My “rut” produced results. (Turns out, rest is good. Crazy, right?)

I planned on running out on the Potowanami trail this morning. It’s a good half-hour drive from here, so I set about eight alarms knowing that it would take a lot to get me up between 7:30 and 8:15, which is when I’d planned on leaving. And it did take a lot – but it wasn’t the alarms that roused me. It was my cats scratching and meowing at the door.

At 6:45 a.m.

After a grumbly fifteen minutes, I decided I was up for the day and got ready for the run. I filled up my Nathan pack and applied BodyGlide. I laced up and headed out. On the drive there, which takes you through a winding green tunnel this time of year, I listened to some of my favorite songs and got really psyched about the run. The last time I ran this loop was March 7, 2013 and, according to my log, the trails were frozen and terrible but I had a decent run (no time recorded). I pulled into the parking lot as I have dozens and dozens of times over the last eight years and stepped out. The sun was shining, it was barely 60 degrees, and there was a nice breeze. Absolutely perfect. So with a happy spring in my step and pack straps secure, I finally pressed start on my watch and set off.

The 13-mile loop (which I think is closer to 12, but maybe not) has three sections in my mind. The first bit, I don’t know how many miles, is somewhat hillier than the rest and serves as a good wake-up, adjustment phase. You have to get right to it, but at the same time the hills are all very runnable. It’s just a lot of up and down. It has a very nice flow to it – the whole trail does, it’s also (primarily?) a mountain bike trail – and it keeps you alert, keeps your stride short and quipped and your feet nimble. You fly up and down, over roots and rocks, feet barely skimming the surface as you round turn after turn. You cross a few bridges but don’t pause yet, you’ll break the rhythm. This part takes a little over an hour and is the longest section.

Then you hike up the first hill that sucks to run up – long, unshaded, and covered in deep sand. At the top, as it evens out, the shrubbery forms a nice light green tunnel. The trail fades back to soft dirt, mostly free of roots, and after a few minutes you are lulled into that wonderful trancelike state of smooth, fast, easy trail running. These miles really fly by. I haven’t looked at the elevation profile, but I would guess that it’s a little downhill on average. There’s some variation, of course, but by and large you speed quietly through the woods; the only thoughts that float through your head are things like, “I’m flying over this trail. This is great. This is a great run. I could run forever. Of course I’ll do a 100.” During this time today, I kept flashing back to various runs and races that I’ve done on this trail – here’s where I dropped my glove, here’s where that woman was pooping during my first 50k,  here’s where my dad fell and bruised a rib… (He’s not so keen on trail running now.) And further back: here’s where I fell during cross country and scarred my knee. Here’s where I caught back up with the team. That sort of thing. Odd how when I try to summon memories of high school, I often come up blank, but then I remember very specific moments (almost all running) very vividly.

Anyway, this magical middle section floats by, and suddenly I’m back in what I’ve deemed “familiar territory.” I call the last few miles “familiar” because I often don’t remember specific parts of the middle section, since I’m pretty lost in my own heads. The only other hill that I usually powerhike is right in the last two or three miles, and it’s a doozy. And it’s rocky and long and long and did I mention long? So that usually yanks me out of my stupor pretty quickly – and harshly. But from then on, it’s a nice coast and I know I only have a couple miles left so I can crank pretty hard. You cross the last two lopsided old bridges, crest a small hill, and burst out of the forest, startling small families who were peacefully enjoying a morning at the lake – picnics and kids and such – until this runner came charging through, sprinting to a finish line that wasn’t actually there, then doing handstands and splashing about in the lake.

I stood in the warm lake, hands on my hips, sun on my face and back, a gentle breeze blowing, and looked around at the green and the blue and the trails and thought, “This is where I belong. Not lifting in a stuffy gym, but here, outside, for hours and hours.” I’ll still lift, especially squats for my legs and hips, but my focus is definitely going to shift back to running.

So: this was a great run. One of the best I’ve had in a very long time. My shins are a little tender, but I don’t think it’s anything rest and ice and some more rest won’t heal. I think it was so great because of two things: how easy I’ve taken the last two weeks (my “rut”) and my sheer joy and enthusiasm for running. I just love it so damn much. Very few things in the world make me happier than running. I felt strong the whole time, worked up the hills instead of trudging, and only stopped once to take a few quick photos and to stretch my calves. (The horse flies were definitely an incentive to keep moving.) At the end, I still felt strong and fresh, like I could easily throw down another 13. Now, writing this 11 hours later, my legs aren’t sore or tired at all. Maybe it’s from the rest, maybe it’s from the protein I’ve been eating over the last couple months, but I feel superbly excellent. My motivation has definitely returned.

So, about that marathon next month… we’ll see. I’m definitely going to try at least 18, maybe 20, within the next two weeks. If that goes well, I’m going to tentatively say the race is GO. But I will always defer to the state of my shins.

Love running always,

PS. In case you were wondering, here are some songs I listened to on the way to and from my run.
Crystal Colorado – Alpha Rev
Highways – Alpha Rev
Today is Mine – Jerry Reed
On top of the world – Imagine dragon
Carry on – Fun
Get there from here – William Elliot Whitmore
Let’s do something impossible – W.E.W.
Country roads, take me home – John Denver

PPS. Here are some pictures from today.

Who says running isn’t sexy? Look at those compression sleeves and flips!


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