Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, April 23, 2018

Palmer Lake 24 Hour Death Race/Fun Run

I think I just fell in love with ultras again. It was my first time doing this event, which is fairly new, it wasn't around in the old days, anyway. I was amazed by the organization, the vibe, and the bang for your buck. The organizers did an amazing job. I'll be back to this one. Maybe a new favorite.

Palmer Lake is a tiny town at the base of the Rampart Range, tucked away off I-25, protected from the madness of the nearby big cities of Denver and Colorado Springs. I haven't been there in 20 years. Before we moved away to Arizona, I ran a trail race there in 1998. I remember it being beautiful and quiet.

The entire reason I love 24 hour runs is the nighttime. Especially under a clear sky with stars and meteor showers. Life doesn't get much better than that, in my opinion. If I were more of a night person in my regular life, I would do all my running at night. The cover of darkness under the moon or starlit sky is the best venue for running, for losing yourself, for therapy, for clearing your mind into a blank slate, and renewal of your spirit. That's what it does for me.

Surrounded by mountains with pine-forested slopes, a forgiving dirt trail around a quiet lake reflecting the landscape, and just the right number of people- not too crowded, but well-attended enough to provide the just the right social atmosphere, with enough of a weather challenge to keep things interesting without being miserable- I think this might be the essence of ultrarunning.

The only drawback of this event, that I found a bit annoying- was the frequency of the trains that thundered by at least once an hour- big, long coal trains along the tracks on the west side of the course. There is a railroad crossing on the north end of the lake, and the horns would go off, waking you out of whatever stupor you were in, followed by earth shattering railroad cars, followed by hundreds of screeching wheels that sound like nails on a chalkboard. Other than being subjected to this music- and conversation-obliterating nuisance on a regular basis, and one that the race organizers are powerless to change- I would say this event is one of the best ultras I've ever attended. I'd say if the noise bothers you, bring earplugs, it certainly won't stop me from coming back.

Sasquatch (a.k.a. Dale Perry) told me about this event a few months ago and the timing was perfect for me. Then I signed up for it and discovered it was a bargain. Other than Fat Ass runs, this one doesn't cost much more than those. There is, of course, no timing system, it's an honor-based system where you keep track of your own miles. They provide a tracking method where you can write down your lap count. I found that it helped me if I wrote my laps down every hour, that way I didn't have trouble keeping track of too many at a time. To help me remember, I also wrote down the time of day when I finished the last recorded lap.

I wasn't expecting much more than a Fat Ass event based on the price, but I was pleasantly surprised to find just the right number of well-stocked portapotties, a tent with a few unexpected snacks, trash cans, and chairs to chill out off your feet if needed, which was where the lap-tracking activity occurred. We switched directions every 4 hours, which was a nice distraction, and it was convenient to set up your table or crewing station right along the course without adding any extra steps.

Not only that, but they provided race goodies- a water bottle, flask, sticker, and finishers medal, much more than I'd ever expect from a race priced this low.


After being supervised by Velcro and Gypsy while packing everything under the sun due to the weather forecast of snowy, cold, wet conditions, I decided to stay overnight in Monument, about 10 minutes drive from the event. I made a reservation at the Fairfield Inn and headed south on I-25. Sasquatch also decided to drive down Friday so we met for dinner at Chili's- not too many choices besides McDonalds, fried chicken, and a few other fast food joints. Sasquatch advised me to get there early in the morning to get a good parking spot to be able to set up for crewing along the course. He said he would be there at 6. I told him I would look for him around 6:30 am, as the race start was at 8 am.

I got decent sleep, though not a full night. My room was hot. I couldn't figure out how to lower the thermostat. I woke up at 3:30 am and couldn't fall back to sleep until shortly before my alarm went off at 5:30. Six hours was okay, but not having a full night's sleep before the race adds to the fatigue in the race. What are you gonna do? Lots of caffeine.

When I woke up in the morning, I looked out my window on the parking lot. It snowed overnight and puddles were forming on the asphalt. The clouds were barely above the ground- a thick fog obscured the view. I drove slowly to the race and got a parking spot alongside the course, with enough room to set up my table next to my car and the trail. I went to the tent to check in and found Sasquatch, who got one of the primo parking spots and parked right next to Eric Pence, another ultra friend of ours from Eagle. Eric is back to ultras now, a few months after surgery to donate one of his kidneys to his sister. Eric has always been a great athlete, and he seems to be recovering extremely well.
It was already muddy on the course, and the wet snow wasn't letting up. There was also a 10 mph wind out of the north that was worth an extra layer or two of clothing. I started out with my long compression shorts and my calf compression sleeves, which together are long enough to cover my entire legs. I wore gaiters, and on top, I had 4 layers, plus a neck gaiter, hat and headband. I brought so many clothes, I knew I would be okay.





As it turned out, I was dressed perfectly, because I was completely comfortable. There was a noticeable difference between the east and west sides of the lake with the wind in our faces or at our backs, I'd rather stay warm and be a little overdressed when the wind is at my back.
Despite the gloomy and wet start, I was thankful that the wind wasn't blowing the snow sideways, and that there weren't waves crashing over the course, like NorthCoast in 2013, exactly 5 years ago to this weekend! I've run in worse, and it was actually quite pleasant here by comparison.

I started out by running a lap every hour to save my energy, and that went well for the first four hours, until the course started to get sloppy, slowing my pace down. Each lap of the course is 0.82 miles. I wasn't doing the math in my head but I knew I wanted to beat my distance from Across the Years in December, which was 61 miles. I was hoping for 70 miles but in these conditions you can't always predict. I decided to concentrate on keeping a steady but moderate walking pace, because the footing was not great on the sloppier west side of the course.

Lots of people were running steadily, and seemed to be putting in a ton of mileage. After a while it was easy to see who was in it just to run 25 or 30 or so, and then stop. The crowd started to dwindle later in the afternoon, and while the weather forecast hadn't been exactly right- the sky did start to clear a few times off and on during the afternoon, and was visibly clearer by sunset, promising a colder but dry evening.

During the race Brad Bishop from Fort Collins joined me on one of his walk breaks from running. He didn't have any particular plan but seemed to be moving well. We talked a while and then he went back to running. I had the opposite strategy- mostly walking with a few running breaks. At one point somebody remarked that I reminded them of a locomotive. I'll take it as a compliment. I was moving solid and steady, but I wasn't exactly in "Walk like you're possessed" mode. It was too slippery in the mud and puddles.

I only stopped twice for short breaks- once to eat some real food out of my cooler after about 6 hours- and another time after 10 hours I changed my socks to take a look at my feet and put on an extra layer of tights for nighttime. My feet were holding up surprisingly well. I greased a few hot spots but everything looked good.

I tried to save on my phone battery and I posted on social media a few times throughout the day, and to my surprise, my friend Josh Holer commented- I wasn't thinking and forgot he was nearby in Colorado Springs. He asked if I needed anything. I asked for Starbucks. Then I thought of Sasquatch and decided to ask if he wanted anything- maybe food or hot drinks. When I saw him on the course, he said a burger or a burrito. The burrito sounded good to me. I asked Josh if he could bring us some burritos and coffee.

I was trying to figure out how to contact Josh because it was so cold my phone wasn't charging. Fortunately the people at the car parked in front of mine were crewing another runner, and offered to text Josh for me to help him find me when he got there. They were so nice- a group of people from Boulder. Ultrarunners are always looking out for each other. Such a great crowd.



Josh came out before sunset, with his girlfriend I haven't ever met, Jeana, who was super nice, and their new puppy, Ember, a black lab. They had a vanilla latte with extra shots, and two burritos. I haven't seen Josh in a couple of years, it was such an awesome treat! He walked a few laps with me and we caught up on life. That was the best tasting vanilla latte I've ever had- and it worked well too!


The burrito place mismarked the burritos- I ordered chicken and Dale ordered beef- so I unwrapped the burrito marked chicken and bit into it- and it was Dale's. We waited for Dale to come around the lap so we could give him his food. I told him we gave him the defective one. Typical Dale response, which I won't print here.

The other thing that happened at the same time was that as I was waiting for Josh to show up, I stopped at the timing tent to record my laps, and I ran into an old running buddy from years ago- Sandee Miller. She and her husband Geoff live in Palmer Lake and I used to see them all the time back in the 90s when I used run a lot of trail races and go to Leadville. Geoff was out along the course, so Sandee and I walked a lap and found Geoff. It was so great to see them!

After all the food, coffee and socializing I felt completely recharged. I cranked up my tunes. The sunset was absolutely stunning with the light on the peaks of the Rampart Range. Sandee, Jeana and Josh took a few pictures.
The sky cleared up and there was a moon, lots of stars, and even some meteor showers. The slippery puddles that had made the footing a challenge earlier were starting to dry up. The wind persisted and switched directions out of the south, but didn't get any stronger. The trains rolled by about every hour- that was irritating because you couldn't hear the person next to you, or your music. But most of the time it was quiet. There weren't too many people left on the course after 10 pm. I didn't have to use my headlamp too much, the path is so smooth that the footing was good other than a few bigger puddles.



When I wasn't talking with someone, I got absorbed in my music. People always ask me what I think about when I'm out there. I really don't think. It's an opportunity to clear my mind. What did go through my head was watching Pete Kostelnick, who is one of the young, fresh, talented ultrarunners on the scene these days, effortlessly circling the course. I think he got about 120 miles. I was thinking about my own competitive nature, and how hard it's been at times to let go of that.

It was fun and it felt fantastic to be in such good condition, to be able to do all those miles and make it look so easy- up until just a few years ago I could do that. I know I could do it again if I put my mind to it, but it just doesn't matter to me now. It is hard to not compare yourself to what you were. As we get older, we are able to accomplish some things that we couldn't at a younger age, but physically, you do lose some of that steam- especially in the speed and smoothness departments.

I have to be accepting of my ability to cover distances- not as far as before, not as fast or easy as before, but be okay with it. Stop comparing to the younger me, and be okay with where I am now. I don't think I was okay with it until now. At Across the Years I did find myself mentally comparing myself. The challenge was to separate the need to be competitive, to have the athlete's body, to train hard and see the results in my times and distances- from being in a different mindset and body than I was a few years ago. I don't need to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I always find validation when I think of Marshall Ulrich saying, "It's not about being a badass."

A good lesson for those younger runners, especially as they start to approach their late 40s and find that the consistency of performance just isn't there. I listen to some of the conversations at night- it's so funny that the people who were flying by, effortlessly running and lapping me all day long are now dragging their beaten and tired bodies- barely moving- in that zombie walk/death march, depleted of energy and calories- feeling like giving up- and I want to impart advice to them- as they start telling me how good I look as I power past them in the dark- I'm still moving the same way I was at the beginning- but that's because I didn't wear myself out by running all day.

But it's up to them to figure it out, so I don't say anything unless asked.

I have a playlist on my iPod called "night music" that ranges from headbanging to just loud and obnoxious- to keep me awake in the middle of the night at these events. I didn't have to listen to too much of it, as the coffee was keeping me plenty awake.

I went through a whole variety of music. I kept singing, the whole time. "I LOVE ROCK N' ROLL SO PUT ANOTHER DIME IN THE JUKEBOX BABY I LOVE ROCK N ROLL..." at the top of my lungs, echoing in the portapotties at 3 am.

During the night I walked with Eric Pence for a while. He told me he and Anne are getting a puppy soon- a mini black tri Aussie. Anne showed me a picture- so cute! We talked Aussies, ultras, and healthcare, and stuck together for quite a few laps.

I didn't get sleepy, just a little hungry. I kept a few calories going but didn't feel like eating too much. Just kept moving at a very steady pace. I started to do the math. Sasquatch left after 50 miles- that was enough for him. When I got to 50 miles then I started thinking about how far I wanted to go. I decided I had to do the 70 just for my own mental satisfaction. If I kept my pace up I should reach it between 6 and 7 am. Then I would reward myself with a nap in the car before driving home to Fort Collins.

The sun started to rise- the light was reflecting on the mountains and lake. I finished my 86th lap, which was 70.52 miles- at 5:42 am. I was satisfied. I didn't care about sticking around for any more miles- that was good. I broke down my table, thanked Jun who helped me find Josh, and moved my car out of the way so I could warm it up and take a little nap.



I dozed off for maybe 5 minutes when another train came blasting through- it woke me up, so I decided to get going and see if some food and coffee would revive me. When I got to south Denver I pulled off and went to a Starbucks, got a coffee and a sandwich, and felt so much better, I was ready to drive. I drove home and got there around 9 am, Dennis helped me dump my stuff out in the garage, and after being attacked by the girls, I took a shower and climbed into bed.

As of today, Monday morning, I owe the sleep bank only about 4 more hours. I have to get packed for Washington DC. I'm headed there later this week to #NursesTakeDC, a grassroots rally of nurses at the US Capitol for passing national legislation for safe nurse: patient ratios in hospitals and healthcare facilities. I am one of the speakers. I'm so excited. I will share the details on this blog after I get back.

photo credits: Josh Holer, Jeana Connaughton, Sandee Miller

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Quick Retreat Home

I've been planning this for some time, but the timing couldn't have been better. And I couldn't have held out any longer.

I've been busting my butt for months now, since the book came out, working on a gazillion different things, trying to keep up with everything and I finally got to the point where I needed a break. January, February and March were nonstop, the only days I really took off were the beer tour in February and my birthday- last two blogposts.

I scheduled this a while ago, knowing I would need it, hoping to catch the mountains at a time with good weather and few people- in between ski season and summer, also known as mud season here.  I like to come up to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs because I always have come here for peace and quiet- since the days when I lived just on the other side of the pass in Gunnison and Crested Butte.

Back then Mt. Princeton was a run-down, barely held together 1860s bathhouse with a couple of hot springs pools and some spots along the creek where you could sit in the springs bubbling up from the creekbed unless it was the high water spring runoff season. The place smelled like mildew and rotting wood, and walking on the wood floors you wondered if you were going to punch a hole through the floorboards.
Along the back road from town to Mt. Princeton is an old schoolhouse that marks a road I used to run often when I lived on this side. It goes up a hill to some towers but gives a spectacular view of the Arkansas River valley. It descends a steep hill next to the chalk cliffs and into the hot springs area along Chalk Creek.
It's been long since renovated and improved, now it's a real resort with about half a dozen well-maintained pools and the creekside area remains, but it's been reinforced and the building no longer looks like it's about to crumble. And they've added a spa, and the lodge and rooms on the hill have been updated and at least a dozen cabins built on the property.

It's between Mt. Princeton and Mt. Antero. Ponderosa pines, aspen, and pinon pine dot the hillsides. The 14,000 foot peaks of Antero and Princeton are overhead.

I call it home because it is. We have property up on Trout Creek Pass about 15 miles northeast of Buena Vista. And it's just the other side of Cottonwood and Monarch Passes from Gunnison and Crested Butte. South of Leadville where I spent every summer in the 1990s. The other side of Poncha Pass from the San Luis Valley and Alamosa, where Dennis lived and trained for a year under Coach Vigil. This is all home. Back in the 90s when I was teaching at Western, I used to come over the hill once a week to soak in the hot springs, it was my sanctuary then and I guess it always will be.

The wind comes down the canyon and the breeze makes that mesmerizing sound- the one I can't ever get enough of- as it whooshes through the pine needles- that's probably the biggest sensory draw for me. I love that sound. I think between that and the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach- those two sounds are my favorite and I could fall asleep to either one.

I made the reservation for a room way up on the hill, and they gave me the best room on the property- the westernmost room with the best view, and I scheduled a couple of massages at the spa, and planned to relax, soak, do some writing for me, and generally veg out.

I did all of the above except the writing. It felt so good to do nothing.

Last week sucked, we lost someone from the running community, Kirsten. As much as I hate cancer cliches, I'll say it anyway, cancer sucks. She was too young (45) and had too much left to do, like raising her twin pre-adolescent girls. It totally completely sucks. Her memorial service and funeral were over the weekend and Monday. I went to the service/mass at the church on Monday, many of us from the running community were there. It was really hard. Really. I'm not going into any more details but it just really, totally, completely sucked.

So this little retreat I had planned couldn't have come at a better time.

Our neighbor across the street retired recently and he kept an eye on the girls (Velcro & Gypsy) while Dennis was at work. I drove up Tuesday morning and took my time, got there around 1, checked into the room, and went down to the pool until my massage appointment. It was warm and spring-like, warmer and springier- if that's a word- than I can ever remember it being in April. I soaked up the sun for an hour and then had my massage, which was perfectly relaxing.

I went back out to the poolside after, then walked back up the hill to my room. I went into town to get some Mexican food-take out- and went back to the room and just relaxed.

When I woke up- early- I made coffee and watched the sun rise- what I could see. It was cloudy and the sunrise wasn't colorful like it often is- casting pink hues on the mountains. This time it was subdued. I sat out on the patio overlooking the mountains and it wasn't even cold. I went back in the make another cup of coffee and when I came back to the sliding glass door, someone was watching me.

With about 10 friends.

I normally would run up the big hill toward Mt. Princeton and see how far I could take the trail before it was packed with snow, but I didn't feel like it. I just wanted to relax. So I went down to the pool and got in the water, soaking in the hottest pools first and ending up in the big pool. The sky got cloudy and the wind picked up, so I decided to go up to the lodge and have breakfast and see what happened.

After I ate, the sun came back out. It was windy, but not cold. Getting out of the pool I was only cold until the wind dried my wet swimsuit and then it was perfect.

There were other people around but it wasn't crowded at all. I was able to clear my mind and not think much, I took some pictures but if I wasn't in the pool, I was on the chair closing my eyes and soaking up rays. I decided that I was sick of DOING and I wanted to just BE. And I think in life in general I need to BE a lot more and DO less. So if I got nothing else from this trip, that was my revelation from the universe.

I stayed out there all afternoon until about 3:30 when I decided to head home, timing things so I could avoid the worst of rush hour traffic in Denver. It was not too bad of a drive.

And now I'm home in Fort Collins and it's late and I'm with my girls and Dennis is asleep upstairs, and things are good. And I can breathe again.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Tacos in the Wind: Birthday Urban Adventure Run

March 10th is my birthday, and it happened to fall on a Saturday this year. I was able to round up a few diehards to run with me for tacos. The plan was, 54 kilometers for my 54th birthday, with at least one taco stop. Again, the distance was perfect. It is about 17 miles from my house to the southernmost point on the course, a little dive of a restaurant called Rancho Taqueria Alegre. I'd never been there before, but when I was mapping the course, it was conveniently located.
Cathy, Jen, Alicia and I started at Torchy's Tacos after I ran there from my house. Jen and Cathy were doing shorter runs so each turned around early, and Alicia continued on with me into Loveland. We took the new connecting trail between Fort Collins and Loveland that drops you off at Boyd Lake, avoiding almost all traffic. I love the new bike paths that are being built- it makes running so much easier without having to deal with cars. Felix met Alicia and I just south of Boyd Lake and we continued on the bike path until it dropped us at a spot half a mile north of the restuarant.
I had a taco and refried beans, Alicia was eating shot blocks and skipped the tacos...
and Felix had a burrito.
It was perfect fuel for the trip home.
Sasquatch (aka Dale Perry, aka Richard Cranium) met us south of Boyd Lake and Felix and Alicia peeled off there. The wind was starting to pick up, and it wasn't because Sasquatch joined us or because of eating the taco and beans.
This was pure, Colorado, out of the north, unadulterated wind. The kind that blows the breath out of your mouth and the sand in your eyes.

Sasquatch and I continued north toward Fort Collins and the wind was blowing the dirt across the trail, leaving dunes in our path.


As we approached the lower Power Trail, Sasquatch turned around to head back to Loveland, and I continued north.

The wind was getting stronger. I was making slow progress and I wanted to make sure I got done in time to shower and meet everyone at the Rio for margaritas and more tacos by 4 pm.When I hit 30 miles I realized I wasn't going to make it home in time, so I called Dennis and he picked me up. Thirty miles was enough, and I banked a few extra miles last year on the donut run, so I used those to credit myself.
I wanted a taco.

What I'd been waiting for all day!
Last taco of the day.
The best part was having Dennis and everybody join us at the Rio. Plenty of margaritas and food and fun.









Dennis took the picture, but clockwise from lower left: me, Felix, Amber, Serena, Colin, Steve, Leslie, and Jen.











And what would a birthday be without dessert? Coconut flan. Great way to wrap up a perfect day of running, wind, tacos, friends, and celebration. Now I have to start planning for next year.