Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Greyrock Deuce

I had originally planned on meeting Chad and a buddy of his near the top of Signal Mountain this morning, as they had camped the night up there and promised me hot coffee should I run up and meet them. As tempting as this sounded, Signal Mountain is above 11,000 feet, so pretty much guaranteed heavy snow underfoot. With my last attempt at Signal ending before the summit at about 10,500 feet and knee deep in snow, I thought better of the offer and joined a group from the Fort Collins Trail Runners for a double summit of Greyrock, which tops out at about 7,500 feet from 5,500 feet at the trailhead.

I met up with Eric, Pete, Brian, Kyle and Katy at Vern's Place in Laporte and we carpooled the short drive up the Poudre to the trailhead. It was setting up to be yet another sunny and mild winter's morning.

We ran the trail system washing-machine style, up one side of the loop to the base of Greyrock and back down the other, and then vice versa on the way back, hitting the last spur to the top twice in both directions.

At the junction to the summit on a saddle near Greyrock Meadows

We took the shorter and steeper side of the loop first and then continued to the summit at the intersection, topping out in about 95 minutes. The last mile up the rock is pretty much scrambling with a bit of class-3 stuff in places. Great views far and wide from the top.

Looking southwest to Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking north to Wyoming and, I think, Twin Mountain in the center horizon

Pete and Eric on the summit

We cruised back down through Greyrock Meadow via the Meadow trail, following it back up and across a ridge which switchbacked down the valley, finishing up with a short half-mile connector back to the car.

Eric, Pete and Kyle coming down the Meadow trail

After refueling and shedding unnecessary layers we set back out in reverse. Although longer, the climb back up Meadow trail was at a much steadier grade, making for great running on much less technical terrain than Summit trail. After re-summiting we took off back down Summit trail, moving at a decent clip and finishing back up at the car for a total of 15 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing in approximately 3hrs 20.

A good challenge, but Pete and Eric are already talking about the 'six pack,' having done a four-summit day last year. That would be 45 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing. Hmmm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Salida Marathon

It's now less than three weeks until my first trail race of the season that doesn't involve miles of trudging through snow, although some snow is to be expected.

Back when I was focused on running road marathons, the three-week-until-race-day mark was always important because conventional training wisdom suggests that athletes implement a gradual cut back in mileage from this point until race day - the so-called 'taper'. I say 'conventional wisdom' because not everyone subscribes to the efficacy of a three-week taper, and in the world of ultra running it is generally pooh-poohed, especially for a race of marathon distance or shorter. However, I have always had success with the three-week taper, as long as it is not too extreme. I would typically implement a 75-50-25 approach, i.e. 75 percent of max miles in week three, 50 percent in week two, and 25 percent in the week leading up to the race, making sure to maintain intensity on mid-week quality workouts.

My original thinking in signing up for the Salida Marathon was that it would serve as a solid training race for April's Spring Desert Ultra 50 in Fruita, which I had targeted as one of my goal races for the year. Therefore, if I was going to taper for Salida, it would probably be a taper of the 'mini' variety, i.e. cut back on the long run the weekend before and take it easy in the days leading up to the race. Now, with my body somewhat beaten up, I am thinking that I will adopt a more traditional approach to this marathon and take a full three weeks of easing and healing with 55- and 40-mile weeks upcoming.

After almost two years of struggling with pain in my right groin (it first flared up at Fruita in '07, causing me to drop), I finally think I have a diagnosis I can believe in. Two doctors and two chiropractors have given me varying theories as to the cause of my pain, but I have had a hard time reconciling those opinions with the pain I have been dealing with.

The chiropractors, not surprisingly, wanted to get me to sign up for three months of two visits a week ($40 a pop with my specialist co-pay) to get my head back over my body (apparently I carry my head too far forward, exerting unnecessary pressure on my lower back), believing that would help sort things out. Maybe, but I doubt it. This has always felt muscular. The first sports doctor I visited had me take an MRI and concluded that I had a stress fracture in the front part of my pelvic bone. Hmm, I had strong doubts about this diagnosis. Another doctor put it down to a bulging disc!

It wasn't until last week when I received the latest copy of Trail Runner that I finally found a plausible cause of my pain. The Colorado-based magazine ran a lengthy piece on common running injuries occurring below the belt. Under the groin section, they described perfectly the maladies I have been dealing with, and also offered up a series of stretches and strengthening exercises to help reverse the pain. If I am right, then I am dealing with something called adductor tendinopathy, which is essentially the tightening and injury of tendons and muscles on the inner thigh that attach to the pelvic bone where they cause inflammation (which I believe was shown on the MRI). It is especially common among runners and athletes who participate in sports that involve a lot of kicking. Considering I played rugby as a fly half (which involves a lot of punting and place kicking) for close to 20 years, and have since taken up running, this diagnosis makes a lot of sense.

If this is the case, then the doc who sent me for the MRI misdiagnosed the results and sent me running down the wrong path to recovery for over a year. How he could listen to my symptoms - classic adductor tendinopathy red flags, as it turns out - and suggest I have a stress fracture is beyond me. I suspected from about two minutes into my first meeting with him that he was incompetent, but I still went with his conclusions.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I finally feel like I am making headway with a simple regimen of daily stretching and strengthening exercises. Just one week in, I am feeling significantly less pain. Combined with a reduced stress load of running over the next three weeks, I am now hopeful I can accomplish some of the goals I have set for myself this year, culminating with a successful 100-mile run in the Big Horn Mountains.

As for doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists, maybe I have just had bad luck, but I am yet to meet one I have faith in. If anyone in the Fort Collins area happens to read this and has a sports doc who they trust, then please recommend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Week Ending Feb. 22

Mon - 8 miles (1,550 ft). 1:13. Horsetooth Falls, Spring Creek, Horsetooth Rock/Audra Culver route. Pushed the downhill for some reason.

Tues - 12 miles (2,500ft). 1:48. Mill Creek route. A fair bit of sloppy snow on the trail. Felt like I did something to my groin when slipping around in the slush.

Weds - 8.5 miles (600-700 ft). I was going to take today off to rest the groin, which I think I finally have diagnosed as adductor tendinopathy, but I got an email from Alene saying she was going to be up in the park at lunch, so I figured I would join her for an easy run. I didn't feel the groin but felt tightness in the hip. It felt good to get out and be disciplined about taking it easy. Groin tightened up later in the day and throbbed on the inner thigh.

Thurs - Off

Fri - 8.5 miles on the mill. 1:04. I wanted to test my groin on an easy run after a couple days of stretching and resting, so I figured the mill would be the best option. Felt much better than Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sat - 12.5 miles (1,000 ft). 1:41. Woke up too late to meet some of the Fort Collins Trail Runners who were doing an out and back on the Blue Sky trail, so took it easy in the morning and then ran down to the Devil's Backbone with Indian Summer add-on. Dana and Alistair picked me up in Loveland.

Sun - 22 miles. 3:00 (1,300 ft). Out and back on the Blue Sky. Pushed in places. Was told by a guy on his horse that I was an animal (!), and by a guy on his bike that he had been trying to catch me from the Backbone on my way back to FC. He finally got me about four miles from home, right at the bottom of the drop from Coyote Ridge. I tried to pace off him over the last couple of miles, but it was mainly flat to rolling, so I lost sight of him soon enough.

Total: 71.5 miles ( 7,000 feet of vertical).

Another week in the 70s. Time to start taking it a bit easier on the miles and hills so I can give my groin some time to heal before Salida and Fruita.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Week Ending Feb.15

Mon - 12 miles (2,550 ft). 1:53. Horsetooth Falls to Spring Creek to Stout to Sawmill to Loggers to Mill Creek. Down Spring Creek to Horsetooth Falls and home. No energy, groin was hurting and a generally miserable run.

Tues - 12 miles (2,550 ft). 1:48. Saw the chiropractor this morning in hopes that he could get me out of my nagging-pain funk. He tossed me around, drilled, hammered, yanked, pulled and twisted. I came out of his office feeling like a new man. He told me to take five days off, so I got home and promptly re-ran my run from yesterday. I ran the route five minutes faster on an effort that felt 25% easier. Not entirely sure what to make of today's run, but just yesterday I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it to Fruita. Today, I feel like I have a shot of at least making it through Big Horn.

Weds - 8 miles (1,900 ft). 1:15. Felt sluggish in the legs, but great physically. Looking forward to running the Red Rocks in Vegas this weekend.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,600 ft). 1:32. Service drive to Spring Creek to Herrington to Stout to Loggers to Towers. Down Herrington to Spring Creek/service drive and home. Felt decent, although heel (PF) was sore.

Fri - 9.5 miles. 1:05. Treadmill at the hotel in Vegas. Wanted to run some 5:30 miles, but treadmill wouldn't go any faster than 10mph. Still worked up a good sweat, then went out and drank copious amounts of beer.

Sat - 0 miles. Wanted to get out to Red Rocks to run, but couldn't find a car to rent. Busy weekend, apparently. And I thought the economy was in the tank! Went out, drank beer and gambled instead. Handed back about $100 of the $200 I won on Friday. I probably put eight or nine beers away while playing Pai Gow, which works out to $11-$12 a beer plus tips.

Sun - 18.5 miles (500 ft). 2:18. With no way to drive out to a trailhead, I was left with the option of running on the treadmill for a couple of hours, pounding pavement or bagging the run altogether. As enticing as the latter option sounded, I managed to drag myself out for a tour of miserable East Las Vegas. Ran all the way east on Tropicana to a wetlands nature reserve where they had a little two-mile trail loop, and then headed back via Harmon to the hotel. Could have been worse, but Vegas is one ugly city once you get past the silliness of 'The Strip'.

Total: 70 miles (9,100 ft) Week started out great and kind of went downhill once I got to Vegas. Decent week on balance, but very disappointed I couldn't get my act together and get a car for Vegas. I had been looking forward to running the ~20 mile outer trail loop of the Red Rocks. Oh well.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Week Ending Feb. 8

Mon - Off
Tues - 8 miles (1,550ft). 1:15. Audra/Falls/Horsetooth route. Took it very easy on the downhills, and things felt decent.
Weds - 8 miles (1,550ft). 1:14. As Tuesday.
Thurs - 8 miles (1,550ft). 1:12. As Wednesday. Felt good in the early going, so decided I would take a stab at my Horsetooth Trail record of 8:55. This stretch of trail is about 1.1 miles with approx 700 feet of vertical; so a good climb. Anyway, I rocketed out of the gun off Soderburg and got into oxygen debt early. Kept pushing in most places, and got up to the Southridge turn-off in 8:21, for a 34 second PR versus my time from December. Although I felt maxed out at the end, there were places where I eased on the climb due to a lack of mental toughness. I want to be able to do this in under eight minutes by April. Nonetheless, an encouraging PR.
Fri - 10.5 miles (2,000ft). 1:37
Sat - 16 miles (3,500ft). 2:35. Bobcat Ridge. Valley to Power Line up to D.R Trail and back down to Valley. Across to Ginny and up to Power Line. Back down to Valley and car.
Sun -- 6 miles (1,600ft). Hiked up to Horsetooth Rock with Dana and Brad, with Alistair on my back. Turned out to be quite a workout with the 30 pounds of extra weight, especially coming back down. A beautiful day, and fun to share the trails with my family. Alistair's new phrase for the day was "all the way to the top!" Easy for him to say.

Total: 50.5 running and 6 hiking (11,600 vertical).

A second relatively easy week. Will be looking to ramp up the mileage into the 70-80 mile zone over the next two weeks as I get ready for the Salida Marathon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bobcat Ridge, a Good Save

I was in search of some vertical feet, wilderness and maybe a big animal sighting today, but was scuppered by poor preparation.

The plan was to head out to Lookout Mountain and do a loop that took in Lookout and Crystal Mountain for somewhere close to 19 miles and 5,000 feet of vertical. I was up in good time and out the door before seven, but as soon as I got in the car I knew things might not go as planned.

We had been down to Longmont the night before to see a friend of Felix sing in her band, 'Girls on Top,' at an old opera house in the downtown area. As we were getting close to home on the way back, the fuel light came on but I couldn't be bothered to fill up. Getting into the car this morning, I remembered the fuel situation but decided not to drive into town to fill up as I knew the banana was still good for 50-60 miles.

So I took off to Masonville and Stove Prairie Road in search of the turn for 44H, a.k.a Buckhorn Road. The turn came much later than I had anticipated and the fuel gauge was already registering 'E' after 15 miles or so. I pushed on.

Heading west on 44H, it was a steady dirt climb and I had my eyes peeled for Forest Road 129, which was to be my run starting point. After ten miles and no FR129 I was becoming increasingly preoccupied with the thought of being stranded out in the boonies with a gas-less rig.

I finally got to the Buckhorn Ranger Station and was excited to see the valley open up to offer a view of what I presumed was Lookout Mountain; however, the route marker by the ranger station said 133 not 129. My map made no mention of route 133, so I still had no point of reference, except the mountain, which should have been to my southeast not southwest if I was at FR129. This meant I had overshot, even though I never passed FR129. Hmm.

Lookout Mountain ... I Think!

In the dead of winter, it was predictable enough that there would be no ranger home, so I scouted around for a trailhead/forest road leading south to the mountain, but no joy. I essentially gave up the ghost there and then, and was so preoccupied with whether or not I had enough fuel to get my car home that the run had become a secondary concern.

I backed out, put the car in neutral and coasted most of the 11 miles back down the valley to Stove Prairie, passing Ballard Road (a very beat-up forest road) on the way. Of course, I found out later that Ballard Road is known numerically as FR129 - oh well!

Determined not to waste my morning, I decided to stop at Bobcat Ridge on the way home and get my miles in there. Turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

For the first few miles of the run at Bobcat, I was in a foul mood and about as not into a run as I have ever been. I wanted solitude, and Bobcat, being a very popular hiking, biking and riding trail system, was not the place. Anyway, once off the manicured valley section of the trail system, I got onto a rugged jeep track which headed straight uphill. With the climb, I started to get some of my mojo back and began enjoying my morning. At the top of Power Line Road, after about 1,500 feet of climbing, there are some nice mountain views.

Mountain Views at the End of the Road
Looking East to Milner Mountain. (We live on the back side of Milner)

Some Burn at the Top of Power Line

I headed back down the D.R. Trail, which meanders in and out of Roosevelt National Forest, back to the low valley trails and headed south to Ginny Trail. This is a great trail that ascends back up to the ridgeline through a massive swath of burned pine from a big fire a few years back. The trail itself is pretty gnarly and very curvacious, with a ton of loose rock. The incline is never too severe, but is steady all the way to the top for about 1,700 feet of climbing over 4- 5 miles. It levels out for a mile or two through a scenic area known as Mahoney Park, before reconnecting with Power Line/D.R. I dropped back down Power Line and back to the car for approx 16 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing.

Mahoney Park

Trail on the Lower Valley Loop

Bobcat turned out to be a good save for what otherwise would have been a wasted morning. I got into the car and nudged the gas pedal very lightly for the five-mile drive home.

Runnin' on Fumes

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So You Think You're a Tough Guy/Gal?

This is what thousands of my compatriots were up to last weekend:

Image #14 *almost* had me Rolling On the Floor Laughing. Silly, silly.

Thanks for the forward, Felix!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Dollar Cost of a Minimalist Sport

Those who know me well would probably use the adjective 'frugal' to describe me in relation to my spending habits. Those who know me better might even use the adjectives 'tight' or 'miserly.' I prefer 'cautious,' but I guess all things are relative.

One of the many reasons I love running so much is the simplicity of it versus other gear-dependent sports such as climbing or biking. An avid climber or cyclist can expect to fork out serious dough on equipment and repairs annually. The runner, by contrast, needs a few pairs of shoes, socks, shorts, T-shirts and sundry cold-weather gear to get through the year.

However, runners, like humans more broadly, do come in many shapes, sizes and flavors. There are certainly products and races out there that can do serious damage to the pocket book. The cost of running Badwater, for example, when all the supplies, fuel, crew costs, hotels, rental cars, sauna fees, training trips, ice, etc are factored in can be as much as $10,000.

If you're into gadgets, then there are plenty of GPS-type devices on the market that can run you $300-$500.

I tend to forgo overly expensive races, and simply don't feel the need to spend money on gadgets that, to me, are of marginal utility especially as relates to performance.

Running minimalists such as myself subsist on clothing schwag from previously run races, while also maxing out the mileage on their shoes way beyond the (Runner's World-/manufacturer-) recommended 350-500 miles. My buddy Felix would be a good example of the shoe-stretching runner.

Personally, I haven't bought an item of running clothing, except for a $4 pair of gloves from Big Lots, in over two years, while I bought a grand total of two pairs of running shoes last year (both on clearance) and won a couple more pairs. Socks, T-shirts and hats come courtesy of race giveaways, while shorts last forever. I am currently subsisting on trail shoes from last year and reusing previously retired road shoes, although I will have to bite the bullet soon and pick up a new pair. I wear my wife's jogging pants for leg warmth through the winter (it's a good look!) and don't actually own my own pair.

Shoes are Expensive

Despite my best efforts, however, the outgoing-dollar total racks up quickly when one considers travel to and from races/trailheads, race entry fees, and other miscellaneous expenses. It definitely ranks as my biggest annual discretionary expense, but to the tune of how much? I intend to find the answer to that question by keeping a monthly log of run-related expenses, and to then assess whether I am getting value for money (although I already now the answer to that question).

For the sake of simplicity with regards to car miles, I am calculating just fuel costs, and not other factors such as insurance, depreciation, and wear and tear. The IRS calculated all those costs combined at 50.5 cents per mile in the first half of last year and at 58.5 for the second half.

For the Month of January:

Jan 10 - To Round Mountain & back (45 miles).
Jan 17 - To Wyoming for Twin Mountain Trudge (165 miles). $5 donation to race $4 on food for race.
Jan 22 - Treadmill ($277).
Jan 31 - To Conoco to meet Chad (20 miles).
Jan early race entries - Collegiate Peaks ($65), Fruita ($65), Crazy Legs ($20).


Running-related car miles (230 miles @20 mpg & 1.70 per gal) = $20.
Race fees = $150
Gear = $277
Food and race prep = $9

Total = $456

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Week Ending Feb.1

Mon - Off

Tues - Off

Weds - 6.2 on the mill. 45 mins. A test run to feel out my various ailments. Some pain in the groin for the first half mile, and numb thereafter. Felt worse the slower I moved, but overall felt good enough to continue with plans for a light week. I also used this workout as a test run of the treadmill we bought last weekend. Although it is primarily for Dana, who despises running outside, I have a feeling I may be putting significant miles on it this winter. No matter how tedious the mill is, it beats running into freezing gusts of wind. It's also a useful tool for tempo/interval workouts. The other thing with the mill is that after the first mile or two, which always take forever, time moves exponentially quicker the further you go. Just got to get a TV downstairs to help alleviate the boredom.

Thurs -- 8 miles. 1:18 (1,550ft). Audra Culver/Horsetooth route. Felt decent, although knee was inexplicably sore, and felt massively bruised through the evening.

Fri -- 10.5 miles (2,000ft). 1:35. Up Horsetooth, down Wathan, up Herrington/Towers, down Spring Creek and home. Knee was not an issue on this run, groin was hardly noticeable. Felt strong on all hills. More of the same please.

Sat -- 9 miles (2,600ft). Signal Mountain. More of a trudge than a run, but an enjoyable morning.

Sun -- 16 miles (3,500ft). Met Wyoming WART runners and some from the Fort Collins Trail Running group at Soderburg. Up Towers all the way, back to Spring Creek and down to Stout. After a quick gander at Horestooth's disappointing waterfall, which was as disappointing as ever - maybe even more so - we took Stout over Towers to Sawmill. I took a left back up the mountain from here after saying bye to Alec, RD of the Twin Mountain Trudge and Katy C, who I crewed with at Badwater for Alene's belt-buckle finish. Took Sawmill to Carey Springs, to Towers and traversed on Westridge, then back down Horsetooth and home.

Total: 50 (9,650ft vertical).
Jan Total: 265 miles (33,000ft vertical).

Felt strong the whole week after taking three days off Sun, Mon, Tues to rest various ailments. For the most part, everything felt decent although groin still continues to be a worry. Will likely take next week easy too and ramp back up slowly from there. Still 13 weeks to spring goal race (Fruita 50), and four and a half months to Big Horn. No need to get too aggressive yet.