The Outsider: A love-hate afternoon on the Flumes in Breckenridge (column)
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.
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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.
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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