Eugene Buchanan: Mud runners among us … or is it blade runners?
I’ll admit it … I’m not much of a runner — unless I’m being chased, which happens far less than it used to. I’m happy expanding my lung capillaries through less cartilage-pounding pursuits.
This comes despite having Olympic marathon runner Frank Shorter living in our basement apartment in Boulder when he won the Games — careful, I’m dating myself — in 1972. He called our house the night he won, invited us on the first mile or so of his training runs and, most importantly, gave us the green light to raid his barrels of GORP.
But since then, my penchant for jogging has worn as thin as a well-used sneaker sole. I’d rather save whatever shreds of cartilage I have left for more fun pursuits, such as powder skiing and mountain biking. That said, this is the one time of year I will strap on the Nikes: mud season, when there’s too little snow to ski and the trails are too muddy to ride. And this one’s been a doozy. (I even saw my friend, Peter, get caught jogging in a rainstorm, only to later bemoan, “And I don’t even run.”)
The following is why I enjoy it this time of year:
Once the snow melts, the grass is matted down similar to wet dog hair after a romp in the Yampa. This means you can go anywhere; you’re not restricted to the trail. It’s similar to crust skiing on skate skis, only you’re running. Perhaps call it bent blade running?
One foray took me up Emerald meadows, where the grass was as packed down as the fields after Woodstock. Free from trail restraints, I zig-zagged up the hill to stop my heart from doing do, and eventually made it to the field’s top, where fingers of land continued upward between remaining snow patches. From above, it’d look similar to a giant hand giving a high five. So I did little mini-intervals up and down each snow-bordered finger, ignoring the sponges on my feet getting soggier with each stride.
The middle finger proved the day’s highpoint, and after the pinkie I turned around and bounded back down, springing off the rubbery grass as if I were wearing three-inch-soled Hukas.
Later, I followed up our local creek, which was pumping as fast as my pulse. Again forsaking the trail, I followed it up, fording it countless times. Bush blocking my way? Jump over the creek and head left. Branch about to shish-kabob my eyeball? Hop to the opposite soggy bank. And often, came the inevitable hunched-over bush grovel, all while technically still “running.”
The main benefit of these creeks, of course, is the distraction they provide. They give you something else to think about besides the lung you’re coughing up. And their gurgling overrides the sound of your breathing. You can space out on them and then, voila, you’ve knocked off another quarter mile as easily as wolfing down a Quarter Pounder.
Near the creek’s top, I followed the great Yogi Berra’s advice: If you see a fork in the road, take it. So I headed off to the right and was soon running alongside a ribbon of waterfalls through a verdant field flanked by yellow buttercups. It took all my willpower not to hum “The Sound of Music.”
Later, the hills literally were alive as I hopped, similar to a giant doing hurdles over a maze of vole tunnels criss-crossing the countryside. Similar to the dirt-moving voles, early season running also lets you unearth history. Veering from the field back into the forest, I stumbled upon the remains of an old dairy farm foundation, standing proudly before being reclaimed by resident grasses and ferns. Buried the rest of the year by snow or undergrowth, it was now exposed, letting those of us foolish and footloose enough to find it, play archaeologist.
Combine this go-anywhere grass with birds singing, trees budding, flowers blooming and creeks gurgling, and you can see why running, for me at least, gains steam in the mud-season — even if I run out of it quicker than the likes of Frank.
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