Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weekend in the Mountains

     This last week Sara and I went our separate ways for some very different adventures.  She returned to the San Juan river, without me again, on her last trip guiding for Grand Canyon Youth before we leave.  In total, she got to do five trips this season. She feels like she learned a lot, and is thankful to continue to be involved with GCY.  Since Sara went down river, I went up river to Colorado for a race and a weekend of hanging out with Zeno.
Camping just below Mexican Hat

I left town Thursday evening after coaching Kids Run Flagstaff and Step Into Running.  I wanted to get a few hours of driving out of the way before making a big push early Friday to get to Idaho Springs/Echo Lake.  I ended up camping just below Mexican Hat under a very bright full moon.  I should have realized then that the wind that night was only a precursor for the rest of the trip.

Zeno and I got up early the next morning and drove up through Moab to I-70 and Grand Junction.  The Colorado River along I-70 is flowing very high right now and at times it felt like I was the one rafting, not Sara.  The bike path along the highway was underwater in many places and often the water was only feet from the interstate.  After the winter we had in Flagstaff it was nice to see that some places were still wet.
Looking across the valley to the next morning's ascent.

We got to Idaho Springs without incident then took the windy road that climbed up to Echo Lake.  I was hoping to find a spot in the campground at the start, but ended up camping a few miles up the road with a great view of the mountains.  Turns out the 13,000' mountain I was looking at all evening was the second peak I would skirt in the race the next morning.

My race was the Mt. Evans Ascent.  For some reason in February/March this race seemed like it would be a super-fun thing to run. Turns out it was not quite that.  Beautiful? Yes.  Epic? Definitely. Super-fun? NO!  The race runs from 10,600' Echo Lake up to 14,200', just below the Summit of Mt. Evans. It is the highest paved road in the country, and therefore the highest road race.  This year also promised to be a very competitive year on the men's side as many Pike's Peak veterans, ultra runners, and generally fast road guys all turned out.
Sara and I spending quality time together before a weekend apart. Photo by Jacque Povilaitis

Saturday morning I got up early, packed up camp, and drove the few miles to the start.  I quickly ran into Brian Folts, last year's winner.  He and I have gone back and forth in a few races so I was thinking I should be around him.  I also had not seen the course at all and the race director was warning of 40+ mph winds and 34 degree temps on top, so Brian, as a veteran of the race, was a good source of layering ideas.  I made a game-time decision and opted out of my Kahtoola singlet and into my Kahtoola t-shirt, which would be slightly warmer.  I also had gloves and a warm hat tucked into my shorts, just in case.

Right from the start of the race my legs felt bad, which is not a good sign when you still have 14.4 miles of the 14.5 remaining.  With the high altitude start and continuous climbing I knew that if I went into debt from the start I would never recover.  I immediately backed off a little with the hope that my legs would feel better a little later.  And they did. Around mile 3 or 4 (roughly 11,000') I started feeling a little better and could start reeling people in.  I was sitting around 10th at this point.  One guy started coming back to be a little, but Brian, who was ultimately who I wanted to catch, kept the same distance away from me no matter how much I picked it up.

Final strides in an all-out windblown shuffle
At this point in the race we had left tree-line far below and started to experience the high winds.  Every turn either gave us a tail wind, cross wind, or full on wind in the face.  I caught the one guy who was coming back to me and pulled away a little bit, but then he and another runner rejoined me at a water station.  At this point the wind was turning from an annoyance to a sadistic breeze that was in a twisted cabal with the elevation to send me tumbling down the mountain.  So I decided to work with the other guys who had just caught me.  Two of us started trading leads every 20-40 seconds. The third guy sat there and did nothing (fortunately he blew up after hammering a short downhill and finished 20 spots back. Next time he should help out!).  This section, appx miles 6-9, were made much easier by the trading leads.

At about 12,000' we had a longer descent, which at this point I hated because it only meant we had to regain altitude, before climbing one of the steepest sections.  This is where my race performance became inversely proportional to elevation gained.  Above 12,600' the road began switch-backing repeatedly.  Each switch back either had a ferocious headwind or a tailwind shoving me towards Denver.  I think each direction my pace varied 2-3 minutes per mile.  To make matters worse my brain had ceased function too well so my racing instincts took over.  That meant that in each tailwind I purposely picked it up, which led to me being more out of breath by the time I turned in to the wall of wind. My focus switched from catching the next guy to simply trying to keep running.
With Ian and Emily at the top of Mt Evans.

Finally I could see the finish, and the last straightaway was with the wind so I looked like I finished faster than I was capable of running at the point.  As I was grabbing my warm clothes I ran into Jeffrey Eggleston, my pre-race favorite and former Flagstaffian, and he asked me if I won.  I laughed, and then realized that meant he couldn't have been top three or he would have known.  At that point I began to understand just how competitive the field was.  When a 2:11 marathoner, and good climber, finishes 8th it's a fairly deep field.  My 12th didn't feel as bad then.

I donned my warm stuff and then quickly went up to the summit of Mt Evans before I lost all motivation.  I then re-joined fellow Flagstaff runner Ian Torrence and Emily Harrison for another trek to the blustery summit before catching a ride back down to the start and the car.

Despite feeling miserable for a large section of the race I would go back and run it again.  I definitely need more hill work, and more hill work above 12,000' before I want to try again, but all-in-all I am glad I ran it.  I doubt I will ever run a road race with better views.
Playing with the Kahtoola Microspikes below Jones Pass

After the race I drove over to Jones Pass, which is on the CDT.  Sara and I had hiked through this area last year, and I wanted to see it again.  The bowl was completely snowpacked so I got to use my microspikes, and, because I had them, used my RnR 22 Snowshoes, although I was done running for the day.  Returning to portions of the CDT was interesting.  Not having Sara with me didn't feel right, because we had done spent every minute of the hike together and I think part of me recognized that anything close to the CDT should be shared with her.  It was also great to be back, though.  I love being up high and despite Sara not being there it was great to be able to tromp around in the snow above 12,000' again.
The camp guard dog?

I set up camp in a snowstorm below Grays Peak with the hope of hiking both Grays and Torreys Peaks on Sunday.  These are two 14ers we missed on the trail since we resupplied in Silverthorne rather than Breckenridge.  There was still a ton of snow, especially on Torreys, and half the people hiking were carrying skis for the ride down.  Zeno did great with all the elevation.  He still wanted to chase another dog above 14,000', but was unsure of what to do with the mountain goats.  I think the white fur that was fuzzier than his confused him.  From the top of the peaks I could look East to Mt. Evans, and then every other direction to see the Divide and places Sara and I hiked.  Despite trying not to freeze with the 16 degree windchill I tried to recognize as many peaks and passes as possible.  I gave up at three since everything has now run together in my head.

The rest of the afternoon and evening I spent driving around Dillon/Silverthorne looking for a place to camp.  After getting confused by the Keystone Resort, realizing no road was passable in the still-open-for-skiing Arapahoe Basin, and finding two campgrounds on my map to be non-existent, I opted for a motel room so I could shower and prep to show Sea Level Sucks apparel to a few places on my Monday drive back.

Despite taking the wrong road out of Silverthorne and 60+ mph winds while driving back across the Reservation, I made it home in good time on Monday.  I was also able to talk with Wilderness Sports in Dillon, Leadville Outdoors in Leadville, and Backcountry Experience in Durango.  Hopefully you can find Sea Level Sucks apparel in these stores shortly!

Top of Torreys Peak with Grays in the background.

Spending the weekend in the mountains made me very excited to get back on the CDT.  Based on the snow still in the Rockies, the Wind Rivers will still be snow-packed when we begin in two weeks.  Despite being more challenging, I can't wait.  We will be leaving Flag on July 2nd, and hopefully getting back on trail July 5th.  Only a couple more weeks.

Now on to packing!

Happy Trails.


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