Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week ending June 24

Monday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. The Foothills trail is closed so I'm relegated to Pineridge, which is a nice area but, well, no hills. It was searing when I went out at noon for the first run (smoke was all over the place in the morning). I've got a nice out-and-back thing where I take the access trail up to the Maxwell Open Space trailhead and hit the singletrack west of The Ponds. When life gives you lemons...

Tuesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I can't take much more of this. Part of my hate for the first route is that I have to run almost 2 miles on the side of the road. The Ponds loop is a little more bearable, if only because the singletrack trail is less than a mile from home.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I want to stab something.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills and Reservoir Ridge trails, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge are open again, so I took advantage of that and the lack of smoke in town to squeeze a 12-miler in this morning. It feels good to be doing some climbing - I've missed that rough trail by the Laporte dam.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Out-and-back to the Laporte dam with a big A tag on the way back. I'm dropping my mileage a bit today to get ready for tomorrow - mostly to catch up on eating. I hit a calorie deficit when running two-a-days and need a low-volume day to recover. Tomorrow is going to epic.

Saturday: 37 miles, 9500ft of gain, Tonahutu/North Inlet loop in Rocky Mountain National Park. Got up super early to escape the smoke from the High Park fire and the 100-degree heat in Fort Collins. The high country beckoned me, and I obliged.

 Heading north along the divide.

Takin' a ride on Tonahutu down into the valley below.

I've put the loop and elevation chart below. I started at Bear Lake at 5:30 in twilight and was greeted with fierce, freezing winds at the summit of Flattop Mountain along the Continental Divide. I turned north onto Tonahutu Creek Trail, running across Bighorn Flats above 12,000 feet before beginning a long, 10-mile descent to 8,500ft in Grand Lake. There were two moose bulls grazing just off the trail in Big Meadows - it's humbling to stumble across something that large. They gave me the once-over before chowing down again, instantly quelling my apprehension.

One of the bulls having breakfast.

About a mile later I rounded the base of a hill and saw, to my right, a moose cow standing 5 feet away. A large, downed tree separated us, and for a few seconds neither of us knew what to do. When I tried to slink away she galloped down the trail and turned to face me, no doubt getting ready to protect her calf. That was enough for me - I bushwhacked it around them and kept on my merry way to the Kanuweeche visitor center, where I refilled on water. By the time I hooked back up with the trail it was pushing 80 degrees. All I wanted to do was get back up to the tundra and out of the heat, mainly because I didn't want to get dehydrated before hitting the climb.

At the Tonahutu trailhead I turned onto the North Inlet trail, cruising through a relatively flat 4-mile stretch in just over half an hour. I finally hit thick forest as the trail linked up with the river, precariously snaking under rock ledges and scrambling over boulders. Every once in a while a breeze would pick up and push cool air off the river and onto the trail - such simple things feel so much better after five hours of running. The vegetation thickened and the humidity rose, my views of the river now blocked by hanging moss and underbrush. It was almost eerie running in complete shade so close to noon.

 If you can't tell, the trail was absolutely baking in the sun.

I hit the first set of switchbacks up to Flattop still feeling the heat, although as the trees thinned the gusts of cool wind grew stronger. Within an hour I was courting the treeline at about 10,500ft and was treated to expansive views of the river cascading over rock ledges, fed by the snowfields far above. The trail turned south toward the other side of the valley that the river - and no doubt a glacier in many years past - had carved. I took a minute at the river crossing to soak my feet and dip my hair.

The climb up from the river crossing to the Divide was one of the most brutal and awesome trails I've run. The grade rapidly increased, the trail narrowed, and the slope down into the valley sharpened. This latter fact made traversing the occasional snowfield that much more treacherous. Streams of melt water washed over the trail every few feet, the gusts of wind occasionally kicking up a spray.

Looking back at the climb up from Grand Lake (far in the distance) and the glacial runoff that forms the headwater of Hallet Creek.

The slope finally leveled out, with only 500 feet to gain in just under 2 miles to Flattop's summit. Every so often I'd lose the trail in the grey, washed-out tundra landscape, but with Hallet Peak as my guide I was never lost. I finally hit Flattop to find a group of hikers surveying a column of smoke near Estes Park. It turns out it was a cabin fire that eventually scorched around 20 homes.

 Columns of smoke - no longer an oddity.

Despite having put 34 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of vertical on my legs, I really enjoyed the steep descent into Bear Lake. The temperature soared once I dropped below treeline, and by the time I made it to the parking lot, it felt like I was running in a furnace. A cold beer has never tasted so good.

 Bear Lake (start/finish) on the right, Kawuneeche (water) on the left.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 96 miles
Elevation gain: 13,500ft

Weeks ending June 10 and June 17

Two week backlog, this time. I'm slowly getting back to once-a-week, but I've been busy with side projects, a new intern, and my department's upcoming 50th anniversary.

Monday: Off.

Tuesday: 12 miles, Foothills trail 2500ft of gain. The Foothills and Reservoir Ridge lollipop loop. I've got a little tweak behind my left knee that disappears after warming up a bit. I've had this before and have no idea what it is - some sort of nerve entrapment - but it usually goes away after a few weeks.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. My usual out-and-back to the Laporte dam, plus a tagging of the big A. Pretty nice morning, cool with a bit of a breeze. Summer running is upon us!

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Headed out before sunrise so that I could get to work early, then squeezed in a run on the Foothills trail by the department (rather than hitting Reservoir Ridge). The climb south from the Laporte dam is really good training for the backside of Hope Pass - very rocky and steep.

Friday: 6 miles, Foothills trail 1000ft of gain. Tagged the big A and then tagged the shore of Horsetooth Reservoir before heading back. I need to start mixing my routes up a bit or else it gets boring.

Saturday: 6 miles, Foothills trail 1000ft of gain; 5K, Burning Can Beer Fest. I warmed up this morning with a repeat of yesterday. It was scorching on the way to Lyons for Burning Can, and by the time the race started just before noon, it was already over 90 degrees. The course was short at about 2.5-2.6 miles, which was pretty lame, but I finished a distant first place in 13:33. I figure that's worth a mid-16's 5K, which isn't bad for the insane heat. I tried to take water at mile 2 but my throat was so dry I couldn't get it down. Stuck around for the length of the festival and imbibed many cans of beer; I had no idea that Oskar Blues made such a kickass Scotch ale. We could see a pyrocumulus to the north during the festival, only realizing on the drive home that the foothills west of FoCo were on fire again.

Sunday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Somewhat smoky down in town but it was clear up on the ridge; this is "typical" when we have a fire, as the smoke settles in the low elevations. The fire exploded yesterday and today to something like 40,000 acres.

Mileage: 52 miles
Elevation gain: 8000ft

Monday: 6 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Smoky and nasty, what can I say? Today the smoke was in a thin layer between 5200-5400ft - rather odd.

Tuesday: Off.

Wednesday: 6 miles, Pineridge, 500ft of gain. Went to Dixon Reservoir and back as a tempo run to keep my leg speed up. Otherwise taking in easy!

Thursday: Off. Driving nine million miles through Wyoming to Sheridan.

Friday: Bighorn 100, DNF at Porcupine (mile 48). Talk about a blowup. I got sick to my stomach somewhere after Dry Fork and Cow Camp, and by Footbridge I had fluid coming out both ends. Every two miles or so I'd have to pull off to the side to puke, which was okay with me, or dig a cathole behind a tree, which got old fast. I pushed it on the climb up to the turn-around, hoping to use the well-staffed aid station to get revitalized. I was down 7 pounds when I arrived and spent the better part of four or five hours running to the outhouse and sipping on ginger ale. I stopped eating and drinking for an hour, which calmed things down, but by then I was completely trashed. I just called it. Apparently a lot of folks got sick over that same section - perhaps there was bad water or contaminated food somewhere along the route.

Saturday: Sitting at the finish, cheering everyone on and getting fluids and calories back in the system.

Sunday: 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Back home and feeling fine. My legs are surprisingly fresh.

Mileage: 64 miles
Elevation gain: 9000ft

Monday, June 4, 2012

Week ending June 3

Monday: Off. Quads are a still sore from the marathon, but otherwise everything else feels fine.

Tuesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. I would be lying if I said that it took me a long time to warm up this morning. My quads felt very weak on the downhills this morning - not stiff, but sore and overstretched. Oh well, caught the north end of the Foothills trail by the department this afternoon and worked out some more of the soreness. Tweaked something in my right glute, perhaps some piriformis syndrome? It appeared suddenly toward the end of the run; stretching seems to be working it out.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain. The double-down, two repeats of my routine out-and-back on the Foothills trail. Still felt a little stiff and sore this morning, with a few odd tweaks in my glute again, but I'm almost good as new. Second run was better after sitting and rolling around on a tennis ball.

Thursday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1500ft of gain; 7 miles, Towers time trial, 2000ft of gain. Piriformis issues are gone and I felt refreshed on this morning's run around the usual loop. Smelled a skunk near the Laporte dam and made acquaintances with a rattle snake on the trail just north of the big A. It's like National Geographic around here. I went to the time trial not knowing what to expect, still feeling some quad soreness, but I managed to shave 29 seconds off my PR and run 29:30.

Friday: 14 miles, Foothills trail and Reservoir Ridge, 2500ft of gain. Did the Foothills trail/Reservoir Ridge lollipop route, with an extra loop thrown in at Reservoir Ridge. I felt really energized and knocked out the whole run in under 2 hours. I'm surprised that after a marathon and a full week of training, I can run that fast over such nasty terrain and still feel good.

Saturday: 36 miles, Horsetooth Mountain and Lory State Park, 7000ft of gain. I knew it was going to get hot by midday so I woke up extra early and got an hour of night running in before the early morning twilight. I did a riff on the Quad Rock course, with two summits of both Horsetooth and Arthur's Rock, and ran through the valley toward the end to get some heat training. The contrast in climate between the valleys and the mountains is wild - there was no wind in the valleys so they were absolutely baking, while the shade afforded by the trees and the steady wind kept the ridgeline cool.

Sunday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Slave to the mileage? Naw, I thought it would be fun to break my pattern and not take the day off after a long run. It was surprisingly therapeutic, waking me up from that post-long-run zombie state the morning after and loosening up my quads.

Mileage: 100 miles
Elevation gain: 19,000ft of gain

Welp, a high mileage week after laying down a fast marathon in Wyoming, and I don't feel trashed. I'm getting pumped for Bighorn. The next two weeks will be a hard taper into the race, with the Burning Can 5K (and the associated post-race libations) this coming weekend. Time to dust off the old XC spikes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wyoming Marathon

Myself, Scott, Jenn, and Sam lined up at the front of the pack in the bone-chilling wind at the start of the Wyoming Marathon on Saturday. The skies were clearing, the winds were picking up, and Scott was in his kilt – today, the Fort Collins Trail Runners would dominate the race.

The race started and someone in a red singlet shot off like he had a rocket in his shorts. Sam and I figured he was either a fast half-marathoner or gunning for the course record. Either way, we kept a conservative pace down the first hill, holding down second and third place as we were inevitably passed by the faster half-marathoners in the first 30 minutes. The dirt road passed streams, campgrounds, and rock outcroppings as we wound our way through the thick pine forest. Despite the natural wind break, the occasional gust would rip down to the surface and blast us with cool air. 

Not so minor side note: quite a lot of trees in the Medicine Bow National Forest have been attacked by the mountain pine beetle. In some stands, as many as half of the trees are that eerie purple-brown shade - shame.

 It's almost all uphill on the way back!

When we hit the 4 mile mark I latched onto the heels of a passing half-marathoner and started to pull ahead of Sam and Bud. As we cleared the forest and hit the rolling hills, we were buffeted by a fierce headwind. The last climb before the aid station and half marathon turn-around afforded some protection, and I used the opportunity to charge past the half-marathoner and push it to mile 7.

I was surprised when I didn’t see Jeremy from Team Nebraska turn around. He was running the marathon? I crossed under the overpass to the road on the windward side of the highway to see him off in the distance, and clocked him just over two minutes ahead of me. Out here, we were completely exposed, and gusts would push me off toward the ditch and suck the air out of my lungs. Word is that the sustained wind was between 25-35 mph, with gusts upwards of 45 mph. Nevertheless, by mile 11 I had whittled Jeremy’s lead to 30 seconds, but he held me off for the next 2 miles.

The twisting labyrinth of dirt roads, campgrounds, and trails through the Vedauwoo rocks threw me off. Or maybe it was just low blood sugar. Either way, I slowed down and lost sight of Jeremy until the turn-around. At 13.1 miles I was about twenty seconds back, at 1:30, and he was looking tired. I quickly refilled my bottle and charged into the long uphill back out of the Vedauwoo rocks to see Sam, Bud, and a few others within a minute of us. It was still a close race.

 Beautiful rocks weathered by the relentless wind. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I passed Jeremy a couple of minutes past the turn-around and poured everything I had into the climb. I was greeted with a headwind when I crested the hill and had to fight that for another mile or so until turning toward the north. In spite of the strong gusts scraping over the plateau I pushed harder and widened the gap between first and second.

I took a quick moment at the ~20 mile mark to refill my water bottle from the jug left on the side of the dirt road. No frills means no frills. With just over six miles to go I was feeling great and I attacked the winding downhill back into Medicine Bow National Forest. When the road leveled out I was hit with a wave of fatigue and I could feel the burn starting in my quads. Mile 21 to 22 was the worst stretch, slightly uphill and endlessly winding through more campgrounds.

 Wide open skies and wide open lands. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I finally crested a small hill and abruptly stumbled into the last aid station. 

“Any salt caps?”


Man, this was bad. I started with one S-cap and had that at the halfway point. Would that be enough to get me to the finish? I crammed salty chips into my mouth and hoofed off, singularly focused on preparing myself for the final climb. The next mile was a shallow uphill, and I blew through the crowd of runners and volunteers at the 5K finish. I started using half-marathoners as targets, sighting them in the distance and then picking them off as fast as I could. After a long straight stretch of dirt I looked back – no one in the distance. 

I slammed a gel before the second-to-last climb, knowing that I would need it to power into the finish. I let the hammer fall on this section, refusing to slow down. My calves were burning as I launched off my toes over the dirt rollers and followed the shortest line around the curves, trying to eke out precious seconds.

We used to run intervals over the rolling hills of our home course in cross country back in high school, and we were always reminded to “turn ten at the top” – to increase our speed over the crest of the hill so that we we’d be at full speed before the downhill even started. I’m not sure where the “ten” came from – maybe ten steps? At any rate, it was hard at mile 2.5 in a 5K to pull that off, but this was something else. I pushed so hard over the crest that I wheezed a little – breathing at 8,500ft late in a marathon can be tough.

 The calf burner at mile 25. Photo by Rebecca Watson.

I let gravity do its work on the short downhill and hit that last climb at top speed. No matter how tired you are, there is always one last ounce of strength left to kick it in. I started sprinting as soon as I saw the finish line in the distance and crossed the line in 3:06:46.

Sam took a commanding second, 12 minutes ahead of third place, and Scott took sixth, both PR’ing, and Jenn won the women’s race. All around a fantastic showing for the Fort Collins Trail Runners. I see a Fort Collins domination at Bighorn in the near future.