Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fortnight Ending August 25

Week Ending August 18

Mon - 4 miles easy on Bluesky

Tues - 4 miles easy Bluesky with  4 x 1 minute pick-ups.

Weds - 4 miles easy Bluesky - south.

Thurs - 4 miles easy bench loop.

Fri - 2 miles easy in Leadville, to/from pre-race meeting.

Sat - 100 miles (15,000') race. Leadville 100.

Sun - Off.

Total 118 miles (15,000') 

I'd heard about birds swarming in the Sawatch area. Timko snapped this one of me (and the birds) coming into TL with Wesir, Alistair and Mike.
Week Ending August 25

Mon - Off

Tues - Off

Weds - Off

Thurs - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Jogged up and down Towers. Felt great!

Fri - Off

Sat - 5 miles (1,500') hiking. Hiked up and down Horseooth (96) with Alistair, Stella and Chloe.

Sun - Off

Total: 12 miles (3,200')

Despite feeling pretty good after Leadville, I decided to take things super easy and just let things heal the way they needed to. I plan on running - and running uphill - consistently this week to get the legs back in the swing of things and ready for Wasatch. I have 97 Horsetooth summits on the year, so will look to take that to 100 exactly in getting ready for Wasatch. 100 summits sounds like a lucky place to be. A minute over Ian for each summit, perhaps?

Anyway, starting to get excited for Wasatch, the final leg in this summer's running journey. It's been a lot of fun so far, and I look forward to capping it off with a strong finale. My legs feel virtually fresh, which is a sensation I've never had so soon after a 100-miler, and one that has me confident. Gonna give it my all.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Leadville 2013: A Report & Some Reflections

Photo: Rob Timko
I cut my ultrarunning teeth in Leadville. Indeed, one of the first things I did when we moved to Fort Collins in 2006 was sign up for Leadville 2007. I ended up toeing the line in a compromised state that year, knowing I wasn't going to finish, but I do remember distinctly wanting to at least start and be a part of the weekend. The atmosphere was electric. It still is today, but unfortunately the race - and the sport - was not represented in its best light this past weekend. Not even close. I'm not talking about traffic congestion, under-resourced aid stations, overcrowded trails, and general disrespect for the land; that's been and continues to be hashed out in other forums. I'm talking about the soul of the race, the legacy and the future.

The 100 mile run is the one that got it all started at 10,200 feet, some 31 years ago. It gave birth to the marathon, the 50 miler, the bike races, all that stuff. As such it sits as the finale in the Leadman series, the last hurdle to be overcome in a long summer of high-altitude races. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the Leadman participants that seemed tired on Saturday; the race itself did. I'm just not sure the race series understands ultrarunning anymore. And herein lies a major conundrum for our sport.

Leadville is the country's biggest and best-known 100-miler. It got me into the sport and it continues to inspire countless others to do the same, whether as a one-time bucket-list thing or as a longer-term passion. I fear that a lot of people new to the sport this weekend saw chaos where they should have seen community. To those that saw that, I say sorry. That is not what our sport is about. If you're still intrigued, go run a smaller event managed by runners for runners; there are 100s of them around the country.

With that said, I believe that Lifetime can turn this around. Indeed, I implore that they do. Yes, the company owns the series and can do whatever the hell it wants with it, but they don't own my sport. Maybe I'm being naive, but I believe Lifetime has a duty to honor (and understand) the legacy that they have purchased.

I had the pleasure of meeting the race director and a few of his staff a few months before this year's race at the annual training weekend. Josh is a good guy and a long-term resident of Leadville, but he's got a lot on his plate with many large and complex races going on throughout the summer -- not just in Leadville but around the country. Coming as he does from a biking background, I'd suggest that Lifetime have him focus on the Leadville bike series, the regional bike qualifying races, in addition to the overall series management, but it is quite apparent to me that somebody who understands ultrarunning needs to be put back in charge of the run series. I'm available.

Leadville 2014 needs to be a success.

Of course, I was blissfully unaware of race management issues as my race day was unfolding. I could have used some ice at the aid stations (yes, that should be a requirement for each and every aid station during a summer hundo), but other than that I had everything I needed and my crew was able to get around without issue. One of the blessings of being off the front, I guess.

The cruise around Turquoise was a bumbling affair. I neglected to put new batteries in my headlight prior to the race and paid the price with numerous turned ankles and a minor digger. The pace was slow, but I chose to roll with it rather than push because I'd decided pre-race that I was going to pace the early stuff moderately this year in an effort to feel strong late in the day. We were six minutes off last years's pace at Mayqueen (12.5) and ten off at Fish Hatchery (23.5), but I was okay with that.

Unlike last year, I kept the pace coming down Powerline totally under control. I watched a couple of guys slay it like the finish was at Fish Hatchery, but wasn't even remotely tempted to join them. Instead, I slotted in with Ryan Sandes and picked my way down. I was in and out of Fish Hatchery without breaking stride. Heading up the road, Mike Aish was already out of sight 10 minutes ahead with two other runners a few steps up on me and Ian - the shadow - Sharman a few steps behind.

iRunFar with the Elbert money shot.
By Pipeline, Ian and I were running as a tandem seemingly content to jog the early miles together in fourth and fifth. As we made our way along the forest roads and up onto the Colorado Trail, Mike was in the process of building his lead to 20 minutes while Ryan and Andrew Catalano were also out of sight in second and third.

I put a small gap on Ian heading up to the Elbert trailhead, but by the time we were rolling into Twin Lakes at mile 40 we were back running together, much as we have at points along the way all summer. I spent a couple of minutes with my crew at Twin Lakes getting myself prepped for the Hope double crossing - the crux and heartbeat of the race - but figured I'd make up the ground I'd given to Ian in no time as the air got thinner.


Rolling into Twin Lakes at Mile 40. iRF
I ran a little deeper into the climb than I did last year before I dropped to the run/hike combo. My legs were feeling good. Yet it still took until about halfway up the 3,300 foot climb to get Ian within my sights. As it happens, I'd never fully catch Ian, but would pass both Andrew and Ryan before the pass at 12,600 feet above sea level, and precisely seven hours into my day. The descent seemed a lot looser than in years previous, with some of the marbled-out switchbacks forcing an almost dead stop.

But it goes quickly.

The contour trail was a pleasure, if a little longer than I remembered it. I was surprised to not see Mike coming back the other way until the new cut down to Winfield. I felt like I'd eaten into his 20 minute lead from Twin Lakes. Running in third now, I was beginning to think that a win might even be plausible, but quickly reminded myself that there was still a lot of running to be done.

The boys were there and waiting at Winnie. I did a bit of lost sheep standing around before picking up the wizard sticks and heading out with my Swashbuckling Ska Man Pacer, Scott Slusher. We took stock of the race in front and behind. Ian was a good five minutes up on me, Aish 16, Ryan looked like he was hurting, and then it was a sizeable gap back to the rest of the top 10.

The sticks were a disaster. When I wasn't jabbing Scott in the testicles with poorly purchased stick placements, I was jamming the stupid things between my legs and tripping myself up. I'm sure with work the sticks could prove beneficial, but call me old school: no more frigging hiking poles.

Above timberline, we caught a Sharman sighting a couple hundred feet above. In the hypoxic environment of upper Hope, he looked an awful long way ahead. If it wasn't for the sticks, however, I'm pretty sure I would have caught him.

Topping out on Hope coming home. Sticks abandoned. Photo: Glen Delman
The descent off Hope towards Twin Lakes is classic, iconic ultrarunning territory. From the llamas at the Hopeless aid station to the well wishes of fellow runners coming the other way to the head of steam you build as your quads re-find their rhythm on a section of trail that was built for lacing. Scotty was having the time of his life leading me down off Hope last year, shooting off early warnings to those coming up, belting out tunes and essentially being Scott. In his excitement this year, he chose to duck under a semi-downed tree that was barring passage. On the way up, I had followed the use trail around the tree; Scott in his state of euphoria didn't see it and ducked hopefully.


There were a couple of groans from runners coming up who saw Scott lamp his noggin, but he didn't break stride, insisting that he was okay. I therefore thought nothing of it and we were soon down in Twin Lakes getting a fresh pair of socks, and switching from the uber-cushy PI Trail N2s to the more supportive M2s.

We'd heard numerous gap reports on the way down, anywhere from five minutes to 20; I assumed 15. Lucho had the stopwatch going and gave me an accurate rundown at Twin Lakes; Sharman at +10 minutes and Aish 4 up on that. I was a little concerned at how well Ian seemed to be moving, but thought that Mike could be in a little bit of mid-race trouble.

Exiting Twin. All pics from this series: Timko

Lucho filling me on race standings.  
M2s for the N2s. Crew in Action. 
Halfway up the climb to the Elbert trailhead, Scott handed me back my bottles and told me that he was having trouble keeping up. I was moving decently, but not well enough to be dropping Scott. He said he was suffering from nausea, but as it turned out it was the thwack to the head coming off Hope that was slowing him down. He told me to stay steady and then I was alone (Scott would be fine). The guys at Elbert told me a foreign dude wasn't far up and that another foreign dude was winning; they couldn't pinpoint which one was British-foreign and which one was Kiwi-foreign however.

I had hoped to really get going from Elbert, much like I did last year, but my caloric intake coming back over Hope had not been great and I was now stuck in a one-gear situation with a slowly deteriorating stomach. The pace wasn't terrible, but it certainly didn't feel like I was mounting any kind of charge, so I was pretty surprised to come across Mike and his pacer off the side of the trail sitting on a rock. Now in second, I was intrigued to learn what the gap to Ian was.

The Half Pipe Aid told me 18 minutes. That seemed like a lot, but with 30 miles still to go, it was by no means insurmountable. A few miles later I picked up my good buddy Mike Hinterberg, handed off my bottles and we went about the business of covering the road miles to Fish. He said 15 minutes to Ian. I did what I could to get calories in, but largely wasn't interested. Eyeing up Poweline from the road, I was eager to get it under way. I knew the climb would be pivotal if I was to claw back time on Ian, but first I needed to get off the road.

Alistair helping his Old Man get it done, coming into Fish. iRF
We stayed steady and by Fish, we were a reported 16 minutes behind Ian, so no longer losing ground. I drank a good bit of soda coming into the aid station and then stood there for 30 seconds feeling a little befuddled. Buzz Burrell was there letting me know that the race was on, and so we got going.

The climb up Sugarloaf was decent, and I was able to follow Mike's lead in breaking into a jog on the shallower gradients and then managed to not be too pathetic with the hiking cadence on the steeper stuff. By the time we hit the top I was feeling good and also like I might be able to mount a charge. The calories still weren't going in, but I had adrenaline pumping and I had an instinctual feeling that I was moving better than Ian. We descended well and I felt like I negotiated the tricky Colorado Trail section better than last year. I was throwing myself at it; I wanted to win.

By Mayqueen the race was on: 10 minutes down with 12.5 miles to go. But I was starting to feel like I'd overdone it coming down off Sugarloaf. My stomach was in knots, which was frustrating as my legs felt like they had plenty more to give. I tried broth and supplemented with Fanta. The combo looked terrible coming back up two minutes later just 50 yards outside the aid station.

Brian - Wesir - Stefanovic wanted to get after it, and I can't blame him, but I was now in disaster-avoidance territory. There seemed to be a red line for my stomach with regards to effort level. Anything too aggressive and the stomach shut things down and threatened to erupt, so I was forced into a bumbling jog around the lake. It took me six miles to dissolve a single gel block, craftily tucked away in my cheek.

We hit Tabor and nobody mentioned the gap; I knew that was a bad sign.

With six miles to go, I was on life support. Brian was bugging me to eat, but I just couldn't. I agreed on a second gel block once we hit the pavement on the way to the Boulevard. Shortly after tucking the block in my cheek I inhaled a bug. A violent eruption ensued. This was getting ugly. We cantered up the first third of the Boulevard, but with two miles to go, I just couldn't do it anymore and I was reduced to the walk of shame, wretching a couple more times just for good measure.

It was disappointing to miss a 16:xx finish for the second year in a row due to an inability to close, but I'm still proud of fighting out a low-17-hour finish. I would have been happy with that the day before the race; I just didn't know that Ian was going to have such a ridiculously strong day.

Finishing it up with the family. Timko.
With one race left in the Grand Slam, I believe it is still all to play for. Writing this five days after the race, my legs feel great (seriously) and I'm already excited for Wasatch. To claw back 70 minutes on the Sharminator is a big ask, but I have every intention of giving it my best shot. I already have a plan in place and if I can just execute on race day, then I'm hopeful that I can still walk away from this summer of racing with the Grand Slam record to my name.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Lifetime: Get your act together and make 2014 a year to remember!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Week Ending August 11

Mon - 1 mile hiking. Still feeling a little thrashed from the weekend's overexertion, so decided to rest.

Tues - 4 miles jogging on the Bluesky trail. Still not great.

Weds - 7 miles (1,700'). Horsetooth north summit with Wesir. Went nice and easy and felt okay. Still sore in the quads coming down.

Thurs - 7 miles (1,700') easy. Ran 34 minutes on Towers. Felt harder than it should have for a 34 minute ascent, but that was predictable enough given that I still felt a little swollen and stiff. Mainly jogging. Descent felt okay.

Fri - 2 miles (600') hiking. Hiked up to Reservoir Ridge - Larimer County's second lowest ranked peak - with the family.

Sat - 4 miles easy on the Bluesky trail. Wore a prototype of the Spring 15 Road N1s and enjoyed the shoe so much, I turned the last mile or two into a good steady tempo. Felt really good and like I'd turned the corner on the early week funk.

Sun - 5 miles (1,500') easy. Had guests - Bob and Sue from Minnesota who paced/crewed me at Western States - in town with their kids, so we did a casual trip up Horsetooth from the parking lot. Beautiful morning; summit was as packed as I've seen it in quite some time. Summit 94 or 95 on the year, I think. Legs still good.

Total: 30 miles (5,500')

My legs were quite sore through the first half of the week, so I decided to keep things really easy to see if I couldn't reset the Vermont recovery process. I'm feeling pretty good right now and am expecting all systems to be a go for Leadville on Saturday.

I just looked at the iRunFar preview of the Leadville field, and it seems like it will be a bit softer than last year at the front. I expect Ryan to go well and as iRF suggests he is definitely the odds-on favorite. With Josh Arthur not running, I think I have a decent shot at finishing on the podium. I'd like to say that a sub-17 is in the cards given the shortening of the course back to ~100 miles (~versus 102.5 last year), but there's no telling until the race gets under way what kind of legs I'll be working with. I intend to run a well-paced race and not be chasing any kind of mad pace up and over Sugarloaf like last year. Prepared to let Ian and whoever else go. Race for me will start at the Mt Elbert trailhead coming home.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Week Ending August 4

Mon - 7 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit with Wesir. Still a little sore in the quads from Vermont on the descent, but wasn't punished for the previous day's hard Longs descent like I thought I might be.

Tues - 4 miles track. Warmed up with a mile, then 1,600, 4 x 800 on 90 seconds rest. Just out to stretch the legs: 6:00, 2:50-53. No real issues in the legs here, but the turnover definitely felt labored due to general fatigue.

Weds - 7 miles (2,300') easy. Twin Sisters (11,428'). Met up early with the Estes Park High School cross country team for a nice casual jaunt up Twin Sisters. It was a super clear morning, offering superb views of the Glacier Gorge peaks in addition to the Estes Valley and Mummy Range. No better way to start your day. Still some stuff in the legs on the descent, but getting better every day.

Thurs - 11 miles (1,200') easy on the Bluesky with Scott and Ziggy. Nice and easy.

Fri - 5 miles easy. Bluesky to Nomad/Shoreline and back. Felt good.

Sat - 31 miles (9,500' up, 12,000' down) steady in the mountains. Six Mummy Range mountains: Mummy Mania with a 15 mile / 3,500' add on in the afternoon. Long day, still sore three days later, but felt great while out.

Sun - Off. Had planned to run the Black Squirrel Half Marathon training run, but decided better of it after waking up with very sore legs. Went down to Lory to see the group off, then came home and tinkered for the rest of the day.

Total: 65 miles (14,600')

Got a little more than I bargained for on Saturday and have pretty sore legs as a result. Legs just now starting to come around, but will be good to go for Leadville. Easy, easy from here until Pb.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mummy Mania Madness (2013)

The Mummy Mountains form the northernmost border of Rocky Mountain National Park, and given their proximity to Fort Collins - whether from Dunraven, Pingree or Estes Park - they are among my favorite alpine locations. In celebration of these fine peaks, I have made it a tradition to get out annually and cover six of them in one push. This weekend would be my fourth crack at this classic RMNP traverse.

Mummy Mania from Twin Sisters. From far left to far right: Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues, Mummy.
Known variously as Mummy Madness, Mummy Kill or Mummy Mania (my preferred shorthand), the route takes in the tops of Mt. Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues and the eponymous Mummy Mountain. Variations include the adding of Rowe Mountain and Rowe Peak between Hagues and Mummy, or perhaps preferably in terms of aesthetics, Tilestone and Bighorn. But for me, the alpine nature of the Mummy Mania peaks (Tilestone and Bighorn require significant bushwhacking) and the contiguous line (the Rowes require a tedious out and back) make them the superior and logical link-up.

Starting from the Chapin trailhead (11,040') at a little after sunrise, myself, Mike Hinterberg and Paul Hamilton set off up the Chapin Pass trail. The trail ascends steeply for a mile or so and then levels off as it heads eastward on a rough contour aimed directly at the Chiquita/Chapin saddle, passing under the northern slopes of Mount Chapin (12,454') along the way. The key to getting on Chapin as efficiently and quickly as possible is to resist the urge to start hoofing upslope too early, as the peak is tucked away in the easternmost cranny of the mountain's summit ridge. Cut too early and you'll hit the false summit to the west, wasting precious minutes following the cliff line to gain the true summit. We got it just about right this time and hit the summit in under 30 minutes (28:57), a first. Paul and I waited for Mike on top for six minutes before being waved on.

The original idea behind the day's outing was that it would be each man for himself in search of personal best times. However, with just the three of us, it didn't feel quite right, especially as Paul and I were working at about the same speed and would leave Mike on his own for the morning. Nonetheless, he was quite insistent with his gesturing and so we forged on, making short work of the 400 foot drop to the Mt Chiquita (13,075') saddle and subsequent 1,000 foot push to Chiquita's unranked summit (55:14) over intermittent climber's trail and rocky tundra. In much the same vein, the descent and ascent to Ypsilon (13,514') went quickly, again over the typical Mummy mix of rocks and tundra, with careful attention being paid in making sure to angle far enough north so as to avoid the tempting, but time sucking false summit to the south.

With the morning's three gimme peaks taken care of in a satisfyingly efficient manner (1:14) and at an effort that seemed at least on par with last year's outing, and essentially in lockstep with Paul, it was on to the crux of the Mummy Traverse: Fairchild and Hagues. The descent off Ypsilon, following its precipitous northern ridge to a point just below the Ypsilon/Fairchild connecting ridge, offers the first extended period of boulder hopping of the day, which is soon followed by a more serious serving on the contour over to the rockfall that constitutes Fairchild's southern slopes. The class-three 900 foot scramble up Fairchild is followed by a rocky descent to the Hagues saddle, which in turn provides access to the biggest climb of the day, a 1,200 foot hump up to Hagues Peak, the roof of Larimer County (13,571').

Across the Ypsilon/Fairchild boulders in good form and quickly up the south face of Fairchild, Paul and I waited for 10 minutes on the summit ridge looking for Mike before pressing on, finally spotting him against the boulder-strewn backdrop making his way to the base of the Fairchild scramble. Satisfied that he was well, we pushed on, quickly grabbing Fairchild's summit (13,502') and then dropping off her rocky northeastern slope heading for the lush tundra that occupies the football-field sized saddle between Hagues and Fairchild.

The lush tundra of the saddle allows for quick running, but it is always put to an abrupt end by the pitch of Hagues' southwest ramp. The key to getting up Hagues efficiently from the saddle is to veer slightly right, away from the cliff line, so as to avoid the unnecessary technicalities of the various ridge bumps and to maximize tundra time, while also putting yourself in a position to come neatly up the southern summit face avoiding cliffed-out false summits to the west. Paul and I got from Fairchild to Hagues (13,560') in a quick 39 minutes, shaving close to 15 minutes from last year when I felt like I got between the two in textbook fashion, albeit on wet rock coming off Fairchild.

From Hagues, it is a quick bop to the north side of the Mummy/Hagues connecting ridge before poking back to the south side through a notch for another extended session of boulder hoping on a slight downward contour below the ridge and on a line with the grassy saddle that sits to the west of Mummy Mountain. It's not much more than 400 feet up the northern flank of Mummy Mountain once to the saddle, but given the exertions of the previous five peaks and extended time above the trees, it's always a tough grind. Ultimately, we would hit the summit (13,430') at three and a half hours into our morning with nothing but a seven mile, 5,000 foot descent to the Lawn Lake trailhead left to accomplish. The southeastern slopes that provide the exit off the mountain are classic rocked-out Mummy tundra. On tired legs, the grade is jarring as you angle for the Black Canyon drainage, but once in the woods and on the game trail by the creek you know the day is about in the books.

We found the Black Canyon trail quickly and were soon at the Lawn Lake intersection with just under six miles of downhill trail running left to achieve. The watch read 3:59, meaning the arbitrary goal of breaking five hours for the trip was as good as in the bag. Satisfied with this, I told Paul to take off as I wanted to save my legs for Leadville two weeks hence. Ultimately I would arrive at the trailhead a minute after Paul who now holds a 4:41 Mummy Mania FKT.

For those interested in the pointy-end of the ultrarunning racing world, Paul Hamilton is a young Fort Collins local who may turn a few heads this fall. Although he is too modest to share details publicly (I'll do that for him), he recently ran the uber-classic Buchanan-Pawnee loop in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in 4:45 (five minutes under Tony Krupicka's 2010 FKT), but clarifies (rightly) that it can't be considered an FKT as he stopped his watch a few times to take pictures. Nonetheless, the kid is fast, strong and light on his feet in the mountains. I don't think anybody will be close to him next weekend at Dakota's race in the San Juans, and I expect him to be in the mix with the big guns at UROC in September.

I won't go into too much detail about the remainder of my day, but suffice to say that I would end up retracing my steps up the Lawn Lake trail all the way to the Hagues, Fairchild saddle, adding another 15 miles and 4,000 feet to an already long day, in search of Mike who by the time I left the trailhead was four hours past due. With limited options, darkness closing in, and a vast expanse of mountain terrain to search, I decided to return to the Lawn Lake trailhead hoping for the best. Upon arriving, I was massively relieved to find Mike there waiting after his unintended side trip to the Cow Creek trailhead (!) (fully cross country) and subsequent hitch back after totally messing up the descent off Mummy Mountain. For those not familiar with the area, that's the dictionary definition of getting hopelessly lost.

My takeaway from a quite stressful and somewhat emotional afternoon is to never leave a partner solo in the mountains, especially when in remote, off-trail locations, no matter how well you feel he/she is acquainted with the terrain. I know Mike is upset about the stress he believes he caused, but I too am sorry for acting selfishly and in too much haste. Light and fast is certainly my preferred style in the mountains, but one must also act responsibly. And that's all I've got to say about that.

It was good to finally nail the Mummy Mania line about as perfectly as I think it can go this weekend, after wasting tons of time last year trying alternate routes between Ypsilon and Fairchild and in getting off Mummy Mountain. Without stoppages (16 minutes total), we'd have gotten around in a little under 4:30, and on fresh non-Grand Slam legs with a little less lingering on the summits, that could probably have been 4:15 (next year), which of course leads me to believe that sub-four hours is potentially in the cards for the right runner on the right day. It's about time somebody other than me (and now Paul) had a proper crack at this classic RMNP line.

Mummy Splits:

Chapin - 28:57
Chiquita - 55:14 (incl 6 minutes on top Chapin)
Ypsilon - 1:14
Fairchild - 2:12 (incl 10 mins waiting on summit ridge)
Hagues - 2:52
Mummy - 3:29
Black Canyon/Lawn Lake intersection - 3:59
Lawn Lake TH - 4:42 (Paul: 4:41)