My husband has it rough. He has to drag himself to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in south Boulder every day. NCAR is situated on a mesa, redundantly named Table Mesa (mesa in spanish=table). It is nestled partway up the famous Boulder hillside as it transitions into the majestic rock formations known as the Flatirons.
The idyllic setting is on the cusp of wilderness flanked by a forested mountainside and a rolling grassy knoll commonly frequented by deer and the occasional black bear. My husband has glanced up from his “work” to see bald eagles soaring past his window and when the mood strikes, he can hike one of multiple trails winding from his office into the mountainous woodlands over his lunch break. The jaw dropping views and wildlife provide ample distraction that I doubt anyone who works there can really get anything done. The building is a fortress and employees most likely sit in “meetings” toasting marshmallows and singing campfire songs until it’s time to go home. It is arguably the most scenic place to work in Boulder, and I chose it as the site of my next run.
The road to NCAR is a giant horseshoe on a slant, carving its way into the glorious mountainside. Every year, NCAR holds a race up their hill to the top. The top finisher last year completed the 1.6 mile ascent in about 10 Minutes. There were no statistics available for the person who finished last, and that was really the information that would have been useful for my purposes. The grade of incline is significantly greater than my canyon, so I had particularly low and slow expectations for my performance. A couple of years ago, I could not have even walked up the hill, let alone jog it, so I was somewhat pleased just to be entertaining the prospect of running it. It was no error that I selected another scenic destination for my hilly run. On my way up, I used the guise of having to take pictures of the Flatirons and abundant wildlife in the tall grasses beside me as I tried to catch my breath.
My running success can be measured in terms of the number of photographs I log on my run: the fewer, the better. I found this particular day to be exceptionally scenic.
I lost count of the number of times I had to stop on the way up.
At one point, I heard a shuffle of footsteps behind me. As the sound approached, I turned to see a frail little old man in his oversized plaid flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves and baggy blue sweat pants shuffling along not altogether steadily in my direction. He looked at least 90 and in a moment that secured the distinction of a new all time running low for me, he passed me and kept going up the hill. I imagined he would have tackled this mountain with vigor in his prime, but today he merely shuffled along. He leaned slightly to the right as though the constant curve of the road was challenging his anti-tipping mechanism. He didn’t look altogether well, like I should be following him with a gurney in case he collapsed, but then again he passed me so who am I to judge? I would have asked his story had I any breath left for pleasantries, but I was heaving at the time and he didn’t really smile at me anyway. He was straight faced, on a mission to make it up that great slope just one more day, as he probably did every day. He should have been grinning from ear to ear as he passed by, reveling in his conquest and chastising my pace along the way, “Outta my way, Missy!” Maybe his eyesight was so bad he couldn’t see me at all, and the humor was lost on him. We were the classic example of the tortoise and the hare, except there was no hare. I was just another tortoise still trying to identify the tortoise propulsion muscles under her shell. I kept going and eventually made my way to the top, but I never did catch him.
The downhill section was far more enjoyable, and after I had finished I toyed with the idea of having another go. Always the naysayer, my finicky bladder dissented and I was forced to abandon the NCAR hill for the day in search of a drier climate. Maybe next time. The overall distance of 3 miles did not bother me, just the slope, and that was what I needed.
It took me over a week to sufficiently forget the difficulty of this route, and I channeled my inner hare as I headed back on Saturday. As I stretched, I scanned the path for my friend but instead I found his wife. She was pushing 80 and because I was afraid that she too would beat me up the hill, I passed her early on.
It worked to my advantage that she had a slight limp. She probably got her limp from running her half marathon last weekend. The elderly do that here, as they slow down and take life easy. I pushed onward fearful of being overtaken again, and managed to make it up the hill only stopping four times–at least they were still countable. The downhill trek was actually easy until karma kicked my gut and I became crippled with my worst side stitch to date. It made it impossible to continue, and ironically I was not out of breath in the least at that point. This is the second time this has happened to me on a downhill section and I can’t help but wonder if my body is enacting revenge for the uphill torture I put it through. It’s as though the incline doubles my doubling over creating extreme and altogether unnatural compressive forces on my diaphragm. Well, of course my body is rebelling! My body has been rebelling against running since day one, and it hasn’t stopped me yet! Surely other runners with more experience than I will know what to do for a mere side stitch! I’ve got three weeks left to find a cure and no time to spare. Oh, help.