For the second time in the two months since we’ve lived here, I was in the newspaper again (the first time it was about bikes). The more recent article was about Towers Trail— a famous, or infamous, run up the mountains in Soderberg Open Space.
Rob first told me about Towers shortly after we arrived in Fort Collins and he began running with the group there on Thursdays. They do a sort of time trial, where everybody aims to arrive at the top at 6:50pm, so you need to estimate your departure from the trailhead based on how long you think it will take you to ascend. At first I thought Towers was one of those impossibly narrow, rocky, unrunnable trails that Rob runs all the time, but he told me it was actually a wide old logging road (or fire road), and he said that even though it was very steep, he thought I could do it.
One weekend in early June, I decided to take the time to venture out to Soderberg (while Rob was watching Will) and attempt Towers as the final leg of a 17-mile training run.
Rob had warned me that even though the trail was only 3.4 miles long, it involved 1,700 feet of “vert,” and it might take me an hour or more to get to the top. I wasn’t worried about time, I just wanted to see if I could do it. I took it easy. I walked a lot. I stopped to take pictures.
Parts of the trail were so insanely steep (~20% grade) that all I could do was laugh. It was hard to even walk up a grade that steep. I felt like I needed trekking poles. I felt like with every step forward, I slid 3 feet back. I wondered if I would actually be able to make it to the top. I wondered how on earth I was going to make it back down once I did (sliding on my rear end all the way?). I probably would have stopped, but I didn’t want to have to go home and live with the knowledge that I'd tried to do Towers but couldn’t finish.
I was dizzy and lightheaded. At one point I thought I might have seen a bear, but it turned out just to be a dark tree stump. About halfway through, I looked up and saw some towers, and I realized that was where I was headed. It was so far up into the sky. It was not humanly possible. I walked more and more, ran only when I could.
I finally made it to the top. Victorious. Then came the descent back down, which was terrifying in places, fantastic in others. I am horrible at downhills. I know, it makes no sense. Everybody else loves them. I hate them. I hate them even more when they are narrow and rocky and have deep ravines on either side, but that is not the case with Towers. The trail is smooth and wide. That's its saving grace for me.
By the time I finished the run, I was completely hooked. It had been so hard that it felt kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I totally didn’t understand how people like Rob could do every single week. But I wanted to. I couldn’t wait until my legs stopped shaking so that maybe someday I could try it again.
A few weeks later, I had a chance to head back out to Soderberg and attempt Towers for the second time. This was also part of a long run—15 miles—but the thing is, it didn’t seem quite as bad. I knew what to expect, which in some ways made it more terrifying, but I also knew I had done it before, and that meant I could likely do it again. I told myself not to look up at the towers (so close, yet so far away), but I did anyway. And I made it to the top.
I did so horribly on the descent that I resolved never to do the group run. I would get laughed off the mountain. I would finish tens of minutes behind everyone else. I sucked.
And yet. Rob convinced me to give it try at the group run the following Thursday. His parents were visiting us, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the time trial with Rob while Will was being looked after. I was very nervous about it (as in, I had trouble sleeping the night before), but I mainly dealt with it by acting nonchalant.
It turned out to be the most fun I’d ever had, ever. Rob and I got the chance to run together (just as we warmed up, not during the climb—he’s way too fast) for the first time in something like 10 months. That was nice.
Before the actual time trial started, I stood there just casually chatting with Nick Clark. The Nick Clark. He asked me about my upcoming trip to Nicaragua (recall, he won FYA in 2012). I wondered how on earth this has become my life.
I started the ascent with some new friends, but I felt freakishly strong and ended pushing forward a bit, not needing to walk as much as they did. It was strange, how easy it felt. I passed people who had started before me, and I wasn’t even breathing heavily. I completely forgot to look at my watch when I got to the top, but I finished well ahead of the 50 minutes I had allowed myself.
Once everybody arrived, we paused for a group photo.
Good crowd on Towers tonight, including Coloradon reporter & photog for Monday paper. pic.twitter.com/MQCQYv3K2B— Gnar Runners (@gnar_runners) July 18, 2014
Then it was time for the dreaded descent. Rob had promised to run with me, bless his heart, so that I wouldn't be all alone. I ended up able to stay with a few other runners at the back of the pack, and I could tell I was definitely ran faster than the previous two times I'd done it. Maybe I finally trusted my feet not to slip out from underneath me (although I slid twice, I never actually fell). I was still very cautious on the super steep grades, but in the areas where it was more manageable, I let myself fly a little. It showed me that I at least have the potential to improve somewhat, and that's all it took to light a spark.
"Melissa Raguet-Schofield of Fort Collins said the downhill is harder on her body than the ascent.” (Ain’t that the truth).
It’s been a relatively short time, I suppose, since I went from thinking of Towers as something I would never do, to something I would do only once in my life, to something I want to do every single freaking day. I love that run so much. It's beautiful, it's excruciating. I went back out last Sunday and did it again, this time as the first leg of a long run. I remembered to look at my watch this time, and to take in the view at the top.
I had a nosebleed at the top. Altitude? That’s never happened before.
My uphill splits were all slower than the ones from Thursday's run (meaning I made it up there faster than 47 minutes during the time trial), but my downhill splits were actually a little faster. I couldn't believe it. Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for me yet.
Thanks for reading.