Sunday, June 20, 2010

San Juan Solstice 50

John and I ran the SJS 50-mile race yesterday as a good tune-up for Hardrock. It lived up to its billing as "Baby Hardrock" - lots of climbing, beautiful views, high altitude, and one tough race. The scenery was incredible, but sadly I had too much else to focus on to take pictures.

The race started with a run (or in my case, run/walk) up the road toward Engineer Pass, and it was chilly but my Too Cool arm warmers worked perfectly. We climbed for several miles on a trail next to and over (and over and over) the creek in Alpine Gulch. Luckily, the creek was lower than normal this year and the crossings didn't need to be roped. We were warned not to trust the logs across the water because they may be slippery, but John managed to keep from getting his feet wet (or from falling in when he did slip on a log) the whole way up. I just plowed in and dealt with frigid toes for a while.

I wasn't sure how the altitude would affect me, so I tried not to go out too fast. I got into a rhythm that fit with the folks around me, and we all climbed toward the first aid station. At one switchback we suddenly got a view to the south and a gorgeous sunrise over snowy peaks. Awesome. I did a lot of smiling those first couple of hours.

The guys at the aid station were really helpful with filling water bottles (even though they had to have been pretty cold themselves). Leaving there, next was a traverse/switchback trail up to a saddle. The trail was pretty narrow on the steep slope, so there wasn't much passing going on. I patiently followed a woman who walked a bit slower than me. She would start running, which allowed me to speed-walk at my normal pace. Then she walked and I'd catch up to her again. I did some pretty good speed-walking the whole race, and it helped keep my breathing and heart rate under control even though the course hits 13,000 ft a couple of times.

More amazing views! The morning light made it even more incredible. One guy remarked that this was his favorite part of the course, and I have to agree. We saw a giant scree slope down the other side, reminding me of Ajax above Telluride. Several times I was glad to be trail running instead of adventure racing. Or riding a bike.

After a high point I barrelled down a short drop and left a group of runners behind. The next couple of traverses were on an even more narrow trail that slowed me briefly. Then a long downhill, ah! But as I started down, I needed to find a tree to step behind - finally found one, much better, now I can run again. Some of the trail was rather dusty, so every time I caught up to someone I'd work to pass them so I didn't have to breathe the dust for very long.

On the way down, one guy looked at me and asked if I was the "lady from Leadville" - what? I told him I had run Leadville last year. He seemed to think that my photo is on the cover of the race booklet this year. I couldn't answer that, as I haven't seen it. But it sure made me curious. If anyone has a copy, let me know if it's me!

I managed a third serving of Spiz partway down the descent, which worked out because it took a while to get down to the Williams aid station. A woman there was really helpful with filling my water bottles and handing me my drop bag. I drank my Ensure, a cup of Coke, and a cup of Mountain Dew, and I was ready to go.

There was a bit of dirt road heading toward the next turn-off, and I ran/walked it. Several guys ran past, and everyone (all day long, actually) was friendly and supportive. Lyle from Austin said he had never felt this bad this early in a race, and yet he was moving ahead pretty fast. I was mostly just curious about how this next big climb would feel.

The road started steeply uphill, so I focused on using my trekking poles and setting a sustainable pace. I seemed to be doing OK compared to some of the people around who were suffering a bit. Well, except a woman wearing white who came walking past me, having a conversation with a guy like they were just out for a stroll. I was saving my breath and no way could I have kept up.

The back of my left heel was developing a hot spot, which seemed odd, but my shoes had been wet for a while. I tried tightening the laces to slow down any rubbing. Normally I don't need to mess with my feet, but I had dry socks in my next drop bag so I decided I better work on this potential problem. I sat in a chair at the Carson aid station, stripped off my shoes and socks, added a blister block to the left heel, and put on the dry socks. A woman helped fill my bottles while I was doing all this, but it still took a few minutes. At least I had plenty of time before the cutoff time, so I wasn't too worried.

I followed a line of runners on the road above Carson, aiming for a saddle on the ridge. I was thinking I needed to stop to pee, then I realized upon looking up that I had better do it soon. I found the very last possible tree to step behind - good catch! I wouldn't see another large bit of vegetation for many miles.

At the top of the saddle the southwest wind started whipping even more than it already had been. That, plus the cooler temps at high altitude, made for a mostly-pleasant hike on top of the Continental Divide. Much of the time we even had a tailwind. Score! I checked the sky to the southwest, and it was completely clear and blue. Good news for an afternoon up high. The scenery continued to amaze, and I had various flashbacks from the GTA and the French Alps.

I had never run that far (perhaps 14+ miles?) staying at 11,000 to 13,000 feet the whole time. Once I topped out at the high point, it wasn't so much of a trail for a while, more picking your way across tundra and rocks. I ran when I could, eased into the uphills, and watched runners on trails far ahead. It was very cool being able to see a lot of the course ahead of me.

A couple of times the course markers routed us around snowfields. Once we had to turn straight up, cross a bunch of rocks, and then turn straight down, all to avoid a small section of snow. In fact, it was easy to miss the flags in here, and a couple guys right before and after me took the direct route. Others found the flags and followed them like I did, even though it would have been faster across the snow.

After another local maximum, I followed a guy picking his way down a steep "trail" amid the rocks. We heard something come bouncing down the hill nearby, and it turned out to be an old plastic water jug that apparently had been buried all winter and was just now turned loose into the wind. Weird! I thought about carrying it to the next aid station, but wasn't sure how far that might be, so I left it by the trail.

It turned out to be quite a ways to the next aid station, further than I expected. I was getting a bit anxious as the trail started through a bunch of willows and then down into the woods. I had so enjoyed seeing the trail stretch out ahead of me, I guess I didn't like trying to guess where we might be going next. I passed a couple people down the final drop, including the woman in white (I was quite surprised to see her again). Finally the aid station appeared in the next field, yay!

The folks at the Divide aid station were great. They seemed to know exactly what people needed and how to help. I refilled bottles and grabbed some watermelon, yum. I've recently learned that watermelon doesn't fall into the category of "solid foods my stomach can't handle while running", which is great.

Heading out, the flags went in an unexpected direction, although they DIDN'T go up and over the next hill so I really wasn't complaining. I was just wondering where the heck we were going. The trail turned into a dirt road, still wandering around the fields of the Continental Divide and following the Colorado Trail. Finally I decided I needed to just let the course come to me and to stop trying to figure it out and continually not know what was next. That calmed me down and I could think about other things and just zone out for a while.

I followed a couple guys who were moving well, and it was nice to see them finally top out at the top of a saddle and disappear. Yay, finally the downhill I had been waiting for! The high altitude had gone pretty well, now it was time to descend.

I ran down the road, bouncing off rocks (or at least my shoes were, luckily not any other part of me). I could tell when I had gotten to lower elevations when it started to get warm and I could really breathe again. Yay for oxygen! I passed the two guys, hi guys! My downhill rhythm was working well, and it was great running through aspen forests.

At the bottom I found the Slumgullion (or "Slum"!) aid station and my last drop bag. I had plenty of time to get to the finish that was 10 miles away, awesome. I hurried to pull everything extraneous out of my pack and stuff it into the drop bag, got some more watermelon, and headed out for the final climb. I had been hoping I would still be able to climb well at the end, and the test was now.

After another short descent, the trail turned straight uphill. I was just glad to be in the shade of the trees for the first half of the climb. I figured it would take about an hour to get to the top, and it was time to test out the climbing legs. Happily, they responded decently well. This was a really nice change from the last 2 mountain races (Leadville and Jemez) when I ended up totally suffering up the hills in the second half. All 3 races involved altitude and some form of heat, although it wasn't nearly as hot above Lake City. I had also focused on staying hydrated this time, so that probably helped.

I still couldn't go uphill as fast as other runners around me, so I got passed by several people, but it wasn't a surprise nor was it demoralizing. Right at the one-hour mark I reached the woods at the top, sweet! I had seen a figure in white in the field below me and wondered if it might be the same woman from twice earlier. We still had a few miles to go, so I ran the downhills and flats the best I could.

When I stopped to drink my last Spiz, the woman (the same one, indeed) ran by me. I followed on the undulating terrain, and each little hill started getting more difficult. Apparently I had given it all I had left on that last climb! Well, that worked out then. One last water crossing, over a bog in the middle of a field (ugh, finishing with wet shoes again). I caught glimpses of the woman a minute or two ahead of me. I figured either I would catch her on the downhill or I wouldn't, no sense in worrying about it.

The last aid station came into view and I walked right through, ready to finish. The woman was now running with a guy in a red hat, and it felt like I was making up a bit of ground. And then they completely disappeared. The downhill started for real, excellent. I enjoyed the trail through the woods, passing a couple of guys here and there, bombing down the hill trying to "be like Joe" but knowing that I could never descend as well as Coach Prusaitis.

The woman was out of sight, so apparently she can run downhill. Great, I can stop thinking about her! The trail dropped down, down, allowing quick glimpses of town here and there. Finally it popped out on the road. I made my way through town, following some walkers and trying to run when I could. I didn't have much motivation to sprint this last section! I had beaten my estimate of "14 to 16 hours", there were no women near me, and I was just ready to get to the finish without killing myself over it.

After a couple of turns, a bridge over the river, and a couple more blocks, there was the finish in the park. Only 13:35 or so, and I was done! It felt great to stretch out on the soft grass in the park. Amazingly, I had beaten my time from the Jemez 50-miler by over an hour, and just about every moment of the day felt easier doing it. This acclimation thing really works.

John started fast and ended up having a few issues, but he finished just fine in a bit over 12 hours. Neither of us is too sore today, but we're both happy to be sitting down :)

Next up: Going to Silverton the long way (via Durango for a couple days), then the start of Hardrock trail marking. Looking forward to more time in the San Juans!

Lake City area

We captured just a couple pictures on our way to and around Lake City, CO for the San Juan Solstice 50-miler this weekend.

John "fly-fishing" with Harvey:

A beautiful, almost-free ($5) campsite at "The Gate" on the way south toward Lake City:

We found a nice campground called Wupperman above Lake San Cristobal. John climbed up the hill for a couple of photos (Howie/Tug are circled in the first one):

Looking north toward Lake City:

We're enjoying the small town feel of Lake City, especially Mean Jean's coffee shop!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back to college

We had time for one last hike in the Buena Vista area, so we decided to aim for the Collegiate Peaks again. Next up = Mount Yale.

It was a most beautiful day to be outside! After several days of clouds, rain, wind, and snow (up high only, thank goodness), we were happy to see a bright blue sky this morning. There was obviously fresh snow up on Mt Yale, so we weren't sure how that would affect our climb. It actually turned out nicely - the new snow had good consistency, made it easier to climb in some places, and didn't bother us in the least.

The trail leading toward the peak was also nice:

John making a non-standard creek crossing:

The way I had come across:

This snowfield made for a couple excellent photos - we especially like this one:

Taking pictures at the top:

Me and a guy we met from Pennsylvania:

Yay for Yale!

Tomorrow we're on our way west, aiming for Lake City and the San Juan Solstice 50-mile race. Internet availability will be much more spotty for a while, so bear with us :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lists for fun

Just for kicks, I've compiled and posted a couple of (in progress) lists, to keep updated as we travel and race.

Colorado 14ers we have climbed:

Different states and countries we have raced in (inspired by realizing recently that we added 3 new states in 3 consecutive weekends last month):

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Princely Princeton

Today was a long training day. When I first thought it up, I thought it was slightly excessive, but then we decided to do it anyway. We biked 15 km from our place in Buena Vista (8000 ft) over to the Mt Princeton trailhead (9000 ft). John caught a shot of me that I didn't know about at the time on the approach road toward the trailhead, with Mt Princeton (14,197 ft) in a cloud in the background:

Then we biked some more - up the mining road that winds along the hillside. We stopped for a snack, and lately I've had a knack (I wish I didn't!) for picking places with downed trees next to the road.

I think John has been inspired by the movie "Man On Wire":

Further up the road, we stashed the bikes near the radio towers at 10,800 ft. The climbing on bikes actually felt pretty good, but the road was getting steeper and it was a lot easier to continue on foot.

This marmot was caught jumping down from underneath a parked vehicle - I hear that they chew on wires and can cause damage. Bad marmot!

John looking ahead... a view something like this (except without him in it yet):

Another stealth photo of me, on the rocky ridge. There were a lot of rocks up there. Good practice for walking on talus slopes:

At the top - John doing summit register duty (out of the wind):

Looking back the way we had climbed up:

The obligatory "Colorado is beautiful!" shot:

John trying to run in the wind:

I like this version of a selfie:

A couple other climbers pointed out this plaque as we were coming down - glad they did:

John on the descent:

This marmot either just wanted to say hi or perhaps he thought he might get fed (he looks like he may have been hand-fed before):

Or maybe he was a trail-runner-marmot - he didn't want to leave the trail, scampering ahead of John for a while:

Me on the descent:

Back on bikes! The mining road was good practice for me, as I'm pretty awful at descending dirt roads in the mountains. I still need a lot of practice. John had plenty of time to set up for this shot:

Back on pavement, back to Buena Vista, with a stop in our favorite local restaurant called Bongo Billy's!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trip to Aspen

We took a nice drive around to Aspen, via Eagle to visit some good friends. Heading toward Glenwood Springs, we noticed the Colorado River is rockin'!

Many rivers around here are in flood stage (lots of snow melt pouring down from the hills). A couple rafting companies are still taking trips, although starting lower than normal - and lower than the above photo. This raft put in here, moved slowly past the eddy line and then shot on down the river at high speed:

It's a beautiful stretch of I-70 with high cliffs along the sides:

High river - nearing the railroad tracks, actually (and you can see my reflection in both mirrors):

We stopped by Solar Energy International in Carbondale, and noticed a lot of solar panels in the town:

Around to Aspen to walk around town and check out the public art:

Is this the proper reaction when you meet a bear?

We climbed up the Ute Trail for a great view of the town:

Running back down:

Aspen trees on the way up to Independence Pass:

Looking back toward the way we came, almost to the pass:

We stopped at the top for a (cold) look around. Looks like the tundra isn't the only thing that's fragile around here:

Not quite sure how we're supposed to stay on THIS trail:

A view toward the east:

Looking back toward the parking area:

Mountain man:

And finally, a pretty view of Twin Lakes and the area of Hope Pass (from the Leadville 100 race):