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.


  1. Nice job Mike. You were looking strong all day. Thanks for pushing me in on those last 2 miles on Saturday. It was great running with you as always. I am really looking forward to running you in to your time goal at WS in June.

  2. Alex, what is the time goal? Inquiring minds need to know.

  3. Sorry Nick it is a pacer/runner secret, but I can tell you that the Spaniard might not be the only one you need to worry about on June 23.