Sunday, June 29, 2008

Freaked out

I'm a little freaked out right now and not quite ready to reflect on what happened last night. A teenage girl was attacked by a bear during the 24 hour race in Anchorage.

I was on a team of 5. Around 1:20 am I was doing my night lap and riding through the dark, with no light. It actually got really dark in the trees. I had a bad feeling, and was walking a tricky section of singletrack, because I couldn't see the trail. I was making a lot of noise, to scare away any bears. I was yelling and deliberately trying to keep my bike in the gear that causes my chain to rub on the derailleur.

I finally made it through the singletrack and the rest of the course was downhill. I was passed by one guy, so I felt better that there were more people out there. I took it slow down Spencer's loop and got to the turn off at Rover's Run. As I was turning I saw another guy coming through with a light. I pulled over. He said, "Are you okay?". And I just said, "Yeah, no light, so it's slow." He said, "I just saw a bear at the bottom of Spencer's Loop." I was relieved that I had passed without coming in contact with the bear.

I continued to yell a lot, because I was along a really loud section near Campbell Creek. I heard some girl singing behind me. She also had a light, so I pulled over and let her pass. It was good to hear other people making noise. I rode the rest of the way into camp, about 10 minutes and when I got back my teammates weren't there. I finally saw one of them and he said someone had been attacked by a bear and it was a girl. Everyone had assumed it was me because they expected me back already and most of the other girls had come in before me.

The guys were relieved to find out it wasn't me but we were worried about the teenage girl. It turns out she was taken to the hospital and had surgery and is going to be okay. I am really freaked out right now that it came so close to being me and am feeling sort of guilty that it had to be her and not me. Very confused.

Anyway, please make noise when you go out in bear country. Most of the riders that I came upon in the race were dead silent. I know you feel stupid yelling out to bears that may or may not be there but it could save your life. The only time I have had a bear encounter is when I stopped making noise.

My thoughts go out to the girl and her family and I hope she has a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"People who like to ride singletrack...

...don't have the discipline to train for a triathlon." Sometimes I can't stand athletes. Brian and I went to a group ride at Kincaid last night. It was basically a run through of the new course for the Hammerman Triathlon/Duathlon. The race is either a triathlon (swim, bike, run) or a duathlon (run, bike, run) based on your preference.

I tried to figure out why I had never seen any of these faces at the other bike races in town. I also wondered why they were struggling so much on the singletrack. I realized that most of them were triathletes, so they mostly ride road bikes and run on the roads, swim laps in a pool. I thought, that's cool. It was nice to meet some new people.

When the trail turned off to a mile of fun singletrack, people started complaining. They thought that this new course (the old course had no singletrack) was discovered, many people would opt out of the race this year. I said, "I would think this would draw more people to the race. It's not that same old Kincaid ski trail course, this is more interesting and challenging." That's when I got this response.

"People who like to ride singletrack, don't have the discipline to train for a triathlon." Lately I have been spending some time reading posts on athletic forums and I have found one general theme. People like to bitch about athletes that participate in sports that they are not involved in. Downhill skiers dislike cross country skiers, skate skiers dislike skijorers, mountain bikers dislike road bikers, road bikers dislike recumbent bikers, everybody hates climbers, and most people hate people with dogs off leash. Okay that last one is not a sport, but they get a lot of crap. Every group has something negative to say about some other group.

I don't generally write posts like this ranting about people, and maybe this post is ironic because I'm complaining about ALL of the groups. I actually don't think these kinds of posts are enjoyable to read. But it's my blog and sometimes you just need to get some things off your chest. It's getting hard to get any information from forums because you have to weed through all the crap to get to the real content. If anyone is reading this, what do you think, am I overreacting?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Solstice Weekend - Mt. Marathon Run through

I cannot contain my excitement for this race. I get that excited feeling in my stomach every time I think about it. Last year, being my first time, I felt like I was going to vomit every time it creeped into my mind. This time it's different. I've worked out all of the issues I had with the mountain and now I'm ready for it.

Saturday morning Brian and I awoke at the campground at Tern Lake, stiff and tired from the ride the night before. We ended up getting only 3 hours of sleep, but Brian had to be down in Seward at 6:15 to catch a Halibut Charter with his friend from work.

Arriving in Seward, I dropped Brian off at the docks and promptly went back to sleep in the car for 3 hours. I woke up to the sun beating down on me with Mt. Marathon towering above.

So I got dressed up in my new trail shoes and loaded up my camelbak. There were already runners jogging up to the trailhead and starting up the mountain. Most of them looked as if they were training for the race. There was also the wide eyed tourist standing at the bottom, looking up at the "trail", trying to convince himself to start hiking up.

So Niko and I started up my usual route, but I quickly discovered that was a bad idea. Niko kept running up ahead of me, trying to climb up the cliff, while knocking rocks down on me. Then he would jump back down right in front of me almost knocking me over. I decided after I scouted out my up route that we would take the switchback trail up. My up route turns out to be the same as last year. It's the safest and I think the fastest way up the mountain.

We connected back up to the up route and then settled into a pace up the long and arduous runners "up" trail. I saw tons of men and women training for the race. We came out above the treeline at the halfway point and saw that the entire "down" route is still covered in snow. Generally there is a small patch of snow at the top, but never this much snow going all the way down into the chute.

Looking up the glissade track

The snow made the trip down fast and fun. The top was kinda steep and I didn't feel comfortable sliding on the snow without an ice axe, so I ran down digging my heels in. When I got back to the halfway point, I jumped in a glissade track and slid all the way down to the top of the waterfall on my butt. It took about 1 minute. I thought, hmm, maybe the snow will be an advantage.

Looking down the glissade track

Once in the chute, I started to see where the snow would be a hindrance. Instead of just climbing down the waterfalls on the rocks, we now had to navigate our way through a series of snow bridges and ledges, intermingled with dusty rock cliffs. Niko almost slipped on one of the cliffs and got freaked out. It took me and a teenage kid that happened to witness it, about 30 minutes to talk Niko down.

All in all the run through went well. Niko will not be entering the race anytime soon. He is a hazard on that mountain. I have some new strategies for getting up fast with minimal fatigue. One and a half weeks!

On the beach in Seward

We ended the day back in Hope at the Seaview Cafe for a Solstice celebration on the streets under the midnight sun. We camped out across from the bar amongst a hundred others getting only a few hours of sleep again and ending our grand tour of the Kenai Penninsula for Solstice weekend. Time for a rest day.

Solstice Weekend - Crescent Lake

As part of the Bon Ton Roulette, a two stage mountain bike race/ride down on the Kenai, we biked up to Crescent Lake friday night. We started at Tern Lake, just off of the Seward and Sterling Highway intersection, biked along a dirt road for 5 miles and then headed up the 6 miles of singletrack to Crescent Lake.

The trail winds up through the forest, switching back several times, and eventually opening up to the tundra ending at Crescent Lake. The ride back down was amazing, but nerve racking because I spotted a few piles of fresh bear scat along the way. I was behind everyone else naturally and knew that once I saw the last group coming down, that I would be on my own for the rest of the ride.

There were a lot of blind corners and really loud rushing rivers that made it the perfect scene for surprising a bear. So I sang the whole way. I probably wasted a lot of energy, but you always hear those stories about how people stopped making noise and that is the very moment they came upon a bear on the trail. I figured if I never stopped making noise, that would never happen.

The ride back on the dirt road was a bit tortuous. Partly because there were so many hills, that I didn't remember coming down, and partly because I knew everyone else was finished by now. I tried to power my way up the first few hills, but quickly realized that was a bad idea. I had to go slow and steady up the hills to the finish.

I stopped yelling for a bit and don't you know, I heard this huge "Whoosh!" in the trees. Some very large animal was surprised by me and ran away. Maybe it was a moose, but they don't generally get scared and start running at the sight of people. I honestly don't want to know what it was.

I arrived back at the campsite, completing the 23 miles, to everyone cheering, probably relieved that no one had to volunteer to go out and look for me. :) I finished in 3 hours and 28 minutes. I found out later that the guy who came in first saw a giant 800 pound grizzly bear on the trail, somewhere near the pile of bear scat. I think it's funny how people try to estimate the weight of bears that they see just to emphasize the story. For some reason an "800 pound grizzly bear" sounds scarier than just "a bear". Anyway, my paranoia was justified.

Great race!

Pictures were downloaded from

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Feeling good about Mt. Marathon

Brian, Niko and I and hiked up Rainbow Peak today. I'm feeling really good about Mt. Marathon. It's now just over two weeks away and I have been trying to get in a lot of steep uphill mileage in in the past month.

So here it is. I'm just gonna put it out there, if you don't like it, you can send it right back. I'm going to try and finish the race in 1:30. Last year my time was 1:55. Here's where I can improve.

First, the run to the base of the mountain is key. I need to try to get out in front of the pack. I'll be in the second wave again, so all of the really fast people will be long gone. If you take your time getting to the mountain, you get stuck waiting in line to climb up the cliffs.

Second, I'm a much stronger hiker this year, so naturally the hike to the top will be faster. Third, I will not stop at the top to talk to friends. Sorry guys, see you at the bottom. Fourth, I hate to admit it, but I took the easy way down the cliffs at the bottom. You basically have two choices. You can run/fall/slide/roll down the cliff at the bottom, OR you can sneak over on a trail and run down a series of switchbacks. Last year I ran down the trail for fear of killing myself on the cliff. I slid down the cliff on my practice run, but thought I might hurt myself during the race.

Screw that, I'm goin' down the cliff this year.

Lastly, I had some serious cramping in my calves on the run back to the start on the road. Believe it or not, once you run up and down a really steep mountain, your legs forget how to run on flat ground. I had to shuffle to the finish line. But hopefully I can get some electrolytes in my body early enough to prevent cramping.

That's the plan. It's good to have a plan when it comes to this race. It's really not straightforward. There is no course. You can go up and down anyway you want. There really aren't many rules, except to yell, "Rock!" when you knock stuff down on people. I don't feel the fear and anxiety that I felt in the weeks before last year's race. Just excitement.

"I got lost!"

Another Kincaid mountain bike race last night. Long story short, I was in 3rd place (out of about 12) in the beginner race for about a mile. I felt really good, like finally I was actually in the race! I talked about not being competitive, but something kicks in when you are flying on a mountain bike and there are people around you trying to pass you. I didn't need to win, but I definitely pushed harder than when I am on my own at the back of the pack. It was fun to have a little healthy competition.

I got so wrapped up in the moment, that while chasing some 15 year old kid, I missed a turn off and ended up going a mile and a half off the course. I ended up on the Coastal Trail and we were supposed to be on the other side of the park, oops. At first I thought, damn this is just my luck, and thought about riding back to the start and going home. But then I thought, who cares, why not just have fun. I came here to get in a fast hard workout, now I will just add 3 miles onto the 6 I originally planned for.

And it felt great. I ended up finishing in just under an hour, last of course, but there was a ton of climbing. Brian said to me the night before after looking at the course map, "Somehow the entire course goes up." So I averaged about 10 miles an hour, even with all the climbing and I feel good about that.

Despite the fun I had on the course, I still felt the twinge of embarrassment when getting lapped, and coming in so late. My ego stepped in briefly and I promptly yelled out at the finish line, "I got lost!"

Monday, June 16, 2008


I started doing actual speedwork today. I went the the gym and did intervals of 400m at a pace of 8:30 minute miles. Today I was glad to be on the treadmill. I know that sounds crazy but I never know how fast I am going or how far I am going. The treadmill helps to gauge my fitness and brings me back to reality. That way I can set attainable goals.

My usual routine is this. Make some ridiculously unattainable goal. Train hard, realize I'm kidding myself. Revise my goal. Then succeed. But that whole process of finding out that I never really had a chance in hell of meeting the first goal is a bit demoralizing. But it does give me ideas for the future. I just need to realize it takes time to get there.

Anyway, speedwork. Pretty cool. I ran at the hard pace for 4-ish minutes at at time, then rested. When I went back to my warm up pace of 10 minute miles, it felt reaaaaaally easy. So hey maybe there is something to this stuff they call speedwork.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Aliens on Bird Ridge

The Saturday epic hike we had planned never happened. Brian crashed pretty hard 3 times in his downhill mountain bike race on Friday night and was really hurting, so we canceled it. That was ok because it was cloudy and rainy and dreary out, and I took the chance to get some stuff done around the house. I also thought, hmm, maybe I'll rest up and do the Bird Ridge race seriously on Sunday.

Today I woke up at 7am, drove down to Bird Ridge and had Brian drop me off for the race while he went and rode his bike on some trails down near the creek. I quickly found out the race was full and I was not getting in.

I ran up and down the highway for awhile looking for Brian's car hoping that I would catch him before he took off on his bike. I think I ended up running 4 miles trying to find him. But no such luck. I ran back to the start of the race and decided to see how far up the mountain I could get before the first wave of runners came up.

I pushed hard up the mountain like I was racing. I pretended that I was out in front and no one could catch me. It felt good. My breath was hard, but steady and it never got out of control. I didn't have any thoughts of what am I doing here. I felt like I belonged there. Maybe it was because there was no pressure of a race, no pressure of the crowd disappearing ahead of me. I was out there on my own and I could stop at any time. I didn't HAVE to go to the top, I wanted to.

I thought the elite men would be coming up any minute but they didn't come, so I kept pushing. Finally about 3/4 of the way up the ridge, I heard some heavy breathing behind me. I found a good spot out of the way to get some pictures and then they started coming.

I have never watched a race like this before. I really don't ever spend time watching a race, and I NEVER see the people that are out in front. They looked alien to me. When they are there all together, these elite athletes, their muscles perfectly toned, no fat anywhere to be found, breathing heavily and steadily in unison, moving with precision gracefully up the mountain, they looked like a sea of aliens coming up at me.

I can still hear the breathing in my head. I was standing on a rock in the middle of where the trail splits and they were surrounding me. They kept coming, none of them looking up. "Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh". It was an eery sound that you never hear when you are participating in a race, because all you can hear is your own breath.

It made me think about why we participate in events like these. Some might call it torture. But I think when we push ourselves to our limits, when we push so hard that all we can think is "Breathe..breathe...breathe", it reminds us that we are alive. It reminds us that at any moment our bodies could decide to stop on us. Maybe we just want to get the most out of them before that happens.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Barely Trails

I followed Brian through a network of trails over by the North Gasline Trail last night. He was mapping them on his GPS so we were doing this slow back and forth through the woods over trails that were covered in dead grass. The grass hid roots, rocks, holes and all kinds of fun obstacles that you can't see until you hit them.

I was getting frustrated because I could never get up enough speed to clear anything taller than 2 inches. I was doing this dance of clip in with the left foot, push off with the other to get some speed, clip in with the right, ride for 10 feet, hit a root, get thrown onto the handlebars, try again. Fall in a hole, try again. Steer up onto an embankment, try again. I probably spent more time off of my bike than on.

I remember that you have to attack obstacles like you are in control, otherwise they will just toss you around. I was watching Brian up ahead of me on his 29er just rolling over everything like he was out for a Sunday ride on the Coastal Trail.

Despite all of this, I had fun once I finally got into a rhythm. And once I figured out how to get enough speed at the start, I could power over all of the hundreds of obstacles, grunting over each one.

I got in a good workout and my soreness from last weekend is finally gone. I'm pretty sure I am going to cripple myself again this weekend. Brian has proposed one of his Chugach death traverses, as I like to call them. This one is around 18 miles and goes over about 6 peaks. Most of the elevation is gained at the start and then it will be a rolling ridge hike.

If I have any strength left I'd like to try the Robert Spurr Hill Climb race on Sunday morning. It's an uphill only race up Bird Ridge (that I hiked last Friday). 3 miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain. It is perfect practice for Mt. Marathon, which is growing scarily closer.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Turnagain Arm Run

Despite the fact that my quads were so sore yesterday morning that I could not touch them, I decided to meet Kathy out for another run on the Turnagain Arm Trail with the dogs. Now I am back to walking down the steps backwards post Half Marathon style. I'm not sure if this is from the Bird Ridge power hike on Friday or the bike race Saturday or maybe a combination but I haven't been this sore in a year. I think I'll take a day off today.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hillside Mangler #1

I am sooo not a mountain bike racer. But I will continue to race, because it gives me someone to chase. I kept wanting to stop to take pictures and then I remembered, oh yeah, I'm in a race right now...

There is this really cool trail called Moose Track in the Campbell Tract area. It's a little wider than standard singletrack, but much smaller than the ski trails. The surface is smooth and it winds and twists through the trees, with little rolling bumps here and there. I told Brian that if the race consisted of all Moose Track that I would win for sure.

These photos show the most boring part of the race. I really am not a big fan of riding on the wide ski trails. I like not being able to see what is 20 feet in front of me. It keeps it interesting. The singletrack is where it's at, but I couldn't stop there for fear of getting run over.

My fear was later justified. I got lapped by two of the "Expert" class guys. One of them just missed me as I jumped off my bike and off to the side of the trail. Hmm, I actually believe that this guy might be more interested in winning a race than in NOT hurting someone. Funny thing is, is that he's probably complaining about me on his blog somewhere.

Hey look there's Monkee...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday off!

Niko and I hiked up Bird Ridge today and ran down. The original plan was to hit point 3505 and continue along the ridge, but I had forgotten how relentless this hike was, and I got tired. Also, Niko started to run off and traverse across scary slopes once we got close to the top, so we turned around at the point.

This week was kinda dreary in Anchorage so it was good to get out in some sunshine today. The hike starts at the Seward Highway and climbs quickly. This is actually a fun below treeline hike, because it is fairly steep and interesting.

As we climbed up from the Seward highway we stopped a few times to check out the view..

Above the trees the wildflowers are coming out in abundance...

The run down was fun, but I was a bit cautious at the start. There was a lot of loose rock and it's pretty steep. It's amazing how a few falls can quickly cure me of my cautiousness.

We came back and took a well needed nap on the couch.

Monday, June 2, 2008

To be or not to be competitive?

Yesterday morning I decided to get out for a slow trail run in order to loosen up my legs from the race on Saturday. My usual routine is this, "Well yesterday I made such hard effort in the ________ (fill in the blank, race, peak climb, long bike ride), that today (and sometimes the next three days) I deserve to rest and eat ice cream all day." But this weekend I decided that instead of sitting around and letting my legs get more stiff, I would get out early the next morning and do something easy. Anything.

So I met my friend Kathy at the Turnagain Arm trail (she was Niko's foster mom) and we ran five miles on the trail with the dogs. Kathy and I talked about racing and how she used to be this kick ass mountain bike racer, who would bomb down rocky 45 degree slopes at full speed. She has since calmed down a lot and is more at my level now. We talked about how we both have feelings of competitiveness sometimes, but our current level of fitness does not allow us to win any races. We also talked about how we struggle between wanting to be crazy and tough and just wanting to have a good time.

I told her about the attitude I take in the winter bike races, where I'm pretty sure I'm going to come in last, so I just go out to have fun. That is easy for me to do in winter bike races, because right now I have no desire to ride my bike every day in the winter. So I'm okay with coming in last.

But I do have the desire to be a good runner and a decent mountain biker in the summer. And I do have a hard time being just average in both of these. At the start of a race when I see the crowd disappearing off into the horizon, and I am putting in my hardest effort, it's hard not to think about it. I'm not one for comparing myself to others, but sometimes I am baffled by the people who say, "Oh, I run twice a year, I'm not a very good runner." And then they finish a 5K in 20 minutes. I run all the time and a 5K takes me at least 27 minutes. So I am somewhat competitive, but I'm not losing any sleep over it.

Then I think about the "Everybody wins" attitude they are teaching in schools today and it makes my stomach churn. Everybody wins no matter what effort they put in to it. I think kids should be awarded for effort and maybe not for pure athletic ability, but "everybody wins"? That's like saying, no matter what you do in life, you will always be rewarded. What kind of lesson is this?

Everybody does not win. And as soon as these kids get into the real world, make no effort, and stop "winning" they are not going to know how to handle it. They will not be okay with coming in last or even second, and they will think that they deserve everything for doing nothing.

On the other hand I think people who are ultra competitive have it wrong too. "What is life unless you are coming in first?" "Why are you climbing if you are not doing first ascents?" "Why should I run if there are so many people that are better than me and I will never win?" These are actual quotes from people I have met.

So which is it? Competition or Everbody Wins? Maybe somewhere in between...