Steamboat Springs What on earth were they thinking about?
Have you ever asked yourself that question after picking up Steamboat Today and reading about the latest accomplishments of Routt County's endurance athletes?
I know I have.
And because I am willing to endure great personal sacrifice to satisfy the curiosity of you, my faithful readers, I rose early Sunday in search of answers. After a couple of stiff double espressos, I laced up a pair of trail running shoes and drove over to the base of the gondola. When I arrived, there were 60 or so serious athletes preparing themselves for the Mount Werner Classic foot race. Right away, I felt at home among them.
About half the field was planning to bolt 5 miles straight uphill to the top of the gondola, a climb of 2,000 vertical feet. The rest of these freaks were seriously contemplating a 12-mile gallop beyond Thunderhead, over to Rendezvous Saddle, and up to Storm Peak. At an elevation of slightly more than 10,000 feet, the climb to Storm Peak is 3,000 vertical feet. From there, it's just a hop, skip and a jump back to Thunderhead and the finish line.
At the sound of the starter's pistol, I sprinted over to race director Emily Conjura's Subaru and squeezed into the back seat. As I buckled in for the ride to the top, I noticed that my legs were a little cramped, but I had stretched out before the race, and I was confident I could endure the discomfort.
On the way up I took a long, hard look at a couple of big platters of breakfast pastries in the back of the wagon, but I denied myself that comfort.
"Wait until the end of the race, Big T," I told myself.
On the way up, I confessed to Conjura that it had been quite a few years since I'd taken on a physical challenge like this one. But I could vaguely recall what was going through my mind back in 1974, when I completed in the Oktoberfest Half Marathon in beautiful Lacrosse, Wis.
The only things that sustained me through those 13 tortuous miles, I told Emily, were alternating visions of a frosty mug of Leinenkugel's beer and a freshly grilled bratwurst slathered in onions. Oh baby!
She gave me a funny look, as if I'd just arrived from the planet Neptune, and turned back to her driving.
Later, I came to understand the reason for her reaction. Today's athletes, I discovered, are far less likely to undertake the German sausage training regimen that was popular back in the 1970s.
When the race was all over, I decided to probe the psyche of today's modern athlete. I walked boldly up to 5-mile winner, Tenadore Dean, and asked him what his innermost thoughts were during the race.
"I was thinking, 'If I'd eaten a banana before the race, I would have been flying up the mountain,'" Dean said thoughtfully. "About 10 minutes into it, I got a cramp. I wish I'd eaten a banana to get some potassium in me."
Hmmmm, potassium instead of brats so that's his secret!
Next I turned to Hayley Roper, who had just completed her first Mt. Werner Classic. She said she was concentrating on running at a nice even pace at the beginning of the race.
"I try not to worry about the people who take off really fast, because you know it's a long way to the top," she explained.
During mid-week training sessions, Roper uses running to sort out issues in her life.
"It's always good to run after a hard day at work. It's good to have some inner turmoil," Roper said.
Kevin Kopischke could relate to Roper's approach. His motivation for training is the knowledge that his chocolate Lab, Sage, needs the exercise. But as he runs, it isn't "man's best friend" that's on his mind while the miles roll by.
"I think about the things that are troubling me, often times a girl," Kopischke said.
Jess Philip, a scholar/athlete who competes in cross-country skiing for Dartmouth, tries to keep her mind on the race.
"I replay past cross-country races and think about future races," Philip said. "Sometimes that deteriorates into a song, or daydreaming. That's when I slow down."
Jack Hobaugh takes a techie approach to a run, in order to ensure his pace doesn't fall off. He frequently consults a heart rate monitor during the race to make certain he is working neither too hard nor too little. He has learned from completing 100-mile bicycle races that going out too fast can be bad news.
Can you say bonk?
But Hobaugh isn't overly serious.
"Today I looked up and said, 'Oh yeah, there's scenery here,'" he said with a laugh.
Finally, I consulted with Dorothy Bradley. She was forking down a plate of pasta salad after the race.
"This could be a woman after my own heart," I thought, as I moved in with my notebook.
"So, Dorothy, what were you thinking about during the race?"
"Today it was mostly, 'God help me.' All I could think about was that my legs were turning to rubber. Once, I even thought I was lost."
There are a few things you should know about Bradley. She teaches a form of exercise called "spin classes" in Cheyenne, Wyo. She also has a commanding lead among the women in the Steamboat Running Series, and she recommends the Euro techie music of a group called Banco de Gaia for training sessions.
Oh, yeah, there's one other thing. Dorothy is 72-years-old.
God help me, Dorothy, if I can stay away from the bratwurst and Leinie's, maybe next year I'll enter the Steamboat Classic for real. Then again, what am I thinking about?