Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Best Months: Cross Training in Snowy Places

I grew up in Wisconsin.  I don’t recall ever seeing the sun January through March until I moved to California around 2005.  During all of my youth and through college I basked under the florescent lights of countless hockey rinks across the country and managed to maintain a solid pasty white glow from the lack of sun.  But it made me tough.  I knew how to lace my skates at 6am in a dark lockerooms with frozen fingers and practice for hours before school.  Twenty degrees is warm, and twenty below you consider wearing an extra layer.  I’ve had stitches on various parts of my face and head at least eight times that I can recall.  I have one fake tooth from an illegal hit one mid winter night during a game in Iowa.  So the cold is something that just requires practice, the right gear, and a passion for the outdoors and activity.

My family and I are now fortunate enough to live in Colorado.  The winters here are like spring in Wisconsin and being outdoors has never been more enjoyable.  I’m not a natural runner, and I’m certain that I could not race at ultrarunning all year round.  Physically something would give, and mentally I need more than running to keep me feeling alive.  So each fall I beg my wife’s forgiveness for many weeks (months?) about the new pair of skis, boots, bindings, skins, and miscellaneous other gear that shows up unannounced.  And then I confess that this new gear is for the winter ski races I have signed up for.  It can’t be easy being married to me, and Pam is as understanding about my sports obsessions as I could ever ask for.  And she deserves to be recognized as someone who can easily stay with me on almost any terrain when we hit the ski resorts.  One might say there is a high bar for our daughter.

Nothing like the Vail Back Bowls on a powder day!

So how do I try to stay fit during the winter when we live in a snowy environment?

I was never allowed to ski growing up in Wisconsin.  It was too expensive, and it risked injury to playing hockey.  I think I was 26 when I first learned to ski with two of my best friends from Minnesota, Matt Johnson and Josh Woodrum.  We were all working crazy hours consulting in upstate New York and we had a company sponsored ski weekend at Whiteface.  They taught me how to ski in the morning and in the afternoon I skied the black diamonds top to bottom.  I was hooked.  Now I ski aggressively, but very under control in resorts after hitting a tree in 2011 that should have killed me (9 broken ribs with two of them broken severely in two places, collapsed lung, fractured vertebrae, fractured collarbone).  Let that be a lesson for those that think it won’t happen to them.  That was me, and it happened.

I now enjoy a wide variety of skiing each year from skate skiing, to classic, to downhill, to telemark, to backcountry touring.  Kevin Sawchuk, a best friend from my California days, should be given credit to my ultrarunning, backpacking, and ski touring introductions.  I know of no one with more passion for teaching those willing to learn and who are physically fit to do so at an advanced level.

In the past couple of years I’ve found a new winter addiction; skimo or rando racing.  It was a progression from the comfortable backcountry ski touring I’d been doing for many years.  This is my third season learning the techniques, gear selection, and training and I’ve found it to be a perfect winter alternative to ultra training.  In prior seasons I have focused my aerobic activity to skate skiing and backcountry touring, but with the avalanche danger so much higher in Colorado than California I’m more hesitant to tour solo and there aren’t many people that I know yet willing to get out on established routes.  With skimo racing there seems to be a great alignment of competition, high level of fitness, gear and condition knowledge, and most importantly the ability to get up high in amazing mountain environments.  Want to dive in to the deep end of this?  Hint: Elk Mountain Grand Traverse.

The Gym
Yep, there can actually be a time where the gym is appealing.  I look forward to the once-in-a-while winter workouts on the stairmaster and stairclimber.  I’ve found a periodic passion for the preset workouts at a high level of intensity that leaves me soaking in sweat after 60 minutes.  Year round I head to the gym once per week for weight training, but in the winter I tend to focus a few more exercises on my legs.  Seated presses and lunges with weight are miserable, but pay dividends year round.

The Home Gym
We are fortunate enough to have a quality spin bike and treadmill in our home.  On average during the winter I use one or the other once a week.  It really does take a lot to keep me inside for my workouts but sometimes watching NHL highlights while on the bike is a great way to start the day.  As spring approaches and I want to start adding in an intense running workout I use the treadmill as a way to keep my pace and intensity higher than I know I could by running outside in variable conditions.

Winter Biking
Some of my most memorable road bike rides have been in Colorado a few days after a moderate snowfall.  On these days the temperature approaches 60 degrees, you can smell the snow melt and coolness of the air coming off the snow plowed on the sides of the roads.  Everything but the road is covered in pristine white snow and they are filming The Sound Of Music as you crest the mountain top.  It is rare, but when the weather cooperates there is nothing better.  Watch for ice on roads!

I need a phat bike!

Snowpacked Runs
I have to run outside year round.  This means a variety of conditions must be tolerated in Colorado, and often an embarrassing pace.  But, it isn’t about pace when the trails are packed down from snowshoes and fat bikes (note to my wife: it is on my list).  The hardpack snow covers up many of the rocks and actually evens out the more technical trails.  While my pace is slower, it is an enjoyable change.  A few times each winter I feel that I “must” run outside and pick what should be a 1.5 hour run that ends up taking twice that long due to post holing through deep drifts for miles.  Still better than the treadmill.  Year round Joe Ziegenfuss is my steady running partner and there are many 6am weekday runs that without good company I wouldn’t be doing.  Find a few friends that have similar schedules and fitness level to yours and commit to a regular winter running schedule.

Back yard trails just last weekend


All of the above provide a quiver of options during the winter.  I rarely set my weekly training activity plan in advance.  So much of the enjoyment of the winter months is the flexibility to select the right activity based on the conditions.  If it is snowing hard I will spin bike, treadmill, or stairclimb.  If the snow has settled and the trails have had a few days to get packed down I’ll head outside.  If it is going to be sunny and low wind on the weekends then touring to a hut on skis is ideal.  If I feel good, I go hard.  If I think I feel good and 20 minutes in I’m not feeling it, then I back off and still finish the workout, but at an easier intensity.  Don’t force anything, these are the best months.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hardrock 100 - 2013

Thank you to my wife Pam, daughter Kalinda, crew/pacers Joe Ziegenfuss and Dakota Jones, and crew Reese Ruland.  Without them I would never be able to finish.  Thank you to every single person associated with helping put on Hardrock, without them none of us would even get the chance to start or participate in the event…because it wouldn’t exist.  Thank you to my parents who gave me the legs and mind to push on.  Thank you to my brother who reminds me there are other ways to enjoy life. 
Crew Chief & Supervisor

Where is Joe Ziegenfuss?  The rest of the crew...

The last time I started Hardrock was 2010, two weeks after a dismal showing at Western States that put me in the hospital for two days with rhabdomyolysis.  I made it 30 tough miles before dropping at Telluride and it felt like I had run 100.  It wasn’t until 2013 that my name was selected again via the lottery and I wasn’t going to let any races leading up to Hardrock put me into that situation again.

In 2009 I finished Hardrock and was very happy with my time, 26:01.  I used that as a 2013 goal of finishing under 26 hours.  That meant creating a crude spreadsheet that compared day by day my 2009 training to what I was doing in 2013.  Early in the spring my volume, measured simply in training hours, was consistently lower than 2009.  Much of this was due to record Colorado snow in April.  At the end of April I had to get away and went and ran a 100k in California with friends from Team Diablo who got me started on ultrarunning.  That led into May and June when my training started to be a bit more like 2009.  Those months still left me a few hours short per week compared to 2009, but I feel the quality of training was a little better.  The frustrating part was that I never felt great until late June when I started running at higher altitudes.  Once I started feeling good up above 10,000 feet I began to have more confidence that things were coming together.

The two weeks leading up to Hardrock were spent in Aspen, Durango, and Silverton.  Almost all of my workouts during those few weeks felt great.  Still, I approached race day with confused optimism and wanted to make sure I got to Ouray well within my limits.  Here is how the day went:


Silverton to Cunningham (0 to 9.2)
It seemed that the second after the National Anthem finished Race Director Dale Garland said “GO” and we were off through the streets of Silverton.  The first climb up to Little Giant Pass felt great and I made sure I did not push to keep up with Sebastian Chaigneau and Joe Grant.  I know that I’m not running my own race when I run with the guys that start out up front, and Hardrock was no place to test that strategy.  Scott Jaime and I came into Cunningham in just under two hours, about 5-10 minutes faster than in 2009.  While I felt great, I was very aware that this might be a little too fast.  I picked up my pack and hiking poles from Pam and kept walking through the aid station.

Cunningham to Sherman (9.2 to 28.7)
Leaving Cunningham I got my music going and my hiking poles set for the spectacular climb ahead.  Knowing I was a little ahead of schedule I really made sure to stay within myself and focused on hiking strong.  Scott Jaime pushed past and he was making it look like he was hiking on flat ground.  I think we came into Stony Pass within minutes of each other and I headed up once again and then back down to Maggie Gulch (15.3).  The next section was hard for me to recall since it had been four years since I was last on that part.  Scott kept me on course through here at least three times and I owe him a lot for this.  Without his help I’m sure I would have wandered around for a while trying to find the right route.  It was nice to swap places and run together with Scott for a number of miles through Pole Creek and heading down towards Sherman.  Scott is a fellow Colorado Front Ranger, great guy, and amazing runner and athlete that I’ve always respected a great deal.  I don’t really recall where I ended up in front of Scott, but I know that we were still within minutes of each other at Sherman.  Similar to the previous miles I was still feeling good and well within my limits.

Into Sherman

Sherman to Grouse (28.7 to 42.1)
The descent into Sherman is one of many enjoyable downhill sections to run at Hardrock.  I came and went quickly at Sherman and recalled from 2009 that from the aid station we bushwhack up to the jeep road that heads up towards Burrows Park and Handies.  I easily found the initial bushwhack turnoff, but then could not find another marker despite wandering around for a good 5 minutes.  Out of paranoia of getting lost I thought it was best to slowly go uphill but wait until I could hear or see Scott behind me.  Once I saw him I realized where the route was and easily found the jeep road.  Unlike 2009, I ran nearly the entire road up to Burrows Park, which is really only a few miles, but it sure seems longer.  Once on the trail up to Handies I again got out the hiking poles (Black Diamond Z Poles) and hiked strong to the summit feeling good.  There was lightening off in the distance, but the summit was without rain or any sort of discouraging weather.  I was feeling great and was really enjoying listening to my music.  What I didn’t remember was that within a few miles down off the summit there was a hard left turn that takes you up a short climb and then plunges you down to Grouse Gulch.  I did, however, remember there was a turn once I was a mile or so down the wrong trail and saw a dirt road with a number of cars parked.  I caught a hiker and asked if she might have seen a couple of runners.  She looked at me and immediately knew what had happened.  Her response was something like, “the turnoff you are looking for is back behind you at the top of the drainage”.  It was disheartening looking back up 1000 feet to the trail.  I hit my stopwatch to see how long it would take me to get back to the trail and began to head cross country to cut off a little distance.  It took me 11 minutes of all out running and hiking to get back on track.  Not only did I probably exert way too much energy but I was also mentally discouraged.  I figured that four or five people passed me during my side trip.

My detour

Grouse to Ouray (42.1 to 56.5)
Upon coming into Grouse I saw Scott leaving and figured either he stayed a really long time, or I may not have lost too many places and might still be running pretty good.  I complained to my crew and pacers for a few minutes about my mishap but realized that nothing was going to change what happended and that I needed to put it behind me.  I quickly changed packs and set off with Joe Ziegenfuss who would lead me to Telluride.  Joe is a great friend who has run with me more than anyone else since moving to Colorado.  He’s the one suggesting we should run up a 14er at 5am before work, and deals with my crazy ideas like running a double Pikes Peak.  We’ve spent countless hours running in snow (especially this past April) and every other kind of condition.  Thank you Joe for making the trip to help me out and see firsthand what Hardrock is all about.

The grind up Engineer Road from the Grouse aid station went by quickly as it was nice to be able to hear what everyone’s been up to during the day.  We saw Scott and then Diana Finkel below and Diana looked like she was making up a ton of time.  She would later drop at mile 89, which was heartbreaking as she is a Hardrock master.  After Engineer we made good time down the amazing Bear Creek Trail into Ouray and I was still feeling really solid.  Running on the smooth road into the Ouray aid station I felt great and it was then I heard that Joe Grant was still sitting at the aid station having some issues and that Seb had stayed a while.  While it got me a little excited, the reality was that we still had 44 miles to go and I just needed to keep running my own run and enjoying the Hardrock experience.  I did get the feeling in Ouray that there was a little bit of USA versus France starting to heat up, which was exciting to be a part of.  We left quickly.

Bear Creek Trail to Ouray

Ouray to Telluride (56.5 to 72.6)
Initially out of Ouray you cross this amazing box canyon via a tunnel and bridge hundreds of feet up.  Then you intersect on to Camp Bird Road and grind uphill for about 7 miles that can feel like 17.  I ran and hiked the road and stopped briefly at the Govenors aid station before climbing some more road.  Eventually the trail leaves the road and shortly before that we turned on our headlamps.  The climb up to Virginius Pass is another one of those “I can’t believe this is part of the course” hand and knee climbs.  This year there was no snow on the climb up, which I heard hasn’t happened in about ten years.  The aid station crew, led by Roch Horton (I’m a huge fan), is at the top of their game.  It was also great to see Scott Mills (San Diego 100) and Megan Finnesy (Golden Gate Dirty Thirty) up there where I heard it was anything but pleasant weather all day and during setup.  The run down to Telluride was fairly uneventful and for some reason I just remember three down trees across the trail and I wondered how many people stop like there was a 50 foot wall of concrete in front of them.  Or maybe that was just me.  An advantage from my hockey days is that I’m very good at “hopping the boards”.  It is one of the few hockey techniques that translates into an advantage in ultrarunning.

Krogers in the daylight

Telluride to KT (72.6 to 89)
In Telluride I was told that Seb was still about 20 minutes ahead of me.  I also picked up Dakota Jones in Telluride.  Dakota paced me in 2009 and back then it was the first time we’d met.  Since then he has paced me at Western States and I paced him during his first Hardrock.  When Dakota asked to pace me this year my biggest concern was whether he would suddenly be asked on an international expedition of some sort a few days before Hardrock.  As luck would have it the expedition was the week before, and he held true to his commitment.  Dakota was just what I was looking for in that part of the course.  Someone who kept me on the course, made sure I was eating and drinking, and telling me about some of his experiences over the past few years.  I could not have asked for anyone better for what I required this year.  In my only real focused attempt at trying to catch Seb, I pushed the climb up to Oscars Pass.  However, the last few miles up to the pass I know I really slowed down and that was where I had to stop in order to eat a gel.  It became too hard to hike uphill, focus on the trail, and eat a gel at night all at the same time.  At the top of Oscars it was raining, windy, and fairly cold so I put on my windbreaker and gloves and began shivering.  Luckily as we descended to the Chapman aid station it got warmer, but was still raining.  Shortly after leaving Chapman the rain stopped and I was no longer worried about not having enough warm clothes. 

The climb up to Grant Swamp Pass (another section that is remarkable for its difficulty) was really good and I remember actually holding a conversation with Dakota for a while.  At this point the uphills became pretty hard for me, but once I got my legs going a few minutes the downhills were still feeling good.  We made our way down to the KT aid station and I knew that barring any catastrophe I’d finish.  Bryon Powell was at KT and told me that I was just barely under the old course record.  I knew that my uphill pace probably wasn’t going to keep me under the record, but I did know that I had a good shot at getting under 26 hours.  We left quickly.

KT to Silverton (89 to 100.5)
From KT to the finish I knew I just had to be consistent and follow Dakota up the hills.  I continued my “stop and eat” tactic, but other than that I felt relatively good heading into the Putnam aid station.  I feel bad because they came up the trail about a mile to meet me and see what I might need at the aid station.  At that point even one word was hard to articulate and I feel like I came across a little rude and unresponsive.  If anyone from the Putnam aid station reads this please know that I was in no mental state to do anything but focus on the finish and that you all rock.

It was a very dark night heading to KT

I remember being told that from Putnam to the finish should take about 1:20-1:30.  I knew that probably meant that I would get under 26 hours and was very focused on that.  My time was around 1:05, although it seemed much longer.  During that time I was hoping more than anything that my wife and daughter were able to get a few hours sleep and they would be at the finish.  I was obsessed with being able to carry Kalinda down the finishing chute and kissing the rock holding her.  I was happy to run the final few hills with Dakota and Joe, who had come out on a bike to ride in with me.  Joe got a hold of Pam and let her know that I wanted to run in with Kali.  We finally crested what I call “Jesus Hill” and was elated to run into town, make the left turn, see Pam and Kali, pick Kali up, give her a little hug (she’s only 15 months) and head to the kiss the HARDROCK with her. 

Almost there - very low water

I was done.  It took me a minute to figure out how to even stop my watch.  Pam was there and I hugged her, I think I hugged Dale who was trying to put the finishers’ medal around my neck.  Then I sat, drank a lot of coffee, and waited for Scott to finish.  He wasn’t far behind and he also had a personal Hardrock best.  The rest of the day was spent going back and forth from our rented house to the finish.  Even when you are done you still feel the need to be connected to those still on the course.  The Silverton High School Gym was the place for this.  Each time a runner makes their way down the road Dale comes into the gym to announce a finisher is on their way.  The gym empties and we all cheer them to the Hardrock. 

Race Day Nutrition
This is very close to what I ate and drank during Hardrock:
60 GU Gels/Roctane Gels
3 GU Chomps
7 Accel Gels
4 Bananas
3 Protein drinks
40(?) S!caps
Mix of tropical fruit and grape GU Roctane in my pack

Race Day Gear
Shoes: Hoka Stinson Trail
Shorts: RaceReady
Shirt: Team Diablo!
Socks: Wrightsock
Hat: Headsweats, Buff at night
Poles: Black Diamond Z Poles, Backpacking Light Stix
Headlamp: Princeton Tec Apex Pro

See my post race interview with iRunFar's Bryon Powell here.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer in the Mountains

The Howard family just returned from our first ever family summer vacation.  There was no better place to try out our car packing skills than in the mountains of Colorado.  Our vacation kicked off with Pam getting back into her annual trail marathon routine (never a road marathon!).  This year she tackled the Aspen Backcountry Marathon.  Following that we headed to southwest Colorado and ended in Silverton and the Hardrock 100.  Below is a short diary of the daily adventures.

Saturday, June 29 - Aspen Backcountry Marathon
Today my wife, Pam, successfully completed the Aspen Backcountry Marathon while I did my best to play Mr. Mom.  Lucky for me it was a beautiful day and we had a great time.  Huge congratulations to Pam for finishing her first trail marathon post-baby!  Next up...a 50....K or Mile???

Mom's Crew
I love this GU Roctane & Mom has no idea!

Sunday, June 30East Snowmass Trail
Great run up to the pass on the East Snowmass Trail where my legs felt pretty good, although I never pushed too hard.  Later that day we drove to Durango where we would spend the next few days.


Monday, July 1 - Durango & MTB the Colorado Trail
Today I mountain biked in Durango up, on, and around the Colorado Trail.  Amazing trail that made me want to keep riding.  I was amazed at how many options there are for riding around Durango and had to stop in at Pedal the Peaks bike shop to get some of the best options.  It didn't disappoint. 


Tuesday, July 2 - Engineer Mountain
Today I wanted to do some exploring around Durango, but also get up over 10,000 feet for a while.  Looking at the maps Engineer Mountain looked to have a set of trails around that provided many options with some good climbing.  The climb was steep but I felt pretty good.  Once I reached the saddle I couldn’t resist seeing how far up to the summit I could go.  I’m not a climber and if I have to use my hands for more than a few steps I call it quits.  However, to my surprise there was barely enough of a route where I felt comfortable enough making it up.  A great exposed and empty summit was my reward and the views were spectacular.  Days later when we arrived in Silverton I realized that I could have easily run all the way there on what looked to be some pretty amazing trails.  Next year maybe.



Wednesday, July 3 - Travel Day
Today we drove from Durango to Silverton and settled in to our rented home for the next week and a half.

Thursday, July 4 - KT to Silverton
Finally back on the Hardrock course and I ran from the KT aid station to Silverton.  It is always helpful to run sections of the course before the race as the course is substantially off trail and/or can be difficult to find the markings and follow.  This section happened to be exceptionally well marked where I didn’t ever have to stop and look for markings.  Just a perfect day.  As with all the drainage in the San Juan range the water level is very low and the crossing of South Mineral Creek was below the knees.  The last time I crossed the rive was in 2011 while pacing Dakota Jones and it was above our waist.  See me almost get swallowed by the river just after we enter it here.


Friday, July 5 - Cunningham to Pole Creek (almost) & Back
Today I ran an out and back early section of the course from Cunningham Gulch to just before descending down into the Pole Creek drainage aid station.  It is amazing how steep the climbs are and never ending.  It is what I love about this course, there is very little uphill running and the downhill is usually technical enough that you can rarely run at “normal” speed.  It is like that for all 100 miles.  Another perfect weather day!


Saturday, July 6 - Silverton Mountain
A tradition of mine is to mountain bike up the dirt road to the Silverton Mountain ski area and to the mine just past it.  Not all that epic of a ride, but it is a nice climb and fast descent.

Sunday, July 7 - Silverton to Cunningham
Another easy run from Silverton to the first aid station, Cunningham Gulch.  Most of this climb is on jeep roads up to a mine where you then take a steep trail to the pass, and a seemingly even steeper descent to the aid station.  A great section with amazing views.  Today is also when Kalinda thought I should start thinking about my race day nutrition.


Monday, July 8 - Rest Day
Day off!  I tried not to drink too much coffee.  We toured the Silverton Museum, which far exceeded my expectations and was a great history of the mining legacy that surrounds the town.

Tuesday, July 9 - Kendall Mountain
Today I ran easy up the Kendall Mountain ski lift area, took a steep, old, unmarked trail until it died out.  I ran back to the start of the course and out a few miles and back on the dirt roads into town.  A great morning, although the run felt harder than it should have.   Then, like most of the past week the rest of the day was spent with Pam and Kali and watching the Tour de France.

Wednesday, July 10 - Tour de Silverton
I was getting pretty stir crazy tapering and waiting for Friday morning, but I had to get out and do something.  So I rode my mountain bike (love my Trek Superfly Elite 100) around Silverton, back out along the end of the Hardrock course and back into town.  Wednesday was check-in day and I went to check-in shortly after lunch.  This is the first real chance I’ve had to see familiar faces, and many legends that have completed Hardrock way more than five times.  I also enjoy going to the long course briefing which helps me get my mind thinking about the details of the course.

Thursday, July 11 - Rest Day
I tried to keep my feet up most of the day with the exception of the mandatory race briefing.  Dakota and Joe arrived and it was great to see them and talk over the minor details for pacing and crewing the next day. 

Friday, July 12 - Hardrock 100!!!  See my race report coming soon...


Monday, July 8, 2013

My Spring

It has been a few months since my last post, and spring brought a number of new races for me to try out in Colorado.  It was difficult to get my training in as April ended as the first or second snowiest April ever around Denver.  Each week we got something like this and more...literally every week:


So I had to pack my bags and get things started the hard way.  First was a little training trip back to California where I was able to run 100k with my friends that got me into ultrarunning.  It was a long day, but a great way to kickstart my bigger training weeks to come.  The friends I met running around the Bay Area are absolutely the best and continue to be an inspiration to me.

The end of a long day!
A few weeks later I ran the Quadrock 50 miler in Fort Collins.  Using this as a training run/race I found that my climbing legs still needed some work, but the downhill and flat sections were fine and overally I felt solid all day, although my time was what not what I was hoping for.  Time to get on the road bike!
As any former college hockey player would attest to, I've never been a pure runner.  However, biking is something that is natural to hockey players, kind of like golf (but not sure why this is).  One thing I've learned over the past five or six years is that road biking and doing a lot of climbing significantly helps with running uphill.  The past few years since moving to Colorado I've been hooked on all the great mountain biking.  While this is also helpful, the beyond category (HC) 17 mile climb I have less than a half mile from home is unbeatable.  So I did a few 120+ mile days with over 12,000 feet of climbing.
The next race was the Golden Gate Dirty 30.  Not much to write about on this one as I felt like I pushed pretty hard, but my time was slower than last year.  I am hoping this was just due to a heavy training week leading into it.
I have a couple of mountain bike races this year, and again I did the Bailey Hundo.  Although I have not been riding mountain very much at all this year, my time was a few minutes better than last year.  Looking back on the race I feel pretty good about that.  The next big mountain bike race, assuming I get through Hardrock, will the the Leadville 100.  I can't wait to ride this again this year as my brother-in-law, TJ, will be riding it as well.
The next few weeks I spent time getting up to some of the local 14 ers, including Pikes, Grays, Torreys, and Bierstadt.  All times we had great weather and it was good to run up that high with one of my pacers for Hardrock, and great friend, Joe Ziegenfuss.

One final event before leaving for our vacation was the Golden Gran Fondo.  What a great event, and my first gran fondo ever.  Overall it was about 90 miles and 10,000 feet.  There were four timed sections and you were told you could take your time getting from one to the next.  There were a few issues with those instructions: first, to get from one to the next always involved some amount of ridiculous climbing.  Second, all but the first section became at some point so steep that most people had to get off their bikes and push or if you were lucky you could just barely get your pedals turned over and stay on your bike.  It was a great event and I can't wait to do it again.  I felt good enough at the end to ride another 21 miles and 2200 feet up Lookout Mountain.
A future ultrarunner's first steps with Grammy:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Grand Traverse and Beyond

The start of the EMGT

It had been over three weeks since I skied prior to the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, but I felt pretty fit with all of the hard running, biking, and random other workouts I've been putting in.  I've started getting serious earlier than normal since Hardrock is early July.  You can read all about the EMGT via the link above, but the short story is that it is a backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen.  It is about 37 miles with 8,000 feet of climb.  I took my Garmin bike computer with me this year and you can see all the details on Strava. Oh, and the race starts at midnight for snow safety, so the ability to push through the night is essential.

Kevin and I at the start just before midnight.  Below is Star Pass after we descended at daybreak.

The weather this year was near perfect, in the upper 20s at the start and only a few spots of wind and cold at Star Pass and Taylor Pass.  Coming off Star Pass was amazing, as was the sunrise and the descent into Aspen.  My gear this year was excellent, with my Ski Trab Race Aero World Cups and Dynafit Low Tech Race bindings.  I could use a lighter pair of boots and lighten up some of the mandatory gear.  I ate about 2,000 calories over nearly 13 hours, but carried 3,000.  Overall the race was very easy for me, even with the sleep deprivation.  I'm looking forward to next year where I think 9-10 hours is completely within reach.

Looking ahead I have finalized most of my races.  The key race is Hardrock, so everything before that is a training race.  Of course I have a few secret training weekends planned and it should make for a great summer.  Follow me on Strava and I might post a few of them if you are interested in those sorts of details.