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Redefining What Steep Is

As I write this (February 25, 2015), I am just over 4 weeks out from what will surely be a highlight of my 2015 racing season. It is 1:23 am and I’m still awake, working, thinking, dreaming. The Barkley looms large in my mind and on my legs. Just last night I happened to glance down at my calves and didn’t quite recognize them. Thick solid muscles anchored my lower legs above my hastily taped ankle, a precaution from a bad ankle roll on Squaw Peak early Monday morning. I ran (and/or hiked) over 14 miles in total yesterday with close to 7500 feet of climbing and similar amount of descent.

Double on Squaw Peak, double on Quartz Peak, the miles nor number of repeats hardly matter. Time and elevation gain are the key markers of my training these days. The monotony of repeat after repeat is grueling and bland. But surely a recipe for success just as water erodes a deep canyon or roots work their way eventually splitting solid rock. Work is done and deposits are made into the “training bank” collecting interest and saving for the big day.

A typical “run” with 3000 to 5000 feet of climb is becoming fairly routine for me but the amazement from onlookers remains the same. I remember just weeks ago when I delighted at turning back up the mountain for a “2nd” trip up to the summit. Day hikers were amazed at the feat and I smiled with grin as my confidence soared. Wow I’m something special going back up again and again.

But time and repeats harden not only the legs but the mind and dull my enthusiasm. It becomes difficult to continue and reality sets in. There is much work to be done, up and down, steep, steeper. Although the physical effort to complete one summit becomes easier, the work load increases, the total time rises, the mental ability to continue to turn back around and head back up to the top time and time again becomes more difficult to sustain. To get the same training effect one must find yet an even steeper trail than before. Just as an addict must increase the dose to achieve the same high, I must run faster and steeper to feel mine.

Summit of Camelback Mountain overlooking Phoenix
Flatiron in the Superstition Mountains
Quartz Peak Trail in the Estrella Mountains


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