Pinterest A Grateful Life Lived: Unforgettable Runs: Handies Peak, Colorado

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Unforgettable Runs: Handies Peak, Colorado

     I would have been crazy to run Handies Peak on my first few days in Colorado, but I simply must write about it first because of the sheer beauty and difficulty.  Both factors made it a run I will never forget.   It will forever stand as a memory of "Colorado 2013."  Without divulging the content of later posts-- which will be filled with great emotion and craziness-- my mom and I somehow drove a Jeep through roads made of giant boulders down through Cinnamon Pass to the trailhead for Handies Peak.  I hadn't gotten my run in yet for the day and had been planning to do so somewhere along the way.  Unfortunately, people in Colorado look at you like your a complete moron when you ask if there's a relatively flat place to run nearby (per training orders from my college coach).  So I was sitting in the Jeep wondering how I would have any energy left to do my run after hiking up Handies Peak.  For all you hikers out there, I am aware that Handies peak is one of the easiest 14ers to climb, but the label of a 14er (RELATED: What is a 14er?) is still an astute honor and as I learned that day: running rather than hiking, is a whole different ball game.
     My mom happened to have a college friend who had escaped the jail cell we call Ohio and fled to Colorado.  Clark Fox also looked at my like I was crazy when we met up with him and I mentioned that I needed to run somewhere "relatively flat."  I was beginning to realize that my running cred. was taking a hard hit from my wimpiness.  This guy had run the Hardrock 100 (Yes: that's a 100 miles....up and down mountains nonetheless).  He also qualified and is entered in the Mount Blanc ultra over in France.  Pretty intense stuff, right?  So he offered to run down the road after Handies Peak with me, which I soon realized would be the downhill run of my life.  I began thinking though, "Gosh Darn!  I'm in Colorado and I can't run downhill."  So I got that crazy idea and blurted it out as we unloaded the Camelbaks, "I guess I'll just run here."  I said it nonchalantly, having run some pretty awful mountain runs in the first few days in Colorado.  Somehow, I was thinking that I could just do my easy run up a 14er and call it a day.
     That's when Clark announced that he would run up with me.  Part of me was ecstatic at the offer.  Not only would I get to hear some serious running stories, but I'd also get to run with someone for a change.  Running alone gets pretty boring after a while!
     The other 90% of me was thinking: I'll be way too slow!  There's no way he's going to believe I'm running in college next year.  What if I push it too hard and my coach sees that I disobeyed?  But I soon realized I wasn't getting out of it, and I certainly didn't want to run downhill.  "I'd rather run too much of this uphill than run all downhill," I rationalized with my mom.
     At first, I was feeling pretty confident.  I knew that it was 2.5 miles up with a 2500 ft. ascent, but I also knew that I was right behind Clark and he was going pretty slow.  The first time I started feeling tired, I took a customary glance at my watch and realized with shock: it had been about 5 minutes.  I also looked at our pace, which was a solid snail pace of 18:00 a mile.  My mind was preoccupied with worrying at the slow pace, so that bought me another 3 minutes or so.  At that point, I decided that I was in this for the long haul and I would just go for it.
     So I began to look around at all the beautiful scenery!  There were mountains rising in every direction.  That was the cool part: the higher we climbed, the better the view got.  Thankfully, my lungs weren't hurting too bad at all.  My calves were another story though.  With a year of injuries and health problems, I had stepped off of track season pretty out of shape and exhausted.  A week off did me good, but now I was wondering what in the world I'd gotten myself into.
     This was not just a "steep" or "hilly" run.  This was-- for me-- the hill run of all hill runs.  This was like a never ending slant up into the sky.  Thankfully, I was feeling pretty feisty that day, and-- as I was hoping-- feisty enough to keep trotting up the side of a mountain.
     After a mile, my legs were sufficiently burning, but I figured I could make it another mile.  I knew that if I could make it another mile, the last .5 miles is all heart anyway.  That's just how it is in running: the last part of the race is all on God and your desire to give him your all.  Well, this was just a training run, but I don't discredit that claim for anything.  I always focus on doing my best.
     Finally, we made it to a beautiful lake.  It was alpine blue and swarming with little marmots-- all friendlier than my little foe last summer.  We paused just long enough for Clark to say, "We can wait for your mom here (who was hiking up) or run back down."  I was catching my breath when he added, "Or we can continue up to the top.  We're about halfway."  "I'm fine," I said daringly, "let's go all the way up."  To be honest though, I figured we was miscalculating.  I told myself that the website had said it was only 2.5 up so I would be fine!
Google image of SOME of the trail up Handies Peak
     So we started running again, and after a long desired flat part, we resumed climbing steeply up Handies Peak.  The path soon turned very rocky and I felt like a real mountain runner picking my way across the boulders with quick footing and fast eye-scanning.  But I was sprinting to catch up with my running buddy, who was clearly more experienced and agile on the boulders.  After scrambling past the rocks, we made it to some switchbacks.  Switchbacks, as I see them, are a pure pain for a runner.  They go back and forth which stinks because it gets a little monotonous.  Monotony is awful when you are dying for anything to distract your mind like I was.
     Looking at my watch, I realized that we were at 2.3.  Almost there!  However, the top still looked a ways away and I decided it would do me better to just forget the watch and try to survive the ascent.  I was really doing it though!  I was almost there!
     Well...I wasn't almost there.  Which I realized when I began to see the path before us climb up forever.  Just when I was about to tell Clark that I needed to walk though, I saw the top of the ridge.  Excitedly, I picked up my pace.  I was probably driving Clark crazy by running right on his heels, but I was so ready to be at the top!  My legs were burning, but I trudged on with the knowledge that I couldn't quit when I was almost done.
     My tired brain and legs were making me quite sentimental.  I had to finish!  For my self-esteem as a runner, for soon-to-be college runners everywhere, for my family, for the state of Ohio: I had to finish my run up Handies Peak without stopping!  My celebration quickly halted though when I realized that the top of the ridge didn't mean the top of Handies.  I stared almost straight up at what looked like a grueling 10 minutes of vertical death.  That's when my mind uttered the evil little phrase: "I can't do it." But I quickly shut it up.  I was sick of a year of disappointing running and debilitating injuries.  I was finally back, and I knew that it was time to prove that to myself.
     So I mustered up all my weary legs and heart had and I told God that I was going to make it and I was going to need his help.  I focused on the beautiful mountains rising for miles in every direction.  I focused on my pounding feet in the dirt.  I focused on the constant trot of Clark's feet in front of me that were expecting my footprint to diligently follow.  I knew that I was going to do it, no matter what it took.  And so I made the finally steps up the last ridge and to the top, where we slowed to a stop.  While I was a little to shy to give a scream of satisfaction, nothing could take that moment away from me.  I raised a fist in the air and relished in the feeling that my legs were about to fall off.  In a moment, I realized that I had just completed that hardest run of my life and I had run up a 14er.
     I had plenty of time to soak it in as we gazed at the surrounding 14ers and I heard inspiring stories about Hardrock 100 and Diana Finkel.  We jogged down a little to meet my mom only after Clark took a picture of me with the biggest grin!  As we slowly trotted back down the mountain I was in awe at how awesome it was.  I was on top of the world because I was exactly where I wanted to be: cooling down from the hardest run of my life on vacation and surrounded by little and immense wonders that God had placed there for me to enjoy.
At the top of Handies Peak (photo credit: Clark Fox)
     It is a run I will NEVER forget.

1 comment:

  1. Good times - you did great on your first fourteener run! Most of the Hardrockers I met in town later in the week were stunned that you were able to run up your first fourteener, as very few of them do during the race. Only 95M to go ;)