How does it feel to run at 4,100 feet above sea level when you usually run at an elevation that's just a mere 45 feet above sea level? Ten years ago I had business in Denver and brought my running gear with me so that I could get a couple of runs in. In fact, that was the year I was stranded at the airport when my flight home was cancelled. It was September 11, 2001. But that's another story from which folklore has been made. I remembered that the altitude reduced my performance somewhat. But I'm now 10 years older and I wondered how much more I'd be affected. On this trip I was about to find out.
I'm in Van Horn, Texas this weekend. It's a small, dusty town strung along the Pacific railroad line and bound on the south side by Interstate 10. The town was settled in the 1860's as a support center along the overland mail route between San Antonio and El Paso. Then the rail line came in, adding to growth of the town. Today it's not much more than a wayside stop for travelers on I-10. But while there are several chain hotels and fast food restaurants at the exits, there are still plenty of clean and neat mom & mom motorcourts along the main street. There's a cute little coffee house in town, and a beautifully restored historic hotel that warrants a trip back to enjoy its luxurious furnishings and fine dining.
Since I needed to get a long run in this weekend, I decided to map an 8-mile route through the town. It was going to be cool in the morning - 50 degrees - but my greater concern was getting that long run in at 4,000 feet elevation. There'd be lots of opportunities to short-circuit the route if I needed to, but, as it turned out, I didn't have to.
It was gorgeous and clear and crisp when I set out this morning. I had money and my room key tucked in a pocket, with the reward of a McDonald's parfait, sausage muffin and cappucino waiting for me at the end of the route.
The first little bit of the route was up a slight grade and I knew it...I could feel it in my legs but also in my breathing. But, the good news was that soon I'd be turning around and heading back the other way, through town and to the far east side where the main street dead-ends into I-10...all of it on a slight downhill grade.
There's a Love's Truck stop at that turnaround point, so I took advantage of that. Now I had to turn around and run back up that slight uphill grade to the center of town where I turned right and headed north towards the northern edge of town. More uphill grade! It was mostly residential, but with the county courthouse, county fire department, library, and school all tucked in between the little stucco houses. At 10th Street I turned left and ran three blocks which brought me into the heart of the residential area. Each home was neat as a pin, with neat xeriscape yards (this is high desert, after all) and plentiful dogs to keep me company. I turned south onto Fannin Street and headed back toward the center of town, my route making a large box through this neighborhood.
That's the nice thing about a tiny little town like this. First, there's no traffic at all. It made running a pleasure. Second, the dogs pretty much own the little streets. I was escorted and ushered from house to house by a phalanx of dogs. Big dogs. Little dogs. Tiny dogs. The cutest was a little "guy" that looked like a long-haired chihuahua. It came charging out into the street and right up to my feet, barking and looking all business. But it fell in step with me and scampered along, until I had to stop and clap my hands to shoo it back home. I was afraid it would follow me too far.
I was then back to the center of town, so I ran south to a Pilot gas station that sits at an interstate exit and bought a bottle of water and banana. I found a shady spot to eat my banana and drink some water before continuing my run.
Now I only had the stretch from the center of town back up the main street to the far western side of town - about 2 miles - where a McDonald's sits at a different interstate exit. Only problem is that this stretch is going back up that uphill grade and my legs were starting to feel oxygen deficit. I kept my mind focused on the reward at the end of the run and just kept plugging along. Occasionally I took a brief walking break to catch my breath.
Finally! The street where I'd be turning left came into view and, once around that corner, the McDonald's was visible under the I-10 overpass. I did it!