Monday, October 27, 2014

Strollin' with Baby

South Table Mountain above apartment, with views towards Green mountain (left) and Mt. Morrison (right), and my baby boy (foreground)
I've got a new running partner.
He's perfect.
He's kind enough to go my speed -- he doesn't go too slow, and although he's always just a bit ahead, and makes me work a bit harder than I would solo, he never takes off out of sight.  He's always willing to trust my route selection and come along, rarely whining or complaining.  And although I like dogs and they make great running partners, too, he never snags my snacks while I'm not looking, or chases skunks.  The true environmentalist, he even packs out his own waste!

He's just under 3 months old.

I'm now able to go running outside with my boy thanks to a very generous and thoughtful gift of a jogging stroller from our awesome friends in the Fort Collins Trail Runners.
You guys are all awesome!  You saved us from this:


Seriously, this was an incredible gesture for our little family.  We've already got it great, with a beautiful happy, healthy baby making us smile with his goofy laughs and giggles.  It's also been a mad, emotional and financial scramble for several months, going from 0-to-baby in no time, but NO complaints, knowing how hard and nerve-wracking it can be for anyone going through the difficult uncertainties of adoption or pregnancy.  We've already had incredibly generous support from family and friends, with plenty of new and used clothes and toys and other basics to get us started.  While Mama J has been focused on getting his nursery ready -- tipping from a delicate emotional point of not having any time before he was born to bringing him home -- I've been wondering, how do I get him outside, comfortably and enjoyably, to appreciate the vibrant sights, sounds, and smells of his wonderful world?

So while I might not have been as excited by the comprehensive 'Must-have' list provided by Baby Registry services (how did babies survive just a few decades ago?), the main long-term indulgence I hoped for was a nice running stroller.
Our friends came through, just in time for one of the best stretches of October weather in Colorado since we've lived here, with the BOB Sport Utility stroller.

So far, it's been fantastic.  I guess this is a short review.
Clear Creek Trail, Golden
BOB Sport Utility Stroller
One of the main questions for a parent runner is, "Which stroller?"  There are several options, and I knew BOB makes some great ones.  Among those, you have the "Ironman" version, which is high-quality but built for (racing) pavement.  I definitely leaned towards the off-road versions, which have 16-inch pneumatic tires and shocks to be able to go over moderately rough terrain and bumps.
The last debate was the Sport Utility, which has a fixed-front wheel (with all 3 wheels being 16" diameter), vs. Revolution, which has a smaller front wheel that rotates side-to-side ("yaw"), but is more expensive, and lacks a handbrake.  The consensus I found is that the Sport Utility Stroller really is more of a hiking and running stroller -- several trail runners I spoke with recommended this model -- whereas the Revolution might be slightly easier to maneuver through malls and more for jogging.

So we registered for the the Sport Utility Stroller and it's been a great choice.  I've needed and used the handbrake on steeper downhills already.  In addition to preferring the cushioning of the larger front wheel, I've patched a tire already (not bad, as I went through patchy weeds in goathead season) and bought some replacement tubes from a local bike store, and it would be more troublesome to have to keep or bring 2 different tire sizes.  As for turning a fixed front wheel: you wouldn't want it to be able to turn on any sort of bumpy terrain, as every rock would knock it sideways, but on flat areas it's an easy shift-of-weight backward, and then a quick pivot on the rear tires.  With practice (i.e., one run), you can do this at-speed.

I do understand that there's an even more expensive version of the Revolution with a handbrake (or maybe it can be added), and there might be more adjustment on the handlebar height.  If the latter is important, it might be worth checking out.
Otherwise, from what I can tell, based on the first hundred miles:  BOB Sport Utility Stroller FTW.

Last up is colour, and you can choose any colour you long as it's a Denver Broncos colour!
So, orange or blue.  Both are sharp looking.  I went with orange because I thought it would be easier to see.  Safety first!

Running with an Infant
But wait, there's more!  Young infants cannot stabilized their own heads yet.  They're most secure when still in their car seat, which may have additional cushioned neck support in it.  Luckily, most decent jogging strollers have adapters for car seats, so that you can click a rear-facing carseat into the stroller.  In the case of BOB, you can get adapters for different car seat brands.  Confusingly, BOB carseats are made by Britax, which means you need a Britax adapter to mount the carseat to a BOB stroller, making the "adapter" sound like a misnomer when you have both items being BOB brand.  In truth, the "adapter" is actually a mounting bracket that supports the carseat.  But still, extra $$$.

The other question is about jogging with infants at all, especially on bumpy surfaces.  Like all parenting issues, their are strong opinions and occasionally contentious debate.  There are numerous anecdotes of people running with weeks-old babies that turn out just fine, and no known population evidence otherwise.  Some have a misguided fear of "shaken baby syndrome" (SBS) but the terribly violent jerking of SBS (generally forward-to-backward) is vastly different than anything encountered in a reasonable stroller ride.  Millions of kids deal have dealt regularly with bumpy transport.  And, ironically, we're very accepting as a society of the incredible risk of simply driving on the roads each day, yet people question anything outside of average behaviour.

Using a stroller for running, and on trails, then, is mostly common sense.  Even with nice shocks, you can't fly over bumpy or rutted trails.  And with the carseat adapter, the center of gravity is higher, so you also do have to be a bit more careful as it rocks side to side and you have a smaller baby.  So on most rocky stuff, I'm at or near a walk, and the best trails are still relatively flat dirt, gravel, or paved trails.  Still, the cushioning of a nice running stroller is much better than a basic stroller with small, hard wheels.

The overall verdict of running with a baby so far?  Luckily, babies are not shy about letting you know how they feel.  My son will mostly sleep, quite peacefully, and occasionally look around or at me.  It's obvious to tell the difference between when he's displeased or content, so it's obvious to know to slow down for anything really bumpy or rocky, and otherwise he's quite happy to be outside.  He'll occasionally fuss when trying to fall asleep, no different than being in a car, and a pacifier usually fixes that as he falls right back asleep.  If he's awake, and when we're done, I'll talk to him and make sure he smiles.  Which he always does -- he's a pretty happy guy anyway.

One last data point: since we started longer runs, up to 1-2 hours if I time it with naps, he slept through the night for the first time ever!  And did so 4 of the next 6 nights in a row (waking up once the other 2 nights), and has not had any of the random 'witching hour' fussy times in the afternoon in the last week.  Could be a complete developmental coincidence, but just sayin'...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pass Baggin' on the Mountain Bike

In late summer and early fall, when I had some open time on a weekend or we were visiting the mountains, I found myself bringing the mountain bike more than previous years.  It's been a great change of pace, and, frankly, blasting through wildflowers across tundra or forest trails covered in golden aspen leaves on a bike is about as good as it gets.

For trail running some of the best trail runs end on mountain summits.  But for bikes, some of the best roads and trails may not go to proper summits, but instead traverse across saddles and passes.

Some of the classic Colorado pass rides I've done that are highly recommended and popular:
  • Kenosha Pass: Colorado Trail in either side
  • Georgia Pass: Colorado Trail on either side
  • Monarch Crest near Monarch Pass
  • Schofield Pass/401 in CB
  • Rollins Pass Nederland to Winter Park
Getting back on the bike this year when I could, I found myself seeking out a few new (for me) bike-accessible passes.  Here are some of them.

Wheeler Pass Loop
While J was in Breckenridge for a work meeting, I took a jaunt up to Wheeler Pass, which goes straight up through Breck ski area, then drops down the other side to Copper, before returning on the bike path.  (With more time, which I didn't have, taking the Peaks Trail between Frisco and Breck would add more dirt).

I followed the guide and map from the SummitDaily free Bike Guide -- these magazines are ubiquitous in Summit County and convenient for ideas and tearing out the page you need, but sometimes the directions are a little sparse -- mostly, it's written for people who seemingly already know which way the ride goes.  For example, this ride goes under a "quad lift" and then "another quad lift" whereas the simple addition of the lift names might have been helpful.  So it was that I headed too far over before finally making my way up to what I hoped was Wheeler Pass.

Indeed it was, and it was nice to see the weather breaking, as did my mood after spending too much time trying to figure out if I was going the right away.

I enjoyed a heavenly slice of banana bread that I brought from La Francaise before heading down.

The backside had a different feel as it dipped into the woods, with the recent monsoon moisture making it feel more like the PNW.  Some ruts and switchbacks slowed down the flow a bit but all in all it was a great descent followed by the cranking the bike path to finish the loop.

French Pass Out-and-Back
Also while in Breckenridge, one of J's coworker's husband brought his bike and was up for a ride, so we decided to head up French Pass, again using a Summit Daily description.  One could drive up a bit toward the pass but we enjoyed the warmup straight out of town (so much that we missed Wellington Rd. altogether and took 450 -- at the corner by the 7/11 -- straight up French Gulch instead).

A stream crossing got things nice and wet, and things were still marshy up high, with a little hike-a-bike in the mud, but ultimately it was another gorgeous place to be up high.

Dropping down the other side looked enticing, as did a ridge run along any of the nearby Class 2 summits, but instead we headed back the way we came.

Copper "Dirty Triangle" -- Searle, Kokomo, and Resolution Pass
Well this was a fun one and nice surprise.  I knew that Searle and Kokomo was a great section along the Colorado Trail, but it seemed a modest half-day ride would need to be an out-and-back.  Instead, though, I saw an intriguing loop called the Copper Dirty Triangle, which is a fun play on the classic 80-mile road bike ride (much like the Morgul Bismark vs. Dirty Morgul Bismark near Boulder).  While the trail version is about 45 miles shorter, it's more of a technical and aerobic challenge.

And routefinding, as following the Colorado Trail across Copper Mountain gets tricky in a few areas.  Of course, logically, it's a good bet that Kokomo ski lift is named for a nearby geographical feature, and indeed that's the side of the mountain you want.  As an aside, having ridden or run in summer on over a half dozen ski areas by now, I've had the frustration of ski area summer map and trail situation: summer trails are given new and unsigned names on "Summer Maps" despite large coincidence with downhill ski runs; more importantly, summer maps often lack detail on useful landmarks like ski lift names, ski runs, structures, and topographic features.  But I digress!

And it wasn't too bad once you get the idea of heading straight across Copper.  The thinning air and occasional steeper sections made for honest work.  Eventually, up high, I saw a helicopter buzz by a few times, and I immediately became concerned about a rescue mission -- especially when I saw something dangling below.

It turns out, it was an annual re-supply flight to the nearby Janet's Cabin ski hut.
More rolling terrain as I approached and then crested Searle Pass.

And more rolling still toward Kokomo Pass, above 12k feet.

I'm glad I crested Kokomo, rather than an out and back, because the descent was fun and I was treated to a gorgeous carpet of colourful tundra.

The trees in Camp Hale were starting to change as well.  This really ended up being a great choice for mid-September, as being one of the first areas to change noticeably, days or even a week or more before some of the other classic areas started peaking.

There's a few miles of flat through Camp Hale, and then the final grueling climb up Resolution Road.

Be forewarned, this section is shared with ATV's and motorized traffic, and is relatively unshaded.  Supposedly the next gulch over is steeper and shorter, but I didn't take the time to see how these might have connected.

I finally made it to the top, then began the descent on dirt road, keeping my eyes peeled for the quickly-approaching trail that branched off to the right along a switchback, necessary for making the loop.  This trail wasn't as hard to spot as I thought, and I chatted briefly with a few hikers visiting from the east coast, envious of all of Colorado's great trails.

Only a few miles remained on singletrack, which became waterlogged and overgrown in a few spots, but was also resplendent with Colorado colour.

I stayed right at a fork, and although unnamed in the description and on the signs from this direction, it is the Wilder Gulch Trail.

Now I had a quick descent down the Vail Pass bike path to finish the loop.  Even the colour here made it worthwhile, and even though this is a classic road bike section, it's nice to fly down fast pavement confidently on cushy fat tires.

Webster Pass
I did red mountains.  My head is on a swivel when we drive through the San Juans, over Red Mountain Pass, for example -- yet I haven't been up Red Mountain 1/2/3, or even the aesthetic 14er walkup of Redcloud.  I guess I like to look at them from below.

Much closer to home, though, is Red Mountain near Webster Pass, between Montezuma and Jefferson.  A rocky jeep road leads up from either side.  In this case, I made a loop from Montezuma, tacking on Webster Pass as an out-and-back, and then taking Deer Creek back down.
I guessed correctly that the colder weather and recent snow would cut down on the motorized traffic that usually infests the area in the summer.  But it also made things tougher for biking, with most of the switchbacks up Webster Pass covered in pedal-deep snow.  The drifts are made worse by snow-fencing and the fences put up to keep motorized traffic off of re-vegetated areas, so the protective fences actually end up keeping more snow on the road itself.

The snow and wind was cutting into my schedule, so I didn't actually get up on top of the mountain.
Still, it was worth the slogging hike-a-bike up to Webster Pass for the views of Red Mountain.

After descending the pass, I needed to regain as much elevation toward Teller Mountain to complete the loop, and in fact the climb up the ridge, while without a named pass, was even higher and more challenging on and eroded and steep mining road.

Again, though, it was worth it for the view.

The trail rolled along the divide further, but I cut down into the trees in Deer Creek, unable to feel my feet which had been wet for the last several hours.  Still, I was grinning at the prospect of the coming winter.  Even though I'll curse it come March or even late February, it's always exciting when it's new.


What are some of the other great passes in Colorado?
Tomichi Pass-White Pine between Salida and Gunnison is probably tops on my to-do list right now.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A boy's life

And this blog was about local trails and runs and mountains and all that stuff.  Those things are still fun, and important, and we can't focus only on the most important things in life, all the time, lest it be too dull.  That variety, and sharing of it, makes us human.

But those things have fallen far down the list with a new role, the most humbling and happy I'll ever experience:


The next run...

I had nothing on the schedule after Bighorn.  And that nothingness was great.

The Bighorn finish means I have 2 more lottery years of eligibility for Hardrock.  That's the long-term goal.  I've calmly accepted that I'll get my chance eventually, and that each run or hike -- especially when it's uncomfortable -- is another training step for Hardrock.

I was able to get some good rides on the mountain and road bike instead this summer.  But the most fun I had running was up by Cameron Pass, on a great weekend of scouting for Gnar Runners' Neversummer 100k slated for July next year.  Since I'll still probabilistically not get into HR this coming year, which is fine, I'm excited about races like that, as well as some more hikes/runs and mountain bike rides.

The Neversummer 100k has the potential to be a phenomenal event on a very inspiring course.  The only thing better than tromping through those mountains and woods will be doing it with friends and family cheering and hanging out at campfires.  Can't wait!

A handful of other 100's otherwise hold my interest, but at this point it's clear that I won't spend many more years running these things, and certainly not racing them.  I can finish them comfortably, with a smile on my face, but am not able or willing, for better or worse, to push into that realm of competitiveness at that distance.  I've had some incredible experiences and gotten more than I ever thought out of it, but I'll focus more on variety.  Hope to be on the skis and bike more -- and taking some slower, family-friendly hikes -- instead of looking too far forward.

2014 Bighorn Trail 100

2014 Bighorn Trail 100

A few months late, but the Bighorn 100 was as great as I thought.
I don't have much advice to add that hasn't been covered elsewhere.

I rode up with some friends, met some other friends at the start, and ran with some more during the first parts of the race.  J and Mama W were there for crew support, with my friend Chris S. out from SoDak for night-time pacing duties.

Saw Brandon at the start -- good to see him and thanks for the pic!
I think I was pretty much this happy for the next 24 hours.

Wildflowers, mud, some moose, a couple-hour rainstorm up high at night, more mud, then a new day with even more wildflowers.

It was as gorgeous as advertised.  My pre-race goal was to run in under 24 hours so as to join the arbitrary Rusty Spurs club.  I ran the race almost too conservatively so as to hit this goal, figuring that missing it would be more distasteful than running slightly faster.  And so it was, a nice romp through the wildflowers, ending with that last 5 mile, hot, flat run on a dirt road back into town, where I was fortunate enough to still be jogging and have my lovely wife join me for the finish.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Bighorn Preview Thoughts

Once again, I'm quite behind in blogging, and have a few fun weekend trips (mostly mountain biking) worth writing up eventually.  But otherwise, I need to tell the universe that I am absolutely stoked to be running the Bighorn 100 on Friday!

First and foremost, I'm incredibly excited and lucky to have this chance again.  I'm not planning on doing 100-milers for the rest of my life, and even that much longer, so there's a short list of inspirational races and courses that I'd really love to experience.  Bighorn is very near the top of that list.  Numerous folks have mentioned how great it is...Alex said it's probably the most beautiful course he's seen, and let's not forget it was a spry and youthfully naive Nick Clark's introduction to 100 milers.  And earlier this year, while jogging across a windy expanse near Boulder/Superior (during a winter Fatass), Dana K. told me it was the most beautiful wildflowers she's ever seen.  Compared to Crested Butte?  Aspen Four-Pass?  San Juans?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Wow.
I've been near the Bighorn Mountains once, --12 years ago -- when we were moving to California.  Anxious to get to Yellowstone, I made a last-minute decision to take the dotted-line "scenic route" on the map instead.  Having never really seen mountains, it was the most incredible thing I'd even seen.  (And it actually made Yellowstone a comparable disappointment once I saw all the crowds and traffic).  Never would I have imagined, at the time, that I would come back and have a chance to run 100 miles through that terrain!  Pretty sure I had never run more than 3 or 4 miles -- on sidewalks -- at that point.

I'm also lucky to be out there with my friend Chris S., who has run every distance at that race.  And he has graciously offered to pace me!
And again, I'll have my sleepless, top-notch crew of J and Mama W meeting me in the middle of
the woods.  Again.  I hope they enjoy another random weekend in a beautiful part of the world.
I'm certainly looking forward to numerous friends from across the Front Range -- running, pacing, and crewing -- that will be out there as well.  Some will be ahead of me, some near me, some behind me, and in each case it will be great to see familiar faces in addition to meeting new ones.

Lastly, I'm very excited about the vibe of the race -- the small town, the community, the support.  Check out the NYTimes article from 5 years ago.  It feels like the anti-Leadville, the anti-Western states -- even if I like/love those races, the pressure and scrutiny and traffic gets to be a bit much.  This sounds more like my speed: a chill race and a shared sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural surroundings.  More like my training runs.  And a small-town feel that I'm more comfortable with.

Am I ready?  Sure.  I'm not as fast, but I put in the miles (and realized that flat speed was never that helpful anyway) -- more on the trail than ever before.  I'll be steady and smart.  I'm ready and excited to be out there as long as it takes.  See you at Bighorn!   (Or, online, if you're bored.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quad Rock 2014

Photo: Sean Lara, Coloradoan

2014 Quad Rock

The third round of Quad Rock packed another wallop, but not enough to knock out over 350 of us who took on a vertical mile of burly climbs and descents, with 132 folks making the decision to turn around and run everything again in the opposite direction.

This was my slowest finishing time yet, and I was unable to finish in the top 10, but by no means did that make for an unenjoyable race.  That's because of the fantastic race organization and community of fellow runners, spectators, and volunteers, to go along with some of the best runnable trails on the Front Range.  With the same tales on the same trails as previous years, augmented with an handful of shirtless un-glamour shots, why bother with another race report? 

Mostly, I want to take the time once again to thank everyone involved with the race, and reiterate what a great event it is.  Any indulgence from writing about the race is from people reading, commenting, or telling me that they've read these reports, and cheering by name during the race itself, which is incredibly rewarding.  I know some people are trying to get all the information they can as they're excited about the race; others are contemplating the race as a new distance challenge, or a more difficult trail race than they've done before.  A tip of the hat to both.

I also have to back up and give Nick and Pete an extra "Thanks" this year because I was able to gain a free entry into a race that is already a bargain, whether you slice it by average cost of 50 milers; cost-per-mile; cost-per-minute; or the amenities (useful and aesthetic coffee mug, shirt, great food, beer, and music).  This was because they graciously donated a Quad Rock entry as a raffle prize as a fundraiser to send legendary ultrarunning superfan (and fellow Packers fan) Bill Dooper to Western States.  Jessica and I were happy to donate a small share to help Bill realize his dream, and then I was fortunate to have my name drawn for the Quad Rock entry.  As another link to the race, it bears mentioning that Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks and QR-CR-holder Ryan Burch initiated the fundraising campaign; and as a testament to the broader running community, it's inspiring that 40 people donated more than enough money to get Bill out to Auburn (by way of Squaw).
So with savings from the entry fee, I was then able to give a bit to Larimer County Search and Rescue, one of the QR volunteer groups and beneficiaries.  (Admittedly, there's a reasonable chance that's more of a selfish "investment" than a donation).

I'm not too much into pre-race "traditions," but again I went with a big rice stir-fry from East Moon.  A difference this year was not sleeping in my own bed before the race, but because my wonderful in-laws put me up for the night (and various trailrunner friends undoubtedly would have done the same), I still only had a short drive in the morning, with a bonus of getting to play with my adorable niece and read her a new (used) book I brought about a bicycling turtle.
The point here, is, if you're thinking about this race as a possible "destination" race, you should totally go for it!  There's a ton to do in Fort Collins, great places to eat and drink before and after, and if you send out an email to the trailrunner list or use the ultrasignup forum, you might be able to find or share lodging or a campsite with fellow runners.

One change this year was a start time of 5:30AM, negating the need for a headlamp (and the logistics of dropping them off/retrieving them) at the start.  This also made it half an hour "warmer," which made a noticeable difference in making short sleeves tolerable at the start.  Great change!  
As far as conditions, we had some rain a few days leading up to the race.  Mud was a concern, even when parking in the morning, but it turns out the trails were essentially perfectly tacky.  

I checked in and chatted with friends, and then found myself in a bathroom line less than 10 minutes before the start.   Now I hesitate to share my secret, but I quickly remembered the other bathroom up by the Timber Trailhead, a scant tenth of a mile up the road.  I gambled and jogged up there, and the gamble paid off.  As a small suggestion (if only to balance out my otherwise effusive praise and at least give the appearance of objectiveity), a few more bathrooms might have been helpful. 

Barely able to make it back in time, we were off with the usual mellow start at a chalk/flour line on the ground.

I ran next to and chatted with former occasional training partner Sarah Hansen a bit, who was running the 25M, where she would eventually finish 2nd.  Things were conservative and felt easy, yet I was a bit closer to the front this year.  Then we hit Stout/Sawmill after a 24-25 minute warmup, and it was time for the business of the day: up, down, up, down...rinse, repeat -- a veritable Konami code of a course.
On Towers, I was happy to hang out and chat with Nick D.  He's one of the fastest Towers ascenders around, but he also hiked the steeper sections along with me, knowing full well the value of saving and using different muscles early in the race.
We rolled down to the Horsetooth Trailhead just under 90 minutes in, which I think is a few minutes faster than my previous times.  Everything still felt good, but it was warm enough (almost perfect) that I ditched the shirt already in my Horsetooth anti-dropbag as the sun shone down on the trail.

As usual, I was overjoyed at seeing friends at each aid station, and received personal, quick aid station attention from NMP and the Erskine, Mr. May, and Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks, with cheers, greetings, and photography from others.  If anything, I think I lingered a bit longer at aid stations this year to greet friends I hadn't seen in months.  
I should also mention, by way of advice, that the gel situation was a bit "sticky", let's say, at times.  I really love the use of VFuel because the product itself, the folks that run it, and the support they give is top-notch.  I also prefer the use of gel flasks to cut down on waste -- not just raw garbage (and those little tops of the packages that sometimes fall out of your pockets and into the weeds, despite best intentions), but the unnecessary silliness of sending a product out to be packaged unnecessarily.  Thanks to this race for leading the way in reducing waste. Logistically, though, cooler temperatures made it difficult to pump/pour the gel from the bulk containers, and some aid stations were low later in the day.  The volunteers did a great job of improvising anyway, and this overall wasn't much of an issue for me, but my thinking and concern is more for other runners coming later or arriving in larger groups.

I was surprised to see Golden/Lakewood fasties J-Fitz and P-Mac pass me up.  I wouldn't have thought they both had extra-long pit-stops, but it turns out they missed the Westridge turn -- which they said was indeed amply and adequately marked.  Bummed that they tacked some on but hopeful that it wouldn't make much of a difference in the long run, especially if they didn't let it bother them mentally.

Farther along in the race, by the Arthur's Aid station, I was again recharged by the sight of friends.  But I was completely unprepared to see one person especially: Jane Welzel.  
No exaggeration, I cannot think of a more inspiring runner I would rather have seen at that point.  Here, she is focused on taking a picture of me, right before I gave her a big hug: 

Photo, and much more, by Jane Welzel

A third of the way into the race, and it was already a good day.
Race deja-vu for the rest of the first lap, although I was pretty much alone.  I missed running with Alex and Lee from previous years!  Ended up in and out around 4:08 or so, similar to previous years.

No thought of stopping, as I headed right up.  I had counted heads somewhere around 15, with an unknown handful at the turnaround as well.  This was surprisingly closer to the top 10 than I expected -- but seeing who was in the top 10, I knew it was a stout group that likely wouldn't falter, nor would I wish that upon them.  I was focused on my own race....

...Mostly.  The advantage of the multi-loop course is seeing everyone else coming down.  This ends up being a mutual cheering parade for over an hour. The parade begins with folks and friends that I know, some of which are literally chasing me, and then continues with an inspiring group of first-timers and others from all walks of life.  Dare I say it, it makes the Timber Climb (which I was able to run entirely) almost a "freebie" if you let yourself flow with the spirit of the other runners.  I try to call out as many people by name as I can, and am humbled by those that do the same before I can stumble out theirs.  If you signed up for the 50 and have that moment of doubt, just turn around and head up, smile, and take out your headphones and cheer each other on!
I have a commitment to cheer on each and every runner that I see, which is easy, but as I started downhill, I decided to turn the knob to "11" and really start whooping and shouting whenever I'd see a small group of folks pushing hard up the hill.  It helps me as much or more as it helps them.

Otherwise, I started faltering on the descent back to Arthur's, though, as my legs and feet weren't cooperating on anything technical.  In future years (this is a note to myself as much as anything), I'd put extra training here, as it's probably also the section of trail, literally in the middle, that I run less than the other sections.  This was a theme for the rest of the trail: losing ground on rolling, technical terrain.

Caught a few people and passed by a couple -- still a net win.  

The only other thing of note was finding myself in the thick of the women's race.  This was between Darcy Africa and Becky Wheeler -- 2 incredibly impressive runners with lengthy trail resumes.  Usually, the competitive front-end of races isn't one of my top interests -- I'm more concerned with how my friends are doing (often enough, some of them *are* at the front, so I'm interested in that point).  But I do appreciate the promotion of excellence in performance as supported by races, and Gnar Runners have done everything they can to recruit and reward fast men, women, and master's runners alike.  While past races have had great performances all around, this one was shaping up even better with two experienced athletes pushing each other the whole way.

And I had a front-row seat.  Actually, a middle-row seat, for pretty much an hour and a half or so.

As it turns out, I was running near Darcy all day.  I actually can't think of a time where I've run that long, that close, to another runner.  I've seen her very stout Hardrock finishes, and the only ultra I remember running with her was Collegiate Peaks a few years back, when her steady presence made me realize I had gone out too fast.  We leapfrogged at nearly every aid station, as I'd run ahead and then linger a bit too long at the aid station.  This went on for the entire 9 hours, as it turned out.  If nothing else, it gave me the illusion of running steady.

Rolling along Westridge was where I lost more time -- with Darcy pulling ahead, and another runner in a red shirt catching up to me.  I didn't know nor think about gender -- just "blue shirt" and "red shirt."  I have a tough time with Westridge in general, which is improbably uphill in both directions.

Conceptual drawing of Westridge Trail, which goes counterclockwise

Also had frustration with the technical parts of upper Horsetooth, and finally when it smoothed out, I tripped over a few granules of sand on the ground.  I popped up before Becky ran me over, a little surprised she didn't even laugh at me.
Luckily, I still had downhill roadie legs, which is what really saves me at the end of this dumb race, as I'm able to run the service road and Towers, so I was barely able to stay ahead, until both women exited the Horsetooth aid station ahead of me, and very near each other.

With long views up Spring Creek, I was able to watch the chase unfold.  Becky closed in slowly but not without a fight, and they ran a bit together.  I was gaining on both of them, but needed to take the time to step off trail for a quick but important minute or two.
They were still in sight and I was still gaining, but once Becky opened up a bit of a gap, she sped up.

Again, Darcy and I swapped spots at the aid station, and both gave each other a "Nice work."

Alex, Eric, Ellen, Rob, and crew had me in and out as fast as I was willing to go.  They told us 5 miles downhill/flat, which is a double lie, because it's more like 6 miles and nobody should ever forget the rolling climbs remaining on Stout.

I was optimistic about the Towers downhill, and able to catch back up to Darcy, but Becky was nowhere to be found -- not even a distant view on the Stout turnoff.  She must have been flying. 
I was able to run the Stout climbs as well and wanted to get as much out of sight as possible from Darcy, but still stumbled a bit on anything semi-technical.

Finally, the "flat" finish on dead legs.  I did the math and realized 9 hours were out.  Becky was able to do and thus set a challenging bar for the women's race. I checked over my shoulder once or twice or 80 times for Darcy: I dread ever having to race on that final stretch.  Swapping positions 5 miles earlier would be fine, but would be quite distasteful that close to the end.

 I kept my eye on my watch to keep my 2nd loop under 5 hours, an arbitrary but extra goal.  That's a bigger positive split than I'd like and has some lessons in it for the astute reader.  Then again, when I train on this course it usually takes 5-5:30 for a single loop, so it blows my mind how much the race day support and excitement add to performance for anyone. 

"Top 15" (although there's really no such thing) was still much better than I expected.  The attrition or folks that stayed with a 25M time unbelievably made the Top 10 within reach again, should only I have been in a similar shape as previous years, so a missed opportunity there.  But I'll take it as yet another fun day on great trails with great friends.

I took a good 20-25 minutes to change clothes and get recombobulated.  
(Protip: Bringing a bicycle is a good way to go back and spectate along the course, and/or make it the long 1/3 mile back to your car without hobbling).
As fun as it was to run, it's even better to sit and enjoy a great veggie burger, tabbouleh, Pateros Creek brews, and good company with the Swashbuckling Doctors rocking in the background.


Thanks everyone who was at the race, and thanks for reading.  Hit me up if you want any extra motivation to sign up for this race or run it!  It is as much of a shining example of a well-run race and supportive community as you'll find anywhere.  Put it on the calendar to run, spectate, volunteer, and join the party.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oklahoma City Marathon 2014: One Last Hometown M

2014 Oklahoma City Marathon
3:01:37, 9th

Jessica and I made our third trip out for the Oklahoma City Marathon and Half Marathon.  Things were stacked up to make this one a little tougher than other ones, but perhaps no less memorable.  Because this is a really great race with great citywide support, I always like to share a bit about it.

It's not an easy, PR-type course anyway, but my initial plans back in January were to improve upon previous times.  My training and workout/race results weren't suggesting this was possible, so I had to dial that back.  I figured I might be good for around a 3 hour effort, so of course that was the goal, which I missed, but I also planned on letting things play out as they may and then try to race for position at the end.  That part ended up working out alright.

This particular race was even more bittersweet, because my parents (who live near OKC) had decided a month earlier to move back to Wisconsin.  This meant the end of running races in Oklahoma with some regularity, and certainly the ability to run as a "hometown" race where we can hang out at home peacefully before and after.  It was nice, however, to know this information ahead of time so we could really appreciate the race itself one more time and let it all soak in.

And soak, we did:

It was obvious throughout the week that the race weather was going to be fairly dreadful, mostly with wind, rain, and high humidity.  The worst part, though, was intense storms that threatened tornadoes, in addition to lightning and hail: a distinct line of a dark red dry line on the radar, scheduled to hit right at race start, in addition to storms that may occur earlier the previous evening, which could impact some of the earlier equipment setup.  And any lightning strikes that occur anywhere near the course -- probably more than 25 square miles -- cancels the whole race, understandably.
The only hope was that it would move out quickly.  It looked very likely that it would be delayed, but we had no idea how much leeway they had.  Remember, volunteers are scheduled for a block of time, as are road closures and police/fire/emergency resources.  Truncating the race would cause consternation among the participants who would take longer on the course.  With the overwhelming majority of runners doing the half marathon, I actually wondered if they'd cut the marathon in half was well.

With all this uncertainty, we were still up by 4AM, and out to the start line before 6.  We met our friend Andrea, up visiting from Texas to run the half marathon as well, and headed to the start line, with dark clouds overhead, sticky but cool weather, but not much precipitation yet.  Andrea and I made our way quickly to Corral A (listed on the bibs), which is always a little stressful but not too bad.  Other than a few people mingling right in front of the corral entrance with headphones on, it was easy to make it through toward the front.  (If a fast runner made it closer to the start time, keep in mind that the wheelchairs start 5 minutes early, but other than that it's possible to jog in a few blocks from the front of the course).
I knew there was no chance we were going to start at 6:30, but decided to loosen up with some strides anyway, figuring that any delayed start would be more compact and after a quick weather break.  Plus, it was nice to get out for a jog.  A few other folks taking strides but not too many, people were just waiting for an update.
Then we got the announcement of a half-hour delay, so we had almost an hour to get ready.

Since Andrea hadn't been to Oklahoma City before, I led her off the course and onto the grounds of the National Memorial.  This is a poignant tribute to the victims of the 1995 bombing, and although I've seen it at dusk and during the daytime, it was even more humbling to walk through the grounds at dusk, right before a race.

The race really is a testament to the community spirit of overcoming a tragedy.  Think about it: we often memorialize tragedies with statues and monuments, which are our best attempt at superseding our own mortality, but isn't it even better to have a yearly renewal of blood, sweat, and spirit?   This is a marathon with a purpose.

And up until now, it hadn't ever been canceled.

Well before 7 o'clock, we heard of another delay.  I don't remember the sequences of delays vs. the heavens letting loose, but eventually it was obvious for everyone to take shelter.
We had been warned of different parking garages in the case of storms.  Andrea and I headed out vaguely in search of Jessica, among tens of thousands of people, slowly moving under different buildings and awnings and through a few parking garages.
By blind luck, we found her, and huddled inside the garage. Some minutes later, my parents, who were walking the 5k, also found us.  Lots of iPhones around us were either on a weather radar page or Facebook.  As the wind picked up and heavy rain came down, I poked my head out to see boiling, churning clouds moving swiftly across the sky.

Rumour was that 8AM was the absolute cutoff.  8AM was approaching fast and we had no further delays, so the word was to line up.  I got up and out of there quickly, but the storms were no less menacing.

And then more lightning, rain, and thunder.  I jogged up ahead to another "unofficial" parking garage I spotted in front of the start line, which had a few dozen other runners in it.  I also realized I had totally ditched Andrea in the corral in my hurry to get back to the start line.
And then, behind speeding clouds, were small patches of blue sky.  We were right on the edge of the storm...but also right on the edge of a possible start.  Indeed, we lined up for an 8:20 start -- which would have been quite a gentlemanly option from the off.  But by hanging around for a couple hours, this meant I hadn't eaten anything for 4 hours, and was also thirsty.  I was looking forward to the first aid station just to get something to drink!

At 8:15, the wheelchair racers started.  This was really going to happen.
I found Andrea again and we lined up several rows back.

And then we were off.

My vague plan was 6:20's, 1:25 out, in a cross-wind/tailwind, before getting smacked with a headwind and higher temps on the return.
I spotted course-record holder/female winner Camille Herron at the front.  I jogged up to her at Mile 1 -- right at 6:20 -- wished her luck and then backed off.

Even with all the half-marathoners, and relay runners, we were spread out pretty quickly.  I'd occasionally draft or lightly greet another runner side-by-side, but soon enough we were even more spread out.
The race is great with lots of aid stations and a clock at every mile.  The cheering at each of these points helps keep a steady, honest pace.

There's a "hill" on the course called "Gorilla Hill", which isn't that much of a climb, but is a pretty fun experience, with a giant inflatable gorilla and people dressed as bananas.

The best part of this is that it's just some private citizens in a neighbourhood that decided to do this -- the guy owns the giant inflatable gorilla!  And they hand out bananas to runners.
I think I was "too serious" last time to take a banana, but this time I gave a finger wave and nod, and someone lobbed a banana into the air in front of me to grab mid-stride.

Not long after this, we split from the half-marathoners, in a lonely stretch of road where I had to pay attention to see if I was really on course.  Then the crowds picked up a little, and then waned on what really is the biggest/hardest hill on the course: a climb on a bridge before descending to the lake.

I hit the halfway point right at 1:25, then turned into the brutal wind and watched my pace drop into the 7's.  Couldn't get my wet singlet to stay around my waste, so I wore it on my head.  Felt like I was really sluggish and expected to get caught by some people but we were all in the same situation.  Pace was slowly fading as full sun came out, so I figured I'd be around 3 hours and just decided to enjoy the rest of it.  One guy told me I was in 13th place.

In the last 4-5 miles, we re-merge with the half marathoners.  Up until this year, it was a nightmare for running twice as fast through crowds, and even harder to get over to the aid stations.  Several of us shared feedback on this and the race addressed this by having a separate lane for marathoners.  Bravo!  This was great and much easier than weaving, ducking, and warning.
There was still a few hitches, though, as the second marathon aid station was walking across and giving extra support to the half marathoners, so nobody on the marathon side had any Powerade.  Occasionally, half-marathoners or spectators would also walk back-and-forth across the lane to visit friends or get a water bottle, invariably with headphones in the ears (more of a frustrating etiquette issue than anything), but by and large half-marathoners would kindly cheer and I was happy to do so as well.  One of the most enjoyable things about a race like this is seeing so many people taking on a monumental personal challenge for themselves and their health.  Sure, that happens in Colorado races as well, but I feel like the majority of Colorado runners are quite into running and competition at some level, which can be daunting for an average non-runner.  OKC presents an inspiring picture of what's possible for anybody.

Somehow I still passed 2 guys, with nobody up ahead in sight.  With a couple miles left, I saw I could run low 6's -- basically my starting pace -- and still break 3 hours.  Doing this into the wind was a painful proposition and my legs didn't want to go any faster.  I checked behind me a couple of times, and my calf cramped up if I did anything other than run in a perfectly straight line, so now I had to hope it held on.

Without any ability to kick at all, I jogged in, about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago.  I fought my way through slow-moving crowds, past the cheeseburgers and bagels and what-not, before finally reaching simple bottles of water, of which I was able to drink 2 immediately, despite drinking at every single aid station.  Not used to the heat yet.  But I started feeling much better.
J found me right away and she had a great run, pretty much the same as last time in harder conditions.  Andrea ended up blowing past her PR and finishing in the top 5W for the half.  Camille won again, in her 2nd-worst marathon time and about 6 minutes slower than her course record, suggesting to me how tough the conditions were compared to 2 years ago.

I was happy to run another OKC marathon, and also pleased to find out I made it in the top 10.  I also learned that I wasn't even the fastest guy from Colorado...or even from Golden (Josh Vaughn)!
If I hadn't done it last time, the extra 100 seconds over 3 hours would have tormented me.  Instead, it got me excited about putting the training, timing, and right course together for another go at a faster time -- but the window is short.

Also proud of my parents, who walked the 5k again.
Mom doesn't get lost in races like her son does...
We're really going to miss this tradition...
One that includes a post-race Mexican feast:


The OKC Marathon is a great race for everyone.  We're really going to miss it as a sort of adopted hometown.

May Update

Well, it's been awhile.  Sorry!
This blog is mostly to share what I think are interesting trails, races, and places; and how to get there and enjoy them on feet, skis, or a couple of wheels.  Even when I haven't written in awhile, I'm always pleased to see people reading (and hopefully learning something) about cool stuff in Colorado and the Mountain West, much the same way I enjoy reading other people's tales and beta.
I do have a few things I hope to write about of general interest and reflection, and hopefully even more as the summer kicks off.  I hesitate on more of the boring, personal details which are less useful.  Then again, I'm forgetful and now enough that I sometimes go back and try to figure out what I was doing (or didn't do) at various points throughout the year.

Briefly, I was both busy and sick for the whole month of April.  I got some sort of sinus infection in late March, the week after a bit of a challenging run at Salida.   This was planned to be a big "March Madness" weekend of miles. J and I both got sick, and of course, I thought it would pass quickly and ignored it.  I took a short jog that Friday to the base of Green Mtn., just over 2 miles away, and felt tired enough that I laid down on the grass for about 10-15 minutes.  Bagged the rest of the run and jogged/walked home and slept.  Slept during the day and didn't run at all during the weekend.  Then it moved into my lungs and I was coughing every morning and night.  Did some occasional jogs and felt a little better, so went ahead with a big workout on Round Mountain that Saturday.  Felt OK and not fast, but still ran a little faster than the previous time I did it, mostly by being smarter and saving myself for the final downhill.  Naively hoping to back that up with another long run the next day, but started feeling worse with sinus problems throughout the day, and then felt terrible the next morning.
Backed those plans down to a shorter run with Clark and Ostrom, until I actually started running and felt like death, so took a shortcut back and laid down on the bench at the TH waiting for the other guys.  Driving home, coughing fitfully, I pulled off halfway back to Denver, at the Johnstown exit, to take a nap.  It wasn't long (actually I don't know exactly how long) and I had the radio on enough that I killed my car battery and needed a jump.  Nobody stopped when I had the hood open, but the first pick-up truck did as soon as I got my cables out and stood there (thanks!)

With an obvious infection settling in, I spent the next few days sleeping whenever I could.  I wasn't going to consider antibiotics until >10 days passed without any improvement.  I did start to get a little better so avoided going to the doctor or drugs.  Jogged when I could, which non-runners might not understand but otherwise runners would know that it helps loosen and clear things up.  Got better slowly, although it turns out I was coughing at least in the morning every day of April, ugh.
Stopped worrying about losing fitness and instead focused on being able to get out without feeling terrible.   Still rode the mt. bike a few times, and raced at Platte River Half, and OKC marathon, which felt more like training runs, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Not sure what to expect at Quad Rock in a very stacked field, but looking forward to feeling 100% in mind and health, with my legs a few weeks behind from what I'd like.  Really excited to be out on the trails with friends and see it as a new beginning to the season.  At the same time, I've probably gone into June the past few years being overtrained for summer races, and I focused too much on splits and competition.  Instead, the big goal of Bighorn is doing just fine: a chance to be out on beautiful trails with friends, especially with a cool and supportive small town near the summer solstice.

I hadn't been that sick for almost two decades, as I spent large chunks of my childhood/teenage years with extended health problems with allergies/sinuses/asthma, so I don't take health for granted.   I know I've had it worse, and many other people regularly do, so each day and experience is a (secular) blessing. Losing a few weeks reminds me that, what I really like, is just being out there.  The green Spring is certainly helping as well, as I'm finally feeling healthy and happy again.  More stories coming soon, and see you out on the trail!

Green Mountain (center) aptly named.  Finally.
(L-R: S. Table, Green, Dakota Ridge, Mt. Morrison)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon* 2014 (* An Ultratriathlon)

 Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon
"The Ultimate Challenge"
Road Bike 13M
Run 5M
Ski 2M
Snowshoe 1M
to Mt. Taylor summit (11,306')
Turn-around and then go back down

The Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon is in its 31st year, and is truly a one-of-a-kind event.  Biking, running, skiing, and snowshoeing, in February -- all to the glorious summit of an extinct volcano.
My friend Ben did this a couple years ago and had a great time, despite a bike crash and some whiteout conditions, and highly recommended it.  New New Mexico residents Stephanie and Chris signed up for it, and convinced Alex and I to do the same.  So we all had a date with the volcano.

The course layout was very natural and unique: imagine a big, obvious mountain looming in the distance above town, and taking a natural human-powered path to the top.   With the support of the race coordination and logistics -- hundreds of volunteers on the mountain -- merely signing up enables a fun adventure.  As for racing, I'd never actually done a triathlon, so a multi-sport event had some intrigue and novelty to me.  Skiing promised to be way more rewarding than swimming, but there were plenty of transition issues and challenges to deal with.  As a novice, it was fun to line up with a big deal of uncertainty that I no longer get during running races.

Looking at previous results, I thought some sort of goal between 4 (highly-unlikely)-5 hours was reasonable.  As expected, that puts it in the realm of (roughly) a 50k easy-trail effort for many, albeit using a variety of muscles.  I failed to break 5 hours but had fun in the process, so I'll tell you a bit about the course, the mistakes I made, and the fun I had.


I love biking, I've done numerous group rides and tours and many more solo rides, but I've never raced before.  I've always been intimidated and frustrated by the performance and equipment dependency of the sport, but also used it as a mental block for even attempting it.  In running, you can't really buy much performance, but in bike racing, intermediate-level wheelsets cost more money than I've ever paid for a bike.

However, courtesy of my good friend Neil, I had quite the steed at my disposal: a gorgeous titanium Moots Vamoots decked out in Campy, which he has so graciously let me borrow and ride, and over time I've gotten the bike dialed into my fit and comfort.  "I'm not worthy!"  What I wouldn't give to be able to take a long rambling ride with him now, and thoughts of many of our previous rides, runs, and general shenanigans certainly passed through my ride during hours out on the course.

But I digress.

We lined up, with some aero helmets and dished wheels near the front.  I was shivering and in the minority while wearing shorts and no jacket, but gambled that climbing on the bike would add sufficient warmth, and even hoped to wear the same clothes all day.

Two minutes before the start of the race, I realized that my bike pump (such a noob, but in >50k miles of riding I've still never used CO2 on my own bike) had fallen out of my jersey pocket somehow.  Whoops.  Don't do that.  I was at the mercy of the course.

We started out through a few turns in the flat part of town, before heading more gradually up and out of town.  Based on previous results, my rough idea was to hang onto the chase pack and try to break around an hour.  Unlike many triathlons, there aren't any written rules about drafting, so we were bunched pretty close together.  Despite some solid speed, we were bunched closely with a few sloppy lines up to 4 or even 5 across, with a few jerky and shaky wheels as people continued to jostle for position and pass a bit unnecessarily early.  It was hard to know who to trust.  It was unnerving but exhilarating at the same time.  Finally, after about 5 miles or so, we stretched out a bit more and assembled into a legitimate peloton, with the leaders well within view but gaining slightly.

Now I had a chance to chat a bit and get to know some of the fellow riders, and it was good to be a bit social while still working.  I met the women's leader, so it seemed to be a good position to be in.  It was still everyone for themselves, but as far as drafting I at least made sure to pull as much as I sucked.  The steeper pitches, as we climbed higher, separated things a bit more.

I was warm enough and some of the guys were commenting on the balmy temps as we headed up the exposed canyon.
The miles clicked quickly and we were nearing the 13M mark.  I felt that I had reserved enough to push the final bit (about another half mile) thinking that I would recuperate enough during the transition.

A volunteer met me at the transition, where I took a drink and a gel, and fumbled with shoelaces and shoes (going with my lightweight, beat-up Peregrine trail shoes) while keeping my gloves on.  I thought I moved pretty quickly on the transition, only to recognize 4 or 5 people who were about a minute behind me on the bike that were now a minute or more ahead of me on the run.

After being out for only an hour, my quads had an unfamiliar, dull feeling of fatigue as I headed out on the run.  It took a bit to clear out lactate but I was still able to gain a bit. I was arrogant in thinking that I would catch everyone who passed me on the transition, but luckily I was right about this.  What I learned, though, was that running 20 or 30 seconds faster per mile is worthless if you blow it all on a slow transition.

As it took me over 3 miles to catch up to one of the guys I recognized from the bike, I asked him, "Dude, did you even stop, or did you hop off the bike and keep running?"  He laughed and said he guessed he had a bit of experience in it, then noting that he noticed my (mountain) bike shoes had laces.  "Yeah, you don't want to deal with laces at all."

Laces are out, Dan.

Anyway, with a net uphill, I kept it conservative at around 8-min miles.  But otherwise having no idea how much energy and effort to conserve for the rest of the day, I now realize why x-athlon is such a place-based (instead of time-based) sport, as it's sensible to monitor the people around you. I was doing better than expected, and seeing Nora at the ski transition, she told me I was in the Top 10.


And the uphill ski is where it all went downhill.

A volunteer got my ski gear out for me as I took off my shoes.  They forgot my snowshoes (which we had to carry up with us) and quickly retrieved those as well.  I scarfed a banana and stuffed into my ski boots (laces, again)
I stuck with my plan of staying in shorts, and this was still working out well, because it was as warm as expected.

Now, numerous people had suggested that skins were "necessary" for the uphill ski.  I debated this and could have easily gone with my tele skis and skins.  That would have also necessitated heavier plastic boots.  But I've taken my skinnier, waxless skis up longer and steeper stuff.  Worst-case, I don't mind herring-boning up when necessary.

Plus, it hadn't snowed for a week (and the previous week just barely snuck in a storm that gave decent coverage), and it had been in the 50s and 60s the previous few days, with plenty of sun.  So I expected the snow to be wet and sticky.  That sort of soft snow can be easy to climb, and in fact the worst part of dealing with snow like that is heavy clumping underneath skis.  And I hate that.
So before we left town, I glide-waxed my skis, including the fish scales.

And that ended up being a terrible decision.

Because of lack of snow, they cut a trail that weaved through the trees (where snow was deeper), doing a great job in giving a course that stayed on top of sufficient snow.  The whole course was groomed by snowmobiles and cats just before the race, but at this elevation and with some shading in the trees, the snow really wasn't sticky at all.  In fact, it was slippery and icy.  Immediately, I found myself floundering around in the trees as I couldn't get any purchase, and then I routinely pulled off to the side so as not to block other racers.  I fell a couple times and dropped my water bottle a few more, feeling like a total rookie.  I recognized and got encouragement from a dozen or so passerby's, many of whom I had met earlier on the bike and run.  To a (wo)man, they all had skins.

I slipped onward and upward.  I had visions and ideas about sacrificing bits of clothing to make ghetto kicker skins.  (I still am thinking about this a bit).  About halfway up, I decided to try something brilliantly mad: to put my skis through my snowshoes, fashioning some sort of ski crampon underneath my foot.  I tried this in both directions and wasted a good 6 or 7 minutes, before realizing it wasn't working.  Onward.

I could have walked and carried my skis faster, but didn't know if that was against the rules, even though my snowshoe-crampon idea was arguably more questionable.  In any case, it felt wrong: I made my poor decision and was going to stick with it.  Finally, I saw the course veer around what would normally be the final summit push up "Heartbreak Hill," but lack of coverage (due to wind) meant we took an alternate, slightly longer course.  Honestly, busting straight up an open hill would have been easier, as I could have side-stepped and herringboned, but instead I picked my way through occasional rocks and narrower trail, and finally got near the top, which took a full hour, well behind my expectations but somewhere in the average/middle of the day's climbing times.

I never imagined I'd be grateful to ditch skis for snowshoes, but here I was: strapped into my wife's 21", feminine yellow shoes.  Another gamble based on cheapness.  I kept my soft ski boots on (another planned reason for going with the skinnier skis), as well as my poles.  And my helmet, which got some laughs and good-natured comments (it's light, somewhat warm and I didn't see a reason to ditch it).  This was the gear gamble I was most worried about -- but it worked out just fine.  I should have been able to run faster, but focused on recovery from the brutal ski and just maintained position in a shuffling jog.  The final push to the summit still had sufficient snow, and the clear day gave us great views to the valley below.  Race or no race, this part of the course gave a true sense of vertical accomplishment.

I made it to the summit turnaround, just a yard or two from the true summit, but I took a few extra steps and seconds to hit the summit and enjoy the view before bounding downward.  I hit the summit at 3:09, whereas my rough swag at a 5-hour goal had me hoping for 3-up, 2 down (or faster).  This ended up being unfortunately dead-on.

The snow was packed enough that the snowshoes weren't necessary, unfortunately, but I shuffled down without tripping.  My lackadaisical treatment of the bindings caught up to me as a shoe slipped off.  I carried it briefly, able to run faster without them, but again didn't want to mess with the spirit of the race, so I put them back on.

Highest Bar
I forgot to tell you about the highlight of the race, besides the summit: a few dudes that set up a full bar just below the summit.  I was happy to see these guys, a New Mexico mixture of white and Native men decked out in leather and turquoise.  I think it was early in the race as the "serious" people hadn't been stopping, as most of the bottles weren't opened up yet, so I got first shot (or two) of blackberry brandy.  Warmed and satisfied, I continued shuffling back to my skis.

Ski Down
For most people, the ski down was even more infamous than the ski up.  Again, the usual course had to be modified, this time from a sweeping, forest road, into a steeper, more direct route.  People were warned/suggested to keep skins on for the descent.  Again, no decision here.  The steepness was manageable, but tight switchbacks and some off-camber, bouncy, rollercoaster terrain made things more difficult.

Basically, you'd hit a switchback, turn, and make sure I could manage speed to the top of the next visible "hump," where I'd snowplow if necessary, with burning thighs, to bleed off speed.  Basically, making sure there was always enough room to slow down.  Others were doing the same, mostly more conservatively.  In skinny skis, it was exhilarating, and I passed 4 people on the way down.  I was passed twice by full AT gear -- this would have just been a narrow Blue run at a Western ski resort -- so it was another suggestion that I should have gone with beefier gear.   But I "lost" less time than I thought on the way down.  And the concentration required of "don't-tear-an-ACL-or-break-a-bone" made the time go by quickly, as I wasn't thinking at all about the upcoming run or bike.

Run Down

I was happy to see Alex at the bottom of the ski hill, and he accompanied me to the transition.  He, and a sheriff, helped me untangle knots in my beat-up shoes.  As I moved around and ditched gear, I had laughable muscle pulls and cramps from unusual locations.  Eventually we got my shoes ready and I headed down the hill, where I shouted to Alex a few times to make sure I was going the right way -- despite having come up that way, earlier, I was paranoid about a wrong turn.

Opening up the legs felt good after a bit of stiff jogging.  My energy was up and I was motivated to catch up to the people that, irrationally, I felt shouldn't be ahead of me because of my uphill ski debacle.  Of course, this makes no sense because we all had equal opportunities on our strengths and weaknesses, but it was good motivation.  Sure enough, I rolled up on a half dozen or so folks, and put up several minutes as a gap.  Without anyone really running as hard next to me, though, I put in just enough effort to gain time and didn't run as hard as I might have in a pure running race.  Again, though, my wasteful transitions countered this effort a bit.

Now I was back on the bike.  The tires weren't flat, so that was good.  I was right at 4:30.  30 minutes to ride 13.5 miles was a tall order, but I figured I'd see how long I could hold the pace.  The top pitch had us spinning out of gears and hitting the mid-40's already.  Unfortunately, a guy who I had passed solidly on the run blew past me without pedaling.  He weighed a good two-stone more than me, and I (irrationally) again figured this wasn't fair (despite my previous "unfair" advantage of only having to carry a lightweight skeletal frame up the mountain in the morning), but there was nothing I could do until we pedaled some more.  But he had gained a good 90-120 seconds on me in the gravity-assisted section.  Again, my energy was still good, and on a couple bumps of hills, I pushed it, getting within 30-45 seconds, but couldn't close the gap.  Oh, I forgot to mention the annoying headwind, which sucked off some of our speed and made the 5-hour goal insurmountable.  I didn't really care about catching anyone so much as trying to get close and then draft/work together.  I made occasional checks behind me but nobody was in sight, so as it turns out, the focus on keeping pace with the guy ahead of me was helpful for both of us putting in a gob of time on the folks behind.

El fin
I weaved my way through the last few neighbourhood turns, with one family clapping as I passed, but otherwise little fanfare.  I was glad to find the way back, as I hadn't paid attention on the way out, and finished in 5:09.  I felt like I could have chopped quite a bit out by being smarter, having a mix of nonchalance about my gear and approach juxtaposed with a desire to go faster, but otherwise had a great time in terms of experience in my first -athlon race.  Without any dreaded swimming.

I met J and then enjoyed a sample or three of Santa Fe beers, enjoying a good chat with those guys as well as some folks who organize the race.  I enjoyed hearing about the history of the race, and it was bittersweet to hear about how the race had almost twice as many participants in its heyday in the '90s.  We shared similar observations that cross-country skiing has, unfortunately, dropped off in popularity in favour of (slower, easier, and more boring) snowshoeing.  Perhaps a bump in the popularity and availability of AT and telemark gear will help.  This is such a unique event that it's definitely worth checking out and supporting.  I can't even think of many other places where such an event and a "natural" course up a mountain -- which has both reliable snow and relatively safe/low-angle avy conditions -- could exist. SLC? Mt. Bachelor above Bend, OR?  Somewhere in Idaho or Montana?  In Colorado, most candidates I can think of either have roads that are too busy/unsafe to be dedicated to a winter race (e.g., Loveland or Berthoud Pass), access, or snowpack issues.

I enjoyed a new challenge that combined several of my interests, and it was really fun to line up in an event with completely unknown expectations, and a bit of "first-time" anxiety that many of us don't get when we do the same type of events repeatedly.  At the same time, the -xathlon culture both exceeded and met my expectations, with a combination of friendly banter and socialization, as well as some serious-level gearhead competitiveness.  I have no idea what place I finished in because it was listed in "Age Group" categories, and the Rambler staff here does not believe in Age Groups.

Anyway, after musing on this a bit, we were pleased to see Alex cruise in on his finish, ending up in 3rd-place in the pairs division.  He was able to celebrate with a beer in the sunshine, having left his bride-to-be Nora halfway up the mountain, where she had done the gloriously satisfying yet dangerous work of summiting (and descending) the top of the mountain for his team.  Friends Chris and Steph made it safely down, together, having the additional challenge of riding mountain bikes, and taking turns lugging a new diamond ring up and down the mountain, respectively.  Cheers to them!  We missed their arrival as we headed to Santa Fe, where (in addition to several nice meals, as usual), J indulged me in letting me search a couple places, in vain, for Forrest Fenn's treasure.  But that's another story.

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Remember, "Skins On, Wax Off!"