Turquoise Lake 1/2 Marathon

In honor of all you brave souls who made your way around what I hope will soon be a full Turquoise Lake, I am posting the story about the experience I had when I first ran that race in 2011. It’s called “Racing with The Girls.” Enjoy!

(hoping all this running water will fill our Lake soon!)

Nipples. “Wow! You can see those girls a mile away!” exclaimed Mike, my somewhat protective husband, as I finished dressing for my start-summer-off-on-the-right-foot-race. Although it was not a particularly cold Leadville morning, about 54 degrees, “the girls” felt no fear in greeting a boat ramp full of friends and strangers all gathered to run the half marathon around Turquoise Lake.

Just the day before, Mike had suggested, “Maybe you might start your summer training program with the 5K on Sunday?” But he knew better. Twenty-seven years of watching me “taper” for weeks/months/years before pulling out ridiculous physical challenges had left him with little to say, and perhaps a sense of mild amusement. No, I would do the half marathon. It had been six years since my last one.

“When was the last time you ran?” he persisted, genuinely concerned that I was about to make a big mistake. Turquoise Lake is, after all, situated at an elevation of 9,600 feet, and the race includes climbing to 10,700. “I’ve been running on the treadmill at school a couple times a week,” I fibbed. Although I had clocked a handful of two mile days earlier in the year, the most strenuous thing I had done recently was make it to school on time every morning, an easy half-mile walk.

My teacher friends were also in on trying to change my mind; after all, it was Friday night, the first night of summer vacation. The ring-leader handed me a rum and coke, a tall one, “Mostly coke,” he lied. But I knew him better than he thought, and confirmed the lie with my first sip. Nevertheless, the summer beverage went down smoothly and finishing it, I decided it would help me sleep before the big event. It did.

Our town Mayor started the race with a 12-gauge shot gun, and I laughed at my Forrest Gump-like resolve to start running. Nipples at the ready, I decided on my race goals: finish in less than six hours and enjoy the experience. I would run when I could and speed-walk when I could not. I would sip from my Camelback every 15 minutes or so while taking in the beauty of the famed course.

Perhaps I’ll sip every 7 minutes, I began to think. I was immediately grateful that I had outfitted myself with the extra weight of water. I also knew—from my prodigious tread mill training—that if I could find a pace at which I could suck wind steadily, I could maintain that pace for many laps with no increase in suffering; I speculated that I could maintain a steady pace for the treadmill equivalent of 52ish laps. My pace was slow, but ah! The beauty that surrounded me!

Azure skies—punctuated by puffy cumulous clouds—outlined the surrounding snow-peaked mountains which drizzled down into the chartreuse covered hillsides; the hills dropped down into the truly turquoise lake, around which I vowed to enjoy my run. And for the first hour, it was relatively easy. With the sun at my back and a welcomingly cool breeze in my face, I tried my best to disregard the woman near me who appeared to be hacking up fur balls. The thought of offering her some of my water passed quickly . . . we all knew the course description and understood there would be no aide for seven miles. Must take care of self, I thought guiltily as I increased my pace.

I focused on the power of the deafening waterfalls to my left that proclaimed a new season in the mountains and found fresh new flower buds struggling to awaken. Sure, it was June, but why rush? While flowers at lower altitudes were already ho-hum, those tough treasures were ready to be eye-candy for passers-by.

Using my arms more to exaggerate my forward progress, I increased the gap between cat-woman and myself and came upon another runner. “Sausage fingers?” she asked, seeing me pump my hands as I ran. Laughter. In another hour I would start to crave scrambled eggs and sausage.

I started to feel like I had trotted significantly further than my “training” would recommend. My butt cheeks, which I had early dubbed “Thing One” and “Thing Two,” began to torment me; but I would have no Seussical shenanigans that day. Instead, I would focus my thoughts on higher things: our foremothers, Manifest Destiny, all those poor bastards who had to run/push/suffer to survive, and all without the miracles of Gu, Gortex, or Camelbacks. I refused to whine. And then, just when my uphill stride threatened to falter, a little miracle.

“Awesome power-hiking pace!” exclaimed a red-shirted man who had just caught me on an uphill stretch. Yes! That’s what I am, I realized. I’m not really a runner . . . I’m a POWER HIKER! I felt—at least for the moment—like a superhero. Then I reflected on how fortunate I was to have inherited such perfect genes.

My father, an 89-year-old ten-pin-bowling pro-crossword-puzzle-solving genius, can chill with the best of them. My mother, an 84-year-old still mother/grandmother/great-grandmother of many, pro-bargain-hunting genius, can cook/clean/entertain/shop and never drop. I managed to land the perfect mix of mellow and mania!

Despite what has become my lifelong quest for spiritual enlightenment, I panted an audible, “Thank you, God,” not only for my parents and their genes, but for the water point ahead which signaled the change from uphill pavement to rolling, pine-filled trails and a new view of the lake. The wind was now at my back, the ground was soft, and the ripples in the lake were flowing dizzyingly away from me.

All I had to do was remain upright and moving forward for five more miles, easier said than done with ankle muscles trying to roll over and sleep. Even though I felt energetic enough to run, I knew that if I turned my ankle on any number of loose stones or slippery roots, my “enjoy the experience” goal would be compromised, so I kept my pace between jogging and power-hiking while anticipating the finish line.

The remaining verdant miles passed quickly and I finally heard the hullabaloo back at the boat dock; there was just a quick sprint up a set of stairs and a cruel last lap around the parking lot before I could hear my hubby and friends—already rested from their far faster finish—hollering my name. I finished in less than 3 hours with a smile on my face.

“I tried to catch you,” a man about my age confessed at the water table. You can’t catch a superhero, I thought, chuckling. I knew I won’t be winning any trophies, but . . .

Raffle prizes! Not only was I not the last place finisher, I won a colorful athletic bra! “The girls” were happy, and much like teenage boys, were still ready for action. There was no use ignoring them. Forget hiding them. They deserved to be as proud as I was for accomplishing all I had tapered for that chilly Leadville morning!


City girl moves to mountain town!

This last essay was my favorite of the four because it’s about why I wanted to move to Leadville.

LCSD Superintendent Essay D: Discuss your beliefs about small communities, their values, the challenges of small school districts and why you choose to be a part of this environment.

Who, in their right mind, would voluntarily choose to live in a tiny mountain town with long winters, limited shopping, and challenging altitude issues? Someone who understands both the charms and challenges of such a place, and who would want to protect the former while tackling the latter would make this decision . . . a decision I made with my family over five years ago.

My beliefs about small communities have evolved since my childhood days of exposure to the small town feel of living in a suburb near the historic city of Boston. Raised in a family of five girls, I learned the importance of frugality at a young age. Although my parents earned enough money to keep us well clothed, fed, and in a lovely home that became the favorite place for neighborhood socials, we all knew that as soon as we hit the legal age to babysit, we would be expected to earn our own money for “frills.” We knew the names of “Bargain Center” employees, and I liked that.

I liked it because it enhanced what I was beginning to understand about small communities, and provided a sense of comfort by showing me that—even beyond the borders of my “Leave it to Beaver” street community—there would be people who seemed to care about me. I came to believe that people in small communities, like the one in which I lived, watched out for one another, and would go out of their way to ensure that even the least social of neighbors would feel that they belonged and that they would have someone to turn to if ever in need. I believed that I could make a difference in my little world and that others would value my contributions. The inter-personal connections that I was able to develop as a babysitter, driveway shoveler, nursing home visitor, and waitress (my first “W-2” job!) were vital to my later successes in education and employment, and instilled in me a deeper understanding of small town values.

People who live in small communities should not be considered homogeneous in their values, but there seem to be consistencies which prevail in most. In the small communities where I have lived with my husband and children (and we have lived in many over the course of a military career), pride is highly valued—both individual pride and pride in community. Members of small communities are typically very loyal to family and friends, and they are proud of their ability to weather hardships together. They are empowered to speak their mind, and those who chose to involve themselves in the higher workings of their community do so because they want to make things better for everyone. Not everyone values public life, however, and many prefer to have their privacy respected; even so, personal privacy is a value most would consider important, and in a small community, honoring personal privacy can become a challenge.

In a place where “everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone,” the need to respect personal privacy is important. It is especially important within the school district of a small community where the needs of minors must be considered, and their rights protected. That, however, is only one challenge to consider with regard to school districts in small communities. In today’s economic environment, resources are scarce nation-wide, but particularly in areas with small populations and below average household income. Fewer funds challenge a small district’s ability to recruit and retain quality employees, to maintain aging facilities, and to provide valuable opportunities for students beyond “the basics,” of their curricular requirements. These challenges also, though, provide an opportunity for school leaders with creativity and vision to ensure that those in their care do not become victims of their environment, but rather strengthened, more resourceful individuals who will someday be proud of what they are able to accomplish.

With full knowledge of the challenges above, and with experience living in small communities throughout the United States, we moved to Leadville almost five years ago after four years of frequent visits from Colorado Springs. Why did we choose to be a part of this physical and social environment? We chose Leadville for several reasons. The charms of the area are undeniable. This is a town where “big city” people come to escape the heat, the monotony, and the pressure of their lives, to bask in the beauty of our mountains, to experience legendary history, to say that they’ve challenged themselves in some way, and to feel—if only for a weekend—a connection to a simpler time. It’s a place where our children (each graduates of Lake County High School) could live in a non-military environment and experience social, physical, and academic challenges. They have climbed these mountains, worked and volunteered in this town, and made lasting connections with members of the community.

Leadville is a place where I have experienced the challenges of teaching in an under-funded school district and have had the pleasure of developing meaningful relationships with my students, their families, my peers, and members of our small town. It is a place where my husband—a one-time burro racer and four-time Leadman—has a job which lets him sleep well at night (unless he’s leading a Search and Rescue mission), knowing that what he does will benefit the entire community. It is a place in which we intend to “retire,” whatever that means, and continue to work toward protecting the unique nature of our community while helping to ensure that it remains a viable place to visit and live.

Our home has become like the home of my youth, a place where family, friends, and oftentimes strangers come to visit (I am known to give tours of our historic home to anyone who looks at it while passing!). Although my mother may never forgive me for moving to a place so far from Boston and so physically challenging to visit, she has finally accepted that what I have been telling her all along—that I could not imagine myself being happier living anyplace else—is true.   [end]