The hardest and most scenic half marathon I’ve completed

“Do I really want to do this?” I thought as the alarm went off at 4:30am. I am on vacation and I haven’t really trained much. In fact I haven’t trained at all. I stepped outside of the tent and the early morning sky was dotted with stars and constellations that only are visible in the darkness of the wilderness.

A cool breeze blew through the aspen trees and I continued to debate my decision. A quick bowl of oatmeal warmed me up and I decided to just do it. I had already signed up and if I just walked it, I’d be fine.

I had signed up for the Mt. Sneffels half marathon thinking it’d be a fun thing to do. I’ve run half marathons for several years, but I usually train for them. My last half marathon was in January and now it’s August. Plus and this is a big one; I live in Florida (sea level) and have only been in Ouray, Colorado (7,700 feet altitude) for a week.

This past week, I’ve been hiking which has left me gasping for air. If just hiking did that, running 13.1 miles at this altitude was sure to give my lungs a work out. I overheard one guy mention he hadn’t been running for a while and wasn’t sure how he’d do. I was glad to hear, I’m not the only crazy one out here!

Ouray (pronounced u-ray) is a town nestled in the mountain area of Colorado known as the Switzerland of America. The town is surrounded by majestic peaks, waterfalls, and post card perfect views. The early morning sun turned the mountain tops orange providing a picture perfect setting for the run.

Remember how this is a mountain town? The first mile of the course was all uphill into Ouray. What a way to start the race! The town was just beginning to wake up and the amazing smell of fresh cooked bacon and coffee wafted by. Wow, did that smell good!!! If they handed out freshly cooked bacon and coffee as we ran by, that’d be perfect.

As I ran through town, I saw things I hadn’t seen before; hotels nestled along the creek, RV camping and facilities tucked into the trees and my favorite;
the Laundromat that had several dirt bikes parked inside.

Soon, it was the two mile mark and I found one of the best parts of the run, the water station.

Just as this run was anything but ordinary so were these water stations. Water & Gatorade are standard fare for a run, but here they also had pretzels, M&Ms, and Gummy Bears.

Yum!!! I wanted to take the bowl of M&Ms with me. I chose Gatorade and M&Ms; either it was going to give me some great fuel or it was going to be colorful coming back up. Fortunately, it provided some fuel and off I went.

I’ve run numerous half marathons in a various towns, but this was the most scenic ever. Instead of hearing cars and city noise, this run was on a dirt road that paralleled a creek. Running on dirt and in the beauty of nature was a much welcome change.

The trail changed from tree lined and creek side to wide open, lush green mountain meadows. You’ve seen those post cards of an old barn, in a deep green meadow with towering peaks behind. Yep, that was the scenery. Awesome!!

Mile 9 approached and I was taking more walking breaks. That’s ok, I wasn’t doing this for time, but I didn’t want to be last either. I passed some horses grazing in the field and stopped to take their picture. A little while later, another lush green meadow appeared inviting. I just wanted to go lay down,feel the soft, deep grass around me and soak up the sun.

Maybe later, right now I have a few more miles to go before I sleep…..

The course turned toward the mountains and on both sides were meadows, dotted with cows and horses, and small babbling creeks meandering through. Wow, how beautiful and what a looong hill up ahead! This was mile 11 and it was not going to be easily taken. Fortunately at the top was a much needed water station. Gummy Bears are my new best friend!

Mile 13, only a mile and tenth to go! Half marathons are 13.1 miles, full marathons are 26.2 miles. Yeah, almost done!!! People were saying “great job” and “almost there”. It is amazing what encouragement can do!

About this time, my right calf started to complain. My legs had complained around mile two, but then decided to settle in for the haul. My back had been giving me nasty reminders since mile 7, but I was used to that. My glutes decided to voice their opinion at mile 10. All of these messages from my body reminded me, I need to stay in better shape.

I jogged across the finish line and what a feeling of accomplishment and relief!! My favorite part of every race is when they put the medal around my neck. I always feel like I’m being knighted or something special. My body gave its all and it took me the rest of the day to recover, but I’m glad I did it.

The Mt. Sneffels half marathon was the hardest and yet most incredibly scenic run I’ve completed. It happens every August so if you enjoy beautiful scenery and good run, be sure to sign up.

You have more than plenty of time to train if you start now. This year’s goodies included half off admission to the Ouray hot springs, one free beer from the Ouray brewery, a medal, tech shirt, and $5 off a show at the Opera house.

For more info: http://mtsneffelsmarathon.com/

Enjoy a nice walk to Cascade Falls

cascade_falls

I had explored several old mining and off-road trails around Ouray (pronounced u-ray) Colorado and was looking to explore on foot. It was late afternoon so I wasn’t up for anything too long; just something scenic to finish the day that didn’t involve driving.

I saw a sign on the North side of town that said Cascade Falls with an arrow pointing up the hill. I turned up the road aptly named “Cascade Falls” and headed up less than a mile to the parking area.

A large sign greets visitors with a brief history of the falls and a trail description. The falls are named after Cascade Creek which is the primary drainage for Cascade Mountain. The course of Cascade Creek takes it over a series of 7 waterfalls and Cascade Falls is the final series. If this is the 7th series, I’d sure like to see the first 6! Maybe that’ll be tomorrow’s adventure…

Shortly after starting up the trail, I found a couple of benches and a wooden bridge. At this point the trail forks; the left fork heads for the falls and the right fork heads to the Amphitheater campground.

I almost just walked left toward the falls but decided to wander over to the benches. Wow!! I could see the entire waterfall cascading from the top of the mountain all the way to the rocky bottom. If I hadn’t stopped, I would’ve missed a great view. These benches are a great place to observe the grandeur of the falls without taking the full walk to the base.

cascade_falls4

Like most people, I had to get closer to the falls and walked over the bridge and followed the short trail the falls. The trail forks again and I took the right fork which follows the stream, but appears to be a little more jagged than the left trail. Either one will get you there.

At the base of the falls, you can feel the mist of the water, look up and see the several layers of the falls. The side of the mountain has rock shelves that are horizontal and appear to lead right to behind the falls. I found the rocks too slick for my comfort level. Besides, I wanted to enjoy the falls, not become part of them!

While at the base, look a little up and to the right and you’ll see a square, cave like opening. A couple of people were enjoying a unique perspective from inside there.

I enjoyed getting out on foot and experiencing the beautiful falls without the need to drive far or even carry a back pack. When you’re in Ouray and looking for scenic stroll in town, be sure to stop by Cascade Falls.