Sunday, January 03, 2021

2020 in numbers

Final ride of 2020 on Rollins Pass Road

Really, I couldn't think of a better way to end a difficult year that passed in a realm of surreality — hunched over a sweat-soaked towel in my basement, legs spinning wildly to boost the wattage of a bike trainer, watching the digital grandeur of a futuristic New York City pass by on a movie screen while listening to an audiobook about the Shakleton Antarctic expedition of 1915, all while chasing an utterly arbitrary goal of 4,000 pedaled miles in one year. 

When I reached my goal, I spun down seven miles to grow on, remembered it was Dec. 30, and schemed a snowy plod of a ride for the true final day of 2020. I've had a lot of fun with Zwift since we installed the bike trainer in mid-December, and will staunchly defend the stance that these miles are every bit as meaningful as outdoor miles — especially in this age of social distancing, poor air quality, road dangers, and time limitations for many people who just want to pursue fitness and virtual socializing with friends and strangers. My sore legs certainly agree that the 85 miles I rode on Dec. 30 are "real."  But my focus in training has never solely been on fitness. Any gains in this regard are a distant second to adventures, beauty, awe, and all of the little surprises of simply moving through the world. 

So I planned a New Year's Eve ride on Rollins Pass Road, where I knew I'd find deep snow, expansive views, and almost total solitude. That conditions were mostly terrible for riding a bike was, frankly, to be expected. 

It seemed the road hadn't seen much traffic since I was last here on Dec. 5. The jeep tracks were filled with drifted snow and torn to chaotic shreds where vehicles spun out in the deepening drifts. Where I could ride, I averaged about 3 mph and often had to stop pedaling when my quads were screaming. And I really tried to not stop, because the track was often only the width of a truck tire and hub-deep, so it was almost impossible to start rolling again. This slow, strenuous plod felt quite silly with my tired legs and no goals in mind. Still, the views were superb, the December sun at 10,000 feet was warm enough that I had stripped down to a sweat-drenched base layer, and, most enjoyable of all — the air was clean and still. 

The last of the truck tracks petered out around mile 7.5, so I turned around. This 15-mile, four-hour effort was a bit pathetic in the scheme of the numbers game ... but then again, it's never been about the numbers, has it? Still, numbers are fun just as games are fun. I've enjoyed keeping track of my stats over the years. 

My 2020 numbers surprised me somewhat. I haven't actively trained for anything since February, spent most of my moving time on really slow activities like crawling over mountain boulderfields, and took quite a few days off during the summer when air quality was horrendous. Still, when it was all over I logged a near-record amount of elevation gain — I realized all too late that I was only about 5,000 feet shy of my 2015 PR — and my most cycling miles in a year since the "Tour Divide training/easy-fire-road-spinning days" when I lived in California. Since then, I haven't broken 3,000 miles in a year. Through it all I was still primarily a "runner" in 2020, burning well over 500 hours on the activity. 

A part of me is embarrassed that my "moving time" was nearly 1,000 hours. Part of it is the relatively small number of miles for this effort. If I put in this kind of time on Zwift, I'd probably pedal 15,000 miles or more. Part of it is shame about wasting time. After all, an adult spending this much time on play not only has a hefty helping of privilege, she's also squandering potential for more "productive" endeavors. I won't take a deep dive into my philosophy on productivity here, but I believe any endeavor can only contain as much meaning as we assign to it. Thus, we all live our lives in line with what we value. Only those who don't live in accordance with their own values are wasting their "one wild and precious life." 

My 2020 Year in Numbers: 

Run: 1,780.6 miles, 338,599 feet climbing. 537 hours and 46 minutes. 
Ride: 4,022.2 miles, 507,070 feet climbing. 450 hours and 27 minutes.


5,802.8 miles
845,669 feet climbing 
987 hours and 13 minutes (41.1 days) 

Night run in Anchorage, Alaska, at -5F.


188.2 miles run, 18,509 feet climbing
25.6 miles ride, 4,449 feet climbing
67 hours

I like to tally these monthly totals for my personal records, but since none of the months had a specific focus after March, I don't intend to yammer on about training. In January, almost all of my miles stacked up while I was training in Anchorage during the first week of the year, and then dragging my sled across the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming for 100 miles during the Fat Pursuit. After Fat Pursuit, Beat and I came down with our annual death cold, which laid me low for the rest of the month. I even fretted that I wouldn't recover in time to participate in the Iditarod. Without focused training and with the social distancing necessitated by COVID, I haven't been sick or injured since January. If I make it through this month with health intact, it will probably be the first 365-day period of my adult life in which I could say this. (Please, universe, let me make it through January without getting sick ... I really don't want to get sick with what is likely to make me sick right now.) 

Sled-drag around Turquoise Lake in Leadville, Colorado.


132.5 miles run, 22,990 feet climbing
0 miles ride.
38 hours

I spent a fair amount of February time in the gym, which isn't reflected in time totals. The "running" miles were mainly sled-drags and cart-pulls. It's funny, though — in my memory I trained so hard leading up the Iditarod Trail Invitational, but that isn't reflected in my Strava numbers. One-legged squats and deadlifts feel like much more effort than they probably are. Ah, I miss going to the gym. I tried to launch home strength training in the spring, but my motivation has been dismal. 

The "road" to McGrath during the Iditarod Trail Invitational, -45F.


361.8 miles run, 23,156 feet climbing
26.3 miles ride, 1,175 feet climbing
133 hours

Nearly all of these miles happened during my march along the snow-swept Iditarod Trail. The rest of the month was filled with recovery, anxious downtime, stressful travel, and just trying to pick up as many pieces as possible after the pandemic scattered all hopes and plans to the wind. 

Using the last of some hard-earned sled-dragging strength to haul firewood back home


124.9 miles run, 24,229 feet climbing
220 miles ride, 34,390 feet climbing
54 hours

It's interesting to note that as of April 1, I had only logged 50 miles of cycling in 2020. It had been six months since I'd completed more than a handful of short rides. I remember that cycling fitness came back surprisingly fast — muscle memory is an amazing thing — when I finally took to the roads. I wish muscle memory could be so kind to my upper body, but after my gym closed, my strength quickly plummeted. Ah well. Perhaps that will be a project for this coming spring. 

Slowly getting my running legs back during the stay-at-home era


146.7 miles run, 37,270 feet climbing
452 miles ride, 59,728 feet climbing
86 hours

As trails dried out in May, I returned to running with more gusto. The 30-minute-mile cart-dragging slogs of winter left me with no leg speed, and I didn't do a lot to earn it back. Several times this year, I admitted to Beat that I am not a "runner," I am a "hiker," and that's okay. Maybe regaining leg speed would be a good project for another extended period without endurance racing ... although attempts to run even relatively fast will likely result in injury. Not overuse injury, mind you, injury because I will eventually, inevitably, smack the ground with a breakable body part.  

Carrying my gravel bike to the top of Mount Evans on the Summer Solstice


113.4 miles run, 25,903 feet climbing
560.9 miles ride, 65,134 feet climbing
84 hours

June was a fun month ... arguably the least volatile of the pandemic, when it briefly began to look like things might shift toward a better outcome. Our state's stay-at-home orders ended, and we could again venture into the mountains. The state also decided to keep the road to Mount Evans closed for the summer, which sparked a flurry of human-powered activity. In hindsight, it's like Zwift land — a beautiful, car-free world filled with cyclists and the occasional summit-seeking road runner, sweating and smiling in the sunshine. 

Trying and mostly failing not to blow away on Keyhole Pass


129.3 miles run, 34,626 feet climbing
463.5 miles ride, 58,039 feet climbing
90 hours

In July, Beat and I fell into our summer pattern of picking one huge mountain route to tackle nearly every weekend. These hikes were often near the edge of my comfort zone or slightly beyond, as is the case with this attempt on Longs Peak. Insanely high winds scared me off the summit ridge, which is an exposed class-three traverse. Beat made it to the top that day. The fact that I have yet to reach the summit of this 14er remains a source of shame, but I think I'll need true Goldilocks conditions to try it again. Mountains are scary. 

Climbing to the top of Colorado for my 41st birthday


190 miles run, 52,112 feet climbing
302.6 miles ride, 37,008 feet climbing
95 hours

In August, wildfire smoke began to take over the skies. At first, it arrived from far away — western Colorado and California, mostly — but the air quality index started regularly spiking into the hazardous zone. In my numbers tally, I noted that each week held three to four rest days — often because I simply could not exert myself outside without developing asthma symptoms. These rest days were interspersed with huge days in the mountains, which is how I racked up 95 hours of moving time. 

A much-appreciated summer snowstorm


139.2 miles run, 37,031 feet climbing
150 miles ride, 19,865 feet climbing
57 hours

Despite a brief breather in the form of a heavy snowstorm on Sept. 9, the fire summer continued almost unabated once the foot of fluff melted from the ground. Although Beat and I continued to plan big days in the mountains, I'd often need to take a day or two to recover from that ragged feeling in my lungs. 

That time I rode my bike 150 miles from home to the top of Mount Evans and back


112.2 miles run, 30,466 feet climbing
461.5 miles ride, 61,905 feet climbing
84 hours

October is when all of our big local fires flared out of control, and the fire summer hit closest to home. But I also felt the clock ticking on winter, and pushed to accomplish a few of the little adventure goals I'd set for a rather disappointing summer — the "Big Lonesome" loop along the CDT (we crawled over and around 20-foot-high piles of blowdowns for much of ten hours), the Pawnee-Buchanan loop, and riding to the top of Mount Evans from my house, which involved 150 miles and 18,000 feet of climbing. I picked one of the worst days to do this — it was terribly hot, breezy, and the AQI stayed in the 150+ "unhealthy" range for the entire day. I've decided I'm not going to do this to myself again next summer. I won't risk an asthma attack and potential long-term health effects just to play outside. That is the top reason I wanted a bike trainer, so I can stay indoors and still enjoy the benefits of a good endorphin session. 

November was still too warm, but I enjoyed putting in some big days on the bike.


62.1 miles run, 15,511 feet climbing
670.6 miles ride, 82,626 feet climbing
100 hours

November weather remained warm and dry, but we finally received just enough snow to tamp down the fires and restore air quality to breathable levels. Apparently, I rode my bike a lot. In the early part of the month, there was still some hope that I'd race the Fat Pursuit 200K on Jan. 8, so I focused my training on saddle time. I started to feel quite strong and knocked down a bunch of PRs on local routes. During the last week of November, I joined several friends for bikepacking in Utah. 

December was sort of a blur


79.8 miles run, 21,053 feet climbing
686.7 miles ride, 82,743 feet climbing
100 hours

December was the month of Zwift. I also logged a few good rides on Mount Evans and Rollins Pass Road (twice), and there was then of course the 160-mile, 24-hour Wild Winter Wind (erm, Wild Winter Way) solo ride on the Solstice. I'm grateful I can lean on my outdoor passions to make the most of a lousy year. Even though I've spent only minimal, distanced time with friends, didn't attend a cultural or social event (besides my own outdoor wedding), didn't race after the Iditarod, didn't travel outside the country, and didn't even visit a restaurant in nine months ... my life still feels adventurous and full. I ponder the ways I'd cope without cycling or hiking, and I have to say, I don't like this mental image. And despite the meandering nature of my outdoor pursuits, I accomplished a few things that I'm proud of:

1. Dragging a heavy sled through a few feet of new snow for 100 miles of the Fat Pursuit course even though it was a ridiculous slog that took 56 hours.

2. Making it to McGrath during the Iditarod Trail Invitational. It was the toughest year I've experienced in six starts. Even though I'm disappointed about quitting, and even though I was a Nome racer so it doesn't "count," reaching McGrath a fifth time was still an enormous undertaking and its own meaningful adventure. 

3. Taking my mountain pursuits farther than I have, and pushing my comfort zone a little closer to the proverbial and literal edge. I hope, given reasonable air quality and weather, to see plenty of new peaks in 2021. 

4. Climbing 845,000 feet. If only I knew I was so close to my 851,000-foot record, I probably would have pursued this goal. The million feet of climbing might come one year, but only if most of my ascending happens on a bike. The problem with running is that descending is hard work, too, and can be more taxing than climbing. That's the limiting factor.  

5. Riding to the top of Mount Evans from home.

6. The Wild Winter Way. My only virtual race this year. It was one I basically made up myself. I loved it! 

I hope you enjoyed your days on the move in 2020. Here's hoping that we can all move a little farther and wider through the world in 2021. 


  1. That's an amazing amount of distance, time and elevation, especially in a year where you weren't training or racing after March! Great job. Very inspiring!

  2. Always enjoy your end-of-year posts, especially the year in photos. Great job at making the most of this past year. Your numbers are inspiring. I wonder if you might consider posting any memorable books you read in the last year? I remember you mentioning some, but can't remember what exactly.


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