(On Massive--I just can't get enough of that mountain. Photo: Marco Peinado.)
Once, a Colorado Springs reporter called me in order to comment on this particular feeling, of the sensation of being so physically adroit at a given task that focus and consciousness seemingly cease to exist. Scratch that, seem to exist on a much higher plane, rather. At the time, I was living and going to school in Bozeman, MT. I was studying for a mid-term in the campus library, so I went outside to take the call. Except that I had to hang up because I needed to walk on crutches to leave the building. And my foot was in a boot because over a month earlier I had been experiencing one of those ineffable moments during a run when I stepped on a rock and something gave way in that foot and it would be months before it was right again and I would feel that way again. And there was frozen slush on the ground. And night was descending so it was bitterly cold out because it was Montana in the winter. And yet, the feeling he wanted me to describe is so non-subtle, so singular, that I had no problem conjuring the notion of the concept, despite being so far removed from experiencing it. Distance from the flow of running does not lessen the emotional impact it has on me; I never forget.
I remember an October evening in Tyndall, South Dakota. In 1998, a bridge was built across the enormously formidable Missouri River, approximately two miles east of my home town of Niobrara, Nebraska. At this point in the Missouri, the river is over a mile wide. Think, for a moment, about a river that size. And then, try to imagine the reasoning for spanning a waterway of such breadth with a man-made structure. What was on the northern bank, opposite of the ~400 person hamlet of Niobrara, that was so important to reach? Some fantastic, 100 foot high, cream-colored chalkstone bluffs (type location for the Niobrara shale formation locally found in the Garden of the Gods). A cattle pasture. Some red cedars. That's about it. But, I digress.
(A quick aside: as I sit here leaning against the outdoor wall of the Lake County Public Library, plugged into the only outdoor outlet on the building, two volunteers are on their knees on the library's meager lawn, picking up, by hand, cottonwood tree cotton. This is what draws me to small communities like Leadville and my home town of Niobrara--the sense of ownership, and pride in simple values, that still reign among the citizenry.)
On this particular evening, I was doing a session of 3x1mile with a full mile's jog between each one, the idea being to allow one to really get cranking, stretch the legs, blow the tubes out, test the limits. With my Dad standing track-side yelling splits I breezed through the night, breaking 5:10 for each one at a time when my mile PR was barely sub-5 (regularly under-performing during races would be an unfortunate trend that I would carry with me into college).
During that workout, I had it. The glorious ability to make everything hurt like all get out---in a good way. Not, in a like, oh my god, the well is dry, in fact, not only is the well dry but I'm scraping frantically at the dusty basement of the well, yearning for the tiniest seep, desperate for moisture, ravenous for one final drip kind of way that I associate with iron deficiency, mononucleosis, or extreme overtraining. Instead, this is the kind of strain that isn't strain. It's pleasure, and limitless, and rife with effort, but the fruits are so much more than you imagined. You feel as if you can run forever.
(Feeling the flow above tree-line on Mt. Massive. Photo: Marco Peinado)
And that is how running on Mt. Massive was this morning. Rife with effort, but infinitely sustainable. These are the days for why I do this. These are the days that make me know I am a runner. Everything is so easy, so right, so in its place, that nothing else but pouring down (or up) a trail would make sense.
(A view of the Arkansas River valley between the Mosquitos and the Sawatch. Photo: Marco Peinado.)