Over six months ago I was doing some goal setting. I was kicking around the idea of doing a marathon. I’m not really a runner, so that’s a pretty big goal. I also want to do a ‘century ride’ on my bike, that’s 100 miles, and I read somewhere that doing a century ride is the equivalent of running a marathon. I thought, ‘I need an intermediate goal.’ And then I heard about the Denver Half Marathon in October and it seemed perfect. Having never ran more than a couple times a month and never running in a road race of any distance, I committed.
I bought Jeff Galloway’s book on the half marathon, which I looked at briefly at the beginning. It said to run on Tuesday and Thursday with a long run on Sunday. I decided to hike Pikes Peak in July, so for the first few months I’d run on Tuesday and Thursday and do a hike on Sunday.
I was tearing it up on Barr Trail, breaking all of my records on the trail over and over. I was feeling strong. So I made the call to hike to the top. I modified Jeff Galloway’s patented run-walk-run method for hiking. I’d hike fast for seven-and-a-half minutes, then stop for 30 seconds to get my heart rate down. It was working like a charm.
On the day of the big hike, I was hiking in the zone or in a fog as it turns out. I had my head down and I was making good time. When I got to the gigantic sign that says, “Pikes Peak left,” I didn’t see it and went straight. I headed down a beautiful path in the forest. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, the views to the right here are spectacular” as the trail narrowed into a single track trail. I had to step over, around and under fallen trees and overgrown brush.
“We’ve sure had a lot of rain lately,” I thought. Then I entered into a clearing and the little trail petered out. “Now where do I go?” I looked around, things didn’t look too familiar, but there was a guy up ahead, maybe he can help. I scampered up a steep embankment to reach him.
Turns out, he’s from out of town; he’s never been on this trail before and he’s turning around. Before I know it, he’s gone and I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere.
I find the remnants of a little trail and begin to follow it as it winds downward to the right.
I think, “This trail is taking me into a never-ending cavern.” I don’t know where I am or where to go, but I do know this … the trail to Pikes Peak follows just one direction … it goes up and up until you reach the top.
I make one more push upward, hoping that by getting to higher ground, I can figure out which way to go. I scramble up another steep incline to a cluster of boulders where I stop and suck air. My thighs are sapped of their strength and I am a beaten man, lost on the side of a mountain. I decide to pack it in and head home; I head back down the little single track trail.
I’m not in the hiking zone any more. I’m pissed and disappointed. But since I’m not trying to make good time any more, I’m walking with my head up.
Then I see it. A big yellow sign that says, “Pikes Peak left” and “Bottomless Pit straight.” I’ve just gone about two miles in the wrong direction, adding four miles to my trip.
I should mention at this time that it was the hottest day of the summer, 96 degrees. My chance for a great time to the top is long gone. But for some reason I decide to head towards the summit. About 100 yards up the trail, I stop and reconsider. Instead of 12.5 miles, I’ll be hiking 16.5 miles. I ponder the situation. I have five miles to the top or 7.5 to the bottom. I decide to go up.
With about two miles to go, my quads start cramping up, first the right one, then both of them. I have to stop about every five to six minutes to stretch my quads. I start thinking, “You have diabetes, you dumbass. You’re gonna die on this mountain.” I start worrying about hungry mountain goats.
But I was drinking plenty of water, so the cramps were just due to the fact that it was 96 degrees out and I added four unnecessary miles to the trip.
I get to the summit in about five hours if you subtracted the time I was lost, which was about 2 1/2 hours faster then my first try with the Scandinavian Women’s Hiking Team in 2003. So I was very happy.
The next day I went out and bought some running shorts.
I switched gears and add more running miles. I was doing great, running fast, had no problems whatsoever and my expectations for the half marathon were looking strong. I stopped following Jeff Galloway’s advice for beginners. “Just finish,” I thought, “what kind of goal is that.”
I embarked on doing some speed work, some hills, you know, like real runners do. Instead of the prescribed 30-minute runs at a super slow pace, I click it up a notch or two and go for 45 minutes or 60 minutes.
Jeff says if you are a beginner, you should not try hill repeats. I’m like, “Dude, I just hiked Pikes Peak on the hottest day of the summer, I think I can handle a few hill repeats.”
I went to the local high school to try a few sets of 800s. Jeff says to do like, three or something. And I’m all like, “Who’s that for, some old lady?” I do six.
And I’m feeling good, no pains, no problems.
I go to Minneapolis to visit my family. I run back-to-back 10Ks around Lake Calhoun on Tuesday and Thursday. Six miles holding a 10-minute mile pace. On Sunday, I run between the cornfields of Hanover, grasshoppers hopping everywhere, got me hopping, “Get off my leg.” I head up a large hill to my turnaround point and I am on top of the world. Eight miles covered that Sunday.
When I return, I notice that I’m slightly off course from the Galloway book. I’m a little behind on the long runs. So I make a strategic decision to jump from eight miles to 10 on the following Sunday. Technically, if you follow Galloway’s book to the letter, I should have backed off one Sunday and increased the mileage on the next Sunday. But I wanted to catch up.
I’m home in Colorado Springs, but I have another day off, so I head to Red Rocks Canyon. I decide that this will be my ‘hills’ workout. It is an advanced course. Very steep for a long way. I am huffing and puffing. This is too hilly. But I keep trying. I’m now on a trail that hooks up to other trails. I started thinking, ‘Hmm, I wonder if the bears and mountain lions have had lunch yet.’ I run down the trail to the left for a while, whistling loudly to announce my presence to the momma bears. Then I return and go down the right trail. It’s a weekday and I feel like I am the only one out on these trails. There is no one around to come to the rescue if a black bear cub starts chewing on me, so I head back down the trail towards the main trail.
Now this next part is embarrassing and still hard for me to believe, but I can’t find the trailhead. I come down the hill on a trail that is 10-feet wide and it ends in a mini-cul de sac. There is a little trail off the cul de sac, but I am 100 percent sure that is not the way I came. I go down that little trail for a bit and it is just not right. I scour the last 100 yards of the 10-foot wide trail for signs for any other connecting trails. Nada.
You kind of want to get this part right, because it is a canyon and you want to be on the right side of a canyon.
But what can I do? I decide to go down that little trail off the cul de sac. I know it is not the way I came, but I’m lost, so I head down that trail and I find myself on top of a boulder bigger than my house and no signs of a trail anywhere.
So I thought, “What would Lewis and Clark do?”
Which is a stupid thing to ask because Lewis and Clark would just go get some Indians to tell them which way to go … the Indians would point them to a well-worn Indian pathway that would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
So next I thought, “What should I do?”
I elected to do some more scurrying and scampering. I am getting lower and lower into the canyon going this way and that, zig zagging down the side of a hill. I see a large trail up ahead, but it’s on the other side of a gully. I get to the bottom of the hill, drop down into the dried out gully and get on the trail. I end up getting back to parking lot in one piece, but I think I’m done doing hill training.
I pick out a new place to do my Sunday runs, the Santa Fe Trail. It goes on for miles and miles. It’s beautiful. You could run or ride on it all the way to Palmer Lake and it’s a dirt trail. Sounds perfect. I’ve always wanted to try it out. So I do a run on it, five miles out, five miles back. I report back to my friends at work; “it’s a lot hillier than I thought it would be.”
But everything was fine. I was feeling good, putting in the miles and happy with my progress.
I go back to the Santa Fe Trail the next Sunday and add five minutes to the front half, going from 10 miles to 11 miles. For the first time, I’ve got some problems. My shins hurt. It’s my third long Sunday in a row and now I’ve done it. My shins hurt and I can’t make them not hurt. I’ve done too many miles on too many hills and now I’ve have an injury. But I go slow, rub my shins and do the 11 miles. They kind of loosen up after about 40 minutes, the pain turns from a sharp stabbing sensation in my upper shins to a dull, ‘you’ve-done-some-permanent-damage’ pain in my lower left shin.
I go on the treadmill; and my shins hurt. Run around streets near my house, shins hurt. Run behind Colorado College, shins hurt. Fortunately, I find a shin doctor, Dr. Jeff Mathews, who is a practitioner of ART, Active Release Therapy. I start visiting him every Wednesday for the six weeks before the race. I point my toes downward and he takes his thumbs and rips upward on my shins. Doesn’t feel too good. He works my calves, hips, hamstrings.
At first, I don’t see any improvement. I take a Sunday off, but I know I have a race to do, so the following Sunday, I up the goal to 12 miles. I go slowly. Walk often. Instead of seven minutes run, one minute walk; I go 3:1 for a half hour, ease into 4:1, then 5:1.
Shins still hurt, so I back off on the training. Try to rest my shins. Take another Sunday off. Then instead of doing a long run, I ride my mountain bike up and down the Santa Fe Trail hills for an hour; throw my bike in the Element, then run for five miles. I did that two Sundays in a row and enjoyed that a lot. It’s fun going up and down hills on a bike versus running them.
Then the shins felt better, after a few weeks of rest and ART. I put together four or five runs with no pain.
I enjoy talking with Dr. Mathews; he has run marathons and has worked on plenty of elite athletes. I tell him that it’s two weeks until the race and I haven’t done a long run in three weeks. I’m going to run 13 miles this Sunday. He asks where I am running and I tell him the Santa Fe Trail. He asks where on the trail. And I tell him. He says that’s the hilliest part of the entire trial. “I’ve taken Ironman triathletes on that part of the trail and they can’t believe how hilly it is.”
I decide to run my final training run on the Monument Valley trail. Good call on my part; it’s flat as a pancake the whole way. Monument Valley is the trail that goes along a creek for miles. I run out for about 4.5 miles and can’t go any further. I return to my starting point, knowing that I’ve got to do about another hour. I only have 20 ounces of water and it is 80 degrees. I feel a little woozy in my melon, but I keep on shuffling on. I finish the workout having run two hours, 23 minutes and 47 seconds.
When I get home, I figure out that 13 miles at an 11-minute mile pace would end up being a 2:23, so I decide two weeks out from the race that my goal time would be 2:23:47.