Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March: a sum of the parts

A purely by-the-numbers update here.  A tad too busy to put any effort into anything else.

March Totals
-Miles: 547
-Hours: 81h 08min
-Vertical: 94,700'
-Green: 31
-Bear: 2
-Days Off: 0

2010 Totals (Day 90)
-Miles: 1536
-Hours: 228h 31min (when is it appropriate to switch to "days"?)
-Vertical: 286,500'
-Green: 98
-Bear: 2
-Days Off: 0

As one can see, I am a mere two ascents away from topping Green 100 times for the year.  I'll most likely hit that this Friday, the 92nd day of the year.  I suppose that is a nice little milestone, mostly since it is one I set out to accomplish three months ago, and--despite a couple of relatively minor setbacks--I will now achieve.

In total, March was good.  The second week was mostly worthless while I worked through a stupid, accident-induced back issue that knocked my running that week down to only 53 miles, ~8 hours, and just under 10,000' of vertical.  Six days in a row of no Green Mountain summit views.  Thankfully, my back made a full recovery and I've come roaring back these last two weeks with the best stretch of training I've accomplished since last summer.  So that is exciting.

I might sit down this weekend to type a few thoughts about the experience of the whole Green Mountain Project, or I might not.  It all depends on how much I'm willing to procrastinate and compromise the quality of the actual possibly negative-consequence-inducing academic responsibilities I am currently beholden to.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekly Summary: March 22-28


(Sunrise from Green this morning: summit #94.)

03-22-2010
Mon-AM: 35 miles (4:42) Gold Hill+Green Mt., 6000'
Ran 1:23:50 for the 10 miles from 4th St to Gold Hill (3000' climb), came back down in 66 minutes. Bonked pretty badly on Green, but wouldn't have been so bad if the trails weren't so messy. 

03-23-2010
Tue-AM: 15 miles (2:13) Green Mt., Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
Tired, so took it nice and easy. Nice running in the clouds.
PM: 8+ miles (1:07) Skunk Creek-Kitt Field
Raining the entire way. Did the last 3 miles barefoot at Kitt, but should've done more of the run there because my feet never got cold like I thought they would.

03-24-2010
Wed-AM: 16 miles (2:53) Green Mt., up Crown Rock to Flag Rd to West Ridge; down Ranger and Gregory, 3000'
That's right, almost 11 minutes/mile.  Breaking trail when Iwasn't on the road.  Constant knee-deep snow and then the switchbacks on upper Ranger were covered in chest-high drifts that I was forced to wallow/wade/swim through.  Fortunately, I was wearing tights.  Took me 44min to go down the three miles of Ranger-Gregory.
PM: 8 miles (1:05) Goose Creek Loop
Nice jog around town in the evening after an afternoon in the library.

03-25-2010
Thu-AM: 15 miles (2:20) Green Mt., up Gregory to Flag Rd to West Ridge; down Greenman-Saddle-Amp, 3000'
Bloody shins postholing through ice-crust on the West Ridge this morning. Trails are a huge mess; nobody gets out to pack it down during the week! 

03-26-2010
Fri-AM: 25 miles (4:18) 3 x Green Mt., up Gregory down front, 8000'
42:45, 42:25, 42:15 in really lame snow conditions on the Ranger trail.  Ran with Jeff before the weather turned to crap again.  Legs felt surprisingly solid all day despite the snow. Need to do four laps soon.

03-27-2010
Sat-AM: 16 miles (2:29) Green Mt., Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
There were 2-3" of fresh snow on the top half of the mountain, but trail was still in better shape than yesterday. Got a couple bonus miles at the end running some errands around town.
PM: 8 miles (1:02) Skunk Creek+Kitt Field
After loosening up I felt good and cruised 5mi barefoot.

03-28-2010
Sun-AM: 15 miles (2:17) Green Mt., Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
5am wake-up gave me a nice sunrise from the summit. Trail was very well-packed but really narrow--rarely wider than 12".  Finished up with 2 miles of barefoot at Kitt Field.
AM2: 7 miles (1:05) Red Rocks Canyon in COS, 1000'
Quick trip to the Springs gave me the opportunity to cruise around one of my old stomping grounds at 11am. Absolutely incredible trails there--especially awesome in the spring sun.

Total
-Miles: 168

-Hours: 25h 31min
-Vertical: 29,400'
2010 Summits (Day 87)
-Green: 94
-Bear: 2
----------------------------------------------------------------

Obviously, this was a solid week.  I'm starting to feel pretty good, health-wise and fitness-wise.  Both long runs had no deleterious effects on my knee, which was further supported by the good news that my MRI showed no structural issues in my knee.  I had hoped to get some kind of speedy-ish workout in on Wednesday morning, but Tuesday night's foot of snow foiled those plans.  No worries, the weather looks incredible this coming week and I should be able to fit something in.

Most importantly, on all of my runs--even my afternoon/evening easy runs--I've started to get that very efficient, natural default feeling that typically occurs when I'm reaching a decent level of fitness.  In addition, I've been getting in a significant amount of barefoot running, which is always helpful in maintaining efficient form.  I expect the overall mileage to drop slightly in the next couple of weeks because of all the academic responsibilities I'll have here in the last month of the semester.  That's definitely not a bad thing, though.

A couple pictures of the trail conditions at ~6am this morning on Green Mountain:

(Not a bad morning on top.)

(Upper Greenman: usually a series of log steps here. In reality, this section is stupid steep.)

(Very narrow trail a bit lower down on Greenman.)

And then, later in the morning:

(The unmistakable visage of Pikes: Oh, how I miss her.)


(Jocelyn loves running in Red Rocks.)

(With college teammate Meg Z.)

Finally, I would normally be disparaging of the fact that The Kills use a drum machine instead of an actual human percussionist, but Alison Mosshart more than makes up for it by being such a smoking babe:





Friday, March 26, 2010

Lapping Up Green

Wednesday's snowstorm has proven to be a bit of a pain in the ass.  My buddy Jeff is gearing up for a classic Grand Canyon Double Crossing next month, and as such, was interested in logging a solid longer effort this week.  One that would help prepare him for the rigors of the Grand Canyon; you know, tighten the hamstrings, season the quads.  Of course, I would join him; this is the sort of thing that always interests me.

(Today's goal, as seen from my urban approach.  Flatirons Elementary in the foreground.)

Unfortunately (depending on one's perspective, of course), mid-week Boulder was treated to maybe it's largest snowstorm of the season, accompanied with some significant winds at the higher elevations.  Up high, the two feet of snow was whipped into fantastical ice-cream scoop drifts that rendered Green Mountain's Ranger trail virtually unrecognizable. 

My Wednesday morning summit of Green involved excessive amounts of postholing, wading, wallowing, swimming, and cursing as I struggled to descend the socked-in switchbacks of the Ranger trail without benefit of snowshoes.  A downhill three miles in 44 minutes.  Thursday was maybe even worse in spots as the warm day-time temps had glazed the top inch or so of the snow-pack into a shin-bloodying crust.  Fun stuff, for sure.

Jeff and I knew that any plans we had harbored for large, interesting tours of the Boulder Mountain Parks trails were stymied, so yesterday he dutifully took a pair of snowshoes up and down the Gregory-Ranger route on Green to prepare the path for today's task: laps on Green Mountain.

I prefaced the real work with my usual ~30 minute/3.5 mile jog to the Gregory Canyon trailhead where Jeff would park his vehicle as a de facto aid station stocked with a milk jug of water, GU, and bananas.  On the first lap, Jeff and I were full of energy and hope.  Gregory canyon had melted out nicely in yesterday's afternoon sun and our minds and legs were eager and fresh.  Chatting easily, we were soon at the Ranger Cabin--the veritable half-way point of the climb--and dug into the trail with enthusiasm, interested to see what conditions would present themselves today.
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(The second of the two short, flat stretches in Gregory Canyon.)

Despite Jeff's best efforts yesterday, the trail was still a mess.  Granted, without his handiwork or Microspikes, it would've been largely impassable with any semblance of a usual running motion.  When the grade steepened, Jeff allowed me to step by as I continued up, maintaining a running cadence amidst the uneven footing and unconsolidated powder.  It was scarcely quicker than his powerful hiking.

(More typical trail at the start of  Ranger--the summit is barely visible through the trees.)

At the top, I scrambled to the summit, caught a few puffs of sweet oxygen, and waited briefly for Jeff.  I'd grown increasingly cynical as the top approached, highly doubtful of my desire to attempt any more laps.  The trail conditions were far from ideal, and I wanted the chance to open up my legs a little instead of having a snow-induced governor clip my stride.  However, 22 minutes of a controlled-but-quick, quad-pounding, 2500' descent of the front side of the mountain erased any question in my mind.  The banter with Jeff--and the sharing of the suffering--rejuvenated me, and after a quick gel and chugging of water we were headed back up the canyon for another 5.5 mile loop and 2500' of ascent/descent.

Now fully warmed up I cruised through the canyon feeling surprisingly good, getting to the cabin 15 seconds faster than the first lap.  Ranger was a little stickier now with the rising morning temperature, but more importantly I had resigned to just flailing a little, and I reached the summit 20 seconds quicker than the first climb: 42:25.  To give an idea of the conditions, on a more packed trail I will typically cruise this route in a routine 37 or 38 minutes with a (snow) PR of low-35.  I waited again for Jeff before tip-toeing and slaloming down the technical Greenman, Saddle Rock, and Amphitheater trails.

On the third lap, Jeff and I decided to split up:  he knew his final ascent was going to involve a fair bit of hiking and he preferred to do that on the shorter, steeper frontside route we'd just run down.  I like to run as much as possible, so I stuck to the 1/2 mile longer Gregory-Ranger route and after another gel charged up the canyon for the final time.

Things were decidedly tough this lap.  Gregory had become wet, muddy, and just generally sloppy, while Ranger had turned into that unpleasantly punchy (and still uneven) snow surface that absorbs any sort of helpful energy return.  Surprisingly, I was hitting similar splits, however, and I pondered the physiology of fatigue that caused markedly higher respiration and leg leaden-ness despite no real increase in speed.  Damn you, legs and lungs.  Despite this, I pushed the last three minutes to the summit in order to sneak in ten seconds under my second-lap time and successfully negative split the workout.

(The MapMyRun summation of the morning.)

On the final descent with Jeff I still felt great.  A fourth lap seemed like the natural thing to do.  Thankfully, ominous clouds and rational thinking won the day and after thanking Jeff for a great run I instead jogged over to Chautauqua to log a couple flatter bonus miles before running home to complete the 25 mile/8000' day in 4h18min.  I'll certainly be back for four laps sometime soon (with better trail conditions), but didn't think that increasing my long run by an hour after a mere four days was the most prudent thing to do to my knee.  Of course, within an hour or so of stepping back into my apartment, the clouds that had enshrouded the Indian Peaks all morning decided it was time to start distributing their contents over Boulder, leaving me grateful for having snuck in yet another magnificent day in the mountains.



(Summit #92 of 2010: Pointlessly testing some of Jocelyn's camera's video capabilities.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gold Hill

(Gold Hill to the right, Green Mt to the left.)

Toward the end of last September, Jocelyn and I were still relatively new to Boulder and wanted to explore.  The aspen leaves were in season and we were in search for some golden foliage.  With this in mind we ventured up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and the Peak to Peak Highway and then headed north.  We were also vaguely looking for some dirt on which to run, so we pulled onto the Gold Hill Road and meandered down it until it intersected with the Switzerland Trail where we got out and enjoyed a leisurely hour autumnal jaunt through the trees and cool air at 8500'.  Frustratingly, that was the absolute maximum my knee could handle at the time.

For the trip home, however, we continued east on the road, stumbled onto the tiny, idyllic near-ghost town of Gold Hill and then continued home via Sunshine Canyon.  Even after it turned to asphalt half-way down the descent I vowed to come back and run this road once my knee was healthy.  Well, today I finally decided that my knee was capable of taking on the 10 mile, 3000' descent that a return trip from Gold Hill requires.

Today was another magnificent +60F spring day in Boulder, but the forecast was for more snow tomorrow, so I was eager to get out and spend as much of the day as possible running the hills.  Additionally, most of the Boulder Mountain Parks peak trails are still either annoyingly slushy with unstable footing or under a foot or more of snow.  So, today seemed like one of the last few logical days of the snow season to go pound a road for several hours.  Of course, I wasn't going to let Green Mt. go unnoticed, either, so on my way up to Mapleton Avenue and the mouth of Sunshine Canyon I stashed a pair of Microspikes in a hedge in order to assist me in my end-of-run climb.

The climb up Sunshine Canyon Drive is one of those mostly reasonable mountain ascents.  From the corner of 4th St. and Mapleton it is 10 miles and 3000' of climbing to Gold Hill.  I had come across a recorded time of 1h38min by Galen Burrell on Bill Wright's old Boulder Trail Running Records site.  According to his site, this time was for the 10 miles from 4th St to the 10 mile marker in Gold Hill.  I had no idea how stout this time was but do know that Galen was/is a very strong runner, so used it as a benchmark for how long the run should take.
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(35 miles, 6000+' climb, and 4h42min)

(Out to Gold Hill and back, then Green Mt.)

Even with the first ~6 miles being asphalt, this is a pleasant run.  Traffic this morning was moderate to light, and the gradient is occassionally broken by short sections of flat and even slightly downhill running.  Running up a sustained, constant hill like this is something that is significantly different from the steep, technical, switchbacked, stair-stepped climbs I've become accustomed to on Green Mt. this winter.  On the road you can maintain a legitimate running stride the entire time, but the featureless surface gives one a sense of ascending very slowly.  As a result, the mind tends to wander and dissociate a bit from the attendant effort.

(Sugarloaf Mt. on the left, Continental Divide on the right.)

Being a weekday, it was hard for me to not think about how fortunate I am to be living a life where I can duck out the door and go running in the mountains for nearly five hours on a Monday morning.  Granted, I'm in the middle of CU's Spring Break, but it was only natural to have the collective topics of work, careers, values, and priorities marinating in my mind.

(Typical road up high.)

I was once sitting outside of a coffeehouse at a sidewalk table when a man walked by with a tattoo on the back of his head--like where there is usually hair.  One of the folks I was sitting with made a comment (to me, not the man) about how that sort of thing pretty much precludes one from becoming a "contributing member of society".  Okay.  In this particular case, that may have been true, and tattoos on one's scalp may be a little...something (full disclosure: I have no tattoos)...but, whether or not my companion was right wasn't what interested me about the statement.

(13,200' Mt. Audubon, front and center.)

Instead, then--and this morning--I was more fixated on the entire concept of being a "contributing member of society" (CMOS).  I'm not sure what this means.  I'm pretty sure I know what my coffee companion meant: securing a job where tattoos are taboo (i.e. typically one with a substantial salary and plenty of "upward mobility"), and using the acquired money to generally follow what are by and large the rules of modern life.  I think we all know what those are.  Don't think that I'm denigrating the concept of making money.  I'm not.  Earning a living is completely necessary.  But, I'm still not sure what I think constitutes "contributing" and whether or not contributing in the sense my companion was insinuating is even a value worth harboring.

(Top of the climb, less than 1/2 mile drop to town.)

For instance, grinding my way up Sunshine Canyon Drive, engaging in this singularly selfish activity, I found it difficult to convince myself that I was contributing anything to anyone, yet I was profoundly satisfied, present, and, for lack of a better word, happy.  Was that bad?  Was I being irresponsible?  Am I being irresponsible?  Being irresponsible seems inherently undesirable.  Don't get me wrong, I think I completely understand the common values of family, community, love, being kind to one's fellow man while expecting nothing in return, etc.  The value of those concepts--given the proper motivations--seems virtually unassailable in my mind.  The issue I've been grappling with, rather, is whether there are other equally noble, valuable modes of being a CMOS that, metaphorically speaking, have no concern with whether or not one has a large, visible tattoo.

(Main St. Gold Hill: my kind of town.)

The way I usually come at questions like those is by considering the more alternative ways of contributing to society, which by definition usually involves something non-corporate and maybe even non-governmental, which also means that the way we've come to assign value to things--monetary compensation--is also typically lacking.  I'm talking here of the creative activities in life: music, art, writing, etc.  Depending on the day, I consider working the land (farming, in a particularly conscious manner) a very creative (maybe the creative) mode of contribution. 

Lately, I've also been thinking about the act of running as a creative process, perhaps a very particular type of performance art that, if occassionally shared with others through racing and other collaborative efforts qualifies it as a contributory activity of some value.  That is, of value to a society, the kind of value that isn't typically assigned a dollar amount.  But, I'm certainly not sure.  My hunch is that there is a precarious balance somewhere in between the two end-members of, A) resource-sucking leach on society, and B) capitalist greed-monger, that affords one both satisfaction and virtue.

The incredible views of the foothills and looming Indian Peaks eventually distracted my mind, though, and before I knew it I was at the top of the climb and cruising down the 1/2 mile descent into Gold Hill.  I'd reached the corner of Sunshine Canyon Drive and Gold Run Road (turns into Fourmile Canyon lower down) at the entrance to Gold Hill in 1:23:50 from 4th Street down in Boulder.  Curious about Galen's time, I continued up Main St. Gold Hill with my eyes peeled for the 10 mile marker, but ran all the way to Colorado Mountain Ranch on the far edge of town before giving up on spotting it.  The snow on the side of the road must've been too deep.  Based on the 9 mile marker, I would guess that it's ~0.4 mile/3min past the Gold Run Rd intersection.  My effort today was easy/casual and I could easily see myself going 30 seconds/mile faster with some focus and motivation, so I'm gonna go ahead and surmise that Galen wasn't exactly pressing that day.

The 10 miles back down to town passed in a quick 66 minutes, and with the pop of a Blueberry-Pomegranate Roctane I started the final climb of the day up 6th Street to the Gregory Canyon trailhead and my 86th summit of Green Mt.  Green was hard today.  By time I'd reached the trailhead my body was already begging for another GU, even though I'd had one only 20 minutes earlier.  The trail through Gregory Canyon was predictably clear (astonishing considering the amount of snow on it just 48 hours earlier), but the Ranger trail was in the unsavory state of not-quite-slush, not-quite-solid-snow that transformed the stride and cadence of my already pounded and bonking legs into a fairly pathetic baby-step shuffle.  Certainly good rehearsal for an arduous late-race climb.

Forty-five minutes after the summit I was back at my apartment and scrounging in the kitchen for food.  It was already early afternoon and all I'd accomplished today was to make myself very, very tired.  But, for the moment at least, that seemed to be enough.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekly Summary: March 15-21

(Green, looking natty with a fresh coat of sparkle this weekend.)

03-15-2010
Mon-AM: 14 miles (2:11) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
        A surprising 4+" of new snow that I was breaking trail 
        through made for a slow climb.
        PM: 7 miles (1:03) Mesa-Skunk Canyon+1mi barefoot
        Ran slow and easy with Jocelyn on exceedingly sloppy 
        trails.  Added on at Kitt at the end. Ran down that dirt
        road behind NOAA and observed that it would make
        for some pretty sweet hill repeats: 266ft in .44 mile
        according to MapMyRun.com.  MapMyRun says Linden's
        are 266ft in .53 mile.

03-16-2010
Tue-AM: 15 miles (2:16) Green Mt. Ranger-Bear Canyon, 3000'
       Pretty tired this morning, but outstanding sunrise.

03-17-2010
Wed-AM: 28 miles (4:10) Green Mt.-Bear Pk-Green Mt., 6500'
        Did the three climbs (2800', 1200', and 2500', respectively) in
       38:50, 26:00 (lots of snow on the ridge), and 35:30.  Just an
       average day energy-wise, but it's been WAY TOO LONG since
       I've had the pleasure of spending a whole morning in the
       mountains, so a pretty exceptional day overall. +65F


03-18-210
Thu-AM: 8 miles (1:02) Skunk-Kitt Loop+4mi barefoot
        Early morning before mid-term with Jocelyn. Nice and easy.
       PM: 14 miles (2:04) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
       A pretty sluggish run, as expected.  Shirtless the entire way,
       so I just enjoyed the sun knowing it would be snowing soon.

03-19-2010
Fri-AM: 14 miles (2:17) Green Mt. up/down Greg-Ranger, 2800'
      Wow. By far the slowest climb of the year (49:15) because I
      was wading through a foot of new powder, laying fresh tracks.
     Incredible morning to be in the mountains. Snowing so hard.

     PM: 6 miles (:46) Boulder Creek Path
     Easy jog in the still-falling snow. Stopped off at the grocery
     store on the way home to pick up some milk and tea.


03-20-2010
Sat-AM: 16 miles (2:28) Green Mt. up Gregory-Flagstaff Road-
      West Ridge; down Ranger-Flagstaff Road, 3000'
      Ridiculous amounts of snow on the mountain today, but brilliant
      sunshine. Bailed onto the road half-way up and then descended
      with Jeff and Brandon. Legs felt really good, but the snow was
      consistently knee-deep and waist deep at times.  Awesome day.

    PM: 7 miles (:55) South Boulder Creek Path

03-21-2010
Sun-AM: 15 miles (2:16) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
       Good trail to the cabin but then lots of unconsolidated snow
       up on the Ranger trail.  Beautiful Spring day.

       PM: 8 miles (:58) Skunk Creek Loop x 2
       Very relaxed jog in the afternoon sunshine. It's great to get
       out and just cruise effortlessly sometimes. Shirtless, flat
       terrain, 7-8min/mile...on runs like this there is a definite
       kinesthetic joy. However, it is also on runs like these that
       I really miss living in Colorado Springs or Flagstaff where
       there are endless opportunities for flattish, dirt runs right

       from downtown.  This entire run was on paved bike paths;
       I've been defaulting to laps on Kitt Field for soft surface
       stuff, but there was a women's lacrosse game this afternoon.
      Not sure why every "trail" in Boulder proper has to be cement.
      Even so, I kicked off my slippers to do the last two miles
      barefoot--even though it was on pavement--because it just
      felt right in the context of the afternoon.


Total
-Miles: 152
-Hours: 21h 41min
-Vertical: 23,700'
2010 Summits (Day 80)
Green: 85
Bear: 2

A few images from running on Green this weekend in the aftermath of Friday's blizzard:
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(Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, from Green's west ridge.)

(Breaking trail through knee-deep powder on Green's west ridge.)

(Peeking through to the Indian Peaks.)

(Triumphant on summit #84: look at that blue sky!)

(Green and the backside of the First Flatiron from Flagstaff Road.)

This was a very good week of running.  After a less-than-stellar previous week, I got a simple sacroilliac joint adjustment from Jeremy that dramatically improved my back and allowed me to rebound well.  Of course, I was pleased to complete the mid-week long run, but the challenge will now be to gradually lengthen that over the next month in preparation for Miwok on May 1st.

On Friday I finally got an MRI for my knee.  Jeremy had been recommending this for a while because we've essentially exhausted the conservative treatment measures on my knee, and if, as I build the long run, the knee pain comes back in a significant way, we'll be in a more informed position as to what sort of action we should take.  Basically, he wanted to be sure that there isn't some kind of structural defect (such as a meniscus tear) that would make administering something like a cortisone shot completely pointless.  I'll be getting a report on the MRI early this week, so I'm hoping for good news (i.e. I've only been dealing with stubborn patellar tendonitis, not any cartilage issues) there.

The other thing I'll be considering in my build-up to Miwok is the inclusion of some kind of speedwork.  I haven't decided completely on that yet, as, per usual, it's always much more motivating to head out for a climb up Green Mt. than for a tempo on the Creek Path or intervals on a track somewhere.  Of course, over the past few years Matt Carpenter has chided me repeatedly about not wanting to do the "not fun" stuff in race preparation, and he's mostly right.  The last time I did any significant speedwork was in my build-up for the American River 50 in 2008.  In that case, I completed four straight weeks of one workout per week (the progression of which can be seen here), generally focusing on mile repeats and longer tempo runs.  Granted, even that was a pretty minimal amount of structured fast running.

Logically, I know I should do speedwork to become a better runner.  Emotionally, I am still having a difficult time justifying it to myself.  I remember the confidence it gave me to be able to comfortably cruise low-6s pace for the first 25 miles at  American River two years ago and I know that the increased efficiency and confidence that comes along with that is likely to benefit me in nearly any type of race situation.  However, there is a definite part of me that simply doesn't feel disciplined enough to give up--even for one day a week--the comfort and joy of the mountains.  We'll see what I end up deciding.

Finally, last night I had the pleasure of seeing The Temper Trap at the Fox Theater here in Boulder--a simple five minute bike ride from my house.  These Australians rose to prominence with the inclusion of their song "Sweet Disposition" on the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack last year, and while I was somewhat coerced into going to the show (and a little apprehensive about their at times U2-esque guitar work), the live performance was absolutely top-notch.  Like, making the top three of any show I've ever seen.  I highly recommend seeing them live, but in the meantime, here are a couple videos that don't even really do them justice:




            

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Long Run (Finally)

(Bear and Green in the early morning.)

It was time for a test.  The last time I did a four hour run was on December 11th, the day after turning in my final paper for the Fall semester.  It was a Backside Loop with some fairly significant post-holing through Walker Ranch (and some poaching of the excellent Kneale Road going through South Boulder Creek Canyon just behind Eldorado); the post-holing combined with the duration proved to be too much for the knee and two days later I submitted by taking a day off (but, I haven't missed a day since).

After that run I resolved to get this knee figured out by going back to see Jeremy Rodgers (I had wanted to run the Bandera 100K, then the Rocky Raccoon 100, then...well, due to my recalcitrant knee, I finally stopped planning for races) and committing to building back up in an ever-vigilant and gradual fashion.  Ultimately, the desire to temper the length of my runs is what planted the Green Mountain seed in my mind. 

Yesterday, though, after a few weeks with successful runs in the three hour range, I figured it was time for another shot at four hours--the length of run that I, A) start packing a couple gels for fueling purposes, and therefore, B) consider the shortest legitimate "long run".  Not so coincidentally, four hours is also a fairly standard time for a mountain 50K, the shortest of the "ultra" distances.

It didn't hurt that the weather has been spectacular this week, which, of course, being spring-time on the Front Range, means that we're due for a snowstorm now.  But not yesterday.  I started out the run with a singlet and no gloves and would spend the majority of the run shirtless.

(The gist of the route: ~28 miles, 4h10min, three summits, 6500' climbing.)

My route was an arduous one, consisting of three major climbs (and corresponding descents) of 2800', 1200', and 2500' over the course of 17 miles.   This involved summiting Green Mountain, Bear Peak, and then finally returning for another run up the front side of Green before ultimately descending the circuitous old road-bed that would dump me out in Boulder Canyon by the Red Lion Inn and allow me to take the Creek Path back to my doorstep.  Being St. Patrick's Day, I figured Green Mt. deserved multiple ascents.

The first long run of the racing season is always a glorious affair.  For me, it's a time of reawakening old habits and senses, reminding myself what this whole game is all about, and refamiliarizing myself with the vagaries of running all (or, a large portion of the) day in the mountains. 

The mind's ability to anticipate and project expectations into the future plays a large role in undertaking a long run.  Headed up Green Mountain for the first time via Gregory Canyon and the Ranger Trail I was on a path that I've run literally nearly every day since Janurary 1.  However, with the specter of several more hours of running ahead of me, the climb presented itself to me in a different tenor than usual.  I relaxed through the technical and steep sections in Gregory Canyon, paused to don my Microspikes at the stone cabin that signifies the half-way point (but is really a bit short, timewise), and then continued crunching up the hill enjoying the solitude after wading through a crowd of CU students on the lower reaches of the mountain.

(Nasty bit of steep trail in Gregory Canyon.)
.
My legs had only average pep in them on this morning, but due to my prudent pacing and the excitement of the day's endeavor they easily carried me through Ranger's upper switchbacks and then finally, the three-ish minutes that it takes to ascend the Elliott Stairs from the four-way junction.  This section of trail is a wench.  Steep, rocky, and crudely stair-stepped, it often fails to even look like a trail.  However, over the past two and a half months I have become intimately familiar with literally every significant rock and root.  Every footplant is placed exactly as it was the morning before; each tricky sequence is traversed smoothly with a well-rehearsed pattern of push-offs, high-steps, grunts, and puffs.

(Typical "tread" on the Elliott Stairs.)

(The last stretch to the summit of Green...that's the summit rock in the upper left.)

Once atop Green's summit I paused only to quickly climb its pinnacle boulder, for I was planning to be back in a couple of hours. 

(View from Green's summit pedestal: Long's Peak on the extreme right, Indian Peaks to the left of that.)

The descent down the Green-Bear trail to Bear Creek/Canyon was quick and effortless.  Normally, my quads are a little fatigued on this steep downhill (1000' in ~1mi) due to having just ascended Green with significant effort, but on this day things clicked and in less than ten minutes (sounds slow, I know, but one has to try actually running on Boulder's mountain trails before making accurate judgments about pace over this terrain) I was skipping across the creek to start the 1200' climb to the summit of Bear Peak.

Bear Peak's West Ridge trail is maybe my favorite path in all of Boulder's OSMP.  This ribbon of single track winds along the ridge amongst gnarled trees and granite outcroppings all the while gaining altitude without the runner really noticing.  Additionally, the views are superb.  Boulder itself lies down to the northeast at the mouth of Bear Canyon while Eldorado Canyon and Walker Ranch unfold to the south and west.  Although the altitude is only ~7500', the vegetation, exposure, and views give a sense of being much higher.  On today's run, though, this much-less-traveled path offered significant snow and ice to slow my progress and once the route pitched up considerably for the final nine minutes of climbing to Bear's airy apex I was reduced to tiny baby-steps in order to maintain a running cadence.  Bear will do that to you.

On the summit, I enjoyed maybe the best vantage point in Boulder County.  The Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park dominate the western horizon, Pikes Peak is visible to the south, and when gazing east to the plains the view is so expansive that the curve of the earth almost seems discernible.  I, however, had more running to do.  Fern Canyon is another of those trails that typically causes one to at least curse repeatedly, if not actually tumble head-over-heels downhill.  The few inches of snow last Sunday, though, had reseasoned the surface with a grippy epidermis that received the Microspikes well.  The 2000' descent (in ~1.5 miles!) passed quickly without endangerment to limb.

(Truly essential gear on Boulder's winter trails: Microspikes over NB 100s.)

Once on the iconic Mesa Trail I removed the 'spikes, ate a GU, and enjoyed the fast, open running of the rolling terrain.  I haven't eaten a gel in over three months.  Which might seem like a trivial thing, but yesterday, when I popped that Strawberry-Banana packet, it tasted more like Hope Pass, Leadville, and most of all summer than maltodextrin and synthetic flavoring.

Back at Chautauqua I stopped briefly to refill my water bottle and then set out across the meadow looking to take on Green a second time.  Typically, at this point in a run--2h17min from my doorstep--I'm either done running or on the verge of bonking.  However, today I could feel the power of 100 calories of sugar coursing through the system, so I put the Microspikes back on and tackled the steep Amp/Saddle/Greenman route up Green instead of the more mellow Gregory Canyon option. The less-than-ideal slush/ice conditions combined with the accumulated miles and vertical definitely took their toll and this more or less turned into a get-'er-done survival effort.  Nevertheless, 35min later I was once again atop the summit of Green and looking forward to nothing but heading down Ranger and home. 

(81st Green of the year.  Bear Peak--from whence I just came--is over my left shoulder.)

One hour, 15 minutes and approximately 10 miles later I was back at Scott Carpenter and enduring a well-earned soak in the frigid waters of Boulder Creek.

In the early season, everything is fresh and exciting again.  Even modest gains in fitness are easily noticed and occur with seemingly little effort.  I know (hope?) that eventually a run like this will become commonplace, but most importantly, these runs are essential stepping stones that make even more strenuous outings in the near future possible.  And, after today's (Thursday) 82nd ascent of Green Mountain, I think I can say with confidence that my knee even survived.  Which, given the past year (I first hurt it on Easter of last year), is not trivial at all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekly Summary: March 8-14

03-08-2010
Mon-AM: 1.5 miles (:12) Grocery Store
          Beautiful day, but the back was pissed off.
03-09-2010
Tue-AM: 2 miles (:16) Boulder Creek Path
          Appt with Dr. Rodgers.
03-10-2010
Wed-AM: 3 miles (:24) Boulder Creek Path
         Unprintable curses.  This injury is so stupid because
         it's not even running-related and yet running hurts it.
03-11-2010
Thu-AM: 1.5 miles (:12) Grocery Store
        Pretty discouraging for my back to still hurt.
03-12-2010
Fri-AM: 13 miles (2:01) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
         Felt terrible.  Ran down with Mike Owen.  Back hurt,
         but I think maybe not any worse than on just a short run.
03-13-2010
Sat-AM: 14 miles (2:07) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
        Felt terrible.  2 miles barefoot on Kitt at the end. Crazy
        beautiful weather had me shirtless the whole way.

03-14-2010
Sun-AM: 18 miles (2:55) Green Mt. & Bear Peak, 4000'
        Snowing in a foggy cloud up high.  This was a bit of a
        breakthrough with the back.  Just added Bear as a total
        whim.  Finished up at Kitt Field to round out the miles.
       Also, my watch (barometric) read 4400' climbing on this
       loop, but I tend to just count the big (over 500') climbs,
      and on this run there's the 2800' to the top of Green and
      then the 1200' from the valley to the top of Bear.  I guess
      the extra is the rollers on the Mesa trail.  Fern Canyon below
     the saddle was mostly terrifying bullet-proof ice, even with the
     Microspikes, but it would've been impossible without them.
     Trails were gloriously devoid of people after the circus that
     yesterday's weather brought out.


Total
-Miles: 53
-Hours: 8h 07min
-Vertical: 9600'
2010 Boulder Summits (Day 73)
-Green Mt: 77
-Bear Peak: 1

(Bear Peak (left) and Green Mt (right).  Don't worry, there is nowhere near this much snow in Boulder anymore.)

-------------------------------------------------------------
This was a rough week.  It's crazy the effect that running has on my psyche and ability to function in day-to-day life.  I was basically worthless this week, which isn't such a great thing considering the mid-terms I have this week before Spring Break.  Oh well, with the apparent return of my ability to run, I'll rally in the next few days.

Today's run was borderline great.  My back seems to have improved with the increase in running, which is a strange phenomenon that I've experienced with other injuries before, but it always baffles/amazes me whenever that's the case.  I haven't ventured beyond Green Mt. since last October, so it was a real treat today to cruise up on Bear's high west ridge even if all views were completely obscured by dense fog and blowing snow.  I can't say that the back was entirely pain-free, but right now it seems manageable, and hopefully it will just continue to improve over the next week.  Also, the knee was basically 100% pain-free on what was nearly a 3hr run, so that's another good sign. 

This winter I have sort of been stuck in the philosophy that if I was going to be running, especially uphill, then it should be on the trails of Green Mt in pursuit of another summit to add to the tally.  I guess maybe my short hiatus this past week served to adjust that hitch in my thinking and I gladly ran uphill on my second-favorite Boulder mountain this morning: Bear Peak (which typically has the best view from the top, but maybe the poorest footing if ascending/descending Fern Canyon--however, after scouring the Internet, I was able to find the OSMP's Trail Condition Monitoring page and this report shows that "upper Fern" is on the docket for 2010!  Very exciting news if you're a mountain runner in Boulder!  Let's hope they get on that as soon as the snow melts.  Also, I am more than willing to help.). 

As a result of the receding snow (Bear's West Ridge Trail normally doesn't see nearly as consistent of traffic in the winter as the trails on Green Mountain), an improved knee, and me being able to sniff the end of my 100 summits in 100 days quest I'm pretty sure I'll start venturing over to Boulder OSMP's other 8000+' peaks (Bear and South Boulder) more regularly and will keep a tally of those ascents as well.

Other than that, there's not much else to say.  Just gotta stay healthy.  Also, a tight little ballad courtesy of The Walkmen that I've been enjoying lately:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thinking Too Much

I tend to think about running.  A lot.  (A lot of thinking, that is.  Also, thinking about a lot of running, I guess.)  Curiously, my thinking about running, and what kind of running I'd like to be doing, and where I'd like to be doing it, and on which days of the week, etc. is also basically inversely proportional to my ability/likelihood to actually be doing said running.  That is to say, the more injured I am, the further I intuitively feel from being able to accomplish any running, the more I think about it.  I know, it's pretty sad. 

The most ridiculous thing about this phenomenon is that whenever I'm actually healthy and am able to run basically whatever I'd like to, I tend to just fall into a pretty familiar routine.  Run lots.  Run up mountains.  The details become a whole lot less important to me.

With my back giving me significant (but not complete) pause, my thinking about running has been steadily increasing.  In class, I think about running when I should be more focusedly taking notes.  Outside of class, I am plotting, scheming, and prognosticating when I should have my nose stuck in a textbook.  My academic productivity actually has a directly proportional relationship with the amount I am running.  I mean, shit, I'm writing on this goddamn blog instead of doing my homework, right?

So, what have I been thinking?

(Be forewarned: at this point, this post is about to become even more boring, full of excrutiating minutiae, and generally horifically and repugnantly self-indulgent...the shockingness of which is only surpassed by the embarassing fact that I apparently don't actually care enough to not post it.)

Right now, I am thinking that my running over the past 2+ months has progressed me to a point that it's probably time to start injecting an ever-so-slight amount of structure and planning into it.  I've laid a very sound base of volume and vertical, but it would now (granted health, of course) make sense to begin focusing my efforts a little more specifically to address my desires for the rapidly approaching mountain racing season.

Mostly, this means probably a subtle reduction and re-jiggering of the week-day volume (cutting out those random 2x2hr mid-week sessions) and an increase in the weekend volume.  That's pretty much it.  By doing this, I hope to increase the length of a weekly long run to the 4hr+ range, and eventually start including some back-to-back weekend sessions, body willing.  The counter-point to this will be more focused hillclimb efforts mid-week, probably Tuesday and Thursday.  Of course, I will still allow the energy of my legs to be the ultimate arbiter of whether or not I really nail a climb, but that doesn't mean I can't stack the odds in my favor with some simple planning of effort and volume.

In essence, I will be looking to replicate (down here on the Front Range, at lower altitudes) the training I was doing last summer up in Leadville, which I believe delivered me to the White River 50 and Leadville 100 in the best shape of my life, thus far.  Brass tacks of an actual week from last summer's training log, below:

07-13-2009
Mon-AM: 17 miles (2:25) Hagerman Pass, 2000'
        PM: 5 miles (:41) East Leadville
07-14-2009
Tue-AM: 12 miles (2:26) Mt. Elbert, 4500'
       Halfmoon Creek North Trailhead to summit in 1:15; 2:01
       roundtrip
.
      PM: 8 miles (1:05) East Leadville, 1000'
07-15-2009
Wed-AM: 18 miles (2:39) Mosquito Pass, 3000'
         Diamond Mine to top in :38.
        PM: 6 miles (:50) East Leadville
07-16-2009
Thu-AM: 17 miles (2:52) Mt. Massive, 4500'
      Halfmoon Creek South Trailhead to summit in 1:28; 2:28
      roundtrip.

      PM: 5 miles (:44) East Leadville
07-17-2009
Fri-AM: 11 miles (1:30) Turquoise Lake
07-18-2009
Sat-AM: 30 miles (5:01) Aspen Four Passes Loop, 8000'
        Maroon Lake parking lot to parking lot in 4:46:55
07-19-2009
Sun-AM: 25 miles (4:09) Hope Pass Double Crossing, 7000'
       Twin Lakes Fire Station to Winfield and back to TL in 3:39:55
Total
-Miles: 154
-Hours: 24h22min
-Vertical: 30,000'

This was a very standard week for me last summer.  Except for taper weeks and two outliers in the 180s, all of my weekly mileages last summer fell in the 150s, which actually showed mostly unprecedented restraint on my part with regard to overall volume in the build-up for a 100 mile race.

(Don't believe me?  Then let me point you to these ridiculous posts from my preparation for Leadville 2007 and Western States 2008.  150 MPW is child's play compared to that stuff.) 

After this particular week I tapered for five days and ran the White River 50 in Washington.  Which leads me to the next topic I've been thinking about: speedwork.

At White River I was able to break 2:13 marathoner Uli Steidl's (i.e. someone with lots of leg speed) venerable course record despite the race being at relatively low altitude (ranging between 2000' in the valley to 6000+' at the summit of the climbs) and the amount of speedwork I had done in training equaling zippo. 

Outside of races, the fastest I ran all summer was the occasional 6ish minute mile returning on the downhill gravel roads from Mosquito Pass, and other than my Tue/Thu 14er ascents (which I generally conducted at a perceived effort that would probably best be described as somewhere between "tempo" and "good-gawd-my-lungs-are-going-to-explode"; I tried to keep things from really getting dire until I was above 14,000', though) I never even really ran at an effort level that could have been considered anything higher than "moderate".

(Mustering some speed at the finish of White River last summer. Photo: John Wallace III)

I guess this just means that, especially when one's goal races are in the 6-16hr range of duration, Mr. Lydiard's most essential assertion that the majority of fitness comes from maximal aerobic development must contain some significant truth.  Lucky for me, this type of long, generally moderately-efforted running is the very kind that I enjoy most.

So, other than the odd road race, I think I'll mostly continue to forgo the structured "speed" component of training (well, at least that's what I think right now).  It's tough for me to argue with what has led to success for me in the past.  Additionally, at least until the snow melts up high, I'll also be substituting charging up a 14er on Tuesdays and Thursdays with double-lap efforts on Green Mt (in order to achieve similar amounts of vertical gain and descent).  Eventually, I hope to make it up to Mt. Audubon (13,2xx') and Grays/Torreys (14ers) on a regular basis.

(A recent view of Audubon from the summit of Green Mt.  Audubon looms on the horizon directly in the center of the photo.)

Hopefully, all of this will be as free-of-injury and fantastically fun as I envision it being right now, sitting here at this desk, icing my back, stealing more-than-occasional glances out the window to Green Mt. and Bear Peak.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekly Summary: March 1-7

A look back at the week:

03-01-2010
Mon-AM: 14 miles (2:05) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
              1" of fresh snow on the trail.
03-02-2010
Tue-AM: 15 miles (2:08) Green Mt. Ranger-Bear Canyon, 3000'
             5am start afforded me an incredible moon-set.
03-03-2010
Wed-AM: 14 miles (2:04) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
             Spring is here!  Beautiful morning.
        PM: 14 miles (2:00) Green Mt. up/down Amp/SR/G'man, 2800'
            32:49 for the climb and then 2.5 miles of barefoot on
           Kitt Field in the sublime evening air. Ran with Jeff. Low back
           hurt on the downhill from when I fell earlier in the week.
03-04-2010
Thu-AM: 14 miles (2:07) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
             Tired, but felt better after the run than before.
       PM: 13 miles (2:00) Green Mt. up & down Amp/SR/Gman, 2800'
            Easy effort 34:45 climb on tired legs in slow, punchy snow 
           conditions. Tacked on a mile barefoot at the end.  Back hurt.
03-05-2010
Fri-AM: 13 miles (2:06) Green Mt. Ranger-Greenman, 2800'
          Hmmm...disconcerting.  Back/butt really sore by the end.
03-06-2010
Sat-AM: 4 miles (:32) Kittredge Fields
         Knew the night before that my back wasn't going to allow
         any real running today, so, despite the 60F+ temps I just
        jogged barefoot.  Back sore by the end.
03-07-2010
Sun-AM: 1 mile (:10) Boulder Creek Path
        Back no worse than yesterday, but definitely still an issue.
Total
-Miles: 102
-Hours: 15h12min
-Vertical: 19,800'
Green Mt.: 74 summits over 66 days

(#72)

Kind of a blah week.  It started off busy with a bunch of schoolwork and then I had a bad fall that has--as I feared--proven to be a pretty substantial issue.  I was coming back from my early morning run and turned left off Baseline onto 10th Street, heading downhill.  I like to run down Cascade Ave, parallel to Baseline, because it has way less traffic.  Anyways, I stepped on some black ice on the corner of 10th and Cascade, my feet instantly shot out from underneath me and I fell really really hard with all of my weight landing directly on the just-off-center bump on my extreme lower back that I think is created by the protuberance of the right side of the sacroilliac joint.

It was kind of scary as it felt like my entire body went numb for a couple seconds, but after just lying there in the middle of the street for a few moments I got up, walked it off, and gingerly finished the run.  However, over the course of the week it's progressively gotten worse until by the end of the week it was seriously affecting my ability to run and even walk.  I'm hoping that a simple chiropractic adjustment (and maybe a little time) will make it all better, but right now the sciatic nerve is acting pretty upset.  

I'm pretty frustrated that this is in no way an overuse injury, but has seemed to become subsequently worse with running.  Also, the knee is feeling great and I was planning on testing it further this weekend with a 3-4hr run in the beautiful weather on Saturday, but that obviously didn't happen.  We'll see.  Before the weekend I was +10 on the 100 summits in 100 days timeline, so I fortunately have a decent cushion there and can accommodate missing a few Green ascents right now.  Unfortunately, it's not always so easy to mentally accommodate the absence of a daily mountain summit, but I'm committed to being smart about this bump and will give it the time it needs to heal.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

70 and 71

(Starting to shed her winter coat.)

First, I thought I'd cross-post this interview I recently did over at Endurance Planet.  Due to the casual, informal, over-the-phone format I tended to ramble a little; my bit starts at around the 22min mark.

I made it to the top of Green twice today.  By and large, winter is over here in Boulder, CO.  Sure, we will most certainly be graced with (probably several) more snowstorms, but something tells me that they will mostly be of the melt-within-the-next-48hrs variety.  Which is fine with me.  I'm ready for some hot weather.

This afternoon's run involved running hard up the steep frontside of Green.  I started running from my doorstep and joined Jeff at Gregory Canyon where he led me up the Amphitheater trail.  Despite the warm temps, much of this route stays in the shade bascially all day, so what would otherwise be an infuriatingly slippery surface proved to be an exceptionally efficient recipient for the 3/8" cleats on our Microspikes.  I can't believe I waited until January to pick up a pair of those suckers. 

Inspired by the great weather and the favorable trail conditions I moved ahead at the Saddle Rock trail junction and cruised up the gradient with increased intensity, looking to push the edge a bit and make things hurt.  Well, I certainly found some of that.  I guess my legs weren't feeling quite as great as I'd hoped, so I ended up with a 32:49 ascent, 30 seconds off of my PR.

After running down the mountain with Jeff I scurried down to Kittredge Field by the Law School and indulged in two and a half miles of glorious barefootin' on the artificial turf there.  The entire time I was encircling students playing football, frisbee, soccer, and lacrosse, everyone just out in the evening twilight enjoying the still-warm air in the shadows of the Flatirons.  I even got in some shirtlessness for the first time this year.

After days like today, I can't wait for summer and the ambiance evoked by a tune like this (probably the closest to a jam band-y type thing you'll ever see me advocate):