Altitude and Attitude

I just flew in from Colorado and boy are my arms tired! The family and I spent the last 10 days visiting my family in Breckenridge, Colorado. (I started writing this several days ago. I’ve been home for four five days now. I’m just super tired and whiny about being home. I’ve been laying around kvetching instead of writing or doing laundry or bathing, for that matter.) It was a fantastic trip with several great running adventures mixed in to a lot of eating, drinking and general farting in the cool, dry weather. Over the course of the 10 days I got in five running days for a total of 43 miles. Not too shabby considering the other five days consisted of two travel days, two days volunteering at the Leadville 100 Mtn Bike Race and one day where I honestly can’t remember what happened. If I had to guess, I’d say beer and baked goods? Maybe some guacamole. My Garmin doesn’t record those things (thank God) so I can’t say for sure.

All five Colorado runs were challenging considering the elevation. According to my Garmin, the lowest elevation I was at for any run was 9,000 ft. Elevation is a total ass kicker for me every single year. Last year I tried to acclimate for 3 or 4 days before attempting a run. This year I figured it was going to suck no matter when I tried so might as well get through the suck phase ASAP and started running the day after we arrived. (There’s absolutely no science behind that idea as far as I know. Just me talking out my ass as usual.) All my runs were slow and, at the very least, slightly uncomfortable. I did way more walking that usual but I got through them so I’m pretty proud. Plus running helped erase the beer and baked goods. I came back the same level of fluffy that I went out with. Vacation Gold Medal!

My most challenging runventure of the week began when, approximately 30 minutes after I’d arrived in town, my Jeff’s buddy, Craig, said something like, “Hey, I’m pacing Ludwik in Leadville next week. I want to preview my section of the course. Wanna go with?” I should note that Craig had arrived in town maybe 5 hours before me, had immediately gone on a multi-hour mountain bike ride and still appeared to be feeling pretty shit hot. I was feeling sort of winded just sitting there eating a steak sandwich in a brewery. We had to walk 50 entire feet from the condo to the brewery! Whew. Since he didn’t want to go on the run for another 3-5 days I figured what the hell, “How hard can it be!?”, accepted his invitation and immediately volunteered my brother to accompany us. When I sense a bus, I like to throw Ryan under it. Its what sisters do.

Between the invitation and the run day, I went on three runs. They all kind knocked me flat but I figured a miracle could happen on a mountain in Leadville, CO! We got up bright and early on Wednesday, piled into the car and made the hour drive over to Leadville. We met up with Ludwik, who drove us another hour out of town to our starting point. About half of the drive time was spent on a super bumpy, rutted dirt road. Craig was working remote so at one point he took a conference call as we jolted along the teeth rattling, brain jarring road. Pure comedy.

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The section Craig had in mind was a 10 mile stretch of trail on the course, from Winfield over Hope Pass and heading down the other side into Twin Lakes. Here’s Ludwik giving Ryan and Craig instructions on the route. I’ll mention here that Ludwik is participating in the Leadman series this summer. He’s sort of a general badass when he’s just standing there but Leadman is badass x 100,000. When he starts issuing instruction, you pay attention. Unless you’re me. Then you wander off to the pit potty and screw around taking pictures, assuming your brother will pay attention for you both.

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Craig wore the brightest shirt ever made. I kept thinking that if a bear ate Craig we’d be able to identify him by the scraps of his shirt in the bear feces. Then I kept wishing I could stop thinking about bear feces. And bears in general.

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The mess of a hill behind me? That’s where we’re going. I had just figured that out. I mean I had known we were going up and over a mountain all along. I think I just assumed we were making some upward progress via car before we got out to start our run portion? So when we got out of the car and the mountain was still looking really extra mountain-y? Shit suddenly got real.

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I smile because a last photo should look good, ya know?

Normally, if I’m going to run within an hour or two of waking up and/or for less than 10 miles, I don’t eat beforehand. I just get up, chug a Diet Coke and get running. Because we had an hour drive (well I expected an hour and it turned into 2+ hours) before the run I played it safe, breakfasting on a chocolate chip cookie and a banana. You know, quality power fueling for my big mountain adventure. When we got to the bottom/start of this shenanigan a couple hours later and I was already feeling hungry? I got a little edgy. And when Ludwik eyeballed our water supply (one 20 oz handheld each), inquired about food (none of us were planning to bring any, its only 10 miles, psshaw!) and shook his head in total dismay? Oh goody. Bend over and kiss your asses goodbye, kiddies!

Ryan and I rifled around in our bags and came up with one Gu, a Luna bar and a Jolly Rancher. Craig located a protein bar. Ludwik advised we not ration the water. He strongly suggested drinking as needed and refilling from a stream if necessary. He went so far as to say it was, “worth the risk” to drink potentially bad water rather than being conservative with our bottles. All righty then, with that pep talk, we were off!

Garmin tells me we started running at 10,200 ft. The first two miles rolled along a nice fire road with a nice bit of downhill roll. No problem. I’m running Leadville now, bitches, woooo!

Then we turned left and entered the trail portion. I don’t recall if the trail had a name. Maybe it was called WhatTheFuckAreYouDoingHereYouPansyAss Trail? Probably. Craig suggested we run until we hit a hill and were forced to walk. We agreed.

And .25 miles later, we were walking. For the next three miles it was almost all walking. Steep, slow, choking on altitude walking. Craig sprinted like a crazed gazelle right up the hill never to be seen again. Ryan had to stay with me because or else I’d totally tell Mom on him.

I took these two pictures, maybe a mile into the hill, thinking this was steep.

Looking up the trail.

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Looking down the trail. Can you make out the 10 year old boy down there? He totally sprinted past me a few minutes later. Then he pulled over to the side of the trail to mix himself up a gatorade and I considered mugging him for the gatorade.

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I wish I had taken some pics of when it REALLY got steep because it turns out that what you see there was absolutely nothing! Shit got real and then real-er.

I dubbed this trek up the mountain a “rock to rock” journey. I’d walk a bit and then spy a nice looking rock and sit a bit. Got to the point where even Ryan could identify a good sitting rock and would stop and wait for me beside one.

I wanted to sit here a minute longer so I made Ryan take a picture.

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I kept looking at the top and saying I really didn’t see how we were going to get there today. Seemed like it was at least an entire day away. I kept asking if he was sure this was really possible because it really, really didn’t look that way to me. I’m sure Ryan enjoyed that.

I will say that, as hard as it was, I never stopped having fun with it. A few of those truly breathless moments were rough, sure. Mostly I was glad to be out trying something challenging and getting a run in with my brother. Used to be all we ever did together was go drinking. Now we go running and THEN go drinking. There’s less guilt during the drinking this way!

At some point Ryan started pointing to the top and saying, “looks like x number of switchbacks left and we’ll be there”. And I’d sit on a rock and argue that he had to be wrong. Then suddenly we were there! And the angels sang and I ate my Gu. All in all, it took us 2:18 to cover the first five miles and reach Hope Pass at 12,563 Ft.

Elevation gains per mile for the climbing portion, just for perspective:

Mile 3 – 776 Feet

Mile 4 – 1,146 Feet

Mile 5 – 981 Feet

Craig beat us to the top by 18 minutes and was waiting for us. I found a nice rock to sit on, held up my fist and asked him to slam his face into it a few times for me. Then we posed for pictures because that’s what one does at the top of a mountain.

Behind me is where we came from, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down at the bottom.

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Behind me is where we are going, Twin Lakes.

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Me and my mountain savior, Ryan. We’re already planning a post run meal/drink.

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Craig, who I didn’t kill. Not even a little bit. At the top of the mountain all is forgiven!

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Once we got to the top, everything was a glittery haze of fabulous. Let the downhill party begin! It took us 2:18 to trek up 5 miles and 1:10 to barrel down 5 miles. It felt amazing and a little precarious all at the same time. It was steep and rocky at times but my legs were moving so fast that trying to stop was damn near impossible. We were screaming down that mountain. So fun!

On the way up the mountain I had polished off my water and half of Ryan’s. Its as though the minute Ludwik suggested we did not have enough water I was instantly struck with insatiable thirst. I’d spotted water a few times and asked about filling up. Ryan kept putting it off, wanting to get higher up for cleaner water. On the way down the other side I was feeling invincible and thirsty so I finally insisted on stopping at a stream and filling my bottle. I think he said something about just drinking enough to get by and not overdoing just in case it was funky water. I couldn’t hear him because I was busy chugging that icy cold, potentially giardia filled goodness down. Plus I’m probably one good stomach flu away from goal weight so fuck it, fill ‘er up! Giardia is delicious.

At the 8 mile mark Ludwik was waiting for us. He had been concerned we’d miss one particular turn. Ryan and I agreed we totally would have gone the wrong way so we were glad to see him. He was seated on a log when we showed up so I figured, “oh cool a little break”. But no. Ludwik spotted us and immediately leapt up, said, “Good, we go!” and darted down the trail. We chased him for the last 2 miles and rolled right on up to the truck. Whew!

Finish line!

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In the end, I covered 10% of the Leadville course in 12% of the time allowed for a belt buckle finish.

Hmmm. So close.

Good thing I bought my own Leadville medals!

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An hour ride back to Leadville. Another hour to Breckenridge. Came home to discover we were locked out of the condo. Jeff and Craig set about trying to break in and head back out for a mountain bike ride. Fools. Ryan did a quick change in the parking lot. I switched running shoes for flip flops and we headed to the nearest bar. Cheese fries and vodka drinks well earned!

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