Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boulder Classic Run #2: Magnolia Road

I am in love!

No, I didn't run Old Mags in jeans and clogs. I returned later with the husband for pictures!

Just to refresh your memory, I am attempting to do four Classic Boulder Runs before I bear down for marathon training next month. Magnolia Road (Classic Run #2) is a famous dirt avenue up in the mountains above Boulder at about 8,000 feet. It gained its notoriety in the book Running With the Buffaloes as the site of many long and difficult runs accomplished by the University of Colorado cross-country team. Pro runners use it, too, as its combo of hills, altitude and length allows you to seriously test yourself on all of those variables in training for distances up to the marathon. There are hillier places to run, and higher, and longer...but Old Mags combines the best of all three.

This photo is borrowed from RunColo; the weather was NOT like this yesterday.

I woke up at 6 a.m., a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off, ate my banana and donned the capris and long-sleeved shirt I'd laid out. After peeking out the window to see grey skies and fog over the foothills, I grabbed a jacket at the last minute, tiptoed down the creaky hall for the second-to-last time (Moving Day is tomorrow!) and set off in our old Acura up Boulder Canyon. I brought lots of water and some caffeinated Sport Beans. Water is key when you're going to run at real altitude.

Old Mags wasn't as far up the canyon as I thought. I saw the sign, turned left and headed up up up. Even though I'd read about the steepness of the paved portion you drive before parking and starting your run, the 14% grade I had to negotiate in that old car had an ominous feel to it. The fog hung over everything like a shroud, obscuring what I know must be spectacular views down ravines and up cliff spires. The higher I got, the less I could see. At one point I had to hit the brakes hard when a lone deer stepped out of the mist onto the road before me. I started thinking about mountain lions again.

Finally, after about three or four miles of driving, I saw this sign:

I pulled the car off onto the shoulder and got out. There was a helpful information board:

Presumably the folks who monitor the Roosevelt National Forest, whose entry sign I'd passed far below, don't feel the need to keep the information here fresh.....

The first thing I noticed upon exiting the car was how QUIET it was in that forest in the fog. I live with two four-year-olds, work in a public building and usually run on roads or at the gym. I haven't heard that middle-of-nowhere stillness in a long time. I had brought my iPod, but hid that under some clothing in the front seat. I wanted to hear more of that silence (and also any cars that might come by; the road is wide, but there's no shoulder or sidewalk).

The second thing I noticed was the cold. I had no thermometer, but based on the temperatures later down below, it must have been in the high thirties. Not only was I glad I had grabbed the jacket, I was wishing for a winter hat and some gloves. Oh well. That's what jacket sleeves are for. I fired up the Garmin (which found its satellite friends remarkably speedily) and began running.

The first mile was downhill. Here's a view:

This surprised me, as I'd studied the altitude profile and was expecting a climb for the entire first half of the run. It also worried me, because I knew that whatever I ran down I'd have to run up again later when I was tired. Oh well! As Sam Gamgee said in The Lord of the Rings, "There's nothing for it!" On I ran.

The fog remained thick when that long hill finally leveled off into a valley, and it took my hands a long time to warm up. Shapes loomed out of the roadside at me. I didn't recognize these for what they were until I was right next to them:

And I was passed by a lot of cars. I thought, Who are all these people living and driving up here? After that first downhill mile, the road was mostly up, with a few little downhill breaks here and there. I had allowed myself walking breaks, which was a lucky thing, since I really didn't have a choice but to take them on some of the steeper stretches. It's funny to breathe hard so early in a run, when your legs aren't tired in the least. That's mountain running for you!

Heading up in my car, I had been anxious that I'd be the lone workhorse on the thoroughbred course. Even though it's May and the university is all wrapped up for the summer, I half expected the entire CU cross-country team to be out there, or perhaps some gazelle-like Kenyans. But once I was actually running, and alone, I lost all my self-consciousness. Eventually I was passed by a lone bicyclist (I'd seen him heading up when I was still in the car), and toward the end of the out portion of my out-and-back effort another runner finally caught up with me.

He was an older guy, fit of course but not scarily so, and he was wearing shorts, which made me feel better about my lack of gloves. I heard the gentle patter of his feet behind me on the packed damp gravel and whipped around (the mountain lions were probably all wisely tucked into dens, but in my head they were all around me). "Don't worry," he said cheerfully. "I"m not a bear." He overtook me and so I followed him for a while, but he turned around and headed back soon after that, saying, "Have a good run" as he went by in the homeward direction.

I hit four miles out soon after and marvelled at how good I was feeling despite the hills and the height. Looking back on it, I think the dampness helped. I wasn't losing as much moisture as I normally would have at that altitude, and the temperature was exactly what I like to run in. I decided to continue another half-mile, to make it a nine-mile run. And when I turned around at that 4.5-mile! I was repaid with some truly fun roller-coastery mostly downhill miles. I knew that final climb back to the car was ahead, but at this point I was loving Old Mags and ready to handle it. And when I actually crested that last hill, reached the car and heard the Garmin chime nine miles, I ran another quick .2 in honor of my friend, Kathy, who is training for her first marathon and always adds .2 to the end of her long runs.

I wish now that I had made it 10.2! It felt *much* easier than my 10 miler on the Mesa Trail a few weeks back and has me very much looking forward to doing Green Mountain and Mt. Sanitas. I even think I might do some of my marathon long training runs up on Mags, though I do think my romance with it might sour when it's hot, bright and dry up there.

For now, though, I'm enjoying that blush of first love.

As the pictures show, I made Dan drive back up later on to take pictures and savor it with me. The fog had lifted, but snow had moved in, so the veil of mystery and moistness was still there. I love the mountains! How lucky I am to live here!

Here's the Garmin info--I'm loving the elevation profile, but the pace not so much.


  1. What a neat adventure and gorgeous pics! Good luck with moving day!

  2. Old Mags looks tough! I loved the description in "Buffaloes". They sure don't have anything like that in Columbia or Southern MO where I was raised.

  3. Oh yeah, downhills at the start of a run scare me, too. Looks like a great pace for a hilly run!