Saturday, January 31, 2009

Signal Mountain

Headed up Signal Mountain this morning for killer views of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mummies, Longs and Meeker.

We set out from the Conoco on 34 and got to the Dunraven Trailhead at around 6:45. It was still dark out, which was nice as we would get to see the early sunrise from some great spots on the opening climb.

There are multiple options from Dunraven, including a great 20 mile out-and-back on the North Fork Trail to Lost Lake, but today we were heading straight up, from approximately 8,000' at the TH to 11,250' at the summit with somewhere between 5 and 6 miles of trail to the top.

Chad and I were both up for a very easy effort today, and with the amount of snow on the ground we certainly weren't going to be chugging. The opening stretch is a short climb on jeep track to the trail-proper, which climbed out of the Dunraven Valley to the ridgeline and the Bulwark Ridge Trail. This section was mostly clear and good running. We stopped to snap a few photos before we got into the trees.

Once into the forest, the amount of snow underfoot increased significantly, making the climb a lot more tiring. For the first mile or two it was reasonable and we were able to push through without too much exertion, but once past an intersection in the trail there were some pretty stout and lengthy uphill pitches, with snow getting deeper and deeper.

We pushed on to about 10,500' (according to Chad's altimeter), by which time we were post-holing to about knee deep, and beginning to lose the trail.

With 700 feet of climbing and another mile or so of knee-deep snow to the summit, we decided to call it a day at a great lookout spot on the ridge, which afforded crystal clear views of Twin Sisters, Longs, Meeker and the Mummy Range. Well worth the effort.

Lookin' out.

Sisters to the left, Meeker and Longs to the right.

Meeker, Longs.


We cantered back down, enjoying the cushy ride, for a total of 8 to 9 miles. Felt like much more.

Can't wait to get back there in the summer for a clear run to the summit, and to link up with some high mountain Mummy trails from CSU's Pingree Park.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Hamster Wheel

Now is not the time for discretionary spending, or so I'm told on a daily basis by myriad of talking heads on TV. Well, last weekend we chose to be contrarians and made our first non-essential 'stuff' purchase of the year: a treadmill. And this was not my doing.

For whatever reason, Dana hates running outside, but she wants to workout without the hassle of driving to the gym. Considering the limited time she has during the week, with her daily commute to Denver, I don't blame her.

My typical reaction to dropping in excess of three digits on non-essential 'stuff' (outright opposition) was assuaged by the fact that a new (cheap) treadmill works out to be more affordable than an annual gym membership, and it saves me from wimping out or suffering through runs on really brutal winter weather days.

So it was that we found ourselves touring big-box stores in search of an affordable piece of equipment. Thankfully, we only needed to tour two of these consumer castles before settling on our model: a Weslo something or other.

It has already found a home downstairs in the guest bedroom, and after taking it for a six-mile spin yesterday I have decided that it works just fine, but the view is good for a few minutes only.

I fear I will have to set up some kind of diversion (read: TV) to relieve the Boredom of the Treadmill, if I'm going to use it on a regular basis. Fortunately, people are ditching TVs at a rate of knots as they prepare for the forced switch to digital. This means cheap or free TVs by the boatload on Craigslist. Stack up a good movie or two, plug the TV into the DVD machine and you're good for hours.

As much as I hate running on these hamster wheels, they do offer comfort from arctic temperatures, while also allowing for structured workouts. We'll see how much use it gets, but hopefully it will get at least $277 worth before it packs up and dies, as all electronic devices are destined to do sooner or later.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Week ending Jan 25

Mon -- 18.5 miles (3,500ft). 3:10. Up Horsetooth to Westridge to Mill Creek into Lory State Park, up behind Arthur's Rock on Howard, back down Arthur's Rock Trail to South Shore into Horsetooth. Up Saw Mill to Stout and around to Spring Creek and home. Turned out to be a pretty hot and blustery morning. Didn't bring enough water and was a bit short through the last section. Felt decent after Saturday's effort and was able to push in places. Reasonably strong on the hills.

Tues -- 8 miles (1,550ft). 1:16. Took it easy for the most part. Legs felt decent after yesterday's effort. Groin giving me some gyp, so took it extra easy on the downhills.

Weds -- 8 miles (1,550ft). 1:14. Groin felt a little better, but pain is still there. Will back off next week. Must work new variations into my daily run. This one is getting a little stale. Already run it eight times this year. Wearing shorts and T-shirt, and still sweating buckets. Indian summer on the Front Range.

Thurs -- 10.5 miles (2,000ft). 1:36. Up Horsetooth, down Wathan, up Herrington/Towers, down Spring Creek and home. Groin feeling better, maybe 70%. Temps in the low 70s, apparently. Phew.

Fri -- 13 miles (2,100ft). 1:59. From Soderburg TH with Kenny to Arthur's Rock parking and back to Towers. Up Towers to Westridge and across to Horsetooth and down and home. Temps back to normal. Fully layered up with snow falling. Felt sluggish most of the way. Groin and knee affecting stride on downhills. Next week will be a cut-back week.

Sat -- 17.5 miles (1,000ft). 2:10. Up Redstone Canyon and back. 50 mins out and 44 mins (6:45s) back on Redstone Canyon. Easy to and from Redstone, although Amy met me just before Overhill and we pushed hard up the hill.

Sun -- Off. Had originally wanted to run today, but body (groin) felt like it needed a day off. Plus, the computer blew up (literally) so we had to make an unplanned trip to Denver Apple for repairs. Second time in less than a year that the Mac has been in for repairs. My PCs have all had better track records than this Mac...

Total: 75.5 miles. (11,700 vertical).

A solid week. Came up short of the 90 miles I had wanted to run, but now is not the time to be pushing through possible injury, so took Sunday off and will likley take Monday too. Hopefully, knee and groin will be sufficiently rested by Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leadville Out, Big Horn In & Other Goals

It's hard to decide which races I want to target as goal races this year, as goals come in different shapes and sizes. One definite goal is to get to the start line of a 100-mile race fit and healthy, and do what it takes to get that race finished. From there, I'll be able to decide if the 100-mile distance is something I enjoy and want to pursue.

That, minus the healthy part, was my goal for 2007. Unfortunately, it was the healthy part that was my undoing, and by the time Leadville rolled around I was barely able to walk - not the kind of shape you want to be in when toeing the line for your first 100 miler.

After an eight-month lay-off and a lackluster return in early '08, I am once again feeling like I am ready to race. I really think I can bust out some solid performances this year. Just got to stay healthy.

Anyway, after careful consideration and considerable sticker shock when receiving the Leadville application earlier this month, I have decided that Big Horn will be my big day out in '09. From what others have told me, the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming are a great setting for a trail race, and while Leadville is certainly a higher profile race, I think the Leadville Marathon and Silver Rush 50 will give me enough of America's highest incorporated town for one year.

The 100-mile race will be about getting it done and little else. Every other trail race I run this year, of marathon distance or longer, I'll be running for the win or for a place.

That's the great thing about ultra trail racing: if you're prepared to put in the miles, hills and intensity, and you have a modicum of talent then you can be competitive as the talent pool in this marginal but growing sport remains shallow. Of course, there is so much more to racing trails than competition, but it sure adds an extra element of fun when you can be in the mix towards the end of a race.

Race goals:

Salida Marathon (Salida, CO) - This is a small event that attracts a solid crowd of runners looking to get an early season read on their form. The course record is 3:09, which for a course that climbs more than 4,000 feet is pretty impressive. I'll be happy to go under 3:30 here. If I can do that, it should be good for a top-three finish.

Spring Desert Ultra 50 (Fruita, CO) - This was the beginning of the end for me in '07. I was signed up for the 50, but pulled up lame at the 25 mile turnaround after taking a major wrong turn a mile from the finish. Like Salida, a lot of runners use this race as an honest early season read on fitness. It climbs about 8,000 feet in total. Duncan Callahan, the winner at Leadville last year, holds the course record at 7:41, and according to his blog he plans to race it again this year. Although a listing of this year's entrants is not yet up, I know there will be other strong runners in the field, so again I'll be happy with a top-three, sub-8-hour finish.

Collegiate Peaks 50 (Buena Vista, CO) - This is a low-key race from what I understand. However, this being Colorado, you never know who'll show up on race day. Regardless, I'll be gunning for a win here. The website suggests to expect more than 9,000 feet of climbing. Looking at previous results, that seems unlikely, or if the climb is accurate then the course is probably short. Anton Krupicka holds the course record at 6:53. I'll be happy to run under 7:30.

Big Horn 100 (Sheridan, WY)- Just looking to finish. To get it done in less than a day would be a bonus.

Leadville Marathon (Leadville, CO) - This was one of my better finishes in '07. I ran 4:16 for a sixth-place finish. The climb up to Mosquito Pass at 13,200 feet is a classic, and with over 5,500 feet of climbing and some jarring descents on loose trail, anything can happen. I'm shooting for a sub-4-hour finish, which in years past would be good for a top three or a win in weaker years. Anton Krupicka holds the course record at 3:41.

Silver Rush 50 (Leadville, CO) - I beat Nick Pedatela, the '08 winner of this race at the Steamboat 50 last year, but came in 10 minutes behind Ryan Burch, who was second at the Silver Rush. If the same cast of characters shows up this year, I'll be shooting for a win and course record. The current course record was set last year, the first year it was run: 7:26.

Pikes Peak (Manitou Springs, CO) - I'm not 100 percent sure if I'm going to run this one, but if I do, a top-ten finish seems like an achievable goal. This famed race climbs a massive 8,000 feet in just over 13 miles and then you have to turn around for the brutal descent. Matt Carpenter is the undisputed king of this hill, setting the course record of 3:16 (surely untouchable) in 1993, and he is still winning to this day. If I do run the marathon, then I'd probably shoot for something under 4:30, and certainly a top-10 finish.

Breck Crest Marathon (Breckenridge, CO) - After being sent miles off course by aid station volunteers while running less than a minute behind first with four or five miles to the finish last year, I feel like I have a score to settle with this race. The win, and a better time than last year's winner (3:48), are the only things I care about here. This race is all about climbing, so I should be in good shape.

Blue Sky Marathon (Fort Collins, CO) - This one is right in my backyard. I had a poor race last year so will be looking to improve on my time (3:47).

And there it is in black and white. We'll see.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week Ending Jan. 18

Mon -- 6 recovery pace (500 ft). Milner Mountain loop.
Tues -- 8 miles (1,550 ft). 1:26. Snowy Horsetooth/Audra easy run. Felt residual soreness from the weekend.
Weds -- 8 miles (1,550 ft). 1:17. As Tuesday, with a little less snow. Legs felt much better.
Thurs -- 8 miles (1,550 ft). 1:16. As Wednesday, with still less snow. Legs felt a bit sluggish.
Fri -- 8 miles (1,550 ft). 1:13:29. Less snow, more slop. Felt good and pushed in places.
Sat -- 22 miles (4,000ft). 3:43. Twin Mountain Trudge. Tons of snow. Was happy to get around without having to walk.
Sun -- Off.

Total: 60 miles (10,700ft vertical).

Solid week with an encouraging run on Saturday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Twin Mountain Trudge Race Report

Twin Mountain, around which we would run twice.

As advertised, this race is tough. I arrived at the picnic area, which served as race HQ, fully expecting a fun morning pounding dirt. The weather had been so mild, there was no possible way we would be dealing with thigh-deep snow. Correct. But plodding, slipping and sliding through knee-deep snow still kicks your butt, especially when you've got to do it for 11-12 miles, up and down steep mountain terrain.

I showed up to the check-in in nothing but a skimpy pair of split running shorts, a tech T-shirt and a light wind jacket. After being ridiculed by half those already there, I decided I might be better off with a little more coverage and proceeded to head back to the car to slip on a pair of jogging pants. Perhaps the conditions weren't going to be quite as pleasurable as I had imagined.

To be fair the first half of the loop featured plenty of snow, but it would probably best be described as patchy. Certainly, the one to two miles of forest road leading to the trail were a pleasure to run. Once hitting the trail proper things became a little more treacherous, but the snow was still manageable, only sinking to ankle deep in places.

In a moment of synchronized trail magic, one of the guys I was running with hit a patch of ice and proceeded to eat snow. I had verbalized about half my sympathetic response to his fall before I too hit the ice, barely avoiding a face plant by pulling off a high-difficulty, mid-air twist to let my back take the blow. I did a 180 back spin before jumping back up to get on with the task at hand. Nothing but a slightly bruised ego, it turns out.

The real test began at the "Fence Climb," which while short - probably no more than a few hundred meters - was about as close to vertical as you can get while still being able to maintain a run. Throw in slick, loose snow and all of sudden a few hundred meters feels more like a mile: two steps forward, one step back all the way to the top. By this time, I was in a group of three: myself, the 11-mile winner and Phil Kochik, another 22-mile guy. Chatting with my running partner for the day, I learned that Phil is a former winner of the Miwok 100k, a premier and highly competitive California race, and was fifth at Western States 100, the grandaddy of them all, in '07.

I knew I was in good company when he pulled away from me on the Fence Climb, but was surprised to be in that kind of company in such a small race. Game on.

The back side, and last five to six miles of the loop was pure grind. The snow relented in exposed spots for no more than a few hundred meters, but other than that it was nothing but trudging for miles on end. Sinking ankle to knee deep in snow, while trying to maintain forward momentum is about as tiring as it gets.

However, it wasn't all grind. After the turn onto the "Devil's Loop" there was a fun 300-400 ft steep and twisty drop through untouched knee-deep snow. The strategy here was to high step and trust that there was nothing malicious and jagged in wait under the snow. I hit one tree stump on the way down, but was able to negotiate it without taking a spill.

Once down, it was just a question of persevering and slogging. The climb back up and out of the Devil's Loop was a nasty surprise, and again Phil gapped me a bit on the climb. We dropped the 11-mile runner somewhere on this section, soon after hole-punching our race bibs to prove we had completed the loop.

Just when it seemed the torture would never end, the snow dissipated to reveal longer and longer stretches of dirt. Never have I been so happy to see dirt. Before long, I caught a glimpse of my yellow car through the trees and knew the start/finish was close. After fueling up for the second loop, Phil and I settled into a groove up the forest road and continued to pace off each other all the way through the never-ending second loop, which we finally completed for a total run time of 3:43 (1:47, 3 minute aid stop, 1:53). A course record by 61 minutes, I was later told. Phew!

This is a fun and informal event, and big kudos goes to race organizers, Alec and Kathy Muthing, who put this torture on free of charge. Included in your entry fee is a well-marked course and post-race food superior to that received at events that have cost me upwards of 70 bucks...oh, and there was (good) beer on hand too.

Rounding out a fun morning was news from Alec that I had won a pair of Wind Mitts, which he and Kathy produce, in the post-11-mile raffle. Result!

A great start to the year, and encouraging that I could hang with such an accomplished runner.

I could still manage a smile, post-race

Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Race Weekend of the Year

While the Twin Mountain Trudge will likely be the lowest of low-key races, it will, nonetheless, be my first race of the year so I'm starting to get pretty excited about the short trip north to Laramie.

From the race website:

11 mile single loop 'classic' race:

Hilly, cold, and windy, but stunningly beautiful loop that circles the Twin Mountain massif while winding through massive rock outcroppings and valleys. Racers will encounter long stretches of thigh deep snow, some ice, and 2000 feet of climbing. One unmanned, basic aid station will be found midway around the loop. Very challenging.

22 mile double loop 'marathon' race:

Two of the 11-mile loops run in the same direction (in case you missed something the first time). In addition to having the unmanned aid station twice, there will be a fully-stocked aid station at the 11 mile point with warm food. This course is just as challenging as a 50k race -- harder in high snow years.


No snowshoes, skis or other special floatation devices allowed. During extremely high snow years, we may change this rule.

Ski poles are allowed.

Traction devices are allowed, e.g., MicroSpikes, FlightBoots, YakTrax, etc.

Cutoff: 22 mile racers must finish the first loop in 3:30 to be allowed to continue.

All racers must carry the following minimum required gear: 20 oz of water, 200 calories of food, wind coat, warm hat, and gloves. Required gear will be checked at registration and at the finish line. These are minimums. I'd suggest carrying much more.

BE PREPARED. There is no way off of the loop until the finish. If injured, it may take hours to recover your body, er, I mean rescue you.

As difficult as it may seem when you are out there, just enjoy...

I'm signed up for the two-lap version, and from what I can make out the race is taking place in the same general vicinity as the Wyoming Double Marathon. While slogging along the uninspired jeep track that the marathon followed last year, I noticed a bunch of trailheads with routes heading east that looked like they would be a lot of fun to follow. I'm guessing that we'll be starting from one of those very trailheads, so I'm really looking forward to checking out some of the Wyoming dirt and outstanding mountain scenery those trails have to offer.

The weather has been particularly mild of late and it looks like the conditions will be close to perfect for a race that describes wading through thigh-deep snow as being part of the fun! According to we'll be enjoying 40 degree temps, clear skies and, most importantly for Wyoming, winds no stronger than 15 mph on Saturday. Can't wait.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blue Sky Trail: The Perfect Twenty

A perfect 20 miles, the Blue Sky trail out-and-back is a great and scenic way to get in a relatively easy and fast long run.

Heading south from Fort Collins, the trail is mostly hard-packed, red dirt with a few easily navigable rocks thrown in. The rocks get fairly technical on the Loveland end.

A naughty set of switchbacks at the southern connector of the Indian Summer loop, which adds an opportunity for 2 bonus miles with 400 feet of climbing and great views.

The second of two loops, the Wild loop brings the Devil's Backbone into view.

The 3-mile round trip up to the Keyhole is the most popular hike from the Devil's Backbone parking lot.

Part of the Backbone on the return to Fort Collins

Probably the best view of the run as you cross over to the Fort Collins' side of the hogbacks. The trail essentially hugs the hogbacks all the way to the southern end of Horsetooth Reservoir, which is approximately 6 miles from here. The Indian Summer loop gives you the opportunity to take in the western side of the valley.

A view of the Rimrock trail connector, which takes you up and over the ridge to Coyote Ridge Natural Area on the eastern side of the hogbacks.

Not far to go when Horsetooth comes into view.

Week Ending Jan 11

Mon -- Off.
Tues -- 8 miles (1,550 ft). Horsetooth/Audra Culver route. Felt out of sorts and struggled on hills.
Weds -- Off. Violent winds.
Thurs -- 10 miles (2,000 ft) . To top of Horsetooth Rock, back down Wathan to Herrington, up Towers and back down Spring Creek to Falls, and home. Phew, what a scorcher. Felt like a spring run.
Fri -- 8 miles. Horsetooth/Audra Culver. 1:13 (9:35 up Horsetooth, 1,550 ft). Felt better than Tues, but still sluggish.
Sat -- 9.5 miles. Round Mountain. 58:23 up, about the same down. 3,000+ ft of climb.
Sun -- 20-21 miles on the Blue Sky trail. 3:05. Felt pretty good the whole way round.

Total -- 56 miles (9,000 ft)

A good week after a slow start.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Round Mountain Time Trial

Round Mountain (a.k.a Sheep Mountain) is a few miles west of Loveland on Highway 34, accessed via a pull-off to the left, a few bends past Big Thompson Canyon. The first and last time I ran Round Mountain, I decided it would make for a great test of mountain fitness. Not only do the stats suggest a major climb (4.75 miles, 3,000+ ft climbing), but the trail is in great shape and ... get this ... there are mile markers!

My time to beat from a steady effort the first time was 1 hour 10 minutes, which I knew was more than do-able. The real test was to get to the summit in under an hour.

Chad and I met at the Conoco on Highway 34 at 6:30. It was still dark out and the full moon to the west was sitting just above the mountains, slightly shrouded by early morning mist. The sun to the east was just starting to spray orange over the plains. Another perfect morning for a run.

Chad hadn't gotten home until two that morning, so was working on less than four hours sleep: a victory in itself I later told him as we were getting back into the car from the run. I wasn't feeling particularly perky either and was ready to take it easy. However, like a tightly wound energizer bunny, as soon as we got going I found adrenaline from somewhere and rocketed up the opening jeep track section of the trail.

There are a couple of short downhill sections in the opening mile, which make for possibly the fastest mile of the five. It still being dark out, and with loose rock strewn across the trail, the downhills were pretty precarious. Luckily there were no spills. I hit the first mile marker a bit under 11 minutes.

The second mile is a real grind of unrelenting switchbacks. I was beginning to feel my two cups of early morning coffee on this section and felt like I might be revisiting them sometime soon. I clocked the second mile at 24 minutes and continued the upward grind, detouring off trail a couple of times to get around trees that had come down in the wind earlier in the week.

About halfway through the third mile the trail relents a little and one has a chance to open up across some nice rocky formations and sandy footing. I hit mile marker three at 36 minutes and felt like I was well on course for a sub-60 minute summit. My legs were beginning to scream, but on the plus side I was pretty sure the coffee was going to stay down.

After a reasonably easy section, the switchbacks started back up and there were some tricky patches of snow and ice through mile four, which I clicked off at 48 minutes, a steady 12-minute-per-mile average. At the best of times, the last .75-mile section is probably the toughest; on tired legs and lungs it is a real grind. However, I knew that if I could continue to push I would meet my goal for the day. And so it was that I was able to get the last three quarters of a mile done in just over 10 minutes for a total ascent time of 58:23. I was pretty beat and spent a good half minute panting for air.

As I was waiting for Chad I took the time to sign the summit book and leaf through the comments from the last year. The fastest recorded time in the log book was 1 hour, 1 second. After consulting Jonathan Vigh's Fort Collins fastest known time (FKT) website, it looks like I bettered the previous record from Aug '05 by a slender 14 seconds, so I am going to put my time out there as an FKT to beat. With a clear trail, and in similar shape, I reckon I could probably go under 58 minutes. Come spring, I hope to run it in under 55 minutes.

Chad ended up limping his way to the top with knee-tracking issues, so we took it real slow on the way back down, taking time to snap off a few pictures and throw in a couple of "free running" moves. Chad's high air heel click won the day!

We talked about following the ridge line to the summit of this peak on the other side of the river sometime in the future, possibly coming in from Bobcat Ridge.

An unusual formation in the middle of the trail

Someone had the clever idea of naming it!

The Big Thompson winding its way down the valley

Chad's arse obscuring a cool little section of the trail that runs through the rock

That section minus the arse

Our original plan was to come back down and go cross country to take in the two peaks in the foreground. My hands were so cold and Chad's knees so beat up, we bagged that idea for another day.

Update: Ran 52:55 in July setting a new FKT.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Bread & Butter Run in Pictures

These pictures were taken January 8 with temperatures that must have been in the low 60s: positively balmy. I figured it would be a good day to try and capture some images of my daily bread-and-butter run.

A view of Horsetooth Rock from my deck.

The Soderburg service drive to the trails in the park, taken from the road to our house.

Our neighborhood from the service drive.

Jeep track up to the park's single-track trails.

One of the most trafficked trails in the park. A short mile and half from here gets you to the base of Fort Collins' famed Horsetooth Rock.

Rocks and roots on the trail.

Railroad tie steps are a common feature in the park. This set is about the half-way point to Horsetooth Rock.

The Rock after which so much is named in Fort Collins.

A little closer.

Longs and Meeker from the top of Horsetooth. Private roads up Redstone Canyon in the foreground.

More Redstone Canyon.

Horsetooth Reservoir from Horsetooth Rock

More reservoir.

Heading back down the mountain on the Wathan trail; one of the park's best.

More Wathan

Wathan leads down to Spring Creek and Herrington leads you back up the valley to the Stout trail or Towers Road.

Back up Towers Road to the Spring Creek turn-off, which runs all the way back down the valley. Spring Creek, which is almost always dry, runs over the drop below. Horsetooth Falls is one of the most common destinations in the park, being just a mile from the main parking lot, but I can only imagine it is a disappointment for a majority who hike out there. This is about as dramatic as it gets, except in late spring/early summer when there is actually a decent volume of water.