by Matt Gray
Sometimes my runs are squeezed between a long to-do list. I often push the amount of time I have and the miles I can accomplish. Today, I need to complete this run in about two hours. Despite the time pressure I've given myself, I jog slowly over the crest of a familiar hill. Jogging slowly? Yes, a redundancy indeed. I should call it a shuffle . . .
I shuffle over the crest of a familiar hill, well-aware that a nice descent awaits me on the other side. In long-distance trail running you look forward to changes in direction, inclines, declines, and variations in scenery. What I didn't think through is that at this time of year, the next section of trail will be covered in snow.
I first hiked the Mesa Trail that traverses the foothills above Boulder early last summer. It's just over 13 miles long out and back, so I immediately got it in my head that it would be a great trail for a half marathon distance. But until late January of this year, I'd been distracted and fulfilled by all the trails closer to home in Denver.
It's a deceptively warm winter day on the Front Range. My thermometer read 71 degrees when I left the car. With warm air, blue sky, and a bold sun, it's easy to forget that cold air remains down in the gulches and canyons, and untouched by solar heat, any snow from the season will still be lingering. I've spent a lot of time in the wilderness throughout my life, but somehow I haven't applied everything I've learned to my new running expeditions.
There's snow. And a lot of it. I'm not sure you can even call my descent pace a shuffle. The cold creeps onto my exposed skin and I slip on my running sleeves, gloves, and ear warmer. I'm looking classy again, boosting my confidence to pick up my pace and get back to the sunshine. Climbing out of the canyon doesn't go any quicker. I contemplate another layer when I round a bend. Warmth! The temperature changes nearly 20 degrees.
The next four miles and the returning six and a half will follow this pattern. I warm-up on the ascents or in traversing stretches filled with sunshine. I remove layers of clothing early on to avoid sweating. I add the layers back on as I descend into the shadowy draws. And while I can do most of this on the move, my pace slows drastically. Complicated by the snow, I begin calculating my overall time. What probably would have taken a little more than two hours, will now take me over three.
I think back to that to-do list and about all the things I need to accomplish. I consider turning around, but a patch of sun invites me forward. I shrug my shoulders. Those lists can wait, running can not.