Sunday, April 07, 2019

April ... not the cruelest month

Every March, Beat and I more or less put our lives on hold to frolic in Alaska. By April, we have a lot of catching up to do. Life maintenance adds so much busyness to these weeks, and they begin to overwhelm. Today marks two weeks since the White Mountains 100, and it already feels like it was months ago. Both in mind in body ... happily in body, because I'm already back in training for my next (and possibly last) race of the year on May 17, the Bryce 100.

My first run post-White Mountains 100 was the following Saturday. We had just returned to Boulder late Thursday evening, and had barely settled in when we were slammed by several inches of snow. I'm always grateful for the way Colorado eases the transition away from winter by sprinkling a few good snowstorms in with the 80-degree days, sometimes far into May. Our snowy late-March Saturday was lovely but made for slushy, muddy conditions along the dirt road. Despite being only about five days out from the hundred-mile race, my legs felt springy, and I didn't even notice the altitude. We took a five-mile route that I run often enough to use as a gage of fitness. Despite the tough surface conditions, the pace still came in above my "all-time average."

On Sunday we climbed to Bear Peak. Beat barely missed a beat (ha) following his thousand-mile march across Alaska. I can remember the days when the ITI left him feeling tired for a few weeks, but now he's just raring to go again. I couldn't keep up with him on this outing.

The new snow made for lovely scenery. When we reached the peak, there were about eight other people up there, and I noticed Beat suddenly seemed anxious. Lingering only long enough for me to take one photo, he turned and started jogging back down the trail. I rushed to catch up and asked, "Too many people?" "Yeah," he replied. This is possibly the toughest part of the Iditarod Trail transition — after weeks of solitude, returning to these lands of human congestion (which describe nearly every place, relative to the Iditarod Trail.)

My friend Betsy was preparing her own Alaska adventure beginning Tuesday, but on Monday we managed to connect for a morning of fat biking at Brainard Lake. I'd believed the season for packed trails at moderate altitudes would be over by the time I returned from Alaska, so this opportunity was a pleasant surprise. And since it was April 1, I no longer needed all of those warm clothes that I had to schlep around in Alaska.

So, imagine the less-than-pleasant surprise of arriving at the trailhead to a temperature of 25 degrees with a blasting 30 mph wind. Whoa – it was just like Nome, except for at 10,000 feet, so it's even harder to breathe into the wind. The windchill was breathtaking even as I stood still in the parking lot. I dug through the car for any warm layers I could scavenge, then walked over to Betsy's vehicle.

"It's so much colder than I thought it was going to be!" I exclaimed. "I thought it was spring."

A nearby couple, who I'd observed bundling up in at least six layers as they prepared to go snowshoeing, replied, "April Fools."

Betsy and I weren't ideally prepared, but we agreed to attempt at least one lap. We climbed the wind-exposed and snow-covered road, battling dynamic snow drifts — as quickly as the drifts formed, they were whisked away, creating a strange effect that I'd liken to crashing through breaking waves. A ground blizzard raged around us, and it wasn't even snowing — somewhere overhead there was sunshine and blue skies. But down here, all was frozen in chaos.

I became chilled despite the tough climb, but as soon as we veered into the forest on Waldrop, we discovered a dreamland of muted wind and solid trails. As Betsy described it, "Whitetrack Bliss." The rolling descent was so fun that we again braved the awful ground blizzard of the road — which despite difficulties was the faster way to climb — for a go on the Snowshoe Trail. Betsy ran out of time and headed home, but I was having so much fun that I returned for a third climb and descent, again on Snowshoe. Such riding is rare in Colorado — narrow mountain trails, winding tightly through the forest, dipping in and out of steep drainages, and 100 percent free of rocks. Real flow trail. I was in heaven.

By Wednesday I decided I was ready for some real running, and headed up Green Mountain from the main trailhead. I hit the steep "stairs" on Saddle Rock, where the familiar march felt relatively effortless. "Oh course, because April," I thought ... which I realize is about as meaningful an explanation as "because reasons." I've written here before about these strange sort of "biorhythm" cycles I experience, and acknowledge that they make no medical sense and are probably a result of placebo effect. But wow ... every four months, my breathing really improves, and it doesn't seemed to have anything to do with training effect (because I should be fatigued from Alaska) or altitude (because I spent five weeks at sea level, long enough to lose my acclimation.)

It's been interesting to track these supposed cycles via heart rate and performance statistics. My outings during the good weeks often bring higher "relative effort" scores from Strava, even though I feel less taxed during the run, and less fatigued afterward. I'm given the higher score because I spend more time in higher heart rate zones, rather than gasping my way through zone 2. It appears to be the simple effect of being able to supply more oxygen to my blood — for whatever reason — which boosts a higher performance from my body. I continue to dig around for potential causes and solutions for such a cycle, because the bad weeks still suck plenty (although my last period of breathing difficulty, during late February and early March, was relatively short-lived.)

For now, I'm simply enjoying to ease of "because April." Despite soft snow conditions on the upper half of Green, I managed to march up to the peak and touch the plaque with 59:01 on my watch — my first-ever sub-hour for that 2,500-foot climb. Then I lingered on the peak taking photos and texting Beat, so Strava game me 1:04 for the segment. Stupid Strava.

I'm putting good fitness to good use, while acknowledging that I have some lingering muscle and Achilles issues after the hundred-miler. So instead of just ramping up my running mileage, I remain committed to the equal-time cross training that I believe has kept me (overuse) injury free and motivated all of these years (which is another way of saying I like to ride bikes, but not necessarily race them, and while I enjoy racing on foot, I prefer to skip the tedium of focused run training that might actually help me become a better runner.)

Anyway, the road bike is always such a revelation after a winter of fat bike snow slogging. The featherweight bike just pedals itself, and I enjoy a lovely 4,000-foot jaunt up Lefthand Canyon. Of course, once I neared Ward at 9,000 feet, the gusting west wind returned in force, and it became hard for a while, then cold. The ambient temperature couldn't have been much warmer than 45 degrees, and windchill was again fierce. Luckily, after Monday, I would not again be fooled by mountain weather. There was plenty of winter gear in my pack for the long descent along Peak-to-Peak and Highway 7, which is pretty much an hour-long amusement park ride at the highest fun setting. 

So this is where I'm at right now — feeling good, enjoying spring, relishing this first bout of warm weather and drying trails before the next round of snow hits next week. If I felt I had any control over my fitness I'd say I'm well positioned for the Bryce 100 next month, but yeah ... I can't be easily convinced that the way I feel today means anything for a few weeks from now. There's plenty of time (and an encroaching down-cycle) for my breathing to fall apart again.

Still, Beat and I really crushed our three-hour extended Walker Ranch run today. I was feeling so strong that I blasted down the trail toward South Boulder Creek, fast enough that when my foot caught a rock, my split-second reaction was to brace for a world of hurt. That is, until my other foot came down and I launched into a flailing sprint in the direction momentum was taking me — off trail and straight down the mountain — but I embraced that momentum and continued throwing my feet forward into bushes and prickly pear cactus until I regained control and slowed to a stop, incredibly still on my feet.

What a rush — to take a bad fall and yet not fall! No trail rash! No bruises! I feel practically invincible at this point. 


  1. When I see people running in the mountains with ear buds, I think of this guy....

    1. I've been playing the odds for at least 20 years now, and I'm not convinced that the minimal sensory deprivation caused by earbuds will make much if any difference in either an animal attack or a collision with a vehicle. I'll be blind-sided by those things whether I hear them coming or not. I never wear them in crowded races. I keep volumes low so I can hear well enough to move over for an approaching vehicle, runner, cyclist, dog musher, snowmachine ... But I know, you can't really defend this sort of thing. We're evangelicals on both sides.

  2. I've never really been attuned to cycles but that's interesting. I basically just slog along at the same pace regardless, I think. I never take ear buds but I think it's because I'm old. When I started running there were only Walkmen. Haha!

    1. Ha. Back in 2002 I used to ride my bike while wearing a Discman ... one of those portable CD players of old ... in the back of a bike jersey. I also have memories of carrying a tape-playing Walkman in a pocket during hikes when I was a teenager. During my cross-country bike tour in 2003 I had to settle for am AM/FM radio. When you're dedicated to music, you're dedicated. MP3 players are the best invention of this century, as far as I'm concerned. Smart phones are probably the worst.

      I only started experiencing these cycles about two years ago. And it does line up with the time period when I started thyroid medication. Since then I could almost make a graph of average paces on my most common runs and rides that would show a wave-like pattern. However, I didn't really notice this pattern until ~January 2018, but I can go back to 2017 data and still track a fairly predictable arc that formed before such expectations were planted in my head.

      Anyway, the cycle is interesting and still likely more imagined than real. But either way it's frustrating, because it means any progress I might make in training is bound to be interrupted, and every few months I feel lousy and I've just come to expect this.

  3. It's great to hear how well you are feeling! I absolutely love this time of year, all except for the very deep snowpack that is melting and turning to slush daily at my elevation. I've been riding over your way some days to get away from our unrideable trails.

    There's a fire burning on Highway 7 right now. Worrisome given the gusty wind.

    1. The trails over here did dry out surprisingly quickly. But I did hear about the TinyHouse fire. I was actually planning to ride my road bike on Highway 7 again today, but changed my mind when I woke up to strong gusting winds in the morning. Difficult weather for fighting fire; I hope they can contain it soon.

  4. Glad you are in "because April" mode, have a blast and use it for all it's worth!
    Way back when I used to rail against the use of earbuds/phones on the bike...always said nature has all the music I need. Since then I've become completely dependent on my ipod (shuffle, gen 4 I think), with the Yo Eddy earbud set. I keep the volume low and the buds not actually IN my ear (just sitting in the big open cavity at the bottom of my ears...I can hear music AND the world just fine that way). Somehow having music creates a very welcome distraction and the miles and efforts just cruise on by. When I forget my ipod I'm totally lost, with nothing to listen to but my own thoughts, which usually involve a horrible earworm from the last song I heard before the ride (and I think there's some Murphys Law of earworms stating that the last song you hear before a big effort will be something like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon round the ol' oak tree", and that one lyric will go round and round and round until you are willing to stab yourself in the ears to stop it, which won't work as it's all in your MIND).

    1. I just love to listen to music. Had I not become an endurance junkie, I might have developed into the type who lays in bed listening to vinyl records in the middle of the day. It's nice for be to combine my passions, and I don't feel I'm missing out on the more subtle nature sounds, which usually means the wind. Like you I keep volumes low enough to remain aware of other trail users and traffic.

      Weirdly I am not all that prone to earworms. I hear music in my head sometimes, but I'm usually capable of "switching" a song if I don't want to loop through it anymore.

  5. I'm glad you're feeling great. I haven't tried to run since WM100 but really need to get back at it.


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