Sunday, April 26, 2009

Highs and Lows of the Capitol Peak 50 mile Trail Run

I was unsure of whether I wanted to run the Capitol Peak 50 mile trail run, given that I have a 30 hour Adventure Race next weekend, but I eventually convinced myself that if I ran it just as a training run, I could finish feeling good without too many ill effects. So, I packed up my stuff and drove down to the Capitol Forest on Friday night, squeezing myself into a camping spot at Fall Creek shared with two other groups of runners. The race started Saturday morning at 6am, with a 55km option that was being run simultaneously.

Temperatures Saturday morning were in the high 30s, expected to improve to mid 50s or so. The actual weather during the day was all over the place: some clouds, some sun, a little light rain now and then, and a couple snow flurries at the top of Capitol Peak. I wore shorts and short-sleeved tee, with hat and gloves and arm warmers. Gloves are necessary for keeping my hands warm, especially when I am gripping a bottle of cold water in each hand for the whole race. The hat and arm warmers I dumped at my (only) drop bag at mile 19. I warmed myself at the fire barrels going next to the start line while listening to the pre-race meeting, and then we lined up and were off.

I always go out too fast, but this time I let all the front runners go ahead, and they quickly disappeared from view. I even stopped to wait for Gleen, who was just behind me, so that we could chat for a little bit. The first 19 miles of the course are very runnable, however, and I soon settled into a reasonably fast yet comfortable pace.

At mile 19, we came back through the start/finish area, where I picked up two new bottles filled with energy drink from my drop bag and swapped a new pouch of food into my fanny pack. I was eating molasses cookies, Gu, Clif shot bloks and string cheese (hopefully a little fat would keep my stomach settled better), washing it down with a few Endurolyte capsules. Next up was a 5.5 mile climb up Capitol Peak.

As climbs go, this one was fairly mellow, rising 2000 feet over 5 miles. I made sure to stop and walk a couple parts that were steeper in order to give my body a break, but I quickly started jogging again whenever the course flattened out. I reached the aid station at mile 24.5 in exactly four hours, and had already put most of the climbing behind me. I felt great. The aid station personnel mentioned that I was the fourth 50 miler to come past. Not too bad for taking it easy.

We made a three mile loop around and over Capitol Peak before coming past the 24.5/27 mile aid station again. I caught up with one of the 50 mile runners who was looking like he had seen better days. Hiking the steep ascent up to the peak, I also caught up with James Varner, who was doing the 55km. I convince him to switch over to the 50 mile race (the two races separated at mile 27, right ahead of us) so that I would have someone to run with. He agreed.

I waited briefly for James as he told the aid station personnel that he was switching events, and we were off. I felt great. After running with James for another fifteen minutes, he told me to go ahead, as I was definitely full of energy and hitting my stride. I pulled ahead and started thinking about a strong second half showing. I passed a runner sitting by the side of the trail taking of his shoe. I was now in second place. I started to think about racing this one after all.

In between visits to the mile 31.5/43.5 aid station was a six mile long trail that we had to run out and back. I found it a little difficult to run out, as I knew that each step I took was taking me further from the finish, as it had to be retraced. Mentally, it was harder than doing a 12 mile loop. However, we did get to see how we were doing compared to the people in front of us and behind us. When I saw the front runner, I discovered that he was only five minutes ahead of me at the turnaround, and I vowed that if he showed weakness, that I would catch up with him and pass him. James was five minutes behind me, and a couple other runners were a few minutes behind him. Only 13 miles to go.

On my way back, I made a potentially huge blunder. The trail came to road that was marked with flagging to go right. I remember thinking as I turned right onto the road how I hated running on the sections of forest road as I was coming down. I ran along the road for a couple minutes until... it ended. Dead end. No flagging or nothing. I certainly didn't remember this part.

With memories of Orcas Island in 2008 (where Darin Bentley and I ran a bonus fifteen minute loop right before the finish while we were distractedly chatting), I decide quickly to turn around and run back until I met James, and get a second opinion. I made it all the way back to the flagging and discovered a third marker further up in the woods where the trail had crossed the road and continued on the other side of it about twenty feet down the road. I headed back on course again, hoping that my five minute deviation didn't cost me too much. First place definitely looked out of reach now.

It turns out that James and the others were still behind me, but I finished the out-and-back section strong, hoping that they wouldn't catch up. I passed the aid station again (this time at mile 43.5). The last 6.5 miles of the course dropped 1500 feet in a sweet, easy downhill, the perfect kind of finish to a long trail race. I flew down the hill, feeling great and light on my legs, covering the last 6.5 miles in 55 minutes and finishing in a very respectable 7:55. And I felt great, too. I should do these training runs more often.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quincy Lakes Geo-caching

Peteris, Christi and I headed up to Quincy Lakes (out by Vantage) to get in some desert training in preparation for Desert Winds 30 hour Adventure Race in a couple weeks. Peteris made up a nice map that marked several geocaches, and we spent the day wandering around trying to find them, while mountain biking across some rugged desert terrain. Peteris had a GPS watch, which we used several times in order to track down some of the caches, as well as to discover that we had used the wrong datum on the map and that the flags were all slightly off. Once we had worked out the kinks, however, we managed to discover several of the caches just by using the map.

The most ironic geocache was one located amongst a pile of rusty cans. Peteris found a gopher snake sleeping in an old rusty can that he had picked up while looking for the cache, causing him a bit of a startle. When we found the cache, it contained a small plastic snake, a warning perhaps, albeit a few minutes late.

The day was gorgeous the views fantastic. We rode a large bike loop that took us up and down some fairly steep trails, and across a long stretch of scree. We brought our Desert Winds swimming gear along, and we tried it out in Dusty Lake, learning what worked and what didn't. Christi's $1.99 Nemo air mattresses buy from ToysRUs fell solidly in the latter category, as it fizzled out its air and sank. Luckily, we still have some time to find her something workable for the 9km of swimming/kickboarding/coastal orienteering that we will have to do along the shores of Lake Meade on May 2-3.

Sun Mountain 50km

Kathy and I went up to Winthrop with Chase to participate in James Varner's 1st annual Sun Mountain trail run. We rented a cabin at the Chewuch Inn for a couple nights. It was a nice little spot, just right for our Saturday night barbeque while relaxing after the trail run. It sure beat driving five hours to get home on the same day as the run. Winthrop is a beautiful area in which to spend the weekend, too.

The trail run itself was an alternate course, due to lots of snow still lingering on the higher parts of the course. James enlisted some volunteers to help put down dirt and hay and remove ice from the lower section of the course, and he came up with a pretty good 10 mile figure 8 loop, which we ran three times. There was one aid station right in the middle of the figure 8, so we got to pass by it every 5 miles. It was also close to the finish, and I think a few people dropped before they completed all the loops because they heard the siren call of pizza and beer calling them from the finishing area.

At the start, I tried to hold back (as I had no idea where the course went), but I got caught up with the front group of runners who went out extremely fast. On the second loop of the first figure 8, we had some steeper hill climbs, and the front group of about five 50km runners disappeared ahead of me. I struggled some more with the hills and eventually convinced myself that I should finish the run a little easier and forget about catching up to the front pack - out of sight, out of mind. Needless to say, I think I enjoyed the run more when I wasn't trying to vye for placement. Right near the finish, I ended up running with two other runners, as we had all caught up with each other at the same time, and we ended up running the last quarter mile together in a reasonable time: 4:40-ish or so. Chris Twardczik put in a valiant effort of leading the pack for a majority of the way, but Brian Morrison snuck past him at the end to win. Brian likes to run a faster second half of the race, so you never know when he is going to sneak up behind you. Chase finished the race in a reasonable time, but suffered a little from cramping issues, which seems to be somewhat of a perennial problem for him.

After chowing down on pizza and beer and cheering on the other runners for a while under cool, sunny skies, Chase, Kathy and I headed back to the Inn for a relaxing barbeque on the back porch, followed by tequila shots when the beer ran out (Chase is a bad influence).

The next morning, Easter, we headed out for breakfast in Winthrop, and ran into James and Allison at the local cafe. Allison is the trail running poster child for the Methow Valley, although she has only lived up there for a year. James, too, is really settling in as a trail running race director up there, and told us about three more ideas for trail runs that he is thinking about putting on, only hours after this one has finished. I'm sure I'll be up there again soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

racing quotes

A few memorable quotes:

"The trouble with a rat race is that, even when you win, you're still a rat."
-Lily Tomlin

"Great is victory, but the friendship of all is greater."
- Emil Zapotek

"Most men take the straight and narrow.
A few take the road less traveled.
I chose to cut through the woods."
-unknown (adventure racer?)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week in Moab

I visited my father last week in Moab, where he owns a townhouse. He is planning on moving there permanently any month now, which is fine with me. I spent the week doing what I loved: running, hiking and mountain biking. Kathy came with me. She had to work a few of the mornings, so I spent those mornings running up to the Porcupine Rim trailhead and back.
Sunday we started slow, going for an afternoon walk along The Wall, with picturesque views of the Moab Landfill (apparently the second most beautiful landfill in the country). On the way back, my father and I explored some of the fins of sandstone and wandered along the ledges.

On Monday, Kathy I went for a run, ending up at the Red Rock Bakery where we arrived every morning to get a latte and muffin. Then I ran with my father while Kathy worked. He and I would run a little bit together, then at some point I would speed up and continue while he went on a shorter and slower run. Our Monday run was to drive up to Slickrock trailhead, then run from there up Sand Flats road, which slowly increases in elevation all the way to the Porcupine Rim. It snowed lightly for a half hour up there, not exactly the spring weather I was looking for. On the way back, I ran all the way home, so I caught an additional steep downhill back from Slickrock to my dad's house at the base of Sand Flats road.
In the afternoon, we all (Kathy, Karen, my dad and I) all rode up to Klondike Bluffs. Karen does not like to mountain bike on sand or on uphills or some steep downhills, so she pushes her bike a lot on any mountain bike excursion; however, she gets around a lot more than most other senior citizens, so I have to give her points for trying. In order to get to the view from the bluffs, we had to hike 1/4 mile or so (no bikes allowed in Arches National Park), but it was well worth it.

On Tuesday, Kathy, Warren and I went down Schafer Road to the White Rim trail and biked along it for a couple hours, before retracing our steps. On our way down the steep switchbacks down the initial cliff to get to the White Rim, one of my shocks exploded (I was borrowing my dad's old mountain bike). I was hit in the neck by a slug, to discover that the cap had popped off the shock and its internals (including a nasty looking spring) had been launched directly at me while I was careening down the steep hill. For the rest of the day, I winced whenever I heard unusual noises. The shocks reminded me of a double-barreled shotgun which had already launched one barrel at me. The rest of the ride was fine, however. The White Rim Trail is a wide jeep road that meanders along the rim of white rock that is about halfway between the uplands of Canyonlands and the Colorado River. After the nice ride today, it's time to head to the Moab Brewery and refill our growler with some more Derailleur Ale.

On Wednesday, I went for a run again up to Porcupine Rim and back. Then my dad shuttled Kathy and me up to Canyonlands with our bikes so that we could ride the Gemini Bridges trail. Kathy and I decided to do some additional exploration along the Gold Bar loop, and trying not to look at the map too much, I got us a little off course. We ended up in a sandy wash where we pushed our bikes for a while, and then the wash ended at an overlooking looking down from a 200 foot cliff. We had been following jeep tracks, and were quite surprised at the sudden end to our trail. I later discovered that we had come to the aptly named "Surprise Overlook". We doubled back and followed Gemini Bridges trail (which was well-marked) to the end, where our dad had left a car for us. Kathy returned the bike that she had rented for three days from Poison Spider, so we'll go hiking tomorrow.

On Thursday, Kathy, Warren, Karen and I all went for a hike down Negro Bill Canyon. We started up on top of Sand Flats at the radio tower, then took a jeep road over to a side canyon from which we could drop down into the canyon. From there, we wandered back down Negro Bill Canyon, eventually picking up the tourist trail that goes partway up it from the trailhead at its lower end. We also took a side excursion up Abyss Canyon to its upper end, where we were surrounded by hundred foot tall cliffs. Off in the distance we could hear ATVs buzzing around on top somewhere. The Slickrock trail has an overlook into this canyon. At the bottom were sheltered pools full of newts or salamanders.

On Friday, Kathy was busy working again, so I ran down Kane Creek Road for a ways, towards Hurrah Pass. It was 53 degrees when I woke up, maybe 20 degrees warmer than some of the mornings earlier in the week (I was definitely not expecting to get snowed on later today!). On my way back I saw 40 to 50 ATVs and motorcycles heading down the road in the other direction. It pays to get out early. In the afternoon, Kathy decided to relax in town, so Warren, Karen and I went for a hike up Hidden Valley trail and explore looking for petroglyphs. We hiked up one ridge/peak which required a 20 foot shimmy across a one foot wide ledge at one point. Karen did really well keeping up with us. On our way back, the thunderstorms came in and dumped grappel and rain on us, though. By Saturday morning, Moab itself had a thin layer of snow on the ground. Saturday was a good time to leave, but we'll definitely be back for more!