Of altitude, mountain climbing and running …


I had a bunch of in depth and insightful thoughts on how running in humidity is tougher and more difficult than running at high altitude. Then there were the ideas about the Trayvon Martin case has been one of the great injustices and how Americans are really bad at understanding nuance.

These were going to be trenchant posts all related to running and surely will come out on this site again soon enough. However, they are going to be put on the back burner for a time because I just got back from Colorado.

And just like always, it’s a trip to Colorado that has jump started another build-up for a marathon.

How so? How could an old salty veteran like me be rejuvenated by yet another trip to Estes Park, the Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder? After all, it’s not like I haven’t gone up there to put in some miles before.

Certainly this is true. Then again, I never made an attempt to run up to Longs Peak and attend a world-wide movie premiere featuring Anton Krupicka running up Longs Peak.

Anton Krupicka? Of course, in a sport like ultrarunning that is filled with badasses and envelope pushers, Krupicka is currently the baddest of the bad. Close followers of running already know about Krupicka because of the superficialities like his long hair, beard and shirtless runs for hundreds of miles per week. Then there are the victories in some of the most prestigious ultramarathons in the country … these are all the things that get a guy known.

But the thing about Krupicka that is most interesting is that it isn’t really about those things. Kind of like the running version of Ian MacKaye, Krupicka is interested in running for the sake of running. It means something to him that can’t really be cheapened by categorization or a pursuit of resume fodder. Maybe that’s why lately Krupicka has seemingly been focused on running the highest peaks in Colorado instead of trying to get from point A to point B faster than someone else.

Besides, as I learned again last week, there is something about climbing a mountain that teaches a person a lot about where he fits in. Some, like Krupicka and his partner in making In the High Country, Joel Wolpert, find a connection to nature and place in these pursuits. There’s a transcendentalism to it.

Frankly, I go the other way. When battling the wind and the chill while moving up the trail up the east side of Longs Peak, I felt like I was small and insignificant. My sense of place was that I was nothing more than a tiny speck — just a blip on a line to infinity.



Nope, it’s not about me. The warning signs on the trail kind of spell it out. On the mountain (or anywhere else on earth), I don’t matter. But you know what? That’s pretty life affirming in some weird sense. The idea that we are insignificant should free us of our egos and allow us to be ourselves. In Krupicka’s and Wolpert’s movie, that theme is evident.

When running up a mountain, Krupicka gets that it isn’t about him.

I especially felt that way when looking up toward the Granite Pass:


Anyway, Krupicka and Wolpert made a fantastic movie. It’s a film that smarter reviewers than me say flips the script on conventional running movies. Instead of some inner battle or agonizing fight to complete or win a race, the movie was about running. Actually, make that running up mountains. 

Running. Pure and simple.

Better yet, Wolpert, the filmmaker, is a tremendous photographer. The film was shot beautifully along some terrain and spaces that may never have seen a movie camera before.

Here’s a look at the trailer:

Distribution for the film is still being worked out. However, there are tentative plans to hold screenings in West Virginia, New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Lancaster. My suggestion is to download it and to go to a screening near you.

Meanwhile …

There is nothing that gets a runner going than a trip to Colorado. The altitude, the weather, the lack of humidity, the hills and the scenery are just part of it. Running, in all its forms, really is a part of life in that part of the country. Hell, just being outside is the way it is out there. 

Before we get into the trek up the mountain, here’s the week of running in Colorado …

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10.05 miles

Fish Creek

Ran down Fish Creek Road and then turned around and went back up. Started at around 8,170-feet of altitude and went down to 7,500-feet. It used to be that I had to run on the narrow shoulder going up (or down) Fish Creek, but now there is a beautiful new running trail made of crushed cinders.


Better yet, my pace held up and lends credence to my theory that humidity is more difficult than altitude.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

10 miles

Fish Creek

Same exact run as Tuesday. The difference was I ran faster, especially down the mountain.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

10 miles

Fish Creek to Lake Estes

Mixed it up by going down Fish Creek and, instead of going back up, I circled Lake Estes. The trail around the lake is built up now, too. Good stuff.

We need more running trails at sea level.

Friday, July 19, 2013

7 miles

Longs Peak Trailhead to Granite Pass

I didn’t think I was going to get too much farther than the Boulderfield on the Key Hole route to the summit of Longs Peak, but man oh man was the “run” tougher than I anticipated. Aside from the rugged terrain, the toughest part was the chilly and windy climate above the tree line. Like a dummy I wore a sleeveless shirt and got a little worried about exposure. Also causing worries were the clouds and threatening-looking clouds on top of Longs Peak.

Very tough. I worked my ass off and covered just 7ish miles in two hours.


Friday, afternoon

5.25 miles

Added a second run because I don’t feel like I actually ran while on the mountain. About 3 or 4 miles in, I got pretty tired.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

10 kilometers

Fish Creek

Gassed. Quads were pretty sore. Felt OK through the first half and then fell apart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

11.5 miles

Fish Creek to Lake Estes

Still tired and sore but didn’t tie up. Definitely got tired at the end, though, but that was probably from the sun beating down on me instead of the altitude and the run. Perhaps the flatness of the trail around the lake helped.

The mountain …

Yes, it was difficult. Surprisingly, it was more difficult than expected. At one point of the “run,” I had a clear view of the Twin Sisters Peak, a run I bagged in 2008 that began at 9,000-feet and ended at 11,428-feet above sea level. On that run, I struggled on some of the switchbacks and long steps. I also got a tremendous headache above the treeline near the summit. It made me want to get to lower altitude quickly.

Twin Sisters from Longs …


So maybe the reason why I thought the ride up Longs would be “easy” was because I forgot about the experience of going up Twin Sisters. It’s like the old saying that a person shouldn’t race another marathon until they complete forget about the last one.


Anyway, I didn’t get any altitude headaches on the way up. I did feel as though I was going to freeze to death, though. I should have brought a long-sleeved shirt.

More importantly, I realized that I’m no Krupicka and maybe mountain running isn’t my niche. It’s really tough and maybe not as rewarding as running in cities, trails or near historical sites. Plus, you don’t really run up the mountain. You just kind of keep moving … you survive it.

Hopefully I’ll remember all of that the next time. Hopefully it ends with a few pictures from the summit and not the clouds resting on top of it.


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