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...

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!

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