Hike stats: Distance: 4.8 miles Elevation Gain: 1327 feet Time: 3 hours Fee: $6 to park at the trailhead Good for: Easy hiking, hiking with dogs
One of the reasons we moved last summer was to be closer to the mountains. We wanted to be able to day hike without spending more time driving than actually hiking. We’d hoped to do some hiking this spring, but our jobs kept our weekends busy right through the end of May. Finally, in early June, we had time to start exploring.
I checked out a book called The Best Front Range Hikes from the library, and we flipped through to find one that wasn’t too far away or too long a hike. We decided on Mount McConnell, up the Poudre Canyon.
I hadn’t been up the canyon since college, and I’d forgotten how lovely the drive is. The Poudre River was full and fast-moving with fresh run-off, and the sparkling water, colorful wildflowers, and green trees made for a nice little drive.
We hadn’t gotten a very early start (that’s why we moved, remember?); we parked, used the trailhead restrooms, and started hiking a little before 9:00. I was a little worried we’d be hot, but some friendly clouds kept us shaded most of the way up. The trail climbs fairly steadily for the first couple of miles, and it seemed like after every little bend, we just had to stop to take in the next bit of stunning scenery down below.
The trail to the summit of Mount McConnell branches off the main trail, but it’s a short jaunt to the top, and the view is incredible.
We lingered at the summit for several minutes, enjoying the panorama and the sunshine that had finally decided to reappear. Eventually, we started our walk back down. The trail gives the option of making this a loop hike, and we did, because why see the same scenery when we can see something new? The trail down wasn’t quite as well maintained as the trail up, but it was still easy to follow. We did take one wrong turn — at a water crossing, the trail we needed was hiding in the shade — but we realized our mistake fairly quickly and were soon back on the right track.
Back at the trailhead but not really wanting to leave, we spent several minutes trying to skip rocks and dipping our fingers in the icy river, talking about how glad we were that we’d moved closer to the places we love.
This was a lovely little hike. Although my new book said this was about a four-hour hike, we did it in almost exactly three hours, including our wrong turn, lots of picture stops, and lingering at the summit. Even starting late, we had plenty of time to hike and dawdle and still had the afternoon free. It’s an easy and uncrowded hike, and the views from the top make you feel like you really accomplished something. If you’re in the Fort Collins area, definitely give this one a try!
I intended to get this recap done sooner, but … life. The week after the race was Homecoming week, and since I’m the Student Council adviser, it’s one of my busiest weeks of the year. And because I’m really smart, I assigned essays in two different courses that week. So I had to grade essays for two different courses between Homecoming events. Blogging went on the back burner, but now that’s over and I want to get this written before I forget all the details.
When I registered for the race, J and I decided that we’d camp at the trailhead instead of getting a hotel in Fort Collins, because $15 camp site > $100 hotel room. As we watched the forecast during race week, we grew a little nervous, as rain was predicted for Saturday, but we decided to stick with the original plan. We headed up to the Fort on Saturday afternoon, set up our tent, and wandered around the campground for a while before cooking a simple pre-race dinner of chicken and potatoes with a Clif bar for dessert.
The weather held off until we finished dinner, but shortly thereafter, thunder and lightning started, and soon the clouds opened up. J and I retreated to our tent and spent the rest of the evening playing Go Fish, because we are adults.
After a few rousing rounds of Go Fish, we called it a night and burrowed down into our sleeping bags. Neither of us slept great, thanks to the wind wiggling the tent and my typical nervous pre-race sleeplessness, so I was awake before my alarm went off at 5:30. The rain had stopped, but the morning was foggy and chilly. I’d been indecisive all week about wearing my compression socks during the race, but when I discovered how cold the morning was, I decided to wear them, and I’m glad I did.
While Jordan started some coffee, I ate a Clif bar and a banana, then headed up the trail to pick up my packet. I ended up in line behind the eventual women’s winner, whom the RD encouraged to try for a course record (spoiler alert: she got it). Packet pick-up was easy, and “swag bags” were simple — the race t-shirt, plus a toothbrush and toothpaste. I pinned my bib on and headed back to the campsite to drop my bag off and get a cup of coffee, then came back to stand in the porta-john line (because coffee).
As start time approached, the RD told everyone to line up at the start line, but he waited to start the race until the porta-johns were empty, which meant a 10-minute or so delay. Though I wasn’t still in the bathroom line, I appreciated this move — I’ve started more than one race late because I’m in the bathroom when the gun goes off. I thought waiting for everyone was a cool thing to do. Once the johns were empty, the RD gave us a few simple directions, and we were off into the foggy morning!
The first couple of miles were a little crowded, but at least that kept me from going out too fast, and soon, the crowd spread out — especially when we hit the first big climb. I did a lot of hiking (as did everyone around me): jogging when I could (or when there was a camera) and slowing to a hike when I needed to.
Just like the time I ran it in training, the hill seemed to go on for eternity, but eventually, we reached the turn-off and got in some glorious downhill. I actually got passed more on the downhill than the up; especially since it was so wet, I wasn’t too confident in my footing and didn’t want to take a race-ending tumble this early in the race.
Before I knew it, we hit the first aid station and headed back down toward the start and (eventual) finish. I made up some time on the long, smooth descent, and soon was cruising back past Jordan and our campsite. Originally, I planned to toss him my arm-warmers as I ran back through, but I was still chilly and wanted them on. In fact, I ended up wearing them for the whole race!
I passed back through the aid station/start line at mile 9 and headed out the other direction on the Blue Sky Trail. I hit a really low mental spot shortly thereafter, around mile 10 — probably the lowest I’ve ever been in a race, actually. That first big climb and descent left my legs pretty tired, and some foot pain I’d been dealing with for two weeks flared up pretty badly. I walked hills that weren’t even hills. I cursed myself for training for only 12 weeks, for thinking I could run a trail race when I live so far from trails. I wondered if I could even finish, or if I should just turn back, take a DNF, and go home.
But then, I thought about how a month before, I watched Logan run 100 miles — almost four times as much as I was running — on relatively limited training. Using her as inspiration (thanks, Logan!), I told myself to stop being an infant. I reminded myself that this was my choice, that I get to run trails. Eventually, I talked myself out of the grumpies and started enjoying myself again — and my foot stopped hurting. Although it bothered me before the race, and has a little since, I seriously think that at that point, it was all psychological.
Once I got out of my funk, I realized that I was now on the part of the trail that I’d trained on several times this summer, and that helped my confidence, too. Soon I passed another aid station and headed up to the Indian Summer loop… the loop that had messed with my head every time I ran it this summer. It’s not super steep — definitely runnable — but the trail winds around, and it makes you think the climb is almost finished… then you round another bend and up you go. Of course, what goes up comes down, so you also get a nice, long descent. On Indian Summer, I chatted with a nice older guy, also running his first trail race, and conversation made the time go faster. Seeing the leading men, already heading back the other direction, was less encouraging, but quite impressive. Those dudes are speedy.
After Indian Summer, I headed on out toward Devil’s Backbone and the technical, rocky trails there. I was thankful that I’d trained out there and gotten more comfortable with those rocks; they were tough as it was.
The course loops all around on the rocks, and before I knew it, I was headed back toward the finish, counting down the miles as I headed back around Indian Summer, past the final aid station, and up the final “big” climb. My legs were tired and hurting, but I felt pretty good, overall. Even though I was tired, I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the race. At this point, I knew I’d make it, and unless the wheels fell completely off, I’d meet my goal of going sub-five.
The last mile, however, was a struggle. The course is 26.7 miles, not 26.2 (which I knew going in; it’s on the website), and that last half mile seemed like a cruel joke. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I stopped to walk while I could see the finish line. Seriously. I had nothing left. Then a guy came up behind me and said, “Don’t walk now! Come on, come on!” That gave me the jolt I needed, and I ran with him to the finish, crossing the line in 4:50:41 and finishing in 10th place among women.
Jordan and our friend Shane, who lives in Fort Collins and came up to watch, cheered as I crossed the line, then hobbled with me (okay, I was the only one hobbling) to the food and drinks. Nothing appealed to me except ginger ale, which is weird because I don’t even like ginger ale, but my stomach was a little upset, and that stuff tasted heavenly. I chugged three cups of it. I knew I should eat something, too, but solid food sounded horrid. Instead, I took a shower at the campground while J and Shane took down our camp. Once I finally felt like eating, we headed back to the post-race bar-be-que, watched the awards, and stayed for the raffle (I won some Smartwool armwarmers)!
I think I’m hooked on trail races now, and I definitely want to do this one again. Aside from my mental breakdown at mile 10, I loved everything about this race. The course is pretty, and it was ridiculously well-marked. It’s also probably more runnable than I made it, which is part of why I’d like to run it again, with a little more training under my belt. The other runners were super friendly and supportive, even the wicked-fast dudes in front. The RD was well-organized, and everything from the start to the aid stations to the bar-be-que and awards ran smoothly. The aid station volunteers were fantastic, standing out there in the cold, misty morning, screaming and cheering for every runner as though each was winning the thing (one of my favorite parts of the whole race was coming through the last aid station and telling the volunteers “You’re the best!” and hearing the reply, “No, YOU’RE the best!”). And the raffle at the end was incredible — they gave away sweet prizes ranging from socks to Ultimate Direction hydration packs and Altra shoes.
This race was everything I hoped it would be. I proved to myself that I can run trail races, even living out here. I pushed myself to keep moving for more than an hour longer than I’d ever run before, and I finished something I wasn’t sure that I could. I’m proud of myself… and I can’t wait to get out there again.
School starts and I disappear from the Interwebs, apparently. Now that we’re past the craziness of the first couple of weeks, I should be able to get back to regular posting… at least as regular as I ever am. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of my training over the last two weeks. There’s a serious lack of pictures here, as the vast majority of my runs lately have been either on the treadmill or in the dark. The weather’s supposed to cool down this week, though, so I’ll switch back to post-work running in the daylight.
Monday, August 24
AM: 6.2 miles of “hills” on the treadmill. (Foreshadowing: Later that week, I learned that the “hills” I’ve been doing are inadequate).
PM: My usual strength workout at home
Tuesday, August 25
10.8 easy miles — half on the treadmill, half outside once it got light. Not bad for a school morning.
Wednesday, August 26
8 miles with Jaylin and two guys we know who also run. It was fun to run with a group for once.
Thursday, August 27
AM: 6 miles of short “hill” sprints
PM: Strength training again, a wimpier version of my normal routine because I was tired and cranky and figured anything was better than the nothing I felt like doing.
Friday, August 28
5 miles at recovery pace, followed by core work
Saturday, August 29
I made an extra-long venture up to the trails this week, running the first part of the race course, then back to the second part, which I’d trained on before. Fun fact: this elevation chart from the race’s website is not exaggerated.
Turns out, I should’ve been hitting the incline trainer at my gym instead of my little treadmill all this time. That first climb is a doozy. I had a 16:48 mile in there. But check out the views:
Even though I enjoy the scenery, I hope I can get a leetle stronger on the climb in the next couple of weeks.
I ran 19 miles, and it was tough, but I loved it!
Sunday, August 30
Rest day. I did some easy yoga for my tight hamstrings and hips.
Total: 55 miles
This week was a cutback week, the last until taper.
Monday, August 31
AM: 5 miles easy
PM: Strength, per usual
Tuesday, Sept. 1
5 miles of treadmill hills… on the incline trainer this time.
Wednesday, Sept. 2
Same as last week — 8.1 miles with the same little group.
Thursday, Sept. 3
AM: Short, fast hill intervals for 5 miles
PM: Strength training
Friday, Sept. 4
Rest day. I usually rest Sundays, but I was definitely not resting this Sunday, so I took Friday off instead.
Saturday, Sept. 5
5-mile easy run plus core work, shaking out the legs for…
Sunday, Sept. 6
I paced and helped crew Logan through part of her run at the Hideaway 100 in Winter Park. We ran about 12 miles in the wee hours together, though she had a gnarly blister that made our run more of a hike. I’m counting it as a run anyway. I’m hoping to get a post up about the pacer/crew experience later this week.
Total: 40.1 miles
Now I’ve got two more big weeks, two weeks of taper, and the race! Gulp.
I’m very tired, since I slept about an hour last night and another hour when I got home this morning, and that’s it, so I’m not writing reader questions or proofreading this. Please excuse any stupid typos (Students: Do as I say, not as I do), and tell me whatever you want to in the comments.
Last time I posted (two weeks ago), I wrote about how I was going to get better at blogging and that Spring Break would give me so much time to write. I’m a liar sometimes. Sorry. BUT I do actually have a post written and ready to go up Wednesday, and I have a REALLY EXCITING (so exciting it deserves capslock) giveaway coming up next week, so please don’t leave me.
Wednesday’s post is a catching-up-on-life kind of post, so tonight, I’ll catch you up on training the last two weeks. I got a little overzealous in clearing pictures off my phone, so I have nothing from last week. Oops.
AM: 45 minutes strength training
PM: 7.6 miles of fartleks
5.3 recovery miles, then some core work
Yasso 800s for a total of 10.5 miles. I did them on the treadmill, which is kind of cheating on Yassos because it sets the pace for you, but I had meetings in the evening, so I had to do a morning workout. I felt good, so that’s a good sign.
AM: 45 minutes strength. The only thing that got me to the gym was knowing that this was the last early-morning wake-up for over a week.
PM: 5.4 easy miles
5.2 easy miles to celebrate the start of spring break, then some core work
18-mile fast-finish long run. You probably know that fast-finish runs are my nemesis, but I nailed this one. I felt really, really good about it.
Rest. I did 30 minutes of yoga.
Total: 52 miles
I rolled out of bed before 7:00 because that’s sleeping in when you’re an old lady, and I hit the gym to lift. It was delightfully empty. Later, I ran 12.5 miles easy, in the middle of the day because it was spring break and I could.
9.1 miles easy and core work
J and I went to the Capitol to gripe to our legislators about students being overtested and underfunded, and then we headed up to Fort Collins for the State Science Fair (J had a kid competing. I had a desire to mooch his hotel room and play in Fort Collins). When we got there, I headed out for 10.2 miles with 7 at tempo — the best tempo run I’ve had this whole training cycle. It was encouraging, to say the least.
Funny story: I’d e-mailed Heidi and Logan, who both live in Fort Collins, to see if we could get together for a run. Heidi and I planned to meet at 5:30 on Thursday, so I got up all early, got ready… and waited in the lobby for quite a while. Turns out, Heidi meant 5:30 P.M. For whatever reason, I just assumed she meant A.M. So I got up early for no reason. Communicating is hard. I lifted in the highly mediocre hotel gym until it got light, then headed out for 9.1 miles, again enjoying the heck out of Fort Collins.
On Thursday, I bought trail shoes, so I was dying to try them out on Friday. Logan and Heidi had suggested a certain natural area, so I went out there. I’d run/hiked those trails a bunch of times in college, and had no idea they were part of that natural area. I am smart. I’m also not in good trail shape. It was hard, and I was secretly glad that neither of the other gals could meet me, because I would’ve been quite embarrassed by my lack of trail fitness. Funny how I can run 70 miles a week and still feel out of shape. But look, pretty.
I turned around once I hit Horsetooth Reservoir. So many swims I took here (where you’re not supposed to swim) back in the day.
I went 8.5 miles, and decided that after this marathon, I’m doing hill repeats like crazy so that I can at least kind-of handle hills next time I make it to a trail.
As tempted as I was to run more trails, I didn’t think my flatlander legs were ready for a long run on them — especially since I’m three weeks out from a flat road race. So I headed back to the bike paths for 22 miles. It felt harder than usual, but I enjoyed myself as I ran through my old stomping grounds.
45 minutes of yoga, then some foam rolling.
Total: 71.4 miles
Now, I’m technically tapering, though this week will actually probably be higher mileage than the week before last. Three weeks ’til race day! And… back to work tomorrow. I have a hunch that these last few weeks of school are going to FLY.
Anybody have any races/events coming up?
What activity are you not in shape for? I can’t even imagine how I’d do swimming…