Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Green

After a few hours of skiing at Eldora, I stopped in Boulder for a jaunt up Green Mountain.
Although Boulder received a fair amount of snow, I knew that Boulder superfreaks would have packed down the trail by the afternoon, and I wasn't disappointed! This was my first time to try out the trail with some soft snow, as a few days after any snow and it seems to be solid ice -- I was up there a few weeks ago and had to slide on my butt a few times.

This time I had my Microspikes. I've used them mostly for hiking in the winter last year, but honestly, I'm not as much of a mountain trail snow runner. I love running the roads in the snow, but if there's enough on the trails, I generally prefer taking the x-country skis out for a spin.

Alas, WS100 doesn't allow skis. And while I'll spare you the inner details of training plans for now (maybe a future post, but I'm bored even thinking about it) -- but my cardio isn't currently my weakest link. My running -- especially downhill -- is. So let's work on that for now.

So, on to Green. I'm sure I need better running technique, but it was pretty much a solid 50+ minute hike for me, digging down into the snow. It was pleasantly soft, in a knee-deep trench. Not too much running. I found some sunglasses, and later the owner, who was quite grateful for them (they fell off her head and she didn't know they were missing) and said "that woulda been $100."
The summit was gorgeous, sunny, and windless -- this was only my 4th time up there. I think there was a temperature inversion today, as Ned was warmer than the lower parts of the canyon. Only saw a few other people, though I hoped to randomly run into some of the regulars.

I decided to descend the front side since I knew it was packed. Usually, on snow this good, I'd rather be on skis. But, the descent was an absolute blast, with occasional slipping on heels, knees, and grabbing trees on switchbacks. None of those skills are incredibly useful, either, but it was fun! I whooped out loud at one point, and a few minutes later came upon a couple that got out of my way, smiling and saying they heard me up there.

So while I won't be giving up the skis anytime soon, I guess I won't automatically grab them every time there's a decent amount of snow on the ground, when the running shoes can still be fun, too.

J on the XC

J finally got some XC skis! (Usually, she snowshoes while I ski).

Perfect timing to get enough snow to cruise around the neighborhood and along the south Powerline Trail.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rim Trail in Snowmass -- Night Running

Rim Trail -- Snowmass Village, CO

Besides skiing, I also wanted to check out some of the running/hiking trails in Snowmass. The Rim Trail caught my attention on the map, as it climbed quickly up a nearby hill, some 800-1000 feet in a couple miles or so, and then rolled along for several more miles. So one night, full of great dinner and wine, I headed somewhat blindly toward where I hoped the Rim Trail might be. I found some tracks going off into the woods near Deerfield Drive, which headed up exactly on the trail I was looking for.

After a 25 minute grind up numerous switchbacks, covered in mostly in light snow, I finally reached a summit plateau with fantastic views all around. I saw something on the ground, then nearly wiped out as I stood on it: a marble Yin-Yang. At a different time and day, it would look something like this:

Well, that was unexpected. I continued the rolling trail, with a few short steeper sections, before the trail curved onto a narrower north-south ridge with new views toward Aspen and the airport. I turned around once the trail began switchbacking downward. This was an exquisite run right next to Snowmass -- with a bit more snow, it would have been a great x-country ski or snowshoe trail, as well as a nicely buff mountain bike trail in the summer.

Lunar Eclipse
I had so much fun on this trail, I returned a few days later to view the lunar eclipse.

The Yin-Yang was the perfect vantage point, as the setting moon wasn't visible from town down below. Somehow, the Yin-Yang also made sense, as a balance between the rising sun and setting moon, the cycles of waxing and waning, the lunar influence on the rhythms of the tides....Or something like that. Yin, yang, yada-yada-yada.

I waited and watched in the cold, while inch-by-inch, the oak moon disappeared, and the sun took its place. The coyotes and dogs in the valley below howled and yapped in protest.

Sunlight Moonlight

Moonlight Ski Tour on Sunlight Mountain (Glenwood Springs, CO)


With a full moon (and eclipse) earlier the same day, I had planned on a nighttime ski tour of Sunlight Mountain near Glenwood. Sunlight is a smaller, friendlier local's mountain, and it would give me an excuse to visit it for the first time. It permits uphill hiking on all trails, has a nice network of free cross-country trails adjacent to the mountain (which also would lead most of the way to the summit), and puts on a 24-hour ski race.

I began my ski tour just after 6pm, in full darkness with the moon cresting nearby hills. A few cars were scattered in the lot, but it seemed as if it would be lonely out there. I started on the Old 4-Mile Road leading into the Babbish Gulch x-country trails, but ended up following a side trail right onto the Ute Trail. The Ute Trail is a green groomer leading all the way to the top, but takes 2.5 miles to do so. Every other trail (including the 24-hour race course) is much steeper and much shorter, but I was happy with my conservative choice, which allowed for me to take a mellow ski up on a wide, moonlit trail.

As I got nearer to the top, I thought I saw a headlamp in the distance. Sure enough, right as the final pitch under the lift came into view, I saw a party of 3 heading up. I caught up and greeted them, and then consciously thought about the fact that the light on the summit house was on.

It turns out these 3 were up for full moon shenanigans -- and more were on the way. Another couple was in the summit shack (which also had the fireplace on). They were just out for a moonlit ski like me, but the rest of the crowd was up for a party. As was explained to me, sometimes the lifties party up on the hill, sometimes the ski patrol; and on full-moon nights like this, they all come up. How cool is that?
"Hey, what do you guys want to do tonight after we're done with work -- which is skiing?"
"Uh, how about some skiing?"

Some of the goods, including hot apple cider, were courtesy of Meier Skis, a good ol' U.S. of A. local shop which custom-builds skis using Colorado wood. Despite my status as an interloper, these guys also freely offered burgers and brats which they were grilling outside.
More friendly folks showed up, and 80's music started blaring on a stereo. The inside of the shack had an unsurprising damp, sweaty smell, while the outside smelled decidedly more herbal.

I hung out with the guys a bit while waiting for some of my clothes to dry, and checked out awesome views from the proper summit of Compass Peak. I had a long drive ahead, so I thanked them for the fun and began skiing down. I stayed on the Ute Trail again, as I knew what to expect from the ascent. I barely needed a headlamp at all, heading instinctually for the lighter pitches of moonlit snow, absentmindedly expecting the surface to be noticeably softer as it would be in sun exposure. At the bottom, another group had just begun hiking up, with loose dogs chasing glowing frisbees. Having the run to myself under the stars was both surreal and sublime.

My preference is wandering through the woods, but I'm just as happy knowing that folks are occupying the local mountain for a fun time. No jostling in lift lines, no credit card or electricity needed.
Who said resort skiing can't be fun?

Aspen Skiing: Earn your Turns?

Snowmass Mountain
With about 4 hours of break, and no lift ticket, yet located right next door to a snow-covered mountain on a brilliant bluebird day, there was only one natural choice:
Go Higher.

I've never skied up a ski resort, so I decided to give it a go on my beat-up waxless backcountry skis, with no idea how long it would take, and how well received the act of skiing upward in Our National Forest would be amongst hundreds of people, mid-day, which is perfectly legal, generally, and allowed on all trails on Aspen-Snowmass Mountain (but isn't helpful if people aren't looking out for you or aren't aware).

Things were going relatively well as I stayed skiers-left of the slope, closer to the aspen groves on the lower part of the mountain, before needing to cross over to the other side. I traversed across the hill -- very uncrowded, being an early-season weekday -- with a nearly flat trajectory, when a helpful older gentleman told me to "stay to the side when going uphill!" I thanked him for this, but mentioned crossing over to the other side. I also made a mental note never to crash or drop anything again while skiing, as the slight uphill motion to retrieve lost objects might also be offensive.

The runs had changed from Green to Blue here, which slowed things down, but eventually I was at the Village Express midpoint. I stopped to check my map, near a ski photographer, who asked if I had any questions. "No, just seeing where I am."
As I considered my options, though, he did point out the way most of the uphill skiers went: Lunchline to Sunnyside. This was both easier and would lead me to aspects that were still in the afternoon sun, so it was a nice tip.

I picked my way over to Sunnyside, and now reached spots where hiking was easier than shuffling and slipping. I probably could have done this much earlier, as it was easier to keep a consistent hiking speed. I am starting to see how hiking up with good boots and lighter skis might just be the way to go instead of messing with skins. I hadn't brought anything to attach my skis to my pack, so I used them as extra poles to dig into the snow. On the final pitch, I went partly through the glades at the top, which had almost no traffic and had the usual zig-zagging paths that cut across the mountain between different tree sections.

Finally, about 2:10 after I started, I made it to the top of the "Big Burn" -- the actual summit was closed off, so I had reached the highest terrain that was currently open, more than 3000 feet higher than where I started.

I scarfed down a sandwich, and a bird landed on my skis, waiting for crumbs.

Now in the shade, it was time to head down. I had shed several layers on the way up, but was still soaked with sweat. I didn't have the energy or desire to mess with trying out tele turns, so I just made conservative swooping alpine turns -- these skis, and my ability on them, are sketchy at best. I made it down in half an hour, probably 4 times slower than I would have been on my alpine skis, but was happy to make it down safely after having earned my turns.

Aspen Highlands

The next day, again with about 4 hours to spare in the afternoon, I found myself in possession of a lift ticket. I hurried over to the bus stop, nearly tripping over my loose clothes and gear, just in time to catch a bus. I decided to head over to the Highlands, which supposedly had great views, and some friends that were skiing over there for opening day.
I was not able to meet up with those friends, as they had enjoyed the steep runs up in the bowl, and I hadn't really planned on being there until the last minute. That wouldn't have been smart on my skinny skis anyway. Again, I was very careful and slow on these skis, especially as some areas were icing up, but enjoyed trying out a new area.
In fact, even without views from the bowl, I will say that this was the prettiest resort views I've seen in my limited experience.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Upcoming Races

* WS100 lottery tomorrow. Cautiously optimistic for Alex and I
* Should be a fun one, but can't make Chubby Cheeks tomorrow -- up in Snowmass for school/work. I imagine it'll be a fun day of tromping through the snow and checking lottery results
* Instead, I'm up in Snowmass for school/work -- can't complain about that. Making extra red blood cells for next week's VBM
* No HR lottery, no problem -- extra ticket for next year. Hope to hang out in Silverton in July anyway
* How about QR (Quad Rock) instead? Looking forward to that one
* Not planning on Leadville -- would like to go back someday, and definitely can speed up my time, but too many other races to do, and I like the idea of PPA in the morning, pacing at night
* Looking at Bighorn as a WS backup, and have thought a little bit about Black Hills, but..
* The Steamboat 100 sounds very intriguing. Not a fan nor interested in the arbitrary split of runners, and the possible giant purse is neither here nor there for me, but I have no problems with the attempt or desire to do so. I like everything else about the race: course, time of year, cost; and I've always heard good things about the RD. Hoping for a good race there in Year 1!

We'll see how things shake out starting tomorrow. Good luck in the WS lottery!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jingle Bell 5k 2011

Jingle Bell 5k
17:46, 2nd OA

Despite ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures in the morning, J and I lined up for the Jingle Bell 5k at the CSU Oval on Saturday. We ended up having a great time, and will look to do it again in the future.

J had received two complimentary entries, which put it on our schedule. Still, shivering in our car before the start, I wasn't sure about my own motivation. Luckily, J's a tough girl, having been running early pre-dawn runs with a friend for several weeks now. Plus, she had snowpants on! So we donned our free jingle bells, a characteristic of the Arthritis Foundations national Jingle Bell runs. (In fact, a Jingle Bell run in San Diego 8 years ago might have been the first 5k we ever ran!)

Onto the race. Previous results suggested that I might place well, but it all depends on who shows up, and I didn't know how much the ice and snow would affect things. As a compromise on traction, I gave up on pure road flats and wore my new-ish Brooks Pure Grit lightweight trail shoes instead, and ultimately think this choice was a good one, since I didn't fulfill my worst fears of slipping and getting a concussion. Again.

The race starts with a lap around "The Oval" at CSU, which is a beautiful quad area on campus with majestic older oak trees and some of the older campus buildings that serve the classic sciences and liberal arts. By going counterclockwise, it's a fun track-like start to the race. Despite a few hundred runners and walkers that braved the elements, the start line wasn't too crowded, and the announcers kindly asked walkers to wait until runners made the first lap. Then, we were off. Quickly, I found myself running shoulder-to-shoulder with one other runner, who had the inside track, and a tattoo on his calf, which was visible because he was wearing shorts. Clearly, he meant business. We stayed next to each other running a bit hot for my goals, and I realized I wasn't doing myself any favours by running the extra distance in "Lane 2", so I tucked in behind him.

By the end of the oval, he had a gap on me, and as we headed West through campus, I kept him in view but let him go (aka "I couldn't keep up"), which was fine as I continued to run my own race, having opened a gap on anyone else behind me. The course was mostly plowed, so I enjoyed the views of the foothills and fond memories of having taken classes for a few years at CSU, and have run every part of the course outside the oval numerous times.

We worked our way West, with few turns, before a brief section going south and then heading back East. We occasionally ran through patches of snow, and some of the corners required more care to negotiate, but the course was otherwise very well-marked and controlled. I didn't have any mile splits, but by the 2nd mile the leader was in view but about 25 seconds ahead of me. So I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the run. Soon enough, we were back on the oval, with 3/4 of a lap to finish up the race. Again, this is a fun finish, to be able to see the finish line and anyone ahead or behind for a few minutes. I ended up 2nd in 17:46, 35 seconds behind the winner, Mark Saunders, whose name I recognized as being generally faster than me. 3rd place was more than a minute behind me, so there's clearly room for more local runners to show up. Happy with my time, despite the pace being slower than last week's longer Turkey Trot -- given a warm-weather race in the future, I'm hopeful that I still have even more speeding up to do in these shorter races before I start slowing down.

I ran back to grab the camera, and followed J in as she finished up a solid pace, fully decked in snowpants scarf, hat, and a few hundred other layers.

So, I have to strongly recommend this race as being well-run and fun, a good time right after the Thanksgiving Day Run. As for materialistic perks, along with the entry fee, racers receive a timed run and a nicely-designed long-sleeve T-shirt (which I'm wearing as I type this), in addition to bagels and hot coffee and hot chocolate after the race. Top 3 runners, as well as best costume and top fundraisers, are additionally recognized with medals and (in my case) a highly-appreciated Whole Foods Gift card. Of course, with all these benefits on a free entry, it was obvious that we would be increasing our donations to the Arthritis

The Arthritis Foundation
Finally, and most importantly, a word about the Arthritis Foundation. Besides a well-organized race, with some inspirational fundraisers as well as some motivated child running groups, we enjoyed hearing various facts about the Arthritis Foundation's work while cheering on other runners. Like many diseases, arthritis (which itself has over 100 forms) has a drastically different presentation, cause, and treatment results for patients of all different ages. This means it's difficult to make broad generalizations. However, one area of results-driven protocol supported by the Arthritis Foundation is that of regular exercise to prevent and reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Coincidentally, I discussed this recently in a disease and pathology course in the context of osteoarthritis, so I have a bit of a soapbox on the subject. (Remember, there are numerous forms of arthritis, which run the gamut from less-understood genetically influenced autoimmune forms, to those which are very much affected by diet and lifestyle, of which I am focused on here).

A recent meta-analysis ("Exercise and knee osteoarthritis: benefit or hazard?", Bosomworth) highlights research showing that a history of physical activity is not associated with development or progression of osteoarthritis, and may be protective:

This makes sense mechanistically based on what we discussed this week in class: both bone strength and cartilage development are stimulated by repeated stress. Stress such as running is sensed biomechanically, ultimately resulting in stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments. The stress of the activity is temporary and is compensated by long-term physiological adaptations.

Obesity, on the other hand, stresses cartilage in the knee (e.g.) chronically, and studies have shown for several decades that obesity can increase the risk of development of osteoarthritis:
"Obesity and knee osteoarthritis. The Framingham Study" (Felson, et al.)

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis can make it difficult for people to exercise without pain, leading to a vicious cycle of more weight gain. However, among people who already have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, continued exercise and diet/weight-loss have been shown to reduce pain and improve functional mobility:
"Exercise and Dietary Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Older Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis: The Arthritis, Diet, and Activity Promotion Trial (Messier, et al.)"

In summary, I believe it is imperative that doctors recommend exercise and weight loss as a primary treatment for osteoarthritis, especially among younger patients, and physical activity that includes running or walking should be encouraged as prevention.

I have gotten into this topic a bit because of a couple of oddities -- bear with me -- related to running and arthritis.
First, I've heard more than a few (dozen?) times, "Isn't running bad for your knees?" Not only is it very much generally not bad for your knees, shown repeatedly in scientific studies, but it is generally beneficial. The unfortunate irony of this is a fundamental misconception that leads some people to avoid the very thing that could most improve their health.
Exercise, such as running, trains the body to adapt and deal with occasional stress; combined with proper nutrition, the body beautifully builds itself even stronger. In contrast, the latest research shows that excess weight and lack of exercise leads to a chronic situation of inflammation and stress, which exacerbates all kinds of diseases, including osteoarthritis.


So, as the Arthritis Foundation says, "Arthritis is Not Inevitable!" Let's continue to support their good work in supporting research and awareness. Even more simply, as a runner, every time you lace up your shoes, and encourage a friend or family member to go for a walk and make healthy food choices, you're already doing your part in prevention!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kitchen Countertop/Sink Remodel


This isn't going to become a home improvement blog anytime soon, but this project took a bit of time so I might as well put some pictures up.

The backstories are more detailed and interesting, but this took all of my freetime before Thanksgiving. I barely ran at all, as something had to give so I could keep up with this and school (so running, sleep, and eating went first). Ironically, this meant I
"tapered" unwittingly for the Thanksgiving race!

Brilliantly, we invited 11 people over to our condo for Thanksgiving, including inviting my parents from Oklahoma...and then proceeded to rip the kitchen apart, with no hope of salvation. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Neil -- the pacer once again, who masterminded the countertop woodwork and tiling, as well as sharing lots of quality tools -- and my parents for a ton of help, as well as DJ and Deb for support. Luckily (more gratitude), C&C let us borrow their house for the occasion, and my parents spent most of their "vacation" helping us finish up. I think/hope they kind of enjoy this stuff, and we did enjoy spending the time with them working together. Good memories!

I'm still happy we did it ourselves -- we wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise, and it was a learning experience -- but it was stressful at times. Did I mention we're not really experts on stuff like this? It was gratifying to work with my (cracked and bleeding) hands more than normal (which is also why I like doing all of my own bike mechanic work). I now know some things that would have made it go more quickly: the biggest pain was cutting tile around the sink, which eventually became much easier when I changed to a different sink, used a different blade on the tile saw than the stock one, and decided to tile-in the sink instead of fitting curves underneath it. So anyway, I have a tile saw now if anybody ever needs to borrow that -- let's get some mileage out of it!

We're very happy with the results! But, again, it wouldn't have been possible with the help from everyone else.
THANKS to everyone that helped!

Back to our regularly-scheduled programming...