Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Week Ending March 30

Monday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. I didn't have a chance to get out until late in the day, but wasn't much feeling like running after the big weekend anyway, so the extra rest was welcomed. Felt decent enough once on the hill, just a bit sluggish. Had a nice chat with Stephen Myers, editor of the Coloradoan's Xplore section, on the summit. On the way to the park, I was bitten on the (gloved) finger by a (leashed) neighborhood dog. Fortunately, there was no harm done (no blood drawn), but it certainly shocked me. On the way out of the park, it was all one owner could do to keep her massive hound from attacking me. Ah, yes, the joys of spring.

Coming off Towers on the Stout Trail last Sunday at March Mileage Madness.  Photo: Josh Arthur.
Tuesday - AM: 9.5 miles intervals. On the docket at the cemetery for the morning was: mile, 800, 800, mile, 800, 800, 1.5 mile lamppost fartlek (at ~5k, HM); all on 2-3 min rest. Had a good pack to work with this morning: McCullough, Garcia and Luke. Eased in over the first mile and a half, then Garcia started pushing the pace: 5:58, 2:45, 2:39, 5:16, 2:39, 2:39, 8:17 (5:32, 2:45). The legs were still a little sluggish from the big weekend mileage/vertical, but they responded when asked. I consciously pushed the second half of each rep this morning to work on that non-existent kick of mine, as I'm almost certain that Western States is going to come down to the last 300 meters this year.
PM: 7 miles (1,800') super easy. Kinda wobbled up the hill late in the afternoon. Definitely tired from the morning session - some lingering fatigue from the weekend in there too. Need to be careful.

Wednesday - Noon: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Nice easy jog up Horsetooth. It was warm out, but I still layered up to get a good sweat going, help loosen the muscles and begin preparing for the summer race season.
PM: 5 miles (1,000') easy. Ran an easy Falls loop at the park. Dog trouble again. Got nipped by a yappy rat-sized dog on a long leash right by the turn-off for the falls. Owner was mortified. I swore profusely. This is turning out to be a bad dog week.

Thurs - Noon: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Short loop on Horsetooth (76). Kept things super easy to save something for a harder run at Towers in the evening.
PM: 9.5 miles (2,000') hard hill effort. I'm not really sure why, but the thought of running hard on Towers fills me with dread these days. There was a time when I was hammering on the hill all summer long, dropping sub-30s with ease. I guess it's because I've done it so many times now that I'm intimately familiar with the pain involved. I was back and forth all day on how much of an effort I was willing to put forth, so I figured I'd see how things felt once I was off and running. Warmed up with a couple miles on the Valley Trails with Burch, then got after it, easing in on Swan Johnson (3:00 to the turn). Things felt okay, so I kept on the gas at perhaps 90%, and was surprised to see my Stout split pop within range of reasonably fast, so I committed to staying at effort for the rest of the run. Herrington (2) came in at 16:5x, which again is about 20 seconds off PR pace. I started feeling a good burn in the second half and rather than double down to squeeze the extra seconds out, I committed to just remaining steady. Finished up with 30:07 at the top, which, while 47 seconds off my PR, was pleasing for the effort output. Would have been a nice confidence boost to dip under 30 - it's been a while - but it would have been there easily with a little extra push.

Friday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Kept it at one run today, and an easy one at that. Felt good enough, but wanted to rest up for the weekend.

Saturday - 29 miles (9,500') long. Round Mountain Ladder. Fun morning on the mountain today for the fourth year in a row doing this workout, an out and back from each mile marker up the mountain with a final summit run to finish it off. We had a good crowd working up and down the hill all morning, something that always helps with the motivation. Josh Arthur was back up in the Fort - clearly no talent to run with in Boulder - so I ran with him for most of the workout.

The goal with this workout is to start out conservatively and try to run every uphill mile segment quicker than the previous one (first mile gets run five times), so a ratchet of pace that you have to temper against increasing fatigue levels, finishing with a final summit push - after 20 miles & 6,500' of vert - into which you essentially pour all remaining strength and motivation in a bid to hit the fastest mile splits of the day. I find this workout to be an excellent simulator of race pacing.

The morning air was perfect and we got lucky with mainly overcast skies, so the conditions were primo. My legs didn't feel too peppy at all throughout the morning, but they were steady enough to get through the run. The first four rungs on the ladder went quickly and the splits were on point. For the summit leg - about 4.75 miles with 3,000' of climbing - the first mile went out pretty hard, leaving my legs pretty wobbly for the second mile. Josh was off to the races, so I just focused on settling back in and grinding up the hill at an effort that would take me to the top sustainably. I missed the second mile split by 13 seconds breaking up the perfect game, but was able to rally for the remainder, passing Josh 100 meters from the summit. The summit run came in at 54:25, which is three minutes faster than three years ago, 7 or 8 minutes quicker than last year when I fell to pieces in the heat, and four minutes of my PR for Round Mountain. Total time on the hill was 5:22, with 5:11 moving.

Mile 1..12:34..11:32..11:06..10:35..10:06
Mile 2............13:01..12:24..11:45..11:58
Mile 3......................11:59..11:20..11:09
Mile 4................................12:19..11:38

Summit Run.................................54:25

Coming down off lap one with Josh and Hinterberg. Photo: Eric Lee
Sunday - 13 miles (3,600') easy. Out with Hinterberg and Ostrom for an easy couple of hours at Horsetooth, with a double summit bag (78 & 79). Not much from the legs on the uphill and a bit of soreness in the quads on the downhill. Easy, easy.

Total: 99 miles (24,800')

Another solid week in the books. Good workout Tuesday morning on tired legs, a solid run up Towers Thursday and a generally strong morning of vertical on Saturday. Pieces are coming together nicely. One more week of mileage before I begin a very gradual taper for UTMF100, with a last long run two weeks before at the Lake Sonoma 50.

In addition to two dog bites this past week, I picked up another one yesterday (Monday) right at the first turn on the trail from the upper Horsetooth parking lot and right on the soft tissue under my butt. I've never been bitten by a dog before, so I guess I'm making up for lost time. I used to be very casual and friendly towards dogs in the park, but I find myself shying away from them now (once bitten, twice shy?) Dogs of course pick up on that fear to the point that I have apparently become a moving target in the park. Curiously, each incident these past few days has involved a dog on a leash (but always on a fully extended stretch leash), so owners have been obeying park regulations. Whether or not that means I have a right to bitch I don't know, but it's really not much fun being bitten by dogs or having fangs aggressively exposed in your general direction while running by.

In other news, I have noticed a considerable uptick in the number of plastic bags filled with dog poo sitting by the side of the trail. Being a regular park user, I can usually give an approximation for the number of days/weeks particular bags have been sitting there.

End rant.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week Ending March 23

Mon - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. I felt surprisingly spry and unscathed from Saturday's racing action, so enjoyed a springy jaunt up the mountain.
PM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Retraced my steps from the morning. Found myself on the summit without remembering how I got there. I love how the miles melt on familiar terrain when you're lost in thought.

Tues - AM: 10 miles intervals. The winds were absolutely screaming when I woke up this morning, which made the prospect of trying to run fast at City Park seem somewhat ridiculous, but it's almost April and every workout counts now. Not surprisingly, there were just a handful in attendance at the appointed hour. But any and all company was appreciated. On the docket for this morning was: mile, broken 1.5 mile (3 x 800 on 15 second cruise between 8s), mile, broken 1.5, mile.  Still in the recovery period from Salida and with the troublesome spring winds, I didn't want to force the issue, so largely ran these at a comfortable tempo-type effort: 5:50, 2:53, 2:52, 2:51, 5:34, 2:51, 2:49, 2:45, 5:22.
PM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Got out late in the day for another lap to the top of Horsetooth (66). The winds had subsided a bit, but were still gusting substantially on top.

Weds - Noon: 7 miles (1,800') easy. My right knee felt a little awkward (read: it hurt) after yesterday's workout/Saturday's race, so I laced up my new Altra Olympus kicks for today's run. The Olympus is Altra's newly released offering in the maximal shoe department and - as promised - the shoes deliver serious cushioning. Not sure I'd race these aggressively on technical trail, but boy oh boy do they help take the load off aching joints for the day-to-day outings. With it being a gorgeous day in the middle of spring break, it was no great surprise to see the park packed, so I went up via Southridge/Audra, which is reliably the least crowded way up the mountain. I think my neighbors got the memo too, as I saw no less than three friendly faces (five if you count dogs) from the 'hood. Just two short patches of snow left. SPRING.

Thurs - AM: 7 miles (1,800') steady. I bailed late Wednesday night on meeting the group for the usual Thursday AM tempo session down on Centennial. Ostensibly, I bailed because I didn't want to push things with my knee, but I think I was just using that as an excuse to grab some extra zeds and avoid visiting the pain cave so early in the morning. Of course, I woke up, laced my sneaks and the knee felt great with the mega-Olympus cush. Guilt ridden, I made myself work the hill. I don't usually like to do workouts on Horsetooth; it's the place I go to jog and reflect, so panting up the hill always feels a little awkward. Nonetheless, it felt great this morning to inject a little effort into my daily routine, get to the summit in a jiffy and then get on with things for the rest of the day. Maybe I'll give my Horsetooth PR a run one of these days; it's been a couple of years since I put a truly hard effort in on the hill.
PM (1): 5 miles (1,500') easy. Parked at the Horsetooth TH and jogged a nice casual summit lap before heading into town to run the Fort Collins Trail Runner social at Pineridge. Legs felt great and the weather was beautiful. So good.
PM (2): 5 miles easy. A nice trundle with friends at Pineridge. Been a while since I've done this one.

Friday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth (70) summit. A crisp, but sunny morning jog with Danny. The pins were a little tired to get going but warmed up nicely by the time we were halfway up the hill. Bumped into Josh Holer at the top and ran back down with him.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Horsetooth up and down at a super casual effort. Snow's supposed to fly tonight. Didn't much feel it in the air. I'm guessing no.

Saturday - 20 miles (5,000') easy. 3:20. Did the classic Horsetooth (71) - Arthurs loop with Josh, Jason and Burch. I was wrong about the snow, it was coming down the whole time we were out; nothing crazy but there was an inch or two on the ground by the time we were done, making things a little slippery in places. Went: Southridge, Rock, Summit, Westridge, Secret, Mill Creek, Howard, Summit, Arthurs, Valley, Sawmill, Herrington, Spring Creek, Falls, Reaper. We kept things light and easy the whole way around to make sure we were saving something for the big Sunday serving.

Summit 1: Horsetooth
Summit 2: Arthurs. Clark, J. Arthur, Burch, Ostram.
PM: 2 mile hike (600') with the kiddos down to the waterfall. Stella made it pretty much the whole way there and back. Next goal: Horsetooth summit.

Sunday - 37 miles (6,900') long. 5:52. Out with the same crew as Saturday for the fourth rendition of Alex May's (of 30:01:31 Western States fame) March Mileage Madness run, a circumnavigation of Horsetooth Reservoir in celebration of spring. Last year we were nipple deep in snow on top of Horsetooth Mountain; this year we didn't have much more than a couple of inches, but it was consistent through the hills, giving way to slop down low. We started out at an easy effort and kept it in gear the whole way round. The route took in both Horsetooth and Arthur's summits, taking the perimeter trails around the park on the west side of the reservoir. Really pleased with how good my legs felt the whole way around, especially on the tail end of a big week and building off a strong race at Salida the weekend prior. Finished things off with a nice pick up in pace over the last five or six miles on Shoreline, Centennial and Pineridge. Josh took a hard digger with a mile to go (on the least technical section of trail covered all morning), so we shut things down there and jogged it in back to Alex's for beers, burgers and banter.

Ostram picking up his Arthurs summit, 20 miles into the morning.
Total: 126 miles (26,300')

Big week and big weekend in the books. Big-boy pants are officially on. With just five weeks until the UTMF 100 in Japan, I'm starting to feel like I may just be rounding into something approaching 100-mile shape. Unfortunately, I am going to have to sacrifice running hard at Lake Sonoma in three weeks, and run it - rather lamely - as a 'training race/run.' Lucky for me though, I still have the okay to head out to Healdsburg to enjoy one of the best trail racing weekends on the domestic calendar. I've taken a few notes out of Tropical John's playbook when it comes to putting on my own races. Hint: a well-marked course on awesome trails with good post-race food and ample, tasty adult beverages go a long way to making runners happy.

Speaking of which, we are now down to less than 30 spots remaining for Quad Rock. We're super excited to be hosting 350 runners, our biggest field yet, with stellar fields in both the men's and the women's races. Check out the fields here, and get signed up sooner rather than later. With the final price increase due to go into effect at the end of the month, we expect to be sold out within the next week.

And, hey, if you're thinking about trail racing action for late summer, then registration for the always popular Blue Sky Marathon and Black Squirrel Half go live April 1. Click the links on the top right of the sidebar for info on those. Register for both - the Black and Blue Double - for just $99. Best racing deal in town, and hey, we don't cut corners.

You might also notice a new sponsor logo up there on the sidebar. Yup, I'm honored and excited to be representing Altra ZeroDrop footwear for the 2014 season. Raced in the Lone Peaks at Salida and have been pounding out long mileage in the new Olympus maximal-style shoes for the last couple of weeks. The Olympus have reportedly been flying off the shelves since their launch this month, so get 'em while you can! My knees thank me every time I slip them on.

And finally, if you made it this far and just can't get enough of my drivel, then go listen to even more over at Ultrarunner Podcast.
The uber-popular Altra Olympus. Flying off the shelves right now. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Salida Marathon 2014

It's a short three-hour drive from Fort Collins to Salida, a trip that takes driver and passenger through classic Colorado country, and one that never gets old. You roll up through the Denver foothill towns of Conifer and Bailey, give a nod to the somewhat incongruous hillside Jesus statue at Camp Santa Maria as you make your way up to Kenosha Pass, before crossing the Colorado Trail and dropping into the high and huge South Park Basin, which encompasses a massive 1,000 square feet all at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level.

It's a harsh environment and this year the snow fences to the west of Highway 285 are completely buried, a sure sign that it has been a cold and wet winter in the Colorado Rockies. But the highlight of the drive for me is always the drop out of South Park into the Arkansas Valley, which is punctuated by the massive Collegiate Peaks of the southern Sawatch range.

Camp Santa Maria.
The view of the Collegiate Peaks is far better when unobstructed. 
The Arkansas Valley has its own dry and remarkably warm microclimate. It is often referred to as the Banana Belt of Colorado. The rolling hillsides covered in scrubby pinon and juniper for some reason remind me of childhood summer vacations to Forna, a small village just inland from the Mediterranean coast near Valencia, Spain. An old Moorish castle sits above the village on a hill covered in similarly scrubby vegetation. The trek up to visit the castle would always be a highlight of those trips.

Forna Castle. 
So anyway, it's always good to be back in Salida enjoying what fees like a late winter mini vacation.

The family couldn't make it out this year, so I opt for the budget-friendly pad in the back of the Xterra for the weekend's accommodations. As I make my way to Safeway for donuts and coffee early on race-day morning I bump into Joe GFM, who'd be dwelling a few alleys down from me that night, and we catch up with one another's goings on before heading down to the rail yards under clear, but slightly parky skies.

Paul Hamilton was a name on the start list that I was looking forward to racing, so I was slightly disappointed not to see him on the line as we got underway. I'd figured he'd be in contention and would help push the pace along, but as it turned out it would be just me and Josh Arthur off the front once we started climbing.

The first two miles at Salida are always a fun time. It's a casual two mile loop to and from the start to space the race out before hitting singletrack. The banter is always good and offers a chance to catch up with folk that you haven't seen all winter. Timmy Parr, a regular and multi-time winner of the race, has moved to Leadville I learn. It's been a tough winter up there at 10,000 feet and he talks of having not much more than the roads around the Fish Hatchery to run on.

After the warm-up lap, I decide that I'm going to go about setting the pace up the switchbacks that lead to the wonderful snaking, rocky contour trail of the new course. I want to avoid the slow start of last year so I can run an honest marathon effort the whole way around. Once we get up to elevation, I'm surprised that it's just me and Josh. The pace feels right, nothing crazy. We shoot the shit for a bit, chat about Altra Zero Drop, both of us now sponsored by the aggressive start-up out of Salt Lake, before slotting into a good rhythm that we'll hold for the rest of the race.

We spit out onto the Ute Trail at a little under 59 minutes, but neither of us can remember what the split was from last year. I'm pretty sure we're ahead of it as we find our stride up the railroad-graded dirt track. This is always a tough section of the race. The grade is fairly mellow at about 300 feet per mile, but given the awesome footing you really have to stay on the gas to make the most of it. If you hit it too hard though your back 13 miles is going to be miserable.

Josh and I run stride for stride the whole way up to the turnaround at 9,000 feet (1:34), dropping off our bottles at the aid station along the way and getting them back refilled on our way back down. As we make the turn onto the rugged jeep track section of the back half of the course, we quickly realize that conditions are improved versus last year. There isn't a great deal of snow on the ground and a set of tire tracks has packed things down decently where there is. We have to negotiate some ice and tricky cut up snowy sections along the way, but it doesn't cost us a lot of time.

Again, we stay stride for stride as we make our way back to town, both seemingly comfortable at the pace we're setting. We alternate in the lead, until finally with perhaps eight miles to go and a half mile before the precipitous descent to the mile 20 aid station, I decide to push the pace along just a little harder. I don't look back until the aid, and am massively surprised not to see Josh. I think I've done enough in those couple of miles to seal the win and settle into a significantly easier rhythm. That, as it turns out, is a big mistake. A mile later, on the switchbacks up the final climb of the race, as we start to pass half marathoners I am shocked to look back and make direct eye contact with Josh.

By the top of the climb, Josh is back on me, and I'm starting to feel beginner cramps in my hamstrings. A mile later and I'm surprised that Josh hasn't gone by me yet, as I know the pace isn't what it was just four or five miles ago, but he seems content to settle in. The half marathon traffic is pretty thick at this point and there's a lot of weaving going on. I figure Josh will wait until we spit out onto the doubletrack four miles from the finish to make his move. I'm right. But I've still got a little something left in the tank.

Once Josh assumes the lead, the pace is all of a sudden at the top of end of what I'm still able to push out, but I can still hang. However, on the last mile of the descent down to the rail yards, Josh is able to get a slight gap that I can't quite cover. With a half mile to go, he has maybe 10 seconds on me. We're now on the flats and running into a strong headwind for these last few meters and I can sense that Josh is starting to tie up, so I hit the gas for one last push, cutting the gap in half but ultimately running out of real estate.

I look at my watch and I see a new PR in the digits. This, in my 40th year and sixth time running the race, is something of a surprise. But a welcome one.

The post-race scene is as fun as always. Bill Dooper has enjoyed spectating the race, getting to all the aid stations along the way, and he is full of his usual banter. He tells me that it's mine or Dylan's year at Western States in 2014. I nod. Yeah maybe. I'm as fit as I've ever been at this stage of the game, so why the hell not?

Six Years, Six Podiums. Artwork by race RD Jon McManus.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Week Ending March 16

Mon - Noon: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Ran up Horsetooth with Danny on a pair of pins that felt super spry. Gliding.
PM: 4 miles easy. Jogged for half an hour on the Mason Trail while Alistair was at soccer practice.

Tues - 10.5 miles intervals. With the Salida Marathon coming up on the weekend, I kept this one light. Workout was: mile, 800, 800, mile, 800, 800, 2 mile. Splits: 6:18, 2:54, 2:50, 5:57, 2:57, 2:50, 11:58. Had planned on getting out for a bit of a jog in the afternoon, but the weather was so cataclysmic I didn't force the issue.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged out a casual Horsetooth summit on my lunch break.
PM: 6.5 miles (800') easy. Snuck out for a twilight spin on the Milner Mtn loop, enjoying the killer south-side views of Horsetooth; perhaps my favorite vantage point.

Thurs - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged a super easy Horsetooth summit in place of my usual Thursday AM tempo session in a continued bid to give the legs a break before Salida.
PM: 8 miles (1,800') easy. Pushed out an easy effort up Towers in 34:30, which was surprisingly fast given the distinct lack of effort. Always a good sign. This was the first daylight Towers TT of the year, which brought out a solid 25+ runners.

Fri - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Super easy Horsetooth summit with Danny before heading out to Salida in the afternoon.

Sat - AM: 28 miles (3,800') race. Salida Marathon in 3:06. This was my sixth running of the Salida Trail Marathon, on the slowest iteration of the course, and low and behold I managed to pick up a PR. Ran pretty much in lockstep with Josh Arthur the whole way round, which was probably the main reason I was able to stay solidly on the gas for the duration. Gave up the win in the last mile, being out-kicked by five seconds, but hey, a PR at the age of 39. Yeah, I'm not complaining.

Collegiate Peaks money shot across the Arkansas Valley. 
Sun - 6.5 miles (1,500') easy. Jogged a few super light miles with Abby on the Columbine/Rainbow trails under Methodist Mountain at the northernmost terminus of the 250-mile Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. I was nursing a pretty serious hangover, but the gorgeous weather and mellow pace helped soothe matters.

Total: 91.5 miles (15,100')

Kind of a balancing act this week. I wanted to keep on the mileage while also giving my legs a bit of a rest before heading out to Salida to race, so I basically bagged the workouts for the week. Unfortunately Sunday was a bust due to an overzealous Saturday night, so I didn't quite hit the triple digits I wanted, but I think I'm big enough and wise enough now not to sweat such trivialities. Three years ago I would have made sure to find the extra 8.5 miles.

The race itself turned out to be a two-man affair and while it was moderately disappointing to not pick up the win, running a 90 second PR on my sixth crack at the course has to be considered a win. If nothing else it is a result that has given me a renewed sense of purpose with my training heading into the spring. Despite the fact that I'll be racing as a master come June, I still believe that I've got the tools - on the right day - to bring home that damn Western States Cougar. Rule number one: you've got to believe.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week Ending March 9

Mon - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Markedly different conditions than the freeze of the previous two weekend days for this jaunt up the mountain. I was sweating buckets in my tights, even in the early dawn and at my usual trundle. There was still a good crunch of snow on the ground, but it was packed in enough that the ice underneath wasn't a factor. Every day I can get out on the mountain is a good one, but I'm enjoying the warmer ones just a little bit more these days.
PM: 4.5 miles (1,500') easy. Snuck in a quick lunchtime Horsetooth summit (50) to gather some inspiration for a talk I was giving later in the day for an SOS Outreach session.

Tues - AM: 9.5 miles intervals. On the docket at the cemetery for the morning was: mile, 2 x broken 1.5 mile (3x800 w/15 second cruise between each 800), mile. All on 4-5 min stationary rest between reps. Perfect morning with temps in the high 20s and a snow-free trail to run on: 5:28, 8:16 (2:47, 2:46, 2:43), 8:16 (2:48, 2:44, 2:44), 5:15. Cruised the 8s for the most part, then gave McCullough 15 seconds on the last mile to see if I could squeeze a little extra effort out of myself by chasing. Did the hard work through the first 1,200, getting on Chris's shoulder, then got kicked down as usual over the last 400. Good morning.
PM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Timed this one terribly, getting out just as the rain/sleet/snow started coming down. Rain turned to mush halfway up the mountain, then fluffy snow by the summit. Climbed up the north gap despite the wet, then got off the summit lickity split due to an eery electrical buzz circling around my head. I've been zapped by static on top of Horsetooth before, and this brought back unpleasant memories. Kinda cold and miserable coming back down, but another one in the books.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Got out at noon and most of the snow from the night before had already melted off. Good bit of mud out there right now, but nothing a few days days of sunshine won't clear up. Super easy going up as I was feeling a little worked from Tuesday's efforts.

Thurs - AM: 11.5 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Out and back on Centennial Rd with Garcia. Huffing a bit up the hills, but felt really smooth on the flatter stuff: 7:30, 6:12, 6:40, 5:30, 4:59 = 30:51. Finished up with a mile and half cool down. Another gorgeous spring-like morning in the Fort. Getting the work done.
PM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged up Horsetooth at a super casual pace, and necessarily so. Legs weren't giving me much after the morning session.

Fri - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth summit. Started out in the rain with Danny. The rain transitioned to snow halfway up the hill, and then didn't let up for the rest of the day. It's turning into a pretty wet winter. The snowpack for the South Platte River Basin is at 148 percent of the median right now, which hopefully means reduced risk of wildfires this summer - or at least fires in March like we had in Lory last year (followed by five feet of snow). Anyway, nice easy morning on the hill and a total sock-in on top. A rare daylight Erskine sighting on the way up. He was coming down from his 16th summit of the year, while I was heading up for number 54. I won't be beaten in 2014.
PM: 4.5 miles (1, 500) easy. Snow was ankle to calf deep by the time I got back on the hill towards the end of the day. The going was decent though, so I was able to get up and down in good time. Had a blast on the feathery descent.

Sat - AM: 24 miles (4,600') easy. Repeated the Horsetooth - Redstone - Horsetooth yo-yo from a few weeks back, tacking on a bit of extra distance by routing around Milner Mtn Rd rather than 38e to get to and from Redstone. I was the first one up the hill this morning, so aside from my tracks from late yesterday afternoon the snow was totally unconsolidated. Getting up the hill became something of a slog with the slippery, slushy, postholey footing, which set the tone for the rest of the run. Originally I had wanted to inject some speed on the six miles of rolling dirt road up and down Redstone Canyon, but my legs were simply not interested and this one quickly became about nothing more than getting the mileage in. By the time I hit the hill for the second time, the snow had melted significantly under the bright sun, resulting in muddy and slushy conditions with intermittent postholing thrown in. I slogged my way back up, tagged the summit and then creaked down, returning home via the grim reaper on a pair of pins that were happy to be done. Not a particularly pretty outing, but it's in the books and that's what counts.

Sun - AM: 11 miles (3,100') easy. Double Horsetooth (58 & 59) via the three-way. Thought this one might be a bit better than Saturday, but alas the legs were still giving me nothing. Slogged away and got it done though. Up on Southridge/Audra, down in deep, wet snow on Wathan, then back around and up on the Rock Trail. It was absolutely gorgeous out, almost summer-like, which of course brought the hordes out. The parking lot was full and there must have been 40 cars parked up 38e. Total madness. You suffer through winter waiting for the weather to turn and then as soon as it does you begrudge everyone for being out there.

Total: 100 miles (21,100')

I was Captain Slogworthy this weekend, but that's alright. The pins go in and out as you build the spring mileage, but just so long as they're on when you need them to be - which is what the taper is all about - then all should be well with your running world. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Really looking forward to the weekend in Salida coming up. I'm thinking the three-hour mark could be in jeopardy, conditions allowing. Right now, the race is reporting a good bit of snow on course, and while most of that will melt out by the weekend, I'm still expecting the usual mix of snow, slush and slop up high, with largely dry trail below 8,000'. Pretty standard conditions.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Week Ending March 2

Mon - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth north summit. Legs were pretty tired from the weekend. Kept this one super easy. Gorgeous day out.

Tues - AM: 7.5 miles intervals. Workout was 5 x 1 mile (City Park). First and last mile were steady, middle miles fartlek. Got there late so no time for a warm up, so the first couple of reps were essentially the warm up. Started on the long mile (1.02) with extra hills and alternated with the shorter route (.98): 5:50, 5:30, 5:38, 5:21, 5:33. Ran mainly with McCullough. Frozen hands in the unusually moist air.
PM: 5 miles (1,000') easy. Jogged out a Falls loop in the snow at a really easy recovery pace.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. End of day summit was showing a super thick layer of brown hanging over the Front Range plains. Nasty business.

Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Out for five miles easy on Centennial as usual (43:30), then back at a hard tempo effort with Jason. Just a killer morning out there today with an unbelievably colorful sunrise to the east, mild temps and no wind. It doesn't get much better. Back in 30:38, which is a bit quicker than I have been doing these, but due mainly to a bigger effort rather than miraculous fitness gains: 7:24, 6:00, 6:31, 5:42, 5:01.
PM: 9.5 miles (2,000') steady. Towers Rd. Jogged out a couple warm-up miles with Burch before heading up the hill at a reasonably steady effort. The legs felt decent after the warm-up and the 34:00 came pretty easily, which is encouraging. Need to drop the morning run one of these Thursdays and give the hill a full-on effort to get a read on fitness. No better indicator out there.

Fri - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Got in a super casual morning Horsetooth summit (47) with Danny. A little stiff from Thursdays exertions, but nothing that a few easy warm-up miles couldn't resolve. The track is now 75% clear of ice, and the weather so mild that it should be close to fully clear by the end of the day.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Was back and forth on this one but finally pushed myself out the door for a quick summit (48) from the trailhead.

Sat - 20 miles (2,800') easy. The original plan was a loop of the Quad Rock course with Ostram and Andy J to map the exact route for this year's race - as there has been a slight re-route on Sawmill - but overnight ice rain with a couple inches of snow over the top left the trails in pretty treacherous shape, so we aborted at Horsetooth Upper and ran back via 38e and the valley trails, tacking on additional up-tempo road mileage at the end to at least salvage 20 from the day. A little weak to bail on the original plan, but none of us wanted to break anything with a nasty fall, so it was probably the right call. Pete got out a little later in the day to map the new section of trail on Sawmill, which cuts about a half mile off the loop versus last year and puts the full course right back where it was originally at just a few tenths - give or take - over 50 miles.

Sun - 6.5 miles easy. Got out in bitterly cold temps to mark the Tortoise and Hare 10k route in town. It was my only running window for the day, so would have to do. Unfortunately, I couldn't drag myself out of bed any earlier than 5:00 to bag extra miles, capping something of a disappointing running weekend. I was looking for 40 over the two days but ended with 26.5 miles and significantly less vertical thanks to Saturday's cop out. And so it goes.

The propane heater helped, but man it was cold this morning. Aided as always by the wonderful Hannah Eskew. 
Dave Huner sporting an immaculate ice beard.
Mine was a little more scraggly, as usual. Pics: FCRC
Maureen Hyde picked up the win for the third month in a row. 
Total: 84.5 miles (14,100')

With the exception of the weekend, which was something of a bust, this was a decent week of training. I got some workouts done and managed to find the time to get three double days in, which is where I like to be when loading the mileage. At the beginning of the week I was looking for 100+ miles, as mentally that kind of volume makes me feel like I'm properly invested in my training. But, you know, life and weather gets in the way sometimes. I'll make sure to hit the digits I want this week, though, before cutting things back a bit in the week leading up to the Salida Trail Marathon.

Salida has marked the beginning of the racing year for me for many seasons now. I know the course well, I know what kind of times I should be running, and I just love the low-key vibe mixed with the always solid competition. Speaking of which, perennial favorites and previous winners Timmy Parr and Ryan Burch will be running again this year, alongside Josh Arthur - who edged me out for the win by a minute last year - Jason Koop, Joe Grant, and young Fort Collins (now Durango) upstart Paul Hamilton, among many others. There's plenty enough competition right there to make sure this will be a proper rust-busting race effort.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Four weeks Ending February 24

Week Ending February 2

Monday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged up in the cold and snow for a tag of Horsetooth. Perfect training run for the upcoming stage race in the tropics.

Tuesday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. I was going to do Jane's workout in the morning, but it was cold and crappy again, so I deferred to Horsetooth.

Wednesday - 5 miles (1,500') easy. Not a whole lot of time with work pressures and the need to start getting the family ready for the trip to Costa Rica and the Coastal Challenge, so made this a quick Horsetooth tag (25), starting at the trailhead.

Thursday - 4 miles (1,000) easy. Running out of time on the day, I ran the 'neighborhood round-up' in the dark, covering all the road mileage in the neighborhood on a beautiful evening with big flakes floating serenely to the ground. A predicted 10 inches of overnight snow meant one hour less of sleep for what was already promising to be a long day of travel on Friday.

Friday - Off. Travel day to Costa Rica, with a 2:00 am wake up. The extra hour allotted for crappy roads turned out to be unnecessary as not nearly as much snow came down as predicted. And so the weeklong exercise in sleep-deprivation begins.

Saturday - 4.5 miles easy. Ran a couple of loops with Mike Wardian from the hotel we were staying at in San Jose. Pleasantly surprised at the comfortable temps up in the relative altitude of the Costa Rican capital. The story at sea level would be markedly different.

Sunday - 22.5 miles (2,700') steady. It was a ridiculously early wake-up call for the four-hour trip out to the race start, made even more painful by the fact that I basically didn't sleep because Stella was tossing, turning and coughing all night. Slept a bit on the bus but not much. The route for this, the first stage of the Coastal Challenge stage race, was tough in that it was hot, involved 10 miles of rock infested road running right off the bat, and did I mention that it was hot.

Wardian was off to the races almost immediately, and by the time we hit trail after 10 miles he had something close to a three-minute lead. I was running with Martin Gaffuri for most of this and we made back some time heading up the first major hill of the race through some good jungle terrain. By the time we popped back onto the road, Wardian was not much more than 100 meters ahead (aided by a wrong turn), and then over the next climb I pulled back up to him. He put me away on the long descent to the finish, and I ran the last four or five miles with Vincente Juan Garcia Beneito from Alicante, Spain. With my lack of Spanish and his lack of English, we didn't have much to chat about, but we'd get to know each other well over the next few days as we essentially ran shoulder to shoulder until the end of stage 4. Vincente is a prolific and thoroughly successful stage racer and an absolute machine. Despite our inability to communicate verbally, I learned a hell of a lot from the guy over the week.

Vincente and I ended up crossing the line together for joint second, two and a half minutes behind Mike. Carlos Sa would have been fourth a few minutes back, but he ended up taking an inexplicable three-hour wrong turn when he was just 100 meters from the finish line. Seriously, the course was marked immaculately. Hobbling around afterwards, I couldn't believe how beat up I felt from a measly 20 miler, but there was no rest for the wicked and it was straight on to fathering duty - enabled by some gloriously cold Imperials.

Total: 50 miles (8,800')

Week Ending February 9

Mon - 24 miles (4,800') steady. Day two of the Coastal Challenge. This was a fun stage and I felt good the whole way around, finishing strong over the last three or four miles of beach running. Joint third overall on the stage and 3.5 minutes back overall on Wardian. The staging area on Dominical Beach, like all our staging areas for the week, was sublime.

Tues - 29.5 miles (5,200') steady. Day three of the Coastal Challenge was the first of two 'long days,' and ended up being a real bruiser by the time it was all said and done. The first 10kms through the river was a ton of fun and one of the more unique trail-racing experiences I've had. The middle miles climbing through the jungle was dense and intense and the final miles on the beach under the blazing sun were pure brutality. Finished the day in fourth, losing 10 minutes over the last 12kms to the finish. Again, our finish location on Ventanas Beach was other-worldly and about as far removed from February in Colorado as imaginable.

Weds - 23 miles (6,500') steady. Day four was a big climbing day and the end of my race. I pulled up lame with five kms to go, sat in the shade for 10 minutes and then hobbled home.

Thurs - 29.5 miles (3,000') easy. After my medical issues from day four, I committed to taking things easy for the final long day of the race, and did just that. The miles clicked by quickly on this relatively flat leg. The section through the mangroves was just fantastic. The finish in the gob-smackingly beautiful Drakes Bay was incredible.

Friday - 14.5 miles (1,200') easy. With positions essentially set, we agreed to run as a group for the final stage of the race. The tour was fantastic and included a bit of everything we'd run through the previous five days. A great way to finish a great week.

Saturday - Off

Sunday - Off

Total: 120.5 miles (20,700')

Week Ending February 16

Mon - Off

Tues - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth jog. Decided against intervals in the morning in favor of sleep and additional recovery. Got a jog up Horsetooth done and felt pretty good all things considered.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Another easy jog up Horsetooth.

Thurs - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth. Declined on the regular Thursday tempo in favor of some easier recovery miles. Conditions were okay, but continued to be totally snowpacked.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') moderate. A moderate climb of Towers (~37 mins) in less-than-ideal conditions, with heavy mud at the bottom and bullet-proof ice at the top.

Fri - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth with Danny. Kinda icy and choppy, but decent enough.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Jogged another lap on Horsetooth late in the day.

Sat - 13 miles (3,500') easy. Set out with Danny to bag a Horsetooth Hattrick, but bailed after two summits, completely frustrated with the terrible, icy underfoot conditions.

Sun - 17 miles (4,800') easy. Conditions were marginally better today, so I resolved to get the triple done, bagging a south, middle and north summit via the south, middle and north routes up the mountain.

Total: 70 miles (18,700')

Week Ending February 23

Mon - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth north summit. With warm winds blowing all weekend, the trails are really starting to clear. Nice easy jog up the hill.

Tues - AM: 9 miles intervals. Eased in and generally didn't push too hard. Ran with McCullough and Garica, both of whom seemed fine with the casual effort. I wasn't going to push the issue. Workout was mile (cemetary), 2 mile fartlek (City Park), mile (cemetary), 2 mile fartlek (CP): 6:05, 12:01, 5:30, 11:30.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. End of day Horsetooth summit.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Lunchtime easy up the hill. Wanted a second summit, but never found the time. Winds were brutal.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Centennial Rd out and back. Big tailwind coming home, but didn't get too aggressive: 31:30. Really wanted to get out for a second run, but the wind was just brutal, so I opted for rest.

Fri - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Big push up the hill with the wind, which made for a fun and quick outing. Climbed the north-gap route and almost got blown off the rock by the gusts funneling through. Exhilirating.

Sat - 24 miles (4,800') easy/steady. Ran from Devil's Backbone with Jason & Mike to top of Horsetooth via Towers, Herrington, Wathan, then tacked on another summit on the Rock trail for good measure before heading home. Felt strong all morning. Fitness is coming around.

Sun - 15 miles (4,500') easy. Triple Horsetooth (44) via the three-way. Up Southridge/Audra, down Wathan, up/down Rock trail, up Wathan, down Southridge/Audra, home on the Grim Reaper. Gorgeous morning out with a nice layer of low-laying clouds to the south/west and in the valleys. Felt strong all morning again. Super solid weekend.

Total: 84 miles (17,600')

Phew, it's been a very busy last month, and keeping up with the blogging has been a challenge. Happy to be up-to-date with things here now that I'm reasonably up to date with other facets of life.

This past weekend was really encouraging from a running standpoint. My week in Costa Rica, while a fantastic experience, was less than stellar with regards to fitness. I went into the race with next to no long runs under my belt and suffered as a consequence, fading badly on a couple of the stages and ultimately breaking down physically in the heat by day four. Nonetheless, I was proud to see the week out and cover the full course. It was the kick start I needed, and this past week things have really been clicking. My endurance felt great, I'm moving much better uphill and I'm excited for the 2014 season ahead.

Speaking of which, I am really excited to be adding the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji 100 to my racing schedule this year. It comes a little early in the year for me, but it was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. What effect it has on my form for Western States is to be determined, but hey, as all the kids are saying these days, you only live once!

What else, well I'm excited to be representing Ultraspire again this year. There is a lot of innovation happening out in the St. George, UT HQ and I'm excited to test run their new offerings for 2014 - starting with the simplified bottle tops.

In other sponsor news, unfortunately I've had to part ways with Pearl Izumi for 2014. It was a great experience working with the guys in Lousiville, CO for the four years that I represented the brand, and helping to move the shoe line from - let's be honest - mediocre to outstanding was a ton of fun. Pearl has hit a home run with the E:Motion line and I wish them nothing but the best for 2014 and beyond. And the future appears bright, with shoes in the pipeline looking even better than the first E:motion run, and the apparel remaining up there as an industry leader. Quite honestly I'm sad to move on, but also excited for future opportunities.

I am happy, however, to be maintaining a relationship with Pearl through the Quad Rock races coming up in May. For the third year running, Pearl will be the presenting sponsor, so there will be opportunities for runners to demo the new shoe line on race day and at the spring training run. The 25 mile race sold out quite some time ago, but we do still have spots left for the 50 miler. The field is already looking strong in both the men's and women's division, so we're excited that through our relationship with the Hunter Team at Cornerstone Home Lending we've been able to bump the prize purse to $1,600 for 2014.

We'll also be opening registration for our summer and fall races - the Black Squirrel Half Marathon and Blue Sky Marathon - on April 1 and have some really fun things planned for both races. But what we're even more excited about is getting up to Cameron Pass this summer to scout out a high-altitude, mountain 100km route that we have planned for 2015. We have an initial nod of approval from the powers that be up there, but there is still plenty of work to be done. If we can pull this one off I really think this will be one of the premier destination ultra races in Colorado. The terrain up in the Never Summer and Medicine Bow Mountains is quite honestly some of the best that Colorado has to offer. But we have to be patient and wait for the spring thaw before we can get things totally figured out.

Spring is on the way. Fire up the stoke!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Coastal Challenge

My family and mother-in-law joined me for the weeklong trip out Costa Rica for the 10th running of the Coastal Challenge stage race, a six-day, 145-mile run through the jungles, beaches and coastal mountains of this gorgeous Central American country. To celebrate the decade-long anniversary of the event, the organizers had invited a number of runners from around the world to make a race of it at the front of the field. In the men's race, there were six of us who seemed likely to be in the running. I was the only one coming in as a stage-racing rookie, with a couple of the European guys bona fide specialists.

The start. 
After settling into a day of hotel living at the Best Western in San Jose, the capital city, for pre-race briefings and the like, we were whisked off in the wee hours of Sunday morning on a long bus ride to a beach from where we would begin the six days of racing.

San Jose sits at relative altitude and as such enjoys relatively cool temperatures. The situation on the coast would be markedly different, and by the time we got running on day one it was already a scorcher.

On the docket for the morning was a stage right out of the Mike Wardian playbook: 10 miles of flat jeep track, followed by a couple of 1,000 - 2,000 foot bumps and then more flat running into the finish. Mike's superior leg speed was evident from the get go, and by the time we finally made the turn onto a stretch of rough singletrack through the jungle, he was a couple of minutes off the front. Frenchman Martin Gaffuri and I worked together up the hill and by the time we popped back onto the jungle road Mike was no more than 50 meters ahead, a gap that was soon closed on the climb to the high point of the day's stage.

All fun and games at this stage.
Photo: J.A. Vargas Lead Adventure Media
Thinking smart thoughts (or so I thought), I let him go on the ensuing descent with the goal of preserving my quads for the five days of racing to come. With a few miles left to the finish, Spaniard and stage racing legend Vincente Juan Garcia Beneito, caught up to me and we pushed together into the finish, crossing as one at a stunning eco-lodge tucked away in the depths of a luscious jungle valley. Martin rolled in 10 minutes later, followed by Philip Reiter from Germany a few minutes after that. Badwater champion Carlos Sa ended up taking a mysterious wrong turn 100 meters from the finish line that cost him something in order of three hours, essentially putting him out of the running for the rest of the race. Much to his credit, however, he persevered.

Quite frankly, I was stunned at how much I was hurting after a fairly simple 22 mile run and shuddered at the thought of the early mornings and heavy mileage ahead. I licked my wounds and attempted to play with the kids through the afternoon. Eventually, after some quality time in the cold pool accompanied by cold beers, I was able to walk with a little more fluidity. As would be the case all week, my appetite was insatiable and I was able to put food away in vast quantities.

Not a bad spot to end day 1.
In order to beat the heat, each day started early. Fortunately I didn't have to pack everything in the morning as Dana and the kids would leave a little later with the staff bus, but trying to find things at 4:30 in the morning amid a mess of soggy gear intermixed with a mound of kids' stuff all the while grimacing at inexplicably sore legs was an interesting way to prepare for the morning's racing. With five minutes until the start, I finally found my race bib, slotted into a damp pair of running shoes and got ready to go.

Right from the off on day two, we were into the jungle, gaining elevation quickly and sweating profusely. Five of us in the lead group ascended the climb as one, with Philip off the front and out of sight. We spaced a bit as skill sets dictated across a mix of technical descents, jeep road and cow pasture. It was on the super rutted cow pasture descent, in particular, that we built a gap on the Yellow Jersey of Wardian.

By the river crossing at the halfway point of the day's stage he was out of shoulder-check sight, while Philip was maintaining his lead off the front. Nonetheless, there would be a long stretch of groomed dirt road that would allow Wardian to catch back up and grow a lead over myself and Vincente Juan, the two of us again firmly in lockstep in third and fourth. The stage ended with approximately four miles on the beach to the finish in the small surf town of Domincal. Vincente and I closed  the gap on Mike to less than a minute by the finish, working well together under mercifully overcast skies, with Philip a couple minutes ahead of Mike. Martin and Carlos ended the day another 10 to 20 minutes back, so it was looking like it would be a four-horse race, with less than four minutes separating the first three, Vincente and I finishing the 24-mile leg together for the second straight day.

Beach fun in Dominical.
The camp location right on the beach was absolutely stunning, and I spent the remainder of the day playing in the surf with the kids, building sand castles and consuming calories. There was a large population of beach dogs down here in Dominical, no doubt thriving off tourist generosity, and one mutt in particular attached himself to Alistair and the camp in general.

At close to 50k, day three was the first of two long days, and perhaps the one to start stringing the field out a bit. It began with a short tour through town and then launched into 5kms of swimming, wading and rock hopping along the course of a gorgeous river, which after a short stretch of connecting double track would lead us to a stunning double waterfall.

Running through town, Alistair's mutt friend from the night before was right there barking and nipping at our heels. At first an annoyance, the dog stuck with us through the first 5km, then proceeded to make his way up the river with us, whining and crying at particularly tricky spots but always finding a way to navigate. By the first aid station, five of us plus Ultra Dog emerged from the river and crossed the bridge on the way to the waterfall. Looking back down the river, Wardian was nowhere to be seen, which meant he was floundering in the river at least 10 minutes back, more than enough to erase his lead from the first two days. This was getting fun and the race was on.

After some howling and hollering at the sight of the waterfall, it was time to get our heads down for some grunting up steep jungle trail to the rolling roads that led us out to some of the thickest jungle terrain we would see all week. By the time we hit the trail and started moving through the thicket, it was myself, Vincente and Philip - accompanied by Ultra Dog - leading the way. There were stretches in here that had clearly just been machete'ed days before, the fern-like foliage collecting and piling up around our ankles as we waded through. The heat of the day was once again piling on, and at each and every creek crossing I silently implored the dog to stop and get some fluids, but he seemed unflappable and singularly focused on hanging with the group.

Climbing out from the waterfall. Photo: J.A. Vargas Lead Adventure Media
After a long climb to the second aid station, we were off to the races with a long stretch of downhill dirt roads, punctuated by short sections of technical jungle trail. Wardian had been running the smooth descents a lot quicker than all of us on the first two stages, so I was expecting him to pick us up at some point before we got down to the beach, but I don't think any of us expected him to close on us quite as quickly as he did, not far from the high point of the course. Once he got on the train, we ran pretty much as a group - dog included - for the long descent to the Pacific Ocean.

After four hours of hard running through the jungle, the exposure to the sun and soul sapping views of endless beach kms did a major number on me. I'd been told 12 kms of beach, so prepped myself for an hour of torture and dropped off the back of the pack, alone with just the dog for company. As it turns out, it was only 30 minutes of beach running, but by the time I made it to the canopy and the short climb out from the beach I was wobbling like a drunk man, more than a little disoriented. The final three or four kms on the road to our unbelievably scenic finish location at Ventanas Beach National Park were some of the more pathetic miles I've put in during my time as a runner.

I gave up more than 10 minutes on those last few miles on the beach and road, but cared about nothing more than getting rehydrated and cooled once finally at the finish, the toll of the last three days, 75 miles and scorching sun really starting to take large chunks out of me. I was quickly realizing that I was coming into this race woefully underprepared.

The kids on Ventanas Beach.
Once I was back in the land of the living, it was time to figure out the camping situation and then spend some quality time with the kids in the ocean at one of the most scenic and secluded beaches I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The heavens opened up rainforest style that night, and the first two hours of 'sleep' were spent trying to keep water out of the tent. It was not a good night's sleep to say the very least, and the race was quickly becoming as much about managing exhaustion through sleep deprivation as it was managing a physically dinged up body.

The clock stops for nobody, and by 4:30 it was time to start sorting through the damp and wet to get ready for the next day's racing, which on paper looked like something of a respite at just 22 miles. But we'd been warned of some pretty gnarly terrain, so nothing was being taken for granted. And then, once again, we were off to the races.

Day four opened up with a few kilometers of gradually ascending jungle road, before a big 3,000 foot climb on steep, tight and barely-there jungle trail. Once again I found myself working with Vincente up the hill, Philip off the front and Mike a minute or two up the trail. We hiked 90 percent of the climb, and despite feeling like I needed to be pushing harder, I was content just to follow Vincente's heels to the top. It came relatively quickly, and once at elevation we would follow rolling, wide and well-groomed dirt roads with huge views for miles. I made the occasional attempt at dropping Vincente, something I'd yet been able to do over the first three days, but soon gave up figuring that the steep, technical descent at the end of the stage would be where I'd chop some time on the competition.

Au contraire, Blackadder. With a measly five kilometers to the finish, my race essentially came to a grinding halt.

I was pleased that I needed to pee, as it would allow me to stop running for a few seconds to take care of business, but I wasn't prepared for the thick ruby red flow that ensued. Immediately my brain shut things down and I was no longer able to run. The day had turned into yet another scorcher, so I found a spot in the shade, laid on my back and considered my fate.

"Kidney failure, hyponatremia ('wait, what are the symptoms again?'), dehydration, bladder chaffing?"

"Which one is it damn-it?"

After 10 minutes of sitting, I finally decided I needed to get to the finish and be done with running. I was pulling the plug, DNF'ing, spending tomorrow playing with the kids in the ocean.

I finally rolled into the finish after a long, hot 5km shuffle, some 30 minutes behind the lead, and set about rehydrating. Exhaustion aside, I actually felt fine. I told the camp doc the same, and he prescribed a couple of hours of fluid intake before deciding what needed to be done. A couple of hours and many liters of water later, and hey presto my pee looked like pee again. There went the excuse to dodge day five and a further 48kms of fun.

Heaven. Photo: RestArts Studio
And Hell! Photo: Ian Corless
I ate well for the remainder of the day, looked for crocodiles with the kids and slowly got my mind back into the game. I would finish out the mileage, complete the Coastal Challenge, but the racing was over with. I felt good about the compromise and got a sound night's sleep.

Day five was a long one for sure, but mercifully it was relatively flat, which allowed the miles to float by in a metronomic rhythm. For the first time all race, I had some space from other runners, so I sat back and enjoyed the scene. The mangroves in particular were stunning, but just as bucolic were the horses out to pasture in a beautiful valley as open as the mangroves were dense.
End Day 5 at Drakes Bay

With every passing step I was getting closer to Drake Bay, our final and perhaps most stunning location of the entire trip. I passed an ailing Carlos Sa at mile 20 or so. Carlos, like many in the race, was dealing with pretty major feet issues. Mercifully my feet had held up through the humidity, dousing and countless creek and river crossings. It could have been so much worse.

There was one final river to cross before we made our way to the finish on the beach. I sat for a while to cool my jets, then engaged the final kms of road to the beach. Popping out onto the beach at Drakes Bay, the finish line was a mere 800 meters away - no endless beach running to finish the day - thank the sweet baby Jesus.

Despite having a final day of running left to complete, there was a definite sense of accomplishment around camp that afternoon. The final day at 13 miles would be nothing more than a victory lap, a quite stunning victory lap as it turned out, with rivers, waterfalls, dogs, dirt roads, beaches, coastal singletrack and a final few hundred meters of beach running all packed in there as a punctuation point on a fantastic week.

I felt a true sense of accomplishment at the finish. The Coastal Challenge had lived up to its name and challenged me in ways I hadn't predicted it would. Each and every day was a grind, the heat and humidity were intense, and the level of competition meant that there was simply no letting off the gas. Every day was a race - until, of course, it wasn't.

I have to thank the race organizers for putting together such a stunning course and figuring out the crazy logistics that go into an event like this. Camp was ripped down every night and miraculously re-established at the next day's location, kitchen, med tents and all. The staging locations were gob-smackingly beautiful and the camaraderie around camp was flat-out fun. I was a little nervous about bringing the whole family out for this one, but the kids had an absolute blast and were truly sad to leave camp life and the warm ocean.

This one comes highly recommended, solo or en famille.

Stella was quite taken with Dr Luciano!

Photos: Ian Corless 

Photo: RestArts Studio

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Week Ending January 27

Mon - 10 miles (2,500') easy. South Horsetooth summit via Slush's Slit and then around on Westridge - Spring Creek. Another beautiful day in The Fort.

Tues - AM: 7 miles intervals. Not much in the tank for this morning's work. Ran with Chris, but the effort/split relationship was not a good one for me. Worked way too hard for these. Maybe some lingering cold stuff going on, if I really want to reach for an excuse. Or just getting old. Workout was 3 (1,200, 1,000) around City Park Lake, with the kilos as fartleks: 4:08, 3:25, 4:04, 3:23, 4:00, 3:20.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. An easy jog up Horsetooth to shake out the morning workout.

Weds - 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Casual Horsetooth summit on icy trails.

Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. It was cold this morning and the roads on Centennial were an icy/snowy mess, which made for challenging running trying to maintain an effort coming back. Out easy to the turn, then back with Jason in approximately 33 mins.
PM: 4.5 miles (1,500') kinda hard. Retained my title on the VBM. Undefeated in all four renditions, as it happens.

Fri - 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Grabbed a morning ascent of Horsetooth with Danny in the new snow. A little slippery, but I knew where all the icy spots were hidden. Back down the hill with neighbor Mike and his big plott hound.

Sat - 12.5 miles (3,400') easy. Double Horsetooth summit (21 & 22): Southridge - Audra - Rock - Wathan - Spring Creek - Soderberg - Rock - Audra - Southridge. Super casual double up and down via the cheat three-way route.

Sun - 15.5 (1,500') 5k/10k Frost Giant double. We stayed up in Estes Saturday night with Danny and his family at a cabin that one of Danny's colleagues had graciously opened up to us. Elk burgers were on the menu, which is fitting while in Estes, a town that is overrun by Elk. We were in town for the 35th running of the Frost Giant races, the fourth year in a row for me. The morning starts out with a 5k at 11:00 and a 10k at noon. Both races are a mix of hilly road and tough cross country, all at 7,500 - 8,000 feet.

There was a good group up from The Fort and surrounding areas, so we got out for a jog of the 5k course to assess conditions, which aside from the wind - always a factor in Estes - were pretty good. Getting ready, I bumped into Joe G who'd indicated the day before that he might be coming up, doubling down on the double with a 30k snowshoe race the day before.

The race got out with me, Mike - who'd beaten me the last time we raced on Thanksgiving - and Joe off the front in a small pack. The pace felt a lot more reasonable than it has in past years. Half a mile in on a slight downhill, Mike put in a little surge and it was just me and him at mile 1 heading up into McGregor Ranch. I kept on the gas all the way up the hill to the high point in McGregor Ranch and then let it go on the downhill across the pasture. This was enough to establish a comfortable gap on Mike, such that I could cruise the final mile back to the finish reasonably comfortably for 18:44. This was a few seconds off of last year, but 50 seconds off my best from 2011.

We jogged a bit between races to stay limber, then got things underway for the 10k, which starts with a steep climb up into some neighborhood roads. It looked like it was just me and Joe off the front for this one. We ran together for the first mile, and then I got a gap heading up to McGregor Ranch. The gap on Joe stayed essentially the same for the remainder of the race and I was content just to get around. The underfoot conditions were especially challenging on the 10k part of the course, with the usual off-camber grassy hillsides in addition to some really awkward sections of ice on the low point of the field to pick through. It felt like hard work. I popped back out on the road in 34:35, which meant I needed to run under 5:30 through the last mile to register something under 40 mins. I gave it a go, but came up a few seconds short (40:08), running another personal worst unfortunately. This one two minutes slower than last year and four minutes off my best. Maybe the course was longer? The cross country section seems to change a bit every year. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Longs money shot from the Estes Trail Gazette
Post the 10k. Podium in various orders for both races.
Total: 79.5 miles (15,500')

So, another base-building week of fairly easy, but hilly mileage in the books.

I've been up in the 100s for weekly mileage at this time in years past. Not this year. I think I can time a better peak for Western States if I stay conservative on the mileage through the end of February; save the heavy lifting for March, April, May. I think I've been fitter in May than June the last couple of go arounds.

Off to Costa Rica early tomorrow for a 10-day run vacation with the family. I'll be competing in the Coastal Challenge stage race, but should be done each day by 10:00 or so, which will mean lots of quality time on the beach with the kids. Six days of camping for three-year-old Stella should be interesting, but hopefully fun.

This is the 10th running of the 6-day, 230km race, so the race organizers have been busy putting together a field of international runners that I'm looking forward to running with and competing against. Ian Corless has the details on that. Having never run a stage race, I'm not really sure what to expect in terms of recovery and getting after it for six straight days, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. Fun times.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Week Ending January 19

Monday - 5 miles (1,500') jog/hike. Horsetooth north. Drove down to the trailhead and attempted a summit of Horsetooth, but was reduced to a hike/jog, due to continued sickness and super icy conditions underfoot.

Tuesday - 4 miles jogging. Went down to City Park for Jane's workout, but ended up jogging the intervals as I was still feeling crappy. Gave up once the snow started coming down.

Wednesday - 7.5 miles (1,800'). Horsetooth north. The trails were still an icy mess, but I finally felt some strength returning to my body, although still hacking up a lung.

Thursday - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Out a little quicker than normal, but still relatively easy, then back with Jason at tempo effort. Still a bit under the weather, the hills were tough, but I was able to at least get some kind of turnover going. Back in 31:25 - 7:36, 6:35, 6:42, 5:24, 5:06.
PM: 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Gorgeously sunny out, so cruised up and got a nice easy Horsetooth summit.

Friday - AM: 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Another beautiful morning. Up the hill easy with Danny.
PM: 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged out another summit with the last rays of the day.

Sat - 12.5 miles (4,400') peaks. Met up with Jason, Burch, Lewis, Dane and Sam for a loop on Greyrock. The trails were better than I thought they would be, but I kept it at one loop before heading down the canyon to Gateway Natural Area with Jason to bag ranked 6,823' to the east of Seaman Reservoir. For this one, we ran the mile to the private property line on the southeast corner of Seaman Reservoir. Once the property there came into sight, we hoofed steeply uphill following a ridge with good goat trails all the way to the summit. This one was fairly open, so it went quickly. Up and back in just a little over an hour. Nice views of Seaman Reservoir, Greyrock and other peaks up the canyon from the top.

Sun - 21.5 miles (4,000') steady. Horsetooth/Redstone/Horsetooth yo-yo. 3:30. Started out with an easy jog up Horsetooth, then ran the road down to Redstone Canyon where I did a steady out and back to the three-mile marker, holding 7:10s up the hill and 6:45s down. After that I was back up the hill for another easy summit of Horsetooth (16) before heading for home. It took a while to force myself out the door for this one, as the motivation to run long just hasn't been there of late. This may have been my longest run since Wasatch, so I was pleased to feel decently strong the whole way around.

Total: 83 miles (18,500')

The start of this week was pretty much a bust due to lingering flu-like symptoms. That started abating by the middle of the week, so I was able to finish things out on a strong note - finally getting a legitimate long run under my belt on Sunday. It's been a while.

Looking forward to some Frost Giant action up in Estes Park on Sunday - always a fun time. This will be my first trip up the Big Thompson Canyon since the floods, so I'm interested to see how things look there. Hoping to also find some time to bag West Crosier on the way back, the last ranked peak in the Big Thompson area that I need. Speaking of which, I picked up Larimer County ranked peak number 150 on Saturday, which leaves just 105 more to get until I have the full collection! Probably be another couple of years.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Week Ending Jan 12

Mon - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Nice easy jog up Horsetooth in well-packed snow on the main trail.

Tues - AM: 7.5 miles intervals. Underfoot conditions on the cemetery loop were not good, so pretty much ran to effort and disregarded the watch this morning. Workout was mile, 800, 800, broken mile (800, 800), 1.5 mile lamppost fartlek.
PM: 7.5 miles (1,800') easy Horsetooth summit. Gorgeous day out with still great packed snow on the main trail.

Weds - Noon: 7.5 miles (1,800') easy. Snuck a quick summit of Horsetooth before running the kids around for the afternoon.

Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Out on Centennial with the Thursday morning group: Mary, Celeste, Ziggy, Scott, Becca, Lee, Marie and Katie. Nice easy run out as usual, then back at a controlled half marathon - 10 mile effort. Net uphill for the first three miles, then down for the last two: 7:32, 6:40, 6:35, 5:20, 5:15 = 31:22.
Noon: 7 miles (1,800') uber easy with Stefanovic who was back on break (and grossly out of shape) from his studies in Boston. Snuck a north gap ascent in as the rock was largely ice free. Beautiful view of blue fog sitting over the valley east of Boulder. Out towards the plains smoggy/dusty air was trapped low and looking nasty.

Fri - 7 miles (1,800') easy. After watching the wind howl from my office all morning, I finally summoned the courage to get outside and tag the peak. Went up the main trail to stay out of the wind and then struggled mightily to stay on my feet once on top of the rock (9). Everything has iced over thanks to the sun and wind, so it was very careful going on the descent.

Sat - 8 miles (2,000') peakbaggery. Woke with a burning throat and pretty much feeling like death, but decided to go ahead and meet Andy as planned for a morning tagging peaks up in the Red Feather Lakes area. We started from the Mount Margaret Trailhead with the winds whipping around pretty fiercely. There wasn't a huge amount of snow on the ground, but enough windblown accumulation to make things annoying. On the north side of the Red Feather Lakes Road, there are three ranked peaks semi-circling Windy Gap Lake, with two more on the south side of the road. Those were the goal peaks for the morning. First up was 8,522', a nice rocky lump composed of the solid, weathered and uber-featured Sherman Granite familiar to the area north of Fort Collins and the high plains of Laramie. To get on the peak, we followed a National Forest fence north to its northeast corner, before heading east and up to get the fun, rocky summit. The land out here is nice and open, so the views from each of our morning's summits were stellar.

8,522' on a different day. Photo: Joe Grim (from LoJ site)
From the top of 8,522' we checked out the lay of the land for the next two peaks, noting a steep snowy descent to the saddle with 8,356', which from our vantage point had a particularly aesthetic appeal to it, and then a good bit of cross country around Windy Gap Lake to get to 8,388'. The descent off 8,522' offered a little spice to our morning due to the steep, slabby and snow-covered nature of the terrain, but we picked and slipped our way through comfortably enough. By contrast, the southwest facing rock of 8,356' was dry, featured and fun to climb. It went quickly. The route off was again largely dry and we were soon making our way around the frozen Windy Gap Lake and heading up some pretty torturous terrain to get on 8,388'. Deadfall, heavy brush and the deepest snow of the day all made for a tedious - even if short - ascent. The summit rock had a nice hand crack to the top, which Andy geeked on for a while and then we headed southwest off the rock through heavy brush for Lone Pine Creek and the road. By the time we hit the asphalt, I was really beat down from the crud invading my body, so we called it there and ran the mile and half back up to the car into a nice steady headwind. Got home and was essentially dead to the world for the rest of the weekend.

8,356' from slopes of 8,522'.
Sick and wanting off the windy 8,522' summit. Windy Gap Lake to the right. 
Sun - 1.5 miles (400') hiking. Woke up feeling absolutely terrible. Aches, temperature, cough, burning respiratory system. There was no hope of a run today, so I nixed plans for a longer one and tried to convince Alistair to hike with me. The winds were howling again, so it was a tough sell, but I did at least get him to the trailhead. We didn't get far though, both of us not really enjoying being out, so we headed back down and into town to watch grown men collide into each other at full speed while chasing after an oddly shaped ball. I used to do that for fun too. How odd.

Total: 63 miles (12,800')

Picked up the nasty flu-like cold that's been doing the rounds this winter towards the end of this week and it put me on my back for much of the weekend and the first part of this week, but I'm finally feeling like I've kicked it to the curb some five days later. Good riddance, I haven't been sick like that in a while.

The sickness put to bed any plans of a longer run this past weekend, something I need to start getting on top of these next couple of weeks if I want to have any chance of competing in Costa Rica at the Coastal Challenge early next month. I've been tooling around with runs in the 7-10 mile range forever, it seems, and basically avoiding longer efforts. Time to start getting a little more serious.

Successful racing or not, we're really looking forward to the trip out to CR. Dana's mom is going to come out and join us, which should hopefully give Dana some good time to herself on the beach or in the jungle while I'm out running in the mornings. The 90+ degree temps are going to be a pretty rude slap in the face, but it'll be the same for most everyone I'm sure.