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June 11, 2017

Recalling some of my favorite runs throughout my lifetime

It seems like it is a little early for summer vacations; but talking with friends, the planning for vacations is well underway.

Runners like to plan vacation destinations where they can still get in a run every day. The good part about that is that there are not many places a runner can go where there is not a place to run. Some cities, like Denver, have trails for a runner. Denver’s trail goes through much of the city, and quite a number of miles outside the city for bike riders and long distance runners.

I was visiting my son one summer, and the trail was across a river that ran by his apartment complex. On the other side a big moose had wandered into town and was hidden in the trees. A group of runners came running by, and this moose stepped out of the woods.

It was really a neat thing to see runners jump sideways in mid-stride about eight feet, and land at a pace much faster than when they took off from their jump. When you are that close to a moose, they not only look big, but are really, really, big.

Some cities have a nice park system that has running paths for runners. San Marcos has a great trail along the river and behind the Little League baseball fields for almost three miles. Some hotels have maps and directions for runners who are staying at their hotel for scenic runs in the city. If there is not a trail system, a runner can almost always find a school that has a track around the football field for some interval work.

I had one memorable run visiting my folks in North Dakota over Christmas one year. I always wondered what it would be like to run when the temperature was below zero degrees. I bundled up and bought a mouth covering that was recommended to keep the freezing air out of the lungs. The footing was a bit slippery, with some snow covering the ice underfoot that made it a little slow going. I had to take that mouth covering off after a few miles and get a few clean mouthfuls of air. It was almost claustrophobic trying to breathe through that mouth covering.

One other run to remember was going to summer school in Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is 6,000 feet in elevation and the air is thin. I entered a 10-mile race that was going through the Coconino Forest. Since it was at altitude, I took it easy until I could see if I could breathe in the thin air at that altitude.

I stayed with a slow group, and found that I could handle the thin air okay; so I picked up my pace to try and see if I could catch a faster group of runners. I came to an intersection of trails and did not know which trail to take. I looked in front of me and did not see anybody. I looked behind me with the same result.

This concerned me, as I did not want to take a wrong turn, get lost in the Coconino Forest and have the Forest Rangers come look for me. I glanced to my left and thought I saw a runner flash by the trail about a few hundred yards away. It was the only moving thing that I saw, so I took off in that direction. Fortunately it was the right path, and I eventually found the finish line. Now, when I put on races, I always make sure there are directional arrows for runners to prevent them from missing a turn.

Later that summer, in Flagstaff, I made a trip up the San Francisco Peaks. These are 12,000 feet in elevation, and a chair lift takes you almost all the way to the top. We got off at about 10,000 feet up and started the climb to the top. Just when we thought we had reached the top of the mountain there was one more peak, about 400 yards up, to climb to get to the very top.

I told my wife that I had to get to the top. “I will just take a quick jog up to the last peak and be right back.” After all, I had just completed a run at 6,000 feet, so how hard could it be at 12,000 feet?

I took off at an easy jog pace; and after 100 yards, I tried to take my first breath. Nothing. There was no air. I was in a vacuum with no air. I took a deeper breath and still no air. I dropped to my knees and gasped for any air that might be closer to the ground.

After about five minutes I could breathe again, and felt like I might live. I could breathe, so I once again began to head to the top of the mountain. The pace was one slow step followed by another slow step, all the way to the top. It was worth the view, as you could see all the way to California in one direction and New Mexico in the other direction.

I have visited several foreign countries and seldom seen runners. Those that I do see look like Americans on vacation and out on the city streets. Ireland has the largest number of people that I have seen in parks. Killarney has a huge park system that has many miles of trails to use. Walkers, runners, and bike riders are plentiful there.

Have a great vacation, and hope you will find that one run that will be memorable to talk about when you get back.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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