To really see Colorado in the warm-weather months, you have to get your shoes dirty.
I took this principle to a new low this summer as a participant in the Warrior Dash at Copper Mountain. While I've enjoyed the view from many a mountaintop in Colorado, this was my first time seeing our state from the bottom of a mud pit.
The event, which involves three miles of running and a dozen climbing, crawling, jumping and balancing obstacles, would be more aptly named the "Warrior Slog" — because nobody dashes with pants full of mud.
About a mile into the course, participants go belly-down in the mud to crawl under barbed-wire fences. Unsure of the mud's content and origin (rumor had it the stuff was imported), my main objective was to keep my head out of the muck. Neck craned upward from below ground level, I found the rise of the nearby lower ski slopes to be more impressive than I'd noticed before.
Now you may question how 7,500 people came to find themselves face-down in the mud on a summer Saturday, and I think the other participants' answers would be similar to mine: for the challenge.
To stay in shape, a lot of us go to the gym and run in place, simulate climbing on various contraptions and lift fabricated weights. Training for this event got me out of the gym to exercise — and for that I'll be forever grateful.
I tried rock climbing on real rocks, swung on the monkey bars at local playgrounds and best of all, was introduced to the world of trail running.
I've never had the patience for long-distance running on city streets, but running out in the dirt offers up constant distractions.
You tend not to think about how much your legs are burning when surrounded by a meadow of wildflowers; you don't hear your labored breath when a jay drowns it out; and you really forget your suffering when a pair of bucks crosses the path in front of you.
Hills are inherent in trail running, which means your efforts are usually rewarded with a stunning view of the lowlands below. However, I recommend limiting your sightseeing to the top of the mountains. Take your eyes off your feet for too long, and you'll likely trip on the many obstacles in your path.
The trail runs and mud slogs are wrapping up this month, but you don't need a bib number to challenge yourself. We have lots of obstacle courses in Colorado — they're called trails.
The day after the dash, my family headed out on the 3-mile hike up to Lily Pad Lake and back. As I watched my young daughters relish the challenge of balancing on fallen trees, scrambling across boulder fields and running after chipmunks, it occurred to me that a trail like this one probably inspired obstacle races in the first place.
There was even a muddy lake at the end, perfect for wallowing in.
Chryss Cada is a freelance writer and adjunct journalism professor at Colorado State University. Visit her online at chryss.com.