TriJake in the Mountains
My recent trip to Colorado was one of the best trips I’ve taken in my life. I was able to reconnect with old friends, see some of the most beautiful parts of the state, and run mountainside landscapes for miles and miles. This trip had it all, and there is no doubt I will be back.
Colorado has a reputation for being beautiful, it also has a reputation for being healthy. I found both of these reputations to be true once getting settled into the mountainside towns along Highway route 285. Most people will advise you to avoid route 285 and opt out to travel on route 160 instead. If you ever have the chance to drive across the great state of Colorado I recommend taking 285. The reason why they want you to avoid that route is because you’re traveling through the mountains. They will say things like there are less gas stations, there are more climbs, and there are less hotels to stop in case you get tired. The views, the landscape, and the beautiful scenery is worth those small risks. As I drove, I would see something beautiful and have to stop. I would get out of the van and run towards the mountain side. I would not stop running until I got to the top. We are not talking about giant mountains that you see in picture postcards of the Rocky Mountains. Were talking about little baby mountains 2 or 3 miles at best. I said to myself many times over this trip, this is the gift of being in good shape. I didn’t just pull over to the side of the road with the rest of the people that were driving on 285. I got out, I made it to the top, And was met by some of the most beautiful scenes I had ever imagined.
I drove 372 miles across the state until I reached the grand town of Durango. I parked my rental van just outside the town limits. I pulled out a sleeping bag that I had borrowed from a friend of mine and climbed up onto the rooftop of the van. I wrapped myself up, as the night air had a chill. As I lay there looking up at the stars I reminded myself of the big picture. I drove over six hours that day, I saw many beautiful things. I saw waterfalls, 14,000 foot peaks, a beautiful sunset, and now a grand starlet sky. It was humbling. I woke up the next morning to an instant coffee and a bison burger. I was ready to take on the rest of what Southwest Colorado had to offer. I was not shortchanged either, I had a guide, his name was Chris, he showed me around the surrounding areas of Durango and Southwest Colorado. We saw streams, we saw canyons, and we saw wildlife. At one point I was up on top of one of these “mini “mountains, And yelled down to Chris, “look over there, looks like elk! ” He yelled back, “sure is, they are all over this valley. ” Again, I felt lucky to be alive. After our journey through the forests of Southwest Colorado it was time for me to move on. It was 6 PM and I had to drive six hours and 45 minutes to Colorado Springs for a marathon the following morning.
I bought myself a gallon of water, Mountain Dew, a bag of beef jerky, lentils, and kale. I hit the road. This time I took the more travel friendly route 160. The cool part about route 160 is it’s a desert plain laying between two major mountain ranges. As I drove, I could see multiple thunder and lightning storms sweeping across this plain. Again, humbling.
Six hours and 45 minutes later I arrived at the start line of the marathon I had planned to run that morning. It was 1:45 in the morning. I pulled out my sleeping bag and got back up onto the top of my rental van. I woke up right at 4:45 AM. When I opened my eyes I could hear volunteers and racers preparing for the start of the race at 6:30 AM. In my experience, I find that marathon runners and race volunteers, are some of the best people you’ll ever meet in your entire life. They have a certain “we are in this together “attitude. It’s one of the reasons I still race, it’s one of the reasons I can’t get enough. If you ever have the opportunity to volunteer for a race or if you are so inclined to run the race, please do. Runners need runners, there’s no doubt about that, but we also need people that understand why we run. Even if we don’t understand why we run, we have an idea. I find most runners will agree that there is a sense of freedom, adrenaline, excitement, and accomplishment Before, during, and after a run.
The race started at 6:30 AM, right on time. The route started 26.2 miles away from Colorado Springs. As we ran the sun began to come up over the mountains, looking like some sort of Norman Rockwell painting Colliding with an Ansell Adams early morning photo. No joke, I got a little emotional during the first 10 miles of this race. I’m reminded when I get emotional about things it’s out of gratitude. I’m also reminded that when I feel gratitude it is important that I share that gratitude with whoever is around me. As we runners discussed the beautiful scenery that surrounded us, a sort of seriousness kicked in around mile 12, or maybe we were just out of breath, being we were at an elevation of over 9000 feet. Whatever the case our little group got quiet. All we could hear was the sound of each step towards the finish line. One of the runners said, “isn’t this peaceful?” Before he could finish the sentence, one of the other runners met him with the “shhhh” That’s when I knew I was running with the right people. We weren’t running for time, we weren’t running for the medal, We were running to have that connection with the earth, the connection that can be experienced in only so many ways, running being one of them. We stayed quiet until mile 18. Nobody talked. We just enjoyed the run. At mile 18 however a couple of people had dropped off. The guy that I’ve been running next to for the past few miles looked at me and said “rookies ” I laughed, but said nothing.
The high altitude began to get to me around mile 22, I noticed that my cadence had started to fall. I shortened my stride and continued to move forward, in an endurance race moving forward is the most important thing you can do. No matter the case, no matter if you’re walking, no matter if you’re crawling it is important that you move forward. Just like life, always move forward. I hooked up with a different group, as I had slowed behind the group I had been running with the entire race. Perhaps they thought me a rookie too. The group I was running with now needed a coach, I had arrived with the right group of runners again. A couple of these runners were struggling to finish, we only had 3 miles left. But that doesn’t mean much to somebody who just ran 23 miles. I said, “all right team, we got 3.2 miles to go. This is what it’s gonna look like. ” Couple of them clapped, all of them laughed, and we finished together. That “in it together ” attitude that racers and volunteers have shined through those last 3.2 miles. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I continue to teach and coach. Because of that type of accomplishment, the type of empowerment that comes from accomplishing a goal that perhaps you doubted if you could accomplish is worth more than other job can offer.
After the race, I met many of these people’s families. They were all waiting at the finish line. We shook hands, we shared stories of our last 3.2 miles and what it looked like. We laughed, we drank water, we ate turkey sandwiches, we did all that fun stuff that you do after you finish your race. And then, as always, we took our medal, got in our cars, and drove home. I wasn’t quite done, I knew that Pike’s Peak was pretty close, and I really wanted to take a look at this famous National Park. I found the roads to take, and I drove straight to the top, But before I made it to the top, I pulled my van over to the side of the road. I got out, and I ran the last 3 miles to the summit. For no other reason except the experience of running. Once I had seen the sights Pike’s Peak had to offer, I ran back down to my car. It was time to head back to Denver.
It was a fantastic trip. It had so many things that I enjoyed. Grand states of nature, friendly mountain communities, awesome running companionship, and the sense of accomplishing something I doubted I was able to do. I was able to travel to a state, travel through the towns, see everything I wanted to see, do everything I wanted to do, and make it back safe and sound to the people I love. Accomplishment comes in many forms. I find often, that people take small accomplishments lightly. And they should not do that. Every accomplishment is a big deal. If you’re surrounded by people who don’t think so, then come hang out with me. I’m always up for a celebration.
I will definitely be back to Colorado. Who’s coming with me?