today’s post is brought to you by Daniel Castle, a 2009 USAFA grad. See below the post for a full bio.
It’s almost September as I write this, and the low today is over 80 degrees. The high? Scary. Heat stroke scary. A cold front moved in to Wichita Falls, Texas a few weeks ago and pushed the temperatures down to highs of 101-102. In the middle of 52 consecutive days of +100 degree heat I drove back “home” to Colorado Springs for a wedding. Well, I attended a wedding. But I was really heading back to go run. I’d missed running in Colorado and didn’t even realize how much until I felt the crisp morning air on my run a few short hours after we got in.
I was only going to be in the Springs for a little over a day and had to pack light because I was carpooling. I had the clothes I was wearing, my military dress uniform to wear to the wedding, and two sets of running clothes and shoes. Whenever I travel, my running stuff always finds its way into my bag first, my backup running stuff somehow gets in there next, and then I fill in the empty spaces with whatever normal clothes fit. I thought I brought enough to be prepared for an early morning Colorado run in Cottonwood Creek Park. It was almost half the temperature I was used to, and I was freezing.
It’s always the little things about home, like drastic temperature change during the day, that I forget. “Home” is the only way I can describe how I felt stepping outside and seeing the mountains for the first time in over six months. Because home is the way Colorado feels, and the way Colorado becomes. For me, identifying Colorado as home took a while.
Though I spent my four years at the Academy running track and cross country for Air Force, I couldn’t wait to leave. I hated the wind on the Santa Fe trail. No matter which way we ran, Palmer Lake to Woodman, Woodman to Palmer Lake, it was always a head wind. And not just a normal headwind, but a howling twenty-second-a-mile headwind that made me turn my head just to hear what one of my teammates said (which was usually something about how much the wind sucked). I hated walking down to practice in 60 degree weather, changing, and walking out into a blizzard. I hated dodging lighting every day in the summertime at three o’clock. I hated the hills on Kipp’s Loop. And Section 16? Never running that again.
But after I did leave, I couldn’t wait to get back. My few runs over that wedding weekend showed me that the thousands of miles I’d run in Colorado had left an indelible mark on me. The memories I’d made on those trails all came flooding back fondly: battling with a friend through 18 miles of headwind/rain/sleet and not knowing when we would ever be warm again, hiding under sparse pine trees waiting for the hail to stop, treading through over a foot of snow because treadmills are an abomination, blueberry banana milkshakes at Rosie’s Diner in Monument after a Saturday long run. Running anywhere else just isn’t the same as running in Colorado. In a world where so many things change, there is comfort in Pikes Peak. The air really is cleaner in Colorado. The sun really is brighter. And when I’m in Colorado, it actually does feel like I’m a little closer to heaven.
Sadly, I only got two runs in during the 31 hours I was in Colorado Springs for that wedding weekend. But I left with more than a few additional red blood cells from “training” at altitude. I’d left with the realization that Colorado–its trails, its crazy unpredictable weather, and its natural beauty–will go with me. Every time I lace up my shoes and head out into 110 degree heat, I remember Colorado. And in that memory I can capture a bit of home no matter where I am.
Daniel Castle is a miler. His attention span is way too short for any of the longer races. In high school, he discovered a strong dislike for cross country but a love of running in circles. He suffered through cross country seasons for four years in college as a walk on to the Air Force Academy distance team but managed to make it to track season every year. After graduating in 2009, his first Air Force assignment was Colorado State University for a 12 month master’s degree program. While not writing his thesis, he was skipping cross country season and running track for the Brooks ID program. In 2010, Daniel ran a 3:40.75 1500m and later came in 21st at that year’s USATF Nationals. Currently, he is stationed at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas learning how to fly airplanes, not running track for the first time in 10 years, and nursing far off Olympic dreams while trudging through 110 degree heat whenever he finds the time. Daniel still competes for the Air Force/Newton Running team and finds himself running races much longer than a mile despite his better judgement.