Longs Peak


, , , , , ,

momma rosasI set out Saturday afternoon with my neighbors, Keith, Jen, Steve and Scott, to hike Longs Peak.  We are pictured here eating in Estes Park before camping out near the trailhead.  The allure of Longs Peak has been haunting me for years now.  Ever since I climbed my first peak back in 2008 – Mount Garfield. I say “haunted” because of the apprehension this trek stirs in hikers as they commit to plans.  As the northern most 14er in the Colorado Rockies, I  see it every day outside my window.  The trailhead in RMNP is a 45 minute jaunt from my house.  But not a year goes by without reading about some hiker in bluejeans and cotton hoodie dying from exposure.  Or being blown off the peak by a gust of wind.  To be fair, this trail takes its share of experienced hikers and climbers too; although there is a strong correlation between victims and cotton wearables.  Every section of trail is popularized by name.  The Boulder Field.  The Keyhole.  The Ledges.  The Narrows.  Those names alone will spook you.

wildWe reserved a 7 camper backcountry permit to camp at Goblins Forest.  Turns out, there was 8 of us as Steve invited 3 friends, Parker, Robert and another Keith.  The rangers were none the wiser as they close at 4pm and we didn’t pitch our tents until around 8:30.  Goblins Forest is a little over a mile in from the trailhead.  It turned out to be an awesome site with plenty of room, even a vault toilet.  Smoke from the Western State forest fires obscured the stars but the weather was fairly warm.  A couple of the guys slept in hammocks.  Jen imitates Reese Witherspoon here in Wild with her backpack loaded up.

goblins forestWe initially planned for a 3am start.  There are several reasons for this.  As one of the most difficult class 3 14ers in the country, Longs Peak is crowded with most hikers hitting the trailhead between 1am and 3am.  It’s a long, slow hike, mostly above treeline, and the early start is needed to avoid the typical afternoon thunderstorms.  Steve’s buddies had some experience hiking Longs Peak and recommended we wake up at 1:30.  We did and hit the trail by 2:30am.  As you can see in this photo, we’re all wearing headlamps.

Ed on KeyholeThe headlamps weren’t always needed above treeline as the full moon illuminated the trail.  And we weren’t alone.  We followed a trail of lights from other hikers climbing up the Mills Morraine into the Boulder Field where the sun finally rose.  This photo captures the sun rising over Mount Lady Washington and the Boulder Field as I scramble over the Keyhole to the western side of Longs Peak.

Scott on LedgesOur timing was perfect in terms of light and crowds.  Our campsite was a little over a mile from the trailhead, giving us a 12.5 mile hike.  This made us part of the main wave of hikers.  Anyone driving up and arriving by 1am will easily find a parking spot at the ranger station and trailhead, but will have a 15 mile hike.  Arrive after 3am and you will find yourself parked a mile down the road; possibly still fine in terms of beating the afternoon showers but you’ll have a 17 mile hike.  For us, the sun began to rise as we entered the Boulder Field and gave us ample light as we passed through the Keyhole and traversed the mile or so through the Ledges, Trough and Narrows to the peak.

Jen on LedgesClick on the photo above to see Scott making his way across the Ledges.  You’ll be able to make out a path marked by bullseyes painted on rocks.  There is no trail, simply these paintings for you to target as you make your way over a steep slope of rocks generously termed a ledge.  Trust me, this was some scary shit.  I can’t imagine people hiking this at night with headlamps, unless perhaps it’s better not being able to see the 1000 foot drop.  Click to enlarge this picture of Jen hiking the Ledges and tell me if this doesn’t scare you.  Longs Peak is considered a class 3 hike for scrambling but no ropes.  But the level of scrambling is intense – over a mile non-stop to the peak.  And the Ledges is just a warmup for the really scary stuff.  Next comes the Trough, an 800 foot climb over loose boulders.

troughThis photo captures Steve’s buddy Keith at the bottom of the Trough.  Note the bullseyes – here again there is no discernible trail.  You just make your way the best you can.  The crowds of hikers slow down at this point to under one mile per hour.  If you arrive late, then the wave of hikers will be coming down while you ascend, kicking an avalanche of small boulders down at you.  Heads up.  Scott turned back at this point as his knee gave out on him.  He was fine since he’s hiked to the top of Longs Peak before.  It is said only 20 percent of hikers ever complete the trail to the top.  I suspect it is a much smaller percentage who ever consider hiking it twice.  In terms of difficulty, the Keyhole is a portal to hell.  Several levels through Dante’s Inferno with increasingly dangerous and brutal scrambling.

climbSeriously, check out this photo of Keith and Jen climbing this granite wall made slick from thousands of previous hikers’ boots.  If you don’t have some basic mountaineering skills, don’t consider hiking Longs Peak.  I didn’t see any kids on this trail.  This is not a family hike.  Just imagine hitting a wall of granite on your path and looking up to see a bullseye painted 20 feet over your head suggesting the way forward.  The 1.3 miles from the Keyhole to the peak was a series of increasingly scarier challenges.  This was more an obstacle course than a hike.

Longs PeakOne point in the Trough is termed the Hoist, because there’s no way the average hiker can climb it without a little help.  Beyond the Trough was the Narrows.  This is where Jen sensibly turned around.  I nearly did and would have if Jen had asked me to stay with her.  The Narrows aren’t termed a ledge because you can’t stand straight up on most of it.  You have to lean into the cliff wall and grab onto handholds as you make your way across several hundred yards of slick granite.  It’s mostly single file and ends with the Homestretch, a several hundred foot climb to the peak.  The return was just as brutal in reverse.  I had to slide down much of it on my bottom.  I didn’t begin to appreciate this hike until hours later while safely drinking beers at Oscar Blues in Lyons.  I’m crossing this 14er off my list and won’t be coming back.

Indian Peaks Wilderness


, , , , ,

windWow!  What a difference dropping my mileage down to normal makes.  After dropping from 100 to 50 miles, I’m running fast again.  It doesn’t hurt though that the temperature has also dropped – down to what I consider football weather.  Call me foolish but I even ran without my hat and sunscreen.  And the kids returned to school this week.  It just keeps getting better.  I ended the week by hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness with Ellie today.  A bit blustery up there.

Brainard LakeIn fact, the intense wind kept us from climbing to the top of Mount Audubon.  Couldn’t complain though because the wind also swept out the smoke from the Washington State forest fires.  You can see the smoke in several of the photos if you click to enlarge them.  The high altitude smoke was thickest north of us over Rocky Mountain National Park.  Ellie has some asthma related issues so I checked the Colorado air quality index before committing to the hike.  We saw a bull moose here next to Brainard Lake during our first few minutes starting out.

Longs PeakEllie and I found ourselves constantly adding and removing gear.  The temperature was fairly cool starting out, although the trees shielded us from the wind.  The climb quickly warmed us up so we stowed away our coats and hats in our backpacks, only to put them back on along with gloves once we rose above tree line.  Same routine in reverse on our descent.  The flat topped peak above and to the right of Ellie’s head in this photo is Longs  Peak.  I’ll be hiking up there next weekend with some buddies.

Mt AudubonThis is Mount Audubon directly over Ellie’s head in the photo to the right.  We climbed nearly up to the snow field before turning back.  On the way down we turned north onto the Beaver Creek trail for a short ways and bushwhacked over to a rock cropping to catch the views.  The entire hike was about seven miles because we started from a parking lot one mile before the Mitchell Lake Trailhead.  Looks like a brand new parking lot with restrooms on the east end of Brainard Lake.  They’ve done a great job improving the parking in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area.  I didn’t see any cars parked on the road like in days past.

Beaver LakeThis is Beaver Lake behind Ellie in this photo.  Karen and I have snowshoed near there on the Sourdough Trail before.  Ellie and I also hiked around Brainard Lake a bit on the return.  Ellie couldn’t get over how blue the water was.  Mountain lakes are absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t wait to get back up here next weekend to hike Longs Peak.

100 Mile Echelon


, , , ,

intajuice in bedThis was big.  Running the Boulder Marathon in September will feel anticlimactic.  I’m even willing to admit I scheduled that run simply as an excuse to run 100 miles in one week as training.  I’ve always wanted to attempt a massive mileage training plan and now I’ve done it.  The higher distance weeks – 90 and 100 miles – were easier than I expected.  I started at 60 miles and climbed my training echelon with 10 mile steps until I reached 100.  I lost confidence somewhat between 70 and 80 but suspect that was heat related.  The standard advice is to increase your distance every week by 10%, which mirrors my plan.  I won’t have a sense of how effective uber distance training is until I run the marathon.  I’m not expecting to run faster, rather hoping to run more comfortably.  Specifically over the final 10K.  If you’ve ever run a marathon, then you know how unpleasant those last six miles can be.

The waiting period between ending my massive mileage training plan and determining the results feels miles long to me.  I’ll have to find something else to blog about for the next four weeks.  My taper plan isn’t nearly as well defined as my uber distance plan. The actual miles will be serendipitous, 35 to 50, and ideally faster.  Likely 8 mile runs on weekdays rather than 12.  I won’t bother making up lost miles when I miss a workout due to a long work day.   I’m not concerned with losing my conditioning.  As for the weekends, I’ll be hiking Longs Peak with my neighbors.  And I have a trail relay coming up.  There’s always something.

My feedback on having trained massive miles is the following.  I suspect most of the fatigue I felt was due more to the summer heat than lack of recovery.  I felt great on cloudy days.  With that said, running Saturday mornings after a late Friday afternoon run was always my most difficult workout.  So hard for an older man to sufficiently recover with less than 24 hours.  My best guess is I averaged a 9 minute mile pace; a bit slow for me but fine for my objective of distance over pace.

I also have a sneaking suspicion I’ve become addicted to the endorphin effects from running.  I certainly have not experienced euphoric highs.  Running is not morphine.  For me it’s more of a calming and analgesic effect.  I hesitate to say addicted, but the thing is, despite some brutally painful runs in the heat, I totally look forward to my daily runs.  People have commented to me they are so impressed with my motivation to keep going but honestly, it’s become a fast moving train that’s hard to jump off.  I’ve subconsciously prioritized it above so many likely more important things.  Ultra distance running is quite possibly a disease.  I’ve also become addicted to fruit popsicles.  There are no popsicle guidelines published online but I suspect four after dinner is too many.  I have no plans to abate my consumption but I do recognize the problem.

I believe I’ll see the benefit from running two to three hours at a stretch in my form.  The repetition leads to optimal form.  I imagine the opposite could be true.  If I had a serious defect in my form, the longer runs would have quickly led to injury.  Question is, will I be faster or slower?  My stride length is set in concrete now.  My cadence varies based on the heat index.  Sort of wish I would have worn my Garmin during this training program.  I didn’t see the need since I knew my distance and wasn’t expecting fast times.  Pace wasn’t and still isn’t a goal, but I’m a bit interested in terms of expectations.  I’m certain I’ll be able to run the marathon under four hours.  Hope I run under 3:45.  I recall my last Boulder Marathon being around 3:55.  It’s a slow course.

Finishing up my 100 mile week with a 20 mile run was less than glorious.  Combination fatigue from Friday afternoon’s 12 miler and this mornings’ heat.  I walked a bit.  The cold water irrigation ditch where I typically dip my hat with 3.5 miles remaining was dry.  Started vomiting at 19 miles.  Scared Karen after I dropped to the kitchen floor with cramping thigh muscles and screaming.  I diffused that situation by sending her on an IntaJuice smoothie run.  This photo is me afterward recovering in bed with my banana-strawberry smoothie.  Mostly better now.

Grand Lake


, , , , , ,

north inlet trailThe last thing I remember Friday night was looking up at the stars, undiluted from urban light sources, high in the Rocky Mountains outside Grand Lake.  Sleeping cowboy style, I dodged fallin’ stars aimed straight at me.  I finally tucked inside my tent after midnight once the temperature dropped.  Rob and I camped out here to hike a 25 mile segment of the Continental Divide Trail.  The accuracy of CDT maps are specious as my Garmin captured 29.5 miles.  Fortunately the weather was cool, between 40° and 60° so that our water lasted through those final four unplanned miles.

Grand Lake sits at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and is also part of the headwaters to the Colorado River.  A quaint mountain town with wooden boardwalks and expensive but good restaurants, it’s worth a stop if you’re near Rocky Mountain National Park, or the Winter Park ski resort.  Grand Lake anchors the southern end of Trail Ridge Road.  Rob and I ate surprisingly good Mexican food at El Pacifico.  After two large margaritas, I was seeing stars.

Flat Top MountainThe 25 (29.5) miles would complete my 90 mile running week, for a total 510 miles of my massive mileage Boulder Marathon training plan.  I run 20 miles today to begin my 100 mile week – the final week before I begin my taper.  I can still report no muscle strains or injuries.  Keeping my fingers crossed.  I’ll start some strength training and work on my pace once I cut my miles by half.

We got some decent running in Saturday on the trail.  This section of the Continental Divide Trail is a loop that begins and ends at the North Inlet Trailhead outside Grand Lake.  It’s contained within the southwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, so permits are needed for camping.  We stealth camped, setting up our tents shortly after dusk to avoid the Park Rangers.  We encountered a number of group backpackers who camped along the trail.  One father was trekking his kids on a 3 day outing, targeting 8 mile days with their heavy packs.  There is a Big Meadow trail that shortcuts the CDT, forming a slightly shorter 24 or 25 mile loop.  Sporting light packs, we ran about two miles worth of the big loop.  The coolest part was running across the alpine tundra among the rock cairns above 12,000 feet.

burn zoneAnother cool section of trail was this burn area on the northern part of the loop.  Would have been hot without shade but we benefitted from partial clouds and 60° temperatures.  I’m happy mixing up hiking with my running.  I count the miles toward my training plan because hiking with Rob at high altitude is little different than running.  We maintained a 3 mph pace for essentially a 50K ultra.  Ascending above tree line had my cardio going.  I imagine I burned well over 3000 calories over the ten hour hike.  Once I finish my coffee this morning, I’ll set out on a 20 miler on the LoBo Trail to begin my 100 mile week.

Anniversary Workout



Rychie and SteveYou would think I might go the day without training to celebrate my 28th wedding anniversary with Karen.  That’s not how a runner thinks.  I managed as many miles during the week as possible, 72 miles, leaving only 8 more miles for Saturday.  Then I ran earlier in the morning than typical with my running buddies while Karen was out teaching her aerobics class.  My second 80 mile week is now complete.  I then carried on with the day’s scheduled events.  Lunch with Karen, a couple’s massage, and a movie – Mission Impossible.  That massage complimented my training nicely.  This photo captures Rychie and Steve as they descend the Betasso Link Trail.  We ran both loops for a 9 miler.  This was their first time running Betasso and they loved it.

Six weeks of my Boulder Marathon training plan are now behind me with 420 miles.  My running buddies asked me how much weight I’ve lost since starting.  Two pounds.  That hardly seems right does it?  Granted, I’m not trying to lose weight but I did expect it.  I’ve more than doubled my weekly mileage.  I can only assume I’m eating more calories.  I’m guessing it’s all the smoothies and fruit popsicles.  Real fruit contains real sugar and that’s been an addition to my diet since I started this plan.

Tomorrow begins my first 90 mile week.  I’m still planning to only run 90 miles for one week and then jump to 100 miles the following week.  Then start my taper two weeks early.  This modification to my plan has two benefits.  It reduces my chances of repetitive muscle injury or stress fracture.  Some people can train hard for years on end.  I know my body and I’m not one of those people.  Quite frankly I’m surprised that I don’t feel any strains yet.  Could be I’ve improved my running form well enough.  Or could be because I started out in fairly good shape.

The second benefit of ending my massive mileage plan in two weeks is I’ll have more weeks to work on my pace with the shorter runs.  The fatigue from these long runs has dramatically slowed my pace.  It takes me four to five miles to loosen up whereas I generally find my stride after two miles.  I’m running so slow right now I risk toppling over in strong winds.  I haven’t been timing myself but I can feel the pace.  Once I return to 8 milers I intend to drop my pace back down to under 8 minute miles.  I’m so close to completing this plan, I’m excited to see the results in September.

Massive Mileage in Moderation


, , , ,

GTI was drinking beers with a couple of my running buddies Thursday at The Well – conveniently located two blocks down the street from my house.  Our conversation turned to my Boulder Marathon training plan, AKA the massive mileage training plan.  My friends think I’m nuts, although they are impressed my body is holding up to the stress.  So am I.  I completed my first 80 mile week today with an 18 miler on the LoBo Trail.  I’m feeling the fatigue.  Sometimes my knees buckle from weakness on my initial steps after standing up from a chair, but nothing feels on the verge of injury.  More difficult than the physicality of running the extreme distance is making the time. I can squeeze in 60 miles easily enough but 80 miles is where time becomes a real factor.  Thankfully Karen is cooking most of our dinners.  I just show up hungry.

Steve asked me what my objective is with this massive mileage.  I get the sense everyone thinks I’m still pushing myself as compensation for my cancer last year.  I don’t think so.  I did initially, consciously.  I set my first race to be a marathon in order to have a meaningful challenge.  And I had a little something to prove in the Bolder Boulder since my surgery caused me to miss the 2014 event.  But I’m happy with my recovery and I’m over it.  And I’m not trying to set some speed record.  In fact, I suspect this distance is slowing me down.  I do hope to run in the top of my range – 3:30 to 3:45 – but I’m not trying to PR.

I have two reasons for this plan.  The first is that I recently read Running with the Buffaloes.  That CU Cross Country team put in massive miles.  Adam Goucher ran 100 mile weeks and went on to win at the NCAA Nationals.  I wouldn’t call that book a great read, in fact it reads about like this blog.  Chris Lear simply captures every workout of the season.  But I have a tendency to get excited by sports stories.  Shoot, I’m easily influenced by books.  I do have some discipline.  I read both Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto in College.  Despite the liberal college setting, I thought they were both full of shit.  Maybe it’s just sports stories that get me so excited.  I made my plan immediately after reading about the CU Cross Country team.

My goal, my second reason, is that I hope this mileage will make me feel comfortable running the entire marathon distance.  I begin to fade around 18 miles.  Or 2.5 hours. Quick marathon math has you burning 3000 calories over the course.  The typical marathon runner probably can’t store more than 2000 calories.  Likely much less but this gives you around 1000 calorie deficit.  And trust me, you can try eating ten 100 calorie gels during the race but your stomach can’t process that much in such a short time.  So 18 miles, give or take, or 2.5 hours, is when many runners tend to bonk.  I’ve bonked as early as 16 miles.  My hope is that my body will adapt to the distance with this massive mileage to burn calories more efficiently during the run.

My previous training focus has been on nutrition and getting in at least one super long run (18 to 20 miles) on the weekend.  I’ve had success with both.  But running massive weekly mileage is something I’ve never done, not even back in college.  I worked myself up to 70 mile weeks the summer before my final season and experienced decent success from that.  I’ve always been smitten with the thought of running a 100 mile week.  Problem is, I’m starting to doubt I can hold this plan.  I just completed my first 80 mile week today with an 18 mile run and I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure two weeks at 90 and then two weeks at 100 is viable.  But I really want to try, I’m so close.

I’m thinking of modifying my plan.  I’ll do 80 again next week per plan.  Then only run a single week at 90 and a single week at 100 – rather than two weeks for each.  After that, drop all the way back down to 60.  This might keep me alive for race day.  As much stink I raised in a previous blog challenging U-Curve studies, I actually believe in  them.  Drinking, running, everything in moderation.  I saw my Chiropractor yesterday. I didn’t have any issues for him, and he didn’t find any, but this was a proactive, preventive maintenance component of my training plan.

Today’s run was brutal.  18 miles in blistering heat.  I saw Jabe, Eve and Susan on the LoBo Trail around 3 miles.  And Spot.  Not sure how far they ran but Spot was feeling it.  I drove directly to Inta Juice afterward and downed two 32 ounce smoothies with protein for an 800 calorie liquid lunch.  I followed that up with a pedicure.  Two absolutely brilliant post-run decisions.  This photo above is of me last weekend on the CDT with Gray’s and Torreys in the background – which Brittany just summited yesterday.  An active summer for all the Mahoneys.

The Route


, , , , , , , , , ,

narrow topThe Continental Divide Trail isn’t as well marked with signs as the Colorado Trail, and much of what I hiked this weekend with Rob wasn’t marked by trail at all.  The CDT along the mountaintops above Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Keystone is essentially a route.  So few hikers travel this twenty mile section of alpine tundra that there is no trail.  The entire width of the mountaintops define the path.  Where I’m standing in this photo, the route is about as wide as the length of a football field.  Clearly, it narrows across that hill behind me.  This photo captures the pathless trail and general conditions above 13,000 feet as Rob and I hiked from Argentine Pass to Georgia Pass Saturday.

snow fieldWe didn’t have much snow to worry about.  This photo shows one of the larger snow fields we encountered, but we were able to hike alongside its edge.  Good thing as I wore my running trail shoes for this effort rather than hiking boots.  I wanted to test out my trail shoes, even though I knew they would fatigue my feet much more than boots.  The Salomon Speedcross trail runners are awesome.  I don’t think they have a rock plate, but their sole is strong enough to step across sharp rocks and their tread never slipped once for me.  I did notice some hot spots, but this was after 8 hours of hiking.  We completed the twenty-plus mile jaunt in 10.5 hours.

wide topEverything was so green, even above treeline where the ground oftentimes turns to moonscape rock.  The Cushion plant moss was easily 3 inches tall in places.  The Alpine Sunflowers and Forget-me-nots were thick, and the Marmots were quite fat as well – presumably from eating the lush grasses and flowers.  This photo captures Rob in a mountaintop field of Alpine Buttercups.

top viewI can’t say enough just how stunning the views were on this hike.  We spent at least eight hours hiking above treeline.  I applied the 20 miles to my weekly running goal, giving me 70 for the week and a total of 260 miles toward my marathon training plan.  We hiked an additional six miles this morning which I’ll apply to this coming week’s 80 mile goal.  74 more miles to go over the next six days.

190 Miles


, , , ,

Audubon TrailI completed week three of training for the Boulder Marathon with 70 miles, bringing my total up to 190 miles.  Surprisingly, the wheels haven’t started to fall off yet.  I have another six weeks before I reach 100 weekly miles though, so I can’t say I’m there.  This week almost felt easy until today.  I kept all my runs at 12 or less miles but ran 16 today in some tough heat.  The most difficult part might be running in the morning after a previous late afternoon run.  Not enough time to recover.  So I maintained a slow pace today, which was likely smart in this heat.

I also got in a nice 6 mile hike on Audubon Trail, in the Brainard Lake area on Thursday.  I took the day off to spend time with my niece Jessy who drove in from Iowa.  She’s in Vail now for the weekend with her boyfriend Brian and Brittany.  Always nice to have family visit.  Nicer still to get in my first mountain trail hike of the season.  I have some more aggressive hikes planned later this month and for August, including Longs Peak.

Finished the day on the front porch.  Goddard came over and drank beers with me.  Until we ran out and switched over to Brittany’s apple cider.  Quite refreshing and 5% alcohol.  Who knew?

120 Miles


, , , , , , ,

fatigueThis photo from the 2015 Bolder Boulder captures how I’ve been feeling during my 120 miles worth of running over the last two weeks in the summer heat.  I completed another 60 mile week today – week two of my 13 week plan training for the Boulder Marathon.  I had to squeeze in 60 miles in only four runs since Sunday.  I had to commute to Denver for training Monday and Tuesday which didn’t leave time for working out.  Then Karen and I are spending the weekend in Denver to see Wicked and the Denver Art Museum.  And possibly the Botanical Gardens.  Ran 21 Sunday, 10 Wednesday, 14 Thursday and 15 today.  Hope I don’t have these sorts of time challenges going forward when my mileage increases.  I like long runs, but not every time.  This photo also captures how my left foot turns outward when I’m fatigued.  Not very pretty form but I’m working on it.

I saw Dave and Amy biking on the LoBo Trail after two miles.  Apparently they don’t spend the first hours of the morning drinking coffee and reading the paper like me as they were just finishing their ride.  I also saw Steve on my return in nearly the same spot, maybe a mile further between Ogallala Road and 83rd.  Steve was running with his dog.  They have similar form.

My body is holding up fairly well after two 60 mile weeks.  It’s fatigued but I can’t point to anything that feels like a pending injury.  Haven’t lost any weight.  I’m good at replenishing lost calories.  Karen is worried about me wearing myself out.  Along with my mom.  Karen had her dad talk to me about the health benefits of ultra distance running.  Basically, there aren’t any, but I know that.  I don’t do this year long, only to prep for marathons.  I’ve never put in this many miles though, assuming I complete my plan.

The medical studies, which my father-in-law pointed out to me, fall into two areas.  The first are studies that suggest ultra endurance training, coupled with your genetic makeup, can lead to a higher incidence of heart disease, such as cardiomyopathy or enlarged heart.  This is what killed Caballo Blanco (Micah True), the famed ultra distance runner from Boulder.  I don’t tend to run over 35 miles a week, at least not for prolonged periods, so this is not something I worry about.

The second set of studies suggest a U-curve graph around the negative health benefit of running less than or more than 35 miles per week.  Or in that range.  I find the symmetrical nature of U-curves specious, suggesting inherent sample bias.  The studies I’ve read in the paper or have been able to google don’t have control groups.  They simply record results from volunteers.  They have many less results from people running much longer than 35 miles because really, how many nut jobs do you know who run 100 miles per week?  Sample bias is when smaller sample populations appear as outliers because the larger sample essentially establishes the average.  I’m not a scientist and I failed college statistics, but I have friends who are scientists, so I’m like one degree of separation away from knowing what I’m talking about.

I’ll take this further.  Correlation is not causation.  You can show that people who run less than the average runner or more than the average runner live shorter lives, but you can’t say it is due to the miles.  Figure people running less are possibly more obese.  Anyone running 100 miles a week is clearly obsessive and likely displays many more characteristics that could just as easily be responsible for their shorter lifespan.  They likely drink more, experience more dramatic weight loss and gain, get more speeding tickets and have more sex partners.  They are doomed to a shorter but highly satisfying life.

Part of Karen’s concern for me is that I look so bad after finishing some of these long runs.  Click on that picture to enlarge it and you’ll see the pain in my face from fatigue.  Anyone who hikes or runs with me knows how I grunt loudly and am generally highly expressive when I hurt.  It’s part of my pain management routine, but it doesn’t mean I’m dying.  Just sounds and looks like it at times.  I did well today staying hydrated during my 15 mile run and am doing everything possible to recover for our weekend stay in Denver.  I drank a protein smoothie after my run.  And just dropped 10,000 IUs of vitamin D and 20 mg of Cialis.  I’m expecting fireworks this weekend.

13 Weeks


, , , , , , ,

BB KickBeginning this past week, I have shifted gears from speed to distance.  Speed being a relative term, my focus on interval training paid off in the 2015 Bolder Boulder as I ran a personal best.  I even displayed a strong kick in Folsom Stadium, pictured here.  I feel this was my best success at improving speed since I got back into road races six years ago.  That said, I’ve dropped to 28th place on the Shoes & Brews 800 meter beer board.  So it’s time to give up on speed and turn my focus to miles.  This plan will prepare me for my next scheduled race – the Boulder Marathon in September.

I’ve established a 13 week mileage plan that begins with 60 miles per week and reaches 100 miles before tapering back down to 60.  I hit my first 60 mile target today with a 12 mile run on Betasso Trail.  This is a good plan considering that I am starting out already in really good shape.  And because running extensive distance like this is a proven method to prepare for a marathon.  Running 26.2 miles after training this arduously will be almost a non-event.  There will be no nervousness at the starting line after completing this training plan.

If there’s any weakness to this plan, it’s that I’ve never run more than 70 miles in a single week – in my life.  And I find that the wheels tend to start falling off if I run any further than 45 miles in a single week.  Honestly, 35 miles is my sweet spot.  The challenge then will be avoiding injury. I won’t hesitate to scale back the miles given sufficient pain. I’m no hero. And I’m not stupid. Can’t run if I can’t run. But I’m actually quite interested in my ability to manage these training challenges. I’ve learned tons in terms of stretching and exercises to mitigate muscle overuse injuries. Ironically, I learned much of this from my cancer physical therapy last year. My Physical Therapist, Jennifer Davia, taught me the importance of adductor and abductor exercises to keep the muscles in balance that connect the hip to the knee.  The focus of that physical therapy was to be on pelvic floor recovery, but I leveraged Jennifer’s knowledge of running injuries and have performed these routines since last summer with good results.

My next concern is with recovery.  Even if healthy, will I have the energy to run the next day?  This week, the answer has been no.  It’s possible I’m not acclimated to the heat.  Colorado went from a cold spring of 70° days to 90° days literally overnight.  I haven’t been timing myself but I’ve been dragging with these back-to-back, 8 mile runs.  I expect to have trouble recovering after my longer weekend runs but am a bit surprised I can’t recover better after 8 milers.  Hoping it’s the heat.  I should probably start to consider supplements.  I do take supplements that focus on electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium) but have never experimented much with muscle-related supplements.  Not sure I want to but might have to keep an open mind.

My final concern regards having the time for this.  I don’t generally run every day because, between work and personal obligations, who has the time?  I have to commute to the Denver Tech Center twice next week, so I’ll need to adapt for that.  I’m disciplined enough to average 5 days per week, but there are even times I’m too busy to run on the weekend.  I’ve always made concerted efforts to dedicate myself when training for marathons.  Running 26 miles is just too painful unprepared.  I do have some hiking and backpacking planned for this summer.  I’ll count mountain hiking miles as running miles.  I think that’s fair since I typically find myself pushing my aerobic threshold as hard hiking as I do running.

My training plan consists of two week segments.  The first two weeks will target 60 miles per week.  Then 70, then 80, 90 and finally 100.  That will consume 10 full weeks.  Then I taper down to 80, then 60, and then whatever I decide to run the week of the marathon for a total of 13 weeks since signing up last weekend.  I’ll keep my daily runs at 8 miles for 4 weeks, and then only add 2 miles per week to 10, then 1 mile to 11 and another mile to 12.  I add the bulk of the distance increases to my weekend runs.  I won’t have time to run longer during the week.  And I strongly believe in the need to work myself up to 20 mile runs to condition my body for 26 miles.  This might also play into my ability to avoid injury by keeping my daily runs manageable.  I believe I have the experience to pull this off.  But “it’s not the years darling, it’s the miles.”

Sunrise Stampede


, , , ,

leadville halfBeth (aka ShutUpAndRun) invited me to run the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon this weekend.  With over 3700 feet of elevation gain, who wouldn’t want to run that?  Here’s a photo of the organizers scooping the snow off the trail in preparation for the race.  They spent 6 hours per day for 6 days digging this four foot wide, two mile path to the summit.  They broke 6 shovels.  There seriously is a part of me that wanted to run this half marathon.  As much as I appreciate the invite, I instead chose to run local this weekend.  This will give me time to attend yet another graduation party.  I also planned to sneak in Jurassic World but my family couldn’t wait and we saw that Thursday night.  Epic Dinosaur movie – well done.

I don’t intend to race this 10K hard, but I am looking to get in a strong workout.  Occasionally I treat these races as premiere events, like the Bolder Boulder a few weeks ago.  Others I simply consider to be a good workout opportunity knowing that, by running with a group of people, I’ll run harder.  So I’m not looking to PR but hope to run about a 7:30 pace.  I run closer to an 8 minute pace in workouts alone.  Sometimes in these no-stress events, I find that I run quite strong after loosening up the first one or two miles.  I do hope to find some part of this run where I fall into race mode.  Running two or three miles at an uber elevated pace would be ideal.  Maybe the first two miles slow, the next three miles under 7, then cool down with an 8 minute mile.  That’s my plan as I warm up.

My concerns are that one, the Cottonwood pollen has been killing my breathing lately – literally choking me.  And two, I couldn’t find an elevation chart for this course.  Elevation charts are fairly critical for establishing pre-race plans in Colorado.  Altitude can make the smallest slopes feel like mountains.  But I can wing that by surging on down slopes when I notice them.  While I’m not familiar with running on these streets, I don’t expect any major hills.  This is very likely a faster course than the Bolder Boulder.  I run into Ashlee – of Shoes & Brews.  Colin and her are running the 10K.  She tells me this is about as hilly as the Bolder Boulder, mostly in the first half.  Although it will finish downhill so nothing like climbing up Folsom in the BB.  So maybe I’ll run the first half slow.  I guess I really don’t have a race plan.

I warmup well enough so that I don’t go out too slowly.  This works as I go out a bit faster than expected with a 7:03 first mile.  At least it isn’t under 7 minutes.  The hills increase from here and I keep a steady pace, possibly slowing down a bit.  In fact, I do run slower as the second mile comes in at 7:12.  This feels comfortable and I hope to just keep this pace the rest of the course.  I’m running strong but well enough under my aerobic threshold.  I surge into a short downhill at 2.5 miles, near MacIntosh Lake, but start to cough hard from the Cottonwood.  This is exactly when I start to cough during my workouts.  It nearly stops me for a minute but I recover and take some water at an aid station.  I’m bummed because it slows me down as I am gaining momentum.  I complete the third mile in 7:28.  A good workout pace.

Into the fourth mile I start to race another runner.  I learn later that his name is PJ (40 year old Patrick Schrodt).  Although I might have him confused with 44 year old Bill Depaemelaere.  These young guys all look the same to me.  I catch him and we switch taking leads the rest of the race.  My fourth mile is almost identical to the third, at 7:32.  This is also a high point for the course and it’s mostly downhill from here. Just as I begin to unwind, I have to stop to retie my right shoe.  Dammit!   I lose a half minute for this.  I ordered some new shoes earlier this week online but they don’t arrive until Monday.  They will have speed laces, so I won’t run into this issue again.

I keep PJ in my sites and am close behind him.  Despite the shoe lace issue I run the fifth mile faster in 7:09.  I feel good, aided by the down slope.  I keep this pace for the final mile rather than cool down since it feels good.  I slow down marginally as we near the Longmont High School stadium because I don’t care to put on a kick.  Still, I pass PJ during this slow down.  He passes me back once we are on the track.  The course finishes with a quarter mile lap around the track.  PJ puts on a bit of a kick and finishes 30 meters ahead of me.  I’m content running behind another guy, but pass him with a kick of my own the last 100 meters.  I think I decided to kick past him because he looks my age with a gray crew cut.  And because I am barely breathing hard.  He had passed me the first half mile and it felt good to catch him.  I learn afterward his name is Paul Colvin and is 45 years old.

Sunrise StampedeI run my sixth mile in 6:58, the fastest pace of the entire run.  Surprising but then it is downhill vs uphill for the first mile.  I cross the finish line in 45:32 for 2nd place in my age group, which is about what I was hoping to run.  I run into Jill, one of my teammates from the Snowmass Trail Relay, at the finish.  She ran the two mile course with her daughter.  Her husband is still out running the 10K.  This photo captures PJ in the middle, and another guy, 43 yr old James Vardas, whom we passed back and forth throughout the run.  I think he’s the guy PJ kicked in with at the end.  The race results suggest I confused PJ with Bill.  This race was tougher than I anticipated.  Hot with no clouds, hilly, and strong competition.  Good way to start the morning.  Next is a graduation party for Ken Farmer’s son, Ben.  I expect good eats and beer.



, ,

Betasso LinkGadget Girl told me about the Betasso Link Trail off Canyon Drive a few weeks back.  Today was my first chance to get up here.  The trailhead sits just before and to the right of the tunnel, three miles from the edge of town on the drive toward Nederland.  You can drive another mile further to Sugarloaf Road to reach a trailhead at the top if you want to skip this rugged 1.3 mile climb.  I wanted the climb.  It rises over 600 feet, the steepest part in the first quarter mile.  That’s just about the limit of grade I can handle without walking.  When Gadget Girl’s husband rides with her, they start at the top but Dave rides this link trail down.  She picks him up on the drive home.

The trail is hard and slick, with intermittent boulders.  A biker started out before me and I figured I would pass him.  I find that I typically pass mountain bikers uphill but this guy was unreal.  I did finally catch him once after he dismounted for a particularly steep rise but he passed me back quickly.  Really, I was just right behind him the entire climb.  And we passed several others.  While slower, they were still extremely skilled.  This black diamond trail is technical for bikers in both directions.  For runners, it’s gorgeous.  I thought of Keith’s face after he completed the first loop last weekend in the Snowmass trail race.  For anyone who finds running burdensome, try running a mountain trail.  Trails like this turn workouts into a rapturous experience.

Betasso PreserveThe top of the climb empties into an open meadow and links to the Canyon Loop Trail – a 3.3 mile loop.  A sign instructs bikers to ride counterclockwise.  I read this direction alternates monthly.  There are no similar guidelines for runners but commonsense implies that running clockwise is optimal so you can see bikers coming.  There are also signs (you can see one if you click on the trailhead picture to enlarge it) that state no bikers on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Good to know, although I didn’t find this morning overly crowded.  The bikers were all courteous and skilled well enough that we could both usually pass by without surrendering momentum.  In fact, the first mile of the Canyon Loop was double track, and much of the remaining loop was still wide enough for passing.  On occasion, I even yield for bikers, when it seems fair.  Hate to see a biker topple over on these sharp hills.

Running was softer up top on the loop than on the link trail.  Dry and not nearly as supple as the soil in Snowmass.  Those trails were dreamy.  My trail flats gripped those paths near the Maroon Bells like leather gloves on the steering wheel of a muscle car, accelerating through turns.  The Canyon Loop contains several similar sections where the trees were thick enough that moisture clung to the dirt to turn its color black.  And there were a half dozen streams which were fun to hop across.  The loop was never flat, rather rolling and twisty.  I took the first mile to recover from the climb but then found my legs and enjoyed some speedier running where the trail allowed.

After a single loop, I returned back down the link trail to my car.  I found the descent more technical than the climb.  My year old trail shoes slid a few times.  Manufacturers tell you to buy new shoes every 500 miles.  I tend to log over 2000 before shodding a new pair.  Traction is certainly a critical criteria in trail shoes so perhaps it’s time.  To survive this descent, I focused on form.  The trick to avoiding slippage is to never let your feet touch the ground.  Since I can’t actually fly, I begin raising my feet before they fully touch down.  Very, very, quick, short steps.  Allowing your heel to fully flatten is courting disaster.  Running downhill like this is seriously exhausting and difficult to maintain for much more than a mile.  The other technique is to walk, but even then it’s wise to avoid putting too much weight into your landing.

I made it down safely.  And really, I didn’t rush down overly fast.  I played it safe.  I can’t believe this was my first time up on this hill.  Next time I intend to run two or three loops up top.  I’ll be back to Betasso.



, , , , , , , , ,

The Running DeadSometimes, when I don’t like the forecast from my Weather Channel mobile app, I check their site on my laptop.  They rarely agree.  Still, there’s little difference between an 80% chance of rain, and 70%.  In a semi-desert state like Colorado, anything over 20% means rain.  Lots of it.  So my Running Dead trail relay team drove up to Snowmass for our trail relay on Friday with soggy expectations.  We were surprised at how so much rain could go unnoticed.  We had a total blast.  From left to right in the back row is Chris, Allison, the Dead Runner, Jill, Jen, and me.  Up front is Keith, Rychie and Steve.

SteveWe arrived with just enough time to pitch our tents and watch the team safety video before Steve kicked off our relay by running the 3.9 mile green loop.  Our race instructions listed the green loop as 3.3 miles, but a conversation with the Here Kitty Kitty team captain Brian suggested it is more like 3.8 miles.  My Garmin recorded 3.9 miles.  Running the extra distance wasn’t an issue for any of us.  We came here to run.  But no one likes surprises when their legs are drowning in lactic acid.  The pre-race intel was critical at setting our expectations.  This was Steve’s first race after heel surgery.  Some suspect his first real run.  He performed like a champ.

RychieSteve handed off to Rychie who ran the 4.1 mile yellow loop in our first rain shower.  She reported the wet trail conditions as apparently difficult for bigger, heavier guys as they struggled to negotiate the muddy slopes, but that she was able to nimbly maintain sure footing.  Rychie’s training with Jill on the rocky Picture Rock Trail in Lyons proved itself invaluable for these conditions.  Jill followed Rychie on the 6.9 mile red loop, which was advertised as 6.2 miles.  This began on paved trail and road for two miles, mitigating the danger of slipping in mud.  Jill and Rychie’s strong runs kept us on our pre-race schedule, despite being over one mile longer than plan.

the girlsRychie and Jill are new friends for me.  I discovered on the ride up that like me, they both are mid-westerners.  Rychie is a farm girl from Fremont, Nebraska and Jill is a farm girl from outside Chicago.  I’m from Davenport, Iowa, which one could argue is a distant Chicago suburb.    I was a Bears fan back in the day.  Rychie manages the professional development of school teachers now while Jill owns a landscape enterprise in Longmont.  Both sounded disappointed, and just plain pissed with themselves that they had to walk a few steep slopes of the trail on their first runs.  I explained to them that it’s not really walking on mountain trails; when you’re primarily running, it’s a shuffle.  They didn’t really accept my shuffle concept.  These girls might look like innocent working professionals, wives and moms, but they’re the reason Lance Armstrong doesn’t own a second home in Boulder County to train.  The women on Mesa Trail aren’t intimidated by the Aspen elites.

fire pitKeith was our 4th runner and started out on the green loop to repeat our 14 mile cycle of green-yellow-red.  He returned elated over the beauty of these trails.  And no doubt happy that he ran quite well, passing many other runners.  Jen, always strong, ran 5th on the yellow trail, followed by Chris for a repeat of the red trail.  This completed two rounds of the three loop sequence and brought night fall over Snowmass.  I waited by the bonfire for Chris to finish as the temperature dropped with the sun.

Chris didn’t report any issues navigating the trails via his headlamp.  I was apprehensive as trail running at night was a first for me.  While I believed I could pass runners immediately, I held back to gain comfort with reading the trail.  My caution paid dividends as the grade of the green loop rose dramatically the first half mile and the runners in front of me fell back from oxygen debt.  I had to walk a few steep steps the first mile and again the second mile, but mostly maintained a steady cadence up to the top of the mountain, just under two miles into the loop.  I held my pace under 10 minutes the first mile, and under 12 minutes for mile two.

top of the red loopReturning downhill in darkness was surreal.  Running under an 8.5 minute pace via headlamp felt like playing a first person shooter video game as I weaved my path around the curvy, tree-lined course.  I passed more runners on the downhill than up, no doubt they were being cautious.  The only reason I couldn’t soar down this trail faster wasn’t the turns.  I could see those fine with my 550 lumens Olympia EX550 headlamp.  Rather, my difficulty was in reading the shadowy dips in the undulating trail.  I alternated from hyper extending my stride on deeper troughs than I expected and jarring my hips on the steps that came up short.  I slammed into a wooden foot bridge hard when I didn’t see that the initial on ramp was twice as steep as the middle of the bridge.  I nearly buckled.  I took the foot bridges slower after that.

EdOur team ran through the night rain free.  Rychie shared my initial nervousness but everyone agreed afterward that nighttime running was a total trip.  Anything leading you to run slower was a good thing in terms of pacing you for the total half marathon over three loops.  A good two hundred runners on the trails kept you in close company at all times.  I woke up at 3am for my second run amazed to see streams of light from runners’ headlamps snaking along the sides of three mountainsides.  Very cool.  My second run was on the 6.9 mile red loop and coincided with sunrise near the top of the course.  This trail photo above is of the path leading to the top at around 3.5 miles.  I was able to turn off my headlamp for the downhill, which was a total scream.  I didn’t kick too hard though because I was expecting to have to run another loop.  The plan was to either run with Allison on the next leg, or for Steve on the leg after.  Both had injuries.

red loop in the rainAllison blazed her leg on her own but 50 minutes later I ran Steve’s yellow loop for him.  This was much tougher than I expected.  My heart rate was still elevated from the red loop and my legs took a good half mile to loosen up.  Fortunately the yellow loop begins with a graceful slope and I was able to unwind.  Once I got going, I felt great and ran my fastest pace of my three runs, an 8:49 pace.  Steve nominated me for team MVP for my unselfish act.  I lost to Jen who later ran the 6.9 mile red loop on her third run in a torrential downpour.  Understand that nearly every runner mostly walked their third loops.  As Jen reached the summit of the red loop, all the runners were turning around, too afraid to descend the river of mud.  Undaunted, and frankly disgusted by all the sissy runners retreating, Jen screamed down that mudslide full throttle.  Here’s a photo of her shoes afterwards.

AllisonHad Allison not been out barhopping with some  runner boys during the MVP selection committee’s discussions, she might have won MVP for her final performance.  My final run was spectacular – my fastest yet.  An 8:20 pace.  But I ran it on the very unspectacular yellow loop.  Like Jen before her, Allison ran the red loop.  The trail of heroes.  We were chasing Here Kitty Kitty for the last 20 hours.  Our Longmont competition, four hours from home on a mountainside in Snowmass.  On the longest loop, with the greatest elevation gain, Allison outran their team captain to bring the glory of victory to our team.  But as I said, she was out drinking during the awards ceremony so Jen won MVP.

championNaturally, the sun came out once the relay was over.  We spent the night in a couple of Snowmass Village condos where we washed off twenty-two hours of mud, sweat and grime.  I never once expected this relay to be so grueling.  So totally exhausting.  And what’s wrong with my friends and neighbors to make them not only want to do this sort of thing, but to so thoroughly enjoy it?  Is this what it means to live in Colorado?  I think it does.  The mountains exist for running.  I came with zero plans for speed or achievement of any kind.  Just the social aspect of running on mountain trails with good friends.  And yet, every loop was an amazing race.  I ran strong every mile and was never passed.  This was the most extraordinary running boot camp I’ve ever participated in.

it cuts like a knifeWe were presented with participant medals that carried the seal of non TSA approval.  Seriously, they came with a warning to not try sneaking them past airport security.  Not sure how to describe them really.  Some sort of survival utility toolkit.  Think of a one pound razor blade that could take out your enemies with a flick of the wrist.  Half our team cut themselves within an hour of the relay’s completion.

The sun rose the morning after in a cloudless sky.  We brunched at Aspen Over Easy and stopped by the Maroon Bells before heading home.  We took the slow drive over Independence Pass.  Hard to imagine things getting better after the most thrilling trail run ever, but I swear to you, it just kept getting better.




, , , ,

Jennifer ParisThis is Jen’s first run on 8000 foot high Magnolia Road.  Being my second run, I’ve taken to calling her Mags.  The road, not Jen.  You have to run or bike Mags.  Fresh and cool mountain air.  Long, rolling hills.  Stunning views.  First time I can think of that a road motivated me to read a book – Running with the Buffaloes.  The book tells the story of Mark Wetmore coaching the CU Buffs to the NCAA National meet in Cross Country.  Magnolia Road was their regular Sunday run.  Wetmore said the only thing better would have been if they lived up on Mags and trained down in Boulder.

I’m up here a second time training for Snowmass.  This time with half my relay team, Steve, Keith and Jen.  Next weekend, Steve will launch our relay at 4pm Friday afternoon.  Eight of us will run through the night and Steve’s daughter Allison will cross the finish line around noon Saturday.  When we aren’t running, the team will be camped at 7,900 feet in Snowmass Village among close to 200 other relay teams.  Eating.  Drinking.  Celebrating the Colorado outdoor lifestyle.

Course Map SnowmassEach of us will run three legs.  The green loop is 3.5 miles with a 500 foot rise in elevation.  The yellow loop is 4 miles with only a 300 foot gain in elevation.  The red loop is the biggie at 6.7 miles with an 1100 foot climb over the first 3.5 miles.  This is why we’re training on Mags.  The rest of the team has been running regularly on the trails outside of Lyons.  We’ll be ready.  The most difficult aspect to this run might be the sleep deprivation.  My runs are scheduled for 9pm, 3am and 10am.  I’ll be sporting a head lamp to ensure I don’t run off a cliff.  None of us are expecting to set any records.  It should be a fun time.  Great way to kick off the summer.

race photoI got my photos from the Bolder Boulder.  They are free this year.  Of course, they come stamped with a Right Guard logo, which I cropped out.  I’m okay with the sponsorship though.  Saves me a good $50.  I’m less happy with my form after viewing the photos.  I know my running form has improved dramatically over the last two years.  Race photos offer an excellent opportunity to view foot falls and form.  I’ve placed emphasis on shortening my stride and landing more on the front of my feet.  These photos illustrate good form at the start but that my left foot in particular falls apart once I’m sufficiently fatigued.  Makes sense that is the foot that generally suffers from planters fasciitis.  Not sure where this pic is on the course but probably the first half as my feet look positioned properly still.  Not showing you the bad photos near the end of the race.

Bolder Boulder 2015


, , ,

kidsI’m so excited for today’s Bolder Boulder that I beat my 5am alarm out of bed.  I think I’m anxious because I missed this race last year.  And because I’m confident my conditioning has me set to PR at this distance.  I’m ready to race a 10K.  All my workouts since February have been leading up to this.

I set some aggressive goals for myself.  The first is to beat my 2013 BB time, which will result in a PR.  Second is to run under a 7 minute pace.  That’ll just look better on my Garmin stats site.  Third is that I’m projecting to run a 6:50 pace.  I think it’s attainable based on my 5K races and fast workouts.  Finally, I set a stretch goal that’s a bit inane.  I want to run close to my first Bolder Boulder time twenty-five years ago – 41:11.  A boy can dream.

Despite knowing I plan to push myself hard this morning, I’m not nervous at the starting line.  My stomach isn’t full of butterflies because it knows that my idea of hard, if run correctly, will keep me just under my anaerobic threshold.  My idea of racing is what track athletes would consider a hard workout where they push their AT or lactate threshold.  Because I hope to run my first mile in 6:50, I warm up before with some light jogging.  I get in a mile or two jogging from my car to the race start, and another mile off the starting line.

I fall into conversation with some forty year olds in my wave before we launch.  The age diversity in my AB wave is more varied than I expected.  I would have guessed younger, and there are several high school cross country teams in uniform.  Only about 10% women.  Bummer because I like to have something to look at.  Instead I make a game of looking for other men with larger guts than me.  I don’t find any.  Hmm.

walkingThe wheelchair division launches first, followed by two more waves, then mine.  I feel like I’m running on target and have aligned myself a full lane right of the curb.  This is to avoid slowing down behind the crush of runners at the first turn, which will be left.  Slowing down for crowds isn’t as critical in the early miles but I take the turn a bit wide anyway to maintain momentum.  I do the same with the next left hand turn which has us turned fully around now on 28th St.  My Garmin reads 6:44 for my first mile, although my official time is 6:51.  Either way, right on target.

I am pushing my AT with this pace though and don’t take the hill up Folsom as strong as I’d like.  My Garmin time for mile two is 6:53, which again is on target, but my official race pace scores 6:57.  The entire race has mile Garmin splits a good 5 seconds or more faster than my official times.  This is the problem with running big races, the crowd forces you to run more distance due to the necessary passing.

I surge aggressively into mile three before the grade steepens.  My race plan is to optimize fast sections by running them fast.  I pass a wall of 5 or 6 girls here wearing tutus.  Two of them pass me back a half mile later as we climb a hill.  Their tutus act as markers and are useful in crowded events.  I pass them again as we head downhill and complete mile three in 6:59.  Garmin time.  I don’t know the official times of course until after the race.  I expected mile three to be slower.  I studied my previous race splits, as well as others in my age division and the elites from earlier Bolder Boulders.  Every disciplined runner runs mile three the slowest of all six.  Mile five is typically their fastest.  Very few exceptions to this.  I feel sort of good knowing I run a similar pattern.  I based my race strategy on it.  Big data for runners.

With half the race behind me, I know a couple of things.  Key is that I know I’m comfortable at this pace.  I’m hovering just under my AT threshold and believe I’ll be able to keep my miles under 7 minutes.  The confidence from this counters the disappointment I feel from not being able to push harder up these hills.  They’re not huge hills, but man, they are just enough to keep me from unwinding a bit and passing more runners.  So the second thing I know is that I can’t speed up.  Not yet.  I hope I can for mile five.

I push myself a bit harder on mile four and run this in 6:55.  This is the high point of the course at 5391 foot Casey Hill, topping out at the intersection of 13th and High Streets about 50 meters into mile five.  This mile is all down hill and begins with the biggest drop of the course.  I’d like to leverage this down slope to gain momentum but use it instead to allow my heart rate to recover from the uphill.  I know the remaining mile is a slight downward slope and that I’ll be able to accelerate once my cardio drops back down.  Ideally, before I reach the left-hand turn onto Spruce.  Running fast down a steep grade isn’t as smart as on more shallow slopes unless you can maintain proper form.  It’s difficult to avoid landing on your heels down extreme slopes, and that jars your body with negative motion.  This hill isn’t exactly massive and a better runner could take it fast.  One runner does pass me here.  I could chase him if I weren’t so fatigued right now.  I use it for a micro recovery.

In addition to planning to surge a faster pace on mile five, I also hope to run smart through the two S-curves as we hop from Spruce to Pearl, and again from Pearl to Walnut.  Running a straight line seems simple enough but is made complex when trapped behind a wall of slower runners.  In the second half of any race, surrendering momentum around a turn is a bigger sin than adding distance by taking it wide.  Maintaining momentum not only takes less energy than restarting the engines, it’s more of a sure thing.  Having to speed back up requires the mental toughness that for me, expired climbing Casey Hill.  Brains over brawn at this point, also known as experience.  With all that said though, most runners around me are running the same pace so I don’t find myself trapped behind any bottlenecks and complete mile five in 6:38.  A much faster pace but actually per plan.

The bulk of the crowd running with me down Walnut steers toward the right-hand curb.  They are optimizing their line for the eventual 90° turn right onto Folsom.  I remain oriented toward the left.  My thought is to maximize my momentum by starting wide left.  Traditionally, a barrier is erected where Walnut intersects Folsom, less than a full lane from the curb, that prompts braking for a surprisingly tight turn.  Losing momentum here is critical because it’s where anyone seriously competitive would be starting an early kick.  I know that once I slow down, I’m unlikely to speed back up again.  My path will consist of two 45° angles – I’ll hit the corner already halfway turned.  Only issue might be if I run a cross route into the right-hand runners streaming wide left onto Folsom.  If I run into traffic, I plan to assume the right of way.  I’m not entirely clear on the etiquette, but I feel momentum trumps runners hitting the brakes.  This might sound reckless but at least it’s a plan.  Those rattled runners on the right are accidents waiting to happen.  The only problem with this plan is that I’ve slowed down dramatically after that fast mile five and probably won’t impress anyone with my momentum into that upcoming turn.

I negotiate the turn fine and maintain a fairly decent pace along Folsom, not slowing down as much as I expected.  I must have recovered on my lazy stretch along Walnut before the turn.  This is the only part of the race so far that I haven’t run to plan.  I wanted to maintain the fifth mile pace all the way to Folsom.  Very few runners are passing me though.  This is when any one racing should turn on their early kick.  Likely everyone is saving their legs for after Boulder Creek, when the grade notably increases.

Climbing up Folsom after crossing Boulder Creek, I feel my heart rate begin to thump inside my chest, strong enough to launch an avalanche.  This gives me thoughts of my familial obligations, my life insurance policy, and my spotty church attendance.  I was recently talking to my buddy Dave about the issue (fear) I have running through this warning signal.  Running those 5Ks in Austin last February aided me to finally develop some speed in my legs.  Learning speed is half the battle.  Gaining comfort with a heart that’s ready to explode is another.  More interval training would have helped me adapt to running with a raging heart rate.  Along with hill repeats.  Too late for training now.  I slow down.

This is expected though, part of my 5th mile, early kick plan to leverage the fast course and sacrifice the slow course.  I might climb into the stadium at a snail’s pace, but no one is running fast on this hill.  Only one guy passes me running up into the stadium.  And a second sprints past me on his kick as we reach the top.  I discover a kick of my own and finish stronger than usual.  I ran mile six in 6:49 and cross the finish line in 43:09.

My initial reaction is of disappointment that I didn’t break 43 minutes.  Further reflection though has left me totally satisfied.  I’m not happy with those slower official mile splits, so I’m referencing my Garmin splits.  The difference is from running a tenth of a mile longer than a 10K due to crowds.  And missing my target by 9 seconds is nothing considering it’s a 40 plus minute 10K.  That is on target.  And my Garmin average pace is 6:51 – one second off my projection.  I’m even more impressed with my 6:38 fifth mile when I projected 6:40.  I ran this race as close to plan as possible.  I surged on downhills and placed 6th in my age division.  First time to break into the top ten for this event.  I’m good.

parachute dropThe kids had a good time as well.  Amy and Wendy walked with a half dozen girls and boys through the surprisingly sunny Boulder streets.  Although it’s raining now, the weather was ideal for running or walking this morning.  The atmosphere in Folsom Stadium is unbelievable.  Boulder is such a running community, we’re probably the only campus in NCAA sports to fill the seats with more fans for a running event than for football games.  Happy Memorial Day!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers