Friday, February 7, 2014

2014 Races + Best Photos of 2013

After barely racing the past few years, I've actually got a somewhat full schedule of bike and running races starting in May. Training is going alright, with weeks between 10 and 18 hours of just biking and running for the past month. I've been doing a lot of easy running because my Achilles has been sore since November, but I'm making up for the lack of intensity with regular interval rides on the trainer. It also helped that the weather in January was amazing -- I was able to get in a few 4-5 hour road rides on sunny, 60 degree days. I'm also even enjoying the less fun training (read: trainer rides) more than at any time in the past few years. I'm especially excited for March to roll around, as warmer weather and later sunsets will allow after work trail running and mountain biking.

Anyhow, here's the preliminary race schedule, where * indicates already having registered.

May 3 - Battle of the Bear MTB
May 25 - Gunnison Growler MTB*
May 31 - Golden Gate Dirty 30 (50k) run*
June 29 - Golden Gran Fondo road ride*
July 4 - Firecracker 50 MTB
July 12 - Breck 100 MTB
Sept. 27 - Aspen Golden Leaf half marathon

I'm privileged to have experienced some many new and magnificent places during 2013. Here are a few of my favorite photos from that year. I look back at my Flickr account every few months just as a reminder of how lucky I am.










Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Two Race Reports in One


This photo is from the UROC, which I didn't finish. I took this shot on what I believe in the 10 Mile Range. Breckenridge is to the left and Copper Mountain is on the opposite side of the ridge. The trail I'm heading toward is vaguely visible in the center region of the photo.
So this is a somewhat contradictory post. To begin with, a quick recap of the Silver Rush 50 run way back in July:

Silver Rush 50 (aka, Day 2 of the Silver King)
I started the run discouraged from having lost around 15 minutes during the bike the previous day because of mechanical issues, i.e., flat tires. However, I was confident with my fitness and was looking forward to spending another day in the mountains. (I always look forward to time in the mountains.) I ran comfortably the first 7 or 8 miles uphill to the turn around ahead of Printer Boy. Definitely an improvement on 2012 where I walked quite a bit of this section. After the climb, there's a nice descent where I can jog 7:00/mile pace and put time into a lot of my competitors. (Or, as is more often the case, regain some of the time I lost on the climb.)

Unlike 2012, where I felt horrible 15 miles in, this time I felt fine. Okay, maybe not fine, but not majorly fatigued. I jogged and walked the climb to the aid station just before Ball Mountain and from there cruised uneventfully to the turn-around point.

After the turn-around there's a long climb back to the the pass near Ball Mountain. I was struggling a bit here, but ended up being inspired to run more than I would have because I briefly chatted with Daniel Harper. It turns out he was the guy that stopped to give me a tube while I was stranded during the bike. Not not only is Daniel an extremely nice guy, he is also super tough. He ran every step of the climb, and I couldn't hang with him.

After Daniel took off in front of me, I plodded along slowly saving some energy for the last climb and the long descent to the finish. After passing through Printer Boy, there's one long climb to 12,000 feet that's wicked because it comes 35 miles into the race, but the reward is a gradual descent to the finish. As I approached the top of the climb, the weather took a turn for the worse. Rain fell and the wind picked up. Wearing just a t-shirt and shorts, I started to get really cold. With my hands behind my back for wind protection and my torso titled forward to reduce my frontal area, I hiked up the climb.

I reached the top freezing and spent. I really should have taken a rain jacket at Printer Boy, I scolded myself. But just as I was starting to think about the less than ideal conditions, I looked around. The scenery was stunning. Mts. Sherman, Sheridan, and Dyer were nearly encircling me. I realized I was taking on a challenge and the most difficult part was behind me. My thoughts changed. How privileged am I to spend a day running around the mountains, just for play? My situation suddenly felt surreal, and I laughed to myself about the absurdity of the challenge, my surrounding environment, and the weather. This moment -- testing one's self, embracing unexpected travails --  is exactly why I like endurance racing.

With a new found positive perspective, I raced downhill. Eventually I caught Daniel. I figured there was enough downhill remaining to pull ahead, and perhaps still win the Silver King. Yet Daniel pressed on. As the course flattened in the last few miles, he regained ground. He'd pass me on a small uphill, I'd pass back on the downhill, and so on. Eventually, his persistence was too much for me. I lost sight of Daniel, and he went on to win the Silver King by 5 minutes from second place, Max Fulton, and 7 minutes from me back in third place.

Once again, I struggled the last few miles and was not able to break 8 hours. Oh well. Still a great day.


Vail in late September

ULTRA RACE OF CHAMPIONS (aka, UROC. aka, The Most Self-Congratulatory Race Name Ever)
After enjoying the Silver Rush, I was really looking forward to UROC, a 62 mile run from Breck to Frisco to Copper Mt. to Minturn to Vail. This area is one of my favorite places, and I was feeling fit. After the Silver Rush I dropped my bike mileage a bit and ran uphill as much as possible (though it turns out, not enough). I was running strong during speed workouts and was feeling better than every on 2-3 hour runs in the foot hills.

The race started with a quick climb of up to the tree line directly up the slopes at Breck. Like most everyone else, I hiked most of the climb. After 45 minutes of hiking, the route descended back to Peak Trail, and then over to Frisco. I loved this part of the race. Jogging through the golden forest was easy, and I was surrounded by Aspens turning from green to gold and orange, and at times a burning red.

Frisco embraced the race by shutting down a portion of Main St for the runners. Just after leaving town the route veered onto a trail. I jogged up through the woods, beginning with more Aspen groves, but eventually reaching Pine. As I climbed the temperature dropped, the steepening route forced me to hike, and the ground slowly became more and more snow covered.


The trail continued to get steeper and steeper, until I came across the view below. Finally, the summit is in sight!


I hiked through the snow, choosing my step carefully due to a narrow, snow covered path and a precipitous drop. I reach the top of the pass only to realize the climbing continued. After a lengthy walk traverse of a steep, snow covered mountain side, I encountered yet more climbing:


If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see a competitor about two thirds of the way to the right of the photo. He or she looks like a tiny dark spot, but that's where I headed next. I continued my hike -- god, it must have been an hour and a half without running at this point -- and enjoyed the view. Eventually, I reached the top of the ridge, from where I took the photo starting off this post. The trail along the ridge top offered unobstructed, 360 degree views of some of Colorado's most famous skiing. I'll definitely have to make my way back, hopefully next time on a mountain bike.

After a half mile along the ridge, the trail headed down to Copper. I dropped elevation quickly and made good progress on the descent. I entered the south side of Copper hungry and excited to see Stacey, change some clothes, and get re-fueled. But where was the aid station? It should be right here, I thought. Instead, the course headed up the slopes a bit. For the next 45 minutes, I cursed in my head. WHERE IS THE AID STATION? I NEED FOOD! I NEED WATER! Most importantly: I NEED TO STOP MOVING FOR JUST A MOMENT!

45 minutes passed running up then down, turning left then right, zig zagging all about the mountain while I just wanted a direct path to the aid station. At long last, I arrived at the Copper aid station. During small talk with Stacey, she made some off hand remark about how much distance was left in the race. Up to this point I had my Garmin set to show only heart rate. I didn't want to know my progress. My best estimate was that I'd covered 40 miles. I could do another 22, no problem. I re-fueled, thanked Stacey (at least I hope I did! If not: Thanks, Stacey!), and took off directly uphill.

The uphill, while so steep and slippery with mud that I could barely walk it, wasn't too long. At the top, we turned and headed back down to the Vail Pass bike path. I couldn't help myself any longer, and I looked at my watch: a bit over 6 hours had passed, and I was not yet at 30 miles! Uh oh. At this pace I'd be out here for no less than 13 hours, but more likely 14-15 hours as my paced slowed.

And with that realization, I decided to quit. I wasn't strong enough to run much of the uphills any longer. Even the flat sections would soon be hiked. I did not prepare for the challenges of the race, which I underestimated. I loved the first half, but I didn't see the point in walking another 32 miles. I was would not be racing, I'd be surviving. Moreover, I realized I don't want to do any running race over 7-8 hours. No Leadman for me. My first DNF, and I'm fine with that.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Silver Rush 2 - MTB

A few days before the MTB race, I crashed my bike turning right from a gravel road onto a section of single track at North Table. I must have had my weight poorly distributed because my rear wheel slid out in the middle of the mellow turn, and my rear derailleur and right leg took the brunt of the fall. Not only did I fail to achieve my goal of a confidence inspiring tune-up ride, but I also bent my rear derailleur hanger and broke the derailleur cage. I used the replacement of the rear derailleur as an opportunity to re-cable my bike. After a spin around my neighborhood and another short ride in Breck (also with a confidence killing crash, although this time with no damage to either my bike or body), I was sure my bike was tuned up and ready to go.

The start line
My plan going into the race was to ride the first 25 miles conservatively so I'd have plenty in the tank for the final climb, a wicked uphill that starts below Printerboy and continues onward for another three miles up to 12,000 feet.  Last year I felt like I gave away a lot of time on this climb and wanted to make sure that didn't happen again this year.

Conor and I dressed warmly before the start.
On race morning Conor and I lined up fairly far from the start, more than half way back in the crowd of racers.  While this starting position meant I'd have to pass a lot of riders, I wasn't too concerned because the first 10 miles of the race is almost entirely uphill on a double track jeep road. In theory, there's plenty of room to pass. I also didn't think the starting position would be detrimental because the crowd of riders would prevent me from redlining the entire first hour, leaving me with energy to push hard on the dreaded final climb.

If I had to do it over again -- or if I do the race next year -- I'll start further to the front, mainly because passing riders on the initial climb was often frustrating. At times there was room to ride my own pace, but I was frequently blocked in by two side-by-side riders going the same speed. I'd usually soft pedal behind other racers until a passing opportunity presented where I didn't have to push too hard to get through and where the passing line was of good quality. When I made a bad passing decision I'd end up cutting someone off, riding a rocky line, or pushing too hard. The good choice is almost always to wait until the perfect time to pass, and mostly I made good choices and spared myself from too many hard passing efforts.

Tossing a bottle to Stacey below Printerboy. 
After the initial long climb, it's a 30 mph gravel road downhill into the first aid station, Printerboy. I went through Printerboy in 1:25, which was three minutes faster than last year with much less effort. After a few more minutes of descending, it's back to climbing through the Trough (a.k.a., Route 1 B on Strava). This climb kicked my butt both last year during the race and on a training ride with Conor earlier this year. It's often sandy, always steep, and typically includes some hike-a-bike. Climbing this section has always required -- for me at least -- going nearly all out. On race day, however, maybe there was more moisture in the ground on race day causing the trail to have more traction than normal, or maybe adrenaline just made pedaling feel effortless, but I had no problem soft pedaling this climb while stuck behind a line of riders.

After the Trough, I was up near Ball Mountain, the site of a steep, rocky descent. After this descent, there's a quick climb up to 12,000 feet for a second time, and then the most technical descent of the day down to the turn-around at mile 25. My goal on this segment of the race was to err on the side of caution so I didn't crash. Fortunately, part of the descent had been groomed since my training ride with Conor, and the descent down from 12,000 feet was much safer than on our training ride. I made it down to the turn-around without even approaching my technical riding limit, unlike last year where I took a detour off trail after entering a turn too fast.

I made it safely and, I was pretty sure, efficiently to the turn-around. At this point I was seven minutes up on my time from last year, but felt far fresher. My first chance to test my legs was on the lower part of the ascent back up to Ball Mountain. While last year I had to push hard on this dirt road climb in even my easiest gear, this year my legs had no burning sensation even at the moderately hard effort I requested.
Just past the turn around.
The lower part of the ascent from the turn-around gives way to a short descent, then a long hike-a-bike climb. I walked the hike-a-bike at a steady effort and didn't try to be a tough guy by riding the flatter sections. Following a quick descent, another short hike-a-bike, and a second descent, this one back through the Trough, I was ready to push hard the final hour and a half to the finish. Now was the time to make my move after hours of riding conservatively.

Unfortunately, just a few minutes after starting to push hard, I hard the sound of spraying liquid.  Stan's was spraying out from the dead center of my tire's tread and my rear tire was quickly going flat. I came to a stop and stood motionless for a moment wondering, "What would cause a flat at the center of the tread on a dirt road? Something sharp like glass? Shouldn't Stan's seal that?" Putting those thoughts aside, I set to changing the tire. Despite a bit of confusion dealing with my first tubeless flat -- Do I clean out the Stan's? Am I sure the tube is fully inside the tire bead? -- I was up and running in just over 5 minutes. I judged my tire pressure by feel, decided it was sufficient, and set off determined to track down everyone that passed me while I changed the flat.
Descending Ball Mountain on the way back.

I was now beginning the final climb and other than a few minutes lost with the flat my race plan was working perfectly. My legs were strong and I was making up ground on all the riders in sight as I began the final climb to 12,000 feet. Within 40 minutes, I'd caught everyone that passed while I changed the flat, astonishingly erasing the 5 minutes I lost installing a tube by the time I reached the turn-off to the 10 mile descent to the finish!

Tragedy (relatively speaking) struck a mile or so into the descent. I was losing traction and, sure enough, had a second flat rear tire. I pulled off the trail and just stood there for a moment. I'd used my only spare and CO2 to fix the flat the first time around. What could I do now? Time was just passing by as I sat there helpless. Should I drop out and walk back to Printerboy? I sat on the ground and seriously considered dropping out.

The least I could do is pull my wheel off, inspect the tire to see if I missed something the first time around, and be ready should someone stop to offer assistance. I set about doing that, but my wheel wasn't coming off. The wheel was coming out of the drop outs, but then getting jammed into the frame for some reason. I was frustrated like Normann and hit the top of my tire hard in hopes of dislodging it from the frame and rear derailleur. Instead of freeing the wheel, my hit instead bent my rear derailleur into the spokes of my rear wheel. "Slow down and be methodical," I told myself. I pulled the derailleur out of the spokes and then was able to remove my wheel. After inspecting the tire and finding no sharp object, I looked at the inside of the rim. All was well there, too.

Now I just had to hope a passing rider would spare a tube and CO2. After several riders blew by ignoring my pleas -- and who can blame them with their own races to race? -- a guy finally stopped and offered everything he had. I thanked him for a tube and CO2, and he made me take a second CO2 just in case. As he pulled away I set about changing my flat. I was up running, but had lost another 15 minutes. In a 5 hour race, losing 20 minutes hurts!

But my problems weren't over. Though I was moving now, there was a loud noise coming from my drive train. I stopped again and checked out my chain path. At the time I thought I'd dislodged the chain from the rear derailleur's top pulley by breaking my derailleur cage, but what had actually happened is my front derailleur cable got partially loose so in my big ring the front derailleur cage was rubbing the chain really, really badly. I ended up riding most of the descent in my small chain ring and didn't have the desire to push hard on the final stretch of the race. It's disappointing that this issue didn't surface on my test rides with new cabling. Oh well...I'll just fire my mechanic (which is, um, myself).

I crossed the line deflated. My fitness greatly exceeds last year, and my race execution was appropriate for the course. Still, mechanical issues cost me major time. Even though other riders likely had issues of their own to overcome, and mechanical are part of racing,  it's remains difficult to lose so much time because of these issues. I also need to keep in mind that perhaps my final two issues were avoidable. The second flat may have been a pinch because I didn't inflate to a high enough pressure after the first flat, and the chain issue could have been prevented by more careful bike maintenance and inspection.

Despite about 20 minutes dealing with mechanical issues, I managed to squeak across the line in 5:10, or two minutes ahead of last year's time. Unlike last year, when I crossed the line totally exhausted, this year I still felt good at the finish. Now I had to rest up and be ready to do it all over again the next day, this time running.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Silver Rush 1 - Training

I'm going to write three or four posts detailing my training leading up to the Silver Rush, reporting on my bike and run races, and perhaps describing my future athletic plans. This first post is about the training I've done the past few months, and the photos are just random shots taken during that time.

Spring riding up Lookout
The main theme in my training has been doing what sounds like fun on any given day. When I felt like riding my road bike, that's what I'd do. If I had time to make it to the foothills for a trail run on a nice weather day, I'd do that. The goal was simply to have fun and enjoy being outside and in the mountains as much as possible. Stacey was training for the Leadville Marathon, so we ran together once or twice a week. We made a Friday evening routine of going for a trail run in Golden and then stopping at one of the city's micro breweries and a food truck for dinner. It's amazing how making it to the mountains for an after work run or ride can make the day feel like vacation.

Atop North Table mesa in Golden on a weekday ride
Throughout the winter I didn't do a ton of training. My typical week was probably 6-10 hours. I simply wasn't motivated to ride the trainer more than a few times, and with daylight in short supply my riding was mostly during the weekends. Fortunately, the weather along the Front Range allows for winter mountain bike riding a few times a month even during January and February. Conor visited for a quick trip to Moab in the spring, and the riding there pushed my technical skills forward a bit (this in spite of two or three over-the-bar crashes, thankfully always into sand). Note: if you visit Moab in March, check the low temperature before deciding to camp; sub-20 degree nights makes for a chilly camping even when sleeping in a jacket, hat, and multiple pairs of wool socks.

Conor following the paint lines on some slick rock in Moab.

Unfortunately, we were guilty of drive-thru tourism in Arches National Park.

Yours truly with the collar up to block the wind not, I promise you, as a fashion statement. It was colder than it appears!

After daylight savings time took effect I had much more time after work to ride. I upped my hours to the 14-16 hour range (combined biking and running, with about 10 of those hours coming from riding each week). I really started to love mountain biking as I became more confident on single track. At some point in the spring, I started preferring mountain biking to road biking. My favorite training session is now a 2 hour MTB followed by an hour hill climb run. In the photo below, after two hours of riding I ran to the signified "peak" and back for a nice hour jog.

Overall, I aimed for 3-4 rides a week and 3-4 runs a week, often alternating riding and running days but occasionally doubling up. I never planned a purpose for any workout, instead gauging how I felt and then deciding how hard to go. Most of my hard biking efforts came on the mountain bike because it's so easy to go hard on a mountain bike. Really, it's often difficult not to go hard when climbing a steep grade. However, many of my longer rides came on the road bike because there are fewer mechanical issues, the effort is more controllable, and the risk of injury is lower for me, especially when I start to tire and lose focus on the trail. My main weekly training focus consisted solely of insuring I got in a long, hilly ride and a long run, preferably also with plenty of climbing.

The biggest training issue I have is I don't think I've yet figured out how to train for an ultra run. My longest runs were 3 hours, and I did somewhere in the range of five to ten runs approaching 3 hours. Yet that's not even half my race time! If I were to go longer, though, consistency would suffer because recovery would be too prolonged, and I think my risk of injury would increase. Perhaps the key -- if I want to have the best ultra I can -- is to continue very gradually building my long runs until I can do 4 or 5 hours without feeling to beat up. Another consideration is the realization that much of a mountainous ultra is going to be hiking, so I could extend my long runs by hiking some uphills. Regardless, this is an area my training could likely improve.

Taken on a recent Twin Lakes to Aspen via Independence Pass ride. I'd have made it to the top in both directions, but for the storm that set in a few miles from the summit the second time up. 

Finally, I should race more, especially on the bike where recovery is pretty quick and where I'm lacking experience. In triathlon, a major goal of the bike is to deliver the racer to the run in a fresh enough condition to run fast. However, in the Silver Rush there is a day recovery and so the bike can be harder than in a triathlon. I think I'm a bit stuck in a triathlon biking mindset and haven't pushed myself as hard in a bike race as I could. More experience testing my bike racing limits would help.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Since the last few days of 2012, Stacey and I have been eating mostly vegan. Our goal is to continue doing so until Jan. 31. Given this end date, I obviously don't view veganism as a permanent personal lifestyle. Instead, this "challenge" will serve as a push forcing me to learn how to eat more plant based foods. The food culture I'm accustomed to does not include, as an example, many vegetables at breakfast. Now, however, I'm starting the day with a small portion of whole-grain cereal accompanied by a smoothie heavy on spinach and kale.

The end goal is to have a repertoire of plant base dishes that Stacey and I can eat most meals of the week. We'll add meat and other animal product back into our diet, but in smaller, higher quality portions. Perhaps once or twice a week at home I'll have meat as part of dinner, and then I'll have another serving on the weekend when we eat out. If all the meat we used to eat had been organic/grass fed/yada yada yada then our grocery bill would have been astronimical. However, if we're only eating 8 ounces of meat and fish a week then we can afford better cuts.

After a few weeks of eating almost entirely plants (including beans and minimally processed grains), my energy level is fine and my weight is down to the lowest it's been since high school. So far, things have been a success. Here's a sampling of dinners:

Mexicali Tacos topped with kale and avocade.

Homemade felafel over salad.

Veggie-loaded, cheeseless "pizza".

The Incline:
The road into the quaint town of Manitou Springs.

In training news, I made it down to Manitou Springs yesterday before the disappointing Broncos game to do a few circuits up The Incline and down Barr Trail. The Incline is a one mile long section of 2600+ steps gaining over 2000 ft. It's very steep in places -- think lifting your knee to hip-level to reach the next step -- and mellow enough in other places that taking two Incline steps with one person step is doable. The first time up I worked hard enough that I had to concentrate on keeping my breath rhythmic instead of defaulting to short, hyper-frequent breaths. The steps are a perfect venue for a redline workout because no concentration or particular effort is required to sustain a hard effort; at times merely maintining forward progress does the trick. The elevation profile is a sight to behold (at least for those that fancy elevation profiles):

Upon reaching the top of The Incline the first time around, I paused a minute to get the HR down and then jogged down the Barr Trail. (Later, I posted the workout to Strava and was shocked to see that my 48 minute loop was within a minute of 1st place. Guess next time I'll have to cut the rest, run a bit harder down, and go for the record.) The decent is a gradual 3 mile drop back to the beginning of the Incline. The only challenging aspects of the descent are the footing, which is often very loose gravel necessitating caution on turns, and the occasional upward jutting rock. I've heard that Matt Carpenter ran to the Pikes Peak marathon at a pace of under 7:30 per mile. In the past that shocked me purely because of the amount of altitude gained, but after doing this section of the Barr trail I'm equally impressed because Matt's time suggests a descending pace of 6:00/mile or faster, which I now view as suicidal on the sketchy terrain.
Looking back 2/3 of the way up.

One of the steep sections of The Incline.
After my first loop, I did another circuit up The Incline and down Barr trail, this time keeping the effort moderate. By the start of my planned third loop, my hydration pack hose was frozen solid as a result of the 10 degree temperature, my butt was tired from the 5,000 stairs climbed, and the Broncos game was going to start soon. While I bailed on a third circuit, I hope to make it back in the spring to try for a four loop, 8800 foot loop. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Improved Functionality

Two blog updates in two days!?!

To the right I've now got (1) Strava activity, which is my current training log, and (2) Tweets, which are nonsense.

That is all. Well, except this: I'm really pumped that there is now a MTB course within a short ride from my house. Hopefully the technical sections are difficult enough so that I can improve my skills. Now, I just need two hours of daylight after work.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2013 Races

2013 will be another year without any triathlons. Instead, I've again signed up for the Silver King, which includes the Silver Rush 50 bike on a Saturday and a run over the very same course the next day. Additionally, I'm looking to sign up for several endurance mountain bike races. I'll have to do some research to find races that suit my strengths and the type of riding I enjoy doing. I also hope to jump into a hill climb road bike race or two, and maybe even a grand fando. If time permits, I might even pick up some running snowshoes and try my hand at the CO state championships.

The race I am most interested in at the moment, however, is SkyRunner race in Vail. It's a 100km (or 62 miles, for us Americans) run starting in Breckenridge. The course goes through Frisco, Copper Mountain, over Vail Pass, into Minturn, and finally into Vail. There's nearly 10,000 feet of climbing and a max elevation of 12,500 feet. Even though the distance is greater, I think this race would be no harder than the Silver Rush run because I should have fresh legs. Also, while the Leadville course is beautiful, I know it very well by now. Some new trails would add to my enjoyment.

Oh, and if I can get into the Leadville 100 mountain bike, I'll do that too. The problem is the lottery odds don't look that great and I don't know if I'll be fit enough to qualify.

Finally, here is a Strava summary of my mountain biking skills:
(1) Climbing (and not even hammering):

(2) Descending: