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Month: April 2014

Inaugural Bushwhack and Bloodletting

Inaugural Bushwhack and Bloodletting

I got home from work and it was just too nice to not go out. My knee was a bit sore, and I knew I would regret it (I don’t) but I went anyways. I was planning on parking at Famrington Pond and running the BST/Farmington Upper Terrace loop, but when I arrived at the canyon I saw that the gates were open. Yeah! Up the canyon I went.I parked at the end of the pavement and ran up the Farmington Creek Trail past Halfway Creek and Corduroy Creek, looking for the right-hand turnoff for the Old Aqueduct Trail.

It is a beautiful canyon. It was my first time running up that trail and I think it is going to be a go-to trail for me. Not too steep, nice and easy, well-maintained.

2014-04-29 - Farmington Creek Trail (7)
I can’t believe I live here
2014-04-29 - Farmington Creek Trail (3)
Later this summer in the heat…I just might take a dip!

Also, some old cars wrecked in the forest. I don’t know they were pushed off the canyon road above, or if they were from back when that trail was an old road bed.

2014-04-29 - Farmington Creek Trail (6)
I bet my dad could ID this down to year/make/model.
2014-04-29 - Farmington Creek Trail (5)
Car on right, engine block on left

In any case, I couldn’t find the Old Aqueduct turnoff. I took a right-hand turn up past the big waterfall and it quickly devolved into a bushwhack. Ah…just like old times.

2014-04-29 - Farmington Creek Trail (4)
Looks like it MIGHT be a trail…

When I got home and got in the shower, I discovered that I not only did my inaugural bushwhacks, but also the inaugrual bloodletting. All those little scratches really sting in the hot water and soap!  Hurts so good!

3.5 Miles in 46:08 @ 13:18 min/mile and 994 ft. elevation

When I got back to the car, I drove down the pavement to where maps show the other end of the Old Aqueduct Trail. I walked a log across the creek, and bushwhacked up the hill until I found a good solid diagonal trail. It took me to the ridge where I followed it up to the Farmington Spine Trail proper, and the intersection with the Old Aqueduct. I ran it for 100 yards or so just to check it out and then worked my way back.

2014-04-29 Old Aqueduct Trail (2)
Old metal ties that used to hold the aqueduct pipe in place – could make for hazardous running.

Balance-beam across the creek – I don’t think mom would approve.

It was a fun little climb and now I know how to get up there. My IT Band on the left knee was just screaming by the end.  Boo.

1.1 miles in 24:16 @ 22:27 min/mile and 461 ft. elevation

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Zion Ragnar Race Report, Concerns and Critique

Zion Ragnar Race Report, Concerns and Critique

A couple months ago, a member of the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers Facebook group posted that they needed a runner to add to their team for the Zion Ragnar Trail Relay. The fee was already paid, just come and run. My family was scheduled to be out of town on the race weekend, so I figured that I had nothing better to do and secured a spot on the team. I hadn’t done a Ragnar before and from what I knew, understood that it wasn’t really my “scene.” Huge corporate sponsorship/product shilling, running in costumes, black eyed pees blasting over speakers, etc…. I am a bit more low key. But a lot of people love it and I think that is great. I especially like that it seems to get people who otherwise may not try running out there. I also see how the group/ team experience could be a lot of fun for friends/family to go out and do something really challenging together. That’s awesome. It just isn’t why I have really come to live running trails. If you go to a non-Ragnar trail race – like an ultra marathon – you will notice a VERY different scene. Less spectacle. Less EDM remixes of “Livin on a Prayer” blasting at a gazillion decibels, less meat-market skin fest.

Zion Ragnar (1)
Ready to represent the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers with an original “Wrangler,” pearly snaps and all!

But I digress. Back to my actual race report. I was the first runner for or team, scheduled to start at 2:00. I arrived, dropped off my gear, drove 5 miles back down the road to the parking lot, took the shuttle back, picked a campsite, set up tent, got dressed and headed over to the big start/finish area. The team captain, Joel, arrived and I pointed out where our spot was about 60 seconds before I took off – just in time. My first leg was the Green Loop – the easiest of the three – 3 miles. I kept an easy pace, quickly relaxing how out of shape my ankle-resting had rendered me.

3 Miles in 31:01 @ 10:22 min/mile with 381 ft. elevation

That left me about 6 hours before I would run again. Much of that was spent trying to keep blowing dust out of my eyes and trying to recharge my phone – which the roaming/searching for signal had quickly drained. I also got to hang a bit with the rest of the team – a super friendly family + friends. They made me feel very welcome. They made what could have been an uncomfortable and awkward weekend I to a very welcoming one. Thanks guys!

At 9:00 I got ready for the Red Loop – the hardest leg, 8+ miles. With my headlamp readying I excitedly took off. This is where I noticed some trouble. It had been dusty all day and there was a little dust that billowed up on my previous loop, but now it was choking. With the 800+ racers that had pounded down the red loop by this point, the dirt was compacted, but rather pulverized into a fine talcum powder-like dust 1-2 inches deep in places. All those feet had also deepened many portions of the trail into a narrow trough/rut with 1-2 inch deep edges on either side to roll ankles on as you tried to tight-rope walk the narrow path. The dust was the real problem though. The constant stream of runner had not only pulverized the trail from dirt into dust, but never left it long enough for it to settle back down. The air was filled with it. My eyes stung and it was hard to breath. Also difficult was the fact that the headlamp light reflected off of it in the air and made it difficult to see though the cloud.

This was frustrating and I couldn’t help but think of the parallel to Donald Worster‘s seminal 1983 study, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Worster’s history examine the 1930s Great Plains environmental and economic disaster know as the Dust Bowl. Employing Marxist theory he outlines how capitalist interests and market created a situation that led to crisis. Capitalism led farmers to overflow the Plains. The region had been enjoying an abnormally wet period, the soil was rich, and yields were astronomic! Huge profits. However, when climate oscillated toward more typical aridity and then devolved into a deep and long drought – the crops died. Where once the millennia-old ecology of long, mixed, and short grass prairie grass weathered regular droughts, there was no longer the deep cover of grasses and interconnected root system. There was only exposed dry soil. And, it all blew away. Worster’s analysis is narrow, and his application of Marxist theory and focus on capitalism doesn’t quite explain the totality of a very complex situation, but revealing and an important work.

I see it as analogous a bit to what happened at the Zion Ragnar. Boasting that this was “the biggest trail Ragnar ever!!!” (Met with lots of cheers) the race organizers sent 2,400+ runners out on the trails. Trails that never see that magnitude of feet in such a compressed time period. And, it destroyed the trails. Dust dust dust. Bigger is better led to deteriorating trail conditions. Later, like in the Dust Bowl, it would lead to disaster. But again, I digress.

I ran my 8.5 miles. The last 3 or so where made much more enjoyable by meeting someone on the trail and chatting about history. It turns out, she had just created a nonprofit organization to so some historic site preservation in the St. George area and we had lots to talk about. Towards the end, my left IT band flared, but I finished the loop.

8.4 miles in 1:42:43 @ 12:15 min/mile and 950 ft. elevation

 From there I went to my tent and tried to get some sleep. At 2:00 it started to rain. Around 4:30 I got up to get ready for my next, and last, leg on the 4.5 mile yellow loop. It would be cold, wet, and certainly muddy, but I was excited. 2 hours later, I was still waiting, soaked to the bone and very cold from standing around. The runner before me texted around 6:30 and said he was dropping. Be had also been waiting 2 hours for the guy before him to finish the red loop. The trail, however, had become un-runnable, he said. This coming from a guy who runs ultras like the Wasatch 100 worried me. I had been watching people come in and hearing that things were bad. The moisture had turned that 1-2 inches or powder dust into 3-4 inches of slimy greasy clay-like mud. It was difficult to even walk on in flat sections, let alone run. On ascents, runners were having to pull them selves up by grabbing bushes on the side of the trail. On descents, people were saying it was scary – sliding, falling, etc. 30-45 minute loops were taking people 2 hours. The 8.5 mile loop, which took me 1 hour and 45 minutes was taking people 3+ hours. If the race had been smaller, maybe the trail wouldn’t have been so badly damaged and it would have been just a muddy course – not an un-runnable morass.

So tough up, right? Just go slop it out! Did I mention that temps had dropped and the rain had turned to snow? Yeah. Snow. Coming down hard. At least an inch from 5:30-6:30 and getting harder. Now, people were coming in hypothermic and a 4 hour struggle to finish their loop. A runner on a friend’s team got sent to the Kane County hospital with severe hypothermia and a core body temperature of 94 degrees! I watched one lady come up to the bonfire, crouch down and desperately try to warm up her fingers – sobbing that she couldn’t feel them. We suggested she go to the aid tent or the lodge – where it was toasty warm.

Zion Ragnar (3)
The far north end of camp, after 1 hour snow.

I went in and got our bib, thinking I should give it a shot. I took off and after heading down about 3/4 mile of trail, turned around. The trail was impassable. I could barely keep upright and it was mostly flat by that point. Having stood on the rain/snow for 2 hours , I was soaked and suddenly aware of how numb my fingers and toes were. I turned in my bib and headed to camp. As I was telling the team that I had dropped as well as the runner before me, word spread through the camp that Ragnar had cancelled the rest of the race. VERY smart call. In the end, search and rescue went out and made sure all 10-22 missing runners were found and accounted for.  I spare the details, but getting out of there (snow was really pounding now) was a mess.

Zion Ragnar (4)
I was one of the first people to get out – and it was already a mess. One team member had to call AAA to pull him out of the mud

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to do all 3 loops. I was racing for free, but suspect that those who had paid for 2/3 of a race were more disappointed. More frustrating, however, was my feeling that it could have been prevented. The rain and snow was an act of nature – but if it had fallen upon trails not so badly damaged by the 300+ 8 person teams, it would have still been runnable. It would have been cold and wet and muddy. But it wouldn’t have turned into a dangerous situation where people were stuck out on a 3 hour loop, when only prepare for a 45 minute one.

Like the Dust Bowl, decisions made by man turned a bad situation into a crisis. Drought would have ruined a lot of farmers, but the Great Plains wouldn’t have blown away and become an ecological and economic disaster at the scale it became.

At the Zion Ragnar, it would have been a tough one and lots of people would have dropped regardless – but many would have been able to soldier on and have stories to tell of it. Maybe it wouldn’t have been cancelled and people wouldn’t have been sent to the ER with hypothermia.

So, how do I end this? First, I had a good time. It was fun. The running and camaraderie, that is. The Ragnar “scene,” not so much. The size of it wasn’t my scene. I know Ragnar is a business and wants to maximize profits, but I wonder if they restricted the size of the Trail Relays and kept them a bit smaller, a bit more low- key, a bit more intimate – if runners would have a more enjoyable time. I think they would. Of all the trail runners and trail ultra marathoners I have talked to, most avoid Ragnar because they don’t like the scene. If run differently and on a smaller scale, I wonder if some would be excited about the opportunity to do a relay race together. Profits would be much smaller, but rather than most of the serious trail-running community avoiding Ragnar, maybe they would participate. Perhaps. Maybe not. I don’t know. I’m just barely getting into trail running and getting to know the community.

So would I do a trail Ragnar again? Probably not. It was a good experience and I’m glad I did it. Very glad. I had a lot of fun. I am bummed that my only day-time loop was the non-scenic one, but oh well.

ALSO – I ran in brand new Altra Olympus shoes. They were amazing. I’ll so a gear review about them later.

First Early Morning Run of the Season

First Early Morning Run of the Season

One of the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers organized a group run up city creek for early in the morning – something I tried out two times back in November before the winter (and injuries) really set in. I really enjoyed it then – getting an early run in, showering at work, feeling more awake at work than I usually do in the AM – it was great. My ankle was feeling ok so I decided to give it a shot. I trailed Matt Miller and Cory Hill down from Morris Resevoir and started back up the west side of City Creek. At that point – I no longer tried to keep up. I simply don’t have the climbing legs yet! I was exhausted. Moreover, my shins and right calf were really aching and the ankle was beginning to feel fatigued. I didn’t want to push it. I pushed up a ways and then turned back. Not my best run, but it felt so good to get out there. Unfortunately, my ankle has been more painful for the couple days after the run than after my last few. I probably need to cut back a bit. After the Zions Trail Ragnar in a couple weeks, I think I’ll go into the doctor and get an official diagnosis.

6.1 miles in 1:13:21 @ 11:57 min/miles with 1,199 ft. elevation

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Always share the trail with fellow mammals, unless they have big claws and are trying to eat you
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Sleepy SLC
Return to Pretty Valley

Return to Pretty Valley

8 April 2014 - Pretty valley overlook
Hello Pretty Valley. Have you missed me?

I was planning to rest my legs for a planned group run up City Creek Canyon Friday morning before work, but I just couldn’t resist tonight. It was in the low 70s, and beautiful. Moreover, I knew that I had a long night ahead of me cranking out some pages on a book manuscript that I owe to my editor by May 1st. I short little run seemed like a good way to clear my head before diving into a long night of writing.

Last fall, I did a number of runs up to Pretty Valley – a 800 ft. elevation climb over about 1 mile of trail south from the Davis Creek Canyon trailhead. I pushed hard and got PRs on all of the strava segments – so that was nice. My feet and shins took a beating on the descent though, and I’m glad it was only 2.5 miles. I need to rest these doggies!

2.6 miles in 31:30 @ 12:19 min/mile and 788 ft. elevation

It is actually really interesting to study the 3D rendering. The colors represent severity of grade, so the darker the red, the steeper the climb, the darker the blue, the steeper the descent. Green = nice and flat. This is a great visualization of why my legs felt so beat up – it was all climbing and descent, very little nice “running.”

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Trying out a “Recovery Run”

Trying out a “Recovery Run”

Some people swear that one of the best ways to recover is to run more. I haven’t tried this before. But, as I was walking around the house cursing how sore and tight my legs felt this morning, I had the thought, “You know what might loosen these tight muscles up a bit? A run.” Crazy, I know.  But I gave it a shot.  The plan was to just to 2 miles or so, nice and slow, but I ended up doing about 4.5.  I was exhausted and I could tell I was fatigued, so it may have defeated the purpose, but at least my legs don’t feel tight anymore. Followed it with lots of stretching.

Parked at Davis Creek Canyon, and ran the Bonneville Shoreline to where the BST access trail drops down to  Farmington Pond – right at the big water retention pond. And back.

Also – I was joined by MVH, at least at the beginning and end.  He took a detour at the start and then caught up with me as I was returning. I think he went a bit farther down the BST too – maybe all the way to Skyline. I waited for him at the car  and we drove back eating delicious waffle wafer cookies. Yum.

4.7 miles in 48:52 @ 10:27 min/mile pace and 366 ft. elevation.
(I picked the BST because there wouldn’t be elevation, but I guess all the small ups and downs add up)

Oh oh – and I also tried out a pair of Altra Lone Peak 1s for the first time. Everyone here swears by the Altra zero-drop thing, so I picked up a hand-me-down pair and am going to try them out. Apparently it takes a while for your calf muscles and Achilles tendons to get used to them, so I’ll work them in slowly, alternating with other shoes.

Exploring Francis Peak Trail

Exploring Francis Peak Trail

 5.6 miles in 1:31:29 @ 16:23 min/mile pace with 2,270 ft. elevation

I had to work from home today (long story) and around 3:00 saw that the forecast for tomorrow was rain. Boo. I was planning on running tomorrow. So, I decided to swap out my last hour of work for an hour later tonight (or tomorrow) and squeeze my run in this afternoon.

I parked at the Shepherd Creek trailhead and decided to climb up the first mile or so of the Francis Peak Trail. It is about 1,500 ft. in a mile and my legs were burning. As I hit the split where the upper terrace cuts south and Francis Peak goes up, it started snowing. That was unexpected. There was still a few inches of old snow at the top as well. Knee-high post-holing at the top. Brr. I should have worn my super waterproof Montrails but alas, I had my brooks cascadias on. Got pretty wet.

4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (8)
Added bonus, some nice ridge sections looking down into Shepherd Creek Canyon to the left and Farmington city to the right.
4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (9)
Yes, I am running as slow as it looks I am.
4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (1)
Look. I’m on a rock.

At the top of the first section, there is a clearing which the lady I met on my way up (her husband is the trial chief for this section) said is called Quarter Rock – its a 1/4 of the way to Francis Peak.

4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (2)
Panorama looking East toward the rest of the ridges and peak on the way to Francis. I’d like to go all the way up when the snow melts.
4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (6)
Look. I found a pole.

From there, I took a trail that drops south down into Farmington Canyon. It was steep, and lots of loose gravel. I wouldn’t want to climb it. When I got down to the 2nd switchback of Skyline Drive, I took the road down to the 1st switchback where the pavement is. Looking back, I wish that I would have trekked West across the face of the Mtn., to hook up with the Upper Terrance. Looking on the map now, I think I could have done it and there may actually already be a trail that does, but I missed it. Bummer.

Instead of taking the pavement, I took the trail that runs north of it along the face of the hill. It was a rough trail – lots of loose rock, always at a sideways angle (bad for my left ankle) and sketchy in parts. Towards the bottom, however, I did get to admire the trail-building handiwork of Ryan Lauck.  Seriously, this dude builds 5 star deluxe luxury trails.  Check out these stairs and reinforced walls:

4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (3) 4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (7)

Not too shabby. When I hit the mine (below), I climbed straight up what must have been a deer trail to the Upper Terrace and took that back to Shepherd Creek Canyon.

4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (4)
The mine.

At the bottom, I swung by the section of trail that I helped cut earlier in the week – looks great.

4 March 2014 - Francis Peak Trail (5)

Overall it was a fun excursion. Lots of vert and not lots of miles, but that is ok because I got to explore some new places.

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Nighttime Cougar-Bait Snow Jaunt Up Shepherd Creek Canyon Area

Nighttime Cougar-Bait Snow Jaunt Up Shepherd Creek Canyon Area

The kids were in bed, the sun was on its way down, my ankle felt “ok” and there was a fresh 1 inch of snow on the trails above town, with a little rain/snow still spitting – what a perfect time to go for a run.

IMG_1919
El Bandito de Farmington strikes again! (I didn’t end up needing the bandana as it wasn’t as cold as I had thought it would be

I strapped on my Montrail Badrock, which I had intended to be my snow/wet mud shoes but have hardly used and drove up to uber-rich neighborhoods above Fruit Heights/Farmington where there are a few trail-heads into Shepherd Creek and other canyons north. Knowing the sun would soon be down, I put on my headlamp and took off. The soft fresh snow gave a great cushion to the trail, and other than deer and bunny tracks, mine were the only feet to have touched the few hours-old snowfall.

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Trail heading up north flank of Shepherd Creek

I climbed, veered north and ascended a rocky ridge that overlooked the canyon just north of Shepherd Creek Canyon.

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Rock overlook point just north of Shepherd Creek Canyon

At this point, it became hard to distinguish which trails were actually trails, and which were just animal tracks in the snow. I pulled google maps up on my phone continuous and looked at the satellite images to try and gauge where I should go. I climbed the north ridge of that small canyon briefly, before crossing and bushwhacking my way back down the other side. The snow actually  made the descent down what I assume were loose gravel slides nice and cushioned.

IMG_1908
The other nice thing about the virgin snow is that if you get lost, you can just follow your backwards footprints back down the mtn.

I could have done without the multiple rock outcroppings that looked like perfect perches for Cougars to be staring down at me from.  Shiver.

I made my way back down to the car, by which time it was dark. Unfortunately, I had only clocked a mile. So, I crossed over to the south side of Shepherd Creek, took that trail up until a branch descends down to the creek. As it was pitch black, covered in snow, and I had never been there before – I decided it would  be a good idea to try and get down to the creek, cross it, scramble back up the north side to the power lines and explore them back down to the original trail I had just descended previously.

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Crossing Shepherd Creek – glad to see a nice big rock in the middle

Not the smartest choice, but it ended up going well. It was fun to get out in the dark – though terrifying at times – and great to run some fresh beautiful snow.

1.8 miles in 27:09 @ 15:17 pace with 870 ft. elevation