Saturday, October 24, 2009

Backside Loop (sort of)

Heading out the door this morning I wasn't really sure what I was going to run, only that I wanted to be out for a long time (four to six hours) and I wanted a couple of good climbs.  With that in mind, I tucked four gels into my shorts, chugged a quart or so of water, and carried another 16oz of water in a handheld bottle.

After the 20ish minute jog up to Chautauqua, I started with Green Mountain via Amphitheater, Saddle Rock, and Greenman.  That climb has certainly become a default for me already.  It's the most immediate, most fun way for me to get up high.  Right up from the Gregory Canyon trailhead I could feel some nice pep in my legs.  Running easily up steep, technical terrain is such a pleasure, definitely the most satisfying thing about building fitness.  I had a fresh pair of New Balance 100s on my feet and the extra protection and responsiveness that the rock plate in those things offers is perfect for the terrain here in Boulder.

Thirty-four minutes and 19 seconds and 2500 vertical feet later I was standing alone atop Green feeling fresh but a little chagrined at the lack of a view to the west.  The Continental Divide was completely socked in.  I still wasn't sure which way I wanted to go--down the West Ridge to Flagstaff Rd for the true "Backside Loop" or over to Bear Peak for some more vertical.  I chose Bear.  When in doubt, go higher.

My legs felt lickety-split headed down to Bear Creek and then going up the West Ridge trail I still had a surprising amount of pop in my stride.  For whatever reason, I usually really drag on this exceedingly moderate climb up the ridge, but not today.  Even when I hit the last stretch up through the boulders and talus I was still feeling in control, except for the wind trying to knock me over, which it would attempt to do all day.  Twenty-three minutes after crossing the creek I was on the summit of Bear Peak.

On the summit of Bear, I noticed that a gel had fallen out of my pocket at some point--probably the downhill off Green--so I was going to be stretching the calories a bit today.  Leaving the summit of Bear, I hadn't yet decided if I wanted to tag South Boulder Peak or not.  The short distance between it and Bear always makes for a tough decision: it's trivial, so why do it?  or, it's trivial, so why not do it?  Today, I chose the latter, mostly because I enjoy the view from SoBo the most and because it's always hard to deny the trifecta of the 8ers here in Boulder if one has enough time.

SoBo had the iciest footing of the day, but I made quick work of it and was still feeling great as I headed down Shadow Canyon.  I love the upper stretches of this trail.  There are very nice, reasonable switchbacks that, for some reason, remind me of the Barr Trail just below treeline.  Soon enough, however, the track devolves into ever-steeper and bigger rock drop-offs really, and it always drags on longer than I think it should.  Today it took me 15min flat to descend through the canyon and I emerged with my legs still feeling great even after two hours of running.

From there I hooked up with the Old Mesa trail, which is notably rocky.  It is very skinny, almost overgrown singletrack through a gorgeous little valley, but the tread is so full of embedded (not loose) rocks that I could barely lift my eyes off the ground to take in the views.  But, after a few minutes it dumped me out in the gorgeously quixotic little hamlet of Eldorado Springs.  It was my first visit to this little corner of the area and I loved it.  Ramshackle houses, breathtaking setting, dirt streets--this is my kind of "town".

I hadn't touched my water yet, and was holding off on hitting my first gel, but I figured if I was going to get some water this would be the place to do it.  As if on cue, as I was running past a strange, Alamo-looking type of building, a couple of other runners called out my name.  So I stopped to chat, there in the sunshine.  They were doing the Backside loop in a much more traditional manner--having run down Flagstaff Road and through Walker and Eldorado Canyon already--and were refilling their Camelbaks at this weird little water-dispenser thingy in a wall.  They said if I had a quarter, it would give me a gallon.  I had no quarter, but they were kind enough to let me have one, even if I had no idea how I could drink a gallon of water right there on the spot.  I elected to save the quarter for my then planned-for return-trip past the water dispenser.

(Looking back out at the entrance to Eldorado Canyon.)

I wanted to get into Eldo, but I didn't want to pay.  So I ran.  All the way back to County Rd 67 and up the Fowler Trail.  I knew there was a secret little shortcut trail to sneak up to Fowler more directly, but even with my eyes peeled I couldn't spot it.  I didn't really want to go poking around in people's back yards if I didn't know where I was going.

I love the Fowler trail.  The views are just incredible.  And the Eldorado Canyon trail was even more of a treat.  The climbs on that trail are much more like what I am used to running in Colorado Springs.  Reasonably steep, largely non-technical switchbacks that are runnable the whole way.  And, the tread and line of the trail is perfect the whole way.  Weaving in and out of woods, trending slightly up or down, expansive views into the canyon.  Before the big drop down to South Boulder Creek and the Walker Ranch Loop I finally hit my first gel because I could finally start feeling my legs dragging a bit.

Walker Ranch totally surprised me.  I elected to go clockwise because at this point I was contemplating bailing on doing the full lollipop, but I still wanted to see as much of the trail as possible.  South Boulder Creek is such an idyllic mountain stream up there.  And the entire trail was more of the same reasonable up and down on very nice singletrack.  However, on the final climb up from the Creek to the Flagstaff Road trailhead I was hurting.  Definitely dehydrated (still nursing a couple more mouthfuls in the bottle) and just generally feeling the grind of having run for nearly four hours.

So, that's when Flagstaff Road decided to kick me in the teeth.  Ouch.  I was not expecting that climb to be so tough.  It was only about 700' or so in the span of one and a half miles, but it freakin' hurt.  I knew there was no way I was going to skip out on a second summit of Green for the day, though.  What's another 500' of vertical?  Plenty, that's all I can say.  I finally made it, though, hit my final gel on top (the new Gingerbread GUs ain't half bad), and made the descent down Ranger.

It took a tremendous amount of will power to convince myself that summiting Flagstaff was worthwhile, and I spent the descent motivated only by visions of the water fountain waiting for me in Eben G. Fine park.  Of course, once I got there I knew I was only a slightly downhill 2.5 miles away from home and I didn't want to burn the energy to go the extra 50 yards to the fountain.  Long runs in the mountains often have deleterious effects on my logic.  

Five hours thirty six minutes, 9000' of climbing (my watch said 9500', but my brain only calculated 8500' when adding up the big climbs, so I split the difference), five summits,  and ~37 miles later, I was back at my doorstep.


Deanna Stoppler said...

Good lord! Sounds great. Thanks for sharing.

peach fuzzzz said...

do your track your mileage by a GPS watch?

GZ said...

Wow. Helluva run.

Peanutt said...

I'll 2nd that request to know what watch you wear and I wanted to say I'm glad you're back to posting more frequently, I enjoy reading what you write, though you make me wish I hadn't wasted the time I lived in Boulder such as I did. Best of luck to you with your training.

ultrarunner (Brian Philpot) said...

Allways great to read about u'r runs and the watch u use is a "sundial"

Nicola Gildersleeve said...

Wow! Sounds like some amazing terrain.

So, let me get this straight, you had less than a liter of water in 5 1/2 hours? and 3 gels? Why not use a pack that can hold more water?

Anywho, I applaud your minimalistic needs. I would just pass out.

Jim Parry said...

Seems like you are comparing a lot of your runs to those that you have had in the Manitou Springs area! I'm wondering why it is that you left then? Maybe I missed the answer in an earlier post. I'm from SE MN and will be running the PPM for the 5th time next Aug. The point is that I feel a need to return to the area. I'm not sure if it is the mountain, the trails, or the town. Seems you might be feeling the same!

Anonymous said...

Anton, your views on life and running are inspiring. How is graduate school going for you? Also, how did you progress to such consistently high mileage from when you first started running? For example, you seem to be able to consistently run 150 miles or more a week without hurting. How does this mileage compare to your first few years of running? Thanks for showing how much more there is to running than just miles and times. Your Indulgence movie is great! Thanks for being an inspiration and for showing that high mileage is beneficial AND enjoyable!

Unknown said...


Thanks for your posts. I only hope that running on such little water and so little food doesn't get you in serious trouble someday.

I like Nicola's suggestion of carrying a camelback in order to carry the water and food that your body and brain need.

I know it will slow your training run times, but look at it this way, it will make you even stronger for when you are in races and not carrying the extra weight.

Love to read your posts about many of the Boulder trails I ran alone when I was 26-31, and lived there in 1991-1996.

On so many long runs runs (15-25 miles then was long for me) I saw no one.

Just a fabulous place to run, and still be "close" to home.

Although as you have shared, on some weekends it can be "a little crowded" on Sanitas.

Maybe I missed it mentioned in an earlier post of yours, but have you run up to Gold Hill yet?

Running in the Nederland area can be fun, during summertime and early fall before the snow makes it not something a layman like me would want to do.

Best of luck to you.

Unknown said...

Where are you getting those great photos? YOu carrying a camera or finding them on the web to match your route. Great stuff.

Local Mind Media said...

I can't imagine you using a gps "watch"; it would blow the whole image. anal-Anton? Not likely...

Sad that I'm not in Boulder (still, or yet again) to be able to bump into you on your trail treading. Stick with your principles - majority of people eat too much and drink too much running (and living, for that matter).

PunkRockRunner said...

I've officially grown tired of reading about trail running and will be running my very first Ultra in December.

Between this Blog and supporting friends at the Crissy Field 24-hour event last weekend I need to get a better understanding of how this Ultra thing works.

I think Thoreau said it best, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live"

Thanks for the inspiration.

All the best,


Pablo Rosas said...

Anton, I have a question.
Due to your minimalistic approach to running, I'm curious; do you believe in strength training? Do you do it? It would be great to hear your thoughts/advice on this topic. Thanks for the great blog. I check daily to see if there's something new to enjoy.

Unknown said...

All due respect to Footfeathers, it's been my experience that the majority of people eat too little and drink too little in ultrarunning. Add that to taking too much ibuprofen (not saying you do this) and it's a mix that can get folks in some serious trouble.

I remember being in my late 20s and getting away with only 16 oz of water on a 15-20 mile run. Maybe a younger body can do that?

Needless to say, I had no idea what folks suggest is wise back then. I have heard 20-28 oz of water per hour and 250-350 calories per hour is about right.

I know it was a Fall day in Boulder and probably very cool weather, so that makes a greater amount of water less necessary perhaps.

I have also heard about folks who have run ultras and done well and said they drank 50-60 oz of water each hour in their race, and this was no greenhorn I am alluding to. This was in a 100 miler, not a 37 miler.

Anton, the comments I had earlier about thinking about getting a Camelbak to be able to have access to more water and more food on these longer, multi hour runs was written with good intentions.

Obviously, you and others may do whatever you have found that works for you.

Stick to your philosophical principles, yes, but hoping that you consider biological principles as well while making those important fueling and hydration decisions.

Take care.

Anton said...

Let's see if I can respond to some of the questions:

I wear a watch courtesy of Highgear. It has a barometric (I think) altimeter, but no GPS. The distance isn't usually as important to me as the actual duration of the run. Think about it--one's heart/lungs/legs don't really know how far an arbitrary mental construct like a "mile" is, the body just knows how long it's been working at a certain intensity, not how far it's been at that intensity. This is an especially important concept to consider, I think, when one is running at altitude, on exceedingly technical and steep terrain, and in snow. Take one run to the top of Green Mt. or Bear Peak and you will be convinced of how silly it is to worry about the distance covered when considering the value of the effort.

As for food/water: I eat what I feel my body needing. During a training run I'll often allow myself to get a little dehydrated or build up a little calorie deficit, but during a race I'm exceedingly attentive to what my body needs. Two days ago I did a four hour run with nothing but a couple handfuls of snow (the temps were in the 30s to 40s) and no training I just do what comes naturally--in racing I definitely enforce a more regular eating/drinking schedule. During day-to-day running I guess I prefer to re-fuel afterwards with real food instead of fueling on-the-go with sugar. That's just me, though, and what I've always done.

I left Manitou/CO Springs because the University of Colorado is in Boulder for one, and two, I'm lucky enough to have the chance to move around and check out different areas--Boulder is great. It's just that I spent seven years in the Pikes Peak region, so I'm always going to compare other areas to that--it's where my mountain running roots are. And, that area is REALLY HARD to beat in terms of variety of terrain, but that's a whole different blog post.

I don't own a camera--most those shots are off the web.

I don't do any specific strength training beyond the odd pull-up or push-up and set of crunches.


32 degrees said...

sick, just sick. (in a good way that is)