Colorado vs. California Running

How some seaside runs influenced my 2022 race plans

Last weekend, family commitments prompted me to return to California. I ran three times along the beach path between Venice and Santa Monica, and the experience reinvigorated my running and made my racing plans for 2022 take shape.

Here in southwest Colorado, living at 9000 feet and running routes that ascend above tree line, running never gets easy. No matter how much I train or how altitude-adapted I become, and no matter how slowly I run in search of an “easy” pace, I feel short of breath. I’ve normalized hiking breaks and consequently run at a slow average pace of around 12 to 15 minutes per mile due to the uphill hiking mixed in, unless I’m on the town’s flat bike path, in which case I average around 10 minutes per mile.

Those pace numbers used to seem pathetically slow, back when I lived in California and would do track workouts at paces that hit the low to mid 6’s, and I could run 26.2 miles with a pace in the 7’s for marathon finishes in the low 3-hour range. But that’s the reality of slower rugged mountain running compared to coastal road and trail running.

At the beach last weekend, elevation 12 feet, my legs remembered how to run fluidly without pausing to hike, and my pace hovered around 9 minutes per mile—unremarkable and average, but fast compared to my Colorado norm. Sweat soaked my shirt and scalp. In Colorado’s thin, dry air, by comparison, sweat quickly evaporates, and I never feel this sweaty unless I’m on a treadmill at the gym.

While I wouldn’t trade living in the mountains for the beach, I relished the scene of surfers, volleyball players and inline skaters amongst runners and walkers. Running in that environment felt so playful and quintessentially Californian.

My whole life, I’ve engaged in a Colorado vs. California comparison while straddling the two states. For those who don’t know me, some background: I grew up in the Southern California town of Ojai, two hours north of LA, but my dad’s side of the family came from Telluride. My parents built a home outside of Telluride when I was a little kid, and we spent summers living there during my dad’s breaks from work. Later in life, from college through raising kids, I lived in Northern California, but my husband and I continued to visit this corner of Colorado regularly. Five years ago, we bought land next to my parents’ cabin, where my brother now lives, and moved here year-round.

Where would I rather live and run? Colorado, no question now. And yet, California—the romanticized version of it, minus the traffic—tugs at me. So I’ve decided to kick off 2022 with two California races.

First, I registered for the Ventura Marathon in late February, which starts a block away from my childhood home in Ojai and runs to the beach. I’m excited to run down memory lane with this marathon.

And yet, I’m nervous. I haven’t trained for a road marathon since the 2019 Napa Valley. I know I can do it—I have finished 19 road marathons, part of 105 marathons and ultras I’ve run since my first road marathon in 1995—but my ego struggles with the reality that this sea-level race with a net loss in elevation will be truly challenging, psychologically as much as physically. I’m daunted by the prospect of a finishing time that I used to consider slow (my marathon PR is 3:05:53, from 2009). Can I even break 4 hours now? I’ll need to do speed sessions on a treadmill during snowy winter months for steady, faster running, and log long runs on the drier, flatter bike path in the lower-elevation city of Montrose.

Apart from the Southern California route that motivates my desire to do this marathon, I want to get in top running shape heading into summer. Steady, focused marathon training is a sure-fire way to boost cardiovascular fitness and improve speed early in the season, which will translate to greater fitness and efficiency for mountain ultras.

The second big race on my 2022 calendar will take me back to the Marin Headlands north of the Bay Area, where I used to race frequently. I got a spot in the classic Miwok 100K, which I ran twice before (2012 and ’14). Absence from these trails made my heart grow fonder for them.

As for Colorado races, who knows? Plans for the season depend on whether I get into Hardrock or High Lonesome. For now, I’m dreaming of those two California events.

For those of you considering 2022 races, I offer some recommendations for Colorado trail events. I encourage you to comment below on how your 2022 race plans are taking shape and if you have any additional Colorado races you’d recommend. I’m not listing any in the northern part of the state (aside from Run Rabbit Run), such as around Fort Collins, because I haven’t had the chance to run or race up there.

Related post: Why Racing Matters

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