Monday, September 30, 2013

Summer's End

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” 
 - John Steinbeck

Making our way to Mt. Bross, one of Colorado's infamous 14ers. 
Sunday night, 1 days left in September, I haven't posted the entire month - seems like perfect timing for an update....

I just returned home from what may be my last hurrah in my beloved Rocky Mountains, though I may head up again at some point before year's end beings I left my only spare car key at my aunt's condo.  I spent extensive time this summer while training for Leadville here; the place is nestled back in the woods and is so peaceful and serene, which if you know how ridiculously touristy Breckenridge can be mid-summer, you wouldn't believe what I just said.  I love to come up here when life gets a bit chaotic....and run and run and run on all the amazing neighboring trails.

Wednesday I went for a long run on a section of the Colorado Trail, a trail my shoes marked well with monster mileage this summer.  The day couldn't have been more beautiful: Colorado's notorious blue skies finally emerged from the heavy, dark clouds it's been hidden from for weeks (and weeks), and the temp was a perfect-for-running 50 degrees.  Autumn was letting Colorado know it was here with it's recent snowy white peaks and peeping yellow Aspen leaves.  The trails were (relatively) dry, though, so I was excited to reconnect with nature and do some much-needed de-cluttering of the head. 

I have a lot of "stuff" swirling around in my life right now, heart-heavy sad stuff. Basically, life sucks. Consequently, I let the melancholy take control of my mountain run and the 16 miles of once soul-cleansing dirt and rock turned into a suffer-fest hike, half of which were spent bent over gasping for air., how did I lose SO much SO fast?!?   I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the sloth pace and the intense beauty surrounding me more if I didn't have a trail marathon looming next weekend and needed to get in some miles - running.  But trying to run and not FEEL and throw in the strain of a 26.2 hilly trail race next weekend -  suddenly, out of nowhere, the cocktail caused an intense inability to breathe at 10,000'.  All those endophins that running releases can't be released if I close them off to the feelings I feel while moving.   I surrendered and sat on a rock for about 20 minutes, and finally released all the tears (and subsequently, fears) I've built up the past week.   

I thought about all the incredible adventures I've had all far I've come in such a short period of time, how special the summer has been - including some pretty cool things I've done since I last posted.....

6 days after Pikes Peak Marathon, I participated in the Iron Girl sprint triathlon.  I could barely move for days after PPM (that race left me absolutely shredded!), yet I squeaked out a 4 minute PR day (1:24, even if it was only my 2nd sprint triathlon in the past 24 years), I improved my pathetic bike pace over last year, and I got to spend some time with some incredibly special kick-ass people I work with, one who has survived some pretty severe cancer shit (Amy, the one next to me in the bottom two photos).

A week after the triathlon, I ran (I use that word loosely) the inaugural Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon in Ft. Collins.  It's on some of the same trails I'm about to embark on for my upcoming trail marathon next week, so I wanted to use it to familiarize myself with the course.  It would have been a great race had temperatures not reached boiling point.  I can say this with all honesty though - it was one of the most beautiful trail races I've ever done.  190 degrees temps aside, and a PW half ever (2:44, but in my defense, it was a challenging 2300' climb and incredibly technical with large boulders to scramble over), I had a really fun day and was one of the most well-organized and incredibly well-run events I've ever done.  And the best swag evah!

On Labor day, 3 days after Black Squirrel, I did another half marathon (are you tired yet?  I am), but this time back to my old road life for the Highland Ranch Half Marathon.   It was another inaugural race, but unlike Black Squirrel, there were a few hiccups - mostly lack of water along the course.   I'm learning that in trail races, you carry water no matter what the distance as aid is spread far apart.  But in road races, we've come to expect it frequently I guess.  1 oz of H2O in a cup every 3 miles when it's 85 degrees doesn't really cut it.  My very good blog friend, Jenny, was in town from New York (in black, below) so I was stoked to FINALLY get to race with her after countless months of running emails between us.  I grabbed my neighbor, Dennis, and found one of my crewers in Leadville, Kathy.
Jenny and I vowed to stick together for the race, our intentions were to just take the race easy since we were both a bit fried (she and her husband were climbing mountain peaks all week prior).

But you know me....

By mile 3, we were digging into the low 8's on the pacing chart  - I'm sure Jenny was ready to strangle me indicative by her comment, "We just ran that mile at 8:10, not 9:10 as we agreed."  By mile 11, I was dying and wanted to stop; my stomach was a disaster and hurt more each mile, but we dug our grave and I wasn't giving in, yet.  As we climbed the last suck-ass continuous uphill mile, I focused on a woman in pink on my right I vowed to take out (I'm certain Jenny will never race with me again)...
But in the end, despite Jenny's constant yelling, "C'mon, C'mon, C'mon, C'mon" the last quarter mile, I gave up the fight, let Pinky go, and Jenny and I both crossed at exactly 1:50.  I was fine with the time considering we didn't really start this race out racing, but I was disappointed in myself for not fighting the hurt.  I've lost my racing grit.  I hate to say it, but I think all the trail racing I've done has taught me it's "ok" to just cruise along at snail's pace and when it gets hard, walk.  I need to rekindle my love of the road racing hurt....I miss it, and if I have any hopes of finishing California International with a quasi respectable time, I need to find it.
Jenny, myself, and Pinky - all with matching foot planting :)
2 days post half marathon finish flop, Jenny, her husband, Paul, and I headed up high - I mean REALLY high - and climbed five 14ers in two days.  "14ers" (or "fourteeners") are the those peaks in Colorado (or anywhere, I suspect) which exceed 14,000' in elevation.  There are 53 official peaks in Colorado - "official" because there are actually more than 53 in total, but it's the general acceptance that a summit must rise more than 300' from its connecting saddle to a taller peak.   If we go with 'the rules', then I can technically only declare I summitted 4 peaks since one we climbed, Mt. Cameron (14, 238'),  doesn't technically rise above 300' from it's neighbor, Mt. Lincoln (14,286').  

But I climbed and summitted Cameron, it was over 14,000', so I'm claiming it (autocorrect is having a field day with  the word "summitted" and wants to use summons...which works just as well :)).
On top of Mt. Cameron (Mt. Lincoln in the background, another 14er).
You can't see the sign I'm holding, but each peak has a little wooden plaque on the summit, stating the name and elevation
I've done a few 14ers during my stint living in Colorado, but I wouldn't call capturing these things a passion, and I'm definitely not a "peakbagger"; those are crazy individuals who actually enjoy seeking out summits to bag....err, conquer.  I've done about 10 in all prior and nailed two of them this summer racing (Mt. Evans Ascent in June, and of course the infamous last blog report from the Pikes Peak Marathon last month (I've done the Mt. Evans race 4x now, Pikes Peak I've done the Ascent race 3x but never the full marathon until this year). 

Jenny, and her husband, Paul, are peakbaggers.  They live on the East Coast and have bagged a bazillion peaks out there.  They're super into stuff like geocaching, have all the coolest gear, and even speak peak terminology that leaves me quizzically questioning much of their vocabulary.  They decided to make a trek to Colorado to add a few more names to their belt notches -- and somehow convinced me it'd be a great idea to camp (gasp) in the rain and bag some peaks with them. 
Home Sweet Home
Jenny and Paul are great.  They are the kind of friends who never once made me feel like the third wheel in all the days we spent together.  And Jenny.... she's the kind of friend that doesn’t change no matter how much time or distance passes between you....and still speaks to you days later despite how much you whine and cursing you do on those trails.
Paul and Jenny: Bestest of the best
Day 1 we climbed Mt. Massive (14,421) with almost 14 miles round-trip and about 4800' of elevation gain.

What I like most about this climb is that you start below treeline, so the vast array of scenery changes frequently.

What I disliked most about Massive was the 'category 2' climbing we had to do towards the top.
Grace, herself, making her way down
But we were rewarded to Mother Nature's pride from the top ...

And I didn't even freak out (too much) as I ate my lunch on the summit's edge.

I managed to actually run some descending Massive, and as I peered out ahead, there across the valley rose the mountains I ran just weeks before at the Leadville Silver Rush 50, the sun shining directly on Ball Mountain.  The memory floodgates opened wide and my head filled with happy thoughts of that very, very special day.
Day 2 was 4-peaks-in-one.  My legs were ground hamburger from yesterday's ascent to Massive, and I was in a super fun mood (read: pissy) and honestly, I just wanted to shoot myself - or stay in bed all day and complain how tired I was.   As we headed out, I doubted I was even going to go climb; I brought my Kindle and visioned myself sitting on a rock all day waiting for them instead.
4-peak day: Democrat, 14, 154'; Cameron, 14,295; Lincoln, 14,295'; Bross, 14,177'
Mt. Bross is on private property and not technically legal to climb.  Whatever.
But you know me....
Kite Lake, lower left, was the starting point of the day.  Sunrise was spectacular.
I got there, and how could I not climb!

The clamber to Mt. Democrat was my least favorite of all four peaks; the rock was loose and footing was difficult.  
The Hokas would make great spies on these mountains
My favorite photo of Paul and Jenny
I was freezing on Democrat's peak, our first summit of the day, and doubts flooded the brain that I may bypass the next 3 peaks.  
It'd probably help the freezing fact if I'd have dressed appropriately :)
I got down from Democrat and the tug-of-war whether to continue or not started.  A guy soloing the 4 peaks wearing a Boston Marathon shirt arrived at the saddle shortly after we did and pretty much guilt'd me into continuing on by referring I'd be a wuss if I didn't.  That was all it took - I was off. 

I'm so immensely grateful I did....because truthfully, the remainder of the day will go down as one of my most memorable of my entire summer.   It was THAT rewarding.

We climbed up to Mt. Cameron on a narrow ledge where you could easily fall a thousand feet on either side...

The views...stunning.

On Top of Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln as the backdrop 
I ran down the saddle of Cameron and then scrambled my way to the top of Mt. Lincoln..

The Garmin never lies *ahem*: 14,294' high

Dorko waving, with Mr. Boston dude
Jenny and Paul spent some time geocaching on Lincoln so I spent that time talking to Mr. Bostonian, who was a really neat guy and from Paul and Jenny's neck of the woods (and super damn fast runner).  Then it was off Lincoln to the last peak, Mt. Bross. Bross is actually privately owned and you're not "legally" suppose to climb it ... whatever.
It was my favorite peak of the day, mostly because it wasn't so stinkin' steep and I could actually run; plus the views were the most gorgeous.  I saw a guy mountain biking on the saddle between Cameron and Lincoln, which is pretty amazing considering the terrain and the dicey ledge.  The entire saddle was covered with these little reddish-colored flowers, which I think may have been some sort of succulent (does anyone local know?). 

On the way to Bross looking back on Mt. Lincoln, which we just previously climbed.
Mr. Bostonian making his way you see him?
Snack time

The descent off of Bross was truly insane.  I was doing the math in my head before we ventured to our car far below that we had 2300' of vertical plunge in about 1.5 miles - but I don't like math when it screams reality, so it wasn't until my legs protested the ridiculously arduous pitch that coming down was going to suck.  Bad.  So not to end my life sliding off the side of this mountains, I side-stepped down on absurd slippery pieces of palm-sized granite.  My legs never hated me as much as they did at this very moment in time.  

Old abandoned mines were littered along the sides of these mountains.  Impressive!
By some divine intervention,  I managed to stay vertical the entire way down and I got to the lush, green valley below and hugged my car in the parking lot.

5 peaks, 8000', and 22 miles.   The day was perfect gift because  it comprises the treasure of the hard work climbing  with some of the most amazing scenery on earth.   It wasn't easy but that's what I loved about it...that we truly earned those views.  The fact I got to share it with some very special people, who would give anything to have a few hours together, I appreciate today in my sorrow more than ever.  This was not lost on me.  The past 2 days were a well-written love note.

No, life is not easy right now, but after I thought about my pretty amazing life while sitting on that rock high in Colorado Rockies, I wiped off the tears streaming down my face and concluded it was a great day to be alive and continued on my way with much more spring in my stride.

I'm ready to face the last year of school, no matter how difficult life wants to make it, for my boys and myself.......and all the emotions that go with it.   I still wonder about my stress, all of my family's stress as we tackle some difficult decisions....

....but I figured out this summer that the best views in life are the ones you have to work for, wait for.

I have a lot of running to do this Fall and for me there is no greater way to achieve calm than to run - so it's forge ahead  with training as planned, we'll see how it all unfolds.   Running itself doesn't solve many of my problems, but it sure make me feel better about them.  It helps perspective, like there IS something I can do when I'm powerless.  Everything will going to be okay with that little thing called time, and the remembrance of my incredible, adventurous and much-treasured summer.   Thank you, Summer.

Run strong, my friends.