Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday, Muddy Sunday

2 weeks ago, the muddy downhills in Salida and (relatively) warmer temps wiped me out a bit. With 3 weeks to go before a 50k, I was getting a little anxious about my preparation. The following weekend, I had a good but still-painful 27-miler as a trainer. Legs still felt a bit beat up, with a tight left quad and hip flexor*, but kept pushing during the week, and legs started to loosen up. It seems like little-to-no taper is all the rage these days, so rather than cut the long run down this weekend, I decided that 3 weeks of marathons in a row would be kinda neat and maybe set me up for a strong summer...Or beat my legs up even more.

* - Too much self-indulgent detail. Sorry. Back to my implicit goal of more stories, less minor training details.

Anyway, the weather was primed to be beautiful: upper 50s, DFC-wind. I waited until just after 9 so it was warm enough to run in shorts, and most of the run shirtless. Wanted more vertical, but had to head from my house (Harmony/Timberline area), so decided to head out to Coyote Ridge and back, which would give me a mix of trails and roads, with multiple road options depending on mud conditions.

The first 1.5 miles of the future Powerline Trail-South (Keenland to Trilby) gave me hope for today's trail conditions: wet in spots, but just enough islands of dry dirt to keep my (road) shoes from getting completely caked in mud. Then, I headed straight West on Trilby, and then the mile south to Coyote Ridge, all of which provide good rollers.

I saw a few cars at the Coyote Ridge TH, and a woman getting ready to run/hike. "You're on a long one today!", that's what she said, literally, as she must have passed me in her car on the way to the TH. I headed up the ridge, and the mud wasn't too bad in the middle of the trail -- only a bit dicey in the usual shadowy and north-facing spots.

The trail was just barely on the edge of usable -- I do feel bad about mucking it up, though I stay on the trail and I'm certain the next rain and subsequent traffic will erase all evidence. However, the benefit was that I had it to myself: no mt. bikers, gapers, or rattlesnakes to dodge. Soon I dropped down Rimrock to the Blue Sky intersection, and it was clear that Blue Sky was a bit worse for the wear. I decided to give it a go to the North, thinking about an out-and-back but ready to turn around if necessary.

Except I didn't, . The trail was quite muddy, with some lingering snow, but once I got a mile into it (still staying on the trail, but having to be very careful on downhills!), I decided to finish it up, mostly being too lazy to turn around. Besides, there were human and dog tracks in front of me, and I was curious as to their owners.

Soon, I found them: A female runner/hiker, with her dog, Chloe, trailing her own leash through the mud. After I greeted them, she motioned to the dog:
"I'll get her, she's not a friendly dog!"

I smiled and nodded, but then processed the unusual negative: Nearly every dog owner says "Don't worry, he's a nice dog!", to the point of being meaningless, and they'll quickly get the leash out, even though I actually prefer keeping a well-behaved dog roaming free: it's more fun for the dog, and I think chaining up a dog and getting worried every time a runner goes by might actually create a negative association for the dog.

But I digress. This dog was advertised, unusually, as being not nice: "I don't want her to bite you!" I stopped running, the dog circled around me and growled, but we all remained calm and passed each other. Weird.

So I had the rest of the mud to myself. One thing that was a bit encouraging was that I felt fine, but I was able to see how much the mud slowed me down ("a lot", roughly), on a route I've run before. This means, quite easily, that the mud in Salida might have cost us all 20+ minutes over a "perfect" trail, which we all figured was academically true. But this proof was in the pudding!

Enough with the mud, I decided I'd take the asphalt down around the Horsetooth inlet rather than doubling back. This would also let me hit JJ's on the corner for a liquid refill. I finished my 2 PB&J sandwiches while cruising down the road, and saw a fair number of cyclists enjoying the day as well.

Oh, and one jerk that decided to speed past at ~50mph just a few feet from me, coming from behind (as I was on the left shoulder). The situation was thus (you might need a whiteboard, or various knick-knacks on your desk, to model this): me (pedestrian on left); line of 3 cars on the right, traveling same direction; distant car approaching opposite direction; several cyclists on far right shoulder, traveling same direction. A 4th, impatient SUV zooms past, shooting the gap between me and the 3rd car, scaring the crap out of me, and then keeps passing the other 2 cars, right as the first car swerves a few feet (legally, thank you) to give the cyclists some room; and ducks into his lane as oncoming car comes. Got that?

I'm not sure that passing near a pedestrain from behind is illegal, but with all those people out there, it just seems like bad karma.

Made it down to JJ's, $2 in hand. Cherry slurpee! Haven't had one of those in for-ever. For-ev-ER. Not since getting Icee's at Kmart as a kid, in Wisconsin. Awesome! Manna from heaven. Cold, slushy, high-fructose manna from heaven.

Feeling pretty good as I headed south down Taft, on the left sidewalk (right side didn't exist). Crossed an intersection, as a car cut left (from Taft onto neighborhood street) directly in front of me. WTF? I shouted "Hello?!", as the driver's window was wide open. The driver didn't even look at me. If she had a soul, she could have put up her hands in the "Whoops, sorry!" motion. She was dressed like she just came from church. I could be making that up, but angry side note anyway: I can run outside all morning on a beautiful day, mostly encounter friendly and interesting people in the community, and have little-to-no-chance of accidentally killing somebody else. I'm pretty happy about that.

One more side note: I don't run with headphones, and many ultra-runners similarly don't, much of the time. This is another good reason why. I knew that car was coming before I crossed into that lane, just like I knew that car was passing from behind. Given hundreds of hours and thousands of miles near the road, anyone will develop the ability to hear cars and judge their speed just by sound, or figure out traffic in peripheral vision, just like a fast skier or mountain biker can quickly assess traffic and terrain...because they're focused on survival. Sadly, no such requirement is put on driving, and when many of our citizens barely take the time to walk around town, it feels like fighting a losing battle.

But I digress again, as I soon had my last 5 or so miles of mostly car-free running, through delightfully rattlesnake-free Cathy Fromme prairie, the Clarendon Hills subdivision, and Fossil Creek. I got in in 4:10 or so, including stops, somewhere in the 27-28 mile range.

Anyway, my legs are feeling decent, and I hope I finally turned the corner from base-mileage to consistency and being able to recover more quickly. I did wilt a bit in the sun, which is usual for this time of year, so the next piece of the puzzle is heat training.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Racing and Charity Briefs

One of these days, I might actually sit down for a longer post on my thoughts regarding the mix between charity and racing. The difficulty, of course, is walking the fine line of identifying all of the massive good done by charity fundraising...while also discussing, openly, how some of the aspects of a healthy lifestyle might be clouded or, in some cases, even adversely affected, by the way some charity events are run in a fashion of consumption and don't address root causes head-on, rather than education and encouragement of a lifestyle of physical activity.

But, for now, a good Coloradoan editorial on how the sport of running could or should do more to re-invest in the sport itself.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quick Ultra Flyby's from Alaska and Minnesota

Came across Evan Hone's blog, from Alaska, and spent too much time reading it. A little different flavor of adventure and writing style:

"My dog was kicked in the face by a moose this morning."
"We were about 6 miles in and came around a corner and saw some people camping. They had decided to bring their goats with them for company (kinda weird). I would think that in brown bear country that would be a stupid idea but I soon found out these goats were attack goats."

I like it.

Forgot to check on the Arrowhead 135 results last month, but the top 3 (all on bikes, as usual) finished within one minute of each other!

Now that's crazy! No idea how long they were this close, racing each other -- did the leader back off as much as he could, was there a previous gentleman's agreement, or was it neck-and-neck for 135-freaking-miles in subzero temps?

I like it.

What's Going On: 50k in CA next week, and other tidbits

Not much to add recently. Had a great run Saturday with Alex, Nick, and Pete, as we made a nice marathon route through the Fort. Great to run and chat with all 3 about upcoming plans for the year. I'm not as big of a streak guy as much as some, but if I run 26.2 this coming Sunday, then I'll end up with 4 weeks in a row (on the following Sunday), which would be kinda neat.

Otherwise, stayed close to home last weekend and been getting ready for the next race and some travel: Sycamore Canyon 50k in So Cal
Basically, going out for a wedding on 10 April in The OC, and found this great trail ultra in the area. We have a camp site reserved the night before, so looking forward to chilling out in Point Mugu State Park.

Not sure what to expect on this one. Been happy with my mileage this year -- for March, that is -- but it's been mostly bike paths and roads for me. The last 3 years, I've had a goal marathon in April or early May (Oklahoma City, Fort Collins, and Boston), and I feel better trained than those years...for the flat stuff, though.

4 things I'm thinking about.

1. Hills
Gawd, I wish I had been running more hills (5k feet of climbing, according to the profile). There will be plenty of time for that this summer, when the high country melts out.
I feel like I've been doing the appropriate specificity for a flat marathon, and not as much in the mountains. Whoops.

2. Heat
I neither love nor hate the heat -- I just like being prepared for it. In fact, I enjoy the advantages of heat training in the summer, then racing in the cool morning. But I do know that the first few hot runs of the year are noticeably tougher than in August. Here's hoping relatively cool day and nice sea breeze

3. Who Shows Up
Well, the goal of the day is to run around the mountains/coast and have some fun. Can't really predict where I'll end up, but also wondering who's going to be there. The top 2 guys from last year are clearly better runners than I am, and then comes a tighter groups of folks around my target time on a good day...but word is, the course record holder, Evan Hone, is not going to be there. I hope to find some other runners with a good pace that I can hang next to -- so I don't go out too fast.

EDIT: The current entrant list is up. I've only had a chance to glance at it, but Dean Dobberteen is the champ from 2 years ago and looks like a good favorite this year. Also looks like he's been running trail races all winter. Ah, to live in Southern California!

Just glancing through the list -- of course, I don't recognize So Cal names as much as I do Colorado, but I've looked up a few runners. Basically, the algorithm is, look for folks from out of state to find out if they're ringers (it's me, albeit in town for a wedding, and a 65-yr-old Texan)...then look at folks mostly in their 30s, late 20s, early 40s.
Another name: Guillermo Medina. First google result: "North Face Athletes"
Very impressive resume. It'll be interesting to see how he does up front.

4. Getting lost
There are 3 other, shorter distance races held across different loops, which are marked by multi-colored ribbons. The 50k does all of these loops. I need to study this and memorize my colors so I don't do anything stupid.

There you have it, that's what I've been thinking about in terms of running. Looking forward to the race in CA, recover quickly with cheap and greasy Mexican food that I've been missing, and then visiting some old haunts in San Diego county.

OK, now I'm pretty much only thinking about Mexican food...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nuggets Coach George Karl vs. Cancer

Not a big basketball fan, but always been entertained by George Karl (lived in Wisconsin when he was a Bucks coach, too).

Great ESPN Rick Reilly piece on Karl's tough battle with cancer.

By his car, I ask Karl if he's scared to die.

"I'm scared every day," he says. "Scared all the time. But my kids, my family, my staff, they keep me thinking positive."

Anything good coming from all this?

"Oh, yeah. Lots. Sometimes, I feel the sunshine on my face and I just stop and think, 'Damn, this feels good.' I never used to think about sunshine, you know?"

Great quote to think about this week, with some great temperatures and later daylight.

Let's not take any of it for granted, ever.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunny Salida Slopfest

Salida Run Through Time Trail Marathon
26.2 miles
10th place overall

I had heard and read good things about the laid-back nature of the Salida trail marathon. A good crowd was going to be there, the price was right, and the weather was looking great for a fun day in the mountains. So we got a nice carpool group going, and headed out: Nick Clark, Nick Pedatella, and Caroline Soong. It was nice to meet all of them and talk about running, as well as discussing the best (and worst) places to live and run in Colorado -- mostly based on availability of quality microbrewed beer.

After a few hours, we were in Salida, where the three of them had bunks at the Simple Lodge Hostel, which seemed very pleasant and a great deal in town. My plan was to sleep in the car as close to town as possible. Based on some online research and a description from Nick, it seemed like the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) had some close-by camping, but it was ambiguous (to me) if it was actually 'free' to camp there. Well, it turns out that it's an easy, excellent place to sleep off-season -- I'm sure it's quite busy during the summer -- but this time of year, nobody was around, and it appears that staying in a non-developed spot is free. Just head East on Hwy 50 out of town for just over a mile, and take the first left just past the RV park, being sure to be after the sign that says "Entering Public Lands."

I slept just OK, with plenty of room in the car, and my sleeping bag being warm enough. True, you're not far off the highway, but the price is right. Oh, I should mention that Nick talked me into a pre-race bomber of Fat Tire. This conflicted with my previous plans of not drinking for the week before a race, but I couldn't argue with his results. I thought it might help me sleep, but it just made me have to pee more. D'oh, why do you have to go more when you're camping and it's cold out?

I woke up at dawn before my redundant alarm clocks went off, with a gorgeous view of the Collegiate Peaks in front of me. Sweet. Headed into town to meet the others, who were busy making coffee and waffles, which they shared. Even better. Met a few interesting folks in the hostel, including CRUD'ers from the Springs, and some altogether random folk.

We all got ready and picked up our stuff. As the sun cleared the foothills and buildings, it was shaping up to be a warm day. We got ready and headed over to the start line. Everyone was fairly nonchalant and ready to go, and we were off. The race began with a jumble of marathoners, half-marathoners, and a fun run, but there was plenty of room up the dirt roads for all of us.

We began climbing....climbing...and climbing some more. Nothing to steep, but steady. I felt good, and was surprised to keep an eye on Pedatella and Burch. I knew they'd blow me away on the descents, but it also should have been a clear sign that I was going out too fast! We reached the half-marathon turnaround and kept climbing, and I only saw a few half marathoners at the turnaround. That should've been another sign...

I did slow a bit purposefully here, and ditched the shirt, preparing myself for full-on winter sunburn. But it felt so good! Finally, we turned left to Turret, and had some fun rollers and descents on the snow, along with great views. I was feeling mostly good, with just a little heaviness in the legs, but I was prepared for a fast and fun descent in the 2nd half. At the turnaround, I saw Timmy Parr fly by, shirtless and smiling, with several minutes on Nick, and then Burch. I was pleasantly surprised to be within 10 minutes of those guys, and within a couple minutes of the women's leader, Keri Nelson. I knew they'd hit the downhills faster, but I still was looking forward to a screaming descent after all that climbing, and having a respectable time, and maybe catching up to Keri.

Except that's not how the course was, and neither were my skillz. Shoulda studied better! Lots of rolling on the backside of the course, as well as mud, rocks, ice, and snow. You couldn't take your mind off of the trail for a second, and I took a few spectacular slides while somehow remaining upright. (Not everybody did, as I counted a bloody elbow and fractured coccyx amongst the overall carnage in the runners ahead of me). I did blast some of the fun downhills, but never seemed to get a long section of momentum. By the time we hit the 17.2 mile turn -- the last aid station on the course -- I was in a bit of disbelief that we were 'only' at mile 17.2. Even more stupid, I grew tired of carrying a full Gatorade bottle, so I ditched half of it about 5 miles out, only to run out in the last few exposed, sunny miles later.

It was clear that I was fading a bit and just holding on to a manageable pace. My goals of catching anybody, let alone staying within 20 or so minutes of the leaders, was clearly out the window, as was running a negative split on the net downhill. I still had pre-race goals of top-10/top-10%, so I had that to salvage. On long downhills, I saw Brownie and another runner catching up. If I didn't keep running, I was going to get passed by two guys in the last few miles, with one of them being a proud mountain alcoholic running with a perpetual hangover -- not that there's anything wrong with that (except when fueled on swill beer). As we made our way down the last hill, a virtual spotter and ultra-super fan, Bill Duper, accurately told me I was 10th, and no one was in sight. "Yeah, but they're coming quickly!" I told him. So those last few miles, I made that my life's goal (for the next 15 minutes or so): no more looking at the watch, just don't get caught, pure and simple.

I wound around and finally found the elusive finish line. My stomach was cramping, and I needed water. I felt out of it when I first crossed the line, which Nick noticed immediately. (The Gatorade and food mess all over my face also gave it away).

I did finish in the top 10 at least. Though I did get "chicked", I can't complain: turns out Keri Nelson ran a screaming second half downhill through the snow, as witnessed by NMP -- well, it doesn't hurt that she's like a snowshoe racing studdess!

Here, I should note, that both Timmy and Keri (let alone other runners) gave encouraging comments on the turnaround to other runners. Both are class-acts, which is another reason that makes the trail-running and ultra scene so enjoyable.

So my first real trail marathon taught me some lessons. This is only the 2nd time I've really bonked, the other time being the Colorado Marathon, whereas I've finished 50-milers feeling great and smiling. The theme? Starting out too fast! My best and fastest marathon had some pretty dead-even splits, and in the ultras I purposefully started out slow.

However, after 40 oz of water or so and some delicious hot soup, I felt completely revived, and enjoyed chatting with other runners on a beautiful day. Brownie delivered Guiness to Nick, post-haste, and this was thoughtfully shared with other runners. All in all, a fun day in the mountains, and I have a nice winter sunburn to prove it!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Twin Sisters - Summer and Winter

Twin Sisters Hike
RMNP, Snow hike
~8 miles roundtrip

When cruising down the Peak-to-Peak highway, the twin rock heaps that make up Twin Sisters mountain poke out on the east side of the road. Twin Sisters is an especially popular summer hike, known for its Long views of the Front Range, and for being an accessible hike above treeline. Also, although part of the Park, it doesn't require an entrance fee, and with an elevation gain of ~2500 feet in 4 miles, it's known as a popular acclimatization hike for those wishing to visit even higher summits.

For many of those reasons, I've purposely avoided hiking this trail in the summer. But, with Front Range temperatures approaching 60, full sunshine, and virtually no wind, it seemed like a great late-Winter hike for J and I.

With no threat of summer storms, we arrived fashionably late at 10am. We passed another party that started just before us, and then saw no other parties until right before the summit. This gave us a perfectly leisurely walk on well-packed snow. Snowshoes weren't needed on the trail, though they wouldn't have hurt (other than slowing us down a bit); and, truthfully, there was enough snow and room on the trail that backcountry skis would have been fun for most of the trail. I hadn't read reports of cross-country skiing this trail or seen this trail in winter guidebooks, but I think it would be a great trail in an early morning after fresh snow.

After winding between NF and NP land, the trail eventually steepens as it approaches treeline, and opens up to gorgeous views to the west.

At this point, we were grateful to have had a party in front of us that left good tracks as we curved from south to east. We had a few deeper moments of postholing, but soon returned to packed snow as the trail steepened just before treeline. Here, I found a single Yak Trax (Yak Track?), and began carrying it with me.

Ah, the tundra above treeline: pretty much my favorite place to be! I always feel like it's a whole new world up there, and I want to run around and explore every little section I can see. For anyone that wonders if there is any wonder left in the world, I implore you to get above the trees.

I should mention one unfortunate aspect of the top of this hike: a communications tower violating the ridge between the Twin Sisters. It's a little unusual for NP land.

Even still, this area allows for plenty of fun easy rock scrambling. We saw the party in front of us, and I offered up the Yak, which was indeed lost by a girl in the party. They were as happy as we were to be up high, and then we were alone as we scrambled to the top of the West Peak.

After a lunch break, I stared at the East Peak. Clearly, it was a little bit higher (sources say by about 15 feet), so I had permission to quickly scramble over:

Ten minutes, I was down, up, and down again, ready to head back.

The descent was even more fun, in the full sun and soft snow. I ran down the steeper sections in my snow boots, and we started encountering a few more parties heading up or taking a break at the final sections, with a fair number of people on snowshoes as well. One woman said I had too much energy like a puppy; another said I was smiling too much! I couldn't help it, it was just that much fun to bound through the snow.

We made it back to the car and found it intact: I was worried that my stinky banana peel left in the car might be awakening-hungry-bear-bait.

In all, I highly recommend a winter hike of Twin Sisters: great views, great snow, not too crowded.