Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sorry, this post was supposed to be up a few days ago.  Such is a life without a constant source of internet.

This morning, I awoke to nothing but pure silence... and this view

I woke up a bit later than usual this morning because I had been watching the meteor shower the night before.  No worries though, there wasn't much on my plate today, other than putting in an easy 13-15 miles on the turquoise lake trail. But let me regress a bit....

Yesterday was a BIG day in terms of training.  It was the final long run, and was the real test of my endurance and ability to deal with the rigors of exercise at altitude.

I was a bit worried about how sore I would be considering the 6 hour effort I had put in the day before.  At dawn I scrambled to turn off my alarm, which was at its loudest setting, and rolled around a bit to see what damage I had sustained.  Surprisingly, no soreness!  Somehow I knew that wouldn't last.

The Leadville 100 miler has two large climbs that provide the majority of elevation gain.  Having already done Hope Pass, I wanted to give Sugarloaf a go to see just how ready I was for this race.

I parked my car at the Mayqueen camping area and looked at the last of my clean running gear.  Luckily, I had saved my favorite pair of Mizuno shorts for a day like today.  Along with the short shorts, I chose to wear a pair of Wave Musha's 

that Sophia had kindly given me to try out.  Since I wasn't doing too much technical trail, I knew they would be light enough to help me up the steep hills, but cushioned enough for going down.  Potable water is something I've had a hard time locating on my long runs here, so before leaving I chugged two full bottles of water to make sure I stayed hydrated. 

I started at a moderate pace, not knowing what to expect of the climb.  I ran over the bridge and onto the main road up to the trailhead.  This section of trail is surprisingly fast and I'm not sure why.  It could be my love of hilly single track or that this section reminds me more of an obstacle course. Something about it is very fun.  

Without a moments notice I'm out of the woods and onto Hagerman Pass rd, and also doubled over in oxygen debt.  After a few seconds recovery and stopping to take a picture, I regain my 8 minute pace and begin a steady climb to the power lines. It was at this point that I took my first gel (one of five I brought with me).  After another half hour or so of climb, I began to follow the power lines through a series of smaller hills, then made my way down the very steep back side of the pass.  I exchanged a few pleasantries with mountain bikers who were toiling their way back up.  I didn't dare laugh, since I knew I would be attempting the same feat only minutes later.

As I made my way to the paved road to turn around, I allowed a jeep to pull in ahead of me thinking it would be a good pacer for the steep climb.... WRONG.  Instead, his gigantic tires spat up monstrous clouds of dust, and so began my adventure in the desert sandstorm.  I eventually decided to stretch for a few minutes and let the dust clear.  During the short break I also took my second gel.

Along most of the Leadville course, the way back is much steeper but much shorter than the way out.  And although I tried my best to run the entire length of the hill, the amount of exertion required quickly put me into oxygen debt and I was forced to walk the remaining large and steep hills.  This was a bit disheartening at first, but soon I realized that I was able to run the more gradual ones.  Finally, the last hill came and my legs were able to stride out.  I used my remaining strength to clock some fast miles on the 5-ish mile downhill to my car.  I can tell this stretch of road is where I'll make my move.

So, as I awoke this morning to Mt. Elbert, I had a good stretch and could feel the miles that have accumulated over the last three days.  I believe this is a good thing, since I have probably shocked my body into building some extra capillaries and red blood cells.  Anyway, the next 9 days are going to be completely devoted to resting up and preparing my mental game.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hope Pass is, by far, the most intense 21 mile run I have ever done.  But the scenery and the knowledge gained by running this section was well worth the stiff legs and a few scrapes and bruises...

The day started out like most others, with various birds notifying me that it was 5:30 AM.  Usually I would be able to ignore these miniature alarm clocks, but today one of them decided to make the top of my tent a stage.  I made several attempts to scare the bird away by shaking the tent, all to no avail.

So, hopping out of my sleeping bag, I quickly put on shorts and shoes, and went to my car to find the large package of blueberry muffins I had bought the day before.  After three of those and a few bottles of water, I made the drive from halfmoon campground to twin lakes, where I would start my journey.

I was a bit worried about how I would perform due to the harsh nature of the terrain.  Over 21 miles, the elevation gain totals approximately 5800 feet.  But since I wasn't feeling sore, and I had plenty of fuel for the day, I didn't foresee any big problems occurring.

I started out from the parking lot across from the tiny town of Twin Lakes.  With my makeshift course map, generously provided by Anton Krupicka, I felt pretty confident in being able to navigate this section with ease.  I was wrong.  Within 20 minutes, I was lost in a creek bed looking for the next section of trail.  After another 20 minutes, I found that the trail was hidden by some brush, but was more or less directly in front of me the entire time.  Sometimes things are so simple they become extremely difficult.

Once through the plains surrounding Twin Lakes, you begin a fairly steep climb that does not wane until Hope Pass at 12,600.  The view at this point is spectacular since you basically get two gorgeous views, both being framed by the peaks to your right and left.  Here is a URL of the view of Leadville from Hope Pass.  I would have put it on the blog but it wouldn't upload for some reason.  From this point, if you look back you can see basically everything you have just run.

As Anton had warned me the day before, this was the point where your legs take a real beating.  He was right.  In the span of about 4 miles, you descend 3000 vertical feet of elevation.  At the end of the descent I noticed I was pretty low on water.  Thankfully, the town of Winfield was only 2.5 miles away.  Upon arrival I knew I was in trouble.  Winfield, unbeknownst to me, was a mining town that once held a population of 1500.  Unfortunately, the town did not prosper much after the gold rush in the early 1900's.  This left me with a choice of either dehydrating myself further, or taking a chance with the stream and giardia.  Luckily a kind woman noticed my plight and waved me over to take the rest of her bottle of treated water.  After a few minutes of talking and learning about the town's history, I was off to Twin Lakes.  I had one last look at probably the most beautiful scenery I've seen while out here, and then made my way down the hill to find my car.  

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quality over quantity

Since the failed attempt at Mt. Massive,  I have tried to rethink my outlook on preparing for this race.  Having to turn back on my first attempt at a climb seriously jarred my resolve and my mental preparation.  However, later that day I was contacted by a long time friend, Matt Owings, and decided to pay him a visit to clear my head of all the stress I have been feeling.

The trip was just what I needed.  Early in the morning, I ran a section of the Leadville 100 course (about 90 minutes or so), and departed Leadville with pure anticipation of what the weekend might bring.  About 1.5 hrs into the drive, you begin a steep and steady climb to independence pass, which tops out at around 12,950 ft.  The views from the rest area are some of the most picturesque sights I have ever seen, not to mention its at the top of my list for ones you can drive to.  However, I would recommend parking your car and observing, rather than trying to navigate the winding roads (without guardrails). 

After a brief stop to take in the view,  I headed down route 82 to meet my friends in Aspen for dinner at the Hickory House, and then on to Snowmass for a free concert.

The next day, I made an attempt to climb Mt. Sopris

Mt. Sopris, as I have been told, has the highest vertical gain from base to peak in the state of Colorado.  Another plus is the fact that it peaks at just under 13k, a perfect combination for someone trying to acclimate to altitude.  After climbing for around an hour and a half, you begin to rise above treeline.  At this point, you are able to see the surrounding towns of Basalt, Carbondale, and even Aspen if you know where to look.  Capitol peak and Snowmass peak are easily visible as well, and they dominate the southern landscape.  With lunch, snacks, and numerous photo-ops, my friend and I covered both peaks in just under 8 hours.  This accomplishment immediately renewed my confidence and left me with a desire to push myself even harder.

The next day was spent in pure relaxation, tubing down the Roaring Fork River.  My float of choice was a queen-sized air mattress.  This proved to be quite useful since the river's temperature was not much above 50 degrees.  And the scenery was, once again, amazing... bald eagle's perching on treetops, Mt. Sopris looming over the landscape, and the red hills that rise up from either side of the river were enough to keep a smile on my face for the entire day....

This weekend allowed me to step back and truly appreciate what I am doing out here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lawrence to Leadville

So, leaving Lawrence was pretty much like starting any other road trip I have made in the past... a little hung over, and a little unsure of what might happen during the adventure.

Fortunately, nothing too crazy happened from Kansas to Colorado.  Driving through Hayes reminded me of last year's road trip to Utah that resulted in my friend and I driving 35 mph through some of the worst hail and rain I have ever seen.  Then, once out of the blinding precipitation, we looked to our left and saw an F-4 tornado that would cross I-70 only fifteen minutes later.

The trip took me 7.5 hours, and every minute of it was spent in complete appreciation for western kansas.  It's not so much the large expanses of flat land that really excite me.  It is the constant, slow gain in altitude that seems to sneak up on you.  Suddenly, you are wondering why you can't catch your breath.  And then, the real treat.  Large peaks start to rise out of the haze, and you realize you have reached the Rocky Mountains!

After a night spent in Denver, I made my way out to Leadville, where I plan to spend a majority of my time acclimating to the altitude and weather.  The first place I went was a store called Sawatch Backcountry to buy some gels and protein bars for the next day.  Then I made my way out to Turquoise Lake to camp for the night.

Once I found my campsite, I decided to jog down to the potable water faucet.  Even though it was only about a 100 yard jog, I was seriously out of breath.  I filled the bottles, and made my way back to the car to put on some running shorts and go for a 90 minute jog, or should I say a walk with some jogging. 

After seeing the Turquoise Lake trail, I am pretty sure this is going to be my favorite part of the course.  The views of Leadville, Mt. Massive and the lake itself are amazing.  Along with that, the terrain is smooth singletrack with few hills.  After 90 minutes of exertion, I sat down at the mouth of a stream and spent about 15 minutes relaxing in the ice-cold water.  What a great day!  That night, I went to sleep around 8:30 in order to get enough rest for tomorrow's task,
 climbing Mt. Massive.

To anyone who has not seen it, Mt. Massive is very appropriately named.  It dominates the landscape, even while sitting next to the tallest mountain in Colorado, Mt. Elbert.  I shot out of my sleeping bag at 5:30, giddy for what the day was going to bring.  Leaving the campsite by 6:00 would leave me plenty of time to get to the trail head and start my hike before the clouds rolled in mid-afternoon.

Once you hit the trail head you immediately start to climb a steep grade for close to 40 minutes.  Then, the as the trail levels out, you are able to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery.  However, the views are nothing compared to what you see above tree line.  

The views became increasingly beautiful and more breathtaking the further I climbed.  However, the oxygen becomes thinner and my water depleted more quickly.  About a half mile from the summit, I had to turn back.  The lack of water combined with the feeling of my heart pounding in my forehead made me think it was the best idea.  Somewhat defeated, I made my way down below tree line.  Maybe climbing the 2nd highest peak on my 2nd full day in Colorado was a bit overzealous.