Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vacation (aka Cross-Training)

Stefanie and I at Breckenridge.

This past week I was on vacation.  It was a vacation from work and my typical running schedule, but it actually turned out to be a pretty big week of training, all things considered.  You see, I'm not really a lay-on-the-beach-for-a-week vacation kinda guy.  I like to be doing stuff.  And one of my favorite things to do is go skiing - or snowboarding to be specific.

The uphill view from our condo.
A sweet deal on a friend's condo led us to Silverthorne, CO which is close to the ski resorts of Breckenridge and Keystone.  It's also happily situated 8,700 ft above sea level.  The ski resorts themselves just go up in elevation from that point.  I've been skiing several times before, but it's been a long time since I've stayed that this kind of elevation for any length of time.  And I don't remember running at this altitude either.   Let me just say that it was tough running at elevation.  It didn't help that our condo was located on a mountainside where my only options were to run up or down.  And if I chose down, well, then I had to finish going back up.

Stefanie and I, joined by our old friend Matt, were scheduled to arrive at our destination around 4:30pm on Sunday.  A tractor-trailer accident resulting in a closed interstate made for an interesting detour through a snowy Loveland Pass and a 7pm actual arrival time.  Our 1.5 hr drive was turned into a 4 hr drive.  Not fun.  And I still had to run.   Seven miles on the dark, snowy roads.  You'll find that 7 miles is a common theme.  That's how many miles I ran every day that I was in Silverthorne.  I guess it's an arbitrary choice, but 50 mpw is sort of my self-imposed minimum mileage.  I find it's best just to pick 7 miles a day and not give myself an option, because motivation to get out and run is pretty low while on vacation even for a running nut like myself.  Plus, I knew that I'd probably be able to run more Saturday and Sunday following the weekdays of skiing.

Monday morning I got up and put in my 7 miles before heading to the slopes.  I averaged around 7:30 pace for most all of my runs during the week, but it felt more like 6:30 effort - or faster.  Tuesday, same thing, I ran before skiing.  Most of the time, when I'm traveling with or visiting others, I try to get up and run in the morning before things get going.  I find that reduces the chance that I will get stuck doing something in the afternoon/evening that might interfere with my run.  But I don't particularly like running in the morning.  The slopes closed at 4pm which left me with plenty of daylight, so I switched over to running in the afternoon on Wednesday.

Me all geared up with Peak 8 in the background.

When you're snowboarding from 9am to 4pm, the legs tend to be a little tired for the run in the afternoon.  So it would only make sense on Wednesday, knowing I still had to run in the evening, that I would take the ski lift as high as it would go and then proceed to hike the rest of the way to the summit of Peak 8 at 12,998 ft.  If the skiing itself wasn't cross-training enough - climbing at 13,000 ft, in snowboarding boots, through soft powder snow, with the wind trying to blow you off the mountain - now that is serious cross-training.  It was only about 150 vertical feet of climb, but I had to stop several times to rest.  When I finally reached the summit, I was sucking wind like I'd just run an all-out mile.  It was so much fun that I repeated the challenge on Friday in even windier conditions.

The convoy of all the other crazies hiking to the summit.

On top of the world.
Double black diamond - the only way down from here.

I continued running my easy 7 miles in the evening on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but Thursday's run is worth noting.  I ran 2 miles up the mountain from our condo to a snow-covered trail.  I carried my YakTrax and slipped them on just before I hit the trail.  The snow was packed down by previous trail users and the YakTrax gripped beautifully.  It was really a treat to run through a forest blanketed in white.  I even encountered some cross-country skiers and quickly passed them.  I was so excited that I clocked a 5:10 for the final downhill mile on the road back to the condo.

The Saturday we wrapped up our vacation and were leaving Colorado presented a unique opportunity for me.  It's a long story, but there turned out to be a 5 hour gap between Stef's flight out of Denver and mine.  I decided to take this opportunity to go run on the Magnolia Road that I've read so much about.  After dropping Stef and Matt off at the Denver airport, I drove an hour to a spot just west of Boulder.  I continued driving up a paved, windy mountain road until the pavement ended.  This is where 'Mags' begins.  A 7.5 mile long dirt road, just above 8000 ft in elevation where many great runners have logged countless miles.  I parked on a small pull-off and began running with my camera.  I never run with a camera.  The road is rolling and climbs a manageable 400 ft from the start to the turn-around.  But the elevation is killer for a guy used to sea-level running.  For the 15 mile roundtrip, I averaged a measly 7:15 pace while running at 6 min/mi effort.  A long week of skiing could account for some of my fatigue, but the legs really felt decent.  I was hurting for oxygen though.  That was a very weird feeling.  I guess I expected to feel that way in Silverthorne.  But, here, on the road where the Colorado cross-country team trains, I expected to be able to run closer to a normal training pace.  I didn't fully appreciate the brutal effect the elevation has on this run.  Mags is beautiful in its own way, and I encourage any runner who has some time in the Boulder area to seek it out and experience Magnolia Road for yourself.

Enough warning signs for you?  Don't start running here.  Drive up 4.5 miles
to where the pavement ends and the dirt begins.  You'll be glad you did.

Magnolia Rd with snow-capped mountians in the background.

Magnolia Rd elevation profile.

Prior to arriving in Colorado on Sunday, I spent Friday and Saturday in San Diego for a college friend's wedding.  The weather was absolutely perfect for running, and I wondered aloud on Facebook why I was choosing to spend the majority of my vacation in Colorado as opposed to staying in San Diego.  After my week in Colorado though, I know I made the right decision.  I loved every minute in Colorado.  And although I wore more clothes, I was strangely never cold while running.  Obviously, I love skiing enough that I would sacrifice a week of optimized training just a month out from the USATF 100k to hit the Rockies.  I also can see why so many of the top trail ultra guys love Colorado enough to make it their home.

Last time down the mountain for my girl.

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