Just What This Doctor Ordered

Most of Saturday and Sunday were spent in the beautiful, peaceful splendor that only a small mountain town in Colorado can offer. My time in Steamboat Springs marked my 2013 mini solo vacation – a little tradition I started accidentally when none of my friends could join me for a long spring 2012 weekend trip to lovely Asheville, NC. See? I’ll give NC credit where it’s due - So give me some credit!

I arrived early Saturday afternoon, dropped off my stuff, changed, then headed straight to Fish Creek Falls for a trail run. Reviews of the trail made it sound like a walk in the park, so to speak; but when I asked her about the trail, my weekend hostess – a Steamboat Springs local – indicated otherwise.

“It gets pretty steep.” “Oh, I’m not afraid of ‘steep.’ My running buddies and I, we do a lot of trail running in the summers.” “But it’s not just steep. There are lots of rocks on the trail.” She meant well but clearly had absolutely no idea to whom she was talking. “Do you think it’s too late in the day to get up there now?” “No, I think this time of day would be perfect.” Done and DONE.

And so, I was off. But first, I needed water to bring with me. Stopped to get water. It’s already three o’clock. Wonder if that’s too late to start. Maybe I’ll stop off at the visitor center for a second opinion. Stopped to get trail running advice. The woman echoed my hostess’ confirmation that it was indeed not too late to start a trail run in the middle of the afternoon and added, “I’d wear whatever you don’t mind getting muddy.”

Maybe I’ll just hike it. I can go back and run it tomorrow.

And so, I was off – for real this time – and decided to give running a ‘go’ after all but found myself looking for another distraction. Is there anything else I need? Any more stops I should make? And then it hit me – I was stalling! But why?

The answer was simple – This was my second trail run since Pikes Peak. Even though I had no races on deck for the remainder of the year and my next Pikes Peak Marathon was nearly a year out, I was nervous. Nervous that the “steep” parts of the trail might kick my butt. Nervous that I’d feel tired and want to walk. Nervous that I wouldn’t feel as strong as I had hoped because I had cut back my mileage so drastically since the race.

Luckily, I – somewhere along the way the past thirty or so years - mastered the art of thought stopping. And, arguably more important, I decided to cut myself a little slack. You’re on vacation. Do what you want! I wanted to run. And I wanted to stop to take pictures along the way. So I did.

And I didn’t want to beat myself up if I ran a little on the slow side or feel guilty about stopping to take pictures along the way. So I didn’t.

Once I finally reached the trail head and started, I came across the first waterfall almost immediately:

Ooh. . .aaahhhh. . .

Ooh. . .aaahhhh. . .

And, I learned there was a second about two miles up the mountain. But first, I had to battle “steep” and “muddy” trails with “lots of rocks.” Ha! Two out of three – muddy and lots of rocks – turned out to be true. But steep? Not even.

My run turned out to be more like a walk in the park - saying ‘hello’ to hikers along the way and actually stopping to talk with one for a minute or two; stopping to enjoy the scenery and to take lots of pictures, something I NEVER do on my way up a mountain during training - with a front row seat to the change of seasons. My view literally went from this:

Teensy bit of snow. . .

Teensy bit of snow. . .

To this in less than a half mile:

Snow!

Snow!

And then, about a half mile beyond this point, I made it to the second waterfall and, just as quickly as I had gone from fall to winter, found myself enjoying fall again:

Hmmmmm pretty

Hmmmmm pretty

And, as if the scenery alone was not beautiful enough, the best part of the run was that I didn’t think twice about the trail being too steep, or too rocky, or too muddy, not even once. I just ran, and I loved every step.

It’s funny how your inner demons and insecurities can sneak up on you. Lucky me, I have my gorgeous home state – and the grace and serenity of its trails – to help me to shut them the eff up.

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.

A Rubber Spike Off the Ol’ Runnin’ Shoe

I have had many a gratifying moment in my running life. Many an ‘Oh, crap! I just did that?!’ moment, many an ‘Oh s#%&, that was tough but totally worth it!’ moment, many an ‘Aaaahhhh I LOVE running!’ moment. One of my greatest running moments to date, though, happened this past weekend; and it had nothing at all to do with something I had accomplished.

Ever since my niece was born, I told my sister that I was going to make her a nerd and a runner just like her auntie. Little Aimee is pretty smart all on her own. I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. I will take credit, though, for helping to plant the running seed in her sweet little head.

I first mentioned it to her over a year ago as sort of a joke, didn’t think she’d take it seriously. “Would you like to run a race like auntie?” “Mmm hmm,” she nodded; and I laughed. How cute! Surely, though, she wouldn’t remember anything about a race if I never mentioned it again. I asked her a few more times at random, and the answer was the same. “Mmm hmm!”

Then, once, while talking on the phone, I knew she meant it. Out of nowhere, completely changing the subject of our loose conversation, she asked me, “Are you ready to run a race?” HUH?! Did you really just ask me that?! I was taken aback. “Uh, sure! Are you ready to run a race?” “Mmm hmm!” “OK, auntie will find you a race.” “K.”

That race - the Coyote Classic mile – finally came last Sunday. Aimee wanted me to run it with her. Who could say ‘no’ to that?!

Aimee was revved up and ready to go early Sunday morning, running around my apartment living room and kitchen while waiting for everyone to get ready to head out to Golden for the big day. She was too cute in her spandex three-quarter black and hot pink pants and matching shirt, ponytail, black and hot pink Nike running shoes, and sunglasses. She was ready to go.

We had reviewed our game plan several times the night before as well as that morning. “Auntie, tell me again.” “Our racing strategy?” She nodded. “OK. We’re going to start out conservative – that means not too fast. Other people might run fast and pass us, but that’s OK. We will catch them later when they get tired, and we’ll pass them. Then, at the end, we’ll run as hard as we can to the finish. Got it?” She nodded. She had it.

She was her cheery, chatty, four-year-old self nearly the whole drive to Golden but then suddenly got quiet and looked a bit a little fawn in headlights when we pulled into the Shelton Elementary School parking lot. “You ready for your race?” “Aimee, are you ready?” We must have asked her about ten times while walking behind the building to the grassy, open soccer field. We got not a single response to any one question.

Once we reached the field near the start line, I tried to get her to relax. “Come on, Aimers. Stretch!” I said while stretching my legs. “Like this. See?” Everyone else tried talking to her too to encourage her. She said nothing, did nothing, just stood there frozen.

Finally, the race director made the announcement that the mile was about to start. Everybody else wandered off to find a good spectating spot and left me and Aimee to ourselves with the other kids and their parents running alongside them. She reached for my hand and held it as we stood there waiting for the race to start.

“OK, remember, we’re not going to run too fast when we start. We can speed up at the end. Got it?” Nothing. I squeezed her little hand to offer reassurance and to be sure she could hear me over the hustle and bustle at the starting line. “Just stick with auntie, and we’ll be OK.” Still nothing. So I knelt down to look her in the face through the dark lenses of her sunglasses for some sign that she had heard me.

“Aimers?” Lips pressed together, eyes wide, she made not a sound. If she was anything like me – and, Lord help that baby, she’s exactly like me, poor little thing - she was more than just nervous. She was petrified. I knew that look and the feeling that went with it and, just then, wondered if I looked that scared before races. “Just stick with auntie, and you’ll be OK.” I squeezed her hand again, then stood to wait for the start of the race.

The director was talking again, this time describing the course. “OK, Dolly, you’re going to have to let go of my hand. The race is about to start.” She still didn’t respond, didn’t move, didn’t loosen her firm little grip, which was just fine with auntie. Guess we’re running this mile hand in hand! And so we did.

“Go!” yelled the race director. “OK, let’s go!” I said. Right away, we found ourselves running up a small hill. “OK, let’s get up this hill! Good job!” Then, we hit a flat sidewalk at the top of the hill. “Are you OK? Tell auntie if you want to slow down or if you need to walk, OK?” Still no response. But then she did offer some verbalization that she was all right. She held up her left hand and said, “I’ve got a frog.” A frog? Huh?!

Sure enough, pinched between her little thumb and index finger was a tiny neon greenish rubber frog. “Oh, you brought your frog, huh?” Gotta love four-year-olds. Random! “Hold on to it!”

Then, we took a left turn left past the parking lot to a short decline before another incline – another incline she took like a champ! I was following her lead, and she was gaining on everybody directly in front of her – even bigger kids! – and passed them one parent-child pair at a time.

At about this point was the second of only three times she spoke during the race. “Are you getting thirsty?” Luckily, we were approaching a water fountain along the course. “Do you want a drink?” “Sure.” So, we took a short water break. A few people had passed us back; but a few guzzles later, she was ready again. “OK, let’s go!”

And, just like before, we were playing ‘Frogger’ to weave in, out, and around those just ahead along the course. I couldn’t believe it!

We took another left to head back toward the direction of the soccer field where we started and then found ourselves picking up speed on a steeper downhill. She was a natural striding down the decline and using the momentum at the bottom to propel herself around the next right turn toward a residential neighborhood just behind the school. “Good job, Aimers!” I was impressed.

A few feet later, we hit an aid station with water ready and waiting. “Go get some more water.” She guzzled an entire cup full of water, then threw the empty plastic into the bin that I was pointing out. “Good girl! We’re almost done, just a little more.” We kept running hand in hand to reach volunteers directing us up a final short but steeper hill back to the soccer field and on to the finish line.

“OK, last hill. Let’s go, we’re almost done! As soon as we get up that hill, we’ll see mommy and grandma and grandpa and Daniel. Let’s go!” And, she took that hill like a little champ too. “Good girl, Aimers! Now let’s speed up a little bit. Almost done!”

We ran along the fence outlining a short side of the field and took one final left to the straight away leading to the finish line. “Can I walk?” “We’re almost there! Just a little further, then you can rest. Let’s go!” And, she did. She picked up the pace and finally let go of my hand about ten feet from the finish line:

Aimers' Finish

“Keep going! Just a little more!” And then, she made it. I snuck outside of the line of plastic flags between bright orange construction cones marking the finish line chute and walked alongside my little racer. “You did SO good! Auntie is so proud of you!” And, at the end of the chute, a volunteer handed me a medal that I oh so proudly placed around her neck. “Good job, Dolly!”

One of Aimers' first gratifying running moments

One of Aimers’ first – and auntie’s greatest – running ‘moments’

Lots and LOTS of congratulations; lots of posing for pictures; one hummingbird temporary tattoo, about fifteen minutes of good, quality time running around the playground; and one lunch later, we were on our way back to my apartment; and Aimee was, well, a little wiped out:

Finally ran out of steam!

Finally ran out of steam!

I asked her twice after the race, “Would you want to run another race?” The answer came only with the shake of her head. As per my sister’s report, though, she changed her mind and said she would run another race and had many more a running moment the next day when she brought her race medal to preschool to show her friends and excitedly told them her tale and accepted ‘high fives.’

“Her face was so cute. I wish you could have seen it,” read my sister’s text on Monday morning. I smiled broadly to myself. I could picture her facial expressions and hear her high pitched little voice as she talked to her friends, could imagine her smiling as big as I’ve ever seen her smile in my mind’s eye.

Had she been bitten by the running bug? That remains to be seen. It goes without saying that I would absolutely LOVE for her to pick up running and racing more as she gets older. And, if she doesn’t, that’s fine too. Really, I am just happy that she had the guts to give it a ‘go’ despite that unforgettable fear written all over her cute little face.

Either way, I hope she learned from the experience and remembers that day for the rest of her life as one when she faced and conquered a fear and came out victorious on the other end. And, I was overjoyed to be a part of it, both as a proud auntie and a runner myself.

Whether she races ever again or not matter not in the end. Seeing her smile after the race, and still hearing stories of how excited she is about having run the race - days later – make for quite a memorable running moment for me.

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.

The End of an Era

Thursday night was a most excellent night at the Irish Snug Running Club as always. The air was cool, still, brisk, signifying the draw of summer’s close and the rise of fall. At the same time, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night – side note slash trivia question of the day: children’s literature reference, anyone? Hmm?

Thursday night’s Snug run was terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad because it was the last before one of my best and most inspiring friends, Tarino – founding father of the Snug ‘original three’ (including him, Dakin, and I), leaves our beautiful state of Colorado for a great job opportunity. Thursday’s night’s Snug run was the end of an era.

My first ever Snug run was run beside Tarino, and my 100th Snug run was run beside Tarino – most all of it besides the last fifty or so meters when he blew right past me, that is. And so, I wanted to run what might be his final Snug run – at least for a little while – beside him again because I wasn’t sure when I’d have another opportunity to run a Snug run beside him.

And so, we ran, all three miles sharing few words. None were needed. And, of course, he kicked it in high gear the last fifty or so meters and left me in the dust as usual.

Once we got back and bellied up, Tarino got a surprise – a shout out from Snug run coach Greg over the mic and a small memento to remember his four plus years as an official member of the Irish Snug Running Club:

Green looks good on ya!

That shade of green looks almost as good on ya as that grin!

And. . .guess what else! What is the one thing you might expect of us Snuggers to wish a comrade well?

But of course! We. . .wait for it. . .wait for it. . .did a group shot in his honor:

You'll always have a home with us at the Snug, T!

You’ll always have a home with us at the Snug, T!

Would you expect anything less than Irish car bombs at Denver’s most awesome ever Irish bar? I think not! I would never let you down, fair readers, by giving you anything less than the utmost class, charm, and pizazz you’ve come to expect from this nerd in running shoes.

This summer has been absolutely INCREDIBLE in so many ways. As do all seasons, though, it, too, is drawing to a close; and I stand amidst life’s only guarantee – Incredible, inevitable change. And with it, the sun has set on what can only be conceptualized as an EPIC era.

Thursday nights at the Snug are SO MUCH MORE than a weekly running club to me. Looking forward to Snug night has gotten me through more tough weeks than I can count before I accepted my first job in North Carolina over two years ago. And Thursdays at the Snug were one of the things – among millions of things – I missed the most while in North Carolina for the better part of the past two years while I was gone.

And now, Thursdays as the Snug are the perfect rite of passage into officially proclaiming ‘TGIF!’ to bid a great week at the most amazing job adieu and welcome the excitement and rejuvenation awaiting with another awesome weekend in beautiful Denver. And Tarino has been a part of it all from day one.

The Snug won’t be the same on Thursdays without you, T. I am grateful for all of the time we had each week and on many, many occasions outside of the Snug runs; I am grateful to have such an amazing person to call a best friend; and I look forward to our next celebration together, whenever that might be. I thank you for every bit of it.

Best of luck with your next chapter in life, and – through both the good and bad - keep on runnin’!

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.

On second thought. . .

Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a beautiful resort just outside of Winter Park, Colorado, set amidst gorgeous mountain views for miles, set the scene for my first post-marathon competition attempt - a 7.5-mile trail race – on a cold, gray, breezy Sunday morning.

How was I feeling about it? Pretty nonchalant when we first left Denver. Shortly after hitting I-70, though, the race was no longer the first thing on my mind. The rain – a few times impacting road visibility – distracted me from thinking about the race at all, really, nearly the whole hour and a half drive. I don’t much like driving in the rain, especially when I can’t very well see the road ten feet in front of the car.

We finally reached Devil’s Thumb Ranch just after 9:00 a.m., plenty of time to check in, hit the potty – sorry, preschool lingo is a regular part of my vocabulary - say ‘hello’ to my friend Julien who had invited us up for the race, and get to the starting line by 9:30 a.m. Or so, I thought.

We grabbed what we needed for the moment – which included changing from flip flops to my trail shoes – and planned to return to the car after checking in. That’s where the first thing went wrong that morning. I realized it as we walked up a few stairs toward check in. “Ugh, I tied my shoes too tight.”

By the time JD and I did get to the start, bibs donning the numbers ’16′ and ’17′ safety pinned to our outer most layers, or layer, singular, in JD’s case – tough guy! - Garmins cued and ready, I was afraid to jog too far and miss the official start since the race wasn’t chip timed. So instead, I bounced in place for a few minutes to warm up for the race and to keep warm, period.

That’s where the second thing went wrong that morning. Bouncing in place is NOT the same quality warm up as my typical jogging-slash-plyometric combo.

Ugh, it’s cold! Why did I register for this race?! Shivering and alternating between knee-highs and butt kicks in place, I was doing everything I could to convince myself that I wasn’t, but I was. . . nervous. “You said this course is pretty flat, right, Julien?” He raised his right hand and moved it from right to left, making a wavy motion like a snake to indicate otherwise. “There’s some up and down.” Damn, I was hoping for more flat.

For what I think was the first time ever, I lined up and took off at the sound of the race director yelling, “Go!” instead of pulling the trigger to fire off a blank.

The first mile was tough, partly because the course was wet and muddy, partly because my muscles were stiff on account of a less than mediocre warm up, partly because I momentarily regressed to my amateur cross country competitor days and fell prey to the adrenaline pounding through my veins and. . .started out too fast. That’s where the third thing went wrong that morning.

It was during mile two that the fourth – and absolute worst – thing went wrong that morning. It was during mile two that the realization FIRST hit me. Yeah. I’m not ready to race yet. You don’t have to be a runner to get that this wasn’t a desirable thought to float through your head when you still had about six miles of a seven-and-a-half mile trail race to go.

Three other runners had now passed me, and I was afraid to look back to see if anyone else was about to do the same.

I decided not to care, only to try to keep the two girls ahead in my sight for the rest of the race – typical of what I would do in a race any other time. But then, I did something very non typical of what I would do in a race any other time. I stopped running and started to walk. What are you doing?! Don’t walk! RUN! Even if you slow down, just run!

was the first thought that came to mind, followed immediately by a second thought, one that validated what I already knew – for being my first one following Pikes Peak exactly one month ago, this race was proving a little too much too soon. Eh. Walk if you have to. But that was just it. I didn’t have to walk. I wanted to walk, as in I didn’t want to run.

I finally did convince myself to start running again a few feet later, but my run-walk pattern persisted for about the next two miles. I thought it a bonafide running miracle that I found myself gaining, and then right on the heels of the girl just ahead of me as we reached the aid station at the three-and-a-half mile mark.

I took my time at the station, actually stopped and chatted with the volunteer manning it for about a minute – something else I NEVER do during a race. “You’ve got one more long climb coming up, then the rest of the course should be downhill or flat.” “Thank God!”

I took off again, this time a little more determined to put forth more effort. The faster I could run, the sooner I’d be done.

Once the course flattened out, I actually found myself comfortable with picking up some speed. The girl ahead of me was still in sight except for a few sharp turns through the trees. I felt grateful that the course was muddy and offered a variety of terrain challenges on top of it – unearthed tree roots, narrow single track - that required focus and made the next two or so miles go by much more quickly than the first few.

It was then that I saw her again – the girl just ahead of me – and noted that she seemed closer. I’m gaining on her! With as bad as I was feeling that day, I couldn’t believe it. The course just ahead seemed to move slightly downhill; so I decided to make my move. So long as there’s no more climbing, I’ll be all right. I passed her and ran a little harder to lengthen the distance between us for the rest of the downhill before a left turn.

When I did reach that left, a race volunteer told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear. “Turn left, and head up the hill.” OH! Insert depleted mental sigh here. Come on, don’t let her catch you!

Luckily, the hill wasn’t all that bad – and for me to think that at this point tells you just how bad it wasn’t. I ran as hard as I could for the last mile and a half of the race. I just wanted to be done. And, of course, the nearer I got to the finish - now in sight as the trail broke through the trees and followed the ridge overlooking the grassy plains – the further away the finish – and rest - felt.

The crowd was sparse enough that I could have easily looked up to see my trail running pals and fellow competitors Julien and JD waiting for me, but I kept my eyes on the trail just ahead and kept trudging on. Finally, I crossed the line. My first race since my first marathon was over.

I saw them just after the finish; and, once I caught my breath, asked how their races went. “Julien, I am so mad at you right now! That course was hard!” “It was not that bad. You made it.” I laughed. I was right. The course wasn’t easy, especially not with the mud. He was right too. I did make it. And I had the mud caked to the back of my legs and sore quads for about three days later to prove it:

DSC06322

It may not look like much, but it took four paper towels and some scrubbing to clean before we got back to my car to drive home.

All in all, it was a hard race, and a cold – but also a good – day.

TEST

One tough trail, some BBQ, and a beer later, I was back – back to feeling more like myself than I had for the previous month since Pikes Peak – and looking forward to whatever running was bringing my way next. But, I highly doubt it’s bringing another race anytime soon.

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.

There’s still hope!

So as you may have noticed from my last blog post, not only have I not been running all that much, I’ve been eating junk food and drinking beer like my life depended on it. Even after months of dedication and commitment to a rigorous running regimen, it doesn’t take long to put on an extra pound or two when you go from nearly ‘zero’ running and working out to ‘sixty’ by eating everything fattening and awful in sight.

Now, imagine the depth of the feeling of absolute dread that came over me earlier this week when rainy weather made me realize that all I had to wear to work that day were my ‘skinny slacks.’ Yeah, you know those slacks - The ones that I can ONLY pull off when a few pounds lighter and make me feel incredibly uncomfortable and just plain old ‘bleck’ when I’m not. The ‘skinny jeans” professional counterpart. Ugh.

Despite the incessant rainfall and gray skies outside, the clouds in my head were about to part; and bright, beautiful rays of hopeful sunlight were about to shine through. Cue a little accidental motivation mojo deja vu stage left. Even after all of the decreased exercise and increased pigging out, they FIT just fine! Sweet! Talk about motivation!

So guess what I didn’t do that day? I didn’t eat one of the muffins in the kitchen at work and, in fact, didn’t eat anything I wouldn’t have eaten while training all day.

Aaaaand I felt so good, I didn’t stop there.

Not only did I pull off my skinny slacks at work that day, I felt skinny enough to wear my spandex running pants to the Snug that night. And you know what else? Even I would say that I didn’t look completely grotesque!

I think it’s safe to say that, one month after Pikes Peak, I think I’m finally on my way back to my old running self, and just in time. I have a trail race tomorrow!

I may not be in as good shape as I was a month ago:

Pikes Peak - Nearing Finish

But feeling half as strong, no matter what my time, will be the best case scenario.

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes. . .

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.

Recoverme

So, I’ve never run a marathon before – until now, that is! – and so wasn’t sure of how I would feel after one. For some time now, I’ve been debating running another marathon this year - this time NOT up and down a mountain, mind you – to get a sense of what I could do for a “normal” marathon and to avoid any funny looks when I answer the question, “So what’s your time for the marathon?”

“I’ll wait and see how I feel after Pikes Peak,” I told myself.

But before I could think about another race - and let alone another marathon - some good, quality recovery would be in order. Enter Coach Jenny of Runner’s World Magazine. Her four-week post-marathon recovery plan includes running, cross training, stretching, and foam rolling beginning on day one and looks a little something like this:

Marathon Recovery 2

According to Coach Jenny, “. . .every recovery is like a fingerprint—unique—and the secret truly is to listen to your body and serve up what it asks.” Well, here’s a list of a few of the things for which mine has asked since my marathon:

  • French fries
  • Sleep
  • Chocolate bars
  • Sleep
  • Diet Coke
  • Sleep

And, of course, let’s not forget. . .

  • Lots and LOTS of beer and more than a few shots. . .of just about everything.

Pair this with the fact that I have still been trying to finish cleaning and settling into my new apartment – yes, yes, I am well aware that we moved in two months ago, geez! - and am trying to catch up with some friends and with several other things I put aside to train for the marathon the past few months, and my marathon recovery ‘fingerprint’ has looked a little more like this:

Three Weeks Post Marathon 2

Some running, check. Some cross training, check. Barely any stretching, check. No foam rolling, check. Lots of socializing and eating like a pig, check. Drinking beer, check and CHECK.

I had visions in my head of myself running at a good pace, looking strong and relaxed and feeling ready to take on the world all over again.

Instead, I’ve alternated pretty much every day between feeling energized and wanting to run for miles, wanting to feel the breeze in my face and the packed dirt trail of Cheeseman Park under my feet to feeling lazy, old, and fat and wanting to feel the comfort of my living room couch against my back, a fluffy pillow beneath my head, and the television remote in my hand.

I miss running almost ever day. I miss the trails of the foothills and neighboring suburbs of downtown Denver. I miss the post-run zen that only follows a solid effort for a tough workout. And, more than all of this, I miss the energy to want to do it all over again.

I know that a little down time following a tough race is a good thing and that I need the rest. Still, I’ve got a touch of the ‘Pikes Peak up and left me ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone post-marathon blues,’ doo-wop doo-wop.

It’s been three weeks, going on four, following Pikes Peak. I’m ready to start feeling back to normal on a consistent basis – and not just every other day – now.

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.

Cheers!

The three days following my completion of the Pikes Peak Marathon were some of the most physically painful days I can remember. On Monday, it took me fifteen minutes to walk the two blocks between my parking spot and my office at Ruffato Hall. Even the slightest bit of decline from the sidewalk to cross the asphalt street induced ‘ouch’ noises under my breath.

During the day at work, I got up from my chair by leaning forward, then pushing off of the chair with my arms to best capitalize on the momentum to a standing position. I estimate it took me an extra minute to walk just around the corner to the bathroom, about a mere hundred meters away. That might not sound like much; but when you drink as much water as I do, it’s pretty significant.

For those few days, I held my breath every time I had to do anything that meant either getting to a standing position or standing itself; and my entire body sighed with relief once I sat down again.

I had planned to take a couple of days after the race off; but with as bad as I was hurting, I wondered whether or not I’d be able to walk without pain – let alone run – come Snug run Thursday. Late Thursday morning, though, I could walk both up and down stairs with no pain whatsoever. I’ll just run the course super slow. I don’t care what my pace is tonight.

You know what? I did only run the regular course – and no extra laps – once, but not because I couldn’t have run an extra lap or two. It was raining pretty steady most of the run, and I didn’t want to be too drenched. Had it not been, though, I may have gone a little further.

You know what else? I ran much faster than I expected I would, and even faster than my last handful of easy training runs. I was BACK, baby!

Plus, it didn’t hurt that running a faster pace = getting back to the bar sooner = admiring the gorgeous copper color of a cold brew in my hand.

There was only one way to celebrate our first Snug runs since Pikes Peak. If you’ve been reading the past few months or know me even a teensy bit, I’m sure you can guess what such a celebration might entail. If you haven’t been reading or don’t know me at all, I’ll tell you.

A proper post-Pikes Peak celebration in my book includes three things: (1) Irish car bombs at (2) my favorite Irish pub and one of my favorite spots in all of Denver – the Irish Snug – and, of course, (3) the newest additions to our technical race tee collections:

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up! Guess who finished first. . .

There’s no better way to toast!

I’m guessing this won’t be the last of our post-race celebrations. . .

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.

Officially part of the club!

Previously in the life of this nerd in running shoes. . .I had just reached the summit of Pikes Peak, a.k.a. the half-way point of the Pikes Peak Marathon. . .

A few deep gasps for air and a fist full of grapes later, I was on my way back down Pikes Peak. I still had a half marathon – half the race – to go, but it already felt like a lot less. Within the first few steps, I immediately felt so much better. I was no longer out of breath. Somehow, it felt like a whole new race; and I felt like a brand new runner.

The first two miles down the mountain will forever remain in my memory as one of my absolute favorite parts of the race. Thanks to bibs donning runners’ names, we were able to offer our fellow competitors personalized positivity between gasps for air.

I so much more than appreciated it, especially during my last mile to the summit, and I was happy to pay my good fortune forward during the first few miles of my descent. “Good job, Tim, Amy, Matthew!” “Stay tough, Nathan, almost there!” and “Keep going, Todd. One foot in front of the other!”

And, because I felt so much better, I, of course, asked a second favor of the kazoo players. “I’ve got another request.” “What?” “Baby Got Back.” Whether or not they actually played it, I don’t know. I was well on my way down the mountain and out of earshot moments after asking.

What felt like a very short time later, I left the comfort of lots of company suffering with me above tree line and again entered the forest feel of the trail at A-Frame. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would now see only a runner or two at a time along the course for about the next seven miles.

This was one of the steepest parts of the course, and it was riddled with exposed tree stumps, loose gravel, and rock steps. I was dreading this part most on the way down and knew that if I was going to biff it, this would probably be the place. Careful. Lift your feet.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. I was moving faster than I thought I would, and it seemed effortless. It reminded me a lot of the technical decline we’d been down over a dozen times during trail runs the few months prior. I’d even say it was, well, kind of fun!

Next was the spot along the course where the trail widened, was much less technical, and seemed to level off a bit. Now I can RUN. I was now moving much faster, and it felt really good. I purposely ignored my watch each time it beeped at me to signify the completion of another mile – didn’t want to look at how far I’d gone for fear that my mind would tell my body that it was getting tired and achy. I still had a long way to go.

I saw another runner ahead and was slowly gaining ground on him. And then, it happened – just like the last two times - so fast that I didn’t have time to mentally react. I suddenly hit the ground, slid down the mountain – leaving a bright red three-inch long scratch on my right hip I found later Sunday night – then did a crooked half somersault backwards to a sitting position looking up at the trail I had just run down.

I looked around for a second, then behind me at the runner I was trying to catch just ahead. The scuffle made enough noise to distract him from his own race. “Are you OK?” “Yeah, I’m fine, thank you.” And, just like the last two times, I got up, dusted myself off for a second, took note of a new bloody scrape on my knee about an inch to the right of the scar from my previous two falls, then kept running.

Damn! Was hoping I could dust myself off, and no one would know! Oh well. A little souvenir, courtesy of the mountain itself.

Now the right side of my knee felt equally loved

The aftermath. Now the right side of my knee feels equally loved.

Nineteen miles – about half way down the long, lonely seven-mile stretch of trail. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is where I hit the “wall” of the marathon experience. Not a physical one, at least.

Having spent the entire ascent and the first few miles of the descent – the first sixteen miles of the race - with the company of my fellow competitors grunting and fighting their own mental wars, running alone made those three short miles feel so much longer, even despite my now much faster pace. I’m ready to be done running now. I just wanna go home!

Rather than the wall that I hit several times during miles eleven and twelve during the ascent - physically and psychologically taxed beyond explanation, feeling on the verge of literal collapse – I just felt like a big whiny baby in my head.

Shortly afterward, I saw it. The sign signifying that six miles of the race remained, a.k.a. the twenty mile mark. I grinned to myself my first step past it. This is officially the longest distance I’ve ever run in my life! That was all I needed to pick up the pace a bit and push through. About than an hour to go. You’ve got this.

Somehow, those next few miles seemed to go by a little quicker. I managed to continue to pick runners ahead off and then found myself in a game of leap frog with one or two of them as we began to descend the Ws.

I was thinking that they would be an easy section of the course to gain good speed on the way down. Thanks to recent heavy rainfall in the Manitou Springs area, though, the mini ravine dead center of the now more narrow trail – at times just wide enough for my feet to fit, at other times narrowing and threatening a twisted ankle – proved me wrong.

When I couldn’t run down it – which was most of the time – I had no choice but to widen my gait, reaching for the far right or left ends of the trail with every step in an awkward, clunky fashion. Pair that with the now five or so runners lined up directly in front of me, all of us nipping at the heels of the next runner ahead.

Every now and then, I’d hear the all too familiar sound of trail running shoes sliding on loose gravel followed by a “Woah!” serving as a warning to runners reaching that exact same spot only seconds later. I suddenly realized that I was so on the heels of the guy just ahead that I couldn’t very well see what the trail would offer my next step until my foot approached it mid stride.

Even though the few runners ahead were slowing me down, I was relieved that they were there. It was nice to be back amongst everyone else panting, steps pounding, and realizing that the bright red needles on their energy gauges were crawling dangerously close to the ‘E’ as was mine.

I decided to slow it down a notch to prevent an ill fate. I’ve got to be getting close to the end of the trail. I’ll hit the pavement hard. The switchbacks seemed to grow closer and closer, and I was looking for the opening through the trees marking the end of the trail and beginning of the pavement – a.k.a. the last 1.25 miles of the course – with every turn. I was starting to have those ‘ready to be done’ slash whiny thoughts again.

I heard cheering up ahead past the next turn, and I was praying that it was the first set of spectators we’d meet at the end of the trail. No such luck. It was the last aid station along the course, and the first aid station I ran past without accepting any sustenance offered.

And then, we were FINALLY there. THANK YOU!!! I was a bit nervous that the pavement would hurt my legs, but I didn’t feel anything different. In fact, it felt comfortable to be on stable, solid ground for the first time since the second mile of the race. This is IT. Almost there.

I ran at full speed and was bound and determined to run as hard as I could until the finish line. I tried so hard to catch the two runners just ahead of me, the only two I couldn’t catch along the trail on the way down. And, I knew that at least one other runner was trying to catch me too, thanks to one of the scattered spectators we were now meeting along the course.

“He’s on your tail, Melissa! Don’t let him catch you!” Thanks in large part to her help, I didn’t.

A bit further down the road, I saw him for the third time. Spotted him right away. As I neared, he noticed me too. I lifted my arm and pointed at him, and he extended his arm to point back. Once I reached him, I held up my left hand, and Bart Yasso ‘high fived’ me as I ran past: Bart Yasso High FiveShortly after my third and final brush with running royalty, I saw another of my heroes – Dakin – ready to root me on. He saw me pretty much immediately and started yelling encouragement while crossing the street and snapping a few pictures.

I thought he would stop walking and continue to cheer once he reached me. Instead, he started running alongside me opposite the line of bright orange construction cones marking the course along the street.

And, of course, he continued with words of encouragement I really needed at that point: “You’re doing great! You’re amazing! Only point three miles to go, just up ahead and around the corner. You’ve got this!” I couldn’t speak a word at that moment; but I was screaming, “Thank you, Dakin! Thank you!” in my head.

I kept running as fast as I could toward the left-hand turn marking the home stretch. Stay focused. Almost there. The crowd of spectators had grown more and more dense as I neared, and the sound of distant cheering exploded into full-fledge ‘Wooooos’ and clapping once I turned the corner. I could see the finish line!

And, right before I got there, I also saw my mom and my dad, whose voice I clearly heard above the crowd. “Come on, Liss! GO!” Every muscle in my body was in full flex, and my eyes were glued to the clock at the finish line of my first-ever marathon.

Just a few moments later, I crossed it; stopped my watch; walked a few steps into the tent; and bent over, resting each of my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath, looking down at the dusty shoes – now still – that had just carried me 26.2 miles up and down one of Colorado’s ‘fourteeners.’ A volunteer placed a medal over my head. “Congratulations!”

A few more slow and wary steps, gasping for air and still coming to the realization that the race was over, I leaned on a table past the quartered bagels, bananas, and orange slices and thought about the many mental and physical struggles along the way. Four words came to mind. That. Was. SO. Hard.

I stood, grabbed a plastic cup of Gatorade in one hand and water in the other, and walked out of the calm and shaded tent into the sunlight of the afternoon and frenzy of runners and spectators passing by. My support crew was waiting.

They offered congratulatory hugs, and I nodded when they asked if I was OK. “So how was it?” “Hard.” And soon, I shared some of my thoughts and feelings about the race and was up to speed on how they all passed their time in Manitou while waiting. And, once Dakin and Joe decided that I was recovered enough, they surprised me with a full-fledged post-victory-locker-room-style shaken champaign shower:

Aww! My boys love me!

Aww! My boys love me!

I was already covered in sweat, trail, and a little blood. Why not add some booze to the mix?

And then, we drank some booze with dinner before heading back to Denver. Our Performance Enhancing Kokopellis were tired. Their work was done, as was ours.

V__C8CF

A whole year of thinking about the Pikes Peak Marathon, and four months of dedicated training and mental preparation for it, were over.

PEK Divider

The next morning was, well, not at all unexpectedly, pretty painfully slow. Despite my attempts to curb the ‘AAAUUUGGGHHH’ factor with a soak in Burt’s Bees Bath Salts – AH-MAY-ZING, by the way – the night before, every body part from the neck down absolutely ACHED. When it was finally time to head down three flights of stairs to the front door, then another flight down to my car, I hesitated.

I had joked the day before about how it was probably going to take me a half hour to get to my car that morning. Surely, though, it was only a joke. I’m fine. It won’t be that bad. And so, I took my first step down the first step and. . .cried out loud! OOOOOOWWWWWW!!! I only hoped I didn’t wake my roommate on his day off.

After that, I held onto hand rails and leaned into walls - did whatever I could to try to put as little body weight as possible on my legs and feet – whenever I absolutely had to walk up or down stairs. If I could help it, I avoided it all together. That descent down a mere four flights of stairs – on that day and the next two – hurt WAAAY worse than the entire thirteen point one miles down Pikes Peak the day before.

Once I did reach the bottom of the final flight of stairs at the sidewalk, I  had to wait until I saw no cars coming down the street even from a distance. It took me a while to creep across not only like a zombie, but like the epitome of divine decrepit death warmed over.

Finally, I reached my car; slowly opened the door, then shuffled just inside of it; placed my right hand on the steering wheel, left hand on the inside door handle; fell into the driver’s seat, right leg inside the car, left leg still hanging out on the curb; and loudly sighed in momentary relief and gratitude at not needing to use my muscles to sit a few seconds. I had never been as wrecked after a race than I was after my first marathon.

I grinned to myself. Three words came to mind. TOTALLY worth it.

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.