Saturday, April 23, 2011

Red Rocks Stairs, and Mt. Falcon Outer Loop

Red Rocks stairs, Red Rocks Amphitheater stock photo

Mt. Falcon
Went out for a shorter trail run today while J had some training in Denver, then I could be back earlier to get work done.

First, ran a loop at Mt. Falcon. I guess there are various loop versions (Version 1.0, etc.), named by Scott and some others -- I like that as a reference. I ended up doing what I considered the full outer loop, including all the spurs, but skipping ~1M in the middle of extra Meadow/Tower trail loop -- because I took the 'wrong' Meadow and didn't realize it (but was too lazy to backtrack even 1/3rd of a mile). Anyway, I've run it and mt. biked it now, and I label this one as "preferred run" due to the waterbars. It has occurred to me to focus more specifically on technical downhill speed, so been trying to push that a little bit.

At the bottom, started talking to briefly to a guy, but then we ended up having a 20-minute conversation. His name was Bob Whitely, and he's run Pikes 18 times(!), and we talked about various trail runs and races. He asked what I was training for, and I always feel a little funny about that question because I mostly due the same stuff even with nothing specific on the calendar, but then I mentioned Leadville. He paced last year and said it was fun but tough, so we talked about that for a bit. Then I asked what he had coming up, and he mentioned Collegiate Peaks (CPTR). Yes! Mostly I'm just thinking about piling on miles for Leadville, but technically I should be training for CPTR. Anyway, I'm excited that he'll be there, in the 25M, and hope he gets his goal, so we hope to see each other on the trail. I'm getting pretty excited about that race because of Colorado friends doing the race; Colorado folks I haven't met yet; and a contingent of South Dakota friends coming out for the race as well.

Red Rocks Stairs
Then I decided to check out the infamous Red Rocks Amphitheater stairs.
Red Rocks has an interesting 'culture' and history. Most famously, it's a natural amphitheater that hosts national concerts in the warmer months, as well as movies. More topically relevant: it will be hosting an Easter sunrise service this coming Sunday. Red Rocks is also a public Denver Mountain Park, and outside of these special events, people can come in and wander the grounds for free. And many tourists do: J and I did so while visiting before moving here.

But it's also become known as an exercise Mecca. Throughout the week, but specifically Sunday mornings, people come and do various workouts on the stairs and bleachers. There's been an especially popular regular workout session on Sundays, with some controversy over the use of the Red Rocks name, the size of the crowds, usage of music, etc. I don't know how I feel about all of it: I guess some of the regulars really get into it and support each other, which is a good thing. (But is that similar/different to a group of folks wanting to have a friendly 'race' in other mountain parks? Not sure)

Sure enough, even on a Friday, people were up to various workouts. I couldn't help but be reminded of "Muscle Beach" in Venice Beach, California:

People were doing all kinds of "indoor exercises" -- outside. Not just running the stairs, but also jumping, side-to-side, and incline or decline pushups. I can see the attraction of doing these sort of exercises outside in a beautiful setting -- the Sunday crowd has weights and resistance bands as well. So I get the attraction, as everything is better outside.

But I prefer running, and the most natural thing to do would be to run up the stairs, right? This is actually pretty hard, since the bleachers are of course tall and wide, for sitting. It's too long to stretch from step to step consistently (I think), though you can start out this way, but if you put your foot down on each step naturally, you'll end up with the same leg pushing up each time, which tires out that leg faster. So you also want to switch legs every few stairs. I did this 4 times (after the earlier trail run) and it shot the heart rate through the roof as I tried different techniques, and what I came up with is a hybrid of changing techniques to avoid fatigue, but still not that great with times in the upper 0:40s (starting from touching the lower rail). Now I see that the best technique is indeed to fearlessly sprint up a stair at a time -- wow, these guys finished in the 0:20s unless they wiped out!

Anyway, it's kinda cool if you pretend that the spectators at the top are watching you and will make fun of you if you slow down, so it pushes you to finish strong...when really, they're making fun of you anyway for running up stairs like an idiot. But even after 4, my legs were shaking a bit. I can see 8-10 reps, or 20 or more, being absolutely brutal, in a good way, and in a short amount of time.

But running the stairs directly is not the most popular route.
Rather, it is running a serpentine route across every row of stairs/bleachers, then running up to the next one. The rumor is that it ends up being a 5k. Here is what it looks like:

Essentially, this is the route that only a snake in the game "Nibbles" that got really long from eating a bunch of apples and needed to burn off some length would take.

Or maybe Pac-Man, under duress.

But for humans to run back and forth, it seems ridiculous to me. Sorry, I usually don't say stuff like that, but I'm tired of getting weird looks for ultrarunners being considered freaks. We don't think of running as drudgery and repetitive "exercise," but we like to see a bunch of stuff and have a bunch of stuff happen in a long run or race. Enough to tell stories, on a good day. You see, everyone likes to hike, be outside, etc. -- and ultrarunning is that, times 10 or 20. More of what you like, though still fits within 10-15 hours/week, which is in the realm of socially acceptable "tv watching" time. And, I comprehend the other outdoor circuit training (pushups, etc.) at Red Rocks -- good for you, but able to do them outside. Heck, this would be a great spot for yoga. But running back and forth across stairs, ending up a couple hundred feet within visual sight of where you started, is like running on a treadmill outside -- but a treadmill where you have to dodge people every minute, and stop and make a 180-degree turn frequently. I'd rather run straight up -- that's the unique thing you can't do just anywhere. So, I don't "get" it. It seems to be popular, though.

Then again, I don't usually see an ultrarunner jogging in place at a stop light, or jogging in place while waiting for a herd of deer or elk to move out of the way. Maybe we're just a lazy bunch and really want to get from Point A to Point B.

Of course, it doesn't hurt me at all for people to do what they want -- whatever floats their boat. I'm just trying to push a little toward exploration, so if visitors come to town and think about "running Red Rocks" -- check out the beautiful trails and road running surround the amphitheater instead!


  1. Holy crap ... that map is hilarious.

  2. Didn't realize you were racing CP (50?) - good luck!

  3. I saw those exercise routines going on one weekend, when the sister and friends were in town and we took the kids and everyone on some of the trails over there. Seemed like some sort of club or clubs, in addition to stray individuals. I would never run those bleachers because sure as heck I'd break something!

  4. @nmp: Thanks, just gonna have fun and keep myself honest for Leadville training, try to do better than last year's so-so effort. What are you signed up for?

    @mtrunner2: I was also afraid of breaking something when my legs started getting tired, and switched to a more conservative but slow approach. Now that I see those guys sprinting up them, I'd like to give it a shot sometime.