So I woke up this morning just before the crack of dawn, donned my running garb, and was out the door before six. I met the group just around the corner from my house, then we all piled into two SUVs and headed out of town, meeting a couple more runners waiting at the dirt parking lot, at the turnoff to Kyle Canyon. Then up the canyon the two runner-filled SUVs drove, dropping water and sports drinks at various mile markers along the way.
As we left the desert floor and headed into the mountains it soon became clear that the 80 and 90 degree weather we enjoyed last week would certainly not translate into a perfect 60 degree temperature for this morning’s run. As the miles steadily increased on the trip counter, the outside temperature reading on the overhead dash displayed a steady decrease. Then, just after someone asked, “Do you remember how it was snowing on our first Mt. Charleston run last year?”, we noticed the first faint flurries. “That can’t be snow,” someone else joked…“maybe it’s just pollen.” “Pollen doesn’t melt on the windshield,” the driver quipped. I looked down at my bare legs, wishing I had brought gloves along, thankful I had decided at the last minute to wear my pullover.
20 miles later
we reached the parking lot where hikers start their trek up Mt. Charleston; we would be running from here back down to the parking lot where one of the runners had left his car (the first three finishers would then drive that car back up to the top to pick up the other two). Here it was snowing significantly, and there was snow on the sides of the downward winding road. It was actually really beautiful, but we were freezing our running fannies off still the same. It only took about four miles for my body to heat up enough to the point that the weather was actually very comfortable for running. I kept my mind off the cold for those first miles by chatting up two running buddies. At the first hill, we split. The rest of the run was mainly solo for me…meaning simply that I wasn’t running alongside anyone; I had people in my sights in front of and in back of me the entire way…which is just how I like it. We continued to see some snow flurries until about mile ten, although the worst of it was over at six. I felt great taking the hill that leads up to the stables, at mile 12, but then again…there are very few hills on this run, so it’s easy to CONQUER them.
The last eight, from the stables at 12, is all a mental game. The gorgeous narrow and winding mountain roads of the canyon are over (as well as most of the downhill) and it’s just a flat, straight shot to 20. There are no surprises and no great scenery, just desert stretching out on either side spotted with the occasional ranch or home…and the never ending road always ahead. And today, at least four of these grueling eight met us with a strong headwind that wasted too much of our energy running against.
But eventually, the end always does come…
and in what really seemed like no time at all, I stopped my watch at an even 20 and was walking out my cool-down. And to my utter astonishment I wasn’t looking forward to an ice bath at home; in fact I didn’t feel like I needed one at all. I hardly hurt. After my last 20, and 18, and 16, I most certainly was hurting and wanting nothing more than a painfully wonderful ice bath. Not only that, but looking at my watch I realized that I had run this 20 miles at an 8:20 pace; most of my previous long runs over the last couple of months have been run at something closer to a 9:30 pace. The difference? Those other runs have been through super hilly Red Rock, and this Mt. Charleston run includes some significant downhill.
Today was the first Mt. Charleston run we have done this year, and I’m so glad we included it at the tail-end of our training because I have truly been lamenting the times I’ve been putting in on the long runs, wondering why they’ve been so slow. The course of the marathon I’ll be running is supposedly more similar to Mt. Charleston than to Red Rock. Yippee! And my time today was much faster than the last time I ran this course nearly eight months ago, and faster than my last marathon pace, so today confirmed for me that the HARD Red Rock runs we’ve been training on really have been hard and really have PAID OFF. And that makes me happy, giving me just the mental boost that I need heading into THE BIG 26.2.