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.