The Outsider: A love-hate afternoon on the Flumes in Breckenridge (column)
August 5, 2016
Earlier this summer, I set a simple goal for myself: compete in as many Summit Trail Running Series races as I could muster. The Wednesday race series is made by locals, for locals, and around here that means the field is stacked: pro skimo racer Teague Holmes, state track champ McKenna Ramsay, 11-year-old phenom Alayna Szuch and her brother, 13-year-old Collin Szuch, and dozens of faster-than-lightning teens with the Summit Nordic Ski Club.
I never ran competitively as a kid — I was all about music, soccer, baseball and swimming in high school — but after moving to the mountains I fell in love with trail running. It was the best way to blow off steam after a 12-hour workday in a dark and cramped dispatch office, not to mention the best way to run my dog ragged before sleeping a few hours to do it all over again. But, more than anything, it was the best way to feel at home in the outdoors when I couldn't be on a snowboard.
After moving to Breckenridge, I found a new home on the Flumes trail system that connects The Highlands to the Silver Shekel neighborhood, where I live. The system — Upper, Middle and Lower Flumes, with connectors Mike's Trail and Tom's Baby — is long enough to be challenging if I'm feeling it, yet mellow enough to be fun if I'm not. Every once in a while I'll end up running for two or more hours when all I wanted to do was stretch my legs.
And so, when I saw that Flumes was race no. 5 of the series, I was ready to get competitive. The short course was a seemingly easy 7K route: a friendly uphill on Gold Run Road and Upper Flume before a long and fast downhill on Mike's, Middle Flume and Tom's Baby. I've been in the top-three for my age group all series long, so no worries when I can do this in my sleep, right?
Wrong. For some reason — maybe it was the late lunch, maybe it was going two weeks without a good run, or maybe it was the stupid protein shake I pounded an hour before — the race kicked by a**. I fought through a side stitch for the first time all season, and, by the time I slogged across the finish line just under 45 minutes later, I felt like death warmed over. Seriously: I had weird cold sweats and my stomach was churning, and my right leg felt more like a wooden peg than flesh and bone. I also felt defeated: Those were my backyard trails — the same singletrack I run and bike to get away from it all.
Truth is, I've never been a racer. I'm competitive, sure, but I hardly train for racing, and I definitely don't run with anyone but my dog. She's how I got into trail running in the first place, and even though she looks at me like I'm slowing her down, there's nothing like keeping pace with a real-live human being who's faster than you. It's the same with biking or hiking or anything else: If you want to get better, go with people (not animals) who are better than you.
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With that in mind, I'm kind of bummed that I'll miss the final race of the series at Carter Park on Aug. 17. I hear it's the hardest of the summer and the stubbornly competitive side of me doesn't want to end on a low note. I'm also humbled, and maybe that's really what I needed, not a top finish.
Instead, I plan to run the Flumes course sometime soon, solo (except for my dog), to come back home in a way. It doesn't even matter if it takes me an hour — chances are I won't keep time. This one's for me, and I'm fine with that.
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