On Self-Powered Peak Bagging

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finish_tour_14er.jpgShortly after finishing up 34 days of bagging some high peaks, self-powered. 

Since completing my own Tour 14er, where I rode to, then summited the 58 (by my count) Colorado mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, I've started to get a fair bit of correspondence from people telling me that they're inspired by what I've (and others) have done. They think to themselves: Boy howdy: I own a bike and there's a group of mountains nearby that have that siren-like song attracting me to climb them - why not use my bike to ride to all of those mountains, then summit: fair means and self-supported?

Then they ask me, "So well: what are the details? How do you pull this off?" 

Dirty 30 2015 Report

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After crossing the finish line, letting out a long slow exhale, a big smile  - and then a little cry to myself in the corner of the parking lot: my 2015 Dirty 30 was in the bag @ 5:50:33. Relief. 

The days leading up to the race were a little less than ideal: I caught a cold! Right when the weather relented from the weeks of rain, rain, rain. I missed a few runs I wanted to do, and exchanged them for very easy sessions of spinning on the bike indoors, or doing nothing at all. Better to let the cold pass, than to potentially make things worse.  A bit too sheer of a drop off for tapering for my tastes, but it's what I was given. Sometimes it's hard to remember that I have years of base building, I've been relatively injury free all year - save a small hamstring strain I've consciously worked to prevent in the future, and I've been PR'ing all over the place. Time to line up! 

The morning of the race started for me at 3:00am. Awake, I rode my bike to C's, and she drove us to the fairgrounds parking lot, where I caught the shuttle to the start, while she slumbered in the back of the Sub for a few more hours before her own 12 mile race. Waking up four hours before the race seemed less than ideal, but it gave me plenty of time to drink coffee and graze the food I brought: raw cashews, dates, oranges and bananas; without being overly caffeinated or giving myself cramps during the race itself. 

The starting area was just simply cold. After getting my number, there really wasn't anything to do for the next hour, except be a bit miserable around a lot of people I didn't know, and waffle on what to wear. My instinct was to wear little else except my running shorts, socks and running shoes - this is a race! Other people had alternative ideas and were wearing more conservative clothing options, packing additional food and clothes, and making up their drop bags for the halfway aid station. I elected to do nothing else except bring along some gels, my GPS (which I found out afterwards hadn't worked), and a water bottle.

When the five minute warning came, and I wandered to the starting line, did a half-hearted warmup jog, then lined up with the 4 - 6 hour finishing hopefuls that made up the first heat. 6 hours was at the more aggressive side of my time goals, but what the heck. I slotted in somewhat in the back, knowing full well that there was going to be those who would gun for the hole shot - the start begins on a wide dirt road, but after a quarter of a mile goes into single track. In past runnings of this race, this entrance into the single track causes a terrible plug of people needing to walk up the first hill having to contest with dozens of people in front blocking easy access to go faster. I just anticipated this happening, so when it did, I was calm. I felt absolutely no nervousness. The start was a calm affair - nothing like the hecticness of a cyclocross race, where gunning for the hole shot is almost mandatory, the consequences of not getting through in time are a wasted (and expensive!) race, the chances you'll get through are as low as the chances you'll crash out are high. 

Looking back at just the start of the race and if I was to be critical of myself, I would say that I'm not much of a runner - that's my built-in fixed believe that may or may not have real-world truth, so my conservative nature here is thinking that I couldn't really run the course. I kept remembering the shambles of my pre-run, and how much I had to walk and how easy that terrain was. And I'm proud to be a cyclist. 

But surprisingly, my legs felt great. I can't even remember how rested and ready to go these pups have been in the last year. If I needed a well-timed shot of confidence, well that was it: I successfully peaked! When the single track hill finally relented to a double track descent, I switched modes immediately from, "highly conservative" to, "Run! Run! Run!" and gave my inner governor the green light to use all the downhill running skills I've amassed in the last year and a half. And then, I just kept running. And you know what? It was all just mindless fun.  

Aid station #1 came quickly enough and was the first time I stopped moving for more than a second. The legs still were giving good sensations, so I just kept going after nibbling on some gels. I dare say I was racing, though. What I found myself doing, unaccustomed to foot races, was simply finding someone that had a comfortable pace for me, and shadowing them. Hard. This is a nervous experience, since half the time you want to go faster, but I just tempered my impatience and remembered that there's hours of trail to cover and plenty of time to accelerate. Other than having someone set the pace, I just simply kept my mind clear, monitored my breathing, and kept highly aware of my footing. 

After a short while, I found myself slotted right in the back of Laura Tabor - last year's women's winner, and 8th overall @ 5:49:44. In comparing her and I, you really couldn't find two different running styles or body types: she's short and stocky; I'm lean and tall. She's a grizzled veteran, I'm a newbie that thinks he can run. I knew Tabor had an incredible amount of experience and success. If anyone knows how to pace themselves for a race and this race specifically, it's this women. I also knew she was a much better racer than I was  and passing her was certainly a fool's errand for me.

So, I didn't. I utilized her to set my pace and learn from her. What I gathered in short time is that she's an incredible competitor. Her pace was solid, if not a little conservative (I thought), but once she saw another women on the course, she would find a source of additional energy and just power past them in cold blood. Sometimes she would wait for a little rise, or a turn, or just any opportunity in the trail where she could pass by and the other person could not follow. I must have seen her do this a half dozen times. I usually didn't try to keep up with her on these accelerations, but after a few minutes, I would naturally find myself right behind her again. 

I lost Tabor a bit in the scrambly bits of Black Bear trail - she mumbled something about not being the greatest of hikers which is a total lie, but scrambly bits are a place I can excel and I knew I could bomb the downhill with aplomb and have some fun in the process. So, I did. (Tabor would again finish as the women's winner)

Surprisingly, for a total loner like me, running with such a large group of people actually helped me greatly in keeping my mind off attempting to control the little parts of my own body, and just keep me concentrated on going forward. My legs felt and kept feeling ,fast. Aid #2 came, and Aid #3 quickly afterwards. This, I thought, was going to be a piece of cake. 

My goal this day was to finish under 6 hours, and I set the alarm on my watch to go off 3 hours after my start. When it did, it was the first time I looked at it the entire race - I don't look at it while training either. I was at Aid #3, 17 miles into the race. Perfect. I had a slight cushion of time to do 15 more miles, I had ran a conservative first half, I had all the confidence in the world in power hiking/bombing down the last climb - basically half of what was left of the course, and I knew between it and myself, there's a long, easy climb I needed to walk, and a long, easy descent I needed to run. And that's just what I did.  If I was more nervous, I would have tried to run the uphill, but I knew I didn't have that in me, so I didn't.   I ate a ton of gels at Aid #3, as eating anything later wouldn't have helped (probably) get much energy and could cause some cramping.

Getting to Windy Peak (the last climb) did seem to drag, but not as much as it did during my prerun, where I continuously got lost, and today: that felt good. At the base, I just began my power hike-with-intent, knowing exactly where the summit was. I passed C on her 12 mile course, and gave her a kiss and kept going. On the places I could run, I ran, but mostly kept to my power hiking. I knew it would be just as fast or faster than running up the hill, confirmed recently by the experiments in ascent styles I did. It felt as if I may have gotten a second wind, so I gunned it a bit at the top. The scene was one of slight anarchy, as two races were going on, on the same trail, and the trail saw traffic in both directions, as the summit was an out and back. Somehow, it worked. 

Made it to the top, got my bib marked and bombed down. I passed C (but didn't see her) - she told later me that I was going very fast, with someone right on my heals, going just as speedily down. Hiking up hills and bombing down them is basically what I've been doing for the past year, so this is where I felt most comfortable - certainly not in the plain running portions of the race. 

Near the bottom of the hill, I met up with Marily of Ultimate Direction, who was just out running the course to check things out, if not a little lost. She had a ton more energy, and incidentally found me as I approached my lowest point of the race: going from the bottom of Windy Peak, over a small rise, and then the final descent to the finish. Sadly, I had to walk some very easy terrain, which afforded probably a half a dozen people to pass me - the most critical error of the entire day for me. I glanced at my watch a second time and realized I had less than a half hour to make it to the finish, if I wanted to finish in less than 6 hours. Somewhat deflated at feeling a bit tired on easy terrain, I gave it my best, tried to cut my losses and just mentally prepare to give everything I had for the final few miles. The last aid is severely close to the finish line, so I didn't find the need to stop. 

With luck on my side, I chanced the final swift descent without completely falling off the side of the hill - my legs seemed that used up and I collected a time of 5:50:33 or so, enough to get myself in the 360 Club and succeed in my own personal goal of finishing the course under 6 hours. 

Things that worked:

Food - this race is short, gels are good enough. Ate enough beforehand in the morning, but not too much. Ate enough in the days preceding too. Cut out a bit of dairy as well in the week before the race, but nothing super drastic

Pace - went out conservative, knew the course enough to know what ascents were long ones, and which ones were just short rises. Prerunning the course work well! 

Homework - Ran the Dirty 30 fun run beforehand, and listened closely to the Elite Panel set up by Runners High in Golden a few weeks beforehand. Knew even who to look for on the course and predicted their times, based on their past efforts. 

Shoes - La Sportiva Helios SR, which I bought only a few days before, were excellent. Happy to have a pair of new kicks to run in, as they were in great shape, and my previous pairs were not - so much that they developed a hole in the sole days before the race.. Usually a pretty bad idea to race in a pair of shoes that aren't broken into, but this is my third pair of Helios - they seem to work well for me.

Things I need to improve on: 

Running! - this sounds terribly obvious, but for a course that has so much runnable bits, it helps to be good at running, which I'm sincerely mediocre in. My training is mostly powering up hills, just to bomb down them again, and any slightly rolling or even flat terrain wasn't remotely as comfortable to do. Still, I attempted to hold my own. 

If anything, this was an interesting way to gauge my trail running fitness. I already know what I could improve on, to get a faster - perhaps much faster time, the next go-around. This may be the first time I've felt that getting a time that an, "elite" received isn't beyond my reach, it's just a matter of adjusting my training. For example, it's obvious to me at least that there's diminishing gains to be found for me doing even more vert. than I already do, while putting in a good, long, flattish run once a week would pay off in spades. On this same course, I'd def. see about a half hour of improvement within a few months of that one adjustment. 

This doesn't mean I will. I have other goals and passions, none of which really align to, "get better at ultra races". To become even better, it would take a lot more sacrifice, like giving up entire hobbies, like climbing or cycling, which I'm not even considering doing. I'd have to also trim down the body a bit - I surprise myself when I get on the scale and have it read 175 lbs or so. Losing 10lbs wouldn't be difficult, but I'm pretty slim as it is - all that weight would be lose of muscle in my upper body. 

The Dirty 30 was technically my first ultra trail race, but that's a little silly to say. Sure, it's the first running trail race I've done and only the second running race I've competed in (the very first being last year's Mt. Evans Ascent), but to say I'm new to ultra distances seriously ignores my ultra cycling career, which includes two Tour Divides (2700 miles! Each!), one Colorado Trail Race (500+ miles of singletrack!), and a plethora of gravel grinders and ultra cross races - some that I've done pretty well in, or have even won. 

The 32 mile distance of the Dirty 30, in comparison, is an absolute sprint for me, when the majority of my efforts are measures in days or weeks. My mental game is hardened - 6 hours is usually a warmup for the next 12 hours I'll be up on the same day, and that day is just one of many more days or even weeks. But as a quick fix to get a lot of mileage in a short amount of time - it's a good distance. 

A great even all around. My thanks to everyone who has worked on the Dirty 30 race. 

Dirty 30 Recon - Pace

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I was asked by UD to attend the Runners High Fun Run.

But. There's... things about me you don't understand. I Am A Loner Dottie, (A Rebel!), so getting me to do something in a group of people is tricky. UD do a lot for me - essentially they're a huge fan of awesome things in the mountains, of which I tend to do a lot of, so going to this fun run is No Big Deal for me to accept. And the running community is accepting to weird people like me, since it's just full of weird people already. 

Along with the fun run, which was fun, since my sweetie ran with me, was the Elite Panel afterwards, which included Andrew Skurka

He's an interested character, with pretty firm opinions on technique and gear, but he also backs up his opinions with research and data. Love it. One of his articles, Pace charts for TNF 50. And how everyone starts too fast, seemed like a good one to put to the test, using my gps data from the recon run. 

His thesis boils basically down to: everyone starts too fast, and you pay for it later. The slower you are, the more you'll hurt in the end. 

I don't see myself as being an elite running, just a moderately OK one. In this race, I have to keep that in mind. Let's see my rough data, split into miles: 

This is weird data to work with, since the pace is all over the place (I stop, I start) and the elevation changes as well. Above, the light blue line is my actual pace. It doesn't vary too too much, although there is a downward trend. My pace is fairly consistent (slow!), although I'm still slowing down at the end. There isn't a huge dropoff though. Let's simplify things: 

This data removes complete stops, which is weird. 

Here though we can see, in this hastily put together table, that my pace (here, in seconds) goes up, as we go through the course. It's not a huge amount, but it's certainly not a negative split. It is more than 90 seconds/mile - more like 200 seconds. Yikes. 

What to learn from this? Start out slower. My strategy may be to hike the uphills that aren't a full-on dirty road, until after the top of Black Bear trail, then start bombing. That, to me, is the turning point of the race. If you look at the simplified graph, the fastest pace is the first third - then there's a moderate slowdown of pace. Thanks, Andrew. 

5/4/15 - 5/10/15

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Monday, May 4, 2015 - Rest

The deluge of last week finally hit me. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - Green Mountain (S)

The weather has gone from cloudy to just drizzly, testing me to even want to go outside. It's not just that we're not used to such Pacific Northwest-like conditions, it's that everything is getting super saturated and muddy - I'm just waiting for the entire OSMP's to close. 

I'm also adjusting living a few miles away from Chautaugua, so doing an after work run poses some problems of where to stash my backpack. So, after work, I rode up to Chautaugua, put everything in a dry pack (including the MacBook) and just hoped no one took it! I've done this before at trailheads, but never so close to an urban center. 

This made me want to finish up my run pretty quickly and my planned two laps up Green ended up just one - helped by the blah conditions. Despite not really wanting to give it a good go, I PR'd the route up by 3:48, which is notable I guess. More than likely, just starting slower at the beginning gave me fresh legs, once the going got easier. 

Thankfully, the bag, and my Macbook were waiting for me at the bike. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 - Bouldering @ Movement

I had planned to take a run this morning, but I wasn't down to leave my laptop there again. Thankfully work has lockers available and a shower, so I skipped the run, and rented a locker to throw my laptop in for the night, to pick up tomorrow morning. 

Instead, I joined Chrissy bouldering, and promptly hurt my left wrist again. I was actually hoping we'd be climbing on routes, rather than bouldering, which seems to be much nicer to my wrist, but alas. Did some stretching, and a short spin bike sess., so I didn't feel to lazy about things. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - Green (S)

Another lap on Green, this time I had little, if no stoke left in me, having stayed up too late the night before, and having the weather just be as pretty much close to uninspiring as possible - I almost passed on the entire idea.

PR'd the roundtrip (1:09:32) by about 2 minutes, which I guess is nice, but far from what I could do, rightfully stoked and without the trail being super wet - I'm thinking 10 minutes can be found somewhere in there. 

Still, the goal was just to run 99.9% of the route - which was done comfortably. I'm still amazed I'm able to do that. It seems not that long ago that running up Green Mountain by any route was something to be newsworthy to me - as if it was something impossibly difficult to even comprehend. I can remember when running 5 miles on flat pavement was something that made me surprised. Or running flat pavement at a pace over 9:30.

I've learned a lot since then and maybe got a little stronger. The only route I cannot run from start to finish is the social trail behind the sunset Flatiron. It would be silly to do so, except as a challenge. A running time on that would certainly be much slow than a running/powerhiking time. 

Friday, May 8, 2015 - Bouldering @Movement

The weather has turned from bad to worse, and I skipped out on the idea of getting up early to do a massive run. Instead, I slept in, did some work, then hit the gym to do a few hours spin on the bike, about an hour of stretching, and then bouldering for another few more hours. Some fun problems, today.

Saturday, May 9, 2015 - Golden Gate Dirty 30 recon

The weather this week was sincerely getting people nervous that we were in for another flood-like catastrophe. The Quad Rock race up in Fort Collins was cancelled due to trail damage that most likely would occur if the race was held. This led many to all of a sudden have nothing to do on Saturday, and an itching to run, so Fred put together a group run together on the Dirty 30 course, which I was able to join in on. Golden Gate Canyon was probably one of the better places to be on trail, in the immediate area, but the weather just got even worse. Rain turned into snow and freezing rain, but sort of made the best of it, running around 21 miles of the course at a very casual pace. Some takeaways from the course: Most of the climbs and descents and much more mellower than what I practice on, but they seem much longer. I'll have to make sure to keep myself in some sort of reasonable pace for the first half of the race, as that seems to be the easier half, and give it more of a go at the second, hard half. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015 - Off

Off to eat pizza. 

4/27/15 - 5/3/15

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Longs Peak from the steps of the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

This was a pretty difficult week to get through, as I needed to move to a new house, I had a rehearsal, then to play a show in Estes Park. My Brother was also in town for a few days, and I wanted to hang out with him, giving me another variable in an already busy week.  I knew all this going into the week and adjusted my expectations accordingly. 

Ultimate Direction Body Bottle Plus

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Somewhat puzzling, I haven't mentioned on this site officially that I'm now an Ultimate Direction Ambassador! I utilized the UD Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest on my little 14er Mountain Bike/Run shindig last year and it filled out the exact niche I needed: a pack that I could ride and run in, without being too bulky or heavy - and still make it to the end of the month+ adventure somewhat intact. This ambassadorship means a lot to me and the UD family are wonderful people. I've been able to meet many of them on my visits to the UD HQ, as well as on the trails, in the climbing gym, at the running store, etc. The lead designer has some really great ideas brewing and I'm excited to see what comes out in the future. 

One of the products I've been given to test is the Body Bottle Plus. Think of it as a water bottle (flask, really) that's made similar to a hydration pack: same flexible plastic material, but in a much smaller size, with a valve to drink out of, rather than to run a hose through. Since moving to Ultimate Direction products, I haven't used a pack with a large water reservoir as I've had in the past. 


The big reason is those damn reservoirs always leak on me and usually in mysterious places that take forever to track down and impossible to fix. And it is a pain to refill them - something you don't realize until you find an alternative. Upfront water bottles, like the UD Signature Series have seem to work much better. I also like these bottles since they fit my bike frame's cages just fine (and I ride a lot of bikes!). 

The Body Bottle presents something a little different. Although it doesn't work in my bike bottle cages, it will work in the pockets up front on all the UD vests. I haven't used them much for this purpose, as I also like the larger capacity of the harder bottles (I tend to need to drink a ton of water). So, what to use these for? 

Two applications come to mind. As well as water, the Body Bottles work well with carrying powder nutrition. I use the Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem product often - usually chocolate flavored and caffeine-free (I add instant coffee for an extra kick and extra flavor, plus I can control the portions). 14 ounces, the amount the Body Bottle Plus holds,  is a lot of powder for mixing in with water and the Body Bottles work nicely - just throw the bottle inside my pack and go. They're easy to find again, since they have a distinctive feel, and they don't rip or break like a plastic baggy does. They also magically shrink when you take contents out of them, which keeps my pack from getting too unwieldy with all the opening and closing and shuffling of gear. 

The other application is just to use as a place to stash extra water into the back of my UD vest on long runs which don't have access to potable water. Here, a bottle would really stink, as the hard plastic would indeed hurt my back as it rubs up against it. No problem with the Body Bottle - just take it out, drink it, squish it empty and pop it back into the pack. There's a nice locking mechanism on the top of the bottle, so they things don't leak - that's pretty important, when the Body Bottles are right up against things like my rain jacket and phone. 

So let's do something with these things. 

Decided Friday was going to be a long run - I'm trying my best to get ready for the Dirty 30, 50k of single track in the Front Range! Surprisingly, this will be my first sanctioned ultra trail race - I'm just not that much into sanctioned events, and well: bikes just need to be ridden. But sometimes, I like to test out my fitness alongside others, rather than on the somewhat insane tests of attrition FKT's I dream up. 

In this run, I wanted to keep myself moving, so stopping to try fiddle with finding water and treating it was out. The route I decided on was a local test piece: The Boulder Skyline Traverse - a classic line, summiting five of the peaks just west of Boulder. I remember reading about this route on Anton's Blog way back in the day, when doing such a line sounded preposterous  to me: I just didn't have that sort of fitness, and Anton was winning Leadville 100's like it was just another daily run. But I kept it in mind as a way to mark my own progress. Would I ever be able to do something like that? Now I look back, having done a Double Skyline Traverse - essentially a doubling up of the peaks summited, and realize just how much progress I've made in such a short time. 

My variation Friday was around 27 miles, and 8,000' of climbing.I tend to need to hydrate quite often, so I had to strategize how to do this on a route that has no potable water.

I locked my bike at the Settler's Park Trailhead, and brought up just a UD Fastdraw handheld up the Mount Sanitas Trail - the first peak, and descending the newish Lions Lair Trail (long! gentle!). Once finished with the loop, I visited my bike locked again and traded out the handheld for a UD AK Vest I had stashed which had two UD Kicker Valve bottles up front, and two Body Bottle Pluses stashed in the back, along with a light jacket and gels. And off to Flagstaff Mountain I went.

I finished off my first Body Bottle on Flagstaff, and the second after ascending Green Mountain (my 48th summit of Green for the year). Finishing off another bottle on top of South Boulder Peak I then had a whole bottle left for the entire length of the Mesa Trail and back down to my bike, about a half mile north of Chautaugua. Worked out perfectly, and I didn't stop for more than 30 seconds to a few minutes at each peak to hydrate, take in the views, down some gel - great emulation of aid station stops. 

Looking back, the trudge back from the South Mesa Trailhead was probably the low point of my run. You lose at least 3000' from the top of South Boulder Peak to the Southern terminus of the South Mesa Trail, battering the ol' quads. Then, you have 7+ miles to run on the Mesa Trail and then finally needing to run down back to the bike on Pearl Street.

Happily, I found a second wind not far from the Mesa/Fern Canyon junction, finishing the run with a 13:00/mile pace. Being now a month out from the Dirty 30 50k, it's a good test of my current fitness and I can now try to polish off some of the weaknesses (which are many). Of course, I wish I was a little faster, but I'm guessing the course won't be as grueling. Although it's approx. 4 miles longer than this run, it has almost 1500' less elevation gain and it certainly can't be more technical than all the flood-damaged parts of this route. In all, that should make for a faster pace for me. How much faster is really to be seen. 


With the help of UD and products like the Body Bottle Plus, I'm really looking forward to my introduction to sanctioned ultra trail racing! 

See you out there!