Monday, October 25, 2010

Bryce Canyon Link-up Trail Run

Back in June I was intrigued to learn about Craig Lloyd’s 39.2-mile Bryce Canyon Link-up run. Since I drive by Bryce National Park at least once a month on my way to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab for work, I knew this was a run I wanted to do.

I had originally planned to complete the run back in September. But a torn plantar fascia plus surgery for a torn rotator cuff put those plans on hold – until this past Sunday!

Keeping in my personal tradition of a lazy Sunday morning, I didn’t hit the Riggs Loop trailhead at Rainbow Point where the run begins until 9:30 am. At the trailhead the temperature was a chilly 38 degrees. A little too cool for my liking! The forecast called for cloudy with a high of 52. The cool weather, coupled with the fact that it rained heavily the day before and the sandy sections of the trail would likely be firm, had my spirits high that this was going to be a great run.

The Riggs Loop immediately drops off the rim through pine forests descending approximately 2000 feet to the Riggs Springs campground and then climbs back up to the rim where it intersects with the Under-the-Rim trail. As I got close to the intersection with the Under-the-Rim trail at 8 miles I made the decision to run back to the car (an easy half mile detour) to get the arm sling I have been wearing for the last six weeks after having rotator cuff surgery. I had hoped to run without the sling, but after about five miles I could feel a strain and pain at the point of the attachment. Rotator Cuff surgery was the most painful thing I have ever experienced and the recovery has been frustrating slow. There was no way I was going to take a chance on a setback.

I was happy to have the extra carrying capacity the combination sling/man purse provided. Into the sling I tucked an extra couple of gels, some yogurt covered cranberries, and my arm. My lazy ass shoulder was thrilled to no longer have to bear the weight of my arm.

The next 23 miles of the link-up follow the Under-the-Rim trail. For some reason I had expectations that I would be running along the bottom of the rim walls amongst brilliant red and orange cliffs, hoodoos, and fins. For the most part this trail meanders through unremarkable ponderosa forest, much of which has burned in recent years. There was a tremendous amount of fallen timber that left me thinking the trail should really be called the Over-the-Logs trail. While I had been averaging 11 minute miles on the Riggs Loop, my pace slowed considerably as this section required climbing over fallen trees, dancing from one side of the eroded trail to the other, and navigating through large washes scattered with loose rock. As I trekked across sections of rock and mud deposited by the previous day’s runoff I appreciated the landscape forming power of erosion on steroids.

After running along Yellow Creek I was looking forward to exiting the trees and climbing up to Bryce Point (31 miles) where I would again be on top of the rim and would get to enjoy the best views in the Park. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise point did not disappoint. Absolutely magnificent views!! And, super fast trails that allowed me to once again pick-up the pace. From the top of the rim the final 6.5-mile leg of the Link-up is along the Lower Fairyland Loop where you run through and amongst magnificent rock formations. This is what I had imagined the Under-the-Rim trail would be like. The best part of the run had been saved for the last! The Bryce Canyon Link-up terminates at Fairyland Point. Total distance 39.2 is miles with approximately 15,000 vertical. Total running time 7:40.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Something Different

I want start this post by stating the fact that I love to run.  That is also why I have forced myself out of the running shoes and on to the bike this fall season.  It really boils down to this problem I have with physical activity and how I can become slightly OCD about it.  For whatever reason I can become so completely focused on continual improvement in one activity that I end up pushing my body to a breaking point (sometimes painful, but always frustrating), which is then followed by a rebuilding period.  I have a history with this issue and based on that experience, without a break, my chances of running myself straight into an injury seems very high.    So this year I made a resolution to heed some advice I received years ago and do something different.

For this fall season, that something different is Cyclocross.  It just so happens I have a few pieces of equipment laying around from my previous addiction, errr activity of choice – cycling.  Three bikes to be exact; one road, one mountain bike and a singlespeed cyclocross bike.  I started taking turns riding the road and mountain bike ever since pacing Nick Clark at Wasatch and had a great time re-discovering an old passion. Then one night I saw my lonely 'cross bike sitting in the corner begging to be ridden.  It wasn’t long after getting air in the tires that I decided I would race the following weekend.

Before I get to the racing let me give you a quick explanation of what cyclocross is.  The bike of preference looks like a road bike with knobby tires and while there are other subtle differences between road and 'cross bikes, they are minor.  Sometimes riders will put on flat bars instead drop bars (the kind that roll down) to get a wider hand position.  The reason a rider might want a wider hand position is because of the terrain the circuits cover, including but not limited to: gravel, dirt, grass, sand, concrete, asphalt and when it’s wet, mud.  The circuits also include sections that require the rider to dismount and run with the bike.  These sections could include some barriers, large logs or a steep uphill that the rider must negotiate on foot and almost every course has at least one or two dismount sections (some riders can bunny hop barriers and that is perfectly legal as well).  The length of the circuits vary, but generally take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to cover and the races are anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long depending on the category.  The category I decided to ride is singlespeed, meaning I pick a single rear cog and a single front chainring and use it for that race.
Leading up to the first race (week two of the series) I had done a handful rides (5 or 6) and simply banked on my running fitness getting me through, besides, I had no expectations except having fun and catching up with a few old friends.  Well, once I was in the moment, standing on the start line it was a different story.  I took off with the other dozen or so racers heading for the first turn and I heard my chain making a weird noise.  I eased up and drifted to the rear of the group to investigate and lost several places.  Frustrated, I pushed hard to catch back up and the noise became louder.  Finally I got off to check it out and discovered the chain was off the jockey wheel in the chain tensioner.  This pattern repeated itself until device that holds tension on the chain came apart, rendering my bike useless.  I ran back to the car, fixed it and finished the race in 2nd to last place.  Despite the setback I was still smiling and my heart was pounding.
Before the following race the next weekend I fixed the chain tensioner by throwing it in the garbage and finding a suitable replacement.  I also managed to squeeze in a few more rides, giving my legs a chance to acclimate to the new stress I was forcing on them.  The next race went much better where I finished in 2nd place.  Surprisingly, I had more fun this time around and I'm sure it had something to do with actually being able to focus on riding rather than fixing my bike.  

I plan on doing a few more while I'm having fun and mixing up the riding with some occasional trail runs just to remind my legs what they'll be coming back to...

Friday, October 8, 2010

First Snow

I LOVE running in the mountains. I've been running the past few weeks, but mostly road and treadmill, and was completely re-energized today by my short trip up Neff's canyon. It's time to get on the trails again during the best time of the year. Here's a few photos to share the beauty I found.