Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrong Way 5K

For a town its size, Fort Collins still retains an impressive handful of computer technology companies, such as HP, AMD, Intel, and Avago, as well as Broadcomm and LSI Logic. HP, where I work, still maintains a wellness coordinator and a free gym, two things for which I am grateful. Furthermore, HP puts on its own 5k run/1 mile walk twice a year for employees, aided with course layout and timing from Steve and Brad from local running store Runner's Roost. Finally, each participant recieves raffle tickets, entered in a drawing for prizes donated by local sponsors. How cool is that?

The race takes place in the parking lot and trail around the campus. This was my fourth (or fifth?) time doing one of these races. The course is always the same, and I won the last couple of times running it. Both of those times, another runner, Justin, and I pushed each other towards the end, and I had to keep my pace honest to stay ahead of him. Also, my coworker and friend Ray has had quite a fast year -- qualifying for Boston again, and even beat my half marathon PR by a couple seconds.

But Justin wasn't racing today, Ray was thinking 19-something...
And I got lost.

Anyway, the Spring race usually has a fun Hawaiian theme, whereas the Thanksgiving race is a turkey trot. The turkey trot race has a few designated pacer "turkey," who run 20, 24, or 30min paces. Beat your goal turkey, and get another raffle ticket. Last year, I did not run, and nobody beat 20 minutes (including the turkey). This year, I volunteered to be the 20min turkey, as I pride myself on hitting a pace with a standard watch (and often without one). However, the position was already taken.

Crap, I was gonna have to race it.

I did put a little bit of speedwork in the last few weeks, just to tune up and see how the legs were feeling. Plus, this was another perfect tuneup for the Thanksgiving Day Run here in town, so I might as well give it my best. My best, though, is still based on personal time, not interpersonal competition. I do enjoy a bit of friendly, close competition, only because of the extra push, but my main focus is the objective time and distance itself, not comparing myself to others.

It was a bit chilly but sunny, and I just had a singlet and shorts on, with numerous other folks wearing hats, gloves, etc. I just showed up ready to run, without much of a warmup, and we took off. Some kid in jogging pants took off like a bullet, but I quickly caught up with him, and I was alone. My pace was relaxed, and right at my goal: I would aim just under 6-minute miles, so as to hope to do the same in the 4-miler next week. I hit the 1 mile mark right on time, and was feeling great. Nobody was around, and I was determined to focus on pace and not turn my head back.
"Nobody's even close to you! You're making it look easy!" said Brad, cheering me on, as I looped back to the start.

Soon after crossing the start, I hit the 2-mile mark. This is also where I started mingling with the finishing 1-mile walkers...and where the confusion of the 2nd loop began. I remember being confused by this turn in the past. I think the first year I did this, there were 3 of us together, and 2 of us didn't know the right way, until the 3rd pointed us in the right direction. For some reason, I thought I was supposed to make a big loop around the building again. I passed a volunteer at the turn, who was quiet but saying nothing, and I said, "I go that way, right?" she said, "No, I think you go this way", which was correct...but I insisted on going *my* way! I don't why I did this, just that I mentally envisioned going straight for some reason, and I didn't think the mileage made sense if I went the other way.

A minute later, I hit the exit of the wrong turn, and I finally comprehended mistake, so I turned around, losing a couple minutes total. Now, there were 4 people in front of me. I didn't think I'd catch them, but I ended up catching the next two (and felt kind of bad about it), before finishing just under 21 minutes, and around 3.4-3.5 miles total, and I beat neither Ray nor the turkey.

I don't know how or why I made the wrong turn. I've been quite busy and distracted lately, and I even wonder if I sabotaged myself for some reason while running by myself. I have a feeling that if someone were close behind, I would have made dead-sure to go the right way. I seem to make mistakes when I'm lackadaisical about the details, yet stick to a plan meticulously when I take something very seriously. As it was, it was a good training run! Thanks to HP, Runner's Roost, and sponsors like Panera, Old Chicago, and Silver Mine Subs.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Rough Journey along Devil's Backbone

Not really, but since I haven't contributed anything for awhile...

Coyote Ridge to Devil's Backbone, ~18 miles roundtrip

Saturday was cool, with cold threatening. I slept in, and snow was once again predicted for the evening. But by late morning the clouds were pregnant with it...and showing.

This front was quite nice because it was windless and calm. I felt comfortable in shorts, but brought warmer jacket, hat, and gloves. Since I've been running more local lately, I thought a little bit of hills in Devil's Backbone sounded like a good bet. I hopped on the Schwinn Probe (free junker that I brought back from Minnesota and have been riding daily for several months) and headed out.

First, I should note that this week, work on the Powerline Trail from Keenland down to Trilby began in earnest. Not only is the fence up along the entire path, but it is now bulldozed into a solid dirt road. I have mixed feelings knowing that much of our longstanding singletrack social trails is gone for good, but I suppose it will be better when they pour the foundation for the alter of Progress. Or something.
Being Saturday, I assumed there would be a respite from Useful Work, and that I could hop the fence and ride this ephemeral road to Trilby. I made it a half mile before I saw the machines were fully awake, not dozing, and that I had better get out of the way. I picked up my bike and tip-toed lightly over a Southridge Fairway, and hit the real road.

Soon I was off to Coyote Ridge. Here I will skip ahead, before skipping back, to note that once again, I was happy to return from running several hours to find my bike was unmolested.

To the run: I ran with a light pack today, which is rare, so as to carry my poofy jacket, and a thermos full of hot coffee. I implored the heavens to rain snow and crud upon me -- it was just one of those weeks -- and wanted to be prepared. As it was, though, the run to the DBB trailhead was uneventful but pleasantly quiet. Saw maybe a half dozen folks all day.

And one of them was an intrepid youngster survivalist. I know this because he and his mom told me. As I paused to swig some coffee and eat an orange, they were getting ready to hike. I asked if they were ready for snow, and the boy (all of 10 or 11) told me he was ready for anything. He knew how to build snow caves, and had garbage bags with him for emergency shelter.
"He could be the next Bear Grylls!" said his mom, but in a refreshing sort of pride built on a boy's genuine interest and enthusiasm, rather than an Honor Roll bumper sticker.

Soon, I headed back, and quickly caught up with them, and wished them well. Seeing my small pack and shorts, Bear Junior advised: "I hope you're prepared!"
I slowed a bit and replied: "I hope so, too, since I need to make it back to Ft. Collins!"
"You're from Ft. Collins?! How far is that?"
"9 miles or so"
"Well, I hope you're prepared! It's a rough journey ahead!"

With that, my spirits were briefly lifted, knowing that boys of any age can still find adventure and excitement outside. I hope he learns, even earlier than I did, that your legs can take you much farther than most people give them credit for. Even if it is a rough journey.

The run back was calm and even. A few flakes started to fall, and it was getting socked in towards Estes, but not up toward Fort Collins. In the final descent, I opened up a bit and let the legs fly. These lower mileage weeks and speedwork are making me feel a bit more fresh at the end of each run, which is nice.

I hopped on the bike, and then took a detour to watch a taped Badger game with some friends. I skipped the details on why I was wearing shorts in the snow on that side of town. Some drinks, a sunset, a Badger victory, and a few inches of snow later, I was cruising home through a delightful snowstorm.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Running on the Grid

Every good endurance training plan has elements of distance as well as speedwork.
Like many, I dread speedwork. Precisely for that reason, I figure it's good for me, and have brought back 8x800's on Tuesday's, ensuring that I feel like crap for the rest of the afternoon.

Speed, of course, is comprised of two components: distance and time. Time is easy enough: wear my wife's light blue $10 women's watch, or carry one of the numerous freebie plastic caribiner watches, plastered with logos of pharmaceuticals or obscure electrical engineering software tools, that I've somehow acquired. Distance -- ay, there's the rub.

Luckily, Ft. Collins has numerous resources for easy distance/pacing. Fort Collins's flatness, and Western new infrastructure, lends itself to a grid of square miles between major intersections. Many folks already have their favorite spots, but I thought I'd share for newbies and visitors.
Here are some of my favorite resources for "gridwork," without being plugged into the technological grid via treadmill or satellite. (OK, so you still need a digital timepiece, so my metaphor kind of breaks down quickly...)

* Urban multi-use trail system
The Poudre, Spring Creek, and Powerline Trails are numbered per quarter-mile. The Poudre and Spring Creek trails are centered on College Ave, with "E" and "W" designating East and West, respectively. For example, "PE3" is the Poudre Trail 3/4 miles east of college.
Also, the Boyd Lake trail is a fantastic resource between South FC and Loveland. Loveland's trail system also has quarter-mile numbering.
This numbering is also helpful in locating for emergencies or just for meeting spots.

* Major road intersections
Overland/Taft/Shields/College/Lemay/Timberline/Ziegler/(Strauss Cabin)
are *generally* a mile apart -- YMMV based on slight road curves and tangents.

Combining these two facts, besides the quarter-mile markers, there is a nice stretch of generally flat trail on the Powerline and Mason Trail, between Drake and Horsetooth.

* Minor road intersections
Since thousands of folks work and live in the SE corner of town, near HP, Avago, Intel, AMD, etc., it's worth noting the nice, popular grid around here:
- Harmony to Rock Creek is a perfect 1/2 mile along Lady Moon or Ziegler;
- Lady Moon to Ziegler is also a 1/2 mile
- Harmony/Strauss Cabin-Horsetooth-Ziegler-Harmony is a perfect 3-mile, with a nice hill in the middle

* Track
The track, of course, is a great way to pound out reliable speedwork. Some of the more popular options:
- CSU track: 800M track (inside lane) open to general public unless an event is going on. Tuesday mornings and evenings seem to be popular.
- CSU indoor track: Students only, at the rec center. 1/8th mile in the middle lane. If you're taking a class and don't otherwise think about the rec center, it's a great place for bad weather days
- Fossil Ridge HS track: Rock Creek and Lady Moon, open to public when not in use. Frequently locked, but you can acquire a key from the Poudre School District with proper forms and a deposit.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October Snow Days

20+ inches of snow, before Halloween

A big, early season upslope was upon us. The forecast called for rain changing to snow around midnight, Tuesday night, and continuing through Thursday but flakes were starting to fall after 8PM. Signs were looking good for the upper end of the forecast. More snow fell on Thursday; all told, we ended up with over 20 inches (although the warm ground meant that not all of it stuck).

Ski to Work

Anyway, Wednesday morning, I made the call without hesitation: there was enough snow to ski to work (just under 3 miles), and the forecast meant that there would be even more snow to ski back home. This being our 4th winter snow season here, there's generally a handful of days, at best, that are skiable for work. Many of the storms that dump enough snow are followed by immediately sunny skis that melt everything on pavement and concrete by the afternoon.

And pavement and concrete are the enemy.

The difficulty of urban skiing, you see, is numerous snowless crossings. Without taking off skis at every intersection, the way to handle this is to walk straight up and down like a duck, without sliding the skis on the pavement at all. The best conditions, on the other hand, is when there is a thin layer of solid ice on the road. But beggar's can't be choosers, especially when it comes to October snow.

All geared up, I made it to work in about 35-40 minutes, which is about twice the time it takes to run. Still, the fun is the journey itself, as it's nice to get the skis out, get the legs used to the motions again, and evangelize skiing and alternative transportation. Enough people smile or ask about it to make it even more fun.

As even more snow fell, I thought Thursday would be even better, so gave it another go. The ice on the roads was nice, but the deep snow in open fields was pretty tough. Snow kept falling all day, but the temperature stayed in the mid 30's. By Thursday afternoon, tragically, the roads and sidewalks were bone dry. Here I encountered one more sole traversing the desert: a female tele skier (the hat gave it away) with her skis on her shoulders!
"It's time to just give it up and walk!" she laughed as I crossed the road. She had skied in both days, too, but it looked like our ski commuting was done for this month at least.

Powerline South
My favorite spot for a quick, immediate run or ski (or even the beginning of a cross-town mt. bike ride) is what I call "Powerline South", which are the dirt trails directly across from our condo, running 2 miles N-S from Harmony to Trilby along the railroad tracks. There's a tiny bit of rolling here and there to make it interesting, and we can regularly see and hear coyotes in the area at night. This trail is slated to be an extension of the official city "Powerline Trail," which is bittersweet. I love the trail system, of course, but it is sad to see the fence go up, and the prospect of the trail losing its best characteristics: unofficial, dirt, numerous railroad crossings, etc. I hope the new trail doesn't destroy or block off some of the existing wildness.

Jess and I hit the trail a bit Wednesday night, as she got her snowshoes out for the new season. We made most of the new tracks through deepening snow. I played around a bit more Thursday and Friday night, under a nearly-full moon, finally getting a good set of tracks to stay (and saw a few others as well).

Coyote Ridge
Close-by Front Range ski access is a rare commodity. Fantastic, world-class snow conditions are easy to find -- if you drive 80-90 minutes. So all year, I try to pay attention to which trails might be good with some decent snow. These trails wouldn't be found in any local snowshoe or ski guide if they only have enough snow a couple days every other year. I've had great fun at Horsetooth (service road up to the rock), Horsetooth/Soderberg (Towers to Sawmill); Young's Gulch in the lower canyon; and Pineridge/Maxwell/Dixon Lake (but upper Foothills is too rocky).
This time, I decided to give Coyote Ridge a try.

The storm was moving out Thursday night, and the nearly-full moon was coming in, so I was able to ski without a headlamp. To summarize: conditions pretty much sucked for skiing, and would have been great for trail running instead. The wind alternated patterns of nearly dry trail with drifts, and rocks poked out everywhere. Every once in awhile I'd get a good stretch to ski, and I stubbornly persisted to the top of the ridge and enjoyed the view, but I can't call it good skiing. Oh well.

RMNP - Nymph, Dream, Emerald Lakes

By the weekend, everything around or near town was pretty bare outside of the trees. My hopes of trying out Bobcat Ridge, Devil's BB/Blue Sky, or Crosier Mountain, were pretty much dashed. Still, Jess and I were hopeful about good old reliable Bear Lake area, which was still showing 13 inches on Snotel, and has enough tree cover and traffic to keep the snow around. Plus, we wouldn't have the mid-season windchill and sometimes snow that's too deep to deal with, which has turned us around in RMNP before. After driving through the canyon in the warm sun, we finally got to Bear Lake, and weren't disappointed.

There was enough snow, and enough of it was fun, to make it worthwhile. Sure, traffic was a bit heavier than ideal, but it was nice to see lots of folks enjoying the day. It was certainly possible to hike in shoes, as many were, but the traction of the snowshoes certainly made it easier, and my skis made it more fun. There was plenty of sketch: narrow trail with blind corners, slush turning to ice as you changed directions, etc., but I made mental notes of the worst spots going up, in order to avoid them going down. Yeah, I banged my skis up and fell enough, but wasn't going fast enough to damage anything seriously.

We had not been to Emerald Lake previously, so we enjoyed the view:

Two minor problems with RMNP (as compared to Brainard Lakes or Cameron Pass), especially the popular/short trails: sharp corners/turns cut by hikers but not maneuverable by skiers; and total gaper fest stretched out across the trail. Still manageable on this nice day, though. I can't wait for Wild Basin to fill in more and to head back.

All in all, it was a fun 4-5 days of playing in the snow, and now it's all gone.

Halloween "Dog Days" Marathon

After this week's snowstorm, things were up in the air for Saturday. The initial plan was to carpool with some Ft. Collins folk and head to Boulder for a decent run in the foothills. I was looking forward to meeting some new folks and running on new trails...but none of us expected a couple of feet of snow. While I'm not opposed to running in the snow, if there's a decent amount, I figured I'd rather ski instead.

However, after scouting out the foothills, I was brought back to Colorado reality: local front range snow is a great novelty while it's still snowing. But, after that, a few things inevitably happen: the upslope low clears up, temperatures get back to average and the sun quickly starts melting the snow; and the vacating system often pulls in some drier air that pushes snow around and sucks it right up. So after a couple days, you're left with too-muddy/slushy for distance running, and not enough for skiing.

However, the roads, with associated urban heat, clear the snow right up. Since Saturday was shaping up to be a great weather day, it seemed that a road run was in order. By 11AM, it was warm enough to head out with a long-sleeve shirt and shorts, with only a vague notion of a route: head East over to the Environmental Learning Center; pick up the Poudre Trail heading northwest, and then keep an eye on the time before eventually heading back south.
If I wasn't going to be running the hills in Boulder, at least it seemed like a good day for a marathon.
And so it was. It felt great, and it was a pure reminder, again, of what I enjoy most about running: find a sustainable, enjoyable pace to run outside, checking out what's going on around town, the river, etc. without any particular concern for specific training for something. Runs like this have nothing in common with running inside or any sort of "obligatory" workout.
It's just fun to go for a run.

I decided to call this sort of run a "dog" run for a few reasons. The more pleasant reason is that I decided to randomly pick or modify the route based on whim. As I reached the Environmental Learning Center, I decided to checkout the loop around the natural area that I enjoy. I knew it would be snowy, and it turned out to be just the right amount of snow left for cushioning and traction. Even though it was mid-day, I didn't see any other people, but as I rounded the corner at the far edge, I kicked up a few deer. Nice to have some company!

So another reason for the "Dog Marathon" moniker is due to the melting snow. More specifically, when snow sticks around for a few days, lazy dog owners (of which there are, empirically, hundreds in town) either are too lazy to pick up dog poop through deep snow, or willfully ignore it because it's out of site. This means, during the got it. Not just unsightly, but sections of trail absolutely reek of it. These owners don't notice this (or don't care) if they don't spend the time on these trails, but I urge them to walk a mile (or a few dozen) in someone else's encrusted shoes to appreciate this.

So I hit the Poudre River trail and did a few other natural area spurs, but mostly stuck to the trail. After 15 miles or so and a couple hours, I knew I was committed, since I was on the north side of town. Alas, my trusty Rusty Meyer's bottle was empty, and I brought $2 but no food with me. $2 would be enough calories (when appropriately traded as legal tender for something edible, wiseguy), but I was also just a mile and a half or so from the in-law's house. I know it's annoying to be that brother-in-law that runs across town and then pops in unannounced -- sweaty, hungry, and delirious (doesn't everyone have one?), but thankfully, Christina was home, so I was able to refill the water, grab a banana and granola bars (thanks!). It's nice having them in town, and we enjoyed coming back there later for Halloween Turkey. I played with Bella a bit -- Dog Days Marathon -- before heading back.

I headed back to the Poudre River Trail West to Shields, before deciding to make my way South. By now, I had slowed down a bit, but still enjoying the day. I passed through some streets that I ran regularly when taking class at CSU, and was delighted to hear the church bells clanging at 2pm (I used to have a run that brought me past the church on the hour). I stumbled through campus, towards the Mason Trail. I was definitely getting a bit tired, and I didn't want the extra distance needed to hit the Spring Creek trail from Centre Dr., so I thought I could take a shortcut behind the Game and Wildlife Building. Well, that ended up being a mud and snow slogfest that wasn't a shortcut anyway, but I did scare up a few bright red foxes up close.

Finally, I hit the Mason Trail, and it was warm enough to finish the run shirtless. I cut straight down Harmony and called it a day, four-something hours later, which means it was some sort of ultramarathon distance.
Not bad for the Dog Days of October.