Thursday, June 20, 2013

More Wildlife...

I've seen more rattlesnakes this spring on the trails of the Front Range than I've collectively seen my whole life.  Thus far, I've seen one at Mt. Falcon and two at North Table Mountain, including this guy late yesterday afternoon about a mile into a 9-mile run around the mountain.

Note: things in this image may appear larger than they actually were.
Prior to this spring, I leapt over a rattler on Lakewood's Green Mountain one year and once saw an eastern timber rattlesnake in Shenandoah National Park.  Other than that...nada. Maybe the wet spring has been good for snakes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Recent Wildlife Encounters

One of the lures of the trail, of course, always has been the potential to encounter wildlife.  We all enjoy the regular sight of deer and elk quietly grazing trailside.  Who hasn't had, and in retrospect enjoyed, the tingling sensation up the back that comes when you see mountain lion tracks, or just think about how many catamounts have seen you on all those dawn/dusk runs, even though you've never seen them?  ...or, maybe the startling and loud chittering of an unseen squirrel as you race by her tree.  ...or the distant "screeee" of a red-tailed hawk wheeling somewhere overhead.

These are the sights and sounds that warm the heart, and sometimes make the heart race, all contributing to the sensory treat that is trail running.

The last couple of days have brought two of my most memorable wildlife encounters, one with an elk and another with three bears.


First, on Sunday, I was just wrapping up an 8-mile loop in Elk Meadow Open Space, a route I call the Upper Loop.  The run starts at the park's lower lot and heads up and down Bergen Peak, leaving out the one-mile out-and-back jaunt to the summit.

At the trailhead, I noticed a couple of newly-posted, bright red signs warning of aggressive elk.  There had been a lot of elk in the meadow lately, enjoying the ample crop of tasty and tall grass, but no elk were in sight today, though, so I didn't give the signs another thought, until I was wrapping up my run, that is.

I was about a half-mile from finishing up the run and decided to end with some hard running. On the relatively flat/downhill section of Painter's Pause, I started getting after it, running at a 5:20-5:30 pace. I was feeling fluid and in the flow, just looking ahead and cruising. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I picked up some movement. A young, but big elk was running straight at me, effortlessly, but menacingly.

My first thought was, "Where did this guy come from?"  This part of Elk Meadow is a wide-open grassland. How did I not see an elk? My next thought was, "Is he going to stop?" It didn't appear that he was. He was looking right at me and running directly at me.  So, my instincts kicked in. I stopped abruptly and made an aggressive feint in the elk's direction. He stopped about 10 yards from me.  Whew.

I looked at him and noted that he had a misaligned jaw, maybe the result of getting hit by a car, or an injury from a tussle with another frisky elk. Who knows? Anyway, I started jogging again, repeatedly looking over my shoulder.  As soon as I moved, he ran at me again. I stopped and swung my arm as if I was throwing something. He stopped. I removed my sunglasses and glared at  him (the ol' stink eye trick). Didn't work.  He came at me again. I lunged in his direction. He stopped. I started side-galloping (so I could keep an eye on the elk) to a spot where I knew there were some loose rocks I could pick up and hurl in the elk's direction. He must have read my mind, because as soon as I got to the rocks, he stopped and began grazing. He was done.

Elk Meadow Open Space is amazingly green right now. Witness while you still can.
I jogged the last quarter mile back to the car, noting again the helpful red signs warning about aggressive elk.


On Monday, I pulled into the upper parking lot at Elk Meadow, initially with plans to just get in the usual six or so miles. My motivation this day was low and I wasn't looking forward much to the spin on the trails. As I jogged past the trail kiosk, I decided I needed a change. I needed to get back to just enjoying the outing and not worrying about mileage or speed.

So, instead of following the usual dirt path, I just marched straight up the hill, with plans to eventually pick up a social trail that runs along the southeast side of the park and climbs to the second southernly lookout on the Bergen Peak Trail.

As I made my way up the hill, I was skirting some private property. The peak of a garage roof was just in view, so I was being quiet until I was out of sight of the structures and any people that might be nearby.

Since I was off trail on a relatively steep side slope, I mostly had my head down watching my foot placement. At one point, I lifted my head to look around and caught movement just ahead. I froze next to tree thinking it was a dog from the nearby house. As I stood silently, I quickly realized it wasn't a dog heading toward me, it was a black bear.

I was downwind from the bear, so it didn't smell me and was walking right toward me, maybe five feet higher on the hillside.  I silently watched as the bear continued meandering in my direction. When he got about 15 yards from me, I made a gentle "haaaarummmmpf" sound to warn him that I was near. He froze.

After 2-3 minutes of both of us standing absolutely still, he headed a bit uphill and continued moving east until he was behind some low-slung evergreen trees. I figured the show was over, so I looked up again to plan my route on up the hill. Yikes, more bears!

Just up the hill were two more bears, a big momma bear and a small, cinnamon-colored cub. They hadn't yet seen or smelled me, so I stood there watching them, occasionally glancing back to make sure Bear #1 wasn't heading back toward me. I figured Bear #1 must have been a cub from last year, still hanging around momma.

I watched for a bit the momma bear and cub wander around and dig into a log before I headed quietly downhill a ways and continued on my hike up the hill.

I finished the hike/run by climbing up to the high point on the ridge below the summit of Bergen Peak and then plunging/bushwhacking straight down the middle of the mountain to complete the day's off-trail adventure.

Good times, and a welcome change-up from the usual routes.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Motivation Needed

I need to get motivated.  Not motivated to run, however.  I need to get motivated to figure out how to get rid of this damn plantar fasciitis (PF).  And, for kicks, I'd like to figure out why fasciitis has three "i"s.

I've got the kind of PF that hurts like hell in the heel.  It's chronic.  The pain started, I think, back in 2009.  Since then, it's been pretty constant, albeit with different degrees of discomfort.  I thought I'd kicked it last year in the lead up to the Leadville 100.  For the month or two leading up to the race, I'd been running pain-free.  During the race and post-race, nada.  All good.  Then, in November, I did a speedwork session at the Evergreen High School track and that was it.  The PF was back, with a vengeance.  I guess the hard forefoot running stretched something out...fiercely.

Since then, it's been a balancing hard can I run without making my right heel scream at me.  Lately, it's not taken much to really make the heel mad.  Today, the limit was 12 easy trail miles.  Frustrating.

I've got the PF that hurts like hell in the heel.  I know I have a heel spur, which certainly is part of the problem.  (See below...thanks for the pic Wikipedia).  On top of that, favoring the sore heel on the right, I think, is causing me to alter my gait enough to make my left Achilles ache.  Sigh.

So what sort of complex PT routine am I doing for my PF?  Not enough, it seems.  I've been sleeping some nights in an immobilization or night boot, an annoying device meant to keep your foot flexed while you sleep under the theory that a flexed plantar will heal better.  This has helped before, but doesn't seem to be doing the trick now.  I rotate between Saucony Peregrines and Hoka Stinson Evos.  Other than that, I'm not doing much.  I did take about a month off around Christmas.  During that time, the heel felt fine.  At least it did until I ran again.   

As a result, I've gotten pretty good at 10-mile runs.  I haven't run more than 20 miles in an outing since December.  Another frustrating thing is that while the heel kills post-run, it typically feels OK the next morning, that is until I run again.  I don't hobble around all day before running.  So, I tend to under-treat the injury. Maybe it will just go away again, the way it did leading up to Leadville.

But, it's time to start taking this thing more seriously, that is if I want to run anything longer than 10 miles in a stint this summer.  I reckon it's time to throw everything at the problem...icing; night boot; rolling the foot/heel with a hard, spiky plastic ball; NSAIDs; and anything else I can think of.  The problem is, I lack motivation.  I hate babying injuries. I don't like to think about chronic injury. I just want to run.  

Yeah, yeah, I know there's a causal relationship between taking care of injuries and being able to "just run."  I'm impatient, and I need to get over said impatience. 

And, I'd better hurry (there's that impatience thing again).  Summer's coming.  That's the time of year when the pull to "just run" is strongest. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Herd Mentality

Sunday's run up Bergen Peak in Elk Meadow Open Space (10 miles) had a few challenges:
  • Cold
  • Snowing
  • 5-6 inches of fresh snow up high.
  • Big ol' herd of elk blocking the trail.
Turned out, none of the above were a big deal. In fact, the new snow made the run very enjoyable. A new dump of snow totally changes the feel of a place. All the familiar rocks are covered. The sharp edges are softened by the blanket of white.  It's quieter. Plus, the peak was socked in.  It was like looking down into a bowl of soup, the cloud cover was so low.

The elk herd that has been hanging around the meadow of late was grazing right on the trail as I was headed home.  I couldn't go around them on the left due to the fence that keeps elk off busy Evergreen Parkway, and I didn't feel like slogging through the snow/grass to go all the way around the herd to the west.  So, I cautiously and in as non-threatening a manner as possible made my way through the middle of the herd. Thankfully, none of the cows and young bulls were too agitated.

Good times.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Simple Things

I don't run in the morning very often. Family/work obligations typically get in the way.  I'd have to get up so damn early to get in a run before it's time to herd kids...  But, today, I had to use running as my AT (alternate transportation) after I dropped a car off at the repair shop.

So, I ran home from the repair shop by way of Elk Meadow Open Space. Just an easy cruise, but it was great to be out on a warm(ish) morning. Feels good to have the run done before 9 a.m.  Got to remember that.

The simple things...

Looking up Noble Meadow in Elk Meadow Open Space.
Hoping to sneak out Saturday morning for a few early miles with the crew over at Woody's place.  Two mornings in a row?  It could happen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Rare Thing

Wait!  It can't be! The kids have to be in school on Monday, and it's a bank holiday/day off of work?  Really?

I'd heard about days like this.  It's sort of like vacation.

After a bit of work Monday morning at a bagel shop in Golden (couldn't help it...), I headed up Golden Gate Canyon to the state park of the same name.

After paying the obligatory park fee ($7), I headed over to the Nott Creek Trail parking lot and headed out into the cold wind for 14 miles of up and down.

I ran the Mountain Lion, Burro and Snowshoe Hare Trails, tagged the summit of Windy Peak (aptly named on this day) and made one wrong turn (+1 mile).  I didn't see another soul until about a mile before finishing up.

The trails were in good shape, clear in the sunny areas, and covered by an inch or two of dry snow in the shade and on north-facing slopes.

Good day.

Dude's Fishing Hole, on the Snowshoe Hare Trail
View from the summit of Windy Peak.
Atop Windy Peak. Just call me Ray. 
Mountain Lion Trail.
Lots of first tracks today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Running with Animals (and Pirates)

After a six-mile effort at his school's Fun Run fundraiser this fall, my son has taken a nascent interest in running, so he signed up to join the High Altitude Pirates running club here in Evergreen.  The club is run by the P.E. teacher from one of the local elementary schools. Kids from the high school XC team help lead the Tuesday/Thursday workouts.  And there's junk food after the group runs.

Yesterday, while jP was running with the other kids, I did a few laps at the high school track. Unfortunately, the group run was shorter than usual, so I just had time for a mile warm-up and 2x1 mile at just under 6, a whopping one 200m interval and a 400m cool down.  Sigh.

This was my first time at a track in months. The 6:00 pace felt "comfortably hard,"and I was reminded regularly about how infrequently I run a consistent flat route at a quick pace here in the hills at 7,600 feet.  I hope to get in more of this work through the winter.

As jP and I kicked the soccer ball around the sweet turf field, another runner took to the track to get in a bit of exercise.

Elk intervals at the Evergreen High School track
This big feller was busy keeping a noisy harem of cows and yearlings together. They managed to stop traffic on the local road for a good 10 minutes. Great fun to watch.

Next up for jP (and me) is a Thanksgiving 5K. Got to put that Pirate training to work!

Monday, October 29, 2012


Every once in a while, usually out of nowhere, I get the urge to say, "thanks."  Just a simple thanks.  Thanks for everything we take for granted.   Thanks for family, friends and good health.  Thanks for clean water, clean air and big chunks of public land. Thanks for the trails. Thanks for good books. Thanks for a great job and great colleagues. Just...thanks...for everything.

Today, that urge to say thanks came during a six-mile tempo run along the Platte River bike path from LoDo. No doubt, the feeling came as a result of the 65-degree, sunny day, combined with the energy surge that came as a result of the lunch run. Oh, and thanks for Illegal Pete's burritos.

Thanks for the Saturday run up the Manitou Incline (30:31).

 Thanks for the run from the top of the Incline to Barr Camp.  And a big thanks to the woman that stepped out to make sure I wasn't too cold in my running shorts.

Thanks to the batteries in my headlamp that lasted just long enough (barely) to see me safely down to the Cog Railway and my car.

Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs from the Ws on the Barr Trail
Thanks to City of Denver voters that early in the 20th Century voted to tax themselves in order to preserve mountain tops, ridge lines and riverways in the foothills. Today, those lands are Denver Mountain Parks.

Thanks to Denver Mountain Parks for buying and protecting Elephant Butte. The views from up there are unmatched in the foothills.

Mt. Evans Group from the top of Elephant Butte
Looking down on Evergreen Lake from Elephant Butte
Thanks to the Mountain Area Land Trust for doing what it can to make sure there's room for elk in the foothills and beyond, even as we squeeze more and more people into their habitat.

This modest sized bull and his harem of cows and yearlings were grazing in our 'hood Sunday.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 22, 2012

One of Those Runs

Have you ever had one of those where the minute you step onto the trail, you know you're going to have a great run?  A run where the climbs are effortless and one seems to have boundless energy.  A run where the descents are fluid, the foot placement is confident and solid and the quads absorb without complaint all the punishment one can dish out.  A run where you finish your run at top speed and do a subtle fist pump and think to yourself, "That was GREAT!"

I've had those kinds of runs before...but not yesterday.  My 9.5 mile ascent/descent of Bergen Peak in Elk Meadow Open Space was a slog.

Funny thing was that it started out good. It was a perfect fall day. I climbed well up the Bergen Peak Trail, but as soon as I hit the hidden little social trail that climbs the south side of the final stretch to the top, things got tougher.

Looking south(ish) from near the summit of Bergen Peak
By the time I got home, I was feeling like I ran 30 miles, rather than less than 10. Not sure what it was, but the last hour on the trail felt like three.  Still, on such a beautiful day, there's few other places I would have rather been.

All-in-all, though, a fine, fine weekend doing things that matter:

Hiking in the Bergen Peak State Wildlife Management Area with CP and dogs Maya and Cisco.

CP and Cisco with Mt. Evans in the distance.
Watching the amazing colors of a Saturday night sunset from the deck at the house.

Flying high with jP on Sunday afternoon.

Life is good.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Between work and family obligations and the grind of trying to squeeze runs in between it all, I have been starting to feel the pinch...that feeling that you're not doing anything well and constantly rushing to be only moderately late to something.

As a result, my head has usually been somewhere else, and my body has just been along for the ride.

Add to all that the fact that winter is coming and the wind soon will be bitingly cold and our trails will be snow-covered.

Early this week I decided it was time to do something to recharge the mojo a bit.  So, I took yesterday afternoon off of work and headed to the hills.

Looking down Eldorado Canyon toward Denver.
I started my recharge run at the Fowler Trailhead south of Eldorado Springs and climbed into Eldorado Canyon State Park. The wind was really whipping as I ran through the old narrow gauge railroad cuts. By the time I got to the trail above the visitors center that leads to Walker Ranch, the winds had died down and I settled into a meditative, relaxed pace.

From there, I climbed over to the Walker Ranch connector trail and descended down to South Boulder Creek and started the 7.5-mile Walker loop running clockwise.  About this time, I started looking at my watch, wondering if I was bitting off too much since I had to pick up jP at school at 3:30 p.m.

Views of the Indian Peaks from the Walker loop trail.
I quickly decided I would have just enough time and disappeared back into my head.

This was my first trip back to the Walker loop in years. I used to mountain bike this loop regularly when I lived in Boulder. I really enjoyed the modest grades and mostly non-technical trails. I just ran easy and focused on enjoying the sounds of pounding feet, the feeling of a cool breeze on warm skin and the Zen of moving unhurriedly up and down hills under one's own power. Recharging.

The mouth of Eldorado Canyon as the afternoon shadows march down the canyon walls.
As expected, I got back to my car exactly on time. I was depleted, though.  With my focus on recharging, I neglected to refuel. I was out for about 18(ish) miles, 4,200 feet of elevation gain and 3:20 and only brought two gels...not enough for me on this day.

Still, driving down Highway 93 on my way to pick up jP, my mind was in a better place, more relaxed and positive...maybe even rejuvenated.