The Mountains Beckon
“…I went to the woods [mountains] because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…”
-excerpt from Walden: 2. “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s words have always stuck in my mind ever since I read Walden in secondary school Lit class. I was reminded of this great work as I drove past a nearby body of water (about a half a mile from where I’m now living in Boulder) by a sign that read “Walden Pond.” I thought that this was a very fitting sign to see because I am starting a new excursion in my life – a new adventure that hopefully involves new experiences and discovering some kind of meaning.
So last week I jumped on the bandwagon, threw my life into my ‘97 Rav 4, and drove to the Mecca for endurance athletes: Boulder, Colorado. I didn’t have a job lined up or any real plan of exactly where I was going to live or what I was going to do (except run like a madman in the mountains of course). I did, however, have a very supportive network in my extended family that lives in Denver (one 91 year-old Grandpa, 3 aunts and 2 cousins) and some friends in the strong running community of Boulder (basically 5 Ex-Hanson runners and a couple other Olympic Trials qualifiers). Without the support of all these people and my parents (who also happened to attend the University of Colorado) none of this would have been possible.
My first adventure at altitude involved driving 2 hours to Vail, CO for the Teva Games Vail Pass Half Marathon. I was hungry for some cash, and despite coming from my home in Oregon (which rests at about 500 feet of elevation above the Pacific), I was also eager to compete as a mountain runner. I quickly learned that running a 13.7-mile race that started at 8200 feet and ended at 10,500 feet was an extremely painful endeavor. I think I hit my Vo2max at about mile 9 (9500 feet or so) as I could taste lactic acid at that point and my whole body burned with pain. I’ve only done a few races where I am reduced to a walk/jog…this was one of them.
On a side note, I had a chance to interview Max King as well:
The winner of the race, Glenn Randall (also an old Ivy League nemesis) thoroughly kicked my butt and mentioned to me: “It’s not about the altitude – it’s about the attitude!” Finishing in a dismal, non-paying 5th place, I found myself behind some pretty good company including: 1:03 half marathoner and ex-Hansons runner Josh Eberly, a Pikes Peak ascent champion and 2:19 Boston Marathon runner in Jason Delaney, and former Vail half champion Mario Macias. Not too shabby of a performance considering Max King had cited in a Northwest Runner article that your Vo2max drops by 15% on your second day above 8,000 feet. I recall thinking about this statement as my lungs gasped for air and my legs were reduced to a slow shuffle. I reasoned that it would probably take 2 weeks or more for my blood volume just to return to normal.
[View from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain around 10,000 feet. I was looking for the Switzerland Trail but got lost and just ran around with my camera].
Next up, I am heading to New Hampshire for the Mt. Washington Road Race. I’m a little apprehensive going into the race after my sub-par performance on the hills of Vail Pass – however, it will be refreshing to race at a more oxygen rich environment of only 2,000 to 6,000 feet.