Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Time/Breathe: Imogene Pass Run 2016

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way 

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town 

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

I've missed writing, and missed racing. I was racing myself, not others this weekend. A year from now, I'd like to be here racing others. This weekend, though, I was one of the faithful, being called over the mountain, from Ouray to Telluride, and what a glorious day it was. 

My first Imogene Pass Run was in 2008; it was my third race ever, and one that "they" said should not be done without many factors in place with regard to training, gear, and mountain preparedness. It's true; the mountains do not care. During my first run at this race, I was well-trained for my first road marathon, had never done anything as hard as this run, was carrying a huge pack of water, gloves, jacket, hat, and everything but the kitchen sink. I made a deal with myself that if I finished that day, I would never, ever, do this thing again. It's probably the last race I would expect to see as my longest ongoing running streak since then. A year later, race amnesia an authentic condition, I signed up for the 2009 race, and have been on the starting line every year since. Right now, slightly more experienced at life (I'm not old) and running, it makes perfect sense.

The weekend of the race came after a few months of inconsistent but focused training. I lost almost a month of time on feet due to the single stupidest and scariest running injury I've ever ever had. It was frustrating and made some of my first runs back feel kind of tense. Perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come that my first major workout after that was a Fourth of July Mt. Garfield climb with friends Cheryl, Mike and Dewayne. If I'd let myself be too safe, I might have couch-dwelled, but instead, we took in a glorious fireworks display across the valley under starlit skies. And there was a little bit of Fireball to commemorate the occasion. The few others up there had made the same effort to see the show, and that made it special. Imogene, in comparison, draws 1600 entrants and 1200 runners on race day, but the intention of most entrants remains the same. Do something that you're afraid you might not be able to do. Or, do something you know you can do, and know will hurt.

I came into this race not well-trained, not well-rested, but experienced. I have high expectations of myself, and the idea of not performing to previous levels, or not finishing at all, was truly enough to make me want to not even start.  I think it was the thought of potentially not finishing that had my stomach in knots for the first time ever before a race that produced the early morning nausea I experienced for the first time ever-either that, or the head congestion that was draining into my throat that morning.  One year I came in with the goal of breaking four hours. This year, making the 7.6 mile Upper Camp Bird cutoff was heavy on my mind. My "long run" has been one ten-mile trail run. On the flip side, I've consistently been running and focusing on quality. I've returned to yoga. There was a great day on the trails with my friend Jen prior to my faceplant that reminded me why mountain time,away from phones,work,and daily shit, is important. And, although I can't say that my work schedule directly translates to running, it has taught pacing and endurance. All good things at Imogene.

Since the last time I've blogged, there have been some cool life changes. My Dad, also an Imogene finisher, decided to move to Colorado. That happened much more quickly than I think he expected, and it's wonderfully surreal to have one of my first running influences around and about. He decided to come down to watch the finish, and cheer me in, along with the many others coming over the hill.  I also got engaged to Andy, which is one of the most unlikely evolved friendships one can imagine. We're independent, we challenge one another, and we support the passions that drive each of us. He came in for the weekend as well.  Then, we all got to experience this beautiful weekend.

My morning began at "The Blue House" near the start of Imogene that has been a Grand Junction runner staple for the past few years. Andy and I came in late Friday evening. I picked up my packet, we had dinner, blew up an air mattress, and we turned in, my mind still racing about race day. The next day, I did something I'd never done-ever-in eight years of racing. I tossed my cookies. Not what I wanted going into things. Andy got me water and told me to stop thinking about the puking. I needed this in this moment, despite the gut feeling weird. It brought me back to my very specific plan. Run and hike aggressively enough to make Upper Camp Bird by 10 a.m., respect my lack of training and take things slow and steady to the summit, and downhill to the Tomboy Aid Station, and then gradually accelarate toward the finish. It's remarkable how finishing with a solid strategy felt more important this year than any of my faster goals here.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care

I started the run and spent a lot of the uphill pacing with my friend Conrad from our Mesa Monument Striders running club. He wouldn't tell you, but he's finished the Western States 100, Leadville, and a lot of other stuff that many people don't know a thing about. He gave me a great Leadville shirt when I trained for my own failed attempt at the race, and organizes the Run To Whitewater with his wife Kim. It's that kind, experienced and generous spirit that is one of many things about trail running that is appealing to me. This was his first time back at the race in twelve or thirteen years. I made it through to Upper Camp Bird, looked around and saw that Conrad was there too. I had been concerned about making it to this point, and it felt good to know that I'd arrived. It felt even better to see that Conrad was here too. Heading out, I was smiling to myself and thinking about how I had never learned to give up this race. 

The route to the summit was as it has been every year prior. A strange, joyful, oxygen-deprived march to the summit. This year, there were two gals in colorful wigs making noise and ready to give a hand for the last step onto Imogene Pass. I danced and smile as I saw them, and accepted two hands on either side, sling-shotting myself up onto flat ground. Finding my chicken broth, Gatorade and water (how is that for an unholy trinity?), I allowed a man in a baby blue tuxedo to take my picture at the Imogene Pass sign. All is well when you take in this kind of view. 

Andy had said he was going to hike up from the Telluride side and do that end of the race with me. I knew this would be a tall order for one from sea level, but knew there was a slim chance he might be meeting me there due to a similar love for this perspective, and this kind of athletic "play." As it turns out, he was one $16 breakfast burrito and two-hour wait away from actually starting early enough to make the summit when I did. I was following my race plan exactly to plan, and beginning to pick up speed, when I encountered him below the Tomboy aid station. He had no sun protection, hydration pack, or anything but an enjoyment for climbing the hill and coming up to meet me. It was truly wonderful to have this time, enjoying beautiful blue skies and sparsely populated trails, and move along together.  He's faster than me at any short burst but I've got endurance. And, eventually, I knew this was questionable finish was in the bag. I accelerated with purpose. Nowhere near as fast as other years, but as fast as I could in the moment. It felt good.

Hitting the road in Telluride for the last few blocks, I was smiling. I care about this race and I care about respecting the mountains, the weather, and those who make it possible for this civilized but extremely difficult run to happen. This was my gateway to things I couldn't have dreamed of years ago. Running fast, running far, and perhaps not making friends with pain, but knowing how to approach it. My friend Tess who owns our great yoga studio in GJ always says "suffering is optional." Never has this been more true than last Saturday on this familiar path from Ouray to Telluride. 

Nothing is ever to be taken for granted, but I know this. In two months, I plan to be running the Rim Rock Marathon relay with my friend Bonnie, reprising team KarBon. I still want to do the downhill if she's cool with that. I want to get back to the Winter Sun 10K in Moab, a downhill and ridiculously fast 10K. I'm probably not going to run a PR but I just need to run it, breathe,and not care about anything but running and racing in the moment.