Jun 15, 2016

Touching the Sky - South Park Trail Marathon

I'm a little out of order with this one - I haven't had the desire to sit down and write about the Growler yet. But last weekend's trail marathon has me thinking more towards July then into the past and so here we go. I decided that I'd do the South Park Trail Marathon when I signed up for Sheep Mountain. It shares the same first 8 and last 8 miles as Sheep Mountain so would be great way to check things out. I had a feeling that the last 8 miles on the road were going to be tough and I wanted to see for sure. It was also a good way to look at the race organization - see what I could expect at the aid stations, course markings and other things that can make or break a race. It also provided me a chance to check clothes, socks, make sure my pack was comfortable in the heat and start getting the little things figured out before July. And it was the perfect time for a long run - I was mostly recovered from Growler and Meowler so it was time to transition over to running.

Starting line - South Park City

The start was one of the most low key events I've been in. A herd of runners, milling around South Park City, waiting for the signal to start running. No gun, no whistle, just "go on, get outta here..." And we were off! Down Main Street and across the swollen creek - yes, there was a bridge but the snow melt had overflowed the banks and we were getting our feet wet within the first mile. Since this was kind of a recon race for Sheep Mountain, I really resisted the urge to run hard from the start. Settle in, be smart about the pace and just run. I knew the first few miles were all dirt road, so dialing down the pace was important. It's super easy to get excited and start out harder then intelligent when it's gently rolling dirt. The field spread out pretty quickly - I was comfortably in second, but not sure if the leading woman was doing the full or the half. And not worrying about it either. That wasn't the goal of the day.
Eventual Women's winner Christine O'Gorman running with Sheep Mountain in the distance

Once we got off the county roads and onto the forest service roads, it was easy to be distracted by the views. With where we were going looming ahead of us and the front range sprawled behind us, there was so much to look at and take in. I usually don't take photos during races, but had to make an execption this time. After all, I had my phone aka camera with me... I caught the woman in front of me after we turned into the trees, saw the low number and assumed she was doing the half marathon. A fast descent into the first aid station (I was already dreading the climb back up) and we turned onto County Rd 18. During my run out here last year, that road had been crazy busy. It was early enough for it to be quiet still. I was too busy looking around to pay any attention to the runners behind me. The road tipped upward, gradually climbing. I wasn't feeling all that great, walking more then I wanted. I talked myself out of the hole by telling myself it was all training for the 50 - I'll be doing plenty of walking there. But the road wasn't so steep that I shouldn't have been able to just motor along. Maybe I was more tired then I realized from the last three weekends.

Horseshoe - and then comes the moment. We are going all the way up there?!?

The road kept climbing, getting gradually steeper. And as we climbed, the temperature got hotter and hotter. My arms and back were already hot - and we hadn't reached treeline yet. I stopped at the Dauntless Aid station for a refill on my bladder and looked up. I couldn't see where we were going, but I could see snow! And runoff - there was no avoiding the wet feet! But I'd planned ahead - with wool socks and tape on my heels to prevent blisters. We turned off the main road after Dauntless and I looked behind me for the first time - whoops. I guess the other woman was doing the full! And my casual pace up the climb meant I hadn't gotten much of a gap at all. Oh well. With the climb to 13,100 coming up, I wasn't going to be pushing the pace that hard anyway. I was an easy target in my red tank top.
Which leads me to Lesson 1 - when getting ready for a race and you have a gut feeling that you should do something to cover your arms, listen to it. Back when I was running a lot, I actually did a lot of my long runs and hotter sunny races in a super light weight long sleeved shirt. It protected my arms from the sun and actually kept me cooler then a tank top. But I didn't listen to the whisper of what I used to do - and paid for it later. It does seem counter intuitive to wear long sleeves to stay cool, but it works. And it's what I'm going to do from now on.

Looking down into Horseshoe

One of the many snowbanks we crossed - this one had steps shoveled into it!

Last year they hadn't been able to climb all the way up to the Peerless Mine because of the snow levels. This year, up we went... Volunteers had shoveled steps into the steeper snow banks and there was enough melting to ensure that we'd be treated to the views only alpine terrain can provide. Once again, my camera was getting plenty of action! I didn't stop and take any photos of the flowers though - I wanted to but that seemed like too much work without my glasses. I wasn't even thinking about the return trip, just focusing on one step at time, climbing higher and higher. The runners ahead of me were little dots against the snow, the only sign of how far we still had to go for the turn around. Eventually, I saw one of the dots coming back down, slipping and sliding on the snow fields. And those snow fields were deep! I post holed in one all the way to my hip - that was interesting trying to get out of - with the snow getting softer by the minute!

View to the east - Sheep Mountain looming large

View to the west - Hello Leadville!

And then finally, the top. No fanfare, just a volunteer taking photos and a small sign saying "Turn Around." I stopped to take in the view - to east, Sheep Mountain, South Park and oh so faint, Pikes Peak. To the west - Leadville, Turquoise Lake and the mountains of the Continental Divide. Now came the hard part - coming down. Normally, I'm a crazy nut, blasting down the hills. But I learned my lesson at the High Drive Challenge and wasn't going to blow up my quads or risk falling on the uneven terrain of the steep descent down to Dauntless. I was careful and took my time. It meant I dropped into second, but I really didn't care at that point. I wanted to finish in one piece and there was plenty of road descending left. I didn't refill my pack at Dauntless, but got some water, coke and ginger ale - as well as the best tasting watermelon I've had.

Coming into the Dauntless aid station after the climb up
Photo - Joanna H
We left the aid station moments apart. I easily pulled up alongside and we ran together for over a mile. Then my racing mind took over my training mind and I picked up the pace a little, pulling away. We were on the long road descent on County Rd 18 and I wanted to see if I could make the move stick. But in the back of my mind, I was worried. I was feeling roasted already - like I was melting. How would the last few exposed miles coming into Fairplay treat me? I did get a refill at the Horseshoe aid station - as well as some more water, some gummy bears and a handful of cherries. I didn't fill up my pack that much - it was only 7 miles left. I wouldn't need that much, right?And there is Lesson 2 - while carrying the extra weight of the water can be slower, running out of water is even slower. I had a feeling that it was going to get super hot and I was on the brink of a melt down. But I didn't get as much water as I needed. Nor did I have my little hand held with me for an added boost of liquid

She caught me on the climb out of Horseshoe as I'd anticipated. I was walking - trying to remember that this was a recon race for Sheep Mountain. What were the chances that I'd be running with 20 more miles under my legs? I was also hot - very hot - and the walking was letting me cool off a little. Once she passed me, I tried to keep her in sight. There were only a few more miles left - even though I was trying to focus on July, it was hard not to think about the current moment. I was keeping the gap to between 3-2 minutes . In the interest of racing, I bypassed the water only aid station - just a jug with some cups really. There were only 4 miles left - I was fine... But really, I wasn't. We were fully exposed to the harsh sun and I was roasting - I'd gotten it the gap to first down to 1 minute and was intending on making a move to try to bridge and get back on. Didn't happen. I tried to accelerate only to realize that there was nothing. I couldn't speed up at all without feeling like I was well into the red - and not from the effort of the pace. I wasn't cooling myself off like I needed to run faster - and actually needed to slow down to get my temperature under control. Yikes.
Which brings me to Lesson 3 - racing is good and winning is great. But not at the expense of health. Recognizing that something is wrong is the key to health. I was out of water and on the verge of heat exhaustion - if I had kept pushing, things would have gone down hill in a hurry.
So slow down I did. I walked when I felt too hot and ran when I'd cooled off a little. It was a slow last few miles, but I was okay when I finished.

I've got a few things to iron out - and a month to do it in. A new light weight long sleeved shirt, remembering to use my handheld on daily runs so I get used to it, better with eating and getting the process at the aid stations down. Not that much, but enough to keep me busy.
I'd recommend the South Park Trail Marathon to anyone looking for a challenge. It was a well organized, fun and challenging race. And super low key - like everyone was approaching it as a long run with a number on...

Jun 1, 2016

Bottles, get your bottles here!

Saturday of Growler weekend. That means it's my turn to be race support and make sure the guys get the bottles and such they need for a successful race. I was helping Nick and Brett out this year - had offered to a few others but hadn't had any takers. The plan was the same as last time we went this direction - give Nick his camelback after Luge and then a bottle each time he went through the 4-way. I was also going to be giving Brett a bottle the first time at the 4-way. So it would be a busy morning. I did want to get a little bit of a run in - just something to stretch out my legs and get ready for my race the next day. After I dropped Nick off at the start, I headed up into Hartman and parked at the top of the second hill on the road. I'd get a good view of the riders cresting Kill Hill and then be able to see where people were in the race before jogging down to my post. I knew I didn't have enough time do get all of the run in before the race hit Kill Hill, so I was already planning on a run in stages. It would work and then I'd be ready when needed to help out.
Kill Hill from my vantage point - look closely on the road for the riders.
I could hear the wave of noise as the riders tackled Kill Hill. The sage was silent save for the birds, and then the echos of cowbells and cheers bounced off the rocks. Here they come... Brett was very high up in the group - just behind the lead pack. Turns out he'd won the Kill Hill prime this year... But more worrying to me was the fact that there was a singlespeeder ahead of him. And it wasn't Nick... Nick was further back in the race then I'd anticipated and didn't look as settled or comfortable on his bike as normal. Told him his position, then gathered my gear for the jog down the road to Luge. It was a bit of a wait even for the leaders, but I could see the bright colors weaving through the sage on the Luge descent. I got Nick a fresh bottle and his camelback and off he went. In fifth at that point, but not that far off the main group of singlespeeders. Time to drive to the 4-way and finish my run while I waited.

Scenery shot of the Indian Paint Brush! Flowers were awesome out there this year
There was a small group at the 4-way when I got there, setting up a water table. Right in the middle of the down hill... That table would get moved about 4 times during the race! I parked the van - driving it more defiintily made me more comfortable on the dirt roads. Talked with the other volunteers and rider soupport people, then headed out on Back In to finish my run. I knew it would be a bit before Brett came through. At the top of Back In, I stopped to watch for a while. I knew I could see the start of the Nine-O climb from that vantage point and that it would take the riders maybe 10-15 minutes from the start of the climb to reach the 4-way. But other then that, I could see nothing. One or two cars parked off trail by Skull Pass, but the course itself was a mystery. Just like at Kill Hill though, I could hear the wave of noise as the riders approached Skull Pass. I could actually see the start of Outback once I knew where to look as well. The lead rider had a huge margin when he started up Nine-O.

Bottles, get your bottles here!
 I set up my support station after the turn onto Bambies, on a slight uphill straightaway and waited. I knew Brett would be near the pointy end of the race so needed to be ready for him. Unfortunately, I hadn't really told him where exactly I'd be! The first rider nearly blew through the right - heading straight up Powerline. He caught it just in time and didn't have to back track too much. The next group of riders made the turn and I started looking for Brett's bright orange helmet. Super easy to see.
Brett slowed a little as he approached the cattle grate a the 4-way, looking for me. I yelp and hollered - enough to get his attention. First bottle handoff was a success. And not far behind him - the leading singlespeeder. Wow. That guy was moving! Time to start counting the guys and keeping my eyes on splits...

Nick was in fifth. He tossed his camelback and bottle as soon as he saw me. I gave him the new bottle and told him position and time back. Then I gathered up the discarded bottles from him and Brett and went to go refill them. I'd seen both Brett and the leading singlespeeder making the turn off Powerline road while I was waiting for Nick. It wasn't even a close race among the singlespeeders - that guy was well off the front.

As before, I positioned myself away from the turn, on a slight uphill. Still counting the singlespeeders so I'd at least be able to give Nick the info when he came through, I waited. The gap between Nick and 4th place had stretched a minute in the little loop. Another handoff and Nick was off for the sections of singletrack. Now came time to try to beat him back to the base area! I was successful in that, even driving slowly. There was more traffic out on the roads and I had to pull over a few times to let some speed demon drivers around. But I got to the base area in time to see Nick finish. He ended up 5th in the singlespeed class - not where he was hoping and much slower then he'd anticipated.  Just wasn't a good day for him...
Since I wasn't able to get any action shots...
Photo - Dave Kozloski

Since I wasn't able to get any action shots...
Photo - Matt Burt

May 31, 2016

Hartmans Take 1 - The Original Meowler

Or how to make one lap at Hartmans harder then it already is!

The Original Growler course - complete with long climbs, techy rocks and sweeping descents through the sage. It's a challenge in it's own right. So how to make it even harder? Throw in a nice little run in the middle! That was the task ahead of me at the Original Meowler - ride out to the base of Skull pass, swap my cycling shoes for running shoes to run the Aberdeen loop, then return to cycling mode to finish the race. It's the exact opposite of most duathlons and made even more challenging with the requirement of carrying all my running gear to the transition and back to the finish. To me, that sounded like a great day.

 There were 76 racers entered making for a much more mellow day then what was coming in a week. We gathered at the base area, waiting for the signal from Dave to start our journey. At 7:00, the race was on - up the double track for a bit, then onto Jack's. It was a mellow, cordial start, with everyone realizing that it was going to be a long day and there was plenty of road coming up. I'm not sure which is worse though - the train up Jacks or the grunt of Kill Hill.  I slotted into second women right away, just behind Sari Anderson. I was hoping to try to stay close, but that wasn't going to happen. On the road out to Luge, the gap was already growing. Time to ride my own race. I'd set out a few goals for the race the week before - one was to try to race under 5:00 and the other was to ride everything except for the push up Skull Pass and the Powerline Rd climb. Neither of those two goals would be easy - I've wasn't sure how long the run really was or what it would take out of me for the last half of the race. I also wasn't sure about being able to ride everything - but you have to dream big sometimes!

May 25, 2016

Growler time!

After the Meowler, it's a short turn around to the next adventure at Hartman Rocks. The Growler weekend... As usual, Nick is racing SS in the Half Growler and I'm playing race Sherpa for him all day. Then the tables turn and I get my two laps while he is Pit Boss. It should be a good weekend - the weather looks like it might cooperate for both races! But we all know what happens with Colorado weather.

I'm actually a little more nervous going into the Growler then I though I'd be after the Meowler. I wasn't as quick as I wanted on the bike - riding conservatively on the first segment because of the run. I also didn't realize how long that start loop was for the first lap. I didn't do the full start lap back in 2014 due to the weather. The Meowler was my first experience with the start for the counter-clockwise direction. Crap - the road was long! And we started in the base area, not downtown Gunnison! I'm sure that it won't feel so long with the full complement of Growler riders. And having the full field of Growlers will make it a faster start as well. That's one thing that adds to my nerves. With the quiet field of the Meowler, I had a clean run at everything and was able to ride everything. And now I have that expectation for the Growler - to ride everything. How will that play into the numbers at the Growler?

I always set such high expectations for myself, which often go unrealized. With some of the names signed up for the Growler, those high expectations are taking a hit. The mental talk - both positive and negative - is overwhelming right now. On one hand, I can ride all of the course now and should be able to ride it faster. On the other hand, I've been dropped like a hot potato at other races by some of the women registered. Why should this be any different then say, March? Dare I even try to follow wheels and see if I can hang on? Nick tells me to just be smart and ride hard. The race will sort itself out and I can't admit defeat before we even start. But that's so easy to do...

Regardless, it's going to be a good weekend. I'm nervous but excited to see how my legs have recovered from the effort of the Meowler. I'm also eager to test myself again in the rocks of Hartmans. 

May 23, 2016

Weekend adventures

A nice, semi-mellow weekend is sometime just what is needed. While I was gunning for the podium at the Original Meowler, the weekend was also a mother-daughter trip we haven't done in a while. With a Subaru loaded full of bike and run gear, we headed out to Gunnsion for some fun. Something different for both of us.

View from the Four way out in Hartman Rocks
Friday afternoon found us at the Four-Way for a very easy ride. Mom hasn't ever ridden at Hartmans and I knew just the loop to take her on. A little tech to get a taste of the rocks on Skyline, then onto Evans loop - Broken Shovel, Lost Dog and Sea of Sage. Nothing huge, nothing scary - just flowy trails in open fields of sage. I took some time to dial the line on the rock garden and then we headed down Skyline. Slowly. Very slowly. Her brakes were getting a workout! We turned up Broken Shovel and Lost Dog - fun and easy. And then came Sea of Sage - I anticipated that it would be a good little descent for her. We stopped to wait for two groups - a mom and her little girl and dad with an even littler girl. I pulled over both times but no high five. They were concentrating too hard to take hands off bars! It's the perfect loop for learning to ride, which meant it was also the perfect loop for Mom... I did have to laugh at the similarities but differences between me riding with Mom and the moms riding with their kids. One of the little girls was super excited that she'd ridden over one of the little rocks on Broken Shovel - super excited. Her mom had told her the exact same things I'm always telling Mom!

Full moon over the KOA - it was a quiet weekend in our little Kamping Kabin
Saturday was Mom's race. She was doing the Sage Burner 25k, opting for the shorter distance instead of trying to conquer the 50k. Given that the 50k is pretty much the second lap of the Growler course, I think she was pretty smart. I'm sure I'd be begging for my wheels about halfway through that race.... I drove up to the base area to drop her off, then headed up. My plan was to watch the runners go through, then ride Rattlesnake, Tailpipe and Ridge. I'd get a good techy ride in that way, be out of the way of the runners and be able to stay out of the heat. Watching the serpentine line of runners winding up Jacks was pretty cool. So many bright colors and funny outfits - they had better not ever say anything about our spandex and enduro colors... Mom was near DFL when she reached the top of Jacks, so I knew it would be long day for her. Time to go ride. Up Main Street and down Rattlesnake - once again, picking my own lines and finding my own way so I'd know the track come Sunday. I was pretty happy with myself when I was able to ride everything that trail offers without having to think or panic once. Such a difference from a few years ago. Then came Tailpipe and Ridge. I could see the line of runners off in the distance on Top of the World - yep, it would be a long long day for some of them! I only missed two things on Ridge trail - because I was too chicken too try without a spot. After my ride, it was time to head back to the KOA and get organized while Mom was running. I knew I had plenty of time. Turns out someone can win her age group and be DFL in the entire 25k at the same time! Perks of getting older....
Runners winding their way up Jacks

Heading out onto Tailpipe.
The full race story from Meowler will be coming soon, but that was an interesting day! Mom spent all day out on course - volunteering as traffic and course marshal at two different spots. She had great time, out in the sage, watching us crazy cyclists come through. Yes, both times we saw her, we were on our bikes... So I'd say it was a successful trip!
Choices, Choices - Meowler, Half Growler and Growler 1st Lap go left - Runners and Grower 2nd Lap go right. That was pretty confusing to some people..