My first tumble came while scampering off of Green's summit rock. It involves a simple, typically ungraceful but usually uneventful maneuver that I've become quite familiar with over the past seven weeks. A curiously weathered cavity in the large chunk of Fountain formation sandstone conglomerate provides the most obvious route on and off the summit, and for the majority of the winter this has been at least partially filled with grippy packed snow and ice. My without-style method of down-climbing is to sort of crab-walk/controlled-fall down the face stabbing the non-rock material with my trusty Microspikes and depositing myself safely back on flat ground. Today, the usually much grippier landing spot failed to provide my 'spikes with any purchase and the next thing I knew I was lying on my left side checking to make sure I hadn't broken an arm. Fall number one.
The second incident was one of those situations that I occasionally think about as being very bad if it actually occurred, but it simply usually doesn't. With maybe five minutes of path remaining before being deposited back at the trailhead parking lot, the Gregory Canyon trail crosses the drainage on a decidedly over-constructed wooden footbridge. Directly above this bridge are a pair of extremely short but steep switchbacks littered with the usual rock and ice. Most mornings I skitter down this mindlessly, often grabbing a handy branch to swing/steady myself around the final switchback. This morning, however, I caught a toe and plummeted headfirst downtrail. Despite several large rocks being there to break my fall I regained my feet with no real issues other than a slightly tweaked hamstring. No biggie, it's felt that way for almost four years now.
(The results of a summer-time digger.)
The final fall occurred on the corner of 10th and University. Every single morning I subtract maybe two yards of running from my journey by shamelessly shaving the sidewalk corner with a quick step through the college students' house's front yard, often stepping over empty beer bottles and cans. There is also, however, a very significant tree root on this path that every other morning I have very consciously stepped completely over. This morning, the legs just weren't having it, though, and a split second later I was sprawled on the sidewalk hoping that I hadn't torn any holes in my tights. That one really yanked the hamstring and I had to walk a half-block or so massaging it out before I could resume my stumble home.
My fatigue this morning was no surprise. Yesterday I doubled up on my visits to Green's summit, and the afternoon ascent was a particularly notable effort.
Runners often ask me what sort of speedwork I incorporate into my weekly training routine, and I usually have to--somewhat sheepishly--explain that I don't tend to do anything resembling a structured "speed" workout. I mostly gave those up when I graduated from college, and I don't regret it. Instead, even when I'm not in the explicit pursuit of some sort of silly summit streak as I am now, my bouts of increased-effort-running occur much more intuitively. By feel. Only when the body is saying, Let's Go! As it turns out, this still happens at least once or twice a week--about as often as it would if I were to schedule it--but I never force it. If, when I get to the hill, my legs feel like going, I let them. If that happens two days in a row, I let it. And if it doesn't happen again for another week, or even two weeks, I don't worry.
Approached in this manner, hard running is never a chore and almost always on the emotional spectrum in the vicinity of "pleasurable". It embodies that most primal of activities: simply charging through the woods at your personal apogee of effort until there are no more woods to charge through because you've reached the top.
(Dave Mackey, Rickey Gates, and Jeff Valliere getting primal on the Amphitheater trail in May 2009, with Rickey running the FKT. Photo: George Zack)
When conducted as part of a run to the summit of a mountain, though, it is certainly not fast. My route yesterday involved tackling Green on arguably its most arduous, official terms (there are other unofficial routes up Green that are even more sustainedly steep): the combination of the Amphitheater, Saddle Rock, and Greenman trails. This ascent is just a little over two miles in length but gains ~2500' from trailhead to summit. Considering that there is one somewhat extended flattish section about half-way up, suffice it to say that there are many other stretches that could only be described as damn steep. (With a section on Amphitheater in the 40% range, I believe.)
Without these qualifiers yesterday's ascent time of 32:19 (for two miles!) would appear laughably slow, but after a little research, it would seem that only one, maybe two people are known to have broken 30 minutes on this route (one of those being Rickey Gates, whose preternatural ability to run fast up big hills is inarguable, and nearly unassailable by anyone else in the country), so I'm fairly pleased. For now. Considering the snow. Because even with this morning's falls, my fitness appears to be moving in the direction of up.
If only my knee would allow me to start logging some true long runs.