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.