Friday, July 29, 2011

Data and the pace calculator

A little Pikes rehearsal this AM - approximately 3 miles from the start to the top of the W's.  Running waterless from my place, I simply tried to put in an effort equal to the first half hour of the Ascent.  (I note this because some folks run this "tempo" all-out, much faster than they will run it on race day)  Splits:

to Ruxton - 3:08
to Hydro - 10:03
to Barr Trail - 16:40
to "bigass rock" - 27:40
to top of W's - 33:23

The good ol' pace calculator suggests that today was not how I want to run on Pikes weekend.  A 10:03 Hydro split done properly is good for a 2:39:30, whereas a 33:23 W's split is pace befitting of a 2:46:00.  Furthermore, the 23:20 between Hydro and W's is what a well-paced 2:49 would run.

At this point, half of you already have figured out what this means, and the other half could care less.  There is a large contingent of 'naked' runners - those who believe that the Garmin is the devil.  They have no need for watches or data; they just run.  They go by feel.  They believe there is no need for all this high-tech gadgetry, that it just means you're taking yourself too seriously or missing the whole point of running.

To the Garmin-haters:  point taken, but let's agree to disagree.  I'll dedicate a whole post to ya'll soon.  Till then, brush up on your graph-reading skillz.

In the meantime, I took this away from today.  I was kind of disheartened by my slowdown on the W's.  I most definitely didn't feel like my effort was spiked to Ruxton or anything, but I definitely don't want to push the W's as hard as I did today.  If my effort was greater than what I'd like to feel on raceday and my time was slower, I can come up with a few possible reasons.

  1. Possibly I'm just not in the shape I have been in previously.  Doubtful, as my previous race results suggest otherwise.
  2. I could've been running on legs that were more fatigued than I expected.  Possible - I ran Elk Park 48 hours ago and yesterdays easy run felt like death on a stick.  Would that be consistent with a 2:39 pace to Hydro and 2:49 beyond?  Possibly, as the fatigue may be less pronounced on flatter terrain.
  3. The calculator could be flawed.  I hate to say it, but I find that doubtful.  The Ruxton split is always in question, but I trust the Hydro and W splits.  As one who has not had recent success above timberline, I most definitely am trying to respect the clock down low.

I will get a couple more opportunities to run this same drill in the upcoming weeks.  Optimally, a 2:40 pace will be easy next time out.  If not, I have no problem adjusting my goal to a pace that does feel manageable for the full 13 miles.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marley's Chains

If you recall Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by his long-deceased business partner Jacob Marley.  Marley shares visions of Scrooge's past, present, and future...the sight of Scrooge's fate if his ways were to remain unaltered is enough to scare him sober, or in his case, to scare him selfless.

Sometime around midnight last night, I was also paid a visit by Mr. Marley.  

DISCLAIMER - this post is extremely frivolous.  Keep in mind, I wrote it for myself.

Background on the SnowCap double
The Snowmass - Capitol ridge.  Insanity.
I've made it no secret my desire to complete some form of the SnowCap double - that is, to combine the summits of Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak in one climb.  To do either peak in a day is no joke.  Snowmass's standard route is the longest of any of the fourteeners at 21 miles.  It is almost always done on a long weekend with a hike in to Snowmass Lake.  While it can be accessed from it's west side more expediently, it is still not a common feat.  Capitol, while "only" 17 miles, is one of the most time-consuming standard routes and is even less frequently done in a day.  Most parties opt to camp at Capitol Lake in order to give themselves plenty of time to negotiate Capitol's challenging upper reaches.  I've done both as day trips - Snowmass in May 2010, and Capitol twice later in the summer.  While it takes some fitness to do this, it hardly is a jaw-dropping feat.

To combine these two mountains,  Now THAT would be a challenge.  The number of parties who have done the "traverse" - that is, to follow the connecting ridge between the two - can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.  Furthermore, this feat has never been done in one shot.  Parts of this treacherous ridge were done on separate days.  This is not to take away from these guys - I am simply in awe over the fact that it's been done, and I believe it is far beyond my ability level to negotiate that much spicy terrain.  Anyone who reads the trip reports will likely come away with the same feeling I had - absolute awe, but no desire to try it for myself.  Cave Dog did them in a day when he climbed the fourtneeners in less than 11 days, but I am nearly certain his route was not the ridge proper.  There is documentation here of a multi-day trip through the Pierre Lake basin done by another party, and I suspect it is also the route Cave Dog chose.  It is also the route I have been eyeing up for nearly a year now.

Two summers ago, I laid out a five-day trip that found me on the top of eight summits.  It was an appropriate challenge given my fitness and experience levels.  Last year, I wanted to set a more lofty goal, so a climbing partner and I attempted to do the four great traverses in four consecutive days.  We were unsuccessful, getting pushed off of the Little Bear - Blanca ridge due to high winds.  However, it became clear to me that it was well within my grasp given optimal conditions.  This summer, my wish was for SnowCap.  I had scheduled an attempt on July 4th, but my partner had to bail and there was no way I wished to try this on my own.  Enter Mike.

Mike and I have done not so much mountaineering together, but his resume is impressive.  Dude climbed Denali a few months ago.  He also has the aerobic fitness and technical skill to pull off a 20+ mile, 8,000' day fraught with exposure, routefinding, and other fun stuff.  Just a few days ago, I talked of this route to him, and his eyes lit up.  Game on.

What the hell were they thinking?
In nearly every fatal accident in the mountains, a theme emerges.  Basically, a laundry list of "things done wrong" could be seen by even the casual observer when hindsight was applied.  Let me shelve all ego and list factors that contributed to the visit from the aforementioned Jacob Marley.
  1. I ran Pikes on Thursday and my legs were leaden.
  2. My hip flexor was tender from a good week of training - Friday called for a flat recovery run so as not to push it to the brink of injury.
  3. I had gotten very little sleep on Thursday...and may have had a couple more beverages than what is considered good.  I spent most of Friday in slow motion due to my own irresponsibility.
  4. Mike and I got impulsive and changed our departure time at the last moment - from 3AM to 9PM.  Yes, we got off on the idea of doing the first half of this climb IN THE DARK.
  5. I was disoriented and felt as though we may be off route by the time we approached Snowmass's base.  My knowledge of Snowmass's west face told me that many huge boulders made it treacherous.
  6. When I confirmed that we had overshot and were off-route, we attempted to traverse south over said talus instead of backtrack and re-approach it cleanly.
  7. As we hopped from talus block to block, I was having difficulty making clean pushes due to the pain in my hip flexor.  I remained stubborn and continued on.
The picture has been painted.  Any of these mistakes on their own was manageable.  However, the combination of them all made a potential disaster imminent.

Close Call
I pushed off from one boulder to another, and then it happened.  A Sean-sized boulder began to roll out from under my left leg.  Had I had full strength, I may had been able to balance out of it.  That was not the case.  My balance thrown off, I went down with the boulder and my left leg began to slide under it.  I was mortified. Everything slowed down and I could see the worst-case scenario so clearly in my head.  I anticipated a snap that would be my lower leg getting crushed between the falling boulder and the stable one below it.  I envisioned being pinned, or at least being rendered completely immobile many miles and hours away from any hope of rescue.  It was terrifying.
That's it??

Somehow, the snap never happened.  The boulder impacted the one below it on a spot other than my leg, saving it from most of the pressure.

In a daze, I picked myself up and tried to recollect my composure.  Mike asked if I was OK, and aided by a massive rush of adrenaline, we continued on in the direction of Snowmass's summit.  Within a minute, though, I was so far behind Mike that it became clear to me - we were done for the day.

The journey back was tedious.  While I had escaped relatively unscathed, the fall had still beat me up pretty good.  I struggled to put my full weight on my left leg, and any uneven surface was painful to land on.  Talus fields and stream crossings were the worst...but the feeling of imminent doom had passed.  We got back to the car sometime before 4AM and caught a few hours of shut eye.

So what's the big deal?
Yeah, I totally get it.  Legit question.  Here's the difficult part to talk about.

I was a dumbass, and I nearly paid for it.  I should've paid for it.  That was much too close a call for me to shrug off.  Much like the ghost of Jacob Marley, I was visited by haunts of what could've or should've been.  This caused me much time for reflection.  Questions arose in my head that refused to go away - what was I thinking?  Why is this fun?  Should I really be climbing stuff like this with a son?  Why hasn't my frontal lobe developed?  Marley's ghost painted visions of a future for me that was not pretty.  The future that found me stuck Aron Ralston-esque, waiting for SAR to come pick up my sorry ass.  The future that had me gimbling around Cale's soccer practice with one leg.  The future that had Cale suddenly fatherless.

I'm so angry with myself for falling into the trap of believing I'm invincible.  I honestly thought I could do anything on a mountain.  "Eh, SnowCap double?  Sure, let's do it in darkness!  Off-route?  No problem, we're too good to be affected by that mere inconvenience."  The list goes on and on.  Over time, I've evidently allowed myself to experience what I'll dub "ability drift", where I began to think I could handle things that I can't.

Have I learned anything?
I sure as hell hope so.  Here's the thing, though.  I'd love to complete the double some day...but...if I don't, it doesn't mean I'm a failure.  I don't want to be out wandering dangerous mountainsides in darkness.  I don't want to attempt difficult routes when I'm not on my "A" game.  I'd never just "wing" an important race.  I'd get good sleep beforehand, eat properly, and make sure I was ready.  My mountain trips - at least the ones that are meant to challenge me - need to be approached the same way.  Pulling a Cave Dog?  I think that is out of the question now.  I owe that much to Cale.

Looks like I'll be able to handle a short run within the next day or two.  Hoping to be 100% before mid-week.  To even have the luxury of worrying about a small detail like my training shows just how fortunate I am.

I realize this is an extremely long post about something that is nearly a bunch of nothing.  If you've found yourself following this, I apologize.  Too wordy.  But thanks for bearing with me as I shake off the sound of Marley's chains.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elk Park

Finally got around to padding my Pikes summit count with a run from Elk Park this AM.  Just looking for some time up high, and while there's really no such thing as an "easy" run up the face of a 14,000' peak, I wasn't looking to trash myself.  Top three miles in 15:00, 15:30, 17:30.  I originally planned on dropping down and doing another mile up, but decided against it.

Good conversation here on the merits of HA training.  Kinda like the debate over belief in a god, what I believe doesn't really change the reality of it all.  BUT FWIW I don't really buy the 'need to get up high a ton' theory.  I'm sure it helps...but the benefit I get from runs like today's are psychological.

My twin passions of mountain running and mountain climbing frequently come into conflict.  This summer has been no exception; however, unlike past years, the mountain running has prevailed.  I've been on far fewer climbs for fear of toasting myself for the next day's workout.  Call it a function of success...or maybe it's the other way around.  Regardless, I am planning on a little adventure Saturday that may not be in Sean the mountain runner's best interest.  It should make for some good times, though.  Hopefully, I can turn it into an interesting write-up as well.

I feel kind of invincible when this song gets stuck in my head.  It's definitely not for everyone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Barr Trail Mountain Race

Near the finish.
Photo courtesy of

I fell in love with the Barr Trail Mountain Race the instant I finished it the first time in 2009.  There's a beauty to its simplicity - go up, tag Barr Camp, come down.  Furthermore, my familiarity with both the course and many of its participants and spectators make it fun - there are always plenty of folks to catch up with after the race.   The timing of the event, only five weeks out from Pike's weekend, seems to add to the draw.  By mid-July, the top guys are beginning to fire on all cylinders, so the competition can be quite stout.  This year's field was missing the likes of Matt Carpenter, Ryan Hafer, Ricky Gates, Peter Maksimow, and Alex Nichols.  All five of these guys put up blazing sub-1:36's in last years edition.  However, rumor had it there would still be some strong guys in attendance - supermaster Bernie Boettcher, Pike's usuals John Tribbia and Daryn Parker, long-time sandbagger Doug Ryden, Olympic Trials marathoner Trent Briney, to name a few.  In addition, there seemed to be more second-tier guys than usual.  This just meant I wasn't going to find myself in no-man's-land for long.  I was as excited as ever to have a good day!

After the Summerfest half, I took one full week to do nothing but easy runs in hopes of getting some life back in my legs.  Scarily enough, I was still feeling the effects of the race (no spring, quick to fatigue) as I began to warm up.  While in actuality the temperature was already quite high, I honestly didn't notice it as being out of the ordinary.  In fact, the similarities between conditions 09 to 10 to 11 seemed quite eerie to me at the time.  As the countdown to the gun drew near, I placed myself somewhere in the second row and put myself in a calm place.

Knowing I lacked a spring in my step, I decided to settle into a pace even more conservative than usual.  Within a few hundred yards, I counted a good thirty runners in front of me.  Not much changed as we hit the W's as I found a sustainable gear and locked into it.  GZ and I exchanged a few words as I caught up to him - he was out conservatively as well.

I got to the top of the W's in the mid-21 minute range.  This was nearly a full minute slower than 2010, but I felt no panic as my plan was to have a strong uppper climb.  By now, I had slipped into the top 20, and over the next mile I moved past the top four ladies.  It was a real bummer catching up to Brandy Erholtz.  She is perhaps one of the nicest people I have ever met, and it was evident she was laboring as the top two girls slipped away from her.  I wish ill will on no one, but it's even harder to see such a good person struggle. 

I approached No Name Creek just in time to grab on to a train of three guys, and the four of us worked together for the next few minutes.  I later came to find out that the group included Falcon High School's Bryce Gregorie, who is one of the top three cross-country returnees in Colorado.  I could now taunt my Cheyenne Mountain boys: "Heck, even I beat Gregorie, you better do it now too!"  While my legs were still leaden, my breathing was much more relaxed than that of anyone around me.  It was around here where I conciously turned the real race button on and started to push things a bit.  I went off the front of the train and began hunting. 

Approaching Bob's Road, I was unsure of my place, but figured it must be somewhere around ten to twelve.  I caught a couple more guys before the turnaround, and then began to wait for the top guys to start passing me on my way down.  To my surprise, I made it much further up than in years past before Scott Gall, Daryn Parker, and John Tribbia came zooming by.  A large gap followed them, and shortly before the turnaround, I caught a glimpse of Bernie Boettcher, Doug Ryden, and two other guys I didn't know.  Wow - these guys were all so close!  I knew both Bernie and Doug were downhill monsters, but I wasn't so sure about the other guys, so I went on the offensive. 

I caught Trent Briney within a few minutes.  He didn't seem to be enjoying the downhill.  I knew the chances of catching Bernie or Doug were slim, but anything can happen, so I continued throwing myself down as fast as I could go.  Another runner - Tate Benning, I believe - eventually came back to me, and I found myself in 6th place with just under two miles to go.  It didn't last long, I hit the W's, Bryan Rawlings caught me as if I were standing still.  There was nothing I could do but watch him ride off into the sunset.  I finished up as dignified as possible, taking the final uphill turn and kicking it in in 1:46 and change - good for 7th place.

This was the first race in 2011 I could use as comparison to past years, and I'm actually quite pleased with the results.  I shaved about a minute off of last year's time.  That in itself is OK.  However, it seemed that almost all of the front of pack runners were a good two to four minutes off of last year - Bernie, Tate, Brandy, Amanda, GZ to name a few.  I know comparing my 2010 vs 2011 placing - 18th vs. 7th - is a comparison of apples and oranges - but it does help suggest that I'm in a good place this summer.  Five weeks until Pikes weekend, and I seem to be on the right trajectory. 

Many thanks to all the people who put the BTMR together - John O'Neill, the Colorado Running Company, Neal and Teresa, the high school volunteers at the aid stations...the list goes on and on.  I had the opportunity to catch up with tons of runners, including a rare Krupicka sighting.  BTMR is a great race, and one I will likely return to do no matter what the upcoming years bring!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summerfest Half-Marathon

One of the peculiarities of mountain running results is that they are hard to compare.  More often, you will hear statements like, "That guy is fast - he's a 2:29 marathoner" or "his 5k PR is in the 15's, so you know he has some speed."  I feel my fitness has improved quite a bit this season, but I have scant data to prove it.  With this in mind, I signed up for the Milwaukee Summerfest Half-Marathon so I could see where my fitness is at a "standard" distance.  A flat course at sea level in a city where I have many friends - what's not to like?

Let's just say I'll have to wait in order to post a meaningful time.

Heading up over the Hoan Bridge.  picture from
High temps and humidity did its share to decimate the field.  Of the people I talked to, most were between 4 and 8 minutes off of their PR's.  My 1:21 was nothing to write home about, and it sure wasn't a pleasant way to run such a pedestrian time.  Within the first half mile, it was evident that only suck would come out of the day's effort.  My legs still carried the weight of this week's two big runs, and I, like many others, could not regulate my temperature at all in the heat.  While I severely positive splitted, I still found myself moving up the field in the latter stages of the race.  I ended up 31st...nothing like what I was hoping for and a good two minutes out of the top 20.

I've recovered well from it and am now focusing on Sunday's race up to Barr Trail.  There has been talk of a thin men's field, but I think there will still be some solid performances.  A few of the bigger names:

Bernie Boettcher
Trent Briney
William Dillon
Matt Hill
David Roche
Gerald Romero
Doug Ryden
John Tribbia

BTMR is one of my absolute favorite races.  Barr Trail, Manitou Springs in the summer, BBQ at my place afterward...what's not to like?


Friday, July 8, 2011


Ran Mt. Princeton on Wednesday with JV and Brandon.  12 miles, 4,900'.

The last time I was on Princeton was a somewhat unique experience.  In May 2009, Mikey, Hixon and I pulled off our first night hike...which was how I wanted to first do Princeton.  While it's a breathtaking sight as one enters the Arkansas River valley from the east, the standard route is aesthetically quite unappealing.  It's this unappealing-ness that makes Princeton a prime candidate for "gimmick climbs."  When JV emailed me about running it earlier this week, I found it hard to say no.  I had planned an "easier" run up Pikes from Elk Park for later in the week, but this seemed to be a comparable climb.

With a 7:00 meeting time, I found it preferable to drive out the night before rather than respond to a 4:00 wake-up call.  I drove up to the radio towers at 11,000' and bivy'd for what seems like the hundredth time this summer.  Parking the jeep at this point offered for a good stash point so we could go light.  My plan was simple; run down the road and hope to hit the lower trailhead (8,900') right at 7:00.  I left a couple of minutes late and caught JV on the intial uphill.  Within seconds, I realized what was happening here - he was AFTER it!  I quickly peeled off of the hot pace and checked in with Brandon, who was a couple hundred meters behind him.  After exchanging a few words, we both just settled into a gear and climbed.

For all of its non-redeeming qualities, Princeton does offer a long stretch of perfectly run-able trail.  I soon found myself in an almost-comfortable zone, and the valleys began to rise around me.  I got back up to my jeep an hour after I had left it.  Ahead was the real work, though:  3,100' more climbing, with much of it above treeline on rough terrain.  I could see neither Jeff ahead of me nor Brandon behind me.

An added bonus when one runs a fourteener is the amount of strange looks you get.  Wednesday was no exception.  Making it even more worthwhile was that Jeff had already run by everyone, so encountering TWO crazy guys (and soon to be three) was truly mind-blowing for them.  Priceless.

I was able to keep a good running cadence until about 12,400'.  After that, the trail had deteriorated to a bunch of large talus blocks.  Not needing to take any chances, I simply elected to hike this part...not that I had much choice - the last 1.0 had a solid 1,500' of gain!  Jeff passed me at 13,600' on his way down.  That kid was making some serious time, but of course he threw in a "Oh, I'm sure you'll catch me on your way down."  About ten minutes later, I tagged the top, said hi to a few others up top, and started the journey home.

The descent was uneventful.  Brandon and I crossed paths about where I had run into Jeff.  "THIS IS HARD," was all he had to offer.  I reached 12,400' with relief - slogging was even less enjoyable today than most days.  Monday's run was definitely still affecting me, and I just wanted to be done.  Luckily, parking at 11,000' meant I didn't have far to go in order to finish.

JV, Brandon and I grabbed lunch at Eddyline post-run.  I'll tell ya what - runners are runners no matter where you go.  I can go anywhere and pick another runner out in a crowd simply based on how he acts, how he talks, what he says.  Getting to know these two guys was a case in point.

I'm in the middle of a three-day stretch of recovery.  Sunday, I'll be crossing over to the roads to run the inaugural Summerfest Rock n Sole half-marathon.  Conditions seem to be conducive for me to take a shot at my 1:18 from earlier this year.  I have barely done any work sub-6:00 over the past few months, but I'm stronger than I've maybe ever been.  We'll see how it turns out...

Monday, July 4, 2011


Drove out to Winfield on Sunday night when I caught word of some mountaineering buddies hosting a "party" atop Huron on the 4th.  I needed to get some climbing in, and what I remembered of Huron was that it is quite run-able.  Runnable?  Runable.  Whatever.

Winfield 4WD trailhead(10,500') to Huron Peak(14,003')
1:25 to the top.  Spent maybe 40% of the time running.  Not sure what it would be if I would've tried redlining it, but I was still a little spent from a good workout on Sunday.  There was plenty of celebration up top - three hours later, our group of twelve or so staggered foolishly back down the mountain.

If I could repeat weeks like this last one - 72 miles, 14k of climbing - I'd be strong.  Hoping this is a sign of good things ahead.  Time to get on the Peak.  Possible 3/2/1 this week!  Headed to Milwaukee for a a PR bid in the 13.1 on Sunday.

I kinda miss these guys.  A forgotten band.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Six months

1,307 miles.  152,000' of gain.
7.2 miles and 835' per day.

I'd guess I'm on the low end mileage-wise.  Maybe not so much with the climbing.  Where are you?