Saturday, April 16, 2011

Boulder Classic Run #1: Mesa Trail

Trail running is a spiritual experience. I had forgotten.

After letting myself sleep in until the kids woke us up, I took my time getting out of the house for my first weekend Boulder running pilgrimage. I debated running up to the trailhead at Chautauqua but decided to drive and park up there, so as to do as much of the run on the trail itself as possible.

I knew straight off that this would be a beautiful run. A cool breeze that gusted occasionally to something stronger ruffled the branches of the evergreens. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, but it's early enough in the year that it wasn't hot as it will be in two months. At 9 a.m., the parking lots were already full, so I parked on the streets in the neighborhood just down from the park and walked to the fire road where the trail begins. The hill looked daunting, so I started the Garmin and walked briskly instead of starting off at a run. Nobody passed me, and I passed lots of people, so I figured the pace was OK.

Once I left the fire road and took off on the trail proper, I knew it was going to be tough, probably tougher than I had in me for 12 miles. But I decided to let it be what it was and not fret about my pace. I minced over the stones in the trail, slopped through the odd muddy spot and inhaled the smell of crushed pine needles released by my footsteps. I love that smell. It's what surrounds you when get up into the real mountains in the summer. It feels like therapy for the lungs.

Looking back on the out part of the trip, I remember two distinct climbs. The first was the one that began at the fire road and crested at about 1.5 miles. The second began after the trail rejoined another fire road, near the intersection with the Bear Canyon trails. Around this point I passed a huge crowd of Asian tourists out hiking. This climb was shorter, about 3/4 of a mile, but steeper. In between, there were lots of smaller ascents and some welcome descents.

But the descents on trails don't offer as much relief as they do on roads. This is because, if you're like me, you're worried about tripping on a stone or a root and smashing face and knee (the knee part has happened to me, on this very trail). So while I managed to run all of the descents except for a perilous one composed of literal stairs in the side of the mountain, I took the downs easy as well.

When I got near the end of the 5 miles out (I had decided at this point that this would be a 10-mile run, not a 12-miler), the trail widened again and turned sharply downward. I have a feeling the rest of this run to the end of the trail would have been down in this fashion, and I felt wimpishly glad that I wouldn't have to run back up it. I also thought about making the Mesa Trail part of a long marathon-training run. It's got lots of shady spots, which I'll be seeking out for summer 20-milers.

The way back felt much easier. The two steep ascents were now turned in my favor, and even the stairs didn't feel so horrible. I let myself fly down the fire road for the last part of the last mile (no stones to worry about there).

Still some snow in patches, but mostly beautiful!

Negative things about this run:

1. I set out to run 12 miles but ran only 10.

2. My pace was more "speed hike" than "run" (see pace and results below).

3. The big hand-held bottles are still driving me crazy. I think I need to write them off as a failed experiment. Since I hate waist belts, too, I must come up with a plan for those long runs in the summer. Water isn't optional. Even today, still early spring and cool, I felt dry.

Positive things about this run:

1. The two-mile shortfall is OK. My quads haven't been this sore after a long run that wasn't a race in a long long time. My breathing was aerobic the whole time. I got my long workout. I also felt like a trail-running badass.

2. I did not get lost. When planning the run last night, I looked up the distances for some key trail crossings, and thanks to this and my Garmin didn't make even one wrong turn.

3. I tried a new fueling strategy. In addition to fruit and cereal at breakfast, I ate a pack of Sport Beans before the run, one Hammer gel on the way out and one on the way back. I had no problems, had to make no pit stops, and felt energetic the whole time.

4. I had a tangible, visible and aural reminder of why I love running. I love being outdoors on trails and challenging my body. Yes, I found out that I still have a ways to go. But I'm getting there. The proverbial trail markers tell me I haven't gotten lost on the way.


  1. Sounds like a great run! I am with you... I worry when I trail run. I like it, but I am not super comfortable doing it, even though I do it once or twice a week in the summer. We are lucky to live where we do and have lots of options. :)
    Someone recently wrote about a Nathan hydration pack for women that they were really impressed with... (like a camelback but smaller and made for women). Maybe that would work for you?
    And I can't WAIT to run with you in September too! I was so lonely today, especially waiting to start, etc.

  2. I love trail running. But I'm a wimp about being out there alone. Need to find another trail-lover nearby. :) Great post!