March 13, 2010

Little Nudges And Great Marvels

I knew this wasn't necessarily the best idea. I'd run Wednesday night on a treadmill and, for no apparent reason, fucked up my right foot. Since then, every time I get up, it takes me a couple steps of limping before I start to walk straight. It doesn't really hurt, but I'm sure I shouldn't run on it... even more with my first half marathon in less than a month.

But when I saw it, I knew I couldn't resist. Red Rock Canyon. A desert valley surrounded by high peaks of flat-faced rock, varying in color from sand to blood red. It's astonishing. The air is dry and fresh and open trails invite you in every direction.

For a while, I thought I could probably get away with going for a hike. It'd be the reasonable thing to do. Save my foot the stress and still enjoy the magnificent canyon...

Mireille said it best. I hate being reasonable.


That's just what I needed. A wink and a gentle kick in the ass to remind me life is short and canyons are awesome. So I said screw it, packed my brand new Five Fingers and running gear in a backpack and headed for Red Rock.

I got there with knots in the stomach. This is, after all, a very large wildlife reserve with minimal amenities. They basically give you a map of the place and let you loose. I parked the car and started studying the surroundings. The terrain is very rough. It's loose pebbles at best, steep sharp-edged rocks in the worst stretches. There isn't really sand; this is a rocky desert.

I'd never ran on anything else than a treadmill with Five Fingers. Would they be sturdy enough? Would my own feet be sturdy enough? Barefoot running is no small business already on regular trails, this was something much more... extreme.

The little Mireille above my shoulder kicked me one more time. Just go!

So I headed for the trail. I only had a 750-ml bottle of water, because I forgot my runner's hydration belt in Montreal. This also made me nervous, but I decided I'd watch my running time and start heading back as soon as I'd reach the first half of the bottle.

Running barefoot on rock is an indescribable feeling. You can sense every little bit of ground under your feet, and somehow they are able to compensate any instability in a blink. What a surprise. As I took my first strides, my apprehension rapidly changed to excitement and the realization of the level of concentration I'd need if I didn't want to end up with a sprained or broken foot.

I chose to run the Calico Hills, a legendary piece of land where native petroglyphs were found on the many rock faces and caverns surrounding it. It had a feel of mysticism, a strong energy emanating from the earth and the powerful wind that blows there almost endlessly.

The valley is basically a steep climb toward the rock walls. You need to push forward really hard and to jump over larger rocks as you go, which sets a very demanding, irregular pace. But the more I went, the easier it seemed to get. I started to run on the uneven surface with increasing ease, dodging cactuses and thorny bushes on the way.

I thought I was going really slow. My pace wasn't fantastic, I was at the top of my breath and needed all the focus to make sure I didn't step on anything I'd regret.

I kept at it for about 5 kilometres, more or less following the trail up. Then I crossed a paved road, which I decided to follow up to a lookout. That was my turnaround point. But when I got there, I discovered there was a rougher hiking trail going up...

My little Mireille was already giggling. I didn't need any kick this time. I ate a couple energy beans, took a sip of water and went forward. The trail was mostly a very soft sand, compacted by hikers' footsteps. A completely new terrain, much easier to run on. I took only a couple steps in the trail and my speed started to increase, to a point that took me by surprise. I flashed through the rows of surprised hikers, looking at me but also at my feet, perplexed.

I jumped from rock to rock, sped on the sandy trail, not even trying to avoid the large puddles of water. I was getting fast, I was getting dirty and I wanted some more :)

I ran the trail until there was nothing else than large boulders to climb on. I stopped, took a couple breaths, drank a little, took some pictures (which I think you will like). Unable to stay in place, I turned around and started running back down. Even faster. I couldn't believe my own feet! Seems a winter spent practicing on a treadmill was a good idea after all...

When I finished the trail, a group of hikers I'd passed cheered at me and applauded as I was jumping and dodging down the last stretch of the pass. I made a large smile and kept going. Since I'd lost the trail I came from, I decided to run along the road for a while, surrounded by huge walls of red rock. I was breathless, I was in deep effort, but I couldn't do anything else than smile and laugh as I was going, taken by the majesty of the canyon and its magical energy.

Further on, I found another trail that streamed down toward the visitor center where I'd started. I climbed down onto the trail - a dried river bed, most likely - and pushed myself even more. I couldn't believe my speed and the strength of my legs. What an amazing feeling.

I finished my run covered in desert dust and excited like a kid. The adrenaline of the run stayed with me for several hours as I was walking a hiking path to get to various viewpoints. On the way, I captured the images of Red Rock Canyon in my mind and I connected to its vibrant energy.

They're stored now. And I know just exactly when these might come handy, when I hit the 30-km wall of my marathon in September.

It's been a long time since I have felt so alive :)

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