Sunday, April 29, 2012

OKC Marathon: 2:50:52

Oklahoma City Marathon 2012
2:50:52, 10th

I'll make this report a little longer because I want to simultaneously promote the race and town, but reiterate a few opportunities for improvement.

The 2007 Oklahoma City Marathon was the first marathon I had ever done. It's a wonderful celebration of triumph over the OKC bombing disaster of 1995, with a mixture of somber reflection and the strength of community. Since my parents still live there, it's a great time to come out and visit for the weekend. J enjoyed the half marathon back then and wanted to run it again, and our friend Jenny came out, ending up switching to the 5k but enjoying a quick weekend break. Not to be left out, my parents both walked the 5k as well -- awesome!

Everyone also enjoys the fact that marathon weekend is also the same weekend as the OKC Festival of the Arts, which includes a fantastic mix of sculpture, kinetic art, pottery, paintings, etc., including pieces costing tens of thousands of dollars, but mostly very affordable (hear that, Overrated-Cherry-Creek?), high-quality art, all in a beautiful downtown setting next to the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the epicenter of the most interesting new architecture in downtown OKC.Most importantly, the festival includes my favourite type of art -- culinary arts! Similar to Taste of Fort Collins, this means everything from local restaurant selections to fried fair food, and the local dessert, Strawberries Newport:

Other than the festival, we headed over to the Expo to pick up our packets, and met some of my Dad's coworkers: Jim was running a 2nd half marathon in as many weeks, and Cynthia was running her first marathon. (Looks like she finished with an even first and second half, very cool!)

This is the first time I had ever repeated a road marathon on the same course, so I had some idea of what to expect: a flat but not fast course. I was rested and tapered, doing what I could to control my own race, but had one main concern (and another minor one) on my mind.
First, the weather: the biggest threat to running a fast time here is wind, followed closely by humidity, and storms (rain/hail). We got a little of all of it, but not the absolute worst, as the larger storms fortunately moved north of the city. Last year, I guess, there was a terribly cold, soaking rain and a delayed start. This time, we had a dry start, but dry is a relative term, with humidity between 80-90% all day. Winds were forecasted between 10-20mph, and coming from the North in the morning was actually preferred, because it would lead to a tailwind in the more-exposed second half. Theoretically.

One aspect of the race that could be managed a little better is the overlap between the half-marathoners and marathoners. The two races segregate before 7 miles, but rejoin at around mile 21. Previous reports describe a bit of chaos among this overlap, where faster marathoners may have to weave through large crowds of half marathoners, and it's especially hard to get water/aid. That wasn't a noticeable factor in my first race, but I was apprehensive about what to expect this time. I didn't want it to be too much of a burden, but I also didn't want to get in a foul mood.

My race goal was to go out for a 1:22 first half, and hold on if not negative split (ha!) for <2:45. Next goal was 2:50. Somewhere out there was the fact that I'd never run < 3 hours. Finally, although it depends on the crowd, I thought top 10 would be a great goal based on previous results.

Onto the race itself. (If you want to read a race report from someone finishing way behind the winner, who am I to judge?)

Getting into the front of Corral A was pretty easy at about 6:05, or 25 minutes before race start. That gave time for some easy strides off the front, and then settling in for the customary 168 seconds of silence (for each bombing victim) at 6:15, and the wheelchair start 10 minutes later. At 6:30 on the dot, we were off.

The start was wide enough to find the right spot with only a few swerving maneuvers. I wanted to run manageable and controlled, possibly even slightly slower than my 6:15 goal pace. We felt relaxed and I heard a GPS guy say 6:30s. I sped up a bit, and we hit the first mile at 6:05. Whoops.

Well, I still felt good, and the next 2 miles were the same. Did I mention there's a digital clock at every mile? I love that fact. But I was going too fast. Still, I was thinking about "banking" time for some of the lonelier, windier stretches, so why not? Still a rookie mistake, I should know better by now.

I think by Mile 5 or 6 I was settled into my goal pace for sure. On some spots, we'd have a stiff north wind, and we were already fairly separated (even with half-marathoners and relay racers mixed in) to work together at all, though I did have a few brief chats with some fellow runners. When going west, or up small hills, it was harder work in the humidity, with a bit higher heart rate, and I was already dumping water on my head and face. Another sign I should have slowed down.
It turns out the dewpoint was in the low-mid 60s, which should have meant slowing down immediately.

Still felt like I'd be 81-82 at the half, and slowed down a bit to ensure that. Hit just under 82, though it did feel like a bit of work. That's a race PR I guess, though I had a solid workout a few weeks ago faster than that, which is where I came up with the idea in the first place.

Oh, one more thing I forgot: the race allows >7 hour finishers to start even earlier than the official start, provided they're willing to do some self-support for the first few hours. This is great and definitely opens up the race to even more people. But I forgot about this aspect and was surprised to be have to do some slight weaving or calling out starting before Mile 10. (Although balanced, as much as I could, with encouragement).

After the halfway mark, I knew we were getting closer to Lake Hefner, which I knew would be an interesting turning point, literally, as the course began heading predominantly south. I'm intimately familiar with this section from the previous marathon and a previous Turkey Trot: it gets windy.
But a storm was brewing, and the skies were getting dark. This was accompanied by a shift in the wind, so we had a headwind (again), now from the South. Ugh. Again, nobody to work with here, though quite a few half marathoners in this section, mostly sticking to the right side of the path so running in the middle was reasonable. Dropping 6:45's here, and was thinking 2:50 was the goal soon enough.

And then it started raining. No thunder or hail, and the rain actually felt like a pretty good relief from the humidity. But the headwind and soggy clothes weren't helping for time. Technical fabric can't "wick away" a downpour.

Just focused on one mile at a time, with erratic pacing in the 6:30s and 6:40s. At Mile 20, ran next to a marathoner and said, "Nice, just a 10k left." No response.
I started thinking about my next trail race.

Worked our way up the hill, and I heard more footsteps. Red Relay Bib? No, another marathoner. Hadn't been thinking about positions yet, but some guy on the hill told us we were 8th and 9th (tied for both, really). That meant 10th was gaining from behind, and eventually passed. I knew I was fading, and the guys that passed me were wearing OKC or Tulsa racing shirts -- running a wiser Oklahoma pace for the course - but I didn't want to lose more positions. And I heard more footsteps, which caught up at the aid station. My stops were quicker there, though, and I never got passed again.

Soon enough, we were in the thick of the half marathon. I did some math on this, and this section meant passing around 600-700 people in 5 miles(!), although there are 2 short but welcome sections of marathon-only course within those last 5 miles. As people said, sometimes the best thing to do is to run along the center of the road (only one lane is closed) and possibly use the lane of (uncontrolled) oncoming traffic if necessary. Otherwise, mostly it was easy to find gaps, by either shooting for them or calling them out. Trying to make the best of it, I enjoyed encouraging the other runners (and vice-versa), and pretending there was some sort of game in my chasing the guy in front of me (who was weaving much more).

I was still able to get some water aid at the stations (one previous reviewer said they skipped all water after Mile 21 to avoid the chaos), but it was clearly the most stressful section. At the worst, runners would grind to a halt, or start eying a cup that I was likely to reach twice as fast, or do some sort of picture-posing or exclamation to friends without looking behind them. But among hundreds of people, this was the vast minority of a handful per mile or water stop.

And I was still chasing green shirt guy. He slowed down a bit and I actually caught up to him at Mile 24. On his shoulder, I just said, "What's up, bro?" and he took off.
Can't wait to get back to the trails!

Otherwise, despite the crowds, it was nice and encouraging to see everyone enjoying themselves and working at the last part of the race.

Somewhere between 24 and 25, on a separated boulevard for marathon-only runners, I caught up to another runner and passed. After a few bumps, there was mostly gentle downhill, and the weather was the best all day. Felt good but did the math and thought 2:50 was out. I was OK with that -- how about 2:50-something

Finally, a few turns and the finish line. Did some more math and mental calculation on the distance, and knew I needed a bit of a sprint. Dad caught the final agony on camera:

The Race
The race is very well organized and has grown up even more in the last 5 years. The volunteers are plentiful and awesome, and so are the local residents who cheer all along the course, as well as community groups and businesses. I would recommend this event to anyone, with a great weekend encompassing the other events in town (you could have caught playoff basketball game the night before as well). The expo does attract some legends like Rodgers and Beardsley, and past winners, but otherwise, I have to be honest: this race still misses a beat at the top end. I'll leave myself far out of it, but wonder about the extra work of the leaders (actually, first place still does get an escort which leads to a clear path), where it is a bit unusual to focus on passing 1000 people in 5 miles.
But the race is clearly focused on half-marathoners, which may be considered sensible since there are 4 times as many, as well as beginners (and local repeat-offenders with course knowledge and course-record goals). That satisfies the needs of 99% of the runners -- and given the choice, that's how I'd focus a race, too. There is no prize money and little recognition of winners -- but again, this is a fundraiser and celebration of the memorial, so I "get" that (although there still are race medals, which I'd gladly forfeit for a little bit of prize money for some talented runners). So I love the race, but there's that part of me that sees OKC growing into a Big League City, and I can't help but make comparisons to Grandma's in Duluth or the Fort Collins Marathon, where race directors make a very concerted effort to ensure that the top runners receive a top-level experience -- where elites and local runners can have top-level treatment on their hometown course -- rather than an experience that's slightly diminished for their effort. I also wonder about people, especially local runners working hard at their hometown race, trying to qualify for Boston or NYC. All I'm suggesting is some sort of late-course separation (race marshals keeping marathoners to the right, e.g.).

And I make these suggestions because I think very highly of the Oklahoma City area and the surrounding community, as evident by investment and revitalization of the downtown area, and highly-regarded scholarship at OU. Knowing this, I think these few minor changes (echoed on previous marathonguide reviews) could instill the utmost excellence in this premiere community event.

Found J, and found out she finished her half marathon in 2:19 -- a PR, under 2:30, and right around the 10:30's I've been telling her she's capable of. She looked fresh and relaxed...I forgot how much road marathons hurt.

Didn't break 2:50, and surprisingly I didn't care about the extra couple seconds/mile. Checked the results and found out I was 10th (M9, with winning female getting the course record), which I surprisingly did care about more than I thought. Usually, you can't control external factors, but if the same people show up, at least things like the weather affect everyone equally, so it was a goal I had to be in the top 10. (Some quick comparisons between repeat top-20s from last year -- a cold, rainy day but without the heat/humidity I guess -- showed a half-dozen runners 4-10 minutes slower in 2012 versus 2011. Female winner Camille Herron grew up in OK and is an OT qualifier, but has been running 5-8 minutes faster on more favorable courses). It doesn't answer my question about how hard I can run a flat course on a perfect day, but it answers my question about current fitness and provided more valuable race experience, and how to plan for future races. The lesson will be repeated until learned.

It was otherwise great to return to the site of my first marathon, and I hope to be back again, to enjoy the run again and run at an even, smart pace. Or maybe convince J to run the marathon and tag along with her.

Filled up afterward with Ted's Cafe Escondido's "Plato Gordo."

At least if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I know I've run 2-something. I think I've got a faster one in me yet. But most importantly, especially at a stage a month ago where I was nearly burned out, I'm at a renewed and hungry stage for a steady diet of trails. See you out there, thanks for reading.

UPDATE 02.2013:
The OKC RD's, having already shown that they can put on a great event, have responded to feedback and made changes regarding the course finish.  As reflected in an email:

  • From 50th Street to the Finish Line we basically will be running two parallel races. One for the Full Marathon and Relay and the second for the Half-Marathon. There will be water stops on both sides of Classen from 50th to 18th Streets. We will have Classen divided in half, one side for the Full Marathoners and Relayers and one for the Half Marathoners.
  • We will now have 13th Street open for the Half-Marathoners  all the way to Broadway and 12th Street open for Full Marathoners and Relay runners.
  • The Finish Line will be divided in half from 13th until you cross the Finish Line, the east side will be for the Half-Marathoners and the west side and the Full-Marathoners and Relayer finishers.
There are additionally multiple start corrals, to address feedback about start line issues.
This kind of response and ability to meet growing demands and challenges is awesome.
I even more heartily recommend this marathon for basically anyone, as it's a great event and a great way to experience Oklahoma City.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

(Non-running): The Dogs are Barking in Fort Collins

Fort Collins is a dog-friendly town. Correspondingly, most of the owners in town are highly-responsible, better-than-average folk, where the dogs are well-exercised and well-behaved.


I'm reposting a link to a cautionary tale that befell our good friends Neil and Diana after moving to Ft. Collins. It's a story that began with barking dogs, and never really ended, but took a hard financial and personal toll on pretty much everyone involved. Nobody imagined it would take the path that it did, and even though the emotions and stakes got higher and higher, the fundamental cause was a neighbor that did not take responsibility for their dogs. No good really came of this story, so it's Neil's hope that, by sharing his view of it publicly, something good eventually will.

Besides empathizing with Neil's plight due to physical illness and disability, it was, sadly, even easier to sympathize with it, as we've had a couple of neighbor-dog issues here. Briefly:

1. One neighbor in a house behind us had a Very Unintelligent Dog that would bark incessantly (loudly, sharply, repeatedly) for 10, 20, 30+ minutes at a time -- mostly at a specific squirrel that taunted the dog.

Yes, the squirrel would run along a fence, jump on a tree just out of reach, and flick his tail (I kid you not) as the dog would stare and bark.

This was obnoxious enough, but we put up with it, until our in-laws stayed with us for a few months in the bedroom that faced the house (still a good 50+ yards away) and were awakened most days before 7am.

Caleb and I went to the owner's house and talked to the guy. He was responsive and apologetic, clearly exasperated, reasonable story: hard-working guy, teenage daughter wanted dog, didn't really take time to train the dog. The dog was left outside between his leaving for work and his daughter leaving for school. They adjusted this to keep the dog in a kennel outside, plus we saw the girl play with/exercise the dog a bit more. It wasn't perfect, but it got much better, and has been since then.

2. At the same time, I could hear a high-frequency noise outside. It was intermittent and hard to ignore if any windows were open, going off for ~5 seconds of every 20-30 seconds, and I had no idea what it was. Somebody (Neil?) suggested it might be a bark-control device. Aha! But, the device actually wasn't responding to barking or anything, it was truly random.

By crazy coincidence, I met a guy who used to live in our neighborhood. Turns out he lived next to the barking dog, and I mentioned the high-frequency noise. His eyes lit up and he mentioned that he had installed a bark-control device! So I talked to that neighbor, the new owner, and mentioned this -- he was very responsive and said he knew about the device but didn't really hear anything (my hearing sucks, but high-frequency sensitivity declines with age), and he turned it off.

Awesome, responsive neighbors -- but funny how several people got wrapped up in stress and inconvenience because one person couldn't take care of their dog.

3. This year, our new neighbors downstairs moved in with a malamute mix that vocalizes/whines when left alone. We were treated to two nights of this when they first moved in, locked the dog in the bathroom while it whined all night, then left as they made trips to move everything. Understanding that the dog was in a new situation and hoping it would get better, we met them and they assured us that they had a bark control collar that was uncharged but would be able to take care of it in the future. Fair enough.

Next up, despite 2 people being home most of the day, and living next to a green belt with free (subsidized-by-HOA-fees) garbage bags, and very close to the dumpster, they left the dog chained on the patio, which was soon covered by a week's worth of feces and urine. Besides being gross, offensive, and irresponsible, it's against the law and HOA. I hate being a nag, but when it kept going, and other neighbors had mentioned it, I talked to them about it. No apology (just excuses), but they cleaned it up. Until they did it again. And I talked to them again. Ugh.

Meanwhile, working from home, I still get to hear the dog whine for 5-10 minutes every time the owners leave (even if it's briefly). I've dealt with this, but it went over the top one weekend when J heard the dog whining for 45 minutes straight. She knocked on their door, nobody home, as they were out of town. Keeping in mind that we've talked to them 3 times already and had no other recourse, she called Animal Control, which was responsive and gave a warning. When the owners returned, we were able to clear it up (mostly, the dog-sitter wasn't using the bark collar, which does seem to work), although they were far more concerned about getting a warning then they were about offending neighbors and breaking the law and HOA covenants. Again.


If I did learn anything from Neil's story, it's that you never make suggestions to dog owners -- it's like telling a parent how to take care of their kids. Unfortunately, in this analogy, the parent is smoking in the car with the kids and nobody is wearing a seatbelt. Everyone we're friends with that has dogs are such good caretakers, providing exercise and training, that it's frustrating to encounter, through no choice of your own, people who don't take responsibility.

So on behalf of everybody who wants to enjoy their peaceful home, and on behalf of the majority of responsible dog-owners in town, please take responsibility for your pets. If somebody has a complaint, listen to them, as you may be causing an innocent person to suffer (especially while you're away and do not have direct witness to the complaint), and by the time they first say something to you, it's likely they've been stressing and debating for weeks about how to approach the problem. Take responsibility and be nice to your neighbors!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Green Lake: Glacier Gorge Hike

Green Lake, Glacier Gorge 12M Roundtrip, w/ Caleb

With a sunny Saturday open, Caleb and I had the day to play in the mountains. We chose a route in Glacier Gorge that was sure to fill up our whole day: Pagoda Mountain, a 12.5-mile roundtrip from Glacier Gorge. Conditions on the ground slowed our progress so that the summit was not achieved, but we still experienced the gorgeous and rarified views along the entire Glacier Gorge floor.

Our morning trek began in the trees, where bare dirt quickly became hardpacked snow. Shoes were sufficient here, but since I was carrying my microspikes anyway, I eventually put those on, while snowshoes remained in our packs. We took the packed and well-traveled shortcut between Glacier Knobs to Mills Lake, making good time to the lake itself. Had the lake still been frozen, it would have been a nice way to travel even faster, but we were in the transition period where open water was starting to appear. So, we picked our way on less-defined trails as we made it to the south end of the lake.

After that, all hell broke loose.

At least it did back in November, when a microburst blew down hundreds of trees just south of Mills Lake. We knew about the microburst event, but underestimated the time and frustration of getting around the downed trees. We tried deviating on both the west and south side of the trail, but ultimately, the "clearest" route was directly on top of the creek itself, since at least a fraction of the downed trees would fall across the banks of the creek and therefore be high enough to walk under. With just barely enough snow to bridge over the open water, we made our way through the mess. Finally, the damage ended -- mostly by virtue of reaching treeline -- and the cliff wall below Black Lake appeared. Our spirits were buoyed by ample sunshine and views of Spearhead pointing to the heavens above. We slogged on through solid snow, with Caleb donning his snowshoes, up to Black Lake.
No time to rest there, though, as we continued the steady grade up to the next bench which led to Green Lake, and even more stunning views all around, with McHenry's, Chief's Head, and Arrowhead looking especially magnificent behind us.

And, in front of us, lie our objective of Pagoda Mountain.
By this time, we had already taken over 4 hours to reach Green Lake.  Still remaining was the crux of the route: the steep, scree and talus-filled col between the turreted Keyboard of the Winds and Pagoda Mountain.  I had both enjoyment and trepidation from a trip report which described this section thusly:

The gully is 1,000 feet of nastiness: Ball-bearing scree, break-neck kitty litter on hardpan, dinner plate talus, slabs of class 3 relief, not to mention the occasional television- and microwave-sized missile at the ready. Fortunately there is nobody below us so our stress is minimal. The towers of Keyboard of the Winds loom large as we approach the top. 

And that's in summer, but our pleasure was doubled by lingering and recent snow, as well as occasional ice, on top of and in the cracks between larger rocks.

Wobbly talus is bad, and scree can be no fun when ascending, but on this part it's combined in just the right diabolical proportion where a shift in the scree causes the talus to shift, where, if it doesn't hit your shin, it balances precariously on more loose scree for the next unsuspecting victim.  Some of this can be surmounted by an intermediate section of solid class-3 (+, with snow) slabs in the lower part of the climb,  where Caleb took an impressive and ambitious lead in the shadow of Pagoda:

Although some sections of this were fun, the snow ruled out some otherwise good holds, necessitating a traverse back over to the wobbly talus.

Our progress up this section was staggered and slow, with occasional breaks when a large enough, flat enough rock was available for balance.  Having been at it for 6 hours, we decided to head back down and save the mountain for another day.

The retreat down was also slow-going, as predicted, but we were happy to make it down without incident.
Admittedly, the views were equally fantastic downvalley.

We were relieved to reach the snowfield on the bench above Green Lake again, where we enjoyed a snack and calm skies.  Clouds moved and shadows danced on rock walls, and sunlight bounced off of the azure ice above Black Lake. Of course, that's also about the same time my camera stopped working altogether, but the advantage of no longer having the tension of the steeper section (or fatigue that we would have had from pushing to the summit) was that we could more easily appreciate the valley itself.

Again, until we reached the blowdown area.

This time, we stuck mostly to the creek itself.  We took numerous disconcerting steps over snow with audible rushing (but shallow) water below us.  Shortly -- within days -- even this option will not be available as the volume rises, and Glacier Gorge hiking will remain tedious.

We had our snowshoes on the entire time from just above Black Lake, giving us a 5+ mile snowshoe as part of our hike.  Finally, 11 hours later, we reached the car.  J asked me the next day how many people we saw, and I was stunned that I hadn't thought of it earlier: None.  No other people from trailhead back to trailhead.  11 hours, just my brother-in-law and I.  That's a pretty awesome day.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Patriot's Day Beer

Tomorrow (Monday) is Patriot's Day in Boston -- a citywide holiday that means a traditional day off of work for many in town, so they can drink beer and watch the traditional Sox home game, or drink beer and watch the Boston Marathon.

I think it's a great holiday.

In honour of that, I went to the liquor store yesterday, and was pleased to find a variety pack from Sam Adams: 2 bottles each of 6 selections dubbed "Brewers Choice."

Of course, the classic Boston Lager and Irish Red are more readily available, but the other 4 were new to me. Usually, variety packs will sneak in flavours that end up taking space in the back of the fridge before being pawned off on unsuspecting victims (e.g. New Belgium's Belgo, Breck's Vanilla Porter) I was even more excited because these all seemed like relatively conservative, drinkable styles, more on the malty side of the fence (where I live) -- and no wheat beers! Or, so I was led to believe. Here are my impressions:

Boston Lager: Classic. Perfect all year, especially tomorrow if it's going to be almost 90 degrees along the marathon route -- and you're not running. Maybe even if you are.

Irish Red: Decent, but a little dry at the finish. If I want a cheap faux-micro macrobrew in this style, I'll go with the maltier Killian's every time, but if I want one of the best beers on Earth, it's hard to pass up the local Equinox O'Rion Irish Red, 2011 GABF gold winner.

Black Lager: I was excited about this beer, and expected something similar to Dixie's Voodoo Blackened Lager. Instead, I was surprised to find that it was a bit darker and more caramel-flavoured, almost like a less-heavy 1554 (which isn't too heavy to begin with), which is a solid effort on Sam Adams' part.

Alpine Spring: I didn't have much of an idea of what to expect here, but this unfiltered lager ended up being my favourite of the batch. As cloudy as you'd expect, but crisp, clean, and drinkable, I would compare it to New Glarus's Totally Naked...expect you can't buy New Glarus outside of Wisconsin and sneaky border towns. The description notes a hint of citrus but I didn't taste it, which is even better because it keeps it simple. I would pick this beer up occasionally during the summer if they sold it standalone.

Mighty Oak Ale: I had high hopes for this patriotic-sounding oak-aged beer, but was left disappointed by a cloying vanilla taste. I don't know if vanilla has ever worked for me in a beer: Breckenridge tries to balance it out with more of a chocolate flavour, while Great Divide adds a bunch of alcohol to some of their imperials to try to make you forget. This is obviously lighter than both of those, trying to be more of a drinkable session beer, but it's not a taste you want to repeat more than once in a sitting.

Whitewater IPA: I'm not a classic Western Hophead (subspecies of American beer drinker that lives between the Pacific Ocean and Colorado; distant cousins with a rogue sect that lives in Michigan), but certainly enjoy the right pale ale with a pizza or something spicy. When I pulled a bottle out and noticed the cloudiness, I thought something was amiss, and when I read the label, I learned it's actually a hoppy white ale, so the name is more about the ingredients than the summer river kayak adventure that I was led to believe. As it's also flavoured with apricot, it's going to draw an immediate comparison to Pyramid, which I've had maybe once several years ago. I'm not the best judge on this style, then, because I've been disappointed too many times in the past when somebody offers me a beer in their house, and all they have is Blue Moon, but surprisingly the extra hoppiness of the Whitewater IPA serves as an almost-suitable balance to the wheat unrighteousness. If this is all you have in your fridge, I might still help you with it.


Anyway, hope that helps you celebrate Patriot's Day in style!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Weekend: Round-Up and Horsetooth Sunrise

Easter weekend was another great weekend in Fort Collins with perfect weather; so nice, in fact, it was worth getting up before sunrise both days.

Round-Up Two Miler
Saturday was the bigger of the 2 days: the infamous Round Up, aka Round Mountain Ladder Workout. A brainchild of Nick's, the classic ladder workout involves climbing local hill Round Mountain in Loveland in a repetitive and increasingly progressive fashion. This incline is particularly well-suited for the non-GPS inclined, because each of the first 4 miles are marked by signpost. By climbing as follows:
Up 1, Down 1
Up 2, Down 2
Up 3, Down 3
Up 4, Down 4
Up 4.75 (summit), Down 4.75 (summit)

Nearly 29.5miles and somewhere above 9200 feet of elevation gain (and subsequent loss) are achieved, on moderately technical trail.

Reading about this last year, it certainly sounded like a great way to gain some elevation, but I was wary (just from reading!) about the repetitiveness. However, there are actually several aspects that make this an interesting workout. The repetitive nature makes pacing a bit more of a controllable variable, so that a sufficiently conservative early pace can be maintained or improved, mile-for-mile, throughout the day, enforcing a bit of realistic early race-pace planning practice. Second, the return to the parking lot allows for ad-hoc aid station setup, with even the final push being within the realm of reasonable water and food carriage. Third, the ladder style quickly gets the first couple of repetitions out of the way, so it feels like you're making progress, while saving the final, hardest section for last; however, there is little danger of skipping out on the last summit push, provided you have the sort of summit fever that ensures, no matter how bad you feel, you're not going to waste your time on a mountain all day without getting to the top (I certainly have this gene, as do many of the fellow runners).
(Which is good, because the actual summit of Round Mountain is one of the most anti-climactic ones of local front range hills. The best part of the mountain is, in fact, a natural rock cut, rock formations, and views, somewhere just past the 2.5M mark).

Finally, the key component to the workout is the incredible amount of company and friendship among fellow runners when we get a big turnout. By bouncing up and down the mountain all day, you're always either in a "new mile," or you're seeing one of your fellow runners on the trail. This was the most enjoyable and encouraging aspect of the whole day.

I felt OK on through the 4th loop, grabbed a bit more food and water and headed up. By the 2nd mile, though, I started feeling a bit warm and felt my heart pounding in my ears, even at the same (or slower) pace as all day. Started kicking some rocks and stumbling more than I had all day. Although I wasn't particularly thirsty, I'm guessing I was a bit behind on water and food still. I didn't have the desire to push any harder, so my final miles were about a minute slower than the previous ones.

My final downhill was also more sluggish. All told, my runtime for the classic Round-Up was about 6:05, and total time of 6:30 (TH stops, and a brief summit stop).

But I wasn't done yet: other runners were still out there having fun. So after a 10-minute break, I decided to head back up for more. Based on calculations, it seemed that running up to the 2M marker would yield another 1360 feet or so of gain. That would be a total -- roughly -- of 2 miles of vertical: The Round Mountain 2 Miler.

I also calculated that I might have a good chance of seeing Alex and Shannon there. Sure enough, at the last switchback before the 2M marker, Mr. May came barrelling down the hill, with Shirtless Shannon right on his heels.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I jumped in. Lurking back further was Bib Number 701, charging hard and probably gaining on his final lap after a leisurely post-sunrise start.

Both were in great spirits and making great strides. Alex was well ahead of his pace from last year's Round Up, Shannon was having a blast at big vertical week. With some quick calculations, Alex realized that 7:30 total time was coming up fast, with little margin for error.

Alex's downhill was looking great after a brutal 7+ hours, I think faster than what I had just been running. I think he looked quite strong at this time compared to our shorter Hope Pass run last year, which in retrospect is actually easier (in all aspects but elevation) than the full Round Up. He just came off of a huge PR on Towers on Thursday...and, he shows that he can still calculated splits under duress. Now I should mention these qualities are great, in a selfish concern, because I'm ecstatic to have Alex as my WS100 pacer!

But the clock was ticking, and we had just a few minutes left when the relentless technical sections end in a final gravelly downhill to the finish. He kept the leg turnover going and tagged the gate just in time, with Shannon right behind hitting it at 7:29:59! All great and silly stuff.

That sure was a fun end to a fun day -- even better, the beer in my car cooler was still cold!

I had a great time with friends, and once again learned some valuable lessons. I need to keep more on top of nutrition, but most importantly, I definitely need more technical training on the trails. I believe the cardiovascular fitness is there, but it's clear that, the more technical trails get (in either direction), the more my pace diverges from skilled trail runners at the same effort. I believe this comes down to running trails efficiently, because inefficiencies add up over time and take more energy. And my training is mostly roads during the week, which is the glaringly obvious point: the miles add up, but not my experience on the terrain. I'll be hitting the trails more, especially in May.

Horsetooth Easter Sunrise, and Moonset

Easter morning, J, DJ, and I headed up to Horsetooth to view a gorgeous, fiery sunrise, and with a near-full waning gibbous moon setting to the west, we didn't even need headlamps. The upper lot had a fair number of cars for being 5:30AM, so clearly others had the same idea. We were in the final stretch, in view of the Rock, when the sun actually rose, but were high enough to see a spectacular sunrise over town. Soon after, the Rock started glowing, and we continued upward. As we arrived at the base of the Rock, several parties were descending, so we actually shared a peaceful summit with only 2 other guys and one dog.

Although I've been making it up to Horsetooth regularly, each particular arrangement of sun and moon and stars and cloud and flora and fauna is as exquisite as the last. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

American Idle: Kennedy's challenge to "The Soft American"

It's April: Baseball season...and Boston Marathon season.

3 years ago, I realized a dream of running in the Boston Marathon. From hating running and the fits of asthma it induced as a kid (though I did prefer riding my bike), to barely running 3 miles in my 20s as a grad student, to slowly taking on the challenges of half marathons, and finally the marathon, it still took me 3 decades to finally learn that it's OK to through out preconceived notions of yourself, and your abilities, and that it's OK to try something hard.

Rather than dwelling on your own limitations from the past, it is far better to look above and around at others for examples of greatness, and bring that into yourself.

And so it was when J, Debbie, and I visited Boston 3 years ago, and decided to visit the JFK Library and Museum. In our current era of rancorous politics and shallow pandering to complicit simplicity, our Presidents from decades ago stand out as more reflective, erudite, and inspirational men. JFK himself looked at his surrounding men for greatness, and published the Pulitzer prize-winning Profiles in Courage biography in 1955.

5 years later, as I've just recently learned (from RT magazine), Kennedy published an excellentarticle in Sports Illustrated magazine, titled "The Soft American." In this, he challenged the declining physical vigor of the average American as a threat not only to military supremacy, but also workforce productivity, mental capacity and creativity, and the ability of the U.S. to continue to be a shining example of excellence:

For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.

In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society. And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.

Thus the physical fitness of our citizens is a vital prerequisite to America's realization of its full potential as a nation, and to the opportunity of each individual citizen to make full and fruitful use of his capacities.

I put a sticker from the JFK museum on my race bib, where it accompanied from Hopkinton down into Boston.
Many ultrarunning fans are also familiar with JFK's challenges, in the form of the JFK 50-miler race in the Fall. But such challenges are not partisan, as they harken back to Teddy Roosevelt's challenge against a life of "slothful ease," in which he detailed his vision of "The Strenuous Life."

In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life. the life of toil and effort, of labor gold strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph .

Roosevelt walked this talk, even as a South-American explorer after his Presidency, and observed that, as we transitioned from an economy of hard, manual labor, our time could instead be filled with other pursuits of greatness:

[We] are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research-work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation.

Both men considered physical activity important, but as a foundation of a complete, cultured, introspective life.

I am reminded of these challenges by great men, again in April, as the transition period between winter and summer. First, we are ending the traditional season of Lent, in which some people "give up" any marginally easy vice other than outward boastfulness for a few months; and we are also in the same month of TV turnoff week, in which Americans are challenged to avoid an expensive and mind-wasting voyeuristic medium for a mere 7 days. (Kennedy even gave this a mention in his essay, at a time when we had less than 1% of the TV channels now available).
Even the notion of being a "sports fan" -- which, with television, should be more aptly described as being a "fan of spectating" -- has a hollow feel when it comes to inspirational characters, whether it's drugs in baseball, drugs in cycling, or institutionalized assault in the NFL. Or, if reality TV is your thing, there's apparently nothing better for good family-values married folk to watch than vapid young people having making out, giving a rose to the best candidates before having sex with the final three, and then considering marriage.

Rather than inane chatter and gossip about what other people are doing -- famous people that are famous for being famous -- we should encourage and nurture those seeds of excellence within all of us.
Instead, let us consider this challenge: with electronic books, audiobooks, cheap shipping, and a fantastic library system, never before in history has true greatness and inspiration been right at our fingertips. This is an incredible time to pick up a book about some of the great men and women in history, and in some small part, try to be like them. Time to get outside our comfort zone and challenge ourselves, individually and collectively, to greatness.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

March Summary

March Summary
Downhill Ski: 0 miles / 0 minutes
XC Ski Miles: ~0.5 miles / 15 minutes

And there you have it, the March Summary. First March in Colorado where I didn't ski at all. I did have an Eldora Pass this year ($150) and used it 4 or 5 times, total -- none since January. Took one drive this month up to Cameron Pass with an out-of-town guest, and the snow was icy, suncupped, and fast -- our guest quickly sprained her knee, as it was pretty difficult to stop on even small rolling hills (in the tight trees). Turned around and went to the breweries instead.

The winter that never was.


So I got more running than usual in, even better since the weather was great and I didn't have to do all the driving to the ski areas. Some reflections: really been enjoying quality workouts during the week (speedwork and tempo or hill-climbing), it's an absolute blast to push hard instead of slugging along slowly. A few highlights from those workouts:
* While Nick and I were finishing up a 2-mile and cruising along steadily, we passed a woman walking her dogs a couple of times. The 2nd time, she said something like, "It was amazing to watch you guys run by like that!"
* Nick had the idea of doing a broken marathon-pace run with local speedster Sarah. It was absolutely fantastic and inspirational to see her nail those final hard miles. But even the flat and evenly-paced bike-path stuff isn't anything like treadmill miles: in one of the middle reps, when we were already getting tired, Sarah still pointed out a tree that was blossoming!
* Running hard repeats up Horsetooth on Thursday AM, Nick and Sam (1:13 half-marathoner) easily took the lead. A group of CSU-age folks were heading down from the hill, perhaps having caught the sunrise. All of their heads were turned watching Nick and Sam, and then me trying to keep up, and they said "Holy shit" and "Oh my God"
We also shared the hill, and ultimately the summit after our last rep, with other trail runners and friends...
* ...including Pete, who ran 701 miles in March. Holy cats! (and Dogs!)

Anyway, I found I really love the structure of those workouts, running with friends, and the incredible vibe and inspirational cast of characters in Fort Collins.


But also with those efforts, it's important to have very easy recovery days in between. A couple of times I pushed it on easy days, foolishly, and then paid for it by feeling pretty fatigued. I think/hope I was lucky enough to learn that lesson before it was too late.


Definitely have some things to work on for upcoming races, but feel better knowing what they are.


I think my rib pretty much feels better now. That makes the timeline thus:
- First few days: hurts sharply with every breath, especially deep ones. Probably hurt the worst on day 2 or 3.
- Week 1: First few steps of running hurt the worst, but wasn't impossible.
- Week 2: Mostly didn't think about it, but occasional pangs. Uncomfortable to lie on that side in bed
- Week 3: Mostly only notice at morning or night, gone by the end of the week (I hope).


Ran Double Rock again yesterday (clockwise from HTMP lot). As Rob pointed out, Horsetooth was absolutely packed. (Rob, you've gotta start getting up earlier, man! =) )
I was lucky to nab one of the last upper lot spots at 9:30. By the time I came home, I saw multiple parties walking up the road from Blue Sky TH and other marina parking up to the upper lot.

In case you were wondering, course conditions are absolutely perfect.

Dodged a fair amount of bike traffic (I usually get out of the way so they don't have to clip out) but it was maneagable, and always head-on traffic. Only 2 horse parties that were also courteous. The deep middle sections on the borders of the parks were actually pretty quiet, so if this "full lot" day is any indication, the non-race traffic on race day should also be mostly a non-factor.

Took me 4:10 at a moderate effort, but it turns out I actually cut the course by about a mile by skipping the Mill Creek-to-Arthur's "Aid Station" route. DQ'ed! So probably more like 4:20, compared to Nick and Ryan's moderate 4-hour pace from November, and my 5-hour pace from January under significantly worse trail conditions. Meh. Work for me to do on some of the more steep and technical descents towards the Lory side, where I've spent the least time.

But I was also quite dehydrated in the heat (one bottle with a refill at Lory), having been out for the last 35-40 minutes of the run, and should have drank more water in the morning before I started. (Between the available water in Spring Creek, and the waterfall, and the other hikers on the trail, it's not an actual serious threat to health, but more of a discomfort). The great news? There will be no less than 4 aid station accesses on race day in that "dry stretch" I'm referring to. And the section of trail I missed is simply a fork where I had only remembered "Turn on Mill Creek Link" without thinking about the direction and logistics of the aid station -- it will be obvious on race day.

Still feeling like roughly 45-60 minutes slower than CPTR 50.
Don't blow yourself up early on the uphills! Or the downhills!
(And, it's all hills -- except for the Valley, where it might be hot. Don't blow up there, either!)