Quad Destroyer

Loveland Marathon

What are we doing this weekend? I just saw in the newspaper that the Loveland marathon is on Sunday. Maybe I’ll do it.

It was a typical Friday afternoon at Casa de Ragfield. My last road marathon I decided to run three days before the race. This time I left myself 36 hours. What could possibly go wrong?

I was feeling good coming off my first decent race of the year at the Black Squirrel Half Marathon the previous weekend. This race has been in the back of my mind for a while, but I’m not sure I ever really seriously considered it. It’s downhill. And I don’t mean it’s 400 ft of drop like the famous Boston Marathon, it’s almost 3,000 ft downhill. The course starts in Estes Park and follows US-34 down the entire Big Thompson River Canyon before the final 5 miles of rolling hills going into Loveland. The finish line is a 15 minute drive from my house.

Big Thompson River Canyon


Mama black bear + 2 cubs

There are two things to keep in mind about running downhill:

  1. You can go really fast.
  2. You will completely destroy your quadriceps muscles.

I think the longest continuous downhill I had ever run is about 9 miles. I think the longest continuous downhill I’ve ever raced is 6.5 miles. This race had 19 miles of continuous downhill, and about 23-24 total.

I tried on various costumes on Saturday, but the potential of really warm weather by the end frightened me a bit into staying pretty conservative.


It was still dark when the race began at 6:00 AM on Sunday. I didn’t wear a headlamp–nobody did. The first few miles out of Estes Park were a bit dodgy. The first uphill mile was 7:24–my slowest mile of the day. The second downhill mile was 6:10. There were three guys way off the front (I couldn’t even see them), and by the time we reached the start of the canyon I had caught up to and passed the rest of the fast starters. So I was in 4th place, where I would remain for the rest of the race. I didn’t see another competitor for nearly three hours.

The early miles were great. I was running fast, though still holding back as I wanted to make absolutely sure I didn’t blow up too early. The temperature was cool, I almost wished I had worn gloves. The traffic on the highway was very light at that time of day.

Mile 7 I accidentally ran in 6:02. This was faster than the 2nd mile of my recent 5K race. I got to thinking, Wouldn’t it be wild if I ran a sub-6:00 mile during a marathon? How crazy would that be? Well the grade became steeper and mile 10 I ran in 5:58, followed by 5:58 for mile 11, and 6:02 for mile 12. I had just run a sub-18:00 3 mile stretch in the middle of the marathon.

Loveland Marathon

Loveland Marathon

Now, it wasn’t all kittens and rainbows. It was around mile 10 that I started to notice my quads were beginning to hurt. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen until at least mile 16-18. The road soon became more shallow and I backed off the pace a bit, though I was still running most miles around 6:10-6:20. I passed the half marathon mark at 1:22:00. This was a new half marathon PR for me.

Somewhere around this time I heard some noises up above me. I looked up and saw three bighorn sheep climbing the canyon wall.

It was around mile 16 when the noticeable pain in my quads turned into full blown serious pain. My legs were killing me. With 10 miles still left to run I felt like I was 40 miles into a hard 50 mile race. I began to dread every step as each one just brought more pain. The canyon became less steep and I began to slow a bit, creeping up to 6:25 pace.

Once I reached the bottom of the canyon I was faced with the dreaded mile 20, which contained the first significant uphill after an awful lot of quad-crushing downhill. I had to work hard for that 6:56 mile. I was so not enjoying this.

Loveland Marathon

The downhills hurt and I was slowing down. The uphills hurt and I was slowing down more. After a few miles of rolling-to-slightly-downhill terrain, mile 25 had another big uphill. I had completely broken by that point, running another 7:24–this one much more painful than the first.

As soon as I crested the hill I saw another runner about 50-100 meters ahead of me. That’s strange, I didn’t see that person on the way up the hill. I actually lifted the pace to try to catch up, even though I figured it was a long shot. Then the person stopped to walk, and it slowly dawned on me, this person was not in my race. After passing a few more people I realized these were people finishing the 10K run that was taking place simultaneously. So I wasn’t going to move up any more positions.

Loveland Marathon

Will and Melissa were at the finish line to cheer me on. I finished in 2:48:46 (2:48:43 chip time). This was an 8 minute PR on what was a very fast and incredibly painful course. I finished in 4th place (there were cash prizes for the top three finishers, so I was out of the money).

The obvious question about this race is how much faster is this course than a flat course? The answer is a little complicated.

My average heart rate for the entire race was 151. I wasn’t running hard. At all. I’m still burning fat (as opposed to carbs) until 148-150. I could have done the entire thing breathing through my nose. Yet I still ran a faster time than ever before. So, on one axis, this course is significantly faster than a flat course–upwards of 15-20 minutes.

My legs, on the other hand, were hurting by mile 10 and were completely trashed by mile 16. I had to run through so much more pain and discomfort than I typically would in a marathon. For example, my last road marathon I ran 2:56. In that race my legs felt comparable at mile 22 as they did at mile 10 in this race, and at 24 where they did at 16 in this race. I spent a lot of time out there suffering. This absolutely slowed me down.

Finally, there’s the small matter that this race takes place at high elevation, starting around 8,000 ft. That will further slow things down compared to a race near sea level.

Weighing these factors I’d estimate that for me (a runner a fairly strong cardiovascular system, and slightly weaker leg muscles) this course was probably 10 minutes faster than a flat course near sea level. If you have strong legs this course could be even faster for you.

Loveland Marathon

My Strava records only cover my time living in Colorado, but still it was pretty cool to completely sweep the PR boards with this race.

August 2015


The Diamond

Longs Peak (14,259 ft)

Cow on trail

Horsetooth summit

August was a big month, but just shy of July. I took a bit of time to recover from the Never Summer 100K and on a whim I did a couple of short fast races. By the end of the month I was in full blown preparation for the Black Squirrel Half Marathon.

Month Workouts Total Dist Avg Dist Total Ascent Avg Ascent
January 27 274.15 miles 10.15 miles 34486.2 feet 1277.27 feet
February 10 86.31 miles 8.63 miles 12141.1 feet 1214.11 feet
March 12 57.27 miles 4.77 miles 12320.9 feet 1026.74 feet
April 12 96.01 miles 8. miles 14028.9 feet 1169.07 feet
May 17 128.92 miles 7.58 miles 19814.3 feet 1165.55 feet
June 15 183.07 miles 12.2 miles 28361.2 feet 1890.75 feet
July 24 281.46 miles 11.73 miles 43619.1 feet 1817.46 feet
August 26 252.57 miles 9.71 miles 29024.9 feet 1116.34 feet
Total 143 1359.75 miles 9.51 miles 193797. feet 1355.22 feet

Running 2015 8


Riding the Foothills Trail

I got my mountain bike back out and had a few good rides.

Black Squirrel Half

The 2014 Black Squirrel Half Marathon is the one legitimately good race I’ve run in Colorado. To say that I’ve been looking forward to this year’s race would be an understatement. My 2015 has been filled with injury and mediocre race performances. Black Squirrel is the one race I was reasonably confident I could run well.

Last year I ran 1:40 and finished 3rd place overall, with both time and place exceeding my expectations. This year I thought I had a chance to possibly run 1-2 minutes faster, though I would almost certainly finish with a lower placing (based solely on people on the entrants list who I know to be faster than me). Like last year I spent August running the course several times in training. This is the kind of course where detailed knowledge of the terrain is a big advantage.

Timber climb

Westridge Trail

Timber Trail

Cow on trail

Then race day happened.

Black Squirrel sunrise

One thing I’ve noticed from years of race photos is that the way my facial muscles rest it looks like I’m super serious (or possibly a little pissed off). Sometimes I actually am super serious, but usually not so much. I was pretty serious about this race. Perhaps too much so.

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

I started a bit quicker than last year (I actually did a warmup this time), though still under control. The big climb from miles 2-5 is tough. Anytime I wanted to speed up, I would look around and see Ryan Burch (winner of Quad Rock and Never Summer) nearby and forbid myself from passing him this early in the race. In fact, I just decided to follow Burch and go however fast he was going. At times I had to hold back, while other times I had to go all out to keep up.

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

At the top of Timber Trail I was in a group with Ryan and two other guys. Very suddenly, and out of nowhere, I got an awful sidestich. This never happens. Why is this happening? The pain was so intense I had to slow down significantly. My race would soon be over if I couldn’t get this under control. After slowing down for several minutes (and losing significant time to the pack I was with) the pain began to subside and I started to speed up to chase these guys down.

We crested the top of the mountain on Westridge Trail and began several miles of descending. I went hard. I made up time on all three of them. I almost connected with them just before the steep switchbacks down Howard Trail. Once we hit the switchbacks Burch took off. I gradually reeled in and passed the other two guys, but I didn’t see Burch at all.

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

Photo by Terry Grenwelge

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

Once down to Arthurs Rock Trailhead we hit the valley trails, which is where the race really begins for me. After a few minutes I caught a glimpse of Burch and one other guy running together about 1-1.5 minutes ahead of me. I ran hard and for a while it seemed like they might be coming back to me.

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography

The other guy pulled away from Burch, and I started gaining serious time. With a mile to go I was about 10-15 meters back, and he knew it. He fought hard and I barely gained any more time. He ended up finishing just a few seconds ahead of me.

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

My time of 1:41 was about a minute slower than I ran last year. It’s not quite what I wanted, but it was still pretty good. I finished 9th place overall. There was a lot more competition than there was last year.

Peach Festival 5K Take Two

Hi, my name is Rob and I run 5Ks. It has been 365 days since my last 5K. Then I had a moment of weakness.

In 2012 I started to have significantly more success in races than I had ever had previously. In the past 3+ years I’ve won several races, with lots more podium and top 10 finishes. This whole time I’ve been improving and improving, running faster and faster. I knew it couldn’t last forever. I’m getting old. At some point I had to slow down and start running races slower and slower. The side effect of this paranoia is that I’ve basically stopped running 5Ks because I’ve been pretty sure my next 5K would make it quite clear I’m in a state of decline.

But, fuck it, I like to race. One year after my last 5K I did another. It was the same race, the Peach Festival 5K pretty close to our house. I’ve been in ultra mode for so long (4 of my last 5 races were ultras) I foolishly decided to eat the same pre-race breakfast as I do for an ultra (almost 600 calories). Big mistake. My stomach hurt during my 4 mile warmup from all that food. By the time the race started I just barely stopped feeling like I was going to vomit.

IMG 5856

The start was fast, but it quickly settled down. A few people took the lead and I dropped into the chase pack. 5:52 for the first mile. Shit, that’s slower than I wanted to average. The chase pack broke up and I worked hard to catch up to a guy who had pulled away. I managed to catch up and stay with him for the next mile.

IMG 5888

6:06 second mile. Why can’t I do this anymore? The last mile had a bit of downhill and I used that to ramp the speed back up a bit. One guy blew past me from behind and finished 35 seconds ahead of me. All in the last mile. So I wasn’t moving super fast. The guy I was with pulled away. People from behind were apparently closing in on me. 5:55 third mile, 18:24 for the full 5K.

It was my slowest 5K in 4 years.

IMG 5901

Once again I finished in 6th place overall. I guess that’s some consolation, but I really wasn’t racing the other participants. I was racing myself. And I lost bad.

I shouldn’t have eaten so much for breakfast. I shouldn’t have raced a 5K after running 50 miles in the previous 5 days. I should have done more (any?) speed work. I should have run faster. But I didn’t. And since I’ve never been one to take life lying down, this debacle can only serve as motivation for future redemption.

All photos by Melissa.

Longs Peak


There’s only a short window of a few weeks each year when it’s (relatively) safe to climb Longs Peak without an ice axe (which I don’t have and don’t know how to use). Longs is the closest mountain over 14,000 ft to Fort Collins, in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. It looms large over everything here. I can’t actually see it from my house because closer mountains obstruct the view. But it is visible farther east (where I rarely go) and from the summit of Horsetooth Mountain (where I go much more frequently).


I missed the window last summer to climb it and I didn’t want to miss out again this summer. Longs is the most frequently climbed 14,000 ft mountain in Colorado–not because it’s the easiest, because it’s the most accessible. That means it also attracts the greatest number of people who are completely unprepared, both in terms of fitness and in terms of technical skill. As a result, Longs is responsible for more deaths than any other 14,000 ft mountain in Colorado.

So I wanted to climb it, but I wanted to do so safely. I sent a message out to a handful of friends and I got one bite, my friend Curtis. We drove up to the trailhead early one Saturday morning in August to find the parking lot completely full and cars parked along both sides of the road for about a half mile back. This was around sunrise. Most people got a much earlier start than we did, but we were planning to move pretty quickly. Regardless, we certainly didn’t expect that many cars.

Starting around 9,400 ft, we alternated running and hiking in the early miles as the grade varied a bit. We took the standard, most common route via The Keyhole. The trail was actually pretty horrible. Rather than a smooth uphill the trail had hundreds (thousands?) of stairs built in, so people put a lot of intentional effort into ruining it. There was no regularity to the spacing of the stairs, so each one took a different number of steps to get up. It was awful for running, though I’m not sure I would even want to hike on a trail like that.

The Diamond

Once we got up to 12,000 ft there wasn’t much more running uphill, but we still hiked quickly. At The Boulder Field the steps thankfully ended, but so did the trail for a bit. We just had to hop across hundreds of huge rocks going in the general direction of The Keyhole.

The Boulder Field

After The Keyhole come the dangerous parts. First is The Ledges, which wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Yes, the trail is narrow. Yes, there is a pretty big drop off. But it was dry and if you paid attention to what you were doing there was very little real danger.

The Ledges

After The Ledges the trail turned sharply upwards into The Trough. Remember all the cars in the parking lot? This is where all the people were. We had only passed a couple dozen people earlier in the trail, but this is where everyone was bunched up. Fortunately, there were a few different lines up the trough so it was relatively easy to pass people. The dangerous part through here was all the loose rock that would occasionally go tumbling down when people took a wrong step. Some people were wearing climbing helmets, and frankly, that wasn’t a terrible idea.

The Trough

At the very top of The Trough was the hardest part of the climb–an actual climb. It was only about 10 feet high, but everything else on the trail is nothing more than a scramble. Once through The Trough we got to The Narrows, which lives up to it’s name. The trail is narrow. There is a huge drop off. Again, just pay attention and all will be well.

The Narrows

The Narrows

Once past The Narrows we made it to The Homestretch, which is where the other half of the people were. In some places there were two lines up The Homestretch and I could pass people, but in other places there was only one line and I had to wait.

The Homestretch

The Summit

Soon enough we reached the summit. It’s a weird, completely flat area about the size of a football field at 14,259 ft. Parts of The Keyhole, Trough, Narrows, and Homestretch had been windy and cold, but the summit was perfectly calm. There were no clouds for hundreds of miles in any direction.

Longs Peak (14,259 ft)

We were cautious but quick on the descent. There would soon be a mass exodus by the hundreds of people at the summit before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. I wanted to beat the crowd. Most of the scrambling sections I crab-walked down, facing outward. I kicked more loose rock down The Trough than I would have liked, but fortunately none of it hit anybody.

It was blazing hot by the time we made it back down to The Keyhole and The Boulder Field. We had picked the hottest day of the year to do this. On the long run back down the trail both Curtis and I ran out of water (we packed a lot) and started to get dehydrated. We stumbled a bit, both falling down a couple times. We finally made it back to the car where I had a big jug of ice cold water waiting. We had successfully climbed Longs Peak and made it safely back down to the bottom. At times it wasn’t pretty, but we almost certainly weren’t the least prepared people on the mountain that day.

The time I almost DNF’d the mile

Mountain Avenue Mile

Every bit of training I’ve done since December has been geared toward the Never Summer 100K, the longest, most difficult race I’ve ever attempted. It was mostly successful. I’m not quite sure what part of me thought it might be a good idea to follow up that 16 hour event with a 1 mile race.

I knew I didn’t have a shot at the time I ran in my most recent mile race two years prior, which was downhill and at nearly sea level. I trained, which is to say I did one track workout (in Illinois) a week before the race where I ran 400s in 77, 76, 75, 74, 74. Maybe, just maybe I could squeak in under 5:00. Realistically, I knew 5:05-5:10 was more probable.

I did a relatively long warmup of 5-6 miles. The older I get the longer it takes me to get up to speed. I toed the line with about 30 other grown ass men (the fun run, youth, masters, and women’s races had already taken place).

The race began.

I was so unaccustomed to racing such a short, fast distance I apparently completely forgot how to run. Literally the very first step I took from the starting line I pushed off with so much power that I completely wrenched my right hip flexor. It had to have been in just the completely wrong place. Whatever happened, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve experienced in a very long time.

I kept running because, well, it was a race. After 100 meters I started to pull off to the side so I could drop out of the race. But I kept running because, well, it was a race. After 200 meters I felt a huge snap/pop in my hip, and almost instantly the pain disappeared. Now the only pain I felt was the normal pain of running as fast as you can for a very short (but not quite short enough) distance.

My first quarter was the fastest. I slowed down a bit the second quarter, reaching the half mile in 2:28. My second quarter was already slower than I hoped to average for the whole distance. This didn’t bode well. The third quarter was slower still. I picked up the pace in the fourth quarter, but not enough. I finished in 5:05 by my watch and the finish line clock, but that somehow turned into 5:07 in the official results. So it was right where I expected, but not where I wanted to be.

Most sensible people would take away from this experience that the mile wasn’t the event for them and never try it again. I immediately wanted to try again (like a half hour later). The problem wasn’t my fitness, I’d just completely forgotten how to race that kind of distance. With even just a tiny bit of practice I could do quite a bit better.

Or at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself could happen.