Sometimes you just hit those tough stretches where nothing comes easy. Work life gets hard. Relationships become strained. Your health ebbs. Or your finances.
We’ve all been there.
Certainly this is true for those of us who run. It’s definitely true for me.
This winter and spring was pretty hard on me. There were some successes here and there, and a few really good times. But for the most part, the first half of this year’s training has been a real grind, with low-energy runs and sub-par race times.
A breakthrough would be nice. Or a sign that one could be attained.
And that’s what I got this weekend. For whatever reason, I woke up feeling pretty frisky. My plans for an easygoing trail run went out the window. I wanted hills. All the hills. So that’s what I did.
The first quarter-mile started with a 138-foot climb, a good steep pitch that might not have been the ideal warm-up, but it sure was fun. From there, I turned west, down into a ravine, then climbed up a ridge and stumbled across a trail I’d never seen. I thought I’d seen all of the trails at Turkey Mountain, but when I broke out of the trees and into a meadow I knew something new was in front of me. I kept going and then hit a stretch of trail that topped an embankment overlooking a busy U.S. Highway 75.
It was not exactly that wilderness experience that most trail runners crave, but it was kind of cool to run that quarter-mile stretch 50 or so feet above the highway. I can’t explain it, other than it was something new.
Not long after, I ducked back into the woods, descended the ridge and landed at the Westside YMCA facility, basically a summer camp-type place with rappelling walls, a pond, canoes, playgrounds and a rather impossible-looking disc golf course.
Leaving the Y, you go back up another ridge and run into trails named by mountain bikers – Jellylegs, Boomerang and Fairy Dust, to name a few. I climbed the ridge, then headed back down to a pond dubbed Pepsi Lake (due to its proximity to a nearby Pepsi bottling plant), then back up yet another ridge. Winding up and up, then up again one final steep pitch, I broke out of the trees into a section called Spider, at the far north end of the park. From here, you can peer into downtown Tulsa to the north. Looking south, you see a long column of powerline towers and a trail that goes underneath them. Going south on the Powerline Trail is the toughest stretch of running in all of Turkey Mountain, and it’s an ambitious way to finish a run – 1.5 miles that go a quarter-mile down, then a mile-long stretch going up, tackling a three-pitch climb of a 200-foot hill. That doesn’t sound like much until you actually run it.
Naturally, I decided to do it.
Down I went, bottoming out right by the wreckage of a pickup from years ago, then up that first pitch. No problem. The second – and toughest – pitch, which left me winded. And then the third, which had me huffing and puffing like a total noob, legs burning, and grateful that all that remained was a winding, technical and wooded downhill back to the trailhead.
It wasn’t a long run, but what it lacked in mileage it made up for it in character. And fun.
Read deeply into that. All those hills, all that strain, all that challenge – ended up being enjoyable.
It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that way. It’s been awhile since I finished a tough run and said aloud, “That was fun!” But that’s what happened. Aside from the challenge of the hilly terrain, there was the greenery of springtime and the smells of wild honeysuckle. Breathing a bunch of that in is nothing short of bliss.
This gives me some hope moving forward. I have goals for next fall and winter, with a return to the Post Oak Challenge’s 25K race (gotta beat my slow 2014 time) on tap and the possibility of entering ultra territory in October (stay tuned for that one).
For now, it’s nice to just go out there, open up the throttle and tackle the tough stuff head-on. And not only do all that, but actually enjoy it.
Happy trails, my friends.