Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Try the Hot Pockets, They're breathtaking...

Let me set the scene first. Four half-opened eyes in a borrowed Toyota Tacoma on I-70 at 0315 heading from Denver to Aspen. Specifically the Maroon Lake Trailhead. 
Patrick: "Dude, I made some excellent grilled cheese sandwiches for this run. Thick cheddar melted to perfection in between two pieces of double buttered bread. Probably still warm." He didn't leave out a detail.
Image result for spongebob transition
Cut to the trial head (with a Spongebob-esque transition), Patrick (my partner in crime's name... not the cartoon starfish) searching thru his bags. "Dang! Must have forgotten the sandwiches! What a let down!" 

The whole day was filled with these movie-type goofy transitions that felt like they were to be accompanied by a laugh-track.

It is now 0715. Just a few minutes past sunrise. "Oh, well." I said. "At least the trail is clear and we can get started before it gets crowded."

Image result for spongebob transition
0.15 miles later... "Oh yeah, we just had to close the trail. There is an injured moose right up ahead. You can wait him out or go home."
End story. We went home...
Image result for spongebob transition
"Any other options?" I asked with a little bit of left over Boston smartassery that is usually never appreciated.
"You could bush-wack around the lake a bit but you better go deep because you're in some real danger. That would definitely be ill advised though."
Cue the off trail adventure. After about a half a mile, we circumnavigated the moose and got back on trail. The sun rose at 0640, meaning it was light out, but just like Patrick and I, it was still slowly making its way over the mountains and struggling to break the horizons of the peaks and ridge lines that surrounded us. At the very moment that I started to get into a running groove, I simultaneously made the mistake of thinking, "Hmm, at least the super steep stuff hasn't started yet."
The increase in grade dope slapped me almost literally as the side of the mountain shoots up 26-42% grade for the next 2.7miles. Trying to run from 10,200ft to 12,500ft in such a short distance brings about a few Seinfeld-esque chess matches.

Image result for seinfeld chess match
The first is whether your eyes should try and take in the surrounding views that are so astounding that even seeing them makes you question if they are real OR should you stare at the ground and navigate the rocks and place your foot on a surface that will keep your ankle right-side-down.

A couple big keys to ultra-trail-running is breathing and eating. Seems simple, but the second chess match consists of your stomach vs your lungs. The air is so scarce that it often takes 2-3 breaths to get the oxygen of a normal breath... Sometimes I have no idea whether it is better to get the needed -oh-two or try and get some sugar down.

Trying to keep pace as your body desperately craves both and only being able to fully satisfy one at a time is sometimes a sport in itself. Gasping, stepping, taking a small bite, gasping, gasping, stepping, "Look at those mountains!"... repeat...

We made it to the top of Buckskin Pass a few minutes before 9am. Not a bad pace for the moose detour but still slower than we anticipated. I guess I should describe the "we" as Patrick was a stranger to me all but two weeks ago and this adventure was probably the 5th or 6th time we have talked. The first was right outside my Denver apartment. He had just moved in to the same complex and was exiting with the same bike-over-the-shoulder mannerisms I was entering in. He was also looking for a job in the area at the time which made it easy to meet up for a day-drinking session. Long story short is that I mentioned my idea of hitting this loop in 4 days... He said he hadn't been running in a while but was over-ecstatic about joining me (not sure if it was the beer or the trail running he was pumped about). A day drinking, bike riding, job-less dude not afraid to take on a colossal Colorado trail on little training... Bro-mance at first sight one might say.

And here we stand - Four days later 4.5 miles into a 27mile trail and at 12,500ft. Patrick made the next mistake of saying, "OK cool - let's eat quick and try and make up some time on this descent."

The trail replied with a resounding "NO"

Or rather "(S)NO(W)"...

It had hailed last night and then froze over. The sun rays hadn't made it's way over the backside of the pass yet. Damn you, Fermat. We slowly slid down the next 3.5 miles as gracefully as Ryan Lochte slid into that sponsorship from a crime prevention program. 

Rolling hills for the next mile and half were brought us to the start of our next pass climb. But not before the epic sight of Snowmass lake. We turned a corner and the thing popped out at us like a jack-in-the-box.

Once I got over the overwhelming feeling of the sight of the lake I got to thinking about the past week. The combination of the mountains and the lake reminded me of Coeur d'Alene and the Ironman race that I took on 9 days prior. I was disappointed in the result mostly because the marathon didn't go as planned and I knew deep down I could have done a lot better. The feeling of being so sure I could have done better and not being able to prove it on race days threw in into a semi-depressed state. It was a rough 9days and anyone who has texted or called me since knows that I have been a less than perfect friend.

I try to shake things like this off but it gets to me like nothing else does. It's easy to say things like, "It's just a race." and "You still did great"... blah blah blah. As much as I hate to admit it, these races mean a ton to me. I don't quite know why yet. 

The only way to describe the very real post race depression I go thru is this: Imagine you are tasked with baking the worlds best cake. Every day you are only allowed to put in a little tiny bit of one ingredient. You keep putting in a bit of flour every day. A tiny bit of sugar the next. And you repeat this every day for nine months. Towards the end you put in an egg and the bigger stuff. (I realize this is an absurd way to bake a cake but bear with me)... The batter tastes delicious and you are getting ready to put it into the oven... You wait even more as the thing bakes. You started this cake at the beginning of the year and you know you have made the world's best batter.

The oven dings and you get mitts on to take this perfect piece of confection out and taste it and present it to friends and family.

Except when you open the oven a midget doppelgänger of Zoltan Mesko jumps out and punts you in the groin sending you 60yards downfield in a perfect human spiral and you slowly roll to a stop at the half yard line.

Ironically the last time that I was really proud of a race was Ironman Mont Tremblant back in 2014. The time was exactly the same as Ironman Coeur d'Alene. 10hours 11 minutes. The only difference being that this was the last race where I know deep down that I gave every last bit of energy (physically, mentally, and emotionall) I had to finish with the best possible time. I emptied the tank 100% and dug deeper than I ever conceived possible back in August, 2 years ago. Though I have raced faster times since; I haven't really had that feeling since. I'm after it like a junkie after their next fix.

Yeah. It's like that... but this run was the yang to the race yin. So I chose to write about this instead. I still don't know how I do these mountain runs for hours on end but I can't put together a 3hr 15min at the end of an Ironman but I will figure it out. Runs like these are just how I bounce back from the post-race low.

Hitting the ridge of Trail Rider Pass was just as glorious as Buckskin and even a little warmer than the first. It is now almost noon.
This was my favorite section of the trail. We really opened up and got into an amazing flow. The mountains threw us through this valley with warm sun shine and a nice gentle breeze. They spoke to us in a way that two foreign people exchange laughs. Laughs are universal throughout the world even if they can't speak to each other with words. It was like the way babies will instinctually dance or bop their heads when music is playing... This isn't a learned behavior. It is just what feels right and needs no further description.

"It is awesome to be warming up a bit, eh?" I declared to Patrick...

"Oops... my bad." I thought as we jumped right through the river thwarting the trail.
At least I clean my legs off? We refilled bottles via a water filter at the next river. I am not sure if the filter actually worked or not but I think I was doing it right... If I come down with jhardia next week I will know what it's from... worth it though.

The trail beats on to Frigid Air Pass. Mile 17.5. 12,400feet high. It lives up to it's name even in August.
Can you follow the trail down the switchbacks...

We got asked more than once by back packers and hikers, "Where is the rest of your stuff? Are you guys doing the whole loop in a day?" 
After we smiled or laughed to confirm, they'd reply, "That's crazy!"
That got me thinking... and it gave me the opportunity to perch myself on top a soap box for a minute: What's crazy to me is that these breathtaking trails are out there all the time and more people are NOT running them! These pictures are all of real things, damnit... Go see them. Or something like them. As often as possible.

I am convinced that the opposite of happiness is not sadness. Happiness and sadness go hand and hand with one another and are both feelings that deserve equal attention. Just as the opposite of love is not hate. As the Lumineers sang me through a break up a while back, "The opposite of love is indifference." The opposite of happiness is definitely not sadness... but boredom. The realization of time passing is a horrendous thought to me.
 Things are looking up at this point. 
Image result for several bad puns later

Yup... I did just pull that pun off. One more pass to climb...

 Maroon Pass came next right about at mile 20. It was welcomed. We had been running a while. And were ready to cruise back down to the trail head. We were both smart enough not to mention how ready we were to be head back and I am convinced if we did, something else may have come up to make that a little more difficult!
 It was all downhill from there. Everything in me rejoiced. Except for my quads... They screamed at me to keep going up but they were out voted by every other part of my body. It was like the youngest sibling trying to negotiate their way out of sitting on the hump of the middle seat on a long trip in the car with the AC broken... probably to a funeral.
Passing Crater Lake. 2 miles to go.
Closing the lollipop. 1.4 miles to go and we were still running! Luckily the moose was off the trail...
Finish line. A little over 9hrs. 27 miles. 8,000ft of elevation gain between 10,000 and 12,500 ft.


  1. This is a good one. If you can bounce back from a sub par race in 9 days you are better than me. I am almost a month out and still sulking.

  2. Great adventure buddy! Wish I could have joined. Love the quote too.

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