Thursday, June 21, 2012

Encounters With Nature and A Reason For Running

Yesterday evening I had one of the best training runs of my life. This wasn't a run in some exotic location with a lot of great friends, I didn't run unusually fast, and I didn't find a pile of money on the side of the trail. This was a 9 mile route in the foothills of Denver that I run frequently, by myself, and nothing too far from normal reality occurred during the run. What did occur though was just enough to spark a change in my perspective and appreciation for the run, and that made all the difference.

Yesterday I was sitting at work going through a mid-afternoon lull in my energy levels and thoughts started creeping in as to why it may not be a good idea to go for the run at Mount Falcon that I had planned. There's too much smoke in the air today. Traffic is going to be bad getting out there. I don't want another run in the blazing heat like I've had the last few days. I need to do laundry, go to the grocery store, change my oil, trim my nose hairs, and prepare for my trip this weekend. Despite all of these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, I ended up on the road at 5 o'clock heading west. The traffic turned out to be mild, and the air quality became visibly better as I approached Morrison (although everything north of Boulder looked to be enveloped in a gray fog).

Once on the trail and climbing, I immediately began to feel better about my place in the world. I could feel that I was fully recovered from my difficult runs last weekend and the temperature was much more mild and pleasant than it had been recently. At this point I was able to get in the groove and enjoy the gradual climb to the upper area of the mountain. After splitting off to a section of spur trails that wind around the upper mountain, I began to really stretch out my legs and have some fun.

As I was traversing around a small hill and starting to descend to a saddle, I saw a large feather lying in the trail. I stopped and picked it up. It was a nice looking feather with a brown and white striped pattern. Drawing from my rudimentary knowledge of birds and their feathers, I guessed that maybe it had come from a hawk. For some reason I decided that I should keep the feather, but since I was carrying water bottles in both of my hands I had limited options for carrying it. The best solution I could think of was to stick it in the back band of my hat, through the loop in the adjusting strap.

So down the trail I went with my feather sticking proudly up from the back of my head. Not more than 100 meters down the trail, I discovered where the feather had actually come from. Making their way down the trail in front of me were four turkey hens accompanied by at least a dozen of their chicks. They didn't seem startled at my sudden appearance, and they continued moving along casually. I slowed to a walk and continued to approach them slowly, and as I did so they moved off the trail and began to walk up the slope away from me, but still not acting startled. As I stopped and watched them, I heard another rustling sound behind me. I turned around and there was a young doe mule deer about 20 meters away walking slowly toward me. As we made eye contact she continued to approach me hesitantly, then stopped about 10 meters away and looked at me calmly. Just then, another turkey hen with two more chicks appeared on the slope just beyond the deer, and a black squirrel scampered down a tree onto the ground just a few more feet away. The turkeys hurried across the trail to join the rest of their friends, and the squirrel busied itself with scurrying around the ground under its' tree. The deer was still calmly standing, looking at me, I assume confused and trying to figure out whether or not she should trust the large creature wearing turkey feathers.

The whole encounter was very surreal. I've had encounters in the wild with exciting animals like bear, moose, lynx, and a creature that I can only conclude was a baby wolverine, but have never had so many types of wild animals surround me all at once and all seem more or less indifferent to my presence. After quietly observing the scene around me for a couple of minutes, I continued to make my way down the trail and I assume that the animals all went about their normal business as well.

As I continued running, the following thoughts began going through my mind: "Wow, that was pretty cool... I wonder if that deer was as curious about me as I was about her, or if she just wanted me to get out of her way so she could cross the trail... I can feel the drag from my feather... If I had more of these I could probably get a good lift going... I wonder if this is how a turkey feels... Maybe I should start wearing a feather in my hat more often when I run... It could become my thing, like Brownie and his floppy hats... On the other hand, maybe a feather in my hat isn't that great of a trademark. People are giving me weird looks and I almost knocked it loose while ducking under that branch back there..." And so it continued.

By the time I returned to the trailhead parking area, I had received several comments from mountain bikers, hikers, and other runners on my feather. One hiker even called me "Turkey Boy" as I ran by him, which didn't exactly have a satisfying ring to it. I've come to the conclusion that trying to make wearing feathers while I'm running my "thing" isn't the greatest idea I've had. In fact, I'm not so sure I even like the idea of having a "thing" that I'm known for in the running community, unless that thing is running fast and long through the mountains, and continually appreciating the experience of it. Lately I've realized more and more that not every run I take needs to be a fantastic adventure, and inevitably not every race I do will turn out as well as I had envisioned. Even so, the not so glamorous training runs and the less than stellar races can still be amazing experiences - all it takes is the proper mindset and perspective, and the enjoyment will follow.

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