Sun Singer

Allerton Park Trail Run

Fu Dog
Fu Dog statue at Allerton Park

I’ve loved Allerton Park ever since I went hiking there as a boy with my aunt, brother, and possibly my grandparents as well (I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be). The Mansion, the gardens, the statues, the trails, the random weird things to see in rural central Illinois…

I was still in Illinois last weekend while the Allerton Trail Run was going to take place. I already raced the first three weekends in October, so I might as well make it an even four. I didn’t have any lingering soreness from the previous weekend’s Forest Glen 50K, though I was still a bit fatigued.

I first ran this race in 2003 where I maintained 8th place for the first 5 miles before being passed by 10 people in the last half mile of the race. For the next few years I photographed the race while I was sidelined with torn cartilage in my left knee. In 2008 I ran again, taking 6th place in the race before continuing to run most of the rest of the day in order to complete 30 miles on my 30th birthday. In 2009 I finished 5th on a highly modified course due to massive flooding.

This year the race would be held on my 36th birthday. Also, being so close to Halloween they’ve started having a costume contest. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to dress up.

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Photo courtesy of Allerton Park Trail Run

The race starts in a grass field before passing through some vine rows.


Then comes a sharp right turn through the Fu Dog Garden.

Fu Dogs

And into the woods.

Fu Dog Garden

From then on the trail is double track, almost entirely in the forest. There’s a bit of mud, some tree roots, a few rocks, and some walnuts to look out for, but for the most part it’s flat and fast. In previous races I’ve always run too fast the first mile before slowing way down. Not so this year. Of course, I didn’t look at my time the entire race (not even my heart rate), instead I just focused on running as steady as I possibly could for the entire 5.7 mile course. And my splits were pretty even.

Three guys were off the front from the very beginning. I settled into a chase pack with two others. After the mile mark our group was down to two. I set the pace and the other guy stayed on my shoulder. I had run the trail the previous two days (and I helped mark the course the day prior), so I was pretty familiar with it. I knew where the muddy sections were, and the rocky sections, and the rooty sections. Unfortunately, by following me, so did the other guy. I opened up some space between us whenever there was a hill (there were some hills by Illinois standards, but it was pancake flat by Colorado standards), but he typically closed the gap on the corresponding downhill.

Sun Singer
The Sun Singer, a very large, very nude statue

With a quarter mile to go I had a gap and there was a chance I might keep it to the finish line. Then, not thinking clearly, I got confused by the course markings (the course markings I myself helped put up the previous day) and I went slightly off course before correcting. I didn’t loose much time, but those precious couple seconds would come back to haunt me. My head now out of the race, I didn’t put up much of a fight when my follower caught up and overtook me on the finishing straightaway.

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Photo courtesy of Allerton Park Trail Run

I finished 5th place, equalling my previous highest placing, though I ran significantly (minutes) faster than ever before. And the course was farther this year. I averaged 5:58 pace for 5.7 miles on a trail, in a costume. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that performance, regardless of how many people finished ahead of me. I don’t often run races this short, and man, does it hurt. That’s not to say longer races don’t hurt, they just hurt in a much different way.

I did not win the costume contest, and sadly, neither did my favorite: blue man Tobias.

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Photo courtesy of Allerton Park Trail Run

After racing all four weekends in October (the best month of the year) it’s time for a break. And adios to Illinois. It’s a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there :-p

Tree row

I’d rather waltz than just walk through the forest

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen

In a stroke of good luck, the Forest Glen 50K fell on the weekend before the Wolfram Technology Conference once again this year. Since I was going to make the trip to Illinois anyway, why not run a long race on one of my favorite trails? I am the defending champion, so I should probably play defense.

Number 1

Forest Glen

Race day had peak foliage. The trail was absolutely beautiful, perhaps the most spectacular I’ve ever seen it (the blurry race photos below don’t do it justice). The weather cooperated as well. Despite the long duration of the race, the temperature stayed a constant 50˚F the entire time, which (for me) is perfect running weather. It was overcast all day, and it started raining lightly toward the end.

While the weather was perfect, the trail itself has seen better days. A couple months ago there was massive flooding that damaged many parts of the trail, with several bridges being partially or completely destroyed. So there were some reroutes, some improvised bridges, a few extra stream crossings, and one super wonky bridge. The consensus seemed to be the course was running 5-10 minutes slower per loop (15-30 minutes slower for 50K). I could have my work cut out for me.

Forest Glen 50K
This bridge used to be straight and flat

Forest Glen 50K
There were a few places where steep ravines had stairs cut into them

This is not a mountainous course with huge elevation gain, but it is deceptively difficult. With all the flat land in central Illinois, one could easily wonder how you could get 4000+ ft of elevation gain in 50 km around here. While no single hill on the course gains more than 100 ft, there are a lot of them. And since this trail goes up and down the ravines leading into the Vermillion River, most of the hills are rather steep.

I felt recovered from the Blue Sky Marathon two weeks prior. The big question mark on this race was what kind of difference (if any) would it make to race at (effectively) sea level after training the past five months in the thin air a mile above. Conventional wisdom says the difference should be noticeable. I was going to find out.

Forest Glen 50K

I planned to follow the next fastest person for a while, but as we started running nobody seemed to want to go around me. Fine, I’ll set the pace. The first mile barely felt like I was running. I didn’t look at my pace or time the entire race, but I was paying close attention to my heart rate early on. About a half mile in my heart rate was 111 (my max is around 190). I was in no danger of blowing up at that point, so I sped up. Soon I was all alone. I started the music on my waterproof iPod Shuffle. As I floated over the trail I drifted off into the zone as I heard the words I’ve so often heard at the beginning of a long race.

I’m alone above the atmosphere
and no one looking up can find me here
cause I can close my eyes and disappear.

On the easier parts of the trail I kept my heart rate around 144. On the steep uphill sections I let it spike up to 160 before holding that effort to the top, at which point it would drop again. This is easy, but then again it’s supposed to be easy at this point. The first lap was fairly uneventful. Once I reached the start/finish area after 10.3-ish miles I first saw my time, 1:32:XX. This was pretty close to what I ran last year, perhaps a minute faster. Perfect, let’s do that again.

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen 50K

Due to cumulative fatigue, I knew I would have to raise my heart rate on the second lap to keep moving at the same speed. I ran closer to 150 beats/minute on the easy parts and I let it creep up to 165 on the frequent steep hills. I was definitely working harder, I just hoped I wasn’t also slowing down.

While the first lap was nearly perfect in every way, I was beginning to notice some issues on the second lap. My left hamstring/calf/knee was a bit tight (residual from yard work the previous weekend). My left ankle was a bit sore (I’ve been dealing with that one on and off for a few months). The pounding of the steep downhills left me with a sharp pain in my right knee. I’m a bit of wreck, actually. At least my right ankle is still… Shit, I just stepped in a hole and rolled my right ankle. That took a mile or so to work itself out. None of these issues were going to prevent me from finishing, but I was growing more and more concerned my performance might be headed for a cliff.

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen 50K

I was surprised and relieved to see the time clock read 3:04:XX when I finished my second lap. It was effectively the same time as the first (actually, 12 seconds faster). Any lingering doubt I had at that point went away. I knew I was going to be able to run a strong-ish third lap. Last year, after running two laps at roughly this pace I slowed down 2 minutes per mile on the third lap. I remember how I felt last year and I definitely felt better this time around. Sure, I was going to slow, but I wasn’t going to blow up.

Forest Glen 50K
Photo courtesy of Cousin Don

On the third lap I continued to run reasonably fast on the flats. Whenever I hit a steep uphill I slowed a bit more than previous laps, and it took me a bit longer to get back up to speed once I reached the top. I was no longer paying attention to my heart rate. It didn’t matter by that point, I wasn’t going to change anything I was doing based on what it said anyway. It was too late for that. I knew exactly how far I had left to run, how many hills were between me and the finish line, and how much I had left in the tank.

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen 50K

Forest Glen 50K

I finished in 4:47:35, a few minutes slower than I hoped. This meant I slowed down about 1 minute per mile on the last lap. I was working so much harder I kind of hoped I hadn’t slowed down that much, but I’ll take it. It was way better than last year. Since I had set the course record last year, this faster time became the new course record. So that’s something.

One notable thing about this race was I had absolutely no problems with my stomach (which is pretty rare for me lately). I drank ~60 ounces of water, ate 6 Hammer Gels, and took maybe 8 S!CAPS. My stomach never felt queasy, full, or sloshy. I was definitely hungry by the end, but I successfully held off the oncoming bonk.

Once I stopped running I had to deal with being cold and hungry. I ate a bunch of food, then I went inside and took a hot shower and changed into dry clothes. As the other finishers poured in we all sat around eating, drinking, and talking about running for several hours until all the finishers were done and we had the awards ceremony. Like last year, fine hand crafted pottery was awarded to everyone. It was an awesome way to finish out an awesome day on an awesome trail.

Forest Glen 50K award

I can’t say enough good things about this race.

Can he do that?

Cross of the North

Cross of the North cyclocross races took places Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this weekend. Saturday and Sunday were looking pretty busy for me, so I took Friday afternoon off work to race some bikes.

Cross of the North

We got some pretty epic rain the day before the event. Apparently, 24 hours before the race started, a good chunk of the course was under a foot of water. The organizers pumped it all out, but, as you can imagine, the ground was a wee bit muddy.

Muddy shoe

Again, the call-ups were based on a rider’s top 5 finishing scores over the past 12 months. Since I had good results in my final few races last fall, I still had a pretty good standing (despite the fiasco of my last race). I had a great starting position, and while the start was fast, either it wasn’t as fast as last time, or I simply rode faster. Either way, I was in the top 10 once the field strung out.

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The muddy section of the course was unridable, so everyone dismounted and ran. I’m not bad at running. I passed several people. Next came a steep uphill, a couple turns, then a gradual uphill. I’m not bad at riding uphill either. I continued to move up through the field. There were a few more muddy, steep uphills with small barriers. In drier conditions I think I could have ridden over them, but I dismounted, and… more running.

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All that is to say, this course suited my strengths, and I was having a good ride. I had completely lost track of where I was, but I knew I was in the top 10. Complicating matters was the fact that there were two races taking place concurrently. First the cat 4 race started, and then the cat 4 masters 35+ race I was doing started a couple minutes later. I was passing people the entire time, but I could never really be sure which race they were in by that point.

Slightly over halfway through the 40 minute race the announcer (who was up in a tower and had a great view of the entire course) called out my name and said I was in 2nd place in the masters race. I didn’t think I was that far up so I took it with a grain of salt. Then on the next lap he again said I was in 2nd. Maybe I was in 2nd?

With half a lap to go and nobody within sight ahead of me I focused on just maintaining my position. I was content with 2nd. Then on the last long straightaway I saw another rider way up ahead. I was rapidly closing the gap. Then the announcer started going nuts. Here comes show-field catching up to the leader! And on, and on. Awesome. I rode even harder up the hill and closed the gap even faster. On one hand it was helpful to know that was the leader and I was going much, much faster right then. On the other hand, the leader also heard the announcer and was tipped off that I was closing in (he wouldn’t have known otherwise).

I caught up just before a series of hairpin turns. I had to slow and wait for the right moment to pass. I got impatient and I tried to pass at the first opportunity, when there wasn’t quite enough room. I got around him to take the lead, only to realize I had a terrible position (on the inside) heading into the next 180˚ turn. I had to swing out extra wide. We bumped into each other and I put my foot down. Something weird happened with my pedals and I dropped my chain. I had to dismount to try to reattach it as the now-leader-again rode away.

It was not to be.

But the excitement doesn’t end there. I remounted my bike and tried to pedal but the chain was still off and had become jammed between the chainring and the frame of my bike. I dismounted again to fix it, but I simply couldn’t. I was in 2nd place, 200 meters from the finish, and my bike was non-functional. So what did I do? I did what any fan of the movie American Flyers would have done. I pulled a Davey.

I ran the final 200 meters to the finish line, carrying and/or pushing my bike, crossing just 6 seconds before the 3rd place rider caught up to me. The whole time the announcer is screaming the play-by-play of what’s happening. It was pretty intense.

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After crossing the finish line I unjammed my chain. The winner apologized profusely if he had done anything to cause my difficulty. To be clear, he did absolutely nothing wrong. If anything, I made a really terrible pass, and I have nobody to blame for that but myself.

Jammed chain

After 40 minutes of intense bike racing, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I thought I would be better off passing as soon as possible rather than waiting for a sprint on the finishing straightaway. In retrospect, I played that all wrong. I should have waited patiently to get out of that sequence of hairpin turns and onto the finishing straightaway. On the previous straightaway I was moving so much faster than the other guy I clearly had more left in the tank than he did. And even though sprinting isn’t a strength for me, I should have seen that I held the advantage in this case.

Regardless, this race went much, much better for me than my previous race. I’ll take it.

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2nd Place

The Blue Air is Up There

Blue Sky Marathon

Welcome to Blue Sky

I first ran the Blue Sky Trail about 2 weeks after we moved to Fort Collins. It was pretty awesome, if for no other reason than it was so dramatically different from the midwestern trails I’d been running for the previous 20 years. Midwest trails are dirt paths through forests, mostly flat with perhaps a few short steep hills. Blue Sky runs the length of a grand, wide open valley as the foothills transition into the Rocky Mountains. The trail is somewhat rocky, and over the course of 9 or so miles (one way) there is exactly one tree to provide shade.

Blue Sky

I’d been looking forward to this race for a long, long time. I had just come off a really good run at the Black Squirrel Half Marathon in September. I felt really fit. I knew every inch of the course. I had run the entire 27 miles as a training run three weeks prior, plus shorter sections on several other occasions. When I didn’t run it I rode my bike on it.

The weather was very promising, 40’s at the start, 60’s at the end. The last 18 miles of the course are completely unshaded, so if it had been a hot day the run could have been a lot more difficult.


The start is pretty narrow (wide enough for 4 people standing or 2 people running) so I lined up near the front. After some initially jockeying I settled into about 10th place and I was running comfortably.

The early miles of the race take place on the trails of Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, and after just 2 miles we began to ascend the infamous Towers Trail climb. After easing into it the trail climbs almost 700 ft in the steepest mile. I’ve run this trail a lot. It’s ridiculously steep in places, and just plain tough. I was a bit relieved to see even the leaders were walking on the steepest sections. I can run all the way to the top when that’s all I’m doing, but when there’s 20+ miles afterward, I decided walking would be just fine. I moved up a few places and back not quite as many.



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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

I was in a pack of 4 runners when we reached the high point of the course and turned around for the steep descent. I began to have problems with side stitches on the descent, which has been all too common for me since moving to Colorado. I don’t know what’s going on with that. Fortunately, I knew they would go away once the trail leveled out at the bottom of the mountain. That was the one and only big climb of the race. There were a couple more medium hills and lots of small rollers to come.

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I sped up and settled into a rhythm once we reached the Blue Sky Trail proper. Over the next 4 miles I gradually reeled in the runner who was in 5th place, and I finally made the pass going up the Indian Summer climb. Sadly this would be the high point of my race. That climb felt tougher than it should have. I ran it in the same time as I had done on a few of my (much slower) training runs. More side stitches on the descent. I slowed and a runner passed me. I would have settled for 6th place.




Approaching the Blue Sky turnaround came the nastiest, rockiest, most technical part of the course. I slowed even more. On the way back on the Blue Sky out-and-back I got passed, passed, and passed some more. My legs were completely sapped of energy. I could move reasonably well on the flatter sections, but every uphill I was reduced to a walk. I was now moving significantly slower than I did on my easy training runs.



The final 6 miles were pretty brutal. I struggled with fatigue, hunger, nausea, heat, and dehydration. I was the 13th person to cross the finish line (10th male) after running for 4:01:58. I can’t say it was a terrible race, because the first 2/3 were actually pretty good. But the last part of the race was pretty terrible, making the race as a whole just okay. My performance was nowhere near as bad as the Mt. Werner 50K, but that’s not really saying much.


I didn’t quite race up to my expectations. I was pretty bummed out about my performance for a few days, but after a week or so to put it into perspective it really wasn’t that bad. I could have done better, and next year I will do better. I’m hungry.

September 2014


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Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

Easy week, recover week, hard week, hard week. I had a bit lower mileage as I teedered on the brink of injury after the Black Squirrel Half Marathon. But I backed off and kept things under control long enough to get a few good weeks of training in before October’s Blue Sky Marathon.

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
September 17 180.49 miles 10.62 miles 23117. feet 1359.82 feet
Total 169 1838.55 miles 10.88 miles 183111. feet 1083.5 feet

Running 2014 9


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Photo by Melissa

Somehow this managed to be my highest mileage month all year, and the vast majority of those miles came on my cyclocross bike. I guess I added more bike rides as I eased up a bit on the running. Then there was my second race of the 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
August 9 151.9 miles 16.88 miles 6942. feet 771.33 feet
September 12 168.17 miles 14.01 miles 8381. feet 698.42 feet
Total 46 806.38 miles 17.53 miles 35499. feet 771.72 feet

Cycling 2014 9


I did a cyclocross race a couple weeks ago, Cyclo X Series Race 1. The race was nothing special, and being only my second bike race of the year, I was predictably mediocre. The race was notable for two reasons, however.

  1. It was my first bike race in Colorado, just outside of Boulder (endurance athletics capital of the USA).
  2. I got the first call-up. Wait, what?

I know, I was as surprised as anybody. As I’ve experienced over and over and over again, getting a good start is key to success in cyclocross. The field for this race (a Cat 4 masters 35+, at that) was the biggest CX field I’ve ever raced in, with around 70 starters. Before the start I settled in somewhere around the middle. Then they made the call-ups, where certain riders based on past success get to move to the very front for a better starting position. The race official called my name. First. I stood there, stunned, for several moments, partly because he butchered my unpronounceable name, and partly because I had absolutely no expectation of a call-up (and really no idea how that could be possible). I moved to the front row while the later call-ups filled in around me. Then came the rest of the field. Then we were ready to start.

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All photos by Melissa

All hell broke loose. This was the fastest start to any bike race I’ve ever done. Perhaps I was still in shock from the call-up, or perhaps because I just haven’t raced in so many months, but I was stinking up the place. In the quarter mile of pavement before we hit the dirt trail I went from 1st place down to about 50th, and I was gasping for breath.

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Of course, the speeds slowed significantly once were were on the dirt and grass. I passed a few people on each of the first few crowded turns, then I continued to move up on the straightaways. There were a couple nasty sections of mud (artificially created, it’s bone dry out here), and some fast flow-y sections. This was actually the fastest CX course I’ve raced. There were a couple groups of barriers, but no other reason to dismount. By the end of the first lap I had moved up to 32nd place.

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The next three laps were much less eventful than the first. I moved up 1-2 places per lap, and perhaps lost 1 place. I finished the 40 minute race in 29th place, just barely in the top half of the field. My lungs were burning. It was super fun to be back out doing CX, perhaps my favorite cycling discipline. But at the same time, my performance was somewhat embarrassing, if not on the whole then certainly the poor start. I can’t let something like that happen again (as if I’ll ever get the chance).

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