run up mountains

I ran a lot of vertical these past few months and learned a few things along the way.

Welcome to a short series of essays we’re doing in August: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. Amanda Loudin, former coach in the Train Like a Mother Club, kicks things off with an ode to doing hard things.

If there’s been one theme to my running this summer, it’s mountains. Over the past couple of months, I’ve run near Yosemite National Park, in Jackson Hole, WY, in Steamboat Springs, CO, in the Adirondacks of New York, and in my “backyard,” the Flatirons of Boulder. For a girl who grew up in pancake flat Ohio, it feels pretty good to tackle these climbs.

To be clear, I use the word “running” loosely when talking about going up mountains. There’s plenty of walking to be had when the grade gets steep or the footing gets a bit dicey. This held especially true with my Steamboat Springs run, which was in fact, a race.

My boyfriend and I already had plans to drive to Steamboat in early July to visit a friend who had similarly relocated to Colorado from Maryland. That friend, a fellow runner, noticed a nearby eight-mile race scheduled for our planned weekend, so we signed on the dotted line. Then I learned a few more details about the race.

It was straight up four miles to the peak (2,200 feet), which sat at close to 11,000 feet, and then four miles down. The top mile or so was covered in “talus slope,” which I’ve since learned means loose rocks. When we lined up with the 90 or so other fools—I mean smart, adventurous souls—we decided our goal was simply to avoid being last. That was one fit-looking starting line, which I suppose makes sense given the challenge ahead, and the fact that Steamboat is rumored to be home to more Olympians per capita than anywhere else in the country.

We started slow, stayed slow, and finished somewhat less slow, tip-toeing over the talus slope near the top. I might have sworn when I got a view of the top after leaving the woods, but truly, the experience exceeded my expectations.

Since our bar was low, we also threw in a climb up the fire tower on the summit, drinking in the amazing 360-degree views. As we headed back down, the lovely treat was that each mile delivered better conditions and by the end, we were actually running along at a nice clip. We crossed the finish line, opened some nice IPAs and celebrated.

run up mountains

A field of gold: better than talus.

Here’s the thing about me and mountains. I love them, seek them out (see “what you did on summer vacation”) but also never feel like I’m a strong climber. I’ve got endurance in spades, but even with plenty of strength training, I’ve never felt all that powerful when climbing. But that’s ok, I’ve learned.

Mountains are challenging in all the right ways. I almost always have butterflies in my stomach at the bottom. I worry about how long it will take to reach the top, that I’ll someone crash and burn, or that weather will roll in and make conditions dangerous. All those things are possible, but after countless summits of all different heights and conditions, I’ve learned that there’s no better reward than running up a mountain. The views are often spectacular and leave me feeling incredibly alive, regardless of the lack of confidence and pace going up.

But the best part is the sense of empowerment I get after a day spent going up. I’ll never crush vertical for breakfast or lead the Leadville 100, but give me a good mountain to (slowly) run up before noon, and I’ll take the challenge every time.

What about you: do you “like” to run up mountains—or up hills?