(Flatirons in the mist at the base of Green Mountain.)
Yesterday, Boulder was enveloped in a miasma of mist. After three weeks of nearly exclusively sunny, often brilliant weather, a small system had descended overnight, dropped an anemic ~1" of snow, and then decided to hang around to just make things chilly. And dank.
Nevertheless, except for the addition of a pair of tights and a stocking cap, the regular morning's ascent of Green Mountain was largely without incident. Running uphill through the new snow in the pre-dawn darkness did cause me to recall several other wintry early Thursday mornings with the Team CRUD folks in Cheyenne Canyon in Colorado Springs. Handicapped-start group uphill tempos were an excellent way to motivate a group of runners of widely-ranging abilities to all suffer a bit and then run the downhill together.
(Running down Cheyenne Canyon with CRUDers Dan Vega, Rick Hessek, John Genet, and Neal Oseland.)
During the past week I have felt my body navigating the avenues of stress and adaptation, alternate bouts of energy and fatigue, that typically occur when I've been fortunate enough to plug away at the training long enough to give myself a shot at truly becoming fit.
This always happens about four weeks into a training cycle. The first week of a substantial build-up is marked by re-establishing the basic routines and habits of a serious runner. Oh yeah, this is what it feels like to get up before the sun every day. Or, ugh, two hours might be just a bit longer than my body is willing to consistently go right now.
However, by the second week, everything is roses. My body is over the initial hump of being a real runner again but has not yet been immersed in the nearly ubiquitous low-level fatigue that comes with putting in the time day after week after month. Instead, the dregs of fitness have been reawakened and the spirit is doubly bolstered by still-fresh legs. Every run starts with a happy clip in the stride right from the doorstep, and some days I veritably bound up the mountain.
The third week is...arduous. It tests the will, for sure. It reminds me of just how hard running can be. Accumulative, accreted fatigue settles in my legs and forces me to ease into every run with the utmost effort. If that last sentence appears contradictory, that's because it is. In the third week, running is contradictory; the perceived effort is fairly uniformly high, but the achieved pace does not correlate. Every run is slow.
Thankfully, all that is required (as if this were somehow trivial) is some good old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness and a hopeful eye to the future, knowing that the drudgery will eventually pay off. This past week was the beginning of the pay-off. Not every day felt good. In fact, most runs still felt pretty bad. But, from time to time I could detect a glimmer of solid, dependable energy (not the fleeting, somewhat fake energy of the second week) through the murkiness of fatigue.
So, yesterday, buoyed (but also made sore) by a mid-week acupuncture session I decided to test out my knee with a second ascent of Green in the evening. I waited for Jocelyn to get home so that she could join me for the run up to Chautauqua. (Jocelyn--growing up in San Diego--is not the biggest fan of frowsy weather such as Boulder experienced yesterday. Upon informing her that I was heading out and she was going too, she replied, "but why do you have to run up Green twice on the crappiest day we've had all month?" The fog hadn't even figured into my decision at all--I simply knew that I was going to be missing an ascent this weekend so wanted to get ahead now; plus, it was time to test the knee.)
As all second-runs-of-the-day do, I started out feeling leaden and more than slightly unmotivated. However, by time we got to the trailhead and I started up Gregory Canyon I could feel the weight lifting and my body started accessing that well of fitness that I've spent all month filling. My Microspikes bit into the trail with purpose and I quickly ascended into the inky clouds with much less effort (and two minutes quicker) than in the morning. Standing on the summit, though, I was slightly disappointed with the lack of any sort of view, so after briefly scrambling atop the summit boulder I turned and headed home--the downhill was going to be the truly interesting part of the run, because if my knee was going to protest, it would be on the descent.
Heading down Greenman (the upper section down to Saddle Rock is excellent for descending right now with an almost perfect amount of snowpack) I encountered no knee pain but was treated to a most excellent night-time view of the city as the clouds lifted virtually right before my eyes. This was the view I'd been waiting for all day and it sparked a stretch of that kind of running that only comes along every once in a while. Every footstep is perfectly placed without trying, the growing darkness adds a sense of increased effortlessness and speed, and the steep drops and rocks and roots all provide giddy moments of acrobatic proficiency instead of the more typical tired and awkward navigation. I'd forgotten how much fun it can be to run trails at dusk.
By time I was cruising the streets back to my apartment I was more optimistic and satisfied about my running than I've been in quite some while. After my thirtieth Ascent of Green this morning, though, I was sure to remind myself that it is still very early. Early in the Project, early in the year, early in the season, and now is not the time to get greedy.