Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dolomiti Extreme 53k 2013 Race Report

Dolomiti Extreme 53k
June 8, 2013
GPS data
8:44:31, 68th overall of 316
Full results
My photos from the race

My left foot was throbbing and radiating pain. I couldn’t even weight it without grimacing. And I was feeling quite depressed. I was in Italy and in three days I was supposed to meet up with Bill and run the first annual Dolomiti Extreme 53 kilometer trail race in the majestic Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy. The way my foot was feeling, though, there wasn’t a chance I’d be able to run, or even walk, 53 kilometers of rugged trail. I’d spent a good deal of time and money to get here and now, just days before the race, I felt I’d be sitting in the hotel room during the race instead of enjoying the company of 350 other runners in the scenic Dolomites.

Earlier in the afternoon, Nat and I had gone for a hike up Cima Capi (900m) outside of the town of Torbole near Lake Garda to consume the views of Lake Garda from the summit. The day had been excellent. Our group of four--Allison, Stephanie, Nat and me--had done some rock climbing at a nice, newer crag called Bassilandia and then explored a unique via ferrata through a slot canyon-like gorge below the Drea Castle. Our hike up 2700’ vertical of Cima Capi had been enjoyable and swift. However, as we reached the top, my left foot began aching. I had banged it a little bit earlier in the day while climbing and thought that was the cause of the discomfort. So I just gritted it out. But as we descended, the pain got increasingly worse until I was obviously limping and favoring my other foot. By the time we got back to our rented apartment, I couldn’t even weight the foot. What was going on? I’d never felt this much pain in my foot. Thoughts of writing off the rest of the trip went through my mind as my attitude soured. I went to bed thinking I had done something serious to my foot and that perhaps much of my summer would be impacted, not just the race in a few days, by this injury. I nodded off to a fitful night’s sleep as my foot throbbed.

When I awoke my foot was tender to the touch but feeling quite a bit better. Still, as bad as it had hurt, I planned to do nothing for the next two days to give me a shot at running at least half of the race on Saturday. Thursday morning the four of us went rock climbing at one of the more famous and historic crags in the Arco area, Massone. My plan was to just belay all day and take it easy. But I’m not very good at taking it easy and the temptation to climb was too great. I hopped on a climb and found my foot didn’t hurt while climbing. This was good news…at least I could climb for the rest of the trip. We enjoyed a great day of climbing before heading north to the Dolomites to meet with Bill and Rebecca. As the day went on, my foot felt better and better. I was even walking without a limp now. How could this be? I couldn’t even stand on it the night prior.

We met with Bill and Rebecca that evening at our hotel in the Cibana di Cadore and had a scrumptious dinner cooked by the Romano the chef at the hotel’s restaurant. Over dinner Bill had mentioned that he had once over-tightened his shoes resulting in some significant, but temporary, pain that disappeared quickly after he loosened his laces. When I thought about it, I _had_ really cranked down the laces on my Brooks Cascadia shoes because they were wet from the afternoon’s gorge exploration and I didn’t want my toes sliding down into the front of the shoes. Hmm…could that really be the explanation? It seemed way to painful for something as simple as that but, as it turned out, that must have been this issue because my foot “healed” up just fine and I got to enjoy an awesome day of running in the Dolomites on June 8th, 2013…


Lining up deep in the crowd at the start

This was my first non-American ultra race and I was super excited about it. The Europeans have a reputation for being strong ultrarunners. Also, they have a reputation for running in lycra capris and using poles liberally. All of these reputations are spot on. Bill and I stuck out like, well, Americans, at the start line in our short-sleeved shirts and non-skin-tight running shorts. We did look like everyone else in that we both had running backpacks on. The race organizers require each participant to carry a few mandatory items including a whistle, a cell phone, a flexible bandage, a space blanket, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and a rain jacket. Also, the race was advertised as being “cupless” so I carried a hand bottle in addition to the hydration water bladder in my pack. All of this mandatory equipment was much more than I would normally carry in a 53 kilometer race. And I really don’t like running with a pack. But alas, it worked out well and my old school Ultimate Direction Wasp pack served me well in yet another race.

The race is a 53 kilometer loop starting and ending in the town of Forno di Zoldo in the heart of the Dolomites. The course climbs 11,500’ and descends about the same amount (the finish is uphill from the start so it’s not quite 11,500’ of descent.) At 5:30am we started from the main street in Forno di Zoldo. It starts getting light around 4:15am in the summer in the Dolomites so no headlamp was required. Bill and I were quite a ways back in the pack at the start and the race quickly funnels into some narrow streets before entering even more narrow trails. So we resigned ourselves to sticking together for a while and just enjoying the easy pace behind roughly a hundred runners in front of us. From the start the race more or less just climbs and climbs to Passo Duran, a pass with a paved highway crossing it. Rebecca met us there to take some photos and give encouragement. After Passo Duran we climbed even more towards the base of Monte Moiazza as we ran towards Monte Civetta. The course was extremely muddy through some lush meadows as we ascended. At one point my left shoe got stuck in the mud, mid-stride, leaving my shoe in the mud as my foot continued forward. I was able to stop before plunging my socked-foot into the mud, though. More steep climbing awaited us and the queue slowed to a very easy pace as we all just grunted up towards a small water stop at about mile 11.


Scenic running early in the race

After the water stop we descended on some steep, slick trail for about a mile before entering the top of a really steep, loose gorge/couloir. A volunteer at the top cautioned us to take it slow. I peered into this couloir and was a bit surprised the course actually went through it--it looked pretty sketchy. I worked my way down into it slowly and was being very deliberate so as to not kick rocks down on the others below. But some overly-motivated runner above me decided to be extremely disrespectful and dangerous and tred to move quickly through here. He quickly yelled, "rock!" and I looked up to see a rock the size of my torso coming down. I sucked up against the wall as the rock tumbled by and, thankfully, stopped before endangering anyone else. He apologized profusely (at least I think he was apologizing--I couldn't understand the language) and we all carried on to the more firm trail below.


The gnarly descent chute

The spacing between runners was opening up and I felt happy to be able to actually run and power hike quickly up the ascents for a few more miles. Because Bill and I had gone out so slowly, my energy level was high and I was feeling great as the scenic miles ticked off and I passed a number of other runners. We traversed for quite a while well below the huge faces of Monte Civetta (the banner image for this blog post) and I watched and heard numerous avalanches tear down the rock faces above. I was thankful the course had been re-routed to this lower elevation!

Looking up at Monte Civetta from the ski area.

We dropped down to the mountain town of Mareson-Pecol before heading up a ski area outside of the town. Here the air was still and the sun hot so it became a bit of a grind up the mountain. But I was still feeling pretty strong and able to pass by a number of runners before reaching the top of the ski area and heading towards the mile 23 aid station at the crossing of the major highway 251. I was looking forward to this aid station because it was the one spot on the course where I'd see Allison. Her, Rebecca and Stephanie had driven up there to cheer us on as we passed through. I could hear the cars and stepped up my pace on the easy downhill single track. I rounded a corner and there they were cheering and clapping. It was a very nice boost!

Running down into the mile 23 aid station

From the aid station we climbed up a bit before running some really nice single track at treeline traversing along the base of the impressive Monte Pelmo. The huge limestone walls of the west and south faces had me dreaming up coming back to climb up there. And then I began to notice the clouds. The afternoon storms were starting to roll in but it looked clear where we were headed so I figured I had some more time before I'd get wet.

Monte Pelmo as we ran by

Nice, enjoyable running on undulating terrain kept me rolling for the next few miles before a relatively short but very steep and slick grassy descent got my attention. This section had a number of climbing ropes strung up between trees with volunteers standing by each rope to warn and assist runners. I'm pretty comfortable on steep terrain but was quite happy to have the ropes there. A very impressive descent option!


The steep, rope-protected descent

Run, run and run some more and then finally I was on top of the last climb and peak of the run, Monte Pointe, with only 8km of descent back down into town and the finish line.


At the top of Monte Pointe with the end, Forno di Zoldo, in sight

I ran pretty well on this last, long descent but had to make an extended pit stop in the trees to see a man about a horse. As I ran into town and hit pavement, I thought, "alright, the homestretch, I'm gonna hammer it home." I picked up the pace and started running hard and letting it all out but, wait, we're leaving the pavement and going back up again? Damn! So it was, we did another short ascent and hit some more really muddy trail for half a mile. I could hear footsteps coming up from behind me so I kept on running as hard as could splashing through the sticky mud. And then we were back on pavement again and people were cheering from houses along the road. The energy was contagious and my legs kept spinning fast as I gained on the person behind me and could no longer hear the steps. It was really cool flying through the narrow streets lined with houses and small cafes! I managed to crank by a couple of other runners with about a half mile to go and soaked in the energy of the crowd at the finish line as I crossed it in 8 hours, 44 minutes and 31 seconds. What a grand race experience!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Well, That Was Fast

It seems like just last month I was running 12 miles on New Year's Day with a big group of friends to celebrate the start of 2012. 1171 running miles and 352 days later here it is a week from Christmas 2012 already. 2012 went fast. And it was awesome. I didn't run as many races this year as normal but managed to run a number of new-to-me races including the Moab Red Hot 55k, the Grand Mesa 50 miler, the Mount Taylor 50k and the Deadman Peaks 53 miler. As usual, I didn't crush it in any of the races but ran well (with the exception of Deadmans!) and had a great time seeing new courses and meeting new people.
I also was fortunate enough to make two bigger trips. The first one was to Spain with Allison in April for a couple weeks where we did some sightseeing, hiking and a fair bit of climbing. That trip was a wonderful experience. Then in June I was again fortunate to make a trip to Alaska with five great friends to try to climb and ski Denali (Mount McKinley). The weather didn't treat us well on the trip and our summit attempt was thwarted at the 17,200' camp but with poor climbing weather came great powder and lots of fabulous skiing. I just finished putting together the video from that trip, six months later!

Denali 2012 from Jason Halladay on Vimeo.

With a poor start to the winter of 2012-2013, things have been dry and warm around New Mexico allowing Allison and I ample opportunities to rock climb. My last blog post detailed my hardest sport climbing route to date, Meltdown. From that post, and a late-summer story in the Albuquerque Journal about the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club, a writer for the ABQ Journal interviewed me in October for a story in the paper's GO section last month. That was a fun experience and the story turned out well despite a misplaced quote and a small error every now and then. In that story I referred to Allison as my wife. A few friends caught this and asked about that. Well, the story came out a bit sooner than I thought it might as we didn't actually get married until December 12th. But yes, that's right, after being together for 12 years and being engaged for 5.5 years, we are now married. Yahoo! We took advantage of the cool date, 12/12/12, and invited a few friends as witnesses to a brief, easy ceremony at the local courthouse with Magistrate Judge Pat Casados. Andy and Sarah were my witnesses and Allison's friend Stephanie was her witness. And that was it. No photographer, cake, best men, bride's maids or funky chicken dancing. Total wedding cost: $20.00. We saved a bundle that we'll be able to use on a two or three week trip to Europe in 2013.
So yeah, the year started great and ended even greater. Here's to 2013!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meltdown

With the exception of playing recreational league soccer in my younger years, I grew up avoiding team sports. I was drawn to the more individual sport of skateboarding. For about ten years, skateboarding was my biggest passion. I loved the fact that I could go out, on my own, at anytime and try to perfect a new trick I had learned or even work hard to learn a brand new trick. I was never great but I was pretty good. It's what I did the most and could never imagine not doing in the future. I tried hard and saw results in new tricks landed. And while skating is an individual sport it's also extremely social. We went out with our other skating friends all the while suggesting ideas for tricks to pull off or features around town to skate on, around, up or down. A simple set of four stairs with its handrail could keep us entertained for hours, days even. We'd skate up to the stairs, ollie off, maybe do a kickflip or slide the rail. And then try to land on the board with all four of its wheels landing flat on the ground and ride away. Quite simply that was called, "landing it". Sure, anyone could ollie off the stairs and kick the board around so it flipped and spun but could you land it? That was the ultimate. Land it and ride away. For me, and most skaters in general, landing an advanced trick is few and far between. And if we landed one trick, could we land a second consecutive trick. And a third? That's when a skater is good...when he can string together multiple, difficult tricks and land them all. Most of the time I'd spend all afternoon, hour after hour, attempt after attempt, trying to land a single, more difficult trick. Most of the time I simply wouldn't land it but sometimes it would be worse than that--a slam. Not only not landing the trick but committing to it so hard that when it didn't work out, I'd fall and hit the concrete so hard it would take many minutes to recoup from the fall, the slam. While significant pain was inflicted in those slams it felt, in an odd way, great. I knew I had committed 100 percent to the trick and gave it my all, skin and bones be damned.

One example of this mentality sits in my mind the most. I had just learned to heel flip my skateboard. While moving fast along the street I could pop off a heel flip and land it most of the time. The next logical thing to do was to try to heel flip down a set of three stairs I enjoyed skating at. One afternoon, after watching a particularly exciting new skateboard movie part featuring Gershon Mosley, I headed to the stairs determined to heel flip down them. The first few, or twenty, attempts were weak. Skate up to the stairs fast, crouch, pop off and flip the board with my heel only to let the board fly hopelessly out of control as I did my best to avoid landing on it so I wouldn't slam. As I cycled through more attempts I noticed that each time I got more comfortable with the motion and the idea. Progress was being made and I started to commit to each attempt a little more. A couple more times and I was landing with one foot on the board, one off and then slamming. The slams hurt but not enough to overcome the satisfaction I was feeling knowing that any one of the next few attempts could be it--I could land the trick. All I had to do was commit and try real hard. I skated back up the sidewalk, spun around and starting pushing fast, rolling towards the stairs again. Commit 100 percent. I popped the heel flip, stayed above my board, watching it flip one complete rotation under my feet, waited for the right moment and stopped the flipping rotation with my feet just as the four wheels reconnected with the smooth sidewalk and my knees compressed to absorb the landing. And with that I had landed it.

It's no real wonder that later in life I gravitated towards rock climbing--an individual sport with numerous parallels to skateboarding. Sure, most climbers need a partner to belay them as they climb so it's not technically completely individual but when the climber is climbing, the action is individual. When I'm climbing I'm testing myself, physically and mentally, on the rock. Can I start at the base of the wall, find a route up the wall, moving from hold to hold, commit 100 percent and reach the top without falling off? The comparisons between rock climbing and skateboarding are many. Like my skateboarding, I'm not very good at climbing either. But I try. And as I did on my skateboard 20 years ago on those three stairs and that handrail, I can spend hours, even days, at the same rock wall on the same route trying, over and over, to pull off my trick--to climb from the base of the wall to its top without falling. Trying to climb a new, difficult route I fall many times over. Thankfully, a fall while being belayed rock climbing is so much less painful than a slam on a skateboard. The rope stretches, my belayer gets lifted off the ground and the terrain below me is steep so I often don't even hit the wall.


Climber Jenna Lupia on Meltdown. Photo by Lee Brinckerhoff.

Climbers have a term called "projecting". It's defined as the act of picking a climbing route that's particularly appealing to the climber and that is difficult enough that the climber cannot climb the route, the first time, without falling on the route. More often than not, a "project" is a route that is rated harder than any other route the climber has climbed before. The project is a challenge for the climber and something the climber will come back to for many hours, sometimes even days, to try to climb without falling, much like my afternoon spent trying to land the heel flip down three stairs for many hours straight. Last week I went into full-on projecting mode on a local route called Meltdown at the Dungeon. Rated 5.12c, it's harder than anything I'd ever climbed before. I had tried to climb it a couple times, every now and then, over the past two years but always felt it was too hard for me. But last week I spent an evening trying to climb it with my friend Hagen. Meltdown was hard for us both and we both fell on the route many times. But we were close. We'd fall twice on one attempt and then only fall once on subsequent attempts. Each attempt was better than the previous attempt. We had found a new project. After each attempt we'd swap ideas and then added encouragement. We'd both send it next time for sure. Well, that next time resulted in one fall again. Every time, one fall. Then two nights later Hagen did it. It was awesome and encouraging to see that despite the route feeling nearly impossible the first few times, we could learn the route, climb it smarter and send it. It took me another night's attmepts before I really felt close to sending it. Five attempts in a row, ever two days, had each resulted in one fall on each attempt. Then, last Thursday night I made a change to my foot placements and that made the difference. I climbed up, thought about where my feet and hands needed to be and committed 100 percent. Falling didn't concern me. I didn't even think of it as an option. I grabbed the rock hard, pushed my toes onto the holds even harder, gritted my teeth and popped up. And with that I sent the hardest route I've ever sent. I had landed it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Whizzing Week

After last weekend's Taos Up and Over 10k run I was feeling a bit sore in my quads and my right heel so I took Monday off from running. Tuesday rolled around like any other Tuesday and I got to work around 7am. After getting through the morning's email I checked in on my friend Homie's progress on his 14er speed record attempt that he had started the previous Thursday. Homie was carrying a Spot GPS tracking device and watching him make great progress, via my computer, on his endeavor was extremely inspiring. On Tuesday morning he was working up Mount Antero. I had hoped to meet up with him sometime during his attempt to give him some company and moral support but didn't have the vacation time. However, as I sat there at my desk watching his progress and reading all the positive, energetic posts on the 14ers.com thread about his adventure I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get up to Colorado ASAP to help out in any way I could. So I went home "sick", called Bill Wright (a member of his support crew), packed up my gear and headed north that afternoon.

By 5:30pm at was at 11,000' on Mount Princeton parking near the "trailhead" just beyond the radio towers. Homie's two-member support crew, Gerry and Jennifer Roach, were there readying food and clothes for Homie expecting him to return from 14er #33 of his attempt. I chatted with them and got more and more excited as I heard stories of the past few days. Homie was kicking some ass and everyone was excited about his prospects. He showed up back at the trailhead around 7:30pm and we drove down the road to meet up with another hiking companion, Andy Wellman, en route to the Blank Cabin trailhead for Mount Shavano and Tabeguache. I hadn't met Andy before and he turned out to be a great guy with a super positive attitude and great sense of humor--perfect for this crew we had assembled. (Andy wrote up a report of his experience that's very much worth reading to get a better feel for the experience than my crappy blogging right here.)
After a short nap and some food intake, Homie and Andy left the trailhead around midnight while Gerry, Jennifer and I all slept for about six hours. Homie and Andy returned to the trailhead at 6am and Homie was pumped! His enthusiasm was contagious and we cruised into BV for some coffee and a short breakfast before driving up to the Cloyses Lake TH.

At 9am on Wednesday, Homie and I left the CloysesLake TH to traverse a major chunk of the Sawatch 14ers--Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia. I'd linked these up, along with Yale, many years ago from south to north so I knew we were in for a big day. Homie was looking strong, though, and I was confident we'd make good time. I hadn't really spent any time on the trail with Homie since August 2009 when I crewed for him, Bill and Tom in their first Nolan's 14 attempt and even longer since our February 2006 winter Crestones Traverse. Thus, we had plenty to talk about as we climbed over the peaks and headed south. We only encountered a couple of light rain showers during the day and minimal lightning. It was a great day as we summited Mount Columbia as the sun was setting. At the summit we were greeted by John Kedrowski who would hike with us down to the North Cottonwood TH to meet the crew.

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Cruising from the summit of Belford over to Oxford

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Descending Oxford in the rain. Harvard looms in front of us


Homie and I on the summit of Mount Harvard, 17:15, Aug. 29, 2012

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Ascending the final bit of Columbia as the sun was setting

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Sunset over Horn Fork Basin

However, I had called in sick again to accompany Homie on this big day but had to be back in Los Alamos for work on Thursday. It was getting late and I still had a 4.5 hour drive home. I bid Homie goodbye around 8pm and then hammered down the super heinous south slopes route of Mt. Columbia and then ran the trail down to the trailhead getting to the awaiting crew (Gerry, Jennifer and Andy) around 9pm. I explained that Homie was still trucking along but his quads and shins were killing him on the descents so it would be another couple of hours before he would reach the trailhead. For me it had been an ~18 mile, 12 hour and 10,000' ascended and then descended day. I was a bit beat. With that, I loaded up and started the long drive home. I made good time and crawled into bed in Los Alamos around 2am Thursday morning. I was back at work at 7:15am Thursday morning after just a few hours sleep. Coffee was brillant on Thursday.

Spending the day with Homie on Wednesday was very inspiring and fun. His demeanor, company and crazy-strong ability to keep on going made me really appreciate the opportunity I was partaking in. Sure, it seemed silly to drive 4.5 hours up to Colorado on whim to joining and I questioned my decision to drive up there a couple of times on Tuesday afternoon as I sped north. But once I got there and met up with Homie and his crew, there was no doubt in my mind I did the "right" thing. This was living and one never knows what tomorrow will bring so we'd better live right now. I've posted some photos from my day with Homie if you're interested.

Thursday evening we left on our planned Labor Day weekend trip to Shelf Road, CO for 3.5 days of climbing. The six hour drive to Shelf made for a long Thursday to cap off a long, whirlwind weekend. I was very happy to crawl into my sleeping bag at Shelf Road and sleep for a solid 7 hours and then enjoy a relaxing and fun weekend of sport climbing on Shelf's fine limestone walls. I climbed well and onsighted a number of new-to-me 5.11s and, on the last route of the trip, sent a new-to-me 5.12a route called Helter Skelter. So the weekend ended on a fine note and capped a really cool, inspiring and rewarding week. Life is good. No, make that great.


Keith giving the finger to The Gym Arete Direct (5.12c) at Shelf Road.


Nat getting it done on "Pi" (5.12a)


Keith getting his early morning workout on "Tits Up" (5.12b)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Taos Up and Over 10k 2012 Race

Taos Up and Over 10k
8/25/2012
6.2 miles
2,600' vertical
1:02:48
Third overall, second in 30-39 AG [full results]

The Taos Up and Over 10k race is in it's seventh year now and has gained quite a bit in popularity. The last time I ran the race was in 2008 when there were 41 total runners and I ran for third place in 1:04:05. This year there were 212 runners (I was told by one of the race officials but haven't yet seen the results to verify). Clearly the race has grown and for good reason--it's a fun summer morning race with a nice, relaxed mountain atmosphere with plenty of opportunity to chill out at the ski lodge after the race. This year there was even a bouncy house. (For the kids, not the runners!).

The turnout from Los Alamos runners this year was excellent. There must have been at least ten of us from Los Alamos, including the female winner, Petra McDowell.

I hadn't been planning on running the race this year but I recently I had been feeling very good with my hill training at Pajarito Mountain and had, just a couple weeks prior, reached a hard-fought goal of mine to run sub-30 minutes up a local trail called Mitchell Trail where I ran 29:59:59, seriously!

So on Tuesday of last week I signed up for the race with my only goal being to beat my previous time. I knew that would be tough because I was running well in 2008 but I knew I'd been running and training hard recently so it was certainly doable. I looked at my race report from the 2008 TUAO and knew I had reached the top of the 2,600' climb in 43:52 so I hoped to do that climb in 42 to 43 minutes this year. I ended up reaching the top in 43:27, power hiking much of the ascent, even passing others that were "running". When I hit the top the lady said, "you're four minutes behind the leader" and asked if I wanted any water. I said, "No thanks." I had purposefully ran without my hand bottle and didn't stop for water at any of the four aid stations along the mountain. I just crested the top, took my shirt off and started running hard downhill.

The descent is brutally steep in a few spots between quite runnable jeep roads. At one point we ran down a ski run for a bit. Loose and steep. I wanted to fully open up my stride the entire way but it was so steep it wasn't possible--I had to keep myself in check. As we got lower on the mountain I started looking over my shoulder as I felt like I was slowing up. But a few quick glances at my GPS watch showed I was still running between 5:30/mile and 6:10/mile. I was gaining on the runner in front of me and working hard to close the gap but it was not to be. The runner in front of me crossed the finish line about 20 seconds in front of me. I saw Allison near the finish line and strode hard to look good for the camera. I glanced at my watch and was pumped to see I had beat my previous time by 1:17. Success!

The race is a fun but very difficult 10k. The ascent burns my lungs big time while the steep descent really tests my quads and knees. A day later and my quads are very tender. My right heel is bruised too. I'll have to take a couple days off to let the heel heal. Still, it was worth it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rewarding Day in the Crestones - The Prow & Ellingwood Ledges Linkup

Crestone Needle sunrise.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

Last Friday was one of those days. One of those days that just flow. No worries, no troubles, no doubts--just pure, unadulterated fun and satisfaction. Maybe it meant more to me because I'd been thinking about this day for many years since hearing about Homie and Bill's 2003 linkup of these two routes. Thinking about how challenging, yet rewarding, it would be if it all worked out. And work out it did.

Friday morning at 3:00am was our wake-up. After some bananas, yogurt and some coffee, Nat and I started up the dirt road leading to the South Colony Lakes at 3:45am. Our plan for the day was to tackle the two Sangres classic fifth-class routes: The Prow of Kit Carson Peak (5.8) and the Ellingwood Ledges of Crestone Needle (5.7). It would be a long day consisting of about 15 miles and 8,100' vertical feet of ascent, all told. I'd climbed both routes three times each. All my experiences on the Prow were very nice and straight forward but I had only managed one dry climb of the Ellingwood Ledges route with my first two climbs of the route in snow and then in rain.

Nat is a young fella and had only climbed three 14ers to this point and had not been on either route. But I knew he was a fit hombre and certainly possessed the climbing skills necessary for soloing these two routes. To keep things simple, pure and light, we left the ropes and protection at home. Knowing the rock on both routes was generally solid and the climbing moderate, I felt confident we'd be fine without the rope and could, therefore, just enjoy the movement and the climbing. To be sure, I certainly don't consider myself a soloist and have no intention of leaving my climbing ropes at home more in the future. But I realize there's a blurry line between fourth-class scrambling and low-fifth-class climbing and I feel good about climbing low-fifth-class climbing without a rope in the alpine environment. So don't worry, Dad, this soloing thing isn't a new phase for me!

We reached the old S. Colony 4WD TH around 4:40am. We wouldn't be running at all during the day but did plan to hike as swiftly as possible. It was still quite dark as we approached the saddle between Humboldt and the Bear's Playground and we could see a pair of headlamps at the base of the Ellingwood Ledges route on Crestone Needle. At 6am the light of the sunrise splashing on the Crestone group was gorgeous. We cruised through the grass and loose rocks of the Bear's Playground around 6:15am working to stay as high as possible on the north side of Spanish Creek Basin aiming to intersect the base of the Prow without losing much elevation. It appeared it was working well until we got cliffed-out at the eastern edge of Kit Carson's south gully.

Cliffed out in Spanish Creek Basin.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We were forced to descend a few hundred feet and then back up to the base of the Prow at 7:30am. There, we changed into our rock climbing shoes and set off up the Prow at 7:40am. In my previous three climbs of the route I had busted out right after the initial crux bulge but that always seemed really airy and a bit more difficult than the reported 5.6. This time I stayed straight up and only slightly left to stay on the face of the Prow. This was much more enjoyable and aesthetic. The first pitch of the route is the steepest, most challenging pitch and the subsequent pitches each back off in angle and difficulty a bit more than the previous pitch.

Nat on the third pitch of the Prow.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

The climbing was stellar and it was really nice to just keep on climbing without stopping to place gear or belay a partner. Nat and I had a blast ticking off each pitch with the occasional stop to catch our breath. After all, we were climbing at or above 13,000'.

High on the Prow.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

The climbing cruised by and by 9:00am we were on the summit of Kit Carson celebrating an exhilarating climb by eating our sandwiches.

We didn't linger on the summit long as we were both excited to cruise over to the Ellingwood Ledges. We descended many hundred feet down KC's standard route before scrambling back up to the summit of Columbia Point. We signed the register and continued east over the summit of Kitty Kat Carson before finding a nicely cairned traversing trail below the summit of Obstruction Peak en route to the Bear's Playground again.

From the Bear's Playground we found a nice shortcut gully that led us directly down to the upper South Colony Lakes basin. The gully involved hundreds of feet of scree skiing and went fast and smooth. By 11:00am we were lunching at the base of the direct start to the Ellingwood Ledges route. The weather was holding perfectly and we were confident we'd be on the summit of Crestone Needle in no more than a couple of hours.

We donned our rock shoes again and set off up the Ellingwood Ledges route at 11:15am. I'd never been on the direct start pitches of the route so it was exciting to be climbing some new terrain. After the first pitch I stayed straight in the corner system and found it to be a bit steep and spicey for the grade. Seeing that, Nat busted out left and did some climbing on the left edge of the corner system while I stayed in the corner system, more or less. We met back up again at the top of the direct start pitches below the hundreds of feet of fourth class climbing above.

The first pitch of the direct start to the Ellingwood Ledges.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We switched back into our more comfortable trail running shoes for the rest of the route up to the base of the 5.7 crux pitch just below the summit. The views were incredible, the scrambling engaging and the weather perfect. It was great to be right there, right then.

A touch of fifth-class action. McKayla was not impressed.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We reached the base of the crux 5.7 pitch at 12:30pm and again put on our rock climbing shoes for the next bit of climbing. The crux moves involve climbing through a bulge in a small dihedral. A nice crack in the corner serves up nice jamming and with some good stemming we both snaked our way through the crux without trouble.

Nat busts through the crux moves.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

At the top of the pitch we changed back into our trail running shoes one last time for the last hundred feet or so of scrambling to the summit. We popped out on the summit at 1:00pm to find we had the summit to ourselves. We finished off our remaining food while taking in the view of all the terrain we had covered. It's an impressive view.

Stoked on Crestone Needle's summit.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We made good time down the Needle's standard south face route down to Broken Hand Pass and then down to lower South Colony Lake where we enjoyed about 45 minutes of swimming and chilling out before getting back on the trail and finishing off the hike back to the car. About a mile from the car we decided it would be easier (and certainly faster) to run instead of walk so we did our only running of the day for the last mile getting back to the trailhead just before 4:30pm.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grand Mesa 50 Mile 2012

2012 Grand Mesa 50 Mile report
Saturday, July 28th, 2012
Cloudy, cool weather all day
8:33:21
~5,000' elevation gain
4th overall, 3rd male

Driving up to Grand Mesa from Los Alamos, I thought about the last time I had run a 50 mile race. I was surprised to realize it had been nearly 14 months since I ran the 2011 Pocatello 50 miler where I had run a really good race (for me) going sub-10 for 50 miles and finishing the ~52 mile course in 10:11. But then I battled some IT band issues later in 2011 and finished the year with a couple of 50k races. Now, heading into a new race for me, I was excited to run a 50 miler again and I felt good. I hadn't had quite all the training I'd hoped for (my biggest week being a 67 mile week three weeks out) due to a bruised ball of my left foot but I had run well in training and was ready to run hard at Grand Mesa.

Also, this was the first race in a while that my Mom was able to accompany me to and I was really happy about that. We've had some great times traveling and camping together for races and she's a great runner crew now. Allison, Mom and I left Los Alamos around noon on Friday for the seven hour drive to the Grand Mesa area. None of us had ever been there before so we were looking forward to some new scenery. En route, we stopped at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP since Allison nor Mom and had been there before. It's a special and impressive place. A rain storm had just rolled through and that would continue to be the theme for the rest of the day and night.

When we finally got to our camp on Grand Mesa around 9:30pm, it was very foggy and drizzling. We didn't have a view of the area at all and I couldn't wait to see it in the daylight the next day. We threw up our tents quick and hit the sack to awake at 3:45am.

When we awoke it was, of course, still very dark but also still quite overcast and about 45 degrees. I ate a banana and a greek yogurt all washed down with a big cup of coffee to get the morning juices flowing. We drove down to the start/finish area at the Grand Mesa Lodge around 4:30am so I could check in. Things were quite damp and cool so I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt on over my first-ever singlet, a bright orange RaceReady singlet. I was wearing some new RaceReady shorts and my trusty Saucony Peregrine shoes with Smartwool toe socks. I'd start with two hand bottles of water and one 5oz flask of vanilla EFS liquid shot. Also, the 5am start dictated the use of a headlamp for the first 45 minutes or so. I hadn't changed out my batteries in a while so once we started running at 5:02am, I ran pretty conservatively for the first 30 minutes because my light was so dim and there were some seriously gnarly rock water bars that stuck straight up about 6-8 inches in many places along the trail.

The first part of the course is a big 11.5 mile loop heading east from the start line. It's entirely all single track through some seriously beautiful and rugged terrain leading to an exposed ridge and the course's highpoint of ~11,200'. At about three miles into it I met a runner named Andrew running his first 50 miler. We chatted for a bit before I noticed a group of four of five headlamps coming back towards us. I said to them, "uh-oh, this doesn't look good fellas." None of us had seen a trail marker for quite some time and we all started second-guessing ourselves. Once that shadow of doubt creeps in your head, it builds. So we talked about it for a minute or two before all deciding we'd missed a turn and we started back west until a big group of runners came up to us and helped assure us all that we were on course. So we turned around and kept on going. We probably lost only five or six minutes with the little shenanigans.

The sky was light now and we were climbing in earnest to the cool spiny ridge. I passed a few runners and was feeling good. The sky was overcast and the air was crisp--perfect running temperatures. I reached the highpoint on the ridge as the sun peeked above the horizon but below the cloud deck casting a beautiful orange light on the surrounding trees and lakes. It was gorgeous. I wanted to look around more but the ridge was technical, rocky trail running so I focused on my feet. Along the ridge I caught up to another runner and watched as he came to an intersection and wondered if we should turn onto a more faint trail. I was convinced we stay on the main trail so I kept going after a brief conversation with him. More technical single-track descended back towards the start/finish line, reaching the line at 7:15am. It was a quick change here swapping my two hand bottles for two new ones, filled with water, and a new 5oz flask of EFS liquid shot. Allison and Mom were great crew here and I was out fast with my iPod.

The next section of the course was a very runnable, rolling dirt road/4WD road section for about 10 miles. Since I had two hand bottles I was able to skip the intermediate aid station and get into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 22 around 8:45am.

At Flowing Park, I again swapped out for two new hand bottles of water and a new 5oz flask of EFS.

Going into the next section of the course, a stellar, runnable 16 mile loop I decided i wasn't drinking that much water and could go with one hand bottle so I stashed one in a bush by the trail that I'd return to after the loop out to Indian Point.

The running on this loop was spectacular. I could envision it being very hot in the full sun because there are few treed sections amongst the open meadow running but we had cloud cover still, thankfully. I was running behind Melanie Fryar for many miles during this loop until around mile 30 she picked it up and left me behind for good. It was inspiring to see her bounding along, effortless-looking, and then cranking up her pace even more. I passed a couple of guys (a runner with a pacer) along this section and would later meet the pacer, a super nice guy named Kendrick. I thought the Indian Point aid station was around mile 30 but didn't get to it until roughly mile 32 and I was completely out of water. I drank 8oz or so and filled up my bottle. I also snagged three tasty green grapes--the only real food, and only aid station food, I'd eat all day.

More nice single track along the relatively flat, but rocky, mesa trail took me back into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 38 around 11:45am, I think. I was well ahead of my predicted splits and still feeling pretty good. Here, Allison and Mom suggested I may be in fourth place but none of us was sure because all 60k, 50 mile and 100 milers started at the same time. Still, I was inspired by this thought and even more so by the thought that if I ran well to the finish I could finish under 9 hours. As I left the aid station with a single hand bottle and two gels, I noticed another runner coming up behind me. The next two miles of running were on a gently uphill, smooth dirt road. I decided I'd do my best to run it all and try to gain some distance on the runner behind me. I felt quite good and cranked as best I could and noticed I did put some distance on the runner behind me. I wanted badly to not lose a position between here and the finish. I ended up walking some short hills in the final 12 miles but overall I ran well for much of it. I hit the final dirt road leading up the steep hill towards the finish and ran about half of it before succumbing to walking the upper half. As it leveled out I was able to run again and, just as it started to hail a bit, I found myself cruising into the finish.

This was a great run for me. Going into it I had decided my stomach bothered me in 50 milers because I ate and drank too much. In my training I figured out I didn't need as much as was suggested by most. My fueling for the entire race consisted of plain water in hand bottles, 14oz of EFS liquid shot, two Vi Endurance gels and three green grapes. My stomach felt reasonable and I never felt like I was bonking. I ran hard and left it all out on the course. I'm certainly a level below the elite ultrarunners (the winner of GM50 finished an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me) but feel quite satisfied with my racing considering I average 30 to 40 miles per week. I am stoked and I'd definitely run the GM50 again.

The next day we had plans to climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument but it rained on us at camp at the monument most of the night including at 4am when we awoke to head out for the climb. But we enjoyed some easy hiking in the monument Sunday morning before making the drive home to Los Alamos. We'll be back to climb Independence Monument.