Hardcore winter trail runners are junkies, they simply have to get out and do the miles, even when there is 400 feet of snow on the ground. The temperature, conditions and time of day make no difference. You’ll find them getting a fix early in the morning before the shift, at lunch, in the mid-afternoon and even as bobbing headlamps late at night. Trail runners are usually adults or wear adult clothing, moderately to extremely fit and friendly. Should they miss a day of running, they get cranky; two days and they are unfit to live with. You’ll note they are in fairly expensive shoes with aggressive tread patterns and maybe strap-on tracks for the ice. Their tights are typically black and often ratty-looking. Their ensemble is completed with a running or bike jacket over a couple layers of polypro, a watch cap and gloves. The water bottle(s) is/are optional.
The trailhead parking lot is quiet today, no seniors with day-packs and birding field glasses, no moms with double-wide strollers and marginally intelligent Labs or Retrievers and no city rangers packing 9mm Glocks and extra clips. The seniors are great as they stand around scoping the tops of trees looking for big birds. I’m guessing that birding is in my future but there are more miles to run before I buy field glasses. The moms are something else. Maybe this is just a Boulder phenomenon, but on a flatland trail, two moms and all their gear will stop and talk in the middle of the trail as if no one else wanted to use the trail. They make me wonder what it is like to be living at the center of the world. The rangers are almost always friendly, courteous and dreadfully overarmed.
Driving along South Boulder Road on my way to the trailhead, I watched the runners pick their way along the snow-packed trail. There was a sort of delicate, fluid, bobbing motion to their running, with tentative foot placements followed by a split second to check if the foot placement held and then a powerful push off to the next tentative foot placement.
As I start a slow five-miler along South Boulder Creek, I’m feeling a tad bit ragged, but that’s not unusual anymore at the start of a run. Could be the Avery bomber (maybe two) I drank last night or the 7,521 trail runs that I’ve done before this one, or maybe it’s just my attitude.
The surface is uneven. Yesterday’s footprints in slush froze last night into this rippled surface. It has an out-the-airplane-window ocean look to it with all these shiny little peaks and valleys. I’ve got tracks on, but I am also doing that tentative foot placement thing. Everything seems to be working. My breathing is regular, the pace is moderately even for the surface and there aren’t many people out here.
The first point of interest is the water diversion at about a half-mile. There is a cement wall that you can stand or squat behind and take a pee. If somebody is walking on the other side of the creek, not much is left to the imagination. That’s just an inconvenience, but I’ve wondered what would happen if one of those rangers (with at least 57 rounds) caught me peeing in public. A good number of homeless folks, who get caught and convicted of peeing in public, show up on sex-offender lists. That seems a little extreme. But, hey, this is the age of TSA and patting down shoeless children suspected of being terrorists.
The trail continues to follow the creek for another half-mile to South Boulder Road.
As you approach the one-mile point, there is a huge patch of poison ivy on the east side of the trail. The city’s ecoweenies spent tax money taking out some non-native trees and weeds along the creek. I miss the willows that they took out; but they’ll come back just like the non-native weeds will. They could have done us all a favor by using the tax money to do a limited burn on the poison ivy late at night when no one would be affected by the smoke.
The trail goes under the road in a tunnel that is filled with swallow nests in the summer. As you run though in July, the swallows burst out of their bag-like nests and explode toward the nearest exit. It’s kind of a “Star Wars” experience. In winter, there is an ice cap at the north end and swamp at the south end.
A quarter-mile west of the tunnel, the trail turns south again across acres of pasture. One of the coolest things about Boulder is the greenbelt around town. Some of the greenbelt includes operating ranches whose owners sold development rights to the city in the ’70s.
This trail (actually a single-lane road) also follows the creek, but it is open to the west and unprotected by the trees. The rancher uses the road to haul feed to the cows wintering-over in the pastures. On a cold, windy day, it can seem like the next mile or so to the turn-around point at Two Trees is some sort of trek across an Asian high plateau. I am dodging from one truck wheel track to another, whatever seems smoothest. Unfortunately, everything is frozen and lumpy.
From a distance, Two Trees looks like two giant cottonwoods that have been planted parallel to each other. When you get up to the first tree, it’s a couple hundred yards away from the second tree and turn-around point for a five-mile run.
At Two Trees, I turn and run back north. At three miles, I’m beginning to feel the lumpy trail in my knees, hips and back. It’s the physics of the impact. On a flat surface, the impact on your parts is fairly even, but when you are bobbing over lumpy terrain, your parts start to talk to you. The conversation is one-sided and not fun. There is a new calf off to my left. I stop and watch a perfectly beautiful little animal that will eventually be an ugly brute soon to be hamburger. I walk for a few steps and savor the feeling of walking. It feels great to not be pounding my parts on the ice and lumps of snow. But I’m here to run, and I start trotting again.
I pass along South Boulder Road and pick up the pace. Every once in awhile, an old friend of mine will see me out running along the road and say to anyone who will listen to him that I, “looked like I was really crawling.” He can still put up 7s. No way I’m going to look slow along South Boulder Road.
I’m through the tunnel and headed back to the trail protected by trees along South Boulder Creek. A flight of Canadian geese turns into the wind overhead. I watch in wonder. They are beautiful fliers. But does TSA know they are here and using American air space, eating American weeds and living on and around American lakes and golf courses? And why isn’t TSA doing something about these aliens? How about a 500-foot-high bird net stretched from Vancouver to Halifax to keep the Canadian Geese out?
There is a half-mile to go. I’m tired of the pounding I’m taking on the snowpack. I stop and take off the tracks and run on the plowed sidewalk back to the parking lot. Odd that, as I run on the flat surface, I feel a little shorter, less powerful and less fluid in my movements. It could just be that I’m tired or that my body has gotten used to the rough surface. Or maybe it’s just that I run trails — that’s all I really know and all I really want to do.
I’m no junkie.