Jul 18, 2016

A long day - Sheep Mountain Endurance Run

And that was just for the runners, who were out for anywhere between 11 and 16 hours! The volunteers and race crew on the other hand? They faced an equally long day, and in some cases days to prepare for the race and get everything organized so that we as runners were able to focus on one foot in front of the other. While this was my first 50 mile running race, it wasn't my first long distance event  - I've done enough marathons and mountain bike races that I know what I want and what I'm looking for in a race. I don't need the frills - the swag bag of trinkets and advertisements, the pre-race dinner I'm not going to eat anyway; the herds of people and the trash they bring; or the cheap medal for finishing or placing. And I have to say - Sheep Mountain delivered in almost every way. It was hard - with some of the descents as hard to run as the climbs. It was scenic - the views from Sheep Mountain showed off the front range and the Mosquito pass. The wildflowers were popping, splashes of color everyway. It was remote - the distances between aid stations weren't that long, but the terrain made it feel like you were in the middle of the wilderness. It was low key -there weren't any marching bands at the start, just Sherpa John telling us knuckle-heads to get outta there. The finish was equally low key but welcoming as friends and family gathered and waited for their runners.

A few volunteer and organization highlights for me:
The course was marked perfectly. On the road out of Fairplay at the start and then back in, there were both ribbons, reflective tape and markings on the road. Sure, some of the paint on the road got dusted out after 12+ hours, but it was still very visible. Every turn was marked with a small arrow in addition to flagging. On places where the trail was less well used, there was plenty of confidence flagging. I had studied the map, but that's very different then being out on the trail after 5, 7, 9 hours of running. I never had the feeling that I was lost or off course or just wondering where I was. That was 40 miles of course that had to be marked and double checked to ensure that there was no tampering. And that's 40 miles of trail that needs to be cleaned up and unmarked the following day.

Aid Stations were well manned, the volunteers enthusiastic and there was a lot of food items to choose from. I never felt like the aid station were too far apart - in most cases the distance perfect. Far enough apart that you could get in to a rhythm on the trail, but not so far that you had to carry an insane amount of food or fluids. The only one that was really long was between Pasture and Horseshoe for the second time - but we were warned many times that it was longer then it looked on paper. And it was. The volunteers at the aid station were helpful but not overwhelming. They did what I asked, no more and didn't push. They also moved quickly, but without rushing. I appreciated that - I know some people are in a hurry and want to rush rush rush, but that's when things get forgotten or not done right. I would rather take an extra minute at the aid stations and have everything I need then  rush through and miss something vital. The only issue I had was the overwhelming selection of sweet and sugary foods at the aid stations. I know that some of them were challenging to get into (Brown's Pass must have been a long haul for some of the volunteers and I know they ran out of a few things) so there was going to be less available. I also didn't really look at the food selections because I was eating mostly my own stuff. But the only place I remember seeing anything other then potato chips for something not-sweet was at Horseshoe the second time through. Those little cups of pickles and the tatertots really hit the spot though!

The finish line vibe was just right for me. John was there trying to personally greet everyone finishing, friends and family were hanging out in lawn chairs cheering for everyone, hamburgers were being grilled almost to order. No loudspeakers blaring music and noise, just an iphone serving as the band until the real one showed up. Okay, the real band was actually part of the Park County Fair, but they sounded good and kept us entertained. It wasn't loud and obnoxious like at so many events I've done - we could all still talk and swap stories about the race without having to yell. Many of the runners who had dropped were back at the finish line and it was a small party until about 10:30. The final finishers got as much applause as the winners. It was my first time really hanging out until the finish of a race and it was a lot of fun.

No race or event is ever perfect. But it is the mark of a great race when the runners are able to focus on what they are there for - finishing the challenge - and not get distracted by other issues. And that was my experience at Sheep Mountain. I just had to run - hike - shuffle - plod my way through the course. Everything else was taken care of and I didn't have to worry about anything but me.

Jul 13, 2016

Friends with the Monsters..

And the voices inside of my head.  As Saturday approaches, the voices - the demons - have begun talking to me. Sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream. 54 miles. It's the distance from Colorado Springs to Lake Pueblo State Park. Or the top of Wilkerson Pass... A long bloody way to cover on two wheels, let along two feet! Yet that is my goal. Traverse the trails and roads west and east of Fairplay, covering more then the distance of two marathons. Theoretically, it should be nothing. After all, I've run back to back marathons many times - once getting both under 3:10. Fifty two miles, in just shy of 24 hours at a pace much faster then I'm planning. But in this ventures, I had time to recover between races and took the recovery seriously. Here, nothing but continuous forward movement. One step in front of the other, no breaks between efforts and the the clock doesn't stop ticking. 

As Saturday approaches, those voices are getting louder. Ever doubting, ever questioning - the demons make me nervous. It's normal to have some doubt and nerves as a big day approaches, without fear there can be no respect for the distance. And without respect, that is when you get into trouble. Despite the number of marathons I've run, I never approached one I was racing without respect for the distance and what could happen along those 26.2 miles. But fear? That is a new one for me. I was never scared of what lay ahead of me between the start and finish. I knew there would be great moments and I knew there would be rough patches. It was only three hours - hardly any time at all to get inside my head and allow the fear to build. But this? While it might be "just" the distance of two marathons, it will take me to time it used to take me to run four. A long time to be out on my feet. It won't be the longest time I've been in motion, that would be the 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest. It also won't be the furthest I've gone into the mountains in a race before - that belong to Vapor Trail and the lonesome, dark stretch of trail over the divide. 

This feels different. Maybe because I once was a fast runner, used to covering ground on two feet. It's easy for demons of the past athlete to make comparisons to the current self. Despite the fact that there can be no comparison - who I am today was shaped by the experiences and knowledge gained as a road runner, but I am not that athlete anymore. It is neither bad nor good - just a change brought by a change of focus. Maybe because July got here much quicker then I anticipated. After all, it's been a year since I decided to do this. Plenty of time to prepare - except for the unexpected setbacks that found me doing fewer base miles in December and January. The demons in my head point to those setbacks, warning me that it's always one step away from happening again. Even without the base miles I'd planned on, I've got the fitness - two wheels translates nicely to two feet (and back.) I'd like to think I'm stronger and smarter then I was when I was just a runner. And that is another area for the demons to mutter at me about. Am I really as prepared as I think? I've got the clothes, the gear - all tested for long runs without issues. Clothes for heat, clothes for cold and wet. I've covered everything, at least that's what I think. Shoes are set, socks selected, shorts and top well worn. Pack is comfortable and my handheld hasn't been bothering me for my long runs. I've done well with food - having found a few things that taste really good while running. So theoretically, all my bases are covered. From the training to the shift in mental stay and finally my gear - it's all ready and the work has been done. 

Now - just to quiet the mind, tell the demons to shush and keep moving. One step at a time, one mile at a time. Be aware of the big picture but keep the focus on the smaller segments. I am ready. 

Jul 11, 2016

New Trail Day

I love my circle of friends. Most of them are always up for an adventure and willing to try anything I suggest at least once. So when I had the great idea of riding up Crank Case Alley, then a short little jaunt on Pipeline and then up 720 and back down on Jones, I knew just who to ask. The route, inspired by my long run last week and the boy's Solstice Death March ride in June, seemed kinda crazy on paper, but had been just fine on two feet. I knew there would be hike-a-bike, both up Crank Case and then again on 720. I didn't know how bad it would be on 720, but it really hadn't seemed that ugly on my run.

So at 7:30, Amber, Emily and I gathered our gear - our race gloves and our hike-a-bike shoes - and headed up into the canyon. We had a lot of climbing to do just to get to Crank Case and it was supposed to be a rather warm day. Thanks to the dry weather and hot temperatures, the decomposed granite that makes the canyon awesome in the winter was quickly building into deep piles of scree. It would be an interesting day! The pedal up Gold Camp to Buckhorn was pretty quiet. I think all three of us just wanted to get off the road and safe from cars. It's always an interesting ride up Gold Camp and this time was no different.... The Buckhorn lot was already in three row mode when we pedaled through at 8:30 - it was going to be a busy day!

We actually didn't see anyone until we dropped down to Bear Creek. Several large groups of hikers had gotten just as early a start as we did - the first group was at the bridge, taking photos of all the butterflies. They gave us a strange look as we headed UP - not turning down 666 like most riders would do at that point. The second group had made the loop from Seven Bridges, and after hiking up Seven Bridges, across the short chunk of pipeline and then down Crank Case, they wanted to know if it was something a "strong beginner" could ride. Most likely not the best of ideas, but have fun!

Once we got a little further west, the trails were empty. It was just the three of us, the birds, butterflies and trees. So quiet, so peaceful. We were high enough up that the temperature was comfortable, even while pushing our bikes! Yes, 720 was much easier on two feet without dragging the bikes along for the hike. We did some riding, some hiking, and burnt plenty of matches trying to ride more. But it was still fun - and I think I found a great place to do some training for Poncha Creek Road...
Emily and Amber, plotting how to enact revenge for my brilliant idea
 Once we got to the junction of Jones, it was time for a snack and then pointing the tires downhill. Yes, we did actually get to ride downhill for a little bit! The descent into Jones Park is always worth any crazy ideas I might have...

Yay! Downhill!

One of my favorite sections of Jones - Amber sweeping through the aspens.
Emily's turn!
 
While the loop might have seemed better running, I still think it was a fun time riding. Sure, we didn't get as much of Jones as we would have with the gravel grind up Gold Camp and Old Stage, but we had no cars to deal with and just a few hikers in the beginning and end of the ride. We got to link some trails together and generally just be out in the woods! And while there may have been some grumbling as we were hiking with our bikes, we were all smiles when we were riding.

Jun 29, 2016

Whirl-wind getaway

When most people go camping, they find a home base and stay there a few nights. We try to do that, since moving around gets exhausting, but it doesn't always work when there's lots of trails to be explored. So our trips often get turned into a whirl-wind of riding, running and hopefully just chilling out and relaxing for a little. This weekend was no different. With only two days instead of the usual three, we were even more pressed for time to adventure.

Starting it out right with the obligatory columbine photo...
Saturday was a Buffalo Creek day. We thought about riding the new Little Scraggy loop, but Nick really wanted to hit up Blackjack. So Little Scraggy with have to wait a few more weeks for us. We took the standard route up from the parking lot - the exposed climb of Nice Kitty. It's not that bad of a climb, just long and exposed. And it was hot. There were some puffy white clouds building on the horizon, but nowhere close enough to help cool things off. At the top of Nice Kitty, we continued on the perimeter loop we had planed - hoping to avoid some of the crowds on Little Scraggy. The loop included Green Mountain - a trail we haven't been on in a while. Clockwise might not have been the best choice of directions for that trail - a long long climb, followed by a short little descent. As we started the climb up Gas House, the clouds were building - growing more ominous to the west and north. One of the things I was working on during this ride was eating on the go a little better - and remembering to keep nibbling during the entire ride. I'm okay with this during my solo rides, but get caught up trying to keep up when riding with the boys and forget. Not this time. I was doing a good job of getting the food when it was safe and without stopping. Those clouds were now rumbling as we hit Charlies Cutoff. Close rumbling with some very nearby lightening strikes. Not the kind of weather I wanted to be heading towards exposed, ridgelines. I've lived in Colorado long enough - I know you don't mess with the thunderstorms! So Blackjack will have to wait as well. No matter how fun a trail might be, if the weather is such that it's not safe to ride, then I'm not going to ride it. Live to play on the rocks another day...

The fearsome wildlife at our campsite - the stream flows in the morning and dries out in the afternoon
Looking towards Mount Guyot and plotting...
We debated staying at Buff Creek for the night so we could ride Little Scraggy and Blackjack Sunday, but opted to move on. Saturday night was spent in the dispersed camping outside Jefferson, We were minutes from the CT where we camped and that was the goal for Sunday morning. We got up, had coffee and breakfast and got ready to ride. In 10 minutes, we were on the CT, heading north and up towards Georgia Pass. The goal was just to ride as high as we could since I'd heard that snow was still blocking the trail closer to the pass. Thanks to the early start and the location, we didn't see anyone else on the climb up. It was quiet and cool and the only other life on the trail the plentiful mosquitos. Don't stop pedaling! I was swarmed every time we stopped. We made decent time to the start of the snow, but after the first long drift, we decided to turn around. There were other adventures to be had. Now the early start meant traffic. We were heading down and starting to see other riders climbing up. Lots of stopping and letting them through, but it was anticipated. That stretch of CT from Kenosha to Georgia is hard - but so much fun. And there's still more trails back there to explore.

A mountain biker in it's natural habitat... Singletrack!
Finally it was time to do a little more recon on the Sheep Mountain Course. We drove to Fairplay, scouted out the two crew access points so Nick will know where he's going and then headed to the Sheep Creek trail. I was going to run a few miles and Nick would ride again. Just enough to get another sample of the singletrack I'll be facing in a few weeks...
Sheep Creek trail!

Looking North from Sheep Creek trail. Sheep mountain and Brown's Pass - two weeks


This is going to be interesting - at the junction of 12 mile trail and sheep creek trail. Which will be about mile 22


Jun 22, 2016

Beat the heat

What to do when summer shows up in a hurry and big days are planned? We went from temperate and mild to record highs in just a few days and I know I wasn't ready for the planned long days. For me, it was leave early. Very early. Like I was going to work early...

Saturday's fun ride with Amber was already an early departure time, but after seeing the forecast, we moved it up a hour. Leaving at 6:15 and it was already toasty. We were both loaded down with food and water, ready for an easy pedal up Gold Camp (if such a thing exists.) The parking lots in both Stratton and High Drive were already full when we rolled through. Plenty of people had the same idea - get out and beat the heat. Once we got past St Mary's, the crowds vanished and it was a mostly solitary pedal up the road. Just a few other riders heading up and down. One snack break about halfway up the never ending grind and then we hit Old Stage. Old Stage is really one of my least favorite roads - plenty of rednecks hotroding on the dirt, not paying attention to anything. Surprising, the road was almost empty. Despite the crowds down below, the higher we got, the emptier the forest got. There weren't even any people up shooting - which is just bizzare now a days. Amber and I both donned our "superhero capes" - elbow and knee pads at the typical break point at Frosties. And of course, I'd taken a cue from Nick - nothing get the attention of the boys at the top of a climb like the phist-creaking of a can opening. I'd lugged that can of Coke all the way up that climb! And now it was time to enjoy it before the descent of Jones. I've honestly never done Jones without Nick before, so it was a new experience for me. Getting to set my pace instead of chasing the boys and figuring out my own lines was nice. I was able to enjoy the ride and look around a little. Not that much since Amber was right behind me! I never even had time to get my camera out for some photos! I could have pushed pace a little and maybe have gotten a couple, but it wasn't worth it. The goal was fun and riding smart - and if that meant no photos, so be it. We only saw a few other groups of riders, so our early start time had us ahead of the curve for sure. Even when we got onto Jacks to finish out the day, there weren't too many people around. I think the heat scared everyone inside after the morning!

Imaging a mountain biker floating down this ribbon of trail. A perfect day!

Bottom of 666 - starting the trek into the mountains.
On Sunday, I had originally planned on a 30 mile long run up into the mountains. Well, with Sunday supposed to be flirting with 100*, I knew that I couldn't leave early enough to come close to beating the heat! Not with a trail run. So I opted for the other tried and true ultra tactic - instead of one long run, I did the back to back method, with 21 miles Sunday and then 16 on Monday. On Sunday, I decided to make one big loop - from the house into to Bear Creek, then up 666. I used to hike that trail all the time when I was a kid. We called it raspberry trail because of all the raspberry bushes - enough fruit to make jam with! But I haven't run up it in forever. Last few long runs were coming down after climbing up Buckhorn. I set out at 6:00, with my Rev 6 loaded up with a full bladder and a spare bottle, as well as my small handheld. I also had the steripen with me, anticipating the need to treat water at least once. My legs were sluggish after the long ride and it took me a bit to get moving. Then I hit 666 and while I wanted (should have tried) to run more, it just wasn't happening. Between the fatigue and the heat, hiking was all I had. And it wasn't even power hiking! Thru Crankcase and finally I was able to start running a little more. I took the fartherest drop down into Seven Bridges, then back tracked a little to find a quiet spot to treat some water. I'd already finished the spare bottle and what I had in my hand held, as well as half of what was in my pack.

View from the top of Seven Bridges. The city seems so far away up there!
Then came the trek down Seven Bridges. And all of a sudden, people. Lots of people. It had been so nice and quiet for the first half of the run, but now, the trail was crowded. And nobody seemed to expect a runner coming down the trail at that hour in the morning.... I'd definitely beat the crowds on the start, but was a salmon swimming downstream for that little chunk. Met Nick on Gold Camp, he was out riding, also amazed by the numbers of people.  But everyone had the same idea - beat the heat and get outside for Fathers day. It was already hot and not even 9:00 in the morning. I took Columbine home to avoid the roads. The temperature was climbing as I descended, making it a great test run for my light weight wool shirt. After the melt down at Fairplay, I decided to try something new (old?). I'd used to wear a really light weight long sleeved shirt when it was hot out, but had gotten away from the practice. Finding the super light weight material that breathed and was comfortable was hard. But at Fairplay, in the tank top, I was melting from the sun beating down on me. So I'd gotten the lightest wool shirt I could to try wearing. And it was working - the long sleeves were drawing the sweat away from my body, but staying slightly damp so I was cooler. And I didn't have the sun issues.
 

Just some flowers - I love the contrast between the yellows, blues and purples
 
Just to test that theory, I wore a short sleeved shirt for my shorter run the next day. It was just as hot and I left almost at the same time, but I was definitely not as comfortable. I stayed low for that run, doing a short loop on Columbine and then meandering through Stratton. And I was happy for the shade, since it was toasty out. I'll be wearing my long sleeves for Sheep Mountain for sure!