Monday, August 23, 2010


For my 31st birthday, I resolved to get more serious about running. Not only for reasons of fitness, but because of the opportunities it will ultimately open up (there are so many places where bikes can't go, and I can't go nearly as far as I'd like.) Every fall for the past three years, I've attempted to increase my running from near-nothing to at least something, and every fall I've failed early and often. I think this is because it's so difficult to motivate to be a beginner at something. Obviously I have to start short and slow, and it's lame to jog 5K around my neighborhood when I know I could spend two or three hours tearing up singletrack on my bike instead. So this year, I came up with the perfect idea - I'm going to combine them. In these early weeks, each time I plan a run, I'm going to meld it with a ride, and that way I can get my exercise and fun fix while building up necessary running stuff like stronger joints and feet of steel.

Today I planned a ride/run up Mount Sentinel, which from my house is about 18 miles round trip and 2,200 feet of climbing. Pedaling through town, I felt vaguely ill and even a little sleepy, and I struggled mightily once I started up the sun-drenched face of the mountain. My physical activity has been on the low side since TransRockies. I was so busy moving that I only got out for one ride last week, and then there were the hikes with my dad. But by all accounts I should have felt recovered and rested, and instead I felt like I was coming down with some kind of bug. I even had to stop halfway up the fireroad to catch my breath, which I've never had to do before. But I was resolved to do my run, so I kept at it. By the time I hit the singletrack, the sluggishness seemed to flush itself out. New strength pumped through my legs and I pushed harder, trying to clean everything, just to see if I could. I was having so much fun that I was almost disappointed when I reached the road junction, which meant it was one mile and 500 vertical feet to the summit, which meant it was time to run.

But I was resolved, so I stashed the bike and set out. My legs still felt singletrack-light and fast, so I upped the speed. The road jutted skyward and I continued running, with lungs searing and lactic acid pumping hot flames through my veins. Dust swirled around my feet as they shuffled up the gravel; but I was going to run that mile, I was going to run that whole damn mile, at least in motion if not in speed. By the time I reached the summit, I was so close to the puke zone that I had to briefly kneel in the dirt before I could stand up again. I never, ever get that close to the red line when I ride. I don't let myself get that close to the red line because I worry about embarrassing uphill crashes. But on my feet, there is no such danger, and I am free to max out in peace.

As soon as I caught my bearings, a sudden rush of endorphins coursed through my blood. I jolted off the ground and began taking long strides across the grassy knoll, drinking in a wash of golden sunlight that cast stark shadows across the city, and fighting off strong urges to spin in circles and sing Showtunes. I snapped a few quick shots, called up a new song on my iPod and turned my long strides toward the descent. Downhill running is my nemesis. I tend to run downhill in the style of a brick - throwing the full weight of my clunky body to the relentless mercy of gravity until I crack and chip around the edges. Today, I decided to try something new. Instead of behaving like a brick, I tried to imagine myself as a feather, drifting slowly down the mountain. I took humorously small and light steps, skittering down the gravel and letting the loose surface absorb a bit of the impact. By the time the grade evened out, I felt amazing; I felt no impact, like my legs were just floating over the rough surface. I felt like I was riding.

And then my planned two-mile run was over, and it was time to ride. I was actually a little disappointed about it, because I felt so awesome during the run. But that's why this plan is perfect - it prevents me from throwing caution to the wind and embarking on 10-mile runs that will surely leave me injured. And my reward was a ride down "The Gut" on my smooth-flowing Rocky Mountain Element.

That's right. I said "my." This bike is no longer a demo bike. I officially financed it, and I officially brought it home from Canada, and it is officially mine. The deal was too good to pass up, and after two months of riding it, I had fallen in love with it, all 25 pounds of bouncy, well-tuned goodness (yes, even after the mud-fest that was TransRockies, it is still in good shape, thanks to the tender love and constant care of Banff mechanic Dave Williams and friends, and a few new goodies.) I hope my old girl Karate Monkey will forgive me for buying it.

And I hope the Element will forgive me for running.