Monday, May 21, 2018

Quad Rock 50

I haven’t had a good Quad Rock experience since 2014. In 2015 I couldn’t run the race because of the reschedule - but judging from my other performances that year, it wouldn’t have been so great. In 2016 I dropped down to the 25 because I had major issues with an Achilles tendon. In 2017 I cratered the last three hours and wilted in the heat.

Yesterday was different. Despite the conditions and some user-error in electrolyte management, I ran my second fastest time and fastest time on the modern course. I get points for that, yeah?

 Erin Bibeau braved the wet to take this photo of me squinting in the rain, feeling a bit peeved by the weather.

While my Achilles is not 100% better - the stiffness may never really go away completely - it’s well enough that it doesn’t hold me back during races anymore. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done eccentric heel drops, applied a heat pad, and done self-massage with a scraper over the past three years. So many mornings I would wake up with a sore heel that made it hard to walk out of the bedroom. So many days I would sit with a throbbing heel, trying to focus on work, finding myself distracted by the despair of it all. Sometimes it felt like nothing was working, or that things would never change. I've tanked half of my races because of this injury.

It’s so easy to let your dreams and passions wither and die when it feels like your own body is conspiring to prevent you from running at your full potential. But we all have unique burdens our bodies and our lives bestow upon us. The kind of difficulties I face can be overcome with focus and dedication, and there are people for whom the same cannot be said.

The injustice of life is that you can’t choose your burdens. You can wallow in them and succumb to bitterness, or you can choose to lift them upon your shoulders and struggle with them to the top of the mountain. It will hurt, and it will lay bare your weaknesses, but it will make you stronger and will temper the sorrow of your life with meaning. People don’t run these races to show off, to fill a void in their lives, or because they’re crazy. Every day, the world tells you all of the reasons you are disadvantaged and should demand better. But if you can be courageous and accept your vulnerabilities, you can move mountains. These races aren’t some saccharine byline, they’re an embodiment of this virtue and its power to make the world a better place.

So anyway. It was cold, breezy, and misty, and on occasion the atmosphere gave us a college try at some rain. The valley trails were pure slop when we started. By the afternoon they were slip-n-slides with giant chunks of churned mud. Some of the rocky bits were a little sketchy in the dampness, but the soft trails took the edge off the distance.

I think I played the first half of the race well. I know I did because I was able to attack the climb back up Timber. As it was cold, I wasn’t drinking much up until the turn-around, and when my fluid intake is low I don’t find the need for electrolytes. But as the day wore on, I inevitably got thirstier. Rather than reassess my strategy, I continued to plug along without much in the way of salt. By the top of Mill Creek I was nauseated, but it took me until Horsetooth to piece together my blunders. Cue vomiting up the final climb. Puking really takes the wind out of your sails. Yeah, you keep moving and suck it up, but you’re going to run slower because you haven’t been absorbing anything for over an hour. I let my stomach settle on the way down Towers and resumed hydrating near the bottom. Not enough to truly turn things around, but enough to give me some pep in the final few miles.

I’m proud of my time, but I also see the vast potential for improvement. I didn’t have any gear issues, my body held up fine, my feet are undamaged despite being soggy all day, and my fitness is finally back to where it used to be. I think with some tweaks to my salt game I can set myself up for a solid run at Bighorn. The eat-food-and-sip-pure-water strategy works for a 200, but it doesn’t really work for a shorter race. My knowledge of physiology is limited, but I imagine that the body does need more help absorbing fluids when the intensity is higher. Here I am, reinventing the wheels I used to ride on years ago. I swore off salt pills, but I think I’ve just got to bite the bullet and accept them back into my life.

Terry Grenwelge took this photo. Here, I'm showcasing my multi-tasking and my ability to ignore sodium cues.

Looking ahead, Dry Fork is drying off and Jaws is looking as wet as normal. I'm ready to work hard for that rusty spur.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Weeks ending October 15th, 22nd, 29th

Backlog of entries here.

Oct 9th: 6 miles, 1500 feet of gain, Mesa out to Table Mesa and back.

Oct 10th: 6 miles, 1500 feet of gain, same thang.

Oct 11th: 7 miles, 1500 feet of gain, Mesa out to Table Mesa and back, plus some Shanahan trails.

Oct 12th: Off.

Oct 13th: 7 miles, 1500 feet of gain, same thang.

Oct 14th: 8 miles, 1500 feet of gain, South Shanahan loop out to Shadow Canyon.

Oct 15th: Off.

Totals: 34 miles, 7500 feet of gain. Felt tired this week, but I think that's the previous weeks' training catching up. Next week I'll taper hard into the race and see how things go.

Oct 16th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop. Felt more pep in the legs today.

Oct 17th: Off.

Oct 18th: 4 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop.

Oct 19th: Off.

Oct 20th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop, before heading up to the Fort to stay with a friend.

Oct 21st: 27 miles, 3000 feet of gain, 3:43, Blue Sky Marathon. It felt good to be racing again, even though I was a about 10 minutes slower than normal. Taking the past two years into perspective, I am happy with what I was able to run. I think I've lost quite a bit of sustained speed on the runnable sections, but I think my recent training averted any embarrassment.

The pace out the gate was insane, by any standards. I hung back in about 15th or 16th, giving my legs time to wake up and my mind the energy to weather the battering, cold winds on Towers. I started feeling queasy early on and had to step to the side to dry heave on the descent down Stout. Maybe the wind hitting my face, coupled with the first seriously fast run I've done in...two years...was racking my brain.

I passed a couple of folks on the Towers descent and caught up to a few more around the 9 mile aid start/finish aid station. After a quick shedding of my arm sleeves and gloves, I tore off under the bridge and hit the Blue Sky trail. Blue Sky is therapeutic. I've come to embrace it. I used to finish this race and cuss it out, vowing to never return. On paper it sounds easy once you get past the climb up and down Horsetooth. In reality, the trail is a snaking, technical grind interspersed with heavenly stretches of cruisy terrain. The biggest challenge is getting to those with enough fuel in the tank to take advantage of them.

When I got to the start/finish aid station, I saw no one around the curve in the trees. I figured that meant I was at least 3 minutes back from the next runner. By the time I reached the Indian Summer aid station, I saw at least four people within a minute of me. I passed two on the climb up Indian Summer; one guy at the top was slogging it pretty hard. On the descent I started to close in on the next runner, who was starting to surge a bit to hold me off. I lost sight of him after the aid station, but shortly after cresting the slickrock I could see him and another guy in the distance. In a few minutes I passed one on the way up a steep slickrock roller and slid by the other through a tricky section on the proceeding downhill. This was probably the first time in any of my races here that I felt in command of my body through the Devil's Backbone playground. The angled rocks, quick ups-and-downs, and endlessly snaking trails can really rack your body and turn you into a zombie.

I slammed it pretty hard up and over the ridge and back down to the aid station. At this point the queasiness was rushing back, which really limited what I was able to pull off up and over the final Indian Summer climb. I didn't really lose ground so much as I didn't gain it. At the final aid station I was a babbling but relaxed mess. Zen and panic. That last little booter of a climb back up to the Blue Sky trail did me in, and for the next mile I was almost shuffling. My mind was cloudy and I felt sick.

I pulled off to the side of the trail and barfed. A whole lot. A groaning, aching barf. Somewhere in the mix I was passed, but after that the weight was lifted. For a mile or so I was able to run unbridled, but then the queasiness set in right before the finish line. So it goes.

Well, I'll take it: 10th, 3:43. So yeah, slightly slower than normal but my pacing was spot on. Pacing has always been my weakness. Maybe if I focus I can wrestle that demon.

Oct 22nd: Off. Eating. Etc.

Totals: 37 miles, 5000 feet of vertical gain. Blue Sky was a good race for priming a winter of running. Bit of a confidence booster, but also motivation for working hard to get faster next year.

Oct 23rd: Off. Still need to give the legs a break.

Oct 24th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop.

Oct 25th: Lifting. 5 sets of bench, squats, and weighted pull-ups.

Oct 26th: 4.5 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop. Very sore after lifting for the first time in a long time.

Oct 27th: Lifting. 5 sets of incline bench, deadlift, barbell curls, and dumbell rows.

Oct 28th: 4.5 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop. Not so sore today, but still somewhat stiff. In spite of that, I can feel the pep back in my stride.

Oct 29th: Lifting. 5 sets of dumbell press, sumo deadlift, and overhead press. I decided to try out chalk during my deadlift routine to help my grip. My gym has older bars with well-worn grips and a patina of sweat and oil. It also has rules against chalk use. The spirit of the rule is to prevent the chalk dust from coating everything in a mile radius. No one wants to clean that. So, I decided to make some homemade liquid chalk. I mixed some climbing chalk with 2 parts rubbing alcohol and 1 part water - a couple of dabs worth, just enough to coat my hands. Whoah. What a difference. And easy to clean up. There's no cloud of chalk that rains out and coats everything and it comes right off the bar with a damp towel. It's allowing me to focus on form, rather than finding creative ways to prevent 250 pounds from slipping through my fingers.

Totals: 12 miles, 2500 feet of gain. Lots of lifting and eating this week to rebuild and stoke the fire. I'd like to gain back the few pounds I lost in September and October.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Week ending October 8th

Oct 2nd: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Skunk Canyon. I suppose technically I'm running Skunk Canyon and Kohler Mesa. I don't know. All of these terrain features are so small, it's hard to keep track of the names. Rainy, boggy, barely above freezing. It was honestly energizing to get out in the elements and feel my body fight a little to stay warm. It reminds me of running in Seattle over winter.

Oct 3rd: 6 miles, 3000 vert, Bear Peak via Fern Canyon. Saw the mountaintops dusted with snow, decided I needed to get on that. Snow line was at 7000 feet, although the coverage was patchy until just over 8000. The top was somewhat of a mess - rocks in the shadow of trees were iced over by refrozen meltwater, but the snow in the trail was crunchy and grippy. Definitely a hands-and-knees affair coming down the first quarter mile, though. I should have brought spikes.

 Green Mountain from the Bear Mountain summit.

Oct 5th: Off. Somewhat busy work day.

Oct 4th: 12 miles, 3000, Royal(e) Arch. With cheese. This is becoming my favorite mid-week mileage booster. Rolling terrain at the start/end with a steep, angry climb smack in the middle. My focus right now is on technical, steep trails followed by runnable terrain. It's race-specific training for the Blue Sky Marathon, but it's also perfect training for longer races where I need to transition between runnable terrain and steeper ascents/descents.

Oct 6th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Skunk Canyon.

Oct 7th: 18 miles, 4500 vert, Green Mountain loop. Up via Shanahan/Mesa/Bear Canyon, down via Ranger/Gregory Canyon, quick jog over to Chautauqua for water, and then up Chautauqua and south on Mesa back home. Looks vaguely like the Blue Sky course with a climb at the start and rolling hills in the second half. In reality, this is more vert than Blue Sky in substantially less mileage. Still, I felt great the entire run. I started a little sleepy and out of it, but by the start of the big climb up Bear Canyon my legs were pretty warmed up. The up-and-over on Green was speedy, and my descent off the backside was definitely my fastest. The Chautauqua, Enchanted Mesa, and Mesa trail climbs were cruisey - I was tired, but I was able to extract a lot of speed out of my legs without feeling "tired". I feel like I'm slowly getting my body back in shape after years of mediocrity. It just needed some hard work.

Oct 8th: Off.

Totals: 54 miles, 14,500 feet of gain.

I signed up for the Blue Sky Marathon, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. Is this a way to kick my training in gear? To give me a benchmark? To get my fifth finish? A resounding yes on all accounts. I remember always falling flat at Blue Sky around the second Indian Summer climb. I guess the question is "who doesn't?", but I'd like to see if I can slam it home this time. Taper time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Week ending October 1st

Sept 25th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back in the mist.

Sept 26th: 7 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back, easy pace.

Sept 27th: 12 miles, 2750 vert, Royal Arch via Shanahan/Table Mesa/Enchanted Mesa/Flatirons Loop. I have to cross north quite a ways along the Mesas to get to the first Flatiron (I start in Shanahan), so this is actually quite a solid run. Didn't realize the trail up was closed, so I climbed the Flatiron Loop and then threw in Royal Arch as a consolation. Rock steps in the rain are a bit terrifying.

Sept 28th: Off.

Sept 29th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back in the mist.

Sept 30th: 17 miles, 5800 vert, South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain loop. 3:22. This route left me spent. I went sans food and definitely bonked on the final few grunts at the end.

I set out up the Shanahan South Fork trail, climbing up through the damp and the dark of the old ponderosa stands. It was going to be a blue bird day, but the rains over the past week soaked everything and made for a humid warmup.

After topping out on the ridge, I cruised the Mesa trail over to the Shadow Canyon north spur. The  steep, rocky rollers along the base of Bear foreshadow what lays around the corner in Shadow Canyon. I've never gone up Shadow Canyon - only down. And for good reason. The "trail" is a debris pile in the steep canyon that ascends 1700 feet in one mile. Ouch. Lots of large boulders and rock steps necessitate some seriously high knees, and it quickly takes a toll on your muscles. I probably pushed too hard, but I was trying to top out on the saddle before it got too hot.

Just before the saddle the trail mellows out into a series of sandy switchbacks that were a pleasure to run, if only to cool my hiking muscles. The final jaunt up to South Boulder is a steep, narrow trail, and I transitioned into a hands-on-knees power hike, blasting by a few other folks on the way up. After scrambling up the pile of boulders at the top, I turned around to retrace my steps back to the saddle and cross over to Bear. After tagging Bear, which was a detour of at most a few minutes, I started the slick descent down the backside of Bear. The trail cuts its way through a talus slope, and at the pace I was dropping I was sending piles of stones skittering off the trail. Sometimes I wonder how much humans are accelerating the erosion at the tops of mountains. Makes me feel a bit guilty. I'm of the belief that there is almost no "sustainable" human activity.

Anyway, back to more lighthearted things. The west ridge of Bear is one of the most cruisey trails in the Boulder system - it's the perfect grade, and the curves are the perfect radius, for getting up some solid speed. Crossing Bear Creek, one begins the climb up to Green rather abruptly for a few minutes until the trail chills out a bit. I like running up Green-Bear and the west ridge of Green. It's a minimally technical, steady climb that's runnable with a bit of effort. The last mile up to the top isn't so bad - by that point, it's only another 500 feet of vert. I felt some fatigue up the final quarter of a mile to the summit; the rock and log steps burned my quads and knees, the ghosts of Shadow Canyon lingering on.

I decided to descend the front-side of Green via Greenman and Ampitheater. It was packed to the gills with groups of students and older folks getting out the enjoy the weekend weather before the storms hit again. It's an extra challenge to manage while ping-ponging boulders, hairpin curves, and slick rock.

After hitting the bottom at the Gregory Canyon trailhead, I did my usual punishment slog up Bluebell-Baird and Ski Jump and dropped down to the Chautauqua station for water. It was heating up so I chugged half a bottle, refilled, and then got to it back up the Chautauqua trail. It's a steep, punishing 600-700 foot ascent through the crowds back up to Bluebell-Baird. But I knocked it out pretty fast this time and dashed over to the Mesa trail without much effort. The climb up and over Enchanted Mesa felt pretty rough, but once the trail leveled out above Skunk Canyon I was able to get my speed back up to snuff.

The final few miles are gravy - it's the middle of my daily run so it's a series of climbs, booters, and rocky stretches that I know well. That's useful to me, because I can compare how I feel on this section to what I feel like fresh. I was definitely bonking here, but I was able to muster enough gas to push it up and over Shanahan Ridge without too much embarassment. All around a good push. Maybe I'll throw in Flagstaff next week for extra mileage.

Oct 1st: Lifting, 5x5 overhead press, bench, squat.

Totals: 54 miles, 14,550 feet of gain. That's stout! If I can continue this kind of training into next year, I think I'll be doing well.

Given the numbers, and the effort per mile, I think this week is equivalent to a 65+ mile week back in Fort Collins. I know I can add more mileage by running 6 days per week, but for me that treads into injury territory. For now, focusing on five solid days of quality running seems to be paying off.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Week ending September 24th

Sep 18th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, super easy Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 19th: 7  miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. Took this a bit harder - call it a psuedo-tempo run in the middle 3 miles.

Sep 20th: Off.

Sep 21st: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back with Kohler Canyon loop thrown in.

Sep 22nd: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 23rd: 4 miles, 750 vert, mini Shanahan loop.

Sep 24th: Off.

Total: 34 miles, 7250 feet of gain. A drop week to punctuate the buildup. I think adding these is important to give the body some training integration time. Next week will be a push.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Week ending September 17th

Sep 11th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. I really enjoy this route because it's got a lot of solidly runnable miles on the Shanahan/Mesa fire roads interspersed with technical stretches here and there.

Sep 12th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. Creature of habit.

Sep 13th: Off.

Sep 14th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. No, not boring yet.

Sep 15th: 9 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back. Felt really peppy and on top form the entire way, so I pushed it a little harder. Tired by the end, but never drained.

Sep 16th: 17 miles, 4500 vert, Shanahan/Bear Banyon/Green summit/Gregory Canyon/Chautauqua/Mesa/Shanahan loop. Churned it out in under 3 hours. This was an epiphany of a run, let me tell you.

I started from home and felt the previous day's effort, so I hung back on the first climb up and over Shanahan Ridge. When I hit Bear Canyon I started to feel the life in my legs come back. In the few times I've done this route, I've become pretty quick on the gentle but relentless climb on the backside of Green.

When I hit the west ridge trail I pulled back a bit and coasted up over the top of Green, taking no time to savor the view. For one, Green was enveloped in a cloud, and for two, I've found that it's good mental training to immediately start a descent. Greenman really beats you up if you're tired, but I was comfortably fatigued today and kept up the pace down to the Ranger trail. The reward of the quad blast on the upper half of Greenman is the cruisey, pine needly lower half of Greenman and the Ranger trail. It wouldn't be unfair to say I smoked this downhill and ended up in sun drenched Gregory Canyon before I even knew it.

Gregory gave me a bit of a run for my money after the aggressive descent of Green, with its myriad rocky outcroppings and steep little booters. With the Chautauqua ranger station as my target, I decided to run up and over Bluebell and down Ski Jump for an extra two-hundred-some vert, rather than cruise down Baseline. Learn to suffer.

The crowds on a cool Saturday morning on the Chautauqua trail. Whoah. It's like a sporting event. I refilled my bottle at the ranger station and immediately started re-ascending Chautauqua. It sounds stupid, but I'm proud I was able to run all the way up to the Flatiron trail without slowing down. It's a solidly steep 1,000 foot climb on fire road. It's nothing. But it felt like I finally got my ultra legs back. That ability to just start pulling energy out of nowhere.

Anyway, I cruised the mesas back to the house. The final climb up the Mesa fire road feels effortless at this point, even at the end of a hard effort long run. Amazing what some actual, solid training, sleep, and eating can do for a body.

Sep 17th: Off. Some biking around town, nothing strenuous. Taking this week off from lifting for R&R.

Totals: 46 miles, 10,500 feet of gain. About the same as last week, but with a way better long run. Achilles bursitis is nearly gone after I cut a massive V in the back of my shoes. Incoming post on heel counters, injuries, and how to fix overbuilt trail shoes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week ending September 10

Sep 4th: 7 miles, 1000 vert, two loops around Shanahan. Just a quick shake-out after Sunday.

Sep 5th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 6th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler lollipop. Barely a hint of heel issues.

Sep 7th: Off. Just takin' it easy.

Sep 8th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, extended Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler lollipop redux.

Sep 9th: 13 miles, 3500 vert, Green Mountain lollipop loop via Bear Canyon, Greenman, and Mesa. Around 2500 feet of sustained climbing with another knock-on 1000 feet from the mesa trails. It was pretty hot but I managed to scrape this out without water.

Sep 10th: 5x5 weights again.

Totals: 45 miles, 10000 vert. Feeling in the zone, but tired. I may hold this mileage constant into next week before adding anything.