New Highs

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By: Joey Schrichte

“I’ve gotta do it.” I thought as I hiked around Engineer Mountain.

A deep curiosity and desire beckoned me to get to the top as I was taken aback by its magnificent beauty.

Two days later, I was going for it.

I had never been on top of a mountain before, which added to the excitement. Engineer sits at 12,972 feet in the San Juan National Forest in Southwest Colorado. It’s no Everest and obviously it’s not even a fourteener, but I had no idea how daunting it would be for me.

Once I got to the approach trail, I was immediately taken aback about what lay ahead. I was met with a steep gradient of loose dirt and small rocks. Instantly, it put my nerves on the edge. Keeping a steady and trustworthy grip with my shoes seemed impossible. I was just getting started on my way up and I was already using my hands.

This eventually turned into larger, more stable rocks to plant my feet but as I got higher up the security of solid ground was further away.

I couldn’t tell if my heart was pounding because of the altitude or because I was getting scared.

Around the halfway mark, I froze in fear, unsure of which way to go. From my vantage point, in a narrow passageway between two rocks, I couldn’t see the way people were going.

Straight and to the right, was a sliver of a ledge. One slip of a hand or foot and life would be over.

I attempted that way, but after a few minutes of not going anywhere I realized there was no way I would make it.

I made my way back to the haven in between the rocks and wondered if climbing up to the left was what people were doing. I couldn’t tell.

My heart was pounding and I was legitimately scared.

I pulled out my phone and noticed I had service. I sent a text to a few friends and even to my Mom, who knew I was climbing Engineer.

“I’m freaking out right now.” It said.

I didn’t really know what to do. So I waited.

I figured people, whom I could see on my way up, would be coming down soon.

I spent 30 minutes in this spot waiting nervously.

When a couple came down, I admitted that I didn’t know where to go, that this was my first time trying to get up Engineer and that this was my first time going up a mountain, ever.

They had climbed up and to the left of where I was. And they assured me that I was in the hardest section and that in about 10 yards I would be able to easily navigate my way to the top.

My heartbeat settled.

Equipped with their advice, I continued on slowly and slightly more confident.

Looking around me, the intense composition of landscape around had me amazed. The vast empty air, though, had me on the edge in my head and filled me with fear again.

There were many times I thought about quitting. Like during my second 50-miler when a thunderstorm tore through the area just as I was going through the “what am I doing here” phase of a race. I wanted to quit, but I was there to run. And I was there to climb Engineer.

It didn’t take much longer from where I was stalled to reach the peak.

I gave out a victorious roar when I arrived at the top.

I was ecstatic!

It was one of the greatest feelings in the world to summit my first mountain ever. And I think my freak out ordeal made the moment that much more sweet.

I can’t remember a specific time in my childhood, but that was the most scared I had been since my youth.

Getting to the top was monumental for me, to say the least. I will never forget the pure joy I felt from just the commitment and completion. I was elated and proud.

It was one of the best feats I have achieved so far in my life outside of running an ultra.

To me, the recovery phase is just as essential to the process of being an ultrarunner as the physical training that takes up a majority of the year. It’s the time to take time off to recoup physically and mentally. It’s the time to relish other things that you love to do, but don’t have the time for when in training.

That means spending time hiking for me. To slow things down and to see and appreciate things at a much slower pace that I might have missed while running. And to explore new places and unfamiliar pleasures.

I know that what I do in my recovery phase will fuel my motivation to get back to running regularly very soon. The lessons I learn and the experiences I go through in this time will be just as significant to my life and training as what I learn from my runs and races. And I know that those lessons learned will be carried over into my next season of ultras.

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