Transcendence

Most people do crazy stuff when they turn 40 - the classic midlife crisis type affair. There's buying a snazzy new car (does a 4WD Merce...

Sep 30, 2015

Bobcat 25K

I'd had my eye on this trail run through Palmer Park for several months. Kept debating signing up - I knew I'd be able to do the distance, but wasn't sure about the quality of my running at this point. Two weeks after Vapor? Was I nuts for even attempting? After doing my last longish run before Vapor on part of the course - the sections on Templeton and Edna Mae - I was even less sure that it was a good idea. That was one of my slowest runs in a while and I was a little freaked out. I know that the running in Palmer Park is hard to begin with and the race course was taking us on some of the hardest and most techy trails around. Actually, the race course was hitting nearly every system trail in the park!

While my legs were cycling tired after Vapor, I felt great running. Might as well - I was planning on running longish anyway. Instead of suffering alone, I could do it with some friends and have the support at the aid stations if I chose. Only problem - my old trail shoes were just that - old. Once I decided that I was going to race, I needed new trail shoes and needed them in a hurry so I could at least get one run done in them before the race! And I needed to figure out if I was going to wear my Rev 1.5 pack or the solo waterbelt. I really didn't need that much stuff - the race was starting early and was very well supported. I could get away without anything if I wanted. But that wasn't the point - in addition to getting my long run in, I also wanted to keep testing out my gear. So the pack it was. I've been wearing it and it's really comfortable. Time to try it with a number and in a race situation.

This was a very small, low key race, with a 50k of about 15 people starting at 7:00, the 25k I was doing starting at 7:30 and then a 10k starting at 8:00. I got to the park after the 50k has already started. For sunny, September morning, it was pretty chilly still. Most of the runners in the 25k were hiding in their cars, trying to stay warm. As the start approached more and more runners appeared. There were plenty of people I knew and more that I didn't. I've been out of the running scene for so long, even the old faces are new again. 

And then it was go time. With a 25k - just a little longer then a half marathon, I was pretty comfortable with pacing. The leading guys took off pretty quick, leaving the rust of us in the dust. I started out pretty chill, but found myself in the lead with two women right behind me. Huh. The competitive side in me kicked into high gear and I started upping the pace. The first third of the race was the easiest running - not that too many trails in Palmer Park are "easy" even for running! But that was the fastest running section. I figured I would use the rolling but not super tech trails above Maizeland and over by Grandview Overlook to get some time and shake off the other women. Amanda stuck with me for a while, always right there until the Cheyenne descent where I was able to extend the gap. Having riden the trails at speed made it a little easier to run then at speed. Even though the lines are a little different, there is some good cross over. 

I bypassed the first aid station and headed right back out on Palmer Point Trail. It was still cool and my little backpack had plenty of water. The next aid station was just a few miles away - around the Mesa at the top of Yucca Flats. I took a small cup of water there, stopping long enough to drain it and toss the cup in the garbage. No sign of Amanda, but that didn't mean much. She could have bee right behind me and I wouldn't have seen her with the twists and turns of the trail. And then things got challenging as we turned onto Templeton. No more easy running. It was Templeton all the way around and back down to the Stables. I was starting to catch the 50k runners at that point and made sure to pass nicely and wish them luck. Unfortunately, some of the "normal" trail users were a little annoyed that there were course markings all over (at no point were any trails roped off) and that there was an extra 60 people spread out along the trails. There were several places where people had purposely torn down and mistakes the course. I know we needed to stay on Templeton, and even then still got a little off track in on place. Oh well. 

Templeton was still fun. I was running more then if anticipated based on my little adventure before Vapor - the new shoes made a big difference! It's still not fast running because every foot placement has to be precise. I made to the Stables in good time and took another glass a water. No food - the three gummy worms I had were making me happy food wise. Then up the stairs of Edna Mae to regain the top of the mesa. Only a few more miles of tricky running and it was on trails I ran all the time. We ran out on lower Templeton, hitting all the fun technical sections, then popped out Yucca Flats road. My first chance to take a good look around and I saw no one. Good. It was back to the raider running as we meandered on and off the Yucca Flats road and single track. 

One last aid station and the final push back to the finish. While I knew th trails, it was the only part I hadn't figured out when studying the course map. So I would have to just follow the flags and hope no more had been torn down. The part through Little Moab was a tad confusion, but only because I was anticipating going down a specific way and wasn't looking outside that line. But it all led to the same place in the end and I was back on track. Now I was just running for time. I knew there wasn't enough time for Amanda to catch me, but also that I would have to push it pretty hard to break 2:20. 

Alas, the clock won this round and I wasn't able to hit the mark I wanted.  I finished in 2:21:56, 5th overall and first women. The nice think about first year events? My time is also the course record! At least until the real fast people discover this fun, low key family race....

Sep 24, 2015

Testing the Limits - 2015 Vapor Trail 125

Like with most big races, I came into the 2015 Vapor Trail 125 with a plan. Time splits, light management, and food and water management. Would everything go according to plan? After a week of tapering and a day of sitting around getting nervous, it was finally time to find out.

Last year, when I lined up on the F Street Bridge in Salida, I had no clue what I was in for. This year, I knew what was coming and was eager to get started. That last four hours of waiting is the hardest. The sun sets, darkness envelops the town and finally, it's time to get ready for a long evening and day on the bike. It was warmer this year then last and I opted to dress lighter - knowing that if I was a little chilly on the climbs, it would be a good incentive to ride harder! No long-sleeved jersey - just wool tank undershirt and arm warmers and knee warmers with the standard kit. An old pair of booties over my hike-a-bike shoes, some warm wool socks and my mid-weight gloves with my rain jacket for the rollout. The hard decisions of the day were made. Nothing left but to pedal!

Sep 15, 2015

Saying Thanks - Vapor Trail 125 Volunteers

I did the same thing last year - writing about the volunteers of the Vapor Trail 125 before actually getting the race report finished. Why? Because without the volunteers, the race would near impossible to do except for the dedicated few self-support bikepackers in the group. So it is really the volunteers who deserve the kudos and congratulations for putting up with stressed out, mentally fatigued and possibly impaired riders at all stages of the race.

Cascade Aid - in some ways the easiest aid station but also the hardest. The volunteers have to be there, ready to help from midnight on. It's the shortest time period for an aid station in the race, but the riders are all clustered together still and it's dark - making it harder to help. Nick and I met one of the volunteers at that station before the race. She was visiting from Oklahoma and was helping out "because it sounded like fun and you guys are amazing." No affiliation with any of the racers - just wanted to be a part of it. I was in and out too quickly to see her, but Nick did and said hi.

Snowblind - Dave Wiens and his Gunnison crew take the dawn shift for volunteering at the Snowblind Campground. It's the first sign of civilization after 34 miles of darkness, brutal road climbs, hike-a-bike and thrilling descents. From hot coffee, pancakes and sausages, the Snowblind crew knew exactly what you needed to push on to summit of Monarch Pass. Encouragement and moral support - along with a warm blanket and a chair to rest in that was what you needed - was also readily available. Another quick pit stop for me - just long enough to get some water, a glass of OJ (Yum!). Then it was on to the next checkpoint.

Monarch Pass - This year the high school racing team helped out at Monarch Pass. They'd raced the day before and I think they might have been a little tired still... Food was cooking - eggs and bacon, but the kids were moving a little slow at times. I was lucky - I had Keith Darner (Director of the super fun sounding Monarch Crest Enduro) helping me personally with everything I needed. I was more organized then last year with the drop bag, but still took a little longer then I wanted - the chair was feeling really good at that point.

Marshall Pass - The two pass checkpoint is one of the hardest aid stations on the race, I would imagine. They have to be out there from the early morning hours as the leaders come through and then till late into the afternoon waiting for the back of the pack. Riders are already tired when we get there, and we are faced with the beauty and hell that is the Starvation-Poncha loop. Dropping at that point is so easy - just point the bike down Marshall Pass and coast down hill... The volunteers there need to be able to balance encouraging riders to keep going, but being aware of physical and mental issues that might put the riders in danger. They are also faced with the hardest part of the race - being one of the few stations with a firm cut-off point, having to tell riders that their day is done. For reasons outside their control this year, the Marshall Pass crew was working on limited supplies and didn't have all the luxuries they normally can offer. But the volunteers made up for it in enthusiasm and encouragement. Seeing the riders twice - once before Starvation and then after - and the differences in attitude that 11.5 mile loop brought with it highlighted how challenging this event really is.

The last official Aid Station was at the start of Rainbow Trail. A final checkpoint before the last push into town. Just a small table loaded with food and supplies. Another firm cutoff point though, and another point where the volunteers have to be aware of rider condition when encouraging them to keep moving.

And those are just the official check points. This year, Jefe B and Rachel A set up an impromptu bacon station on the Palisades. A sight for sore eyes, their warming bonfire after the chill of dropping off the Continental Divide.
Earl Walker - one of the race organizers - was all over the course on his moto. From tail vehicle on the road out of town to the checkpoint at Blanks. Then again just before the start of Tomichi Pass - on the other side of the Divide. Always aware and enthusiastic about everyone. I think I saw him twice more during the day - at Monarch and Marshall Pass. I was able to get info on how Nick was doing every time I saw him, and he passed along the same info to Nick.
Tom Purvis - another one of the race organizers and truly the face (or voice) of the Vapor Trail 125. In the two and a half minutes I was in at Snowblind, he cleaned and lubed my drive train and gave me updates on how everyone was doing. Again at Marshall, he was checking with the volunteers and providing encouragement to the riders. How much did Tom drive during the race? More then we rode - I'm sure! And yes, everyone in Salida has to have a slightly shy, crazy eyed dog named Vicki! I'm sure there are many more behind the scenes organizers and volunteers who work hard through out the year to make sure we riders have a smooth and safe race. If I didn't say thank you before, then I'm saying it now - Thanks to all the volunteers, race officials and everyone else involved in putting on the Vapor Trail 125. All your hard work really makes for an outstanding event.

Sep 10, 2015

Missing the moon

Last year, I wrote about the moon during the Vapor Trail 125 - the light of the nearly full moon illuminating the Colorado Trail as we started, creating ghost-like shadows on the Chalk Cliff and then vanishing behind the mountains as we climbed up towards Hancock. There was darkness in those trees - the total darkness a September night brings. And then the climb over the Continental Divide for the first time. The darkness was banished by the orange moon hanging low against the horizon. Truly surreal, combined with the tiny dots of lights across the valley. A moment that can only be experienced once and one that I was thrilled to be immersed in.

This year, there will be no moon. Perhaps, if I am lucky, the sliver of moon will appear as I climb up Granite Mountain. But otherwise, just the darkness of night and the chill of that darkness. Who know what lurks in the shadows of the backcountry? Without the moon, the noises will remain just a mystery - an incentive to pedal faster. If it is clear, the stars will provide somewhat of a distraction from the climbing, but that clearness will wrap the trail in alpine cold. Who knows what will greet me this Saturday night?

The darkness calls. To find the answers is to test myself to the limits.

Sep 4, 2015

Taper time

I've always struggled with tapering. As a runner, a triathlete and a mountain biker - the taper just drives me nuts. I get so used to working hard and testing the limits of my tolerance to the training. Going to bed tired and then not being sure how I will respond once I start the next workout - I always love that. It's as much mental as physical at times, knowing when to push through and when to take a short break. And then comes the taper. Suddenly, it's time to recover and freshen the legs from all the hard work. Like most endurance athletes, not getting up to greet the sun is strange. I should be out running or something, not sleeping in. And after work, there should be another few hours on the bike - knocking out the intervals to make me faster. 

It's a common trap for endurance athletes. Instead of trusting the process and the rejuvenation that the taper provides, too many athletes sabotage it though maintaining volume or too much intensity. Some intensity is needed to keep the edge, but too much drains the energy needed for the target race. Finding the balance and being satisfied with some "laziness" is the hard part of the taper. The work has been done - recognize it and focus the energy on the race. 

With my goal race of the season coming up, I'm in that grey area of taperness. Wanting to keep pushing to keep building my hard won fitness - but also knowing that I need the recovery to race at my best. I'm not going to lose anything during the time of tapering, in fact I can do nothing but gain the freshness that I need. It's going to be a long day on the bike. I need the fatigue from the prior months worth of work to clear so I can perform to my goals and my potential. It will happen - I just need to behave and not let the lack of activity stress me out. There is enough other stuffto worry about and prepare!

Sep 1, 2015

Cottonwood...

We opted for a campground Monday night. It seemed like a good base camp for the final day of freedom - both for running and riding. I got up early and decided to run before the ride. Should be an easy run, I figured - about six miles by looking at the map. Just run down the road from the campground to the CT, a short little jaunt on the CT and then back up the road. I told Nick my planned route and how long I figured it would take. Another good test of my Rev 1.5 - this time with a long sleeved shirt due to the pre-sunrise chill. I still need to trim the straps on the two chest bands, but want to make sure I have the fit dialed before I do that. About a mile into the run, I passed Cottonwood Lake. With the stillness in the air and the sun rising, it was too pretty not to stop and get some photos.

Looking towards the sunrise from Cottonwood Lake
And then the road tipped downward. I knew I'd have run back up, but wasn't worried. It shouldn't be to much of a climb back - just a mile or so. But when I was over three miles and just approaching the CT, I realized that my six mile estimation was going to be a little off. I could have turned around then and kept the run short. But no - I didn't want to miss out on my exploring. So I kept going. The section of CT was right along the creek and so peaceful with no one else around. I was on trail and having fun. Then came the climb back to the campground. It was a little steeper then I'd anticipated, even after running down! I was also going to be later then my "return to van" time is given Nick. That was a good incentive to run a little faster and a little more on the hill then I would have otherwise. Of course, when I got back to the campground, and was at 8.75 miles, I needed to get that extra quarter of a mile. Classic runner - I'm late to the van, but can't have awkward numbers! Good thing Nick was still sleeping when I got back - just a little late...

The stillness of the morning on the return from my solo run
And then came the ride. Poplar Gulch Trail. It climbed from Cottonwood across a saddle between two 13,000 foot peaks and then dropped into St Elmo to the south. We had ridden part of the south side of the trail a few years ago - but hand made it all the way to the saddle. I'd had a rebellion midway up - being tired, hungry and cranky from an already long ride on the Tunnel Lakes and CDT. But this time there were no excuses. We would make it to saddle at the very least. I wasn't sure if Nick planned on riding over to St Elmo or not - I had a feeling not since that would mean a lot of climbing and a little bigger day then we wanted. But it would depend on trail conditions. The south side was pretty rideable - a steep climb but a well used trail. The north side? Not was well used and twice as steep! There was as much hiking as there was riding as we climbed almost straight up the mountain side. I alternated with riding - forcing myself to ride as much as I could - pushing my bike and carrying my bike. Good training for sure! It was only three miles to the saddle, but we gained 2200 feet in those three miles - from just over 10k to over 12,200 at the saddle. It took us nearly 90 minutes for that climb. After that, we were both happy to enjoy the views all around and then make the plunge back down.
Nick nearing the high point of the trail - in the saddle between two 13,000 foot peaks.

The view to the south - Hancock Lake just barely noticeable. In two weeks, we will be riding that expanse in the darkness of night.
With no one else on the trail, we could ride as fast as we wanted! It was with the climb up - chunky alpine riding as we started, then dropping into the trees and picking lines through and over the roots. My hands were aching from holding to the bars and my arms tired tossing my bike around through the roots and rocks. We were both grinning at the end - our kind or descent. A fun, fast and technical ride that challenged technique and line choice - not just the ability to go fast. A fine end to a fun weekend.