The trail gods work in mysterious ways. One minute, they might suddenly push a rock up through the ground at just the right time to cause a perfect ’10′ Superman sprawling toe stub that ruins your manicure and unscathed knees hours before you’re wearing your favorite little black dress – the one your roommate told you made you look ‘hot’ - to a wedding at which you were hoping to induce a ‘Wow!’ or two. . .or three.
And other times, they can help you through a really tough workout when you’re not able to help yourself - remind you of your own strength and of just how hard you have been training; encourage you not to stop, even when your legs are screeching in pain and your lungs are on the verge of explosion, like a kind pair of eyes and gentle smile telling you that you can keep going no matter how much you tell yourself you can’t.
‘Trail run Tuesday’ last night proved one such incredibly positive encounter with the gods of Mt. Falcon Park, and one I really needed, right when I needed it.
My task: 6 x 800 repeats with 400-meter recovery. Last year, I did pretty much all of my speedwork in either Cheeseman or Wash Parks. This year, Tuesday speedwork falls on our mid-week trail day, which can pose some challenges if I want to stick strictly to the plan. I definitely wanted to hit the trail, rather than a park, on Tuesday, which meant that I had one of two options:
- Skip the speed and just try to run the trail hard. It wouldn’t exactly be speedwork but still be a tough workout fa sho!
- I could do something a little crazy, something to which I never thought I’d ever voluntarily subject myself: I could run my 800s while gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation on the trail.
Once in high school track, our coaches piled us all into the bed of a pick up truck – ah, those were the days! – and hauled us up to some private property by the lake with a loooooooong stretch of dirt road that just went up, up, up. We started at the bottom of the road and ran repeats up it – 1,000 meters, 800 meters, 600 meters, 400 meters, 200 meters. I still remember that as my hardest day of high school track practice ever.
I don’t know what I’m more proud of - the fact that I actually survived that practice to tell the tale, or the only ribbon I had ever won during my high school track career – for the girls’ mile – that weekend.
I had no choice but to do such a crazy thing then because my coaches told me – and all of the other long distance runners – to do it. Last night, though, no coaches were watching over my shoulder to make sure I did what they told me to do. I didn’t need them to put any pressure on me. The coach inside my head would always be much more harsh than they could ever be.
As much as I wanted to go with option #1, my alter ego – a gruff, middle-aged retired drill sergeant who wears a constant scowl and berates anyone who can’t keep up with her as she effortlessly punches out pushups while counting each one at a volume that can easily be heard about a mile away – would’ve never forgiven me.
Did I mention that I can be a little masochistic?
To her credit, she actually can be pretty supportive when she sees that you’re seriously hurting. I should note that.
Ugh, fine! Repeats uphill it was. *Sigh.*
After a good warm up of about a mile of nearly all elevation gain, I hit a relatively flat part of the trail that would mark my first 800. This one will be pretty easy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the few steps I walked the second my Garmin beeped to signify the end of my interval were the hardest I’ve breathed during a training run yet. There wasn’t enough oxygen on that mountain for me to me to inhale all at once.
There is absolutely NO WAY I can do that five more times. And then, my thoughts immediately fled to feeling self-disappointment and regret once I met JD and Dakin back at my car at the bottom of the mountain and admitted that I had chickened out of my plan. Not an option. Ugh, this is gonna hurt!
Very much to my surprise, the second one, NOT at all on a flat portion of trail, not only didn’t hurt as bad as the first, but also seemed to end much faster than expected. It was like the trail gods shortened the trail for me with every step. Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Did I take it easier that time? No, still huffing and puffing, still desperately gasping to catch my breath. Two down, four to go, almost half way there. Maybe I can do this.
Three – You’ve got this, come on! Think of how happy you’ll be when you get back to the car. And think of how good that cold beer will taste after all of this! Four. Then I saw crossed paths with JD as he retraced his steps on a way to another trail. “How are you doing?” “That was four.”
I had reached a fork in the trail, one direction with a slight bit of gradual elevation gain as it wrapped around the other side of the mountain, the other offering a steep hill right off the get go.
Any guesses as to which one I chose?
I was so motivated by how strong I unexpectedly felt that I opted for the steeper incline of my options to get in a harder workout.
I rounded out the day with a total of 9 1/2 miles of trails, including six 800s and about 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and proof of how hard I worked in the form of a sweat-drenched shirt that JD likened to a Rorschach test:
I was grateful for the trail gods’ help, and I think they understood that I have nothing less than the utmost respect for them. And I was grateful for the validation that only a strong trail run could give, especially after getting my butt whooped on the way to Bison Peak just a few short days before.
And, in case you were wondering, that cold beer tasted amazing.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.