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sunriseI receive the email Friday afternoon informing me that the October 5th Boulder Marathon is cancelled.  I have made such a big deal out of this race that I’m stunned.  But only momentarily.  I quickly recover and register for the Denver Marathon October 19th before it’s full.  I’m fast to move on.

A few hours later, I drive up via I-70 to Idaho Springs.  I meet La Plata at the Tommyknocker brew pub at 6:30.  We break bread and share grape.  More specifically, we have jalapeno poppers and mac-n-cheese with red chili.  This is similar to Cincinnati chili, but with mac rather than spaghetti.  Very satisfying and highly recommended.  After dinner, we shuffle my van to the massive parking lot on top of Berthoud Pass and camp down at the Herman Gulch Trailhead off I-70 at exit 218.

Herman LakeThis site is less than ideal with incessant engine noise reverberating along the canyon walls throughout the night.  I don’t sleep well, but at least it’s warm.  We breakfast on oatmeal and trailhead coffee.  At 6:30am, we hit the trail.  We gain 3000 feet in elevation over the first six miles.  By this time, we also shed our cold weather gear and are down to running shorts and a T.  I wear my Pearl Izumi 2and1 ultra trail running shorts.  The long seam brief works well to protect against chaffing.  These shorts are great but could use additional pockets.  I’d like to see what I call a “shark knife pocket” stitched on the brief alongside the outside thigh.  It would be underneath the shorts so it would not be visible.  I’m thinking of two or three times the size of the gel pockets along the back sides.

saddleDespite the steep grade, we get in a little running each mile.  I can’t begin to describe how perfect this supple trail is for running.  You can see it well here if you click to enlarge this photo.  The ground feels raw with fresh dirt.  We’re quickly above treeline and mostly stay above 12,000 feet.  Our highest point is 13,200.  Not surprisingly for a trail following the Continental Divide, it runs mostly along the very top of the ridge with unbelievable views in every direction.  At one point, we are running a thin ridge lined with craggy rocks.  I feel like I’m running across Godzilla’s spine.

ridgeThe sun is out strong and creates interesting light between glare and shade along the ridge.  You can see how the trail undulates along the ridge in this photo with La Plata.  You can even see some snow to the right.  The cool air countered the full sun and kept us comfortable all day.  We both forget to wear hats but apply liberal amounts of sunscreen continuously.  Still, the backs of my legs are now sunburned.

beaver creek coupleThe muscles in the backs of my legs are hurting too.  The 6000 feet of total elevation gain is a tremendous workout for my calves, hamstrings and glutes.  This twenty-plus mile run along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is perfect marathon training.  Rather than the three hour, twenty mile workouts I’ve been running on the weekends, this run will take eight hours.  We planned for eight and we finish with twelve minutes to spare.  Clearly, it’s mostly hiking, but at an aggressive pace.  Averaging over 12,000 feet, we are often winded as if we are running.  It feels great to be up here with light packs.  The weight in my pack is mostly from the 70 ounces of water in my camelback reservoir.  I also carry warmer gear should the weather turn bad – which it never does.  For nutrition, I carry Epic Bars and Hammer Gels.  I have Skratch mixed in my water.  The idea is to practice consuming what I will rely upon for my marathon to ensure my stomach can handle it and that it keeps my muscles from cramping.  Everything works out great.

rocksMy new trails shoes also do well.  These New Balance Leadville 1210s have a rock plate in the front of the sole.  I don’t feel it in there, these shoes are so pliable, but I never feel any rocks either so it does the job.  These would have been fine shoes to race the Boulder Marathon in, on that course’s dirt roads.  Their tread proves capable on this extreme trail by gripping loose dirt with confidence during steep descents.  My ankles are quite fatigued now, hiking boots would have provided better support.  But I love being able to run a trail with light shoes and pack.  I’m thinking though about buying new shoes for the Denver Marathon as that run is entirely on paved streets.  I’ve been thinking about buying a pair of Hokas.  I know they are a bit gimmicky, but everyone I’ve talked to, like Gadget Girl, absolutely loves them.  I would need to train in them of course first, but I have time for that.

jones passAnother new item I intend to pick up for the Denver Marathon is a gel-like snack La Plata gave me – GoGo Squeez.  It’s 30 calories less than my 90 calorie Hammer Gel, although 3 times the volume at 3.2 ounces.  Still, the real fruit content is yummy.  Not often you can say that about these sports foods.  Plus the twist cap is convenient and overall the pack is less sticky than gels.  There is nothing better than real food.  Fruit performs well in terms of supplying quick energy.  All these products do well on my stomach while running.  And fortunately, I didn’t have issues with the poppers from the night before.

berthoud passI expect to see more people out on this trail, being so close to Denver.  I can’t imagine a better day to be out here.  We do see a couple wearing Beaver Creek caps.  Several other hikers and one trail runner.  And a few bikers.  They really impress me with the technical nature of this trail.  Good for them though, riding on top of the world.

jennysSaturday’s 20.6 mile trail run was so much better than I could have imagined.  Perfect in every way.  From the weather, to our pace, to my conditioning that made itself evident.  Despite the altitude, my breathing felt strong.  And the workout my legs received will help me in the Denver Marathon.  We lunch at Jenny’s, a small cafe in Empire.  We both eat the half pound buffalo burger.  Very tasty.  We will meet up again next weekend for a forty mile backpacking hike along the CDT that extends from near Breckenridge to the Grays and Torreys Peaks.  We’ll be joined on this outing by La Plata’s college buddy, George Schools.  George is an extremely fit athlete from Austin.  This could turn out to be a three-day race under the load of 35 pound backpacks.  Can’t wait.