Despite my professed dislike for the sport of running, I continually find myself sucking wind wondering what I have gotten myself into. And the next several months promise to be no different. I am pretty well committed to running the Estes Park Marathon in June of 2008, the highest paved marathon in the United States.
Training for a marathon involves a commitment of time, energy, and suffering unlike anything else I have done, mountaineering included. Since I have pretty much spent the last year or two since my last marathon sitting on the couch or in front of a desk, I have to start by building up an endurance base…which involves running about four days a week, usually 3-5 miles per run. I will build up to a half-marathon distance before actually starting in on the marathon training plan, so all in all this marathon will be approximately 700 miles long.
Putting that many miles on these old bones can be pretty rough, especially running on pavement. So I have decided to do a significant portion of my training on trails, which are decidedly friendlier on the joints and more interesting to boot. Besides, living in Estes Park I would be remiss not to take advantage of the phenomenal trails literally minutes from my door.
The only glitch (or perhaps first of many) with my trail-running plan has become obvious very quickly. Trails in the Rockies are hard to run! So tonight, to help dispel the mental block I have against running these killer mountain paths, I decided to run on of the hardest nearby three-milers I could think of: the Gem Lake trail.
Gem Lake is a picturesque little natural puddle, fed by rainwater and contained by the granite cliffs of Lumpy Ridge on the northeastern end of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail to the lake is only about 1.6 miles and is a popular day-hike for some of the three million visitors to Estes Park every summer. What makes this a killer little run is the combination of a starting elevation of about 7860 feet above sea level and the total gain of about 1760 vertical feet in those short few miles.
Having suffered some criticism lately from my lovely wife for my habit of walking short, barely noticeable, practically insignificant portions of my trail “runs”, I set out to actually run the entire trail, up and back. A half-mile in I realized that, pathetic though it was, there was no way I could run this mountain. Before I threw it in, though, a faint memory of running Duryea Drive in Reading as a high-schooler fueled my fire and that there was no way I was going to give up that easily.
So I ran, even though my pace was not exactly scorching. I ran every step, which was a pretty big accomplishment for me. I stopped for a couple of seconds here and there, ducking a tree, retying my shoelace, putting on my headlamp as daylight failed, then half-ran, half-stumbled my way to the top on jelly legs. Ten seconds to catch my breath and slow my pounding heart, then I unleashed my potential energy and pounded down the rocky path in the darkness with snowflakes flying through my headlight beam.
Forty-nine minutes for little more than a 5k. Obviously, I have a long way to go if my eighteen and twenty-mile trail running ambitions are to happen, but I am pretty dang proud of my little three-miler.