I always loved running up mountains. The effort, pacing, spirit, terrain, and weather all posed challenges which differed day to day. While living in Colorado I became proficient in this- finishing 2nd twice in the Pikes Peak Ascent and top 5 each of the six times I ran this before moving back to the East Coast.
What I did not like was running down the hills. For some reason it tore me up. I could run softly and lightly up but had not mastered the art of down and actually had concluded it was impossible, except for a choice few like mountain guru Matt Carpenter who floated up and down the mountains.
I left Colorado in 2005 and since this time have evolved in my understanding of proper form, true barefoot technique, and what footwear does and doesn’t do. I once believed that the more cushion the better, but still had large muscle soreness after 3000 foot ascents followed by descents. I looked forward to trips to Aspen and Vail where I could run up and take a Gondola down….ahhhhh.
This year while on vacation in Colorado I did the acid test experiment. I ran up and down Vail Mountain every day for a week in an barefoot style shoe called the Terra Plana EVO. This is a 14 mile round trip starting at 8000 ft and climbing to 11000 feet then return. Each day I felt stronger and lighter on the descents, reveling in feeling every rock and adapting my form for a soft landing. My friend Todd Parker joined me on several days in his Vibram Five Fingers. He also gets it.
With good barefoot form the fear of the descent is gone. Next challenge is the true mountain ultra.
My good friends Sarah and Grant Moerschel also made the trip from West Virginia and shared their experience of running up and down the mountain in their minimalis trail shoes purchased at Two Rivers Treads. They trusted their instinct and left the heavy hikers at home.