The weekend after Labor Day is going to start becoming a tradition for me…the last two years I have spent it running up and over Imogene Pass in south west Colorado from Ouray to Telluride with about 1200 or so other crazy people.
I trained differently this year, more endurance and longer distance runs. Granted training for me looks a lot different than it does for other people….ie we have two newly adopted kiddos, a total of 5 kids all 8 or under, we homeschool, I work as an ER doctor with a whacky schedule which means there are nights that I don’t get home till 2AM and nights where I work all night long. And so I do what I can. And I think I spend a lot of time telling myself that it’s not enough. I need to do longer runs and higher altitudes and more and on and on. And I got to the point this summer training with acknowledging that I’m just at a point in life right now where its just not possible, I’m going to give it my all when I can but my all is going to look different each day and moment. I think I often like to compare myself to elite runners and their running schedules and training and always feel like I fall way short…but I’m working on remembering that for some people that is their full time job, my full time job includes keeping 5 little people alive, speech and physical therapy for a couple of them, lessons on how to read for others, and then 12-14 times a month keeping the sickest of the sick alive.
And so Saturday morning found me toeing the start line with people from a number of different countries and 38 states all looking to run up a mountain. And then back down the other side. The first few miles weren’t bad, I remembered that there were some almost flat parts for stretches from last year and I savored those. They kind of make one forget the hills. But only for a moment because around the next bend it’s nothing but up. And up and up and up.
In my head I had myself reaching the 7.6 cut off station with plenty of time to spare and being on my way and past mile 8 by 2 hours in. I had myself cresting the top a little after 3 hours and then down by 4.5 hours at the latest.
Reality however had a different story in mind. I struggled. A LOT. At mile 7 I seriously considered turning around. I knew at that point I was going to be pushing it to make it to the 7.6 mile, 2.5 hour cutoff in time. And honestly the thing that kept me going? I knew Clint and the kids were meeting me at the finish line and they all wanted to ride the gondola…in fact as he walked me to the start line a few hours earlier Leighton had told me “this is going to be the best day ever, we get to ride a gondola, go swimming in the pool, and go to the chocolate store!” And I laughed and said “Yeah, mommy just has to run 17 miles up and over a mountain first.” To which he replied “Well from here mommy the start line looks like its just all downhill.” Not sure what he was seeing but it made me laugh and a couple fellow runners overheard and said “just keep telling yourself that.” I knew that if I didn’t make it up and over there would be no gondola riding and I also didn’t know how to let Clint know that I wouldn’t be in Telluride because I gave up and turned around because my cell phone wasn’t letting me text….probably a good thing at that point.
It was far from downhill and I was so thankful to beat the cutoff time with some time to spare that it gave me a little boost up to mile 8. But that boost wore off and it was just a struggle from there to the top. It had been a struggle from mile 5 on really, but it went from struggle to STRUGGLE. I was literally telling myself, “ok, count to 20 and don’t stop till 20.” And doing that one painful area after the next. A girl from Golden was doing similar and she’d pass me, then I’d pass her and we kept that up for the last two miles, at about mile 9.2ish we joined arms and told each other we were going to make it.
And make it we did. The top was amazing and beautiful and people were happy and cheering for us. The aide station workers were just as proud of us that took 3 hours and 40 minutes to get there as they were for the guys that took just over an hour (honestly don’t know how those people do it….I know I’m not fast and lean heavily towards the slow side, but still….). I have to go back and remember that from time to time when I start to think “well I should have done this or I shouldn’t have taken so long to get to the top, or…”my mind it usually my biggest enemy and I have to remember that I did it, I made it to the top and given the massive changes in my life over the past 6 months, I did a pretty damn good job of making it up there too. Yes there were plenty of people faster than me and that did a better job and didn’t stop and stand and have to force themselves to take another step, but I did the best I could with what I was given and able to give in the midst of everything. The lady taking our photos even said “You look beautiful, how can you look so good after running/climbing so much”. And honestly I needed that then. As well as a handful of gummy bears and some Gatorade.
I hung out at the top for a good 10 minutes or so and then started down only to be stopped at the one porta potty station, but I remembered from last year that there weren’t many good rocks or trees on the way down. Partway into mile 10.5/11 it started to rain and then hail. I thought to myself, “sure all those that are done and down already don’t get to run in the hail, those of us still up here should get an extra badge. It was over by mile 12, and I continued down. Last year I was done by the downhill part. I was tired and cranky and just over it. This year I didn’t stop except to put my coat on, and then later take it off again, or in the couple of rough spots where running meant a guaranteed broken ankle. I felt like I was going fast, I was passing people and my legs felt good for the first time, but my mile splints weren’t anything to write home about…but then again I’m usually not running down the side of a mountain while trying not to break my ankle or neck so considering I start at a slower base speed (I try to be fast and my “fast” is still slow to most people) my mile splits were where they were going to be. I texted Clint to let him know where I was at and guesstimates for when to make it to the finish line. The last 5 miles just flew by, and were gorgeous.
Leighton and Paxton ran across the finish line with me, and despite my struggles going up, I was able to shave 23 minutes off my time from last year. Considering I was hoping to shave more than an hour, I could choose to be disappointed or I can chose to celebrate the fact that I ran up and over a mountain and did better than I had ever done. And so I’m going to leave it there.
And we did make it to the gondola. In fact that was the first question out of Edric’s mouth, “now we go ride gondola?”. To which I said “Sure buddy, just give mommy a minute to breath and eat a peach and pee.” And even though I can’t walk down the stairs today, and wonder how I’m going to run all over the ER tomorrow morning, I’ve already started planning for next year and figuring out how to get more climbs in and picked out a good training race for the spring. And when we got home late this afternoon (read my next post about our first road trip with 5 kids…the good/bad/ugly) waiting for me in the mail box was my first issue of “Trail Runner”. And so I’ll be back next year, hopefully a little stronger both physically and mentally.