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 26, 2018

Re-learning Ultra

This has been a process in the making since July 2016. Why so far back? Because that's when I ran my first 50 mile race - rediscovering my love of long distances and trail running. I'd had plans for more running races in 2017 - not as long as 50 miles, but eyeing a 50k or two in addition to my mountain bike races. But that was not to happen. My running in 2017 was severely curtailed by the eye flares throughout March and April. I ran some, but kept it short so not to irritate my eye any more then the mountain biking already did. The management strategies I have in place to keep my eye happy seemed to be working. Time to start looking at some long races! Based on timing, my desire to do Vapor Trail 125 for a fifth time, and my hesitancy to do another 50 mile race, I choose a local event on my backyard trails. The Pikes Peak Ultra 50k.

I've been keeping this one quiet - just because I haven't really felt much like a runner the last few months. It's been a roller coaster of training since the start of the year - with the never ending cough in the winter, Nick's surgery and my twisted ankle at the end of April and two weeks of hot and humidity in Minnesota. I felt like every time I started gaining ground, something would happen that would limit what I was able to do. I was nervous as I continually reworked training due all the various issues. I wasn't getting the hard runs, the trail play time or the long runs I wanted. But finally, it's the end of July and it's race week.

Looking out over the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k Course form the top of Mount Rosa.
Yes, it's race week and I feel like a newbie ultra runner. Things two years ago were simple and easy - what shirt to wear, which shorts, my shoes. Now I'm having issues with everything! I at least know what shirt I'm going to wear... But shorts? I thought I had the right pair until some major chafing on one of my long runs. So I tried another pair - same issues in different area. Argh! I wouldn't think my body has changed that much in two years. Add in the bra issues and it's been a frustrating time trying to figure things out. The comfy wool bra I've been wearing for a few months is now causing major chafing both front and back on my rib cage and I don't have time to go buy a new one. Shoes seemed dialed - the new update of the shoes I used for the 50. Ran a few of my long runs in them, but my feet weren't exactly happy. Legs loved the shoes, but not so much my feet. And my other pair was even older, making them less of an option for a race. Double yikes! I've also decided to use gaiters for the first time - on my last long run the scree on Pipeline was crazy. So many pebbles and rocks in my shoes! Newbie runner for sure right now and that is after after 70 marathons or ultra races!

At least I have my plan figured out. And my crew is top notch. I have that going for me! It will be a fun, hard day regardless of what happens. There's actually some big names in the race and I'm sure that they will just run away from me at the start. But these are my backyard trails. I know the course and I know the trails. Hopefully there will be some home course advantage!

Jul 6, 2018

a sense of loss

It's a strange feeling when something that's been part of your life for the last 4 years is suddenly ripped away. Even though I've been focusing mostly on running the last few months in prep for my Pikes Peak Ultra 50k, I was still preparing for a fifth run at the Vapor Trail 125. I wasn't 100% committed, but was 95% sure that I would be toeing the line come 10:00 PM on Sept 8th. After four consecutive finishes with one first and three second place finishes, I couldn't imagine anywhere else I would want to be.

I saw some posts and photos on Facebook that indicated there was something up. A photo with a road closure sign at the bottom of the north side of Tomichi pass. One of the race organizers asking questions about routes that connected up to the top of Granite Mountain. I didn't connect the two together - thinking Tom was just out exploring. Besides, it's only the beginning of July - September is a long way away and I had closer events to think about. I was planning on worrying about Vapor once the running race was finished. Then I would decide that last 5% that would depend on how much PPU took out of me.

That's what the plan was. And then - yesterday the reason for the cryptic posts and photos was revealed. Suddenly the best laid plans were gone and it felt like the summer was now in limbo. Due to catastrophic road damage from a rock slide, the USFS had closed the north side of Tomichi Pass. We wouldn't be able to use that road for the race. But unlike the closure after Alpine Tunnel for the last two years, there was no simple reroute. Tomichi Pass is THE way to get over to Canyon Creek from the east side of the Divide. Sure, we could take the route that Tom scouted - but that would call for an hour of descending on rutted jeep roads before starting up a 3,500 foot climb to the summit of Granite Mountain - in less the 5 miles. The added duration and difficulty would have made the race even more challenging for both riders and organizers. Another aid station, high potential for multiple DNFs due to hypothermia at the bottom of Quartz Creek. And no easy way to self rescue from the bottom of Quartz...

While I understand the reasoning and know that it wasn't an easy call - there is a profound sense of loss. An emptiness in the calendar and no motivation for epic suffer fests on the bike. I hadn't realized how much Vapor Trail 125 had become part of my soul until it was gone. Hopefully this is just a temporary pause and the race will be back to it's full glory in 2019. I know I will be one of the first people on the list when registration for 2019 opens - regardless of the form the race takes.

Jul 3, 2018

Almagre - Almost

I'd made it one of my goals this year - ride up to the summit of Almagre. I've been eyeing the road that cuts across the lower slopes for the last few years, thinking it would be a great training day for Vapor. It had everything - long grinding climbs, jeep road descents and then singletrack to finish it out. And it would provide the hours in the saddle that I need for Vapor. I'm not a fan of doing a new route by myself though, so after all those years of eyeing the road, I still hadn't made it to the summit.

Finally, it was time. Nick was willing to ride up there with me and then show me the singletrack descent off the summit. We didn't get as early a start as I wanted, but the weather was supposed to be decent for most of the day. It was also a few degrees cooler then the last few days, so we packed light on water. We both brought our filters with us, with the plan to stop in a few places and treat water. The less we had to carry, the easier the ride would be for the long climb. I was a little concerned about the length of the ride - it would be the first big ride for Nick following his surgery. Sure, we'd been riding the entire reunion trip, but all short rides. I don't think any of the rides were more then two hours! Here we were planning on at least a 6 hour ride.

On the road up to Almagre
As usual, once we got past the St Mary's Falls trail, the road was almost empty. We settled into a steady pace, just pedaling. At the normal spot on Gold Camp, we stopped to refill water. Both filters out since I needed some practice using mine. I usually just let Nick filter the water and just watch! After topping off everything, we resumed pedaling. Up and up and up - then it was time for the HAB short cut to Old Stage. Once we hit Old Stage, time to settle into the pace again. There was a lot of climbing left to go! And that was just to get to Frosty's park... After that, it was even more up, up and up. Our time to Frosty's wasn't bad - just a little slower then normal for an easy pedal day. Nick was starting to get tired - not unexpected for the length of the rides he'd been doing. I offered just dropping Pipeline and skipping Almagre - but he wouldn't hear if it. We were going to Almagre.

Why yes, I did realize my visor is crooked. No, I don't really care!

This is probably the only time that I was able to easily climb away from Nick. I know it will never happen again, especially after he starts riding hard again after his surgery. But because this was the first long ride he'd done in nearly two and a half months, he was starting to lag. I was getting a little worried when I kept turning around and not seeing him for a few seconds. I knew he was coming, but he was riding so much slower then he'd anticipated. It's usually me watching him ride away from. I did secretly enjoy the moment though!
View from the Antenna Farm - the High Ch√Ęteau Fire burning in the background

Finally we reached the Red Gate. Most people just stop there and turn around, but the goal was Almagre. So we maneuvered around the gate and kept heading up. There was the culvert for shelter and the reservoir. Nick was very upset when he saw the reservoir was empty - even that high, the drough was hitting hard. We had a choice - go to the antenna farm first and then the true summit of Almagre or to summit Almagre and hope to make to the antenna farm. We opted for antenna farm and rode/pushed up to the summit. As we took photos, the wind kicked up - howling around us. Clouds were building, pushing up the east slopes of the mountain. We rode down, paused for a little and then decided to takle Almagre. When we started down the trail around Stratton Reservoir, the clouds enveloped us in a cold mist. Thunder echoed faintly in the distance. Yeah, no. No Almagre summit today! We beat a hasty retreat down...
Almagre - so close, but so far!

Those clouds moved in quick!
Nick took me down Smoky City trail - warning me several times that he did not want me on that trail by myself. I could climb up to the summit of Almagre alone, but he wanted me retracing my path back to Frosty's. Reasonable - Smoky City is a straight plunge down a ravine. No cell service at all and maybe no SPOT service at all. Making matters even trickier this time, the rain was starting solidify out of the clouds. We popped out onto the Jones traverse, filtered some more water and then headed down Jones. Our first and only time going down the new Jones - ugh.

I'm hoping to get up there a few more times this year. It will be the perfect long grinder climb for Vapor, and with some solid single track if I take Pipeline down. And besides - I don't like unfinished business!