Jul 21, 2015

Birthday scheming

Birthdays can set in motion some of the best - or craziest plans - ever. And sometimes, the gifts given provide a means to completing a dream. After an extended scavenger hunt for clues on Friday, I finally unearthed my present from Nick. Small, but so powerful. An Osprey Rev 1.5 - the smallest pack in the Rev series, with a 1.5L bladder and just a few small pockets for storage. The perfect size for long trail runs. Not to heavy or bulky, but carrying enough to get in and get out if the weather deteriorates. And why would that be such a cool present? After all, my last marathon was in 2010 and my last trail marathon was in 2009! It's been no secret that I haven't been running much - just jumping into some local half marathons here and there.

Well, back when I was a runner and thought very little of running a marathon on Saturday and then another one on Sunday, I had a goal. I wanted to do a 50 mile race. Heck with the 50k - that was only a few miles more then a marathon and a distance I'd covered in training runs for some of the marathons! No, I wanted to do a 50 mile race. Originally, I was going to do the Big Horn Wild and Scenic Ultra in Wyoming for my Wyoming race. But timing for that never worked out and we ended up doing the Casper Marathon twice. And then I finished the 50 states and got fully involved in the ultra and 24 hour racing world of mountain biking. But that didn't mean I hadn't given up on the dream of doing a 50 mile race. I'd every so often bring it up and show Nick course profiles and times. I was super excited when I saw the Pikes Peak Ultra that Mad Moose Events is bring into town - after all, an ultra that I wouldn't even have to drive to the starting line? Then I saw the course for that. Ouch. I ride those trails all the time and while they are really fun and very challenging, it's not what I wanted for my first 50 mile race.

When we went up to Leadville and rode the Silver Rush course, it got me thinking again - maybe that would be a good race? But again, as we hung out in Leadville after the ride, I wasn't sure. The views were huge and it was wide open double track for most of the race. But there was a corporate vibe in the air that I didn't want to deal with. I'd left road triathlons to get away from the corporate vibe! Back to the interwebs I went, search and plotting. I needed a race that had plenty of lead time so I can get my training build up the right way. I also needed a race that wouldn't affect any of the mountain bike races we have on the horizon - either in the build or in the recovery process. Nick watched me pondering all of this but said nothing.

And then my present - the perfect little pack. Of course, I wore it for my run the next day - just a four mile jaunt through the neighborhood and it was so comfortable. It rekindled my search for a Colorado 50 mile race. So my birthday present to myself - I think I have found the race I will do.

July 16th in 2016 - just before my 37th birthday. The Sheep Mountain 50 Mile Endurance Run. It's in Fairplay and heads into the  mountains to the south and west of town. It's not going to be easy with 9400 feet of elevation gain on a mix of dirt roads, jeep roads, singletrack, creek crossings and alpine tundra. Not a corporate affair, with just 45 finishers in the inaugural year. A small, personal race in an area of Colorado I've only driven past. 2016 will be an interesting year!

Jul 18, 2015

Back to Poncha

With a little more CT thrown in for fun. After our Leadville ride, we decided to camp at Raspberry Gulch and ride the CT a little more. It's early in the night, but one of the more techy traverses. Another few hours learning the curves wouldn't hurt. Given how tired and sluggish I'd been Friday, I was a little worried about the rest of the weekend. Would I actually be able to handle the hours and the trail? A nice lazy morning - sleeping later then I have in weeks and a big breakfast had me ready to go. We headed south first - towards Blanks Cabin. Again, just riding and scouring the trail. My goal was to be smooth and comfortable with all the punchy climbs and rock gardens. Much better this time around, even once we turned north and started retracing our trail. I was able to ride further up some of the steep hills. After the ride and another nap, it was run time. Just a short little run on the CT - working on increasing frequency in prep for some big plans next year!

For Sunday, we had a choice - shuttle and the entire Crest run or pedal up Poncha. Neither one of us wanted to get up earlier enough for the shuttle, so it was a default vote for Poncha. Ahh - Poncha. I forgot how much fun climbing Poncha Creek Road was! It's gonna hurt come September - but felt a lot better this time then last year. It will always be a hard climb, but with a reward of Silver Creek? I'll take it. And that was our goal - the traverse of the Colorado Trail and the descent of Silver Creek. The CT was almost empty - just a few hikers and a couple of other mountain bikers. The lasting snow fields further north on the Crest kept the numbers down. Silver turned into Rainbow, with some creek fording right at the terminus. Guess the mountain bikers weren't the only ones that liked the new trail!

It wasn't the huge weekend I had planned, but we still had some big days. And I was riding harder then I wanted, making the shorter rides higher quality. We rode a lot of the same trails we did last year at this time - and it was all smoother and faster. Taking two minutes out of some of the climbs is pretty impressive - even more so on the last day of the weekend. It's hard sometimes with Nick - I want some solid hours on the bike, but not at the pace Nick wants to ride. So it becomes a compromise.  Nick rides a little slower (not much it feels some times!) and we ride shorter then I wanted. I know we will get the hours I want soon, meanwhile Nick will continue to push me. 

Jul 14, 2015

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

We are good at the "seemed like a good idea at the time" kinda rides. This one? Well, it all started on the drive out of town. We've not ridden in Leadville out side of the Fat Bike races and Nick asked if we should start our weekend there. Sure, why not? Then we both got the idea - Silver Rush, one of the Leadville 100 series races was supposed to be a very challenging race and several of our friends said we would love the race. The idea turned into a spark - let's ride the Silver Rush course! Even better, we wouldn't really need a map since the race was the next day. It would be marked and everything! And so north towards Leadville we headed...

As anticipated, the course was well marked from the start. Since it was later in the afternoon and all the serious racers were hiding in their hotels with compression socks on and feet up, we also had the course to ourselves. Perfect. I wasn't sure what to expect since I hadn't looked at the profile and had only glanced at the map. It seemed like the first hour of riding was straight uphill as we climbed higher and higher, finally ending up above treeline. I was super happy that the views were so amazing because I was tired - slow and tired. The steady grinding of the double track was getting to me even in the first hour. Still, when Nick suggested that we just ride the entire course, I didn't disagree. At that point, I already knew it wasn't a race I wanted to do, so why not see what the entire thing looked like? We were being silly, having fun with what was a challenging dirt road and double track ride. It wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination - but it also wasn't the kind of riding that we love doing.


Nick riding on the Silver Rush course - dwarfed by the mountains around us

Seemed like a good idea at the time... Until one of the bars I'd brought with me to eat turned out to be as stale as cardboard and inedible. And I'd only packed food for a three hour ride. Out of food before the turn around and getting crankier by the minute. Even the columbines and alpine meadows filled with flowers weren't making me happy anymore. We climbed up to the highpoint on the course and plunged down the backside towards the turn around. Nick wanted to ride the entire 50 and retrace our steps. Me? Not so much. Tired from a busy week and generally cranky about being out of food, I mutinied. I'd seen enough of the course and really didn't see the point of riding-pushing back up above treeline. There was plenty of more fun riding to be had the rest of the weekend and I wanted to be able to enjoy the Colorado Trail and other adventures. Nick grumbled a little, rightly pointing out that there really were only two super ugly hills on the way back and it would be superfast and mostly downhill. I was not to be deterred. I was tired of road riding. So we took the quicker route down the Mineral Belt Trail back to the van.

Do I regret not finishing the course just to say we did it? Kinda. Sorta. We probably should have just done it since we aren't ever going to do the race proper. Oh well. But that wasn't my goal for the weekend.

Sunset over the campsite - Raspberry Gulch off the CT

Jul 6, 2015

Changing Plans

I was "supposed" to do intervals on Wednesday. I had a nice, hard workout scheduled - designed to address some of the weaknesses I've noticed in the first few races of the year. But like all plans - things change. Nick's work was in the process of moving buildings and he had the ability to take half a day off. Middle of the week, the chance to ride hard with Nick? Intervals were abandoned in favor of something just as hard, but so much more fun.

It was brutally hot when Nick got home and we both packed water for the 90 degrees it felt like. Then up into the mountains we went - straight up through Stratton, up the Chutes and onto Gold Camp. Given that I was skipping out on my intervals, it was time to ride hard. Nick let me set the pace, but kept pushing a little to keep me honest. Up and up and up, the endless road climb silence of the mountains. We'd originally planned on doing the hike-a-bike up to the St Peter's Dome parking lot, but Nick decided to just take the road all the way out. Might as well get a good baseline time for the start of the season! I slowed a few times to make sure I was eating and to stretch my back out, but we made it out to Old Stage in record (for me) time. And I wasn't blown - not like the last few times Nick has pushed me hard on the Gold Camp climb. We did still have the climb up Old Stage, so it was time for a short break of easy pedaling. Recover just a little so I would be able to descend well when we got to St Mary's.

Yes, that was our goal. Mid week, later in the day with storms rolling in - there would be nobody on St Mary's. Perfect time to ride one of the busier trails in the canyon and be able to ride it fast. I've only done St Mary's a few times from top to bottom, so it's always an adventure for me. I love the top half - traversing through the trees with some tight switchbacks. There's a few creek crossing and some rock gardens but it's mostly fast and wide open. It's once we cross above the falls that things start getting tricky. I always try the tight, scree filled switchbacks, but don't always make them. It's a guessing game which ones I'll get and which ones I won't. Below the waterfall, the trail is more familiar. I never get to go fast down that section because it's always crowded. This ride was the exception - only one hiker and her dogs.

I was expecting that we'd turn right and drop Daniels to ford the river and head home. After all, I really only wanted three hours and that time was getting close. Nope. Nick decided that we'd climb High Drive and finish out on a high note with Jacks. I was looking at the very angry clouds building all around us and wondering about the sanity of riding more. But Nick wasn't to be dissuaded. Okay! Up High Drive we went. At the summit, the heavy rain was even closer and it was starting to spit at us. Time to make quick work of Jacks. An empty trail lead to a fun descent and we were just ahead of the rain as we dropped into Chutes. We almost made it home before the deluge started - but we were soaked by the time we hit the black top. A few lightening strikes closer then I would have liked and we were at the door. Wet, tired but so happy. Nothing like a hard, midweek ride!

Jun 23, 2015

Summer Solstice Fun

There's having plans that aren't negotiable and then there's going with the flow. Knowing when to pick which option is the important part. Three rides in Salida when the high trails aren't quite clear yet or two rides in Salida and then one in COS with friends? That was an easy choice! We still got some good riding in and got to go to Cam and Amber's summer solstice ride and part.

Friday was the CT from Blanks Cabin to Raspberry Gulch. Last time I rode that was September, at night. Things look very different during the day... We weren't sure how busy the camping up the road would be, so took one of the earlier spots that looked pretty quiet. It meant a five mile road climb up to the CT, but since that's part of the day come September - I wasn't going to complain. And wow - no wonder that road climb was so long! It's hard to see the steepness in the dark, but in the brilliant sun of the last days of spring, the elevation changes are clear. And then there was the Colorado Trail. Riding that in the day made it clear why it's so hard at night. There's a lot of steep pitches, babyhead rocks and tight corners. It's not really a trail to conserve lights on if you want to ride fast. I've only done it a few times - this was my third - and I still get turned around as to which obstacle is coming up next. I didn't even realize we were on the steep hike-a-bike right in the beginning until almost to the top! I almost made it all the way up, and Nick got even further. Surprising, but only because I haven't looked at a topo map much - it was actually harder coming back. I thought the climbing southbound wasn't going to end! But it's a fun trail and on a Friday afternoon, there was no one else out there.

Saturday found us on Rainbow. I'd wanted something a little longer, but knew Sunday's ride was going to be big. So it was a short and sweet little loop - up the Otto Mears Toll Road to the western terminus of Rainbow. I'm really starting to like Rainbow - it's just a fun trail. Once again, it was just me and Nick - without the entire Crest open, there was no one out riding. We were able to rip the descents and not worry. And when it's just Rainbow, even the steep hills aren't that steep. Now add on the rest of the Crest? Different story! That will come when the Crest is open.

Having some fun on the little hike-a-bike. Getting the carry down...

Then came Sunday - the first day of summer. We met up at Cam's house for a Jone's Downhill run. When I saw the group making the selection on Gold Camp Road, I knew I was in for a hard day. Cam, Flynn, Nick and me... When Nick stopped to make some water (it was already hot out...) I kept going. I knew I would need the time to ride at my own pace before trying to stay on the wheels of the guys. I almost made it up through our little hike-a-bike to St Peter's Dome before the guys caught me. I really hustled the hike-a-bike this time. I cracked a little from the heat on the final climb up past Wye Campground, but was able to hold it together until Frosty's Park and the start of the downhill. I've only done Jones two other times, so I'm not familiar with the trail. It was all I could do to keep Nick in sight - and he was riding at 3/4 speed so I could see him. But I wasn't getting the mental overload I've had the other two times we've ridden Jones and I was going much faster. I did leave an offering of skin to the trail gods at one point, but didn't let it shake me. The only issue with Jones is descending back into town is like dropping into an inferno. It's so nice and cool up at the start of the trail and you descend so quickly. The first day of summer was proving it's worth in heat and we were all out of water by the time we hit the top of the Chutes. Time to head home! I think I drank a gallon of water when we finished that ride!