If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Sunday, March 07, 2021

It's all cute until it isn't - training diary, continued.

And the winter is not going away...This is the time of the year we were told locals get weary of winter, not because it has been long (which it has to a certain extend, considering we hit lots of cold temps by October), but because the Springs shows up, gives hope with huge sunshine and 50F, then the another snow, or simply winter blast, forcefully remind of the existence of the seasons. Yep, swinging wildly like on a rollercoaster. It was all nice and warm for my Tuesday Incline last week, and then Wednesday snow started, accumulating by Thursday morning's run to ankle deep, and I had to wade through it, again...at least it wasn't in negative below.

While making daily routine outings is ok in any weather, putting a 20 mile run on Friday proved I need to adapt, accommodate, and be open to changing plans. Starting at the usual point (High Drive 2.7 mile climb dirt road), I faced seriously heavy deep snow that nobody but folks skiing (for real!) have visited since that snowfall. It took me nearly 25% slower than normal (even winter normal) to get to the top, and by then, especially surveying the trail entrance(s) for variations of the routes, I knew I have to do something different if I want to actually "run" sometimes during that 20, and be home not towards dark.
I dropped a mile on the other side of this little pass (following nothing but the ski tracks), and turned to a road - windy road that leads down to the city outskirts. Luckily for me, the gate at the tope and bottom of this 3 mile stretch was closed due to some construction mid-way, and I had the road all to myself. 

With that, I still have so many miles to go...and so I wondered around, making weird turns and loops and out-n-backs, until the watch told me enough. At least it was ended sooner than a real mountain run would have been, even if that second part was no fun at all, and I got home way before I anticipated. Definitely deserved some serious Russian farmer's cheese pancakes! And some Thai food for dinner.
Saturday rolled with 16 miles on the schedule, and because I wasn't going to even attempt the trails after yesterday's fiasco, local hike-n-bike it was. The full moon was really cool. What was cooler is that, after I finished and looked at my watch, I ran those 16 miles at the exactly same average pace as I normally do my morning 6-7 miles. No walk breaks, not feeling tired, no changes in effort. It was surprisingly smooth ride for my longest continuous run on the flat surface (mountain trails always require some hiking, some nearly free fall, and everything in-between). That was super-uplifting.  
Larry did his own longest for the year, 14 miles, and to celebrate, I cooked up Tex-Mex enchiladas. Apparently, in this wonderful kitchen he designed for me, I am really enjoying cooking every day! Who knew? In fact, often on my runs I plan menu for the week. Funny how it happens.
Sunday the cooler air subsided, yet again, and I threw in a short "up and over" on High Drive, just because. The week landed me with 68 miles, which was a perfect amount for where I am, and at 8,800 feet gain (interesting note, I thought since both of my longer runs were flat-ish, I was surprised to see my average weekly vert, but I guess I should be thankful for living here). The rest of Sunday was spent curled up on a chair with a book.

I know I keep saying it, but work has been really insane this year. What virus? The patients keep coming in non-stop, I no longer have a window to squeeze something during a day. Well over half of our clients are way north of Medicare age, and it is inspiring to see them taking care of themselves, exercising, eating well, spending time outside, and coming for treatments. Same goes for my local fitness gym full of Silver Sneakers participants (one of whom celebrated his 90th birthday this week). I'd say more, but I tend to keep my blog to running...I guess (although I was nearly "cancelled" in this comments section). 

Anyway, this skewed work-rest balance is getting in a way of my upper body workouts (the legs gets their twice-a-week share no matter what, and somehow I managed to not miss a single week of a yoga class in person). While I really don't care for my arms as long as I don't get the old lady flab shake, it's annoying, and it also means I have to start re-thinking my schedule at work, as much as I hate to put my boss on the spot.

Considering I have struggled with OTS for over 7 years, which was caused/aggravated by too much work at 3 full time jobs, on top of too much training, hot and humid Texas air, and incredible personal stress, in addition to entering menopause (full cocktail, huh?), I am weary of overdoing things. Since this past year I was able to hold my running intact, it lead me to set goals, and that, in turn, makes me prioritize work versus training (or the other way around). Next 2 weeks are all booked, but I am going to start blocking an hour here and there for some downtime. My hands hurt, my feet and lower legs hurt from standing for 8 hrs a day while tensing my upper body and arms...and my mind is totally blank by the end of the day. Good ol' Tex-Mex home-made Chili to the rescue!
At least, this week brought somewhat not-so-frigid mornings for the runs, and Tuesday Incline was downright balmy, yet again. It was my #10 for the year 2021, and I am slowly chipping off tiny bits of time (still far, far away from the best, but heck, I am not truly trying), though the steps are quite a challenge - for over a half way up (0.9M, 2,000 feet), on the right side of the steps it's icy bulging dome, on the left - packed snow covering even an idea of steps. Pick your poison. What IS amazing for this year is that I no longer need to stop on my way up, and I call it a huge success.
While getting up on ice and packed snow is possible, getting down on Barr trail (photo on the right, pure ice rink) is not fun whatsoever. Forget about ripping it downhill! Last week it was way over 85% like that, when I grabbed the fence, the bush, and oftentimes simply a rock on the ground to slowly crawl forward. This week, only 50% was that bad, so I did do some running as well:) But the sunrise always worth it! I see the same people on the Incline, going up and down, we just all do our thing, some say hi, some not so much. Just like Larry meets same runners and walkers on our town's Greenway creek trail on his morning runs (which, by the way, he has been slaying!). Today, for a change, there was a dozen of college age boys dressed in street clothes, huffing - sprinting 10 steps, then sitting down panting. Fun to be passing them, though I certainly seemingly will never stop being passed by a 65 year old legend Fred here, doing it on his second ascend of each of those morning to boot! Oh, well. 
I've been thinking how I should probably add some workouts, as in "speed, tempo, hill repeats of various length", and I had it written up in my own schedule (plus a couple of friends emailed me their sample schedule). But I am just enjoying this running thing so much these days, coming up on a year of consistently putting down some good weekly mileage and not having a set back, that I am hesitant to jinx it all. I will probably scold myself once I line up at the first race I signed up for, considering my April-May includes 3 races of "short" sub-ultra distances where I can't get away on endurance along. Yet still, right now, I am not ready for a structure. May be I forgot how to rally up those sessions. Not miles, mind you. I love my long runs! And the fact that I recover quicker from week to week from them!

What brings me to Friday. It being March, Pikes Peak attempt was on the agenda. Cue mid-week, and you guessed it, Thursday saw 4-8 inches of fresh wet snow in the mountains. Sigh. The weather, temperature and low wind alike, were shaping up pretty mellow on Pikes, though, so I figured, it's a chance I should take. Dang that Alex Nichols article and his challenge! I do a lot of stupid things, but this one sort of topped it. I guess I was either hoping the forecast will be wrong, or wasn't quite picturing what 8 inches of snow means (like I didn't stumble on it last Friday). Well, dumb people pay the price, even if sunrise over my favorite mountain still takes my breath away.

As always, it was a dark start at the downtown Manitou, but the light comes earlier these days, so that much is good. The snow went up to my ankles by mile 2 at Barr trail...and kept getting deeper. I put my spikes on at mile 4, and shortly after stumbled into a handful of snow drifts. Um, this is not going to be fun, and boy, will it be slow!
I reached Barr camp, 7.5 miles in, full 30 min later than slowest time. Texted Larry, be prepared for a long day, and began bargaining with myself. Time from now on was completely and utterly inconsequential. Despite what one might think, my bargaining was to make myself turn around and go back. I was giving myself not only permission, but plenty of reason to stop this madness, as well as tentative plans for when to go back, including, quite literally, this very Sunday, as well as 4 upcoming possible weekends of March ahead. Yet I kept trudging forward. By A-frame, 10 miles in and an hour extra on previous worst, my mindset was like" well, I had struggled so much already, I really don't want to come back. All the while breaking snow well above knees and making 2-inch steps. Yeah, smart. As Larry says, "only 5 k with 2,7k vert" to go, and most likely a huge snowfield with no idea where to go above tree line.
I thought I knew the trail by now. I was wrong. All I could see was snow, occasional boulder, and some outcroppings that made sense. I made the best route I could come up with to connect familiar objects, sometimes crawling straight up and punching up to my crotch, relying on poles put horizontal on snow to get my legs out. At some point, I spotted a trail stretch across that's always visible, and it was a celebration, even if that piece was still up to my mid-shin in snow. That "good" part lasted half a mile, and under a sign "1 mile to go", I set down to have a break and text Larry and Theresa. I knew I'd make it, now, but I was leery on how long it'd take me.
Yes, that last mile took me another hour. At the very end, looking at the last piece past 16 Golden Stairs stretched across and deep up to upper thigh, I decided to partake in some rock climbing. It wasn't particularly easier or faster, but I just couldn't stand the wading in the snow uphill anymore.
I finally got to the rock where I could sit, take a photo of "topped the peak", and consider my way down. Which I was not going to down-climb, and that meant I had to take that snow-field I was trying to avoid. Oh, well. At least, I am on my way home.
The good thing, my water never froze. The bad thing, I had very little with me, and being hot, exhausted and taking such a long time meant I was on my last 6 oz. I started eating snow as I was carefully making my way down. 

At one point soon enough, I looked down, saw my own (the only) footsteps across snow fields, and decided to take a direct approach. I went straight down. Yep, forget following the trail. I wanted to go home so badly. Getting through deep snow, even if "sort of down", was not going to be much faster than going up it. I saved myself over a mile, and eventually got to the tree line and back on trail. The snow lower got softer and much more wet as the temperatures rose, and I was still walking slowly, my "pace" barely staying around/over 20 min/mile. The snow was caking up under my spikes as if I were walking on platform, carrying extra pound or two and rolling off side to side. Finally, I had enough, and took off my spikes, as well as most of my clothes. I was ready to cry as I realized how late I am going to be home today. That was far more than I anticipated, and the only thing that kept me in some kind of ok mood was that it'll be done, and I don't have to be back for 6-7 weeks, and nothing is ever going to be worst than that as far as Pikes Peak concerned. March is NOT going to be a good month to wait out, anyway.
I know I don't sound very good here, there are crazy people doing Iditarod, and I am not even pulling a sled, nor the temperatures are anywhere near the insanity of -40F. But it's not my thing. So there. With 4 miles to go I finally saw dirt - as well as first people of the day, and I am not even kidding. No other insane human went up past Incline connector on that day. I saw a couple, and first thing I asked was if they had any spare water. Lucky for me, they cared about Covid as much as I did, and shared what they had in their bottle. Thanks, kind people! I actually jogged parts of those last dirt few miles and through town, and it was over...some 11+ hrs of moving time later for my 24 and half mile lunacy.
I chased my finish with a huge cup of coffee courtesy of Larry, and NY style pizza (which wasn't nearly as good as it was the first time we got that take-out). I've been sharing a lot in this post, but to add to all of those "no speed workouts as of yet", one of my 2-pages long goal list was to get myself in shape a.k.a. summer 2018 (prior Colorado Trail through-hike) or 2013 (extreme Paleo) or 2011 (body figure competition). Now, 2 months into it, I told myself to chill. I eat pasta every Thursday night before my long Friday mountain outing, I consume some goodies here and there, and when traveling, I eat whatever Larry eats. Overall, on a weekly/daily basis, we eat super-healthy by any standards, cooking at home, mostly veggies and lean poultry, but I certainly gave up on calories counting - the one biggest thing somebody who wants to get into those "shapes" should (and I have certainly done). I was wondering why am I not pushing this challenge while trying for others. Then I read this article. Yep, with age comes wisdom, prioritizing where to spend energy on the choice paradox (read that book y'all) and importance of things versus other. So, there. I have always been a good-enough'er and it works.

Saturday is Monarch day, yay! Back to Monarch for a recovery day of skiing. Not much to say besides that the day was full of sunshine, great snow, hot temps, and friends. On the way we stopped at our very beloved coffee shop. It was a great day.

With 13.6 miles of a hike&bike city trail today, I am a touch shy of 70 miles week, and some 11+k of vert climb. And good thing I did that sufferfest on Friday. While today and the next 3 days we will see mid 60's in Springs, by Thursday and Friday, aha, it'll snow, again, 8-10 inches. Told ya, March is not a good time to bargain on "later". It'll only get worse before this heavy wet stuff decides to start melting. 
Last, but definitely not least. This post is running way long, yet I can't not share the video (irunfar.com posted it some time ago). Unrelated to anything in this post, I took it so close to heart. My thoughts are below.
It is definitely often feels weird, for the lack of a better word, that one can grieve and be deeply overwhelmed by trauma, yet find so much joy and, literally, happiness, in such profound ways, in nature, while moving. While I am not trying (no longer?) to connect to other people, I do connect to that spiritual being in the mountains. Escapism does have a bad rep, but mostly it’s from those who haven’t experienced true grief. Escapism is used by pretty much everyone if you think about it: books, TV, friends hang-out - how is it not better than curling up in a bed in dark room popping antidepressants and not being able to be a member of society in some form? Or, alcohol, drugs, anger? Escapism is coping. If it wasn’t for the outdoors, mountains, ability to move through them in any season, I wouldn’t have survived. World doesn’t need more individuals curling up in bed and relying on antidepressants. Every morning, getting outside way before dawn, I am reminded: sun always rises.