October 23, 2017

My Personal RAGNAR

D2R2 was intended to mark the end of my ’12 race calendar; however, early in July a friend (and former client) asked me to participate in this year’s Coloardo RAGNAR relay.  Knowing that if one tend to says “no” all the time that one ends up friendless and alone, I agreed.  Shortly after saying “yes” to this event, I discovered that RAGNAR (at least CO’s version) had been surrounded by a bit of controversy, see here for more details on that.  I am not big on controversy and, upon at least my first look at the issues surrounding this event, I lost most of my enthusiasm for participating.  However, I had said yes, needed to reconnect with a friend that I had let slip away, and therefore I continued to train for my part in this multi-stage relay.  Once I returned from D2R2 I really felt the gravity of rather spontaneously adding yet another event to my race calendar—I was tired of the long  hours of training and time spent away from my family and other pursuits.  Bottom line: I made the decision to pull out of RAGNAR.  As I told “Captain Dan” (the extremely well organized leader of “Team Six Degrees”) when I asked him to dip into the list of alternates (there were several other eager runners looking to give RAGNAR a go), “I have never backed out of a race obligation, nor have I ever quit any race that I have ever started …I have no intention of leaving this team in a bind!?  However, if you have another capable runner ready to go, I would be inclined to do so [meaning, let another runner take my spot].  Another runner took my spot and I was set “free” … the race/training year was over (as planned).  Whew …

But was it?  Look, I like to finish what I start and even thought I was officially out of ’12 RAGAR, I had trained up and therefore decided to run my own multi-stage event.  Because other plans had now occupied the official RAGNAR weekend, I started my event on September 6th at 1:00 pm.—”My Personal RAGANR” would therefore end on Friday the 7th at 1:00 p.m.  I had been assigned the following legs by the Six Degrees team: Leg 12, 2.9 miles – EASY, Leg 24, 4.0 miles – MODERATE, and the final leg, Leg 36 – VERY HARD [these are RAGNAR’s assignments, not mine)—the fact that I was assigned the final leg resulted in my wife labeling me the Sanya Richards-Ross of the Six Degrees team.  Each of the legs shared the following net elevation changes, -142 ft., -46 ft, and +611 ft—I have ready access to these elevation profiles right out my front door.

 

So, that’s what I did.  Three legs, spaced out over 24-hours … all the excitement of running a multi-stage event without the need to ride around in a van for 24 hours and miss some additional time away from my wife and small children—I undoubtedly missed the opportunity to enjoy some fantastic running, early-fall Colorado splendor, and a chance to make lasting memories with a friend and 10 other motivated runners.  Look, this post is not about signing up and pulling out of race events and commitments (I DO NOT recommend either); however, it is about not letting logistical details stand in the way of your training and racing goals—you can find a way to run your race on your own terms (the only down side is that chances are that won’t get another cotton [I suppose these days, a “technical” garment] T-shirt to store unworn in your closet)!  When plans change, extenuating circumstances arise, things “come up” … go run your own race!

I received the post-race report from my friend Scott, with Team Six Degrees and, as I suspected, they did just fine without me:  winning the “Submasters Men Regular” division and finishing 12th overall (out of 164 teams) with a time of 26:40:12.8 (that’s a 8:31/mile pace over the 200+ miles–nice job).

Want more information on RAGNAR?  Check out the “RAG-mag” from this year’s race, you can take a look here.

8 Hours at Life Time Fitness and My “Urban Adventure”


In April I placed two long training days on my calendar, each designed to support my longer-term training goals (i.e., primarily to promote changes in my strength to weight ratio) and to provide new and different fitness challenges.  For the first, I constructed an 8-hour training day at Life Time Fitness-Centennial (consisting of 4 group fitness classes supplemented with 3 hours of self-guided activity), while the second consisted of what I like to call an “urban adventure”­—an 8-hour hike from my home to the heart of Denver and back.  I elected to share these quirky training days as a means to encourage creativity and new fitness challenges.  If it is possible to devote a day off (I know how rare these are), or even string together a block of a few hours, consider planning a workout that is very different from your usual routine.  Consider roping a friend or a relative into participating in the challenge that you select.  If you belong to a fitness club, tap into some of the resources that you don’t normally take advantage of and see what new opportunities exist to progress your fitness exist there.  Finally, don’t forget that the simple movement of placing one foot in front of the other is a readily available activity that works wonders on our base fitness and body composition—a fitness adventure awaits right out your door.  Good luck in identifying and accomplishing your next “physical challenge.”  What follows is what I came up with last month:

8-Hour Training Day at Life Time Fitness

Although I had hoped to begin my quest to walk the entire length of Denver’s High Line Canal Trail (see the 2012 edition of the “Guide to the High Line Canal“) … a pursuit that I had initially engaged my friend Tom Frederick to join me in, the forecast for our scheduled outing didn’t cooperate.  The weather was expected to turn cold and wet and Tom wasn’t having it.  Instead of giving up on the training day (one that had long been scheduled on my calendar—albeit having moved around a bit), I elected to design another type of physical challenge.  I crafted an 8-hour indoor training day at Life Time Fitness (LTF) and pitched it to Tom.  What I came up with is set out below:

A copy of the 8-hour training day schedule that I threw together to guide our effort.

Tom met me at the doors of the Centennial LTF club at 6:01 a.m. and we got right to it … you see, the on-line schedules for the Centennial club (the ones that I used to plan our day) had not been updated yet for April, and the Vinyasa class had moved up to 6:00 a.m (or perhaps I just read it wrong).  Note: I have included a copy of the current group class schedule, here.  After receiving accepting glances from Sasha from our position just outside the studio door (a very capable Vinyasa instructor at LTF), Tom and I joined the class already in progress.  Note: As a rule, I NEVER join a yoga class late … you may disagree, but it’s just good etiquette, but Sasha runs a bit more informal class and kindly welcomed us in!  We quietly found our places and moved into the “flow.”  Note also that this was Tom’s very first yoga class … not an ideal way to begin, but he did his best to follow along through the relatively fast-paced series!  Next, the pool.  We made a quick transition to the pool where I spent a considerable amount of time helping Tom with his freestyle before abandoning him with orders to, above all else, “DO NOT stop moving.”  I managed 2600 m over the course of the next hour before heading off to the spinning class.  After some liquid nutrition (I fueled on NutriBiotic rice protein shake blended with flax seed, almond milk, and blueberries) it was off to Angela’s “Studio Cycle.”  After making the necessary adjustments to get Tom set up on his bike, I settled in to an easy cadence and waited for the class to begin.  An uptempo play list, a cycling video on the big screens, and a few sustained climbs helped pass the time (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 168 bpm)—only much later did I learn that Tom shares my affinity for techno remixes (check out his picks, via YouTube, original remix versions of Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall: Part II” by Eric Prydz, here and here—both are close to the beats that propelled us through at least part of Angela’s spin class … note that, as Tom correctly pointed out, “the videos are a little crazy” but they will get you pointed in the right direction to finding more of Prydz’s work).  Another shake similar to the first, a quick change out of my cycling bibs and into shorts, and we headed off to “No Limits Circuit.”  Tom and I joined a group of 15  or so women (the class grew to over 25 by “go time” and included one other man)who were ready to do battle, “circuit style.”  Look, I have participated in these classes before … I know the scene and the routine … it usually goes something like this:  a group of extremely fit middle-aged women, lead by one of the fittest women on the planet (i.e., the instructor), brings this endurance athlete to his knees by challenging my anaerobic energy systems to their max while simultaneously revealing all the weaknesses in my ongoing endurance, strength, and flexibility training—I was glad to have Tom there for support.  However, it was not meant to be for Tom.  Despite my urging the he could, and SHOULD stay for the circuit class … after just 4 hours he had had enough!  I said my goodbyes to Tom and waited for the music, and the punishing, to begin.  The punishing came, delivered by Carrissa, the instructor and her regular “followers” … I survived, but it went exactly as predicted (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 177 bpm).  Drop in to a “No Limits Circuit” class just about any day of the week to see what I mean!  In the fifteen minute “break” I consumed another bit of liquid nutrition, knowing full well that it was unlikely to sit well with me and may even jeopardize my subsequent performance in the next class.  Next up, “Barbell Strength.”   As I went about collecting the items that I would apparently need for class, e.g., an aerobic step, a barbell with an assortment of weights, some smaller dumbbells, I discovered that a fellow endurance athlete and friend, Katie Loyd, was in the front row.  I visited with Katie for a couple of minutes and, after explaining was I up to, I assumed my place in the back row … I think she understood!?  (Katie is a veteran Ironman athlete and endurance aficionado.)  Funny, within minutes of starting the barbell workout I started to feel eerily weak—getting the appropriate amount of calories in was proving to be a real challenge through the first part of the day’s schedule.  As I worked through the initial barbell squat series I collapsed down onto one knee … seriously, right before I went “down” the lights starting to dim and the great to form around the edges of my vision—I had hit some sort of wall.  I was determined to continue, quickly recovered, and resumed squatting, all the while giving myself some serious self-talk like “You can do this!” … “Just shed some of the weight on the bar and keep going!”  For the remainder of the class I adjusted down my weights and things gradually turned around … it was still a challenge (and, as someone who teaches the finer points of weightlifting, I would suggest that you not use a “barbell circuit” class as your only reference for proper lifting technique … but if you have some experience moving weights around, these types of classes can offer a dose of variety to your routine).  My heart rate data for the “Barbell Strength” class: 113 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 154 bpm.  After class I consumed my final “meal” and headed to the treadmill (after a short visit to the on-site daycare to see how much Katie’s son had grown since the last time that I had seen him).  The treadmill (aka “dreadmill”) eagerly waited for me … a couple more hours of steady-state effort, as that was all that I could manage, and it would be over.  A little after 2:30 p.m. I called it a day and headed off to the locker room to enjoy the steam room and a shower.  At 3:06 I sent the following text to my friend Tom: “It’s over … that was crazy.  Thanks for showing up and participating (you could have done it)!”

“Urban Adventure”

I left my home shortly after 7 a.m., sporting my heaviest Vasque hiking boots, my Nathan lightweight hydration pack (essentially carrying only water, an apple, my phone, a visor, and some additional sunscreen—$20 and a credit card).  I accessed the Cherry Creek Trail behind my home and headed north.  The plan was to simply hike as far as I could between my departure time and 4 p.m.—I had originally contemplated and out-and-back route; however, as I worked deeper into my hike I committed to seeing just how far I could go.  I also carried my SPOT personal GPS beacon—a great little device that lets loved ones and friends (really whoever you allow access to you maps page) track your adventures … my wife enjoys coming “along” on my outings and she can use the SPOT map to get me out of a tough “spot” if the need arises (ha).  [I had hoped to share a screenshot of the SPOT map that I collected; however, it had expired from my account by the time put this post together.]  I shed some layers at Cherry Creek State Park and ate my apple, already beginning to feel the effects of some fatigue from this different mode of transportation (walking and running involve different movement patterns).  As I frequently ride the Cherry Creek Trail on my bike, I had anticipated much of what I would see on my adventure; however, I was surprised to encounter the following ant mounds … note that in each photograph, the ants had picked up some type of candy to dine on (you catch this kind of thing when you are moving at slower speed versus whizzing by on a bike).

   

Ants and candy (1) of (2).

Ants and candy (2) of (2).

My heart rate remained ridiculously low, around 70-90 bpm throughout my hike.  By 1 o’clock I passed into Cherry Creek North and had put over 18 miles behind me.  With my 2L hydration bag completely emptied, I landed at Whole Foods where I collected an assortment of items to eat and stocked up on fluids.  Let’s see … nearly six hours to get to Cherry Creek North … if I backtracked following the same route I certainly wasn’t going to make it home by 4 p.m.?  I had to come up with a new plan.

My lunch at Whole Foods: Water, carrot juice, kale & garlic salad, and a couple of rosemary grilled chicken breasts.

On my way in, I had noted the RTD buses and even stopped to check out the schedules at a couple of their stops.  Over lunch I used my iPhone to located the bus routes and schedules and I caught the bus heading to Nine Mile Station  (only slightly north of the Cherry Creek State Park) just beyond the Cherry Creek Mall.

The Garmin (a feature of Garmin Connect) player shows my progress (or, alternatively, click here):

<iframe width=’465′ height=’548′ frameborder=’0′ src=’http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/178951971′></iframe>

As I had an appointment that I had to keep at 5:00 p.m., I knew that I had to be home no later than 4:15 p.m. in order to shower, change, and make it—hence the “planes, trains, and automobiles” route on the way back (or, in my case, the city bus, hitched ride with a park ranger, and a taxi cab—I included a photograph of my Whole Foods lunch, bus fare, and taxi receipts as the lead photograph for this post).  Determined to put in as many miles in as absolutely possible, I walked from the Nine Mile Station deep into Cherry Creek State Park.  Again, after my vehicular excursion with a park official that I will leave unnamed but to whom I am extremely grateful (I hitched a ride as soon as I realized that I needed to get through the park in order to arrange a taxi ride to get me home on time), I landed on my feet and hiked out of the park while simultaneously arranging for a tax to pick me up at Valley Country Club (just to the south of Cherry Creek State Park).  In all, I logged better than 24 miles in a single day (just short of the marathon distance that I had hoped).  This was truly a LSD (Long Slow Distance) training day.  I simply concentrated on keeping my “heavy” feet moving (the reason that I selected heavy hiking boots over running shoes) and worked on training up my hiking/walking muscles.

I have included a slideshow of a few of the  other images from my “urban adventure” below:

 

 

Garmin 910XT … New Training Tool

My new Garmin 910XT with optional Garmin Foot Pod.

This month I received my new Garmin 910XT along with the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod.  I find significant value in training with heart rate (HR), as do many other trainers and coaches.  I recently started leaving my Polar products behind after a very positive 6+ year history with Polar’s 725X (no longer available), RS400sd, and CS200cad, having switched to the latest versions of the GPS-enabled Garmin products.  I made the change primarily to provide my coach for Ironman Cozumel, Michael Hagen, a more robust look into my training activities (the wealth of data that the Garmin products collect is exceptional, if not overwhelming at times).  Also, the switch to Garmin coincided with my move to the Mac platform (Polar’s ProTrainer5 is not currently supported on a Mac).   The Garmin units, utilizing the Garmin Connect interface offers sharing features as well as near seamless integration with Training Peaks.

Watch the YouTube Garmin video introducing the new 910XT here.

During my last endurance training cycle, I utilized both the Garmin 310XT (the predecessor to the new 910XT) as well as the Garmin Edge 500.  The Garmin 310XT was plagued by several nagging issues (primarily, although billed as multisport training tool, it lacked any true swim features).   There are others, e.g. relatively short battery life, large size, etc.  The dedicated swim feature is what sets the 910XT apart … Garmin touts the new 910’s swim metrics (e.g. stroke count, lap count, etc.) and for that, I could not be any more excited … I love to swim, but find stroke, length, lap counting tedious and monotonous (even on the high intensity days).

Note: I can’t say enough good things about the Edge 500.  It is a fabulous cycling computer that has become a constant training companion on my bikes.

My hope is to simply share my “out of the box experiences” with the 910XT.  (I will also plan to revisit this post and comment further as my experience with this unit grows over the upcoming training year.)

Out of the Box & Initial Set Up

The out of the box "essentials."

What you get in the box that are the “essentials”: (1) 910XT unit, (2) USB ANT stick, (3) HR strap and transmitter, (4) wall charger and USB cord, and (6) “Quick Start” manual (note that you receive the Quick Start manual in nearly every known language; however, you do not receive an “Owner’s Manual”—it can be downloaded here) along with some extraneous items (e.g., country-specific power adapters, extra watch band, etc.).  Right out of the box, I noticed the sleek new profile of the 910XT, sporting a significantly smaller footprint than the somewhat awkward 310XT.

After repackaging the unnecessary components and filing a copy of my receipt in the box (never hurts in case of the need to return or expedite customer service), I moved on to the “Quick Start Manual.”  STOP: Charge unit before first use (mine arrived with a 56% charge)!  On to the charger the unit went (the 910XT boats a 20-hour life, significantly greater than the 310).  So much for the quick swim, bike, and run that I had hoped to accomplish within minutes of unpacking the unit!?

Garmin's USB ANT stick (allows wireless data transfer)

Fully charged, 100%, and ready to tackle the “Quick Start” manual before heading off for a swim, bike, and run workout.  Before turning the unit on for the first time, I am directed to go outdoors to an open area … out I go.  Once powered on, the unit finds the satellites (or vice versa) in less than 15 seconds.  I take a moment to enter my “user information,” and read the remainder of the manual.  Total setup took approximately 7 minutes; however, note that due to the fact that I already train with other Garmin units I had previously installed the latest version of Garmin’s ANT Agent software (for Mac/for PC—this software allows wireless communication between the 910XT, Edge, etc. and your computer via the “USB ANT stick”—unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the Edge 500 requires a “hardwired” USB connection and does not use the USB ANT stick.  Next, I set my pool length to 25M, and headed off to the pool to have the unit count stokes, distance, and calculate my SWOLF score.

Swim

A word about SWOLF … SWOLF is simply a measure of efficiency.  Although the name is new to me, the efficiency metric is not.  Your SWOLF score is the sum of the time for one length (1/2 a lap) and the number of strokes taken to complete the measured length.  The lower the score the better.

In my initial swim test, I swam 800M (I counted laps) and looked down at the end of my 800M set to see that my 910XT showed precisely 800M … so far, so good.  A SWOLF of 55 … yikes (whatever that means!? … see text block above).

Bike

I encountered a snag when it came to the bike setup.  It had nothing to do with the data capture and connection with the HR transmitter, all of the training features worked flawlessly; rather, it had everything to do with my Type IA personality (I label myself TypeIA, as a play on the slow-twitch muscle type and my innate endurance bent).  I was determined to set up each of the three bikes that I typically train on (i.e., road, MTB, and TT).  However, I was unable to get the unit to accept more than a single bike (although the unit shows 5 available bike presets) and, as the minutes passed, I became more and more determined to solve this inconvenient little problem.  Against my better judgment, I called customer service (USA: 1 (800) 800-1020) and was pleasantly surprised.  “Amanda” solved my problems in a matter of minutes.  Unlike my previous 310XT, bikes must be added and selected using the “MODE” button.  First, you select the number of bikes that you wish to set up.  Second, you select “MODE” and then select “BIKE” and you will be prompted to “change bike” (it as it this point you can enter the selected bike details through the settings feature)  The unit allows you to then toggle between each bike by selecting “MODE” and “BIKE” … simply pick the bike you wish to train on and away you go.

As an aside, I also alerted Amanda to an apparent error in the Owner’s Manual (once again note that this manual is NOT included with the unit and can be downloaded from the Garmin site here).   This error had to do with returning the unit to its factory setting.  How did I discover this error?  Was I seriously considering returning my unit to its factory settings after entering all of my user information and experience precise lap recording at my home pool?  Well, yes.  I wanted everythingto work as designed.  Anyway, the correct instructions for this “nuclear option” aka “Hard Reset” (and, one that I thankfully did not have to employ) follow:

With the unit powered OFF, press and hold both the POWER and MODE buttons = restore to factory settings.

(or so I have been told … ha).

 

Amanda spoke about future software updates that the Garmin team was already working on.  I added my suggestion to the mix and she provided me with assurances that it would be passed along.  Here is my suggestion:  The unit allows the athlete to select different units (i.e., statute or metric) for various training modes: swim, bike, and run.  I run and bike with statute pace and distance on my mind (with the exception of track workouts that keep me focused on meters); however, I swim in a 25M pool.  I suggested that it would be great if the unit would allow you to keep statute measurements as defaults for both the run and the bike, but switch to metric measurements automatically when in the swim mode if you select the distance of your pool in meters.  We shall see!?

Update: My proposed suggestion has turned out to be unnecessary.  When you change the “mode” (e.g., swim, bike, run, or other) to the swim setting, you are prompted to select either open water or a pool swim.  If you select pool swim and select a length of 25M, the unit functions in the metric units while leaving all of the other statute setting unchanged (i.e. for the bike, run, and other modes).

As expected, performance on the bike was flawless.  I slapped the unit on the TT bike currently stationed on my CompuTrainer and started a steady-state workout.  HR, cadence, distance each paired precisely with the units calculated by the CompuTrainer (for HR I utilized the CopmuTrainer earpiece).  Although my Edge 500 will remain my primary cycling computer, it is nice to know that the 910XT will function in multisport applications as it is billed.

Run

Off the bike and outdoors again!  (Note: That I turned the unit on and off to reset it from “indoor” mode).  As a true multisport device, this extra step would not be necessary depending on how you have the unit configured (e.g., “multisport”).  I ran a known course of 2.0 miles.  The 910XT again performed flawlessly, HR and distance were both accurate.

Supplemental Treadmill Test: Following my initial swim, bike, and run flash testing I put the unit to another “indoor” test on my treadmill.  I attached the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod and started up my trusted Precor 93.1.  The unit detected my foot pod immediately and, even without calibration, distance fairly accurate with pace varying from ­+ 20 seconds at training pace, to almost 3 minutes at a walk.  I will revisit this issue after calibrating the foot bod by distance (the preferred method, see p. 25 of the “Owner’s Manual”).  A day later I performed a second test, again without calibration, and this time the distance measurement was accurate (no deviation) and the run pace discrepancy had narrowed to less than + 10 seconds.

Note that in each of the different modes (i.e., swim, bike, and run), the 910XT offers fully customizable data fields (e.g., HR, pace, lap time, time of day, etc., etc.—the available data fields are too numerous to name).

Data Transfer

After installing the latest version of Garmin ANT Agent, the data transfer was immediate and seamless (with new activities added directly to Garmin Connect).  No issues here.

Conclusion

After using the 910XT for approximately a week of training, I will admit that I am generally impressed.  The data collection is robust and the unit, while not exactly user-friendly, has met my expectations.  Really, it is new and improved over the 310XT and I can recommend the 910XT as a training tool for those who are inclined to collect data (if nothing more, this unit serves as a convenient device to keep track of training volume).  Spend some time with both the Quick Start and Owner’s Manual to familiarize yourself with the unit’s basic functions and you will be well on your way to collecting accurate training data.

While my review, by design, offers only a look at some of the “highlights,” several exhaustive reviews are available on the web, see one in Beyond Limits Magazine and, another, exceptional review by DC Rainmaker (a consistently reliable source for in-depth reviews of swim, bike, and run technology).

 

International Ironman – IM Cozumel

After nearly four months of Ironman-specific training, I headed off to Cozumel, Mexico for the 2011 Ford Ironman Cozumel.  Traveling with my wife and our two small children (3-years-old and 15-months, respectively … and their first time flying), we made the 3 1/2 hour flight from Denver on Thanksgiving Day (no turkey and gravy for us this year).  We were accompanied by two other athletes, Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb as well as their families.  Additionally, both my father (who, by the way, has never seen me do anything athletic since I was a boy) and my sister from California also joined us for the event.  Note: As there were only a couple of flights out of Denver for Cozumel during the week leading up to the race event, we also shared our flight with our good friend Sonja Wieck and her family… same flight, very different race result … Sonja is a rockstar (see her excellent blog posts here).  The concept was fairly straightforward, pick a Ironman race in a tropical climate, bring the families, and combine a Ironman with a vacation.  All told the 16 of us made it to Cozumel and, after navigating the normal Mexican “logistics” (i.e. cab rides) settled in to Villa Yak Alil (the house we had collectively rented) for our “race vacation.”

A couple more notes about my  personal “logistics.”  I used TriBike Transport to move my bike to and from the race venue.  While the service was a bit pricey (approaching $375), the service was relatively flawless.  Although the pre-race pickup was not actually at the transition area (I ended up picking my bike up and transporting my bike in the car that Paul had rented … thanks Paul!), the post-race drop off was just a few feet beyond the finishing line.  I couldn’t have been happier to drop my bike off with the TriBike folks after the race and say “adios.”  My bike arrived ready to ride in Cozumel and once again when it arrived back in Denver.  I also packed all of my own race nutrition to the venue and, fortunately, I had absolutely no issues with transporting gluten-free oatmeal, gluten-free tortillas, almond butter, and an assortment of Hammer and Honey Stinger nutritional products in my checked luggage.

Pre-Race

As this was my second IM “rodeo” I knew precisely what was in store for me and spent the Friday and Saturday preparing accordingly.  I concentrated on hydration, appropriate calories, and supplemented with a bit of Heed and Endurolytes to top off my electrolyte stores.  I also tormented the chef who prepared our meals at the Villa to keep my food relatively bland and gluten-free (Edgar so graciously accommodated my “special needs” … thank you).

One thing I had learned from Ironman St. George was that I was unlikely to need much in the way of “special needs” out on the racecourse and I prepared accordingly.  I passed on the run “needs bag” and stashed only a frozen bottle of Perpetuem in the bike bag which I ultimately did not end up needing.  My only “special” preparation was the solid food that I prepared for the bike.  I have trained and raced repeatedly using a special meal that consists of a gluten-free brown rice tortilla, almond butter, brown rice, a small amount of honey, as well as a smattering of rice protein and salt (The following represents the recipe to make 4 individual servings: 2 “Food For Life” gluten free tortillas, 2 T organic smooth almond butter, 1/2 cup organic short grain brown rice, 2 T vanilla Nutribiotic rice protein, 1 T honey, and salt; the approximate total nutritional values: 790 calories, 115 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of protein, 23 grams of fat, and 12 grams of fiber.)  On Saturday afternoon I prepared several single-serve portions of this concoction and prepared my pre-made bottles of Perpetuem and Heed (I slowly froze a couple of my bottles so that they would be more palatable on the bike … as in training, this strategy worked well).  The solid food was to play an important part in my race day nutrition strategy; however, this was not to be … more on that in a moment.

Dropping my bike off at T!

On Saturday, I accompanied Michelle for a survey of the swim course as well as brief “practice” swim.  As I frequently tell my clients, “water is water, it is the same around the world” and this venue proved the truth of this statement; however, the water in Cozumel was especially clear, warm, and, well, beautiful.  After locating some geographical reference points (e.g. the buoy for the outbound leg was in line with a water tower on a beachfront hotel), Michelle and I jumped of the pier at the swim start and smoothly completed about 600 yards—just enough to get a feel for the water and gather some sighting “looks.”  Later in the day I returned to T1 (the swim start) and delivered my bike to transition (Paul and Michelle met me there after a 45-minute bike ride).

Race Day

As always, an early start … 4:30 a.m.  For me, the early morning came after a night where our 1-year-old son nearly had to be taken to a Mexican emergency room.  My wife and I awoke at 12:00 a.m. to our son experiencing a full-blown croup attack (we spent an anxious hour alternating in out of a hot steam shower, administering an oral steroid that we thankfully had the foresight to bring along, and planning our next moves should we need to seek emergency care).  And, if this weren’t enough, during this “excitement” I received a text message from our next door neighbor informing me that, although he wasn’t sure, he thought that our house had been broken in to?!  I am NOT making this up!  As our son’s condition improved, I tried to remember if I had set the house alarm prior to leaving … surely I had?!  Anyway, I made a quick international call to the Arapahoe County Sherrif’s office to learn that, while there had been activity in our area, our home was fortunately not involved! So much for a restful night.  Hey, but I did sleep well from 10 p.m. to midnight.

I slid into my race and pre-race clothes and headed out to join Michelle for my first breakfast: oatmeal, protein powder, a banana, some almond milk and almond butter … lots of water.  Paul joined us a bit later and decided to make a shake … we made him use the blender outside (it still likely woke everyone in the house up)!  I collected my bottles from the freezer, prepared my pre-race bottle, checked my nutrition … and, here is where I made a huge mistake, I decided to place my solid food in the freezer while I waited for everyone else to collect there things.  Well, as I realized immediately upon arriving the race start (Chankanaab Nat’l Park), my “real” food would be spending the day in the freezer where I left it!  No solid food (at least the solid food that I had planned on eating) for me.  After a few tense moments realizing that I would be short some calories, also perhaps short some electrolytes, I realized that I could adjust my nutrition as the day unfolded and still have the day I wanted.  Despite my experience and Type A personality, I had made a mistake … and, really, the mistake wasn’t leaving my supplemental nutrition in the freezer, it was not making a final checklist for the race morning.  This is something that I can’t stress enough, make a checklist for race morning a few days in advance … THEN USE IT (I always do this, I just didn’t this time)!

Paul, Michelle, and I took care of our pre-race preparations … Michelle generously recovered some unneeded Enduralytes from her T1 bag for me to use (thanks Michelle).  We played “pass the punp” and set our final tire pressures before heading to the body marking and the unbelievably long line to the Port-O-Johns.  I listened to other racers share their pre-race “jitters” and people watched before finally receiving my allotment of toilet paper and taking care of business … funny, the Port-O-John scene was a special sight, it was if our Mexican hosts had assembled the facilities from a mismatched collection of Port-O-John parts in the dead of night … they were really suspect and most definitely had been thrown together in the final minutes before the athletes had arrived.  As the start of the even drew closer athletes of all varieties were forced to abandon the “facilities” and headed off to take their chances in the surrounding jungle.  We made it through just before things really deteriorated (i.e., athletes heading out into the surrounding jungle) and headed off to the swim staging area.

The Swim

I love this shot ... I am somewhere in the midst of that!?

As we worked our way through the queue I continued sipping on a solution of diluted sports drink (Heed) and finally abandoned my Practical Coaching water bottle along with hundreds of others before heading out onto the pier and in to the starting field (free advertising … it was a new bottle).  There were options as to getting into the water: 1) jump of the pier, or 2) descend a series of stairs …, we selected the latter.  The three of us managed to stay together for a while, but soon each was lost in the mass of humanity that makes up an Ironman start.  Then we were off … for a the first few minutes I thought I was in for something a bit different to what I had experienced before … I was being kicked, pushed, and swamped in the vortex of the mass start a bit more than usual.  As the initial minutes passed, I started wondering if the pounding would ever let up or would this be a 2.4 mile wrestling match?  By the first turn buoy things did begin to improve and I managed to find my own space.  I kept myself in a type of bubble that allowed me to make clean strokes and I concentrated on covering the distance.  I was calm throughout and took time to enjoy the clarity of the water as well as the interesting features on the ocean floor.  The long southern leg of the swim allowed sighting on the coast and I swam straight; however, the current seemed to have worked to carry me farther from the turn buoy by the time I arrived there … I ended up swimming a couple of hundred yards more than I should have.  After the second short leg, I made the turn and sighted in on T1/Chankanaab.

T1

Moving up the stairs toward T1.

I clamored up the stairs suspended in the ocean and headed off the to the changing tent after noting my time and enjoying a cleansing, however brief, freshwater shower.  I elected to wear a “speed suit” during the ocean swim (thank goodness that I did, I can’t imagine how slow my swim would have been without it … ha) and stripped it in part while in the shower and had completely abandoned it by the time that I reached the T1 tent.  I focused on the essentials, a bit of hydration (H2O) and sunscreen—the sunscreen was copiously applied by race volunteers (see photo below).  I slid a pair of Craft “cycling” shorts over my minimalist tri shorts (note, this addition only takes a few seconds and adds a great deal of additional comfort to the bike leg), my fully stocked jersey, added my UV-resistant arm “warmers” and moved off to my bike.  Helmet buckled … check, sunglasses … check … 8 minutes, 19 seconds, while certainly not fast T1 IM Cozumel sure beat the 20+ minutes that I spent in a near-frozen stupor after emerging from the very cold water of IM St. George the year before!

The Bike

Early in the race, heading along the southerly section of the course along the ocean.

I ran the carpet and mounted my bike while spectators cheered … not for me personally, of course, but generally.  Paul and Michelle were already on the course as I started my first lap.  I immediately turned my focus to working out my “new” nutrition plan.  Aid stations were plentifully and well-stocked; however, I had difficulty getting what I really wanted: a couple of PowerBars (not, of course, my first choice … but I didn’t have any solid food)—it was not until the 60km mark that I scored two “Cookies and Creme” bars … ugh, but at least they would be fairly calorie-dense and something to chew (I also picked up a banana later in the day).  The west side of the island, especially toward the south, opened up to  some tremendous views of the ocean.  Although the course was relatively flat, the wind built throughout the day making each of the three passes through this exposed section increasingly challenging.  The cross winds that the athletes were warned about were definitely present along the south side of the island with relief only arriving once I headed north well beyond Punta Sur.  Once making the turn toward civilization (transecting the island westerly), the winds shifted.  On laps 1 and 2 there was a substantial tailwind that drove me on toward the Cozumel Centro; however, this same tailwind was noticeably absent on the final lap.  I focused on maintaining a steady cadence (avg. 87) and worked my preplanned nutrition strategy to the best of my ability (3 bottles of Perpetuem, with one mixed up on the course while riding … don’t try that at home!).  I made sure that I checked in on my self every 15-minutes and forced myself to do something at each 15-minute interval (e.g. drink, eat, pee, etc.).  Note that on every lap but the final one I was able to gain some additional momentum from the friendly cheers of family and friends that had gathered on the west side of the island near our vacation home—that was really special.  The bike was fairly uneventful with one major exception, as I pierced the outskirts of Cozumel Centro on the final lap the rain that had been threatening for the last hour or so finally arrived.  What started as a few drops here and there almost instantaneously turned into a full on monsoon.  The rain was blinding.  The rainwater formed large pools and streams as I moved closer and closer toward T2.  I recall commenting to a fellow competitor as we managed to navigate a couple of the turns along the route that “rain only matters in the turns” … ha!  I managed to negotiate the flooded and slick streets (other competitors were not so lucky … I saw some of the casualties as I completed the bike leg).  I had planned of a sub-6hr bike, but the day had conspired against me (specifically, uncertainty concerning my nutrition and the monsoon rain); however, I transitioned off my bike feeling fairly strong.

T2

No photo of T2 (trust me, you don’t want to see what was going on in the T2 changing tent).  The rain had turned what is normally a chaotic transition into a real mess.  The tent was filled with several inches of rain/sewer water and, to make matters worse, the Port-O-Johns that were situated inside the tent were on the high side and the changing area was on the low side … I am confident that my bare feet were exposed to some real nasty stuff.  I persevered and emerged from the tent ready to challenge the 3-loop, out-and-back run course.  As an aside, I am NOT a big fan of multiple lap courses … I prefer the see it once, see it again from a different angle experience that a singe out-and-back or, even better still, see it once experience of that a point to point course offers—I had however mentally prepared for this situation and set out to do my best.  T1: 5 minutes, 10 seconds … not bad under the circumstances.

The Run

Heading out on the run course, conducting a nutrition inventory (right before I dropped a gel packet into a murky pool or rain/sewer water).

I felt strong as I headed out onto the run course.  The rain was beginning to lift, really, it had diminished to intermittent large drops (this was an ON/OFF type of rain event) and the sun was peaking out from underneath the heavy cloud that had moved by the runners and continued to torment those still out on the bike course.  The spectators reappeared as the standing rainwater fought to disappear into the flooded sewers (the were HUGE pools of water scattered along the route—one notable intersection remained flooded with knee- to calf-deep water throughout the race … there was no avoiding it, you had to wade through it each lap both going out and returning), needless to say, my feet stayed wet the entire run. Funny story, as I was heading out on the run I dropped one of my gel packets … it disappeared into one of the murky pools of standing rain/sewer water!  As I had very meticulously planned my run nutrition, I felt as though I could not spare this loss and quickly removed it from the water and placed it back on my run belt; however, I did place it as the final gel to be consumed (I figured some nasty bug managed to get me from the fecal-contaminated gel packet, it wouldn’t have time to affect me if I took it near the end of the race).  Once that “drama” was over, I focused on running my race.  I passed my friend Sonja (go Sonja!) early on and glanced at my watch and took note that she was likely finishing and would be at or very near her Kona-qualifying pace (she qualified again, congrats Sonja).  I also passed Paul on his way back as I headed out … I encouraged him on and noted that this was likely his first lap and that I wasn’t far behind him … I knew that if I held my current pace that I would see him again sooner rather than later.  I had already turned my focus to my hydration and nutrition strategy.  Aid stations were coming at me every other Km and I alternated each with Gatorade and H2o (the water was provided in the plastic bags and at each station I took 2, reserving one to go in either my jersey or shorts to 1) consume along the route (small amounts) or 2) cool my carotid, heart, or my femoral artery—bags of ice, or “hielo,” when available, were similarly retained and placed.  Looking back, I consumed a gel and water at  miles 3, 6, 9, 14, 18, and 22 (I also supplemented with Endurolytes at the top of each hour).   I continued to see Paul, on my second lap I finally caught a glimpse of my friend Michelle … she looked strong and I encouraged her on.  At the end of laps 1 and 2 I got another boost by seeing my sister, Sherry, and my friend, Bill Grubb (Michelle’s husband) at the turn.  Day turned to night and I continued on, running my race.  My Garmin 310 vibrated with each mile and I drew closer to the end.  I passed Paul  just after making the turn to head back to the finish, just a few more miles to go!  I made my final return to the waterfront “walk” (a scenic area and oceanfront shopping district of Cozumel centro) and the route lined with masses of spectators and focused on the finish.  Over the last mile the emotions built and by the time I made the final turn and headed toward the finish I was completely consumed by the experience.  My emotions were magnified as I saw my friends and family at the final turn before the finish line … it was amazing to have them there. I crossed the line to the words of “You are an Ironman!” 12:25:05 (official).  Much later, after I had emerged from the finishers’ tent and navigated through the mass of spectators to rejoin my family and friends, I was greeted by my father by words of “I am proud of you”—although he may have said it before, this time I heard it!

Finish, 2011 IM Cozumel.

Summary

IM Cozumel offers a spectacular race venue.  Warm weather, crystal clear water, smooth pavement, and fantastic fans are each part of the Cozumel experience.  Both Paul and Michelle were successful (congratulations Paul, congratulations Michelle) and they each have their own stories to tell.  The IM Cozumel post-race experience is ideally suited to post-race rest and recovery, e.g. great food and beaches to chill out on; however, note that in November the weather conditions are somewhat variable (we were treated to a post-race cold front that dashed our thoughts of recovering on warm, tropical beaches).

GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run (Abbreviated)

I “ran” ha .. again, I can’t help myself … across the flyer that is the featured image for this post in a local runner’s magazine in 2008.  Since that time, the flyer had been prominently displayed in my office where I frequently contemplated when I would get a chance to complete this epic event.  Finally, the TransRockies Run found its place on my “2011 Race Calendar” and I enlisted my new friend Paul Hardcastle to run with me (teams are required, at least as of the 2011 running, in order to complete the full event).  Training for the TransRockies was fairly straightforward.  I was coming off the the Run Rabbit Run 50-miler in the fall of 2010 and would use the off-season to focus a bit more on general strength and conditioning.  I would begin adding substantial miles in early-2011 and gradually build mileage in order to be able to endure the multiple back-to-back marathon-like distances that make up the TransRockies event.  As the start date approached, I eventually used a “free” TransRockies training program to guide my preparations (the 16-week “finishers” program shown below); however, I supplemented this program with significant resistance training.

 

The free training plan that I elected to follow to prepare for the TransRockies Run.

 

I generally left Paul to his own devices as he assured me that he was getting in his mileage.  And as the event neared, Paul was even working a personalized 12-week plan provided to him by McMillan Running; however, Paul was beginning to display signs that he wasn’t going to be up for this year’s run.  Paul had generally complained about knee pain during the spring, and by the first week of July was telling me things like, “my mind and body are willing … my knee just has other thoughts” when I inquired about his long runs.  I was concerned (both for Paul’s knee and the prospects for our being able to complete the TransRockies run); note that this was the same knee that burdened Paul with a DNF at the 2010 Run Rabbit Run event.  The problems with Paul’s knee continued and by the end of July I had confirmation that Paul would not be joining me this year.  Fortunately, I had been exploring my options with Joanne with the TransRockies team and she had advised me that I had two: 1) team up with a new partner as a “free agent,” or 2) convert to the RUN3 (the shorter, solo, 3-day event that covers approximately 60 miles, from Buena Vista to Camp Hale, CO with 8,600 feet of elevation gain) … I selected the later—Colorado Runner posted an article on the RUN3 here.  I was disappointed in not being able to compete in the 6-day event; however, with Ironman Cozumel looming, I felt as though the shorter event might better serve my other training goals for the year.  Also, Paul’s withdrawal allowed me to commit to save the full TransRockies as a “team” event with my wife—we are now both looking forward to running around in the Colorado mountains for 6 days when our children get a bit older!

My TransRockies Experience

I realize that I generally offer upbeat assessments, but  they are honest and I really enjoyed this run—to date I have recommended the full TransRockies event to many other runners.  Sadly, at the end of day 3 I was not ready to stop running (albeit I was extremely excited to return home to see my wife and children).  My times for the various stages reflect my determination to finish in good form but also my commitment to savoring the experience (primarily enjoying some of Colorado’s greatest running trails).

Stage 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge – 20.9 miles, 2,550 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 58 minutes, official results here)

Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes – 13.3 miles, 3,250 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 36 minutes, official results here)

Stage 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale – 24.2 miles, 2,800 feet elevation gain (Time: 5 hrs. 17 minutes, official results here)

Note: Upon looking back at the results, I finished 13th out of 33 runners in the RUN3 men’s open division with 12 hrs. and 51 minutes of total running time—had I been following the daily results (which I did not), I would have found that less than 10 minutes separated me from a top-10 finish (10 minutes is nothing over the course of twelve hours of running)—anyway, official results can be found here.

I didn’t write while I was running the event; instead, I managed only to capture a few photos that I have set out below:

 

 

I have also included a video montage of all of the GoPro footage that I shot during the event:

 

Recommendations & Reflections

Recommendations:  This is an event of durability.  Prepare and train for running long distances on back-to-back days.  If I had a single piece of advice, even if it came at a cost of your total weekly training mileage, it would be to run multiple back-to-back long runs during each week of your training.  Also, if you are running the TransRockies event with a partner and have elected the tent camping option, get TWO tents.  The supported tent camping provided by the TransRockies staff is excellent, but the limitations posed by the large number of participants and the size of the available campgrounds allows for massive tent “cities.”  The quarters are already cramped and the thought of cramming two tired runners, along with all their gear, into a single tent should not be a pleasant one—pay the additional $$$ and get separate tents.  Also, don’t underestimate the shower truck: this is a luxury at the end of a hard day and bring along some post-shower, clean and comfortable clothes to enjoy the remainder of the day after you have cleaned up (really a special treat).  Finally, bring along sufficient supplemental calories/food.  I am NOT a picky eater (I am an omnivore); however, I perform at my best when I eat a “clean” diet.  Again the logistics of the TransRockies event challenged the food service providers along the way and, despite their best efforts to offer healthy and even a variety of gluten-free options, I was constantly hungry!  Pack some supplemental food (the concern about bears is real, but really, what are you going to do about this issue in a massive tentropolis?).  I was happy to be able to supplement my daily calories with multiple, calorically-dense Honey Stinger 20g protein bars (oh yes, and a hot fudge sundae in Leadville, CO and a cheeseburger with a beer provisioned by the guides at Nova Guides—a great reason to bring along some cash, I think the chess burger set me back close to $20, the beer was “free”).

Reflections:  Stage 1 was sandy and HOT.  As always, in Colorado you need to be prepared for just about every type of weather imaginable.  Also, if you are planning on running this event as a team, you need to operate as a one—I look back and recall the banter between two teammates as they attempted to finish stage 1: “I TOLD you we went out too fast.”  “Damn it … why don’t you listen” … “Oh, just shut up” was the reply—and it deteriorated from there (it really was sad), not pretty.  Such poor behavior stood in sharp contrast to other teams who dealt with the demands of the event (even serious injuries) in a supportive and uplifting way.  TransRockies involves individual, team, and group dynamics … it is important to work together at all three.  Stage 2 offered some of the best single track and the up and over Hope Pass was spectacular (I have provided a link to the Leadville/Twin Lakes region here).  The accommodations at Leadville allowed a good opportunity to eat more calories (hence my stop at the ice cream parlor) and reconnect with family (great cell coverage).  Stage 3 to Camp Hale offered a mix of terrain and I enjoyed the  longer stage … 24 miles of running.  I ran the better part of a mile with Dean Karnazes (aka “Ultramarahtonman”)—I had met Dean on Day 1 (see picture above) and had visited with him briefly over dinner the night before.  It simply worked out that we were able to run together for a bit and we discussed our athletic backgrounds and I inquired about the run that launched his career (I had read in a WSJ article that Dean, after a 15-year absence from running, had left out from a bar on his 30th birthday, only to run nearly 3o miles from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay in his boxer shorts and an old pair of shoes, using the $20 bill he carried to purchase Tacos as fuel—all true).  See: Finley, A., “The Cross-Country Runner.” The Wall Street Journal. April 21, 2001.  In all I had too many positive experiences along the way to count and I look forward to encouraging others to participate in this great event as well as completing the 6-day run with my wife some time soon!

View the complete details for all the TransRockies events here.

 

XTERRA Mountain Championship — Beaver Creek, Colorado

Images from this year’s XTERRA Mountain Championship race:

With the demise of XTERRA Buffalo Creek (my absolute favorite Colorado XTERRA—2009 marked it’s final year, pending new developments, see text box below), the Beaver Creek Mountain Championship has earned an annual place on my race calendar (I competed here in 2009 but unfortunately missed last year’s race).

Robert Martinich, the ever-capable and dedicated race director sent out the following e-mail of January, 2010:

As some of you know from news reports last October, the owners of Wellington Lake closed the lake to the public until further notice.  That means all scheduled activities at the lake were cancelled.  The owners/shareholders (city of Thornton, city of Brighton, and a group of farmers) wanted to re-evaluate the activities at the lake.  Please note:  All of this information is from my one source who is not on the Board of Directors; I am not getting much information directly from the Board of Directors of the lake.  My contact with the Board of Directors informed me in late October that the Board wanted to continue allowing the Boy Scouts and events like XTERRA Buffalo Creek to continue at the lake and that they would try to have a decision by December.  However, I still have not heard of the Board’s decision regarding use of the lake and property for XTERRA Buffalo Creek.  My source believes that a decision will likely come towards the end of January.  I realize that many of you rely on this race to compete for points in the XTERRA series and are now making plans as to which races to compete.  I have worked very hard over the past 6 years to make XTERRA Buffalo Creek a top notch race for you in the series, and will try to accommodate all requirements set by the Board of Directors of the lake.  I appreciate your kind emails and your patience.  I will let you know as soon as I know.

And, with that, that was the last I have heard about this TERRIFIC XTERRA: featuring lake-side camping at the venue, a COLD swim, a blazing fast bike course with a grueling ascent to mark the finish, culminating in a scenic and feature-filled trail run—I wish Robert the best and hope that this race returns in the future!

This year’s Beaver Creek Mountain Championship failed to disappoint.  The Beaver Creek venue is exceptional, both from an athletic challenge standpoint and venue—the Colorado mountains in the summertime just invite XTERRA.  The full course event challenges athletes with a 1 mile swim (2 laps), 15.5 mile bike, and a 5.75 run, while the sprint race (short course) includes a 1/2 mile swim (1 lap), 9 mile bike, and a 3 mile run.

As always, a very capable field assembled in T1 along Nottingham Lake in Avon, CO to start the COLD swim.  During race check-in the day before (held up on the mountain in Beaver Creek) my wife and I ran into our good friend Lee and Myra.  We learned that their grandson would be competing in his first XTERRA and we managed to spend some time with him and our friends prior to my wave start.  The canon fired and I plunged into the alpine “lake” and started the first of two busy laps (the swim venue is small and the swim course stays crowded throughout the nearly 1 mile swim—1500M to be precise).  Once out of the water I acknowledge the “chill” before setting off on the 15.5-mile bike (with + 3600 feet of elevation gain, with the majority of it coming early during the course of a nearly 4 mile climb).  I put some gas in the tank early as I rolled out of Avon and start the ascent (Hammer gel, of course).  Almost immediately I felt the effects of both the altitude—the race begins at approximately 8,000 feet (Avon is + 7431 feet).  I managed to ride the majority of the route with only a small “hike-a-bike” during the steepest section of the initial single track climb.

The Denver Post featured a beautiful photo gallery of the images from the ’11 event that can be viewed here.

I put the long climb behind me and focused on working my way to T2.  Although the route features additional climbing, competitors follow the scenic “Village to Village” trail before a fairly steep descent into the village.  The route at XTERRA Beaver Creek is not technical (the “Cinch” – “Corkscrew” – “Cinch” connection that funnels athletes into T2 is the only exception), but it does require concentration and solid conditioning.  After dumping my bike on the downhill section that leads into T2 the last time I raced here, I redoubled my focus to make a clean ride.

Once cleanly through T2 I headed out on the run that I knew would be a punishing, lung-busting 5+-miles.  This year’s course did not fail to meter out significant punishment (the elevation along the 10K route approximates 1,300 feet of elevation gain).  I tried to run the entire course; however, some of the steeps during the first third proved too much … I downshifted and transitioned back and forth between a run and uptempo hike.  I pounded down the downhill sections (there are fortunately a couple along the route) and saved just enough “gas” to sprint to the finish.

Once across the finish line I was created by my wife and children … it really doesn’t get any better than that.  I managed to once again meet up with Lee & Myra (Zack also had a successful race, finishing the “sport” course in just under XXX).

Beaver Creek: Two Races in One

Another benefit of the Beaver Creek XTERRA is that it features a half-marathon (along with a 10K option) trail run on the following day.  This works extremely well for my family.   Two events, one on each day of the weekend, allow me to race the XTERRA on Saturday while Hope watches our children and then Hope can run the trail run on Sunday while I takeover as PIC (here, instead of “Partner in Crime” … “Parent In Charge”).  The half-marathon run integrates much of the XTERRA off-road triathlon course while adding more time climbing (the race features nearly 2,400 feed to elevation gain) while the 10K race retraces the full XTERRA off-road triathlon course from the day before.

Hope’s account of her half -marathon experiences follows:

Waiting to start the half-marathon along with my fan club.

Sunday provided  another blue sky day in Beaver Creek.  My husband and two children escorted me to the starting line of the Beaver Creek XTERRA Half Marathon.  It is a rare occasion when both my husband and I get to race, so this weekend was special.  Brian had completed the XTERRA triathlon the day before, leaving me to fulfill my  commitment to the half marathon trail race.  I had been training all spring to shed the baby fat from “No. 2” and had built up my mileage so that 13.1 miles wouldn’t be a stretch for me.  The race gun went off and the winding gravel and dirt climb started straight away.   I quickly realized that 13.1 miles on pavement/trail and 13.1 miles on a trail at altitude are vastly different (really … I know that).  I had vowed to not walk for quite a while if I could help it, but when the walkers started passing me I figured a long stride walk might be the better choice (I tried, but failed, to not go anaerobic).  After the long initial climb the course opened up to beautiful rolling terrrain.   Although the morning had started on the cool side,  the heat started coming on, but much of the course remained shaded in by trees.  During the middle of the race, I was joined by a pack of other athletes (which for me usually consists of fit older men and younger women who aren’t that fit) formed together—as usual, we engaged in the “pass me, pass you, pass me” game.  I maintained a run whenever possible and walked as the altitude strapped me with fatigue.  At one point I recall thinking, “How can an entire race be up hill?”  “My” personal race came down to me and another “girl.”  We were neck and neck through the final third of the course and I found myself fading as I tried to best “my” competitor—I couldn’t go any faster.  She seemed to have gained a second wind.  There was one difference between us, I had a Polar watch with mileage data and she didn’t.  I sensed that she thought the end was near, almost finished, but I knew we actually had about 4 more miles.  That explained why she was pushing so hard!  You won’t believe this, but out of nowhere, her boyfriend/husband appeared, cheering her on.  As she passed him she called out, “Am I almost done?!”  “About 4 more miles!” he yelled back.  Immediately she faded.  I never saw her again on the trail and ran to the finish alone.  I crossed the finish line and rejoined my family to celebrate the experience and “my win.”

The Beaver Creek race venue provides something for everyone (complete information can be found here).

 

ChiRunning (and a local “ChiRunning” guru)

The cover of "ChiRunning" yes, it's one word!

I read Danny Dreyer’s “ChiRunning” last year and practiced many of his concepts from time to time, but I never made a concerted effort to master the “Chi” (pronounced chee) techniques.  The subtitle of his transformative book provides additional insight into what “ChiRunning” is all about: “A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running.”  Sounds good, right?  Over the course of my running life, I have thankfully remained virtually injury free.  Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced bouts of the usual suspects of runners’ injuries: IT irritation, a prickly piriformis, some isolated foot pain (that, unfortunately, progressed into some metatarsalgia that now has me seemingly forever stuck in custom orthotics), a tight shin/antirior tibialis or mild calf pain, but really, that is about all.  However, as I grow older and despite my best efforts at “spreading the stress” the idea of wholly “injury-free” running intrigued me.  Also, facing heavy run volume in anticipation of both the TransRockies Run and a late-season Ironman brought the idea of working a bit harder on the concepts Danny outlines in his book.  To that end, I did a quick Google search and learned  that a master instructor of the Chi program lived right here in Denver, Colorado (actually, Lakewood): Mary Lindahl.  More on that in a bit.

First, the book. Dreyer, in slightly more than 200 pages, identifies the likely causes of the pain that sidelines 65% of all runners each year (this is Dreyer’s number, citing that almost two thirds of all runners will have to stop running at least once during a calendar year due to injury), namely, “poor running form and poor biomechanics” coupled with an untenable allegiance to “power running.”  While I am not personally into any of the spiritual “zen” of Dreyer’s methodology, who can help but like one of the quotes he uses to introduce the “revolution” of ChiRunning: “A good runner leaves no footprints.”—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching  Essentially, Dreyer portrays power running (the type that most of us do) as a violent “might makes right” or “no pain, no gain” affair where a runner continually strives to develop more and more leg strength and leg speed to run both faster and farther.  In contrast, Chi technique harnesses the power of “relaxation and biomecahnically correct running form” to help a runner move more efficiently, while placing far less stress on the body; the result allows Dreyer the freedom to label Chi as “no pain, no pain”  running.

 From “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer

The five key principles of ChiRunning:

(I)     Cotton and Steel: Gather to Your Center

(II)   Gradual Progress: The Step-by-Step Approach

(III) The Pyramid: The Small is Supported by the Large

(IV) Balance in Motion: Equal Balance and Complementary

(V)   Nonidentification: Getting Yourself Out of the Way

The four Chi-skills:

  1. Focusing Your Mind
  2. Body Sensing: High-Speed Access
  3. Breathing: Tapping Into Your Chi
  4. Relaxation

If you can make sense of the five key “principles” and four “skills” without more, then you are far more sophisticated than I am.  No worries if you are with me, as Dreyer artfully explains the five principles and then provides instructive exercises that draw you into a basic understanding of the Chi skills.  Next, and also supported with helpful exercises, Dreyer dives into the “physical aspects” of ChiRunning.  Here is where the reader is treated to the actual Chi technique that rests on corrections in posture, adjustment of forward lean, position and movement of the legs and arms, and, finally, a guide to developing a Chi running program.  The remainder of the book features useful tips on everything from purchasing shoes, optimizing race nutrition, and even insights to diet, with Dreyer emphasizing the benefits of a “clean” (i.e. “high-quality foods) and predominately plant-based nutritional strategy.

The clinic:  As my wife, Hope, had also experimented with ChiRunning, she eagerly joined me for a clinic with Mary Lindahl, Master ChiRunning and ChiWalking Instructor (Mary routinely offers group clinics through the Denver area in addition to private training).  Mary has a tremendous running bio.  She has been running since 1976 and, at the time of our meeting, had completed 30 marathons—Mary is also a perennial Boston qualifier!

We arrived at Mary’s home in Lakewood shortly after 8 a.m. and were warmly greeted with a smile and the friendly company of Mary’s dog “Haley.”  We gathered around the kitchen table and talked a bit about our respective backgrounds (both running and non-running alike) before digging into the ChiRunning material.  Mary provided us each with a ChiRunning handout (primarily a concise handout of the Chi technique).  After some initial video analysis, we proceed to essentially work stepwise through the material that is presented in Dreyer’s book.  While Mary’s style is laid back and encouraging, she clearly demonstrates a mastery of Dreyer’s technique.  As we progressed through the material and exercise, as well as additional video and analysis, my wife and I gained more an more efficiency—we both began to “feel” the technique!  We worked consistently for more than 2 hours, progressing through each of the five ChiRunning principles and the four ChiRunning skills, concluding with some work in Jewell Park on ascending and descending steep terrain (i.e. hills). Outside of the principles and techniques, of particular note (and I will suggest of particular use) were the exercises used to transition both “in” and “out” of a run.  The “in” exercises included a series of pre-run “body looseners” that consisted of ankle rolls, knee circles, hip circles, pelvic circles, spine rolls, dynamic moves to work the shoulders and upper back, and “grounding stance”—each move is designed to setup the body to initiate the run in ChiRunning form.  Mary had set the stage for our running session by introducing us to these pre-run techniques.  On the other end, the “out” exercises included additional “body sensing” and static stretches designed to target the calfs and achilles, hip flexors, hamstrings, adductors (these are the muscles of the inner thigh), and quadriceps.

At the end of the day, we had collectively introduced, reviewed, and implemented each of the major principles (or “focuses” as they are known in the Chi) that “is” ChiRunning.  I felt as though I now had a sense of the techniques, whereas before I had been simply doing my best to translate the techniques from the text alone.  Mary served as a warm and talented guide to these techniques.  I knew going into the clinic that ChiRunning is a process and, as a result of Mary’s guidance, both my wife and I had moved further down the road to achieving the many benefits from working the ChiRunning techniques.

Mary Lindahl, Master ChiRunning and ChiWalking Instructor

Mary’s running bio: I can tell you exactly when I started running.  Frank Shorter had just won the silver medal for the marathon in the 1976 Olympics.  I learned that a marathon was 26 miles that day and I went out to see if I could run one mile.  I did and was hooked from that day on.  I ran 6 marathons during the next 2 years before I was sidelined by debilitating IT Band Syndrome.  I saw doctor after doctor and tried everything Western and Eastern medicine could offer to try and solve my knee pain.  Finally, in 2004, I found Chi Running and learned that the answer had been inside me the whole time.  I just needed to change my form!  Not only had I found the cure for my knee pain, but I’d found a new career as well.  I had recently retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a Finance Professor and decided I could combine my love of running with my love of teaching.  I also knew that the best way to learn something was to teach it – and I had a lot to learn.  I needed to change just about everything in my running stride; and I needed to learn how to relax and feel what was happening in my body.  My knee pain disappeared after the first few months, but I was just beginning to learn what ChiRunning could do for my health, my energy, and my enjoyment of other activities.  Applying the principles of ChiRunning has become a way of life for me rather than a goal to be obtained.  It has changed my view on aging and I now look at this as something I can improve on for the rest of my life.  I have assisted Danny at workshops all over the U.S., Costa Rica and Ireland and traveled with the Dreyers to the Tai Chi Camp in China that was organized by George Xu.  As a Master Instructor, I am teaching some of the upcoming Instructor Trainings for Chi Living, Inc.

I still love running marathons and finished my 31st one on May 1, 2011 at the Colorado Marathon in Ft. Collins—and even qualified for Boston again!  I especially love teaching Chi Running and turning other people on to the efficiencies of this form.  All of my workshops include both a before and after video gait analysis that we watch in slow motion.  It can be very revealing!  Please call or email if you have any questions about my upcoming workshops or if you would like to organize your own small group: (425) 457-6567 in Lakewood, CO or runninginbalance@gmail.com .

You can view my “before” video as I work through some of my “gears” (ChiRunning utilizes a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. “gear” progression for running speed) here.  As a shortcut, within the Chi system, a slower running speed utilizes less forward lean and a shorter stride length which equates to a lower gear.  Conversely, a higher running speed utilizes more forward lean and a longer stride length which equates to higher gear.  Regardless of the gear, the tempo or is maintained at a consistent 85-90 rpm.  At the end of the day, I had made significant improvements to my form and Chi technique.

 

Zero Calorie Run?: Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run – 25K

Paul Hardcastle, Michelle Grubb, Hope Beatte (my wife), and me pre-race in the parking lot at Cheyenne Mtn. State Park

Last Saturday I joined my wife, Hope, along with our friends Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb for the inaugural Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 25K.  Epic Endurance is the brainchild of our friend Andrea Watkins and her new boyfriend, “Steve 6.0” … those are her words NOT mine!  Let me say at the outset that Andrea and Steve picked an outstanding venue.  Cheyenne Mountain State Park (one of Colorado’s newest) is located just to the southwest of Colorado Springs, CO and offers nearly 1700 acres to explore with over 20 miles of trail access.  Cheyenne Mountain offers an elevation of 9565 ft.

The morning arrived cold along with a potential for precipitation of the blowing, frozen kind (i.e. snow).  Although the skies eventually cycled through overcast to bouts of blue with intermittent snow—really, it was an ideal day for a trail run.  The parking lot featured lots of energetic, albeit cold, racers and many familiar faces as volunteers, our friends Beth Tennant, Tyler Walton, Barry Cross, and Anthony Beeson were just a few of the friendly faces that had turned out to support Andrea and Steve’s first race.  And now, a note about my personal guilt: I felt really bad about racing and not volunteering; however, when I had asked Andrea about how I could help, she had encouraged me to race.  However, even before I set foot to the starting line, I felt uneasy about being a competitor and made a personal commitment to serve as a race volunteer in subsequent years.

A bit about the lead photo on this post, the one withe the smiley face made out of various high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate foods: Over the course of the last several weeks, I have been experimenting with elements of a “slow-carb” nutritional strategy, purposely training and racing on lower quantities of low glycemic index (GI), complex carbohydrates and higher quantities of “healthy” fats.  This nutritional plan also features scheduled “high carb” days to replenish my body’s energy stores, every 7-10 days.  The net effect or this type of nutritional strategy, when combined with metabolically specialized training, is an increase in the body’s ability to spare carbohydrates while relying on large percentages of fat as an energy substrate.  Note: To see one of the most dramatic slow-carb protocols, see pages 70-99 of “The 4-Hour Body” authored by the ever-controversial, but highly motivated and energetic Tim Ferriss.

The actual ingredients of my breakfast included 3 hard boiled eggs, 11 grams of Brazil nuts, 11 grams of organic whole almonds, 2 T (32 grams) of almond butter, providing approximately 652 calories and an approximate macronutrient breakdown of 14 grams of carbohydrates, 54 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.

There were two primary ideas behind this fueling strategy: 1) I wanted to provide a mental challenge to run 25K (15.5 miles) without an appreciable carbohydrate load, and 2) I wanted to test my own endurance while using a virtually no-carb pre-race meal and without the addition of on-course fuel (thereby testing the limits of my personal glycogen stores).

A brief biochemistry lesson: Glycogen is a “secondary” fuel source that is primarily stored in the muscle and liver (compared to glucose which is the “primary” fuel source that is made available to the body via the blood) and the average individual stores approximately 1500 calories of glycogen—this is highly variable and is determined by both genetic and lifestyle factors (think training and diet); but sufficient fuel to provide a couple of hours of sustained, moderately high intensity workout.  Note that only the glycogen stored in the liver can be made available to other organs.  The body has three principle energy systems: the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative (each is always “on” but the amount of energy supplied by each is dependent on both the intensity and duration of the activity  the body is engaged in, e.g., complete rest versus heavy resistance training or sprinting versus running a marathon).  The energy systems fall along a continuum that places the phosphagen system on side, fully engage during high intensity but short duration exercise, and the oxidative system on the other, providing the predominant proportion of fuel during low intensity but long duration exercise.  The glycolytic system fall in the middle, being further divided between slow- and fast-glycolysis.  Each of the systems are “on” all the time, but each contributes to the body’s energy needs at different levels based on the demands being placed on the body at any given time.  Glycogen, or lack there of, is principally involved when an athlete hits the proverbial “wall” or “bonks.”  In this situation, energy expenditure outpaces energy (caloric) consumption and the athlete’s stored glycogen levels.  Not only does this have dramatic implications for the athlete during a training or race event, but it makes proper recovery nutrition paramount.

Running strong without any nutrition!

So as the mass of runners crossed the starting line, I set out on my personal quest to see when I would hit my wall.  The run from the parking lot along the park’s access road provided immediate elevation gain—it went UP—before quickly yielding to near perfect single track.  Once we made the single file line, the elevation continued to come.  I ran with Hope for a while as Paul and Michelle jockeyed for positions in front or behind us—I really had no idea where they were (only later did I learn that Michelle had bowed out early on due to some intestinal issues—I am sure that she will return next year to give it another go)!?  I was running free without pace of mileage data, only heart rate and felt strong.  Hope was now behind me and I started to really enjoy the trail experience, dodging roots and rocks, quickly changing direction, and following the trail as it coursed up and down.  Relatively early into the course I managed to hook up with a group of runners who was pushing the “perfect” pace (i.e., a bit faster than my comfort level) and provided an opportunity to draft … not that you can really draft in a running race, but I find there is a certain mental benefit and ease that comes by running on the end of a faster pack of runners.  This is especially true for me when running trails, as if I see that the runner (or runners as it may be) that I am following is making efficient foot placements, I can kind of put myself on autopilot.  Note: I still stay focused on where my feet are landing, but my mind seems to get a mental cue from observing a good foot placement in advance.  Has anyone else had this experience or is it unique to me?  Our group began to separate from the other runners (mind you, the runners ahead of me were three women … and all very experienced runners) and the pace continued to increase.   We were all running with iPods, but brief conversation was still manageable.  “You all are great trail runners,” I shared and then added, “thanks for the pull.”  To which I received a “glad to have you along and we will look forward to you leading us along in a bit.”  I promised to head out front and, at about mile 8, I did.  I worked out ahead and eventually pulled away from my little pack, only to assure them before I left that they would see me again as I was conducting a little experiment.  I passed all the nutritional goodies at the aid stations and only took water but continued to feel strong until about mile 13.  My wall appeared and I, as I had predicted, the other runners that initially followed, then paced, and eventually moved away from started to catch up and then overtake me.  I crossed the finish at 2 hrs. 47 minutes and 27 seconds after I started (12th in my division and 45th overall).  Paul finished at 2:53:04 and Hope followed at 3:24:39 with Michelle getting the DNF (really, it was DNS, “Did Not Start” as the nausea, etc. had plagued her almost from the start).

A word from the race director:

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race was my first attempt to organize a true race experience.  After spending years organizing teams of athletes to train, travel, and compete nationally and internationally event directing seemed the next logical step in my career.  My mission for Epic Endurance Events is to create an environment where competition is fierce but the race is also accessible and supportive to runners of all abilities.  For me this means support is available for every person on the course, whether you are in first place, in the middle of the pack, or the last finisher across the line.  The course will be challenging and well-marked.  Food and water will be available to you (even if you choose to pass it up!) at aid stations, volunteers will be on the course, and GOOD post race food and drink will be there for you when you cross the finish line.  Placing you in the race to hear your experience on the course was critical to building the race and achieving my goals.  I would have been crazy not to take advantage of your experience and knowledge as an endurance athlete.

This year [2012] I am looking forward to having you out there as a volunteer supporting our runners.  Your support means a lot to me, but more important, your support means a lot to all of the folks who made the decision to come run with us.  I wish you the best in your endeavors with your new blog.  I have no doubt you will inspire, encourage, educate, and support people in their endeavors to be fit and healthy.

See you at the races!

-Andrea

Owner | Race Director

Epic Endurance Events

www.epicenduranceevents.com

The Takeaway:

My experiment was just that, a bit of experiment and a change from my usual routine.  Several weeks of lower- and slower-carb  (complex, low-GI carbohydrates) nutrition combined with an ultra low-carb race day breakfast had shown me that I had a “range” of nearly 3 hrs. of moderately high intensity exercise.  My experiment also solidified the importance of “good” carbohydrates on the athlete’s table as part of an ongoing training, recovery (they really can’t be separated), and race day nutritional strategy.

I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the organization, the venue, and the execution of this inaugural event … congratulations Andrea and Steve 6.0—I will tell as many people as I can about this great new event and will look forward to seeing you next year, as a race volunteer, that is!!!

First “Ultra”: Run Rabbit Run 50

Over the weekend I travelled to Steamboat Springs, CO to participate in the Run Rabbit Run 50 Ultra Marathon (RRR is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup).  After a winter devoted to Ironman training (St. George, May 1), I transitioned into my ultra training program and spent the spring and summer preparing for this event.  I followed a modified Hal Higdon 24-week Ultra Training Program (supplemented with healthy doses of functional strength training, cycling, and swimming).  Inspired by Sonja Wieck’s race report last year, the Run Rabbit Run seemed like the perfect event for me to “test the water” of the ultra pool.  The result … great fun and a great race.  As I shared with my wife when she inquired about moving on to a 100-mile event, the world of ultras comes down to a simple question: “How much punishment do you want?”  Now that the RRR is behind me and I am no worse for wear (albeit except for the banged up big toe on my right foot … not from the running, but from kicking solid rocks too many times along the route).

Looking back, the training was manageable (even with a newborn and one-year-old) … thanks again to my supportive wife.  Most mornings I slipped out very early so as to get the majority of my miles in before the house came alive.  I focused on building consistent mileage and managed my diet meticulously so as to come into the RRR very lean—I toed the line at svelte 158 lbs.  I endured the training well and minor issues were consistently handled by regular massages and my chiropractor, Dr. John Jungers (also the team chiropractor for the Denver Broncos)—I simply can’t say enough good things about Dr. Jungers and his approach to working with athletes!

As for the actual race report, it was a LONG day … I spent nearly 14 hours on the course (13:43:56 to be precise).  After my standard oatmeal breakfast, I headed to the base of the ski area.  After a couple of announcements in the Bear River Bar & Grill, and a little fanfare (emphasis on little), myself, my friend Paul, and some nearly 200 other runners set out to ascend Mt. Werner, cross the Continental Divide, and ascend Rabbit Ears Mountain—only to turn around and do it all again!  (See a complete course description here.)  The race started before the sun came up and the challenge quickly came to me … the first 6.4 miles gained approximately 3,450 feet of elevation.  I paced myself, let Paul go on and fell nearly to the back of the pack.  No matter … I had a plan.  After the majority of the elevation gain was behind me, I started to renew my “race pace” and started making tracks.  I had the pleasure of meeting up with a veteran ultra runner named Oakley … Oakley informed me that the Run Rabbit Run was her 5th ultra of the 2010 race year … wow!  She also turned me on to another ultra that will sure to make it onto one of my upcoming race calendars: Nueces Endurance Trail Run.  Oakley and covered countless miles together and, although I usually prefer to run solo, I really enjoyed the company (I also had elected to abandoned my iPod for the “out” portion and save a glorious techno mix for the “back” portion).  Although the aid stations were copiously stocked with all kinds of goodies, I was completely self-supported (my backpack weighed nearly 10 lbs. with a 3L bladder—in hindsight, I carried WAY too much stuff).  I passed on most of the goodies and only stopped for H2O.  Instead, I fueled on my brown rice tortillas supplemented with soy protein, almond butter, and honey.  I kept my heart rate low and was able to maintain a steady supply of solid food until deep in the course.  A couple of miles prior to the halfway point (and the ascent of Rabbit Ears Mountain) I caught up with Paul.  Paul, well, he was not doing so well—as I found out much later, despite my encouragement, Paul posted a DNF (he still regrets it and, so do I).  After a couple of photos at the top of Rabbit Ears I plugged my iPod in and headed for home.

Banged up toes after a 50-miler

A word about my toes.  I relied on tried and tested Mizzuno Wave Ascent 7 trail shoes for this race, no blisters, but I managed to really bang my toes up!  I do not blame this on my shoes, rather, on the fatigue and gait changes that take place when running such long distances.  At one point, after banging my toe particularly hard on a root or rock—I don’t recall which—I remember yelling “if I do that one more time I am going to cut my foot off and put on a wheel” … I wish I had a video of that … I was just kidding of course.  It seemed that the more I concentrated on NOT banging my toes, the more frequently I did!

The time and miles on the way back passed quickly.  I managed to run with Oakley again for a bit before she disappeared up the trail (she went on to finish nearly an hour ahead of me, congrats Oakley).  After about ten hours I abandoned solid food and instead relied on Hammer gels and an occasional Béquet™ Gourmet Caramel (the Celtic Sea Salt is my favorite variety).  These specialty caramels are readily available at Whole Foods—give them a try as they provide a great balance of sweet and salty, change of taste, and a boost to the spirit.  Once I reached the top of Mt. Werner I was looking forward to the type of speedy descent that Sonja had enjoyed in last year’s race; however, disappointment set in as I took my first few steps “down.”  My quadriceps were shot … I made slow work of the descent and watched as countless competitors that I had put behind me out on the course left me behind: lesson learned!  By the time I reached the base of the mountain darkness had set in.  I finished with my headlight ablaze and was greeted to an enormous crowd of spectators—just kidding!  Instead I was greeted by a race volunteer with a clipboard, an official “race hugger,” and most importantly my wife, our daughter and our good friend Paul and Terra (yes, Paul … wait a second, he hadn’t passed me … that’s when I learned of his unfortunate DNF).

“Running” Fourteeners

Me and Paul Hardcastle at the start of our Pikes Peak ascent

Pikes Peak

Over the past few weeks I have managed to squeeze in a couple of long runs on two beautiful mountains: first, Pikes Peak (elevation 14,115 ft.) and, second, Mt. Evans (elevation 14,260 ft.).  Pikes Peak yielded a marathon distance run and Mt. Evans provided the challenge of a marathon “plus 4” (a 30-mile day).  I had been saving Pikes Peak for this season, having run the Barr Trail to Barr Camp on several occasions in years past (along with the great running traverse Elk Park Trail).  I managed to rope my friend, Paul Hardcastle, into running with me.  We left early from Denver and, after the obligatory stop at Starbucks where Paul collected a coffee and his “breakfast” (some type of processed bagel with fruit bits in a plastic tub), we reached the Barr Trail parking area—immediately adjacent to the cog railroad.  We elected to leave the run out of Monitou Springs to the racers who compete in the annual Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon and instead headed immediately up the mountain.  We pushed fairly hard and reached Barr Camp in a timely manner (elevation 10,200 ft.).  While waiting for Paul I shared a “Hello” and an affirmative answer to the “Are you going up?” offered by the camp’s caretaker Neal (Neal and Teresa Taylor have made this camp their home since 2005).  After the charge to Barr Camp, our pace slowed.  The incline and the altitude managed to work against me and both Paul and I shifted into a run/hike mode.  Once past the A-frame storm shelter, Paul’s mountaineering abilities kicked in and he headed off to the summit, disappearing nearly out of sight over the course of the next hour.  I pushed on, moving efficiently across the remaining snow that occasionally covered the route and, at long last, up the legendary “16 Golden Stairs” to the summit.  There I reconnected with Paul and we worked our way across from the cog railroad station and tourist facility to the “true” summit: a collection of boulders seemingly scattered about the middle of a loop drive and parking lot.  We enjoyed the summit views and used the facilities (specifically to answer the call of nature, refill our hydration bags, and to clean the debris out of our socks and shoes).  Before the day began, I had no idea what was going on up at the summit, but they even have “fresh” chocolate covered doughnuts up there (not that I am into that kind of thing)!

Chocolate doughnuts

Atop Pikes Peak (+/- 14,115 ft.)

The hard part of the day, at least for me, came next—the descent.  Paul excels at running downhill … I am a bit more deliberate and cautious.  Paul disappeared and consequently it would be his turn to wait at Barr Camp (and his wait would be significant)!  I hardly stopped there, knowing that I had to keep moving if I didn’t want to keep Paul waiting for an hour at the bottom.  Again, Paul passed me and I started my “controlled descent” to the base.  Approximately 7 hrs. of “running” and Paul and I had accomplished what we set out to do.  Note: The average marathon time reported by Matt Carpenter on www.skyrunner.com is around 7:05 for men, and 7:40 for women.  Later, after a bit of recovery food (I had packed a small container of food that included a half cup of brown rice, a half of a baked sweet potato, and a quarter of an avocado with some sunflower seeds placed on top in the cooler in the my truck), I shared with Paul how my wife and I had literally flown down the trail from Barr Camp to the base—the added 4,000 ft. both up and down had dampened the once speedy route.

Mt. Evans

Start of Mt. Evans run (at the base of Hwy. 5)

I undertook the Mt. Evans run solo.  I left my home and headed for the base of the mountain at 5:00 a.m. with a plan to be running by 6:30.  The sun highlighted Mt. Evans as I passed Echo Lake along Clear Creek County Hwy. 105.  The day’s run would have me running up Hwy. 5 “the highest road in North America.”  The weather was gorgeous … I quickly pulled my pack together and I headed up, passing the park entrance and foregoing the $3 fee (I carried my Federal Parks Pass that covered my entry).  Hwy. 5 has mile markers that begin at 1 and continue in succession to 14, by mile marker 3 the altitude had started to hit me.  Knowing this course from the bike helped encourage me … there would really be no surprises, as I knew exactly what I was in for.  Mile markers 4, 5, and 6 passed uneventfully and then the climb began to get more severe. I gradually adjusted my layers, adding the sum of the gear that I intended to use by the time I reached Summit Lake (just before mile marker 11).   Mile markers 11, 12, and 13 passed by and I used my own personal “carrot” to move my feet onward and upward—I would be treated to the actual summit today (not limited to the Crest House/aka Summit House area by the fact that cycling shoes don’t do very well on any other surface than pedals)—today I would go to the very top.  Accompanied only by marmots and the occasional mountain goat, I rounded the final switchback and met the many motorists, as well as a few cyclists that had managed to get an early start on the climb, at the summit parking lot.  I proceeded up the trail leading to the true summit, passing the USGS marker that shows 14,285 ft.  I lingered at the top and enjoyed the view, clicked a couple of photographs, and eventually turned to head down.  I planned to make quick work of the descent and the miles passed quickly.  After a brief stop at Summit Lake to borrow some much-needed sunscreen from some friendly and fully prepared hikers (my mistake, having almost all, but NOT ALL of the “10 Essentials” i.e., (1) navigation, (2) sunscreen, (3) insulation, (4) illumination, (5) first-aid supplies, (6) fire, (7) repair kit/tools, (8) nutrition, (9) hydration, and (10) emergency shelter), I continued on.  The fatigue from my training day did not set in until I dropped below the Mount Goliath Natural Area.  From there I shifted into run/walk mode and used mental “tricks” to pace the remainder of the descent: e.g., run until all of the cars in view pass, walk until the next motorcycle comes along, etc.  By the time that I made it completely “down” I had returned to a simple outfit of shorts and a jersey.  My Polar telemetry showed 30.45 miles, with just over 7 hours of running with an average heart rate of 109 (serious LSD training, Long Slow Distance), and a caloric expenditure of 4682 kcal.  Another great training day and another 14er.

Geared up and ready for the final push for the top

View from the summit of Mt. Evans (+/- 14,260 ft.)