Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Recovery' Hike on 14ers, 20 Jun 2010

Q: Hey Josh: you just completed the grueling San Juan Solstice Run yesterday, 50mi of high altitude running in southern Colorado that kicked your tail pretty good. What are you gonna do next?
A: Heck, I'm gonna take a 'recovery' hike on nearby 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine, that's what!

And so the day after a successful finish at SJS50, I found myself riding shotgun (with the intrepid Rob Youngren driving) in a Jeep Wrangler south of Lake City, CO enroute to the the trailhead for Redcloud Peak (14,034') and Sunshine Peak (14,001'). And we enjoyed a perfect weather day to boot, sunny blue skies, mild temps, just gusting winds; no storms or black clouds in sight.

Having not slept all that great after the race and still hungry, woke up early and got a big breakfast from the Tic-Toc Diner before heading over the race's awards ceremony at 0830. Joined by several other runners, including Joe Prusaitis and John Sharp, at the diner trying to refuel body stores with omelettes and pancakes! Starting at 0830, the race directors, like the race itself, put on a great awards ceremony with finishing prizes for all and tons of raffled items (which means, of course, I didn't get my name pulled for a prize!)

Afterwards, a group of runners caravan'ed down to the trailhead, including me, Rob, Kathy Youngren, Tony Gonzales, Perry Sebastian, Sally Brookings, Marty Coleman, Janice Anderson, and Vikena Yutz. We left the trailhead with perfect weather about 1100 and began the hike up to Redcloud. With several breaks on the 4.5mi route, we made the summit about 1400 and proceeded to take plenty of photos (view here at my Picasa account).

Since the afternoon weather was good, despite the 50-60mph wind gusts, we traversed the saddle going south for 1.5mi and quickly gained the top of Sunshine Peak.

Not content to simply reverse course back to Redcloud and head down, fearless adventurer Rob lead us down a SW finger off Sunshine through a crazy scree slope on the western face of the mountain. About 1300' below we took a break near a patch of snow before making our way down a chute in the rock formations. The chute took us a while, but culminated in several folks (Marty, Tony) getting long buttslides down snowpacks [very cool]. We traversed about another miles of rocks before coming into a long creekbed and draw in the mountain and down to the main trail. Then another 2mi downhill hike to the parking lot and trailhead, arriving just past 1900.

Thanks to Kathy's parent (Arthur and Mary Ann Faulkner) for treating us to a great dinner back at their cabin. We jawboned away another hour and watched the dogs make mischief for a while, experimenting with several beers from the New Belgium Brewing Co.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

San Juan Solstice 50-Mile, Lake City, CO (19 Jun 2010)

So I went to Lake City, CO for the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run. Got a burr up my rear end to see the Colorado mountains on two feet after listening to tales from Rob/Kathy Youngren and Joe Prusaitis. The SJS50 is the first of two races this summer, with a return trip in August for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. So I was stoked to be there, putting mind and body to the test on one of the toughest ultra courses in the country.

But let us clear up a small misnomer now; 50-Mile Run is a stretch, for no one can run major portions of this high altitude event. The course makes major climbs into the San Juan Mtns and spends considerable time above 12,000 ft elevation, including a 12mi stretch on the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide (about 3mi above 13,000’). So smile folks, you get light-headed just trying to walk or jog slow up there, much less actually run.

The race started at 0500 from Town Park in Lake City, with the first 2.7mi heading out CR-20 towards Engineer Pass. From there we turned south and climbed up into Alpine Gulch and the Williams Creek Trail, topping out about 12,700’ on the first major climb. I got my first taste of what the climb and altitude can do to when I squeezed some Perpetuem paste into my mouth and tried to mix it up with a little water (i.e. just breathing through my nose); my heart rate jumped way up and my head started to swim immediately. For the rest of the day, I could only put down calories while walking on flat stretches or during the easy descents!

Absolutely awesome views up top, looking over a string of 14er peaks just a few miles away. My legs were feeling the first long climb (topped out at about 13,200’), and the subsequent long descent to the Williams Creek aid station (15.7mi) was about the longest I’ve ever pulled so my legs, even after years of training, were in new territory!

I rolled into the Williams Creek aid station just before 9am, grabbed some more fuel from my drop bag, and moved out of there (no sitting down!). The course wound up Cinnamon Pass Road (CR-30) for about 2.5mi, very runnable, before turning south up Wager Gulch Rd and the second major climb to the Carson ghost town site. So you may be thinking “just run up the jeep road” but I tell you that I had to power-walk nearly the entire 3000’ climb over 3mi to the next aid station. I’d get my arms swinging and get aggressive on the climb, but couldn’t push too hard or get light-headed from the effort and altitude. It was like I wanted to press, but instead the mountains were pressing me instead!

It was about 11am by the time I made the Carson a/s at about 12,200’. Rob and Kathy rolled in right behind me and took some aid while I pressed ahead. The jeep road was work-able, a steady climb that never got crazy, but I couldn’t push it too hard. We continued on up past Carson to the Continental Divide around 13,000 then turned left on the Colorado Trail and made for Coney Peak at 13,344’. Rob and Kathy reeled me back in during the secondary climb, and we began to traverse the Divide for a few miles. Unparalled scenery in all directions, with high mountain meadows to the east and a view of 14ers to the west. The trail is runnable, so I’m taking it about a 1/4mi at a time, then a walk break once my heart rate starts to get out of control and I get light-headed; legs are a bit wobbly as well and I’ve got a minor nose-bleed mixed in with the ever-present snot running out of my nostrils!

The 9.5mi stretch from Carson to the Divide aid station is a truly stunning piece of terrain, challenging as hell with a narrow single-track trail out guiding you along the upper reaches of the Lower 48. It took me 3 hours to make that segment, running a little, walking a lot, and letting gravity do its job on me during the downhill stretches. Some pieces were obnoxiously difficult with snowpacks (mercifully few of those) or scree-filled slopes, and I was just hanging in there, grinding out the miles one at a time not letting my breathing and heart rate get out of control.

Around 1400 the trail emerged from a tree grove and onto the Divide aid station. Some great folks there at the 31mi (50k) point, nice as can be. The altitude is kicking my tail but I’m rolling with it. When asked of my home and the volunteers hear Alabama, I get the incredulous look and a “what the f%$^ are you doing up here?” It’s kind of funny, because there is no way those of us from down low can prepare for the altitude of this race, so all can do I just grab my sack and go to it!

The next 9mi stretch from the Divide to Slumgullion doesn't prove much easier, but more sections where I can pick up a slow run and grind down the miles a tad faster. It’s mostly jeep trail and rolling hills along the Divide and Colorado Trail to mile 35, which we leave upon entering Rambouillet Park. Up to here I can run some of the flats on-off mixed in with walk breaks, but walk any incline. After the park, the course begins a long descent (3mi) towards Slumgullion a/s on CO Hwy 149. Though my legs are getting tired, this is actually a good section for me. While the altitude and mountains press on me and limit my climb to where I can breath, during the long descents I can keep engaging these legs and I’m the one pushing instead.

I rolled into Slumgullion a little before 1600, way ahead of the cut-off and feeling OK and in a good mood. The a/s volunteers invite me to sit down several times, but I know better; stay on your feet, get some more water and calories, and keep moving! After a mile descent past the a/s, the course turns up once more. At this time it is one right nasty ascent; about 1700’ gain in about 1.5mi. And so I go back to work, grinding that sucker out one step at a time, but don’t believe I ran more than 10 steps in the entire ascent. Rob and Kathy caught up to me near the top of it, offered some words of encouragement, and then dropped me like dirty laundry. I crested out the climb, then walked a little more until my legs settled down, finally picking up a run-walk cycle across the top of the Vickers Ranch property over the final aid station.

Once again, the folks there remarked (kindly) on the insanity of an Alabama resident coming up to this race, but we had a good laugh of it. They told me it was a nice 3mi downhill back to Lake City, but I’m not really sure that was selling point this far into the race! After some more rolling hills, the course dropped off down the Waterdog Trail, so once again I let gravity do its job on me, mustered these mighty quads and make them work for me.

A long, tough descent into town but the finish line is growing near. Once down off the trail, I took up a 1min walk/1min jog cycle in the final segment, crossing over the Gunnison River, turning left on Silver St, seeing the finish line, stripping off my hydration pack, and thank you Lord, IT IS OVER! 13hr 52min.

The Youngren’s and Faulkner’s are at the finish area, Rob/Kathy got in around 13hr28min, good to see them. Made a call to Kirsten to let her know I was alive, swallowed down some Recoverite, and walked around a little to keep my legs somewhat loose.

Shared pizza with Youngren/Faulkner clan down at Poker Alice, my thanks to them for letting me tag along. Got back to the motel around 2130, cleaned up, and watched a movie for a bit. Alas, sleep was quite elusive and fitful when it did finally come around 2am.

I tell you, as great as the scenery was, and the people out there, I am hard-pressed to say I enjoyed myself. This was a truly difficult event, the toughest I’ve ever gone through. As crazy as it may sound, mile for mile, this was tougher than any of the 100s I’ve run, tougher than the double mountain mist stunt, etc. After the first hour as we climbed out of Alpine Gulch past the first aid station, I was pressed nearly every minute of the race. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did it, glad I could be part of the history, glad I sucked it up, grabbed my sack, and brought it all the way to the finish. But I was pushed tremendously hard on the climbs, was forced to really make my legs work me during the long descents, and was sucking for oxygen the entire time up on the Divide and the upper reaches of the course.

So why am I writing this down, why doing the soul-searching? Well, I’m gonna be at Leadville in August. So first and foremost, I am a little leery of what the altitude is going to do me, and just how hard I am going to have to push. My memories of Arkansas Traveller and success there are very fresh, and it is tough to imagine another 100 going better than that.The more difficult challenge at Leadville may very well kick my ass! But that's OK, I'm still gonna enjoy the experience and the challenge. Secondly, assuming I get through Leadville, then I am qualified for Hardrock in 2011. Do I toss my name in that for the penultimate? (Barkley being the ultimate). I got a good taste today of what Hardrock could be like, and how hard it will push me. Do I want to try it on for size? And just as importantly, do I have any hope of enjoying it? Thoughts to ponder in the coming weeks and months….

Going to take a zero-week (no miles), then put together a 6-week training cycle to prep for Leadville. Tune back for more....