Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ptarmigan Peak

With everything that seemed to go wrong on my Eccles Pass run on Friday, Sunday's run up Ptarmigan Peak was the complete opposite! It was ideal. I had a full day of rest and felt ready to fire on all cylinders.

Ptarmigan Peak overlooks Silverthorne & Dillon. The trailhead is just above I-70, but quickly rises and disappears into pine and aspen forests. I started at 5:30am and was treated to a sunrise hitting Buffalo Mtn and the rest of the Gore Range. The full moon was setting over Buffalo at the same time. Isn't there a play called "Moon over Buffalo"?

This trail had a few rocky spots, but overall it was smooth singletrack with minimal obstacles. It was very nice to not have to worry so much about tripping after my six close calls the other day. I took the above aspen picture on the descent. I was cruising in the 7:45/mile range. I usually never go that fast when running downhill. But everything was flowing and I was in my running "happy place". For me, that's when everything seems right with the world around me and I just can't get enough of what I'm doing.

Back to the ascent. I enjoyed chasing this Ptarmigan (bird) for about 25 feet before he flew off. I've never seen one before, but at a closer glance, it resembled a black & white chicken.

There was a 2-3 mile stretch that was quite steep. I powerhiked most of it, but was really pleased with the speed I could maintain at altitude. I feel very good about getting in several weeks of hiking practice because that will no doubt be a big part of my Silver Rush strategy.

Above treeline, the trail became runnable again, so I shuffled through the tundra landscape until I reached the summit.

Even though the approach to the summit is quite barren, the views are spectacular. I kept hoping I'd find some elk grazing, but no such luck this day.

Here's a look to the west and the area where I cruised around on Friday.

I made it to the spacious summit (12,498') in 1:29 and clearly I had some extra energy to goof around. The totals were 11.76 miles in 2:19 with 3600' of elevation.

I highly recommend this run. It's easy to get to, the trail is simple to follow, and the scenery is amazing. You're going straight up and the down, but everything about this trail makes the effort worth it. Aside from my Eccles Pass run, I've never hiked in this area. I'll be back for sure.

Below is a 360 degree view from the summit.

Ptarmigan Peak Summit 360

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eccles Pass Loop (more like a Y)

Last September, Tanya gave me the Trail Runners Guide to Colorado book for my birthday. Several of the runs had me wanting to immediately lace my shoes and get running. Unfortunately, I was heading into a busy fall and my winter running plans all focused on training for Boston. Throughout those cold months, I'd pick the book up on occasion and daydream about all the possible adventures it could lead me on once summer arrived.

One run that I was itching to do was called the Eccles Pass Loop. Eccles Pass is directly to the south of Buffalo Mountain in Frisco. This run involves climbing about 2800' to the pass, then descending down the backside through a narrow valley between Buffalo and the rugged Gore range, and ending back at the same trailhead.

We were up camping at Heaton Bay on Lake Dillon last week, so I thought I'd give it a go on Friday as my last long training run before Silver Rush. Since the loop was about 14.5 miles, my plan was to do it twice. Knowing my legs would not be fresh after last weekends run at Pikes, I figured my plan must be flexible and thought 6-7 hours on my feet (regardless of mileage) would be a fine goal as well.

The trail starts right next to I-70 and follows Meadow Creek as it climbs steeply for the first 2-3 miles through dense pine forests before finally opening up to a stunning meadow. The singletrack is awesome and a welcome change from the rocky doubletrack that also graces those first couple of miles.

Around mile 4, Eccles Pass comes into full view. It is the lowest point of the ridge seen above. The last push to the top is over before you know it and you're then treated to breath-taking views of the meadows on both sides of the pass.

At this point, I was riding a serious high. The scenery was top notch and the run was flawless. From the pass I could easily see the valley I would be descending through nestled up against Buffalo. That sure did seem like a lot of snow though. Hmmm.

Here's a look at the Gore range. The trail descended about 1000' from Eccles and hugged the rocks to the left. I got about a half mile down and lost the trail as it was absorbed by a snowfield. I just went around it and figured I'd meet up with it on the other side. Well, with all the run-off, there were dozens of little creeks that looked like trails. I couldn't find the real trail at all.

I wandered around in the wet, squishy valley for at least an hour trying to find the trail. I got all the way down to where the forest began and came to the conclusion that I could easily spend several more hours hunting and still come up empty. I was quite frustrated and decided my only option was to climb back up to Eccles and backtrack to the start. After a bit, I was okay with this decision and once I was back on the pass, I took a small trail for about a half mile along the ridge and summited Eccles Peak which provide some sweet views of Lake Dillon.

Upon returning to the trailhead, I reloaded on water and gels, and started out on the loop in the opposite direction. By this time, it was getting hot. I had plenty of supplies, but the heat was relentless. I passed Lily Pad Lake and found my legs tiring as displayed by me kicking rocks and almost tripping. Thankfully, I never fell, but I had several close calls. Around mile 17, I entered a forest and the trail was about as rocky as they come. I wasn't sure I was on the correct trail because it had a different name from my map. At one point I turned up a trail and found myself ascending Buffalo. That was not in the cards for the day, so I retreated and continued down a ridiculously steep and rocky stretch (as you'll see, I should have remembered this). I finally came upon another hiker and he confirmed I was on the right trail. He told me about a waterfall about 2 miles ahead. I decided on the spot that would be my turnaround point. I was fading.

I made it to Willow Falls at about mile 19.5. I took a 10 minute rest in the shade dipping my hat in the ice cold water and letting it cool me down. I needed it. I was beginning to dread the 6 mile run back to the trailhead. The rest did me well, and I began with a new sense of determination to finish the run strong. I talked myself into believing the hot sun was good heat training for Silver Rush. At mile 21, I encountered a vaguely familiar boulder field and once again I lost the trail. I kept backtracking and would cross the boulders looking for the trail on the other side, but would find nothing. I did this for 30 minutes with my frustration mounting with each pass. Finally I looked up. Yes, straight up the boulder field were trees with trail markers on them. How could miss that? How could I forget coming down that stretch? Argh! I was ready for this run to be over.

Those last few miles were not fun. I was trying to conserve my water and that made me want to drink it all the more. I also knew that I was going to fall short of my 30 mile goal. I took some consolation in knowing I was on my feet for over 7 hours which included about 45 minutes when the watch wasn't running.

In one sense, I'm glad this run happened. Parts of it were incredible. But parts of it reminded me that I need to be prepared for and face head on the rough patches. Silver Rush will no doubt have many rough patches over the course of 50 miles and I need to be ready for them.

I'd love to go to back again to Eccles someday and complete the full loop. I'm sure it would be much different run if there was less snow and run-off. But for this day of running "not quite a loop", I finished at 25.26 miles, 6hrs14min (moving time), and about 6400' of elevation.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Purple Mountain Majesties

I made it down to Pikes Peak on Saturday. It felt so good to be on the Barr Trail again. It's only an hour away, but I wish it was closer. Instead of carrying a camera, I decided to have my new HTC Evo 4G handy to capture a few videos. I like videos because they provide a different experience that still pics can't create...like hearing me sucking wind in almost all of them!

After a 2:30 wake up, I was on the road at 3:00 and standing in downtown Manitou at the start line of the PPM at 4:04. My loose plan was to cover the entire PPM course as long as the snowfields up high didn't present any problems. I was looking forward to testing my training up to this point and continuing to refine my fueling strategies (Gu, S-caps, water, food).

Starting in the dark wasn't that bad. I had a headlamp and I'm getting more comfortable with running in the dark, especially when I know the trail. It wasn't all that long before dawn was upon me and I could see just fine.

I ran almost the whole way to Barr Camp. I had hoped to fill up my pack with water there. Unfortunately, I found out they don't have any "free" water unless you have a filter to pump it from the stream. Oops. My first mistake of the day. I rented one for $3 from the BC caretakers, Neal and Teresa, since I wasn't excited about the prospects being without water above treeline.

I ran about another mile after Barr Camp and then started alternating between walking and running. When I got to treeline/A-Frame, I switched to all hiking. I was making great time and didn't feel the urge to push it any harder. I also wanted to save my legs for the descent, which has been my nemesis on my two round trippers last year.

I encountered a few small snowfields, but nothing that hikers had not already packed down. I had to scramble off the trail once because there was a huge snowfield blocking the trail and I could see how hikers had cut the switchback to resume the trail a little higher. I don't normally like to do that, but that snowfield looked to me like an avalanche just waiting to happen.

Made it to the summit in about 3:34, which was about 12 minutes slower than my PPM time last year. It was very windy and cold, so I went into the warm Summit House to escape the chill and eat my sandwich. It's always fun to watch the tourists up there that just got out of their cars or off the train.

Started down after about a 15 minute rest. As I mentioned before, the descent has always been tough on me. I typically bonk at Barr Camp and the pounding on my quads gets to be unbearable right around the same time. I'm not sure what happened, but I felt great today! I blew through Barr Camp and was hitting 8:45 miles on the flatter section. I can only credit my increased mileage this Spring and fueling strategies. I suddenly realized I was going to easily beat my PPM time (5:47) if I kept this pace up. All was great until....the fall.

With 3.5 miles to go, I was flying down the trail right at the spot where a small trail from the Incline connects with Barr. I kicked a rock and went down. Just think of a baseball game with someone stealing second base and doing a head first slide...except I was on rock and gravel. I have always been cautious about falls, but I think I got a little overconfident today. This was my first fall and certainly could have been much worse if I hit bigger rocks. Instead the gravel just shredded my palms, left knee, and right thigh (I'll spare you the pics and video on this one). I popped up to survey the damage and realized some major cleanup was needed. I had to sit on the side of the trail for about 10 minutes while I rinsed the cuts and pulled out the plethora of bandages from my pack.

I was feeling defeated, but did what we all teach our kids to try and do. Pick yourself up, shake it off, and keep going. I finished running the W's and Ruxton, but was a little slower as another fall would have surely done me in.

Time to wrap it up here. Despite the fall, it was an incredible day of running. 26 miles with over 7800' of vertical in 5:47 (my exact PPM time from last year...weird). I love looking at the elevation profile from a day on Pikes. It makes the peak look much scarier than it really is. I'm quite sure the next time I'll be getting down there is on August 22 for the REAL PPM!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bergen Peak Almost Marathon

I'm 5 weeks out from Silver Rush, so Saturday's run was the first of three weekends in June where long trail runs are on the docket. First up was Bergen Peak/Elk Meadow Park in Evergreen. I had the pleasure of running with Patrick for the first time. We've emailed a bunch, but never gotten on the trail together. He's running in the Sun Mountain 50M this Sunday, so he agreed to join me for the first 10.5 mile loop as he's tapering for a strong race next weekend.

Let me backup a bit. So we had a little rain on Friday night. From 11pm-2am, I was awoken about a dozen times from lightning flashes and rain/hail pounding the house. Tossing and turning, I finally rolled out of bed at 3:25, which was about 5 minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

I left at 4:10 and it was cold, dark, and still raining. I held out hope that it was only raining on the plains and that the mountains would be dry. If not, I was trying to prepare for the mud that was waiting.

Got to the trailhead a little before 5:00 and Patrick rolled in shortly thereafter. I was very impressed that he came since I couldn't help to think that there was no reason he had to subject himself to these conditions at the crack of dawn for a 10 mile run. When I got out of the car, I was surprised to see the rain had turned into a very light mist. Perfect! And the mud? Well, the trail up there was wet, but no mud.

We started our loop and I noticed, in the pre-dawn light, patches of what I thought were snow. No, they were piles of hail. That area got hit pretty hard overnight.

The higher we got, the colder the air turned and the more patches of hail we ran through. The trail rises about 2000' over 5 miles, so not the steepest out there, but also no walk in the park.

Towards the top, you run through more aspen trees. The new leaves simply got pummeled by the hail and created a green carpet to run on.

The summit (9708') was in a cloud. I'm going to have to head up there again someday in order to see the views. We made it back to the cars in just shy of two hours. Patrick took off and I grabbed my camera and went out for lap two. I cruised at just about the same pace, but encountered more rain and then mini ice pellets pinging me. It got old after awhile.

Upon returning to the trailhead a second time, I grabbed my PB&J sandwich, refilled my water reservoir, and started out for lap three. Not the full loop, but a shortened 5 miler in order to get me over the 25 mile mark. Prior to the run, I had mentally committed myself to a run of 25-30 miles. Seeing I was at mile 21, I wasn't about to back out now. Starting out was tough. I was tired of being cold and wet, and couldn't get the thought of a hot cup of coffee out of my mind. It would have to wait. This run was critical, so I just pushed away my desire to bail on it and forged ahead. The small loop only had a few hundred feet of climbing and I ran through a herd of elk that bolted from the trail, so that lifted my spirits a bit.

With a mile to go, the heavy rain returned and I cranked out my third fastest mile of the day. My watch said 26.16 miles. Would I go the extra .04 miles in the parking lot in order to register my first official marathon distance on a training run? Nope. Ha!! That cup of coffee was calling my name! I found it at McD's, as well as a mouth-watering Egg McMuffin.

So it was interesting to learn that 26 miles on trails with close to 4500' of vertical is nothing compared to the pounding your body takes in the same distance on roads. I was sore, but I ran another 8 mi on Sunday and felt great. That would never have happened after a road marathon.

Next up? Pikes and the Barr Trail. It looks like enough snow has melted that you can get pretty high, so we'll see just how far I get.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tri The Creek Recap

My long awaited dash through the water, roads, and trails of Cherry Creek State Park is over. I have avoided the dreaded three event activity for years, but thanks to the encouragement from my soon to be Ironman friend James, I can now say I'm a triathlete! The Tri the Creek sprint triathlon yesterday was a perfect race for my first. I finished in 1:24:48 which got me 8th (out of 28) in my age group and 32nd overall.

First off, to all those who have done a triathlon of any kind, my hat goes off to you! Going from one event to the next is very, very challenging. I'll lay out the play by play.

SWIM (800 meters -> 19:32)

I felt relatively prepared for the swim. I had gotten in the pool about 5 times since Boston. I was comfortable swimming 800 meters...in a pool. Stick me in 63 degree open water with a wetsuit and I was nervous to say the least. When my wave started at 7:34 am, we charged the water from the beach and started the 100 meter swim to the first of five buoys. I don't know what happened (probably a mixture of adrenaline & fear), but I couldn't put my face in the water without immediately needing a breath of air. So I had to swim freestyle with my face out...a glorified doggie paddle and not really an efficient or fast stroke.

After the first buoy, I managed to settle down and got into a better rhythm with my normal freestyle. I can tell you that nineteen and a half minutes of swimming felt like 2 hours. Dizzy and already exhausted I jogged to the transition area while trying to peel my wetsuit off.

BIKE (13 miles -> 41:20)

James had let me borrow his 20+ year old road bike since I really didn't want to do this with my mountain bike. It was perfect and I'm grateful for his loaner. Although, I was a little intimidated by the guys and gals sporting their super slick, Lance Armstrong, Tour de France type bikes. Prior to the race, I had only ridden the bike two times. This was a big mistake. I kept up a good speed, but my legs were burning about 5-6 miles in. I locked in with two other riders and was able to hang with them for the second half of the ride. Getting off the bike was hilarious. Wobble, wobble, wobble went my legs.

RUN (3.1 miles -> 21:15)

Alright, this was supposed to be my bread and butter right? Ha! Those legs needed a good half mile to work out the wobblies. I had no idea what pace I was running, but I knew I was breathing about as hard as I ever have during any run. But why did I feel so slow? That's where the compounding effect of the three events comes in. Even though I was sucking air in a hyper-ventilating manner, I learned at the end, I was hitting about a 6:50 pace.

This is James at the finish. He baffles me with how he can do these signature jumps at the end of endurance events. I refused to try another jump after my Boston debacle in April! Well, he rocked a 1:18 in the tri and placed 3rd in his age group and 9th overall! Did I mentioned he road the last two miles of the bike on a tire that was steadily leaking air! I can't wait to see him tear it up in Boulder come August.

Check him out three weeks ago at the end of the CO Colfax 1/2 marathon...in which he PR'd! Love it!

Well, the Tri is over and I'm zeroing my focus on training for Silver Rush...only 6 weeks away!

Thanks James for encouraging me towards a Tri. Who knows if I'll get back out there for another, but I appreciate the experience I had with you!