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PAUL AIKEN
FIELD NOTES: Revenge of the flatlanders

T here’s no oxygen.

That’s how my dad was summing up our “easy jog” on the Mesa Trail. He was walking. Mom was running but breathing hard. She’s never one to concede anything, even the difference in altitude between St. Louis and Boulder, so I wondered if I should stop her before she redlined.

She leaned against a rock, hands to knees, head down. Too late.

My parents had come out to run the Bolder Boulder. On the Saturday before the big race, I took them for a fun jog. By “fun jog,” I mean that to outside observers, it looked like I was forcing a cardiac event on two healthy adults.

Good thing we didn’t try Royal Arch.

I suggested that we walk from Chautauqua to the Bluebell Shelter to warm up, then run on the trail proper. When we arrived at the trail junction, though, my dad said he could barely hike, and my mom was sweating profusely.

Knowing how to adjust activity level for visitors from lower elevations is a balancing act I’ve stumbled through before. I wish I knew how to gauge it — I always blow it. My folks are runners, they’re in great shape. But the altitude was killing them.

We proceeded on the Mesa Trail, and when we eventually turned around for the downhill, everyone ran and enjoyed it. But we all worried: How would they feel on Monday?

The morning of the Bolder Boulder, the air was electric. I haven’t run much this spring, but I was psyched about running my first Bolder Boulder, and I was grateful my folks were there to share the experience.

The bugle bugled, a shot fired into the thin Colorado air, and we were off. Around mile two, I picked up marshmallows from little girls on a corner. I chewed and checked on my folks. They looked fine. More than fine. They looked solid. Focused.

More focused than me, open-mouth noshing on a marshmallow, waving my arms at the bands, high-fiving kids, wondering if the bacon house would have bacon this year.

Khaaaak. I inhaled marshmallow powder and choked.

My dad had been keeping an eye on his watch. Around the three-mile marker, I saw him surge around a group. I looked away — perhaps at a costumed runner? — and when I looked back, he was gone.

“Yeah, he does that around mile three,” Mom said.

I stayed with Mom for another mile. When she paused for a drink at a water station, I slowed but got fed up with the crowd. So I kept going. I kicked up the hill on 13th, presumably passing some flatlanders like my folks, hurting at this altitude.

But I wondered if I could catch another flatlander — my dad.

On Pearl Street, I spotted Allen Lim passing out his Secret Drink Mix and cut over for one. I did the same when I spotted a guy handing out bacon on Walnut. But I didn’t spot my dad.

I found him waiting for us in Folsom, cool as a cucumber. He finished five minutes ahead of me.

Not bad for a guy without oxygen.

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