Today's TTR run was Douglas Spring Trail to Cowhead Saddle and back -- a run that I have done at least a dozen times. It is always slow and usually miserable. I wouldn't even have done it except that I have a ton of stress to burn off, and nothing does the job quite like physical exercise. Seriously! If you're a couch potato and you're depressed, you're not getting an ounce of sympathy from me until you try working out and see what it does for your depression.
The last few TTR runs have been either really really long or really really difficult, and because this one was neither one, at least by TTR standards of really really long and really really difficult, in my mind it was an easy run. Only 18 miles, and even though it was essentially all uphill on the way out, it was all downhill on the way back, and almost all runnable in both directions. Not only that, it's just so familiar. I have it broken down perfectly in my head. 2 miles of pretty steep uphill, another 4 1/2 (4.7, to be exact) miles of easier uphill, and then 2.4 miles of some more pretty steep uphill (but even that has plenty of little runnable stretches). Weather was supposed to be nice -- sunny and warm but not too warm. And we would be in shade for the whole first half of the morning, because we were running up the west side of the mountains.
My first couple miles -- always my least favorite part of this trail -- were slower than they should have been because I stopped to take pictures, and every time I stopped I had to undo my pack, get my phone out, take the picture, put the phone away, and refasten the pack. I was trying to catch Blacketts but could not do it. He's running well too. I kept seeing glimpses of him ahead of me and thinking, oh yeah, I got him, but... nope! Never did.
Once I got to the end of the first bad miles, I surprised myself by running most of the remaining 7 miles up. I didn't run fast by any means, but I ran nearly all of it and that is unusual for me. At 6.7 miles the trail goes through the Douglas Spring campground. There is a bathroom there. It's BYOTP but even so, at least it is a bathroom, for someone who just hates peeing in the woods and always will. I always stop at that bathroom and take a break to catch my breath, eat an orange, etc. Today I did not do any of that, just stashed a bottle of Nuun so I didn't have to drag it up the steep climb and then kept going. I knew Chia-Chi, Steve O, Joe P, and Michelle, who are all faster than me, were right behind me -- I'd been hearing them for miles and could always see them if I turned around and looked behind me -- and I thought it would be cool to stay in front of them for as long as possible. Usually whatever order people leave the campground in is the order they stay in up to the saddle, then the order shifts as the good downhill runners pass the so-so downhill runners on the return trip.
Even the climb up wasn't so bad. The last several times I've run this trail, I've made it a 20-miler and gone one steep, wind-sucking mile past the saddle before turning around. I was so grateful I did not have to do that today. I was also grateful we weren't doing the awful Tanque Verde Ridge run today -- a much harder and more miserable run than Cowhead. When I got to the saddle I slapped the sign and turned around and went right down.
I really wanted to keep going but now I really did have to pee and knew it would only get more uncomfortable with all the downhill pounding going back to the trailhead. So I stopped at the bathroom after all. When I came out Steve O passed me. He was running well too. I got into a funk leaving the campground because there was a tiny little bit of uphill. On this run I always feel that I deserve all downhill on the return trip and that all uphill, no matter how insignificant, should be walked. But the funk was nothing that couldn't be cured by a few margarita shot bloks. Pretty soon I was running again. Michelle passed me somewhere in there, and then the shot bloks kicked in and I realized I had a chance at being under 4 hours (unheard of for me on this trail) if I sped up, so I did and repassed Michelle.
My downhill running has gotten so much better! Last time I did this trail I just picked my way down it like a pack mule. This time I was actually running. It's not really easy downhill -- too many step-downs, and miles of those = pretty uncomfortable pounding on your feet, knees, and internal organs. But still, downhill was way better than up. I kept looking at my watch. Oh, man, it was going to be close. As soon as I hit the smooth dirt trail that led back to the parking lot I really cranked it up as much as I possibly could. I could see the seconds ticking by on the Garmin -- 3:58:00, 3:59:00, come on, where is that goddamn trailhead sign? I was at the trailhead and hit Stop on the Garmin at 3:59:57 -- the closest to my goal time I have ever been in my whole life. I almost didn't make it but managed to do my last mile at under 8:00 pace. This was my best time by 26 minutes, which is not insignificant! Maybe all these long runs I've been suffering through have actually done some good? Or maybe it was just my feeling, wrong or right, that this was a short run? Who knows, but I'm pretty happy with it.