Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Du It High Race Report

On July 15 Kristy and I competed in the Du It High Duathlon in Leadville, CO.  I had been aware of the event for a few years, and was actually in town on race day in the past, but that was because I was participating in the Silver Rush 50 Mile Run in the Mosquito Range east of Leadville. Without the SR50 on my schedule this year, I jumped at the chance to compete in the highest duathlon in the country (the world?). It was, as expected, a lung searing suffer fest.

This run/bike/run was billed as a 5K/20K/5K duathlon, but my Polar RCX5 measured it at about 5.6K/20.3K/5.2K. The runs were not the same length because we had to run by and then back into a parking lot on the first run, but not on the second. If you know me, and my history of measuring courses, then you know why I mentioned the course length. I don't care how long they are really, but I think that race directors should make an effort to measure them correctly and  to state the actual distances when promoting the races.

Like a local ultra course
I would like to have known up front that I was going to run a few minutes extra on that first run, which was almost completely on gravel and rough double track dirt. Then my foolish self would NOT have gone out nearly as hard. Those last few minutes of oxygen deprivation, which caused most of the field to walk, nearly took me off of my feet. Honestly, I would love to have video footage of my first transition.

Finding Kristy was not a problem, since I had parked her near the transition exit. When I reached her, however, I stepped straight up to the transition crossbar and leaned heavily on it with both hands. My eyes were not focusing well and they seemed to "switch channels" by blacking out as I looked around. After a few moments I gathered myself enough (?) to grab Kristy and walk away.

Then I noticed the ladies at the transition exit eying me suspiciously. Aha! I rolled Kristy back to my transition spot and proceeded to change into cycling shoes and grab my helmet. I found myself wondering if my head was clear enough to go rocketing down the slope out of town. Once on the bike, I thought about how peaceful I would have been jogging along the trails if I had entered the SR50 that morning. The adrenaline rush from steering Kristy around that crazy course suppressed those thoughts.

Some of the roads had deep cracks spaced about twenty feet apart. I had ridden the roads around Leadville many times, so I knew exactly what to expect on the bike course. I had even taken a map when I registered and driven over the course so that I would know how far I would go before I made the first turn and how far up Sugarloaf Mountain I would find the turn-around.

Bumpity, bumpity, bump. I rode in aero as often as I could, but the cracks made that position ridiculously dangerous on a few sections of roadway. Only on the west side of the railroad tracks, on the climbing approach to Turquoise Lake did the road smooth out enough to settle into an aero tuck.

It was a cool, sunny morning, so I enjoyed the ride a lot. Like all of the reservoir lakes I encountered in western states this summer, the water level in Turquoise Lake was well below normal due to the minimal snowfall last winter. The bike course went across the dam and then up along the paved road leading back to Mayqueen Campground. Duathletes and sprint triathletes turned around well before Mayqueen, but not before a section of road that was torn up by a landslide a few years back. That one hundred meter section of road was still gravel. Orange cones separated the "lanes" through the gravel.

Though I had passed a number of cyclists from the triathlons during my ride, I was hoping to cross the gravel alone on the return down the mountain. There would be no such luck. As I rounded the bend in the road leading into the gravel, I encountered a cyclist who was moving much slower. She made a last moment decision to cross over from the edge of the road to the center just as I reached her. I was already there in order to pass her.

Moving further across the center of the road I could see that another cyclist had entered the gravel in that lane, so I quickly swerved to pass the lady in the only place I could, on the right. I yelled to let her know I was there. And, wouldn't you know it, she cut sharply in front of me. I steered Kristy off of the road and through the fist to football sized rocks strewn about. How I made it out of that, I do not know.

I completed the shorter second run in about the same time as I had circumnavigated the longer first run. And it hurt just as much. I had run ultramarathons, cycled, and climbed all through the Colorado mountains, but I had never pushed myself as hard as I did on those two runs. It was a wonder that my lungs did not break ribs in their frantic search for oxygen. Oh sure, a sensible person would have slowed down. I have rarely been accused of being sensible, and I am now certain that the moniker will never apply to me when I am racing a bike, especially at altitude.

So, I finished the Du It High Duathlon walking as if I had been drinking shots for the previous eighty two minutes and mumbling incoherently about how spectacular the views were. It was a blast and I hope to do it again someday.

Due to the wave starts, it is always hard to tell where you are when you are in multisport events. It turns out that I finished ahead of the small field of duathletes that day. At the awards ceremony several of the duathlon competitors were upset due to the seemingly random placement of the guy awarded second place. He had gone off of the bike course and they made up a bike time for him that put him second place. None of us had ever seen that done before. Off course had always meant DQ'd. It is unfortunate that the situation was handled in a way that upset several people. Otherwise, it was a great event. I especially liked the swag, which included a Melanzana beanie and socks.

And the hardware became a rare keeper for me.

"I have always delighted in the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning." - Joseph Priestly, the inventor of air

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hardrock 100: Chapman Aid Station

All year I have been looking forward to the Hardrock 100 Mile Run. Not because I was entered in it. I wasn't. My desire to witness this event stemmed directly from having watched it in 2011 from its Ouray midpoint and from the finish line in Silvterton. I was drawn in because of the amount of suffering that I witnessed. More specifically, I was fascinated and awed by the ability of the Hardrock entrants to persevere, to continue with their relentless forward progress in those unforgiving, rugged mountains amidst numerous high energy storm systems.

Even the top ten runners, renowned and respected long distance mountain running machines, with strained eyes and unsteady gaits announcing their fatigue, entered Ouray looking as if they had already covered a full 100 miles. Watching the leaders struggle, my mind lodged on the notion that these people were only about halfway to the goal. There were several more high mountain passes to ascend and, worse yet, descend in the dark.

Then it occurred to me that most of the runners in the field were many miles and multiple mountain passes behind these leaders. They would suffer longer. They would endure more of the storms that were tormenting the San Juan Mountains. Many of them would still be on the picturesque, brutal course a day later when the sun would set on the race for the second time. For a variety of personal reasons, that are worthy of research, these people were putting themselves through an incredibly hard to grasp physical and mental nightmare. This, I appreciated and, in fact, loved.

So, when a turn of events allowed me to be in southwest Colorado again this summer, I made certain to put myself on the course. Through my friend, Chris, I was able to meet a group of people at the Bighorn 100 in June who, acknowledging the mental status of mountain ultra runners, called themselves Idiots. One of those Idiots, Kari, was in charge of the Chapman aid station at the HR100. She welcomed my offer to help out.

Because Chapman was only about 19 miles into the HR100 course on this clockwise year (the course is reverses every year), the runners were still in high spirits and not yet worn down by the mountains when they passed through. I did not see a single broken down runner until the next morning when I watched the winner finish.

More than two dozen volunteers showed up at Chapman to take care of the runners' needs. Many of us spent the night in Chapman Gulch in order to produce a functioning aid station by the expected 9:45 am arrival of the lead runners. What follows is a light hearted photo essay of how the aid station, known as the Bacon Station, was built and worked.

Interacting with the runners made this a memorable and moving experience. Working and playing with the other volunteers created a festive atmosphere that, I hope, enriched and energized the runners' experiences.

Basit adds Artistic Flair to his long list of skills.
Random shot of San Juan Mountains - perty, huh?!
Kari and I setting up the drop bag tent.
I did help. Honest!!
Basit seems on the verge of discovering which
side of the tables goes up.
The runners zigzagged up that slope to
the low point on that ridge after they left us.
It is called Oscar's Pass and it is more than
3000 feet above the Bacon Station.
Then I needed a nap.
With most of the Bacon Station crew assembled, Kari
goes over our responsibilities. Kari has done this
before and leads like an Aid Station Sensei.
 The sun is up and these tents are about to be emptied.
We meet again over breakfast. Kari delegates duties to
the crew and preaches on efficiency. The crowd of
of ultra runners understands her words. 
We are open for business!
Ning, aka the Bacon Master, is makin'
Bacon almost as fast as Basit devours it!
All of that jabbering on the walkie tuckered
me out. 
My buddy Corey, who finished 29th(!!!),
rolled into the Bacon Station with an
infectious smile.
Chris, now a three time HR100 finisher, takes
over my nap chair, but only to snack on the bacon.
Alan, one of the Vi Endurance founders,
also samples the bacon on his way
to his first HR100 finish.
Hal and second place finisher, Joe Grant, discuss
their close race shortly after Joe kisses the rock.
Third place finisher, Dakota Jones, eyes
the Hardrock he is about to kiss. He says
he is out for next year. Many of us are
hoping to get in.
Darcy Africa embraces her daughter
after winning the 2012 HR100

"Everybody needs beauty . . . places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike." - John Muir

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Idiots & Wildflowers

It is July and I am once again exploring the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Using Silverton (9318 ft) as a base camp, I am running, biking, and, of course, hiking in these grand and jagged mountains. And, to my benefit, I have once again connected with other Idiots. Not just any Idiots, but the Special Idiots. Two members of the group, Chris and Alan, will be challenging the San Juans in the Hardrock 100 this weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the HR100 is considered by many to be the toughest 100 mountain event in the world. Today, between my run and ride, we hiked nine miles on or near the HR100 course, reaching 12,600 ft in the Ice Lakes Basin. There, we found Heaven.

First, the training efforts. I have managed to do (attempt) tempo efforts in both running and cycling today. The pathetic, petulant, and rebellious manner in which the body reacts when it is deprived of oxygen is fascinating. The mind grows cloudy, the arms tingle, and, if you push hard enough, the lungs heave forcefully and frantically in search for precious life gas. I am certain my eyes rolled back in my head at the end of that hard run effort, because even though I don't take drugs, foggy hallucinations swept through my mind. This afternoon I was able end an active day by riding up to Red Mountain Pass in, by force of nature, a tempo effort. It was worth the Ricky Bobby trip back down. After listening to Kristy creak and moan, I've got to remember to tighten everything up before I get to Leadville this weekend.

In between today's run and bike I met up with five other Idiots (a Facebook group) for a nine mile hike. Below you will find some of the many pictures I took along the way. I will not have internet time to load all I want to, so come back to find many more, and captions, in coming days. Enjoy!

Polar RCX5 map of Ice Lakes Basin Hike.

Alan and Chris - Two Hardrockers

Billions of wildflowers waved in the breeze to welcome us.
Looking back on final climb into Ice Lake Basin.
Who shot me shooting Kari shooting wildflowers?
That tan patch is toxic mining pilings.

Beauty and the beast . . .
Basit takes flight!
Look closely at this flower called Elephant Head.
Golden Horn and Pilot Knob over Ice Lakes Basin.
Island Lake at 12,600 ft
Can you see the HR100 trail angling up to left?
This is what happens when you hike with Idiots! 
Chris and Basit enjoying my icy dive.
Looking back at Ice Lakes Basin and shadowed Golden Horn.

Like what you see? Find a trail and start walking . . .
"Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit." - Edward Abbey

Monday, July 9, 2012


There have been times in my life when I traveled to places or when I met people and a lasting impression was created. I am fortunate enough to have traveled a lot. I thank my uncle, John, for my traveler's spirit. I have also had opportunities to meet a lot of people. For that, I am grateful for my teaching job, my traveling spirit, and for my ability to talk with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. I'm not sure where I got that disease, but I am thankful for it until it causes me to get stuck in Walmart.

My mind reaches back to unforgetable places like Glacier or Denali National Parks where I hiked in silent awe of the landscapes, to Appomattox National Battlefield where tears flowed freely as I visualized the Union troops saluting the crushed Rebels, and to the shanties of Nogales, Mexico that made third world poverty a reality for me. Though my time in those places was brief, the imprints they left in my memory were deep enough to last a lifetime. My character is elevated and I am grateful to have gone to those places.

Then there are the people who passed quickly through my life but who still live vibrantly in my mind. There was the elderly black son of a sharecropper who eagerly welcomed me to chat with him on the porch of his ten by ten foot shack in Alabama. And I fondly recall the thru-hiker from Virginia that I picked up in the Smoky Mountains. There was the one-time superstar endurance athlete who welcomed me into his home and treated me like an old friend. I will never forget the salesman, who gave me a short life lesson that I recall often in this walk through life.

Trust me, I could go on and on, but the canvas is prepared. An attentive mind knows what I am creating here. Life, short and precious, provides many opportunities for growth, joy, and emotion. We simply need to pause long enough to appreciate those gifts.

As a measure of the diversity of these gifts, I would like to introduce Eske. He treated me with respect and kindness when I first visited his pub in June of 2008. I have, since 2000, visited more than 100 breweries and brewpubs all over the country. My outgoing nature has allowed me to meet many brewers. Eske stands out as the most cordial and energetic of them all. When I think of Eske's Brew Pub and Eatery, I smile!

Eske, in green, busy in the kitchen
I brew beer, love beer, and draw satisfaction from meeting like-minded people. When I announce during my first visit to Eske's that I am a chemist and a brewer, the waitress tells Eske and he appears within minutes. He talks to me about the brewing process, he shows me his brewery, and he takes me to the cellar beneath his pub. Granted, it is an off hour in the middle of the afternoon, and Eske obviously still has plenty of work to do, but he takes the time to talk to me.

Down to Earth, with a calm, soft voice overriding the intensity of an entrepreneur, Eske is instantly a likable man. His thick sandy head of hair, bright eyes, and bronzed skin make him resemble a surfer. Eske's chiseled arms and legs announce the laborious life of a brewmaster and his love for the outdoors. Only the creases around his eyes reveal his middle age and the many hours he must devote to his business, his love.

During my recent visit to Taos, I talked again with Eske. I also witnessed him wearing the hats of all of his employees as he moved about the place. It was obvious that his staff, which varied from five to six while I was there, were at ease around him. He is, apparently, a likable boss.

A simple, well-thought out menu
Eske's wife, Wanda, whose name graces several of the dishes on the short, but fulfilling menu, also blends into the workforce. The two seem very busy, but they both smile a lot and take the time to welcome and talk to customers. After thirty years, they know how to get the work done while enjoying themselves.

The Hefe, the Burrito, and Wanda's Stew. 
I visit Eske's three times during my two day visit. Smile. I use the rain as an excuse, but the truth is that I love the aura of the place. I also love the burrito smothered with Wanda's stew (minus the cheese, of course!). Then there is the music. A bluegrass quartet on Friday night and a jazz trio on Saturday night help pull me in and hold me in a chair on the porch (Eske's has indoor and outdoor seating). What a surprise, a treat, to be entertained by those talented musicians!
The Muddy Mountain Orchestra
And, lastly, there is Eske's beer. Beer is part art and part science. Eske currently has nine beers on tap, covering the tapestry with brews to satisfy any beer lover's tastebuds. And they are all GREAT! I have only been able to say that about two of the other breweries I've visited. Eske is a brewmaster with a wide range of brews that more than meet the expectations of their respective genres. I love stouts and hefes. Eske's 10,000 Foot Stout and Hula Hoop Hefe are both bulls eyes, having unique, yet superb blends of grains and hops to compliment their respective yeasts. Well done, Eske!!
Eske's brews
If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Taos, NM, a mountain town known around the world for its artists, don't forget to visit one of the best galleries - Eske's. I am certain that it will quickly make an indelible mark on your memory.

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer. - Dave Berry (from BrainyQuote.com)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Montezuma's Castle - The United World College

I consider myself fortunate in that I have been able to spend five days in Montezuma, New Mexico attending an IB workshop at the United World College. This is my third such workshop at the UWC.

The UWC is located on about one hundred acres at the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains which include the famous Montezuma Castle. Do not confuse this with this Montezuma's Castle. The castle has more than 400 rooms and occupies approximately 90,000 sq ft. It is the third such building on the site. The first two were built and burned down in the 1880's. An interesting fact is that those two buildings were the first buildings in the state to have electricity. They were built by a railroad company that hoped to use its rail line to bring guests to a resort that included several hot springs that are located just below the castle.

The existing building was a hotel until 1903, but it has since been owned and used by a variety of religious organizations. For more than three decades it was a Catholic seminary for Jesuits. A lasting feature of that era is a prayer building (rt) located on a ridge above the castle.

Unfortunately, the castle was left vacant for more than a decade. Locals, who I met at the hot springs, have told me that it became a hangout for teens and vagrants during that time. The building suffered significantly since normal repairs and upkeep were not attended to.  Damage from vandalism added to the breakdown of the building and resulted in the United World College having to spend more than ten million dollars to complete repairs.

Free concert on campus
The eventual salvation of the property came in 1981. The purchase and urgently needed repair of the property were made possible through monies ($30 million) donated by oil magnate Armand Hammer. He bought it to create a US campus of the United World College. Though the Hammer money was withdrawn by plan after thirty years, another fifty million dollar grant has kept the college functioning.

UWC IB students perform for us
It still serves as a United World College campus. And it has ties to the International Baccalaureate Programme. My visit to the castle has been for the purpose of attending an IB teacher workshop: Level III Physics. Along with seven other physics teachers from around the country, I have learned from the world's chief IB physics moderator (ultimate world grader) how to instruct my students to design, carry out, and write reports on physics experiments. It has been a huge learning experience for me, so I am glad I came.

Canyon trail
Some of my free time after the workshop sessions (and homework!) has been spent trail running and road cycling in the canyons east and west of the UWC campus. Together, the 6800+ ft altitude and the mountainous terrain have made this week's training quite strenuous. And I loved it! That winding, wavy, cracked, and narrow road did cause the hair on my neck to stand up a few times, but the bike handling skills are well polished!

Polar RCX5 Data file for one of the rides up into Gallinas Canyon
On Wednesday the workshop only lasted a half-day in order to allow for field trips to nearby tourist destinations. I chose to go to Santa Fe where I created my own brewery tour. I sampled beer from four local breweries and ate a fantastic half-pound buffalo burger at one of them - the Second Street Brewery.

I also visited the tourist trap known as the Santa Fe Plaza. Unfortunately, the natives I would have done business with were taking down their stands when I arrived. No problem. I walked through some shops, people watched (!!), and took in the world famous art and architecture.

Sante Fe St. Francis Cathedral Basilica
Great food and expertly designed brews!
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. - Albert Einstein