Never Summer 100k: Changing the Rules

I have a birthday ending in a zero in a few months and it’s no longer possible to pretend I’m not middle-aged. Things could be a lot worse. I can look back on a half-century and not find too many things I regret doing or not doing. Nevertheless, aging gives you Thoughts and I have a lot of topics on my mind. Who am I? Where am I going? Who do I want to be?

My identity as defined by my passions has always been pretty fluid and laissez faire. In more direct words, I dabble in a lot of different things without being particularly good at any of them. I’ve spent a few years at a time obsessing about various forms of cycling, climbing, skiing, backpacking, kayaking, caving, woodworking, mountaineering, photography, beer brewing…. Sometimes these obsessions come around for a second or even third round! It means my garage is full of lots of specialized gear which I don’t use very often.

However, the one constant over my 30s and 40s has been running. I started trail running on a whim in my early 30s as something to keep me in shape for mountaineering and it has lasted me far longer than anything else. Even amongst my other fascinations, running has been my #1 hobby and everything else has been secondary. Much as it seems weird to my vestigial teenage self, I now absolutely define myself as a trail runner. In particular, I identify as the ultra-marathoner sub-species typified as someone with more endurance than speed and a 3-sigma tolerance for voluntary pain and extended outdoor suffering. “Type-II fun”, we call it, proudly: i.e., only fun when reminiscing about how much it sucked at the time.

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Summer Training

In about a week, I’ll be running a Big Scary trail race with lots of distance, both horizontal and vertical. Yes, I’ve done big scary races before, but it’s been a long time. As part of the training, I’ve been trying to get in a big mountain run each weekend in preparation for it. I’m following a 24-week training plan (so my ultra is at the end of Week 24). Continuing from this spring’s training, here are the highlights.

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Ultras in the time of Covid

After 26 months of artful dodging, The Virus finally got me.

Whoa, back up.

So I ran an ultra.

Nope, farther back.

I’m turning an-age-that-ends-in-zero this year so I’m coping in my usual fashion: signing up for a big stupid scary race and training my increasingly-aged-ass off. But this isn’t about that race (yet). This is about the 30+ mile training run before the big run to see test out my various racing strategies before the big day. And if you’re going to do a training run for a long race, it might as well be a shorter race so you can have the benefit of aid stations, finish line tacos, and a nice t-shirt for the collection.

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Spring Training

I have a “significant” birthday coming up and, predictably, I’m coping with it by training for a significant race. It was made clear to me that trying to run another 100 miler would come with serious repercussions, so I’m tackling the somewhat saner Never Summer 100k at the end of July.

It’s nice to be training again. Once again, I’m following a plan based on one in Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell, somewhat tailored to this particular race. It calls for regular runs during the week followed by long runs on the weekends. So I thought it would be fun to go back and look at all the weekend “long” runs I’ve managed since starting the plan in early February. As usual, Life has gotten in the way of some of them and I haven’t always gotten in the prescribed miles, but I’ve managed something respectable most of the time.

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2022 Ski Roundup

It was not a fantastic ski year, especially after last year’s surprisingly good season. It started and ended memorably and there were some good times in between. But mostly the snow wasn’t great, we were distracted by other things, and there just wasn’t that much skiing.

The season started out well enough with an early season storm that allowed me, for the first time ever, to do some laps on my late-October birthday (Kudos to A Basin for opening their White Ribbon of Death in time for me to get in ten runs!). Unfortunately, I never made it back to ski anything other than High Noon. It ended well, with a gonzo uphill ski race benefit in costume at Eldora, finishing at the base of an even-sketchier-than-usual West Ridge.

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2021 Adventure Round-up

Once again it’s time to look back on the various smaller adventures of the year. Big adventures are great and all, but it’s the little day-to-day stuff like this that keeps me going.

January 23-24 – Pre-Klondike Winter Camping

Troop 78 took advantage in a lull in COVID numbers to do some socially-distanced winter camping trip up at Camp Tahosa. There wasn’t much snow, but it was certainly wintery in temperature (low of 1.6 degrees F overnight). Better, it was our first actual camping trip since summer of 2020.

January 28 – Brainard Skiing

There still isn’t much snow up high, but I headed up to Brainard Lake to see what I could find. What I found was enough snow for some XC miles, but just barely. Being alone in the wintery woods was a nice break from eleven months of pandemic craziness though.

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Devil in the Details

Devils live here.

Back in March, I signed up for an ultramarathon to give myself something to train for… and then failed to train for it. Sure, I put in a decent effort training in August, but mostly it was my usual summer shenanigans of backpacking, hiking, and occasional long-ish runs before that.

The race in question was the Devil on the Divide 50k in Empire, Colorado. On paper, it’s exactly my kind of race: a small, local race with a bunch of high-altitude trail running on obscure trails about an hour from my house. It’s paired with a 22k (half marathon) race as well. 29 miles trail miles with 6500′ of gain, 8000′ of loss. Sounds great! Just the thing to keep me from getting bored in our second COVID summer.

I ran my first ultra in 2008 and have since added a decent supply of finishers medals to my quiver–four trail marathons, three 50k races, two 50 milers, and a 100 miler–plus a dozen or so long stupid runs in the mountains where I wasn’t wearing a bib. A “mere” 50k didn’t scare me that much and correspondingly didn’t motivate me that much. But my last ultra was six years ago the laurels I’ve been resting on are pretty thin and scraggly now.

You can all see where this is going, right?

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Quality time with my girl

Do not disturb. Fatherhood winning in progress.

Summer of 2021 may be remembered as the Summer of Backpacking Trips. First, was new-style (i.e. ultralight) solo trip, then a massive, old-school expedition with kid #1 and his Scout troop, and now, not to be left out, kid #2 wanted her own trip “just you and me”. First, this is extra cute and tugs on all my doting daddy heartstrings. Second, I am, of course, all about raising my male and female children with equal opportunities. The fact that she loves the outdoors so much makes my heart glad. Heck yeah fatherhood!

So we set about planning a trip. She’s 9 years old and big for her age. She helped with meal planning, choosing gear from our extensive garage collection, and details of the route. Her requirements for the trip were three:
1) A two night trip with two different campsites
2) Someplace her brother had never been
3) Good bear bag hanging opportunities.

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Maximum MINI

Hey, who are you calling “Mini”?

Despite the name, there is NOTHING mini about Troop 78’s MINI backpacking trip. It’s a five-day expedition for 12-13 year old Scouts into some of the more obscure and remote Colorado Wilderness areas. They lug backpacks weighing 25% or more of their body weight over mountain passes and across alpine tundra, ford rivers, cook sometimes-delicious meals, swat mosquitoes, scale precipitous peaks, and tell long, complicated, and inexplicable stories.

The group was pretty huge (16 Scouts and 8 adults). To my great surprise, the scouts self-organized into two crews; the Amogus Men (7 scouts, 3 adults) and the Nutcrackers (9 and 5) which would operate independently of each other, but traverse the same route and camp near each other most nights.

There is a lot of behind the scenes work for a 24-person wilderness backpacking trip! My main contributions were organizing a couple of training hikes in the months leading up to the trip and route planning and reconnaissance as that kind of thing is my forte. The ideal trip would be challenging and memorable, but not beyond the upper end of what a 70-pound pre-teen could be expected to accomplish; we wanted them inspired and tired, not expired.

Originally-planned route (red) and the Night on the Wall option (green)

The route we settled on was based loosely on the 2019 MINI trip, a 25-ish mile loop in the Flat Tops Wilderness in north-western Colorado. It looked like it would hit all the requirements of an epic MINI and was, more importantly, a place none of us had ever been to before. There would be lakes, passes, possibly a peak or two to climb and, the piece de resistance, a traverse of the famous Devil’s Causeway on the final day of the trip.

Was this going to work? I had my misgivings to be sure. My middle schooler is fairly large and strong, but some of these guys were pretty small. The usual rule about backpacks weighing no more than 25% of your weight left these guys carrying only about 18 pounds. With pack, water, and personal gear, that didn’t leave much room for anything else. With a group this big, you’re only as fast as the slowest person… what could possibly go wrong.

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Scouting for Scouts

My 16th Colorado Wilderness Area!

In a few days, I’ll be leading a group of Scouts (formerly Boy Scouts, but we have girls now, too) on a backpacking trip through the Flat Tops Wilderness in western Colorado. Leading 24 people on a five-day trip is a much bigger logistical challenge than I appreciated when I first volunteered for this back in the winter, but fortunately everyone has stepped forward and helped according to his or her strengths. In my case, that means pouring over maps and satellite images and obsessing over designing a route.

None of us has ever been to the Flat Tops either and this didn’t seem wise. Thus I volunteered to go out and recon the route to make sure lay in the sweet spot of awesome and challenging for a bunch of middle schoolers, while not so tough as to kill or maim anyone. Most of the route is on-trail past a series of lakes across the famous Chinese Wall, finishing with a spectacular crossing of the Devil’s Causeway. However, I’d planned on an off-trail bushwhack from a lake-infested basin up a steep valley onto the eponymous flat top of the plateau on the last day. The bushwhack is only about 1.5 miles in a straight line and, according to the maps and images, it didn’t look too bad.

Hoo boy…

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