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Exploring Our Own State: Camping in Leadville

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a mountain lover at heart. Sure, I live on the plains now, but if I don’t get my mountain fix, I get antsy. Ever since we moved here, my mountain fixes haven’t come often enough. After all, we’re busy (like everyone else), and going to the mountains meant spending money (that we didn’t have) on hotel rooms. Last summer, though, I had a little breakdown, during which I told J that I desperately needed more mountains in my life.photo 2 (23)Who doesn’t need more of this?

The solution was a simple one: start camping. As a kid, I camped with my family, but I hadn’t camped since college. Jordan hadn’t camped much at all, so we knew this new experiment would be an adventure. Our Christmas lists consisted exclusively of camping gear, and all winter and spring, we kept a sharp lookout for good deals. Our biggest purchase was a tent and sleeping bags. A few months ago, Cabela’s ran an amazing deal: a tent and two sleeping bags for $200. We couldn’t pass that up… even though the tent was a 6-person and WAY bigger than we needed.

Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.
Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.

Finally, last weekend, we were ready to test out what we’d acquired. It was also our seventh wedding anniversary — perfect timing for a weekend escape. We chose Leadville as our destination, mainly because neither of us had ever been up there. This was a good choice.

We left late Friday morning, stopped and had a quick picnic lunch at the visitor center in Georgetown, and enjoyed a gorgeous drive up to Leadville, arriving mid-afternoon. We checked into Sugar Loafin’ campground (we figured a commercial campground would be a gentle intro to camping), set up our tent, and then spent a few hours wandering around Leadville. Unbeknownst to us beforehand, Leadville was hosting a BBQ and beer festival/competition, so we snagged what Jordan calls a “walkin’ around beer,” then explored the stores. We stopped at the Leadville Race Series store and asked them to recommend a good hiking/running trail (more on that in a second). Then, we headed back to the campground, built a fire and cooked some dinner on the camp stove, and spent the evening just relaxing.

Yeah. Campfire.
Yeah. Campfire.

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The next morning, we woke up early, ate some eggs and tortillas, and drove a couple of miles up the road to Turquoise Lake. Since I wanted to trail run  for a bit (because #operationbecomeatrailrunner) and J wanted a shorter hike, the Leadville Race Series store folks suggested that he drop me at one end of Turquoise Lake, where I’d run a six-mile trail, then meet him at the trailhead to Timberline Lake. So that’s what we did, and I’m so grateful to them for that suggestion. This was one of my top-three runs of all time. See if you can guess why. photo 2 (25) photo 3 (19) photo 4 (11) photo 3 (20)

Yeah. Beautiful. Plus it was completely runnable, even for my trail-newbie legs. It’s also part of the Leadville 100 course (probably the flattest, least technical part), so it was kinda cool to see part of the storied race course.

The trail ended at a campground at the other side of the lake. I misunderstood the guy at the store (and the map…) and thought that the Timberline Lake trailhead was at that campground, so I ran to the far end of it. No trailhead. I thought I was just dumb and missed it, so I turned around and ran back. Nope. Finally, on my way back to the far end, I saw a guy running who looked like he knew what was up. I asked where the trailhead was, and he told me I actually had to run up the road a little way. I felt silly, but at least now I knew where I was going.

I easily found the trailhead (after adding 1.5 miles of back-and-forth at the campground…) and started running up. Not far up the trail, I saw some cute guy.
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Wheet whew. (That’s a catcall whistle). I ran just enough farther to make my watch say 8.5 miles (because heaven forbid I stop at 8.4), then came back to hike with J.

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We intended to hike up to Timberline Lake (obviously), but about 1.5 miles in, the trail was covered by the river. We didn’t really want to wade and get our feet wet and cold, since we’d barely started hiking, so we headed back down to where the Timberline Lake Trail intersected the Colorado Trail, and instead hiked on the Colorado Trail for a while. There was no lake, but it was still gorgeous!photo 5 (9)

We hiked the Colorado Trail until we got hungry (we’re really serious hikers), and then we headed back down to Turquoise Lake, where we ate our PBJs and dipped our sweaty toes in the chilly mountain water. photo 1 (27)

We dallied at the lake for quite some time, then eventually cruised back down to town, because ice cream. By then, it was too late to start another hike, but too early to just go hang out at camp. We decided to drive over to Twin Lakes (about 20 minutes away). We’d talked about camping there, so since we were so close, we figured we’d go check it out. It was pretty, but we were glad we’d chosen Leadville.

We spent another delightful evening chilling by the fire, and the next morning, took our time about making breakfast and packing up camp. photo 1 (28) photo 3 (21)

We still left reasonably early, because we wanted to beat the nightmare that is Sunday afternoon on I-70. So we said goodbye to this view and headed back down to where it was 95 degrees. Lame. photo 4 (12)

To best sum up this weekend, I’d have to say (in my best Joey from Friends voice), “Camping? Good. Marriage? Good. Trail running? Good.” I can’t wait to go back!

This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.
This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.

Have you ever been to Leadville? 

Where do you camp: commercial campground, rustic campground, dispersed, or backcountry? (Or in a hotel. Ha.) 

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Colorado Fall Classic Marathon Training, Week 4

I can’t believe I’m already four weeks into this training cycle.  This was an interesting week of training, seriously lacking in strength training, stretching and foam rolling. J and I sanded and re-stained our deck, which turned out to be one of those jobs that you think will take a day or two and takes an entire week, so most of my afternoons were filled with deck work and not strength training. By the time we finished each evening, we were hot, tired, and filthy, and I just wanted a shower, not another workout. Oh well. I got all my running in, at least.

Monday:

AM: 11 miles. My schedule said 80-90 minutes with the last 20 minutes getting progressively faster. I was cruising a little quicker than 5k pace, 30 seconds from being done with the fast part… and my foot slipped on some mud (or probably on nothing, but mud at least sounds like an excuse) and I fell. Sidewalks are evil.
photo (10)I gimped through enough of a cool-down to make it 11 miles and called it good. I was thankful that my only wound was a knee scab and not any real injury.

PM: 45 minutes of strength training. And thus ended my only double day this week.

Tuesday:
9.1 miles easy and a quick core workout

Wednesday: 
16 x 400m repeats with equal recoveries, 11 miles total with warm-up and cool-down. I did half the repeats on a downhill slope, but I got sick of running up and down the same street, so I moved to the flat. Not the best training decision, probably, but a better sanity decision.

Thursday: 
9 miles “easy” that didn’t feel easy at all, quick core work.

Friday: 7 miles slow and easy, then some core work

Saturday:
This was our anniversary (6 years! Hooray!). We wanted to get away for the weekend but didn’t want to spend a bunch of money, so we spent it in Colorado Springs. J’s aunt and uncle live there and are always happy to have us stay, and we hadn’t seen them in quite a while, so visiting them on our anniversary weekend was perfect.

I’d asked Aimee, who lives in Springs, to recommend a downhill run for me so I could start prepping for this marathon. She recommended the Santa Fe Trail, a rail trail that runs parallel to the mountains. It was a fantastic recommendation, as the trail was beautiful and the elevation profile was very similar to the marathon’s. I started way too fast for a long run, so the last few miles were a slog. I know I’m at risk of doing that in the race, too, so I’m hoping I learned my lesson here and will pace myself better next time.My iPhone doesn't come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

My iPhone doesn’t come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

J is an awesome husband; he got up super early, drove me to the trailhead at Palmer Lake, killed a couple of hours, and picked up my gross sweatiness 17.3 miles later. That is love, folks.

After my run, I cleaned up in a Panera bathroom (classy, right?), ate some food, and rehydrated, and then we headed to Garden of the Gods. I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and J hadn’t ever been, so it was a new experience for both of us. We had a great time. Garden of the Gods is stunning.

No filter needed for that Colorado sky.
No filter needed for that Colorado sky.

We didn’t want to fight the crowds in the main part of the park for very long, so we ventured off on some side trails — fantastic choice. We saw just a handful of other people but plenty of scenery on our 4.5-mile hike.
photo 3 (5) photo 4 (2) After Garden of the Gods, we grabbed some lunch and spent the afternoon wandering around Old Colorado City (a fun little tourist trap near Garden of the Gods) before heading back to clean up for real (as opposed to Panera-bathroom style) and go out for a nice dinner. And then we went to bed early because I was friggin’ tired. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary!

Sunday:
J’s aunt and I have talked about doing the infamous Manitou Incline together for years, but we had never done it. We decided Sunday was the day, and since J is a good sport, he agreed to do it, too. And then he saw this, and questioned his sanity (and his love for us):
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The Incline is that little line going up that mountain: a trail that climbs 2050 feet in .92 miles. The whole trail is made of steps like these:Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

It was definitely a challenge. Some people run the thing, which is insane to me. Today was supposed to be my rest day, so I didn’t even try to run. The view from the top is definitely worth the hike… it’s gorgeous! You can see the entire city.
photo 1 (5)The trail back down is longer but considerably less steep (and less treacherous), but I still didn’t run because of the whole “rest day” thing. The whole hike made for another fun morning in the great outdoors. If I lived in Colorado Springs, I’d definitely be a regular up here… it’s a great challenge, and I’d want to see how fast I could eventually do it.

So the week ended up with 64.4 miles of running, minimal strength training, and a whole lot of outdoor fun. Overall, I’m okay with that, but I definitely need to get my strength training, foam rolling, etc., back on track this week.

Ever fallen like an idiot on a run? Please tell me about it so I know I’m not the only one.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve cleaned up post-workout?

Have you ever (or would you ever) done the Incline?