(My mistress, from the Boulder Public Library yesterday morning.)
Last week's session on Green with Jeff just didn't feel quite right. It was an excellent run, and Jeff was outstanding company, but ending the run at "only" three laps of the mountain somehow felt incomplete. Like the run lacked a certain aesthetic. Four laps seemed much more appropriate, more symmetrical. Even vs. odd, 22 miles vs. 16.5 (on the mountain itself), 10,000' climbing vs. 7500'. Heading back this weekend--especially with the enticing vastly superior trail conditions--seemed like really the only long-run option in my mind.
Jeff opted to go do laps on an admittedly nice loop behind Eldorado Canyon State Park (Walker Ranch), which is relentlessly rolling with ~2000' of climbing per 7.5 mile loop, but that held little interest to me when I can do 5.5 mile loops on Green with 2500' of climbing in one push and a summit view each lap. After running the long way up to the Gregory Canyon trailhead with Jocelyn, I bid her adieu, stashed my four GUs alongside a gallon jug of water that I'd cached in the bushes a few days earlier, and headed up the canyon to start the day's work.
(The MapMyRun version of the morning.)
Lap one was supposed to be a warm-up, a chance to see how the legs felt and what the day would hold in terms of trail conditions and weather. My legs hadn't been particularly peppy on the run up through the streets with Jocelyn (in fact, she was half-stepping me the entire way; Jocelyn's getting into shape), so when I climbed past the cabin at the head of the Ranger trail I was surprised to see 16:40 for the split. On my usual week-day excursions up Green I very rarely get to the cabin in less than 17 minutes. I guess yesterday's single two hour run had left my legs well-rested. The trail turned to packed snow/ice on Ranger and my Microspikes bit well, depositing me at the extremely windy summit in a climb of 37:20.
(Green's summit rock.)
At the outset, my goal for the day had been to simply keep each climb under 40 minutes, so now I was worried that I'd run too hard too early and would pay later. So much for negative-splitting the repeats. Oh well, nothing I could do about it now. The descent down the front side of Green was dispatched in a casual 22 minutes, and after some water and a gel I quickly got back to it. I was trying to keep the run as continuous as possible with no lingering on the summit or in the parking lot because I had a date for brunch with Jocelyn at the Teahouse after the run (probably my favorite eatery in Boulder).
On the second lap, I settled into a rhythm that I would follow the remainder of the run: stash my shirt and Microspikes in my waistband for the sunny run on dry trail up Gregory Canyon, stop very briefly to sit on a stump and don my 'spikes just before the Gregory Creek crossing, continue steadily up through the trees until the trail crested Green's north ridge and the raging wind required putting my shirt back on (without pause), and finally, pull my gloves on during the switchbacks immediately before the 4-way junction. This process was followed in reverse when I descended the front side trails of Greenman, Saddle Rock, and Amphitheater. Despite what I had perceived to be a brashly quick first climb, my legs enjoyed the usual warmed-up boost on the second lap and I was able to top out a bit quicker, in 37:05.
(Dirt! Typical trail in Gregory Canyon.)
Things were generally much the same on lap three, except that the snow/ice on Ranger was becoming noticeably softer/punchier; but, with some encouragement from Kraig (descending from a second summit of his own) on Ranger's upper switchbacks I was successful in dropping my time yet again to a 36:50. Granted, I've mostly run Green in the winter, but the number of times I've broken 37 minutes for this route is probably less than the number of toe-nails I'm missing. I was psyched. On the way down from this climb the super-computer kicked in (despite the now decidedly soft and slippery snow on upper Greenman) and a 20 minute descent felt unpressed.
Heading into the final circuit, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew my legs were getting tired and figured that with my indiscretion on the previous climb I should just be happy with stumbling my way to the top for a sub-40 ascent. Heading up the big steps and rocks in Gregory Canyon I could tell that I was finally edging into that territory of effort and fatigue that had been my goal this morning: it's been a long time since I've run for five hours--and certainly never with this much vertical--and I wanted to reacquaint myself with and rehearse the focus, will, and stubbornness required to maintain efficient uphill progress late in an extended, hard effort.
As I stepped onto the snow surface of the Ranger trail that was now slushy even in the shade, I found what I'd been looking for. Ugh. Hamstrings and calves threatened to cramp, my Microspikes annoyingly caught invisible undulations in the trail surface, and despite all attempts to remain conservative my breathing achieved a high level of raggedness and then stayed there. So it goes. When I finally hit the 4-way junction for the last time I knew that if I re-doubled my focus there was even a chance I could slip under the previous lap's time.
(These hurt after four laps--above the 4-way junction.)
Grunt, groan, unending rock steps just a little too big to efficiently ascend and I was there in 36:45, instantly going to the hands-on-knees position of the blown out runner. I actually felt bad for the single other person on the summit, like I was inconsiderately disturbing her wind-whipped reverie with my obnoxious huffing and puffing. No matter, I needed oxygen.
(The final few yards of the climb.)
Lap #1 - (37:20) 16:40, 17:25, 3:15 Descent: 22:00
Lap #2 - (37:05) 16:15, 17:35, 3:15 Descent: 21:10
Lap #3 - (36:50) 16:15, 17:15, 3:20 Descent: 20:25
Lap #4 - (36:45) 16:20, 17:25, 3:00 Descent: 27:15 (Greenman to Gregory--about a mile longer.)
Back down at the parking lot the weather was all bluster and brilliant sunshine despite the very occasional spits of snow and sleet I'd been enjoying on the upper reaches of the mountain all morning. An extra three and a half miles of barefoot running down on the Kittredge grass pushed the run over the five hour mark and afforded me that luxurious fatigue that only comes with a truly long, hard run. I'm hoping that a couple more long runs like this one, and in a month I'll be inducing a different kind of symmetry with my running: the climactic, satisfying race performance that is the only appropriate coda to several months of diligent preparation.