Sep 08

Fifth time’s a charm

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

I tested the waters with a small 5K a couple weeks ago, but the Black Squirrel Half Marathon would be my first proper local trail race in Fort Collins. I was genuinely excited for this race. I knew the course. I felt fit. Many of the competitors were people I’ve run with.

Furthermore, a trail half marathon is the sweet spot for my abilities. It’s short enough that my speed comes into play, it’s long enough that my endurance is a factor, and if the trail is rugged (or muddy) enough balance and agility will also come into play. This is my most successful type of race (finishing 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 1st in four previous attempts).

244

But running well at this race race was not a sure thing for me. My confidence has taken a beating since moving to Colorado. I’ve raced in CO/WY four times, having three so-so races and one downright bad race. The Black Squirrel course featured over 2,000 feet of climbing (concentrated in one mountain ascent), whereas previous trail half marathons featured only small rolling hills with less that half the ascent. While I have added quite a bit of climbing to my training, I don’t feel it’s a strength for me.

Screen Shot 2014 09 08 at 7 17 00 PM

The weather cooperated and it was nice and cool for the race: 50’s, cloudy, perfect. It rained all day Friday, so the trails were a bit muddy in places.

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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

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Photo by Melissa

Muddy road

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Photo by Melissa

I didn’t do much of a warmup so I felt pretty awful for the first mile or so. This was planned though, as I wanted to make sure I didn’t start too fast. I wore a watch, but I didn’t look at it the entire race. We hit the base of the big climb and I was starting to feel a bit better, at this point in 5th place.

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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

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Photo by Melissa

I ran hard up the hill (harder than I’d ever run it before), but I kept things under control. There was a lot of race left after we reached the top and the rest of the course suited me better. I moved up one place into 4th. Most of the climb I had people hot on my heels, but by the time I reached the top the gap had opened up a bit.

Timber trail

Timber trail

Top

After 4 miles of nearly continuous uphill I reached the top and without wasting any time I picked up as much speed as I could on the downhill. The first bit was easy, but after just a few turns I reached the really tricky section of rocky switchbacks. The first switchback was just above the low clouds, so you couldn’t see where you would have landed if you missed that turn. I didn’t miss it.

Descent

Halfway down the descent a runner rapidly caught up with me and passed me. I was somewhat surprised. I was running the technical downhill about as fast as I thought a person could run it, but I was wrong.

Descent

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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

I limited my losses and before long I exited the descent onto the rolling valley trails for the last 5 miles of the race, now in 5th place. This was my terrain and I still had plenty left in the tank. These trails are in the wide open valley and I could see two runners just a short distance ahead of me. I pushed hard in the early part of the valley and I quickly made up ground.

South Valley trail

South Valley trail

South Valley trail

Soon #4 passed #3, and a moment later I passed #4 then #3 (so 3-5 had reversed places). I opened up a gap and tried to maintain a strong pace to the end. After a couple hard miles I could no longer see the runner behind me, and I hadn’t seen #1 or #2 since mile 1, so they were surely long gone. I lost motivation to keep pushing myself and I slowed a bit in the final mile.

Coming off East Valley trail

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Photo by Melissa

I finished 3rd overall in 1h40m26s. That was my fastest trail half marathon finish on what was surely the most difficult course I’ve raced. It went well.

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Photo by Melissa

Within a minute or two the next two runners finished. I hadn’t recognized either of them during the race, and I had never met either guy in person, but after some quick introductions I realized that these two guys were both acquaintances I had met online via Strava. I’ve been following when, where, and how fast they train (they can see my training as well). I’ve been genuinely impressed with both of them, and knowing they would be racing, I thought to myself that it would be pretty difficult to beat these guys.

It was even harder than I expected.

Black Squirrel

Sep 08

August 2014

Running

Andrews Glacier

I had high hopes for lots of running while we were in Nicaragua, but the tropical heat and humidity did me in. I felt lethargic the whole time we were there and I only got out a few times. With little running in the first half of the month I really piled on the miles in the second half, even running a few half marathon length training runs on weekdays (which is rare). It took a while to get back into the swing of things, but by the end of the month I was feeling fit and ready for my next tough race, the Black Squirrel Half Marathon on September 6.

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 19 192.03 miles 10.11 miles 9620. feet 506.32 feet
February 19 227.4 miles 11.97 miles 12301. feet 647.42 feet
March 17 192.96 miles 11.35 miles 10819. feet 636.41 feet
April 15 155.2 miles 10.35 miles 10947. feet 729.8 feet
May 24 252.5 miles 10.52 miles 20364. feet 848.5 feet
June 21 224.51 miles 10.69 miles 33782. feet 1608.67 feet
July 18 201.09 miles 11.17 miles 33696. feet 1872. feet
August 19 212.37 miles 11.18 miles 28465. feet 1498.16 feet
Total 152 1658.06 miles 10.91 miles 159994. feet 1052.59 feet

Running 2014 8


Cycling

Surprise! After months of gradual decline in my cycling August came out of nowhere to become my highest mileage month of the year (so far). And that all happened in the second half of the month. So, what happened? A few things.

Big Dummy

We bought a Surly “Big Dummy” cargo bike for riding around town and running errands, hauling Will and other stuff. Sure, we had lots of bikes already, but all of my bikes are for racing, and they’re not particularly well suited for much else. It seems strange, but just having a bike with wide tires, fenders, built-in storage space, platform pedals, etc. was enough to get me riding just a little bit each day… and that was enough to get me out on longer rides. The more longer rides I did the better I felt, both about cycling, but also about running. I’d forgotten how good the cross training was for my running, and how much better my legs felt after a couple hours of low impact spinning.

Flat tire

Fall is rapidly approaching and I’ve been itching to spend time on my cyclocross bike. Mountain biking is huge around here, and it is so with good reason. There are many great trail networks, many of which are quite ridable on my CX bike and I can ride to them from my house on that bike.

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 4 64.74 miles 16.19 miles 1114. feet 278.5 feet
February 1 15.9 miles 15.9 miles 0. feet 0. feet
March 2 51.18 miles 25.59 miles 2115. feet 1057.5 feet
April 6 148.91 miles 24.82 miles 6250. feet 1041.67 feet
May 4 73.05 miles 18.26 miles 2810. feet 702.5 feet
June 4 70.06 miles 17.52 miles 4901. feet 1225.25 feet
July 4 62.47 miles 15.62 miles 2986. feet 746.5 feet
August 9 151.9 miles 16.88 miles 6942. feet 771.33 feet
Total 34 638.21 miles 18.77 miles 27118. feet 797.59 feet

Cycling 2014 8

Aug 31

Flattop, Hallett, Otis, Andrews

In early August a couple friends invited me to go on this run:

But, as I was in Nicaragua, I couldn’t make it. After we returned to Colorado I went up to Rocky Mountain NP to try to complete the loop on my own. I had run/hiked the ascent of Flattop Mountain in July, so that was straightforward enough. From there things got slightly more complicated as the route deviated from well established trails and veered off onto barely distinguishable trails, boulders, and tundra.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Hallett Peak

Rocky

View from Hallett Peak

At the top of Hallett peak I met two guys from Boulder, Jay and Scott, who were there running, get this, the exact same route I had planned to do. Apparently they saw AJ’s video on YouTube and had the same idea as me. So the three of us headed off together.

Peak

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Silhouette

First we came to Otis Peak.

View from Otis Peak

Then we finally reached the sketchiest section of the entire sketchy route. This is the part I was a bit worried about doing on my own, so I was fortunate to run into Jay and Scott when I did. We glissaded down Andrews Glacier.

Andrews Glacier

Glissade

Andrews Glacier

Andrews Tarn

Andrews Glacier

Once we reached the lake at the bottom we had several somewhat technical downhill miles until we reached some busier trails near Bear Lake.

Descending

Andrews Creek

Trail

We took a brief detour to see Lake Haiyaha, which also had a good view of Hallett Peak and Otis Peak (where we were a few hours prior).

Lake Haiyaha looking up at Hallett Peak and Otis Peak

Descent

This was a great route. We hit three 12,000+ foot peaks (Flattop, Hallett, Otis) and glissaded down a glacier. I’d recommend checking it out, though probably not by yourself.

Aug 31

Peach Festival 5K

Last weekend I ran the Peach Festival 5K around the nearby CSU football stadium. I hadn’t yet run such a short, fast race since moving to Colorado. I was kind of curious just how fast I could run at this elevation if I tried. I’ve done very little speed training, instead focusing more on distance and ascent.

Starting line

Half mile

1.5 miles
Photo by Melissa

3 miles
Photo by Melissa

It went about as one might expect. I ran quite a bit slower than my last 5K in March, but not embarrassingly slow. My 17:46 was good for 7th place overall (out of 536) and 2nd old man (30-39 age group), which earned me a free peach pie.

Peach pie
Photo by Melissa

A long warmup and cool down gave me about 12 miles on the morning, and we followed that up with a fun time at the festival. Since nobody could tell us whether the pie was vegan we ended up giving it to the college kids who just moved in next door. They partied all night and may or may not have vomited it up at 6 AM the next morning.

Peach Festival

Bounce

Cliff hanger

Meli

Aug 13

July 2014

Running

Rob + Meli

I rested a bit more than usual both before and after the Mt. Werner Classic 50K, so July had fewer runs than May or June. I did pack in more distance and ascent per run, so maybe that counts for something. I had a bit of a disappointing race, but after taking a couple days off I bounced back and did my fastest training run since moving to Colorado (9 miles at 6:20 pace) and that lifted my spirits a bit. I’ve still got it (whatever it is).

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 19 192.03 miles 10.11 miles 9620. feet 506.32 feet
February 19 227.4 miles 11.97 miles 12301. feet 647.42 feet
March 17 192.96 miles 11.35 miles 10819. feet 636.41 feet
April 15 155.2 miles 10.35 miles 10947. feet 729.8 feet
May 24 252.5 miles 10.52 miles 20364. feet 848.5 feet
June 21 224.51 miles 10.69 miles 33782. feet 1608.67 feet
July 17 191.69 miles 11.28 miles 33466. feet 1968.59 feet
Total 132 1436.29 miles 10.88 miles 131299. feet 994.69 feet

Running 2014 7


Cycling

Open streets

As has become the pattern for 2014, there’s not much here. Cyclocross season will soon be upon us and I’m not ready. Last year my running fitness barely carried me through cross season, but I’m only riding a fraction of the miles I did last year.

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 4 64.74 miles 16.19 miles 1114. feet 278.5 feet
February 1 15.9 miles 15.9 miles 0. feet 0. feet
March 2 51.18 miles 25.59 miles 2115. feet 1057.5 feet
April 6 148.91 miles 24.82 miles 6250. feet 1041.67 feet
May 4 73.05 miles 18.26 miles 2810. feet 702.5 feet
June 4 70.06 miles 17.52 miles 4901. feet 1225.25 feet
July 4 62.47 miles 15.62 miles 2986. feet 746.5 feet
Total 25 486.31 miles 19.45 miles 20176. feet 807.04 feet

Cycling 2014 7

Jul 29

Sometimes you eat the bear

And sometimes the bear, well, he eats you.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

After a couple of shorter races in June (if you can consider 15-26 miles shorter) I jumped back into ultra racing this past weekend with the Mt. Werner Classic 50K in Steamboat Springs. This would be my first ultra in Colorado after living here for two months.

Steamboat Ski Area

The course is challenging: a 9 mile long climb to the top of a mountain, 13 miles of rolling terrain above 10,000 feet elevation, then a long steep descent down to the finish line. I was prepared for the challenge. I’ve been running plenty of distance (50-60 miles per week), with lots of climbing (8,000-9,000 feet ascent per week), with a handful runs at high elevation above 10,000 feet. I did a little bit of a taper so I wouldn’t be too tired going into the race. I estimated a great race would put me in around 5 hours, while an okay race would put me in around 5½ hours. I felt I had a good chance to finish in the top 3-5 places overall, and top 10 was almost a sure thing.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

The race started slow, but hard. I didn’t look at my time the entire race, only my heart rate. I wanted to pay attention to my perceived effort and keep it under control as much as possible. I let a handful of fast starters go up ahead while I held a steady, maintainable effort up the steep initial climb. I tried not to pay attention to my placing at this point, but it was hard not to notice. I settled into 8th place and ran by myself at my own pace for a few miles.

Eventually I caught up to a pack of 4 in front of me and I slowed down a bit rather than pass them. A few more people caught up from behind as the trail became much steeper and the pack exploded. I went back and forth with a couple different people, but stayed in roughly the same place. There was a slight downhill section midway up the climb, which felt kind of bad after going uphill for so long. Then came one final push on a rocky section of trail up to the summit.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

I continued my steady effort, though I was walking more on the steepest sections of the climb and the runners in front of me started to pull away. No matter, I thought to myself, I can reel them back in once we reach the top. Then a couple people passed me. Then a couple more people passed me. I maintained a steady effort. Then a couple more people passed me. My confidence was shaken.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

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Photo by Ski Town Photography

Once we reached the top of the mountain there was a 6 mile stretch of relatively flat trail before the turnaround point. It was more rolling than I was expecting. The hills weren’t big, so they basically disappear on the same profile map as the big climb. But after doing the big climb these rollers weren’t easy. I couldn’t run as fast as I was expecting. I ran those 6 miles without seeing another person, either in front of me or behind me. I had thought I would use this opportunity to move up through the field, but instead I was further back than I ever planned to be and there was no sign that would change anytime soon.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Then it changed, but not the way I wanted. Just as I reached the turnaround I was caught and passed by 3 more runners. I tried to stay positive, but by this point my confidence was in shambles. This isn’t supposed to happen to me.

By now the cool morning had given way to a blazing sun. I took off my shirt as I ran the 6 miles back to Mt. Werner. The rolling hills featured more up than down on the way back and I was walking more and more. Then I left the shady part of the trail behind and ventured into the exposed area. As soon as the steady sunshine hit me I stopped and almost vomited on the side of the trail. I tried running again but the nausea persisted. My walk breaks became longer and longer until eventually I had broken and I resigned myself to walking the entire way to the next aid station. A steady stream of runners were passing me, but that was the last thing I was worried about by now. Can I even make it to the finish line? On two separate occasions I stopped to sit down on the side of the trail for a few moments.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Since I was moving much slower than I expected, and it was hot, I ran out of water a few miles before the aid station and by the time I finally got there I was pretty dehydrated. I stayed in the shade at the aid station for about 10 minutes while I drank several bottles of Tailwind and water. I was able to eat a little bit of food. By the time I left the nausea was under control enough for me to run, but my stomach was completely full and the sloshing and bouncing was terrible, so I continued to walk a few more minutes.

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

The downhill became steep enough that it was ridiculous to be walking, so I started to run again very slowly. As the miles went on and my stomach hurt less I gradually increased my speed. The farther I descended the hotter the temperature, but it wasn’t bothering me as much. The last few miles I was running fast–as fast as I felt I should have been running the whole time. I finished in 6:19 for 34th place. This was a far cry from my seemingly reasonable goal of 5:00-5:30 and top 10 (and an even farther cry from my last two 50K races that I won).

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

Mt. Werner Classic 50K

The race organization was great, the aid stations were great, and the course was great. I’m glad I started the race, and I’m glad I finished it. I’m still a little bit unsure what exactly happened in the middle of the race and why it happened. Sometimes in a race you clearly make a mistake and you pay for it and you learn from it. In this case there was no clear mistake I made and no clear lesson to be learned… unless the lesson is that everybody has a bad day out there sometimes.

Jul 21

The Saddle

With next weekend’s Mt. Werner Classic 50K rapidly approaching I felt the need to get in one more good run up above 10,000 feet. Saturday morning I woke up before dawn and drove to Rocky Mountain NP. We have an annual pass for the park, but I wouldn’t have needed it as I arrived before the gate attendants were on duty.

My plan was to run the Lawn Lake Trail up to Lawn Lake, then perhaps The Saddle, then perhaps beyond. Four weeks prior I ran the Black Canyon Trail to Lawn Lake, but this route would only share about ½ mile of trail in common with that route.

Lawn Lake Trail

The trail began steep, gaining 500 feet in the first mile, then eased up a bit into a more comfortable running grade. I passed a couple hiking in the first few miles. They would be the last humans I would see for several hours.

The trail closely follows the Roaring River, which was the source of the massive flooding last fall. The banks of the river were just destroyed by the flooding nearly all the way up to Lawn Lake.

Lawn Lake Trail
Looking upstream

Roaring River, Trail Ridge Road, Longs Peak
Looking downstream at Trail Ridge Road and Longs Peak off in the distance

Roaring River

Like the other trails I’ve run in Rocky Mountain NP the surface varied quite a bit from smooth to rocky.

Lawn Lake Trail

Lawn Lake Trail

Lawn Lake Trail

Mummy Mountain

After about 6 miles I caught glimpse of The Saddle up ahead and soon I reached Lawn Lake at 11,000 feet.

The Saddle
The Saddle

Lawn Lake Trail

I had a pretty easy week of training last week, so I was feeling pretty good by this point and I pressed on.

Lawn Lake Trail
Mummy Mountain

Lawn Lake Trail
Origin of the Roaring River

Lawn Lake Trail
Mummy Mountain

The last mile of the trail was quite a bit steeper and I was reduced from a run to a fast hike. The warm sun was heating me, while a cold headwind chilled me. I was both hot and cold at the same time.

I reached The Saddle, the low point between Fairchild Mountain and Hagues Peak. The trail basically disappeared into the tundra. The wind was blowing 30-50 mph up there. I looked both mountains up and down and decided to continue on up a ways on the less intimidating Fairchild Mountain.

Fairchild Mountain
Fairchild Mountain

Hagues Peak & Mummy Mountain
The Saddle, Hagues Peak, Mummy Mountain

I ascended a couple hundred feet more (12,700 feet) to get a good look at the other side of the mountain, and it was breathtaking.

Desolation Peaks
Desolation Peaks (I think)

Rob on Fairchild Mountain

It would have been nice to continue on up to the summit at 13,500 feet, but walking up that ridge in 30-50 mph winds left me, well, downright scared. Maybe some other time.

The run back down went pretty quickly, aside from a couple of navigation checks where the trail wasn’t completely obvious. I started to pass hikers on their way up, more and more the further I descended.

Lawn Lake Trail

The best part was that running felt relatively easy, even above 11,000 feet (my next race tops out at 10,500 feet, but several miles are above 10,000 feet). Sure, I was going downhill, but you may recall I had some problems even going downhill at high elevation during the Leadville Trail Marathon last month. This is a good sign.

Jul 10

Flattop Mountain

Last weekend I had the brilliant idea to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park again for a nice long run up another big climb. I was apparently not the only one who planned something along those lines.

Rocky Mountain National Park

After waiting in lots of stop-and-go traffic all the way through Estes Park and up to the park entrance I finally made it in. Now I can relax. Except as I’m driving toward my preplanned trailhead parking lot I pass multiple signs saying all parking lots are full and suggesting I come back in a few hours. Grrr. Like everyone else on the road I proceeded anyway and reached a full parking lot. I drove multiple laps around the lot before seeing the shuttle bus had arrived and it was dropping off people coming back to their cars from Bear Lake. I picked out a couple, stalked them back to their car, and pulled into their parking spot the instant they left. Now after noon, I can finally get started.

Overflow parking lot full

This trail started at 8,600 feet, and (as the full parking lots indicated) it was much busier than the last one I ran at this park. I don’t know if it was the holiday weekend, the fact it was later in the day, or most likely this was simply a much more desirable location.

First, I reached Bierstadt Lake (9,300 feet), which was nice.

Bierstadt Lake

Next, I climbed and descended a few miles up the trail to reach Bear Lake (9,400 feet), which was also nice (and also much more crowded).

Bear Lake

After Bear Lake the trail got steeper. It varied quite a bit from smooth and runnable, to much rockier and hike-worthy.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain Trail

I started to hit some leftover snow around 10,200 feet, but before long I was above tree line (11,200 feet) and I had sweeping views of the mountains all around me.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain Trail

About that time I heard thunder. I turned around and saw this.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Not a good sign. The clouds appeared to be moving away from me, and I was almost to the top where it was still bright and sunny. So I forged on. I slogged through a small snowfield.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain Trail

And finally I reached the top (12,324 feet). Given the name of the mountain I shouldn’t have been surprised the actual summit was not terribly interesting in and of itself.

Flattop Mountain

Flattop Mountain

This was the first time I’ve run up to and along the continental divide. I had hoped to run further out along the flats up there at 12,000 feet, but the weather was actually getting closer to me. So I started hauling ass down the mountain. Within minutes I was being pelted with hail.

Hail

At first it just stung a little bit, but the pellets grew larger and seemed to be coming faster and thicker. I was wearing a visor and the top of my head was really hurting by this point. I took my jacket out of my pack and sheltered my head as I began walking. Now my hands and elbows were taking the brunt of the impact, which didn’t feel great, but at least it wasn’t my skull. After several painful minutes the hail eventually subsided and I could run again without covering my head. I made good time. Soon enough the sun came back out.

The lower trails were muddy from all the rainfall during that popup storm, so the rest of the descent didn’t go quite as quickly as I expected. Eventually I made it back to my car in the now nearly empty parking lot and began the drive home.

Overflow parking lot not full

It was quite an adventure. Surely it would have been better without the storm. At least I was somewhat prepared, with extra gear to handle the weather, plenty of food and water, and a GPS beacon in case of emergency. Since these storms are much more common in the afternoons I should probably plan future adventures for mornings instead.

Jul 01

June 2014

Running

Tree line

It was a good month. I ran my first two mountain races and bounced back quickly from both. Two more long runs made 3 weekends in a row I ran 4+ hours with 4,000+ ft of climbing. I’ve steadily improved my time at the local bi-weekly Towers Time Trial (1,700 ft ascent in 3.4 miles run all out). I was hoping to get in another long race (50+ miles) this year, but there’s a number of 50K, marathon, and half marathon trail races in the coming months. And, to be honest, I’m better at those distances anyway.

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 19 192.03 miles 10.11 miles 9620. feet 506.32 feet
February 19 227.4 miles 11.97 miles 12301. feet 647.42 feet
March 17 192.96 miles 11.35 miles 10819. feet 636.41 feet
April 15 155.20 miles 10.35 miles 10947. feet 729.80 feet
May 24 252.5 miles 10.52 miles 20364. feet 848.5 feet
June 21 224.51 miles 10.69 miles 33782. feet 1608.67 feet
Total 115 1244.60 miles 10.82 miles 97833. feet 850.72 feet

Running 2014 6


Cycling

Bike Ride

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 4 64.74 miles 16.19 miles 1114. feet 278.5 feet
February 1 15.9 miles 15.9 miles 0. feet 0. feet
March 2 51.18 miles 25.59 miles 2115. feet 1057.5 feet
April 6 148.91 miles 24.82 miles 6250. feet 1041.67 feet
May 4 73.05 miles 18.26 miles 2810. feet 702.5 feet
June 4 70.06 miles 17.52 miles 4901. feet 1225.25 feet
Total 21 423.84 miles 20.18 miles 17190. feet 818.57 feet

Cycling 2014 6


Walking/Hiking

Lawn Lake

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist
January 11 27.72 miles 2.52 miles
February 11 26.8 miles 2.44 miles
March 11 32.72 miles 2.97 miles
April 23 64.33 miles 2.80 miles
May 20 57.9 miles 2.9 miles
June 12 32.55 miles 2.71 miles
Total 88 242.02 miles 2.75 miles

Walking 2014 6

Jun 22

Black Canyon and Lawn Lake

While we were up in Estes Park for Melissa’s marathon, I managed to sneak in an epic mountain run. Starting from the Lumpy Ridge trailhead I took the Black Canyon trail up to Lawn Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Big Thompson River Canyon
Driving up Big Thompson River Canyon to Estes Park.

The run started easy enough with smooth wide trails, gently rolling terrain, and beautiful mountain views.

Black Canyon Trail
Longs Peak just left of center

Black Canyon Trail
The Needles

After climbing 500 feet or so the trail grew more narrow, rocky, and tree covered.

Black Canyon Trail

Black Canyon Trail

There was a short section that appears to have been taken out by an avalanche or rock slide.

Avalanche damage?

Above 10,000 feet I started to see snow, and the trail got a little wet in a few places from all the snow melt.

Black Canyon Trail

Black Canyon Trail

After a bit the snow was much more prevalent. It covered the trail in many places, making navigation a bit tricky. It was super slippery and often off-camber. With each step I didn’t know whether the snow would support me, or whether I’d sink up to my knee, or whether I’d slide off to the side. It made for slow going.

Sometimes the snow made navigation difficult

Black Canyon Trail

There was snow above 10,400 ft

Sometimes the snow made navigation difficult

The Black Canyon trail I was on eventually (a mile farther than the map I used for planning indicated) met up with the Lawn Lake trail at the Roaring River.

Black Canyon Trail

A bit farther, at 11,000 feet (just below tree line), was Lawn Lake in all its splendor.

Lawn Lake

Lawn Lake
Apparently the shore where I’m standing used to be under water before the dam collapsed in 1982.

Lawn Lake

The views were totally worth the hours of running and hiking it took to get there. Of course, shortly after I arrived the weather turned and it began to rain on me. It was already a bit chilly at that altitude. I put on my jacket and started to run back down. In what seemed like a matter of minutes I went from chilly, rainy, with numb hands to sweltering heat and baking in the bright sun.

Black Canyon Trail

The 19-20 mile round trip took a bit longer than I anticipated. This was partly due to incorrect (low) distance estimates, partly due to the heavy snow cover in places, and mostly due to my tired legs after last weekend’s marathon and two hard hill workouts this week (14,000 feet total ascent in the last 8 days, by far the most I’ve ever done). I ran out of water and the last couple miles were pretty rough, despite the relatively easy terrain. But Melissa and Will were waiting for me at the parking lot with a cooler full of cold water and I pepped back up pretty quickly.

The next time I’m up at Rocky with time for a long run I’d definitely consider doing this one again. With fresher legs, more drinking water, and less snow on the trail this would be much easier. I might even be able to continue on up to the surrounding mountain peaks. Though, I understand there’s many great places to run there, and it might be hard to justify doing the same route again when there’s so much else to explore.

This is just the beginning.