We decided to mix it up by taking a new trail, the Hellgate Trail. We ran 4.5 miles from my house on the bike path, then started up the mountain. We were immediately surrounded by tall, snow-crusted pines that nearly blocked out the groan of I-90 traffic, directly below us. It's a starkly different view of Mount Sentinel than you get from the wind-blasted west face, and a reminder that sometimes you can see the same places in completely new ways. I tend to think in terms of travel, not trails, which is why I have a lower tolerance for mountain-bike trail systems ("but we're just doing loops around the same five square miles. We're not actually going anywhere.") So the Hellgate Trail, which was indeed a new landscape, was a nice surprise.
It was also longer trail than we expected. We climbed 1,600 feet in 2.5 miles on fairly soft snow. It was slow-going and tough. The weight of Saturday's effort started to weigh on my legs. I was also startlingly low on energy. I did my whole six-hour Saturday run in the cold on a 390-calorie bag of gummy snacks and a smallish dinner afterward. You can get away with that for one day, but by day two the glycogen stores are low and they're tough to recover if you're already going at 60-80 percent max effort. I tried to hide it from Beat, especially since he already knows much about my long history of bonking, but I was struggling a little.
When I was a winter cyclist observing runners, they always seemed impervious to the cold. But I am learning that runners too are in a constant battle with the frigid air. Legs sting where the wind cuts through tights even as sweat pours from your forehead. Fingers go numb and then return constantly. You put on mittens and then realize you can no longer feed yourself. Your Camelback hose clogs with ice and you have to bite at the chunks to access water. Your butt goes numb and never comes back, because women's butts just weren't designed to keep themselves warm.
We climbed the peak and then dropped down the backside of Sentinel on a soft but better-packed trail, for another ~5 miles. As we descended, I felt worse and worse. Finally, I noticed I was actually staggering in and out of the rutted trail. I dug a Ginger Snap Lara Bar out of my pack and gulped it down in two bites. Just like that, I perked up. As we started up the South Summit, I suddenly felt good again. I power hiked up the steep snow with renewed purpose, making a mental note that Lara Bars work for running.
We traversed over and back up Sentinel. I was actually a little surprised when I saw red light on the Rattlesnake mountains and realized the sun was setting. We had been out for nearly four hours already and still had at least another 8 miles to run. I charged up the peak in an effort to race the disappearing sun for a photograph, and was rewarded with the most spectacular sunset. "I wasn't excited about this run but it's turning out fantastic," I exclaimed. Beat pulled out the secret stash, the Haribo Fruity Pasta gummies, and we chowed down half of a bag. These candies are oh-so-delicious, but highly acidic. They were the exact same snack that turned on me angrily during the 24 Hours of Frog Hollow, and halfway down the Hellgate Trail, I experienced similar distress.
Oh, running with a sour stomach. All runners do it, which is one of the big reasons I never wanted to be a runner. (That and blisters. Oh, and because it's really hard.) I was practically groaning by the time we returned to town, and we still had four miles before home. As I staggered down the icy path, I cycled through all of the things I had learned. "This is fantastic training," I told myself. Meanwhile, the bonk monster crept back in and left me feeling woozy and silly, which is almost like being drunk and therefore slightly euphoric, in a painful way. "This is nothing like yesterday," I told Beat. "I. Feel. Spent."
In the end the run took us just over five hours, with 4,000 feet of climbing and something in the range of 20-22 miles. (A lot like Saturday's run, actually, because it was pretty close to the same run.) In my typical fashion, I ate dinner and perked right back up, and felt raring to go again. I took a semi-forced recovery day with a bike commute and easy spin after work today, which in its own way was a small disaster and still involved a ~2-mile jog. (During my hour-long ride/run, I had singlespeed chain issues and took one hard fall the bike path after my studded tires skidded out on the rutted ice. The jog happened after my fingers went too numb to replace the chain on the cogs after it popped off a third time, despite my efforts to tension it.) I know I am ramping up the foot mileage fast but I still feel good, and snow is very forgiving (and extremely SLOW.) I am being mindful of muscle and joint stress and creeping injury, but learned a lot this weekend - mostly that I still have much to learn.