Saturday, July 31, 2010

Five Days of Sawatch 14ers

Back in the 1860s a Yale graduate and Harvard professor by the name of Josiah D. Whitney completed a significant amount of surveying in the western United States. Acting as the official California state geologist, Whitney compiled an extensive quantity of data about that state's natural world and published much of it in a collection of books called the Geological Survey of California.  Whitney also produced the highly praised and valued work called The Yosemite Book which brought recognition to the value of that landscape through photographic excellence.  John Muir walked into Yosemite valley soon after that book was published.

Looking north into the Collegiates from Mt. Yale's summit

Whitney was also assigned a surveying job in the highest valley in Colorado.  It was there, along the Arkansas River, that Whitney measured and named a series of tall peaks.  Given his Ivy League background and the customs of surveyors of his time, it was no surprise that Whitney named several of the giant peaks after the prestigious schools.  The highest peak he measured was christened Mount Harvard (14,427 ft).  He did not know that only nearby Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, at 14,440 ft and 14,428 ft would be deemed higher a few years later by the Hayden survey.  Whitney then named the second highest peak in his survey after his Alma mater, Yale, and the third highest after Princeton.  It was later determined that Princeton, at 14,204 ft, is actually one foot taller than Yale.  My students will understand it when I say that this Ivy Leaguer should have made more measurements in light of finding these two mountains so closely matched.  Nonetheless, those mountains retained their names and, along with other Whitney-surveyed peaks, they now make up a mountain group called the Collegiate Peaks which can be found in an area called the Collegiate Peak Wilderness.  I recently spent five days climbing the Collegiates and a few other 14ers in the greater Sawatch Range.

Why are you walking sooo fast?

Cruisin' down from Aspen Pass to Frisco on Monday
Brandon (l) and Tyler (r)

On Monday July 19th, one day after the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile trail run, I walked about five gentle miles on trails near Frisco and Dillon.  I later rode/coasted thirteen miles from Aspen Pass to Frisco with Brandon and Tyler on rental bikes.  One day later I ran thirty minutes on a splendidly soft single track trail paralleling the Breckenridge ski resort amid a lush and diverse forest.  Both of those excursions loosened up my sore quads and back while also causing intense pain in the toe I'd stubbed on a rock.  So, on Wednesday when I had left the family at the Denver airport at sunrise, I wasn't too upset to find it raining when I reached the Echo Lake Trailhead.  I had decided on a whim to climb Mt. Evans and, via The Sawtooth, also summit Mt. Bierstadt in order to start the climbing that day.  No problem.  I enjoyed an hour-long hike around Echo Lake.  I hoped that the sharp pain in the toe would diminish to an acceptable level by the next morning.

After collecting provisions, mainly food and water, I drove to the Missouri Gulch trailhead on Chaffee County Road 390.  I studied my copy of Gerry Roach's outdated 1999 Colorado's Fourteeners Second Edition as the sun went down.  The plan was to start out by climbing Mt. Belford (14,203 ft), Mt. Oxford (14,160 ft), and Missouri Mountain (14,074 ft) on Thursday.  These three mountains are clustered closely together and can be climbed in a single 14.5-mile journey with 7400 ft of vertical gain.  Belford and Oxford are joined by a 1.1 mile saddle and Missouri can be reached either by descending to the valley and climbing back up or via the Class IV ridge. 
The trail in Missouri Gulch

I would climb Missouri before descending to the valley and powering up the steep switchbacks of Belford's west ridge and then completing an out-and-back to Oxford through the saddle.  That was the plan.  After climbing a challenging set of 8 switchbacks into Missouri Gulch, I ran through the alpine valley before alternating running and walking up the face of Missouri Mountain.  I usually try to stay on the 14er summits 30-60 minutes.  However, only five minutes after finding the Missouri summit marker a large cloud mass began to form over both nearby La Plata Peak (14,368 ft) and Mt. Elbert.  Only another five minutes passed before the cloud had enshrouded Missouri's upper reaches, providing me with 20-30 ft visibility.  Then it started raining. 

Mt. Belford (l) and Missouri Mtn. (c) from alpine meadow

I must state here that safety is a primary concern for me when I am on the 14ers.  To offset the fact that I am a solo climber, I put a few safeguards in place.  I always arrive at the trailhead early - often the night before - so that I can monitor when other climbers hit the trail.  I let others leave as much as 90 minutes before I set out in order to always have people between me and my vehicle on the out-and-back climbs.  Because I run any portion of the trail that I find runnable, I always pass most or all of those groups on the way up, so there are always people behind me on the trail.  I also do not allow myself to leave so late that I cannot be safely below treeline before noon.  Afternoon lightning storms are daily events in the Rockies, so it is wise to be among the taller trees by noon.  I also always carry a summit pack containing: Gortex parka, Gortex pants, puffy (down jacket), gloves, warm hat, extra shirt, first aid kit, compass, map, whistle, 1000 Calories, and plenty of water.  On almost every descent I encounter ill-equipped climbers who are not carrying warm weather gear and/or are who are moving far too slowly to even reach the summit before noon.

Clouds roll onto Missouri's summit

14er summit markers are rare these days

That summit marker is on this somewhat small stone

I climbed down Missouri's face in a light rain before running through the alpine valley to treeline.  When I reached the car at 9 a.m. the sky was crystal clear.  I was a bit perturbed, but I got in the car and drove four miles further up the road to the south Winfield trailhead where I could climb Huron Peak.
Winfield is an old mining ghost town/museum that serves as the turn-around for the LT100 Trail Run.  The trailhead is just outside of Winfield and more than twelve miles up the annoyingly bumpy County Rd 390.  CR 390 has many sections, washboard in nature, that will rattle your teeth.  Anyone running the LT100 should make certain to give special thanks for crew members who venture up there.  I was surprised by the number of people who were camping along the dusty road in the San Isabel National Forest.

There is a locked(!) outhouse behind Winfield's school

The first two miles of the hike followed an old jeep road.  I found it easily runnable.  The next two miles involved a lot of really steep switchbacks that were only partially runnable.  I reached the summit under blue skies at 10:25 a.m.  I then enjoyed a relaxed meal spent gazing at all of the surrounding scenery before running most of the way back to the RAV.  For the day, I had climbed almost 8200 ft while traveling 18 miles.  My toe had become stride-changing painful before I reached the RAV.  While cleaning up at the BV public shower ($1!!), I was surprised to see the toenail had already blackened and was beginning to lift off.

Friday started where Thursday did - at the Missouri Gulch trailhead.  I made quick work of the switchbacks and once again ran through the alpine meadow to the foot of Mt. Belford.  I took a deep breath and started power walking up the steep switchbacks.  I passed three groups along the way, but there was one guy behind me who was moving only slightly slower than I was.  When I reached the top of the switchbacks I was greeted by a cold, stiff wind.  I quickly put the Gortex suit, gloves, and hat on over my shorts and knit t-shirt.  That didn't quite do it, so I quickly put the puffy on beneath the parka.  Ahhh!  Ten minutes after reaching the summit I was joined by a young man who said he ran for a Colorado college.  Fifteen minutes later we were joined by a trio that included an IU grad.  So, we talked basketball before moving across the saddle to Oxford.  Moving at our individual paces, we descended Belford via Elkhead Pass.  That gave me 12 miles and 5900 ft of vertical.  My toe and back were both quite sore by the time I descended the Missouri Gulch switchbacks.

After the climb I drove into Buena Vista to eat a big meal at the Eddyline Brewery and  to enjoy a big mug of mocha and a cookie at the BV Roastery.  The BV proved to be most satisfying because they make a great mocha and bake mighty good cookies.  The Eddyline, quite frankly, pissed me off.  They were out of my first two choices of beer, namely the wheat and stout.  The waitress brought me an amber that had been pulled out of the fermenter about 8-10 days too early.  It was as cloudy as a muddy river.  I let them know how wrong that was.  The pizza also left a lot to be desired.  They will have to make some changes if they plan to stay in business.

On Saturday I climbed "the Harvard Group," which is made up of Mt. Harvard (14,427 ft) and Mt. Columbia (14,080 ft).  This 13.5-mile trip involved 5900 ft of climbing.  The long approach to Harvard traveled along an easily runnable trail through the Horn Fork Basin.  I passed and talked to several groups of climbers.  I also stopped to take a couple of dozen pictures of the flora and surrounding peaks and ridges.  What an outstanding trail! (Someone had the audacity to complain in the trail ledger that the trail was too long - Stay on the couch Mr. Potato!) 

Harvard (c) and traverse (r) from Horn Fork Basin's
most runnable trail at about 12k feet.

The Basin ended with a short, steep climb up to the top of the ugly pile of rocks called Mt. Harvard.  Sorry, but most of the climbers I met on the summit felt the same way.

From the summit of Harvard a person can return on the same shallow path or choose to make the traverse to Mt. Columbia.  Most of the two dozen people with me on the summit of Harvard chose to make the traverse.  One lady told her husband that attempting the 2.2-mile traverse at that late hour (8:15) was "absolutely stupid."  I did not believe her - yet.  After all, I can still cover two miles in just over ten minutes.

On Harvard's summit - still smiling

The traverse and Columbia

The traverse started off fun.  I bounded from boulder to boulder and jogged along the connecting trails for about a mile.  During that time I passed almost all of the early Harvard climbers.  Then I reached a point where the ridge became a knife-edge cliff of unstable rock.  Most of the other climbers went quite low, losing about 1600 vertical ft, to stay on the alpine tundra.  I chose to stay as high as possible and, thus, continued to move through a slanted boulder field.  It was fun for a while.  Then the heat set in.  And the boulder field became quite steep.  Then the summit of Mt. Columbia seemed to begin moving up and away from me.  And then the words of that lady on Harvard came out of my mouth as I mumbled something about the traverse being absolutely stupid.

Stupid traverse!

Upon making the top of Columbia I could see that many of those who left Harvard with me hours before were 15-45 minutes away on the steep climb up far west ridge of Columbia.  Because it was after 11 a.m. I stayed only a few minutes before descending.  A few other climbers left with me.  One guy moved ahead as I was stopped by some climbers who wanted to talk.  I do, you may know, have a hard time turning down a good conversation. . .

By the time I began the descent there were a few others not far behind.  In a state of fatigue I moved quickly down the extremely steep, short switchback slope.  About half-way down I heard someone above me yell, "Rock."  I looked up to see several fist and football sized rocks rolling down in a non-threatening manner.  Closer observation revealed a boulder the size of a beach ball was also falling.  Gravity was putting on a display of Newtonian physics.  The problem was that I was directly in the path of the falling stone.  I moved right.  The boulder bounced right.  I moved left and the boulder bounced left. Radar??  In a move that probably disturbed the people of above (one of whom dislodged the rocks), I leaned into the slope and held my ground while the rock gained speed and bounced loudly.  When it bounced about 15 feet in front of me I could see which way it was going and I dove in the other direction.  Then I turned to watch as that rock exploded upon impact with another stone.  Wow!  Nothing like that had ever happened on my previous 40 14er climbs.  I gave a quick thumbs up to those above me before speeding off to the relative safety of the basin trail.  An adrenaline rush caused (allowed) me to run quite quickly back to the RAV.

This time I followed the day's climbing with an excellent meal down in Salida at Amica's.  I ordered a big pizza and a couple of well-composed beers.  The attentive staff got a workout by filling my water glass every few seconds.  I then drank a great mocha as I walked through Salida's downtown to the Arkansas river.

Then I drove the 25 miles back to BV to attend the Collegiate Peaks Music Festival.  The line-up included everything from mountain locals to front range reggae to DC hip hop.  Amicas pizza and Ska beer (Durango) was served.

Yale (r), Princeton (l), and Antero (horizon)
from Harvard summit
Yale was the next 14er on the southern horizon.  It was a short and challenging climb.  The early trail was covered in fist-size stones - and it was steep.  After running through a nearly flat sub-alpine meadow the trail began to pass an incredibly steep mountainside.  Seeing it stretching nearly vertically out of sight through a veil of trees, I thought about how awesomely brutal it would be for the trail to climb that hill.  Moments later I had to stop and laugh as the switchbacks began.  The trail then entered an undulating alpine meadow.  What followed was about a thousand feet of vertical climbing on a dirt and gravel slope.

Trail crews were busy constructing badly needed switchbacks on these upper reaches of Yale.  The crews consisted of twenty-somethings who didn't mind climbing up to their boulder moving, pick axe jobs before dawn.  I couldn't help but feel guilty as I took pictures of them moving large rocks.

Six people moving one stone

Workers all over Yale's steep upper slopes

The Yale summit was the typical pile of boulders.  I stayed there for 40 minutes and still managed to leave before most of the people I'd passed in the alpine meadow arrived.  Running down Yale was the easiest way down the steep slopes.  I enjoyed the run and the early finish of a 4-hour climbing day.

Why are these summits just piles of rocks? Erosion, which is
occurring as fast as the mountains are growing.
They are much fun to run on!

With my son's tonsillectomy approaching, I knew I needed to get home.  I also knew I would regret leaving that valley without reaching my goal of climbing all of the 14ers along Hwy 24.   From the summit of Yale I could clearly see the two neighboring monstrous heaps of rock known as Princeton and Antero (14,276).  I would have to attempt to climb both of them in one day.

Princeton from high on Yale

I parked at the trailhead of Princeton as the sun went down.  This "trailhead" is a parking lot (Shared by a Young Life ranch) at the end of a long jeep road that winds up Princeton.  Roach's guide said to leave your vehicle in the lot if you value that vehicle.  Well before dawn a big 4-wheel drive truck stopped at the edge of the road before roaring away.  Then a couple of climbers parked a car in the lot and walked up the road.  I was putting the finishing touches on my summit pack just moments before the sun rose above the eastern mountains when a jeep started up the rough road. 

Eye on the prize - only 1.7 miles to go

Long shadow as trail becomes
a boulder field - for a 1.5 miles!

Curious about the size of that summit pyramid?
Click twice and find the (4) people

The couple in the jeep were putting their packs on when I passed that jeep after running three miles up that road.  I continued running for about another mile before I turned onto the summit trail.  That trail was runnable for about 400 meters.  The rest of the "trail" wound through 1.5 miles of boulders that crept up slowly before arching up to Princeton's summit.  Princeton was, as a fellow climber called it, a big ole pile of rocks.  I loved hopping from rock to rock in a near run.  I was welcomed to another 14er summit by a cold wind and incredibly clear blue sky.  Looking over at majestic Antero, I knew I had to eat and drink a lot so that I could make the 16-mile round trip up it before noon.  So, I ate all I had in the pack and a bunch more after I had scrambled and ran back to the RAV.  BTW, that 4-wheel drive road was not all that bad.  The main obstacles were 3-5 foot wide water berms made of dirt.  Because there were very few protruding boulders, I believe that the RAV could have easily handled that rode up to where the jeep sat just beyond the radio towers.

It was 9:15 am when I reached the RAV and started the short drive to the Mt. Antero trailhead.

Now that (Antero) is a beautiful specimen.  That is about
a mile elevation gain you're looking at.

The morning temperature was a warm 79 degrees, so I stopped at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Country Store for more liquid refreshments - water and orange juice.  Then I sped further down the road until it turned to dirt.  Then I drove a little further until I was smack dab between Princeton and Antero.  While observing Antero from Princeton's summit, I had wondered where the "trail" went up the mountain.  Like the trail up Princeton, the most commonly used trail for Antero is also a jeep road.  There is, however, a difference.  The actual summit trail on Princeton leaves the road about 1700 ft and 1.6 miles from the summit.  That road up Antero winds around (forever) through the forest before making a few series of switchbacks to within 600 vertical feet of the summit.

While the Princeton road may have been handled by the RAV, the Antero road was far too rough for my comfort zone.  The first half-mile and many of the stretches up to tree line were steep, covered with fist to football sized loose rocks, and sprinkled with tall embedded rocks.  It should only be climbed in vehicles having 4-wheel drive and big, sturdy off-road tires.  I saw several such vehicles and quite a few motorbikes going down as I climbed up.

I ran when I could on the way up to tree line, but that was not very often.  Within minutes I had rolled the ankle on a loose rock.  After tree line was another story.  Beyond a wide parking area the road began making switchbacks and was 95% runnable for me and my ankle.  I was happy to be moving swiftly in the hot sun at such a late hour (11 a.m.). 

The upper reaches of Antero more closely resemble the photos sent back from Mars than anything I'd seen on the other peaks.  Most of the rocks are small in size and orange or white in color.  And there are many areas mine pilings are spread down the slopes.  Interesting and eerie would be my best description.  Also interesting was the old man from Kansas I met whose grandsons were exploring the mine he bought 31 years ago.  Even more interesting was the back country official driving a small pickup down from near the summit like he was escaping a fire.

Antero road switchbacks at 13K feet - easily runnable

I managed to "run" most of the way back down the rocky road from the Antero summit, reaching the RAV at 2:15.  Including the time on the summits, shopping time, and the transfer time, it was an eight-hour day.  I made use of the BV public shower once again before making my way back to Amicas.  That left me with just a 20-hour drive home!

Passing close to the Sangre de Cristo 14ers as I leave CO
Can you see the ghost calling out to me?

While waiting for my pizza I calculated that I had traveled about 74 miles and climbed 33K feet during those five days in the Sawatch.  Not exactly an ordinary experience for me.   And, I almost forgot, there was that 50-mile trail run four days before the climbing started.  Remember, I usually run about 75 miles per month!  So, one would expect me to be extremely sore or fatigued or both.  I was, in fact, neither.  Because I always moved at a comfortable pace, I actually became stronger with each passing day.  I honestly wish that I had been able to do such climbing 1-2 weeks before the SR 50.  Perhaps I can work that out if or when I declare a rematch.  I do still have eleven 14ers to climb and I would love to try other routes on several of the ones I just climbed.

Right now, I am extremely thankful to have the health, finances, and time to complete such an adventure.  I am also happy to report that a minimal amount of my blood ended up leaving my body!  A caught toe while wrestling food from my pack during the Belford/Oxford descent run came during a series of well-constructed stone stairs.  Ouch!  And diving out of the way of that boulder-turned-missile onto a pile of rocks (what else?) resulting in more damage to all four of my limbs - no kidding.  And then there was that sharp-edged slider that got my left shin while building a cairn in the Princeton boulder field.  In all, I have just 23 lacerations currently healing.  They are just little reminders of the fun I had. . .

Setting my sights on new experiences

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Silver Rush 50 Follow-up

While climbing in the Sawatch Range during the last several days I had a lot of time to think.  Then, when I was recovering for each climb, I looked into a few things and thought some more.  In my SR 50 race report I stated that I was quite pleased with my result.  Well, now I am even more pleased.

I reviewed my training log again while sitting in the BV Roastery Monday afternoon.  In an earlier post I wrote that I was underprepared for a 50-mile race - at altitude - with big, rough climbs.  That was because I had already reviewed the log before the race.  My training plan had called for eight progressively longer runs that would serve as the foundation of any strength I had for the race.  In other words, I planned my whole program around that long run build-up.  The long run build-up WAS my training plan for the SR 50.  It was through meeting other ultra runners on those 14ers that I began to realize that my "part time" ultra runner routine was an even smaller part time than I wanted to admit.

The log says that I planned to complete four runs of more than the marathon length, culminating in runs of 32 and 36 miles.  I turned my ankle (turtle) minutes into the first long run.  Then came the extreme sweating caused by an unusually hot and humid June.  That weather caused me to significantly shorten four long runs.  Only two runs reached the marathon distance.  The only positive was that those two runs did include dozens of Stru Hill climbs that allowed for about 3K feet of vertical.

During the ten weeks prior to the SR 50 I averaged just under 32 running miles per week!  That is not exactly a solid foundation for running an ultra.  Of course, I did average 111 hilly miles per week on the bike, too.  I do not know how much the cycling helped me climb mountains on foot, but I must speculate that I did gain something useful from all of that work.

I looked back into the training log because two of the runners I met on the 14ers complained about the fact that the weather had kept them from completing their long runs.  In fact, both of these runners (from Nebraska and Illinois) had, like me, been limited to sub-3-hour runs.  Both also complained about ion imbalances and equilibrium problems that lasted for days after long run attempts.  So, I have not been alone in my struggle.  Unfortunately for those two runners, they plan to complete the Pbville 100.  I sure hope that they keep logging mountain miles in that kind, cool, and dry Colorado air.

Duncan was logging 140-mile weeks in the mountains around Gunnison leading up to the race.  Helen told me that she had been logging 80-100 miles per week in the mountains around Breckenridge.  Their results showed that they had solid foundations for that 50-mile effort.  Then again, those two are real mountain ultramarathoners.  I wish that I could run free in those mountains.  I wish that I could gain 3-4K ft in a single climb on a typical run.  I wish that I had nearby mountain tops calling me up to them.  I wish.

The next post will cover the five days during which I climbed nine of the Sawatch Range 14ers.  Now that was some great mountain ultra training!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Silver Rush 50 Race Report

I'll just start off by saying that I was quite pleased with every aspect of the day.  The bed at A Wolf Den Bed and Breakfast was comfortable enough to make this insomniac sleep.  (Thanks Liz and James!!)  The dry mountain air was warm and the sun was hot.  The course was well marked.  The volunteers and fans were exceptionally supportive and kind.  All of the runners I made contact with treated me like we were old friends.  My crew did a fantastic job.  My legs and lungs gave more than I should have expected them to be capable of.

If you haven't seen the results, I finished in a time of 8:41:22.  That is an average of 10:26 per mile.  I covered the first half in 3:57:20 (9:30 per mile) and held onto the same pace during the return until there were only about four miles to go. For perspective, the winner was the exceptionally talented Duncan Callahan of Gunnison, CO in a record time of 6:50:55.

Looking back on my race-specific preparation, I knew going in that I would come to suffer at some point this 50-mile race that I was not really prepared for.  The only questions in my mind were about what form the pain would come in and how I would respond to it.  Well, the answer to the first question was a surprise.  The answer to the second question was unexpected, but acceptable.

It was a cool 50 degrees at the 6 a.m. start.  Cooler would have been better for everyone, but I am not complaining - it was a beautiful day.  All of my nutrition needs for each of the three assisted aid stations had been discussed with the family the night before and all of the bottles and flasks had already been prepared.  Because of this in-depth preparation and the thorough recon of the course during the week, I stood on the starting line without the slightest hint of nervousness.  I was excited to be there.

Climbing the ski hill.  Should have gone for the coin!

The customary blast from Ken Chlubber's shot gun started the race.  Everyone ran surprisingly fast up that steep hill - even me.  There were two people standing at the top of the hill who held special silver coins for the first male and female runners to snatch them.  As I ran I noticed that no one was really sprinting up the hill.  The guy running right next to me looked all around a couple of times before accelerating slightly to grab the coin.  The women's coin was grabbed by the great Helen Cospolich out of Breckenridge.

Within a few minutes I had settled into a pace that had me running near Helen and a one-time D-II powerhouse Western States runner, Mike Ray.  Mike and I talked for awhile about common experiences and mutual friends.  He had completed the SR 50 mountain bike ride the day before, finishing in 30th place.  Helen is a sponsored ultra runner (The North Face) who has won many of the top ultras, including the 2008 Leadville 100.  The three of us ran within a hundred feet of each other all the way to the top of Iowa Gulch.

Through running with these two accomplished mountain athletes and glancing at my heart rate monitor from time to time I knew that the pace was bordering the edges of sanity for me. I didn't care.  I felt comfortable and I wanted to get as many miles behind me as possible before the sun began to heat the air and bake me by convection.  Running along the bottom of Iowa Gulch during the early hours of the day meant running in the shade of the mountains on the eastern edge of the gulch.  It was cool and pleasant. 

Mountains still casting long shadows over Iowa Gulch.

My previous experiences running and hiking the entire out and back legs of Iowa Gulch had made me aware of how rocky and steep the jeep road became just before the foot of Mt. Sherman where we would meet up with the gravel road.  Because of the loose rock, I was trying to be careful with my ankle.  I even experimented with walking a few steps at a time.  I immediately noticed that I was walking faster than both Helen and Mike were running.  Hmmm.  I also noticed that my heart rate dropped a few beats when I walked.  Hmmm.  Then, shortly after that epiphany, I stepped on a rock that rolled my left ankle inward.  The pain was piercing, but manageable as I kept up the pace.  The turn on Mt. Mitchell two weeks earlier was worse.

As soon as I stepped onto the gravel road and turned back down the gulch I noticed that Mike had basically sprinted away from Helen and I.  When I pulled up next to her she commented about how he had reached the gravel only a couple of seconds ahead of her.  He was now two hundred meters ahead of us.  I ran with Helen for a short time.  Then I noticed that my heart rate had decreased from the mid-160's to the high-150's.  My response was to simply open up my stride a little and let gravity work more in my favor.  I soon pulled far ahead of Helen and was reeling Mike in.  Within two miles of gravel road I had put about two minutes on Helen and pulled to within thirty seconds of Mike.  Then I had to stop to remove rocks from my shoe.  I followed that with a jogging "natural break," as they call it in the TdF.  Looking back during that break I saw that Helen had made up most of the  distance I'd put on her. 

Minutes later I came into the Printer Boy aid station in 1:57 where Brandon and Tyler were waiting to crew me.  Everything went perfect.  I dropped my used flasks on the ground and drank a bottle of water in rapid gulps amid huge gasps in the thin air at just over 11,000 feet.  Then I ate a banana like a starved wild animal before thanking everyone and running away with the new bottle of fluid and gel flask.  The watch read 2:01. 

Loading up at Printer Boy I - 13.5 miles in.

The next mile was that steep "Stru-like" one mile hill I ran earlier in the week.  Almost immediately I noticed the pain in the ankle as I planted the left foot on the uneven ground.  That kept the pace honest.  Then I slid and took on more rocks which I stopped to unload.  When I bent over I became quite nauseated.  So much so that I spit out the sticky Cliff bar I had been chewing on.  I saw Helen and a guy bearing down on me as I turned to run again.  The three of us stayed close to each other during the mostly uphill 3-mile climb up Ball Mountain.  My stomach became increasingly uneasy as I climbed.  Just before the mile 18 Venir aid tent I stepped into a porta-potty - where I stayed for an agonizing 4:43.  Yes, I spent almost five minutes in a plastic sweat box while five or six runner passed by.

Knowing that I had 6 miles of mostly exposed and challenging miles of climbing and steep descending before the Stumptown turn-around aid station, I stopped to drink three cups of water and one cup of Poweraid while a volunteer filled my bottle.  I left that aid station feeling miserably weak and unbalanced.  It was only a slight grade, though, so I forced myself to continue running.  I convinced myself that the strong flavored Cliff bar was what had done me in.

The trip around Ball Mountain was not new to me.  I had run the same trail while competing in the 2008 Leadville marathon.  After the aid station the trail crested over a nearly flat alpine field before beginning a rocky roller coaster ride to the 11,992-ft saddle we would pass over.  Though the Pbville marathon course continued in a nearly flat circle around the summit of Ball Mountain, the SR 50 "trail" that descended from the pass was super steep.  This insanely steep trail varied from powdery black dirt to loose rocks as it wound down toward Stumptown.  I couldn't help but think of the bikers who I had seen at the medical tent the day before - two of them had crashed out of the race on this trail.  No wonder! 

I lost a few places on the steep descent because I was pampering the ankle.  No problem.  I had decided going into the race that I would do everything I could to keep the ankle from stopping me.  The course teased us by allowing us to pass close to the 11,130-ft Stumptown turn around before turning us down a long set of switchbacks down to 11,000 feet and climbing back up.

I arrived at Stumptown in 3:57 feeling good.  It was hot, but I had been drinking a lot and had finished both my bottle and gel flask on the approach to the aid station.  Recognizing how hot it was, I drank 4 cups of water from the aid station and a 16-oz bottle from the boys.  I also ate a banana before grabbing my new bottle and flask.  At the last moment I stuffed a package of gel cubes into a pocket in my shorts.  I left Stumptown in 4:07.  I was quite pleased with that time, but I told the boys that I would certainly be drifting back toward my 9-plus hour finish time due to the heat.  I said nothing about the ankle.

Approaching Stumptown while Ken Chlubber scares a one-eyed car.
25 miles and almost 6000 vertical feet of climbing.

Here - eat this . . .
Ty held that banana out there until I had eaten all of it.

That large intake of fluid and nutrition caused me to leave Stumptown feeling bloated as the fluid sloshed around in my stomach.  I ran down and then then began to alternate running and walking as I climbed back up Ball Mountain.  Interestingly, I passed a couple of people on this section.  Ben Lahood, a 22-year-old from Peoria, IL ran with me until he cramped badly as we ascended the steep Ball Mtn. grade.  To his credit, Ben would finish almost an hour after me. More than two dozen runners out of just over 200 starters would not finish the race.

Of note, the dizzying and nauseating feeling that comes with pushing the pace in the thin air near 12,000 feet can quickly become alarming.  I became really dizzy on one occasion near the saddle and I later passed several people who were climbing to the saddle for the first time who were stopped and panicked.  The heat certainly made the effort even more challenging. 

Also of note, I took my only spill of the day when caught a toe on an embedded rock while descending from the Ball Mtn saddle. The big toe on my left foot (bad ankle foot) took a direct hit.  It stung like hell.  I had never hit a rock so solidly with a toe, so I knew that one would hurt for a while. 
I arrived at the Venir II aid station feeling much better than I had the first time.  The time of 5:12 surprised me.  I once again took in three cups of water as my bottle was refilled.  Then I grabbed a cup of Poweraid before jogging away from the 11,920-ft aid station in 5:15.

The following three-mile descent proved to be a great challenge.  The combined pain of the left big toe and left ankle kept my stride much shorter as I descended.  Every time I tried to speed up I noticed a big hitch in my stride that would certainly lead to another problem, so I responded by shortening the stride again.

This leg of the run ended with the big one-mile climb up to the Printer Boy II aid station.  I jogged/walked it in 13:58, allowing me to arrive at the aid station in 6:07.  I was really pleased with this.  Knowing that I had climbed up to his aid station in less than two hours, I now had hope for an 8-hour finish.  I then spent way too long at the aid station as the overly helpful volunteers sprayed me with bug spray and poured water over my back.  Brandon and Tyler once again did a fantastic job of crewing, though. 

The topless, stylin' crew awaits

Is it possible to have too much aid?

Where did you hide that Organic Wit?
Judging from the yells I heard behind me as I started that one-mile climb, I knew that I had almost two minutes on at least two competitors before the climb.  That lead had grown to over four minutes at the aid station.  All of it was gone.  Two guys popped into the aid station as I left at 6:12.  They were both on the road within a hundred meters of me as we left.  Hmmmm.

I spent the next three miles alternating from running to walking as I climbed the gravel road up Iowa Gulch.  My back began to hurt and cramp when I tried to run up the steeper sections of the road, so I walked.  I shook my head, smiled, and walked.  I did look back a couple of times, expecting the two guys to be  right behind me.  They were not.  They were also walking some.  I pulled about 2 minutes ahead of them before reaching the end of the gulch.  Then I turned down onto the steep and rocky jeep road.

This is where the ankle and toe really starting hurting.  Once again, this shortened my stride as kept thinking that I would not allow a careless, fast stride to turn my ankle on the loose fist-sized rocks.  With nine miles to go I still thought I could finish in 8:15 if I made it out of the worst rocky section of trail.  With eight miles to go I left that section and noticed on a bend in the trail that the two guys behind me had closed to within about 30 seconds on the rocks.  Hmmmm.

I took off.  I was flying along at what must have been a low-6 minute pace.  Soon I could no longer see those two guys around any bends in the trail.  I rushed through the last aid station, filling my bottle and throwing back three more cups of water.  If I had not been in such a rush I would have, and should have, taken in four or five cups of water plus one or two cups of Poweraid as the temperature had reached an uncomfortable near-alpine temperature of 81 degrees.

That last 7-mile section of trail should have been the fastest and most fun.  It turned into a death march.  It wasn't the heat as there was some shade.  It wasn't the ankle/toe pain as the grade was slight enough to decrease to pain to acceptable at a full stride.  The problem came from my back.  No, it wasn't the bad discs.  My back muscles simple gave out! 

With about four miles to go I realized that I was leaning forward.  I tried to run upright, but within about a dozen strides I was bent over again.  Eventually, the muscles of my lower back began to burn like a leg muscle might during a hard 5K race.  I had to take short walks while I massaged my lower back.  When I ran, I ran fast.  My legs still had a lot of pep in them.  Unfortunately, the run distances became frustratingly shorter and the massage walks became longer as I approached the end of the course.

I found myself laughing - at the situaton - at myself.  What else could I do?  I wished that I had walking sticks like a couple of older men I had seen on the course.  I wished that I had a back brace.  I wished that the strained abs had not caused me to stop doing core exercises last month.  I badly wished for the finish line to appear.  I laughed and then laughed some more as I shook my head.  If trees could laugh I'd now be deaf from the roar.

I forced myself to run all of the last mile except the steep climb back up to the top of the ski slope.  I crossed the finish line in full stride at what had to be a sub-7 minute pace.  And, though I tried with all my might to prevent it, I was leaning precariously forward.  I felt some pride as the announcer stated that I was 12th overall and the first finisher from outside of Colorado in a time of 8:41:22.  Those two chasers came in one and two minutes behind me.

The leaning finish!

My family later teased me because the leaning kept me off balance and moving forward.  This made it difficult for the volunteers to give me my booty.  That booty included the sterling silver finisher's bracelet, the finisher's medal, and the mining pan for winning the old man category.  I certainly felt like an old man as I made my way through the crowd all hunched over!

Evidence of the fall.  And barely balanced.

 I wrote at the start of this long post that I was under prepared for the run.  The unbearable heat and humidity had shortened half of my planned long runs.  I believe that I would have done much better at a 50K distance at altitude that day.  I also believe that my experience with the LT100 did not allow me to have enough respect for the SR 50 course.  The SR 50 course was definitely much tougher in terms of both the footing and the vertical gains per mile.  My heart rate monitor indicated that I had climbed 11,104 feet or 2.1 vertical miles during the SR 50.  It is a shame that it was the descending that slowed me.  It is also embarrassing that a weak back was eventually my biggest problem.  Pardon me while I do some more core work . . .

The swollen, discolored, and filthy left toe and ankle back at A Wolf Den B&B.

I do believe I will run this race again.  I think I will make certain to come back and complete both the mountain bike and run races.  And I will be better physically prepared. I cannot have a better crew.  After having the worst possible crew experience in the LT100 in 2008, I was lucky enough to have Brandon and Tyler and Shari (pictures and logistics) provide me with perfect aid during the race.  Thanks!!

Now I must go and see if this swollen and blackened toe will let me climb some mountains.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Last Recon Run

A few people have contacted me to tell me how miserable the weather is in Indiana.  That muggy death weather has returned in full force.  Hmmmm.  My skin is quite dry like the mountain air.  The sun is bright and warm on this cool, breezy, and cloudless day in the high country.  Yeah, the weather here is most desirable!  And it has been that way all week.  Now, just why is it that I should return?  Oh, yeah.  The job. . .  Maybe I can convince the family to stay and find work.  A boy can dream can't he?

I slept at the RAV high in Iowa Gulch last night after I returned from the Dillon Dam Brewery where I enjoyed a couple of fine brews and three hours of good music.  It was a Denver band called Ground Up.   The mix of guitar jazz and reggae beats was fun to listen to.  Funny, they covered Marley a few times and his music is currently playing in this cafe.

The run was measurably easier than yesterday's.  Starting just outside the hotel, I ran another 20 minutes at about 11,000 ft, but I ran on a section of the course that follows a gravel road.  That roadway was still littered with relatively large rocks and a some areas of embedded rocks, but it was much more runnable than all of the other sections of the course I've been on this week.  I ran up 1.25 miles, hitting the mile in 9:05 while climbing 300 ft.  The return mile was a casual 6:13.  Roadway was much easier to navigate than the section of trail I ran on yesterday. The outbound course goes down this section of road just before going down the steeper hill I ran yesterday. I can only hope that there will be enough left in my legs after the steep climb I completed yesterday to run smoothly over the uphill mile I ran today. 

Leadville's population has grown a lot in the last few days as hundreds of mountain bikers and runners, along with families and friends, have "ascended" upon the town.  Lots of crazy fit people who are about to tear their bodies apart.  I'm excited to be part of it.  Honestly, though, I really want to get on with it.  Idle time does not sit well with me.

Well, I'm off to the Breckenridge Brewery for a super burrito lunch.  The next post will be the race report.

Here's to keeping the blood inside the body!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Short and Easy

Just a quick story to better familiarize my fellow flatlanders with the concept of high altitude mountain running.  This morning I drove almost to the Printer Boy aid station again.  This time I stopped at the bottom of the knob where Printer Boy is located.  Why?  Well, because that is where the SR 50 course crosses the road after it leaves the aid station.  This is one of the steeper climbs on the course, so I decided to take an easy stroll up it.  And that is what I did - kind of.

I strapped on a couple of 10 oz handhelds and proceded up the trail.  This section of the trail has now been marked with streamers.  I followed those streamers to the top of the knob where I popped back out on the road at Printer Boy.  The GPS read 1.00 mile just before I hit the road.  Interesting.  More interesting was the fact that the trail had ascended 340 ft.  Put another way, that means this climb was like 4 1/3 Stru hills strung together.  The similar grade was all these two hills had in common.

First of all, the SR trail has much more challenging footing.  It is a myriad of loose rocks, embedded boulders, and winding deep erosion ditches. 

Secondly, the SR climb (mile 37) is at almost 11,000 ft.  That means there is less than two-thirds the oxygen available there for fueling the muscles.  That also means that I did not and could not run the SR hill at anywhere near the pace I run Stru.  I ran Stru at or under 7 minute pace 229 times leading up to this trip.  I crested the SR knob in 10:28.  Oh, I was "taking it easy" and felt in control, but my HR went from 65% in the opening minutes to 84% in the final three minutes.  Eighty-four percent is a 5:40 pace in Evansville!  I cannot wait to see how that mile turns out during the race.

The descent wasn't much better.  The challenges of choosing a path and staying on my feet were significant enough to slow this descent to 7:18.  Oh, I could have gone faster and probably will go a little faster in the race, but today I was conserving the quads.  Still, a 7:18 downhill mile!  The blur of decision making made it seem a lot faster.

I am certain that the top mountain runners will destroy me on this section.  My only wishes are to stay upright on the outbound descent and to have enough strength to actually run back up it after several hours of running. 

By the way, at the bottom of the hill the SR 50 course crosses the road and makes an even greater ascent while climbing to the upper flanks of Ball Mountain.  This should be a Hurt Fest.  Can't wait to take it on.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More SR 50 Recon

Using blurred maps provided by the race directors, I set out to do more recon on the Silver Rush 50 course on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Luckily, the knowledge of the the mining district that I obtained and retained from completing the Leadville helped me make up for the deficiencies of those terrible maps. I honestly feel that I have a good feel for the course now.

My Tuesday morning started in Gunnison where I had found a room at the RAV. I welcomed both the 44 degree sunrise temperature and cool breeze that woke me and invigorated me. A quick breakfast led to a lovely morning drive back over Monarch Pass to Highway 24. Once on Hwy 24 I repeatedly stopped to take pictures of the 14ers I intend to climb on this trip and to read the historical signs at the pullouts. I learned a lot about the European maneuvers that eventually led to the U.S. taking "ownership" of most of our current western lower 48.



Yes, you sense a bit of an attitude in that voice. If you do not know why then you should make time study how the U.S. bought land from nations that never really had ownership or even squatting rights that land. Start with Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Then make certain that you complete your study with visits to reservations. Enough lecturing.

Because I started at sunrise, I made it to Pbville at an early hour. I visited the Provin' Grounds Cafe to download pictures and write. Two hours later I walked up and down the main drag - Hwy 24 or Harrison Avenue. I was amazed at the businesses that have taken place. Some shops moved while others, including Bill's Sport Shop and Rosie's Brewery, closed up all together. It is tough running a business that depends on tourists when those tourists only visit in appreciable numbers during four months of the year. Luckily, PG was still in business. A Mate Latte and a blueberry/chocolate chip scone hit the spot. And, again lucky for me, the Cycle of Life bike shop was well-stocked in bottles of Hammer Gel. Those thousands of vanilla flavored carbo calories will serve me well on Sunday.

Tuesday's course recon took me to a familiar place - Iowa Gulch. Not only had I run into the mouth of the gulch on Monday, I had also hiked there on a couple of occasions. In 2007 I tested my acclimatization by running high in Iowa Gulch at about 11K feet. Then, in 2008, I once again drove high into the gulch to climb the 14er Mt. Sherman. Tuesday's run had me start at what will be aid station number two; Printer Boy. I ran in the direction I will run on the return trip on Sunday. I ran two miles UP Iowa Gulch to near its eastern terminus at the foot of Mt. Sherman. The course only follows pavement for 0.75 miles in each direction and that stretch of road is where I started. From there I ran on the rough mining/jeep road up the gulch. It was an absolute blast to be chugging up that rocky road at 11K feet at 7.5-9 miles per hour. I know I cannot run that fast in the SR 50, but the pulse and perceived effort told me that I was well within my limit for the taper. Running back down was even more exciting.

Along SR 50 route

Looking down over Iowa Gulch and its mining past.  We will run up far side first.

Sherman (center) marks the end of the Iowa Gulch.

Duh!! (see next picture and note same sign)

Roadside slag heap held back by rotting timbers.

What views! The mountains and the mining remnants boast of the wildness, the industrious activities, the hopes, and the hardships experienced high in the Arkansas Valley. Gold, silver, lead, and molybdenum left this valley along with the lives and blood of many generations of natives and treasure-seekers. The reactivation of the Climax Moly Mine will breath fresh life back into this tired and economically starved community. In the mean time, all of these mining ruins reveal a lot about man's past efforts to gain economic superiority from this land. Too bad those men did not have the sense to realize how much they were hurting future generations.

Last night I slept at Stumptown. This decaying mine site sits at 11K feet and it serves as the turn around point for the SR 50. I ran another 4 miles averaging almost 8 min per mile. The sun was low on the eastern mountains. The dry air was a cool 47 degrees and it moved steadily from the north. Above me was Ball Mountain, which must be tamed twice on Sunday. Below sat Pbville and the Arkansas Valley. Beyond that, to the west, sat the monoliths known as Elbert and Massive. What an awe inspiring run. Again, the legs felt great and the lungs seemed to tolerate the air that was missing 32% of the oxygen supplied at home. I enjoyed a nice picture tour and a fully organic cold cereal and fruit breakfast before I drove down to town.

Stumptown breakfast companion - he was eating grass.


This happens a lot.

See what I mean?!

Morning crowd at Provin' Grounds

Provin' Grounds proved to be once again worthy of a pit stop. Today I sipped a mighty fine coffee and an even better scone. Unfortunately, the wi-fi was down all over Pbville today. That is why I am writing this at a cafe in Dillon (9187 ft). Earlier, I took in a tasty buffalo burger and a wheat beer at the Dillon Dam Brewery. I highly recommend the Dam Brewery for both food and spirits. Every trip I make to CO includes a stop there.

Mt. Massive on the horizon.

Well, back to the high country of Lake County. Enjoy the pics.  Hopefully, all of it is there.  I have lost connection and have pasted from clipboard!