Mt. Wrightson seemed like a good trail to end my Pikes Peak training with. It's short, by marathon-training standards, only just a little over ten miles out and back, so it fits into the taper plan, but it gains 4000 feet in elevation in those five miles up, so it is hardly easy. I thought that would be good for one week before the Pikes Peak Marathon, just so my body doesn't get too used to being comfortable and having enough oxygen.
I told myself I was going to run the whole way up, but, of course, I did not. I don't know why I even bothered telling myself I would. It's not like I ever have in the past, or have ever even come close. I managed to run most of the first mile (albeit at 12:00 pace) but after that switched to my trail running specialty of jog till I can't breathe, or until I get to some big rocks or a downed tree that I have to climb over, and then walk until I can breathe again, at which point I can break into a shuffling jog, which starts the cycle over again. I did this until well into Mile 3. At this point I was at about 8200 feet.
My biggest problem with Mt. Wrightson today is that it was wet. It wasn't raining, although there was some light cloud cover that kept it from being too hot, but it apparently has rained there A LOT lately, because everything is green. I hate green plants. Really, I do. I wish everything in the desert was dry and brown all the time. I am allergic to everything green except cactus and paloverdes. On both sides of the trail were tall, leafy plants and grasses that hung into the trail and went "swish, swish" against my legs. Just like in Bear Canyon last week, my legs started itching and my eyes started watering, and my nose ran like a faucet accidentally left on. When I got to Bellows Spring at Mile 4, the spring was running with more water than I've ever seen there. All of the numerous rocks on the trail were covered with a thin sheen of moisture that made them very slippery. And every one of the thousands of plants that overhung the trail had its own little load of water on the leaves, which it was more than happy to dump on me. Going up through the switchbacks to Baldy Saddle, I got more and more wet and more and more cranky. Did I mention bugs? They were there too, in force. Mosquitos flew into my eyes and mouth. Have I mentioned I hate moisture in the desert? I can't wait till everything is dry and sunbaked again. I passed one hiker coming down, and he said, "Your feet are going to get wet!" Well, duh. Going to? They were already soaked and I couldn't imagine getting wetter.
On the last climb up to the peak, the rocky part of the trail was running with water like a small creek. I remember getting up to this point once in March or April and finding it still covered with a frozen blanket of snow. Even though I was less than a quarter-mile from the peak, I turned back that time, not wanting to end up like a victim in a SAR scenario. This time I kept going, but through the wettest part I would not take a step without four points of contact -- both hands, and both feet. I made it up to the top in one piece. I hung out there and ate an orange and decided not to linger because it was too cold.
I envy people who can actually run down that first quarter-mile descent off the peak. I can't. I'm too afraid of heights and shifting rock under my feet. So I picked my way down slowly until I got past the wettest part and onto the lovely, soft pine needles. My feet were wet but no wetter than they had been on the switchbacks by Bellows Spring. This was the first time I have actually run down Old Baldy Trail. Usually I run down the Super Trail, both to get the extra mileage and because it's an easier grade. But today I was in a hurry and just wanted to get back to town (okay, back to my bed if we're being honest). The descent was so much happier than the ascent. I was still wet, and still itchy, and my feet were starting to hurt from stepping on rocks (again with the princess and the pea feeling), but I was actually able to run fast-ish, for me running down a mountain, that is.
I never cease to be amazed at the high number of almost-falls I have running down mountains and the low number of actual falls I have (zero, knock on wood). I hate those moments when my toe catches a rock or root and I stumble and almost go down and then somehow, miraculously, manage to stay upright and get my balance again. When that happens I usually make some inadvertent, unappealing noise kind of like the dog makes when you accidentally step on it, a sort of human "Yipe!", complete with pinwheeling arms to add to the spectacle. Luckily there were only other hikers present once when this happened, so the embarrassment factor was low.
I got to the bottom almost exactly three hours after I started. I was hoping for faster but will go ahead and blame my slowness on the wetness of the trail. Can't possibly be my own fitness level that's responsible, no, of course not. Once at the bottom I had a long drive home to think about whether I love trail running or hate it. I definitely have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, there are so many things to hate. Rocks. Dirt. Mud. Allergies. Snakes. Mountain lions. Falling. Slow speed. Longer drive times to trailheads. But on the other hand, nothing makes me feel like such a badass as running up and down a mountain. There is something primal and exciting about feeling your heart exploding in your chest. and gasping for every breath, and drooling, and letting your nose run and not caring, and pushing through bushes and over rocks and knowing that even if you do see a snake, you are going to keep going, and finally getting to the top of the mountain and then turning around and running back down and watching hikers step aside to let you pass because obviously the rule of "downhill yields to uphill" does not apply when the downhill is a runner. I don't know. It's miserable yet addictive. I guess we'll see how Pikes Peak goes. In the meantime, I just have the feeling that there is still a 50-miler out there somewhere with my name on it.