Saturday, May 28, 2011

And summer begins...

Big changes in my daily routine.  My last day of the school year was yesterday.  As has been the case the past four years, I was absolutely exhausted and was in bed by 9:00.  Cale left for Minnesota this morning with his mom.  I guess I now have a lot of free time.

It was a good week back.  Wednesday - ran some uptempo in Palmer Park.  Did Barr Camp on Thursday in 2:11.  1000's today.  6 of them in 3:35-3:40.  Felt rusty, but otherwise pretty good.

Heading back out to the Sangres tonight.  I want to get familiar with the north side of Crestone Peak, so Terry and I are going to check out the Northwest Couloir.  Luckily, the road to the trailhead has finally melted out.  Between that and not having to go over Broken Hand Pass, tomorrow will be much easier aerobically than it was last month.  I'm hoping for good snow!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adventures and State Champs

Summer nears, and I'm busy planning, scheming, and coming up with little challenges for myself.  Besides racing, I've got a couple of other big days scheduled.  I figure if I make public my plans, I'll hold myself accountable to actually do them.

Brooks and I are planning to run a part of the Nolan's course in late June - from Huron to Yale.  I estimate it will be something in the order of 7 peaks, 18 miles, 20,000'.  Weather permitting, we'll start in the evening, and between the half-moon and our headlamps, we should have plenty of light.

I think I'm going to do this climb on July 4th.  Pretty sure I'll start from Lead King Basin.  Snowmass and Capitol. Going to cross the Pierre Lakes basin via Heckert Pass and the Wandering Dutchmen Couloir.  Haven't decided whether I want to then re-trace my steps, or exit via the Capitol Creek drainage. (I'd need to arrange a shuttle in order to do that)

Rough idea of what I'm thinking.
Photo by Bill Middlebrook.

In other goings-on, "my" boys (I don't coach track in the spring but I am an ass't XC coach in the fall) won the 4A state track meet yesterday.  I'm so proud of this group of seniors; they were a bunch of mediocre freshmen that just decided that they were going to excel.  They went from not qualifying to 8th to 2nd to 1st at state XC in their four years here, and their performance yesterday seals their fate as the strongest class of runners Cheyenne has ever had.  4 of the top 8 in the 3200, 3 of the top 6 in the 800 - are you kidding me???

LOVE this version.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Two weeks

I'm nearing the end of two weeks of forced downtime after racing Collegiate Peaks on the 7th.


My motivation/psyche/whatever you want to call it is close to an all-time high.  After CP, all I could think about was my next chance to lay it all out there.  But...I have been going without a real break since last September.  I may not need it now, but I want a strong summer, and hitting a psychological lull in July - not a good thing.

Physically, I'm holding up fairly well.  My hip has been a little sore since the race, but it's not a major concern.  Running a distance that long has GOT to take a toll on the body, though - especially one that's not used to that kind of mileage.

This proactive break seems to be the right way to do it.  I'm not stressing out over lost training - I've built my base up well and August is still three months away.

I've been out for a few runs, but nothing intense.  The extra hour or so in my day has allowed me to get ahead with work stuff, cook a little more, and spend some extra quality time with Cale.  I've also been to a few CrossFit classes.  No doubt it's fun, but I'm not sure if it will be something that effectively complements running.

Can't wait to get back at it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't listen to any of those idiots in Runner's World

They don't know what they're talking about.

I guess the author did a narrative on his experience at the 2010 Mt. Washington Road Race.  I vaguely remember talking to him up on the summit as I waited for a friend to finish.  I've tried to block the memory of that race from my mind - evidently, I've done a good job!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Collegiate Peaks 50

Collegiate Peaks 50 mile trail run
Buena Vista, CO
May 7, 2011

I ran a 50 mile race on Saturday.  It was my first ultra.  It hurt.  If you're sane, there's really no need to read on.

I'm not sure who first put the idea in my head.  He should be shot.  Actually, I should have been shot.  It would've been less painful for all involved.  Anyway, at some point in time, maybe January, I decided it necessary to test my mettle at a "longer" race.  May seemed to be the worst time to do one.  Any earlier and I would have been able to use the 'lack of time to train' excuse.  Any later and I could blame the ultra for any poor race performances over the summer.

CPTR seemed to be the perfect candidate - why not throw some altitude and hills on top of a few extra miles?  I'd heard it was a low-key affair.  A good, easy "beginner's" ultra.  What an @#$%ing oxymoron.  Shortly after signing up, Brooks mentioned there might be a fast guy or two (or three or four or five or more) there.  Stepping up to a new distance must feel kinda like wearing a new swimsuit - I was hoping to do it in relative privacy.

As May 7th drew near, I found myself unable to come up with a good enough excuse to bail.  Reluctantly, I picked up Brooks in COS on Friday afternoon.  We were in Buena Vista early enough to grab dinner at the somewhat-new Eddyline Brewery. Promoters of the Williams/O'Day re-match took a good promo shot while we were waiting.  Actually, this is the guy who is probably most responsible for the suffering I endured during the race - maybe I should've actually taken a pop at him when I had the chance.

I got to the race start my usual one hour before race time, which was 6:30.  In hindsight, I would have gladly started at 5:30 or even earlier to escape a little bit of the afternoon's warmer temperatures.  (it's also easier to hide in the dark, but the thought of having to crouch in the bushes for four or five hours sounded like a lot of work)  Not surprisingly, I didn't feel inclined to do my usual 15-minute warm-up.  Instead, I used that time to prepare my first-ever ultra "drop bag".  This included a bunch of hastily-assembled junk that I would probably never use - an orange, almond butter, headlamp, something like four pairs of shoes.  I strategically placed all my stuff within the bag using a simple mathematical formula - the more likely I was to need it, the more deeply inaccessible I inadvertently placed it.

My race plan was fairly simple.  Survive.  That meant I'd probably tell myself to stay conservative through 25 miles, but somehow just "feel good" and rip through the front nine anyway.  Then, I'd have more time to plot ways to save face explaining my epic blowup on the second loop.

Loop 1 - clockwise, Loop 2 - counter-clockwise.
High point of 9400' is in the upper right corner.
The part that sucks is in red.

Right from the gun, I tried to settle into a sustainable rhythm.  Flat opening miles of 7:33, 7:42, and 7:45 put me on pace for a course-record 6:45!  Wow, maybe this ultra thing isn't that hard!@  Better yet, at least twenty others were going to set the course record with me!  It took a while, but soon the reigning in of my pace stopped being such a conscious effort and I found a zone.  Jason Morgan, who finished 13th at the Salida Marathon, appeared beside me and we ran many of the early miles together, just as we did in Salida.  As we slowly moved up the field, we exchanged greetings with the other runners.  I hated them all, as they all were opting for the 25-miler.  As every step we took carried us nearer to the 25-mile mark, the more tempting it became to think of that option myself.  In the sand near mile 15, I rolled up on Footfeathers, who I knew was planning on the full 50.  He seemed to be plugging away just fine, had stated before the race a goal of sub-7:40, and had gobs of ultra experience under his belt.  So of course I blew right by him like I knew what I was doing.  Idiot.

I caught up with Brooks at the course's high point near mile 18, then essentially brought it back in to the turnaround with him.  He explained how our pace may be a little hot, and how we'd get a good chance to see where we were as we neared mile 25.  In 2010, he had came across Andrew Henshaw where technical singletrack began at mile 24/26. That had put him about 16 minutes or so behind.  He felt that our projected halfway split of 3:30 would mean we wouldn't see the first runner until a bit into the singletrack.

Speak of the devil, Ryan Burch was obviously setting a blistering pace.  He hit us before we had a chance to duck down into said singletrack.  Turns out he had come through 25 in about 3:06.  Two minutes later, I caught sight of Dylan Bowman.  Shortly before hitting the turnaround, Duncan Callahan and Corey Hanson went by.

At the turnaround, I had a chance to do a little self-check.  Let's see...25 miles down.  I felt pretty good for having run 25 miles.  Oh yeah, still 25 more to go.  WTF?  Seriously, how am I supposed to run 25 more miles?  Fighting down those thoughts, I had a moment to focus on the task at hand:  re-stocking.  I lost my gloves, armwarmers, and singlet.  I put a couple gels, electrolyte tablets, and a Tiger's Milk bar in my race belt.  I switched out from the racier Inov8 x-Talons to the sturdier RocLite 295's.  Although I hadn't yet begun to blister, I felt that giving my feet slightly different hotspots might save me some pain.  After milling around for what seemed like hours in a zombie-like trance, I slammed down and ensure and finally re-engaged with the inevitable.  I had lost two minutes to Brooks - we had entered in 3:30 and 3:31 respectively.  We were out in 3:32 and 3:35.

I'm still trying to block out memories of the next part.  Let's just say I began to feel like I had actually already run a marathon.  I struggled to keep under 10:00 pace for the first few tame miles back out of town.  What made it even worse was that every other runner in the field got to see the contorted, twisting grimaces of pain covering my face.  Most of them smiled, waved, or said, "Good job!"  They were chipper as kindergartners at recess, knowing they only had a downhill mile or two before they were DONE.  Jerks.  I was able to elicit a few unintelligible grunts in response.  A few, notably fellow ultra virgin GZ, looked a little too strong for me to feel good about any lead I may have had.  

Let me take a second to explain something that seems unique to these longer distances.  I was told many many many times by those who had run them before to expect many ups and downs.  Stretches where you feel like you'll be lucky to take another step, and stretches where you feel like Carl Lewis.  Not the politician. So, when the reaper met me during this stretch, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me it was my time, I just shrugged and told him to come back later.  Being the cordial messenger of death he is, he accompanied me every step of the way for quite a few miles.  I tried to catch up on nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes, but the feeling wouldn't shake.  All but the most mild uphills began to receive my walking best.

At mile 28, I took a few walking steps at the base of a small hill.  It offered me a chance to look around and see if there was anywhere to escape.  There wasn't.  In fact, worse news reared it's ugly head - someone had caught me.  Damnit, I thought.  It's the beginning of the end.  I tried counting the number of people in the race - four hundred.  Surely I could handle getting passed three hundred niney nine more times?

A few minutes later, I noticed that the guy hadn't yet disappeared over the next horizon.  I began to get lonely.  "Man, what if this is the last guy I see?" I thought.  So, I began matching his pace from a few hundred yards back.  I started paying more and more attention to what he was doing instead of hosting a pity party for myself.  Over the next two miles, I began to reel him in.  I paid attention to his body language on uphills.  I would pay attention to when he looked back - I'd try to time it so I was running when he looked, then I'd take a short walk break immediately thereafter in hopes that I would recharge enough to run by the next time he took a peek.  I couldn't fool myself, but maybe I could fool him into thinking I wasn't already dead.  By mile 32, I caught back up to Ryan - a 40-year-old from South Dakota who had recently run a 1:14 half-mary.  We would spend the next three miles together.

Somewhere along the way, I had started actually feeling alive again.  As Ryan and I neared the mile 34, I received one last shot of adrenalin, when we caught sight of Brooks just leaving.  I checked my watch and found we were about three and a half minutes behind.  I decided to really hunker down at this aid station - I let Ryan go as I threw down three cups of coke, and a couple of cookies.  I made a quick pit stop there, as well. (one of four for the day)

Relatively speaking I was refreshed, and mounted a little attack on the ensuing downhills.  I made contact with Rick then pushed the uphills until I had lost him.  A few rollers later, I was able to see that I had cut into Brooks's lead, and was now within two minutes.  I made sure to let him see I was running where he was walking, and wondered how long it would take before I finally made contact.  He held me off valiantly through his dark period, and I wasn't able to finally pull aside him until we had begun the long descent back to BV.

We ran miles 42 through 44 together - physically.  Just as Brooks began to get a second wind, my wheels come off again.  My right quad had begun to cramp a bit.  I had finished off my salt tabs and was hoping for one last wave to kick in, but it didn't come.  Brooks tried to bring me in with him, but there was no way I was going to finish strong.  He let me go and promptly put two minutes per mile on me from the mile 44 aid station to the pavement.

Fist Pump #3
Those last few miles were a blur.  I knew I was going to finish, but I felt vulnerable.  I imagined looking back and seeing a pack of five guys looking to hunt me down, but no one appeared.  Until the pavement, that is.  The sight of Garret Grobbins closing the gap on me from seemingly nowhere threw me into a state of sub-7:00 panic.  I had gotten used to the idea of 6th place, the hell if I was going to adjust to the thought of 7th.  I crossed the line in 7:45:03, complete with not one or two but three separate fist pumps - a sign I was quite relieved to be done with the torture of running 50 miles.

Post-race was a good time.  I got to converse with some of the other guys.  Ryan was pretty stoked after demolishing the course record by over 15 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  Dylan also broke 7:00, joining a short list of guys who have accomplished that milestone.  Hanson and Callahan ended up much closer to us than I would've guessed, finishing in 7:33 and 7:34 respectively.  Brooks PR'ed by nearly 10 minutes with a 7:38.  Garret came in about 2 minutes behind me, and my mid-race running buddy Ryan finished just a hair under 8:00.

It's still too early to put together many post-race thoughts.  I do know that the words that come to my mind when I try to process the experience are all the same:  stupid.  Moronic.  Idiotic.  Painful.  Harmful.  Plain Dumb.

I'll be doing another one soon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A shout-out to the crazies

In a little over eight hours, I'm going to be racing.

No big deal, I've done this what, two or three hundred times before, right?

It's definitely different this time.  Not often do I stand on the edge of something that elicits so many questions, so much self-doubt, so much internal dialog.  Tomorrow's 50 miler, though, has done just this to me.

Throughout the week, I've sat down and tried to put these feelings into words.  I've failed with every attempt. My thoughts have been so incredibly scattered.  There has only been one theme present with each attempt.

I'm surrounded by friends who have run 50, 62, even 100 miles and run those distances fast.  I'm hesitant to even share my trepidation over my first attempt at an "ultra" distance for fear of reprisal from said buddies.  I realize that's somewhat absurd, but at the same time, their presence helps.  They force me to believe it's not just attainable, but expected.  They force me to find ways to squelch my self-doubt.  I'm not even permitted to wonder whether or not I'll finish tomorrow's race.  They won't be impressed.

The school where I teach is somewhat ridiculous.  It is an extremely affluent demographic, and the median kid has parents that expect him to be a high achiever.  Cale goes to this school, and he doesn't know any better to than to think that's just what kids do - they study, they do their homework, and they care about their learning.

I choose to surround myself with people who reflect the values, morals, and ideals I wish to portray.  I seek out those who share my goals, dreams, and passions.  To those who have inspired me to take a crack at this race tomorrow - thank you.  Your presence in my life is valued to an extent you will never know.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Crestone Peak - a near-epic

Crestone Peak (14,294') attempt from South Colony Rd. (9,467)
18.4 miles, 7,700', 17h1min RT
Climbers:  Sean, Terry, Abe

People throw the noun 'epic' around too freely, so I'll resist the urge to do so.  Nonetheless, any seventeen-hour day, even if it goes according to plan, has to be viewed as more than simply a walk in the park.  This was such a trip.

4/30/2011 - Crestone Peak (14,294')
from South Colony Rd. (9,467')
18.4 miles, 7,700', 17h1min RT

Cale's mom flew in to the Springs to spend some time with him this weekend, so I found myself with a rare school-year weekend free.  Sure, I've got a little fun run coming up next weekend, but the need for some spring mountain fun trumped discretion.  Trouble wasn't too far away, as a climbing buddy of mine, Terry, was looking for partners on a spring ascent of Crestone Peak via the snowed-in "red gulley."  Besides a winter mountaineering class I took earlier in the month, I hadn't spent any time in the mountains since October!  I'd been up "the Peak" via the red gulley twice already, but that didn't deter me from contacting Terry to tell him I was in.  I had my reasons.
  1. This was a rare chance to visit the Crestones in full-on spring conditions.  
  2. Ascending a mountain with crampons and an axe is a totally different experience than scrambling up solid rock.  
  3. It's hard to find partners for the more challenging peaks in snow.
  4. It would be a great way to get some serious aerobic work at altitude without incurring the higher impact and recovery cost caused by running.
Knowing that the snow would keep us a long way from the standard trailhead, we knew we were in for a long day.  I didn't realize JUST how long at the time, though.  This being understood, I agreed to meet Terry at the park n ride near his place in the Springs at 0100.  I managed about an hour of shut-eye beforehand and sneaked in a few more minutes on the drive down.  Not a big deal; I'm used to not sleeping well the night before big events, whether due to inability to sleep or early alarms.

There is much confusion when people speak of the "South Colony" trailhead.  Let me try to clarify using distances.
  • 0.0 miles (8,800') - the lower trailhead.  This is located at the very foothills of the Sangres in the Wet Mountain valley, before trees even begin to appear.
  • 1.2 miles (9,467') - where we were able to drive before snow cover made the road impassible.
  • 2.7 miles (9,950') - the NEW upper trailhead.  As of August 2009, this is the furthest point that vehicles are permitted to drive.  There is a parking lot, gate, and register here.
  • 5.5 miles (11,040') - the OLD upper trailhead.  The road between the new and old upper trailheads has now been closed for over a year and a half.  It used to be a very rough road, impassible for all but the heartiest 4WD vehicles.  
In other words, we had to tack on an extra 3.0 miles RT due to the snow.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, but those extra miles at the end of the day are possibly the longest one can ever experience.  Good ultra training, I suppose.

Terry had been in contact with two other guys, Abe and Charlie.  (a bunch of other people wanted to join the trip, but none had avi gear, so Terry rightly turned 'em away)  We met them at the "trailhead" at 0400, exchanged introductions, and were on our way up by 0430.

The approach to any mountain always contains much exuberance and banter, and yesterday was no exception.  Terry, like myself, had been up the Peak twice already.  Neither Abe nor Charlie had been in this neck of the woods before, and we kept hyping up the famous view just around the corner.  With heavy day-packs and snowshoes, our first few miles clicked by a half-hour at a time.  Quite the difference from the early eight minute miles of a long run.  From early on, Charlie wasn't feeling it, and he turned around within the first hour.  It's always a tough decision to call it a day, but I commend him for not putting the party in jeopardy later on.  The three of us continued on and reached a point just before the old upper trailhead at 0700.

It's still winter up there!

Another change that the Forest Service has made in the basin is that they have officially added a "shortcut" trail.  In the past, the standard approach to Humboldt and Crestones followed an old jeep road as it contoured underneath Broken Hand Peak.  As you can see on the map (in blue), it's not a straight shot  As far as I know, a social trail had existed that bypassed this inefficiency(red).  Only recently, though, has it been given signage.

Broken Hand Pass is the low
point between Broken Hand
Peak(L) and Crestone Needle(R)
Our first challenge of the day now awaited:  Broken Hand Pass.  The red gulley route from South Colony is somewhat unique in that it requires not just one climb.  We therefore had more than one aspect to consider.  While the red gulley is south-facing, the snow-filled side of Broken Hand Pass has a NE aspect and therefore vastly different snow.  We found it to be solid, dry, slabby and light through the top two to three inches, and sugary and dry underneath.  We saw no evidence of slides in the area.  Terry and I decided that although not pleasant to wade through, it was safe enough to give it a go.  The summer route up Broken Hand Pass ascends as soon as you hit Lower South Colony Lake.  Before even making it to the pass, it gains nearly half the elevation to the pass.  Instead of dealing with a mixed traverse, we simply crossed along the frozen lakeshore and went straight up.

Lower South Colony Lake is
down there...somewhere!
This was far and away the most discouraging part of the trip.  We postholed the majority of the way up, a couple of times as much as hip-deep.  We didn't top out on the 12,900' pass until 10:30 - we were already six hours into our day.  Demoralizing!  If conditions in the red gulley weren't significantly better, we agreed we'd be turning around.  The view from atop the pass, as usual, was stunning.  It was neat to witness Abe's reaction as he experienced it for the first time.  I believe this was my seventh time atop Broken Hand, but because of the labor involved in getting there, this surely was the most satisfying trip.

View of Crestolita (I think) from atop Broken Hand Pass.

We barreled down the other side of Broken Hand Pass, relieved to be done with that mess and excited to get a glimpse of our real objective.  Going was still not quick, though.  We got to Cottonwood Lake, exchanged crampons for snowshoes, skirted the lake, and enjoyed our whitewashed surroundings as we made our way to the base of the red gulley.  In the Cottonwood drainage, it actually felt hot for the first time all day!

Cottonwood Lake
Lots of snow.
The red gulley snakes up the center of this picture.
The summit is just to the left.
The gulley isn't so red this time of year.
A closer look at the gulley.
We entered from the right on the
snow band just below center.
Sure enough, we found the gulley's snow to be much more compacted and firm - it was a go!  The events of the ascent were scant.  One rock band early on provided a chance to get sporty and use points in a mixed setting for about 20'.  Otherwise, we just kept going up, up, up.  My emotions were mixed - I love scrambling up the Crestone's conglamorate, and the red gulley provides that aplenty in the summer, but the remoteness and ruggedness one is surrounded by when ascending a couloir in the spring may be better.  It just doesn't feel like the same place.

Crestone Needle, as viewed from the red gulley.

Going up!

The southern Sangres.
The Sierra Blanca massif can be seen in the background.

Abe and Pico Asilado

Almost there

 Finally, we hit the 14,200' top of the gulley.  All that remained was a short scamper over fun rock...or so I was hoping.  The recent storms had deposited enough new snow on the south-facing slabs that no simple route was evident.  Furthermore, the traverse over to the ridge was corniced over with stuff that looked (and felt) like it might go any minute.  Ten and a half hours and many miles in, we decided to call it a day.

Terry topping out on the gulley.
hero shot
Knowing that it's already 3PM and you still have many, many hours of climbing and hiking left can be a real buzzkill.  I had been preparing myself to deal with this reality the whole way up, so when we had to downclimb the gulley, I was ready.  The initial few hundred feet were difficult and we had to face in, but as we descended, the snow softened just enough to begin plunging down.

For anyone who has done this route from South Colony in the summer, you know how miserable the re-ascent of Broken Hand Pass can be.  While the snow cover on this side was scant, we still needed snow shoes to avoid knee-high postholing.  I don't think one non-explicative was muttered the entire way back up, as all three of us were in our own little private hells.  Even the stopping to switch out footwear became arduous.  (In total, I think we switched either into or out of snowshoes or crampons a total of seven times)  The descent into South Colony wasn't much better than the initial climb, and the thought of knowing we still had hours of trudging ahead overshadowed the beauty of the closing light on the high peaks surrounding us.

Getting ready to return down Broken Hand Pass.

We finally made it back to the cars at 9:30PM.  It had been by far the longest day of my life - surpassing my old longest day by a good four hours.  While I wasn't too beat up physically, I felt like a walking zombie from lack of sleep.  The three of us struggled to enjoy our post-climb Old Chub's.  Terry and I said goodbye to Abe and began the drive back to Colorado Springs.  I maybe said two words to Terry the entire drive home as I kept nodding off.  I don't know how he stayed awake.  For all I know, he didn't.  I was too tired to tell.

Saying good bye to the Crestones.

This doesn't qualify as an epic, as we didn't call SAR, get off-route, or do anything entirely sketchy.  However, just the time spent on our feet was staggering.  Top ultra runners can complete 100 miles in seventeen hours.  The cutoff for Ironman finishers is seventeen hours!  While we didn't do a 100-miler or an Ironman, though, we did feel like we accomplished something.  A great journey in bluebird spring conditions to a beautiful part of the state - can't ask for much more than that.