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...

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.