This is the weekend of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado. That is the one race that, for some reason, I can never get out of my head. I did it in 2012 and 2011 (race reports here, here, and here), and out of all of my race reports, those are the ones I reread the most, not Boston, not San Diego where I qualified for Boston after trying and failing to qualify 15 times, not either one of my two 50-mile races. There is something special about the Pikes Peak Marathon. My brain seems to have taken dozens of perfect-recall snapshots of that race (and then I also have this to remember it by). I remember how it felt standing at the start line looking up and up and up, at Pikes Peak all naked of trees and impossibly far away, and that brutal, breath-sucking climb out of town which I still think is the worst part of that course, and the moment when you break out above treeline and start picking through the boulder field, and the dizzying feeling of being on top and looking down and dimly thinking, if there's enough oxygen for your brain to think, that at least on the way down it will get easier to breathe with every step. That does not really sound like fun, and I admit it wasn't 100% fun while I was doing it, but even while I was suffering through it I knew I was doing something epic that I would never forget.
There are no mountains in Michigan. Where I live the elevation is around 600', and where I work it's between 800' and 900'. You can't even get to 2000' in the whole state of Michigan! There are nice hills where I work, lots of them, and I can get a nice roller coaster run just about anywhere I go around there. But I really, really miss mountains.
I grew up with mountains, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I missed them while I lived in New York and New Jersey, but honestly, in both of those places there were so many trees everywhere that I felt like I was always in a green tunnel with limited views of the sky anyway, so I missed the feeling of open space more than I actually missed mountains. Tucson was a perfect combination of openness and mountains. Tucson was ringed by mountains on all sides, and one of my favorite things about it was that I could run up Mount Lemmon or Wasson Peak or Mount Wrightson or Rincon Peak and look down on the city from the north or the west or the south or the east. I didn't always love running in the mountains -- the heat! the rocks! the climbs! the snakes! -- but I always loved having run in the mountains. And those moments up on the peaks were glorious.
Michigan is better than New Jersey and New York in that there are not quite so many trees so close together, and it is still possible to see the horizon. I didn't run trails in New York, and I only ran one trail -- the Patriots Path -- in New Jersey (which always had kind of a Blair Witch-y feeling about it, to me, because of all the trees and how it was always darkish in the forest, even in mid-day). I have run a few trails here. The soft footing, the fact that trails nearly always seem to run along a lake or a river, and the ever-present cool breeze in summer are good things. But the absence of mountains makes trail running here seem almost pointless. In Tucson, you accomplished something with trail running. You climbed a big-ass mountain! I used to think of the difficulty of a trail run in Tucson in terms of how many thousands of feet of elevation gain there was. So, for example, a run where you gained less than 2,000 feet of elevation was no big deal, and a run where you gained 5,000 feet kind of was a big deal. A run like Pikes Peak, where you gain 8,000 feet, was a REALLY big deal. Out here, I guess you just have to go either super long (which I will never do; I don't have the time for that kind of training) or super cold (which I will also never do; I hate the cold too much) if you want to make yourself feel like a badass.
I miss mountains more than I hate winter, and that is saying a lot. One thing is for sure, if any part of my life in Michigan ever went south, I would be running back to a place with mountains as fast as I could.