If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Long Run: Doubling up on Falcon

Here's the Cliffs Notes report - Craig tried to run me to death.

If you want to know more about the run, keep reading. 
 From the Falcon Trail, looking southwest to Blodgett Peak

I met up with Craig over at the US Air Force Academy Saturday morning for his long run leading up to Pikes Peak Marathon.  Quite a few weeks back he showed me his top-secret training plan for shaking things up at PPM.  When I saw the Long Run - 2 laps at Falcon for time on feet, I was intrigued to say the least.  While I have no interest per se in marathons, or for a large part racing in general, I have often thought about a double loop of Falcon.  Number 1, I really like the loop - great terrain, lots of variety, good climbs, etc.  Second, it is one of few places locally where you can do a long, continuous loop - 13 miles to be exact.  The only problem I saw was doing it solo.  I guess now I had that part checked off the list also.  So I told Craig I would at least hang for the first loop and see where everything shook out for a second.
 The Knuckledragging Runner himself - still sporting "battle bandages" from the last time we ran

Now there was a secondary issue, which I did not share until we were already running.  I had only run up to 21 miles previous, and my longest run this calendar year was 19.  It did not seem to phase my running comrade, so we were off and running - clockwise on lap 1.  While it was warming quickly, there was a strong breeze that really saved our bacon throughout the day.  It was, however, a bit of a Catch-22 - when we were in the trees and shaded from the sun, there was no breeze.  When we were in the breeze, we were fully exposed to the overhead sun.  We managed pretty well though and the first lap rolled very well.  OK, maybe too well.  We were hitting some time checks a fair amount earlier than Craig's goal pace.  Now that is good in one sense if it was a "one and done" event, but there was that whole second lap conundrum looming on the horizon. I let Craig lead out, so it was his fault...
 The Chapel overlook - beautiful day to be on the trails

We didn't get too concerned about making decent time, figuring it never hurts to bank some time for the next lap.  It was a great day to be chatting about trails, races, family stuff, life in general, etc., although we never got around to solving the problems of the world.  Maybe next run.  We did get in a great first lap - I logged 2:13 moving time for lap 1, about 45 seconds per mile under goal splits.  With the loop nature of the trail, finishing the lap put us back at our vehicles for an unmanned aid station, which is quite convenient.   We got a bit of solid food, loaded up some more water in the packs, and started lap 2 counter-clockwise for a fresh look at the trail.  I am not certain Craig really knew if I was "all in" for a second loop, but I took the look of relief on his face as a sign that he was happy to not head out for #2 alone.  The guy has business to get done on the mountain in three weeks - gotta "man up" and show some support, right? :)
 Top of the last big climb - looking due south at Blodgett and the AFA water treatment plant

Where do I start with lap 2??  About a mile and a half in, after some gradual up around the golf course and through some forest, there is a grunt of a climb on a spine above the northern part of the Academy.  It is not that it is steep, rather it is long and very very very exposed.  It was already in the 80's by now and the sun was directly overhead.  Conversation waned, to say the least, and for about 3 miles was reduced to two or three word sentences.  Several times the guy who tricked me into this death march Craig asked if this ever ended.  While it did eventually crest, the slog took its toll.  I had gone quite a ways without a glimpse at the Garmin, and I think we were so anxious to get that sucker done, we had climbed it a little fast for what was already in the legs.  Oops.  On the descent off the ridgeline, it was apparent I had put a dent in my reserves as Craig quickly put a gap on me, although I think some of that is his overall descending edge on me.  We had to regroup quickly though as the next climb was soon upon us.

We put our heads down and ground out the next climb, first through the deep sand along Interior Drive below the Chapel, then up the long switchbacks to the Chapel Overlook.  From there, it was a nice reprieve winding through the forest, before crossing Academy Drive and pushing the tough little climb up to Stanley Canyon trailhead.  We took a breather in the shade, knowing we were 75% of the way done.  Now it was time for the steepest descent off the backside of the canyon - on tired legs no less. 
 Unfamiliar Territory

I was reminded to get a photo of the display once we were past the longest-run-ever point.  Too bad my running glasses don't have my bifocal rx in them - I totally blew the focal point on that shot!!!  

So near the bottom of the long hill, before crossing the Monument Creek Trail, Craig sounds the first alarm - he got his first draw of "air" from the hydration pack.  With 4.5 miles to go.  "So, Steve, how far off the trail is it to that Burger King you showed us?"  "Oh, just across the road, through the BX parking lot, after the grunt hill past the fire station."  "Ok, maybe we better check the fire station."   About 5 minutes later, I had my first bubbles.  We hadn't totally realized how warm it was getting but both of us had burned through some H2O - and we had a long stretch of exposed meadow to run through between us and the vehicles.

You can imagine the relief when we rolled up out of the creek drainage and saw people swarming around the fire station.  There was some sort of community event going on, with barbecue - OK, that part was rude having to smell bbq 22.5 miles in to a run - they even had a Big-Air Jumper for the kids shaped like a fire truck.  Frankly, we didn't care about any of that.  When the fireman said past the kitchen and refrigerator, cold drinking fountain, blah blah blah, we were all over it.  Plus it was air conditioned inside the fire station.  So we lingered a bit, filled the packs, drank a little more from the fountain, then eventually had to get out before we decided to climb into the fridge and take a nap....
Not too far to the finish - luckily most of the rest of the trail was not too technical

Coming out of the fire station, there is a steep trail that climbs up to the community center/BX area.  Not sure, but I have a feeling we I looked less than amazing climbing that. It was hot, and I was getting pretty tired.  I think the stop at the fire station had given Craig a fifth wind, as he was starting to push me a bit.  We hit the descent from the BX with a "rabbit" out in front - a lanky guy had hopped on the trail and was pushing a decent pace out ahead of us.  I was struggling a bit for the first time to hold an even gap and I think the lure of finishing off strong was taking hold of Craig.  Somewhere in that foggy zone of tiredness, I am on my face.  It is weird how when you are tired, you hit the dirt before you are even aware that you hooked your toe and are falling.  There is none of that slow motion business where it takes 5 seconds to hit the ground - that only happens when you are alert!  Luckily, I was in the deep sand so there wasn't much in the way of damage assessment.  It did wake me up a bit, though, which was apparent by my first thought - "Crap, I never restarted the Garmin at the fire station..." - like that mattered at this point!  So, I dusted myself off, got my senses, and took off.  Craig had enough gap that he didn't hear me hit the ground, so I was a ways back now.  At the bottom of the meadow, he yelled that he was taking a shot at sub-4:30 and I was all for it.  

I reeled it in a bit, knowing that I could easily faceplant again if I tried to push the pace with my feet barely leaving terra firma with each step.  I was already well into the bonus round and had been fueling off reserves for a bit of time so that strategy was just fine.  I finally rolled in for 26 miles at 4:32:45 moving time, for a second lap split of 2:19:45 - not too shabby to drop only 1/2 minute per mile pace on the second go round.  The gain for the double loop is about 3100', which is by no means huge but does add up.  Oh yeah, and the whole longest run ever thing comes in to play as well.  I thought about running out to the golf course and back, just to say I was an ultrarunner and so forth -  however, I didn't really care.  I was more interested in having a seat in the shade and "not running" for a while...  BTW, five gels, 2 S-Caps, 130 oz. water and one Strawberry Yogurt granola bar fueled the effort if you wonder about such things.

I have to say, in all seriousness, this was a great run.  I was glad Craig threw it out there because it was on the list for a while.  I think, although he will have to confirm, that this was a good confidence boost  for some overall pre-race fitness.  But all that fitness, goal oriented jazz aside, it was just a fun day on the trails.  Definitely good times.

Shoes - Brooks Pure Grit

On a side note, you may be asking where Mrs HT has been.  Good question, and you'll soon be seeing more photo evidence of her on these pages.  As has been the case (too often to count) in the past 18 months, we had a couple setbacks related to the Graves Disease recovery.  Things that were unpredictable but happen and are common issues related to fall-out from the disease.  I am biased, but I am also in control of the keyboard, so I have to say Kathleen has been absolutely rock-star at dealing with all these crazy roadblocks - her grit and determination are astounding to me.  That being said, we are rolling with it all, and are most thankful that we still have biking legs as she (we) has had to do more biking this summer than we really wanted to have on the schedule.  However, good progress is being made on the running front and along with it, we have a couple scenic long rides on tap, and maybe a few runs, to report on in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned...
                                                             happy trails

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Where's the Flat Part?

 Tour guide for the climb suffering

Yesterday, I did something most sane, sedentary folks would find unreasonable: I set the alarm for 5 am on a Saturday - what?  I was meeting Craig over at Memorial Park in Manitou Springs to run up Barr Trail as part of his Pikes Peak Marathon training.  The plan for the day was A-Frame and back from the PPM start line, about a 20 mile round trip.  Craig invited me along for all or any part of the trip so I figured why not?  (BTW, I was the sherpa as Craig decided to travel light for race simulation reasons, therefore, the only photos of human suffering were taken by, not "of", the guy who carried his camera - ha!)
Early morning sun on the infamous "W's"

I would like to wax eloquent about how effortlessly we breezed up Ruxton Ave, sailing smoothly onto the lower sections of the Barr Trail with the cool morning air invigorating our running efforts.  Of course, many of you have been on or heard of Barr Trail and you would know I was lying like a politician in an election year.  The fact is, this run eats at your soul from the first steps onto Ruxton, bringing to life things like "barking calves", "flaming lungs", and all other manner of exercise induced suffering.  And we call this recreation.  Fun even.  Aside from one measly effort long since pushed to the dusty corners of my memory bank, all other trips up Barr have included an entrance via The Incline.  So when people warn about ruining your run on the W's, I don't always relate.  I have a better appreciation for it now.  In order to keep myself from blowing up, I let Craig set the pace.  

The W's are indeed hard, but the issue is more the accumulated effect of constant climb and lowering oxygen.  At lower elevations, you can "redline", realize the trouble you are in and cut back your effort.  Generally speaking, at that point, you can recover within a run and carry on to finish your workout.  However, at altitude, it seems that when you blow up, there is too much stacked against you to recover "during" your exercise.  We have seen it time and again, whether on the bike or running, and that is why people like Matt Carpenter try to warn newbies on Pikes Peak to notch it back at the start...  Anyway, back to the run.

Barking calves aside, we settled in to a nice run.  There was a LOT of traffic on Barr already, which we expected as Ruxton was packed with cars as we ran up.  We chatted about PPM, the recent fires, life in general and pretty much settled into a nice flow up the mountain.  It was funny as several folks commented about things such as "Look, they are running and can still talk", or "Why hurry, it will still be there when you get there?" - normal trail chatter.  One thing is for sure, it was good to see folks out enjoying the trails and happy to be alive.  The city was in a bit of a fire-induced coma for a few weeks, but in general life is getting back to a "new normal".  Above about 9000' feet or so, my recent nemesis breathing issues started howling at me and my ribcage suddenly felt like it had the capacity of an infant.  Not sure what's up with that, but have been bending some ears to help me get it figured out.  I will need the big-boy lungs for some outings I would like to squeeze in before summer's end :)
Barr Camp is Hoppin'!

We hit Barr Camp (7.5 miles in and 10,200 feet above sea level) in about 1:54, which is good for me since I really haven't ever done this exact route.  I guess it is a PR - woohoo....  And Barr Camp was jamming with folks - I had to wait for about a dozen people to clear out to get the photo above.  This at 8 am.  We hung out for a while, did some stretching, and then I decided to head back down.  I felt bad to leave Craig on his own to A-Frame, but at the same time, I knew my lungs were stressing pretty good and another 1800' up wasn't going to help them out.  So Craig headed up, and I started the descent back to Manitou - all 4300' of it!
Great Views

I paused at a couple favorite spots on the way down to look at the beauty of all that surrounds Pikes Peak.  Given that three weeks ago the harsh reality was that all this could burn if the fire jumped Highway 24, it was all the more reason to pause for the awe of where we live and what we get to do on any given Saturday.  We are quite thankful for that and not a day passes that we take it for granted.  Return trip down was 1:14, certainly not speedy but I felt good the whole way down.  The round trip ended up just over 15 miles for me on the day, with 4300' accumulated gain.  Oh, and by the way, there is NO flat part, just in case you were wondering.  And I got in some "weight training" at the end of the run.  I needed to stop at Coquette's in Manitou for gluten-free flour, so I finished the last .3 miles of the run carrying a 4lb bag of flour under each arm ;-)

Shoes - Brooks Pure Grit
Snyder Quarry and Cave of the Winds

There is not really an overlook to the north where you can see Waldo Canyon, so this was about as close as I could photograph, looking a little northeast.  The visible scar on the far hillside is Snyder Quarry, and right below it is the Cave of the Winds.  The burn area to the west is Williams Canyon, which is being rated extreme on the burn severity index, along with Waldo Canyon just a bit further west.  Waldo will most likely re-open eventually, but will look totally different than what we have ever seen, which is sad but is also the cycle of life and nature.

Back a few weeks...
June 26: Pre-Evacuation notice went out about 2:15pm - this is at 3:15pm from our driveway
June 26: At 3:30pm, it became mandatory for good reason
June 26: 6:15pm - From the eastern edges of Colorado Springs -
We stood in my sister's driveway and cried for our neighborhood

We have thought quite a few times over the last weeks about a post to gather all our thoughts concerning the Waldo Canyon Fire but still not sure at this point we have totally wrapped our minds around that.  We are extremely grateful to all our friends and running peeps who were so supportive during that time.  It is a bizarre and surreal occurrence to go through, and one we hope to never repeat in our lifetimes.  Kathleen was at home when the firestorm broke containment over the Front Range and down into Mountain Shadows.  The images she saw leaving home will forever be etched into her memory.  The wall of fire was so large and moving so fast, she could only describe it as being special effects from a movie, yet it was not.  The fact is, we are fortunate and blessed that we are not sitting in a strange environment today planning to rebuild our lives from scratch.  We know people who are, and it is a dark spot to be in, yet those we have had contact with are handling it with such grace ... and that is inspiring.  Sometimes the depths of tragedy exposes the  strength of human character. 

We have a lot of photos we took on our first visit through the "war zone" - those handful of areas where it seems entire streets and blocks vaporized.  It takes your breath away to see it, and the images on TV had done nothing to prepare us for the gut punch that it is to stand in front of an ash pile that is the memories of several hundred families.  We took the pictures more as a reminder of our blessings, rather than something to post on the blog.  But processing through those images has helped us a lot with processing what has happened to our community in this corner of town.  We have lived in this neighborhood nearly 20 years, and can picture in our mind's eye many if not most of those homes and streets as they were before June 26.  Yet every day now we drive out of our neighborhood with the new reality of charred sticks dotting the Front Range, and chimneys left as the sole reminder of the memories of many familiesThey say routine has a centering or healing effect after trauma - starting to get back to normal has been good in a cleansing sort of way.  

Might not ever get around to that "thought gathering" post but getting back to normal, even if it is the "new normal", feels good for now...
                                            Happy Trails

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thankful ... And there's no place like Home!

We're home.  After 6 days of refugee living, Happy Trails Central is re-occupied!  We are extremely thankful and blessed that our home, and those of our neighbors, were completely unharmed.  There is so much going through our hearts and minds right now that it may be a bit before it can be composed into a meaningful post, but we have to thank all our running peeps who have emailed, called, sent texts, etc. offering help, encouragement, and at times, humor to help us through these past days.  You guys are awesome.

In the mean time, as we celebrate our safe harbor, please continue to remember the 347 families who lost their homes, all within 1 - 2 miles of our house.  And also, we would be remiss if we did not give a huge shout out to the 1500+ people who are battling this fire on our behalf.  We are unbelievably grateful.  Here are a few pics to help you visualize their efforts and thank you so much again to all the firefighters and law enforcement who have fought to keep us safe!

Fighting the blaze in Mountain Shadows
Sleeping on the front lines...
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