Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring Peak Bagging

Every year around this time we start lugging our fat winter asses up the peaks along the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage. These hikes climb straight up from the highway offering some of the best views of the cook inlet and back into the depths of the Chugach.

It's bittersweet as we suck air and realize how out of hiking shape we have become. Although every year we start out just a little bit stronger than the last. Can you believe we have now lived in Alaska for 4 years? We've survived 4 winters and are about to enjoy our 5th summer. Philadelphia has become a distant memory.

It's great to get out in the sunshine and I think anyone who was here last summer has a little bit of anxiety about when the nice weather is going to end. Sometimes I fear that at any moment we could get socked in for days, weeks or months, so I've been getting out every day biking, hiking or running.

Rainbow Peak...

Bird Ridge...

Brian attempted Indianhouse again last Saturday with some hiking friends of ours, I was sore so I missed this one...

Peak bagging is Niko's second favorite outdoor activity...

Today I plan on an easy paced long ride around the paved trails of Anchorage. Tomorrow we are heading up South Suicide Peak. I haven't done this one before, but I don't think it's as scary as it sounds.

Exercise becomes addicting at this time of year. Seeing the sun shining through the window right now I feel bad about being on the laptop. Gotta go!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mount Marathon Training

Starting in April after they announce the winners of the lottery, I get a lot of hits on my blog for "Mount Marathon Training". I think it's people who, like me, signed up for the lottery on a whim thinking they would never get in, and then were like, "Oh shit, I actually won, NOW WHAT?"

I can probably help you if you want to finish, but not if you are trying to win. If you think of it as a really hard and fast hike, it's not so bad. I started training two weeks ago. Here's my strategy.

1. Hike up the steepest mountain you can find as fast as you can. Do this about twice a week. Bird Ridge and Rainbow Peak are dry in early spring and are great for this. Keep in mind that Mount Marathon is steeper than these hikes though.

2. Find the nastiest scree field in the Chugach and run down as fast as you can. Actually you may want to start out jogging down at a more moderate pace until you get comfortable running on scree. Wearing gators helps keep the rocks out, but if you really want to toughen up for the race, leave the rocks in there and then try running on pavement.

The scree field on Mount Marathon is like a luxury scree field. Since people run up and down it so much, all of the scree has been ground up into tiny pebbles and you have a huge cushion underneath you. But I like to practice on nasty uneven scree fields, that way when I get to Mount Marathon it seems easy.

3. One thing that is overlooked, but very important is the run to the bottom of the mountain at the start. This is a gradual uphill for about a half a mile, but you need to run it FAST if you don't want to wait in line at the bottom of the hill. So do some fast intervals on paved ground with a gradual incline.

4. Lastly, but most importantly, if this is your first year, GO HIKE THE MOUNTAIN. It's especially important to have a route ready for going up the cliffs and back down. You don't want to get stuck in a spot where you are uncomfortable or lost.

When I reach the bottom of the mountain, I go into the trees to the right of the gully. Then I go far right and climb up the roots. You'll find the best footing and handholds there, but try out a few different ways and see what works for you.

On the way down in the past I have taken the sissy route which is the trail to the left of the gully (that is if you are at the bottom looking up). This takes too long and people don't cheer for you when you come out that way. I'm working on a new route this year. I have hiked straight down the rock cliff in the gully (see above photo), but that can get really sketchy if it's wet and when your legs feel like jello. This picture shows my proposed route down, if the cliffs look bad. Behind those trees to the right and then down the dirt to bypass the cliffs.

That's about it. Good luck and most importantly have fun! Be sure to soak it all in when you turn the corner and into the crowds on 3rd Avenue in downtown Seward. In this race they cheer for everyone that finishes, not just the winners.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My First Road Biking Race

I'm going to test ride a road bike tonight. Really! I'm serious. I have been resisting this ever since my mom tried to buy me a ten speed when I was 12, enticing me with the words "big girl bike".

I just wanted to get a new dirt bike. "All of the other girls are upgrading." "Kate and Laurie have had ten speeds for a year." Upgrading? Why does some fancy boring bike that I can't ride on trails and take off of jumps make me a "big girl" and how is that considered an upgrade?

But last week I gave in and road Brian's road(ish) bike a few times and decided that I loved it. I want to be able to get more miles in without killing myself on a mountain bike every day. I can cover miles in about half the time as on my mountain bike, and I get in a really go workout.

So the next logical step to having ridden a road bike twice is to enter a race, right? I was a bit skeptical when Laura asked me to be on her team in the Bike For Women a few weeks ago. I knew that it would be a fun team and not a scary hardcore team with 3% body fat and alien helmets, so I said yes. I honestly thought it would be boring, but it was only 9 miles so I gave it a shot.

Laura and our other teammate Mel started 40 and 20 seconds before me. The format was that one woman starts every 20 seconds. I set out from the start thinking I would take a leisurely ride on a Sunday afternoon. There were a few big downhills at the beginning and I held back, because I had never really gone over 25 mph on a bike before. I was just trying to stay in control. The headwind was intense and the bike was wobbling. Once I got that worked out, I was able to let go of the brakes and let the bike fly.

Photo came from Alaska Digital Visions

And I noticed I was coming up behind some women that were in front of me pretty fast. I started passing people. I really didn't think I would get the competitive bug in me, but I did and I felt unstoppable. I knew it was only going to be 30 minutes of riding, so for the second half of the race I pushed as hard as I could and passed as many people as I could.

Now I find myself wondering how fast I could go. Well, if I had a proper road bike and knew how to ride it, and didn't hold back in the first half, and pedaled fast through the corners, and didn't have to stop for a truck that they let go right in front of me as I was making a turn... well.. I could shave at least five minutes off my time.

"Are you turning into a roadie?" Brian asked me last night. Is this how it starts? You do one race and then try to go faster and faster. Mountain biking for me is not really about speed but more about having the endurance to finish and finish strong. This is totally different. And a nice change.

No, I'm not turning into a roadie, just having fun riding a bike.