Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saltwood Boxing Day Run 2013

The end-of-year return home wouldn't be complete without a trip to the village of Saltwood for a romp across the British countryside in the annual Saltwood Boxing Day Run, now in its 39th year. The weather for our trip home has been absolutely diabolical, but one would expect no less. After all, a British man never leaves home without his umbrella - or so my Chinese students used to tell me way back when. Wait, what? But, yeah, it's rained every day since we've been here and, much like last winter, rivers are bursting their banks and half the country is under water.

I lived through this misery for the first 20 years of my life, but now the annual return to the UK makes me thankful for every single one of those 300 days of sunshine we are reputed to get on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. That said, nothing quite beats the British countryside on a glorious summer day, no mater how few and far between they are. But I digress. All you need to know is that the route for the 39th running of the Boxing Day Run was bloody muddy.

The race, nay run, is an approximately three mile loop through farmers' fields, past a gate or two, over a stile, through the woods, up and down a couple of hills and back to the finish line on the village green. A true cross country race in a quintessentially British setting. This would be my sixth running of the race in the last seven years.

There looked to be a good turnout milling around as we got ready for the off, runners no doubt encouraged by the brief window of sunshine we were enjoying following the previous two days of torrential rains and gale force winds. After a few pleasantries on the start line with a couple of the Saltwood regulars it was down to business. The start was hectic and I came close to taking an early digger with ankles being clipped left and right by overanxious youngsters getting out at a sprint. By the first turn I finally had room to run and found myself sitting somewhere around tenth with a couple of lads off the front that I knew wouldn't be coming back.

The lead up to the first kissing gate, coming up from the first river crossing.
Across the playing field, I passed a couple of the early pacesetters before easing past a few more on the slick descent to the first footbridge. Up the steps to the 'kissing gate' I was sixth in line, a position I held up the first hill and over the stile. Across the grazing field - no sheep this year - I moved into fourth, with third 10-15 meters ahead and first and second off to the races. A mile down and it was a race for third.

I had my brother's cross country spikes on this year and they made a huge difference versus regular trail runners, which are simply no match for the bogs of the Saltwood course. On the slick boggy paths under the wooded canopy, I went to work on bridging the gap to third making a bit of a dent by the time we popped back out into the fields.

I was close enough now that I could hear some pretty labored breathing and was feeling strong enough that I was able to keep firmly on the gas up through the rolling paths, a number of which were more brook than trail. With a half mile to go on the final footpath leading back down into the village I began closing quickly and ultimately went by without a fight, finishing back on the green in a surprising four second PR and third place overall. Five-time winner Michael Coleman was finally dethroned by a young lad, Maximilian Nicholls, who has been running the race for years, coming of age this year with an impressive slog through the mud.

Happy to get on the podium again.
After getting a few layers on, I headed back out to watch Alistair finish up what he fittingly refers to as the Mud Run. Just the two Clarks on the start line this year, but hopefully we'll have a full contingent next year for the 40th running of this great running tradition.

Geeked to get going.
Finishing it up and putting the hurt on Skeleton Man.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week Ending December 22

Mon - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Final Horsetooth summit of the year, and number 152 total. I can't remember how many I did last year, but I'm pretty sure it was less. Hopefully I'll have the fitness, desire and consistency to register a few more next year.

Tues - 8.5 miles intervals. 5 x mile, w/first steady, second through fourth fartlek, and last steady (CCW (.98 mile), CW (1.02), CCW, CW, CCW). Showed up for this one not really sure how much I wanted to put into it, so opened up running the first one at a reasonably casual effort with Leora, Ryan and Andy: 5:41. The next three were fartlek and I decided to push the hard segments a little harder than usual and float the medium ones a little easier: 5:34, 5:20, 5:34. Finished with a final steady mile, pushing the last quarter hard: 5:15. Felt some fitness there this morning. Promising.

Wed - 5.5 miles. Jogged some easy miles on the mean streets of Canterbury after the long flight from Denver. To the West Station to pick up a birthday present for my mom, then up the Crab and Winkle to Blean, and back via Rough Common.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,000) easy. Blean Woods outer loop. Trails were totally waterlogged, but it's always good to be back home enjoying the refreshingly moist air, at least for the first couple of days. Then the rain starts getting pretty old. Not sure how I put up with it for 20 years, but I guess I didn't know any better.

Fri - 5.5 miles easy. University/Tyler Hill loop.

Sat - 5.5 miles w/5k Parkrun race. I always enjoy running the Whitstable 5k Parkrun races when I'm back home. It's a similar concept to the Tortoise and Hare races I put for the Fort Collins Running Club in Colorado, in that the races are designed to offer a means of promoting fitness for newer runners or a fun workout for more seasoned runners in an inclusive, affordable environment. If you ever find yourself in the UK on a Saturday and fancy a workout, then check out the Parkrun website and see if there's one being put on in a town near you.

Originally I was going to run the six or so miles up to Whitstable, but I didn't much like the look of the weather and with lingering jet lag I decided an extra few minutes in bed was the wiser option, driving out instead with Alistair and my Dad. Alistair and I got in a nice mile jog on the seafront to warm-up, noting a strong tailwind outbound and stronger headwind coming back, then after meeting up with my brother and his two young running proteges, it was off to the start line and time to get going. The goal was to run a hard workout more than it was to race, so I eased into things and followed the lead guy off the front. He put a few meters on me through the first couple of kms, but once we hit the sloppy mud on the kilometer long lollipop section of the out and back I quickly regained the ground and then muscled past him as we made our way back along the seafront into the wind. I forgot to bring my watch so didn't get splits, but I'd guess my first and third miles were probably right on 5:30 and the middle mile through the mud and strongest headwind at about 5:45-50. Finished in 17:25, which felt about right for the effort, then ran back out to run the last km again with Alistair who registered a course PR at just under 28 minutes. Always a fun morning on the Whitstable seafront.

Headed out in the afternoon to Canterbury Rugby Club to watch the first team play a top of the table clash against Cambridge in cataclysmically terrible weather. Brought back fond (I think) memories of playing through similar conditions on more than a few occasions during my youth.

Sun 18 miles (1,000') easy. Ran at a very easy effort out to Whitstable and along the seafront for a bit, then turned and retraced my steps. My legs were a little creaky for this one and not much enjoying the hard surface underfoot so it was generally a bit of an effort. Wet again.

Total: 60 miles (3,700')    

It's always a tough grind crossing the Atlantic in the easterly direction, especially with kids in tow, so the running has been a little labored and my sleep not great since arriving in the UK. But I'm getting into the swing of things now, just in time for a run of three races in the span of four days between Christmas and Saturday. Fun times.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Week Ending December 15

Mon - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth jog.

Tues - AM: 9 miles intervals. This one was kind of a bust with choppy snow on the cemetery loop and single digit temperatures, so just got around. Workout was mile, 2 x 800, mile, 2 x 800, 1.5 mile lamppost fartlek. Jogged the first mile with the group to check out the conditions, then ran the rest at between 5:30 and 5:50 pace.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') easy. Kind of a creaky jog up Horsetooth to catch the sun heading down behind Longs Peak. Finally warming up a bit and just a glorious afternoon to be on a peak. Pikes was visible in glorious technicolor 100 miles to the south.

Weds - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth #148. Sun was out and felt awesome after a solid week of frigidity. Down to two layers. Not a whole lot of energy, but it was still great to be out.

Horsetooth from the south on Audra Culver.
Palisade and Round Mountains at the base of Thompson Canyon, with Twin Sisters and Longs above Estes.
South, Middle, North.
Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Jogged out super easy on Centennial with Slush, Katie and Marie, catching up on the local goings on, then came back solo at a reasonably controlled effort. Now that I don't have Mike to race on these return trips, I'm hoping I can keep things truly within the desired effort range, i.e., not too hard and somewhere between LT and HM. Legs felt a little wooden this morning. Splits coming back: 7:34, 6:26, 6:36, 5:30, 5:15 = 31:22
PM: 6.5 miles easy. Jogged a few easy miles with the FCTR crew around Pineridge. Been a while since I've been to the Thursday social, but felt good to shake out the morning workout.

Fri - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Nice easy cruise up Horsetooth under the warm Colorado sun. The thaw was in full effect and people were out.

Sat - 19 miles (5,000') steady. Out for the classic two summit tour of the parks, with Horsetooth #150 on the year registered along the way. A bit of slipping and sliding and 95% ice or snow, but way, way better than the conditions last weekend and probably 40 degrees milder. Two miles fewer than last weekend at Chubby, but 2 hours 20 minutes quicker. Yup. Out with Malmberg, Burch and recent FoCo (well, Masonville) transplant/Boulder escapee Dane Mitchell. Fun morning.

Couple of Quad Rock course record holders, a Towers FKT holder ... and Clark on top of FoCo.
Summit #150 for 2013. The view of Her Majesty and her Glacier Gorge minions never gets old. 
Sun: 9.5 miles (2,200') easy. Shorts and a T for this one. Bagged another Horsetooth, then eased around on Westridge for the always fun Spring Creek descent.

Total: 82 miles (15,000') 

Haven't seen 80+ miles on the odometer in quite some time. It feels good to be running a little more consistently, but I need to grab a few more Larimer peaks before things start getting serious for 2014. That won't happen until the new year though as we take off for the UK on Tuesday.

Pete and I were hoping to put on a Towers 10k race in April 2014. It would have been a stiff 5k to the top and an electrifying 5k back down to the finish, and surely a whole bunch of fun, but it got nixed by the authorities. Ah well, the biweekly time trials will always be there. Permits for our other three races - Quad Rock, Black Squirrel Half and Bluesky Marathon - have all been given the green light, so we're happy to have those boxes checked. QR reg opened Dec 1, and early pricing is available until Dec 31.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fortnight Ending December 8

Week Ending December 1 

Mon - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth summit jog.

Tues - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. No morning workout to rest up a bit for the T-Day 4 miler, so just jogged a lap on Horsetooth.

Weds - 5 miles (1,500') easy. Another jog to the top of Fort Collins.

Thurs - 10 miles w/ 4 mile race. Jogged a lap of the Fort Collins 4 mile Turkey Day course with Slusher, then raced some of the best road talent on the Front Range (of which there is no shortage). Averaged a 5:37 pace, which was probably about right given my current state of fitness, for 49th overall. Two very easy miles to cool down.

Fri - AM: 4 miles (1,200') baggery. Set out early and with a slight hangover to go get the two remaining Rist Canyon peaks on my Larimer County punch card. These are two that I've been dreading due to significant access issues. I felt like I had a decent plan to get them undetected though, parking at a small pull-off on Rist Canyon Road to the northwest of 8,037', the first planned peak of the morning. I hopped onto a lightly used ranch road heading southeast from Rist, noting that there'd been one, maybe two vehicles through since the snows came a few days before. It was a nice easy jog up to a slight saddle where there was a small storage facility and what looked like a little-used private camping area. From there it was an easy jog through a grazing field to the base of 8,037, which sits to the northwest of the Davis Ranch community and looks to have burned hard during the High Park fire. The slopes were heavily mulched to prevent erosion and the hoof to the summit was a quick one. The summit was full of burned out project vehicles and had a rough road coming up from the terminal of the main Davis Ranch Road. I could see 7,420' - my next target - from the top, but cringed at the number of properties that lay in my way. To cut a long story short, I gave it a go, but just didn't have the appetite for it after about a half mile of trying to sneak my line. Tail between my legs, I retraced and headed home. To get 8,037, I think my best course of action will be a very early morning attempt under cover of darkness, coming in from the Redstone Canyon side.
AM (2) 5 miles (1,500') easy. Still with some time left before I was due home, I grabbed a conciliatory Horsetooth summit on the way back.  

Sat - AM: 1.5 miles (1,300') baggery. I set out this morning to finish up the 25-peak Poudre Park quad, with a tag of 6,712' - a pesky hill with access issues and some pretty rough terrain to negotiate. I parked up at a very prominent bend in the river, just west of a small neighborhood on the flats to the north of the river. Not wanting to deal with private property issues, I chose not to use the bridge that services those houses, and instead waded the very cold Poudre up to about waist deep from a public parking area with picnic tables. From there, it was a really steep hoof up a brush-infested gully. This got tiresome quickly, so I gave up on the gully and headed directly for the peak up its steep and rugged west slopes. For a low-lying peak, this one is a pretty tough get, but the views from the open top were large and well worth it. Rather than battle the scrub coming back down, I chose to come down the fairly open southern ridgeline, cutting west back into the gully before hitting private property. From there, it was back across the river, in the car and home.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Got out in fading light for a quick trip up Horsetooth.

Sun - 13 miles (3,500') baggery. Hooked up with Burch for a go at some of the peaks in the Laramie Mountains off Deadman Road, west of Red Feather Lakes. This one turned into a mini-epic and netted zero ranked peaks, but did include a summit of Middle Bald, which tops out at just over 11,000 feet. We parked up at a small turnaround to the east of a seasonal gate that was scheduled for a December 1 closure. The gate was open, but given that it was December 1, we didn't want to drive the extra mile and a half to the Killpecker trailhead and then come back to find the gate closed on us. After running up the road and finding the TH, we started on our way for what we hopped would net us the Laramie Mountains High Point, South Bald and 10,884'. However, the northern aspect of the slope in addition to the heavy tree cover meant that we were instantly dealing with deep snow, but for the first mile or so it was fine as there had been traffic along the trail before us. For the next mile after that, we were following just one set of prints but soon lost those as they headed off trail in the direction of North Bald. And so the trudging began, getting deeper and deeper the higher we got to the point where we were consistently knee to waist deep and making really slow progress, producing little body heat and generally getting cold. On a slight saddle at about 10,500' we were able to make out a craggy summit through the trees, so decided to go for that and then call it a day. We had no clue which summit it was as they are tightly packed on the ridgeline, but it was easily the most aesthetically pleasing of the four that we could see once we gained its summit. I suspected it was unranked Middle Bald from its craggy nature, but with strong winds cutting into our wet clothing we had zero appetite to trudge on and get the nearby ranked boys. From the summit, we darted back into the trees to get out of the wind and then followed our tracks all the way back down the mountain, getting back to the car 4 hours after we started. I 'm already looking forward to a summer return to this lightly visited area, as it looks like an absolute gem with super runnable trails and lots of accessible peak action.

Total: 56.5 miles (13,900')

Week Ending December 8

Mon - 5 miles (1,500') easy. Horsetooth summit jog.

Tues - AM: 8 miles intervals. Workout was: mile, broken 1.5 (3x800, with 20 meter jog between each), broken 1.5, mile. Kinda going through the motions with Tuesday mornings right now and treating them more as tempo efforts. Splits were: 5:40, 2:51, 2:51, 2:54, 2:54, 2:50, 2:51, 5:37.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Snagged a late Horsetooth summit just as the snows were starting and the temps beginning to plummet.

Weds: 5 miles (1,500') slogging. Got out in the afternoon and put first tracks up on the summit. Cold one out there, but always fun to hit Horsetooth in the snow. Hung a few Chub flags along the way.

Thurs: 10 miles (1,400') easy. Met up with Marie, Katie, Lee, Andy and Sarah for a 6:00 AM start on Centennial in -10 degrees. Perhaps the coldest air temps I've ever run in, but with no wind and good layering it wasn't too bad. I've run in zero degrees with wind and been way more uncomfortable. Ran easy for the full 10 miles, rather than try and force things coming back the last five miles.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') easy. Managed to talk another six folks into running up Towers in slightly warmer conditions (-5, maybe), as I had to hang a few course markings for El Chubbo at the top of Towers. Again no wind, so pretty comfortable the whole time.

Fri - 6 miles (1,400') easy on lower Horsetooth trails hanging more flags and breaking tracks. Frigid again.

Sat - 21 miles (5,500) slogging. Ran the JV version of Chubby Cheeks, starting out with the 9:00 AM group of about 10 hardy souls. Temps were forecast to be a little better, but the sun never really got out, so it was freaking cold again, topping out somewhere in the low single digits. Slogged through snow the whole way, but had the benefit of 25 runners having gone before me, so it really wasn't that bad. Still took close to five hours to cover the ground. Ran much of it with Ryan from Boulder and then picked up Sam Malmberg for the last stretch on Towers - Westridge - Wathan - home. A couple of ugly looking toes among the list of finishers when it was all said and done, but no lasting damage. Just three runners completed the full course. Kudos. Results, pics and more from the day in an upcoming post. Horsetooth summit #145 on the year along the way.

Sun - AM: 2 miles setting up Spring Creek 6k T&H course. Cold as all get out again.

5 degrees at the start of the T&H, maybe. Pic: Felix Wong
Total: 69 miles (14,500')

Things are starting to warm up a touch here on the Front Range, but it was legitimately cold there for a few days this week. Had about 30 runners show up for the Chubster on Saturday, which was more than I was expecting given the conditions, but only three managed the full 50k. Fun times hanging out after the run as always. Cheeks and "Cojones Grandes" gets a mention in the local rag.

I still consider myself to be very much in the off season right now, but I am ramping the mileage just a touch so that I have some kind of fitness for the Coastal Challenge Stage Race out in Costa Rica in early February. Additionally, I'd like to have a decent run at the Boxing Day classic back in the UK in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to the mild British weather and some fun outings in the green hills of home over the Xmas period.
Coming Off Horsetooth during the early stages of the Chub. Pic: Erskine 
The sun tried, but never really made it. This and other two pics: Hinterberg 
The 'warm' waters of the Rez produced a nice set of low puffy clouds.
Not too many people made it to the top of Arthurs. John and Rocque  (pictured), along with Hinetrberg were the only 50k finishers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanksgiving Day 4 Miler

Despite having run this race each of the six previous years that I've lived in Fort Collins, I was on the fence about running this year, right until the day before Thanksgiving. All fitness indications were pointing to a poor performance relative to previous years and, quite honestly, I'd been enjoying the tranquility of the off season. But tradition is tradition, and it's kind of weak to not run a race for fear of running a disappointing time. Besides, my good friend and long-time training partner Mike Hinterberg would be toeing the line, and recent workouts suggested he had a good shot at putting the hurt on me, something he'd yet to do in the many times we'd shared a starting line. I took that as a challenge and good enough reason in and of itself to run.

Despite Mike's superior fitness, could I - the wily old veteran - find a way to overcome the odds and break the tape ahead of him?

That was the challenge. And I had a plan. You see Mike has a long and consistent history of taking things out way too hard and paying dearly as a result. All I had to do was run a smart, patient race and wait for the mid-race Hinterberg implosion. I figured it would happen somewhere around the three-mile mark. If I was going to have any chance of holding off Mike's superior kick, I'd need to put a few seconds on him before the final turn onto College Avenue, 200 meters from the finish. The action, I figured, would need to unfold between mile 2.5 and mile 3.5 on Mountain Avenue. 

The race, as always, was waist deep in talent. A secondary goal at this race for me is to try and beat the lead ladies - many of international calibre - so I lined up alongside Mike and a bunch of very fit-looking women a couple of runners deep from the start line. 

The gun went off and it was off to the races. I always ... always ... go out too hard through the first half mile of this race. I wanted a comfortable 5:30 to get the ball rolling, figuring this would leave me a good 10 seconds behind Mike at the first mile marker. I kept to the plan and felt good and comfortable doing so, tracking the lead pack of ladies while watching the men's talent gallop off into the distance. To my great surprise, however, it took Mike until about the half mile point to pass me, a clear indication that he too was planning on running a smart race and looking to beat me in the process.

The first mile with the chase pack of ladies popped at 5:33, right where I wanted it. Mike had maybe five meters on me and he looked to be working on reeling in the lead lady a few steps ahead of him. Grinding up Mulberry towards the Bryan Ave turn into City Park, I had to dig just a touch to keep Mike's gap at five meters. Despite ratcheting the effort a touch, a couple of the ladies starting pulling away from me; clearly they were just getting warmed up, and any response from me would have been suicidal. Rounding Bryan and heading into the park, the second mile split at 5:29. The effort still seemed sustainable, so my thoughts started shifting to time goals. The day before, I decided I'd be happy with anything under 23 minutes, but now I was thinking 22 flat might be within the realms of possibility, even with the always tricky third mile to get through.

Turning the corner onto Mountain Ave, with Mike still five meters ahead, I decided it was time to put the pre-race plan into action and I worked on bridging the gap. Somewhere around mile three, just as I'd drawn it up the night before, the bridge was gapped and I found myself listening to some very heavy breathing. I sacrificed a bit of oxygen as I made my move to make it sound like I was out for a Thursday morning jog, knowing full well that Mike - a guy who'll race you through the last 50 meters of any training interval - wouldn't let me go without a fight. 

Mile three popped at a thoroughly disappointing 5:47, a number that confused me until I saw how far ahead the ladies I had previously been running with were. The planned-on, and famed, Hinterberg fade was in full effect; the only problem being that I was fading with him just when I was supposed to be muscling my gap. With the race still on, and Mike's heavy breathing still audible off my right shoulder, I started thinking through my long list of excuses. 

It's been a long summer. I'm getting old. I've been half ass'ing my recent workouts. I'm coming off a long period of rest. My mileage has been pitiful. Yada, yada, yada. As the weakness started to enter my mind a half mile from the finish, Mike made his retaliatory move. I held on to him until about Laurel Avenue, two traffic lights from the turn onto the final straightaway and then I couldn't hold on any longer and I did what I always do towards the end of these sprint races, I threw in the towel. I knew I had no kick in me and reminded myself for the nth time why I race 100 milers and not 100 meters. Runners flooded by me as I turned onto College as I ground out the final few seconds of the race. 

The 5:38 last mile was at least a little quicker than the pitiful third mile split, but it wasn't good enough. Not even close. Mike beat me by a convincing six seconds. Nonetheless, my watch showed a 22:29 finish time, which works out to a roughly 5:37 average. It's a good bit faster than I thought was realistic for my current lack of fitness, but still a good minute off my best from two years ago. I finished fourth or fifth in the women's race, 40 seconds off the winner and something like three and a half minutes off the lead men's pace. 

Feeling my age, I ran back through the field to find my son who was full of excitement in finishing his first Thanksgiving Day 4 miler.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

El Chubbo - 4th Annual - this Saturday

It's just about time for that cheeky little event we've been putting on up here in the northern extremes of Colorado's Front Range the last four years. The course is part-way marked, the banner is up, and the parks have a nice fresh coat of snow. As always, the festivities start and end at my house, a short half mile from the Horsetooth trailhead. The forecast for Saturday is cold, but warmer than today, warmer than tomorrow and just about right for early December. Bring a couple of layers and you'll be just fine.

To keep things simple, we've changed nothing. It's the same deal as the last three years, with staggered start times of 7:00, 8:00 & 9:00 and multi-distance options that include the Junior Varsity (20 miles ~ 5,500'), the Marathon (25.5 miles ~ 6,500') and El Chubbo Grande (31.5 miles ~ 7,500'), but people have been known to go longer and shorter.

The idea is that you pick a start time and distance that will get you back to race HQ between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 for beers, nibbles and banter. Previous results are here ('10), here ('11) and here ('12)

Route info is here. We'll have most of the intersections marked, but strongly suggest you print out a copy of the course map if you're not familiar with the trails. Ms. Ashley Waddell has kindly offered to (wo)man an informal aid station at the Arthur's TH, which depending on your route choice will be mile 12.5, 16 or 22.

Feel free to bring some adult beverages and something to eat for after the run.


No whining
No bitching
No blaming the RD if you get lost.


JV Men: Justin Mock (3:25)
JV Women: Victoria Funk (5:16)

Marathon Men: Nick Clark (4:31)
Marathon Women: Darcy Africa (5:10)

Chubster Men: Johannes Rudolph (5:40)
Chubster Women: Sarah Hansen (6:45)

Fourth annual.