Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wrapping up one season and dreaming about the next

I have been trying to rest the last three weeks. Keyword: Trying. With restless legs I have been sitting at the computer looking at race websites, Youtube videos of different courses, our bank account, and the calendar trying to figure out how to fit in all the adventures we want to do next year. The hard thing about being married to a runner is that you each have your separate running goals and dreams and sometimes they clash with each other. Sometimes we want to do different races that fall on the same date or we have different ideas about how we should allot our time off or our money.

2014 was a pretty good year for me and I saw a lot of improvement. In 2013 I did 8 races (including one DNF) and only one of them was an ultra. In 2014 I did 8 races (including one unofficial finish because I got lost) and 5 of those races were ultras. Of those five ultras I won two of them. The races that I won were not very competitive but at least I know what it feels like to win now (it feels good btw) and now I want to try to use that edge to push harder at some more competitive events next year. I was looking back at an old blog post that I wrote before my first ultra and I wrote that I felt I shouldn't run the uphills because it might make me burn out by the end. What a joke!

When I look at the areas I could improve on, the main one would be keeping the nutrition INSIDE my body. There was a lot of throwing up in 2014. I learned that I am a zombie above 12,500 ft. Also I learned that not sleeping = lots of puking. Both times I crewed Cory and ran with him through the night, I could not keep my stomach under control. Because I like to torment myself, this leaves me with two options for next year, run my first 100 mile race and master the night pukes or run the US Skyrunning Series and master the altitude pukes.

I've been debating a lot about which is the most noble pursuit. At first I was really leaning towards running my first 100-miler. Being part of the endless parade of headlamps while pacing Cory at Run Rabbit Run was surreal. While Cory groaned and cussed his way into the finish I kept choking on my tears and also the six minute mile pace. I felt so overcome with emotion about what the human body, specifically my husband's body, could do and immediately I wanted to find out if this body of mine was able to run that far.

There is also the matter of babies. Realistically, we only have 2 to 4 more summers before we start trying to have a family. I fully intend to be a mountain running mama but life is going to be different. I won't get to enjoy 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep. I won't get to selfishly hole myself up in the winter when Seasonal Affective Disorder messes with my brain. I won't get to take off for hours in the mountains until I've got child care lined up. Cory and I won't be able to camp every weekend and live out of our car in the summer. Knowing these things helps me prioritize what I want to do now.

Running 100 miles: It can wait until summer 2016. When I think about my favorite adventures from last year, they were running high alpine routes in Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn't get to do many of those this last year because we were so focused on putting in a certain number of miles and, honestly, because we didn't make it a priority. It only makes sense that if we are going to focus on exploring more above treeline next year that we do some Skyrunning races along the way. We don't have the money to travel abroad but we have a great camp set-up for traveling in the U.S. I'm planning to do the ultra series and Cory is planning to do the sky series.

So here's the tentative races schedule for 2015:

Salida Run Through Time Marathon (March) - Allisa and Cory
Golden Gate Dirty 30 (May) - Allisa
San Juan Solstice 50 mile (June) - Allisa and Cory
Kendall Mountain Run (July) - Cory
Aspen Power of Four 50k (July) - Allisa
Ouray 100 (August) - Cory
The Rut 50k (September) - Allisa and Cory
Flagstaff Sky Race (October) - Allisa and Cory

We also want to throw in some adventure runs we've been researching. There's a great loop in the Sangres that we've attempted a few times. Last time I threw up a few times and we had to turn back - big surprise. The Gore Range Trail is a 50 mile trail here in CO that looks pretty cool. Cory wants to do more of the Colorado Trail. We want to do the Pawnee/Buchanan loop and the Maroon Bells loop. I want the do the High Lonesome loop faster and also do the loop in RMNP again when there isn't snow and 50 mph winds. The options are endless!

Of course things always change and I usually like to throw in a few last minute races, but I'm really excited about this plan. Sometimes just having a plan, having things to look forward to, helps to push through the winter blues. I still feel really eager to try at the 100 mile distance but I don't think anyone regrets getting stronger before trying to go farther.

Our sweet setup, but now we have a 4WD vehicle.

Venable Lakes trail in the Sangres... part of a loop we want to do.

Trails and flowers in Aspen where the Power of 4 50k is.

I want more views like this (Cory's birthday hike in Indian Peaks)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pass Mountain 50k

After the Dead Horse 50k in October I thought my season was done. At least that was the plan. My dad and I were talking on the phone one evening and he asked if there was any possibility that I could make it out to Mesa, Arizona to run a race with him in November. I told him there was zero possibility. I was scheduled to work at the bank that entire weekend and the plane tickets were too expensive. Fortunately at that point I was being honest because I'm a really bad liar.

A few nights later I was trying to fall asleep and it dawned on me that the weekend of the race was also the weekend of his 60th birthday. The race was also one we had talked about doing for years. My dad camps at Usery Mountain State Park for a combined total of about 2 months every year and every time I visit him we run the mountain and talk about how fun it would be to do the race some day. I opened up my computer to see that flight prices had gone down. Now the hard part: getting off of work.

My boss was annoyed but made it happen and I got my mom in on the secret to surprise my dad. Things ballooned from there. To make a long story short, my mom decided to fly out from Wisconsin and surprise him at the finish line and eventually I decided that the man hates surprises so I caved and told him that I was coming. He got me at the airport and we camped at the park the night before the race. I was signed up for the 25k but was waffling about switching to the 50k.

Sun comes up

Race morning came and I decided to switch to the 50k. The sun rose and we were off. I knew that the most challenging part for me would be to pace myself in the first flat miles. A lot of the girls looked intense but I thought I had a shot at winning. I wasn't pushing the pace too hard but I led from the get go. The first mile ticked by at 7:15 pace and the first 5k was all under 8 minute pace. It was just so smooth and non-technical. The sand was the only thing to slow us down.

Somewhere near the first aid station another woman caught up to me. I wanted someone to talk to and sometimes I feel like if you talk to your competition and get to know them it doesn't hurt so bad if they beat you in the end. Her name was Tiffany and she owns a running store in Illinois. She was fresh off the Chicago marathon and she looked like a road runner. I really enjoyed chatting with her for the next three or four miles and it helped take my mind off the pace. I knew she had the training advantage on the flats but we hadn't gotten to anything technical or hilly yet.

Finally after the Meridian Aid Station things started to get more technical and rocky. I tucked in behind Tiffany on the climb up Pass Mountain and we ran the whole thing. She mentioned that this was her first ultra and finally near the top of the pass I asked her if she had drank or ate at all. She had just blown through the aid stations and had only two small bottles attached to her waist belt. She said she had recently taken a sip of water. I was worried about her but I didn't want to tell her what to do. I had already drank two bottles and taken two gels. I knew the day was going to heat up and once it got hot, we were all going to struggle to put calories down.

I passed Tiffany near the top and ended up taking on the rolling descent with a group of guys. We ended up in a train that was moving a little slower than I wanted but I thought it would be better to be conservative. At that point I was getting warm and I was not looking forward to running that flat section again. The course does the same loop twice.

When we came into the start/finish area, it was nice to be energized by the crowd. I had been daydreaming about watermelon for the last two miles and I was pleasantly surprised that they had some! When I left the aid station, Tiffany still had not come in yet, so I made it my goal to hold her off or, if she passed me, to at least keep up with her through the flat section up to the Meridian Aid Station. Unfortunately I started to have my typical GI issues throughout the next 6 miles even though I had taken Imodium. It was nothing new for me so I tried not to let it get me down... there were plenty of bushes to hide in. It was also getting really hot and I was dousing myself with ice water constantly. Maybe it wasn't hot to the natives from Arizona, but it was only 20 degrees when I left Colorado.

When I made it to the Meridian Aid Station the second time, Tiffany came in as I was leaving. Just what I thought would happen. Unless she had a second wind, I knew I had her on the technical sections. As I climbed up Pass Mountain again I kept looking behind me to see if she was there and I couldn't see a soul. I was totally alone these last few miles except for a non-racer who was out for a sprightly run. He tried to chat with me but I could not keep up with his fresh legs. I was running most of the ups but walking the really rocky sections that I had bounded up earlier in the day. At a few places I questioned if I was on the right trail even though I know this climb like the back of my hand. It made me realize how fatigue can mess with your mind and your ability to judge correctly.

As I started the descent, I noticed the clouds had cleared and there was finally a good view of Four Peaks. I love this side of the mountain, running in its shadow alone with the Saguaros and the occasional snake. I was fairly confident I had it from here. I had one more bout of GI distress but I knew I was only a 5k away from winning. I contemplated taking another gel because I was starting to feel woozy but it was just too hot to digest anything. I powered it in and got it done.

As I neared the finish line I heard a unmistakable screaming voice: mom. She was jumping around at the finish line and I realized she has never gotten to see me run an ultra. I was so grateful that everything came together and that my family was able to enjoy the weekend together in a place that is so special to us. For a man that hates surprises I think my dad was pretty happy with the way his birthday turned out.

It was great to finally check this race off the list. I ended up 1st woman and 8th person overall in a time of 5:41:36. Aravaipa puts on such great races with a fun crew and well-run aid stations.

Finish line kick

Happy birthday to Barth dad

With Tiffany who came in 2nd place

With Mike Ambrose, first place guy, holding our creepy awards

Monday, October 27, 2014


Because last weekend's 34 mile near-death experience (kidding... kind of) wasn't enough, we had to get in another near-deather before the mountains are closed for the winter. In the summer of 2009 we did a 4 day backpacking trip in RMNP and it was the most beautiful trip we had ever been on. We parked at the North Inlet TH and headed up that trail. The loop goes up to Flattop Mountain and comes down the Tonahutu Creek Trail through various meadows. We thought the loop was roughly 23 miles so we decided to run the whole thing this last Sunday.

Sunrise as we come down from Berthoud Pass

Early morning rays at Granby

We parked at the North Inlet TH again and put our layers on. It was a cold morning and we knew there would be 1-2 foot snowdrifts above treeline. What we weren't prepared for was the wind. We quickly warmed up on the climb up the North Inlet Trail and we filtered water at the July campsite just below treeline. We could hear the wind pushing through the tops of the trees and decided to put our shells on just after treeline.

I had a hard time trying to keep up with this guy

Views from the N. Inlet Trail

July backcountry site just before treeline 

Starting to feel those ferocious winds

The bighorn sheep don't seem to mind the cold

They've got pretty good camouflage

Last picture before we hit the rough stuff

I didn't know what I was about to get myself into

As we got nearer to Flattop Mountain, the drifts got higher and the wind got fiercer. We were getting dangerously cold and I started to lose feeling in my toes and fingers. We had forgotten how many miles of this loop were above treeline, but we had figured we would be moving fast enough to stay warm. The crappy, icy snow slowed us down and we started to get really worried. I never thought we were going to die but there was zero margin for error. It was too cold to stop to eat or drink and I was starting to fall behind. Cory literally started pushing me from behind in some places just to keep me moving. I twisted my ankle pretty badly in the snow but it was too cold to feel the pain at that point.

Cory thought this was not the time to be taking a picture

Thankful to be alive

Never have trees looked so welcoming

When we finally got to tree line we had to take a moment to emotionally collect ourselves. There was a lot of hugging and proclaiming of "I'm glad we're alive!" The Tonahutu Creek Trail is beautiful and much more gradual of a descent than N. Inlet, but my ankle was killing me and we still had a lot of miles left. The stress of dealing with the snow and wind on the ridge had taken a lot out of us. We decided to just take it slow and enjoy the scenery.

Tonahutu Meadows was our favorite camp site during our backpacking trip in 2009. I remember sitting on a big rock with Cory while cooking pancakes for our group. As we enjoyed the early morning sun, two runners came blazing down the trail. At that point neither of us had even done a marathon and so we were pretty impressed by this trail running couple and talked about one day being able to run the loop. To this day we still can't figure out where they came from. It was only 6am and they were running down the trail back towards the Tonahutu TH with hardly any gear. They would have had to start the trail in the night! I guess it will always be a mystery. Sadly, the pine forest across the meadow was badly burned during a fire in 2013 as you can see in the above pictures.

We stopped again to filter some more water

Granite Falls

Big Meadows

By the time we hit Big Meadows we were wiped out. 5 years ago at this spot Cory told me his master plan for dating me. I pretty much knew at that moment that he wanted to marry me. We had a few moments of nostalgia, but we were ready to be done with this run. We had forgotten how long it was from Big Meadow back to the trailhead. The whole loop ended up being 26.4 miles and it took us almost 8 hours. We could have gone a lot faster but we weren't pushing the pace at all.
We spent a total of 40 minutes stopped. After struggling so much on the ridge, we were pretty content to coast on the way back.

This loop is gorgeous and makes for some great high altitude training!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A daring adventure or nothing at all: Dead Horse 50k

I have a lot of running-related nightmares. By far the worst and most re-occurring dream is one where I am running an ultra-marathon through a mall. This mall is like a never ending Mall of America complete with an amusement park. I shout at people, asking them if they've seen course markings or other runners, but it's like no one can hear me. No matter how hard I try, I just can't stay on course. So naturally, during most races, I'm pretty hyper-vigilant about making sure I don't go off course. Here's the thing, though, it's pretty hard to mark a course with a lot of slick rock.

When I showed up in Moab for the Dead Horse 50k I didn't have a lot of expectations other than to have fun with awesome people. When Justin, one of the RDs invited me to the race, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to enjoy the desert with a great crew of friends. My dad reworked his schedule and drove out with my grandma from Wisconsin. They were en route to Mesa, Arizona where my grandma lives for the winter. My dad let us stay in his camper at the KOA campground so lodging was free.

Things seemed to be coming together even though my body was longing for an off season. I had only been running four days a week and I had been eating large amounts of cheese and beer after a recent trip to Wisconsin. Being lactose-intolerant is the worst and normally I'm a pre-race race food nazi. It was a pretty big break through when the family convinced me to... wait for it... EAT OUT THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE! First time ever.

Race morning came and I was pretty excited to run the first 7 miles with dad, who was running the 25k. He needed two miles to warm up but totally crushed the next two miles of downhill. I couldn't even keep up with him! We watched an incredible sun rise over the La Sal mountains. These miles were bliss. We were still feeling fresh and dad was hopping off rocks kicking his heels up like Kilian.

Sun rise

Shortly before aid 2 dad told me to go ahead. Soon after, I saw Kevin, a volunteer, at a junction pointing the 50k runners in one direction and the 25k runners in the other. I thought he was a course marshal, but I didn't realize until later that aid station had been behind Kevin just out of view. I hadn't stopped at the first aid station either and so I knew I needed to start conserving my water to make it the next 7.5 miles to the third aid station at Gemini Bridges. This section through Arth's Pasture and up to the bridges was really enjoyable but lonely. I passed some guys and came into aid 3 feeling good and pretty fresh.

Justin asked if I had trouble with course markings at any point and I told him that it was marked excellently and any time there was any question, I had just gotten used to following the dots painted on the rocks. To those who haven't run slick rock before, since it's impossible to have defined trails there are permanent dots painted on the rock to show travelers the route. The course was differentiated from those dots with pink and black ribbons. Getting used to following the dots was about to become my downfall.

The Mag 7 trail was amazing but for 6.5 miles I didn't have anyone to run with. There were plenty of mountain bikers who were very unhappy to see me. The leader of one group was getting frustrated because he would pass me and then I would pass him while he waited for his slower riders. He finally asked me if we were running to Arth's and gave me a big unhappy sigh when I told him we were. When I made it to Arth's aid station, the volunteer told me I was the second woman. I knew Melissa must be in first and I was pretty sure I wouldn't catch her. That girl is fast and I was hoping she would chick all the boys.

I kept expecting to get a low point, but I honestly felt great. The Great Escape Trail was by far my favorite section of the course with lots of technical slick rock and good views. I started getting hot and went through my water pretty fast. The volunteer at Arth's said it was only 5 or 6 miles to the next aid station and so even though I had drank almost all of my water in just 4 miles, I thought I would be ok until the next and final aid station. When my Garmin beeped at mile 23 I started to think I had second place in the bag. Stupid.

I had been playing tag with some mountain bikers and one of them seemed, I don't know how to put this, overly interested in me? At first he was just really encouraging but then he told me he was going to buy me a beer that night and then when they stopped for a break, he jumped ahead and took a picture with me. I was pretty relieved to finally get ahead of them for good. Shortly after that, the green dots I had been following turned into yellow dots. They curved around a large rock and headed up a cool slick rock section. It seemed really familiar and it wasn't until I was describing this section to Chris, one of the RDs, that he told me why: I had gotten onto the Red Hot course.

So honestly, this section was so awesome that I didn't notice that I had gone about a mile and a half without seeing any of the pink and black ribbons. I was still following the dots after all. I was out of water and I glanced at my watch, I had gone 25 miles, why wasn't I at the aid station yet? I was starting to get nervous. When I finally saw some mountain bikers looking off at some rock formation (which I now know was Bride Arch) I started shouting at them, "Have you seen any course markings? Have you seen any other runners?" I got blank stares. It was like they couldn't hear me. I was getting frenzied. "HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OTHER RUNNERS?" My nightmares were becoming a reality. Finally one guy told me that he had seen another runner just a few minutes ago.

I continued on. In less than a half mile, I saw that runner heading back towards me. He was nervous because he, too, was out of water and hadn't seen any course markings. The first thought that went through my head was that some angry mountain biker had torn down the pink ribbons. I figured everyone was going to go off course. I told the other runner, Bubba, that it had been about 2 miles since I had remembered seeing course markings and we decided to keep running. We came to an intersection and the map had been torn off the sign post. A small part was still legible and it said that we were at the Gold Bar Rim Trail and if we turned right it would take us to Gemini Bridges Road. It said that we should only continue on if we had plenty of water.

We stopped to talk about our options. We were both officially out of water. As I looked around everything seemed out of place. The La Sals weren't in the direction they should be if we were really heading back to the aid station. In front of us were lots and lots of rocks that all looked exactly the same and no signs of people... no bikes, no hum of jeeps bouncing around. We felt pretty hopeless. Bubba mentioned that he felt like we should go left. Even though that way felt familiar (because I had run it at Red Hot) I knew that we needed to get back to Gemini Bridges and so I said we should go right. I figured that even if the Gold Bar Rim Trail popped out farther down on Gemini Bridges, at least we would be pretty likely to see some vehicles on that road.

We ran about another mile and started taking a side trail and climbing over some rocks to get a better view. Nothing stood out to us. For the first time, the rocks looked dangerous to me. I was so thirsty and even though I had to pee I made the conscious decision to hold it in case I needed to bottle that pee and drink it later. There was a lot of swearing around mile 27. Both of us lamented on how we always run with our phones even though our friends make fun of us, but for this one race we decided to leave the phones at home. We had both taken screen shots of the course maps on our phones, but obviously this did us no good since our phones weren't with us.

I was glad that Bubba was there because without him, I would have just sat on a rock and cried myself into dehydration. He quietly said to me that he was glad he didn't have to die alone. I suggested that we walk so we wouldn't dehydrate more quickly and he agreed. I don't remember a time where I felt more in danger than this moment. Bubba remarked how they always say not to panic when you get lost, but how impossible that is when you actually find yourself in that situation. Looking back, I don't know why we thought it would be smarter to keep going instead of turning around. Now that I know where we were, it would have been longer to go back the way we came. Dumb luck.

Less than half a mile later we saw some jeeps. One of the guys was unloading something from the back of the jeep and we interrogated him. He said he had seen some runners and pointed out the nearest pink ribbon to us. We could see the aid station down below but we weren't sure how far it was to get there. I asked him if he had any extra water and he gave us a bottle to share and said it was probably a mile down the hill.

We took that blue got Gold Bar Trail around to the yellow jeep road... fun trail but not the right way

As we came into the aid station, I frantically told Meghan, who was volunteering, how we had gotten lost and I asked her how many girls had gone through. She replied, "A lot." I filled up my bottles and took off. My fear had subsided into anger. At first I was angry that the course wasn't marked better. The problem with that thought is that I know the race directors and they don't skimp on course markings. They take pride in their work. I had to face it. I wasn't looking and I missed the turn. On top of that I was so unobservant that I followed the yellow dots for 2 miles before I really accepted that I wasn't on the course anymore.

Bubba and I ran the next 4.5 miles together more or less. We passed a good number of runners. I was fueled by my frustration with my own stupidity, but Bubba seemed to be running on gratefulness, fist bumping the slower runners as he passed them. I don't know how, but we came to a place where we admitted to each other that it felt like we were meant to go off course just to keep each other safe.

I glanced at my watch when it said I had gone 31 miles and my time at that point was 5:35.  Even with getting lost, wandering around, climbing on rocks to get a better vantage point, and walking to stave off dehydration I had still managed to get a 50k PR. We still crossed the finish line in under 6 hours. I had run a 55k 30 minutes faster than my 55k time at Red Hot this last spring. I decided to call it a personal win. I couldn't have asked for a more adventurous day. I'll be back for more Grassroots Events races and I can't wait to get my revenge on this awesome course next year.

I'd like to say that the excellent post-race party drowned out my sorrows, but obviously it's still bothering me a little bit. The end of the season is always a little sad no matter what the circumstances are. It's nothing a little post season beer and cheese won't fix.

Garmin route:

On Sunday, I ventured with dad, Cory, and Mayla to the La Sal mountains where we hiked Miner's Pass. I just can't get enough of these mountains.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainbow Trail FKT report

Guest post by Cory Linfield

I know this FKT report is long overdue - so here it is:

The idea of running the entire Rainbow Trail is something I have been playing with for a few years. I met my wife, Allisa, working at Horn Creek camp south of Westcliffe, CO during the summer of 2009 when we were both in college. Horn Creek camp has a trailhead right beside it with about half a mile to get to the trail. I ran quite a few times that summer, exploring north and south on the trail as far as I could go between camp duties, being fairly limited by lack of hydration and nutrition at that point. Since Allisa and I've moved to CO and I've researched the extent of the Rainbow Trail, the thought of going back and running the whole thing has never been too far from my mind.

This year I decided to go for it - after a bit of research it seemed to me that no one had ever traversed the entire length of the trail by foot, or had no record on the internet of having done so. Given the increased popularity of FKT's, especially in CO, and the fact this is a nice, contiguous, almost entirely singletrack with only a spattering of 4WD road intersections, and a single paved road to cross, I figured I should hop on it to be the first. My wife was incredibly supportive, excited about the adventure and the chance to run parts of it with me (I am a fan of pacers - I think its fantastic being able to share these kind of adventures with friends). Also my father and mother-in-law, Barth and Jodi Zurbuchen, were able to coordinate a vacation with their camper and high-clearance truck to coincide with my attempt in July, which helped with logistics. My sister, Kristen, came to help and I was hoping my coach, Altra athlete, Josh Arthur, was going to meet up with me and maybe run some of the trail with me.

On Saturday, we drove out to Salida with the car filled with gear, dropped some things off at the camper and headed down to the southern end of the trail, across the mountains from Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was raining as we drove up to the trailhead, which was pretty nerve wracking, and it continued while we set up our tent and arranged things for the next morning. I woke up at about 1 am to silence, which meant the rain had finally stopped. It had been raining 12 straight hours since the previous day.

I wanted to get a real early start to run some of the trail in the dark, so at 2 am the alarms went off and I made some coffee and choked down pop-tarts shivering, while Allisa and Kristen broke down our camp. At 3:10 am, Allisa and I stood for a picture at the southern terminus of the trail, took pictures of my watch, and headed up the trail. Very quickly I started to heat up and I took off several layers, thinking that I had too much in my pack, something I thought several times throughout the day. We hopped around puddles for the first bit, almost the only evidence I would see of rain during my trek. We stopped at a pit toilet at the Grape Creek Trailhead at about 4:45, and while I was waiting for Allisa, a man wandered up to me, smoking a cigarette and complaining about our early start and headlamps. I shook off the strange encounter and continuing on, we started to see the first signs of the morning, very red with too many clouds for comfort over the valley. Running around the bottom of Humboldt Peak, I began to see the first familiar sections of trail from when I had explored several summers ago at camp. I pumped some water with Sawyer's fantastic Squeeze Water Filter in North Colony Creek and Allisa reminded me to keep the pace in this very early section very relaxed - something I had trouble forcing myself to do. 

At 7:50 am and 18.4 miles in, we met Kristen on the trail above Horn Creek with water and nutrition. I dropped Allisa off there and continued down the trail, the next section I felt the best that I felt all day, clipping off miles pretty easily. The trail was familiar and relatively easy with flat and gently rolling sections. The day began to heat up and although it was shaded, I was stopping at every creek to pour water on my legs, arms, and head. After about 5 miles, I had gone farther than I ever had exploring from camp and the rest of the day would be new exploration - which is my favorite aspect of long endeavors. 

I came very quickly into Gibson Creek mile 29.8 at 10:25 am, running a short section down to the trailhead to meet my wife, sister, mother-in-law, and dog, very happy to see familiar faces. They asked me if I had seen Barth on his mountain bike, as he had left just a few minutes ago to meet me. I hadn't, so they yelled his name, and Kristen raced off to find him before he got too lost. I sat down and contemplated the wide range of food options - a very good problem to have. The whole day would be marked by getting pretty comfortable at aid stops because I wanted to spend time with the people who were putting so much effort into supporting me during my adventure. 

Note from Allisa: My dad and mom had gone to most of the access points the night before while we were getting set up at the southern terminus. Even though Cory had called the Forest Service and done some research on the various access points along the trail, many of the roads were a lot gnarlier than expected. This meant that only my dad had the skills to navigate his truck along the 4WD roads. My dad had stayed up until well after midnight trying to decide whether or not to drive out to the southern terminus to tell us (we didn't have cell reception). Finally he decided to just let Cory start as planned and to see what the day brought. Cory would be able to at least get the first 50k done before having to be bothered with a change of plans.

Barth was located and Allisa discussed the change of plans, the Big Cottonwood Trailhead was very difficult to drive up and they might not be able to get there. The aid station that we were calling Bear Creek was also difficult to access and if it was dark and raining they might not be able to make it. Barth was going to pace me through a few sections, but would need to drive the truck up there instead. He was hoping to drive to the aid stations and then bike back on the trail to find me. The change of plans made me a little nervous, but I trusted that Allisa and Barth were much better judges of realistic logistics than I was at that time, so I agreed and headed up the trail.

The next section to Ducket Creek, 14.1 miles, felt enormous. The day was really heating up and I stopped twice to fill water bottles with filtered water from creeks while sitting in the shade. I slowed down on the uphills and my calorie intake suffered as well. At several meadows, the views of the valley below cheered me up. I got my feet wet at a large stream where there was evidence of a bridge being constructed. Up to this point there were quite a few very solid bridges which would support an ATV - the Rainbow Trail is open to ATVs south of Oak Creek and to Dirt Bikes for the entire length of the trail. I entered an area that had been burned out only a few summers before and the trail here was very washed out, the only section of the trail which wasn't in excellent condition. Barth had biked back to meet me about 2 miles from Ducket Creek, which meant he got to experience the very worst section of the trail for mountain biking. We even had to jump over a 5 foot deep, 4 foot wide crevasse where water had tore a huge slice in a stream bed. I was welcomed by my dog at Ducket Creek, mile 43.9 at 2:20 pm.

During the next section, clouds came over the Sangres which looked like they would be dumping rain, but it continued to be a dry, warm day. North of Oak Creek, about 3 miles from Ducket Creek, the trail is taken over by the Salida Ranger district and almost immediately the trail seems to change from a flat or rolling doubletrack intersected with numerous streams surrounded by pines and aspens to a much hillier, narrower singletrack with fewer streams in a high alpine desert. The trail markings were a bit sparser as well and there were a few places where I had to guess which was the main trail and which were auxiliary mountain bike trails. These kind of decisions, easy to make during a long run, seem much harder this far into such a long effort and I desperately did not want to go even a few miles off course. I came down a very long and overgrown descent into Big Cottonwood at 5:10 meeting Allisa hiking up the trail. 

Note from Allisa: I almost lost my head looking for Cory in this section. The narrow 4WD road up to Big Cottonwood was slow going. Then when we got there, there were none of the familiar Rainbow Trail markings. The trail looked a lot different than it had in the other sections, a lot narrower and rooty, less maintained and harder to follow so I thought that we weren't at the right trail, there had to be some intersection farther up. We hiked 2 miles up the trail looking for the Rainbow Trail to intersect the trail we were on, only to realize that we were on the Rainbow Trail. I frantically ran back to the car and started running in the trail the other direction, growing more worried because Cory's pace was slowing down. Why hadn't he arrived? When I finally found him, he was in low spirits with only a little bit of nasty brown water in his bottles. He was so desperate for company I was worried he wasn't going to make it to the next aid station alone. Would Josh make it to the right place in time to pace Cory? I was certain that Cory wouldn't continue if Josh wasn't there. Communication was pretty hard since the cell service was patchy. All Josh had were some coordinates and a time frame.

Leaving Big Cottonwood, I had the largest climb of the trail, up a creek and then switchbacks up a good sized hill. Usually I look forward to the climbs as I can hike them at a good clip, but halfway up I began to feel very nauseous and light headed. I sat down for a few minutes and worked on a Honey Stinger waffle and some water. Climbing up to the top of the hill was one of the more scenic areas of the trail, but I was not in an appreciative mood. Coming over the top, I was moving very slowly, thinking about dropping out of the FKT attempt, a thought that did not sit well with me. I met Barth on the descent down to Hayden Creek, happy to find me as I was moving much slower than planned. Picking up on his enjoyment on being out on a beautiful trail in the mountains, I started moving down the trail, feeling better with his company. As we got down to the creek and crossed a bridge, I met Allisa who excitedly told me she had just seen a bear a few seconds ago. A few feet further and I came across Josh, who had brought his friend Jessica and Jack the dog to meet up with my crew to support me after spending the last few days watching Hardrock. I got into Hayden at 7:45, and complained to Allisa about how rough the last section had been, which already felt silly being surrounded by so many happy and supportive friends and family. Josh was getting ready to pace me through the next section and optimistically brushed all my whining aside, saying he had seen people in far worse shape than me finishing Hardrock, and that I was just displaying symptoms of bonking, which makes sense at mile 59.8 of a run. Its hard to argue with that. So after changing some clothes and drinking some chicken noodle soup, we headed up the trail as it started to get dark.

After feeling rejuvenated with a clothing change, some chicken noodle soup, and encouragement from everyone, Josh and I headed up the trail next to the creek. I got a second wind here, I think my low mood was mostly from dehydration and lack of calories. Josh enacted a strict V Fuel gel regimen every 20 minutes, immediately restarting his timer when it went off and handing me a gel with the top already torn off. It was really good talking with Josh. We discussed Tiny Homes, gear for racing and alpine exploring, and peak-bagging. I was hiking really strong on the uphills and running decently on everything else. About halfway up the hill, we switched on our headlamps. I was unfamiliar with this section and running it in the dark makes it seem so disorienting. There were several trail intersections with signs knocked over that would have been perfectly clear which was the secondary trail during the day, but in the dark I was very glad to have a second opinion on the correct direction. On top of the ridges, we saw lightning on mountains several miles away and eventually the moon rose in a clear sky – the weather directly above me remained nearly perfect. About 8 miles through this section, I started to slow, again feeling nauseous. I would stop when taking a gel and my overall pace was not as peppy. There were several tricky stream crossings, difficult because of the dark and my less responsive legs – Josh skipped across each of them very easily. For the last several miles I was watching my GPS far too often, counting down the miles to the next crew spot. We climbed up on a final ridge that opened up to a meadow and a clear view of the moon, and found that there must have been hail or sleet not too long before, the plants were covered with ice and there were puddles of hail, which looked very enchanting in the headlights.

Note from Allisa: After the boys left Hayden Creek, we took off in search of dinner and Jessica grabbed grilled cheese ingredients, swearing that it would turn Cory's run around. Since the road to the Bear Creek TH was questionable and it was very dark, we all piled in my dad's truck - 5 people and two dogs. This road was GNARLY and hard to navigate in the dark. Lots of intersections that would normally be obvious in the daytime. After getting the the TH Jess and I hopped out of the car and Jack saw something in the woods that made him upset. He would not stop barking into the dark. Totally spooked, Jess and I piled back into the stinky truck and we all tried to snooze. Midnight came and went and finally around 1 am I thought I saw a light coming down the trail. It was just the moon. We decided to get the party going. Music and lights would hopefully scare the bears way.

Coming up to the Bear Creek TH we saw a few lights, which I assumed were down in the valley, but were actually Allisa and company’s headlights watching for us. Josh hollered and we heard very happy exclamations that we were finally coming down the trail. I collapsed into a chair, and fueled up on more soup. This aid station was one of my favorite parts of the traverse, Barth and Jodi had lights, chairs, and music set up around their truck and it was incredible for me to have 6 people and 2 dogs here in the middle of the mountains, only up this late to support and equip me for this long trek alongside the mountains. Josh and Jess started making grilled cheese sandwiches, seasoned perfectly for someone who had been running for hours - very salty. After another pep talk from Allisa and encouragement from Josh, Kristen and I headed out, a little stiff from sitting in the cold night air.

Note from Allisa: Things were a lot more serious here than Cory makes it seem. Cory needed to be 100% sure that he could make it the next 15 miles through the night with his sister to guide him. Kristen had grown increasingly nervous about pacing and wasn't sure if she could do it. Cory also doesn't take tough love from his sister very well, so I knew that if they ran into trouble Kristen would rely on Cory instead of Cory being able to trust her to make the decisions. A lot could have gone wrong here. If it had rained, they weren't moving fast enough to keep their body temperatures up and there was no way to get a hold of us for help, nor would we be able to access them. If Cory wasn't sure about his abilities I wanted him to quit, I was worried. Fortunately Josh had other opinions: he told Cory he had absolutely no excuses to quit. This vote of confidence is what Cory really needed.

This second to last section, from Bear Creek to the intersection with 285, was a struggle. I was still pretty smooth on the downhills and flats, but was really using the poles up the hills and transitioning back to a run was work. Kristen and I made relatively good time – 12 minute miles – for the first several miles. About 7 miles in we came up to a jeep road and for the first time on the trail there was no arrow showing which direction to take to continue on the Rainbow Trail. Kristen very graciously did some scouting first up the trail, then down the trail several hundred feet, without an obvious route. The map I had seemed to show the trail continued straight across the road, so we hiked about a half mile up the road, running into private property signs. I was pretty tired and frustrated at that point, and decided to try going down and if we didn’t find the trail to just hike out. Fortunately about ¾ of a mile from the jeep road intersection, the Rainbow Trail continued. As the sun was coming up, we started the last major climb of the RT, about 2000 ft up a steep trail that ran along the ridge before dropping down to 285. This was another gorgeous section of trail that rolled through an Aspen forest with great views of the surrounding mountains, probably one of the best sections of the trail, but I was not very appreciative. We met Josh about half a mile up the trail and jogged down with him to Barth and Allisa waiting by the truck.

Note from Allisa: Around 5am I got a text from Kristen saying they were 3 miles from the intersection with 285. We had all been napping in the camper and I suddenly jumped up saying, "Everyone wake up! We need to get to the trail NOW!" When we got there, we expected to see them within 15 minutes tops. The anxiety and exhaustion finally got the best of me and I started throwing up. I was supposed to run the last 10 with Cory so this was no time to feel sick. Come the end of the world, I was going to run these last 10 with him. Turns out some misleading signage made them gauge their distance to the intersection wrong and so the 3 miles text from Kristen was a false alarm.

Allisa wisely pushed me as soon as I had filled up on water to cross the road and up the hill (c'mon we weren't going to give him a breakfast buffet 10 miles from the end). I gave up my Black Diamond Z-poles as there was not a great deal of climbing left – this was a mistake because by this point, 28 hours into my adventure, I did not have very much power in my legs and could have used the extra push forward of poles even on the flat sections. Allisa was fantastic, putting up with my whining (and swearing) about wanting to be finished, as we ran through dips into a creek bed and climbs over the next spur. I was expecting to drop down to the stream I could see below, but all of a sudden we made a turn on the trail and there was the signpost for the other terminus of the Rainbow Trail. Barth, Jodi, Josh, Jess, Kristen, and the two dogs were right there, having driven up less than 5 minutes before. Unlike most ends to these sorts of things, the finish was not hugely climactic. As I went about sitting down and drinking as much cold liquid as I could, everyone else started setting up a surprise celebratory picnic. I got into a hammock and was treated to Josh making pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I was very content, so much that I slipped into unconsciousness a couple of times.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible. Final time: 30:58:38.

Strava links:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Breck Crest Half Marathon

The racing itch came back after a two month absence and I had been looking for Sunday races that I could jump into without having to ask off of work at the bank. As you may have noticed I've been taking a lot of time off work...

Signing up for Breck Crest had been in the back of my mind and I knew what the first half of the course was like from a recon mission last summer. This race is one of my favorites because it has the perfect blend of epic scenery and good competition with speedy locals coming out to play, while still maintaining that down-to-earth, no frills feeling that a lot of races start to lose over time. Plus it's pretty nice that they give a decent chunk of money out to the podium finishers for the half and the full.

Running the Wheeler Trail summer 2013

So I talked Cory into heading up to Breck after work on Saturday to camp and maybe hop in the race. I hadn't decided which distance to do so I figured I would see how I felt the morning of the race. I ended up feeling pretty crappy that morning with a headache and the beginnings of altitude sickness so we stopped at the grocery store and got me some "Altitude Adjustment Pills" which I'm pretty sure are just a placebo that gives you an attitude adjustment. Cory decided to hop in the half as well.

At the race start, we didn't really have time for race jitters to set in and I realized too late that I had forgotten my watch. Just before they released us into the mountains, it started to rain. It was that kind of nasty drizzle where you don't know whether to put a shell on or to just tough it out. I firgured the rain wouldn't last long.

Cory on the Burro Trail
Photo by Vertical Runner

Off we went on a 7 mile climb up to Peak 9. A good number of women took off at a pace I knew I could not sustain and my stomach was immediately sloshy. I decided it wasn't worth it to push the pace and have another race like the Leadville Marathon so I took it steady and talked with a girl named Laura from Aspen. I was able to run almost the whole way until the Wheeler Trail where I switched into hike mode. I really need to improve my hiking because I always get passed on the steep stuff. As we ascended above tree line, some blowing snow hit us and since most of us were already soaked from the rain, it was a dangerous situation.

Near the top of the Wheeler Trail
Photo by ClimbBetty

Normally, I don't approve of people switching distances midway through a race, but people were just unprepared for the conditions and a lot of runners switched from the full to the half partway through. This made the competition for the half a little more stiff. I knew I had my work cut out for me on the downhill if I wanted to get within the top ten. A lot of people stopped at the mile 7 aid station, but I plowed through it which put me ahead of about 3 women who had passed me on the last climb.

As I turned down the rocky 4 wheel drive road, there was no one in sight. I could see many switch backs below me but no one on them, so I figured there was no way to make up enough ground to pass anyone. I was so cold that I couldn't feel my hands and all I could think about was getting down! About 3 miles from the end I caught my first glimpse of someone and as soon as we switched from dirt road to more technical stuff, I passed 3 more women. One stayed pretty close to me and when I missed a sharp turn on some single-track she saw me swearing and heading back to the course and got ahead of me.

I realized my mistake pretty quick so it didn't take more than a few seconds to backtrack, but it just made me lose my momentum. After that I was stuck in maintenance mode, trying to keep others from passing me back. My legs felt like jello and I was running as fast as I could without puking. Its funny to think that a few years ago a half marathon felt like a long way to me, but now it's like a prolonged sprint.

I crossed the finish line and was happy to see 2:22 on the clock. Since I didn't have a watch I incorrectly assumed this was my time. Apparently the clock was set for the 10k runners that started 15 minutes after us, so my finishing time was 2:37, good for 10th place. Cory got his first first place finish ever at a trail race and kicked the crap out of the competition with a time of 1:57. He got $250 which covered our race entries for the weekend. Pretty proud of that guy.

I won my age group

Cory won the whole thing

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The High Lonesome Loop

Ever since Cory and I moved to Colorado in 2012, we have been trying to finish a 15 mile loop up near Nederland. I've heard the loop referred to as the High Lonesome Loop or the Hessie Loop before, but essentially the "official" route starts at the Hessie TH at the bridge by the last legal parking spot, goes up the Devil's Thumb trail via Devil's Thumb bypass, cuts across the ridge on the High Lonesome trail, and heads back down to Hessie on the King Lake trail. There's a pretty speedy FKT on the route, with the fastest men's time coming in at 2:10.

The first time we tried the route was in 2012 when Cory's sister, Kristen, was visiting. We told Kristen that it would be a tough 14+ mile run and to bring more than she normally would. Back then she just ran roads and her "normal" for a 14 mile run was to go empty handed. She thought she was prepared by bringing 2 or 3 gels, but inevitably we had to turn around 5 miles in because everyone was running out of food. Cory was upset and wouldn't even smile for a picture.

Attempt in 2012... turned around at Jasper Lake

Then, this June, we tried again. About 3.5 miles up Devil's thumb bypass, we got snowed in. It was impossible to tell where the trail went and it started to rain on us. We were bummed, but there was no way it was going to happen on that day.

Too snowy (June 2014)

Too rainy (June 2014)

We realized that we needed to start taking this loop more seriously if we actually wanted to get it done. We decided to make a purchase that is going to make every trail adventure more comfortable and cost effective. We got a Tepui rooftop tent for our car! Now we can sleep like babies on a 2.5 inch foam mattress in the comfort of a four season tent on top of our car. Best purchase we've ever made. On it's maiden voyage we decided to camp 20 minutes from the Hessie TH so we could get an earlier start. Even though it was a windy night with temps below 40 degrees, we woke up well rested and ready for adventure.

When we started the next morning we could tell it was going to be a chilly, windy day, but we were determined to finish the loop no matter what. We were far more prepared than we needed to be bringing at least 8 gels a piece, a water filter, a paper map, a map on my phone, and lots of layers. It was about 3/4 of a mile from our car to the bridge where I officially started the watch. We moved steadily, but didn't go too fast. It was going to be my longest run after coming back from a three week break due to tendonitis.

Wild flowers near Jasper Lake 

Getting to treeline

El Pulgar del Diablo

You can't really see them but there are people on that saddle

They don't call it High Lonesome for nothing

When we got to the top of the ridge it was really windy. Far windier than it was at the Leadville marathon where they said there were 35+ mph winds. When I pulled out my phone to take some pictures my map blew away! It was gone before I could even see what direction it went. It was bitterly cold on top of the ridge so we just tried to power through. After about three miles of hoping that we were on the right trail, we finally saw King Lake below us.

The Last few steps to the top

 Cold at the saddle

Cory running the ridge

Descending the King Lake trail

Water break

After getting below the lakes some clouds started to roll in and we stopped for about 10 minutes to filter some water.  After that I bonked and took 3 gels in 30 minutes. My stomach bothered me the whole way down so we weren't breaking any land speed records. When we made it back to the bridge my Garmin had 4:18 elapsed, 14.86 miles traveled, and over 3,300 feet gained. After changing at the car we saw a guy finishing up his run. He said he thought the wind was too bad for an attempt and had to turn around before the ridge. Even though we didn't have a very fast time, knowing that other people turned around made me feel pretty bad ass.