The Blonde Runs

Colorado lovin'

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…Mount Elbert

For Father’s Day, my brother had this fabulous idea to hike a 14er with our 59 year old father. So, last Thursday, we woke up at early-thirty to make our way into Leadville to summit the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains: Mount Elbert.

Unbeknownst to me, Mount Elbert is the highest 14er in Colorado, the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, and the 2nd highest in the US (after Mount Whitney). I guess I didn’t know all the 14er factoids, but my brother, the Gerry Roach of the group, filled me in from time to time.

Our goal start time was 7am, and with a quick jaunt into Leadville (1h 30m), followed by some county roads and a 4WD stretch, we reached the 10,400′ east ridge trailhead around 6:40. After some last minute preparations and some really bad photos (naturally, those didn’t make the blog), we were on the trail at 7:02am.

As we started on the Colorado Trail, there were pink and black ribbons marking the route for the Leadville Race Series. I was super excited about this, since I will be running the Heavy Half (15.46 miles) on Saturday. Yes, 2 days from now. So. Not. Ready. But that’s another post.

The trail immediately begins to incline with very few switchbacks. I take off up the mountain, in my slow-as-molassas-semi-run-slash-jog. No better way to prepare for a race that you aren’t prepared for than to try to run at 10,000 feet elevation and higher a few times the week leading up to said race. I stop around mile 1, waiting on my dad and my brother. After hanging on with them for a few minutes, my dad insists that I go on with a “Just go, Bek.” Don’t have to tell me twice. So I head on up the mountain. Running when I can. Hiking a lot. The incline on this 14er was much different than the handful of others I’ve done. Mt. Elbert has such vertical from our route, that some of it was more efficient to hike than run. Oh yeah, and my breathing was a factor. Mainly because I couldn’t.

This was a hard part. I promise.

About half way up, I got a great view of the Twin Lakes:

The route was clear and I didn’t see anyone on the trail. Not even Anton Krupicka. And I was disappointed. So was Courtney, as she was hopeful I could get a picture for her.

I finally summited after 1h 50m of active time.

My 6th 14er.

I took some photos. Chatted with a German. Ate some peanut butter crackers and peanut M&M’s. My brother summited about 20 minutes after I did. And my dad about another 20 after that. Not bad for an old guy.

Whomever summited first that morning must not have done the research. The sign is wrong. He must have gotten that false info from wikipedia. Fact.
Elevation is 14,433. And yes, I’m counting.

On the way down, I stayed with my dad and brother; a) because it was a Father’s Day event so I should spend time with my Father and b) because my brother gave me a hard time about running ahead. I think this was primarily because he was jealous that I didn’t have poles slowing me down and that I summited before him. He’s sort of competitive. Especially since I’m the younger sister. And yes he reads this. 🙂 So the decent took about as long as the climb. NBD.

It was dreadfully hot by the time we got back to the trailhead a little after noon. I was glad we were done. However, some were just getting started! And wearing jeans and cotton t-shirts! No thanks.

All in all, it was a great day with dear old dad and kinda cool brother. My dad was hardly even sore the next day, so he has insisted we summit another this summer. Okay!

Next up, I “race” two half marathons this weekend and my training has been less than. Summer problems…




…Grays & Torreys

Last week, a coworker of mine asked if I’d be interested in running Grays and Torreys to celebrate her birthday. Having a soft spot for 14ers, and birthdays, I quickly agreed. Yes, please.

I met Laurel, and her friend Maggie, at 6:30 this morning, to make our way into the mountains for a double header. As far as 14ers go, Grays and Torreys are some of the easiest to traverse. However, most don’t start traversing any 14ers this early in the season. Lucky, or unlucky, for Colorado, the snow was lousy and the weather’s been warm. It means early fire danger in the high country (of which we’ve already had several outbreaks). It means early water restrictions in town. It means that it’s really green now, but will likely be brown in July. But it also means, getting a head start on 14ers.

I climbed Grays and Torreys back in 2009 with Erika. But I was looking forward to a new 14er experience: running them. I’ll be honest, “running” is kind of a stretch. Yes, you can run the trails until about 12,500 or 13,000 feet, depending on the mountain. Then, the ascent is either too steep, you run into snow, or the terrain is not safe for running. Oh yeah, and you may have trouble breathing.

The three of us started right at 8am. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the trail was clear.

We started an easy jog, slowly picking away at our 8 mile route. When you start out at 11,280, you can’t do much more than an easy jog. I probably don’t have to tell you that the higher we got, the more difficult it was. Duh. We were able to consistently run until about 12,500. From here to 13,000, the incline was such that it was faster to hike it. At the Y, we went right to summit Torreys first.

Around 13,000, we hit the snow. Or, what was left of it. We’ve had such a light snowpack this season that we didn’t even need gaiters. With the bright sun, it was mostly slushy at this point. We hiked through it. Literally. I fell in, up to my knees, two different times! I’ve got some minor scratches to prove it. We pushed up the crags to make our first summit for the day.

Happy Birthday Run, Laurel! (from the top of Torreys)

After a few pictures and a few energy blocks, we made our way down Torreys, and back across the snowy, slushy saddle to summit Grays.

We much preferred the ascent to Torreys over Grays. Being on the windward side of the peak was rough. It was really kicking up, and my hands were getting so cold. Grays ended up being a more difficult climb (Torreys is typically) due to the wind and more snowpack. Laurel lent me an extra pair of microspikes and we slipped them on before making our final ascent and summit for the day.

Looking back at Torreys (view from the top of Grays)

Needless to say, we quickly made our way down. Probably not remaining at the top but for a few minutes. Brrr…

On the way down, we were able to move at a pretty quick pace over the snow. Once we’d made it to drier ground, we took off the microspikes and were finally able to run again. My legs were so tired from the double ascent, but I kept them moving. I was stumbling over baby heads and rolled my ankle a few times. Not to the point of stopping, but it will probably be sore tomorrow!

Grays and Torreys
8.08 miles
3h 28m of run time
3h 57m total time
25:49 pace



…the Colorado Trail: Breckenridge

This past Memorial Day weekend the boy and I went camping, along with about 15 others (with a nearly 1:1 human to dog ratio). Some friends had gone up on Thursday, and found a large spot in Breckenridge. The majority of us showed up on Friday afternoon/evening, ready to relax and play.

A lot of people in the group brought their motorized toys: UTV’s, ATV’s, and dirt bikes. While the boy used to have a toy or two himself, he’s downsized to a mountain bike (or two); at least when it comes to summer toys. I am not to blame for the downsizing! So, when it came to play time this weekend, the boy took off on his mountain bike, and I took off on a run.

We had camped less than a quarter mile from an entrance point to the Colorado Trail. It’s a 500 mile trail connecting Denver to Durango. To be honest, I didn’t really know much of the trail until this weekend, and I was anxious to do some elevation/vertical training.

The trail is divided into 28 sections; probably for ease when referencing a certain portion of this gigantic trail. And because of that, I can probably most easily guess that we were nearest section 7.

On Saturday, the boy gave very clear directions as to where the trail was off of Tiger Road. And at the time, it seemed easy enough. So, he took off on his mountain bike, and I followed, with Chase, 20 minutes or so after. I guess I didn’t realize how clearly I expected the trail to be marked, because it wasn’t. And I blew right past it. Not being one to necessarily turn around and backtrack, trying to figure out where the trail really was, I just kept running. I was already in that forward motion anyway, so it felt like a shame to stop.

I was on the main road and I decided to just keep going. It was feeling like a pretty decent climb, especially factoring in the 9900 foot elevation start. Chase and I ran all the way to the top of the mountain, which was also the end of the road. 3 miles. After some playing around on my Garmin, I found the button to locate latitude/longitude, as well as elevation. We reached 10,900 feet. I felt that a 1000 foot elevation gain in 3 miles was significant enough, considering my breathing, or lack thereof. We ran down for a total of 6 miles in a little over an hour.

We waited around for about two hours before the boy came back. When he did, he only raved about the epic ride! The elevation gain and vertical climbs; the downhill; the broken bike piece that he MacGyver’d back together. I was immediately curious about the trail that I had so “blondly” missed. So, after an hour, I took back to the trail.

When I finally found the true trail, I was instantly impressed. Maybe it was because of the run only a few hours prior, or maybe it was the vertical climb, but I was winded early on. I pressed through downed trees, stopped bikers, and my own limited lung capacity. I threw in some moments of fast walking/hiking because I was just that out of breath. My goal was two miles. I just wanted to know how much of a climb it was.

When I reached two miles, I checked my watch. I was already at 10,900. The boy easily climbed well over 11,000 in his ride. I ran back down for a total of 4 miles.

It was tough, but I’m definitely wanting more of that kind of training this summer. I guess I need to get back up to the Colorado Trail. And maybe take some pictures so I can show you with a thousand words.



…in the mountains

For awhile now, I’ve had some strong desires to run Colorado mountain races. Partly because I wanted more experience at higher elevation, coupled with trails. And partly because I wanted to take the pressure off of a “time” goal. I’ve always run/raced with a particular time in the back of my mind. While I might not vocalize it or write about it, I’m the type who has a plan. And I think that part of me that puts pressure and expectations on myself needs to take a break.

With such a variety of races to choose from here, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a few that stood out to me. Before I started training for Boston, I had considered a few, although I didn’t sign up for anything.

But the week before Boston, I registered for two half marathons. A day apart.

June 30Leadville Heavy Half Marathon
Called the “heavy half” because instead of the usual 13.1, this race is 15.46. This is run primarily on old mining roads and trails, peaking at 13,185 feet elevation (Mosquito Pass). There is an 8.5 hour time limit. Yikes. Luckily, Danielle will be running this one with me!

July 1Steamboat Mountain Madness Half Marathon
The following day, I’ll be running a true half. 13.1 miles. And this one is only at 6732 feet elevation. This race will be run along country roads, with some of it paralleling the Yampa River. I love Steamboat, and was actually offered a job here last year. But, I turned it down for several reasons. However, now I wonder what my life would have been like, had I taken a job in a small mountain town (~15,000 pop.). Likely, different. Steamboat also has natural hot springs, so I’m hoping to take advantage of that while I’m there. Plus, my friend, Erika, will be running this one too!

And then, I registered for this one yesterday:

August 11Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon
This race was named the Half Marathon of the Year by Colorado Runner Magazine 2011. It is run along Clear Creek, beginning at 8500 feet elevation, and ending at 7500. While this is a downhill course, I’m not necessarily expecting a half marathon PR. The boy and Erika will both be running this one!

I’m also considering registration for a few other mountain races in August and September.

August 25-Golden Beaver Half Marathon 8342 ft. elevation
September 8-Imogene Pass Run 17.1 miles over a 13,114 ft. elevation mountain pass
September 30-Bear Chase 50k

My goal now is to just trail run as much as I can. On the weekends, I am trying to get up into the mountains for higher elevation runs too. I’m not totally sure how to train for these races, other than this. I’m sure some hill work would be beneficial as well! Maybe even join one of the trail running groups in the area. Most of all, I’m excited for a new challenge. I’m happy with the distance running I’ve been doing the past few years, but this will bring a new element to it.



…at higher altitudes

Living in the Mile High City has its advantages. Too many to name here, one of them is simply in the nickname: Mile High. 5280 feet.

I’ve had my best and worst races training and racing in Colorado. I’ve also had my best and worst races racing out of state. But I’ve often felt that training at this altitude has come in handy when racing at sea level. My legs have felt lighter and my breathing has been easier. Has it caused me significant PR’s and the transition into a different caliber of running? Absolutely not. But I’m okay with being a mid-packer.

So when the boy and I decided to take this summer to camp in the Colorado mountains as much as possible, we both got excited for this high altitude training. Me, running; him, mountain biking. Most of the places we camp are around 9,000 feet or higher. And for two athletes who are craving some trails, this is just what we want in our next level of fitness and training.

As a quasi-native of Colorado, I’ve seen many “flatlanders” visit our state and have difficulty breathing, even suffer from altitude sickness. I’m not exempt! I even have a hard time when I start climbing 14’ers in the summer!

So what benefit does high altitude training have, if any?

When this article surfaced, I started to take a closer look.

For 16 weeks, a cycling group was divided into two smaller groups, both kept at varying altitudes; one at just under 10,000 feet and another at just under 4,000 feet. After training, the research reported that they “were unable to find any differences, either in blood measurements like hemoglobin mass or in cycling performance, between the two groups either during or after the training period.”

Then, in a similar research, elite swimmers were divided into three groups. Each group approached training differently: one with a “live high, train low” philosophy, one with a “live high, train high” philosophy, and another with no altitude whatsoever. “Once again, there were no differences in race performance among the three groups, either immediately after altitude training or throughout the season. If anything, the altitude-trained groups swam slightly slower for up to a week following the training camp.”

The final thoughts? The altitude debate continues!! Basically, an athlete can’t train as hard at altitude, because she has to go a little slower due to the lack of oxygen. So, stronger lungs; weaker legs.

So, is altitude training really that effective?

I still hold to the belief that IT IS!! Even if is is all in my head…

And since I just sold my altitude tent on Craigslist to offset my credit card bill that I have coming due to my pushing the credit limit last week in assurance that I’d be winning the Mega Millions, I guess I’ll have to go old school and still plan to camp at high altitude on the weekends this summer. Good thing I’m not going for intense workouts.



…a few unphotographed trails

It’s been a long week. And a busy one at that! I haven’t had much time to sit and update. But as I’m sitting here “updating,” I realize I have nothing of importance to report! Unlike all my other posts which are extremely important!

I guess the most important thing is that I’ve been running. And since this is a running blog, I should mainly report on that. I put in 36 miles this week as I build some base miles for Boston training, which will officially begin on January 22. That gives me one more week at mid-30 miles. Then, upwards of 60+ in the subsequent weeks. I’m excited for this training, and hope for health the entire way.

This week allowed me to explore some new trails. Neither of which I got pictures for. I always tell myself to take a picture, but obviously forget if I’m not posting any! Earlier this week, I ran at Betasso Preserve. A few miles up the Boulder Canyon. It was super windy, hilly, icy, and definitely snow-shoe worthy! Up to my ankles in soft, dry powder. So soft, dry, and slippery that I took a fall right on my hip. Maybe that explains the bruise. It was a slow run at 6500 feet elevation, but a great workout!

Yesterday, my long run was at Hudson Gardens, south of Denver. The bff is racing a 10 miler there next weekend and she wanted to preview the course. There is a really nice path behind the gardens that runs for 8 miles along the Platte River. Again, it was really windy, especially on the turn around when we were coming back south. What is it with the wind in January?!

Today was an easy recovery run with my favorite 4-legged running partner. The boy is 7 hours ahead in England this week, so I’m in charge of the dog is in charge of me. My only defense against him is to run him. And even then, I don’t hold much weight. He usually gets what he wants when we are in the same room together. This includes, but is not limited to petting, belly rubs, treats, and any kind of attention. When I do “get onto him” for annoying me, he looks at me like “Really? That’s all you’ve got?” {sigh} He’s just too cute.

This week: More running!!!



…at 11,350 feet

I’ve been off the grid lately. For the past week, I have been in the lovely town of Breckenridge, Colorado for a little R&R and some Christmas cheer with the boy’s Minnesotan family. For the past few years, the boy has suggested that everyone come out for a Colorado Christmas. Because we all know that, “the closest thing to heaven on this planet anywhere, is a quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow.” So, why wouldn’t someone want to come out here and stay in a secluded cabin, just outside of Breck, for the most wonderful time of the year? Exactly…

The boy and I had been planning this for a while, and when it all came together, he was quite the happy camper. I know he misses his family, and whenever he speaks of them, it reminds me how much I take for granted the fact that my immediate’s live so close. Half an hour away, close.

Out the Flatlanders come to Colorful Colorado! Just when the Denver Metro area gets hit with a foot of snow! Unfortunately, Breck only got a handful of inches. But what Breck does have is altitude. And while it only rests at 9600 feet, for any sea leveler, this is a huge step out of sissihood; much less when you add in another 1750 feet, for good measure. The house where we stayed was just south of Breck, yet at 11,350 feet total elevation. I even have a hard time breathing.

One of the first days there, I decided to play at awesome and go for a high elevation run. I didn’t get very far. While the weather was mild and the sun was shining, my lungs were on fire and my breathing was like a fish out of water. I called it in after 2 miles. So much for awesome.

Granted, this just toyed with my hopes and dreams of living at higher elevation during the summer months to get in some most excellent training. Maybe one day.

Christmas came and went all too quickly. Before we knew it, the boy and I were alone in Breck. The ride into the Front Range area this morning was a quiet one.

Many fond memories, many yet to make.