My stats show that I get a considerable number of hits from search queries for “runner porn”.  Sometimes specifically trail runner porn or cross country runner porn.  I find that more unbelievable than weird; but then it occurs to me that perhaps people aren’t using the term porn with a sexual connotation but rather in its alternative etymology – which is to say highly descriptive or overly alliterative prose that creates or satisfies desire.  In this instance, the need to satiate the desire to run.  These readers are probably fairly disappointed when they read my inane rhetoric on weekend workouts.  With that in mind, here is my contribution to the runner porn genre.

The trail guide book depicts the seven mile long forest service road as intended for 2-wheel drive vehicles.  Assuming the snow is plowed.  There is no snow on the fourth of July, but drives like this make Sara wish she had a Subaru Outback instead of her Honda Accord.  To make up for the slow driving over boulders jutting up from the dirt and gravel, she guns the accelerator over the occasional good stretches.  But even those are laced with ridges from the road grading that renders her CD player useless.  There are two kinds of people in the world; those who crawl over speed bumps painfully slow and drivers like Sara who race over the crests of gravel road waves without letting the car’s frame sink into the troughs.  Faster is always better.

Sara doesn’t necessarily need to hurry.  She isn’t meeting anyone.  This run will be solo.  But the hour long drive from her home in Boulder to this trail head sitting at 8000 feet has her filled with anticipation.  And she needs to piss like a race horse.  To avoid having to carry water on this run, she downs a 16 ounce water bottle of Cytomax on the drive after waking up with two cups of Peet’s Jamaica Blue Mountain.

There is justification to arrive as early as possible to beat the heat.  The morning temperature was already 58° at 6am.  Cool temps would also mitigate the need to carry a camelbak or water bottles.  And she wants to beat the crowd.  The previous night’s dinner engagement didn’t allow her the opportunity to come up and camp.  This is a risk in terms of parking as well for the privacy she might need to pee.  This trail head doesn’t offer facilities.

After rounding a curve, she sees the trail head.  Only two cars are parked – likely overnight campers.  The lot supports up to four cars and she takes the third spot.  Sara knows when she returns from her out-and-back run that dozens of cars will be parked along the road.  This trail leads to a popular 14er.  She picked the trail though because the first five miles were almost entirely under a thick canopy of old growth forest with soft dirt covered in pine needles.  Rocks are scarce while fun little stream crossings abound.  Sara loves navigating water features at full speed.  And this 10 miler is fixin’ to be balls out fast.  This isn’t a training run leading up to a race.  This is simply a narcissistic escape she’d been planning after already getting in race shape.  Sara has run this trail numerous times with her old high school cross country teammates and has nice memories of flying down specific sections.  But she’s never run it in peak condition before.  This is no workout and no race.  She pictures this trail whenever daydreaming of a run.  This is about personal pleasure.

Not seeing anyone, Sara squats down by her Honda’s front bumper and pees.  She is relieved that this immediately alleviates her stomach cramping.  Still, she downs another 8 ounces of water before locking her car.  She starts a playlist in shuffle mode trusting the serendipity will serve as a virtual running partner, surprising her with random fast tempo sprints.  She stretches against the car for maybe two minutes; mostly to adjust the volume and run through a mental checklist of ensuring the car is locked, her key is secure, her body is ready…

There is no fence bordering the lot and is unnecessary as the trees begin immediately forming a natural border.  The trail is marked by knee-high boulders on each flank and are also unneeded as the trail is a well-worn path.  One could easily stray into the woods however as the trees maintain several feet of space between trunks and there is very little undergrowth.  But the sun is largely obscured and she feels the temperature noticeably drop upon starting into the woods.  She figured the air to be in the low 50s but with no wind she is comfortable in only shorts and a jogging bra – all black hi-tek fabric.

The trail starts off mostly flat with a slight downward slope.  Enough slope that when combined with the allure of the quintessential pine-needle trail it is tempting to begin running at a fast clip.  Her discipline helps guide her with a warm-up pace though, knowing better than to build up lactic acid in the first mile.  Sara considered not wearing her Garmin because she didn’t really need it for this trail.  Each downslope is roughly a half mile in distance, bottoming out at a creek bed and then rising for another half mile or so.  That’s the other amazing thing about this trail – each mile contains a single downhill followed by a single uphill – each summit marking another mile.  Only a few of the intervals, this first mile included, presents more than 200 meters of relatively flat running.  And then there are only two hills steep enough to induce walking.  Sara senses she might put together a few fast miles today so she wears the Garmin.

The grade increases its downward slope as she approaches the trough at the half mile point.  She allows her legs to gain momentum giving her what she refers to as a sling-shot approach into the bottom knowing the creek could be easily jumped with enough momentum.  The water could be walked with two sizable stones but she clears it safely without hardly changing her stride.  This is a warmup stream.  As she crosses the creek, Sara catches site of three or four one-man tents in her peripheral vision – likely the campers paired with the cars at the trail head.  The trail continues flat for ten meters and then begin to climb at a slightly more aggressive grade than the previous downhill.  As her muscles are now awake, if anything her pace increases and she feels strong taking the hill.  Her Garmin beeps denoting the first mile soon after cresting the rise.  The 9 minute mile pace doesn’t surprise her other than it being exactly 9:00.  Her half marathon race pace averages closer to 8:45 with her first mile generally under 8:00.  She wouldn’t be surprised if she ran her overall half marathon race pace today.  It would likely feel more pleasant starting off slower like this, than after the initial surge required in races.

The crest of this first hump is short and Sara feels the descent begin as soon as she looks up from her Garmin.  This slope isn’t any steeper than the previous over its half mile length, but it consists of three terraces.  Sara maintains an even pace through the downhills and short flat sections until the third and final slope when she feels her legs suddenly complete the warmup.  Her legs over-rule the pace set by Sara’s mind and quicken their cadence.  Her shoulders remain squared above her hips so she isn’t leaning forward, but her footfalls gradually hit more forefoot than the mid-foot stride she had been running with from the start.  Depending on the uphill section, this second mile is positioned to come in under a 9 minute mile pace.

The creek crossing at the bottom of this second mile is one of Sara’s favorites.  The stream is wide with fast and ankle to nearly knee-deep running water.  There is no bridge but rather five flat rocks spaced almost perfectly for her current stride.  The trick is that the creek appears just around a turn so the typical first-time trail runner would come to a complete stop to determine how to negotiate the crossing.  Sara will take the creek without missing a beat.  The stones do actually require a slightly shorter stride but they’ve never been slick and she intends to do the equivalent of a football player drill of high-stepping through tires.

Sara rounds the curve with the random thought of wishing a group of hikers would be present to watch her perform her athletic prowess over this water feature.  And oh shit, there are.  The four campers are hiking across the creek just in front of her.  They are all carrying black crash pads.  These are mattress-sized foam rectangles on their backs used by rock climbers.  Three of the climbers are already across the creek but the fourth is stepping from the 4th rock to the 5th as she hits the first rock.  He is shuffling from the 5th to the shore as she launches from the 4th rock.  It never occurs to her to slow down, that commitment had already been made.  She lands her left foot to the right edge of the 5th rock as she can’t guarantee his foot will be off it in time.  It isn’t.  She leaps around him to the far right landing in a splash of water.  The water isn’t deep enough to even cover her water-proof trail shoe but she then needs an additional step with her left foot to reach the top of the shoreline.  This lateral movement isn’t planned and stresses her quads which are optimized for forward motion.

Which is fine.  That she negotiated this quick thinking and athletic stunt only adds to her pleasure.  The other hikers see her because they are already turned to look at their buddy cross the creek.  One of them deftly leans his crash pad out of her way, the other two do so more awkwardly with three quarter turns.  She mumbled a “thanks guys” as she speeds past.  They say nothing.  In her experience, rock climbers tend to be somewhat deliberate thinkers.  They no doubt will think of something clever to say in a few minutes.  “Ass-wipes,” Sara mutters once fully past the rock climbers.

Sara welcomes the immediate turn through thick pine to give her a quick escape from those boys as she thinks over what the proper trail etiquette should have been for that crossing.  Biker yields to hiker/runner.  Both yield to horses.  The general rule is a greater power yields to the lesser power to demonstrate control.  That’s not intuitive with big-ass horses, but it’s in terms of their rider being at risk if the horse is spooked.  And she’s always felt this equation changes whether one is going uphill or downhill.  Sara is fairly certain she should have slowed for the climbers to finish crossing the creek.  They both fit the criteria of hiker/runner, and she was behind them – arguably running out of control.  But there were clearly extenuating circumstances here.  Who the fuck hikes with big-ass mattress pads.  Climbers must have some sort of obligation to let you pass?  This particular event is clearly debatable but she knows one thing.  Sprinting across these creeks is half the reason she’s here today and she’s glad she didn’t slow down back there.  At the same time, Sara isn’t sure why she was being so tough on climbers.  She has good friends who are climbers.  They’re not all bad.

This mile two hill isn’t any steeper than the last one and follows gentle switchbacks, but it is a tad bit longer than average with the previous downhill being a tad bit shorter.  Her Garmin beeped just as she tops the climb.  Her pace drops to 8:30 which she attributes to those climbers getting her worked up.  And while this is only two miles into a ten miler, she doesn’t feel that second hill and continues a strong pace across the top.  The trees thin out some on this ridge letting in more sun but the air remains cool.  She hopes it will stay that way.  A Lady Gaga song plays through her ear buds and she surges down the next hill into mile three.

Sara figures she’ll track her time by counting the seconds/minutes over or under a 9 minute pace – expecting to finish in about 90 minutes.  After two miles she is 30 seconds under and feeling strong.  This segment has a much steeper slope and is closer to a quarter mile with the corresponding uphill being about three quarters of a mile.  This will be a slower mile pace although who knows.  Sara concentrates on good running form.  She focuses on her footwork, avoiding heel strikes which would slow her momentum.  And she lets herself run to the song.  It is still playing as she hits the creek, a bridge actually.  Not as fun but quite quaint.  She wishes someone would take a picture of her running across this little wooden structure.  In the middle of a little Aspen grove, it has a great photogenic quality to it.

The uphill that follows the bridge is literally in her face as soon as she crosses the bridge because the climb begins within steps of the creek and is extremely vertical.  She remembers this real bridge being smart on the way back when she would be nearly sliding down this slope.  Despite the grade, no one ever walks this segment because it only lasts for 50 meters or so before leveling out, and it’s not even a full three miles into the run for Chrissake.  But it’s a momentum stopper for sure.  There go those 30 seconds under.  Sara of course slows down – there is no decision to make here.  But she increases her cadence with quick strike knee lifts to keep her legs moving and heart at a constant rate.  Slowing down would normally spike her heart rate, so increasing her cadence while technically running slower is a trick that sometimes works to keep hills from being a game changer to the overall pace.

Sara forges up the steep slope like this until it levels off and she recovers her standard stride in less than half a minute.  Still, it is a game changer.  She no longer has a feel for the strong pace she’d been running.  When her Garmin beeps at the top to mark three miles, she sees a 9:33 pace in the display.  Well, not critical.  She is nearly on par, three seconds over.

She shouldn’t be tiring though after only three miles.  She needs to recover her sense of pace.  A Springsteen song comes on that usually amps her up, and she know runs for like four minutes or something long like that.  Just the ticket.  Her form relaxes into the song while her pace steadily increases.  The grade of the downhill gains at a rate in rhythm with the tune.  By the bottom of the hill, with Bruce nearing his climax, she hits the hewn side-by-side logs that spanned the creek in full stride.  She is moving fast.  Her momentum carries her completely up the next hill with little decrease in speed or even breathing.  Granted, this is not a monster hill but it is still a half mile up at altitude.  She is definitely in shape.  The Garmin beeps to inform her of an 8:42 mile pace.  “Damn!”  15 seconds back under par and one more mile before turning back.

Sara maintains this strong pace down her fifth down slope.  It is almost necessary given the grade – the steepest yet in terms of its complete length.  Not too steep though to require putting on the brakes, so she takes what the course gives her and flies down.  The fifth upslope will be the steepest as well.  Not as steep as the first 50 meters of the last uphill, but overall the toughest hill to climb of the entire trail.  Seconds made here would for sure be lost there.  This creek offers something special too.  She knows it is within 100 meters or so once the slope bottoms out.  The trail runs along the trough – a meadow really – for a bit parallel to the creek before turning to cross it.  And she can see the creek this entire stretch as there are few trees.  But there are no logs or bridge.  There are some rocks depending on how high the water is running.  She suspects the water is lower than average given the under average snow pack, but she isn’t in the mood to use them.  Sara figures this creek span is about three feet across.  She’d cleared it in the past but had a bad miss once.  Oddly, it was the miss that made this special.  It’s what challenges her to try to completely jump it rather than step across the rocks.  There is no question that today is a day for jumping.  She picks up her pace and throws her body over the stream, landing with what seems like a foot to spare.  She is still moving fast.

Until 100 meters into the hill where it become more like a ladder.  This isn’t going to be one of her sub 9 minute miles.  She’d always walked this hill on past runs.  Most everyone did.  Not even halfway up her calves are numb while her thighs burn with what feels like actual fire.  Her stride is actually just a shuffle now and common sense rationalizes that walking wouldn’t necessarily be any slower.  But sometimes it’s about principle.  And Sara honestly believes that by maintaining a running form – or shuffle whatever – her legs will be able to more quickly resume a normal running stride once she reaches the crest.  Today is no day for walking.

You never really see the top of a hill like this.  It’s always this curved horizon that never shows you its top.  And the one thing imperfect about making this a 10 mile run is that she knows the Garmin will beep at 5 miles – still a good 100 meters before the true crest.  That’s OK.  With this level of fatigue in one’s legs, you don’t suddenly decide to go for the final 100 meters to make it a 10.2 mile run.  She plans to turn exactly at the beep.

The beep chirps to tell her of a 10:45 pace.  She’d expected over 11 minutes so she is fine with this.  It does put her 90 seconds over par and now it’s hard to imagine running back with the same intensity given the amount of lactic acid in her legs.  She turns back down the hill not trying to push it anymore, just trying to recover.  She hops the steep downhill will give her a decent pace anyway.  She surprises herself by how well she recovers.  Certainly her breathing does but her legs have lost some strength and she can’t clear the stream with a jump on the return.  She isn’t overly impressive skipping across the rocks either.  Sara turns off the playlist.  After over 45 minutes of motivational tunes, she finds music annoying.  She doesn’t have any pockets but decides to carry the ear buds in her hand rather than leave them in.

The sound of the forest is better than music.  This deep into the trail with no one around is surreal.  The peace allows Sara to refocus on her form and regain her strong pace from earlier in the run.  This hill is one of the steeper ones as well but not one that would make someone in her condition walk.  Sara focuses on lifting her legs, popping up her knees with a shorter stride and quicker cadence.  Lifting your legs when you’re tired is easier than pushing the weight of your body.  She isn’t certain if that’s what her form is actually doing.  It seems like some sort of perpetual motion lie but simply telling yourself that lifting your legs is lighter than pushing your body seems to work.  Her Garmin beeps at the summit to indicate having completed 6 miles.  This last mile in a 9:20 mile pace putting her 110 seconds over par.  A 9 minute mile pace is starting to look unrealistic.

Or maybe not.  As Sara begins her descent she realizes she is fully recovered and is in the mood to pick up her pace.  Mile 7 will be the same as mile 4, only in reverse.  But mile 4 was one of her fastest in 8:42.  She would need to keep her pace about 30 seconds under 9 minute miles to finish on par.  This would also require a negative split – running the second half faster than the first.  Possible but rare.  Sara takes full advantage of the downhill slope.  Rather than feeling like she has to run hard it feels more like allowing her body to fall with gravity.  Running fast is effortless, she simply has to allow her legs to go fast.  The two logs over the stream are easy to negotiate as well and the subsequent climb not dramatic enough to slow her down.  Her goal is to beat the 8:42 she ran when this was mile four.

And then she hears what sounds like mountain bikers.  Yep, coming down ahead of her, she can see two of them now.  Her mind races back to her trail etiquette thoughts from mile two.  These bikers need to yield to her.  Sara oftentimes yields to bikers when she is going uphill – assuming she was going slow.  She figured they have the momentum and she didn’t.  It is less of a drag for her to stop than for the bikers who might be enjoying their downhill ride.  Not this time.  The trail is wide enough if they were experienced bikers that she will move to the side but she isn’t yielding.  Uphill or not she has momentum.  They can do whatever.  And they do.  As she moves to her right the two bikers shift to their right and pass at full speed.  The second one shouts there are two more behind.  Fine.

The 3rd biker passes her without stopping as well, but with noticeably more caution.  She appreciates this but doesn’t care so much.  As long as she isn’t being forced to slow down.  This biker also calls her attention to the 4th rider still up the hill.  Sara doesn’t pass this 4th biker until nearly fully up the hill.  He looks to have a good 10 or 15 years over the others who she figures to be around her age – young twenties.  He stops to let her pass so she says, “Thanks buddy.”  But a few feet further and under her breadth she whispers, “Wimp.”  Nice guy no doubt but seriously?  She hopes she never mellows out like that.

She is running across the summit now and her Garmin doesn’t beep until the very start of the decline.  8:30.  “Wow, nice!”  She is nearly half way down before she correctly computes the over/under – she is now only over by 80 seconds.  That should have been relatively simple math but she doesn’t have much blood flowing to her brain, it’s all in her legs.  And her legs continue their strong pace.  This next downhill will be long – roughly a three quarter mile, with the corresponding uphill only a quarter mile.  The opposite of what it was when it was her 3rd mile.  She has to run this hard to take advantage of the negative elevation.  She’ll know after this 7th mile whether or not finishing in a 9 minute mile pace is doable.  She can’t afford to go totally all out – there will be two more miles remaining.  But this has to be her strongest effort.  She imagines it’s a race against a competitor and launches into a race pace that feels like 80% of her full speed.  She probably never ran this fast three quarters into a half marathon but this is only ten miles, not 13.  This is more of a 10K race pace.

Halfway down her legs begin to fatigue.  Not only is this a long downhill, but it grows seriously steep near the bottom and it’s the grade that’s challenging.  She doesn’t want to slow down but can’t help it.  It’s more important to run with an efficient form.  She is still moving at a good clip no doubt but with more focus on stability.  Then she reaches the final 50 meters where it becomes extremely steep and she is forced to slow down considerably.  She brakes her momentum for most of the remaining hill and then lets her body resume some of its speed as she hits the bottom and crosses over the bridge.

The hump in front of her is only a quarter mile and Sara races it like a kick at the end of a race.  She hasn’t forgotten about the remaining two miles but this mile means everything to her at the moment.  She finds that thinking about the big picture sometimes leads to being overly conservative.  You don’t know what your body can do.  Run each episode hard and trust your muscles will recover for the next stretch.  Her Garmin beeps at the quick summit displaying an 8th mile pace of 7:14.  “Good Lord!”  Just like that and with only two miles to go she is now 26 seconds under par.

But she does need to recover.  She is totally out of breath and her legs are growing heavy.  A sure sign of oxygen debt.  But she can’t just massively slow down.  Running downhill will be enough to help her lungs and heart recover without slowing down.  Well, without slowing down much, she definitely has to slow down some.  Sara mostly maintains her pace holding out until she reaches the bottom to assess her recovery.  Upon reaching the stream with the five rocks she sees a crowd of bikers forming on the other side.  “What is it with this creek and crowds?”  Although tired, she puts on a sprint to cross the creek before the group begins to ford their bikes across.  She says thanks and rambles on past them up the hill.  She doesn’t see it but hears the commotion from one of the bikers apparently trying to ride across the creek.  Idiot, just because you can see the bottom doesn’t mean the water won’t carry you away.

Sara feels heaviness in her legs now but her breathing is back under control.  She knows she won’t be able to push hard up this hill as she is on the border line of oxygen debt – her lactate threshold.  She does her best to maintain a decent pace and this feels to her like probably a 9 minute mile.  Pace is harder to judge when you’re this fatigued.  With a mile and a half to go she isn’t concerned so much about recovery as she just doesn’t want to completely bonk.  As long as she doesn’t run into any more crash-pad wearing hikers, she’ll be fine.  She passes several hikers on the trail before reaching the summit but none who cause her to go out of her way or slow down.  Her Garmin beeps at the top of the hill showing a 9:02 minute mile.

She feels good about that.  Sure, she has slowed down a great deal but those were two really impressive miles in a row before this one.  And she is now still 24 seconds under par.  Heading downhill for the final time, Sara knows she could coast in with a final 9 minute mile.  But halfway down the hill the lactic acid is washed from her legs and her breathing is strong again.  She takes off.  Not as fast as that 7:14 mile but fast.  She can taste the end of this run and isn’t ready for it to end.  She feels strong enough for a few more miles.  It’s unlikely she really has any quick access glucose left in her bloodstream.  More likely adrenalin is kicking in.  Sort of odd considering there are no spectators.

The creek at the bottom is the smallest of them all and like the first time she jumps it in stride.  A half mile to go and really only about a quarter mile up hill.  The final quarter is fairly flat.  Sara puts the added effort into climbing the hill without slowing down.  This really does feel like racing to her.  It helps her to understand that as much as she likes competing against other girls, she mostly simply enjoys running fast.  The feeling of her body being that of an animal.  A race horse is her favorite analogy.  She is a fucking thoroughbred race horse and racing feels glorious.  The hill begins to peak and she picks up her pace.

Maybe a little too fast.  She is running 85% full out and isn’t sure she can maintain this for another quarter mile.  If this was simply a workout, she would begin to cool down now but she holds her pace steady.  Soon she sees flashes of cars or people or perhaps both at the trail head through the trees.  She must be within 100 meters, maybe only 50, of the end of the trail.  She cranks into a faster gear and then another gear and then her top end sprint – racing against no one but herself.

The trail head is nearly blocked by a pack of bikers.  They leave her an exit that twists to the right towards her car meaning she can’t simply collapse after entering the trail head – she has to follow the curving path bordered by their bikes and consider how she looks since these are some good looking boys.  She stops her watch upon hearing the beep but doesn’t look at it.  She will as soon as she feels composed but she already knows she broke a 9 minute mile pace.  That accomplishment is hardly in doubt.  Her focus now is on catching her breath before turning around to face this group of riders.  Her pacing requires her to turn in several loops but she keeps her head down until she feels confident enough to look up.

When she does, the pack of eight bikers are all staring at her.  One appears to be taking her picture with his iPhone.  “You taking my picture?”  Her tone was accusatory and pissed-off sounding.

“Video actually, for my blog.  That okay?  I caught you exiting the trail like a banshee from hell.  What’s your name?  I’ll tag my blog so you can find it.”

“Sara.  No H.”

“What’s your last name?”

“First name is all you get boy.”  He looks younger than her by a couple of years and while he appears fit, he doesn’t look competitive and she feels confident talking down to him.  “You’re not my speed.”

“No argument Darlin’.  Google running blog and Sara.  You’ll find your video.”

Sara turns back toward her car for her ice chest of beverages.  She’s as thirsty as a banshee from hell.  She gazes down at her Garmin.  6:58.  “Whoa!”