Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Monday, 08/31/2015 Isolation and Mahana Peaks

Isolation Peak, 13,118/Mahana Peak, 12,632
16.77 miles
5,144 vert.
5 hours 29 minutes (Start 6:41am, Finish 12:10pm)
Garmin Data 

I had some use it or lose it PTO to take before the end of August, so I wanted to use this day for some time in the mountains before the end of summer.  I had originally considered running the Aspen 4 Pass loop (have hiked it before, but never have run it), but could not justify the time in the car.  I kicked around a few other ideas such as the Pawnee/Buchanan Loop, Longs/Meeker, but I ultimately decided it would be fun to get in a few new summits, staying close to home and relatively short so that I could spend the second half of the day with the family.

A few days prior, I sent out a few invites to friends with Mondays off or had flexible schedules and David Ponak immediately signed on.  A check of the weather the night before had me quite discouraged, calling for snow and rain in the morning, changing over to all rain and lightning by noon.  With kids and a busy schedule, I have very little flexibility and so few days in the mountains for such adventures (I planned  this day off  6 weeks in advance), I was a bit peeved that this one day I had off was looking to be a wash, sandwiched by seemingly sunny nice days.

Oh well, having faced this scenario many times before, I hoped for the best, yet prepared for the worst and met David in N. Boulder at 5:30am.  It was too dark to really get a feel for the weather, but it was in the mid 70's when I left home at 5am and obvious that it was cloudy.  A few miles from Allenspark, it began to rain, somewhat hard for a bit and I was regretting my decision, but David helped me keep optimistic.

Fortunately, the rain stopped by the time we arrived at the trailhead and surprisingly, it was completely dry (though still overcast and somewhat threatening).  It took me a while to decide what to wear/pack, not being sure which way the weather was going to go, so to be on the safe side, I added a hooded running shirt and my bomber (but heavy) waterproof shell to my pack for good measure.  The temperature was actually quite reasonable and perfect for running and we were on the trail at 6:41am.    

We were moving along at a moderate conversational running pace, which made the initial miles pass quickly.  The trail is really buffed out and well maintained, with the only very minor glitch being the new under construction bridge at Ouzel Falls.  Though closed, it was early enough in the morning and the bridge was completed enough to cross with no issues (though on the return, they were working on the bridge for the anticipated mid-Sept. completion date, so we had to bypass on some logs and rocks just upstream, but not an issue since the creek is quite low).

I was surprised to see some aspen trees already fully changed to yellow, not too many, but still a bit early and a reminder that Autumn is quickly arriving in the high country.

As we neared Bluebird Lake, the wind began to pick up and with the cloudy skies, was getting a bit cold, so we made a short stop to add a layer.  We arrived at Bluebird Lake shortly after this stop after 1:27 of running.  

At Bluebird Lake.  All photos by David Ponak.

From here, we transitioned into casual hiking mode, negotiating a miniature, but somewhat steep rocky box canyon to cross to the other side of Ouzel Creek, which was a hidden surprise (but not difficult).  

There were some cairns to follow above and on the North side of Bluebird Lake, but soon dead ended us into deep willows and massive boulders.  We slowly and carefully wormed our way through the maze, but if I had to do it over again, would have stuck closer to the lake shore as it would have been much easier walking.
Next was a series of benches, lakes and terraces, each of which held scenic surprises.  The walking here was easy and generally wide open, any willows and marshes were easy enough to bypass or negotiate.  On the steeper slopes up to Isolation Lake, we were quite surprised to see a party of 3 paralleling us to the right and we waved to one another.

Isolation Lake

From Isolation Lake, we caught brief glimpses through the clouds of what we assumed to be the reclusive summit of our first objective, Isolation Peak, which seemed a bit discouragingly high and far away.  The gradient from here was steep, unrelenting and somewhat loose at times, but we were able to piece together enough grass and solid rock that it went easier than expected and we were on the summit about a half hour later (2:48 elapsed).  The summit is small and the ridge leading to it, though easy with solid rock, has some dramatic exposure to the N/NW, which was enhanced by the swirling clouds.


We backtracked our ascent route and though somewhat loose in spots, the upper section of the slopes we had to descend to the Mahana/Isolation saddle were no problem, though we went extra slow and cautious, since the party of hikers we saw earlier were now ascending directly below us, yet out of sight.  Once beyond, it was fun, solid boulder hopping to the saddle, then an easy and short jaunt to the summit of Mahana.

The tundra is changing.

After a longer break on top, we debated backtracking to Isolation Lake, or exploring the long, but wide, grassy mellow East Ridge of Mahana, deciding on the latter.  The upper 2/3 of the descent allowed for intermittent easy jogging, but as we neared treeline, it was evident returning to the trail would not be a slam dunk, as there was a ridiculous amount of deadfall from the Ouzel fire that ravaged the area in 1978.  In retrospect, we should have continued along the ridge further, but with all the rotten fallen trees to negotiate, we were anxious to get on the trail, so made a beeline for it just above Ouzel Lake.  Though it looked close, the slope was longer, steeper and looser than it first appeared and negotiating the fallen trees on a loose ~25 degree slope was a bit more difficult than it appeared from above.  This section was really slow and somewhat tedious.  

After what seemed like forever, we were back on the trail and though it was still another ~5 miles back to the car, I felt really fresh and relieved to be back on cruiser terrain.  It was a quick and easy run out, finishing at 12:10pm, with the sun actually making an appearance toward the end. 

Though the weather was overcast, it was never really threatening and it turned out to be a great day in the mountains.  It helped that it was a Monday with a poor forecast, but we only saw 3 people on the mountain and then some smaller groups on the way out within a few miles of the trailhead.  It had been 7 years since I had last visited the Wild Basin section of the park, but a reminder that I need to go back again soon.  It is an amazing area with seemingly endless possibilities.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sunday, 08/16/2015 Pikes Peak Marathon

I wanted to get a race report up soon(er) after the race, but have been crazy busy with other things, so this will have to be short and sweet.

2015 Pikes Peak Marathon
26.2 miles/7,815 vertical
24th/768 overall
3rd master (over 40)

Preparation this year has been generally mediocre, averaging 15-25 miles over 4 days per week, usually Green Mountain after work in the heat, or very early in the morning (forced efforts at 5am and very slow).  I had only been to altitude a few times, Bierstadt on 2 consecutive days in June, a few 13ers (Squaretop, S. Arapahoe) and a handful of runs to 11-12k, with the maximum distance being just under 16 miles, followed by the 12.6 mile Barr Trail Mountain Race in July (where I was able to PR).

On some of my runs, I felt as fast as I have ever been and my times have confirmed that, but on other days (the latter more frequent than the former), I wondered if I would even be able to finish the Pikes Peak Marathon and if I am just simply getting too old for this $hit anymore.

As race day approached, I was really thankful to have my in laws volunteer at the last minute to come watch the girls, so I could leave the house on Saturday at 3pm instead of 8:15pm, as has been the case for the last 2 Barr Trail Mountain Races and the 2014 Pikes Peak Marathon, which enabled me to get my race bib, eat at the spaghetti dinner and then catch up with the Kunkles who live very near to Manitou and were putting me up for the night.

Was in bed at a decent hour (before 10) and slept quite well, waking 10 minutes before my 5am alarm.  Drove into Manitou and parked in my usual spot very close to the start and ate a slice of toast, some cereal and had a little espresso to rev me up.  As always, the final 90 minute countdown goes quite quick and what would normally take 20 minutes before a training run, preparation seems to take up a surprising amount of that time.  I warmed up a little, which in reality is just an obsessive/compulsive routine of finding a place to go to the bathroom one last time over and over again.

Chatted with a few friends and acquaintances before the race, Brandon, JT, Wyatt, Rickey and a few others, then eased into a spot on the front line.  Once the cannon went off, the ascent was essentially textbook and I was careful to maintain a decent position/pace, yet not cook myself too early.  A bit of jockeying for position on Ruxton and the first few minutes in the W’s, then position was mostly established aside from getting passed 2 or 3 times and passing a few myself.  I hear stories of crowding further behind, but the experience for me is quite different, being a very peaceful, if not lonely at times run up the hill.

My ascent was somewhat lackluster, I never felt bad, I actually felt decent, but my splits along the way were not reflecting that in the least.  Topped out in 3:06 and sat for a moment to drink a few cups of water and gatorade and eat an orange, then started my way down in not too much of a hurry.

Since last December, I have had a bit of a twingy knee, a minor bout of patellar bursitis, nothing too serious, but annoying at times for sure.  Ironically, it was not even a running related injury, it began after kneeling for about two hours working on a project.

All summer it was hardly an issue no matter how hard I pushed, uphill or down and I had for the most part forgotten about it, but on the Thursday before the race while hiking easy, I found it to be a bit painful and even had me limping.  

I could tell on the ascent that the descent would be difficlt based on how I felt on the short rollers before Barr Camp.  Once I was heading down, as expected, I was feeling it and though painful, unstable and throwing off my stride, I just plugged away.  I knew, based on the nature of the issue that I would not cause any damage, so I just had to suck up and grit it out.  Even so, I could only do so much, which was a little disappointing, because I otherwise felt great and wanted to push much harder than the pace I was realistically able to maintain.  I figured I would lose many positions on the down, but I lucked out and was able to hold my position better than I thought I would, only getting passed by 3 guys in their 20's, but passing 2 or 3 others along the way.

I knew I would not be anywhere near PR and before long, I knew sub 5 was likely out of the question as well, so I was in the mode of just cruising it in, trying to keep the knee pain to a minimum and soon my primary focus was maintaining a top 5 masters position.  I was not entirely sure where I stood, but figured on the descent that I was in 4th or 5th.  

As always, the trail below No Name and especially the Ws onto Ruxton felt interminably long.  Each turn through the Ws was like running into a brick oven, each turn getting a bit hotter.  The forecasted high was 83, but it seemed a good bit warmer on those open slopes.

The finish could not come soon enough and I was quite glad to be done.  As usual, I swore it would be my last marathon and that next year I would for sure run the ascent.  I felt reasonably well after sitting down in the tent for a few moments, much better than in years past, likely because of the somewhat easy descent.  Headed over to the results listings and was surprised and quite pleased to see that I had placed 3rd master.  I ran 4 minutes faster last year and barely squeaked into an age group award, so I lucked out that some of the faster guys did not show up.

Phew, I am never doing this again ;)

As 3rd place master, I got an awesome trophy and a free entry to either race next year (now worth more than $150), so I could not have been happier with that outcome.  I wanted (expected) to run faster than I did, but a top 5 master placing was truly my number one objective and I accomplished that.  Given the knee issue, I could have been a lot worse.

JT and I

Beyond the trophies and awards I have won at Pikes, there is something about the race that keeps me coming back and hopeful.  Every year I set somewhat (maybe unrealistically?) high time goals for myself and each year I fall short of them, much to the confusion and chagrin of myself and few running friends.  Even so, I keep trying to fool myself into thinking that one year, I might just have that amazing day I dream of, or breakout run, but it never seems to happen.  That possibility is slimming with each year that passes, partially because of the aging process, but also in part due to my waning (waning from already low levels of commitment to eking out all that I can from myself athletically).

 Since GZ was absent, I actually got to stand on the wooden box

Some days I promise myself I will ramp up my level of dedication, more training, more specific training, better diet, better sleep, smarter training, but I increasingly find myself pulled in various directions.  It is not always straightforward how to find that balance between personal goals and family, work, maintaining a house and other interests.

My A goal was to get any one of the 5 of these being awarded

Either way, it is all just folly and just for fun and I enjoy the journey to Pikes as much, if not more, no, certainly more than the race itself, along with the camaraderie and friendships I have built around Pikes and running mountains.  I'll be back for the round trip next year for sure.

A very nice finisher's shirt/jacket and medal this year

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 Bierstadt, Bierstadt, Squaretop, updates and ramblings.

Last week, we had a (very rare) few days without the kids and were able to get to the mountains for the first time this summer.

On Wednesday, Allison, Sierra and I headed up to hike Mt. Bierstadt, not too creative, but fit the bill perfectly, as we wanted something not too far away, nothing too long and something high.  It has been a few years since Sierra had climbed a 14er, partly because she is getting old (12), but mainly because we don't really hike 14ers all that much anymore.  It is very rare we all get a day together and when I go on my own, I am always running because I am taking advantage of very limited time to train at altitude (and just love to run in the mountains), have to hurry to get home on time and so basically just don't have time for hiking at what would be Sierra's pace.

Sierra did surprisingly well though on Bierstadt and kept up easily at Allison's hiking pace on both the up and down.  There was plenty of water for her to drink because of snowmelt and she was able to frolic and roll in the remaining snowfields.  It was great to spend time up there with her after so long, as I was not sure I would ever share a 14er summit with her again.  It ended up taking us around 3.5 hours for the round trip (with a lengthy summit stay), then we lounged by the creek for quite some time cooling off, as it was quite warm and sunny still at 1pm.  Though I enjoyed the day very much, part of me was itching to run, which leads to the following day.

I got a free pass for the morning, as the girls were still at the grandparents and Allison was content doing other things.  Being my 44th birthday, I was eager to go push myself a bit to celebrate.  Having enjoyed Bierstadt so much the previous day, I headed back up to run it hard.

I put in a pretty solid effort, looking to see how close I could come to my July, 2006 PR of 55:49.  I made good time across the willows, making it to the creek in 5 minutes and change, but the water was flowing good and it was not the usual skip across, so I took my time to pick my way across the slippery and unstable logs and rocks.  Easily lost about 30 seconds here, but was soon moving well again.  Was able to run all but a few steps to the spot where the trail steepens on the way up to the ridge.  I looked at my watch and was a bit discouraged, thinking there was no way I would be close to PR, so I backed off the intensity a bit as I began powerhiking.  Before I knew it though, I was on the ridge and the numbers looked in my favor again, so I got back on the effort and hit the summit in 56:28.  I did not stop for the views, as I thoroughly enjoyed them the day before, so did an immediate u-turn and was skipping fast across the talus.  My feet were super accurate, my brain was focused and my North Face Ultra MT running shoes were hooking up perfect on everything I stepped on, wet rock, dry rock, steep snow, ice, slush, mud.  Everything was in perfect sync and felt like I was flying down the trail.

Many who I had passed on the way up and were now only slightly further up the trail, while I was now on my way down, which inspired many comments and cheers of encouragement as I zipped past.  I'll admit that this egged me on a bit to crank it just a little harder.

As I got down to the willows, I found myself lollygagging a bit for no apparent reason and kept having to remind myself to keep the effort up.  The creek crossing was a little easier in the opposite direction, much having to do with not caring about getting wet now.  I pushed hard on the last bit of uphill back to the parking lot, knowing that my goal of sub 1:30 car to car was a no go, but still wanted to keep it as close as I could.  Ended up at 1:32:58 for the 7.3 miles and 2,513 vertical.  Nothing spectacular, but I was really happy to be only 39 seconds off my 2006 ascent time (which I admit is soft, given I have never really worked on this route and it was POURING rain that day), especially since I am now 44 vs. 35, the creek crossing cost me a bit and I had not been above treeline since last August (where in 2006, I was above treeline weekly at least or multiple times weekly most of the year).  Not sure what my round trip PR was (something I never really recorded or paid attention to), but I know this was a RT PR by a handful or more minutes.  What does this all mean?  Absolutely nothing, I just had a really good day and was happy that at age 44, I could match my younger self.  I don't have these days nearly as often, but it keeps me hopeful that I can still push myself and compete with a younger me.  I know these days are fleeting and numbered, so they mean all the more.

Once the adrenaline wore off, I felt like I should call it a day, but it was only 10:30am, the sky was clear and I had a few more precious hours, so I changed shoes and hat, packed a vest with gels and water and headed up Squaretop.  I knew within the first few steps it would be a slog, but I was really enjoying being out and just went with it.  The first two miles gained very little altitude, leaving about 2,000 feet of gain over the final mile.  Normally my favorite, but I was bogging a bit due to the earlier effort and just resigned to taking it easy.  2:18 for the round trip.

I am looking forward to the Barr Trail Mountain Race on July 19th and the Pikes Peak Marathon on August 16th (and they are approaching now at a startling rate).  "Training" (if you could even call it that) is going reasonably well, but I find summer to be the most difficult time of year to maintain or increase my fitness.  I can either get out really early in the morning (like at or before sunrise), but find myself stumbling in a tired daze at that hour and question if I am doing myself more harm than good.  Or, I get out after work and it is crazy hot and I am slogging in the heat.  Then there are all the factors related to the kids being out of school, unforeseen issues that come up at home, someone getting sick, etc...  I am lucky to get out 4 days per week and even that is somewhat of a forced miracle at times (though I do get out on the bike from time to time).  I guess I could get out more if I ran from home or work, but I just can't get into that sort of running, to me it is almost like a completely different sport and takes an unbelievable amount of mental energy to will myself along flat paths.  I guess I am just stubborn and addicted to the hills, Green Mountain or bust!

It's all good though, I am just happy that I am ABLE to run mountains when I can, even if not always on my own terms, I just have to be creative, flexible and constantly be adapting.

We'll be spending a few days in Keystone soon, so I hope to get in a few good runs there and take down a few Strava CRs (Jeff Kunkle!).  I am also really hoping to get up to Aspen for a 4 Pass loop in late July, as this has been on my list for quite some time and I have some vacation time to burn.  I have hiked it before in a very easy 10 hours with the wife, dog and friends, but would like to see how fast I can go on my own.  This is right up there with RRR (and much closer to home).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Saturday, 04/25/15 Green Mountain

My time for blogging has been increasingly minimal, as has my enthusiasm for it, not sure which precipitated the other, but I do still plan to post something every now and then, whenever the mood strikes once every month or three.

We spent last week vacationing along the coast of Southern California, so upon returning, I was itching for a Green Mountain fix, but being on daddy duty impacts that a bit.  Last year we had done some partial hikes on Green, often just taking one at a time, but today we were going all in.

To make the hike reasonable, we drove to the top of SuperFlag and started on the West Ridge Trail, which for most fit hikers or trail runners is a lark, but for these 4.5 year olds, it was a perfect challenge with a great summit reward.


Isabelle making her very own animal tracks in the snow

We had to make a lot of stops to check out pasque flowers and any other flowers that are slowly emerging.  We make lots of stops to learn about the environment around them, flowers, trees, animal tracks/sounds/sightings, geography and peak names, geology, flood damage (none on this hike, but they were talking about it often).  It takes a lot of time, but they LOVE absorbing the world around them and are like little sponges.  I love teaching them.

Isabelle taking a snack break

I thought the final steep and technical section would be the crux, but they had the most fun here and powered up it with no problem, matching the pace of some adults on the trail.

Heading to the summit video: 

Amelie was really cranking ahead and later confessed that she was really motivated by the thought of eating gummy bears on the summit: 

The reward, summit views and gummy bears.

I am a proud dad.

They climbed the summit boulder on their own with a little spotting.

On the way back, they wanted to do some trail running on the smoother sections.

This hike (with some running at times) took a few hours with all the stops for snacking, learning and views, but they did remarkably well, getting a little tired toward the end, but otherwise were no worse for the wear aside from some sore leg muscles the next day and a ravenous appetite afterwards.  We'll certainly be making this a weekly outing over the remainder of Spring and into Summer, with the goal of starting lower and lower down the mountain and getting to higher elevations as the snow melts.

Showing their trail running skills:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 Year In Review

I debated posting a 2014 year in review, partly because I am always pressed for time, partly because it is cheesy and partly because I initially thought there was not much to post about.  However, upon further reflection and digging through my photos to jog my (short) memory, I realized it was quite a busy year, filled with many quality adventures.

This was a transitional year, as my now 4 year old daughters are increasingly able and incredibly enthusiastic about getting out for hikes in the mountains and foothills.  It is a constant evolution as they get bigger, trying to balance my desire to introduce them to new places and push their limits a bit to make them stronger, yet not push them over the edge to where they dislike what they are doing (I think this approach has been successful thus far). The majority of our hikes have been shorter (not more than 4 miles) and well within their abilities.  We make it a point to keep it interesting for them along the way, which is not too difficult, as at this stage in their life, the World is so full of novel wonders and they soak it up like a sponge.

Running and racing was a bit of a mixed bag.  I had some days where I felt as strong as ever, achieved a few PRs, but overall feel as though I am slowing a bit.  Those great days where I feel as though I am defying gravity are fewer and further between.  Age is catching up to me for sure and I am becoming less disciplined to a certain degree (not that I ever have been disciplined).  Regardless of the numbers though, I had many enjoyable runs and races and still enjoy it immensely.

As for 2015, I have not really had time to give it much thought.  I'm not sure how much I'll race or what my focus will be.  Most likely the Pikes Peak Marathon, but I am also intrigued with some other races as well, so I have debated shifting my race priorities entirely.  I also toy with the idea of not racing at all and fill that competitive void with doing what I like better anyways, just running my own challenges up/over/through the mountains.  I would like to run the Pawnee/Buchanan loop again, though put in a bit of a more concerted effort this time.  I would also love to run the Aspen 4 Pass loop hard (have hiked it before), want to summit some new (to me) 13ers/Centennials, be patient enough to hike another 14er with my aging dog Sierra, spectate/crew/pace at Hardrock, things along those lines.

Mostly though, I look forward to continuing to spend time in the mountains and desert with my wife, daughters and dog as the girls become stronger and more able bodied.  Introducing them to the landscapes we love most has been infinitely more rewarding than anything else.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, for my fellow stat conscious friends:

1,335.5 miles (19 miles of that was "road" running (I include flat paths in road category)).
553,934 vertical feet
348 hours
Avg. elevation gain: 2,506 feet
Max. elevation gain: ~11,000 feet
Max. distance: 42 miles
159 Green Mountain summits
20 Bear Peak summits
16 S. Boulder Peak summits
24 Sanitas summits
6 Flagstaff summits
4 14er summits
9 13er summits
1 12er summit
4 Other summits
1 Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim
1 Pawnee/Buchanan Loop

I posted just a few favorite photos from 2014 below (OK, a lot, my mom is probably the only one that will look at them all) ;).

Racing the Sourdough Snowshoe Race in January (2nd place)

Running Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, April.  I went in fit and well prepared, but got sick, ran anyways and struggled to finish in a bit over 9 hours.

Spring Moab trip

Isabelle hiking most of the way up Sanitas on her own.

Very proud

Bolder Boulder.  I was just barely able to sneak in sub 40, which I was relatively satisfied with, given my only flat running was the warm up jog before the race.

Early June trip to Lake City

The animal tracks chart helps to make these hikes even more interesting

A few new Centennial Peaks

Alpine Loop

Relaxing in Lake City

The Great Sand Dunes were a massive hit.

First (car) camping trip at the Great Sand Dunes

Amelie hiked up Green under her own power via the W. Ridge Trail

Just before the first crack of thunder which had me giving her a high speed piggy back ride to the car.

More hiking on Green Mountain

A banner wildflower year on the local hills

We went hiking at Brainard Lake at least once per week all summer

A day at the beach

Climbing (part way) up Mt. Spalding

Hiking to Lake Isabelle

Barr Trail Mountain Race

Just barely earned an old guy award

Maximizing my time (and yearly pass to Brainard), I was up here weekly running peaks and valley/lake trails.

My mum and niece Kylie came to visit

Allison, Sierra and I got to Crested Butte for a few days.

Before the start of the Pikes Peak Marathon

The Start

 Bottomless Pit

 Again, I miraculously snuck into an age group award despite a lackluster performance (a disastrous descent really).

Amelie on Sanitas

On my way up Buchanan Pass (Sept.)

Suffering bad on Pawnee Pass

Bill Wright's Rattlesnake Ramble

Very temporarily ahead of Andy Ames

Celebrating our 10th Anniversary at Rocky Mountain National Park

My dad came out for a visit too.

Sunflower Farm in Longmont

More hiking

Monster Dash in Louisville

A hike with the girls in lieu of the Basic Boulder

Sierra and I on Green

Celebrating Green #1,000 with great friends.

Maybe burrow racing in the near future? ;)