Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hiking in the Desolation Wilderness - Fallen Leaf to Lake Aloha - 13 miles

Sienna recommended a weekend hike for us which was awesome. It started at Fallen Leaf Lake on the edge of the Desolation Wilderness and climbed to Lake Aloha (at 8,000ft+).

A waterfall on the way to Lily Lake near the start of the hike at Glen Alpine Spring.

We plodded on and up and after some time came upon Susie Lake, which was a nice lunch spot. The trail at this point is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) a famous long distance trail. This was a wonderful spot for lunch and the lake looked quite inviting for swimming but just a little cold - the big island in the middle was also pretty tempting!

Desolation Wilderness, I wonder why...

Pretty flowers though...

Plodding on and up some more, we came upon what looked like something from Lord of the Rings, a lake enclosed by mountains which had a little path to let you skirt the perimeter. It felt very like the lake outside the entrance to the Mines of Moria - we half expected a giant tenticled beast to pop out of the lake and drag us to our doom.


High up we found quite a bit of late season snow so I had to have a go at my 2nd ever snow angel...

We finally made it to Lake Aloha but didn't get any pictures because we had the sudden realisation that we were 6 miles in to the hike and there was not much daylight left, though a long way to go (another 6 miles). Julie said she was ok to run a while so we tightened down our packs and ran. We ran the length of Lake Aloha and some (now on the Rubicon Trail), probably 3 miles in all. After that the trail got tricky, a little too tricky to run on but the 3 miles were useful.

As the sun lowered Mosquitoes became another reason to run. They loved me but not Julie so much. I ended up with a lot of bites (left leg - 18; right leg - 15; left shoulder ~15; right shoulder ~15; not to mention face, hands, arms, etc.) and Julie got some too (5 total). On reflection, it was pretty silly to go there without Mossie spray.

The way back was mosquito heavy and the path became a little vague and a lot overgrown in places, and steeply downwards. It had compensations though, here's a double rainbow we saw...

In the gathering gloom, in a rare moment of visibility from our overgrown steep descent we spied a nice site - Lily Lake (left), Fallen Leaf (centre) and Lake Tahoe behind.

And finally, the sunset...

Well, not quite finally. We made it to South Lake by 9.30pm, which it turned out was early enough to eat Thai food at SalaThai - very nice indeed. After last week's late night Denny's experience it was very welcome. If there is a 40 minute wait for food at Denny's you know there is nothing else open!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sam Roby's Birthday - 2

Sam was 2 today. Scott and Amy invited us to the party with about 60 others. On arrival we secretly dumped presents in the illegal present dumping zone (the invite specifically said 'no presents').

A pretty chilled out affair with cake and ice cream and giant frizbees (which worked well in the wind), giant balls, Elmo hats, chickens and all sorts of things. Sam pretty chilled out all day.

I thought Sam would be monopolised by adults the whole day but he wasn't at all. Which was very fun as usual. He especially liked feeding the chickens it seemed.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weight lifting and Richard Feynman

I've just finished reading 'Surely you're joking Mr Feynman' and thoroughly enjoyed it. Feynman was Nobel prize winning physicist and famously also a bongo drums player. Actually, he did much more than that and the book is about his life and antics. As well as being one of the big cheeses at los alamos during the development of the atomic bomb he had a certain way about him. Actually back then he was a young man and not really one of the very big cheeses, though they used to talk to him because he would say what he thought, not what he was supposed to say due to his rank. A smart guy who threw himself into all sorts of things, even becoming an artist later on and having his own exhibition. He always seemed to strive for excellence and always went pushed the limits.

So, today I did the same. I recently learned from multiple sources (but not from Pete) that my friend Pete was once, actually twice, the Nevada state weight lifting champion. Rumours had it that he could bench press his body weight anywhere from 30 to 1,000 times (I think it is closer to 30 times). He confided that he once bench pressed 400lbs, kinda hard to believe.

So, who better to introduce me to weight lifting?! After work we hit the gym and he showed me just a couple of exercises. To begin with even lifting the bar on its own seemed to strain my lung/shoulder (it's 45lbs) but we changed to a similar exercise using bells and bench pressed that way. I asked Pete whether the trick was heavy weights and low repetitions but he smiled and told me his secret was heavy weights and high repetitions. I did a bench press equivalent with bells weighing about 35lbs each, 5 times per set and 5 sets. Pretty tough. I then did flys with about 20lbs in each arm; and then bench press sitting at an angle, with only 65lbs (plenty). Overall excellent. Perhaps more daunting is the need to drink milk afterwards to help the muscles rebuild.

I'm not sure I can spare the requisite 5 hours a week to do this but it's fun to know how to do it a bit. Sienna is doing a bit too, though slightly different exercises i think.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Diamond Valley Road Race - 3rd place

I showed up at the race with my mind set on winning. I was a little in awe of the strength of the competition in the C group as I signed up - there were some excellent riders out there. That's ok though, every race is different and things are more interesting with a tough mixed bunch on the starting line.

We set off and maintained the usual reasonable pace from the start, in fact I led off for a while. Down the Carson River road and things sped up. People came past me then but that was fine, my main goal was to relax and conserve early on.

On the first climb things got tough. I remembered how hard these climbs were and the mind always starts playing tricks on you as you look around the field at people who seem to be finding it easier than it feels to you. First climb out of the way and the group stayed together. The second climb began to separate people a little more and I got a little worried as I started to get dropped. Jeff B pulled a stunt and blasted past us all up the climb but then hung back and waited for the pack. A strong mental victory for Jeff though - I thought he was going to race to the end solo from there (another 16 miles). The group often seems to have a little relax at the top of the climb so I gave it some then and caught up. It's not a nice feeling to have to race to catch up though, it makes everyone else seem super strong.

We got a clumsy paceline working into the wind on the back 5 miles and polished it off without too much trouble. Both Robert and Jeff worked far too hard on the paceline. Jeff's game is hard to read but Robert was clearly tired on the first lap. I remembered the same situation on my first race as I was panting for breath and looking around at everyone else looking relaxed. I think Robert lost the race here.

As the second lap came around I was hanging out near the back of the pack. The climb came around and I attacked it. The group was getting tired now and starting to split. Onto the second climb and more splitting off. I crested the summit 4th. I could clearly see one guy out ahead perhaps 100 yards, and then a team of two starting to work to catch him, about 30 yards ahead of me. Seeing one of the two was Andrew H I was even more keen to catch them - Andrew is a strong and wise rider and as a group of 3 we could push on and should catch the leader. I ceased the moment and worked hard to catch the pair. I timed it just right and pulled in behind them for a little rest before taking my turn at the front.

Working together as a 3 for 4 miles was fun. We reeled in the guy in front a little and managed to stay ahead of Jeff who must only have been 50 yards behind but it seemed like a clear lead for us. We didn't work that well as a team which was partly my fault, when I overtake I speed up too much and break the group up. I was so keen to ride the front guy down that I wanted us to work faster. Perhaps I should have tried to go it alone but that's easy to say in hindsight - we were working hard. One of the 3 of us was a little weaker too so he began to slip a little and take extra rest but I was glad he was still working with us.

As we neared the line a kind of gentleman's agreement saw our pack split and race on our own for the line. Andrew took off and timed a good spurt of speed to get an edge on us. I worked hard to follow and was catching quite well. I dropped my companion pretty convincingly on the final climb past the hill but didnt have enough left to get Andrew, and similarly he didn't quite catch the leader.

All in all though, a very fun race and 3rd place puts me at the top of the Alta Alpina leaderboard for the season in the C category - COOL!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Added photos to Donner Tri post

I've added a few photos from the Donner Triathlon event below.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Perfect Birthday

What an awesome day! I really can't imagine a better birthday party, apart from by adding all the other people I wished could have been there. If I had $10 million in the bank I would be dreaming about how to have a birthday this good.

I should say a huge thanks to those that came out and played on the beach and the others who inspired and advised, sent cookies (on a plate with 'Cheers' on it), sent presents, cards and well wishes.

Julie came over bringing a blueberry buckle cake she'd made for breakfast, which we accompanied with PG Tips tea that Carol, the English nurse at work, had given me. We then prepared the party food, consisting of:
- cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks arranged porcupine style into half a grapefruit;
- cheese and silverskin onions on sticks;
- olives (with pits in);
- cucumber sandwiches (which went down surprisingly well).

We headed up and over the mountain pass (Kingsbury 7,300ft) and then down to Nevada Beach (6,300ft). It's a bit of a joke about English weather that it can rain unpredictably even in July, so it was with no small amusement that I watched the rain coming down as we went up Kingsbury.

We arrived a little after 2 o'clock due to some parking problems but quickly put up the tents and found some folks. By this stage the sand was too hot to walk on for more than about 10 seconds.

Here we have Pete, Scott S, Sienna, Chris and Ron S, Kathy W, Mark & Teresa T with Kelly and Eric...

I bought a Volleyball net and Bocce (Boule/Ptonk?) at Target yesterday. We put the net up early on but didn't do anything with it for a while. Dave and co bought me a giant frisbee for my birthday/party so we played with that a bit, then a bit of bocce, and some sitting around eating and drinking all quite mellow. I even dragged all my presents out and opened them all up. I was told that custom in the US is for the person opening the presents to read all the cards aloud. The card from Hector (Fred's dog) was perhaps the most popular but they were all great. From Mum and Fred I got some great books by the Dalai Lama which we tested on Buster (Joe and Michelle's dog). He was pretty interested in the two books on happiness but found the one on forgiveness to be totally put downable (I think he was thinking about not forgiving the cats about then). Other presents included socks with really cool patterns underneath (I was wondering how to display the pattern but they work really well with my Berkenstocks). Also pants (US Eng: Underwear), a t-shirt from my swimming club back home, a spinning thing and a kite and Johnathon Livingston Seagull, and extra juggling balls. All pretty useful things to have at the beach. Dad got me this year's Death Ride t-shirt too (in addition to a new camelbak). Amy and Scott got me a t-shirt too, with London on it (I wonder where from) and Amy made some cookies too and promised a dinner of my choice!! Chris W got me a massively loaded starbucks gift card. I was quite embarrassed but he was pleased that I got him connected with some web design work, so it was thanks for that (I thought 1 Chai Latte and appropriate finders fee but he got me quite a few more than that). Michelle and Joe got me some home made jam (US Eng: Jelly) made by a "stubborn frenchman" (Michelle's Dad I think). This reminded me of jam making things we used to do at my Gran's house about this time of year with the greengages (see picture below). Buying a cake also reminded me of my Gran on my birthday, the first one without her around. Homemade cake was always an important part of birthdays and it was nice, and sad as well, to remember back.

The presents (expressly forbidden on the invite) and sitting around drinking and relaxing were good fun, but there came a time when the Baywatch moment had to begin and we got up to play beach volleyball. Surprisingly, everyone gravitated towards the pitch together and nobody needed extra urging (though some desperately needed a practice session - thank goodness Sienna arranged that).

Here we have Joe, Marisa, Michelle, Dave, Julie, Chris, Pete, Sienna, Scott.

To say these guys were formidable would be an understatement. On the field we had a power yoga instructor, an ex-pro skier, a scholarship winning tennis player, a karate black belt and on top of that, some naturally athletic people without neat sound bite accolades but not lacking in skill or commitment. Pete had the spring of tigger and the commitment of Beckham. And then there was the all around athletic machine that is Marisa. When Marisa hit the ball you could see her whole body move into the shot, starting from the core and then careful alignment of the arms for perfect directional contact - textbook! We were glad when we stopped her serve. Chris was none too shabby either. The couples who played on the same teams worked pretty well together too (impressive).

We played with scant regard for the score (I think Julie knew the score the whole time) amongst ourselves. Everyone seemed to quickly find their own style with some more intimidating than others (Marisa being near the top of the list). Dave's tennis skills showed. Sienna's power was incredible but it took a while to direct it towards inbounds, though by the end of the day she was as focused as a jedi princess (without the coiled hair bunches). Pete soon became 'Deep Court Pete' though he seemed to spring from anywhere to where the ball was most of the time. Julie became 'The Annihilator' which seemed to go with the Karate black belt. I fumbled the ball so much that I think my name should have been that, but it was my birthday so any time I even hit the ball I got encouragement - well everyone did but I was so bad I got a lot of it!

Sienna, me and Michelle... (photo by Kathy)

Julie, Joe, Chris and of course, Marisa... (photo by Kathy)

Buster looks on, probably really looking at the food... (photo by Kathy)

Joe, Julie and me... (photo by Kathy)

After a while we reluctantly stopped for a bit of a break and to take on some fluids. While we were stopped a few mexican guys, who were on the beach with their families, asked if we'd like to play against them (one of them had helped us set up the net earlier). They seemed like really nice folks but potentially deadly volleyball players (which a couple of them were). They came out and drew proper lines on the court and our top 6 lined up against theirs and we got on with it. The skill level took and upturn at this stage. I didn't make the squad to begin with (luckily) so took a few action shots instead. It was great to watch. They suggested early on that the losing team could go for a swim in the lake, so we played for the opportunity to not have to get cold (Lake Tahoe stays pretty chilly but wasn't too bad).

One of our dangerous opponents serving. After 3 excellent serves he would put one in the net, which I suspect was deliberate so we made a game of it.

Julie getting up to knock one back...

Deep Court Pete at the front of the court for a change, poised like a coiled spring for the return...

Scott S gets up there...

Julie busy annihilating, team mates poised...

The kids came over to play. Extremely polite and well mannered kids. There were loads of crisps (chips) and cookies all over the place and they didn't take any until offered. Their Mum's thought it quite funny that I checked with them before filling the kids full of chips and sweets. Very nice kids, here with Kathy and Michelle (with Joe and Buster the dog obscured).

Chris in the air, Marisa (far right) looking poised and intimidating (look at the textbook arms) and the rest of the team looking pretty focused.

Oh dear, he's serving again...

We kept having just one more game until it got dark, and then the losing team had to swim. So, we made good on our part of the bargain but as a yoga class decided hand stands in the water were the appropriate way to go. Here's Pete holding the pose, and my feet from me not holding the pose.

A more perfect birthday is hard to imagine. I count myself very lucky indeed to have spent it in such a beautiful place, but more importantly, with such a nice bunch of people.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dave and Kathy got a new car

Dave and Kathy got a new car - wow!

He took me for a spin, showed me how to turn off all the safety features like traction control, and how to turn on all the dangerous features, like Sport mode.

Then he even let me have a go of it (with all the appropriate options set).

It's a very nice looking machine and sounds great too.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bike Racing Fernley Raceway - "Racing's Field of Dreams"

Tonight was the inter-club challenge with the Reno Wheelmen. People were disappointed that we couldn't race along Franktown Rd in Carson, which is lovely road but the Fernley Raceway was quite something else.


Fernley is quite a drive for most of us, about an hour and a half but the track is worth every bit of trouble getting there. When I arrived I was surprised to see so many Alta Alpina shirts and my regular racing buddies had made it out there. Great stuff to have so many keen club members like this.

A couple of the guys were chatting. One had promised 80 degree heat for the event, so the actual 98 degree heat with humidity was a bit much, but at least it had an '8' in it, said one.

A nice spot for the race director...

We headed out for a warm-up lap on this 4 mile race track. I almost had to stop myself making stupid motorcycle noises as I leaned into the corners. Being on a race track with no other traffic but bikes was awesome.

The 4 mile circuit (marked 1)...

Apart from the delightful corners, the one notable feature of the circuit was a big climb up around 3 turns. Getting the line right on the climb was tricky. Going wide meant you had further to ride but the gradient was easier - that was my favourite. Another critical feature was a very fast descent (40mph perhaps) into a sharp turn and a slightly dodgey road surface beyond. We practiced this a couple of times before the race but it played differently at full race speed.

The group C riders lined up about 6.15, perhaps 25-30 of us, ready for 4 laps. I coughed my way through the race briefing with my new found asthma (the Wheelmen must've not been too worried about racing me). Pretty soon we were off to a fairly gradual start, but consistently getting faster. By the time we hit the first climb we were moving and most people hauled themselves up it on fresh legs but even then the pack started to spread out. Some of the heavier riders in particular suffer on the big climbs but often make it up on the downhill and the flat by keeping the momentum going.

I was quite near the front of the pack at the end of the first climb but began to lose some ground on the fast corners and descents. Near the end of the first lap I could see a pack of 8 riders at the front, then a few more behind them. I coughed my way around much of the first lap before the chest calmed down and let me just ride.

At times I made an effort to catch the odd rider or two in front and draft a little. Rick was doing similar so we rode together for a bit. I'm not sure where we separated but perhaps on the second big climb.

After the second lap the odd rider ahead seemed to slack off a bit. This was very motivating because I got a mental boast from gaining on them, and then a little draft from sitting on their tail. Then I pulled ahead to take my turn for a bit. Sometimes I rode with another rider for a while but then looked back to see they had dropped back.

A one point I reeled in an Alta Alpina jersey. The guy was looking a little tired from hanging with the front runners but I shouted a bit of encouragement and we rode together for a while, taking turns at the front. He led me down the steepest, fastest corner with a brilliant line. I came off the hill so fast that I managed to shoot right past him and gain a lot of ground on the riders ahead.

By the end of the third lap I could see the front pack of 4 riders, and then another 2 riders following. I could hardly believe it but I was reeling in these two, one was Andrew H and the other was a Wheelman. I was starting to think, if I get past those two I'll get some real points for a 5th place. I was also starting to think that I'd be pretty impressed with 7th place given the quality of the people I was ahead of. Perhaps that was the wrong focus for my brain.

I finally caught them up just before the big climb on the final lap. I stayed with them for 2/3rds of the climb but then made a poor gear choice and was pooped and they managed to get a lead on me and then extend it, descending and cornering better than me and being close enough to draft off each other. I'm sure they rode the last part of the 4th lap much quicker than they had the 3rd because that's where I made up so much ground on them before.

I got over the line perhaps 20 or 30 seconds behind them with a time of something like 43:51. Pretty soon the coughing fit kicked in for 5 minutes or so but the tightness in the chest had relented a bit.

A race for the line...

UK Ironman Pike got pipped to the post but was philosophical about it...

Overall a good race for me. The Wheelmen are a tough crowd. The last time I raced with them was in a Crit and I was 13th. 7th place this time seems much more respectable, though I am left wondering how I could have raced differently to get that 5th place, or who knows, even win it.

As usual, I'm left feeling that cycling is a complex sport and I have a lot to learn but every race I learn a bit more. This time one of the big lessons was in cornering from one of the Alta Alpina guys.

Fernley is a totally awesome place to race bikes - the Wheelmen did great to get the track for the event. I hope I get the chance to race there again one day, despite the hill!

Weather - smokey

Very strange weather today. The whole valley seems to be filled with smoke and it's unusually humid too. It doesn't smell like smoke and it's hanging around like clouds but it sure looks like smoke. It's a huge area to be filled with smoke, quite unbelievable. I understand there are some wild fires in Walker and I heard about one in Carson too.

It certainly is not helping my asthma.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Donner Lake Triathlon - Olympic Distance - 1.5km Swim; 40km Bike; 10km Run

Awoke at 5.30am in my tent at Granite Flats up near the race. I had not been molested by bears (my bear spray was in reserve) but the traffic on the 89 was right outside my tent. It was like camping next to a freeway but it served its purpose and I was rested enough.

Unfortunately, when I breathed in fully I noticed a pain in the centre of my chest. My cold had clearly not completely left me. On a normal day I might have decided rest was a better option than racing, but having signed up the day before for $124 I wasn't about to miss the race. Though, the thought of jumping in Donner Lake at 7.35am did give me another reason to wish for the wimp out clause.

I kicked myself into gear and got my tent down. I thought I was going to miss the camping attendant and fail to pay my $15 but he was there, 5.40am, ready to collect cash. Very diligent.

My new racing strategy involves doing whatever I normally do for breakfast on race day. I couldn't logistically manage cereal (too hot for the milk to keep) but I managed tea at mac donalds (disappointing service and tea both). I drove on towards the west of Donner Lake with some semblance of my regular routine, tea, and a chelsea bun with butter icing (not the best choice).

I parked up over a mile from the start, because there was hardly anywhere to park near the start, and joined the parade of triathletes on their bikes with the rest of their gear in rucksacks. I was the only one carrying tea :-)

I headed for the transition area to set out my gear, got my number written on my arms and legs and my age on my calf (useful for figuring out who is racing who in the race). I found a slot for my bike, laid out my gear and put up the flag from my Bob Trailer. People were quite jealous, and some quite grateful, for the extra signpost for finding my bike amid the hundreds of other bikes parked up.

Pretty soon I donned my brand new ProMotion wetsuit, which I'd only ever tried in the lake the night before the race, and headed for the start with the x44 other orange caps (35-39 year olds).

Count the buoys, there are 3 in the picture - the far distant one was part of the course!

The race started under a balloon arch within the water, so there was no shock of running from dry to cold to getting going. The water was actually quite pleasant and the wetsuit very buoyant indeed and very nice to swim in. We watched the red caps head out at 7.30am (30-34 year olds) and then it was our turn, under starters orders and then off. Perhaps the funniest shoal of any kind to be seen swimming in Donner Lake (since last year's event!). Things were pretty crowded at first but people were not too aggressive, just quite confused I think. It's not easy for a pool swimmer to suddenly be left without lanes painted on the floor to follow. I didn't quite know how to proceed so I just swam. Sometimes I managed to keep an eye on someone else to my side, and I cruised along next to them for a while. I tried to "spot" the way ahead but the sun was just coming up on the east side of the lake, right in our eyes, and it was pretty hard to see anything. I could sometimes see a big yellow buoy out there but struggled to navigate a straight line to it. I seemed to spend more time nearer to the kayakers who were out there at the boundary to watch over us.

The race was a big rectangle and the first side of it seemed about 10 miles out there. It took ages to get to it. My race nerves were unsettling me a bit but I found my swim rhythm a couple of times. Things quietened down at the turn but a guy swam over me a couple of times. I couldn't figure out if he was trying to unsettle me (it worked!) or was just as disorientated and confused as me (probably the latter).

Pretty much the whole way I had only a vague notion of direction and no notion at all of how I was doing compared to the rest of my shoal. On the second turn some yellow caps started to appear amongst us. A bad sign - they had set out 5 minutes behind us and had managed to catch up. There were some reds among us too but that was small comfort.

I was glad indeed to swim up the beach until my arms touched sand before hauling myself out of the water and running to transition. I pulled off the top of my wetsuit as I ran as I've seen the experts do. I then plomped myself onto my towel and tried to get the wetsuit off my legs. The left leg came off reluctantly and frustratingly slowly but the right was well stuck. When i eventually got it off I remembered the sensor strapped to my ankle and realized that had not helped me much. My Bently shirt dropped on fine, I fumbled with my socks but pretty soon was on my way pushing my bike out. Then I went back for my race number - D'Ohh. Then I went out to the road with my bike.

The bike leg was much nicer for me. It started with a 3.5 mile climb which went pretty slowly but after the Death Ride and my various Alta Alpina antics, this wasn't too hard. I managed to pull hard up the hill and take a few prisoners along the way. Mind games being an essential aspect I worked hard to pass people whilst looking relaxed and smiling, particularly those out of the saddle standing on the pedals.

After making the big climb there were a series of smaller climbs, nothing much flat. When people came past me I took the opportunity to tag along. You can't draft in triathlon but you can get a mental pull from keeping someone in sight. At one point a fairly large group came through, some of whom were 50 (ages written on backs of legs helped), and I joined the fun. They were awesome to ride with and very quick indeed.

Coming back was nicer and descending the 3.5 miles down to the start was a nice rest for the legs. I struggled to pass a guy in front but was quite chilled out about it. Towards the end someone hollered at me to get out of the way, which seemed unnecessary and annoyed me somewhat. During the race I shouted encouragement at most people who overtook me, it's part of the fun and sometimes it helps to get encouragement. Some people seem to take it all a bit too seriously like mr shouting person. Perhaps it was race adrenaline, totally forgivable I'm sure.

Event photos from Brightroom.com...

Coming down to transition we had to foot down stop (to make sure we slowed down) or face a disqualification (DQ). After the foot down we were encouraged to ride to the transition area across sandy, grassy mess - pretty tricky on narrow tyres. I would rather have run.

This transition went better. I racked the bike, got my running shoes on, grabbed my hat and Forerunner GPS and legged it.

Pretty soon I caught up to Mr shouty from the bike leg and had the opportunity to express my dissatisfaction at his vocalization. Somewhat surprisingly he was a pretty slow runner so it was with some pleasure that I cruised past him. That was the only part of the run that felt like a cruise, most of it felt pretty heavy legged to me. I employed my usual strategy of trying to catch people in front whilst seeking someone running a little faster than me, so I could get paced in.

After what seemed like forever I past the 1km marker. Wow I felt tired and 9 more of those to go. Only 9 I told myself, I'd done a tenth of it. As we went on there was a 45 year old guy in front pacing well so I kept him in my sights. Nearing a water station his leg gave quite suddenly. I asked him if he was ok but his face said it all, his race was over for the day. I felt pretty sad for him, it's a long way to get to not finish. A couple of other folks stopped to pee. I was pretty envious of that but wasn't prepared to waste seconds that way! So I soldiered on.

By the 3rd km marker we had already run the length of the lake. I wondered what kind of extra punishment they had built into the course to take us to the full 10km. Annoyingly the tree cover was interfering with my GPS so mostly it sat there with it's usual mindless question "Weak Signal - OK?". I was ready to take it off and throw it in response.

This was a hard run but at least now we were on a trail, which I tried to tell myself was pleasant even though everything about the run was hard. The water stations on the race were pleasantly staffed and plentiful but have both gatorade and water and I always want just water when I run - it was hard to find out who had what. I made a 'W' with my fingers as I approached the water station but nobody understood (once I had to wait to get water because things were so confused).

At around 3.5 km I caught up to someone I was racing (he was 36) but was stunned to see him walking so much whilst drinking. I urged him not to give up a place to easily and he was soon running again. I liked his pace so he was a good person to follow. We passed a couple of others in our agegroup too, who looked very worse for wear.

At around 4 km there was a big hill. By now people were walking and up that bloody great hill, and I could do nothing different. My new competition also walked a bit so I kept him in sight. Someone shouted that this was the only hill and it was downhill all the way afterwards. That lifted my spirits for a while, until I came to the next hill.

It was about this time when it was feeling like the longest 10km race I had ever come across. I must be really tired. I was starting to suspect that the KM markers were really mile markers. I fiddled with my all but useless GPS only to discover that there were 2 MILES left. They WERE mile markers and I was over halfway done. Thank goodness!

I was still trying to make the best 'W' I could with my fingers as I approached another water station. This time the kid caught on and promptly threw a whole cup of water over me, which he explained, is what he thought I wanted. I managed to articulate, 'I wanted a drink', which was the cause of some amusement. Apparently his Dad then said that this was the 6 mile point. A quarter of a mile later I saw the REAL 6 mile point, with some disillusionment. I knew the race was an overdistance 10km too, so it was hard to predict how far the end was (I thought it would never come).

By now my friend was still in sight but sometimes I was distractedly losing him. We easily past a young guy (24) who was flagging and I shouted "Keep it strong buddy" (someone said the same to me in a previous race). The difference in him was marked. He really woke up and picked up his pace a lot - he even came to thank me after the race.

I was tired by now but wasn't going to let this guy beat me, at least, I didn't want to, whether I could do anything was doubtful. I narrowed the gap using some of what Terry had been teaching me - I ran pick up drills. Between one tree and another a little further on, I picked up the pace. Then rested. Then picked it up again for another section. I managed to stay with this guy and close a little doing that.

We then turned a corner and I saw that delightful word, "Finish". Always one for a sprint finish I closed the gap on my nemesis, coming up directly behind him so he wouldn't see me readily; then I turned on the sprint and flew past him. I continued pushing it all the way to the line expecting him to be breathing down my neck. I crossed the line without seeing him, turned around, and he wasn't there. Slightly disappointing but I guess he wasn't a sprinter! So, I gained 1 place in the closing minute which was quite satisfying.

I got my medal, drink and then sat down in the shade. I could do nothing but sit down. I noticed my tight chest was still tight. That was quite a surprise. I wandered in for the free lunch (which was excellent) but before I ate I signed up for a sports massage. They had about 10 massage tables set up, so I decided that today was the day for my debut massage. I ate lunch and did yoga while I waited and then had the massage. It was pretty painful and pain relieving and oddly and I had no lower back pain after the race. So, I was impressed and would definitely try it again. He seemed very good at focusing on the pain points and tight muscles and SLAMMING that problem out of existence. Cool.

The medical tent was quiet so I wandered in to ask about my tight chest. I've had a collapsed lung once and the word 'pneumothorax' was sufficient to get the Dr to have a listen. It didn't feel to me like a "pneumo" but it felt strangely tight. The Dr said my lung capacity sounded pretty diminished throughout. I hadn't felt pain during the race but I guess this lung problem hadn't helped much. He figured my cold had brought on some Asthma, which I get sometimes in the Hayfever season, so that made sense.

I planned to go to work after the race but was so tired that I ended up pulling my car over and sleeping on the drive back. After the Death Ride's 11h30 effort, a mere 2h50 seemed a bit light; but I was clearly pretty tired. Perhaps too from trying to digest the huge amount of carb loading I had undertaken!

And so the results of the Donner Lake Triathlon for bib number 577.

Time: 2:50:49
Overall in Agegroup Male 35-39): 19th (of 45 entrants)
Overall Place: 127 (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 104 (of 272)

Swim (1500m) Time 28:25
Agegroup Place: 33rd (of 45)
Overall Place: 240 (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 166 (of 272)
Pace: 1:53 per 100m (appalling!)

Swim to Bike Transition (getting wetsuit off!) 3.24 (very slow)

Bike (40 km/24 miles) Time: 1:23:27
Agegroup Place: 18th (of 45)
Overall Place: 87th (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 77th (of 272)
Pace: 17.87 miles per hour (hilly course!)

Bike to Run Transition: 1:07 (a little slow)

Run (10.5 km - 6.25 miles+) Time: 54:30
Agegroup Place: 17th (of 45)
Overall Place: 135th (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 102th (of 272)
Pace: 8.21 minute per mile pace (not too bad)

It's easy to over-analyze the results. I can quickly see that slow transitions alone cost me 2 places. If I had lied about my age and gone with the 30-34 group or the 25-29 groups I would have got 14th place. If I had lied about my age and said I was 40-44 I would've been 27th - those old dogs know how to compete. I'd better get training!

I certainly felt the strongest on the bike and am a bit surprised I didn't do relatively much better against my peers. It shows the quality of the entrants that I couldn't do better against them on the bike, even fully acclimitized, unlike some of them, and familiar with hauling up hills and racing. The run time doesn't seem terrible either, for me an 8.21 pace with heavy legs is forgivable.

For the first time ever I managed to convince myself to sit in a bath of cold water when I got home. I'm told this is good for the leg muscles, though gasping at the cold did nothing to help my tight chest problem.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Cicada in Placerville

Friday night, whilst minding my own business in Placerville, one of these things dropped on my head. I quickly knocked it off but had that uncertain feeling so I brushed my t-shirt and at first mentally rejected the large new crusty broach I discovered. On second take, I quickly brushed off the broach too. It makes me shudder to think about it but this thing was at least 3 inches long. Unbelievable!

Waking up those swimming muscles

I have my eye on Donner Lake Triathlon on Sunday (I hope my cold finishes up by then). It's an olympic distance event with a 1.5km swim; 40k cycle and 10k run. I'm not fully fit in all of those disciplines. I've not run much for a couple of weeks but I think that will be ok. More worrying is that I have not swum for more than 6 months. Hopefully, the fact that I am pretty fit at the moment from cycling, running, circuit training and yoga will pay off.

Tonight I skipped my usual thursday 2nd Yoga class of the day and after circuit training with Ron I hit the pool.

I had forgotten quite how delightful the outdoor pool is in Minden. Warm water, empty lanes and a view of Job's peak and the Sierras surrounding Lake Tahoe.

I dived in and did 200yds of medally warm-up - free/back/breast/fly. Then I set to work. I plodded out 40 lengths of freestyle at a casual pace (1,000yds), took on some water and then did another 60 lengths. Every 4th length I did a standard triathlon drill of swimming head-up for half a length. This feels uncomfortable but is necessary for spotting when swimming in open water I'm told. As a warm down I did another 200 yards of medally again. The breast-stroke seemed to help my ITB band tightness a lot, so I did another 100 of that.

After not swimming for more than 6 months (perhaps more like 10 months) I just hopped in and swam 3,000yds straight off. I guess normal fit people wouldn't find that surprising but only 8 years ago I couldn't swim more than 1 length. A long learning curve, excellent teaching and continual coaching from an excellent swimming club, seems to have ingrained enough of swimming technique on my mind and in my muscles that I can just relax and churn out the distance now. It's odd but it seems almost too hard to imagine that this is possible and too easy to remember life as a non-swimmer. Perhaps I will ache tomorrow.

Self congratulation goes only so far. I'm sure that mixing it up with the pack, in a cold high altitude lake, whilst wearing a wetsuit, will not feel quite so clever!

I don't have the wetsuit yet either but I'm hoping to order this one tomorrow.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Easy Valley Crit Race

Once again it was the East Valley Crit race, involving a ride around a 1 mile circuit for 35 minutes plus 3 additional laps.

I still have a cold, which is a pain and led to some coughing and fuss but I settled down during the race (afterwards was not pretty).

Each race is different and depends a lot on who shows up and this time some interesting characters appeared. Jeff has become the one to watch because we all know he can time trial very strongly so when he makes a break, he can really get away. There were other contenders in the pack too.

The race started kinda funny. Jeff led out. Pretty soon I took the front to take my turn and stayed there much longer than I planned to but wasn't really pushing the pace. For 20 minutes there were 3 or 4 of us at the front with the pack tucked in behind, all nice and restful. The whole thing felt like a game of chess but with a lot of anticipation that something was going to have to happen at some point.

A few times Jeff stood up on the pegs or sped up a little and every time he ended up with 5 riders on his tail sucking his wheel. He often eased up, I supposed fed up with everyone trying to get a free ride (but at the end he said not).

Robert rocketed to the front at one point and tried to encourage the front runners to break but they weren't playing. I think he went a bit early. A couple of laps later he was at the front again and I was behind so we had a crack at it. We gained a short break on the pack and held it for a lap and a half or so before they suddenly reappeared. I settled back down for a rest in the pack and somewhat regretted expending that energy. That may have been one of my mistakes.

Using his usual canny race timing and wisdom, Scott got to the front of the pack at around 32 minutes and started to break away. When someone is making a break you need to size them up and see if you think they can really pull it off. I knew Scott was solid enough to make it stick so I raced through the pack to join him and we set off. For a couple of laps we managed to break taking turns to pull hard into the wind.

The 3 laps to go board came out, then the 2 laps to go and then the 1 lap and we were still ahead. By now though we were being chased by 3 guys working together well. I was just racing into the wind and Scott said something like, "we have company". A cue to ease off. If we raced hard over the last half mile we would just pull these guys along and they would blitz us as the line.

On the second to last corner we were still ahead but 1 of the riders came through very strongly, though perhaps too soon. Then Dave came through hard too but still seemed within range. Their push was really too soon, we should have probably been able to get back at them but we'd spent too many laps pushing on our own into the wind and had little left.

Scott eased up and I took 3rd place but was pretty disappointed. At the end they told us we were still pulling away from the pack on the second to last lap but 3 strong riders got together and pulled us in. Had we been 3 at the front we could probably have made it.

Scott played the better race and seemed much stronger throughout. Had I not been at the front so much we could perhaps have had an extra ounce of strength to keep our gap alive.

At the end, I could hardly breath, my lungs felt very stiff, I nearly had to stop to catch my breath. Pretty soon I relaxed enough to be able to start a coughing fit!

Hanging out with the guys at the end I was very surprised to hear Jeff say he was pushing hard at the start. I thought he was easing up and getting fed up with people jumping on his tail. I'm still not sure how to read him. He certainly is a very strong rider and all around althete - he just finished an iron man in an excellent time.

These crit races are a real puzzle. Scott nearly always seems to time his moves to perfection. I seem much less savvy with race tactics.

I got 14 points today, which puts me at the top of the leaderboard for the year in the C class. Although I'm thrilled with that, I'm a little disappointed with the race. I'm sure if I were smarter about it I could win it. It is truly excellent to have discovered such a challenging and puzzling sport, filled with interesting and amazing people.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Death Ride of California - 129 miles / 15,000+ft

I arose at 3.45am and planned to be rolling on my bike by 4.30am. After a last minute bike cleaning session on friday night, eating pizza in between cleaning bits, I was quite tired and prone to considerable faffing in the morning. I eventually joined the weirdest rush hour in the world, heading through mountain roads to the start of the Death Ride, at 4.15 and had my bike set up and ready to roll for just after 5.00am. I was much more relaxed this year, understanding the format and having trained a little but was quite worried about my lingering cold (for which I had 2 days in bed, tuesday and wednesday) and was unsure how it far I would get. I was also questioning how sensible it was to run/hike up Job's Peak 5 days before the event but it seemed to make my legs stronger.

So, I wound my head torch around my handlebars, clipped my flashing light to the strap holding my race number, pointed my bike up towards the startline, reset my odometer and set off around 5.05am.

It felt warmer than I remembered last year's early start but I am better acclimatized now I suppose. The start was nice with the ride to Markleeville mostly down hill. I was quite surprised how quickly we got to the turn left towards Monitor.

As we started the first climb I was very pleased that a whole lot of people had started early. For some reason I like to pick a person up front and try to catch them up, a bit like a sheep dog chasing a car. So, I did a bit of that up Monitor and overtook quite a lot of people. Pretty soon I could feel the familiar niggle in my kneecap, which was responsible for considerable pain last year. Niggles early, on a long ride, are not great but it eventually wore off some with the normal feeling of muscle exertion replacing it. Still, I had a sinking feeling as soon as it started, and was worried to feel it on the very first climb of the day.

Monitor, before 6am...
I had expected Scott to have started after me and to come steaming past me at some point. I was quite surprised to look over and see that I had just overtaken him. I assumed he would pull out behind me and didn't think much of it. I was not feeling very confident I would finish the race, my cold was not fun the whole day but particularly early in the morning and the knee was a worry too. I figured at some point I would fade or even drop out, so whilst I was feeling good I was going to keep pedalling. So, I kept on, really expecting Scott to be just behind somewhere. Later in the day after not seeing him, I began to get worried that he wasn't well either.

View from high up on Monitor...

The top of Monitor - one down!

But I pushed on, enjoying overtaking and jumping in behind any fast people who went past me (a good motivation). The descent was the usual thrill. The back side of Monitor is a very fast descent and being near the front of the group there was not too much traffic (cyclist traffic) coming up the other way. I hit 47mph on the way down. This year I didn't get the sinking feeling that the thrill of the descent was to be tempered by the need to turn around at the bottom and climb back up the mountain. I guess I knew the drill.

At the bottom, some great advice from a marshal reminded us to change gears before we stopped (it's odd the things you forget). I got my sticker showing my first pass was complete, grabbed more sports drink, Citromax pink flavour, a couple of bagels and headed back off again.

Dennis, from work, had told me one of his tips was to keep the rests short, and I really focused hard on that. I remember Dennis legs moving like pistons as he rode past me last year. Apparently he passed Scott just after I did and Scott told him I was ahead but he didn't catch me until lunch, after 4 passes. I was pretty impressed with that. Dennis might be in his 50s but he is supremely fit, so I was pleased indeed to stay ahead of him.

I climbed the back of Monitor on the same form as the front, overtaking loads of people. What a thrill after the grind of last year. The descent was awesome as usual but with the added thrill of being able to cheer on the folks still doing their first climb, lots of the folks from work or from Alta Alpina. Near the bottom I saw Mel and a very large group of Alta Alpina riders starting very late but looking strong. At the bottom I stripped off my long trouser legs, my windproof and my lights and gave them to Big Daddy (who was fast asleep, but always on hand to fix bikes for people!).

The back side of Monitor before 8am, with cyclists like ants on the road below...

Near the top of Monitor (again) - two down!

Then on up to Ebberts. Things changed a bit on Ebberts. It has some very steep sections which you have to really attack. On Ebberts, I got overtaken by quite a few folks. I think the fit cyclists who were confident enough to start later were catching me up by now. I managed to hang in with a couple of them sometimes, which helped me climb.

At some point I felt a weird pain in my abs and realized it was like a muscle ache - it seemed very much that I was somehow using my stomach muscles, which have recently appeared from circuits class and yoga, to propel me on the bike. Odd but satisfying!

That's 3 - Ebberts...

At the top I stopped to take a photo of the summit sign so I would have a record of the time. The Marshals thought I was taking a photo of them with their fairy wings and so posed for me too! I didn't hang around there though, just got my sticker and rode through to the back side of Ebberts. A slightly more twisty and slower descent (I assumed Scott would be catching me by now with his fast descending).


Near the bottom, and doing 30-40mph around the twisties, some of us were quite surprised to turn the corner and be faced with some Winnebago taking up most of the road (which was supposed to be closed to traffic). It was quite a shock but I think everyone wobbled past it somehow.

The bottom of Ebberts was perhaps the best organized of all the rest stops. The volunteers had done an awesome job cutting the melon slices perfectly and even peeling the oranges. It is strange what's important in a race and these folks were getting a whole lot of thank yous from the appreciative riders. On a long ride you lose lots of salt as well as fluid, so you normally eat crisps and suchlike - at this stop you could even eat raw salt! Very thoughtful.

So, pretty soon I turned around and headed back up Ebberts at a better speed to see the beautiful high country scenery back there, still with snow covered peaks to see. The back of Ebberts is also steep so my 'picture taking going along' was a little limited. When I finally made the summit I stopped and looked around for lunch. The top of Ebberts was by now a zoo, packed full of people and no lunch. I had forgotten that lunch was down the hill a way, so kicking myself for wasting precious minutes not finding lunch, I hopped on the bike and headed down hill again. Descending more slowly than I perhaps needed to and imaging Scott catching me up fast.

The beautiful views from the back side of Ebberts...

I finally spied the lunch stop and joined Ron Sanchez and his son Aaron, and then Dennis for a spot of food. After about 20 minutes Scott appeared looking not so hot. It turned out that he wasn't feeling fully fit after all (and the bicycle helmet sculptured hair style didn't help the overall impression). Dennis stuck to his 30 minute lunch rule and hauled out. I was tempted to go too but felt it would be much more fun for me and Scott if we rode the next 50 miles together, working together to keep up the pace and the motivation. So, that's what we did.

We set off at a decent speed and then saw another couple of riders working pretty hard together so we tacked on the back of them to form an ad-hoc paceline. I'm not sure they were thrilled by the idea but we took our turn at the front but sadly we eventually dropped them, though we gained a good few miles working together in some of the windy sections.

In no time we were in Markleeville for the climb to Turtle Rock Park, where we stopped at our cars to change clothes and get a cold drink before the massive final climb up to Pickets and then Carson. I distinctly remembered these climbs were from last year's Death Ride and even from driving it a few times. It's a very long climb. However, working together we pretty much nailed it. I don't know how we did it really but we were lucky with the traffic on the ride to Pickets (which is pretty narrow and has no shoulder in places). There wasn't much wind but we still took turns to do a bit at the front and we got to Picket's pretty painlessly.

I'm not sure I understand the whole working together thing. In the wind, if you ride behind someone else it is clearly easier. When there is no wind and you are grinding up a big climb I'm not sure whether there is any physical benefit but there are mental and motivational things going on. At times I could hardly stay with Scott on the climbs and worked super hard not to get dropped. When I took a deep breath and went for my turn at the front, sometimes he would drop back quite a bit. I'm sure there is something that messes with your brain when someone rides quickly past you when you are already working on the limit. Whatever it is, there certainly seems a lot of physical and motivational/mental benefit to working together.

On the way up the climb I noticed a lady from Alta Alpina coming down having finished the 5th pass. I'd bumped into her at the lunch stop and we'd previously met on the Gardnerville 100. She's extremely nice and has retired but what is perhaps surprising for some, is that I think she did the whole Death Ride quicker than we did. It's a funny thing when you join sports clubs how quickly you get respect for the incredible stength and stamina of mild mannered club members in their 50's, 60's and 70's. It certainly stops you feeling ageist about sport, and quite careful who you choose to race against! Perhaps I will keep getting quicker year on year - it seems not uncommon around here!

We bumped into Scott Doerr and Marty at the Picket's rest stop looking fairly comfortable on some seats out of the sun. One of the helpers insisted on racking my bike for me and helping me get drink and stuff because I now had an Alta Alpina shirt on! We grabbed some food and water and took some time out, but not for too long. The last climb was waiting and there was to be ice cream at the top.

So, we set off as a 4 this time, well I thought we did. Pretty soon, me and Scott taking our turn at the front transformed into me and Scott riding on our own again. Near the top, but with still a few steep miles to go, Scott Doerr reappeared looking in good form and extremely fit and we worked as a 3 for a bit. Then someone we dropped original Scott about a mile from the top. I ploughed on behind Scott Doerr, quite unable to take my turn at the front. Then some miracle occurred as we turned the craggy corner near the top - the wind changed direction and started pushing us from behind. What a rush. I'm not sure how much it helped physically but mentally it was great. After a couple of minutes of that I was ready for my turn at the front, so I moved up and managed to drop Scott D this time. I saw a few people ahead of me struggling a bit so I put on a final burst of speed and overtook a 3 more people before the top, turned the corner and held my 5 fingers up to the photographer before steaming into the rest stop for my 5th sticker, finishers pin and more importantly, the ice-cream! I was pretty elated to be for the first time ever feeling anything like on a par with Scott and Scott - normally they out climb me with apparent ease so it was quite something to feel on the level for a change!

That's 5 - Carson Pass and ready for ice cream!

Ice creams all around, left to right, Marty, Scott Doerr, me (note Alta Alpina shirt sizes come up short!), Scott Roby...

Marty had a heart rate monitor which estimated how many calories he had burned through the day. It was nearly 8,000 by the top of Carson Pass!

Coming back down Carson was ugly. The road is extremely fast for cyclists but the cars were not doing a great job of overtaking. There was a whole mess of bikes and cars and bikes and cars doing about 40mph down the hill in close proximity. Not a nice cycling situation and quite disappointing not to be able to really rocket down this last descent as we deserved. But we all seemed to make it ok. Towards the end we were working in the wind some and worked together quite effectively back to Turtle Rock Park as the first drops of rain started. We got back to our cars (our person finish lines) and decided to go and say hi to Bill and Dennis who were having a beer back down the hill. In the 10 minutes that took I got drenched by what was now a thunder storm. Missing Bill and Dennis (the beer had run out!) I headed back up the hill and rapidly got my cycling shoes off (with metal cleats) as thunder and lightening were crashing all around - I ducked at one point as I felt the thunder clap through my feet. I threw the bike in the car and sat there feeling safe, after all, cars are very safe in thunder storms (it has to do with their being a Faraday cage I believe). As I sat there looking at the lightening striking between the trees just in front of me I realized the Faraday cage concept doesn't help much if a tree falls on your car! So, I prepared to get out of dodge but only after I'd spent half an hour trying to photograph the lightening, the hailstones (!) and the poor riders finishing in these grim conditions.

I was pretty convinced the race would have to be shut down because so many riders were still out there but they apparently had ok weather until they were nearly back to the start, which was very lucky.

The race wasn't stopped despite the thunder, lightening and hailstones...

Our little localized storm from the way home...

On balance, an awesome ride. I really feel like we rode hard all the way and quite nailed it! The organization of the event was again absolutely fantastic with an army of volunteers and people shouting encouragement and motorcycle riders and safety teams. I hope they realize how much they are appreciated, I think they do, I heard a lot of folks expressing their thanks along the way.

Now, statistics for 2006
Trip Distance: 123.25 (this is 6 miles short so the bike computer is a bit wrong!)
Average Speed: 12.8+ (last year 10.6)
Maximum Speed: 47.2mph+ (last year 48.9)
Wheels turning time: 9:23:33 (last year 12.24)
Total time including rest: 11:34:59 (last year 15:20)

Of these statistics, I'm most impressed by cutting 3hours 45 minutes from last years overall time and 3 hours from my wheels turning time. Inaccuracy in the bike computers seems to mess up the rest of the stats.

I wonder how I am so much faster this year. I guess it's a combination of being better acclimitized to the altitude and temperature; having a much better bike; doing a few big rides of around 100 miles (Gardnerville 100, Tour De Nez 100, Kingsbury - Luther loops 50); and doing some regular speed work with the Alta Alpina wednesday night race series; being lighter; having a stronger 'core' from circuits and yoga classes; from taking some advice from my friends about not taking too long for breaks and from riding with Scott and the others for long stretches. On balance I'm pretty pleased that I was able to ride at that kind of pace for so long. Looking back at the slog of last year it was really a different kind of ride to be pushing hard the whole way, much more enjoyable.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Running/fast hiking Job's Peak (10,633ft) from Faye Luther (12 miles & 6,000ft)

Since I've been here I've wanted to go up Job's Peak. I recently heard Dave Adams and Ron Peck talking about having run it and was very keen to try it. Dave kindly obliged, though it was a run and fast hike rather than full on run. I think this is Dave's 5th time up there this year (which is quite something).

Job's is the one on the left. rising nearly 6,000ft from the valley floor.
Job's Peak (on the left)

Although feeling rough from the day's cycling and the heat in general (and from eatin Trader Joes Chile and Lime peanuts to excess) I called Dave Sunday night to confirm my attendance Monday morning. I was relieved to awake feeling ok on Monday.

So, we set off early, with trekking poles and a couple of litres of water and some sports gel things.

I was a bit surprised but pleased that Dave just walked (fast) the first flat section (even that is not easy because of the thick decomposed granite - DG - like sand). We could have run it but no sense getting an injury by starting too hard. Before long, we were climbing and on the relatively flat sections on the way up Dave started to run. This was tougher than he made it look but I'd run over 4 miles along this trail before so I knew what I was in for. We repeated that 4 miles this time in about and hour. I was feeling pretty good about that, since the whole route is just 6 miles to the top. Then Dave said, in an encouraging way, something like, "that's a good time for the first 4 miles and we must have climbed 1,500ft". Only simple maths was needed to figure out that of our 6,000ft total ascent, we had hardly scratched the surface. Dave did point out that all the running was done by this point though, which was some consolation.

The route gets decidely vague from that point up but Dave knew it extremely well (there are some cairns or "ducks" as some locals call them but they are hard to see). We made our way up a rocky stream bed for a while. Over some big rocks, through narrow paths among some tough plants and over some big rocks (always a relief). It was pretty tough from here on up but the hardest part was still to come.

The mountain is thick with DG (decomposed granite) which varies in consistency from sand to animal feed sized chunks. As you put your foot on this stuff, it often slides back as far (or further) than you stepped up. Thank goodness for trekking poles and stubbornness or we'd never have made it.

Dave explained that when it gets tough he tries to walk on the plants (those tough woody ones), since they have the best traction. So I followed with increasingly tired legs, picking out stoney sections to walk on when I could, some of which were not as planted as they seemed.

Dave had a great way of goal setting on the way up with several intermediate places ahead we were heading to. It's a big climb, bigger than anything in the UK by some margin, so the goals we're very helpful. As was Dave's spirit, always cheerful and always moving impossibly fast but cool about waiting for me at times.

As we got to the last goal before the top, "the point at which things flatten out a bit", Dave says, "we're 11 minutes under 3 hours and could probably make it". So, we plodded on faster. I really needed a rest at the last goal place but I was keen to shoot for the 3 hours (I don't think Dave was bothered at all, he's done it in 2:18!). Although things had levelled out it was still pretty hard going to the top, though it was awesome to suddenly see over the other side of the ridge, to walk past the snowline and see all the alpine flowers too. I plodded on with my heart and lungs feeling like they might burst. I was counting my footsteps and trying to equate them with time to keep myself going. In the end, I scrambled up the boulders to the top for a time of 3:06. I have no regrets about the time. I was just happy to sit down, and see the view.

Me on the top of Job's Peak

Above the snow line on July 3rd (Job's Sister and Friel Peaks shown)...
Job's Sister and Friel Peaks

A short break, a photo opportunity, signing the book at the top and then we headed down. Dave asked how long I thought it would take to get back to the boulder 2 miles back. He thought about 35 minutes which seemed impossibly fast but then I saw him start running down. Wow was he moving. From nowhere Dave produced a whole new route down which was so thick with DG that it was like running down a sand dune. It felt almost as easy as skiing. As you landed each footfall it slid, and as it did you just had to lift the other foot (whilst sliding) and repeat, using poles to help your balance and control the speed - it was very effortless after the climb up. Dave really moved down this, clearly having a ball. I could not stay with him at all but was still moving fast enough and really enjoying it too. Not as much of a hard descent as I'd expected.

After a while our stand dune style surface got mixed with some rocks, which made things a bit more entertaining and then more rocks appeared. Dave said we'd not finished yet and pretty soon we found some more soft DG (amid rocks) to hurtle down.

Back at the boulder, we emptied the accumulated DG from our boots (loads of it) and got ready for the 4 miles back to the car. At this point my water was gone but I didn't seem to need much more. I'd done this 4 mile descent before and it's GREAT. On extremely tired legs it was harder but finding a nice path again, with a predominately downhill aspect was really great. Even the short uphill sections seemed a relief so we ran them too (I think they use different leg muscles which we probably glad to get some action after the big downhill).

Back at the car I was glad to retrieve my litre of water and sad to see how quickly I downed it needing more.

I think we were 3:06 to the top from Faye Luther and 1.5-2 hours back. Not bad going but quite hard to imagine how Dave gets up there 40 minutes faster on a good day.

I drank around 4 pints of water (4 lbs) during the run, and then another 4 on getting back. Despite that I still weighed 6lbs less than I did before the start. A tough run! Perhaps not the best tapering for the Death Ride next weekend but I have no regrets (I might on saturday but not now).

I think this is the most extreme thing I have ever done before work. I will never look at Job's Peak quite the same again - because now I own it!

Work, a distant memory somewhere down there...
Looking down to Minden from Job's Peak