I was doing so well with the regular blogging … for a few weeks. And then, as I often do, I fell off the blogging bandwagon. In an effort to reboard the wagon, I’m back tonight with a recap of the last three weeks of training. A three-week day-by-day would be all sorts of boring, I think, so I’ll hit the high points.
Week 4: January 29-February 4 32 miles run
One day of cross-training (cycling)
Three days of strength training
That week, I had my first tempo run in ages. The workout was 7 miles total, with 2 at tempo. It felt better than I worried it might. I also had a ten-miler with three at goal pace. I don’t really know what goal pace is, to be honest, so I shot for around 7-minute miles. That was hard, but not impossible. Overall, a pretty decent week of getting back in shape.
Week 5: February 5-11
39 miles run
Three days of strength training
Highlights of last week included my first weekday eight-miler (a fartlek run) in quite some time, running in Denver before a conference, and the Loveland Sweetheart Classic 4-mile race. The day of the race was 11 degrees and snowing. It was cold and miserable and awesome all at the same time. I’ll write a separate post for a race recap.
Week 6: February 12-19 We’ll go the day-by-day route for this week:
Monday: 30 minutes easy cycling, then strength training
Tuesday: 6 easy miles, then core work
Wednesday: 8 miles with the last three progressing to tempo
Thursday: Rest day. We had parent-teacher conferences, and the weekend forecast looked lovely, so that sounded like a perfect combination of reasons to rest Thursday and run the next three days.
Friday: I had the day off, thanks to conferences the night before. Although I spent most of the day grading and emailing parents who didn’t come to conferences but whom I needed to talk to, I took a break in the morning for 8 hilly miles, then another in the afternoon for some gym time.
Saturday: 4 recovery miles, plus core
Sunday: 13 miles. It was 50 degrees at 8:00 a.m. Colorado is weird.
Total: 39 miles, two days of strength
I’m still feeling rather out of shape, but I feel a bit stronger and fitter every day. I’m also relearning to balance higher mileage, strength training, and, you know, life.
Look at me, blogging three weeks in a row! It’s almost as though I’ve achieved work-life balance… but it may be more that I’m choosing different things to ignore. Whatevs. (Do people still say that? I don’t think they do).
Anyway, I’m plugging right along with training for the Horsetooth Half. I’m feeling good, getting a little fitter all the time, and starting to feel more and more like my old self. Here are the deets (I’m all about the ’90s slang today) from the last two weeks.
Monday, Jan. 15
I felt the need for a day off (see Week 1’s recap), and I had the day off work and just a couple of days left on the 30-day unlimited yoga pass I bought in December. I took the day off running and went to hot yoga instead. I like hot yoga now. Then I went to physical therapy in the afternoon. Self-care for the win!
Tuesday, Jan. 16
Short hill repeats: 10 x 30-second hill sprints, 5.2 miles total with warm-up and cool-down. My favorite hill for short repeats — which is my favorite because it’s close and there’s never any traffic — was PACKED with cars that day. Turns out, the highway construction nearby is detouring cars on my favorite road. For several months. Guess I need to find a new hill. Whomp whomp.
Wednesday, January 17
Rode the spin bike (and forgot to log it in Strava, I just realized) and did some strength work.
Thursday, January 18
6 miles easy plus 4 strides. I am so loving the longer days.
Friday, January 19
4 easy miles, followed by strength training
Saturday, January 20
Horsetooth is hilly, so I need to run big hills. The weather was lovely, and a big storm was rolling in overnight. Clearly, the combination of these meant I needed to trail run. I headed up to Fort Collins for a climb up Towers Road. If you’re not familiar with Towers, here’s what you need to know:
Someday, I will run the whole thing. Saturday, I did a decent bit of hiking. 10 miles total.
Sunday, January 21
Rest. It’s rare for me, especially now that I’m uninjured, to run only 4 days a week, but my body was begging for rest after Saturday’s workout, and if that injury taught me one thing, it’s to let the body rest when the body wants to rest. Plus it was snow-storming out, so it really was a perfect day for rest.
Week 2 Total Miles: 25.2
Monday, January 22
3.1 easy miles, then strength training.
Tuesday. January 23
6 x 2-minutes at 10k pace, 2-minutes recovery. 5 miles total, with warm-up and cool-down. I had an after-school training that required an early-morning treadmill run. I’ve managed to avoid those for most of this winter, so having to do one morning wasn’t SO bad.
Wednesday, January 24
4 miles easy, then strength training.
Thursday, January 25
6 miles plus 4 strides. I tried to take a cool jumping picture. Instead, I made this face and did this with my arms:
I’m SO COOL.
Friday, January 26
Rest day! I had a meeting-slash-happy-hour and then a basketball game, and decided that rest was better than another early workout. Look at me, trying to be smart. It only took me 32 years.
Saturday, January 27
Jordan had a meeting and I had a haircut, both in Loveland, so I dropped him at his meeting, then ran, then took my gross, sweaty head to the hairdresser. Yes, I tipped well. My training plan said 5 miles, but the clock said “Stop or you’ll be late” at 4. Oh well; that one mile probably won’t make or break my race in April. (That’s sarcasm, FYI).
Sunday, January 28
11-mile long run on the hilliest route I can run without having to drive anywhere. It was lovely. Welcome to Colorado, where we run in short skirts while there’s still snow on the ground.
Week 3 Total Miles: 33.1
If you looked only at these two weeks, you’d think I was egregiously breaking the 10-percent rule, but worry not: I’ve been consistently running 30-35 miles/week for several weeks; last week was just a weird one.
The upcoming week brings my first tempo run in 1.5 years and a fast-finish long run, which I haven’t done in… I don’t even know how long. Should be interesting.
What are you training for?
Does anyone still even read this blog? If you do, say hi!
As a not-very-big, not-very-popular, and not-very-consistent blogger, I’m not exactly inundated with emails from gear companies offering to send free product in exchange for a review. When I do get such requests, I don’t always say “yes,” either: it has to be a product that looks like something I’d actually use, and I make sure the company knows that I’ll give an honest (not necessarily favorable) review. Even so, when I get a product that I don’t love, I sometimes struggle to write that review: I got this thing for free, and now I’m ragging on it? Such was the case when I received a free pair of SKINS DNAmic compression tights.
I got the tights early last fall, but a combination of the freakishly warm Colorado season and my still-low mileage kept me from wearing them enough to give them a fair review. Now, I’ve worn them for several hikes, a few runs, and a handful of post-run recovery days, so I feel like I have enough perspective.
My overall verdict: I give them a C. My students would tell you that I grade hard, so here are my reasons, and you can decide for yourself if they’re worth a try:
Cute. The pair I got was purple, with cute mesh cut-outs on the calves. I’ve gotten several compliments on them.
A couple of times, when going from trail to town, I just pulled a skirt over the tights and put on boots or sandals (it’s Colorado; you never know which to wear), and that made a cute, easy outfit. Since the science is iffy on compression gear while running but more definitive on its benefits after exercise, the cuteness factor is a BIG plus: You can wear them out and about without looking like you’re in recovery mode.
True to size. The size chart on the website was spot on.
Comfortable, for compression tights. I’ve had some compression gear that makes me feel like a sausage. These don’t, but they still feel like they’re tight enough to get the benefits of compression.
Nice base layer. I’ve worn them under my hiking pants on a couple of cold hikes, and they’re just the right weight.
No drawstring. I’m what the fashion websites call “rectangle-shaped,” so it’s almost impossible for me to find workout pants/tights/shorts that stay up if they don’t have a drawstring. Constantly yanking up my britches is not super fun.
No crotch liner/gusseting. This is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll let you make the connection…
Layer them, for sure. To be fair, I don’t know that they’re necessarily meant for wearing on their own, but it’s 2018. People wear leggings as pants (though I only do when running), so you should be aware of this little issue.
A little thin. All around, I prefer thicker material on compression tights, but that’s personal preference. If you wanted to wear underwear with them and not wear a skirt or shorts on top, you’ll definitely want to wear them as a baselayer/under a skirt.
So, I give these tights a C. I’ll keep wearing them as a base layer and after long runs, but I probably wouldn’t buy them for myself. If you want to buy them, though, or check out other SKINS gear, click here (not an affiliate link. I’m just helpful like that).
Do you wear compression gear? Have you tried SKINS?
Remember when I used to write training recaps? Perhaps more accurately, remember when I used to train? And then I got The Injury That Wouldn’t End, so I couldn’t train and didn’t blog. Well, (knock on wood) those days are over. I’ve got a race on the calendar and a training plan to get me there so I can race it, not just run it like I have the last few races.
Training kicked off last Monday. Before I get into the details of the week, I’ll give you some of my basic goals for this training plan and explain how it’s different from my pre-injury days:
5-6 runs per week, with 1 day of cross training. My physical therapist has suggested NOT running 6 days a week, every week, just yet. So one week I’ll run 6 days, and the next I’ll run 5, replacing one run with a cross training session, most likely on the spin bike. My gym doesn’t have spin classes, but they do have spin bikes, and I can make my own workout via apps and Pinterest.
3 days of strength training (or two days of strength + 1 of yoga).I lost a lot of strength when I was injured, and I’m building that back. Plus, I need strength to prevent another injury and to power me up the hills of Horsetooth. Which brings me to…
Hills. All the hills. Because the course looks like this:
I’ve got a combination of short hill repeats, long hill repeats, and hilly tempo runs on my schedule, and I’m trying to make my long runs as hilly as possible. The Fort Collins Running Club is hosting some training runs on the course, so I’m planning to hit a few of those, too.
Stretching, mobility work, and PT exercises. I do. not. want. to. get. injured. again. So I’m doing everything I can to avoid it. I recently read Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett (review coming soon-ish), and I’m devoting about 10 minutes per night to mobility stuff I learned from his book. I’m also still doing my physical therapy exercises almost every day to keep the old injury from sneaking back up on me.
Rest. Don’t worry when you see that there’s no rest day on the weekly recap you’re about to read. I fully understand the importance of rest and know that neglecting to rest is as bad as (or worse than) neglecting tough workouts. I’ve got some scheduled rest days and will not hesitate to take unscheduled ones if my body asks for them.
That’s the general idea. Here are the specifics from this week:
Monday: 3.1 easy miles plus four strides, followed by strength work.
Tuesday: Fartlek workout: 15-minute warm-up, 6 x 2-minutes at 10k pace with 2-minutes recovery, 15-minute cool down; 5.5 miles total. Followed by core work and stretching. Side note: This is what I wore. In January. In Colorado.
Wednesday: Indoor cycling intervals for 30 minutes, then strength training.
Thursday: 6 easy miles, plus 4 strides, followed by core work and stretching
Friday: I had the day off (it was technically a teacher work day, but we can work from home), so I strength trained in the morning, then took a mid-day break from working and ran an easy 4.
Saturday: 5 miles easy. Neglected my core work because I was cold. Excuses, excuses.
Sunday: 10 miles. Thought I was choosing a hillier route than it was, but it was fun to explore a new-to-me loop. Plus it was an absolutely gorgeous day.
Want to follow me on Strava? I don’t do much on it, but you can follow me here.
Total Mileage: 33.6
My other big goal for this training cycle is to see how fit and fast I can be compared to where I am now, not where I was three years ago. If I start comparing times and mileage to pre-injury, pre-move me, I’ll get down, and that’s silly. This is where I am, and who I am, today, and that’s okay. Here’s to Week 2!
What are you training for right now? Races? Adventures? Life?
How’s the weather where you are? Colorado is weird — 30 degrees one day and 60 the next.
For the last couple of years, I’ve forgone New Year’s resolutions in favor of the “one word” concept. Last year’s word was “stability,” and, as I wrote in my 2017 wrap-up post, I feel like I made some progress with stability in my life last year. Over the last few weeks, as I looked ahead to 2018, choosing my one word was easy, as it’s something I’ve been lacking in the last year and a half since we moved back to the Front Range.
My one word for 2018, then, is “Connect.” Making new friends and deeper-than-work connections has been tough for me. I know this isn’t just a “me” issue — articles like this one and this one have popped up several time on sites I follow — and I know there isn’t an overnight solution, but that connection piece is missing in my life right now, and this year, I want to remedy that.
I also want to work on retaining and strengthening my existing relationships. Too often, I’ve gone without talking to my friends and family because I’m “so busy,” and I want to prioritize the people I care about.
As an introvert, I know that meeting this goal might be hard at times. It will mean saying “yes” to invites that I’d normally turn down because I won’t know anyone, or they’re for a weeknight, or whatever. It will mean extending invitations that might get turned down, and it will mean putting myself in situations outside my comfort zone. But the rewards (I hope) will be worth it.
What’s your New Year’s Resolution/goal(s)/word?
Any tips for making friends as a thirty-something without kids?
At this time last year, as I looked back at 2016 and toward 2017, I chose a one-word intention for 2017: stability. As I wrote in last year’s year-end post, 2016 had been a year of change, and all I wanted for 2017 was to feel settled and stable, recommitting to old habits and forming new ones in everything from work to running to blogging to relationships.
As the five of you who still follow this blog have noticed, my blogging was anything but habitual and stable, and that’s kind of how the rest of my life felt, too, for much of 2017. Stabilizing was more of a process, and a slower one, than I anticipated. I wrote in last year’s post, “I want to work on continuing to make this house feel like our home, through painting and completing lots of the other projects that need done. I want to meet people and build friendships in our new community. I want to finish out this school year and immediately start working on making next year better, now that I’ll know how things are done and what is expected at my new school. . . . [regarding running,] I literally need to focus on stability: strengthening, stretching, and foam rolling my muscles to keep this injury healing and prevent others from popping up.” Here’s how all of that went:
Still a major work in progress. We got office furniture and new windows (holy expensive!) and window coverings, and Jordan painted our bathroom; the rest of the house is still waiting for fresh paint, new carpet, etc. It still doesn’t really feel like home to me, but I hope it’s getting there.
Also still a work in progress. I tried to start a running group, but that fizzled out due to a lack of interest (and I was as much at fault as anyone, often not showing up myself). I’m a true introvert, and building new relationships is hard for me, but this is an area in which I really want to improve. More on this in my New Year’s post, as this is going to be a big focus area for 2018.
This school year has been a bit better, but teaching is one of those always-changing, always-busy jobs, and while I got better about work-life balance this year, it’s still an area for improvement.
I was overly optimistic last December, when I wrote, “I think I’m finally recovering from this injury.” After several more setbacks, I finally got smart and went to physical therapy (in May. I’m a slow learner). Now, finally, I’m uninjured and working my way back into shape. Twenty-seventeen wasn’t much of a running year, but especially in the latter quarter of the year, I really honed in on my goal of stability, diligently doing my PT exercises, adding more strength and cross training, and zoning in on my running form. After a few more weeks of base building, I think I’ll be ready to actually start training again … for real this time. Now I just need to settle on a goal race!
While not everything in 2017 went as smoothly and stably as I’d hoped at this time last year, it was still a good year, and I don’t want to end this post sounding disappointed in myself or my 2017 — I’m not. Here’s a photo dump of some of the best parts of the year:
And so ends 2017. Here’s to new friends, new adventures, and new growth in 2018!
Back in June, when my physical therapist told me not to run the Skirt Sports 13er, I was disappointed, to say the least. But when 3W Races let me transfer my entry to another race, I felt a little better — at least I hadn’t lost my registration fee. I chose to transfer to the Westy Half Marathon at the end of October, thinking that I’d have plenty of time to heal up and get back in shape.
I was half right. I’m 90% healed and healthy, but in shape I am not. In the weeks leading up to the race, my PT had approved long runs of 12, 13, and 14 miles, plus the barest semblance of speed work (I’m talking a few fartleks and hill repeats). I knew I was far from fast shape, but I was happy to be racing at all.
The race started at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Not knowing how long parking and packet pick-up would take, J and I left home around 6:15 and arrived around 7 — much earlier than we needed to. Parking was a breeze, and packet pick-up took about 30 seconds. Luckily, the Westin across from the start line had warm bathrooms and comfy chairs. We hung out in there for a while, and then I headed out for a one-mile warm-up jog… on which I realized that my weather app had lied to me and my full tights and long sleeves were going to be a bit much for the warm Colorado sunshine. But there was nothing I could do about it now, so I shrugged, peed one more time, and lined up at the start.
Since I knew I wasn’t in speedy shape, I had a pretty simple race plan: run at or slightly faster than normal long run pace for the first half, then pick it up a bit from miles 7-10, and then, if I felt good, lay the hammer down for the last 5k. To help myself keep it easy, I lined up farther back than I normally would … which ended up being too far back, and I had to weave a little before I settled in. No matter: I just relaxed and enjoyed the lovely views as the trail wound through a nice little open space.
The course went up a small hill around mile 2, looped around the open space, and dropped back down, then left the open space for maybe half a mile of road running before rejoining the bike path. Miles 4-6.5ish were uphill, and those same miles repeated as 6.5ish-8, so running down was WAY more fun. I felt good at the half, so as planned, I kicked it up just a little, passing a few people as I went. I didn’t see many women ahead of me after the turnaround, but I didn’t want to think about racing just yet. I focused on relaxing, grabbing a drink at the aid station, and enjoying the downhill flow.
At this point, I started reeling people in. I passed a few men and kept a brown ponytail in my sights for a few miles. Finally, when we hit the same slight uphill at mile 11 that we’d hit at mile 2, I passed her. Mile 11 ended up being my fastest of the race, thanks to that little surge.
As I entered the final mile, the half course rejoined the 5k course, and I got stuck a few times behind some walkers. At that point, I was starting to tire, but still feeling pretty good, for being out of shape. The finish line loomed ahead, so I gave one last push and crossed in 1:41:35 — 10 minutes slower than my PR, but good enough for fourth place and first in my age group. Gotta love small races!
Even though this wasn’t a fast-for-me race, I’m happy with how it went. This was the smartest I’d ever paced myself — I usually go out too fast and pay for it later — and I’m hoping I can apply that lesson to future, more race-y races.
The Westy Half is a delightful little race: about 150 runners, a beautiful course, a pint glass for AG placing, free photos, and the nicest volunteers and race staff you’ll ever meet. I’d run it again, for sure, and I highly recommend it as a great fall half!
What’s your best recent race story?
Are you a smart pacer, or do you start too fast like I usually do?
Every time I blog, I promise to post more regularly… and yet, this last gap between posts may be the biggest yet. I thought this school year would be better than last, now that I’ve been at my “new” school for over a year, but I’m still often drowning in a sea of grading, planning, and most of all, meetings. So. Many. Meetings.
That’s all, of course, just an excuse for not writing more. I need to prioritize it. But I started this post not to make excuses, but to update whatever readers I may still have, so here goes:
Slowly but surely, I’m feeling more like myself all the time. I’m back to 5-6 runs a week and got up to a 14-mile long run last weekend. I’m even running a half marathon tomorrow. When I got injured (read: finally admitted I was injured) and couldn’t run the Skirt Sports 13er, 3W Races let me transfer to another of their events: the Westy Half in Westminster. My recovery has been slow, and I’ve done no speed work for over a year, so my time will not be fast (for me), but that’s okay. It’ll feel good just to be out there.
I’ve been working with Jennifer Watson of Watson Wellness in Fort Collins, and I credit her with getting my running back to almost-normal. If you’re looking for a physical therapist in Northern Colorado, I can’t recommend her highly enough. I’m still seeing her once a month or so, and she’s helping to keep my body functioning.
I also need to acknoweldge that my strength training has been lacking. I think I need to rejoin a gym, as I’m just not doing the at-home stuff I should be, and even when I do, I don’t have heavy weights at home. Especially when it’s cold, I tend to run, come home, and get straight into the warm shower. I’m thinking that if I pay for a gym membership, I’ll be more likely to make myself go lift some weights. I’m looking at Anytime Fitness, since there’s one five minutes from my school and one being built about 1.5 miles from my house. Anybody know about Anytime? Are they worth the money?
I’m starting to feel healthy enough to make longer-term racing plans. I’d really like to BQ again and head back to Boston in 2019, which means I need to run a spring marathon. I’m thinking Colfax in May; I did it once, years ago, liked it, and said I’d be back, but I haven’t run it since. My concern is the time that marathon training takes, which sounds crazy. I used to teach, train hard, and go to grad school. I don’t know if I’m really that much busier at this job or if I’m just out of the habit of scheduling long training sessions. I guess I’ll just have to make it a priority and get ‘er done!
Other races I’m thinking about this winter/spring are the Yeti Chase in January, the Loveland Sweetheart Classic in February, and the Horsetooth Half in April. Those are all tentative, and we’ll just have to see how my fitness, budget, and calendar all work together to make them happen!
Nothing all that exciting has been happening life-wise, just teaching and boring adult-type stuff. A couple of highlights, though:
Volunteering with Running Start.
This charity pairs women who want to start running but have significant obstacles with women who have been running for a while, and they train for a 5k together. While my beginner got injured and couldn’t run the CSU Homecoming 5k (the graduation race), I still went, ran a bit with every pair, cheered at the end, and left proud and inspired. I definitely want to volunteer with Running Start again next year!
Fall hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
A few weeks ago, on Jordan’s birthday weekend, we spent a day hiking in Rocky and playing in Estes Park. The colors were popping, the elk were bugling, and the day was beautiful; we thoroughly enjoyed our much-needed day away.
And that’s my life lately in a nutshell, I think. I will, for real this time, have some posts up more regularly; I’ve got a pair of tights I need to review and will have a race report up for Westy.
It’s good to be back in the blog world. Let me know what you’ve been up to!
It’s been a while, again. Blogging hasn’t been high on my priority list lately, largely because I’m still slowly recovering from injury, and it’s hard to write a running blog when I’m running so little. I haven’t been reading other running blogs lately, either, because seeing other people having fun and success running makes me jealous and a little sad. Selfish, maybe, but that’s the truth. But here I am again, promising again to start blogging more regularly… but honestly, with school starting this week, “regularly” might be a generous adverb to use. Bear with me.
A coffee-date post seems like a nice way to fill you in on what I’ve been up to lately, although I’m actually drinking green tea right now, not coffee. Grab your caffeinated beverage of choice, pull up a chair, and let’s catch up.
First, look at this adorable calf with a crew cut, because he’ll put you in a good mood.
If we were having coffee, we’d start by talking about my injury, since that’s my excuse for not chatting with you lately. Slowly but surely, I’m getting better. My physical therapist is wonderful, and she’s good at keeping me reined in so that I don’t go out and run 10 miles as soon as I feel kind-of okay, then reinjure myself. Not that I did that repeatedly for a year before I started seeing her or anything. Oh, wait. That’s exactly what I did. I have permission now to run up to 5 miles and up to two days in a row, along with squats, jump squats, lunges, etc. I’m feeling a little more like myself all the time.
If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’m trying to start a running group in Johnstown/Milliken (where I live now). Our first meet-up was yesterday. It was just me and an old man, but at least someone else showed up! Hopefully it’ll grow. If you’re local, please come!
If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’m super excited to be volunteering with Running Start, a nonprofit that pairs women who run with women who want to run but have barriers. My “partner” is Kate, and she’s delightful. Running Start is a wonderful organization that I’m thrilled to be volunteering with; if you have a minute, read more about them here.
If we were having coffee, I’d apparently be dominating the conversation. So I’d just keep talking and tell you that while I’m a little sad that summer’s over (I officially started work Thursday; kids come Tuesday), I had a wonderful summer, involving more mountains that any year since college. Moving was a good choice.
That little story about summer would inspire me, if we were having coffee, to tell you that I’m excited-slash-nervous for this school year. Excited to get to know a new group of kids, to improve on some things I didn’t do well last year, to get myself more integrated into my new school, now that it’s not “new” anymore. Nervous because I’m teaching an intense AP course and teaching in a mobile while they build a new wing right outside my window. It’ll be an adventure, but I like adventures.
If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that we are getting new windows installed starting tomorrow. Yay home ownership. Once they’re in, though, we can start painting, which we’ve wanted to do since we bought this house a year ago. Now, to find the time to paint…
If we were having coffee, that “time” statement would make me want to share one of my big goals for this school year: having a better work-life balance than last year. Balance should be a little easier than last year, since it’s my second year here, but there’s always a LOT to do and not enough time in which to do it. But I know that to be a good teacher and a good person, I need to make time to read and write non-school things, to sleep 7-8 hours a night (I don’t do well on less, and I know this), to see family and friends, and to do things I love (hello, mountains).
If we were having coffee, you’d probably be REALLY tired of listening to me talk, and a little offended that I haven’t been around just because your blog maybe makes me jealous. So I’ll act like a grown-up and not get jealous, and you catch me up: what have I missed?
This is the final entry in this series about our southwestern Colorado trip. To read the rest, look here, here, and here.
Thursday morning, we checked out of the hotel, stopped in Mancos for breakfast (Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters is a great little local place — way cheaper and probably tastier than the National Park restaurant), and headed east again. The Lightner Fire had just started near Durango, so the drive was smoky and the views were pretty nonexistent most of the way. We stopped for leg-stretches in Alamosa and Pagosa, and I couldn’t resist dipping my toes in the river in Pagosa one last time.
Then, it was back to driving. We arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park a little after two. We’d planned to hike to Zapata Falls, a short hike outside the park that everyone raves about, but when we saw the rocky, rutted road, we thought better of driving it, planning instead to come back the next day and just hike the road, too.
We headed on into the park and explored the Visitor Center. I went for a two-mile run (still all I was allowed to do, per my physical therapist) along a delightful sandy trail while Jordan talked to a volunteer about our plans for the next day (more on that in a minute). Then, together, we went over to the Montville Nature Trail.
The NPS website describes the trail like this: “In summer, keep this hike as an option for afternoon as an escape from the heat of the dunes. Walk along a shady forested trail named for a late 1800s settlement, comprising 20 houses in its heydey. Rest near the trail’s highpoint, where you’ll find outstanding views of Mt. Herard, the dunes and the valley.” We, however, got about 10 feet from the car and were swarmed by mosquitos, and since we didn’t want to fight the little buggers for the whole hike, we bailed.
Instead, we went down to Medano Creek, which was still running a bit. Its peak had passed, but there was enough water for wandering and splashing and playing. It was quiet, fun, and once we were mid-creek, mosquito-free. We played for a couple of hours, then headed out to make camp. Half the campsites at the Dunes campground are reservable, and the other half are first-come, first-served. When we booked this trip, the reservable ones were taken, and we were nervous about risking the first-come sites, so we’d booked the next-closest campground available — about 45 minutes away. Since we knew we’d need an early start the next morning, we hit the hay early.
That early night didn’t turn out too well — some strange noise kept us awake most of the night — but we were still up bright and early. We had to pack up camp, even though we planned to stay another night, because Friday is watering day at that campground and they water the tent sites. So we packed up, drove back into the park, filled our waters, and were hiking by 7:15. Our plan was to climb Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America. While I ran the day before, Jordan had asked a volunteer for directions. She told him to cross the creek and turn left, walk two miles, and then “you’ll see it.”
That volunteer was confused; she should have told us to go the other way. We climbed around (PSA: dunes hiking is hard. Because sand.) until we realized that a dune near us was High Dune — not as tall as Star, but the tallest you can see from the parking lot. We hiked over and stood atop High Dune, hoping to see Star Dune and reassess. Star Dune was still WAY out there, and my still-recovering hamstring was starting to complain a little, so we decided to be content with High Dune.
Settling for High Dune was easy: the view from the summit is stunning, with miles of rolling dunes butted up against the majestic Sangre de Cristos. We soaked in the view for a while, and then other people started arriving at the summit, and we had to share. But that’s okay, because while hiking up dunes is fun, going down them is a blast. I’d gone to the Dunes as a kid, and running and jumping down the Dunes is just as fun as a 31-year-old as it was when I was 10. We ran, bounded, leapt, and slid, looking completely ridiculous but not caring one whit.
Once down, we kicked off our shoes and walked in the creek a bit, then hiked out to the Sand Pit Picnic Area, where we ate a snack and admired the dunes some more. We hiked back via the Medano Primitive Road, which I would not recommend because it’s full of 4-wheel-drive vehicles out having some redneck fun. After that second little hike, we drove back to the Visitor Center, where we at our PBJs while admiring High Dune and thinking about how cool we are. Unfortunately, we also watched storm clouds rolling in.
We debated what to do. Our original plan was to return to Zapata Falls, but starting a 7-mile hike at 1 p.m. with approaching storm clouds would have just been foolhardy. We’d already hiked dunes, and the wind that came with those clouds was too cold to make more creek-playing fun. Since all our stuff was already packed, we decided to cancel our campground reservation, drive toward Buena Vista, and see if we could find a pretty place to camp. Of course, neither of us considered that it was Fourth of July weekend and campsites would be busy. We did find two gorgeous (but full) places to come back to someday, but we ended up at the Buena Vista KOA. Oh well — it was quiet, we could have a campfire, and no mysterious noise kept us awake until all hours.
The nice part about staying in Buena Vista was that it made the trip to our final adventure spot, Florissant Fossil Beds, that much closer. We took our sweet time about having breakfast and packing up camp, and we still got to Florissant around 10:00 — just in time for a ranger talk about the history and geologic wonders of the area. Then, after watching the movie at the Visitor Center to learn the basic background of the National Monument, we were ready to explore.
We started with the Sawmill Trail, a 2ish-mile loop. It was an easy trail, broad and smooth with just a few ups and downs, and the quakies (that’s what we native Coloradoans call aspens), firs, and wildflowers made for a beautiful walk.
The loop ended back at the Visitor Center, so we hit the bathroom and water fountain before heading on to the one-mile Petrified Forest loop, where we saw enormous petrified stumps and read about the area — from millions of years ago when the trees were alive, to 100 years ago when tourists plundered the area, to 40 years ago when the government protected the land. Fascinating stuff, and a little sad — just think how much we could know if people hadn’t carried away little bits of history as souvenirs.
Florissant Fossil Beds was a great stop; I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the Colorado Springs area. It has 15 miles of trails, so we definitely need to go back and explore more!
After leaving Florissant, we drove to Old Colorado City (the quieter partner of Manitou Springs), where we grabbed a snack and wandered into some little shops. We planned to spend that night with Jordan’s aunt and uncle in Colorado Springs. His uncle wasn’t feeling well, though, so we met his aunt for dinner, then drove back home and back to reality.
Staying in Colorado for our vacation this year was a wonderful choice. Whether you’re a local or from out of state, visiting the southwestern corner of this great state is well worth your time.
What’s your favorite place in Colorado? If you haven’t been here, what’s your favorite place in your state?