Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ski St. Vrain

~9 Miles, 3500' gain
TH/Route Information in "Powder Ghost Towns" (online preview)

Snow had been a scarce commodity so far, but after another storm (and a few days for things to settle), the balance of enough-snow and avalanche conditions were more promising (moderate above treeline).  The first day of winter, I was eager to try a new but classic ski tour with some downhill turns, up along the old "lost" Rock Creek Ski area.

If conditions were favourable, instead of gaining the ridge of the old ski area, I would instead aim for a new-to-me summit: St. Vrain Mountain, on the border of RMNP and Indian Peaks.
The East Face of St. Vrain is a mellow-angle tour, with lines around 30 degrees at the top (I used hillmap to check this out), in addition to glades along the way.

I pressed on toward treeline, to be greeted by howling winds.  These winds scoured the plateau below the St. Vrain summit ridge, and packed and sastrugified the snow.  Not ideal powder conditions, but at least the East Face was completely covered.  Onward.

After a few false summits, I eventually ran out of snow and had a few hundred feet of rocks.  I carried my skis a bit in case there was more snow at the summit (there wasn't), but the wind pitched me sideways as I navigated wobbly talus on plastic boots.  I gave up that effort and stashed the skis so as to claim the very windy summit.

I ducked in the shelter of a summit rock wall, which was just big enough to keep my head out of the jet stream, as I took in familiar, surrounding peaks.  I layered up with everything I had and made it back down to my skis, sliding down tentatively at first as I tried to dig into the hard snow, but eventually enjoying more turns as the slope ran out.

I picked my way over the thin snow and back into the trees, enjoying turns some more.

Lower down, the snow was great in the trees, but I didn't want to take too much risk on a solo effort, so I mostly traversed through the forest, waiting to pop out on the Ski Road approach.
I felt temporarily misplaced for about 15-20 minutes, wishing I had just stuck to the road, but soon enough ended up right back on it.  Although the skin up didn't feel all that steep, the ride down was actually pretty fun.

All in all, this is a great tour for skinning to a summit, checking out the old ski area runs, or just XC skiing on the NFS roads.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pennock Pedalin' Powwow 2012

Pennock Pedaling Pow-Wow
107 miles, 10 hours

This year's second Winter Ralleye series ride took us up and over Pennock Pass, over 9000 feet above sea level and 4000 feet above town.  I'd never ridden it before, so was delighted to join around a couple dozen hardy souls for a long day in short daylight.

I enjoyed brief chats with old and new friends on the Spring Creek trail, before separating a bit climbing up the dams
As in other rides, there was quite the mix of bikes.  Despite the foggy morning and cool, damp weather, the conditions were actually promising for this ride at this time of year, with only a trace of packed snow at the upper reaches of Pennock Pass.

With all of the pavement, cross and touring bikes were still the best bet.  I'm even more motivated to cross-ify one of the bikes in my garage, just a few parts short, and I need to move some racks around between bikes.  Instead, I went with knobbies again, and a heavy backpack full of warm clothes, making myself work a bit harder to keep pace.

We chased the sun for a bit, but never fully warmed up.

Eventually, we turned West, and began the long climb up to Pennock.  It's steady until a few switchbacks at the end.

Feeling steady but just about bonky, I was glad to have the extra piece of birthday cake that I saved from the party the night before.  I regrettably wasn't too social, as I was feeling a bit worked from the ride and the cold.
We lingered a bit at the top, but blustery wind encouraged us to descend -- after putting on every layer we brought with us.

The descent down Pingree Park Road was a sustained and enjoyable break from pedaling, and the warmer temperatures towards the bottom were a nice change from the chattering and shivering up top.

Despite the damage from the High Park fire, the views were still inspiring.

We split into smaller, disorganized groups for the descent down the canyon, and I worked fairly hard to keep in line with other riders, knowing that pedaling by myself would both be more lonely and a significantly harder effort.  But I seem to have recovered and was able to pedal more strongly and take some pulls.  Even if a bit uneven, I love working in a paceline, and that's a dynamic that can't exactly be replicated in running.

We took one final break at the Mish:

I followed another small group out before splitting up and heading home, just needing the small blinky light on front for the last half hour or so.

Another great ride that beat me up, though I felt a bit stronger than last month, being my longest mt. bike ride ever, and my longest ride since January, 2011 (almost 2 years ago).  Ironically, that meant I just snuck in a century ride right before the end of the year, which continues a streak of 8 years that I hadn't purposely worked on, but is a streak nonetheless.  That should satisfy Alex, who taunted me (late the night before) for stopping 5 or 6 miles short last month.

Find more Bike Ride in Fort Collins, CO

Once again, a great ride, great scenery, great folks.  Definitely enjoying the mix of activity this time of year, and also inspired by these riders and their rides to rig up one of my bikes (that I told J I would sell) for these sort of rides.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowmass Uphill Ski

Snowmass Ski Resort
Base Elevation: 8100'
Big Burn Hut Elevation: 11,800' 

Visiting Snowmass for an annual conference, I enjoyed the opportunity to sleep right next to a premiere skiing destination.  With this year's thin snowpack, however, only a handful of groomed, icy green runs were open, and a couple of chairlifts.  With climbing skins and a willing spirit, however, this made conditions actually quite good.

For all of the Aspen areas storied reputation for elitism and wealth, the four developed ski resorts themselves show a respect for the tradition of free uphill skiing.


I did this last year, on skinnier skis, but was a little more hesitant this year due to the reduced terrain -- would it be too crowded such that an uphill skier, swimming against the stream like the salmon of Capistrano on limited snow, would be obnoxiously in the way?  Would machines be running full-bore on the non-open runs in order to manage the snow?  It turns out that these concerns were for nought.

Not only were the downhill skiers respectful (or at least a non-issue), but all staff and patrollers were respectful and kind as well.  As I put my skins on at the base, a patroller gave me some beta on the conditions above.  Heading up, I generally kept an eye out for any snowcats or other machines, and the times I made eye contact with them or lift operators, I only got thumbs-up.

This time, I was much smarter about wearing limited gear uphill, working up a sweat, with plenty of warm clothes to wear downhill.  In just over an hour, I was already at the top of the lift-served terrain.  I followed an occasional skin track up another 45 minutes to the top of the Big Burn.  Here, I saw a solo skier enjoying the snow, and he told me he had just warmed up at the patrol hut at the top.

Great place to take a break, I appreciated it being open.  I was careful not to track in any snow.

Taking my time, I changed clothes and de-skinned, before heading down.
Although the snow was still scarce up here, there were plenty lines of a legitimate 2 inches of untracked powder.  On a pleasant day, I had a wide-open run to myself!

Too quickly, I rejoined the skied-off runs and masses, dodging gapers and trying not to get taken out by other people.  It was fun while it lasted.

I didn't have enough time for a second run, but I headed out again for more of the same the next day, this time skinning up under freshly falling snow.  Mid-mountain, some snowboarders were having a party, gave me the thumbs up and called me over.  They were out of beer but gave me a jello shot, and another one for the road, which I took to the top, before again having my own run down on even fresher powder.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lotteries and 2013

It's lottery and 2013 sign-up season.
Good luck to the WS100 lottery entrants, especially the local never-run-before's, with the lottery coming up this weekend.
Specifically rooting for Alex, who first heard about this nonsense regarding a teacher of his that ran the race while he lived in California, and has entered enough times without luck.  He did a fine job pacing me last year, so he knows the course!
Also rooting for Cat, who ran solid at Vermont, is always steady, and deserves a shot at WS, where she'll run well.
And Katie, who grew up near the race, volunteered at it, and was in the movie pontificating about Killian's chances -- and runs a strong downhill.
How cool would it be if they all got in?


I really enjoyed the experience last year, and would love see how well I could run it with a good run, but am not in the lottery -- only so much time and money to spend on these things while balancing other parts of life.

The lottery I'm excited about is that July race right here in Colorado.
It's not an uncommon story, but being out in the mountains during the race got into my soul.  Pacing was awesome (being out there and observing NMP and others handling the course), and so is the race atmosphere, so I'll be out there that weekend in some capacity.  I love power-hiking if the course dictates it, so I love training for that sort of thing.  Others deserve to get in much more, so I'm rooting for them, too.  I'll keep entering that lottery until I get a chance.

Ironically, a longer and 'worse' finish at Steamboat (than Leadville or WS) made me feel more hopeful about being prepared for Hardrock (can't be completely prepared of course), as I spent more time on my feet and finished in broad daylight, dealt with a lot of uncertainty, ran stronger the last quarter of the race, and in general just let go and had fun.


If that doesn't work out, I'd love to head to the Black Hills and race out there.  Racing in South Dakota before, twice, I know that the scenery is great, the scene is great, and the directors put on a top-notch event.  I'd love to test out the rolling, hilly singletrack of the Centennial Trail in South Dakota, and I also like to envision the training that would go well with that course: trail runs done right here in town (local trails being similar terrain at a higher elevation), and some quality speed (heresy!) on the roads during the week.  A bit different than Hardrock training, but I enjoy the structure that I'd build into something like that.

HR is the priority because of the lottery, but that doesn't make Black Hills a backup: I'll be excited for either one.
If the WS lotteries don't work out for local folks, I'm going to make a stronger push for them to join me, and urge other folks to take a look at another great race within driving distance.

I'm only going to sign up for one big race, because I never know how much I'll want to keep doing it.

I hope to be in Leadville in August to pace.
There are good options in September: The Bear, and the new UROC race.  But the whole family had a lot of fun in Steamboat.  The 50 looks great...or maybe I just pace and ride bikes with my brother-in-law on the trails (which looked great for biking).


Closest to home, Quad Rock is a great event and fun time.  I'll either run or help out.  (Leaning towards running, but ironically feel like I'm missing out by not being out at an aid station).
Either way, it's a great course, great scene, great RD's and runners, prizes, food, beer, music, and impeccable course markings.
Go sign up if you haven't already!

Friday, November 30, 2012

5 Ways to Beat the Holiday Bulge

J shares 5 ways to stay healthy for the holidays.
My suggestions were more blunt ("Learn to cook," "Don't eat crap that's not really food," "Get off your butt an hour every day," "Cold weather isn't going to kill you," etc.) but her suggestions are friendlier.

1. Hold the extra holiday calories
  Use healthy recipe substitutions, eat a light snack before a holiday party 
2. Be Mindful of Holiday Drinks
  Treat drinks like the desserts they are; as an occasoinal indulgence, substitute ingredients and choose smaller size
3. Sweat Off the Sweets
  Turkey Trots, Snowshoeing, gym classes
4. Practice Healthy Habits at Work
  Walk during lunch break, walking meetings, bring healthier snacks to work so you're less tempted by candy, etc.
5. Manage stress
   Manage holiday stress by planning breaks in activity/travel; do some basic financial planning and budgetting.  


I do need to work on #5 more though, procrastinate less for less stress.  

Otherwise, I like the financial suggestion. I actually hate money and obsessing over money, but enjoy balancing it and understanding it, so I was happy to discover Mr. Money Moustache recently.  He focuses as much (or more) on spending less, yet also recognizes value on quality where it matters, meaning the answer isn't buying the cheapest crap and food from Walmart that you can.   I always manage the monthly budget, but just finished refinancing condo, car ($100 and lower rate), and moved money around to new accounts that paid cash bonuses. 

A few years ago, my salary was 4x what it is now, but if anything we're only happier now.  With more money, it's mostly easier to just be sloppier about details.  I would've bought a replacement expensive bike rather than riding the ones I had for a decade; I would've signed up for whatever race I felt like; I'd probably have a smart phone.  Ironically, instead we did things like upgrade our kitchen, fixed the furnace, fixed the clothes dryer -- and I spent a half-hour fixing a $20 hair dryer the other day!  -- that I never would have done since I could've paid someone to do it cheaper.  But the satisfaction is much greater.  No cable each year buys an international plane ticket.

And the cheapest and best hotel is always sleeping on Free Dirt outside.  Even a winning lottery ticket wouldn't change that.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jefferson County, Wisconsin: Prairies, Mounds and Hills

While visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Fort Atkinson, WI for Thanksgiving, I took some time to explore the surrounding environ of Jefferson County.  Despite growing up just east (Mukwonago) and matriculating just west (Madison), I hadn't actually spent much time in between.

In typical Wisconsin fashion, "Black Friday" greeted us with a sharp wind, flurries, and 30 degree temperature drop from the day before.  Still preferable to being inside a mall, we began by checking out Dorothy Carnes County Park.  For about an hour, we looped around a circuit of mixed prairie and hardwood hiking trails, approaching the shores of Rose Lake and surrounding wetlands, as well as a preserved barn and farming structures.

After this, I pointed out that the Jefferson County highpoint, at a whopping 1060 feet above sea level, was just up the road.  I pointed out the glories of checking out one's own county highpoint (said the guy who hasn't been up Hagues Peak yet...); and Erik, being a map geek himself, was game for a quick trip.  The topographical bump may be a mere rolling hill, but at least it's clearly taller than surrounding points (including one to the north with a tower on it) and does provide a pleasant surveyor's view of the surroundings.

After this, we hopped back in the car and made our way toward Lake Mills and Aztalan State Park.  
Aztalan is a preservation (and renovation) of ancient Indian mounds that date back nearly a millenium, credited to Mississippian peoples that populated the southeast part of the U.S.

The park provides a great opportunity to freely explore some of these grassy mounds -- if not take a vomit-inducing dizzying log-roll down the side.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Milwaukee Turkey Trot - Inaugural Drumstick Dash 5k

Drumstick Dash 5k (Inaugural) 2012
17:14, 3rd

By visiting family for Thanksgiving in Wisconsin, we knew we'd miss the cherished Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day Run, but hoped for a Cheesehead alternative.  Despite an active running community, there hadn't really been a big Turkey Trot in Wisconsin.  Fortuitously, this was the first year of the Drumstick Dash 5k, an event that benefited the Food Bank and circled the famous Milwaukee Mile at the State Fair Park.  Jessica and I both have great memories of the State Fair Park -- albeit mostly in the contest of eating cream puffs and cheese curds and things-on-a-stick -- so this would be a great opportunity to enjoy a healthier alternative for Thanksgiving Day morning, and to meet some of our relatives for an enjoyable morning.

Although it was an inaugural event, the Drumstick Dash obviously met a pent-up desire for a solid Thanksgiving event, and attracted a field of over 2600 people.  As it was, the event was quite enjoyable and ran without a hitch.  The start line was nicely uncrowded, so it was easy to get up front and warm up.  Promptly at 8:30, we were off, wearing timing chip bibs.   A beautifully warm morning was offset by a blustery wind.  So, onto the personal details.

My main goals were to run a solid race, and finish well under 17 minutes.  The time goal did not happen, despite my solid pre-race plans which included a scraggly mustache as well as carbo-loading on greasy but timelessly delicious lasagna and garlic bread at Barbiere's the night before, but enjoyed a fun course and strategic race.  Off the front was a guy in neon and a guy with a triathlon shirt, forming mostly good pacing rabbits for the first half or 3/4 mile.  

I crossed the first mile, which was marked with a digital clock, exactly at 5:20, which was right on pace.  Things felt controlled as I trailed a pack of 4, having dropped the triathlon guy, but they had pulled ahead slightly.  Some of them were chatting with each other, so it was clear they were working together with purpose.  Fighting the wind, I worked to catch up to them, and then was surprised by a slightly easier effort and slower pace when I did catch up.  Having no idea on my pace, I decided to remain in the pack, as we wound our way around the slightly-banked lower apron of the racetrack.  Our 2nd mile was clearly slower and came in at 5:40.

After that, 1st and 2nd stetched out noticeably.  I kept on pace in 4th and focused on 3rd.  This was at the limit of what I was comfortable doing, so I decided to stay back and aim for a final kick in the last 0.1.

Without a 3M marker, but knowing that the finish line was near, I began kicking a little earlier than planned, gapping 3rd and hoping he wouldn't respond.  He did, so I pushed to keep the gap constant, and although I thought I heard the footsteps fading, I pushed with all I had just to finish.  My time was well over 17 minutes, with 1st place also being slower than 17, so on paper I wonder if I missed an opportunity, thinking a lower-elevation race would have been more advantageous.  At the same time, I know that my final push was all that I had left, and the wind and turns made a tough course that was at least 5k.  So as far as timing was concerned, I have to believe it was still a solid representation of where my training is at right now.  And actually racing for position in the final seconds was quite a rush, and there was instant camaraderie and respect at the finish line with handshakes and half-hugs.  At the end, I learned that the rest of 1-5 were Brookfield running teammates, with 1st having a PR in the mid-15's, and most of these guys racing for college teams, so I had fun being an old dude running in the mix.

I was surprised to be handed a trophy and a Brookfield Performance Running Club store gift certificate at the end (awesome sponsorship from them and Serdyk's grocery).  I happily re-gifted the gift certificate to cousin-in-law Dave, who is well-prepared to run his first half-marathon in Orlando in January.  He and his cousin J ran together most of the race, with both finishing easily under half an hour, with J's Dad Steve walking and pushing a final jog to finish under an hour.

Anyway, this was a great, fun event that was well-executed and brought out the community and some of our family for a great morning.  There's no reason to believe this won't continue to be another great Milwaukee tradition.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wyoming Border Patrol (on bikes)

Saturday was a good day to check on our neighbours.

I hadn't done a Winter Ralleye ride in 4 years...and missed it.  It's one of the great things about Fort Collins, with a great culture and tradition, bringing out a great group of folks that really like bikes.  

The first ride in the series takes us up to the Wyoming border.  Last time I did it, we took dirt roads to the non-descript line that separates us our electoral college votes.  I took my road bike, and had been riding a ton, so it was both leisurely and easy to ride at the conversational group pace.

Things were different this time, with a route that now goes through the relatively new Red Mountain and Soapstone Prairie Open Spaces.  That means singletrack!  That made my personal bike selection easier, since it would give a good excuse to ride my new mt. bike for my longest knobby-tire ride ever, with the border being 90+ miles roundtrip from my garage.  It would also be a solid challenge.

I arrived at the Bean Cycle at 7:30, and chatted with some folks.

With a nod to Daylight Savings Time ending, we had ample time to grab coffee, and actually gathered up to start riding at 8:30.
It was neat to see the various steeds stabled outside.  Fat tires were the minority, as were derailleurs. Cross bikes were the perfect and popular tradeoff.

A bit of warming sun was appreciated as we headed out on the bike path.

We then formed a group heading North, clipping along at an effectively modest pace.  I was glad to catch up with an old friend, Joe, whom I haven't seen in a few years.

Still, the extra work of knobbies, left a little bit squishy for dirt riding, and my lack of riding put me squarely in the back of the ragtag peloton.  Messenger bags and fixed-gear riders were moving along more seemingly with ease, while my miles and miles of running up and down hills and around tracks weren't really helping.  I loved how that irony smacked me in the face.  We did stop for a break to keep the group together and check on everyone's safety, before pedaling on the rolling dirt hills to Red Mountain.

As we took our lunch break, people took stock of which route they wanted to take.  The shorter, more direct option would be trail straight over to Soapstone.  The other option, about twice as long, would wind along a redstone wash before climbing up and over the border, then descending back down on Mahogany and Pronghorn trails in Soapstone.  

Seven of us opted for Option B, which is why I rode my damn mountain bike that whole way.

Despite a non-trivial ascent and descent, and riding through sandy washes and twisty singletrack, most of the other riders had skinny tires; the only other fat tire bike besides Joe's and mine was a singlespeed (ridden by a former national collegiate omnium champ).  Most or all of these guys raced -- successfully -- but I only found that out in bits and pieces, and by witnessing their skillz.  This was all about playing around and having fun.  And in a sport filled with expensive equipment, it's refreshing to see some really good riders hiding in plain sight.

The trails were in great shape and rattlesnake free; the temperature was perfect; and the wind was complacent.  Even more fun, there are little off-shoot trails, and this place is still relatively unvisited, so it feels more like an exploration when riding next to redstone walls.  

The trails peaked at a switchbacking climb somewhere in Wyoming, and then we had a smooth blast back down onto the prairie. As usual in those situations, I don't have good pictures because we were too busy grinning and sailing down buffed singletrack.

After this fun was done, we ended up just minutes ahead of the rest of the group -- perfect timing.

The ride home, with an uncharacteristic southernly headwind, was a bit of a grind for me, but pedaling with the group helped.  I didn't have a chance to stop at the bar afterward, but otherwise enjoyed a great re-introduction to fun biking adventures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back to Basics: Skiing

A big reason we moved here was the promise of skiing.

We've generally bought multiple 4-passes and used other deals to get about a dozen or so downhill days per year.  After being a student (again), I was able to buy an Eldora pass for $149, so I'd get somewhere around 20+ days/year, but I never got anywhere near the gaudy yearly downhill totals that ski bums accumulate.  

In addition, I bought some backcountry skis to bang around on, which really came in handy in the epic 2006-7 winter that we moved here, where I had a blast just skiing around town and local trails.
I found that I enjoyed that about as much as downhill anyway, especially on rolling trails where I could get some decent speed.

I upped that a bit then by taking the skis on bigger mountains, until I got in over my head (and beyond the capability of the skinny skis) and busted a binding on Mt. Sherman.
The binding still worked but didn't latch, so I could still shuffle ski on it but not take it down any real downhills.  I did by a more legitimate tele setup last year instead.

But to enjoy the flatter stuff, I decided to call up the folks at Voile in SLC and talk with them, and they're so awesome they fixed the binding for free!

I'm glad my newer bindings are Voile as well -- no problems being loyal to quality gear and service.

After a few years, I've come to some realizations...while I'll still enjoy the social aspect of skiing with friends, I otherwise don't love the traffic and hassle of downhill skiing.  I hate the cost and the crowds and the danger of other people.  And I actually don't like riding a lift for 10 minutes and then riding down in 3 (Eldora) -- yeah, I know you can tilt that ratio at other (farther and more expensive) resorts, but I still don't like spending half of my day not skiing.

And now that I have skins, I actually enjoy uphill skiing, just like I enjoy uphill mountain biking.   wouldn't think to take a gondola up and run down a hill; I never had any desire to put my bike on a ski lift; and my mindset is now taking a similar approach to skiing.  It doesn't hurt that it's free and is a great workout!

Lift service is almost a necessary evil to learn how to ski, to jump quickly on the learning curve, as I went from zero experience in my mid-twenties to passable advanced intermediate. (Your best bet is still to learn as a flexible, fearless kid, especially taking advantage of the free programs for 5th-graders, etc.)  I still do have much to learn in downhill, but I'm OK doing that over time.  Instead, I'm looking forward this winter to poaching some legal laps on the edges of ski areas, and some intermediate backcountry stuff when conditions are safer (matching my comfort with practicing with my beacon and some basic avy knowledge).  I want to do Commando Run this Spring, and somewhere on the horizon, I think about things like the Grand Elk Traverse.

CO Ski Area Uphill Access:
Even better to have all that fun for free. 

Breckenridge (Designated route off-hours; all-mountain during hours; possible free parking pass)
Loveland (Designated route, all hours, free uphill pass required)
Powderhorn (No known restrictions; I had fun last year with an inverted lap starting with the West Bench trail at the top of the Mesa and then returning to my car)

Sunlight (No known restrictions; Full moon report)

Eldora (private land at base, and Not allowed)

Back to Basics: Traveling

J and I had a good streak going of traveling internationally once/year...until the last two years.
And, much of the travel budget went towards races: WS100 in particular wasn't cheap.

Next year, I'll stick with driveable races: Hardrock or Black Hills 100 being top of the list.

The other races (Steamboat, Leadville) weren't as bad with travel but still add up.
And, I made a conscious decision not to run Pikes this year, and not to run the NYC marathon, despite initial interest and the excitement of qualifying.

I don't want our only travel to be race-related.

Mock's blog (and GZ's -- ho-hum) remind me of the pleasures of getting far out of Dodge.

So I'm very excited we found some cheap tickets to Panama in January.  Time to dust off the passports.

Back to Basics: Mountain Biking

Nine years ago in San Diego, I bought my first mountain bike: a $500 Specialized Rockhopper hardtail -- and I remember hesitating at the price! -- which eventually got down to pennies per mile and was one of the best investments I ever made.

That gateway led to road biking, then road running, then trail running and associated madness, etc., but I'm getting ahead of myself.  That bike deserves it's own post, eventually, but we had our share of adventures.  I rode great, classic trails in Southern California (Noble Canyon; Big Bear Lake, where Neil fractured his clavicle far into our ride), and while contemplating a move to Colorado, I took a final trip up to Idyllwild for one last ride at Hurkey Creek.

I found a(n inelegant) way to carry a surfboard on that bike...and then moved to Colorado, where I carried x-country skis instead.  And experimented with studded tires.

Along the way, I rode classics in Sedona, Moab, Fruita, Winter Park, Monarch Crest, Snowmass, Crested Butte, Kenosha Pass, Vernal, Rollins Pass, and up-and-down the Front Range (looking back just a couple years ago, it was a relief during the stressful transition back to school and moving to East Denver).  I brought it to my parents' house in OKC once, so I could drive another hour to ride some great trails near Tulsa.  I even rented some bikes when traveling, so I could ride the John Muir trails in Wisconsin, and the Tsali Trail in North Carolina.

I got as much mileage as I could on the original, before upgrading components, eventually buying a new wheelset and putting on disc brakes.  I hammered out a dent in that wheelset and kept going, and when my rear derailleur busted, I converted it to a single-speed.

Alas, my rear derailleur hanger mount on my frame busted; my front shock is unpredictable; and my bottom bracket is suspect.  And, I simply ran more as I biked less.

But I missed it too much, especially when being on trails that just beg to be ridden instead of trodden (Fruita), or just those sloppy winter days where just riding around town on snowy roads, dirt roads, and trails is enough fun.
And I missed the culture as well: from group rides or trail commiserations with fellow riders, riding with my brother-in-law who finally got a decent bike, and even to the simple act of reading "Dirt Rag" when my wife and I hang out at Barnes and Noble, I wasn't ready to relegate myself as a guy that "used to" mountain bike.

So, with an awesome closeout deal at Lee's on a 2012 Cobia, I finally bought a new bike!
I've just gotta sell some old gear in the garage to help pay for it.

As the fads go, this is my first 29er -- still a hardtail -- with the idea being that the momentum and comfort from bigger tires will go well with the type of riding I usually do (cross-country, often from my house with some road riding to the trailhead), along with the impractical type of riding I dream about doing but haven't told my wife (Colorado Trail, Kokopelli Trail, Great Divide), as well as the more practical riding I'm more likely to do in the future (hauling kids around town in a trailer).  I do all my own mechanical work and I'm suspect of new technology and was wary of hydraulic brakes, being more comforted by the ability to swap around cables in a mid-ride emergency, but I'm willing to try it.  (As a tradeoff, the sales gal pointed out that the Recon air shock can be easily maintained at home if needed).

From a running perspective, I've already re-learned how much more motivating it is to keep momentum on steep uphills, so that it's easy to jack up heart rate by ironic laziness than it is when running (for me anyway).  Downhills aren't cake, either, for when you get a long, rocky downhill and sit back behind the saddle, your quads are burning by the end and the shoulders, forearms, and wrists get a workout as well.

So, here's to rediscovering an old love.  See you on the trails!

"Off" season navel-gazing: Back to Basics

The Blog's been quiet for a bit, but I've really been enjoying the changing season as much as ever, and thinking (from a training/racing perspective) what's next.  Others have been writing the same thing, so it's that time of year, I guess.

The first rule is not to take anything too seriously.  Mostly, that means, don't spend time doing this stuff if it's not fun, if it makes you injured, and especially if it interferes with more important things.  Again, I had an incredible time seeing and experiencing new things with friends and family, and I can't believe how much beauty is out there both in the wild and in the human spirit.

I still haven't run a trail 100 to the ability that I think I'm capable of.  The upside is, still having memorable lifetime experiences out on the trail, and I surprised myself even with the amount of fun and unabashed joy I still had running down Mt. Werner in September despite being hours behind my anticipated goal.

This stuff is still fun.

From a more analytical perspective, I spent more time running (and hiking) this year than any other. The raw time I spend doing this has been a consistent budget over the last 5 years or so of ~10-20 hours/week.   Contrast that with the 4+ hours per day (my God) of television the average American watches, and I still don't "get" when people say they don't have time for exercise.  (Not to mention the hundreds of dollars you can save by ditching all those channels and the DVR, and how much more efficient it is to read the news or political debate transcripts than to wade through video).

But, I would say this year's running came more at the expense of other leisure activities I used to do.  When I had any extra time, I'd mileage-whore just by grinding out extra, slow miles.  I'm not convinced this helped me run any faster or further, so it's time to mix it up and get back to basics.

Lastly, from a training perspective, I do enjoy the cerebral exercise physiology side of things; however, simply running a pile of miles is a bit brutish.  So I'm going to focus more on the tried-and-true, simple 3 quality runs/week (speedwork, tempo, long run) and make sure I'm rested enough to nail those -- which seems to be the direction others are going as well.   That's basically what I did in previous year's marathon training, so it's time to get back to that.  Yeah, hiking and stuff on the weekends will still be there, just less junk during the week.

In addition, I'd like to return to the old ways of biking, skiing, and traveling.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sugarloaf (8917') and Bald Mountain (9147'): Frosty Fall Hike above Boulder

Sugarloaf Mountain (8917')
Bald Mountain (9147')
~ 6 miles roundtrip, ~1400' gain

After the peak of Fall colour had passed, so did a quick cold front that brought a touch of snow, ice, and cold temperatures to Colorado.  This was enough of a reminder to get out and enjoy the remaining foliage display before it ended for the year.  Luckily, Sunday served up a sunny and crisp, windless day perfect for a leisurely hike.

So I went through my usual internal debates of balancing hike options, ruling out repeats and longer drives and such, before settling on a mellow, relatively close exploration of the Sugarloaf Mountain area above Boulder.  Despite being a very short hike of about 2 miles roundtrip, I thought there might be some golden aspen visible along the Switzerland Trail and the views to the west.  It would also put us on top of a conspicuous-looking conical nub on the Boulder skyline that's always intrigued me.

            Sugarloaf Mountain, treeless and taunting near the right side of the Boulder skyline view
                   (photo from

And I was hoping for a bit more exploration, depending on the reality on the ground, of the surrounding area, with an eye toward Bald Mountain.

But, first things first: we drove up Boulder Canyon, and made the right turn onto Sugarloaf Rd a mile after the tunnel.  Then, after a mile up Sugarloaf Mtn. Rd, we parked at the Switzerland Trail junction.  

The drive takes you nearly to the top of Sugarloaf, with only a quick 500 feet or so remaining.  And the leaves were clearly past their peak.

However, we were just at the right elevation and time to be in for a completely different treat: the tops of all the trees were completely frosted.  Between the colours of the leaves and underbrush, the clean blue sky, and the crystalline treetops, the scenery of this otherwise simple hike was otherworldly.

Even more precious then the Fall colours, we enjoyed a display that was as ephemeral as it was ethereal, melting and dropping quickly from the trees.  In a matter of hours, it would all be gone.

Otherwise, this is a simple hike, perfect for everyone from small children to the able, older set.  And, in fact, that's who we saw on the way: a man and his toddler daughter in a backpack; and a lively 75-year-old woman celebrating the morning with a mixture of about a dozen kids and grandkids.

As it was even with a good deal of picture-taking, we were on top by ourselves in only 25 minutes or so.

So what next?  I had my eye on Bald Mountain, shown behind/West of Jessica in the previous picture.  The scant information I had on it was an approach from the West (opposite) side.  That seemed like a bit of a stretch for an easy 3 hours, and I didn't want to get back in the car to drive for another short hike, so I was hoping it would look doable from the East, so that we could hike down Sugarloaf and head straight up Bald Mountain as well, which looked to be about 2 miles West of us.

Luckily, it looked like the trees were sparse enough on the south ridge to warrant a look-see.  With wifely buy-off into some (hopefully light) bushwhacking, we headed West.

A few quick notes: this one, at 9147' in the Burnt Mountain quadrangle, is different than the more popular, even easier, even closer-to-Boulder 7160' Bald Mountain.  Both of these are different than the other 2 Bald Mountains in Boulder County alone.  In total, Colorado has 94 peaks with "Bald" in the name; and, in fact, almost exactly a year ago, I enjoyed the triple bald loop near Red Feather, while J has previously joined me to hike "Old Baldy," which is Boulder County's highest bald-themed peak.
I'm not sayin' I have a bald fetish!
But I'm not sayin' I don't.

Anyway, from the parking area, we used combination of a short hiking trail, and the North side of the Switzerland Road a bit, before venturing off trail.  (Ideally, given the hunting season, we would have been wearing brighter clothing).  Soon enough, we lucked upon an actual FS trail, and shortly thereafter, a few gentlemen that looked like they had been camped there for a bit waved us 'Hello' and quieted the barking dog.  The trail continued up the hill, not always obviously visible, and past an old mine pit filled with some debris.  This was a lower ridge before the final summit ridge, so we descended just a bit before climbing again in earnest, again on the remants of an old trail and then through thinner tree cover.  Soon enough, we were on the summit of Bald Mountain, which had even more stellar views to the West, and a small grove of frosted aspen.

The best part of this double-summit hike was viewing both mountains from afar, both in terms of enjoying the view, and also easy dead-reckoning navigation.  Now, from Bald Mountain, Sugarloaf looked easy enough to leap right over...

After enjoying the summit views to ourselves, and having found a great route up, we got lazy in
details and headed pretty much down the fall line.  It became apparent that we picked the thickest part of the tree cover to descend, so it took us about half an hour to get through it, probably the same or longer than it took to get up.  J was in good spirits but still said, "This is getting old," making me smile at the secret bushwhacking mantra.

Anyway, we popped out on the southern loop of the Switzerland trail, with some ice still clinging to leaves still clinging to trees.

While these are generally overlooked lesser peaks, we ended up being very pleasantly surprised with just a little bit of fun exploration on a gorgeous day.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Horsetooth Recovery

I removed my stitches on Tuesday, exactly 10 days after my Fall, and it healed up nicely.
Awesome job from the PA who stitched me up!

I still have 2 bruises that I can feel when running, but those are going away, too.

I finally returned to the Rock for the first time since I fell.  I didn't intend on taking that long to get back up, as I wanted to go as soon as possible, but that's how my schedule worked out.  Previously this year, in fact, I had been up at least once a week, until the fires closed down the park for over a week.  I'll still plan on ~50 summits for the year, which pales in comparison to those that can run it a few times a week from their driveway.

I was anxious to summit again, but also wanted to check out where, and how, and how far, I fell.
I'm not sure exactly where I landed, but my best guess is pretty high up in the gap along some mossy rocks.  

 Basically, I fell down most of this from the right (my head would have been just over 3/4 of the way up the top of the pic).

There's a narrow, steeper pitch below that which I'm very fortunate not to have fallen.

The pic doesn't do much good without perspective, so here's a pic with people on it for scale:
I was at least 3/4 of the way up the right side of the right gap, and fell to just below the bottom of that gap.  In person, I could tell my feet were over 4 "Mike Heights" above the highest spot I might have at minimum, I fell at least 25 feet -- or my body and head fell 30.  Yikes.

So I poked around a bit on the route that Nick actually took up, so I could also try to get a better view and pic of where I was.  I only went up a little bit with no intention of going further than just a safe distance, and I hit wet rock (from the previous day's rain) as expected, but I had a purpose of testing this safe distance out.  Although I was only 6-7 feet off the ground, when I turned around to downclimb, I hesitated.  Then I thought about sliding and my heart started racing.  Craph, that's exactly what I was worried about.
My body's healing nicely, but my mind hasn't yet.  
I paused twice (for a few minutes) to shake away those feelings on a few easy steps, rotating around and deciding whether to face in or not on something I could easily have jumped off of.  

I slowly reassured myself that I had great footholds and got down, but it shows that I need to shake this off and gain my confidence back in as slow and safe of a manner as necessary.

It also occurred to me how little Class 4+ downclimbing on rock faces I actually do -- I feel great upclimbing, I feel great on ledgy exposure on ridges and stemming both up and down chimneys, but having to search for smaller holds with my feet when downclimbing is clearly a weakness.

It also occurred to me that I couldn't remember how Clark got down after I fell, but it certainly must have sucked even more for him to have had to hurry a somewhat technical downclimb.  Normally, we would have just gone down the standard route.

Once I got passed where I fell the rest of it was easy and without a second-thought, so it could also be very specific negative thoughts from being on the exact same route.

I went up for a quick summit on the standard route, something I think I could do with my eyes closed.

I learned that I have to get my confidence back slowly and safely -- but I also learned, again, how lucky I was.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 113+ Race Report

The Inaugural Steamboat 100 was the most spectacularly absurd thing I've ever witnessed.
And I can't believe I was lucky enough to have a front row seat.

Going into the event, I was unsure about how well my stitched-up leg and bruised body would hold up.

Well, it turns out that my body held up better than expected.  But it turns out this wasn't the major challenge of the day; instead, it was a mental and physical challenge against uncertainty and unpredictability, more than any other race I've done.  The distance, of at least 113 miles, also happened to more than I've ever done.  And in the end, I only made it not just by being aided by friends and family, but literally willed to the finish line by their efforts, spirit, and generosity, at a level I still can't fathom deserving.

So let's start back at the beginning...

The Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 100 was a brand-new 100-mile event.  New events always have risks -- even 5k's sometimes take a year to get things dialed in.  But this event had some promising reasons to give hope that it would immediately be a top-notch event: the event is run by the same race directors as the perennial Run Rabbit Run 50-miler, which is an immensely popular event that sells out every year.  Like the 50M, the event is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup, providing Western States spots to the top finishers, and the 100M also gained an unprecedented first-year credential as a Hardrock 100 qualifier.  But that wasn't the biggest buzz surrounding the race: the Run Rabbit Run 100 was also promoted as a high-dollar, competitive draw, by providing $40,000 in cash to the leaders, 5-deep.  It was shaping it to be a Big Deal.

The Steamboat course actually seemed quite attractive to me because it runs directly through town several times.  This mean that crewing and spectating would be comparatively "easy" -- if I may use that word humbly and ironically.  Seriously, while nothing will relieve crews of interminable and uncertain waits at aid stations, at least they can do it with less driving and the ability to hang out and enjoy the town of Steamboat.  So, the race lent itself well to a fun family and friends weekend getaway.

Another twist in the Steamboat 100 is the division of runners into "Tortoise" and "Hare" groups.  Because of the large prize purse theoretically inducing a fair share of "elite" ultrarunners into the event, the idea of the split race is that Hares start the race later in the day (5 hours later) and the Tortoises can thus see the Hare competition developing later into the race.  Additionally, the Hares are limited by further arbitrary restrictions, such as not being able to use poles or pacers (surely, pacers with poles -- fuhgeddaboutit!), yet being eligible of course for the big prize money while subject to stricter time limits due to starting later.

I'm not a fan of the split start and separate rules, because I find it more divisive than I do exciting, but I'll acquiesce to the majority if it's truly a preferred system, but I think it will be more enjoyable with a much larger field.  I'll write more about that separately.  Mostly, I think pacers have an important place in past, present, and future ultrarunning...and I'll write a separate post about that, too.  

As it stood, I was somewhat torn between which group to run with, because I'm sort of a B-level "bubble" runner that expected to run slower than most Hares, and faster than most Tortoises, on a good day.  But what sealed the deal was the pacer thing -- I'd have the ability to run for hours with one of my great buds, Alex May, if I signed up as a Tortoise.  Done.

So as a Tortoise, I had the advantage of starting earlier in the day on a beautiful morning.  With the typical non-fanfare of these things, we were off like a herd of turtles.

Start to Mt. Werner
Our first task?  Climbing 3500 feet straight up Mt. Werner.  Although we began on ski service roads, we'd ultimately be following flags straight up some ski runs in order to reach the top.  I had started in the middle of the pack, kept my pace in check, but moved steadily up until we were off trail.

Now was the first test for the stitches.  I was hiking purposefully and well up the mountain, and soon enough I was in a group of 5 guys, and then 3.  And I felt great -- I guess I've been humping up and down unmarked mountain trails as much as anything all year -- so I tucked my bottle into my shorts, put hands on knees, and Euro-hiked one flag at a time.  Yeah, I was pushing the heart and lungs here, but usually my cardiovascular system is utterly untapped and bored in these races as my legs give out instead, so I went with it.  Soon enough, I was ahead and in charge of finding and pointing out flags, first in the shade, and then with the sun in our eyes.  And I was still gaining.

Bryon Powell floats above in the irunfar balloon

Finally, we reached a road juncture, at a bench just above the gondola, and nobody else was in sight.  I knew we had to go climber's-left here, so I headed left, despite lack of flags in either direction.   More ski runs appeared to my right, and since the race directions talked extensively about heading straight up the hill, I thought that might be the direction.  But, tried as I might by scanning the amber brush for yellow(!) flags, I didn't see any, so I kept going.  Now, having remembered something about seeing a flag every quarter mile, and suspecting my sight line down the road was over that, I was getting nervous, so I looped back to the ski run and headed up, hunting for flags.  Soon enough, 3 other guys came by and said we should indeed go straight down the road, so I jumped back down with them.  It was nice to be in a group again, no big deal....

Mt. Werner, more popular in Winter

Until the next road intersection.  Up there, we clearly saw a yellow flag at the junction, and another to the climber's right.  This did not jive with our expectation of the course, which should head over to Storm Peak lift to the left (yes, you're best off augmenting your own maps with ski hill maps...and I had actually done this, suspecting confusion on this part of the course), but the marking was clearly to the right.  And, we couldn't see anything to the we followed the flag.  

We continued down for maybe close to a half-mile, before a few of us started getting nervous.  Oh, here I should mention, 2 of the other 3 guys had pre-run the course, and they were both confused and slightly annoyed.  We knew that the service road would still climb to the same point, but with more distance (and technically being off-route).  We cut our losses and headed back, determined to look the other way for a flag, and assuming/hoping that others had found it by now.

Whoops: as we headed back, the cavalry was coming: a group of a dozen or more had come this way as well, including Aaron Marx -- it was great to see him again, and he was wondering why we were seeing each other again!  One guy actually had the stack of race directions with him (did I mention it's an impractical tome of about 8 maps and extensive narrative?) -- he read the part about Storm Peak, and the small group of us continued on our way.  The bulk of the group continued the incorrect way behind us.

Sure enough, down the trail, we saw another yellow flag, and went with it.
Eventually we got to the final pitch of steep hiking.  2 of the guys that had started with us, then kept going the wrong way, saw us through the trees (fortunately for them) and bushwhacked down to us, so we had a group of 5 again.

I'm sure we lost at least 10 minutes here, but pretty much everyone did.  Hopefully this information would be useful to the Hares who would be starting later, as we now felt more like Guinea Pigs than Tortoises.  
I led the charge up the hill again, and with slight separation again, I was the first up the hill.  This means nothing in the grand scheme of the race, but I thought it would be fun for the folks back home -- it turns out it was even more amusing than I thought, given what happened in the next couple hours.

Race Position, by Mile

After filling up (I had one bottle at this point) and grabbing some Stinger Waffles, it was time to run some trail!  My plan in general was to push the uphills as needed in the beginning, but take the downhill super easy, so I watched as one of the other 2 guys got ahead.  I stayed with and chatted a bit with Rick, but encouraged him to head on as well as I was content to take it easy.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the crew had a pleasant breakfast, and began toiling through race descriptions.

Let me talk a bit more about the Crew.

The Crew
The Crew was again a dream team led by J, Nora, and Debby, with more advice from experienced runner and The Pacer, Alex May.  This time, they were also joined by Nora's sister, Jill, who ended up spending most of her vacation from Oregon by joining in on this nonsense.

We were very fortunate to stay in a big, beautiful vacation condo right at the base of the mountain.  This was a fun and relaxing place to hang out, and later we'd be joined by the rest of our family in Colorado, making for a fun weekend overall.

Anyway, the pacing plan was to have Alex run with me presumably through the night, starting at mile 67.  Additionally, J would be able to pace the sections through town (advertised as under a mile, but actually closer to 1.5 each time).  I could have a pacer from 40M to 67M, but had not planned on having one.  Otherwise, I know that other groups have various planning methods, but I feel so silly about the whole thing anyway, that I generally try to keep it simple, letting the crew know the basics about the course and things I might expect to need.  But, the script usually goes out the window, so mostly I'm proud of how great they are at solving problems.  It turns out, their ability to not just solve problems, but anticipating problems, ended up being the crux of the race.

As a treat for them, though, they got to see I was in first they hurried to get ready!  This was going to be serious business, it seemed!

Mt. Werner to Long Lake
The route continued to roll along very pleasant, buff, high mountain singletrack, and there was a gap in front of and behind me so that I was running all alone.  Fun times up high.  Soon enough, I neared the first trail junction.  An infamous trail junction, as it turned out.

I knew my goal was Long Lake.  I knew it should be near, probably within 10 minutes or so.  I wasn't expecting any sharp turns, but there it was: the trail junction was very clearly marked with a yellow ribbon.  Coming down the trail, it was easy to spot, because I was staring right at it.  Below the trail junction was a race sign, solidly affixed to the post, was a laminated RRR sign.  It would have looked exactly like this, in ASCII:

100 Miles

Indeed, it was the very first sign encountered during the race.  Because of the 50M race the next day, we were told to be aware of divergences from the 50M course.  I knew that the 50M race headed generally East, and because of the specific 100M course, I thought this might be an important divergence from the course.  I glanced upward and saw a pink ribbon (50M course), so I ran in the direction of the sign until I encountered a yellow ribbon.

Cool, I must be on course.

I ran another 10 minutes, than 15, than 20.  I was expecting to hit the aid station soon, in a high, falt area, and maintain elevation, but I was descending slightly.  I saw more clearings ahead as the trail flattened out again, and thought that the aid station might be near, so I continued.  Nope, more marshes and open terrain.  25 minutes.

This was not feeling good...but the arrow pointed this way, and I was following yellow ribbons, so what other option would there have been?  Up ahead, the terrain became thicker with aspen, and the surrounding terrain was funneling into more of a canyon.  That seemed more like the terrain that would define what I imagined Fish Creek Falls to be.  Crap.   I planned to stop and turn around or wait for other runners at half an hour.
Then, I saw some hikers come up.  "Congratulations!" they said. 
"Thanks...uh, have you seen other runners?"
"No, you're in first place!"

That's about the worst news I could get.

I asked them if they knew if this was the trail to Long Lake.  "Yes," they replied "we started at the trailhead, it said 5 or 6 miles to the Lake!"

I shook my head and told them, "Thanks...I'm going to have to turn around."

Ouch, that was disappointing.  I started running back, at the same or maybe a tick faster than I was, before I could stop and think too much about it.  Within minutes, first and second came by -- now an hour ahead of me (again, they had pre-run this part).  I confirmed my fears.  Both were upset, for me.  Rick said, "I told them they needed to mark that" and "Check with the next runners that they went the right way."  About 10 minutes later, I saw Hessek and Boots.  They said they went about a quarter mile down the wrong way before making the correction.  I checked with subsequent runners, and the ones I talked to had made it to Long Lake, often after having gone the wrong way for a bit, or stopping at the intersection, or being shouted at and corrected by runners behind them.

I still hadn't thought about the implications yet.  I could have had knowledge from the maps and course description, and I take responsibility for that, as I had a notion that the correct direction was indeed the other way.  I do not, however, agree that races are sufficiently fun or interesting if they require extensive orienteering: course design is a comprehensive combination of maps, description, and marking, and all of them have both importance and limitations in conveying important information (e.g., maps don't always have sufficient resolution for course ambiguities).  I'll get more into that as a separate topic.

Why didn't I turn around earlier?  A few factors compounded to make the decision more difficult.  First, the ambiguous and blatantly incorrect marking earlier in the race had shaken my confidence.  Second, the explicit sign directed me to go in that direction -- without a sign, I would have checked out both trail options, and naturally wouldn't have made the sharper turn.  Not intended to be excuses as much as information, which could have been simplified to help 150 people.

So, I came back to the junction about 65 minutes later, I figured 5.5-6M out of my way.  The sign was still there, and I headed up the correct direction. Indeed, there was a yellow flag on a yellow tree in the shade up there as well.  Within just a few minutes, I could see the lake -- Wow, I blew over an hour by being just a few minutes below sight of the lake.

I got to Long Lake aid station, and was calm and pleasant to the volunteers, thanking them for everything.  But I tried explaining the importance of the course marking, and was now more concerned about a large chunk of the Hare Race blowing through it.  They were well-aware of other complaints, and said they had sent somebody down to "fix" it.  I was confused, but went with it.

Shortly down the trail, I saw what they had done to "fix" it -- put another sign at a junction that wasn't important until much later in the race.  There was also a sign that said "Steamboat Aid" and "Long Lake Aid" with arrows in the correct directions.  So the problem was, all of these signs were placed well-after the confusing turn.

Long Lake to Steamboat High via Fish Creek Falls Tr.
Well, now I was back on track.  I was annoyed but didn't lose my cool.  The worst parts ended up being running an extra hour which put me later into the warmer part of the day, still with one bottle...and I had dug myself a hole on water and calories already.  I drank extra at the aid station, but finished my bottle well before finishing Fish Creek Falls trail.

Otherwise, the trail was nice, and had just a few miles of the only really technical section of the whole course.  Slow and easy, at least I had fun passing some people here.  Mentally, as soon as I thought "I'd be down the trail by now" I put it quickly out of my mind.

Finally, I was done with the trail, with a few miles on the road left, and well out of water.  I was going to make it to the aid station, and am a stickler for the rules, but I recalled Fred saying, "Don't drive next to your runner all the way up the road, but if want your family to meet you at the Fish Creek Falls TH and give you a bottle or something, they can do that."  We hadn't planned on that (possibly with them heading up later at night), but someone else did and was waiting for their runner, and offered me water, which I accepted.  I drained that bottle in the few short miles down the road, and finally rolled around to the High School, embarrassed at being late.

I started telling them the stories, but word gets around, and my crafty crew was already in the know.  They'd been hearing tales of course marking issues from many of the runners, and then another runner specifically told Alex about me having gone significantly down the wrong way.  I was disappointed but it was "only" 20M into the race, despite having already run a marathon, but seeing them charged me up again to keep going.  I grabbed a 2nd bottle here.

Now the race crosses right through town, and for safety reasons, everyone is allowed a pacer as we go across town.  This was pretty cool because, for the first time in the middle of a race, I was able to have my wife as a pacer!  It was great to run with her and she kept me right on course, with a positive attitude and energy.  

I checked in and out of Olympian Hall, and began the second ski-hill assault up Emerald Mountain.  I told a guy at the bottom that I'd catch the 2 people already up the hill -- that was my goal, and I did.

There were a few more runners up here, I ran with some and then headed up ahead, as we looked for flags.  We hit another ambiguous spot, so 2 of us scouted each direction to find the correct one.  I think they were actually more annoyed than I was about another marking issue.  But now we were confidently on track and kept heading up the hill.

No pacers, no pictures, but it was a bit hotter and more exposed being early afternoon.  At least the flags were easier to see in the sun!  The rest of the climb was straightforward and well-marked, and a guy on a bike told us to follow along the ridgeline to the right.  That was scenic and enjoyable, and now we were ready for a long, hot descent down to Cow Creek.

Again, I took it easy, had some occasional conversation, and the trail was in good shape with some nice views. But, it was hot.  Near the bottom of the descent, I caught up with Aaron Marx.  It was great to see him running, and he was both happy and concerned to see me again.  Unfortunately -- and I suspect it was the heat -- his stomach wasn't treating him well. I enjoyed meeting //fixme who was running his first 100, very well, and was also a research professor at CU Boulder in //fixme, so we enjoyed knowing the same circle of people and topics.  

At the bottom, I was happy to see Trimboli.  I camel-ed up on fluids (so I thought) and grabbed some food for the long climb up the //fixme B trail.   It began with a steady 2-mile grade on a hot, dirt road, which was runnable although hot, and I was looking forward to the shaded climb.  The turn to the left was well-marked, and we began our climb.

This was probably my energetic low-point of the race, as I grinded up the hill.  It was a nice buff track that had runnable flat parts and generally runnable uphill as well, but somehow I was already running low on water, and I hadn't grabbed enough food.  I hadn't really "fixed" the deficit I made before.  I leapfrogged a couple guys but otherwise wasn't normally the conversationalist I would be this early in the race (we were only at mile 30-something!)  Finally, we were near the top, and I drained the rest of my water.

As we hit the ridge and rolled, I kept it easy on the quads, but was having legitimate pain in my knee, and some in my back where I had bruised it.  I could barely run downhill at all (it started a little bit earlier but I had a big break on the climb), which sucked.  It felt like I was compensating for pain in my back and leg, and that my leg was swollen a bit and then pulling my ITB against my knee.  As it continued, it felt like the sort of chronic thing that would be a bad thing to continue running on for 60 Miles.  Besides, I thought, there will likely be more surprises in terms of course markings or issues, or my injury will get why not stop now and enjoy the rest of the weekend? 

For the first time in one of these, I thought about dropping. 

Along the ridge, now, we saw some of the Hares for the first time.  I said "Buen trabajo" to the shy Raramuri runners, but had other-back-and-forth with the next runners.  One of them looked fine, I said "Great job man," he looked and had no reply.  I remarked to a nearby runner that it annoyed me when runners didn't return a simple hello.  "You gotta understand it's different with these elite guys," he said, "they're running pretty seriously and focused."
Whatever dude, plenty of fast guys are still friendly.  Next female had a big smile, next guy said "Nice job" before I did, and then, 


It was fun timing after having just remarked on runner friendliness, as we were both happy to see each other, than came to a dead stop to start chatting.  I started walking back uphill with Pete (so as not to slow him down...but so we could keep talking!) but he didn't care.  He was alright but feeling it, and I told him of my thoughts to drop.  He told me to make the right decision but think about it or something.  Well, seeing him was nice encouragement, but I still was hobbling downhill.  Back in the hot part of the dirt road now, I finally saw PG.  He looked remarkably well...for having puked moments before.  He was still doing great and now felt better, but said he had quite a rough patch.  Again, seeing him charged me up a bit.  I only had a few miles left before the aid station, and thought about my options.  I was in pain and also very tired: obvious, but not usually something that happens in the first half.  I figured I could lie down in the grass and give my back a rest, maybe take a nap, and contemplate life, telling my crew I was open to any option and I didn't want to inconvenience them further.

Heck, I could be done soon, so I just hurried a bit and ran more.  My legs started loosening up a bit.  Huh.  At the bottom of the service road, before the steep final pitch, I saw Brownie.  I told him I wasn't feeling well, and he asked if I had a pacer.  Aaron was done, unfortunately, so Brownie wa available.  Well, that would certainly help things out a bit... I thought, but 
I really felt like an uncertain liability at that point.  I told him thanks, I was going to hang out with my crew and thought about dropping -- he definitely encouraged me to take a rest before making that decision, which is certainly good advice.  I wasn't thinking clearly enough about his pacer offer, not wanting to put him through a miserable trudge that might not end well, but I figured if I took a long break, he could easily make it down to the HS and check us out if he was still up for it.

Well, the last pitch was the same steep scramble we had getting up.  Although it was short, I watched people stumble and slip gingerly.  But I've played this game so many times bushwhacking through the stupid woods, so I let it go and just ran down the damn thing.

iPhoto's auto-enhance made this look like a painting almost.  Cool.

My awesome wife was waiting for me, again ready to escort me across town.  It was a good long day, but I was ready to tell her my plans. 

I didn't get the chance.

"So, Jill's going to pace you now.  It's been decided."
"You really want me to keep running?  I don't even think I want to keep running.  My knee has been killing me."
"She's all ready and wants to do this and it's going to be fine.  Just keep going."
Um, OK.  J thought I was concerned about Jill's ability, when I was concerned about my ability.

In moments, my decision was made for me.  It probably sounds Drama Queen-ish when typed, but I was seriously unmotivated to keep running in a way that I've never felt before.  Too many strikes were against me already, with much uncertainty ahead.  Heck, at WS, I lost a bit of time, but even at mile 40 I just had confidence that I would still finish.  Now, my top focus was still making sure my crew was having fun, and it still seemed, inconceivably, that their top focus of "fun" was keeping me going.

We got back to the HS, and I was very pleased to see Cat and Mary helping out, as well as Katie.
I told them I was in no hurry but wanted to be smart at the aid station.  I grabbed a new, dry shirt and light, some extra clothes.  I thought about what I could do for my knee, and decided to switch shoes, to the bulkier Cascadias -- perhaps with more heel cushioning, my leg/knee would be less stressed and stretched out.  (Answer: yes).

And, I was craving salt.  They all get a kick out of the pickle juice, for some reason.  ('Cept for Alex, noted pickle-hater).

Feeling somewhat refreshed, and knowing a sustained climb was ahead (thus, my knee would get a break), Jill and I headed off away from the sunset.

Pacer Jill

Here's how ridiculous this plan was on the surface: Jill was roped into this whole thing during her vacation, as I mentioned.  She just came into town the previous night from sea level in Portland. She's never run a marathon, so this would be her farthest "run."  At night, toward an aid station that was ravaged the previous night by bears, on a first-year course with notable course marking issues.  We had met briefly when she had visited the previous Thanksgiving, but otherwise why put this much work into something for someone you don't know that well?  And, what if I started doing typical ultrarun stuff, like puking or falling asleep or whining?

I was totally amazed and inspired by her willingness to do this.  Nora had already told me months before that her sister is a strong hiker especially, and I could tell that Jill was up for the adventure portion of it.  We weren't going to be moving that fast.

Still, the whole thing flipped a switch for me: first, she was totally willing to do this, and my crew was really in support of the whole thing as well.  Having just seen them and FCTR friends at the aid station, I learned that some folks had dropped, but Marie was still Out There, and Pedatella took the same wrong turn I did.   So the other thing that inspired me was how absurd everything was.  Instead of fighting it and getting upset -- I didn't have the chance to race my best and see how well I could do because of several factors -- I began to embrace the absurdity of everything.
And, somehow, getting off the script and expectations completely was the relief I needed to keep going.

So we headed up the road, and then the rocky parts of Fish Creek Falls trail.

Alex and Nora had advised Jill on what to do during pacing...whatever it was, it worked perfectly!  The advantage of not knowing each other the way Alex and I do was just having easy, new topics of conversation.

So here's the real truth:  Jill has biked and hiked a lot, including a 40M mountain circuit in 24 hours.  Her parents are distance cyclists and have through-hiked the AT. She's climbed Mt. Rainier.  Five times.  By five different routes.  She ran XC in High School...against Krissy Moehl.  Successfully.  Oh, she's been a ranger as well, and while talking about that, she jokingly and humbly asked, "Guess what other somewhat-famous person I know?"  I came up with the most awesome answer I could, based on context.  Indeed, she was talking about Andy Anderson!  There were no worries at all about her mountain credentials.

So I really enjoyed the conversation with Jill, and it really helped the time move by quickly.  If I had thought about pace or amount of time remaining, I might have lost my mind, but instead it was just a great hike.  And we passed a few people here and there.  Under the new moon, it was pitch black, with the Milky Way visible, but our aid station should be coming up soon.  I realized she'd never had that experience before, and she appreciated the surrealness of a campfire and aid station in the dark of the night in the middle of nowhere, as we made another visit to Long Lake.

The aid station folks were great and it was a pleasant place to be, despite bad memories from missing it hours earlier.  Now we were on a new part of the course again as we headed out to Summit Lake.

This part was a rolling incline, I should have run more but just kept it steady.  We still maintained or gained position a little bit here, until some headlamps behind us moved just a bit faster.


He was looking good and I congratulated him, but he remarked that "Karl is right on my ass!"  Karl came by minutes later, running steadily a tick faster than Dylan (but very patiently, as it turns out he would still take an hour or two to pass him), and then Tim Olson.  All 3 responded kindly to encouragement, that was the best part.  Otherwise, the whole spectating aspect of Hare group lasted for about 30-40 seconds per runner.

We made Summit Lake, and our directions were now down Buffalo Pass Road to Dry Lake Aid Station.  Straightforward and easy directions with no chance to get lost.  The "downhill" starts with some rollers at the time before actually descending, and on noticeable descents and flats, my knee was really tight again.  I did get passed here as I was unable to make great progress downhill, but eventually we made it to Dry Lake aid station.  And, the place was rockin'.

My crew was there in the freezing cold, and Alex was getting his last bits of sleep:

There were also lots of other friendly, helpful, and drunk faces: Brownie, Eric, Aaron, Kircher, and Stefanovic.  This picked me right up, and these pictures of us having that much fun at night really makes me smile.

That was the last aid station for Jill, now just a downhill down the buff Spring Creek Trail.  Being charged up from seeing everyone, and from mashed potatoes, I was able to start running again.  Running down this trail at night ended up being a blast.

Alex is in charge of math and pace calculations, and they were surprised at our arrival.  It was perfect timing to grab another layer of warmth:

It was well into the middle of the night, and I was "only" 2/3rds done, but having reached the point of having Alex pace me, it felt like the final hurdle to the finish line.  All we had to do was make it to sunrise, and then surely the new day would inspire us to the finish.  That was the hope, anyway.

Pacer Alex
(Both) regular readers should already know enough about Alex: I'm lucky to count Mr. May as a great friend of mine.  He's a long-time, experienced, and enthusiastic runner, a critical part of the FCTR group.  We've had some quite long runs and adventures together, and he's already paced me earlier this year at Western States.  I am so much chomping at the bit to return the favour some day that I couldn't stand the excitement of his Leadville finish last mile and ran out to see him and Nora in the last mile.  Yet, he agreed to pace me once again.  My promise was to be a happier runner this time -- a simple proposition on its face, but both words are important.  I didn't want us to trudge through dark places through the night at a slow pace like we did in WS (although we still had tons of fun)...and I really wanted to be running the final miles.

Everybody's in a happier place though, now, because WS is where Alex and Nora really first met, and started a perfect match and beautiful relationship together.

*Two* of my favourite peeps!

Reversal of Direction
Now it was time to head back up Spring Creek, and then back up Buffalo Pass -- a long sustained slog in the night.  The good part was, I guess, that we'd get to use all the daylight for flat and downhill miles, and it was easy non-technical stuff remaining at night.  We had enough clothes for the cool evening, but just had to make it up.  

First we had to get there, though, and we, like many others, had trouble getting through city streets and finding the correct way.  We were led through a 4-way only by distant shouting by somebody standing out on their deck at a neighbouring house.

We made it up Spring Creek OK, and then began the slog up Buffalo Pass.  Sleepiness was hitting me, and though I was moving, I was doggin' it.

The worst part is, I felt a bit dizzy by staying awake, and the dizziness made me feel nauseous.  Without permission or warning, I told Alex I was going to nap for 90 seconds.  I wasn't foolish enough to deviate from vertical:

I counted, too, and didn't take much more than a minute.  Before I closed my eyes, I could see the tree branch next to me fluttering...but after I closed my eyes, I could still see it, clear as day.  It was a strange and new sensation that I could see everything around me with my eyes closed...but I was convinced that's how it worked.

I hadn't had to deal with this before, and it wasn't comfortable, but I thought about how bleary and red-eyed NMP's eyes were the second morning of Hardrock.  This is the sort of absurdity I need to embrace to have a chance to finish a race like that.

Anyway, that one minute or so was exactly what I needed.  We kept moving, as we got more sunlight.  At Summit Lake, mash potatoes again gave me more energy.  Eventually, I was able to trot.  And then run.  I enjoyed new views on the buff Wyoming Trail, and I was rolling.

I passed a few guys, and then I saw Kircher pacing along the way.  They were doing great, and he made a crack about being a road runner because of my Boston jacket.  I charged down the trail and put some time on them -- 2 hours as it turns out.  Man, I've never been able to do this in a trail 100.  (Guess going slow all night was kind of like a fresh start).

Alex said we'd finish under 29 hours, and I said "No way."  29 was special because it was the Hare cutoff time, something I expected I should have been able to hit.  30 was still a magic number, too...and both are ridiculously large numbers, but let's just keep going with the running and see what happens.

We made it back to Long Lake for the final time.  Since I had my one and only drop bag here, it was a convenient place to get rid of extra layers.

And we kept moving.  One more aid station!  Beautiful views on great singletrack.  The sun and the pace was making us warmer.

It was awesome.

Alex thought they may have moved the aid station to the saddle instead of the summit (for the 50M and return trip for us), but indeed we had the final trudge to the summit remaining.  Hands on knees for me, Alex was starting to run to keep up.

I was certain I had already gone 100 miles.  (Final course estimates are between 108-115+ miles when run correctly.  With my detour, I'm sure I ran 100 miles plus another half marathon at least).  We still had a 10k to go, all downhill.

Free miles?  Depends on if you've saved your quads!  At WS and Leadville, nope, mine were completely shot.  I was saving my quads all day for this.  My knee still felt fine.

Down we went.  It was a blast.

The trees had changed noticeably since I started the race.

So had I.

Anyone was welcome to hike up or ride the gondola and finish with a runner during the last 4 miles.  The girls had agreed to this, and we made it easy on them by coming down late morning instead of in the dark, you know.

They weren't at the 4 mile mark, or the 3.5  We were moving, though, and ahead of schedule.   Finally, 2.5-3 miles out, we saw each other.

We made a pack, and again, my wife was right by my side.

We were running downhill harder and faster than we usually do when we jog around the neighbourhood.  After 100 miles.  And here was my wife coming right along with me.

And my friends as well.

You know what this is like?  It was like we were 9 or 10 years old, just kids, just running around for fun.  This memory is going to stick with me for the rest of my life.  Think about back to when you were a kid, and the feelings it gives you, and how it's somewhat different than those adult memories you have.  Somehow, we were able to cross over into that domain