High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Monday, March 31, 2014

Week in Review: March 24-30—In Search of Singletrack

Monday, March 24th
AM—16 Miles—3:31—2,900’—Hidden Valley, Moab Rim, and Pipedream Trails (Moab, UT)
Within 30 minutes of arriving in Moab I had my shoes laced, shirt off, and was ready to hit the trails. My legs were full of energy on the short, steep climb up to Hidden Valley. So, I proceeded to cruise right on up it. The flat 1.5 mile stretch in the valley reminded my legs that they had just endured a three hour drive and weren’t quite loosened up yet. I took the Moab Rim trail easy since it has a decent amount of sand on it. I wasn’t auditioning for Baywatch so I figured it served no purpose to try to run it fast. On the way back I added some extra distance and vert in order to get some sweet views of Moab and the La Sals. I even got into some easy scrambling for 30-45 minutes. When I reached the valley I was starting to get insanely thirsty. So, I ran this 1.5-mile stretch pretty quick to get back to the Taco and guzzle some water. After my water break I started down Pipedream for about three miles before turning back. This trail is a true rollercoaster. Never flat, always fun. 

PM—9 Miles—2:06—1,400’—Negro Bill Canyon and Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT)
A nice, easy run on tired legs. I used Negro Bill Canyon as an opportunity to do some scrambling on mainly 4th Class routes up to the mesa top; have to get those scrambling skills back before summer. When I got back to the Taco I guzzled some water and headed up Porcupine Rim. I eventually passed a couple out on a leisurely hike: a fairly fit girl and a fairly fat guy. When I passed them the first thing she said was, “If you would do what he’s doing then you would have a body like him.” He didn’t seem too pleased with this so I booked it before he decided to kick my ass. Ended the run with a little creek bath action at the mouth of Negro Bill Canyon. 

Tuesday, March 25th
AM—8 Miles—2:06—1,250’—Devil’s Garden Loop (Arches National Park)
My legs weren’t feeling the greatest this morning. So, I ran an easy loop in Arches NP and spent a fair amount of time scrambling around to see what stuff I could get on top of. At one point I ended up having to negotiate a ~50 feet slab downclimb with a little side traverse action because I somehow ended up way above the trail and didn’t feel like taking the roundabout way to get back on it. This was pretty fun in my 110’s that have 600+ miles of wear and essentially no tread remaining. Although short, this loop packs in a bunch of amazing sights. 

PM—8 Miles—1:24—500’—Bar M Trails (Moab, UT)
Some easy miles on flat, non-technical mountain bike trails. Great views all around. 

Wednesday, March 26th
AM—5 Miles—0:50—300’—Two Mile Road (Near La Sal, UT)
Legs felt like crap. I stopped just outside of La Sal to sneak in a shakeout run along Two Mile Road with the intent of doing another run once I got back to Telluride. When I got back to Telluride it was snowing and motivation was nowhere to be found. So I didn’t run. A couple of days in Moab made me realize just how much I dislike Telluride—maybe it’s just my frustration with the lack of runnable terrain in the winter?

Thursday, March 27th
PM—12 Miles—1:55—1,200’—Illium Road
Pretty blah run. Legs felt OK, but not great. The weather was a bit strange today. It was snowing, but at the same time warm enough that I got by in shorts and a t-shirt. 

Friday, March 28th  
AM—17 Miles—3:03—2,450’—Last Dollar Road
Crappy run on legs that felt like crap. .Was glad to be done with this one…

Saturday, March 29th
AM—20 Miles—2:56—2,450’—Sunshine Mesa and Illium Road
The initial five mile ascent to the end of Sunshine Ranch Road didn’t seem too promising. My legs felt better than the previous few days, but I was still struggling to run sub-10 minute miles when I’m usually running sub-8 on this stretch. The descent went a little better than anticipated as I hovered around 7:30 pace most of the way down. Still not anywhere close to what I usually run here. After a water break at the Taco I headed up Illium Road and everything just came together. My legs finally felt good and I started knocking out some 7-8 minute miles on this five-mile ascent. I cruised the downhill back to the Taco. 

Sunday, March 30th
AM—10 Miles—1:48—850’—River Trail and Mill Creek Road
Easy shakeout/recovery run. I walked most of the way up Mill Creek Road. Legs didn’t have much energy today.

Weekly Totals
Time— 19 hours 41 minutes
Elevation Gain— 13,200 feet

March Monthly Totals
Time— 72 hours 00 minutes
Elevation Gain— 53,000 feet

Year-to-Date Totals
Time—186 hours 51 minutes
Elevation Gain—167,000 feet
Days Off—7
Last Day Off—February 5th

It felt great to get out to Moab for a few days of trail running versus road running or snow slogging!

Well, that makes two 100+ mile weeks in a row—a first for me. That also makes my second ever 400 mile month. The last one was over two years ago. I guess it’s hard to get in a lot of miles when you’re averaging well over 350 vertical feet of ascent per mile, which is what I did for most of last year.

I’d like to get in another 100+ miles this week (and maybe the next week?), but some little aches and pains are starting to pop up here and there. I’ve been trying to prevent them from becoming too noticeable through foam rolling and acupressure, but those only help so much. I’m looking forward to getting in to see Allison for some trigger point sessions during the Telluride off-season.  

During the next few weeks I’m hoping to get in one or two more speed’ish sessions as well as one or two hard efforts on runs in the 30-40 mile range. Ideally, these will give me an idea of what sort of pace I should plan on running at the Free State 100km on April 19th. We’ll see…

Arch Vision. It's kind of like 3D...

Happy 150th, El Taco Blanco! Oh, don't worry about your engine...

Looking up at the climb to Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley Trail. When life gives you shitty lighting for pictures you simply go black and white.

Getting ready to run along the Moab Rim Trail for a bit

Pipedream and one of the many sweet views of the La Sal Mountains

Arches National Park

More of Arches NP

More of Arches NP
Sun rising over the La Sals as I head back to Telluride
This looks like a great place to take a bath!

Sometimes you run until the wheels fall off...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Week in Review: March 17-23—Hello, Spring

Monday, March 17th
AM—6 Miles—1:20—800’—Valley Floor, Boomerang, Jurassic, and Lawson Hill Loop
My legs felt like absolute crap this morning. I took off down the snow-packed Valley Floor at about 10-minute pace, which felt like a chore. For the most part I stayed on top of the snow, but there were a couple instances where I punched through up to my knees. The snow was crusty and sharp. By the end of the run my legs and ankles were a bloody mess. I ran the first quarter of the Boomerang ascent before falling into a hike and chatting with some ladies who were out for a hike. They gave me cat calls and complimented me on my tan. I’m always a fan of tan compliments, especially when it’s still winter and I likely shouldn’t even have a tan. Jurassic Trail was nice and runnable, but I kept the pace slow. I maintained this slow pace down Lawson Hill and back to the Taco. 

PM—12 Miles—2:25—1,550’—Last Dollar Road
After spending an hour in the Taco downing ~1,000 calories I finally got back on my feet again. I wanted to at least run my usual 15 mile out-and-back, but my legs felt like crap. I had to walk most of the descent into Deep Creek due to stomach issues and no readily available place to address these issues without spectators. I ran out another two miles from Deep Creek before turning around. On the return trip I walked the entire climb up out of Deep Creek—the first time I’ve ever walked any portion of this road run. My legs were tired. Eventually, I slogged the last two downhill miles at a snail’s pace back to the Taco. 

Tuesday, March 18th
PM—18 Miles—3:15—2,500’—Pick Road and Sunshine Mesa Road
Really easy day with two climbs on muddy, icy, and snowy jeep roads followed by mellow descents. I stopped along the way to Sunshine Mesa to talk with a few of my coworkers who were out for some bouldering. Towards the end of the run my legs finally felt like they were starting to shake some of the fatigue from Saturday. After the run I self-treated a few trigger points on my right calf with some acupressure. 

Wednesday, March 19th
AM—15 Miles—2:20—1,950’—Last Dollar Road
My legs weren’t really that sore, but they were certainly not responding. Seemed impossible to get my legs to turn over today. 

Thursday, March 20th
AM—15 Miles—1:54—1,950’—Last Dollar Road
Same run as yesterday, only faster. Before even running a step I knew today was going to finally be a good run. I headed out on the short bike path section before crossing the highway onto Last Dollar Road and was immediately at ~7:20 pace versus yesterday’s 9+ pace. The 2.25 miles of ascent to where the blacktop ends passed by in a PR 18:09—right at 8-minute pace for the 500-feet climb. After two miles of comfortable descent, I reached Deep Creek in 13:18—32:08 total. From Deep Creek begins nearly 3.5 miles of constant ascent to gain around 800 feet. It was great to see how quickly this passed. I topped out with a split of 26:44—58:52 total (new PR). Looking back, I didn’t really push the 3.5 miles back to Deep Creek as hard as I should have. After 21:37 I was back at Deep Creek—1:20:29 total. With the last and steepest climb to go I leaned in and gave it all (or most) of what I had. The ~2 miles were done in 18:50—1:39:19 total. Once on the pavement, it took me about a quarter mile before I got my pace below 7 minutes/mile, but once there I was able to maintain a low-6 pace until the highway crossing and bike path. I was back to the Taco in 15:04 for a total time of 1:54:29, a new PR. Another sunny, shirtless run. Welcome, Spring!

Friday, March 21st  
AM—18 Miles—3:12—2,500’—Last Dollar Road
Ugh. Bonked like a champ on this one. My legs felt pretty good for the first ten miles or so, but everything went downhill after that. I ended up dehydrated to the point that I was coughing up phlegm’y crap and almost took a drink out of one of the nearby creeks. My legs were pretty beat up at the end of the day. I was glad to be done with this one…

Saturday, March 22nd
AM—11 Miles—2:05—1,500’—Last Dollar Road
Slow and easy day. It took a mile or two for my left Achilles/ankle to loosen up and my calves were a little tight, but everything felt decent eventually. 

Sunday, March 23rd
AM—10 Miles—2:09—2,200’—River Trail, Mill Creek Road, Bike Path, Jud Wiebe Loop
Another nice and easy day to close out the week. I started with a ~9 minute mile along the river before a short climb up Mill Creek Road, which I hiked most of. I was pleased to find the road almost completely dry. After cruising back into town along the bike path I made my way over to Jud Wiebe. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to do the short out-and-back up to Cornet Falls. About halfway there I turned around rather than endure the bobsled chute of ice any longer. Jud Wiebe was good for the usual awe-inspiring views as well as near-constant mud and slippery, packed snow. In other words, it was pretty damn fun. Once again, I hiked most of the ascent. The descent offered a few glissading opportunities. Upon reaching the pavement I cruised the last half mile back to the Taco. Not a bad end to the week. Gorgeous, sunny, and shirtless day!

Time— 18 hours 42 minutes
Elevation Gain— 14,950 feet

Welp, that wraps up my first 100+ mile week of 2014…

I was a little surprised at how long it took to shake out the fatigue from the marathon in Salida. My legs weren’t wrecked by any means. They just didn’t want to turn over at all. So, I basically just used this week as an opportunity to build up my volume, but with easy effort runs (except for Thursday). 

It seems that spring has sprung in Telluride. I was shirtless on 5 of 7 days this week. There’s still briskness in the air, but it seems that we’ve made a turn for warmer weather. 

My goal for the coming week is to bump up my mileage again to somewhere in the 110-120 range. We’ll see how that works out…

View from Mill Creek Road

Topping out on the Jud Wiebe loop

Cruising along the River Trail

Topping out on Jud Wiebe again

Connecting the River Trail and Mill Creek Road by crossing the valley floor

Another view from Mill Creek Road

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week in Review: March 10-16—A Recovery Week, Sort Of…

Monday, March 10th
PM—10 Miles—1:35—1,400’—Last Dollar Road and Aldasoro Road
Parked at the Valley Floor TH, ran up-and-over Last Dollar Road to Deep Creek, turned around, and added a few more miles on Aldasoro Road. Really easy pace the entire time. Legs felt a bit lethargic today.

Tuesday, March 11th
AM—8 Miles—1:16—1,250’—Last Dollar Road and Aldasoro Road
Another easy day. Ran from the Valley Floor TH up Last Dollar Road to where the pavement ends near the airport. On the way back I got in a few extra miles and some more vert on Aldasoro Road. The climb up Aldasoro is a little steeper than Last Dollar Road, but it’s still 100% runnable even on tired legs.

Wednesday, March 12th
AM—8 Miles—1:02—1,100’—Last Dollar Road
Parked at the Valley Floor and ran an out-and-back to Deep Creek. The first mile was painfully slow (9:45) as I shook out my legs. During that first mile my plan was to just have an easy run around 9-10 minute pace. After my legs loosened up I picked up the pace; hitting 7:53, 6:57, and 6:11 minute miles heading to my four-mile turnaround at Deep Creek. My pace for most of mile 4 was sub-6 minute, but as I neared Deep Creek the mud, snow, and ice conditions worsened causing me to ride the brakes a little. I took the first mile or so of the climb up from Deep Creek pretty easy at 10:06, but then got back to cruising as I neared the top. Miles 6, 7, and 8 were 7:51, 6:39, and 6:43. When I reached the top of the climb from Deep Creek I just coasted the last two miles back to the Taco rather than push them. I’m at the point where I can comfortably run sub-6’s here, but I wanted to run a pace closer to what I hope to run on the descents in Salida this weekend. With the exception of the first mile, the entire run was pleasantly comfortable in terms of perceived effort. I guess it’s time to think about starting to taper now…

Thursday, March 13th
AM—6 Miles—0:59—1,050’—Last Dollar Road and Aldasoro Road
This run marked the official beginning of my taper for Salida. Just a mellow three mile ascent followed by a coast back down the hill. I’ll never understand the people who taper for races but completely abstaining from running. I still need to move on my easy days or I feel like death.

Friday, March 14th
AM—3 Miles—0:28—400’—Shavano Trailhead Road (Salida, CO)
Easy shakeout run after driving all morning. Legs felt really tight throughout, but loosened up a bit in the last half mile or so. I planned on running about five miles, but saw a couple of coyotes that looked like they were developing a strategy to flank me and have me for dinner. So, I turned around sooner than anticipated.

Saturday, March 15th
AM—26.2 Miles—3:43—3,500’—Run Through Time Trail Marathon (Salida, CO)
I met up with Peter and Tara Friday night for my first official night of camping as well as my first campfire of the season. Such a great feeling! After a solid night of sleep I headed into town for a pre-race coffee or two and half a muffin. It was nice to have a quick chat with Nick, Joe, Mike, Matt, Peter, and others before taking off. The morning air was a bit brisk. Joe and I talked about not wanting to carry a bunch of extra crap with us from the start and just sucking it up for the first few miles until we got warmed up. 

We went out at a decent pace for the first few miles—somewhere around 6:30 or so—before beginning a generally upward trend for the next twelve’ish miles. I emptied the water from my handheld about a mile into the day since it was freezing my gloveless hands. From then on, I just ran with an empty water bottle. Shortly after beginning the ascent Nick and a few others took off, never to be seen again. The long, gradual ascent passed by pretty effortlessly with the only hiccup being some stomach issues around mile 11. I followed a group for most of the singletrack portion of the ascent until we reached a stretch of smooth jeep road and dispersed. Somewhere around the twelve-mile mark was a brief out-and-back where I was surprised to find ol’ Leadville Bill spectating. Of course, I had to stop for a quick chat with him before continuing. 

Around the half-marathon point, which I reached in 1:52, we hit a few miles of snow and ice on the trails. It was never really bad enough to do anything other than slow me down slightly. The rolling nature of the second half made for a much slower pace than I anticipated based on a quick glance at the course elevation profile on the race website. However, I found this constant up-and-down pattern to be much more enjoyable than 13 miles of near-constant descent. I noticed that my muscles were seamlessly changing gears from the descents into the ascents and vice versa. 

During the snowy patches I ran along with Mike H for a while and chatted. This was probably the easiest stretch of running I did all day in terms of effort. I probably could have covered the snowy stretches a little faster, but I didn’t want to risk being totally wrecked later on down the road. Eventually, Mike stepped aside and let me pass. 

After the snow/ice subsided we were treated to some delightful technical roads/trails for several miles. I was pleased to find that even after a winter of smooth jeep road and snow-covered trail running I could still descend the rocky stuff at a decent pace. 

I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere along the line I was passed by Patrick. In passing, he made a comment about sub-3:35 still being within reach. I had one more bout with stomach issues around 21.5 miles, which caused me to veer off-trail again. Fortunately, this was the last time. It took me about a half-mile to get my legs turning over again after this bathroom break. A while after getting back on the trail I passed Patrick in the midst of an end-of-race bonking session. I don’t think he had 3:35 in mind any longer…

Not long after passing Patrick I noticed a guy in Green behind me. By this time I had been passing half-marathon runners left and right. This guy appeared to be moving much quicker than the half runners. So, I assumed he was running the full marathon. Regardless, I decided that there was no way he was going to pass me. I had several miles to hold him off; Not too long at all. The last aid station was around 3 miles or so from the finish. I blew right on through it. I hadn’t consumed any water or calories up to this point, why start now? Green Shirt Guy stopped here for aid allowing me to put some distance between us. 

The last three miles was super-fast singletrack, but the ridiculous amount of half-marathoners that I had to pass made it nearly impossible to maintain any sort of rhythm. I would run low 6-minute pace briefly only to slow down to a crawl while waiting for an opportunity to pass a line of five people or so. Oh well…

The last fraction of a mile was probably the worst part of the entire day. It was flat and into a headwind. I managed to hold off Green Shirt Guy into the finish for a time of 3:43. Not bad considering that I spent about 10 minutes with stomach issues and chatting with Bill at the halfway point. Those 10 minutes would have put me pretty close to my goal of 3:30. It’s hard for me not to be pleased considering that I only started trying to get faster about three weeks ago. One of the big positives from this race was that no pace felt uncomfortable. Running 6:30’s on the flats felt just as good as going sub-6 on the descents and sub-9 pace on douche grade jeep roads was just as comfortable as an 11-minute pace on a steeper climb. 

I can’t wait to see how my next “speedwork” session goes.

Sunday, March 16th
AM—5 Miles—0:50—600’—Last Dollar Road
Easy shakeout run. I had some tightness/soreness in my calves, but everything else felt great. Decided on a short, easy day to fully recover before hitting another 3-4 week stretch of ramping up my running volume.  

Time— 9 hours 55 minutes
Elevation Gain— 9,300 feet

Prior to this week, the last four weeks were spent ramping up my weekly mileage and vertical. The Run Through Time trail marathon in Salida has been on my calendar for a few months now. So, I arranged my schedule so that a low-volume recovery week coincided with the marathon. This set me up perfectly for a bit of a taper and an overall low intensity week. I think it paid off since I ran 100% of the marathon, never had a low patch (other than stomach issues), and my legs felt fresh throughout the day. 

Next week begins another 3-4 week cycle of pumping up the weekly volume with the goal of another low-volume/intensity recovery week during the second week of April. This will be one week before I run the Free State Trail Runs 100km in Lawrence, KS on April 19th. In the long run, I’m hoping I can figure out how to taper in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m about to die or something. 

My current plan is to string together 3-4 100+ mile weeks during this cycle. We’ll see how it all goes…

Scenery along my usual Last Dollar Road route

Starving artist in Telluride, CO

Staring down river to Shavano

First campfire of the season!

I had to stop for a photo of some 14ers that look runnable
First few miles of Run Through Time (Photo: Russell O)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trans Zion

The 48-mile Trans Zion route has been on my radar for the last few years. I was tempted to give it a go last fall, but decided to save it for later after having several friends highly recommend the spring months over the fall months due to an abundance of water along the trail. Upon moving to Telluride in early February I had two advantages for planning a trip to Zion: proximity (only ~7 hours away) and a potential running partner with a flexible schedule. So, it seemed that the stars aligned for a spring 2014 attempt at Trans Zion.

I bounced the idea off Ben and after some quick aligning of schedules we decided on March 4th as our running day. I’ve never actually done a run like this with a partner. To date, all of my non-race big days out (my 40+ mile day running the Chicago Basin 14ers from the Purgatory trailhead, as well as every 42 mile day in the Grand Canyon) have all been solo, self-supported affairs. Honestly, the thought of going out and covering close to fifty miles with a partner had me a bit unsettled. Sometimes it’s hard enough for one person to cover fifty miles without blowing up…

We talked about getting together prior to departure to talk logistics. This never happened. So, when Sunday, March 2nd rolled around and we had no plan I was prepared to throw in the towel and call off the trip. Contrary to what some people may think, I never go into runs like this without adequate preparation. Ben still wanted to go, though. So, I went figuring we could discuss logistics of the route with a park ranger upon arrival and all would be well. In a last minute effort at having some sort of safety net I emailed BTR for a .gpx file of the route and chatted with Chris Gerber and Travis Macy a little. It’s a funny feeling when all of the doubt in your mind comes from total lack of preparation rather than whether or not you can cover fifty miles.

Our planned departure from Telluride was 7am on Monday, March 3rd. After reorganizing the Defender, a BiT breakfast run, turning around to pick up the National Parks pass, and filling up with gas we finally left closer to 8am. Shortly into the drive we stopped at the Osprey office in Cortez for about an hour to pick up a few packs for the run. After this stop we finally started making some progress towards Zion National Park. Our last stop of any significance was in Kanab (about 30 miles from the park) to snag some food/snacks for the run. 
Driving out to Zion
We got to the entrance around 4:30pm, but still had another ~12 miles to the visitor’s center. I was driving at this point and knew we needed to get to the visitor’s center by 5pm to get our logistical concerns addressed with a park ranger. After several stops for photos we arrived at 5:15pm. Fortunately, we spotted a ranger leaving. After expressing our desired route and estimated time of completion to her we could tell she was noticeably concerned. Maybe this was her first exposure to “crazy” runners? I think her concern for our planned itinerary is what kept her around to answer our questions versus blowing us off and leaving us to figure it out on our own. About fifteen minutes later we had enough information to put my mind at ease regarding our total lack of preparation. 

Stopping for photos on our way to the visitor's center
From the visitor’s center, we drove a few minutes to set up camp in one of the park’s campgrounds. I had my tent up in a few minutes and my running shoes on immediately after that. Seven hours in a super uncomfortable vehicle had my legs begging for a quick shakeout run. At the beginning I could barely hit 11 minutes/mile, but I started approaching 7-minute pace towards the end.  The easy two miles seemed to do just what I hoped.

I spent about an hour getting all of my food and gear ready for the morning. I wore an Osprey Rev 6 (6 liter running/fastpacking pack) for the run, which was way overkill considering we had crew access at miles 12 and 35. The Rev 6 is definitely one of the most comfortable packs I’ve ever used while running (maybe the most comfortable) and would have been perfect for a solo, self-supported effort a little longer than Zion or with more variable weather conditions that require additional clothing. However, with the two crew stops I could have got by in my typical minimalist fashion with two handhelds (maybe even one?), a few gels in my pockets, and my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak wind shell shoved in my shorts. Regardless, I guess it’s good practice to get out on longer efforts and use a pack even when it isn’t necessary.

An entire day of eating junk/fast food had me feeling pretty full, but I decided to down a little bit of pasta before heading off to bed. I slept surprisingly well in the MSR Hubba considering I hadn’t slept in a tent since September and I usually don’t sleep well the night before big runs. By 5:30am I was out of bed and had all of my stuff packed away. My hope was to be at the trailhead and starting by 6:30am at the absolute latest, but we didn’t get started until 6:40. Eh, close enough…

Things were pretty cool at the start; similar to starting a run at the Grand Canyon around daybreak in late October/early November. However, the route through Zion doesn’t begin with a 5,000’ descent into an increasing temperature gradient. So, rather than start shirtless like I would in the Canyon I took off with a t-shirt, arm warmers, Ghost Whisperer wind shell, and gloves. After 5-7 miles I had stripped down to just the t-shirt.

I let Ben lead the way since he had expressed some concerns regarding his lack of running volume heading into the day. I didn’t really care how fast we ran since I planned to take photos and enjoy the scenery on my first trip through Zion. We took off at a casual pace from the East Rim trailhead and continued this approach for the rest of the day. Portions of the first ascent from the East Rim are a little sandy, which helped keep the effort in check.
Letting Ben lead the way through some sort-of sandy terrain
Eventually, we topped out and were treated to a nice, moderately technical descent to The Grotto with a few short sections of typical slickrock trail. After running on snow/ice-covered trails and roads all winter it was a real treat to descend some dry, rocky trails that demanded a little thought to my footwork. This is probably the aspect of running I miss most during the winter months. 

Part of the fun descent into The Grotto

More of the descent
The views along the ~12 mile stretch of trail from the East Rim trailhead to our crew stop at The Grotto parking area were pretty jaw-dropping. If you’re at the point with running where a 24’ish mile day is doable, but a 48 mile day is just a bit too much, then I would suggest running an out-and-back on this stretch. Stunning to say the least. 
Some of the sweet views along the first twelve miles

More views...

Running along a nice slot canyon (Photo: Ben C)

More slot canyon action
Reaching our crew spot at The Grotto was a great sign of our progress. We reached Sarah in the Defender around 2:30 hours into our day, slow and steady. To this point everything felt effortless. The only negative was that we spent WAY too long here—nearly 20 minutes to refill water, get some calories, and use the bathroom. Ideally, this would have been closer to five minutes. 

Running about a mile on paved road to The Grotto
When we finally got back to running we were greeted with the biggest climb of the day—a long, gradual 3,000’ climb. After running for a little bit we fell into a pretty good power hike for the remainder of the ascent. Even after topping out the moving wasn’t terribly quick. This section of the route had a few sections of snowy/icy trails (not much, though) and was considerably muddy for long stretches. Neither of these really affected me much. I was able to avoid the mud for the most part by running off trail. Ben seemed to be increasingly frustrated with the continuous mud, but maybe that was just my perception. 

The 3,000' ascent out of The Grotto

One of the few stretches with snow/ice
This segment from The Grotto to the Hop Valley trailhead had us in the woods most of the time. After talking to Chris Gerber and Basit Mustafa it seems there’s another trail we could have used that would have taken us along the rim of the canyon rather than into the muddy forest. Guess I’ll have to check that one out next time. 

Running along near the Potato Hollow area...I think? (Photo: Ben C)

The last mile or two leading into the Hop Valley trailhead

Getting closer to the Hop Valley trailhead (Photo: Ben C)

Heading into the Hop Valley trailhead we had discussed minimizing our time for the 35-mile crew stop. We still had 13 miles to cover and I certainly wanted to finish in daylight. However, we spent 21 minutes at this stop. My frustration was starting to build-up a little with these unnecessarily long stops just to refill water and down a few calories. During that time we could have covered about a mile and a half, give or take. Before getting back on the trail Ben and Sarah both mentioned the rain clouds off in the distance where we would be running. As soon as they expressed their concern I had a feeling the day would be over…

We decided to take off down the Hop Valley trail about two miles to get a better look at the clouds. I was rather surprised at the doomsday scenario he presented over a few rain clouds. I told him that if I were running this solo the thought of quitting wouldn’t even cross my mind. I could tell that he wasn’t going to continue, but it seemed like he was waiting for me to agree that the potential weather was too much for us to push on. That was something I just couldn’t bring myself to agree on. Sometimes people see things differently. 

Eventually, he explicitly stated that he wasn’t comfortable with the weather outlook and wanted to call it a day. A few minutes passed before he said that I could finish solo and that he and Sarah would drive to Lee Pass to pick me up. Rather than complicate things I decided to call it a day, too. Since we were calling it quits because we didn’t want to get wet I decided to turn around and book it back to the car before the rain rolled in. I was pleased to discover that my legs still had plenty of pep in them after taking the entire day super mellow. 

A photo op scramble after calling it quits (Photo: Ben C)
It’s been a week since running in Zion and I’m still frustrated when I think of how that day ended. I’m not frustrated THAT we quit. I’m frustrated with WHY we quit. Maybe I was right? Maybe Ben was right? There’s no way to tell… His decisions are based on his past experiences as are mine. All I know is that I’ve bailed on 14er summits and other routes before due to potential dangers from weather. My biggest fear in the mountains is weather, specifically lightning. So, I’m usually overly cautious when it comes to decisions involving weather. That being said, I think our decision to quit in Zion was unwarranted. That’s just my opinion, though. Rain has never deterred me from running. One of my favorite runs ever was a nearly eight-hour effort in the mountains around El Chalten, Argentina with frigid temperatures and pouring rain the entire time. I did that run with even less clothing than I had on for Zion…

I’m currently planning another double-crossing of the Grand Canyon for April 5th (hoping to break 9 hours!). There’s the possibility that I’ll sneak up to Zion for another go at the traverse through the park after running in the Canyon. At the very least I hope to head up and cover that last 13-mile stretch to see what I missed. I have a feeling that Zion will still be around for quite some time. So, it’s not that big of a deal that I get back and finish the route this year. I’ll get to it eventually…

Next time I'm in Zion I'll finish the route and eat a "Ho Made" pie after...