Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Colorado Trip 2008

Well, we managed to squeeze in a 10-day trip to Colorado to visit Mary Ann's parents in the midst of our busy work schedules. Highlights of the trip...

Fri, Aug 1 - Drove 1,000 miles to Fraser, Colorado. The drive was smooth and uneventful (no snafus with traffic, accidents, road construction, weather, deer, moose, elk, avalanches, you know... the usual stuff in Colorado). Got in at 12:45am. Long drive. We were tired, but we got it behind us.

Sat, Aug 2 - Relaxed, unpacked, and took it easy. I ran 10.8 miles at 9,500' on the dirt roads up above the house towards the Devils Thumb TH (out and back, twice). Running at that altitude is not easy, but the air is so clean, the temps cool, and the scenery so beautiful.

Sun, Aug 3 - I got up early before church and ran 20.8 miles on the Fraser to Granby Trail (dirt trail; out and back, twice). Even though it had few hills, that was one tough long run in thin air (8,400'). It was a bucolic run through the open country of Fraser Valley. At one point (actually four times on my double out-and-back run), the trail goes through a cow pasture and I found myself running among a herd of Black Angus cattle (with no fence separating us). A while later, I saw a big hot air balloon take off. I was out there long enough to see four freight trains lumber on down the tracks. Great run. Felt good.

That afternoon after church, all the ladies went up to see a play in Grand Lake.

Mon, Aug 4 - I got up early and ran 10.8 miles on the dirt roads above the house again. Then I had to get myself over to the Denver airport to fly home to teach at CBU that night.

The rest of the family took a hike up to Columbine Lake. That is one gorgeous mountain lake. I wish I could have been there. It sounded like they had plenty of fun there.

Tues, Aug 5 - I got up early and ran 10 miles (with 4x1mile repeats) at the gym in Riverside as soon as the doors opened (4:30am). I had to do that early to have time to catch my flight back to Denver. After running some errands in Denver, I drove back to Fraser Valley. I was disappointed with my early morning run (because the gym was too hot) so I decided to run some more miles on the Fraser River Trail, a paved bike trail which runs south (uphill) from Fraser to Winter Park Ski Resort. I pushed the pace pretty well for the 5.2 miles up to the base and then the 5.2 miles back down to Fraser. The run served as a good benchmark for my pacing since there were mile markers painted on the trail. That is one gorgeous route to run.

While I was gone, Mary Ann and the kids enjoyed a fun-filled day making crafts out at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch. They had a big time making bracelets, necklaces, and pottery.

Wed, Aug 6 - I got up early again and ran 10.8 "easy" miles on the dirt roads above the house again. I tried to keep the pace easy since I had a race coming up on Saturday, but it's almost impossible to run an easy run at 9,500'. But at least I didn't spike my heart rate on the uphills this time.

We spent the rest of the day over at the Winter Park Ski Resort. We were racing down the alpine slide, climbing the rock wall, jumping on the bungee-trampoline, and playing miniature golf. That was seven hours of fun!

Unfortunately though, on the way home going up County Road 8, we came around a blind corner and came face to face with an ATV barrelling downhill on the wrong side of the road (cutting the corner while assuming that no other vehicles were on the road). We both slammed on the brakes but still hit. Fortunately, no one was hurt or thrown from the ATV. But still the ATV dented in the passenger-side bumper of my car. Now I have the joy of getting that fixed and settling matters with insurance.

Thurs, Aug 7 - I got up early again and ran another 10.8 "easy" miles on the dirt roads above the house. Two more days before my half marathon in Georgetown.

I then took the kids to Denver to the Rockies-Nationals baseball game at Coors Field (1:05pm start). Cheap tickets were easy to find on the street for this afternoon weekday game. We sat up in the upper deck above first base on row 20. That's a special row because the seats on that row are all purple (compared to all the other seats in the stadium which are dark green). But that row is distinctly purple because it's the "mile-high" row which officially marks 5,280' above sea-level in the mile-high city. Unfortunately, the Rockies (the current reigning NL champs) lost 6-3. They did score 3 runs in the last 2 innings to make it exciting but couldn't pull ahead.

Since Wednesday's game had been rained out, 20 minutes after the first game we got to watch a double-header make-up game. For this second game, over half the fans left leaving the 40,000-seat stadium noticeably empty. There couldn't have been more than 5,000 fans in the entire ballpark. Even in the upper deck, we could clearly hear all the sounds of the game... every catch of the ball, not just the pop of the fastball pitches.

After 3 or 4 innings, we went down to the lower level and asked an usher if we could sit in the lower seats in the later innings. She said, "Just come on in right now. It's a make-up game and there's plenty of empty seats." So we went in and sat about 20 rows from 3rd base. Then after a half inning we moved to some empty seats on row 5. Then after another half inning, we sat on the front row closest to third base right next to the visitors dugout. I told the kids, "Soak this up, kids, I can't afford these kinds of tickets!"

We were so close to the game that we could see every minute detail... even shoe laces and blades of grass. At the end of one inning, the Rockies third-base coach walked over and handed my son a game ball. He was thrilled. So we spent the second half of the game watching from some of the best seats in the house. Unfortunately, the Rockies lost the double-header by the same score (6-3). But we did get to see Matt Holiday hit a massive home-run, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the close-up experience.

Fri, Aug 8 - I didn't run because I wanted to rest my legs for the race the next day. Instead, I got up early to go bag a 14er. My son was supposed to go with me, but he way overslept. Of course, that was partially my fault after 6 hours of baseball the day before.

We were planning to go up Quandary Peak (14,265') just south of Breckenridge. It's one of the easiest of Colorado's fifty-four 14ers. It's a pretty simple 2.7-mile class-1 hike to the top (although it goes up 3,000' of elevation).

Since I ended up doing this alone, I thought why not attempt an easy 14er with less of a drive to a trailhead. So I pulled off I-70 at exit 221 to attempt the Grays-Torreys double (8 miles rt hike). I started up the 3.5-mile dirt road to the TH. I wondered why there were quite a few cars parked down below, three miles from the TH. I went around the first bend of the dirt road and soon discovered why. This was the gnarliest dirt road I had ever laid eyes on. It went steeply uphill... and I'm not exaggerating when I say it was probably a 20% grade! Not only was it steep, but it had a deep gully that ran diagonally across it. I quickly realized that my Toyota Highlander was not beefy enough to keep from getting stuck. So I turned around and headed to the Quandary Peak TH 35 miles away.

The most difficult thing about hiking Quandary Peak is sorting out the different possible trailheads at the beginning of the hike. According to Gerry Roach's Fourteener book, the main trail is a mile up the turnoff. But actually, that's just a logging road and the main trail is well marked much closer to Hwy 9. Since I didn't know that, I followed Roach's TH (actually a logging road) and started up the trail. Soon I came to a junction and realized only now was I hiking on the main trail. At this point I tried to make some mental notes of the surroundings so I could find my way back to my car afterward.

All the trails had converged into a single line before I got to treeline (~12,000'). I got somewhat of a late start up the trail (roughly 9:00am) but I still had plenty of time to get up and down without the threat of afternoon thunderstorms.

I headed up the trail at what felt like a very slow walk. The trail was steep, but I also wanted to be careful not to spike my HR or wear out my legs before my race the next day. I just wanted a nice little walk to the top of another 14er (my 8th in Colorado).

As I was heading up the East Ridge trail (a very simple, straightforward route which doesn't even have any true switchbacks). There were some low hanging clouds which blew across the summit, but nothing threatening. After only a couple hours on the trail, I was on top. The clouds reduced visibility down to only 300'-500'. I couldn't even see across the valley to the south to Mts. Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross (my first 14ers back in 2003). But still it felt good to be on top.

I gave Mary Ann a call to let her know how it went. I took a few pictures. I talked with a few of the dozen or so people on the top. There was somewhat of a somber mood on top though because the day before the body of an experienced hiker had been found on the south side of the mountain. He had come up a different route and was climbing on some rocks off the trail when he fell. RIP.

I headed down the trail and took some pictures of some of the pikas scurrying around on the rocks and chirping as I passed by.
I wondered if I would find the right trail back to my car. Nope, I didn't. I tried several trails but none of them seemed right. So I emerged from the main trail on the road about a mile below where my car was. Oh well. It still felt good to notch another 14er in my hiking belt (my 8th in Colorado and my 4th for the summer)... although I really wish my son had gone with me. He could have done this one (his 2nd 14er) very easily, and I would have enjoyed his company.

Sat, Aug 10 - This was the day of my big race, the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon. This was going to serve as a big test towards my fitness for the Big Bear Marathon on Sept 6 (4 weeks away). I was glad I had a chance to acclimate in Colorado for a good week before attempting this. Even though the p2p course drops 1000' in elevation, it would still be a tough run in thin air (the start in Georgetown is 8500' and the finish in Idaho Springs is 7500').

Since this was also the day that our family would start our return trip to SoCal, the original plan was for all five of us to get up early and leave by 5:30am to drop me off in Georgetown for the start of the race. But early on Saturday morning as I loaded the car, my father-in-law graciously offered to drive me over so Mary Ann and the kids could get an extra couple hours of sleep. This was a very kind gesture on his part for his daughter and grandkids since his son-in-law is wacky enough to get up so early and attempt to run that far in the thin mtn air before driving hundreds of miles towards home.

In Georgetown, I met up with three Colorado friends from the RT marathoning forum. It was great to catch up with Dan, Mike, and Carolyn. We ran a warm-up mile and then lined up for the race. My goal was sub-90 (6:52/mile pace). I thought that would probably be a stretch (despite the downhill course) based on my tough tempo run on the Fraser River Trail on Tuesday. But still I'd give it a shot and try to hang on to that pace. I'd have to be careful not to overdo it and burn myself out on the opening couple of miles which circle Georgetown before heading downhill to Idaho Springs.

I can honestly say I ran a very even paced race on the uphills, downhills, and flats. The slight differences in splits below are mostly due to the fluctuating terrain.

Mile 1 - 6:34 - Way faster than I planned, but it felt fine though. Perfect weather... low 60s, cloudy with no direct sunlight
Mile 2 - 6:46 - a bit of uphill; and we hit some stiff headwinds
Mile 3 - 6:42 - getting in the groove, still in those headwinds; ten miles to go; so far so good
Mile 4 - 6:21 - luvin' this downhill
Mile 5 - 6:27 - wow, this pace feels very comfortable
Mile 6 - 6:51 - slowed a bit with some flats and slight uphill near Empire (Exit 232 on I-70)
Half Split - 43:30 - wow, I'm on pace for a 1:27:00 and most of the uphills are behind me!
Mile 7 - 6:36 - feelin' good
Mile 8 - 6:38 - still feelin' good; start reeling people in
Mile 9 - 6:28 - still feelin' good; reeling more people in; sun is starting to come out... glad this will be over soon before it gets too hot!
Mile 10 - 6:27 - wow, if I can run a 20:00 last 5K (6:27 pace), I can dip under 1:26!
Mile 11 - 6:30 - still feelin' great... still reeling people in!
Mile 12 - 6:33 - maybe I can still surge and get in the 1:25's by a few seconds
Finish - 1:26:02, surged and beat the runner in front of me in the last quarter mile; dang, just barely missed 1:25:xx... no wait, my chip time is 1:25:58 (6:34 pace)! Woo hoo! Sub-86!

Ran a neg split by 62 seconds (43:30/42:28)... but granted, part of that was given to me by the course.

Ended up finishing 44th overall (out of 2000+ runners). Not bad for this low-lander from California. Hiking that 14er the day before doesn't seem to have affected me a bit... although I imagine I was the only runner who had stood on a 14er the day before.

I met Mary Ann and kids at the finish. I was pretty excited about my performance. I had exceeded my goal by 4 minutes. They were excited that we still had time to go to McDonalds for breakfast. :-)

And so we hopped in the car and drove 9 hours (600 miles) to St George, Utah after the race... not exactly, the best way to recover from a race, but sometimes that's all the schedule will allow. In the drive afterward, it suddenly dawned on me that with this race I had managed to qualify for the NYC marathon (not that I have plans to run it this year). I sometimes forget that I'm 40 (and have a different required QT) because I refuse to act like it. :-)

We pulled into St. George that night and I ran 5 miles to help my legs recovery. As I was running, I thought some of the sights looked familiar. I suddenly realized I was running on part of the St George Marathon course (where I got my first Boston qualifier 3 years ago). It felt good to swim in the hotel pool with the kids afterward. And we made it back to Riverside the next day.

Another great trip to the mountains of Colorado.