Carter Lake Crossing: “Race Report”

This event recap is about a month old now, and I wasn’t going to share it here, but then the journal voice of the blog won out for the sake of posterity, in case swimming happens to slip back into the lowly ranks of “extra” again.  😉

What kind of reluctant swimmer signs up for a 3-mile open water swim race on a whim and with enthusiasm? That would be me. And, it was lovely. Really, truly enjoyable, in so many ways, from the scenery to the conviviality to the personal attitude.

This is not a race report. That would be a dishonest description, since it was never my intention to “race”. It’s more of an “event description”.

Coming from a running background and lacking in swimming talent and motivation, I tended to count swimming as “extra” or even “rest” when training for multisport, even when an attempt at swimming hard resulted in rubbery whole-body lethargy and searing lungs. But when, last year, my avid ultra-running husband was handed a devastating blow in the form of complex injuries that meant he would have to give up running permanently, something changed. I didn’t transform into a “swimmer”, but I made the decision to start swimming like I meant it, to support him and also to safeguard my own active options for the unseen, inevitable future.

Two swim sessions bursting with incredible pointers from the brilliant Eney Jones and I felt gifted with a new perspective on moving through the water. I soon had to acknowledge that enjoyment for the sport was creeping in on me, on just two one-hour swims a week. I even found myself inspired to sign up for swim events, completing a few one-mile, and one two-mile, races. There was a peaceful friendliness to those morning swims that made me hungry for more. It was strange being motivated by something I was floundering at. But I loved the shift back to finding satisfaction in “complete” versus “compete”. The anonymity and finding your own groove oblivious to whose feet were creating the bubbles and waves around you felt somehow really great.

I signed up for the Carter Lake Crossing because after a year of healing a glute injury, I hadn’t challenged myself with event goals for awhile, and I craved something different. I’d ridden many times along the lake, but had never dipped a toe in the water. Three miles of swimming seemed an awfully long way to go, but at the same time a logical step up from 2.4, my longest to date as part of a tri.

Leading up to the race, I felt more relaxed than I deserved. Knowing it was a foregone conclusion I’d be closer to the back than the front made it hard to really stress. The day before, however, I started to panic, dreading: a) how early I was going to have to wake up, then b) the possibility that I really might actually drown.

As it turned out, not only did I not drown, but from the moment I arrived with a friend at registration to the second I stepped out of the water, things couldn’t have been more relaxed considering it was officially a competition. I bumped into friends, and everyone I met or brushed wetsuits with exuded laid-back, cheerful energy, whether they expected to be first out of the water or carried back on a jet ski.

Since the race is point-to-point, we were shuttled to the start line. Race briefing was concise, casual but clear on safety. The water was perfect and generally still, save for the odd pulsing wave from nearby boats. Sighting was easy as could be, with the shoreline to follow parallel to the bright orange and yellow buoys.

Maybe if I was a stronger swimmer I’d get caught up in thoughts of where I might be in the “pack” and my ultimate time. Sometimes not being near the top of your category has its benefits, I’ve discovered. Swimming, I felt on my own but in touch. I did my best, and was happy with my 1:37:17 getting from start to finish. But best of all, it was the ‘during’ part of the experience that was most rewarding. In fact, I even fell into a sort of meditative zen at points, appreciating the opportunity to just stretch my body and turn off thoughts. Until this year, I never would have imagined that I’d sign up for a swim event like this without being goaded somehow, but I did. What’s more, I will surely do it again, and relish the prospect.

Rim Rock Marathon: Learning to relax and race

What’s a race, project, or otherwise big endeavor without a whole bunch of built-in excuses? You don’t have to be elite, or stake a lot on the line, to have a hefty list. They’re padding my back pocket when nervously anticipating most races; this one was no exception, despite the fact that it was very purposefully meant to be “just for fun”.

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The thing about excuses, though, is oftentimes they also happen to be facts. The excuse part of the equation comes into play depending on how much those facts are shared, and with what attitude and/or whining. We often forget them once our goals are achieved, unless the ego insists on a little extra stroking along the lines of, “And it would have been even better if…”. This time though, I want to remember and share my excuses post-completion while happy with the results. Because this time, it feels like all the factors that seemed to go against a good performance strangely ended up opening my mind to a really good day–one of the nicest, purest race experiences I’ve yet had, and I’d love to repeat the feeling.

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Rim Rock Marathon is described as “one of the most scenic marathons in the world”. It is absolutely stunning, winding up and over the Colorado National Monument. What an opportunity, to run through a national park! It’s also pretty darn hard. Climbing 2,000 from the start to the halfway point, it offers views that are both spectacularly dramatic and serene. Sheer red rock walls, sweeping canyons, gorgeous contrasts, twists and turns. Running along such splendid vistas, how can you help but tap into a deep source of inner peace and personal strength?

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Nevertheless, the run/race nearly didn’t happen. I forced myself to get on the bus that shuttled runners to the start line, trying not to inwardly curse Dave too hard for being so encouraging. Excuses? I had miles of them, including:

  • I hadn’t trained on hills. Still nursing, and navigating tight schedule constrictions, my runs tend to be from the house, with one quality session with inspiring Masters’ runners on the weekend.
  • I hadn’t slept more than 2 consecutive hours in two days, and was generally sleep deprived before that, anyway. (Once again, nursing. Little Monkey is weaning on his own, but since taking off walking and running at one year, and now suffering another raging bout of teething, he’s been waking up numerous times at night again, bringing on lots of deja vu to this time last year.)
  • We all caught a stomach bug a week before, which cleaned us out. I still felt utterly drained.
  • I’ve been managing plantar fasciitis for some time, and nagging heel pain was aggravated by compensatory and related issues, mainly a tight back, glutes and hamstrings, especially on the right side and connected to how I’ve been holding my strong and solid little tot.

There are more…but they are truly excuses more than valid. When race morning dawned, I was practically delirious for lack of sleep. I would have had us pack up and drive back home, if it weren’t for the fact that driving is exhausting. I could not wait for the race to be over, and berated myself for putting Little Monkey through a long drive, a dull hotel room, and pack-and-play nights.

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The funny thing is, all the things that stacked against a good day forced a mental choice: wallow and weep and probably bail; or, accept, relax, and see what was possible. I won’t lie…I did spend some time wallowing, petulantly, and nearly even wept. But I’m so glad, even proud of myself,  I was able to step into a more peaceful acceptance in the nick of time.

Stepping off the bus on Rim Rock Drive, I was struck by the casual, laid-back atmosphere and easygoing nature of the small crowd assembled. Lots of ipods didn’t convey lack of friendliness, just a shared expectation of some relatively solo miles and a goal of getting in the zone and enjoying the views. Stretching and chatting with a few other racers, I felt my body shrug off fatigue and start to look forward to a beautiful run.

Set off by a simple whistle, I took things really easy, having no idea how my legs were going to react to 13 miles of consistent, often sharp, uphill. I was amazed to find myself near the front of the pack, and fully expected to be steadily passed. Only I wasn’t. I won’t wax on about too many details, but just as I’ve bulleted the bag of excuses, here are a few notes on what worked:

  • Nutrition: The volunteers were wonderful–so kind. Aid stations, which were every 2 miles or so after the initial 4 steepest miles, were stocked with water, Gatorade, Honey Stinger gels, bananas, pretzels, chocolate.  I alternated water and gatorade and faithfully took a gel every aid station. Normally, I don’t take much but fluid during a race. The energizing burst was awesome.
  • Entertainment: The incredible vistas should probably have been enough, but for the first time ever I wore an ipod in the race, on Dave’s suggestion. He had loaded me up with the perfect playlist. Two really engaging Marathon Talk podcasts were like reflective and fun conversation in the first 20 miles; a shock wave of super charged songs were perfect for the last 10K. One of the podcasts featured amazing British runners Liz Yelling and Jo Pavey discussing motherhood, running in your 40s, family. To hear Jo, a four-time Olympian who is still a competitive elite, talk with such a relaxed and grateful approach was especially grounding, motivating and relaxing.
  • Alone time: I don’t get that much time to myself these days, and typically I don’t crave it. That said, when I get it (usually on a run), it can feel oh so good. Up there, running along the rock walls, I felt this zen flow of being whole, and being just me for awhile, and it was blissful…in spite, or even more because of running a marathon.
  • Love: This will sound oh so sappy, but I was overflowing with it. I felt swept away with loving thoughts for my dear husband and Little Monkey. Flixy’s beaming grin and rosy cheeks after keeping me awake all night before a race took the edge off pain. At one point (towards the end of the race, when I’ll admit there was probably a little bit of light-headedness setting in), I felt like Harry Potter, protected by love. My thoughts kept racing while racing, centering on how much Dave did to help me get to this place, able to relish this race despite all the obstacles. From nightly massages to persistent positive thoughts, packing, packing, planning and driving, he did everything he could. I also felt bolstered by mommy love. One unexpected bonus of being an old new mom–I am consciously grateful for him every single day. Not that other, younger moms aren’t…but I know I have constant awareness of how lucky we are pinned to how very nearly parenthood didn’t happen.

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In the end, I placed 4th overall female and 1st Master’s female (I told myself there are some perks to getting “old”, but prefer my uncle’s take on things: growing older is inevitable, growing old is not an option). The time wasn’t anything close to a PR (3:42), but I’m pleased with that for the tough course, with the winning time just 20 minutes faster. It was a beautiful day, and so very gratifying to finish knowing I’d been able to shake off my own negative energy. Best part, the special little cheering squad that waited at the finish, and the active recovery playing on the grass and kicking leaves all afternoon.

rim_rock (1)What it all comes down to, always, though, is Attitude. It’s the most important thing, in everything. All the bullets helped shape a positive mental approach. So too did all the things that went wrong. Ironically, having a crappy lead-up to the day was what really forced me to choose, finally, to have fun, tune out others’ posturing and focus on what I could do in the moment. Which is without fail how I reach my personal best, proved time and again. The races, projects, even relationships I work for are always most successful when I relax, enjoy, and challenge myself without fear of failure in relation to others around me. Why do I need to take so many classes to learn this lesson? I’m hopeful that writing it down this time, a takeaway may be that I don’t need lots of things to go wrong to get it right.

 

 

 

Race report: Greenland 50K

20140503_065308It’s been awhile since I’ve had a race to log. Since learning we were pregnant, I’d only participated in three 5Ks till Saturday, when 8 months into being a new mom I (crazily/naively?) took on my first official trail ultra at the Greenland 50K. Now I want to record some takeaways before I forget, because you know that theory about pregnancy blood doping? I think there’s something to it.

Pre-baby days, pre-race nerves rattled me so much  leading up to a big event…well, I won’t share ALL the details. This may not be a food post, but it’s still a food blog. One side effect of jitters I can share, majorly exaggerated feelings of fatigue. I’d squeeze in as much sleep leading up as possible. In my new life with a little bittle, not only is the idea of extra sleep laughable, but the pre-race week held no uninterrupted sleep stretches worth noting at all, due to a tough teething flare-up.

Needless to say, I didn’t have any expectations heading to the start line. With setbacks like chicken pox and working around nursing, I hadn’t been able to get the prep in that would have preceded a road marathon, let alone trail at elevation, 5 miles further. Fitting runs around nursing meant running straight from the house and relying on the treadmill A LOT. But somehow, I did know the day would be worthwhile. A good long trail run beckons in a gentler, more encouraging way than the intense business of the road.

W_GreenlandThe Greenland Trail Races are held in Larkspur, and feature 8-mile, 25K, and 50K options over wide, non-technical dirt trail with Pikes Peak as a backdrop. Overlapping races lend to a fun, casual atmosphere that’s great for a first-timer. The day buzzed with cheerful energy while retaining a just-right, low-key energy despite the rather intimidating fact that this particular year it was also the RRCA State Ultra Championships. The smooth, rolling trails, regular aid stations and friendly volunteers made four laps so much easier to face than one might expect, too.

A few things I had an idea of when it comes to trail running, I now know with so much greater understanding. One, respect the trail. Way to lose friends? Bring a road runner’s mentality to a trail race, blaze through aid stations, grab a disposable cup, and throw it yards down the trail. (I didn’t do this, by the way!) Trail etiquette dictates, if you don’t bring your own bottles, at the very least ease your stride to slurp and toss your cup in the trash.

Another thing, take all with a grain of salt. I lapped up so much reinforcement about the one, easy hill at Greenland that the actual rolling course with one notably steep long hill and ZERO shade for the whole loop took me a bit by surprise, especially because it was HOT. In fact, the unexpected hilliness was a dominant theme on the day among those of us first-timers. Ask about a trail, chances are you’re talking with a seasoned ultra runner for whom Leadville is fairly flat.  A Kilian Journet commenting how strange it was to be running on the flats in Unbreakable: The Western States 100. Althoughto be fair, the truth is the hills at Greenland weren’t bad at all, just there. For someone fearful of the technical, you couldn’t ask for a more accessible course to get started. But take that with a grain of salt, too. 😉

With one loop repeated four times, there’s not actually a whole lot to report when it comes to the ins and outs of race day. Woke up at 4, nursed. Drove to Larkspur, nursed…and straight to the start line, just about.

Laps one and two I ran a good bit with kilt-wearing Steve, a Glaswegian with a green card, Irish and British passports, and an Estonian wife. A multiple Leadville 100 finisher, he’s going for Leadman this year, and was nice to chat with. Most people were, in fact, those first two laps. By the time we hit the third loop, however, though camaraderie was still on, conversation was not.

One thing to remember for next time, I didn’t fuel enough, and the heat steadily built and burned. Lap four was simply survival mode. At mile 25, both my legs seized up with such startling suddenness, I was sure I was going to pull something. Both calves, left quad, right inner thigh. Trying to shake out, I threw in a few meters of butt kicks and high knees, eased right up and relaxed as much as I could. It wasn’t enough to rejuvenate my pace, but it sufficed.

20140503_122329I hit the 31st mile shuffling with a wobbly, awkward gait, feeling joyful and satisfied. In the end, I was 6th female overall, and 1st age group (once the top two finishers were taken out of the mix). I even won $20 to Boulder Running Company, woohoo! 🙂 Logically speaking, I shouldn’t really have been able to finish, and I was thrilled with the result. I’m not sure how much I owe, or not, to the whole pregnancy blood doping thing; how much was motherhood’s way of hardening the no-nonsense ability to grind through as smilingly as possible.  Too, there’s the undeniable motivation owing to the staunch support in my corner, including the most supportive, meticulous, loving and dependable husband in the world; patient advice and incredible encouragement and planning from amazing ultra runner Craig Howie; and the most brilliant, precious, chubby little  bundle of inspiration at the finish!The whole of the last lap all I could think was how each step was closer to baby cuddles.

There’s one last massive factor, though, I need to work at taking forward with me–as with all things in life, it  comes down to attitude. While I’m so pleased with my results, there is something comforting about the lonely focus that long trail distances impose on a person. You can’t judge a race by time–the courses vary so dramatically.  As an age-grouper, you can’t ever go by place really; that’s down to who shows up, out of your control. You’re left with just yourself, forced to recognize and acknowledge your effort, and the real reason you’re out there. That’s individual, but I’m guessing that part of it is probably joy.

 

 

 

 

Pacing Leadville part 1: Novice Notes

First, this is not a recipe post. Just a trip report/list of observations…and a little shout out to Pete, who introduced himself to me as a reader of this blog at the Festival on Main on Friday night. Turns out he was pacing at Leadville last weekend, too. Thanks for stopping by, Pete–made my day! 🙂

I was going to post last Monday, but the wonderful, sleepless weekend was followed by one stressful, sleepless week, and I was delayed…in everything. Slurred speech, light-headedness and all. Things are getting back in order again, happily, thanks to the beyond stupendously excellent Dr. Benscheidt and Nelson Veterinary Clinic.  They saved our dog’s life after he contracted a nasty bacterial infection that had him scarily close to death’s door. There must be a word with the power of THANK YOU a million times over, because that’s how I feel.

Paul and Robin at the start, 3:30 am race day.

So, last weekend, Dave and I had the unforgettable opportunity to pace friends at the Leadville 100 trail run, the legendary “Race Across The Sky”, and WOW.  I thought the full ironman was hard…Leadville makes it seem like a “soft” option. Talk about a challenge. This is not one to take lightly. The out-and-back one hundred mile route has a low point of 9,200 feet; the high point, Hope Pass, hits 12,600 feet, and you’re likely to get there in a storm.  Pacers aren’t allowed until after the 50-mile point; not to inflate my sense of self-importance here, but they should be a requirement, not an option, in my opinion.

Jen helping Craig get ready before race start.

Dave and I paced two very different athletes who are both just extraordinary, not to mention humble, tenacious, compassionate individuals who are generous in spirit and also fun to be around. Really, just the nicest, most talented guys. How can you not be honored–yet stressed–to be invited to support folks like that? Both of us paced starting at Fish Hatchery, approximately mile 76. Dave paced a 10-mile stretch for Craig, an elite runner shooting for sub 20 (which he achieved, coming in 10th overall in an amazing 19:50!); I paced the final 24 miles for Paul, who was working towards the prestigious Leadman trophy (which he awesomely earned!). Here are my top 10 takeaways gleaned (in a somewhat cloudy state) as pacer:

 

1. Just do it. If you have any interest whatsoever in taking on this epic race one day, or any 100-miler, and you get the opportunity to pace, jump on it. It will provide an invaluable education and precious experience. Maybe Sunday morning you’ll find yourself eager and determined to sign yourself up for the following year; or, you might be equally dogmatic never to let that happen (give it a few days if that’s the case, chances are that attitude will soften). Whichever way the chips fall, it’s going to be an adventure packed with meaning, insights, and atmosphere. In other words, no way will you regret it. Promise.

Paul coming in to Twin Lakes on the way out.

2. Read up. From what I can tell, the kind of person who commits to an endeavor like this, while not actually insane, tends to be insanely meticulous, thorough, and detail-oriented. If someone asks you to pace for him/her, chances are  that person will provide you with a packet of carefully prepared, honest, important, and steadfastly relevant  information you just cannot ignore. For example: Paul’s pacer packet included timelines, gear, personal preferences, hypothetical scenarios to anticipate, and handy laminated bracelets detailing A and B goal splits, broken down by aid station points, time of day, and cumulative time from the start. Craig provided similar to Dave and crew, only his splits came in the form of cool removable tattoos for pacers’ arms.

There’s also an incredible wealth of  information in this must-read pacing guide, covering everything from how to approach conversation to detailed course descriptions for each pacing leg.

Overall winner Thomas Lorblanchet & pacer Anna Frost coming through Fish Hatchery.

3. Put some time on your feet in the mountains. While there’s no reason to sacrifice your speedwork, it’s time at altitude, and the extended effort of getting there, that really prepares you to be the best pacer you can be. By the time pacing is allowed, even the top racers–though ridiculously strong given the context–will most likely be doing a lot of power hiking over actual running. That said, don’t catch yourself being casually cavalier. The air is thin, your lungs will burn, and most likely it will be hard nonetheless.

Remember you won’t just be providing silent companionship. You’ll be serving your racer’s every need, and that includes having energy and clarity to provide amiable and motivating conversation (if your racer likes), and carrying a pack. So, while you’re in the mountains, don’t be shy when loading up that Camelback. Once gear and food were sorted, between Paul’s and my own, I felt like I was carrying a decently hefty child on my back.

Ultra champion Anton Krupicka and Uber pacer Scott Jurek heading out to Powerline.

4. Invest in some good gear.  This includes a pack you’re comfortable with, reliable but lightweight and compact-when-packed clothing for a range of temperatures, and a powerful handheld flashlight in addition to a headlamp. The latter was a lifesaver. I’m not all that confident when it comes to running in the dark, but Paul let me borrow a small but strong, light flashlight with a wrist loop. It was brilliant. Robin and Paul also had collapsible Platypus bladders with water bottle tops I could carry which were perfect for quickly refilling Paul’s hand-held bottle when needed.

5. Take care of yourself, too. You’ll come across this advice time and again. Heed it. I tell my students on a regular basis of their supplies, “if you don’t care enough to take care of your things, no one will”. Same goes for your self at Leadville, although you will be looked after to a point.  It’s imperative that you are in a healthy state if you’re going to successfully do your job. Only, it’s not about you. No matter how often or sternly you remind yourself to hydrate, fuel, and take care of your needs, you will forget to check in with your body. Something about the electricity of the moment and event at large will bring you out of yourself. In a way it feels something like an out-of-body experience, and is weirdly beautiful. But with that comes a certain detachment. At some point you will forget that you’re fatiguing too, as well as steadily freezing, dehydrating, and draining your reserves. Don’t let the self-awareness come too late.

Dave setting out with Craig from Fish Hatchery.

6. Plan out what your wait time might look like. When race day arrives, you’ll want to be involved from start to finish. From the buzzing pre-dawn kickoff to the bustling hum of Twin Lakes later on, and all throughout the day. But the sun is strong, the air is dry, and the risk of thunderstorms is always present. You can feel your surface layer of skin burning off you as you stand and cheer, and depending on how long your leg is, there’s a limit to the time you should put on your feet prior to it. Map out a few options for how you spend your day, taking into account transportation, food, and catching some extra Zs.

Settling in for the wait.

Dave, Brendan (who paced Paul from Winfield to Fish Hatchery) and I all woke up at 3:30 to attend the start. We went back to the hotel for an hour or so nap afterward, got up for breakfast, and then headed to Twin Lakes to cheer. By mid-day, Dave and I went back to Leadville for some lunch and managed to get another hour or two of rest before going to Fish Hatchery. We arrived at that aid station, which is a really restful and lovely place, before any of the racers had been through, so we got to see all the leaders make their way there.

Dave set off with Craig, who was running strong in 10th, before 7pm, while it was still light out. I had over four hours to go before starting off with Paul, and at first I felt lonely and a little lost. Luckily, Robin had advised me to bring a sleeping bag, which I did. I sat in the car, ate pasta I’d prepared at home before hand, and stretched out over the back seat, relaxing and dozing off and on in a state that was kind of surreal but relaxed.

Some of Craig's crew during a debrief. Dana took beautiful footage throughout the weekend!

7. Communicate with fellow pacers and support teammates. At aid stations and your handoff, compare notes. Find out what’s been going on, what’s working, what’s hurting, and all the ebbs and flows you can. It can make all the difference for your racer, and therefore yourself. Somehow you’ll feel more responsibility for their success, no matter how small your segment with them, than you’ll shoulder in a great many of your own races.

8. Be yourself, and  go with the flow. Just in case, I stockpiled a couple of inspirational stories, tales of the magnitude of the human spirit. On the other end of the spectrum, I tucked away a couple of good poop stories. Tales from both categories were dredged up along the way. That said, I didn’t need to pre-think them. Something about being out there, in the black mountains under a shield of clear, bright stars, seems to open up these cerebral pathways to the whole of the universe in a way you can’t expect. I’m not exaggerating. I talked Paul’s ears off up Powerline. I couldn’t stop talking. I would have made myself go mum if he had wanted quiet, but in the end we were both surprised how quickly we made it up the steep slope, as diverted as we were by conversation. Of course, there were definitely periods of silence in the six and a half or so hours we were out there, especially when frigid, but those were natural, too. Be attentive to your racer, and the talk–or sense not to–will work itself out.

Craig coming into the finish with Dean.

9. Love your crew. Pacing means you’ll be in the unique position of being both part of the support crew and supported by it. Robin (Paul’s wife) and Jen (Craig’s wife) had support plans down to a science. They were as sleep-deprived, or more so, as their racing counterparts, but they didn’t show it. They were amazing. They had every imaginable aid on hand, which they tidily packed, hauled, unloaded, and re-packed throughout the day. They were ever on the ready to re-apply sunscreen, top up water, grab food, aspirin, Tums…foremost for the racer, but also for pacers running through aid stations. Talk about the unsung heros. No matter how tough your pacing stretch is, you can bet the crew is working harder than you.

Paul and his Leadman winnings.

10. Enjoy every second. Don’t stress. As long as you take care of #s 1-3, you really should be fine. Your racer wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t a good fit. I worried so much over this exciting opportunity, I had just as many well wishes on my Facebook wall as the racers. So awesome (THANK YOU, dear Facebook friends!!!), but admittedly perhaps a little embarrassing, indicating just what a little stressball I’d been for yonks. I was just so darn worried I’d let Paul down.

Likely, my subconscious was purposefully magnifying things so that the reality would be a relief. Needless to say, the actual experience was so indescribably better than I’d feared, and more than met my best expectations. I really was excited about the whole thing, at the end of the day. But the stress during the buildup was really mostly pointless. Some butterflies are good, and a certain seriousness is necessary, but stress? It’s a killer. You know that.

It’s not your race, but then again it is. In fact, it might end up feeling more meaningful to selflessly help someone else achieve such a grand goal. The memories will last a lifetime.

 

 

Pawnee Revisited and Reversed (plus almond-cranberry trail bars)

More homemade trail fuel

Life is full of contradictions. In the Boulder area, this is  especially so when it comes to health and fitness. On any given day, you get Buddhists driving Hummers and locavores sipping imported coffees. You manage to feel like a slacker when elsewhere your  race and activity agenda is still regarded as crazy and extreme.

I’m not trying to be preachy or moralistic. I’m not sure there really is much point to this musing at all, in fact. I know I definitely contribute to what could be called hypocrisy, or more generously described irony;  to be really fun and whimsical, we could just think oxymoron.  Today, the real relevance is, this is where my mindset is lately. In spite of a bunch of 14ers and solid biking, swimming and running this summer, I’ve been feeling a little bit like a slacker. It’s the first year in five that I haven’t done at least a 1/2 ironman distance tri. We did a couple of sprints and Olympic, and a bunch of winter snowshoe races and duathlon nationals before that, but in this corner of the world, it kind of feels like peanuts unless you’re graced with the talent to go really, really, really fast.
Although I’ve always had a deep aversion to that “left-out” feeling, and yes I have felt a little “left out” of the race scene this summer, I don’t feel any pining or regret. We have pacing at Leadville coming up, a marathon in December, and some little events to enjoy along the way, plus a tentative plan for another iron-distance tri next fall.  I’m not feeling unmotivated. I’m just not feeling motivated to race much just now.
Besides, there’s something so very satisfying about giving in to the yearning for the mountains. You can call it escapism, but it’s more than that. It’s pure freedom, and brings about this sound but quiet sense of wholeness, a stillness and confidence in being that is uniquely yours. That’s something I couldn’t wait to experience again when we decided to take on the Pawnee-Buchanan loop a second time, approximately 27 miles with roughly 7,ooo feet of elevation gain in Indian Peaks Wilderness, this weekend.
Last year, we ran-hiked Pawnee-Buchanan with our Rim to Rim to Rim crew as part of a buildup for that major goal. Then, Dave and I were also training for the Pigman 1/2 ironman, and we were feeling pretty darn fit. This time, almost a year on, we had no looming race goals, except for pacing–not racing–at the Leadville 100 in a few weeks. We felt less confidence in overall fitness but more specifically prepared in a way, having faced wild, tough conditions the last time (it could only be easier) and with a bunch of recent 14ers under our belts.
Last year, we faced Pawnee Pass first, wisely choosing to get the hardest part out of the way first. That was a critical choice, as the pass was snow covered and embattled by gale-force winds. I had my first, and so far only, experience of near hypothermia accompanied by memory loss on that descent. This year, looking ahead to dry, sun-bathed peaks, we took on the loop counter-clockwise, starting with Buchanan and saving Pawnee Pass for last. The beauty of tackling the loop in this direction meant that the final ascent gave way to a nicely straightforward, 5 mile descent home to the car park, as opposed to a 9 mile, rolling slog complete with a couple of possibly tricky river crossings.
We arrived at the Long Lake Trail Head at about 6am, where we met Dave S (who was run-hiking with us), and Mike and Doug, who were hiking the whole way. It was pure coincidence that they had been planning on doing the loop the same day we were, and good fortune that we found out about each other’s mutual plans (thank you, Facebook–one of your better attributes, facilitating these kind of connections). To our surprise, we ran into Derek at the trailhead, too, getting ready to climb a few peaks with a friend. Later, I learned our friend James was backpacking the route, counter-clockwise as well, but he started 15 minute or so after us. All in all, I’ve decided there were wonderfully mischievous forces at work willing this day to happen.
We all walked together to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead to start up the steadily steep, but non-technical climb up Buchanan Pass. The first part is fairly wooded for a bit, which makes for a nice, serene start. Shortly after, the trail opened up, and we got an amazing view of a low sea of cloud below us. Driving up Left Hand Canyon, we were enveloped in such thick fog we worried that we’d be stuck in the rain. Once we reached 8,000 or so feet, there wasn’t even a fine mist to be concerned over.
Ascending Buchanan, sharp, clear memories presented themselves in contrast to last year. There was the rock wall we all sat in protected warmth eating sandwiches. Just yards away, around a bend, was the pitiful rock pile where Artie and I huddled against the fierce winds, oblivious to the calm and comfort where the others waited a few steps away.  I thought about how many movie plots I’d enjoyed and forgotten, compared with the nameless sensations of experiencing the mountains that came bounding back with the scent of pine, and the brightness of wildflowers.
This loop has a bit of everything you could want from a day of exploring the mountains, including absolutely splendid views of the Divide. The beautiful Cascade Creek section has several waterfalls. At one, a perfect picnic spot with a rock “table” right under the falls, we replenished our water stores, filling our bottles and squeezing with both hands to force through the filtration system and into our pack bladders. This took about 15 minutes, the longest stop in the journey.
After Cascade Creek, we enjoyed some nicely runnable forest trail and a few odd glimpses of the staunchly impressive, jagged peaks of Lone Eagle, Pawnee and other mountain ridges. This was great for awhile, but then we started to become a little impatient for the lake. Our legs were starting to show signs of deadening, and we wanted to get to the day’s big climb, show it who’s boss, and get down. At least, that was the case for me. Dave was feeling great, and seemed to be floating ahead, with painstaking periods of waiting for Dave S. and I to catch up.
Dave had warned me beforehand, when we first looked at Pawnee, we wouldn’t see a trail, but it would be there. In other words, don’t freak out. He was right–I didn’t see the trail, but it was there, and thanks to the warning, I didn’t freak out. It’s just amazing what the mind can do in getting you powering through challenges with a little preparation. I absolutely love the feeling I’ve grown to count on, when something in the mind clicks, either telling you something simply has to get done and there’s no way around it (and so it does), or in accepting pain (short-term) just because the pain is familiar.
Ascending Pawnee this direction was oh so much better than descending it last year…in spite of the memory loss I’d experienced that previous occasion, I know that much for sure. Mostly it was better because there was no snow, or raging head winds, but even without those factors I could appreciate the strength of the pass. The trail is rife with loose rock and switchbacks, and it’s easy to lose sight of, yet somehow  it reappears just in time for the next step. We all three nearly lost our hats nearing the top, as swirling winds seem to be a staple there regardless of the day and weather.
On the way down from Pawnee, we were treated to the most stunning views of Lake Isabelle and Long Lake. As we started to get really fatigued, aching for the run to be done, Dave S. and I started noting with glee the increasing traffic and the decreases in preparedness of trail-goers. Kids, good sign. Hand-held store-bought water bottle, great sign. Flip-flops, can’t get much better than that.
Last year, facing far more difficult conditions, getting lost at Buchanan Creek, and stopping longer and more frequently, it was a near 12-hour day and 28 miles according to our respective Garmins. This year, with better weather, no getting lost, and fewer, shorter stops, we figured we’d beat that time by hours, but the day was actually 11 hours out on the trail, 27.5 miles. My Garmin claims moving time was only 8:38, but it doesn’t seem realistic our cumulative stops and pauses could have been close to 2 1/2 hours, so I really don’t know…all I need to know, however, is that this is one gorgeous, wonderfully challenging, worthwhile loop, and there’s no doubt we’ll do it again, next year.

New friend Dave made on the trail.

OK, here’s the part where I do feel the hypocrite, a little, because despite being passionate and obsessive about natural, homemade foods, I still enjoy product in training, quite a lot.  And this being a food blog, I feel the need to record the calories I did consume and where they came from, so here you go.
Fuel consumed in 11 hours (following cold oatmeal and berry breakfast in car) :
 Approximately 60 ounces of Cytomax/Carbo pro mix–400 calories
1 Garmin-style boiled potato–approximately 200 calories
peanut trail bar squares and 1 almond trail bar square (see recipe below)–approximately 125 calories each
1 cool mint chocolate Clif bar–240calories
1 packet raspberry Power Bar Energy Blasts–190 calories
1 jet blackberry Gu–100 calories
3 raspberry glucose tablets–50 calories each
1 vanilla Honey Stinger waffle–160 calories (actually eaten in the car on the way home)
Total for excursion: 1,815 calories
5-minute almond-cranberry trail bars
  • 1 cup raw or roasted almonds
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut (*optional)
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
  • a couple of caco nibs (*optional)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
**If you can’t tolerate oats,  or would prefer, you can leave them out!
  1. Grind all ingredients, except for the honey, in a food processor until fairly fine but having some texture (not the consistency of peanut butter).
  2. Add honey and process just long enough for it to blend in.
  3. Press into a square about 3/4-inch thick on a plate or square pan and refrigerate for about an hour or more.
  4. Cut into 2-inch squares.

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