September 17 2018
Determination and positivity have enabled 94-year-old runner Ann McGowan to find strength in challenging situations throughout her life.
Despite intense weather conditions and aching hips, Maya Silver shares how she set about to conquer her first marathon on the trails of Colorado.
In the days leading up to my first marathon, my nerves really started to get to me. A long-building bubble of anxiety that sat just below my rib cage expanded larger and larger with each report about the 26.2 miles of trail I’d soon be traversing in the Run Through Time Marathon in Salida, Colo.
“Muddy as can be,” race director Jon MacManus warned in one of his e-mails about trail conditions.
“Only one set of tracks through the snow.”
“The snowiest year in the last 10.
“Patches of ice in the shade.
“Up to your knees in powder snow.”
And lastly: “It should be a fun slog.”
Depends on your definition of fun. A 10-miler at a leisurely pace through snow and mud when I don’t have to worry about a cut-off time? Sure, that could be fun! A 6-mile adventure with Yaktrax spikes strapped to my shoes in a blizzard? I could get into that. But 26.2 miles through every treacherous trail condition imaginable with a 7-hour time limit? I wasn’t so sure. And that’s not taking into account the estimated 4,750 feet of climbing the course presented—or the fact that the Run Through Time took place on March 14, a race date that could bring snow, freezing cold, rain or abundant sunshine (fingers crossed!).
In the weeks and days leading up to March 14, I checked the weather forecast religiously. Thankfully, the heavy February snow began to give way to sunshine in early March. I prayed that the warmth would soften the ice and diminish the powder to at least shin or ankle level. During these pre-race weeks, I also spent a lot of time wondering why I had decided it would be a good idea to run a trail marathon in Colorado in the winter—my first marathon, no less.
RELATED: Conquer Cold-Weather Running
Hip Pain And Power
My resolve to complete a marathon first arose in my early 20s. The iconic race seemed the perfect way to culminate my track and field experience and love for the sport. How cool would it be to run a race that people had been competing in for thousands of years? Once I’d hatched this idea, to abandon it would be to back down from a challenge. So with curiosity and determination to rise to my own personal challenge, I added it to my bucket list.
Equal parts impulsiveness and blind determination guided my decision to register for the Run Through Time back in December. The story really began when I had to drop out of the first marathon I signed up for a year earlier—the Estes Park Marathon—due to debilitating hip pain. Bad hips run in my family; my mom and both of her sisters have had hip replacements. My own hip pain started in my mid-20s. I’ve had to take measures to mitigate it, including a stand-up desk at work and changing my running habits.
As I trained for the Estes Park Marathon in 2014, each run left my hips with a weeklong aching hangover that made both sleeping and sitting difficult. I even bought special, cushioned shoes—Hoka One One Kailuas—and borrowed Chi Running from the library to try to combat pain with better form. I knew I didn’t have the hips to be a lifelong marathon runner, but I was dead set on running one. After my Hokas and form adjustments failed to alleviate anything, I dropped out and began to face the sad fact that a marathon was not in the cards for me.
During the summer, however, I ran on trails often and had an idea. What if I ran a trail marathon? Trails were much easier on my hip joints. Post trail-run, my hips often felt fine or just slightly achy for a day or two. When I searched for local trail marathons, I came across the Run Through Time. Intrigued by its epic name, tough course and location in Salida—one of my favorite towns on Colorado’s Western Slope—I signed up.
The Run Through Time is one of the premier sporting events in Salida. The race takes its name from the history brimming in the Arkansas Hills its course navigates—from mining, to railroads, to ranching. “It was a wild place,” says race director Jon Macmanus. He and his wife, Rickie Redland, established Run Through Time after they ran what is now the course to train for the Hardrock Hundred 13 years ago. While only about 25% of the runners in the original race were female, in 2015 I joined a nearly 50% female running contingent.
Snow, Ice and Mountain Lions
After I registered for the Run Through Time, the fact that I’d be doing most of my training in the dark, cold and snow began to set in. With my 9-to-5 job, determination to continue skiing on weekends and commitment to training almost 100 percent on trails, a tough winter training regime was in order.
My friend Nina thankfully committed to run the race with me. Her Minnesotan upbringing made her adept at jogging through ice and powder without slipping, but my DC origins had given me no experience in navigating these adverse conditions. On a run up a steep trail of twisting switchbacks, we found much of the trail to be frozen over, like an ice skating rink winding its way up a mountain. I’d forgone the spikes that day. While Nina puttered along nearly effortlessly without slipping, another friend and I literally got down on our hands and knees to crawl our way up while trying to avoid falling for the umpteenth time.
My fear of being eaten by a mountain lion during training, however, by far trumped my dread of icy trails. One night, we decided to run South Table Mountain, a mesa of trails purportedly home to mountain lions behind my house. When Nina and I reached the top, we paused by a rocky outcrop while our dogs—my German Shepherd mix Uinta and Nina’s little terrier Macy—sniffed around.
From a darkened spot beneath large boulders, we heard the cry of a mountain lion: a quick, aggressive yowl like the sound my late cat, Rosie, made when she was ornery and swabbing at something—only 10 times more forceful in volume. We backed away, then ran, then sprinted as fast as we could down the trail. On several other runs, we would see eyes in the surrounding brush and freeze, paralyzed by the horror that we’d been stalked, only to be relieved that they were the pupils of deer.