High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Good Old Fashion Boulder Mountain Marathon

In my third full week of running since returning from a knee injury I decided to shoot for 90ish miles. This would include a 25-30 mile long run on Saturday…A distance that is perfect for tagging all of the local Boulder mountain summits (South Boulder, Bear, Green, Flagstaff, and Sanitas) plus some flat miles. Naturally, this was the only option for my Saturday run…

I woke up Saturday morning to some slightly tired legs from the previous night’s jaunt up Green Mountain with JV, Rob, and Joey. After eating a grilled pita with peanut butter and downing some coffee I suited up and hit the trails. 

My first decision of the day came within steps of leaving my apartment: head towards the Chautauqua area or go ahead and knock out Mount Sanitas. I decided to head towards Chautauqua. Likely because I hate going up Sanitas and wanted to put that off as long as possible. As I headed up the Viewpoint trail I began contemplating the rest of my route. Ultimately it came down to whether or not I wanted to descend the Shadow Canyon Trail versus ascend it. Seeing as how the last time I descended Shadow during the Boulder Basic I ended up injured and forced into taking 19 days off from running I decided to ascend Shadow. 

This decision took my route down the Flagstaff Trail to the Chautauqua trailhead before riding the Mesa Trail all the way to the south trailhead. Overall, the conditions on Mesa were not too bad. It was frustrating at times as there would be huge patches of ice that almost necessitated MicroSpikes followed by sections with exposed rocks that forced the decision of whether to remove the spikes or dull them. Since my spikes were already pretty dull I just left the damn things on throughout and slowed to a hike on the rockier sections. 

I reached the south Mesa trailhead in about 1hr 55min. Nothing spectacular, but I was only 9 miles into a potential 30 mile run so I didn’t have any complaints. At the trailhead I downed a Cliff bar while talking with two park rangers about the mountain lion my roommate and I saw going up Flagstaff earlier in the week. I turned around to start the ~1.75 mile climb back up the Mesa to the Shadow Canyon connector. This along with the ~0.75 mile section leading up to the canyon was the last section of runnable trail until reaching the top of the canyon. 
View coming up Mesa from the south trailhead
This was the first time I’d ever ascended Shadow Canyon and it was pretty brutal (especially on tired legs). While I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed taking 45 minutes to cover 1.1 miles I will say that it was a better experience than the last time I was on the trail when I busted my knee open and limped 6 miles back to the Chautauqua trailhead. I’m fairly certain that I began my mountain marathon already slightly dehydrated, which was evident by the fact that I had already drained one of my water bottles by the top of Shadow Canyon. I had made the 28 mile run from Boulder to Nederland the weekend before and only drank one water bottle during the entire run. 

When I finally made it to the top of Shadow I caught up to another runner and talked with him for 10 minutes or so. This proved to be a slight lapse in judgment since I had just worked up a sweat on the Shadow ascent and we were standing in the shade to talk. I quickly got cold (most noticeably in my feet) and knee that I had to get going soon. JV was cruising down from SoBo at that time so we chatted for a few minutes. I debated skipping the SoBo summit and tagging along with JV because he was going at a nice pace and I needed to start running pretty strong to warm up. I knew it wouldn’t be much of a Boulder Mountain Marathon if I skipped the first summit so I pushed on to SoBo slow and steady. My feet were pretty numb so I didn’t push the pace much on the ascent or decent. 

Finally at about the time I reached the Bear Mountain summit my feet started to warm up a little. This was a welcome relief as the descent down Bear was pretty slick for my dull MicroSpikes and I needed all of the foot function I could get.

About mid-way through the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail I ran into another runner named Trip from the Denver area. He wasn’t too familiar with the trail network so I spent about 10 minutes explaining his options for getting back to Chautauqua from where we were. After getting back to running I eventually hit a trail junction that didn’t look familiar at all. I took the route that seemed to be the most logical progression of the trail…I guess wrong. It ended up being an off-trail route that apparently enough people had taken to the point where the snow was trampled down enough to look like a real trail. The route ended up being a steep descending shortcut between the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail and Bear Canyon. I slipped and stumbled down the trail like a drunken idiot with my spikes basically serving no purpose at all. I finally reached the Bear Canyon Trail about 0.75 mile from the Green Bear trail junction. 

As I made my way back up Bear Canyon to hop on Green Bear I started eating a little snow to try to hydrate and conserve the water I had in my remaining bottle. A couple heading down the canyon saw this and offered me some of their extra water. Without this I was going to call the run short early since I was pretty dehydrated already. The extra water now took away all excuses for not seeing the run through to the end. 

The trip up Green Bear offers several amazing views of Bear and SoBo. I eventually reached the 4-way trail junction leading up to the Green summit. Up to that point the route was fairly easy. The last 0.2 miles was exhausting and proved to be challenging on dull spikes. I could never get my spikes to fully pierce the ice which meant the ascent involved a whole lot of slippage. 
View of Bear (left) and SoBo (right) on the trip up Green Bear
When I finally reached the summit I sat on the rock and downed a few gels. I can honestly say that the view from the top of Green never gets old. I spent about 15 minutes on the summit admiring the view and I probably could have stayed up there for hours more. 
Looking back at Bear from the summit of Green
The descent from the summit back down to the Ranger trail junction was just as slick as the ascent…Only more dangerous because I had gravity going up against me on the steep staircases. I finally reached the Ranger trail after some careful tip-toeing and then took off down the mountain. I always enjoy the descent on Ranger. It’s a fun downhill run where you can just open up and let lose. I pushed on to the Ute trail heading up towards Flagstaff where I began hiking the majority of the ascent to the trail due to essentially all of the snow/ice being melted off the south side and my being too lazy to take off my spikes. Once I reached the Flagstaff trail junction I took off at a decent pace. There were sections towards the top of Flagstaff with little snow/ice cover which made for a much slower descent than usual, but as I got further down into the areas with more tree cover the ice became more prevalent and my pace picked up. 

At the bottom of the Viewpoint trail I took off my spikes and began running on the creek path. Here I was forced with the hardest decision of the day: go home and have a beer (I was running right by my apartment) or push on through Red Rocks and shimmy on up Sanitas to finish the mountain marathon. I pushed on to Sanitas.

I had only been up to the top of Sanitas once since moving to Boulder and it was about three months ago. I hated it. Well, here I was again, heading up to the top of Sanitas…After being out on the trails for 7 hours or so. The stairs were much, much worse than I remembered. The only two things keeping me going to the top were trying to catch a nice sunset at the summit and finishing the damn mountain marathon. There were times when I was forced into a hands-and-feet crawl up some of the rocky sections of the mountain, but eventually I reached the Sanitas summit, the last one of the day. It was a great feeling until I realized I had to go back down the same damn trail I had just ascended. A steep, technical, rocky descent on exhausted legs was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do at that moment. 
At the summit of Sanitas after a successfully tagging all of the Boulder summits
Once I reached the bottom I ran the “home stretch” through Red Rocks and back to my apartment where I sat down and had a beer. Words can’t describe how great it feels to sit down after being on your feet all day long. 

In all, I covered 27 miles and 8,400 vertical feet over 7hours 42minutes. I was pleased with the run being as I’ve only been in Boulder for 3 months and this was just my third full week of running since returning from a knee injury. 

The next day I fully intended to do a 16-mile recovery run with relatively little vertical. That didn’t happen…The nice and easy recovery run turned into another ascent of Green (that made 4 days in a row of ascending Green) and Flagstaff with about 4,000 feet of vertical. Somehow my legs started feeling good a few minutes into the run so I just went with it…

Weekly totals:
Miles: 90
Elevation Gain: 24,950 feet
Time: 21hours 10minutes