Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I could have titled this post "How not to taper for a race," but I'll just leave it as is and tell you about my bonehead experience "running" the dunes.

We spent the holiday weekend at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and I felt no pressure whatsoever to run.  I wanted to go into the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty next weekend well rested, so I figured a hike of the dunes would be enough to satisfy my need to stretch the legs.

It had been a very busy week prior to leaving, so I spent no time at all researching the dunes, learning the do's & don'ts, or figuring out where I could get in a hike.  If I gave reading the park guide five minutes of my time, I could have learned a tip or two that would have saved me some anguish.

After settling in at Medano Creek around noon and eating lunch, the girls began to play in the water.  I saw my opportunity to slip away for the short hike to the top of the dunes.  After crossing the creek, I had a couple football fields worth of flat and somewhat rocky sand to walk before the climb began.  If I even had a 15 watt bulb burning in my head, I'd have noticed that walking barefoot wasn't very comfortable.

As I began to ascend, the sheer force of the wind pretty much distracted me from all other things.  I'm sure it was a normal windy day at the dunes, but if you haven't experienced pure sandblasting on your legs, you're in for a fun and somewhat painful sensation.  The higher you got, the stronger the wind.  Any ridge of a dune was particularly gusty.

The video quality stinks, but you can catch the drift (pun intended) of what a hike up the dunes entailed.

About halfway up, I began to notice just how hot the sand was.  I felt like I was a frog sitting in a pot of water that was slowly coming to a boil.  Eventually the heat became so toasty, that a "what the heck" moment happened and I looked down at my beet red feet.  Stubbornness and summit fever prevailed.

The steep climbs really were slow going.  Another underestimation on my part.  

There were only a few people up this high.  All of them had shoes on.  I think the guy above also had summit fever as he left his wife to die so he could continue on.  Nah, she was done and wanted to rest.

When I hit the top ridge, I got a sweet view into the rest of the park.  I still had a few hundred feet to go along the ridge to get to the official "summit," but my feet were wrecked and I could feel the blood in between my toes.  I could also see a few people over there and their entire bodies were getting blasted by the wind and sand.  Time to get off this awful ant hill.  I ran down much of it just so I could minimize the time spent in the hot sand.  

I hobbled across the flat, rocky stretch and soaked my feet in the creek for a good 15 minutes.  After getting them cleaned up, I took a few pictures since I'm not flexible enough to see the bottoms of my feet otherwise.  I thought for sure I did more damage than what I found.  And thankfully, they're healing up nicely.

Back at our campsite at San Luis Lakes State Park - oh wait, they removed the word "Lakes" from the name because they let them all dry up.  Check out their website for the water views we were expecting.

Instead the lake is a dust bowl filled with fish bones.  When the wind starts cranking, there are constant "tornados" that form from the white sand/dust in the lake.  See below.

While the Sand Dunes were simply amazing to see, they were not kind to me.  Maybe if I had read this tidbit of info in the park guide, I would've had a more positive experience.

"On summer afternoons, the sand surface can reach 140°F (60° C). Bring closed shoes, and be careful with your pets’ feet. Hike the dunes early morning or evening during summer." 

Despite not being a fan of the desert-like scene of the San Luis Valley, we truly had a great weekend and I'll never get tired of sitting around a campfire and watching a view develop like the one below over the Sangre de Christos!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013 Collegiate Peaks 50 Report

Thanks to Rob Timko for all the pictures in this report!

I ran Collegiate Peaks back in 2011 as a buildup to the LT100 in August.  I had a good day as it was my first ultra where I started to figure things out.  Needless to say, I was very happy with the result.

Last year, I took a pass and hit up Quad Rock instead, but there was always a small desire to head back to Buena Vista to give the CP50 another shot.  With enough time to ponder, I felt like I left a little on the table and figured a faster time could be in the cards.

With my soccer coaching schedule requiring me to be in town on Quad Rock weekend this year, it was an easy decision to jump back into Collegiate Peaks.  Unfortunately, I got in a running funk in February and March and just couldn't seem to put together the training I thought would come easy.

With this overly dramatic story buildup, I can say that the result was very surprising.  One thing I've learned about me is that I usually run about as good (or worse) than my training has me prepared.  I had been hoping to get as close to my 8:33 from 2011.  So when I crossed the line in 8:03, I was left scratching my head, in a good way!

I wish I was able to head up to BV earlier on Friday, but an all important dance recital kept me in town until 8pm.  Two hours later I was pulling into the Thunder Lodge!  Jaime had reserved a cabin for some runners and offered me a comfy spot on the floor.  Joe Z was already crashed on the couch when I arrived, so within 5 minutes, I was jostling around in my sleeping bag trying to settle in.  Then I was out.

Just the typical race morning routine followed by a little hanging at the start with Andy, and a few of my Runner's Roost teammates.  Then at 6:30am, we were off.

All the 25 & 50 milers getting started together.  28°  Brrrrrr.

Love this shot!  Thanks Rob.  I was also loving the sunrise.  Warmth!

During the first loop, I found myself running around Joe, Leila, Jaime, and a few others.  We were all keeping the same pace, laughing & chatting it up on occasion, and just enjoying the beautiful morning.  It was the most fun I've had with a bunch of other runners during a race!

It was during this time that I took my ultrarunning to a new level of GROSS.  I ducked behind a bush for a quick #1 pitstop and shifted my two handhelds into one hand.  I dropped my shorts a bit and then proceeded to pee all over the nipple of my water bottle.  Awesome!

Eventually our little group broke up as Jaime rocketed ahead to cap off a solid training week and great 25 mile finish.  I just seemed to be getting lost in my thoughts until I arrived at the final technical trail down to the river.  Ah, the turnaround.  3:43.

Nearing the turnaround with such intense focus...or dread thinking about another 25!
I still have a strong aversion to coming into a finish line/turnaround when I know I have to go back out for another loop.  I turn very antsy to just get in and get out.  And when I get out, it's usually way too hard as I try to "run away" from the tempting party that is the finish for all the 25 milers.  Once I get a few miles away, I usually mellow out and get back in a groove, but it's really an odd thing I do.

The second loop found me alone most of the 4+ hours.  No music.  No one to talk to.  Just me and the incredible mountains I've been longing for all winter.  When people tell me I'm crazy for running trail ultras, my first response is almost always, "Hey, it gives me the chance to spend a full day wandering around the mountains while every few miles people feed me and give me something to drink."  Yes, there are definitely unpleasant and uncomfortable parts to that day, but overall this is the place where I'm most at peace.

Eventually Leila came up from behind somewhere after mile 40.  She was looking strong and focused.  Neither of us felt like talking, so we ran for a few miles never more than one or two hundred feet apart.  I pulled ahead at one point with my eyes glued to the trail right in front of my feet - and proceeded to blow right past a key turn.  Leila saved my butt by yelling my name and calling me back.  Phew and Thanks!!  I know that I would have continued for at least a mile or so before I realized my stupid mistake.  Instead I was back on course in a minute.

Leila, who was currently the #1 female racer, remained slightly ahead of me as we hit the final three mile road section.  A few minutes later, I heard some footsteps behind me as Rhonda Claridge (#2) motored right on past me.  Whoa, at that pace, she was going to catch Leila in no time.  And she did.  But what transpired for the next 5-10 minutes was worth the price of the admission!  The two of them ratcheted up the pace - I mean like dropping 7 minute miles while they leapfrogged each other about 10 times.  Even though they were pulling away from me quickly, the road is so long and straight, that I could watch it all unfold.  It made me forget all about the pain I was feeling coming to the end.

Finally, the turn off the road onto singletrack came, and the ladies disappeared out of sight.  Bummer!  I wanted to see how the horse race finished!  Within minutes, I too was crossing the finish and saw Leila and Rhonda crashed on chairs with medals around their necks.  Who won???  Leila pulled away at the end and snagged the win.  What an exhibition from two ladies that know how to dig deep!

Don't get distracted by all the finish line spectators.  I'm the runner in red.
So the question I pondered on the whole drive home was, "how the heck did I pull off a 30 min PR?"

Here's what I came up with:

Rest - I thought for sure I was far from peak shape to run well.  I think the truth of the matter was that I finally gave my body the rest it needed after a hard Nov/Dec/Jan.

Nutrition - I fueled with the same system that I did in Moab.  I ran with two handhelds, one with water and the other with an 800 calorie mixture of EFS/water.  That one bottle lasted about 3 hours and I was sipping on it every few minutes.  Constant calories.  No going 20, 30, 40 minutes without eating.  That's where I've gotten in trouble in the past.  I picked up another EFS/water bottle from my drop bag at the turnaround.  My energy was even all day.  This strategy is nothing new.  Matt Carpenter talks about this method of fueling extensively (here and here).

Experience - Running a course a second time has big advantages.  And the more I run these things, the more I'm in tune with how I should be running them.  I do take risks, but they're calculated and I feel less fear that I'm going to completely botch up my race.

This race is a good one and I can see why many go back year after year.  It's very low-key and low frills.  The aid station volunteers are all from the town and crazy nice.  I found they wanted to strike up conversations while I was trying to get out of an aid station.  I think they got tired as the day wore on because during the second loop, it was a self-service setup while they rested in chairs.  Still super friendly though and the tables were loaded and ready.  I won't hesitate to go back in the future.