For those of you who don’t know me very well, I am NOT a runner. I’ve always been the kind of person who thinks running is only acceptable if something is chasing you. Something extremely terrifying-- like a mountain lion, or a bear, or the loud fat guy who used to coach my swim team (although, on second thought, I would really like to see him try to run...).
For some reason, though, I joined my mom and her friends at an event called 24 Hours of Towers (24HoT). They wanted as many people as possible to do as many “laps” up the mountain trail as their poor tired legs and lungs would allow. Of course, my mom and her friends are the FORT COLLINS TRAIL RUNNERS. A jaunt up Towers Road is basically a walk in the park, only with more elevation gain! No problem!
Towers Road is a deceptive name. Towers is not a road. Towers is a seven mile trail leading 1,650 feet straight up the side of a mountain into insanity. If you aren’t careful, Towers will (literally) chew you up and spit you back out. Towers has it’s own personality, and it’s one sadistic SOB.
Unfortunately for Towers, the FCTR are more masochistic than normal humans should be, and the level of crazy hit a new high at 24HoT. Days before the event, goals were in, and some of the more ambitious runners (my mom included, of course) were gunning for 10 to 12 laps. If you don’t want to do the math, that’s 70-84 miles and 16,500-19,800 feet of elevation gain. MY goal was to do one lap, just to say I did, and help the trail runners add to their mileage, both regular and vertical.
Then came temperatures over 100 degrees. Runners quickly revised their goals, cutting one or two laps. Water, though plentiful at the base, rapidly became a precious commodity on the way up the mountain. Basically, it was HOT. Hot for 24HoT... Not that anyone should have expected that, at the end of July. No matter how logical it seems, the extreme heat still took everyone a little by surprise. Many people decided to go home during the heat of the day, and come back when the temperature was more reasonable.
Ah, but I am my mother’s daughter, and everything I did that day served to prove that point, time and again. I received a call from her at about one o’clock saying that she needed more water and to please bring her Camelbak. Of course, she promptly started back up the mountain, so when I arrived at about 1:30, I had missed my chance to give it to her at the base. At this point, the temperature felt well over 100, so I decided to begin the trek up Towers to meet up with my mom so she wouldn’t die of dehydration.
By the time I met up with my (exhausted and thirsty) mother and her (surprisingly chipper) friend Celeste coming down the hill, I was just over halfway, so I decided to push on to the top. After Celeste partially refilled my severely depleted water bottle, and accepting my mom’s half-empty Amphipod waist pack, I left them to make my weary way upward.
Suffice it to say I hurt when I finally slapped the building at the top of the trail; however, once I made it back down the last two hills (which went, with limited exaggeration, straight effing down-- which meant I’d just gone straight effing up them) I started to feel pretty good, and even began running the downhill portions (as opposed to the “slightly closer to flat” parts).
Side note here-- even though I am not a runner, I love to run downhill. I love the way it makes my legs feel. I love the breeze on my face, especially when it’s a bazillion degrees with the sun beating down. I love the challenge, and the threat of falling flat on my face. In this, I am the opposite of my mother. She and I would make the perfect running team-- she could run up the hill, and I could run down. We would be unstoppable.
Running down, I met up with my mom and Celeste again. Two and a half miles into her fifth lap, my poor mother was looking even more exhausted than before, and Celeste was probably the only reason she was still on her feet. We stood and talked for a few minutes, with Celeste forcing my mom to drink water mixed with Gatorade. After another partial water bottle refill (thank goodness they both had Camelbak backpacks!), I ran on.
When I reached the bottom, I declared that I was never doing that again. I sat with my father and grandfather, who had come to provide home-brewed beer, and ate salty foods because my hands were getting puffy. When my mom came back, I made her drink more and eat something, though she wouldn’t eat much. She was eager to go again, as she was running (haha, no pun intended) behind schedule in her attempt to reach 10 laps.
And then I proved, once again, that I am my mother’s daughter-- I agreed to go with her. Part of the intent was to make her go slow, since she had been running for nearly 11 hours, part of it to spend some time with her, and part of it because some insane piece of my brain told me that it sounded like a really great idea. I must have still been on an endorphin high or something. Or maybe I was just suffering from heat stroke.
The second trip up was both more painful and more enjoyable. The sun was going down, and the temperature dropped to a more comfortable level. On the other hand, my quads and lungs were burning. Neither my mom nor I was feeling very well, and at one point, in not-so-silent agreement, we turned our backs on one another and began retching into the bushes in harmonious unison. Lovely. I kept saying to my mom that I really needed to stop... At the next curve in the trail. Or the next one. Or at the top of the next hill. Each time I would stop for a moment and take a drink of water, watch my mom continue along the trail, and soon find myself following her once again. Before I knew it, we were at the top, less “slapping the building” than “hanging over the propane tank” (thank you, Scott). I was officially as insane as many, if not all, of the Fort Collins Trail Runners.
On the way back down, we walked instead of ran. As I mentioned, my mom does not like running downhill, and it was a particularly bad idea as the daylight faded and rocks and erosion became more difficult to see. My mom has also been suffering from an injury (which began immediately following a 100 mile race, so I don’t feel too sorry for her) and has been attending physical therapy, so I wouldn’t let her push herself too hard (at least not while she was with me). Fortunately, a few other people joined us, and the final descent became more about socialization and less about time and speed.
My mom turned right around after our lap and went up again, but I decided to go home. It was dark, I hurt, and I was tired. I had officially completed my longest “run” (even though most of it was hiking and not running) ever, completely blowing away my previous best of six miles.
Crazy must be either contagious or hereditary, because I plan on doing it again. Maybe (hopefully) not two in a row, but one lap at a time. The benefits, both physical and psychological, of forcing yourself straight up the side of a mountain are incredible. Even though I hurt more than I can remember hurting in my life, it subsided quickly. The pain in my quads didn’t last as long after 15 miles as it did after 6, which makes me irrationally happy. My body is getting used to being active again, and it feels wonderful. I miss being in shape, and I miss the mental clarity that comes from pushing my body near and beyond what I think is it’s limit. I often find that the limit is further than I’ll let myself believe, and that the body is truly incredible. I had forgotten just what my body could do, if I let it.
Most of all, though, I miss the camaraderie that comes from this type of mutual masochism and shared suffering. One of the greatest things about the FCTR is that they are not an exclusive group. They have all welcomed me in with open arms, and I really consider them my friends as well as my mom’s. Yes, they accepted me before I joined the dark side and did two laps up Towers, but it also feels good to know that they are proud of me, and that they understand-- and that they would be just as happy if I had stayed at the trailhead and never attempted to venture up Towers. Even if running doesn’t become my whole world, as it is for many of the Trail Runners, it seems it will remain at least some part of my life-- even if it’s only through the (absolutely bat-shit insane) adventures of my mom and our friends.