28 July 2011

I ♥ Fort Collins Trail Runners

Alex and Ean - they made this trip happen
  Monday and Tuesday this week Alex and Ean May organized what will hopefully become an annual Fort Collins Trail Runners event, an overnight camping trip with a day long run along the Colorado Trail.  My family and I had a great time.  Without getting too sappy, I ♥ Fort Collins Trail Runners.  What a fun time the trip was. 
Brian 29, Mindy, Celeste, Ean, Alex, me, and Mary at the end of our epic run

 Mindy, Celeste, Alex, Ean, Mary, Brian 29, and my family all met at the Kenosh Pass campground (between Fairplay and Bailey) on Monday afternoon.  We heard stories from Celeste and Mindy's big bike rides the weekend prior, took a walk down the start of Segment 5 of the Colorado Trail, and shared dinner in a low key relaxing evening.  Tuesday morning we woke as the sun was just peeking over the horizon and had a trail runner's breakfast of coffee and poptarts.  By 6:30 AM we were starting down Segment 6 of the CT.
Beautiful mountains 5 Minutes into the run.  This does not suck.
There were wildflowers everywhere

  Segment 6 of the CT runs from Kenosha pass, 10,000 ft, up over Georgia Pass (and the Continental Divide) at 11,800 ft, and then down to 9200 ft.  It is about 33 miles long with about 4500 ft of vertical gain.  It's also beautiful.  Within 5 minutes we were witness to wide open vistas with huge mountains looming on the horizon.  Other times we saw meadows full of wildflowers.  We ran through lush forests you would have thought belonged in the Northwest, and we ran across open tundra at treeline on the Divide.  Did I mention the flowers, they were everywhere.  Alex told us it was a scenic segment and we were not disappointed.

Mt. Guyot in the distance

The trail down off Georgia Pass and down into Breckenridge (which can be seen just to the right of the top of that post)
Wildflowers on the way down into Breckenridge
  I ran with Celeste and Mary for the first 23 miles and a formidable team we were.  We laughed, joked, frollicked, ran, hiked, and had a great time.  We all had high points and low points and we shared our excess energy when needed to get eachother through.  

Mary, Celeste, and Me.  Photo by Mindy 

And then we met up with Mindy and Ean and the energy level went up 3 notches for the last 10 miles.  I'll tell you what, no matter how bad you feel (and for awhile I felt downright bad), you cannot help but smile when your running partners are skipping down the trail singing at the top of their lungs  (♫♪ Running on-running on empty, Running on-running blind ♪♫).  And smile I did, even when feeling the worst I am smiling in all the pictures.  That has to be some sort of metric indicating a good run.
Me having fun - photo by Mary
Ean having fun - photo by Celeste
  I am sure I didn't do the day justice in this writeup, but wanted to get it out there before the memories fade with new ones from 24 Hours of Towers, so it is what it is.  If you need more evidence the day was fun, you need look no further than Facebook.  Between myself, Mindy, Mary, and Celeste there must have been 150 pictures up on facebook within 24 hours of returning to Fort Collins.  Yeah, I think we all had a blast.  I really do love this trail running community I've found.  We run together and we play together.  We support each other and help push each other to do things we would not believe possible on our own.  And we drink beer.  What more could I ask for?

Nearly done and all smiles!  Photo from Celeste


23 July 2011

24 Hours of Towers Schedule

1 Weeks until 24 Hour of Towers!  Are you excited?
Yes, it really is that friggin' beautiful
A Tale of Warning
  So one winter evening last March, bathed in the euphoria of having recently run a 24 hour relay race (and the euphoria of local microbrews) and quite possibly still oxygen deprived after the first Pineridge Downhill Mile, someone thought it might be fun to run up and down Towers Road for 24 hours.  Not just thought it, but spoke it.  If you run in the same circles I run in you know that if a crazy idea is spoken, it will eventually have to happen.  No matter how ludicrous it might be.

24 Hours of Towers
  Here we are four months later about to embark on this silly feat.  In the past 4 months the idea has gone from ludicrous to possible to fun.  Fort Collins Trail Runners kind of fun.  Come and commune with the big hill, she who makes us stronger, she who litters race leaderboards with the words "Fort Collins, CO".  Come join like-minded trail runners, be it for one lap or to run all through the New Moon night, come celebrate Towers Road.


Towers Road elevation profile, courtesy of Pete Stevenson
  • There really is just one rule, Have Fun!  
  • If you're going to count laps to brag or to add to our communal totals they must be done between 7 AM Saturday and 7 AM Sunday.  
  • We will define a "lap" as one trip from campground I54 to the corner of the service building in the first grouping of towers, following Swan Johnson and Towers Road, and then back down.
  • We'll have a clip board or something at the campsite to record laps so we can sum up totals at the end.

Saturday 30 July
7:00 AM First lap starts - say you were there when it started.
6:30 PM  Family Lap - Have you ever wanted to show your significant other or kids or grandma or friends what we go GaGa over every other Thursday?  Bring them out at 6:30 pm Saturday for a low key, casual run/hike/walk up and down the hill.  Depending on pace lights may be needed for the end of the lap.
8:47 PM  Civil Twighlight, about time to get out the glow bracelets and head lamps.  I have a ton of glow bracelets.

Sunday 31 July
5:00 AM Last Lap - if you're up for it get out of your tent or drive back up to Soderberg to join us in one last trip to the top and back before breakfast.  We should catch some good sunrise views.
7:00 AM Last laps should be finished.
7:30 AM FCTR Potluck Breakfast at campsite I54  Even if you didn't run all night (or at all) get out of your tents or drive back up and join us!

  We'll provide pancakes for sure at the breakfast.  Please bring whatever you want to share in a potluck breakfast with your fellow trail runners.  We have electricity at the site so if I figure out how to brew large amounts of coffee we'll have that too.

Where is 24 Hours of Towers?
  We'll be starting right across the street from the Soderberg parking lot. Driving directions to the Soderberg lot.  Parking should be at Soderberg unless you have a campsite.  Only 2 cars are allowed per campsite so only pull into the campground if you know you have a space.  Be aware that there is a daily parking fee ($6?) at Soderberg if you don't have a Larimer County Parks pass.

Night access
  Horsetooth Mountain Park is open all night long but the Soderberg lot gate does close during the night.  I keep forgetting to check the exact times.  If you are in the lot when the gate closes you can still leave by pulling up to the exit as the exit gate is automatic.  The upper, main, Horsetooth Mountain Park lot is remains open 24 hours a day.  I am unsure about the Blue Sky lot but suspect it closes like Soderberg because there is a gate at the entrance.

  If you are staying at the campground or are in the campground please observe campground rules.  Some of these include quiet hours of 10 pm until 6 am, 3.2 beer only, and no glass bottles.  8 people and 2 vehicles are allowed per campsite, along with 1 camping unit and 2 tents or 4 tents with no camping units.  Daily parking pass or Larimer County pass are required in the campground just like at Soderberg/Blue Sky/Horsetooth Mountain Park.

Do I have to run all night?
This is probably the most often asked question I receive.  NO, you do not need to run all night.  You can run 1 lap, walk 2 laps, run only at night, do whatever you want.  Remember, there really are no rules.  If you want to come out and meet some fellow trail runners please to so, anything you add to our totals is gravy.

I probably forgot something.  Ask questions on the list or in the comments section here.  See also my other posts on 24 Hours of Towers.

The Best Day Running ... Ever

Finishing my first 50M race with my daughter Sandis

Here is my very late and way to long Big Horn race report.

18 June 2011
Big Horn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run
50 Mile Race
Dayton, Wyoming

    I had decided a year ago that Big Horn would be my first 50 miler after hearing recaps and seeing pictures of the 2010 race from my trail running friends.  I ran my first 50K race last summer, and trained through the winter with this race in mind.  As spring went on I put in the miles I had planned and was feeling good until one particularly hard run, a 25.5 mile day with 3 summits of Crosier Mountain from 3 different trailheads.  This was a big day with lots of vertical and it left me wiped out.  This was the most enigmatic run I've ever done as it left me feeling one moment very confident for having finished it another moment feeling entirely unworthy of a 50M race as that run was barely half the distance and it felt like the hardest thing I had ever done.  This lead me to running through the entire gamut of emotions in the month leading up to the race.  In the end, thanks to some good advice and support from friends and ultrarunning veterans Alex and Marie I felt relatively confident I could accomplish my goal which was to finish and have fun. As we drove to Dayton and spent the afternoon and evening before the race I was surprised that I never did get much of a case of the nerves.  

  My race goal was to finish.  I hoped to have fun and feel good while doing so.  I anticipated a 13.5-14 hour finish based on results from previous years and my typical position in the race field.  I had no set time goal though, I just planned on going with the flow, however the day evolved.  Some secondary goals I had were to eat and drink enough and to take pictures.  The latter isn't something I can control as much as an indicator of how I felt.  Feeling good equals more pictures.  Feeling bad means I stop taking pictures.  On the food I planned on eating more than I have for any of my long training runs.  I think in a couple of them I was close to bonking towards the end.  Being on the race course from 6 AM (and up a few hours before that) until 8 pm means I need to fuel my run but also am missing 3 meals.  I planned on eating a bar or pack of shot bloks or something else around 200-250 calories every hour from my pack and in addition eating something substantial at every aid station, 9 of them in all.  I also planned on 1 S-Cap every hour.  250x14 + 9X200 = 5300 Calories.  

  Saturday we awoke at 3:00 AM, had some coffee, chatted a bit and then at 4:00 AM headed over to the buses that would take us to the starting line, the Dry Fork Aid Station this year due to a snow re-route.  The bus ride went pretty quick, as did the standing around before the race start at 6:00 AM.  There were a good number of Fort Collins runners in the 50 so I had no trouble finding someone to talk to.  This was a good thing, it kept me from getting too nervous.  Early on the port-a-potty lines were long so I skipped them, but I noticed a short line close to race time and jumped in line.  It still took a bit longer to get in than I anticipated and I listened to the National Anthem in the can.  I couldn't help but laugh as Alex told me he had a similar thing happen last year.  I did make it out in time for the start though.

Dry Fort to Footbridge
  The course was roughly 3 equal sections.  The first was Dry Fork down to Footbridge, 16.5 miles and most of it down hill.  This was not the normal first leg, though it is downhill like the normal first part.  I was reminded right from the start that I am not a good downhill runner.  I was working on that this spring until I hurt my arch.  After that I backed off the downhill pounding.  I'll need to do more of that for next year.  I ran with Mary, whom I often train with, for much of the early part of the race.  We ran down the hill, keeping things conversational and enjoying the many spectactular views and cheering on the 26-30 hour 100 milers (several who we knew) who were passing us in the opposite direction about that time.  I ran into a girl I know, Lisa, running her first 100 at Cow Camp.  She was at about mile 70, smiling but obviously tired.  I found myself taking note of how the 100 mile runners looked, knowing someday I'll be there.
Running up a hill between Cow Camp and Bear Camp
  It was not long into the race before we were treated with our first water crossing.  With runoff going strong there were lots and lots of water crossings, and lots and lots of mud.  After the inital shock of wet feet they were fun.  The couple 50Ks I've run have not had much for water crossings and I equate water crossings with real ultras so I was happy.  On the mud, it seems it is almost always muddy somewhere on the Big Horn course. 
Mary going through the first of a few really muddy patches

Two thirds of the way to the Footbridge aid station we started down "The Wall".  The wall is 3.5 miles long and drops 2200 ft in elevation.  This is steeper than Towers Road and it's more technical.  With a mud river in middle of it.  Good stuff.  As we headed down the wall we started seeing the front runners in the 50M race coming back at us.  Man were they flying.  We arrived at Footbridge in just under 4 hours, which was a bit over 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off.  We were in good shape because this cut-off was more aggressive than the others.  After 15 minutes or so we had refueled, lathered on some sunblock, and were ready to head up the wall.  I was feeling so-so at this point, not feeling bad but not feeling super.  I anticipated a little faster pace, but between the mud and the downhills being a bit tougher than I hoped I was OK with where we were.  I drained my water about 1.5 miles from the bottom of this section, pretty good timing and I was glad I was drinking.  I was doing well eating even though I didn't feel I needed to eat so early in the run.  I've fallen prey to this before, so I stuck to my plan to eat early as once you know you're behind it's too late.
Glad there was a footbridge, the river was rocking!

Footbridge to Dryfork
  The normal course runs this section as we are to run it now, uphill.  The Wall was pretty much a big hike at that point, but a beautiful hike.  There were so many flowers it was incredible.  I commented that it was like running through someone's flower garden.  Striking "Big Horn Sunflowers" and purple lupines were littered everywhere.  

The Wall Flower Garden - photo courtesy of Pete Stevenson
View from just above The Wall
Almost lost to the flowers were the views across grand valleys of lush green.  The views here alone are worth running this race.  A little after the wall I hit my low spot for the race, which really wasn't that low.  Around Bear Camp I started slipping off Mary's pace.  For the next 13 miles or so I kept her in my sights or close to it, but never could quite catch up.  I didn't feel terrible but seemed to have trouble making the legs go faster.  I ate my first gel here and pushed on, keeping the mind out of the negative spaces.  By Cow Camp I was feeling better.  The gel may have been what I needed, quick energy, or maybe it was just coincidence.  At Cow Camp I snagged another piece of bacon, had my hydration pack filled, and moved on for the push up to Dry Fork.  I pulled into Dry Fork just as Mary was leaving.  I was tired though and sat down to change shoes and socks and let Chris and Mindy take care of me.  I ran most of the mile long hill up into Dry Fork when maybe I should have walked it.  I was feeling it though so I went with the running.  I entered the aid station at 9:00 even, 4:45 for the climb back up.  Time flies when your sitting at an aid station being taken care of.  By the time I got going I had spent nearly 30 minutes there, 15-20 minutes longer than I planned on.  I drank about 3L of water in this 16.5 mile stretch and was looking forward to eating now rather than forcing myself to do it.  As I left the aid station I took some lasagna casserole and a helping of potatoes with me to eat on the road as I started into No Man's Land.  I was still taking pictures and thus feeling good overall.  I was tired, of course, but nothing hurt.  

Dry Fork to Tongue River Trailhead
  From Dry Fork on marked the start of the last third of the course, 12.5 miles to the Tongue River Trailhead and 17.5 miles to the finish.  It also marked the start of No Man's Land, as it was further than I had ever run.  Lastly, it was the best segment of the race for me.  I felt absolutely awesome in this stretch, I was close to giddy through much of it.  My pace wasn't terribly faster, but my spirits were high.  
Summer soltice in the Big Horn mountains.  
This segment is about 5 miles rolling, 2 miles of climb, and 5.5 miles of down.  The down is steep.  Like 3000+ ft steep.  Some of it too steep for me to run well.  Yeah I need to work on that.  I continued to eat and drink well.  I had developed a strategy of eating one shot blok every 10 minutes, that comes to one pack in an hour.  I don't know if the "slow drip" of food helped or keeping my mind occupied with snack time every 10 minutes or what but I liked it.  
Beautiful single track dropping down to the Upper Sheep Creek aid station
At the Upper Sheep Creek aid station I asked how far until the finish and was told 12 miles.  I heard myself reply "only 12 miles, excellent".  That tells you how I was feeling.  I hit the Tongue River Trailhead at 13:02, an hour ahead of the cutoff and leaving myself 2 hours to move 5 miles on dirt roads to the finish.  

The last climb of the race, "The Haul".  

Tongue River Trailhead to Finish Line
  This 5 mile stretch was the toughest of the race to keep going on.  I knew I was going to finish, thought there was a good chance it would be about 14 hours, but found the running tough to do.  I pushed on though, stopping to walk for just a couple brief seconds. My GPS wasn't working well in this section so I had a difficult time determining my pace, but it felt slow as molasses.  I blamed it on the consistent motion of running on smooth level ground rather than the dynamic stride used on the trails, coupled with 45.5 miles and 13+ hours of fatigue. I got to the Homestretch aid station and grabbed an Otter pop and some Pepsi and asked how far to the finish.  1.75 miles.   Watch check, 13:40.  OK I have 20 minutes to break 14 hours.  I ran as hard as I could from that point on.  That's of course a relative thing, probably looking funny as heck, but I pushed on.  Slowly the pace increased, and for the last half mile or so I was running around 9.5 minute miles.  For me at that time of the race that was blazing.  And it was fun.  As I came around the corner with a quarter mile to go my many Fort Collins companions, including my wife and kids, all cheered me in.  I had little left in the tank when I finished, but I finished strong and it felt great.  Looking back I think part of the reason the last five miles were so tough was that it was my fastest running of the day.  The surface played a large part, but I ran the 5 miles in 54 minutes.  I ran my fastest miles of the day for the last 5 of my race.

Just outside of Lower Sheep Creek aid station.  I was feeling just plain giddy.

Post Race
  After the race I was flying high.  Well once I sat for 10 minutes and recovered at least.  I had a beer, a burger and other picnic fare from the post-race picnic, and congrats from lots of friends.  We all sat around and swapped stories for awhile and it was just such a cool feeling, a cool group of people to be a part of.  There were 100 mile finishers, pacers who ran  the longest runs in their lives, 50 mile finishers, 50K finishers, and 30K finishers.  Everyone accomplished something great that day and everyone there was more interested in hearing about someone else's day than talking about their own.  I am truly lucky to have found such a great group of runners.  

 A month later I'm still flying pretty high.  I am not prone to post-race blues anyway, but have not had a hint of them from this race.  I'm looking at the rest of the year, not sure if I'll do another big race or just enjoy running in the high country, doing a segment of the Colorado Trail, or doing some of the "classic" trail running loops up and over local peaks.  I just want to have fun, just want to have as much fun as I did running Big Horn.  It truly was the best day running ever.

18 July 2011

Barr Trail Mountain Race

  The Barr Trail Mountain Race (BTMR) is essentially the lower half of the Pikes Peak Marathon.  The race is a bargain at $35 and has brought good reviews from my fellow Fort Collins Trail Runners.  It's also another thing I can cross off the list of "Shit Alex May Has Done".  It's a formidable list.  There's no rest for the weary trying to conquer that list, yesterday as myself, Scott, and Celeste crossed Barr Trail off the list Alex parried by adding the Silver Rush 50 (sub-10 hours, well done Alex) to the list.

  I signed up for Barr Trail months ago.  I signed up for it partially because I felt guilty on backing down from my original goal of running my first 50 and running the Pikes Peak Marathon this summer.  The Barr Trail Mountain Race is essentially the bottom half of the Pikes Peak Marathon, run on the same trail, Barr Trail surprisingly, up to Barr Camp (10,200 ft) and then back down.  I also signed up because I love running up Towers and Barr Trail is essentially two Towers in one (12.6 miles and 3630 ft vert vs 2 times 6 miles and 1700 ft vert if you skip the Swan Johnson connector trail).  Next year I'm in for Pikes, now I want to see what the top half of the course is like.

  My modus operandi lately seems to be to doubt myself in the weeks leading up to a race. Barr Trail has a 1:10 cutoff at the 3.1 mile mark ( ft gain) and a 3:30 finish line cut-off.  I had no doubt I could easily make both times when I signed up for the race, but a recent trip up Round Mountain where I was working harder than I anticipated had me wondering a bit.  Just ignore the fact that the Round trip was 2 weeks out from Big Horn and I may not have been fully recovered, I did.  I successfully managed to talk myself off the ledge after looking at past race results and set some goals based on about an 80th percentile finish.

Top of the Ws (1.9 M, 7800 ft) -- 34:00
No Name Creek (3.1 M, 8750 ft) -- 57:30
7.8 to Summit sign (4.6 M, 9350 ft) -- 1:23:30
Barr Camp (6.3 M, 10200 ft) -- 1:53:00
Descent (6.3 M, 6570 ft) -- 1:07:00
Finish (12.6 M, 3630 ft ascent/descent) -- 3:00:00

I started about 1/3 of the way back in the pack, further up than I maybe should have been but I've heard how crowded the W's get.  I figured the faster guys behind me had a mile to put me in my place!  By the time I got to the Ws, steep and sharp switchbacks, I didn't feel guilty at all as I found myself walking more than I wanted to.  I took some advice learned from Victoria a few days before the race and carefully timed my passing to be in areas where I could pass 5-10 people at once, and set out passing runners going up the hill.  I hit the top of the Ws at 33:00, a minute ahead of pace.  I was worried a bit as everyone says not to go out too hard in the first 3 miles, but I was feeling good so kept on pushing.  From here to No Name Creek I continued to pass when I had the chance and continued to feel strong.  I hit No Name Creek at 54-ish, over 3 minutes ahead of pace, still wondering if I ran too hard but thinking not.  Above No Name there are some flatter parts, and even a couple short downhill sections mixed in with the climbing, unlike the bottom half of the climb which is almost all up.  Running up Towers teaches you when to push and when to conserve energy and I felt like I aced a test as I made good time to the 7.8 sign, passing several runners too exhausted to take advantage of the easier grades when they presented themselves.  7.8 sign at around 1:16 I think, over 6 minutes ahead of pace.  Not far beyond the 7.8 sign the lead runner and I crossed paths, he going down, I still up.  I estimated I was still about 1.5 miles from Barr Camp.  I'll do the math for you, he was 3.0 miles ahead of me, at mile 7.8 where I was at 4.8.  I decided to focus on how easily he made it look as he was flying downhill and push on so I could do the same.  Soon other runners started coming down too and a few minutes later I passed Scott in about 15th place.  I got a boost seeing a familiar face and set my mind on Barr Camp in 1:45.  The closer I got to Barr the harder the gentle grades seemed; I'm still not sure if it was the altitude or accumulated fatigue.

  I hit the Barr Camp turnaround at 1:45:34, 7:26 ahead of pace and wasted no time in heading downhill.  Going by my highly scientific algorithm of 3 parts up, 2 parts down I calculated a 2:48 finish was in reach.  Game on.  I bounded downhill, falling in with a group of 3 or 4 runners all moving at about the same pace.  I was now very happy I wore my Montrail Mountain Masochists as the sticky rubber soles on them left me feeling very confident and I was running relatively aggressively (for me).   And then the irony to end all irony happened.

  I think of all kinds of goofy shit when I run.  Sometimes I do math, sometimes I sing songs in my head (sometimes, though rarely, out loud), sometimes I think about future races, sometimes I compose poetry.  Silly (as opposed to artsy and profound) Haikus are my favorite.  So with a little under 5 miles to go in the race I am trying to determine how many syllables are in gryptonite (what Montrail calls their sticky rubber outsoles) and thinking whether it should be in a 5 or 7 syllable line.   Bam.  I find myself on the ground.  If composing a Haiku in honor of the great traction your shoes have causing a fall on trails isn't ironic I don't know what is.  For what it's worth, I had just settled on "Gryptonite magic" as the 3rd line of the Haiku when I fell.  The first two lines remain unwritten.

  Trail runners are awesome, 3 or 4 stopped and asked if I was alright.  One guy helped me up.  I told them all to get going and took inventory of my injuries.  The first thing I noticed was an egg on the side of my right forearm.  It was sticking out 3/4 of an inch nearly immediately after falling.  I was briefly scared it was broken, but the lack of sharp pain pushed that thought away.  I had some road rash on my calf but otherwise thought things were fine.  Until I took my first step with my left leg.  Ouch.  Evidently I took a rock right square in my quad and had a big charlie horse kind of knot in my quad.  You may be able to guess this, but running downhill with such a beast isn't pleasant.  I ran as hard as I could the rest of the way down which was probably dumb, but races are where you do dumb stuff, right?  I am sure my pace suffered from where it could have been, but don't know how much it suffered.  The 1:05:45 I ran on the way down was still faster than the 1:07 I had predicted, but after my ascent I hoped to gain 5 minutes on the downhill (and in the back of my mind thought it possible to break 60 down the way I felt at the top of the descent).  Next year!  My overall time of 2:51:21 was good for a finish 65% of the way down the field, significantly better than my 3:00:00 goal and significantly better than the 80% mark that I used to set that goal.  I'll call that success.

Special thanks to El Paso County Search and Rescue for gently cleaning up my wounds after the race, they didn't even make me scream.

And yes, I really should post a Big Horn report sometime.  And a schedule for 24 Hours of Towers.