Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019 in numbers

Early in the afternoon on Dec. 31, during that short but golden window between sunrise and sunset, I wrapped up another year of moving through the world with a 12-mile run in the Goldstream Valley of Fairbanks, Alaska. Temperatures had plummeted to -5F, and my Alaskan friends teased me for insisting this was "cold" after experiencing 50 below during a five-day sled-pull in the White Mountains. Even as I insisted —"People in Boulder freak out when it's five below" — I wasn't sure a mere 2.5-hour run warranted more than a light softshell and a single pair of socks. As it turns out, at 5 below, it does. My elbows ached from the cold. I tried to increase speed to prompt better blood flow, but my leg muscles were sluggish from the fatigue of the camping trip, and my shoulders were too sore to pump my arms effectively. Still, after that hard sled pull through some of the most difficult weather and trail conditions Alaska can churn up, this run was nothing. It felt good to move and breathe in a glistening wonderland frost and snow.  


This final run of the year was an effort to boost my annual mileage to a contrived but fun 2,019 miles. I’d not yet run 2,000 miles in a year, but in mid-December I realized my total was somewhat close — close being about 150 miles away. That was a lot to cram into the shortest, coldest days at the end of the year, but we had planned trips with reasonable mileage for our Christmas training trip in Alaska, and it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to pad the weeks with a few more. As soon as I announced I was going for 2,000 miles, Beat urged me to take on an even more contrived yet popular running goal — mileage to match the year. What's 19 extra miles? And in case you're wondering, I do count all of my cart-dragging and Alps hiking and various other slow foot endeavors as "running." As I see it, my slow miles are often the most strenuous, so if these miles aren't "running," then nothing I do qualifies as running.  


And, indeed, the Alaska sled trips cut me down far more than I even anticipated. We only managed 30 miles on our first trip and about 65 on our second, but if I were allowed to rank myself on a difficulty curve, I'd give myself at least 400 miles for those trips alone. Fortunately I'm not willing to exaggerate real numbers, so I still came up short on my yearly goal and thus had excuses to head out for subzero runs in Fairbanks on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Eve. It was a fantastic way to end the year.

And with that goal secured — plus two miles to grow on — here's my annual "Year in Numbers:" 

January 

138 miles run, 28,993 feet of climbing
214 miles ride, 30,153 feet of climbing

I started out the year with just two races on my horizon — the White Mountains 100 in March and the Bryce 100 in May. I had a lot riding on achieving a measure success in these races — I thought I was finally in position to run a strong White Mountains 100, and I simply needed to finish the Bryce 100 after six (!) years without a successful long summer ultra. So my training focus turned to more serious running, and I mainly rode my bike for fun and relaxation. I actually managed to start becoming somewhat fast (for me.) My mileage wasn't that high because it was still winter, and training runs frequently blindsided me with harrowing difficulties like waist-deep snow drifts and 50mph wind gusts. Beat and I also embarked on a sled-dragging overnight to Homestake Reservoir near Vail, where we expected temperatures in the 20s and instead had to contend with 11 below. My enduring lesson from January is to expect anything and everything, at all times.

February 

133.6 miles run, 21,546 feet of climbing
205.2 miles ride, 22,219 feet of climbing

Early in the month I raced the Winter Bear, a 50-mile fat bike race near Steamboat Springs. I hadn't done enough bike training to warrant serious competition and rode it purely for fun. Still, I had such a great race that it renewed my desire to race bikes again — something in which I’ve mostly lost interest after my awful experience and longterm illness following the 2015 Tour Divide. (I did, of course, race the 2016 ITI on a bike, but my success there still didn't manage to relight the inner fire.) First, though, I had these 100-mile demons to face, so running continued to be the focus. The second week of February brought a not-great race at the rainy and muddy Golden Gate 50K in California. My confidence diminished further with more poor runs as we headed to Anchorage for Beat's eighth start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

March 

183.8 miles run, 12,841 feet of climbing
219.3 miles ride, 8,880 feet of climbing

While Beat raced the ITI, I spent most of the month living in Nome — a unique and enriching life experience. Life in Nome is difficult. This selfie is one I took during my regular two-mile walk to the grocery store. Nome is the kind of place where you need goggles just to buy groceries. Each day brought blasting winds, wet precipitation, whiteout skies and renewed snow drifts. March 2019 actually was far from a normal month in Nome — the temperature was 15 degrees higher than average, and they also received more than five times the typical precipitation. There was still the same amount of wind, so nearly every training run became a harrowing adventure — often stumbling blind through knee-deep drifts as freezing rain coated my body in a thick layer of ice. None of this training was all that optimal for running well in a runnable race, and in the end I felt like I showed up to the White Mountains 100 somewhat undertrained. Temperatures on the first day of the race neared 50 degrees — in Fairbanks in March — yet trails remained hardpacked. Still, I became frustrated early on because my legs felt sluggish, and I wasn't quite making the splits I hoped to achieve. Things really started to fall apart at mile 60, when a warm snowstorm intensified, and more than six inches of wet powder coated the trail by morning. Temperatures were still close to freezing, so I was soaked, slow-slogging and grumpy. I finished in a not-terrible time for this race — 31 hours — but I was still pretty disappointed with my performance. Someday I will achieve that perfect White Mountains 100. Someday.


April 

214.5 miles run, 46,190 feet of climbing
145.7 miles ride, 15,705 feet of climbing

We returned from Alaska and I launched right back to training for the Bryce 100, and things were going well again. Running the rocky and steep trails around Boulder isn't easy, but it's still a breeze compared to the wind-blasted mire of Nome.

May 

192.9 miles run, 34,029 feet of climbing
126.9 miles ride, 9,869 feet of climbing

What I remember about May is that it snowed, a lot, even though it was May. This made me a happy but slow runner. The Bryce 100 started May 17 with temperatures in the low 20s and two inches of fresh snow on the desert dirt. As the sun melted the snow, a slimy mud formed over the trails. Around mile 9 I slipped and twisted my knee sharply as I flailed. This hurt a lot, but I always overreact to my little mishaps, so I kept running. The long day dragged on and became a very cold night, down to 18 degrees. I thought it amusing that my "summer" ultra was considerably colder than my "winter" ultra in Alaska. My knee was stiff and sore, and during the night it got to the point where I could no longer run without considerable pain. But I had so much riding on not DNFing the Bryce 100 that I limped it in, again grumpy and disappointed with my 34-hour finish. I was in such pain that I was frowning and quietly growling at the folks who cheered me into the finish line, and I'm not proud of my attitude at all. I told Beat I needed to do some serious soul-searching about why foot racing makes me so angry, and why I keep pursing it anyway. My knee injury was diagnosed as a torn MCL, requiring physical therapy and what turned out to be about 10 weeks before I felt mostly recovered.

June 

19 miles run, 3,540 feet of climbing
481.3 miles ride, 62,586 feet of climbing

As I remember it, I didn't attempt to run again until August. Apparently I still did do some minimal hiking in June, including this climb to Niwot Ridge in a snowstorm on the summer solstice. Mostly I rode bikes and learned to love cycling all over again. My grandmother died on June 9, and I found solace in the meditative spin to the top Mount Evans. My bike accompanied me to Utah, where I embarked on more cathartic rides and cowered in the midst of particularly violent thunderstorms. But when I was injured and grieving, my bike was there for me, and I was grateful.

July 

97.5 miles run, 18,872 feet of climbing
418.8 miles ride, 48,503 feet of climbing

In July I'd decided I wanted to race the Summer Bear, a 200-mile, self-supported mountain bike race near Steamboat Springs in early August. So I was officially in bike training, although still struggling with a restrictive and chaffing knee brace. My friends and I embarked on a fun overnight bikepack near Eagle, and I managed a few good eight-hour rides in the mountains west of Boulder. By the end of the month my knee had improved and I felt ready to tackle a couple of tougher hikes in the San Juan Mountains as Beat raced the Ouray 100.


August 

179.9 miles run, 67,099 feet of climbing
246 miles ride, 30,256 feet of climbing

The first annual Summer Bear launched on August 2, exactly six months after the Winter Bear. Eighteen riders started the event, which inexplicably launched at 6 p.m., for a long night of grinding gravel and rocks and crumbling jeep tracks along the Colorado-Wyoming border.  The route was a weird mix of fairly easy dirt road riding, overgrown double- and singletrack, and steep unrideable nonsense along four-wheeler “trails.” That and the evening start threw most everyone for a loop, and by the second night there were only four people left in the race. I was proud to be one of the few finishers, but dragging my bike through a long, cold, second night out just to travel twenty miles in eight hours was not my favorite thing. After Summer Bear it seemed clear my knee was better, so I took advantage of the remaining couple of weeks in the short Colorado summer to visit a few mountains. I climbed four fourteeners to celebrate my 40th birthday. Then we headed to France for more fun hiking in the Alps.

September 


219.2 miles run, 68,989 feet of climbing
0 miles ride

By September I fully committed to walking the thousand-mile Iditarod Trail to Nome in 2020, and returned my focus to long days on foot. The best part of this month were the three days Beat and I spent in Valais in Switzerland, climbing immense and beautiful mountains. My dad and I hiked across the Grand Canyon again, and I visited a few more favorite mountains in Colorado and Utah as winter snows began to close in.


October

179.1 miles run, 42,727 feet of climbing
127.9 miles ride, 17,369 feet of climbing

Since October I’ve been entrenched in my weekly winter training plan, which generally involves two days of cart- or sled-dragging, two days of strength training, one tempo run, one to two long runs, and if I can carve out any extra time, a fun bike ride. Sadly, cycling has been neglected. It often feels like I stepped off the bike after the Summer Bear and didn’t get back on it, except for rare occasions when a fun trip presented itself. Early in the month I joined my friends on an overnight bikepack in Leadville that brought more discomfort than expected, demonstrating that I didn’t maintain the necessary fitness for long days in the saddle. I needed to accept that I won’t be able to switch my mode of travel to bike in case I change my mind about the Iditarod. I’m all in on foot now, and if I decide to back out, I’ll have to back all the way out.


November

172.1 miles run, 38,262 feet of climbing
432.9 miles ride, 34,173 feet of climbing

November was more of the same, although more of our “long runs” became snowshoe adventures in the mountains. At home the weather was a fairly warm and dry, and I even managed to enjoy one long bike ride when it was nearly 80 degrees outside. Before Thanksgiving I traveled out to Utah for a 300-mile bikepacking adventure near Moab, and closed out the month with a few impressively tough snowshoe hikes with my dad as several feet of snow fell on the Wasatch Mountains.


December

291.3 miles run, 42,727 feet of climbing
0 miles ride

December showed the ways my training has been going well, with increased strength and speed during my cart-drags, better handling of the weighted sled on tricky trails in the mountains, and increased limits in weight training. I’m also feeling quite comfortable on my feet. Nearly 300 miles is a lot to “run” in a month when not a small number of those “runs” are pushing my limit at 2mph, but I experienced minimal discomfort beyond the DOMS that often grips my shoulders and hamstrings.

I’ll write more about our end-of-year trip in a separate report, but it was humbling, to say the least. I flew to Alaska feeling all the confidence a neurotic person like myself can possibly gain, and returned having lost most of it. I learned a ton from this trip, but I also began to seriously question whether I really have what it takes to walk to Nome — mainly, whether I have the engine it takes to walk to Nome. I’m a realist and can’t help but be practical about this. Unless I get abnormally lucky with a month’s worth of trail conditions in Alaska amid this volatile climate era, the math doesn’t quite get me there. However, this isn’t to say I’m just going to give up. I’m going to keep training and keep re-crunching the numbers. Although I may be a realist, that’s never kept me away from the ridiculous.


Totals for 2019:
Rode 2,644.9 miles with 281,991 feet of climbing
Ran 2,021.0 miles with 425,991 feet of climbing
Cumulative 4,665.9 miles with 707,982 feet of climbing


The training alone is immensely rewarding and generally fun, and I’m excited to step up to the starting line on Knik Lake on March 1, and simply see where the next mile takes me. First I need to get through the Fat Pursuit on January 11 … I’ve decided to take on a 100-mile course rather than the 200K. In what will likely be fresh snow with a sled and snowshoes, 100 miles will be more than enough for me. It’s exciting and daunting, but I think 2020 is going to be a good year.

5 comments:

  1. Your adventures and numbers are inspiring, even more so is the recording of your life's journey! That is something I aspire to do each year myself but fail miserably at making the time to do it. Sadly, Looking back over the last year and only remembering bits and pieces may be the spark to start, regret can be a motivator.

    Jeff C
    "Reflection goes hand-in-hand with assessment and leads to long-lasting growth and change (in combination with action, of course). "

    Melissa Steginus,

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  2. Amazing statistics! Great job!

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  3. I'm super curious about my stats but not enough to actually track them. Of course you can walk to Nome. I know you can.

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  4. Jeez Louize...don't think I can look at my 2019 numbers now, suddenly I feel so pathetic. Over 2000 FOOT MILES! (a lot of that horrible miles too, not just easy-peasy running/hiking). And dang...I think your bike miles are more than mine! I'm going to go whimper in a corner somewhere.

    You GO GIRL!!! It will be fun seeing what kind of self-punishment you are able to dish out in this next decade. Simply AMAZING (both of you)! Stay safe!

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  5. Sensational. Have a brilliant Nome adventure.

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