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Friday, September 5, 2014

Thursday, 09/04/14 Buchanan/Pawnee Loop

26.02 miles
7,334 vert.
6:26:44 (including ~20-25 minutes of stops)

This loop has been on my radar for a number of years and despite it being so close, for some odd reason I had not yet got around to it until today.  On Tuesday, I realized that there might be a possibility of me getting a day pass on Thursday, which also happened to coincide with a good weather forecast.  Once everything was in line, I sent out a handful of invites, but not surprisingly, nobody was able to join, it being so last minute and on a Thursday.  I did not mind though, as much as I would have enjoyed some good company, I was equally excited about doing this on my own and enjoying the almost guaranteed solitude (solitude was right, as I saw not a single person from lower Audubon Trail 20 minutes in, until I got to Pawnee Pass 5 hours in).

I started from the Long Lake parking lot at 6:33am and it was surprisingly warm and calm, sunny and in the low 50's.  I had waffled over the previous day as to what my intentions were for this run, whether to push hard for a fast time, or run it casually, take a lot of photos and perhaps add on Sawtooth and Crater Lake.  I could not decide on either and ultimately decided to just get out there and run and take the day as it came (it ended up being a very moderate run, cruising mostly and never really pushing).

I started off feeling quite good, most of it simply from being fresh and enthusiastic about the day to come, yet I was careful to not push too hard, as I knew pacing would be key to get through this challenging 26 miles.  It was such a great feeling to be cruising along in the warm morning sunlight, seemingly having the entire Indian Peaks Wilderness to myself.

Route finding was quite simple, with the only exception being the Coney Flats area, where there is a network of trails and dirt roads, but with some tips from friends and familiarizing myself with the area via maps and GPS tracks ahead of time, it ended up being really simple.

I pretty much felt good for the first 2.5-3 hours, but then went through a series of bad patches, nothing too serious, but I was not feeling particularly springy on the ascent of the Cascade Trail and pretty much just gave into enjoying the scenery, side trips to the many waterfalls and picture taking.  My stomach was not all that great and even on this not too crazy long run, I was getting pretty sick of gels and shot bloks.  Several times, I spent 3-5 minutes just sitting and drinking water, hoping my stomach would settle, which it eventually did a little.  

Then a surprise foot issue arose.  I wore my Hoka Stinsons (a new pair that I had only used twice thus far for short distances) and for some reason they really worked their way loose on the 6 miles descent of Buchanan Pass, so I stopped to re-tie them, but I think I went a bit too tight, as the outside edge of my right 5th metatarsal ended up hurting.  I have also had a recurring plantar wart in the same spot, so I was not sure what was going on.  I tried to tough it out for a bit, hoping it would go away, but then began an extended series of stops to tie/re-tie my shoes, take them off and feel inside, rub my foot, wrap the area with band aids.  Ultimately, the band aids, combined with keeping my right shoe really loose alleviated the pain, but a big loose Hoka is not all that stable and made for awkward running/hiking.

Though I had given in to any real time goals, I was a bit frustrated to take so many time wasting stops and was now just eager to get over the final climb of Pawnee Pass, but this was no small feat.  With some accumulated fatigue and a not so great stomach, this ended up being a real grind and never seemed to end.  Since I typically favor steep technical terrain, I figured this section would play to my strengths, but I ended up slowly slogging the entire way up, often stopping to try and figure out how on earth the trail would work it's way through the steep talus and cliff bands.

Once on the pass, I was quite relieved and eager to finish off the remaining 5 miles of familiar, mostly all downhill trail.  My energy returned a bit, but I was not feeling all that coordinated through the rocky, technical sections and was preoccupied with not rolling my loose Hoka.

Overall though, this is a top notch, scenic, challenging, interesting, uncrowded run that is quite a blast, I highly recommend it.  I had a very enjoyable run despite my minor issues along the way and being pretty worked over at the end.  It did not disappoint and lived up to expectations.

Wearing shoes that I had not put many miles in might have not been the best idea (though I was confident, as I never had an issue with my previous Stinsons) and I think my fitness/endurance is not quite where I would like to think it is.  I have really slacked off after Pikes Peak and it showed on this run.  This is a tough loop and I was pretty worked afterwards.

Splits:

Mt. Audubon TH - 5:36
Audubon Jct. - 28
Coney Flats - 1:01
Buchanan Pass - 1:59
Cascade Jct. - 3:06
Crater Jct. - 3:59
Pawnee Pass - 5:29
Lake Isabelle - 6:04
Finish Long Lake TH - 6:26:44

Looking North toward Longs early in the run

Typical terrain descending to Coney Flats.  The trail was somewhat overgrown in spots.

Coney Flats, looking up toward Sawtooth and Buchanan Pass just to the right.

Decent scenery and I spooked a few moose through this section.

Sawtooth and Buchanan Pass on the right

Buchanan Pass


Looking West in the direction I am heading, dropping 3,000 vertical in 6 miles (most of the drop was in the first half)



An massive avalanche completely decimated the trail for a few hundred yards and required a bit of picking through to get across.


One of many waterfalls along the Cascade Trail.  I took probably 200 pictures on the day, but I think I unwittingly had my camera on an odd setting for much of the run and this is the only half decent waterfall shot).




Surprisingly, there were still some decent lingering patches of wildflowers.



Looking down at Pawnee Lake

Looking up at Pawnee Pass.  Seems impossible that the trail can go there.

But it does.

Looking back down the West side of Pawnee Pass.

Finally on the pass.

Looking toward Little Pawnee and Audubon

Just 5 miles to go down to those lakes.







Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sunday, 08/17/14 Pikes Peak Marathon

Sunday, 08/17/14
59th Annual Pikes Peak Marathon
26.2 miles
7,815 vertical
4:59:38 (3:00:55 ascent)
28th overall
Garmin Data

Short version:  Could have been better, but am thankful that it was not much worse.  Ran smart on the up, moving well, but still saving enough for the descent.  Hit the summit in 18th place and was very much in the mix, close to a handful of guys who I hoped to pass on the descent.  The descent ended up being a bit of a mess and I wound up losing 10 places, was 12 minutes slower than last year and not quite where I envisioned myself finishing.  After some digesting though, I am reasonably OK with it.

Longer version:

"Training" or whatever you might call it (I generally refer to it as "just getting outside") went reasonably well this year.  I got in my usual vertical (370,000 feet prior to Pikes this year), a Grand Canyon RRR run, a few PR's and some very solid and encouraging runs thrown in here and there.  No injuries either to speak of, just the usual ups/downs of working full time and parenting 3 year old twins, maintaining a home etc... which can be much more exhausting than any runs or races I ever do in the mountains.

Normally I am able to get to 14k several times (or up to 30+ times in the pre kid years), but this year only managed to get up Grays and Torreys once.  I was able to get in some 13ers here and there, primarily a few solid runs on Audubon/Paiute, which helps, but is not quite the same as getting to 14k in my opinion.  However, despite the relative lack of altitude training, I still (correctly) suspected that it would not be much of an issue.
I felt reasonably confident going into this race, felt well tapered and though antsy and somewhat nervous, had it all under control and was ready to give it my best.

Did not leave Louisville until nearly 7pm on Saturday evening (as Allison had to work and I was on daddy duty all day), which is a change from previous years, where I would arrive in time to get my number, attend the PPA awards and eat the spaghetti dinner.  I like to soak up the race vibe and it puts me at ease being able to pin my number on the night before (but getting my number race morning turned out to be a non-issue).

Had a better than average night of sleep at my friend Jeff's house just 5 or so miles from the start (thanks Jeff!), a solid 7 hours worth, which is more than normal for me before this race.  Parked a bit before 5:30am, just in time to get my favorite parking spot.  Was able to eat breakfast with ease, a bowl of cereal with strawberries, an English muffin with jam and some coffee.  I rode my bike up toward the finish to lock up for post race transportation and then bumped into George, where we ended up hanging out for much of the following hour leading up to the race.  It was great prepping with George, as he helped keep me calm and distracted from getting too nervous.

The calm before the storm

(Gazette Photo)

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

My shorts this year are actually shorter than George's
(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Having some good laughs about Man Show bits
(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)


I started off at the front and despite the pace feeling conservative, was surprised to find myself in 9th place until half way up Ruxton.  I got passed by a few and did some re-passing, but generally maintained somewhere in the 11-15th range much of the way to Barr Camp.  It felt as though I was moving well, but my time splits were not indicating any real magic and I knew I would go through my usual fading beyond Barr Camp.  I just made a conscious effort to not be racing anybody (yet), stay within my own limits and pace myself reasonably.

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo) 

Looking at my watch, wondering if we are there yet.
 (Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Up Ruxton.  Seems MUCH shorter going up for some reason.
(Not sure who took this photo...)

(or this one)

Starting up the W's
(wait, who took this?)

(photo by Nancy Hobbs)

The ascent ended up being textbook for me, but it seemed as though I walked a bit more than normal just below A Frame and certainly above treeline.  I forced a jog when I could, but most often noticed noticed that I could walk just as quickly at a slightly lower HR.  Either way, I continued to will myself onward and upward and on the uppermost ~1,000 feet, I gained on and even caught several who had passed me just a mile or so below.

At the Cirque 
(photo by Wes Go)


Looking haggard


I topped out in 3:00:55, 5 or so minutes slower than I intended, but at the time I thought I had conserved enough energy for a good descent.  I paused for a moment to have my bib marked, sat and drank for no more than 30 seconds, and was on my way.  Once I got my legs under me, I felt like I was moving well down the first mile or mile and a half, but I knew I was not moving quite as well as last year.  My energy was still OK, but for good measure, I took another gel and drank some (my 4th and final gel after taking 3 on the ascent), hoping to give  myself a bit of a boost.  Below the Cirque aid station, the crowds became quite thick and although most were courteous and encouraging, there were a surprising percentage who took advantage by passing those in front of them who were properly yielding to downhill traffic.  Ultimately, it most likely would have made very little difference, but I found it to be annoying and made it difficult to find a steady rhythm.




As I neared treeline, it was becoming more and more clear that I was quickly transitioning from not quite getting into a groove to starting to feel bad.  Nothing specifically was wrong, no leg cramps, no abdominal cramps, but just a general feeling of not being strong or coordinated.  My 32 minute split from the summit to A Frame (vs. 29 last year) confirmed this and I was a bit discouraged.  I stopped at A Frame to drink a cup of water and a cup of gatorade, slowly walking trying to get my shit together, but it was not happening.  From A Frame to Barr Camp was the low point for me and is where I got passed by the most people, as I alternated walking and picking my way through the rocks.  On any given day, these more technical sections are where I should at the very worst be holding my own, if not gaining time on my competitors, but on this day, I was a bumbling fool.

I am ashamed to admit that I essentially gave up competing and felt sorry for myself.  I just wanted to be done, but there is only one way off the mountain and that is down the trail.  My resolve and willpower fluctuated wildly and I alternated between just surviving and pushing a bit.

Once at Barr Camp, I slowed and walked for more drinking and passed a guy who was in pretty rough shape, looking much worse than I (this very surprisingly happened 2 or 3 times).  I was a touch better below Barr, but then slowed to a complete slow walk on some of the minor uphills and I kept expecting a train of runners.  I also expected George to come by me at any point, as he was looking good and only a few minutes back at the summit.  Sure enough, he soon came zooming by and I did not even try to keep up.  I was happy that he was having a better day and encouraged him on to a possible masters spot.

I stopped for my last time at Bob's road and guzzled a few cups and was looking around for a place to sit, but there was nothing that looked comfy, so I pressed on.  It was here that I started coming around a bit, not really feeling better, but something in my head clicked to push harder, I was back in a racing mindset somewhat, but I just really wanted to get this done.

By now it has progressed from pretty warm, to quite warm to very hot.  One more quick cup of gatorade at the W's aid station and I could smell the finish.  At that time, I caught sight of the lead woman, Anita Ortiz creeping up on me.  A few switchbacks later, she was on my heels and I encouraged her by.  She said I was doing fine, but I think she was just being nice.  She gained a few seconds on me, but I stuck close and used her to pace off of.

Once at the final aid station on the dirt road, she peeled off to puke or dry heave, not sure which, but I shouted some encouragement and kept on going.

Finally on the last mile or so on Ruxton Ave., like previous years, I think I am home free, but also like previous years, I am deceived by how long it is to the finish.  You have 7,800 feet of ascending in your legs and now nearly the same of descending, it is hot, it is paved and it feels like a cruel joke, as if somebody keeps adding another corner, then another, then another, then you think this has to be the last corner, then somebody yells "only 1/3 of a mile to go!!".  I notice my watch clicking by quicker and quicker and I am getting really close to the 5 hour mark.  I am sprinting now for all I am worth trying to not be the first person over 5 hours.  I just barely sneak in at 4:59:38.  Whew.



(Pikes Peak Sports Photo)

Dang that hurt!, but I am so happy to be done and take a seat next to George in the finish tent.  Remembering how much it helped to lay on a cot last year and letting them talk me into an IV, I sheepishly head in that direction for some recovery.  I most likely would have been fine with some time spent sitting and drinking, but being there early enough that most of the cots were empty, I figured I would head over there for some care, even if not entirely essential.  They put a pulse ox on me and I had a reading of 82%, which concerned them a bit, so they put me on a nice flow of oxygen.  Blood pressure was good, but they thought my color was a bit off, so again offered up the IV.  Soon I was feeling much better and my oxygen level was back up to 98%, so I passed on the second bag of saline and was on my way.  A huge thanks to the crew who took care of me.

(George Zack photo)

I finally headed out into the real world, cleaned up, ate and socialized with many friends and acquaintances, Dave H who came to cheer, George of course, Brett W, Don S, Tim S, Mark S, Bruce A (who was waiting for his wife to finish her double) and many others.


There was some confusion as to the results, but I called it to the race officials attention and after all the usual offsets for top 10 and masters, I ended up with a 2nd place 40-44 age group trophy.  I felt a bit silly about it, somewhat undeserved, but I took it anyways.

George on the top step, me on the second.  This has become somewhat of a tradition here at Pikes Peak.  The empty podium step is for Dave Mackey, who could not make it to the race (who was racing some easier race in Leadville instead).
(Don Solberg photo)

Looks like a trophy, only smaller.

Though I was hoping to improve upon my 4:47 last year and once again score a masters top five placing (and the free entry that accompanies that), I came up a good bit short of that.  I did not necessarily have a bad day, but I did not have a great day either.  Maybe a good day with some bad moments, which I assume is the case for many others as well.  That is the nature of these kind of events, especially something so unforgiving as Pikes.  In shorter races, a bad patch can cost seconds or minutes, but on this hill, those deficits can compound quickly.  During my down moments where I somewhat gave up, I figured I would end up walking it in for who knows what time, but am thankful that I was able to rally and sneak in under 5 hours.  I have a bad tendency in these situations to be discouraged that I am last of those in front of me instead of being thankful of being ahead of the majority of the field behind me.  I had to keep reminding myself of that which helped propel me forward.

Of course after the race, I pick apart the results and myself, questioning my resolve, my will to fight and compete, to improve upon my previous best and then am forced to reconcile that with reality.  Like many, I really just do this for fun, I am by no means even close to a pro athlete and I don't have the desire to engage in a structured training program, speedwork, intervals, diet, or take away from my family.  Perhaps those things may help for some, but I don't really respond well to it.  It would become so much less fun, that it would  most likely negatively impact my performance like it did when I was cycling in my 20's.  Oh well, it sounds like a cop out, but I am slowly learning to accept that I get out of it what I put into it.  Sometimes that is a lot (the journey and overall experience is very much worth it), other times I fall short.  All part of the game.

I also have to remind myself that despite not meeting my expectations, it is quite an honor to be able to run up Pikes Peak and back and I do not take it for granted.  My times will gradually slow and someday I may not be able to run this race, so I try to appreciate all that I have now.


Random thoughts in random order:

  • I have heard various complaints about the shirts.  Though in my mind not a big deal, I too have to admit that they are not my favorite (looks a bit like a LA Rams jersey, or perhaps something an Admiral would wear) and I would be a bit sick of the purple if I were running the Ascent.  They have also seemed a bit too similar over the past 4 years.  I would love to see a different design next year, maybe something short sleeve, gender specific colors, or even a no shirt option for the race at an appropriately reduced price.  The grey short sleeve shirts that the race staff were wearing were quite nice and would be a step up from the usual.  More of a suggestion though than a complaint.


  • Questions and comments from my 3 year old daughters when I got home:  "Daddy, did you see any balloons?  Did you see any animals?   Why was George Zack not wearing a shirt?  Daddy, did you win?  How come you did not win?  Because you are older?  Did George Zack win?  I want to race Pikes Peak Marathon with you dad! (Amelie)  I want to race the Tour de France (Isabelle)


  • The Hoka Huaka was the PERFECT shoe for this event.  Light, stable, great control, protection, cushion, just enough traction and I was the least beat up afterward of any of my previous Pikes Peak Marathons (wore the Stinson last year, Bondi the year before, Pearlizumis the year before).  Some of that may have to do with not running as fast down the mountain this year, but still.
  • On the descent, I was grumpy and was thinking this was my last Pikes after 6 Ascents and now my 4th marathon since I first ran here in 2004 (missed 2009 due to a broken foot).  I still contemplate other races, but suspect I'll be back next year to redeem myself.  Even if I don't ever live up to my expectations here, I still love the race, the tradition, the mountain, organization, friends and overall experience.
  • I was surprised how minimally impacted I was physically after the race (well, after the oxygen and IV).  I was a bit slow the next day on the stairs, but I could fake a pretty normal walk.  Shoulders, glutes, arms and lower back were a bit sore and stiff.  No blisters or sore spots on my feet/toes.  Am taking 3 days off, partially as recovery, but mostly because live coverage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is cutting into my normal post work running time.
  • Ate 3 gels on the ascent (before Bobs, before A Frame and around 1.5 to summit, then a last one ~1.5 down from summit.  Carried a bottle, sipped off it often, but the bulk of my fluids came from stopping on the descent and guzzling a few cups each time.
  • George has an excellent summary here, does a much better job conveying thoughts on the race and has many points I can relate to.

Splits:

Ruxton:  2:52
Hydro:   9:32
Top of Ws: 32:04
No Name:  47:21
Barr: 1:23:35
A Frame: 2:02:50
Summit: 3:00:55
A Frame: 3:32:59
Barr: 3:59:16
Bob's Road: 4:19:32
No Name: 4:28:12
Top of Ws: 4:39:19
Finish: 4:59:38