Margot Faye

As much as I try to make this blog all about me, this story is about Margot Faye. The photo above, taken Friday night, captures my first time to see her. First time to hold her. First time to play grandfather.

Brit went into the hospital at 10:00 pm Monday and delivered Margot into the world at 10:11 pm Tuesday. Prevented from entering by Covid, I spent four hours outside in the parking lot. Allowed in under the spouse plus one rules, Karen would step outside from time to time to give me updates.

Now a grandfather, my life is full.  There is nothing more I should ask for, and yet I do want more.  I want more time with Margot Faye.  I want to be healthy enough to keep up with her.  I don’t need to be skinny, I understand that my double chin is here to stay, but I want to experience the Colorado outdoors with Margot.  Hiking and snowshoeing.  Backpacking adventures.  I want to be with Margot on her first fourteener.

Margot Faye will have a wonderful life. She’ll be raised by Brit and Eric, two grateful parents who will take care of her needs and give her the support to grow with confidence. Brit will give Margot the gift of song. Margot will be singing before she can talk. Eric will have Margot running trails through alpine meadows before she can walk. Margot will be spoiled by her grandparents in both Colorado and Boston. Her aunt Ellie lives just a few miles away. And there are great grandparents who can’t wait to see her.

After nine months of growth in the womb, Margot now has a life in the world. Her life will be a story of joy, sometimes of sadness, she will know love and love lost. She will experience everything there is of life but never alone. She will be surrounded by a supportive and loving family. And she will bring joy to all who know her. She already has.

Due Day

Yesterday was Brit’s due day. Not overly bummed that Margot Faye didn’t arrive on 911, but we’re on pins and needles. All I can do to pass the time is run. October 10th will be my first marathon as a grandfather, assuming I can get to where I need to be. I’ve worked my way up to running ten miles comfortably and I’m making progress learning how to best run over-weight, which is, wait for it, slow. Really, really, slow.

Speed is relative of course but my legs naturally fall into a nine and a half minute pace after they’ve warmed up. Problem is, I can’t sustain that pace for much more than ten kilometers. Running slower than your legs want to naturally go is harder than you might think. My cadence has been steady, regardless of distance, just over 170 strides per minute. Cadence is more of a cyclist term. Runners will instead refer to “pace” or “roll”, as in “I rolled past him.” But cadence is still a thing for runners, just as it is for cyclists.

If you’re running, as opposed to walking, then you’re very likely maintaining a cadence between 170 and 180 strides per minute, regardless of speed. If you’re running slower, say over a ten minute pace, then your cadence might be between 160 and 170, but for the most part, speed is determined by stride length while maintaining the same cadence. That might not be intuitive, but that’s how it works.

I’m finding it hard to run an eleven minute pace, I’ve been in the ten minute range. In the marathon itself though, I’ll simply line up behind the 5-hour pace sign. That will give me an 11:30 pace. If I feel good half way, I might run ahead of the pace sign at the Boulder Res. If I’m disciplined though, I’ll wait until about twenty miles, which is the start of a three mile down-slope segment. Slopes are noticeable at altitude.

I ran ten miles yesterday and was feeling strong enough to attempt twelve by running six miles before turning around. This part of my trail is actually a loop, or a lollipop as they say because it’s a five mile stick with a two mile loop. Problem was that the loop began an upslope. Gentle enough that you wouldn’t notice it at sea-level, but at a mile-high in elevation, it raced my heart up ten beats over my max rate for one and a half miles. I couldn’t recover by slowing down, which I did. It didn’t begin to drop again until the return where the slope began to drop.

The Boulder Marathon course will have a few tough slopes like that. Some that I would even call hills, although nothing terribly steep. It’s good to know that my heart rate will recover, I just have to hang in there and wait for the other side of the hill.

It occurs to me that I’m blogging more because of this marathon. Because I’m nervous. And that makes me think of what Brit is going through right now. She’s been pinging our family chat regularly with updates. She’s understandably nervous. My marathon is trivial compared to her life event. I recall how I felt decades ago. The anxiety was unlike anything I’ve ever gone through since. But then that baby is born and all is perfect.

That day is coming any minute now. The Rose Medical Center’s Covid rules are father +1, so Eric and Karen can be in the hospital. I’ll be a mile down the street in a Cherry Creek hotel. So excited to meet Margot Faye.

Beats per Minute

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Sharing my stats is a clear sign I’m beginning to exhibit compulsive runner behavior, but it’s a runner’s blog, so there you go. Sharing my stats from today’s ten miler to illustrate how I’m going to use my heart rate monitor as my primary tool to get me to the finish line. Now that I’m tracking my stats, I’ve discovered that I have been starting to walk/run once my heart rate exceeds 160 beats per minute (BPM). That’s a function of my current fitness which I could no doubt exceed if I were twenty-five pounds lighter. In fact I have. Below are my stats from my last marathon four years ago.

You use the BPM tool like this. Subtract your age from 220 to know your max heart rate. Mine is 161. Four years ago, mine was 165. Experts say you should target running between 50% and 85% of your max heart rate. At 85%, that suggests I should run with my heart rate around 136, or four years ago, around 140.

During today’s run, I read my heart rate at 144 BPM just short of four miles. I purposely slowed myself down, by shortening my stride (my stats proved I maintained my cadence), and monitored it closely so that I didn’t reach 160. I was able to actually slow it down a couple of beats, although it crept back up to 151 by the end of the run. My experience was that I was able to comfortably run ten miles.

You might notice that my stats from the Colorado Marathon four years ago show I averaged more than 10 BPM over my max heart rate for the duration. Apparently, it’s not a sudden death limit as my max was over 200. Probably lucky to still be alive, but I was much more fit back then. You might also notice the Apple Watch graphing software really sort of sucked four years ago.

I’ll practice this more but I suspect if I can maintain a pace around eleven minutes per mile, I’ll be able to keep my heart rate below 150 and that will enable me to keep running. Maybe even below 140, which is what I should really target to avoid a heart attack. I’ve always enjoyed running without a watch, but I have to say, tech is cool.

Reality and Running

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The term delusional is often bandied about with a negative connotation. My run this morning forced me to consider for a moment that I might be delusional, thinking I can prepare for a marathon, grossly overweight with ten weeks of training. Fortunately, I’m not overly introspective and the moment passed. I don’t think considering reality is all that constructive while training.

I have up until the expo, the night before the marathon, to drop down to the half marathon and I’ll pivot to reality then. My thinking is that I’ve made good progress in the last five weeks and I have yet five more weeks.

For today’s challenge, I parked at the Boulder Res and started my run exactly where the race is set to start. I had a number of objectives with this run. The first was to see if I could run the first sixteen miles of the course, which would loop me back around to my car. It’s sort of a commitment because if I couldn’t make it beyond eight miles, I would have an eight mile walk back to my car. That’s sort of what happened.

My second objective was to observe the accuracy of the course map. I can tell from looking at it that the final two miles along Magnolia and Pearl Streets are off by a half mile. I can now inform the race director that the first nine miles of the course map are off by a mile and a half, because my watch recorded eight miles where the map shows nine and a half. I made it to what I believe is the turn-around at Ouray and Oxford Roads and made it halfway back up the hill on Oxford before admitting I couldn’t make it to the top. This is where I began to walk.

With this, I’d met two objectives. I learned I can’t run sixteen miles and I proved the inaccuracy of the course map. All very good things to know. I wasn’t happy with having to walk so early, but the air quality wasn’t all that great, sixties when I left the house and nineties when I returned, and it set me up to test another one of my goals.

I wondered if, in the marathon, I ran the first half at around an eleven minute pace, could I walk/run the rest of the race and stay under the six hour completion threshold? Overall, I need to run a little under a 13:30 pace to remain eligible to finish before they reopen the streets. I think that will work because I ran a 10:27 pace before I started walking, and I maintained a 13:51 pace for the next six miles once I started walk/running. This also suggests I’ll benefit from running slower, at least an eleven minute pace.

Back to my second objective, the six miles of my walk/run back to the car accurately mapped to the course map. Hope the race director finds those observations useful. Because I’ve been pestering the race officials with everything from confirming my registration, to hotel discounts, to this map nonsense, I might use another email address going forward in case they’ve taken actions to block my other one.

The final useful objective was to learn that my shoes will work well on this course. I don’t know the percentage for the entire course, but the Boulder Backroads are over half gravel vs pavement. Some sections, like along the irrigation ditch, are brutal on the feet. At least, once your feet have become tender from having run so many miles. I recall my last Boulder marathon that was run as two loops around the Backroads and Res and hitting the irrigation ditch road was like walking on hot coals. I don’t normally like overly soft running shoes, or what runners call a high stack, but these Hoka Rockets performed. I couldn’t feel the gravel at all. Until I get some tougher feet, these shoes are what I need.

If I were to face reality, after today’s run, I’d drop down to the half, or perhaps from the race entirely. Instead, I’m still looking at this thing through Ted Lasso glasses and figure I learned a lot of good things from today’s poor run. I neglected to add that I nearly vomited afterward. Even though I carried and fully drank a liter of electrolytes, I ended the run dehydrated. Today was a tough run. Tomorrow is another day.

Training Weekend

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When you can see the Flat Irons over Boulder, indeed the Indian Peaks way back there, you know the air quality is safe to run in. I’ve learned to gage the index by looking at the foothills. When in doubt, I query Alexa before stepping out the door. I should be painting the trim on my carriage house, but with just five more weeks before the Boulder Marathon, I’m taking advantage of the three-day weekend to train.

I began Saturday running the East Boulder Trail. It’s one of my favorites, a trail I’ve been running for over thirty years. It gives me a good sense of my fitness level. I wasn’t fully recovered from a late afternoon run on Friday, but I ran well enough.

I ran alongside a twenty-something year-old woman at the turn-around for about a mile. She was running the pace I need to learn, around an eleven-minute pace, and we chatted for a bit. Since Karen gave me her Apple watch, I’ve started recording my runs and I now know I can run a 9.5 minute pace for up to ten miles. But running that fast in a marathon would lead me to a DNF. I should have kept running with her but she began to slow down from a 10:50 to an 11:10 pace, and I struggled to run that slow. Muscles have memory and mine remember running fast. I passed her to run what my legs were comfortable running, but wish now I’d kept with her. If I’m honest, I probably need to learn to run a twelve minute pace.

Check out the marathon course map. The northern loop above the Boulder Res is what runners refer to as the Boulder Backroads. I’m gonna run them tomorrow. I’ll trace the course which starts on the south side of the Boulder Res and heads north, returning to the start before heading into Boulder to finish downtown. If I’m successful, I’ll run sixteen miles. That’ll be a long run for me. I’ll use it to train slow running and to test my sports drinks and gels. If I can run sixteen miles tomorrow, I’ll gain some confidence at completing twenty-six miles five weeks from now.

By the way, I dropped my diet plan after last week’s blog. I’m not known for my patience and four friggin’ weeks without losing a single pound was more than I was willing to invest. And guess what, I lost two pounds this week. I don’t see myself getting below 190 now, with only five weeks to go, but I’m changing my strategy. Instead of bringing my weight to the run, I’m going to bring the run to my weight. I feel like the calisthenics I’ve been performing for the last five weeks have firmed my body up enough to enable me to run with this weight, assuming I run slow enough. I think I’ll be able to run an eleven to twelve minute pace at this weight, and finish that marathon under the 13.5 minute cut-off threshold. The goal this weekend is to learn to run that pace.

Time & Pounds

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In addition to perhaps a haircut, I could use more time. Six more weeks of training doesn’t feel like enough to me to prepare for my first marathon in four years. How did four years fly by? But I will say, I’m making progress. I ran nine miles today on the Boulder backroads at a ten minute pace. That gives me some confidence.

Still, I’m mostly not confident at all that I can finish a marathon. I forget when I started but I’ve been doing that 16/8 diet for four or five weeks. It’s an intermittent fasting derivative where I eat in an eight hour window – generally 10am to 6pm. I’ve heard unbelievable stories of massive weight loss. I’ve yet to lose one pound. One pound! Seriously.

I could say my weight range has narrowed. I used to range from 197 to 203 pounds. Now, if I even go near a scale, I’m consistently 197 pounds. I’m at the point I could stop weighing myself and just ask Alexa. You could probably ask her in your kitchen, “Alexa, how much does Ed Mahoney weigh?” She’ll answer, “197 pounds.” So maybe that’s progress.

The scary part is, I’ve never run a marathon weighing more than 185 pounds. And between you and me, that run didn’t go all that well. But I’m fine now with running slow. My ego no longer needs to break 4 hours. I’ll accept any time under 6 hours to avoid being swept off the course when they re-open the streets for traffic. Based on recent workouts, I suspect I might finish in about 5 hours, assuming I finish at all.

It felt good today to know I can run 9 miles strong. Normally I’d work myself up to 21 or 22 miles before a marathon, but the goal posts have moved in a bit given my current limitations. I’d like to work myself up to 15 mile runs on the weekends. That’s longer than a half marathon, which will make dropping to the Boulder Half Marathon pointless, and it’s long enough to train my body to run with a calorie deficit.

I only have time for long runs on the weekends because I pivoted this last week to morning runs. The cooler morning temps help me to run better, and I’m more consistent. Anything can get in the way at the end of the day. I wasn’t really doing anything in the mornings either, other than sipping coffee and staring out the window for the newspaper to arrive. For me to do anything halfway constructive in the early mornings is a testament to my commitment. One more thing to give me confidence. If I could lose just one pound though, that would be nice.

Stratton Open Space

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Stratton Open Space, just outside the door from the Broadmoor Hotel, is carpeted with undulating curves of single track trails. I ran four miles yesterday on the Columbine Trail, thinking it couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.

I ran five miles today along the Chamberlain Trail and it was better. It started as a branch off the Columbine Trail with an incline that slowed me down from a ten and a half minute mile to fourteen and a half minutes. I’m part way up the hill in this photo below, with the Broadmoor just over my head, but several hundred feet of elevation below me. As you can see, the skies were cloudy at 7am, with the air a cool 58°. A runner’s dream.

The trail was fast at the top with slingshot curves and whoopdedoo ups and downs. Running back down on the return was a riot. I’ve found my trail legs in the Stratton Open Space and I’m gaining confidence for the Boulder Marathon. I’ll still likely alter my registration for the half marathon distance as I might sign up for the Colorado Marathon two weeks later. Those two weeks could be the difference of me finishing the distance.

Yesterday’s golf pro texted me this pic too late to post in Friday’s blog, so I’ve included it here. Today is a spa day. After my morning trail run, I hit the weights hard. I have an essential tremor in my hands, since birth but the symptoms have dramatically accelerated in my fifties. As I lounge in the spa mountain view room, my right hand is shaking too much to hold a cup of lemon water. That’s how I know it was a good workout.

A pedicure is scheduled for this afternoon to reward my feet for all they put up with from me. Karen told me today that it’s not unusual for people to plan their vacation days around meals – eating out. But I tend to plan mine around workouts and other physical activities. I suppose I do. This weekend is working out to plan quite well.

The Broadmoor Hotel

Karen and I took golf lessons today at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. We’re looking for another activity that we can do together. Our others are hiking and snowshoeing, which are sort of the same thing, just in different seasons. Otherwise, she’s a dancer and I’m a runner. I’m glad we are starting out with lessons. I recall learning to ski when I was twenty. My brother took me to the very top of the mountain at Keystone and told me I’d learn on the way down. I’m not the best skier. The golf course at the Broadmoor is simply spectacular.

I ran NCAA Cross Country, so forgive me if I think golf courses are for running. I’d love to run this one. Instead, I had to tuck my shirt into my shorts and wear a belt. I’m no fashion maven, but pot-bellied men should wear their shirts untucked. Before our golf outing though, before 7am in fact, I ran four miles on a gorgeous trail. Only four because there was some high-altitude incline involved. There are some serious trails just outside the door at the Broadmoor.

We’re here celebrating Karen’s birthday, which is really next week, and our 34th wedding anniversary, which was really on August 1st. We’ll self-quarantine after this to prepare for becoming grandparents. Baby Margot Faye is due on September 11th. Until then, the next three days will be early morning trail runs (still training for the Boulder Marathon) followed by afternoon writing sessions. Vacations are awesome.

Red Rocks

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The family that hikes together, in my experience, brunches together. Which is what we did today. It’s never occurred to me to hike Red Rocks before, the trails aren’t exposed at night when I’ve gone there for concerts. But Red Rocks has an extensive, family-friendly trail system.

Ellie’s sorority house is only a ten minute drive away, so we picked her up and met Brit and Eric at the Trading Post trailhead. The Trading Post trail is a 1.5 mile loop around spectacular red rock formations. Very little shade so consider wearing a hat.

Blue Skies

Like Neo and Trinity rising above the fray, I could see blue skies on my run today. I could not only see the foothills, I could see the trees on the hills. Of course, the cloudless, azure sky meant it was also really hot, but I won’t complain. I tried to take a photo over the Left Hand Creek bridge, but I struggled centering the camera.

Not my best run today, I walked a bit more than I expected, but it was only fourteen hours after yesterday’s run and my legs were still heavy. Yesterday’s run was my best of the year. I ran seven and felt like I’d found my legs halfway into it. I’m not timing myself but I suspect I ran a ten minute mile pace on the way out and closer to nine on the return. It just felt good.

No speed today but so many things were good about it. Being able to breathe and see the sky were the best things. Next was that I got out on the Boulder backroads to run part of the course for the upcoming marathon. Getting out here will tell me if I’m ready for the real thing. It’s still a long shot that I’ll be able to run a marathon in October, but I can switch to the half marathon at the race expo. Until then, I’m going to keep pretending I’m training for a marathon.

Today was also my farthest distance of the year at eleven miles. Most miles actually since the Austin Half Marathon on February 16th, 2020. And I practiced both hydrating and eating a gel. I hate friggin gels. My current hydration drink doesn’t have any measureable calories though so I took a Honey Stinger gel. Honey Stinger is the most tolerable that I’ve tried. I have some Hammers but I don’t digest those well. GU gels make me vomit.

I ordered some SIS gels for the race and I’ll practice with them first on training runs. My son-in-law used them on his ultra so I’m gonna give ’em a try. My plan is to carry a couple liters of high-calorie electrolytes so that my hydration satisfies my need for calories and I won’t need gels. The course has abundant aid stations but the FAQs don’t specify the brand for gels and sport drinks. Sort of a glaring miss for the FAQs.

Two weeks of training complete. Eight more weeks of training before race time.

Air Quality

I was so fired up after streaming the women’s marathon this morning that I went for a ten mile run. I turned around after five and completed seven before walking in the final three miles. Had I known the air quality index was over 150, I would have worked out in my basement on the elliptical. That was my Monday and Tuesday routine this week.

The Front Range is truly among the most polluted places on the planet at the moment. Most days, I can barely see the foothills. Today, I couldn’t see beyond 100 yards. I knew better. My throat is trashed. I queried Alexa before venturing outside but she was experiencing some technical difficulties and couldn’t give me a readout. I should have just trusted my eyes. Shoot, I could taste the smoke. This is not a good time to be training for a marathon.

But I am training. I’m on a ten week plan. They say you can train for a marathon in as little as twelve weeks. I’m banking on my extensive running experience and muscle memory. It’ll come down to weight loss. If I can lose fifteen pounds, I’ll show up to the starting line. It’s unlikely I’ll make it but I’m all about stretch goals.

Assuming I can do what I need to do, something still will have to change with the air quality. This is barely livable yet alone runnable. First Covid, then the fires, most of which happened last summer but left this haze as a base for this summer’s fires to build on.

We drove home last weekend from the Never Summer Ultra through Poudre Canyon on Hwy 14 and saw the burnout from the Cameron Pass fire. Forty non-stop miles of charred forest along the highway. We saw a house washed into the river, likely from the previous week’s rains. I feel like I’m living in a dystopian novel.

No doubt, when the unvaxxed kids return to maskless classes in a couple of weeks, the juvenile deaths will feel like Hunger Games. Death imitating art. Hard to feel good about things right now when I can’t see the sky, but this too shall pass.

Never Summer

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The Never Summer mountain range in northern Colorado contains seven named peaks. At 5:30am Saturday morning, my son-in-law Eric would run around and over many of them as part of a 100K (64 mile) trail ultra.

Brit and I served as Eric’s race crew, hiking a mile or so into four of the eight aid stations to change his socks and negotiate with him to consume calories. You might notice here that Brit is thirty-four weeks pregnant. She had some of the elite ultra runners calling her out for being such a badass.

Brit discovered at our first aid station, Diamond, that she would have to forcefully negotiate with Eric, to make him consume the needed calories. A runner burns about 100 calories per mile, meaning Eric would need to replace over 6000 calories in this race.

Eric eventually acquiesced and ate about 50 calories worth of watermelon. Not a win for Brit exactly, but watermelon contains a ton of potassium.

Above is a pic of Brit and me returning from the Ruby aid station, the near-halfway mark for Eric at thirty miles. He appeared to have recovered from his early calorie deficit, while Brit and I were gaining efficiencies at hauling gear and tending to his needs. We would hike eight to ten miles before the day was over. The western monsoonal weather was dramatic enough to reroute our drive up to the Never Summer range through Wyoming and trap us there for the weekend with all exits shut down once we’d arrived. The clouds in the photo above were a constant backdrop but Saturday was mostly dry for the ultra.

Brit made friends with Kiersten who crewed her husband Jack. Pictured here at the Canadian aid station where he was in third with fourteen miles to go, Jack ultimately finished second overall.

Finishing fourth overall was the first place woman, Addie Bracy, pictured above. Author of Mental Training for Ultrarunning, Addie is always a top contender in the Western States 100. She lives in Brit’s Denver neighborhood around Sloans Lake.

This was a typical aid station scene for me and Brit – sitting center in the orange puff jacket. The temperature dropped about thirty degrees during the time we waited for Eric at this Canadian aid station in the early afternoon.

After sitting for a good three hours, Brit launched from her chair to crew Eric. He told her that he nearly DNF’d at Clear Lake, but opted instead to replenish calories at an aid station. He felt better after a half hour of walking and arrived to the Canadian aid station full of confidence that he would finish. At this point, in 19th place, he had another fourteen miles to run.

Five miles later, Eric surprised us by arriving early to the Bockman aid station and in seventeenth place.

After Bockman, our job crewing at aid stations was over. We waited at the finish for Eric to complete his final eight and a half miles. If you’re curious why this Colorado mountain range is named “Never Summer”, consider how bundled up Brit is in her camping chair on July 31st.

We didn’t have long to wait as Eric finished strong after over 14 hours of running his first 100K ultra.

Collegiates West, Day 1, Out of Austin and Over Lake Ann Pass

Having been there, it’s all true.

My Name is SCHOOLS

Ed Mahoney picked me up at the Denver airport and drove us several hours west to meet Rob Graham, who was waiting for us at the Hancock trailhead, which is close to absolutely nothing, and where we intended to finish our 50-mile or so hike in Colorado’s Collegiate Range. This generosity amazed me, that Ed would pick me up and drive me all the way out there, and have cold fruit juice and beer in a cooler in his car just in case. And that Rob would be there, in the middle of nowhere, waiting on us just so we could leave Ed’s car at our terminus and drive Rob’s several more hours north to the start of our hike near Sheep Gulch.

I normally hike alone, so this trip was different for me. Rob and Ed allowed me to turn my brain off. They may have preferred that I…

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Southbound

I spent the week backpacking from the ghost town of Winfield to the Hancock Pass Trailhead. Fifty, high-altitude miles along the Continental Divide Trail that broke me down to the basics and renewed my soul. I’m tempted to begin by saying that I was nowhere near fit enough for this trek, but I made it so apparently I was. The physical effort in hauling a forty-pound pack up and down thousands of alpine vertical feet was as purifying for my soul as were the unending views of heaven. Imagine walking through hell with a view of heaven that squelches the heat of the fires. That was my experience, backpacking southbound through the Collegiates on the CDT. As indicated by the trail signs, this section of the CDT is joined by the western loop of the Colorado Trail.

I set out with two buddies. George, pictured here, and Rob, who has through-hiked the PCT and AT and served as our uber-experienced trail guide. Outside of hiking, we belong to a writers’ group, submitting monthly short stories to a blog on the deep web. Much of our talk was on storylines. One of my goals was to refocus on my third novel. George, Rob and trail all contributed to advancing my novel’s outline.

From our Winfield campsite at 10,226 feet, we marched 6.5 miles to summit Lake Ann Pass, a two thousand foot climb to 12,590 feet. This was difficult for me and perhaps the hardest effort of our six days on the trail. I knew this climb would give me a sense of my ability to survive the full excursion. I was thinking of the physical stress of carrying a forty-pound pack at high-altitude though. I didn’t consider the technical challenges. There is still heavy snow on the north side of Lake Ann Pass. Rob determined through early scouting that we would not require ice axes, but trekking poles and perhaps micro-spikes were advisable.

The cornice in this photo above is the pass. The snow was soft enough that micro-spikes were not needed. My challenge was a stretch of quicksand-like sludge that I nearly drowned in. I tried to crawl through the gravel, full of snowmelt, and failed miserably. Each step induced a rock slide that threatened to carry me down the mountain. I was trying to reach some stable rocks but was so exhausted from trying to swim through this mix of rock and water that I didn’t have the strength to stand back up once reaching them. I then turned my head to find the trail and determined I could possibly make the snow patch on the far side of the quicksand with a strong, one-hop leap. That hop wouldn’t provide any traction on the flowing rock, but I’d have to trust my momentum. Learning to trust my momentum would become an important tool over the next several days of obstacles. My leap landed me on solid snow and I made it to the top of the pass, where Rob was patiently waiting. That’s Lake Ann below him and Mount Huron in the background.

I knew the rest of the day would be downhill and I now had some trail confidence. I didn’t know if my body could take a second day, but I knew the subsequent downhill was in my wheelhouse. As would become our pattern, we took a substantial break at the top of the pass to recover our strength. That’s Taylor Park Reservoir in the background below. Our path was to cross the valley toward the left of this photo, across the Illinois and Texas Creeks.

After eleven miles and ten hours, we ended the night camping on the Illinois Creek. There was no campfire and I’m not sure I made it to nightfall. I was happy with my PackitGourmet dehydrated camp dinner. Highly recommended.

I was concerned about my ability to recover for day two, but I woke up fresh and ready to continue our hike. Our pattern was to wake up at 5:30 am and hit the trail by 7. I think it helped my legs that we didn’t have any big climbs until later in the day when we finished on Cottonwood Pass.

George crossing Texas Creek

I discovered on day two that since beginning this hike, I’d had zero thoughts on work. I wasn’t even counting the days, let alone thinking about returning back to a normal life. Vacation days are always good but this trail was the perfect remedy for a past year and a half of what I believe had been the most stressful of my life. I’m sure it was difficult for many people with Covid-19, but mine had other life events that had me at the bottom of the emotional scale.

The act of hiking a trail like this is so involved. My entire mind was focused 100% on my footfalls. It was hard to daydream. Planting each foot in front of the other was almost like playing a mindless video game. I put some thought into moving my Cyan story forward. It’s a mystery and I thought up how I’ll have my heroine interview suspects and add depth to the characters. But mostly I was just watching my footfalls for ten hours each day. The trail was like a mind eraser, like hitting the reset button on life. I’m ready now for what comes next.

The trail did take its toll on my legs. On my entire body. I was never fully confident the first two days that I could finish. I’d suggested we park one of our cars at the half way point on Cottonwood Pass. Doing so would allow us to carry less supplies, resulting in a lighter pack, but it would also mean more time shuffling cars between trailheads. I was voted down, so I was committed.

Ample rest after long stretches and big climbs is what saved me. We developed a pattern of taking a couple of long breaks during the day. Naptime essentially. Usually with awesome views.

I would see George often updating his trip notes, or reading.

I think Rob was often praying that we didn’t die on his watch.

We camped after our second day on the trail on Cottonwood Pass. George was too tired for dinner and missed this sunset that his tent was pitched perfectly to view.

I found day three to be the toughest. We were now hiking above tree line for most of the day. The trail was gorgeous, interweaving us from pass to saddle to pass, offering views of new basins that could only be viewed by backpacking into the remote forest of the Collegiates.

Trudging through snow fields was always exhausting. I suspect my biggest issue was that, even when in better shape, I don’t do well above 12,000 feet. And we were almost always above 12,000 feet. I get mild altitude sickness, light-headed and nauseated.

Rob was in his element though. Backpacking in these conditions is hard. The climbs at altitude for 10-hour days fatigue the body. Hiking food generally sucks. And the ground makes for a hard bed. But Rob was born to be on the trail.

I could also see how George found solace in the mountains. Sitting on the earth at a spot you could only backpack to and taking in the vistas brings peace to any soul who will venture.

George took on the responsibility of team map reader. He kept us to about ten miles per day, but more importantly, he targeted campsites that appeared to offer water and a flat spot for our tents. Early in the season yet, we found ample flowing water, even above tree line. In many cases, we drank directly from the headwaters, with snow melt bubbling up from the rocks like God’s water springs.

I don’t know that the fourth day ever dropped below tree line. We took generous breaks to rest and I turned my photo-taking to the views during those hiking intermissions.

Above, I laid among alpine flowers at 12,000 feet. And below, a bit closer to tree line, more of the same.

Sitting in high-mountain meadows was so amazing. I felt as if I could hear the wind blow through each tree. I would see the tree tops move first, then hear the wind, followed by feeling the cool breeze hit my dry, hot skin. I sensed how the mountain forests filtered the carbon from the planet’s air.

George found us another perfect camping site with comfortable ground and flowing water near Tincup Pass. We expected to reach our trailhead destination the next day.

George led us through the final mountain meadows and passes to Hancock Pass Trailhead.

Finishing the trail a day early, we spent yet another day climbing Mount Yale. I was too dizzy at 14,000 feet that I rested on the saddle while George and Rob scurried up the pile of rocks that formed the peak. A storm blew in with hard sleet, blinding us during our descent. Maybe the worst weather we had the entire week. We encountered several ladies running this trail, leaving me in awe with their form as they bounded the rocks like ballerinas. Just when you think you’ve accomplished something amazing, someone else comes by making it look easy.

But it wasn’t easy. It was so satisfyingly hard. Those mountains and the trail cleansed my soul unlike any vacation I’ve ever taken before. My button has been reset and I’m ready for what comes next.

Feel Good

I don’t sell enough books to brag about, but every now and then, I get something like this. Would have been nice as an Amazon review, but I received it via LinkedIn of all places.

***

Good morning, 

I just finished your second book. Brilliant work, both of them. I am retiring from the Army this week, and have appreciated the motivation you’ve given me. I ran electronic warfare teams, among other things. And I really appreciated the references in your second book. 

I am transitioning from intelligence work to cyber. This fall I even start graduate work at Brown in cybersecurity. It’s been daunting changing fields when I didn’t plan for it. But my body can’t take kicking doors anymore. Your books gave me a feeling, especially from ‘Rob’, that my chances are good for landing on my feet. So thank you for the good books, and thank you for the confidence they instilled.

Keep writing, you are great at it.

Corbett

***

That made me feel pretty good. It’s been a week of feeling good. I’m counting down to an epic backpacking trip along the Continental Divide Trail through the Collegiates in another week. My buddies and I have been exchanging emails on possible routes and gear choices all month. Each email gets me more excited. Seriously, we’ve been salivating over our dehydrated camp meal selections. Maybe its the Covid cabin fever but I was near manic as I inventoried my trail gear.

Wish I was in better shape for this trek but, assuming I survive it, I’ll be in better shape afterward. I’ll be struggling to keep up with my trail mates. Rob is a fitness coach at Fort Lewis College in Durango. He even teaches a course on hiking. He hikes over one hundred days each year. Rob tends to get naked and swim in alpine lakes. This pic of him wading into the waters above tree line on Snow Mesa near Lake City gives you a sense of just how fit he is.

I might be able to hang closer to George, since he’s coming up from Austin and won’t be acclimated to the altitude. This photo of his dying carcass from the last time I hiked with him, on top of Greys Peak, is what gives me confidence. Still, I know he’s as fit today as he was forty years ago in the Marines. These sexagenarian beefcakes might find themselves having to wait for the young 59 year old.

Eldorado Canyon

Ellie and I spent Memorial weekend moving her out of her apartment, cleaning said apartment, and moving her into her sorority house as she attends summer school at Mines. Sounds like work but it was nice quality time with my daughter. Her front porch has a nice view of the intramural fields and campus. This photo looks north up the valley toward Boulder.

This weekend, Todd and I returned to our trails behind the Flat Irons that overlook Boulder Valley. We got lucky with cloud cover shielding us from this weekend’s intense heat.

The Eldorado Canyon Trail is a couple miles shorter than the Walker Ranch Loop, but steeper and more challenging. We hiked it to where it connects with the Walker Ranch Loop, to a bridge where we took similar photos two weeks ago.

You should know that you need a Colorado State Park pass, day pass or annual pass, to park at the Eldorado Canyon TH and to hike the area trails.

Similar to our previous hike, we cooled off afterward with refreshments from a nearby brewpub.

Walker Ranch Loop

My buddy Todd told me he’d just moved into a new place and that these were the first two books in his bookshelf. So I said, let’s go for a hike Saturday. Todd helps me write legal docs at work. Or I help him. I don’t know. The process is not unlike working with an editor or critique team for my novels. I craft some words and Todd improves them before presenting to Legal.

I’ve lived in Boulder County for over thirty years and never hiked Walker Ranch Loop. Unbelievable. To get there, you drive west on Baseline to where it turns into Flagstaff. You drive past the Flagstaff Restaurant and just keep going, maybe fifteen minutes, until you reach the trailhead.

I met a guy, Rob Decker, at the Jagger’s post-vax, house party last night. We were talking publishing and he mentioned he spent over a million dollars advertising on Facebook last year. Because he makes art posters out of national park photos that he shoots, styled after the 30s and 40s Works Progress Administration efforts, we eventually began a discussion on hiking. Rob told me to hike this loop clockwise, because these steps induce most of the mountain bikers to ride counter-clockwise. This photo only shows a fraction of the steps. Trust me, this is the original stairway to heaven.

Todd and I stopped occasionally to smell the roses, or in this case, one of the many star lilies that adorned the trail. The weather could not have been better with the air 59° and strong sunshine. Boulder Valley was under a Gulf Coast cloud cover all morning, wisps of which breached Walker Ranch via Eldorado Canyon. It reminded Todd of fog rolling into San Fransisco Bay, and it was like that in spots.

The loop starts out near the top of the trail and drops down to the South Boulder Creek. It then rises to the turn-around and drops back down to the creek on the return. The east-side four miles has a V-shape elevation profile and coming back on the western loop gives it a W-shape end-to-end.

We lunched on the creek on the return side, putting five miles behind us. The entire route is eight miles. We finished in about three and a half hours.

The trail is rated hard but I thought it was in our wheelhouse. Awesome training for my upcoming fifty-mile backpacking trek along the CDT in the Collegiates next month.

There were more runners on the trail than mountain bikers. If you can see well enough in this photo, there’s a lady behind the runners with four dogs on leashes. She said it was mostly an arm and upper body workout.

The 4 Nose Brewing Company just happened to be along our route on the drive home, so we stopped in for a tasty beverage and to replace calories lost on the trail. The irony of hiking past a woman walking four dogs on the trail was not lost on us.

Muscari Neglectum

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In Latin, Neglectum means exactly what you would guess it to mean. Indifference or to ignore. That’s my style of gardening. With artificial grass carpeting my backyard, this thin strip between my front porch and the sidewalk is about all I have to maintain, but I’m a busy guy.

This Grape-Hyacinth proved itself more robust one spring than my purposely tended flowers, so I yielded to nature and allowed these weeds to become my ground cover. Who am I to resist the force of nature? I’ve also stopped plucking the dandelions. I rather like the bright contrast of yellow they splash into the mix of grape, and what with the plight of the bees and all. The HOA has yet to post a note on my door.

It’s sage advice to wait until Mother’s Day before planting delicate flowers and vegetables along the Front Range. I’ve learned my lesson over the years. Indeed, just today I tried to get my run in before the expected rain, but the front rolled in three hours ahead of schedule and pelted me with hail four minutes before reaching the end of the trail. It’s expected to snow Tuesday. Karen and I will wait until next weekend to garden. Meanwhile, we have our weeds.

Finishing my Fifties

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I know, that last post was a bit of a Debbie Downer. Typical guy, don’t construe that as an apology. I write what’s in my head as I run. I transpose my thoughts to words after I get home. Really, the story is written by the end of my run. I do the same thing with my novels. I didn’t think to take a photo today so I downloaded this one of the snowcapped Indian Peaks. They were my view throughout my run on the East Boulder Trail.

Today’s run was special. I spent most of yesterday in bed with aches and chills from my second jab of Moderna. I’d gone 18 hours without adverse effects. I had just emailed my boss shortly before 8 am saying I might attend a call, despite having taken the day off out of precaution. I stood up and was so light-headed I could barely walk across the floor. I was back in bed two hours later.

So to then wake up Saturday morning, feeling awesome on my birthday, magnified the enjoyment of my run. My life force reversed directions. Only by running could I really feel the difference a day makes. I didn’t run fast but I ran the full eight miles again. I would say I felt stronger than last week, possibly from cooler temps. There’s this section, a gentle but long upslope in between the first two hills and the final two big ones. It runs straight west with this gorgeous view of the Indian Peaks, as well as Mount Meeker and Longs Peak to the north. So unbelievably beautiful.

My thoughts on turning fifty-nine focused really on approaching my sixties. I’ve already moved on from my fifties and I’m thinking non-stop about being a grandfather. Talk about milestones. I’m passing one of life’s greatest cairns. My grandfather name is to be Lobo, not for the Longmont-to-Boulder (LoBo) trail I often run, but after my trail name. And even my eponymous media company – Lobo Media Ltd. What, you don’t have your own media company? Wake up, it’s the year 2021, how else do you expect to manage your digital exposure? And go for a run. It’s springtime in Colorado.

The Ups and Downs

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After my mom passed, my sister told me grief would come in waves. As if sharing a secret with her brother that all my other sisters already knew. I’d spent the last year of my mother’s life living with her, sharing the load with my brother. I figured my sister had no idea how I would feel in the future.

Since then, I’ve had wonderful weekends, snowshoeing and hiking with Karen. It’s been so great to be back home. Then, I have wistful weekends where I’m so bothered that I can’t call her as I’ve done for the last two decades of Saturday mornings. Like having a past lover block your profile. The months since have been marked by an undulating melancholy.

As I approach another year around the sun, I thought about how my entire fifties have been a rollercoaster. It began with cancer at fifty-one. As if that didn’t take me low enough, my hair turned gray overnight. Correction, being blonde, let’s agree to call it silver. And there were highs. I’m still looking at the photos of walking my daughter down the aisle. My mother passed in January and I’ll be a grandfather in September.

This current low has me wanting to tackle it head on. I think like a guy. I fix problems. I want change from where I’m at. I love product management but I want a new job. Creating products still satisfies me. I don’t want to stop doing that, but tech just isn’t feeding my soul right now and I have a hungry heart. The idea of working for a non-profit is appealing. Of course, I’m kidding myself. I still have a kid in college. And I doubt I could find a better work culture than with the people I’m working with right now.

Changing jobs would likely be an over-reaction, but I’m managing it in other ways. I’m not drinking every day like I generally would. And I’m trying to limit myself to a single drink when I do. Like sirens to the rocks though, that second drink calls for me. Having these thoughts as I ran today made me recall a time my mother advised me on depression.

I was sixteen and starting to drink on Friday nights with my buddies. She sat down with me one Saturday morning and gave a me long heart-to-heart. She acknowledged that having a close friend die in my arms from a car wreck we were in together over the summer was a hard pill for someone my age to swallow. But I didn’t die then and if I expected to keep living, I needed to change my ways. She didn’t have to remind me of her hardships, but she did say that if she’d ever chosen to wallow in self-pity, it was unlikely I’d be living the privileged life I was currently living. That was so long ago, it’s hard to remember enough of what she said to even paraphrase, but I always think back to it when I hear Bowie’s lyrics, “My mother said to get things done, you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” Mom never tried to be my best friend, but she was always my mother.

I thought of that on my run today. It was the 8 miler on the hilly East Boulder Trail that I attempt each weekend, but always end up walking in the final three miles. With mom for strength, I ran all eight miles today. First time this year. Longer. I thought of another strong woman while climbing the final, massive water tower hill. I thought of my older daughter when I took her on her first fifteen miler in high school. She was in tears on the last three miles of hills. She dry-heaved near the top of the water tower hill. But she ran through that. She never stopped. So I made up it that hill without stopping today. That’s the kind of change I can build on. That’s why I run.

The Crew Chief

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Eric, my son-in-law and future father of my future granddaughter, is registered to run the Lean Horse 100 through the Black Hills of South Dakota this August. He invited me to be his crew chief for the race. Naturally, his race is all about me so I got some training in this morning on the East Boulder Trail. Targeted eight miles out-and-back. Ran five solid miles and walked in the final three.

My goal would be to also pace him through a 10K or two. Maybe one of the expansive downslopes. I’ve dropped fifteen pounds so far this year so I think by August, I might be able to run a 9 or 10 minute pace with him, assuming he’ll be running that slow. He tends to win his trail races so maybe I’ll have to get more aggressive with my training.

I haven’t made any commitments yet. I’ll see how my training goes. I’ll have to see if I can take a few days off from work. And check the specials at Tortugas that weekend. And review the new releases on Netflix. But if I’m free in August, I can’t think of anything more fun than serving as crew chief for an ultra in the Black Hills.

Gojira

If you know me, then you’ve undoubtedly heard me say, there’s no such thing as a bad Godzilla movie. With the one exception of that Matthew Broderick cluster, there are few axioms more true. After streaming Godzilla vs Kong last night, I can report that my movie adage continues to hold truth.

I have to say, I was anxious about the outcome, so anxious that I almost didn’t watch it. I’m opposed to the notion of the world’s top two titans having to fight. A review I’d read implied one of them loses. I won’t spoil it for you. They fight multiple times in this movie and there are winners and losers each time. But I was almost furious with the director before even watching the movie believing the story might contemptuously slight the heroic majesty of either of these two creatures.

Kong represents the unmanageable force of nature as man exploits her resources. Kong has never been a more important symbol to all of us who want to protect nature. Godzilla is not too far off, conjured up by the folly of man. For me, Godzilla has always emerged to restore balance and harmony to the planet. Both these titans are far too noble to have to clash for our entertainment, as if they were just two more fighters on the MMA roster.

In the end, I wasn’t disappointed. My expectations panned out. Mostly. One does have to completely suspend their belief systems before watching a monster spectacle. Kong spends half the movie traveling to Antartica to enter a portal into the center of planet, only to exit later through a hundred meter tunnel under the city of Hong Kong. Perhaps the director recognized some alliterative value in having King Kong fight in Hong Kong. Who knows. The city has been relevant in the news lately. But it’s a classic error that I do fault the director for, to not include scenes in Tokyo. Toho Studio invented Godzilla and they deserve homage in every adaptation.

I suspect by now I’m coming across as some immature movie critic. A childish fan of monster movies. My appreciation does stem from my childhood. I never read the Marvel or DC comics. I subscribed to Mad Magazine in grade school, a rag that developed my appreciation for satire. I watched monster movies on Friday nights with my best friend Scott Sumner in Marion, Iowa. They would come on after Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special and end with the National Anthem and a screen full of static around 1 am, back when people used to sleep. Zombies and vampires are okay. I like werewolves more, especially banshees, but Godzilla has always been my favorite. He, or she, says Matthew Broderick, was a monster I could sympathize with. Godzilla was the ultimate antihero.

The writing was bad in this movie, almost to be expected. Very little of the storyline was original or credible. I was fine with that. I know how hard it is from having written two novels. It was important to me for my cyberwar stories to be plausible. I based most of my attacks on real world events. But there comes a time in a fictional telling to drop all pretense in order to provide entertainment. Godzilla vs Kong was decent entertainment. And, despite the absence of a Tokyo presence, the storyline remained intact enough to satisfy old fans like myself.

Running Nostalgic on a LoBo 8 Miler

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This footbridge is after six miles on an eight miler on the LoBo trail today. My form is still more of a shuffle than a run, but running outside in the Colorado springtime with 50° temps and full sunshine is priceless. I’m as happy as I look. I’m still living the same Saturdays as when I was seventeen running along Town Lake in Austin with my high school buddies. I wonder if any of them remember jumping off the I-35 bridge for a swim. Fortunately that was before cell phones so drivers couldn’t easily call the cops on us.

A better place to cool off around Town Lake was outside the dam on the north end of the Barton Springs pool. The 68° water poured out of the dam like a shower head and we’d take turns standing under it. I wonder if it still pours out like that. So many cool memories of running in Texas. Austin has the best urban running of any city in America, but I had some memorable runs in Round Rock and San Marcos too.

I recall running with my buddy Mike through some rancher’s fields off McNeil road. We kept passing cows and as we did, they’d fall in line behind us. Their numbers kept increasing and we felt like they were picking up speed. Eventually we had to make a decision to sprint for some exit or be trampled under a stampeding herd. I’d read somewhere that cows and horses wouldn’t trample you if you simply stopped and stood there. This was before the Internet, so my reading material was less suspect. It took me a while to convince Mike that this was our best option. It was less a matter of convincing him than knowing we’d already been nearly sprinting for too long and we were out of gas, and there were no quick exits. We stopped and turned to face the stampede. Those cows stopped on a dime, a few feet from our faces, and we slowly walked out of there.

Thinking of runs with Mike, he joined me for a summer semester at Texas State in San Marcos. Even though he hadn’t run competitively for a couple of years, he walked onto the University Cross Country team with me, setting the pace for our Monday half mile intervals, just like he’d done in high school. One morning we went for a fifteen miler on Post Road, toward Kyle and back. Just outside of town, we happened upon a dead body laying in the ditch. Mike actually ran past it for another 50 yards before noticing I had stopped. The poor boy had been walking from a trailer park home to his midnight shift stocking groceries when he was hit by a couple of drunk college boys. The boys turned themselves in shortly after. Having to roll over that boy’s bloodied body and confirm his death was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done.

Ran my first marathon with Mike too, in Dallas. I was sixteen in 1978. We drove around Dallas all night, drinking Schlitz beer we bought from the convenience store I conveniently worked at. Being so youthful, not sure I even noticed being hungover at the starting line. I still remember having to break through the crowd at fifteen miles to vomit behind a tree. Still, that was probably the fastest marathon I’ve ever run. I think we came in a tad bit over three hours.

So many runs, I could go on, but I need a shower after running 8 on the LoBo.

Deer Mountain

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Longs Peak in the background

Deer Mountain is an easy to moderate hike with a trailhead right at the intersection of Hwy 34 and Hwy 36 in Rocky Mountain National Park. There were other hikers with snowshoes but I don’t think there was enough snow for them. The trail was mostly hard-packed snow with some ice in spots. I wished I’d taken my trekking poles, especially near the top. The trail rises 1000 feet over three miles for a six mile round trip.

The trail largely side-hills through switchbacks and while it’s mostly in the trees, there are plenty of clearings with incredible views. Longs Peak can be seen to the south in both of my photos.

I turned around shortly before reaching the peak because I was on a timeline, but I got in two glorious hours of Rocky Mountain sunshine. I selected Deer Mountain because there wasn’t any parking at the other trails I wanted to try. Tomorrow I’m going to shoot for Bierstadt Trail. I think one needs to enter the park by 7am to be confident of a parking spot at the trailheads. All the trails are good though. I recommend getting up to the mountains this spring. There’s more snow on the way.