Just south of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, arguably – and in my book most definitely – the most awesome outdoor venue ever for a live show - lies Mt. Falcon Park, my favorite trail run location. Our usual route got us between seven and eight miles round trip and included about 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
I don’t think there is anywhere else on earth that I’ve felt such conflicting experiences of pain, bliss, strain, serenity, defeat, and motivation all in the same place.
One day shy of exactly one year ago, my first trail run of the season, also at Mt. Falcon Park, whooped the tar out of me. I can’t tell you how many times I had to either walk or stop completely to rest my hands on both of my knees, bent over, gasping for air. Just over a mile and a half in, I remember my quads, calves, and Achilles all but literally screaming at me to STOP.
I knew this week would mark my first official trail run of the season, and I was terrified of reliving the same experience. Not to mention that finishing up my job at UNC, the two-and-a-half-day drive from NC to CO, a busy holiday weekend at home with my family, and starting my new job at DU all within about a two-and-a-half-week period had left me tired and feeling sub-par for where I’d like to be with my training at this point in my plan.
It had rained off and on all day, and I watched my phone, waiting for a text message from my running buddy JD – slated to accompany me for the trail run that night – to cancel. Remembering the pain and mental strain from my first trail run last year, I half hoped that he would.
Leading up to our meeting time, though, I was happy that text message never came. The thought of prolonging my preoccupied and uneasy thoughts of the inevitable burn on my way up the trail was worse than facing and getting it over with.
When I ran cross country my first two years of college, I used to get really nervous and would have to pee minutes before each race. About two miles from the parking lot for Mt. Falcon Park, I had to pee. Just like old times!
We were greeted with a beautiful view and slightly cooler air that would undoubtedly feel amazing along the trail:
I remembered some of the mistakes I made on my first few runs at elevation back in Colorado, one being starting out too fast. That was a mistake that I could very easily avoid repeating. And, I remember a few of the spots (of several) at which I had to stop, keeled over, tired already, apologizing incessantly to my trail running buddy Julien last year.
Very pleasantly surprised, I passed those spots, running – not fast, but NOT walking. I still had to stop - actually stop running, stop my watch, and catch my breath for a few seconds – twice on the way to the top, acceptable given that I lost count of the times I had to stop last year.
Once I realized I wasn’t about to keel over, even when I did feel more tired, I started to think that I might actually be in better shape than I thought. I could visualize running up Pikes Peak, feeling strong and wanting to run harder.
I remembered most parts and forgot how long and steep others were; but eventually, I made it to the top. Sure, my legs burned, but only about a fraction of the extent I remember from last year. I couldn’t believe how much stronger I felt! And, of course, the view was well worth it as always:
That wasn’t even the best part. Once home for the night, I compared stats for my run tonight and my run last year. I had to do it. I couldn’t resist. Before I did, though, I promised myself that I would NOT be upset if my time tonight was slower than my time last year. So. . .whatta ya think?
Not only did I feel much stronger on this very same route at this very same time last year, but I ran a little further and a little faster. I’ll take it!
Remember when I said that 2013 is gonna be a great year? AAAHHH YEAH!!! Insert GIANT grin here. This season’s first trail run, DONE.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.