Saturday marked my third and final trail run for the week - a 16 miler – at Elk Meadow Park in beautiful Evergreen, Colorado. I was happy to get back up to the serenity and breathtaking view from Bergen Peak, to test out my new hydration vest, and to cross my final training run off my list for the week.
At the same time, I was a bit nervous – I knew Elk Meadow starts at a higher elevation than our more common trail runs; and I knew it was a tough climb to the view, even when I was in great shape last year. I was a bit nervous, and I was right. I had no idea at the time what the next few hours would bring.
The first two miles were tough but all right. I wasn’t ascending as fast as I would have liked, but I remembered that the really steep parts were yet to come. The next mile’s when it hit. I remembered it being steep, but I didn’t remember it being so technical. I had to stop – stop my watch, heard and felt my heart beating in my head – and hoped no one caught me on the trail to witness it.
Around mile 3, the thought of last rites whooshed in, paused, then fled out of this Catholic girl’s head. Score: Elk Meadow Park, 1; Melissa, 0.
Thankfully, I had also forgotten about the next few stretches of trail that leveled out and actually allowed me an opportunity to run. I finally made it to the top to meet DJ and my view:
JD assured me that I was only eight minutes behind me, and I’m hoping that he was telling the truth rather than just saying so to make me feel better about my near gasping for air when I finally found him at the peak. A few pictures and breathe caught, we were headed back down the trail.
I think of the steep parts of a trail run – typically in the beginning for nearly all of our training runs – as the work. The run back down is just fun. Three or four miles downhill are one thing, but 13.1 miles down hill are completely another. I was going to have to adjust my mental approach to training on the trails to prepare for the second half of the Pikes Peak Marathon.
I was surprised at how steep the climb up had been as I chose each step down carefully while running as fast as my hesitant brain would allow me to at that moment on the way down. I tripped once and turned my right ankle pretty good. Ouch! Shake it off. That was close!
And then, my thoughts wandered. . . I am loving this new hydration vest! Maybe I’ll write a mini review for it in a blog post about essential trail running gear. Or, maybe. . .
And then it happened. I tripped again. Think it was my right toe that stubbed something along the trail, but I’m not entirely sure. I flew forward, arms extended ahead of me, hit the ground, slid for a second or two. It was my first – and dear lord, please, let it be my last - all-out ‘Superman’ face plant into the dirt.
The first thing I noticed was my right index finger - split open a bit just under the nail. My fingertip now blended in nearly perfectly with my flashy red fingernail polish. I reached over to my left wrist, stopped my watch – I knew I would be there a minute or two before actually getting up - slowly leaned on my left side, pushed myself up off the ground to a seated position, and scooted over to the edge of the trail to assess the damage.
My legs were both scraped up, left quad donning a few scratches that could later help to estimate of the distance I had indeed slid, right knee hurting pretty good and wearing three scrapes of combined blood and trail in the dead center of my knee cap.
As I waited for the deep sting in my knee and ‘Oh crap, just how bad is it?‘ to subside, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I reflected on a brief conversation JD and I had with the polite stranger at Bergen Peak who offered to take the picture of us above. She had seen a biker fall on her way up the trail that day, and she said he seemed embarrassed.
Had someone seen me fall, there would have been absolutely, undoubtedly, ZERO embarrassment on my part. That was, one hundred percent, an unmistakably honest, hard-earned, trail-eating biff.
Second, I thought of a previous blog post of mine when I fancied myself some sort of superhero. This fiasco brings a whoooooole new meaning to the idea of ‘Supermanning’ it.
Score: Elk Meadow Park, 2; Melissa, 0.
Armed with my bum knee, a layer of trail dust plastered all over my previously black running shorts, and the determination to reach my 16-mile quota for the day, I trudged on down the remainder of Too Long Trail more slowly than before. Needless to say, I was hurting for a while; and my knee ached for the remainder of my run.
I finished the loop of wide trails leading me back to the parking lot and managed to talk myself into two more short out-and-backs to finish at mile 15. That was more than enough after what the day had brought. JD was waiting to document my survival:
My day off on Sunday did me a world of good, and so will a continued regimen of ice, knee elevation, and hydrogen peroxide for the next few days. You may have won this battle, Elk Meadow Park, but the war is not over yet. In the mean time, I wish you happier trails.
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.