Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Mexico

My parents moved to Rio Rancho New Mexico a few months ago (just north of Albuquerque).  My wife, brother, and I decided to drive down and spend New Years with them.  It's usually a few degrees warmer there than in Colorado Springs so I was looking forward to doing some runs in slighty more pleasurable temperatures. 

We arrived late Wed. night and spent most of Thursday morning playing Wii (my parent's have more video game systems than I do).  Around 1:00pm I got motivated to get outside and asked my parents where I should go.  The good thing about having adventerous and active parents is that they've already explored miles and miles of trails near their house.  They told me about Cibola National Forest that was about 10 minutes away.  I reached the trailhead and could see the Sandia mountain range in the distance.  The trail started going through the desert and I got too hot after about a mile.  I stopped and took off my pants, rolled them up, and bungeed them to my pack.  The temperature was perfect with just my shorts.  After two miles or so the trail joined up with a road and I travelled along that for about a mile before taking another trail towards the mountains.  The trail followed a narrow ravine and once it went beyond the reach of the sun it started looking more like home.  The snow was a few inches deep and the temperature dropped significantly.  I was still good in my shorts. It got pretty steep and narrow through the trees and I wasn't able to run as much as I would have liked.  I hiked and ran for about 30 mintes before I decided that I better head back before the sun went down.  I was able to decend much faster than I went up and I found myself back at the road in no time.  I traveled along the road for a couple of miles before I realized that my pack was light.  My pants had come out.  Shit.  I stopped and contemplated the cost of the pants and if it was worth it to go back and look for them.  It was.  I turned around and made my way back to the trail that headed up into the hills.  I hiked/ran for about 20 minutes before I found my pants laying by the side of the trail.  I tied them around my waste and decended once again.  I rejoined the road and headed back to toward the car.  I covered 7.25 miles.  It wasn't as long as I would have liked and I was frustrated with having to back-track to retreive my pants but it was a good run. 

Over the past two weeks I've run in the trails north of Colorado Springs, the beach of Southern California, back in Colorado Springs for a few days (and runs), and the desert and hills of New Mexico.  Not a bad end to my running year.  Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my most ambitious running year yet.  Happy New Years to all and a happy running 2010.   

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I arrived in L.A. yesterday for a week of work.  I didn't have time to get to the beach after working for a few hours and then buying groceries to stock my hotel room.  Today I left work a little early, stopped by the hotel to get my running clothes, and headed straight to the beach.  I had never been to southern California before.  70 degrees outside towards the end of December is definitely more pleasant than the weather we've been having in Colorado lately.

I laced up my shoes and headed up the beach.  With the ocean breeze the weather was perfect for running.  I don't feel as "at home" running on the beach as I do running in the Colorado Rockies but it's sure a close second.  Definitely calming.  Today was an especially stressful day at work but after a few minutes running along the ocean I totally forgot I even had a job (ah, wouldn't that be nice).

I finished the run, sat on the hood of my rental car, and watched the remainder of the sunset.  My running shoes are sitting in the corner of my hotel room right now covered half in the red soil of the Colorado Rockies and half in southern California beach sand.  If running shoes could smile they'd be doing it from ear to ear.  I sure am.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Something to be thankful for

After the end of October in Colorado I pretty much give up being able to run comfortably outdoors without extensive winter gear.  Every once in a while the temperature will creep into the 50s but those are rare days.  Today was something even more rare.  The high was 68 degrees.  68 degrees at the end of November!  I did an easy 8 mile run north of Colorado Springs into the Air Force Academy--no shirt the whole time--at the end of November!  It was great.     

Monday, November 23, 2009

3 hours and 15 minutes of misery, but I made it

It was time for my first relatively long run since the marathon about a month ago.  The weather was supposed to be amazing (mid-50s in November doesn't happen too often in Colorado) so I decided to head back up to Gold Camp Road.  The road was covered in snow pack in areas but for the most part it was clear and dry. 

At the beginning of the run it was around 50 degrees.  With the cool mountain breeze this was just warm enough to work up a good sweat in the sun and have that sweat turn into an icy chill in the shade.  Something just wasn't right from the get go.  Earlier in the day I had attended a funeral for a former co-worker so my mental state wasn't ideal.  Physically I just couldn't get going.  My legs felt like lead weights from the first step to the end of the run.  I was struggling the entire time whether I was going uphill or down.  My hamstrings were tights and this caused my upper abs to over-compensate and they fatigued quickly.  I couldn't find my usual form.

My goal was to run for 3 hours and 15 minutes.  I approached my wife in the car around 2 hours and 45 minutes into the run.  While filling up my water bottle she asked, "How's it going?"  I responded, "Miserable.  I'm freezing and my legs are destroyed."   "Maybe it's time to be done?" she offered.  I thought about it.  For the past hour or so I'd been thinking about it.  I knew if I quit before my desired time that I'd regret it.  I knew it would destroy my confidence and eat away at me before my next run.  I also knew that, if I had any chance at completing an ultra, I had to get the word "quit" out of my vocabulary.  I had to shift my definiton of discomfort; I had to learn to block out the messages that my body was sending me telling me it was time to throw in the towel and I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.  I walked for a few minutes and then started to run again.  I finished the 3 hours and 15 minutes covering around 16 miles (I don't have my Garmin in front of me for the exact distance).  Considering the elevation, my physical and mental state, and the fact that I walked for a little bit, a 12:00 average pace wasn't so terrible.  But, it was far worse than where I needed to be (or what I was normally capable of).

It was definitely one of the top 5 worst runs I've ever had.  I don't think I fueled well enough that morning (I had a small breakfast and then only ate a bag of chips before I started the run around noon, I don't know what I was thinking?).  My mental state wasn't great.  My legs didn't want to cooperate.  Looking back it was a terrible run for building base mileage or covering terrain.  But, for continuing on despite every inch of my body telling me to stop, it was a perfect test (and success).


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Series III

I came down with a cold immediately following the marathon. The cold, combined with the soreness in my legs, kept me from running for two weeks following the race. I spent about 1.5 days after the race sitting around icing my sore ankle and soaking in the experience of what happened on race day. After that, I was pissed. Pissed that I did so poorly. Pissed that I really hadn’t prepared enough (despite convincing myself that I had). Pissed that my legs hurt so bad (both during the race and afterwards). It was then, when the sense of defeat gave way to anger, that I searched the internet for another marathon—I had to redeem myself. I had to truly conquer the distance. Of course, living in Colorado meant that the Denver marathon towards the end of October was the last marathon of the season. There wasn’t another local 26.2 until the following spring. The next closest race was in Arizona but with the holidays coming up I didn’t have enough time off of work to travel for running. Redemption would have to wait. But, it was time to get back on the trail.

I visited the website for the Pikes Peak Road Running Club and noticed that the 3rd race of their Fall Series was the following day. I hadn’t run any previous races in the series because I was focused on the marathon and the distances of the races were too short to fit into my training. The 6 miles of trail running for race number 3 would be a perfect first post-marathon run.

The race began with one lap around the track of a middle-school and then veered onto the trails of Ute Valley Park. Ute Valley Park is a section of open space that has miles of trails with steep inclines covered in rocks and roots. After the first mile on the trail the pain in my legs let me know that they weren’t fully healed from the marathon. No problem, my I.T. band issues had gotten me used to running with pain. The course went onto single-track at mile 1.5 or so and didn’t get off for a mile or two. This time was frustrating as I got stuck to far back in the pack and the pace was much slower than I would have liked. Passing was impossible and I only gained one spot when the runner directly in front of me caught his foot on a tree root and tumbled to the ground (I stopped to help him up before continuing…in front of him).

By the time the course was again wide enough for passing it was incredibly steep and made doing so nearly impossible. I was now in the last 1/3 of the race and I was exhausted. The steep inclines and the technical terrain had taken its toll on my not fully recovered body and mind. I walked the inclines and ran when I could. I finished the race with a time of almost exactly 1 hour. Over 6 miles my average pace was 10:00—much slower than I could normally run but for the first run after the marathon it served its purpose. It got me back on the trail and pushed me harder than I probably would have otherwise pushed myself. Time to get back in the game.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

First Marathon

It was time. After all the pain and the joy of training it was time to run my first marathon. I awoke the morning of the race before the alarm clock in my hotel room went off. I had barely slept 3 or 4 hours the night before—I was incredibly nervous. Not an anxious nervous but the kind of nervous where millions of different scenarios fly through your head and you can’t silence them no matter how hard you try. But I was awake for good now. And, surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous at all. I gathered the food that I would eat for breakfast, grabbed my Mp3 player and laid on the floor. I ate and listened to music with my eyes closed, focusing on the task ahead. It’s a good thing that I took this time to mentally prepare for the upcoming pain because there was a lot of it. Much more than I ever anticipated.

About an hour later I walked down the hallway of the hotel to help my mom carry her things from her room. I passed another runner in the hallway and he spotted the timing device wish I had already installed around the laces of my shoes, “good luck” he offered. “You too.” I returned. The three of us, my wife, my mom, and I loaded the car and made our way to the race. We sat in the car in the parking lot and watched other runners prepare themselves. They stretched and flailed their arms about. They ate and hydrated and put on and took off layers of clothing. I drank plenty of fluids and ate some energy goo (it was absolutely disgusting but I was getting used to it). I put on my heart rate monitor and taped my nipples (this causes my wife to chuckle every time). Finally, about 15 minutes before race was to begin we made our way to the starting chute. I took off my sweatshirt and pants and handed them to my wife. I said goodbye to my mom and my wife gave me her regular inspirational one-liner, “Run like the wind.”

I stood in the crowded chute freezing. Temperatures were in the 30’s but I had learned by now that being cold in the beginning of the race was much better than being too hot in the end. The other runners made small-talk with each other and wished each other good luck. I stood in silence keeping myself calm and promising myself that I would finish no matter what. Finally the gun went off and we all walked quickly to the starting line waiting for enough space to develop to allow us to assume our usual running form.

The first few miles of the race were a struggle. I was incredibly cold and having a tough time pacing myself. I would look down at my Garmin and realize that I was running a 7:30 pace . Much faster than the 9:00-9:30 that I wanted to be running. I slowed myself down only to find myself running faster again a few minutes later. My knee started to hurt sometime in the 2nd mile—that wasn’t a good sign. The course passed a bank around the 1 hour mark and the sign revealed that the temperature had now climbed to 40 degrees; it was still freezing.

I stopped at every water station and drank as much Gatorade and water as I could. I tried not to drink too much. I was terrified of over-hydrating more than under-hydrating. At mile 7 they handed out goo. I got a strawberry-banana flavor and it was horrendous. At the next water station I drank just to get the taste out of my mouth. My pace had slowed now, I was running almost exactly what I wanted to finish at my goal of 4 hours. But, my legs were burning. Both knees and one ankle sent shockwaves of pain through my entire body with every step. When I finally reached the 13.1 mile marker I asked myself, “can I do twice of what I just did?” In reality, I wasn’t sure. I was in nowhere as good of shape as I was at the finish of my last half marathon. Running another 13.1 miles seemed nearly impossible. Little did I know that the struggle had yet to begin.

Things deteriorated rapidly. The sun was out now but the temperature had quickly soared past the comfortable range and was now around 80 degrees (nearly 20 degrees hotter than the average for that time of year). I drank as much as I absolutely could without vomiting but it still wasn’t enough. I was lightheaded and tired. My legs felt like lead weights—lead weights of pain. I fought to maintain even a 12:00 pace. Finishing in 4 hours was out of the question. I shifted my mental focus to merely crossing the finish line—even that would require all that I had.
As the miles increased the course veered out of downtown and into neighborhoods. People sat in the street in front of their houses watching the runners. Some awesome spectators setup their own water stands in between official water stations. I grabbed a cup from such a stand. I looked inside before I drank and there was dirt floating in the water (at least I hoped it was dirt). I didn’t care. I was dying. I chugged away. As we turned onto another residential street the air filled with the smell of cooking bacon. Someone was making breakfast. I thought about stopping. Ending the race. Putting an end to the pain and knocking on doors until I found the house producing the aroma and begging them for some bacon. God I wanted some bacon.

Every time I entered an aid station I would slow to a walk to get my fluids and drink them. Beginning to run after walking caused much more pain than maintaining a running pace. I stopped slowing to a walk at the stations and grabbed fluid on the run. I spilled the cold liquids all over myself but it was a welcome relief in the 80 degree heat. I battled on like this for about 10 miles. Fighting the pain. Fighting the light-headedness and the heat. Fighting the incredible, incredible urge to walk. I couldn’t walk. It wasn’t part of who I was. There was no way I was going to walk. But then, around mile 24.5, so close to the finish, that’s exactly what I did. I gave it everything I had but I just could not, any longer, put one foot in front of the other rapidly enough to be considered running.

Of course, so close to the finish line, many more spectators lined the streets cheering on the runners. It was humiliating to have to walk now—after running 24.5 miles of a 26.2 mile race. A runner with whom I had been playing leap frog all race passed me as I walked. He slowed and put his hand on my back, “C’mon man…almost there.” He urged me to run. I tried but couldn’t. I had nothing.

The heat was beating down on me. I pulled up my sleeves and tugged on the front of my shirt to cause some airflow. I cringed in pain with every step wondering if I was going to crumble on the pavement or if I was going to make it another few feet. I made it a few more feet. And then a few more. A few more. Even though the finish was still about .75 miles away I could now see it through gaps in the buildings. “Fuck this” I thought, “I’m not walking across the finish line.” I leaned forward and picked up my knees trying to force my legs to start running again. They screamed and my eyes welled up from the pain. I started hobbling. The hobble turned into a choppy run. That was all I was capable of at this point but it was good enough for me. I choppily approached the finish line and saw my wife taking pictures. My mom cheered and gave me a high five as I passed. My in-laws had driven up to surprise me and they cheered as I crossed the finish line.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

20 Miles of Awesome

After taking some time to recover from the last long-run disaster it was time for another (hopefully better) long one. My wife suggested that she could come with me and read in the car while I ran (I think she was worried after the temperature issues I had before). I thought about what locations would allow me to run 20 miles and allow her to be involved. I had hoped that we would’ve had enough time to go camping over this weekend but it didn’t happen. Maybe a day in the mountains would be the next best thing? I decided that I’d run on Gold Camp Road and she could be my crew. Gold Camp Road is an old mining road that goes from Colorado Springs, CO to Cripple Creek, CO. I had travelled the road hundreds of times in a truck and, in my mind, the road was very steep in the beginning and then leveled off after a few miles.

There was a low cloud cover in Colorado Springs that morning and as we travelled up the steep road we eventually broke through and had amazing views looking down on the clouds from above. We arrived at the point where I thought the road leveled off and I put on my gear to get ready for the run. It was still early in the morning, that combined with the elevation produced temperatures in the 30s. Luckily, I had all my winter running gear in my bag.

We had a plan. She would drive ahead 5 miles and I would catch up. That would provide her about 1 hour of reading time in between pit stops. This turned out to be perfect. Not having to carry all my gear was a huge relief and allowed me time and energy to take in the surroundings. As it turned out, the road was far from level. I endured extreme elevations changes in both directions over the first 5 miles but I hardly noticed. I loved the mountains, I grew up camping and fishing in them regularly. I felt so at ease, so at home, that I hardly even noticed that I was running. The ever-changing views gave me something to focus on other than the pain my legs were starting to produce. I caught up to the truck, drank some water and continued on.

I continued to knock off the miles and I felt better than I had for any previous long run. Other than a few other cars, mostly filled with people taking pictures of the aspen trees changing for the fall, we hardly encountered anyone. That mountain road turned out to be better, in every way, than any track, trail, or road that I had ever ran on. The views, the fresh air, the freedom, they all combined to provide me with a spiritual run.

I finished the last few miles of the run through the small mountain town of Victor, CO. A man stood on his porch sipping from his morning coffee that steamed into the mountain air. He greeted me with a lift of his cup. I politely returned a nod. To him I was just someone out for a morning jog. Little did he know that I was in the last mile of an epic 20 mile run that just months ago I never thought I’d be capable of.

This run in the mountains, in the cold, and the warm, the trees, the grass, the wildlife, the terrain...has re-fueled and intensified my desire to attempt an ultra-marathon.