’ll have to warm up. Guess I’m racing a 5K.

And, just like that, ‘Girls on the Run’ turned into girl – one girl, one lonely, lost nerd in running shoes – on the run. Solo. The race dubbed the “sweetest finish ever” was turning out to be my least favorite kind of candy – those unimaginably disgusting, rancid  excuses for even a wannabe sweet treat - banana flavored ‘Runts.’ Gross.

Of all the ‘Runts’ flavors in all the candy in all the world, banana was the one I got.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s just a 5K.” And, you are right. . .and disturbingly wrong at the same time. Sure, it was ‘just’ a 5K, three point one little miles that I could practically run half asleep with both hands tied behind my back at this point. Perhaps most anyone else would say, “OK, so I’ll run a 5K” without a problem. BUT. . .

I like to put forth a great deal of effort into any race, whether it be a marathon literally up and down a freakin’ mountain or a flat-course 5K in a local park. I like to step to the starting line revved up and ready to go, knowing that I did everything in my power to prepare myself for what would follow the ’boom’ of that blank, that - happy or not with the numbers on the clock at the finish – I gave it my best shot and learned from it.

And, at the end of the day, I am a competitor and care about my race times and the long-standing internet record of them on websites like Athlinks.com. To quote Jeffrey Tambor’s character from ‘The Hangover,’ “That s%!*’ll come back with you.”

One might say that I take all of this running stuff just a little bit seriously. So, coming to the comprehension that I was to run a 5K - near completely unprepared in any way, shape, or form – fifteen minutes before the start did not sit well. Let’s take a moment to review the things I did that were uncharacteristic of my typical race preparation, shall we? I. . .

  • Went to bed late several nights prior
  • Drank beer several nights prior
  • Inhaled a grande venti chai latte and a piece of pumpkin bread for breakfast that morning
  • Only warmed up for about ten minutes.

‘Just a 5K?’ HA! Oh so many thoughts ran through my head. . . It’s just a 5K, just over three little miles. You’ve got this. . . Ugh, I don’t want to do this! I should be in the mountains snowboarding right now! . . This is SOOOO irritating! . . Calm down, breathe. Save it for the race. . . You know what to do. . .

The gun went off, and we were off. Most of the first mile was much faster than I thought was physically capable, which meant only one thing. You can’t keep this pace for three miles. You’re wasting energy you’ll need for miles two and three. Slow down.

I did slow down, but it wasn’t enough. Mile two was still faster than I had expected it would be, but it came at a cost. It hurt like a (insert expletive here). This is the longest 5K EVER!

Then, finally, came mile three. Come on, just one more mile. One more’s all you’ve got. I could hear the announcer a half loop away, could see the runners ahead nearing the finish. That’s all you’ve got left. Just get to where they are. A half mile to go. Come on! Almost there!

Footsteps. Heavy footsteps behind me. You’ve got this. Hold ‘em off. Finally, I turned a sharp corner and darted for the finish line, just about a hundred yards ahead, as fast as I could to the finish line. I got there and saw that my time was much faster than I expected it would be.

OK with my time considering the non-optimal laundry list of circumstances, I was. A GOTR running buddy slash pseudo running coach extraordinaire in the moment, I was NOT:

GOTR Fail

All in all, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, I wasn’t exactly in optimal racing shape. Sure, my pace wasn’t where it was about this time last year. Sure, I knew I was capable of a much better time. But, things could have been much worse. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Denver; and I did something I love: I challenged myself to push my limits, and I raced.

Still, I’ll make sure that my next race is much, much sweeter.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.