Last Thursday I was first introduced to the notion of the Kite Lake Triple, which calls itself "a race amongst friends" and takes runners up four 14ers in the span of 8 miles. On Saturday morning at 4:55am I was on my way to the race start in Alma with friends. Today, the following Friday, I can walk downhill and only wince a little as quads remember what last weekend put them through.
The moment you get out of the car on the rocky road that leads to the trail head you can feel the altitude. You're already at 12,000ft and you're only going higher the farther you run - it's not an entirely comforting thought as you shiver so hard your knees knock together. We wait until a few minutes after 8:00 for a group of runners to assemble and sign in (maybe 35 people total). We hear a quick description of the course, and off we go up Mt. Democrat. No bibs, no chips, no shirts, medals, advertising, or registration forms. Just a gathering of runners who want an adventure and bring with them a sense of camaraderie and yes, competition.
If you've never seen this terrain, it's almost hard to describe. Loose rocks so big they make Pikes Peak's 16 Golden Stairs seem inviting are followed by steep climbs that make uphill lovers unnaturally giddy. Personally, I like the focus of an uphill, the anticipation of that first step on the flat which feels almost like floating in its effortlessness. It's total concentration punctuated by a flicker of joy with each person you pass (hiker or racer, it hardly mattered), and the realization that your teeth are chattering and cold because you're smiling as run way above treeline. It just feels so free and joyful!
I got to the summit of Mt. Democrat in just under 49:00, which is apparently a new course record, and turned around to head for the next peak, Mt. Cameron. The smile dissolved quickly as I picked my way through rock fields and my quads started to question my sanity.
After almost an hour of that torture, I found myself at the split to either go back to the start or head up Mt. Cameron. My friends decided to turn around and call it good after one descent. I was making an effort here to protect their identity, but instead, Simon would like it to be known that he is wise and experienced and was perfectly happy to call it "one and done!" I made the, perhaps less wise, decision to carry on. Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mr. Bross came quickly, one after the other, and were largely runnable the whole way. Here's the disheartening thing about being a stronger uphill runner - I would catch most of the guys on the uphill, just to be dropped as soon as the descents began. Nonetheless, I was the first female to the top of all four peaks which was quite a happy surprise - I'm still smiling about it :-)
When the course turned down the side of Mt. Bross, I was toast and I knew it. I actually came to stop, swore, and stood there trying to envision a path that would let me escape with all four limbs still attached. During this few minutes, the eventual winner of the women's race bombed past me without a trace of fear - it was pretty impressive! Picture for a moment, a slide covered in sharp rocks, gravel, and sand, and you are pretty much looking at Mt. Bross. This slide drops 1,250ft in just over a mile. So, down I went: falling, skidding, sliding,flailing, and, occasionally, swearing. By the time I hit the final half mile or so on a bit more gentle trail my legs were shot, but the smile was back by the time I returned to the start/finish line in 2:37.
Gratitude is what my mind kept going back to while I ran and as we drove back to Springs - gratitude for the friends who challenge me to train smarter, gratitude for the friends who have been so patient with me through injuries (...and stubbornness), and gratitude for the sport that takes us to such awesome, challenging, and breath-taking places. Even when my calves, glutes, quads, "gorilla arms," abs, and back were all exhausted and sore, there was an underlying bliss, awe, and general appreciation for the experience.