High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lessons Learned?

As I begin to write this post it’s past 11PM on a Friday night. I should be thinking about going to bed soon in hopes of waking up refreshed for a 20-30 mile morning mountain run. However, I just pushed play on “Unbreakable: The Western States 100” (for what has to be at least the tenth time in the past few weeks), made a cup of hot cider, and settled into my spot on the couch to start typing. Why do you ask? Because I am an idiot…

Let me explain…Two weeks ago my roommate and I went out for a night run up Flagstaff (a run that I do every day). We held a fairly casual pace throughout the run so the thought of an injury never really crossed my mind. On the descent we stopped at Panorama Point to take in the nighttime view of Boulder (sometimes it’s still hard to believe I actually live here now). Since the Viewpoint Trail had a reasonable amount of snow cover, which helps illuminate the trails, and it’s a trail I run every day I decided to turn off my light and run down in the dark (mistake #1). 

The first ~1/4 mile of the Viewpoint descent has a few rocks and stairs that are somewhat hidden by tree cover when it’s dark. I decided to play this section safe and slow down a bit, which allowed Justin to get some distance between us. Once I cleared the tree cover I decided to pick up the pace a bit in an attempt to catch him (mistake #2). As I reached the last switchback before hitting the end of the trail I caught up to Justin and made some comment about catching up with him (mistake #3). As soon as I made the comment I stepped on a rock hidden by snow cover, rolled my right ankle, and heard/felt it snap (mistake #1 + mistake #2 + mistake #3 = FML). 
mistake #1 + mistake #2 + mistake #3 = FML
At first I hoped the snap was just my Microspikes breaking, but when I looked down the spikes were still intact. I was still able to run the last section of trail down to the road and catch up with Justin. Initially, there was no pain, I was still able to run (kind of), and it seemed as though disaster had been avoided. However, as Justin and I walked the last minute or so to the apartment the pain began to set in and I was certain that my ankle was royally f*cked. Once at the apartment I realized that my ankle had already swollen to about 1.5-2 times the original size. 

The pain was pretty intense once the swelling set in. After a night of icing and sleeping with my foot elevated it was a great feeling to wake up to a significant reduction in both swelling and pain. I spent the next several days tracing the ABC’s with my foot and doing other exercises to work on mobility. 

Six days after rolling my ankle I decided to go out for a test run. I headed towards Settlers Park and began to make my way up Red Rocks only to discover that the ascent hurt somewhat. So, I decided to head back down to the Boulder Creek Path and stick to a relatively flat run on the dirt beside the pavement. This run was 3 miles with minimal pain at about an 8 minute/mile pace. 
Still had some bruising and slight swelling when I started running again
After taking the next day off I went back out for test run #2. This run was a 5 mile run on the paved creek path at about a 7:40 minute/mile pace. This run felt fairly solid. I decided to see how I felt the next day and let that guide me on whether or not to hit the trails. The next day my ankle felt great, which meant I was headed to the trails! As I started to initial ascent I was anxious to see if the pain would come back. It didn’t! I maintained an easy pace to the Flagstaff summit and carried out an even easier pace on the descent. 

Naturally, I was somewhat timid on the first few trail runs after my injury. My ascents were pretty much the same, but I ran much slower and much more cautious on the descents. I used the descents to test my ankle as I planted it in different ways on uneven terrain. For the most part it held up quite well. However, there were a few instances where I would get a slight twinge of pain on an awkward plant. 

The slight twinges seemed to go away after three days or so of running up Flagstaff. Of course, I decided to use this as an opportunity to get back to the summit of Green, which has eluded me for most of January. My legs felt pretty strong on the run (likely a result of taking almost a week off to recover). As the run progressed, the idea of PR’ing the Flagstaff and Green ascents slowly started creeping into my head. I made solid time all the way up Flagstaff and covered the 3 miles and ~1,600 vertical feet in 35:08 (PR by 10 seconds).  After putting on my Microspikes I made my way down Ute to ride out Ranger to the Green summit. Most of Ranger was a sheet of solid ice, which my new Microspikes had a surprisingly hard time piercing. Looking back I’m surprised at how much of this section of trail I was able to run given the conditions. After a solid effort, I covered the 5 miles and ~3,300 vertical feet to the Green summit in 1:09:40 (PR by 2min24sec). 
Green Summit PR run (before re-injuring myself)
After admiring the sunset for a few minutes I headed back down the mountain for what should have been a casual descent. However, I quickly began racing the clock in an effort to PR the roundtrip ascent of Green via Flagstaff/Ranger (I did manage to stop a time or two for some pictures). 
Looking back at Green Mountain on the Flagstaff descent (about 3-5 minutes before re-injuring myself)
This was a perfectly fine decision as long as the trails were solid ice like on Ranger. However, once I hit the lower sections of Flagstaff the ice/snow was non-existent, which meant that trails were rocky and somewhat technical. Right before the next-to-last road crossing on the trail I started to get way too careless. About 1.5 miles from home I stepped on a loose rock and rolled my ankle again. Same scenario…Roll, snap, swell, limp…Goddamnit…

Limping 1.5 miles home in the cold, windy, dark on rocky trails with a bum ankle while wearing nothing but short, shorts and a thin shirt isn’t exactly the most fun in the world…Especially when your only source of light is the iPhone flashlight app. When I finally made it home my hands were too numb to even unlock the door. Fortunately, my roommate heard my attempts and opened the door for me. 

This time around, the swelling was much worse than before. It’s now two days later; the swelling is still pretty horrible and extends from my mid-calf to my toes. My chiropractor friend was nice and taped it up with kinesiotape tonight to help it heal faster (fingers crossed). Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  
The re-injury
Michele's awesome tape job that hopefully has magic healing powers
So once again, here I sit…It’s now almost 1AM on Saturday morning, “Unbreakable” is just ending, my cider is all gone, and I’m almost done writing. I guess the main question is, “Have I learned anything from the past two weeks?” As much as I would like to say I’ve learned all about patience with recovery, being over-ambitious and doing too much too soon after an injury, being realistic with myself when my body just isn’t ready, etc., etc. I honestly can’t right now. At this point, all I can say with absolute certainty is that as an ultrarunner it’s difficult, nearing impossible, to walk out my front door every day, see Flagstaff mountain, and not throw on my shoes to charge up it. 
View of Flagstaff from my apartment's front door
Lessons learned? Only time will tell…

Friday, January 20, 2012

2012 Tentative Race Calendar

After several weeks of research, multiple rough drafts, and continuously putting off finalizing my plans for 2012, I finally hammered out my race calendar when I was sick as hell and missed two days of work this week. This year I plan to run my first 100 mile race(s), a few 50 milers, redeem myself in the Grand Canyon R2R2R, and run a Fat Ass race or two. I also have hopes of qualifying for both Western States and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc for 2013. This may seem a little ambitious, but it’s the only way I know how to do things.

2012 Race Calendar

4/6-8(TBD)—Grand Canyon R2R2R—42 Miles—Grand Canyon, AZ (Date may change significantly)
5/11—Zion 100—100 Miles—Virgin, UT
6/2—Pike’s Peak Ring Fat Ass—100 km—Colorado Springs, CO 
7/15—Leadville 50M—50 Miles—Leadville, CO—$ (2 points)
8/18—Leadville 100M—100 Miles—Leadville, CO—*$ (4 points)
9/15—Mark Twain 100—100 Miles—Cuba, MO—$ (4 points)
11/3—Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run—100 Miles—Steelville, MO—*

*--Denotes Western States Qualifier
$--Denotes Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc Qualifier 

Hopefully a sign of things to come for 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chasing the Boulder Sunset

On my New Year’s Eve run I did something to tweak my left calf, which resulted in me taking several unwanted days off over the past week. During a visit from friends last weekend I did some hiking with a few sudden outbursts of “running” while showing them all Boulder has to offer.  After a few days of this hiking with limited running I really wanted to get out there, hit the trails, and see what I could do. 

So I decided to have a race with the sunset up Green Mountain. I rolled into work around 6:30 in the morning to get out early and have some daylight. After eating lunch at my desk and busting my ass to get things done I hit the door running at 2:45 PM. I rushed home (praying I wouldn’t get my second speeding ticket in less than a week), jumped into my running clothes (which wasn’t much since it was such an amazing day outside), and hit the trails at 3:15 PM. 

I crossed Canyon, hoped down on the Creek Path, and made my way to the Viewpoint trail on Arapahoe. My legs felt pretty sluggish heading up Viewpoint, which forced me to stop and hike on the second steep staircase. To my surprise I reached Panorama Point in about 12:45, which is not too far off from my PR time. I decided to pass on the usual stop at Panorama Point and keep on moving. Although my legs continued to feel like crap I kept making great time up Flagstaff. 

The trails leading up Flagstaff were nearly dry, which made for some quick running. Along the way I resorted to hiking in some sections that I usually run with relative ease. I’m not sure if my legs were tired or if they just weren’t used to going up a mountain quickly since taking a few days off. Regardless, they felt like crap but I just pushed on anyways. 

As I neared the top of Flagstaff I realized that I had potential to PR my ascent to Flagstaff from my apartment. So, naturally I pushed it on the last big staircase and topped out in 35:15 (a new PR by 30 seconds).  After taking a quick 30 second breather I pushed it down the Ute trail to go connect with the Ranger trail and ride it up to the summit of Green. 

I ran the first ¼ - ½ mile of the Ranger trail before falling into a quick hike up the mountain. I kept the pace pretty hard the entire way up since noticing the potential to PR the ascent to Green via Ranger/Flagstaff/Viewpoint from my apartment. 

At the trail junction of Ranger/Green Mountain West Ridge/Green Bear I broke out into a run again for the majority of the remaining ascent to the summit. I reached the summit, naturally out of breath, and looked at my watch with a smile on my face. I topped out on Green’s summit in 1:12:05, which beat my previous PR for this route by 2:55. I hopped onto the summit rock and sat for about 15 minutes or so to watch the sunset and take in the always awesome mountain views. Once the sun settled in behind the mountains I decided to race the onset of darkness back to my apartment with the goal of not having to turn on my lamp. Now the race was on…

Sunset from Green Mountain Summit
Mountain Views :)
Since I brought a brand-new pair of spikes with me I really didn’t want to risk dulling them on the descent. From the summit to the trail junction for Ranger was a mix of exposed rock, some covered in ice, and slushy snow. After taking two nose dives on the descent I finally conceded and put on the damn spikes. This allowed for a relatively quick and carefree descent. At the Greenman trail turnoff I ditched the spikes and hammered out the rest of the descent without them. 

I knocked out the remainder of Ranger and made my way to the Ute trailhead relatively quick.  The initial uphill section of Ute brought me to the last hiking section of my run. As I neared the junction for the Flagstaff trail I started to see the sunsets effect on the surrounding clouds/terrain, which I felt compelled to photograph. Eventually I reached the Flagstaff trail junction in 1:34:35. 

View from Ute Trail near Flagstaff Trail junction
Initially, the thought of PR’ing my Flagstaff descent crept into mind (current PR is 19:00ish), but I soon realized that visibility was somewhat limited on the trails due to tree cover. So I resolved to maintain a quick pace without getting too crazy. One section of trail has a series of a couple of switchbacks where three deer decided to hangout. I approached them in hopes they would run off, but they weren’t budging. So I ran off trail for a bit to go around them. 

After a few more minutes of running I reached Panorama Point. Since I run this short section of trail everyday I’m relatively familiar with it even without a light. So I picked up the pace here. I ended up knocking out the mile from Panorama Point to my apartment in about 7:30 (not a PR, but not bad). I looked down to realize I made the round trip ascent of Green in 1:56:50, which shaved 8:10 off my previous PR. Not too shabby…
Made it back to my place with some daylight to spare. Never turned on the headlamp.
This was my first real test wearing my new 110’s. The 110’s combined with the excellent trail conditions meant I was able to do the entire ascent without putting on my spikes. I’m fairly certain with the amazing tread on the 110’s I could have made the descent without spikes as well, but I likely would have been a little more timid. The 110 is definitely living up to my expectations and even exceeding them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 Year End Running Wrap-Up

Here it is, ten days into 2012, and I’m just now starting to put my thoughts on the previous year’s running down on paper. As I look back at 2011 I’m rather pleased by my accomplishments:

·         I did my first trail run on January 2, 2011 (and subsequently became a trail running addict)
·         Completed my second marathon, a trail marathon, and placed 8th
·         Completed my first ultra, a trail 50K, and placed 7th
·         Ran the 27.5 mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
·         Ran the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim

These accomplishments are made more satisfying by the fact that this was my first year for both ultrarunning and trail running. I’ve been a runner my entire life. However, I tended to run the shorter, faster races and never exceeded the 400 meter. The previous year has been a tremendous learning experience for me as I’ve learned how to adapt my body, diet, training, running style, and recovery to handle running longer distances on sometimes very technical trails that cover lots of vertical. While I can’t say that I have these all figured out yet, I will say that I am always seeking out new ways to learn from my training, my injuries, and what my body is trying to tell me.

I closed out 2011 with my weekly running totals being about 90 miles with 25,000 feet of vertical gain. Considering the numerous setbacks I experienced throughout the year due to injury, recovery, moving to Colorado and acclimating, etc. I am relatively happy with how my year ended. In the coming year I hope to build upon this mileage and vertical base and get to about 125-175 miles/week and 30,000-40,000 vertical feet/week.

Below is a list of my running totals for the year 2011. I’m very excited to continue this transition into ultrarunning through 2012 strive to improve upon these numbers. In a future post I’ll list goals for my 2012 running totals as well as a tentative race calendar for the year.

2011 Running Totals
Miles: 1,840
Time: 331 hours 26 minutes
Elevation Gain: 245,900 feet

Here’s a look back at my 2011 running through pictures (I stole this from you, JV)…
Finishing my first ultra, the Hogs Hunt 50K
Sunset the night before Hogs Hunt
Hogs Hunt Preliminary Results
A nice run on South Beach in Miami
First visit to Boulder (little did I know it would become my home a few months later)
Ran uphill to Cristo Blanco in Cuzco, Peru. For some reason little kids kept pointing at me and saying "Cristo Blanco!"
Ruins at Chincero, Peru
Running by the Salt Mines of Maras in Peru
Pretty sweet finish to a nice run in Peru
Hitting the trails behind my hotel in Peru
View on my run to Llactapata
Running from Ollantaytambo to Llactapata
Shady bridge going over some pretty rough rapids on my run to Llactapata
Camping at Llactapata the night before running the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Heading up the second major pass on the Inca Trail
At the Sun Gate for Machu Picchu. Almost done with my run.
Postcard view of Machu Picchu. Not a bad finish line for a 27 mile run.
Standing atop Machu Picchu mountain...With Machu Picchu about 1,500 feet below.
Coming up the Grand Canyon north rim
Halfway point of the Grand Canyon R2R2R
Looking back on the ~47 miles I just ran in the Grand Canyon
Aftermath of the Grand Canyon R2R2R

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Green Mountain summit on the first snow of the year.
The Flatirons. Not bad to have in your backyard.
Alpines at the south Mesa trailhead
Coming up the Mesa Trail from the south trailhead.
Took a little fall in the Boulder Basic. Resulted in 19 days off from running.
Heading up Viewpoint trail, which is where ~95% of my runs begin. It's a nice warm-up.
Snow on the Flatties
An icy beard after a run in ~ 0 degree temps
Cat tracks???
Friday night jaunt up Green with JV, Rob, and Joey
Sunrise coming down Flagstaff
A shot of whiskey on Green summit. Great way to start the weekend.
Early morning run up Flagstaff in Boulder
Running around Columbia, MO
Running on gravel roads, railroad access roads, fields, pastures, levees, and anything else I can find in rural Missouri
My new kicks...Can't be beat...
Obligatory Green summit shot
Playing in the snow :)