Trotting the High Plains

Where the coyote roams

The Hunt

The Old Coyote pauses on the shoulder of the hill before turning to follow the trail uphill to the ridge top. He is satisfied with the day, and with his plans. There’s no training plan, no required miles or workout today, just a trail run for fun. The runner enjoys the scenery. The early season grasses have gone to seed and give a red-brown cast to the meadows. Recent rains have the wildflowers blooming in purple and blue and orange explosions. In the gulches, red willow shrubs are dark green shade for chokecherries forming on the bushes, food for bear and four-legged coyotes come fall.

A sudden flash catches his attention; something at the edge of his peripheral vision. A mountain biker has fallen behind the rest of his pack on the climb to the peak. His foot turnover and respiration quicken instinctively, followed by his heart rate. His focus is now on the prey ahead.

The cyclist disappears around a bend in the trail, but the runner is not concerned. He carries a map of this mountain in his head and knows that this trail is the only option for another 2 miles. In fact, the runner toys with the idea of shortcutting straight up to the top of the ridge but decides to conserve energy in the heat of the morning. He’ll catch his prey soon enough, and he recognizes by his body’s signals that he’s warmed up now and ready to kick up the effort. The trail winds up, and the rider goes in and out of view. He never looks back, though. The runner chuckles. A scant 1300 yards later the runner rounds the final corner before the trail reaches a minor summit and sees his prey just ahead. Timing is on his side this morning. As the cyclist sees the top he slows down in anticipation of a well deserved rest, while the runner sees that same summit and increases his effort and pounces.

4 yards separate the hunter from the hunted when the runner allows his footfall to be heard above the labored breathing of the cyclist. The rider stiffens in surprise, looking wildly left and right, but there is no escape. The runner inhales deeply and passes the cyclist with an easy “Good morning!” It’s another notch in his coup stick as the thoroughly beaten rider wobbles to a stop under the shade of a small tree and the runner picks up speed across the flattop. The rider knows that today the runner has been the more powerful warrior.

And yet…The runner later sees the rider behind him, still pedaling, still going uphill, still maintaining a relentless forward progress. This rider stays mounted when to walk would be both faster and less work. This rider knows that you don’t learn to ride uphill by walking uphill. The runner grunts in respect, knowing that the tables may be turned next summer, if this rider stays focused. He turns to follow a deer path down the gulch, narrow and overgrown as it is, as well as steep and rocky in places, no riders take this path. The runner howls with glee as he descends the barely visible trail, twice misstepping and nearly sliding ten yards into the creek at the bottom of the gulch, but never slowing down. Today he is champion of these hills. On this summer day, the Old Coyote is king.

Race Report Boulder Marathon, 2012

Alarm went off at 4 am. I’d slept surprisingly well the past few nights, and race night was the same – except for waking up because of my, er, “hydration” needs.  I made some coffee, some instant oatmeal with peanut butter and jelly. Took an hour or so to get out of the house; got to the Reservoir at 6:10, parked. I walked up to the check in and stood in line for about 5 minutes before I remembered I was WEARING my bib and timing chip, duh! Race nerves. Fortunately, I had laid everything out 2 days in advance. Walked around a bit, back to the car, prayed for a good, injury free run, stripped off my sweats and headed for the start. About 40 degrees, and breezy. Many people were wearing throwaways, but I wasn’t uncomfortable in just my race kit.

The National Anthem played. I’m an excellent singer. And I’m not shy. So I got some compliments, and then said “Let’s go TAKE this thing!”

But I really wasn’t feeling it. See, Mrs. Coyote was unavoidably absent. My partner wasn’t there, and I was scared. I had sent an email to a friend Friday asking if he’d send a smoke signal, maybe one of our friends could be there. He’s out of town, never got the email. And I prayed, “God, send me a friend at the finish line.” And I felt Him answer “I got you covered”. So I went into this race with the attitude that every person there was sent by God. Now, sometimes I understand God, and sometimes I don’t, but this time, I had it! Everyone was a friend.

The scenery was beautiful. The course is north of Boulder in the farm country, and the view includes the Flatirons, Longs Peak, and Indian Peaks. There’s some snow in Indian Peaks already. It’s easier for me to run in the country than the city, plus the course was 90 percent dirt road, recently graded clay, really quite smooth, and much softer than asphalt.

I took the first 10k pretty easy. In fact, my first mile was 12 minutes,and I increased pace gradually to about 10 m/m.  I ate an orange wedge at every aid station, stopping to refill my handheld, and grabbing a GU. I’ve worked on “constant fueling”  this summer,  and my stomach is trained to eat on the run.

From 10k to 20k, I continued at a 10 minute effort, stopping at all aid stations (and there were 16, because you hit many of them out and back). I was tolerating the oranges well. The halfway point wasn’t marked, so I estimated and figure my first half split at 2:14:38. At that point, I increased my effort, trying for a 9:30 pace. Another effect of race nerves is I forget my time as soon as I look up from my watch, so trying to pace by watch doesn’t work. I have to do it by feel.

About mile 14, I found someone I knew, walking up the hill. I walked and talked awhile with him, then ran again. About mile 18 is where about 65 spectators were cheering at an intersection, including a woman I’d seen 2 times already, wearing a Packers jersey and  holding a sign that said “First pain, then beer!”

And a goat. The goat made me smile. I like the smelly, cranky things. I understand them.

Past the Niwot town cemetery, named for Chief Niwot (Left Hand) of the Southern Arapaho,  then to the turnaround. I was skipping aid stations by this time, as I knew I could easily make it to the next. At Mile 18, I prayed again. I said,” hey, Jesus? That friend you promised me at the finish line – it’s you, isn’t it?”  He said, “you catch on quick!”

The last 8 miles went smooth. I kept a strong pace, and had enough left to power up the final hill. The last 800 meters was kind of cross country, then the home stretch. I kicked it up another notch, took off my hat and shades, and smiled for the camera as I finished strong. I got my medal, turned in my timing chip, and walked off the course to kneel quietly in prayer.

I’m a marathoner.

Second half split was 2:06 (first was 2:14, both unofficial by my watch). And as I ran across the finish line, I thought “Wow, I could have run this faster. Or, I could have run this pace and kept going for another…5 miles? Could I? I’m sure I could.”

Yup.  Can you say 50k, next spring?

28 July 2012

No posts in 3 weeks? Scandalous. It’s a good thing I have no followers.

The Keystone Half Marathon was Sunday the 22nd. My initial plans were for a training run, with progressively increasing effort. As I listened to the RD give course instructions, however, I realized that it would be difficult given the terrain to do a progressive. Also, many of the runners were trail virgins, meaning I had an opportunity to  actually compete. So plans changed; and I set out to race.

The first mile was wide access road for the ski area, gently uphill. 5k runners and newbies took off fast, and I hung back, marshaling my energy for the upcoming technical section. Score! I started passing runners right and left, uphill and downhill.I carried a handheld water bottle, and passed the 2.5 mile water station. The next station was at 5 miles. I stopped, refilled with diluted Gatorade,and started off again at a hard pace. Had a gel on the trail, stopped at mile 8 to refill, take a gel (but not ingest it), throw out trash, and go.

This was the funnest part of the race. The course lollipopped through the woods, over a couple of quite sturdy but frightening-looking bridges, over rock and root and newly carved singletrack. It was shady and cool and smelled like…life SHOULD smell. I don’t know. It smelled like the good earth. It smelled as I imagine the Garden of Eden must have, as Adam walked with God in the cool of the afternoon.

Back down to the aid station. I passed it and entered the longest slog of the race. It must have been a mile long and 400′ elevation gain, through Lodgepole forest in the process of being drastically thinned.

Sidebar: Lodgepole pine is a tall, straight, thin pine common at higher elevations, and as you approach timberline it becomes dominant. It will grow very close together, eventually starving the entire forest of light, if not thinned by fire. 50 year old Lodgepole forest can be almost lunar at ground level, as ground plants and grasses are starved of light and smothered by needles. The resort (or the Forest Service) was mechanically thinning this area, cutting down at least 1/3 of the trees. As the wood rots, fungi and then grasses will grow in the decay, bringing deer and elk who will eat new lodgepole shoots, and the forest *should* return to a healthier balance in, say, 10-15 years.

So, anyway – that slog was disheartening. I looked 5 feet ahead of me at the trail surface, and repeated “Just Waterton Canyon”.

The trail then led back to the ski area, across cat tracks, and a paved multi-use path, to the finish.

2:12:31. A PR for 13.1. On a trail, no less.

 

 

7 July 2012

After going a bit longer than planned Wednesday, I took Thursday and Friday off. I did some stretching, but nothing else. Mrs. Coyote wanted to do Waterton again, and the heat has broken, so we got a late start and hit the trailhead at 9:30. My plan was for a 15 miler. Waterton is 6.2 miles at a 2% uphill grade to the Strontia Springs dam, so I’d have to go another 3/4 mile past it and then turn back.

I took it pretty easy on the way up. This was to be my longest run to date. When I ran, I ran at a 10 minute pace, but I took breaks for picture taking and gels. Talked a bit with a wildland fire crew up there to fully extinguish a three acre, lightning sparked fire that started Wednesday evening and had been contained and controlled Thursday and Friday. I had a cyclist take my picture at the dam. Then it was time for the “extra” 1.5 miles. 

I had a choice of two trails. Two trails diverged on the mountain, and I? I took the one that went more directly uphill. A running friend has a business, and his motto is “When in Doubt – Run Uphill!”. Good advice, that. I could see  by the trail map that there was a marked point .8 mile ahead, so I lit out for the Colorado Trail.http://www.coloradotrail.org/ .  I passed 5 mountain bikers on a trail that was runnable (but barely, at times). I did walk or power hike a short way, as it was more efficient. At the .8 mile mark was a bench overlooking the valley, but more cyclists were resting from the hard work of carrying their bikes, so I took a quick left and ran .3 mile to another trail intersection. Took a gel and some fluid, and turned around for the downhill. 

I ran the trail pretty aggressively. Not foolishly fast, but pushing my abilities. That’s how you get better, right? When I was younger and skied, the ski areas had signs admonishing “Know you Limit. Stay Within It.” Which we, of course, changed to “Know Your Limits. Exceed Them Frequently.” I wasn’t the only one feeling exhilarated.. I heard a racket below me which I initially took to be rocks, loosened by the recent rain, falling down the steep slope. As I got lower, I could see two riders on horseback coming uphill at an impressive pace. I stepped off the trail, warned them of cyclists 100 yards ahead, and  continued down.

State law says that walkers/runners have right of way over every other user. That makes no sense. From a practical standpoint it’s much easier for me to yield than for a cyclist trying to keep a line; or for 3/4 of a ton of animal to get out of the way. So I kept an eye out, stayed safe, and kept out of the way.

Back on the road, the initial 1/8 mile or so was a good grade, so I practiced foot turnover until it “leveled out” to a moderate 2%. Then on to the final 6 miles. I didn’t stop as often on the way down. The camera batteries were dead, and it was getting late. I saw one, lone sandhill crane standing silent and still in the river. I’ve never seen one alone before. I got back to the car at 2 hours 57 minutes, and 25 kilometers.

I felt pretty rough. Dehydrated, a little orthostatic hypotension, stomach upset. I drank some water, and then forced myself to drink a couple of swallows of chocolate soy milk with some brown rice protein powder mixed in. This settled my stomach, and I finished it slowly on the drive home. After lunch and a shower, I felt well enough to attend a get together at Mrs. C’s coaches’ house. Good food, good company, good conversation with other athletes.

32.8 miles this week. Step back week coming up; I’ll do 25 or so miles and recover some.

Above Strontia Springs

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4 July 2012

Mrs. Coyote and I went to meet her running group at Waterton Canyon this morning. This way, we can “run together” at completely different paces, as she has a partner, and we just go out and back, as far as you want.

The canyon is managed by Denver Water, and the first 7 miles is dirt road closed to all but water board vehicles. It’s not a particularly rough run, but it’s good for groups. Overall a 2% grade on average to Strontia Springs Dam, and after that you can connect with the Colorado Trail and run to Wyoming or New Mexico, as the whim takes you.

I meant to do a 10 miler, but missed the turnaround. I stopped at a large boulder, and asked Mrs. C’s coach (who was 20 yards behind me) how far we’d come. His Garmin said 5.7, so I got in 11.4 miles today in 1:54:27 for a 10:03 pace – AND I stopped and took pictures.

At about Mile 8 I had a little light-headedness, similar to last Saturday and at about the same mileage. I think it’s a fueling problem that is exacerbated by the heat. I got through it today in just a couple of minutes. All in all, a good solid run training wise, and I had a good time enjoying and photographing the view.

 

 

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 3 Billy Goats. Gruff?

Mountain goats, Waterton Cyn, 4 July 2012

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Goats

Mountain goats, Waterton Cyn, 4 July 2012

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South Platte River above Marston

South Platte River above the Marston diversion, 4 July 2012

Spillway

Spillway

Marston diversion spillway, Waterton Cyn, 4 July 2012

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