The Austin Boardwalk isn’t really a boardwalk. It’s stamped cement slabs laid atop an iron framework and cement piers, but it does hover beautifully over Town Lake. And I ran across it for the first time today. When I ran around Town Lake, clockwise, as a high schooler forty years ago, after crossing the Longhorn Dam, I then had to run along East Riverside Drive until I reached I-35 where I could cross the lake again to the north side for the running trail. So, the misnamed boardwalk is a very nice improvement.
I started my run in the Bouldin neighborhood, at Karen’s cousin’s house near Oltorf and 2nd. Town Lake is less than a mile north. The boardwalk began east of Congress and continued almost all the way to the Longhorn Dam. I saw the scooter in a tree at the I-35 trailhead. The homeless tents increased in density as I neared the dam.
This tent was more modular in design. I almost expected to see Huckleberry Finn. The best part was that it stood across the road from a massive, modern Oracle office building that stretched along the waterfront for at least five football fields, but the shack had the better view.
The pink flamingo and flag pole bolstered this squatter’s rights with a sense of permanence. If I understand Governor Abbott’s brutal state law correctly, the city’s homeless cannot camp in visible areas, meaning it’s okay to be homeless in Texas so long as you can also be invisible. I did see a fair share of tents ensconced in the woods along the railroad tracks when I ran through the Bouldin Greenbelt in the hills above Town Lake. Not all problems have solutions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working to do better.
One section of the trail still required me to run down the street for half a block in East Austin. The signs leading me back to the trail were there, I just had to keep an eye out for them.
I became nostalgic upon running past the Peter Pan Mini-Golf Course after ten miles. I ran my very first cross country race here my sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t school sanctioned but Doug Hall led some of us boys to downtown Austin on a Saturday morning to psyche us up for the upcoming season.
I’m super happy to be staying in a house within running distance of Town Lake. Hoping to run through Zilker Park and the Barton Creek Greenbelt tomorrow. Merry Christmas.
My first two-week vacation since starting up with a new tech firm four years ago has begun. And it begins with a clean desk. I suppose clean is a relative term, but trust me, for me, this sparkles. And loaded up on the left-hand monitor is my third novel. I intend to use this time to tap out some stories on that sparkling keyboard. I love having the time to plan out all I’m going to accomplish in the new year. Top of my list is more reading, more writing, AWS Security Certification, and more working out. I’ll use these final two weeks of the year as a springboard to all of that.
I enjoyed a super nice ten miler today on the LoBo Trail in 40° temps and full sunshine. The only thing that would have made it better was a bit of snow. My buddy from Durango texted me this photo of his run today. The snow will come. I’ll be in Austin though in a few days. Austin won’t have snow but it’s an ideal running town.
Karen and I plan to spend some time down around Town Lake. If possible, I’ll sneak in a run with my son-in-law on the Greenbelt – the best inner-city running trail in the country. Eric and Brit are already down in Austin, staying at his brother’s house. We’ve delayed our flight because Ellie Rose came home from college with the flu. The nurse at Boulder Medical said they tried to get the School of Mines to send kids home two weeks ago because of an outbreak. I wish they’d have followed that advice.
Karen and I are good though. We’ve had our flu shots and are triple vaxxed. Looking forward to spending time with family. I can’t even remember what we did last year, probably because we did nothing. I know for some, it feels like 2021 hasn’t improved much over 2020, but being able to see family and friends again sets the two years a millennium apart as far as I’m concerned. Just look at that photo above of Margot with her Aunt Priscilla meeting her older cousin Ollie for the first time. Their first Christmas together. This is going to be a special Christmas.
The perfect holiday for me is when I have time to reflect, to be introspective of the year, and eat pie for breakfast. 2021 has been my restoration year. A return to family, running, and the first Thanksgiving dinner I’ve cooked in several years. The pie was baked by my son-in-law.
I ran this weekend over the dying landscape of an impending winter, but I’m invigorated. I learned to run comfortably with my current weight and completed my first marathon in four years. I’m a runner again.
The year started with the loss of my mother, and that was indescribably sad. Caring for her on hospice for twelve months with my brother left me prepared though. If you’ve done something similar, then you know the final passing is a blessing.
Months later, I became a grandfather. A life is marked by meaningful milestones and Margot Faye’s birth was a life changing occasion for more than just me. Our house once again has a bassinet, formula and milk bottles.
It’s impossible to top the birth of my granddaughter, but everything else has been going well too, including my writing. I’ve made a little progress on my third novel, and I’ve had other fulfilling writing outlets. I’m grateful for everything this past year. I hope it’s been as good for you.
I like to start my mornings out with a little endorphin spike by viewing my blog hits and Amazon stats on my novel. It didn’t do much for my self esteem to see only two blog reads this morning, but they were interesting.
With only two hits, both from India and both to the same blog post – Foot Fetish – the correlation was obvious and my curiosity was piqued. So, I googled India foot fetish.
That country is seriously into feet. As a runner, I sort of admire how they place feet on a pedestal. It totally supports the premise of my blog post. If you put in serious miles, take care of your feet.
I’ve heard people at parties express their annoyance with people who paste those 13.1 and 26.2 bumper stickers on their cars. It’s not clear to me exactly why that bothers them, but it does. When I’m part of the conversation, I respond saying, “I’m so much worse than that. I’ve been writing a runner’s blog for over ten years.” That puts me in control of the dialog and shuts them up.
After ten years, I’ve written over five hundred running-related blog posts. I’m not sure I know why I do it anymore than people know why they slap a 26.2 sticker on their car window. Actually, that’s easier to imagine, they do it to capture their accomplishment. I might do it for that sometimes, certainly when I’m writing about a big event. Mostly though, I’m relating my experience during some routine workout. I can’t imagine people are interested in that, but it doesn’t stop me from sharing.
I know that as I write, I’m looking to express how I felt on my run. I fail every time, but maybe, if I could parse out a turn of phrase here and a sentence fragment there from all five hundred posts, I might be able to stitch together a description of how I feel on a run.
My senses first come alive with the simple act of stepping outside the house and feeling the air on my skin; the beginning of warmth in spring, the onslaught of heat in summer, the comfortable coolness in fall and the piercing cold of winter. Being there to witness the change of seasons is magical and makes me feel like I belong to nature. Words can’t describe the awareness I experience.
Then comes my warmup, which for me, is a good two, sometimes three miles. I’m Sisyphus, pushing that rock up a hill. My entire world is under the weight of gravity, until it isn’t. My legs unwind and suddenly I’m an object in motion with no resistance. This is what I run for. That moment where my body detaches from my mind like a train leaving the station. For the next three, six, ten miles, depending on my conditioning, my legs are a force that can’t be stopped. Running feels like the natural state of being and well before the endorphins kick in, I’m in a state of bliss.
I’ve been trying for the last ten years to describe the joy running brings to me. Had I ever once succeeded, I’d likely stop blogging about it. There’d be no more story to tell. Instead, my literary failures keep me at the keyboard, tapping my story out with expressive fingers as the spent muscles in my legs tighten and I finally withdraw to a bath of salts and hot water – to run and write yet another day.
My next big run is a ways out. Late February in Austin. I plan to run my third Austin Half Marathon, this time with my little sister – Nancy. I ran my first in 2012 and second in 2020. I’ve also run three Austin Marathons but it’s hard to be in marathon shape in the Colorado winter. I think that’s one reason I’ve always struggled in Austin; the other reasons would be the humidity and the fact it’s a challenging course with massive hills after ten miles – impacting both the half and full marathon runners.
Having a winter run on the horizon is a good motivator to get outside during months when sitting indoors by the fire is much more tempting. These are some long horizon pics from my run today on the East Boulder Trail. I really missed the Colorado fall last year when I was living in Texas. If I could only run in one season, it would be the fall in Colorado.
This last photo is at the start of my trail, although taken at the end of my run with a dry shirt. I always have a fresh shirt, towel and water waiting for me in the car. That’s experience. Nan said she doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep up with me because, in her words, I’m a natural runner. I’m not sure if there is such a thing. In my mind, once you start running distances in excess of ten miles, nothing matters more than weight, and Nan is nearly half my tonnage. I’ll need to train to ensure I can keep up with her.
Mid-life crises are the senior equivalent of teenage angst. Kids are struggling to accept an uncertain future while we seniors know what lies ahead. Maybe we consider an affair but soon discover we’re not movie stars and we have about as much sex appeal as Santa Claus. That’s the insult on top of injury as our bodies’ decay rapidly accelerates just as we’re forced to recognize the frailty of life.
My youngest goes years without reading my blog, but she read my last post. The next day, she pulled herself away from Instagram to call me to discuss my apparent body image issues. Dare to publish your thoughts and everyone’s a critic. I defended my life choices while trying to recall what the point was of ever having kids.
Jut kidding of course and seriously, I’ve been enjoying my mid-life crisis for a good ten years. A few years past the starting line and fully warmed up, I found my stride with cancer at 51. Physically, the carcinomas were totally treatable, as many are when detected early, but that’s not to say it didn’t mess with my head. After sporting a buzz cut for the previous decade, I let my hair grow out and went on a serious racing binge, training between sixty to a hundred miles per week for several years. I even attained a flat stomach like the senior heartthrob Daniel Craig.
Of course, I never called it a mid-life crisis. I preferred the euphemism of being on a vitality kick. It’s pretty obvious I was chasing my vanity by growing long hair but I could always argue running more miles than I ever did in my youth was truly a healthy hobby. Sort of. Others did point out that anything over 30 miles was possibly counterproductive to good heart health. I’m going to start calling this the fall season of my life. And fall is my favorite time of year.
Women don’t get enough credit for having mid-life crises. The physical impact of menopause overshadows the emotional bankruptcy of a mid-life crisis. But for all their differences, men and women are mostly the same. There was this woman, looked to be in her sixties, race-walking or power hiking the Boulder Marathon two weeks ago. I started in the very back of the pack and found myself passing other runners throughout the event, but I didn’t catch her until mile seventeen. And it took me forever to pass her once I did reach her. You don’t become that fast in your sixties without some obsessive behavior. I wonder what she calls her mid-life crisis.
I ran this morning on the East Boulder Trail, my go-to course when I feel like running hills. I think I’m finally in shape enough to begin running with my local running group and almost did today but couldn’t make time for their schedule. They ran today along the Mesa Trail, a hard-packed dirt trail hanging off the Boulder flatirons like a shelf of brown grasses and pine. They’re my age and I like to listen to their talk of athletic injuries as if running was responsible for our bodies’ decay. A hard-earned lie we can share over a local craft IPA. I miss that and will make an effort to run with them again soon.
We’ve chosen to define our life’s decline by feeling it. Not through the false love of an affair but from the thrill of our cheeks and bare legs pushing past forty degree air on a mountain slope. We drown the subsequent aches in a tub of hot water and epson salts afterward, and like a phoenix the inflammation rises to haunt us as we step out of bed the next morning. That pain is our compass guiding us, cairn to cairn, through this lifetime tunnel of wear and tear and with a runner’s grace, it will carry us toward what lies ahead.
I appreciate all the virtual high-fives from everyone last weekend for completing my marathon goal. I made certain to post all the race photos that cast me in the best light. Now for thoughts on training for a marathon in just ten weeks. To be clear, I don’t recommend a ten week plan, but I have a few observations from my experience that you might find useful as part of a more traditional training approach.
***On Dieting ***
For those of you consumed by thoughts of losing weight, I’ll share my experience. I gained 20 pounds in 2020 out of emotional stress, one too many glasses of Malbec each night, and my own cooking. A weekly Mr. Gattis Sampler pizza figured in there somewhere too. I didn’t intentionally begin a diet in January, but I changed my habits nonetheless.
I returned home in January to my wife’s cooking and stopped drinking. I lost 15 pounds in 3 months. I call this an unintentional diet because my wife doesn’t cook much meat, especially red meat, and I wasn’t looking to stop drinking but she wasn’t and she’s a team player. I was only running on weekends at that point. I maintained that routine throughout the summer with very light drinking, until August when my melancholy demanded progress. I did try to diet then but it didn’t work out.
I thought I needed to lose more than those 15 pounds to run a marathon, I was thinking another 20 to 25 pounds because I’ve run marathons well in the past at 175 pounds. Weight does matter in distance running if you want to run fast. What I learned in my ten weeks was that I could run comfortably at 193 pounds, which was my weight last Sunday, so it was okay that I only lost another 4 pounds.
My goal was to complete a marathon, not run fast. I can tell you that my experience was just as satisfying in this run as in all past marathons. By the way, after burning through 4000 calories in those four and a half hours, I weighed 189 when I got home.
The catalyst that precipitated my focus was serving as crew chief to my son-in-law’s 100 Kilometer alpine trail ultra. It was too much for me to gather in the forest with all those elite, perfect, runners’ bodies.
It’s one thing to watch a game on TV or from the stands. It’s another to be on the field in the middle of the spectacle. I fantasize about competing in the Olympics on many of my runs and when I’m standing amidst Michelangelo’s running Davids, I believe I’m living my dream. When you sign up for these extreme events, they let you literally stand right next to these beautifully exposed runners’ bodies. I forget that I’m fat and I feel like I belong there.
I don’t mind saying this because my wife knows I married her for her dancer’s legs, and because she still dances, that I mostly love the women runners’ legs, shaved and with such smooth curves of power. And I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I covet some of the men’s forms too. I want that for myself.
My motivation sounds vain now that I’ve written it, but doesn’t something like running a marathon have to be? You show me an elite athlete and I’ll show you a narcissist. Non-runners think of marathoners as masochists but no, they’re just in love with their own bodies. I noticed last Sunday that many of the men have taken to shaving their legs too.
I’d been running weekends so I wasn’t starting from scratch. After committing to my plan though, I was disillusioned because I had to mostly train indoors on the elliptical the first two weeks, due to extremely poor air quality from the forest fires. Ironically, that probably worked in my favor. It kept me from exceeding my limits at the start. I did push myself hard, going for upwards of two hours on the elliptical. But there is zero impact on those machines and my body wasn’t nearly as sore or exhausted and I was able to easily recover for the next day. I think the elliptical helped to mitigate the potential negative impact of training too hard, too fast. Take what you want from that but in my experience, it’s not unusual to over exert yourself and then lose days for recovery time.
And, because I was concerned the elliptical wasn’t enough, I spent cycles on calisthenics and a little bit of weight lifting. I’m always too tired to do that after a run but had the energy training indoors and developed a good routine with squats, leg raises and planks. I lost absolutely zero weight the first four weeks, but people were complimenting me on my apparent weight loss. Best I can tell is that a daily two-minute plank toned up my abdomen enough that I gained two notches on my belt. I’d never done planks with any regularity before and had no idea at how effective they were. It did take me four weeks to go from one to two minutes. The lesson there, beyond the specific value of planks, is the benefit of strength training.
When I finally got outdoors, the new body tone helped considerably with my running, but I still had to learn how to run slow. I would often run Saturdays on an extremely hilly course and could run upwards of 8 miles. Then I’d try running on a flat course Sunday and find myself walking after a single mile. I figured I wasn’t able to recover properly because of my age.
Wearing a watch with a heart rate monitor helped me to solve the mystery. The hills forced me to run slow and I was running way too fast on the flat course. I had to learn how to run slow. It’s harder than you’d think. I found the heart rate monitor to be a better tool than monitoring my pace. Maybe this is only interesting to me, but every time I refocus efforts on running, it’s like I have to relearn how to run. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing.
***The Grandpa Runner ***
Even after I learned to run slow, some days my heart would race, forcing me to walk. Best I can tell, I think it was the temperature from really hot days. I freaked out enough though to buy a more accurate heart rate monitor – the type with a chest strap and technically an ECG or electrocardiograph. I don’t mind admitting that I was concerned about having a heart attack in my marathon. Something about getting older. I became a grandfather a few weeks earlier.
My concerns were partly warranted because I have a condition called tachycardia Arrhythmia where my heart just randomly switches from the primary node to a secondary node to generate my heart beat. And that second node beats a ton faster than the first. I initially suspected that might be what was behind my heart occasionally racing from 135 bpm to 170 bpm on my runs.
When a cardiologist explained this to me at 25, he said the symptoms might disappear in my 50s. I think he was right because I’ve had a couple of ECGs since then and I know the condition has disappeared for my normal resting heart rate. But at 25 the symptoms went away at a slightly elevated heart rate and reappeared again at a yet higher heart rate, as diagnosed on a treadmill. I wondered if it wasn’t still happening now while running.
I have more to study yet on my heart rate monitor to know that I’m reading it correctly. Actually, I did read up on it and I know I’ll have to share the file with my doctor to understand it properly. An ECG chart is different from what I’m displaying above and it’s complicated. But rising body heat or running over four hours will start to raise my heart rate to where slowing down my pace isn’t good enough and I have to walk for a minute or so to recover. That’s fine. The above chart shows my heart rate held really steady throughout the marathon, under 140 bpm, but then started to shoot up past 170 in the last six miles, even though I wasn’t accelerating my pace. My max heart rate is defined as 160.
My point in sharing the heart rate details with you is partly because I think it’s some cool running tech, but also to stress that I’m not cavalier about my health. I get the sense sometimes that people think I train and run too hard and am not careful enough considering my age. I took measures to monitor my heart rate and shamelessly walked when I saw it was too high. I felt strong enough to continue running but I wasn’t so vain as to risk my health. It probably only added five minutes to my overall time and didn’t take away from my sense of accomplishment. And I know what I don’t know, so I’ll be sharing my data with a doctor for expert analysis. I’m 59. I hope to be 60 some day and to still be running marathons.
I ran the Boulder Marathon this morning. Four years after my last marathon. Not sure if I can explain why running 26 miles was important to me. Let’s just say 2020 was hard and I wasn’t happy with my weight gain. I wanted to be a runner again and running a marathon seemed like the best way to become one. That’s how runners think.
Although most of the race was run on the Boulder Backroads, as in past Boulder Marathons, this one finished downtown on Pearl Street, so the organizers branded it as the Boulderthon. Who am I to consider that kitschy? Well, I’m a product manager. I understand marketing, it’s one of the hats I wear more frequently at work. I’ve named my share of products. Given that the biggest draw of this event, per the race organizers, is the downtown finish on Pearl Street, I’d have named it the Pearl Street Marathon. Think Colfax. Think Peach Street. Something meaningful to the locals. That would have differentiated it from past Boulder Marathons. I shouldn’t complain though. The event could not have been more well run.
Karen and I spent the night at the Hotel Boulderado. There’s no parking at the race start at the Boulder Res, and I didn’t want to make her drop me off so early, plus the hotel is near the finish on the Pearl Street Mall. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, Spruce, Farm & Fish where I ate raw oysters and Cod. That thing about runners eating pasta before a marathon is a myth. There were also buses lined up near the hotel to ferry me to the race start in the morning.
The weather was awesome and likely helped me to do better than expected. 43° at the start. Low 60s by the finish.
Nothing stretches distance out longer than straightness, and this course had some long, straight roads. The half-mile-long dam at the Res was the worst. Because it’s straight in every dimension, it felt like three miles. Oxford Road was about four miles of straightness, but at least it undulated vertically with some hills. Still, I felt really good the first half and didn’t start to feel fatigued until mile sixteen. I pretty much ran to the race plan I shared last weekend, except I ran a bit faster overall; 50 seconds per mile faster in the first half and 10 seconds faster per mile in the second half.
My breathing felt great this entire run. I never once felt like I wasn’t going to finish. I did start walking a bit at the aid stations to drink and douse my head with water in the final 10K. I also walked a tad whenever my heart would start to race past my max heart rate. I found I could recover after a half minute or so of walking. This was also in the final 10K. Still, I finished well ahead of my goal, in 4:35.
My legs tightened up after twenty miles and shortened my stride, but I never came close to cramping. I helped a runner out at 23 miles by giving him the rest of my pickle juice when I discovered him on the side of the trail with cramps. I had two 17 ounce water bottles, one with Tailwind, a high-calorie sports drink that’s not at all sweet tasting, and the other with dill pickle juice. You won’t find a sports drink with anywhere near the sodium as pickle juice. It has more salt than the Dead Sea. But I drink it because it tastes good.
As usual, I found religion those final six miles. Because I didn’t want to disappoint God, I made promises I couldn’t keep with the Devil. I’m kidding of course, but man, the things you say to yourself to get across the finish line. The twenty-fifth mile was uphill with a quick downhill near the end. Colorado races will always throw a hill at you near the end. Race Directors are cruel.
I wouldn’t say I put on a kick, but I did finish strong. Karen and friends were there at the finish. Chris Price served as my crew chief and took all these photos. He rode around the course on his bike, ready to resupply my sports drinks, or carry me off if I DNF’d.
Finished 5th in my age group, even though I was 4th and an hour quicker in my last Boulder Marathon. I think other competing marathons in October, or Covid, and maybe the poor air quality this summer, diluted this year’s competition. The first two weeks of my ten week training plan was inside on the elliptical to avoid the unhealthy air quality. I wasn’t as fit as I’d hoped to be for this event, but man, it felt good to run it. I’m a runner again.
Margot is starting to grow into her baby clothes, at least the legs, not so much the arms. Although I’m told she’s not happy being clothed. Like Matthew McConaughey playing bongos, she prefers her birthday suit. Who doesn’t?
I’m still committed to running a marathon next week. Given my condensed training schedule, rather than taper this weekend, I went for an 18 miler today. Nothing like a marathon on the calendar to scare yourself fit.
I wasn’t confident that ten weeks of training would prepare me to complete a twenty-six mile run, but I know I made progress toward improving my fitness and I feel so much more confident after completing 18 today. I could still drop out of the full marathon at the expo and sign up for the half marathon – a distance I could complete with much more certainty. But the deal isn’t about certainty. The deal is to try to run twenty-six miles.
That lack of certainty is partly why I enjoy running marathons. Even when I’ve been one hundred percent prepared to complete the distance, when the only question was how fast, marathons are never a sure thing. Although medically defined as obese, completing this marathon is as plausible as when I toed the starting line in competitive shape at my fourteen previous marathons. Anything can happen in a marathon over the course of three, four or five hours.
The two photos below are of me completing my first marathons at 16 and 18 years of age. I ran my first Dallas White Rock Marathon before watches had been invented, but I figure I might have run it in under four hours. Seriously, I think they didn’t post my time because in 1978 they didn’t have an age group for 16 year olds. I wasn’t supposed to be there.
It’s ridiculous for me to estimate what my pace will be without more running under my belt, but I did start wearing a watch a few weeks back and today’s 18 miler was good to set expectations – and I like to play this guessing game ahead of marathons. If I’m smart, I’ll start out behind the 5 hour pace sign and run a solid 11:30 pace the entire distance, speeding up slightly the final 10K if I feel strong.
If you know me, then you know I can be somewhat delusional about my prospects, so I’ll start out a bit too fast for myself. I suspect I’ll run the first 10K at a 10:30 pace, slow down to 11 minutes for the second 10K, and run the final half at around an 11:30 pace and finish at four hours and fifty minutes (4:50) – give or take fifteen minutes. I’m usually pretty good at these estimates, historically within about 15 minutes, with the exception of those four-hour-plus times listed above. Like I said, lots can go wrong in a marathon.
Two things generally lead me to catastrophic failure in a marathon. Heat and a calorie/electrolyte deficit, or you could say nutrition plan. The impact of either of those conditions might be mitigated if I went out slower. The result is generally the same, severe cramping in the final 10K that leads to walking a bit. Not overly concerned about the heat in October. Temperatures should range from 55° to 70° for my five hours under the sun. Might rain. Ideal running weather.
Maintaining form in that final 10K is so hard because of the nutritional math involved in running beyond three hours. It’s physically impossible to not fall into a calorie deficit after three hours. You’re burning calories faster than your stomach can digest new calories. You can drink sufficient electrolytes if you’re disciplined about it. Best you can do on calories is to get in enough very, very long runs (3 hours or so) as part of your training to teach your body to adapt to efficiently burn stored proteins and fats. Or run so fast that you finish under three hours. Before today, my longest training run was two hours and I’ve never run a marathon under three hours.
I’ve never had speed as a primary goal in a marathon. I got comfortable enough, and fit enough, that I was usually confident of finishing. My goals have always been around managing my calories and electrolytes so that I feel comfortable the entire distance. Running at a sustainable pace is part of that just as success in the nutrition plan leads to a faster time. This time around, simply completing the distance in under the six hour cutoff time is my only objective, but I still have to manage those other aspects of the race – pace, electrolytes and calories.
I’ll comment afterward on the viability of training for a marathon in only ten weeks in my post-race report. I lost zero weight the first four weeks, and dropped my attempt at dieting. I lost a few pounds after that, apparently it takes time for the metabolism to kick into gear. No where near my goal of twenty to twenty-five pounds, but I feel like I’m able to run this heavy after having sufficiently toned up. Planks and squats probably helped as much as running.
I don’t consider it a failure that I didn’t achieve my weight loss goal. I see it as I lost a few pounds. Likewise, I won’t be at all upset if I drop out before finishing. I know the odds are long. My goal was to try to run a marathon, so I’m going to try. You can track my progress at this site. My bib is 123. See you next week after twenty-six miles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.