Monday, June 22, 2009

the bird ridge race...

officially known as the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb, occurred yesterday. there were roughly 250 racers who took off in three waves. the first wave was made up of competitive racers who expected to finish in under 50 minutes. the second wave was for those who thought they would finish in 45-65 minutes. the third wave was for the youth racers who would be racing to the halfway point (a new addition to the race this year) and for all other racers who were out to run at whatever speed they liked.

being my first attempt at this race i situated myself near the front of the second wave, taking off 5 minutes after the first wave. going into the race i had no idea about what kind of time to expect. i've only been to the very top of the ridge (the race's end) once (in the winter) but i'm pretty familiar with the lower trail. i set my sights on 1-3 hours. i was pretty certain i would fall within this time frame.

i was able to stay near the front of the pack for the first 25 minutes or so but began slowing down after that. about 40 minutes in there was only one guy directly in front of me and a woman about 80 yards behind me. this became my race: to pass the guy in front of me and not let the woman behind pass. a small world, but a manageable one.

the weather was cold; raining and blowing on the ridge. that sort of weather is able to isolate a person even when other runners are in sight. i focused on one steep step at a time, head down, pushing into the wind that pushed back against my right side and drove frozen rain straight through my apparel and into my skin. it was especially easy to fall into the trance while on sections of the open ridge where the wind steadily howled, pulling at my number and causing the windshirts of racers ahead of me to flap loudly and violently. i tried my best to ignore the cold until i had the odd sensation of losing feeling in my chest. it was strange but from above my stomach to below my neck i couldn't feel anything except the tightness of my breath.

at about 50 minutes in i began to see the race leaders on their way down. typically the winners finish in around 40 minutes or so and as they began to trickle by some gave encouraging words, others a smile, and still others passed with arms wrapped tightly around themselves and glassy stares. the cold had taken it's toll on some runners. my brother-in-law reported that his time was "terrible" as he passed me on his way down. i asked what was up and as his voice blended into the wind behind me all i heard was something about the cold.

i turned my focus ahead and felt strong as the trail's angle started to lessen. i by no means have any kind of illusion that i will be competitive in these races. i do it for the sole purpose that i want to see what my body and mind are capable of. that, and the camaraderie of the trail running community. right before the false summit a down climbing racer encouraged "right over this this rise it flattens out and you can jog again." unless you've been power hiking uphill for almost an hour you may not realize how much of an encouragement that is. at this point, any leg movement other than the single leg squats you've been doing is welcomed. it did 'flatten', meaning become less vertical than it was, and i was able to air out my legs a bit.

i had passed the guy that was in front of me on a similar short section several minutes ago and no was focused on an older woman in front of me that had passed me much earlier in the race on a steeper section. i wasn't going to pass her in these last 100 yards or so to the endpoint, that's just bad form, but i did want to catch her. i did in the last short climb and we finished roughly together with a time of 1:08 something...

the official results will be posted here at some point.

i took a shot of gu. guzzled a bit of water that someone offered at the top as i hadn't brought any, and began the hike down. i sipped on a can of Coors Light that had been handed to me at the summit with a declaration of "Happy Solstice!" oh yeah, this is not only Father's Day but also the longest day of the year was my thought as i had received it. heading down i now did my part to encourage the racers still coming up: staying out of their way and shouting words to spur them on. i poured out the remainder of the beer and put the crushed can in my pocket. this wasn't because i didn't want it but because i couldn't really feel my fingers. well, i could feel them but they felt like frozen hot dogs. i attempted to re-warm them and continued down. the rest of the way down was uneventful, just a slow slog on tired legs.

overall the race was exactly what i had imagined going into it. on the way up it hurt terribly, upon finishing there was that sense of elation, and then coming down i wished it would end quickly. though it wasn't the sunny version of the race i envisioned, it was just as well. another AK experience recorded in my mind and body.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

rabbit lake

the clouds hung low over the peaks of the front range of the Chugach, as my trusty trail running companion and i headed back towards Rabbit Lake for a training run. because of the weather there was one thing i knew for sure, i wouldn't be overheated, but there were other issues in my mind as i began down the trail.

it has been a busy couple of weeks and this was my first serious run since o'malley. i knew that i would still be able to run the 8 miles to Rabbit Lake and back, but didn't know how i would feel afterward. i am also nursing a pulled leg muscle that throbbed with every step. but the weather was great for running and i quickly settled into a groove on the initial 2 mile climb.

as we leveled off the view of the suicide peaks came into sight. typically this is where one would get a view of the tops of these impressive peaks, but not today. just a snowy headwall and the far-off view of the last rise one climbs before dropping down to the lake.
it is a gradual, rocky uphill trail from the halfway point, and we arrived at the lake in under an hour. there was one tent on the northern shore and the lake was as beautiful as always. i've visited the lake in sun, wind, rain, and snow and it always impresses me with it's alpine beauty.

we only stuck around long enough to eat a granola bar and snap a picture, it was a 'training' run after all. bouncing back down the trail was much easier as it is all slightly downhill on the way out. we passed a couple of hikers on the way and exchanged pleasantries. it's always refreshing to me that the further you are back on a trail, or the rougher the country, the nicer the people are that you encounter. i venture that if you saw the same people in the grocery store you'd get the same responses.

the weather held on the way out, but i could see sun over parts of anchorage. we made it back to the car in 1:41. a decent time considering i thought it might take 3 hours. another great day mucking about in the Alaskan frontcountry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Spencer Loop

last night i went on a bike ride. it had been raining lightly and i had been putting off a run but finally convinced myself to get out of the house at about 9pm. had my sights set on Spencer Loop.

Spencer Loop was one time (years ago) rated as one of the top ten trails in some mountain bike publication. i wonder if the person who wrote the article ever rode the trail. it is a great trail if you like double track with long steep climbs and short non-technical descents. i've ridden on parts of Spencer Loop in the past, but this was my first time riding the entire loop. it was the workout i expected.

in fact, even the dog got a workout. he has been 'on loan' recently as we have farmed him out to friends who want a companion on their various runs. he had been up Bird Ridge earlier in the day so a 13 mile bike rode really wore him out.

all in all it was a good outing in spite of the rain, which had gone from a slight drizzle at the beginning of the ride to a substantial soaking by the end. good times.