me and st. charles

Fantastic snowshoe outing in the Wet Mountains today.

St. Charles Peak
(from trailhead on hwy 165 near Bishop’s Castle)
10.0 miles
+3,000 feet of vertical (~9,000’ to 11,800’ with a few down-and-ups)
>30 switchbacks
Pueblo to TH: 50 minutes

1/25/15
Lots of new snow on the trail today, but the sun was out and the temps were in the 50s. I had both the Microspikes and MSR snowshoes strapped onto the UD pack.

I’m officially in love with this trail. Last time, we were just getting to know each other but after today I’m smitten. Since last week’s snow (Wednesday) I’m guessing there have been three people (at most) on the trail. Just enough folks (with snowshoes) to create a trench to guide my way and make trail-finding easy except for one or two spots. The beauty of snowshoeing is that, if it’s your first time on a route, you’re almost sure to not get turned-around/lost if you simply follow your footprints home. (#duh)

Not a soul within probably 10 miles of me today. The trail reminded me a lot of the northside of Hope Pass on the LT100 course, steady and steep. I enjoyed the switchbacks through pine forests. The other great thing about St. Charles Peak is that only the last 100 yards or so are above treeline, making this an ideal winter outing—no worries of avalanche or too much wind. Great combo of solitude-climbing-altitude.

Used the Microspikes until about halfway-up, then strapped on the SSs for the rest of the day. The last ¼ mile up was a bit tricky, as the prints I followed went in three different directions, each taking a line that was quite steep. By that point though I was aware of which direction I needed to head, so followed the most logical line to the top.

All at once I was treated to an incredible view of the Sangres—the massive 14,000 foot wall guarding the Sand Dunes and the Valley below it. Pikes Peak was magnificent to the north.

I was only able to enjoy the view for a few minutes as the wind was howlin’. Got a few decent shots though. Made the ascent in a slow-ish 2 hours (took my time, stopped a lot) and cruised thru the powder on the descent, making it back to Larry in just a tad over an hour. 3:15 roundtrip, give’r take.

Definitely will return to this area—less than an hour from town and great trifecta opp (solitude-climbing-altitude). Great summer route I’m sure too.

sangre castle

sangre castle

2 or 3 millimeters

I hung-up the phone with a client and began scribbling down a note in my calendar when I noticed the date: Friday, January 23, 2015.

I sat back in the chair, in my nice quiet office on the third floor, and looked out the window at the Wet Mountains to the west. I took a deep breath, and in a flash, I was gone.

My vision is foggy. I can only faintly see the wood ceiling high above.
“Muck…Muck…Talk to me…”
My head is cold from laying on the ice. I weeeez a breath out and quickly realize I can’t feel my legs. I panic but can’t move because I’m strapped into the stretcher. Which makes me panic even more. I finally take a deep breath and slowly, after a few seconds, my toes wiggle.

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On Sunday morning, January 23rd, 2000, a very large high school hockey player skated at full speed and slammed into me from behind, launching me headfirst into the boards, crumpling my spine. Darkness.

After the stretcher and ambulance ride and xrays and hospital bed the doctor came in and exclaimed:

“Well, it’s your lucky day. Another 2 or 3 millimeters and you wouldn’t be walking again.”

Two or three millimeters. The fracture in my T4 vertebrae came within…<<calculating>>…1/8th of an inch of cutting my spinal cord.

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People sometimes look at me blankly/shocked/horrified when I answer their question “You’re a runner? What’s the farthest you’ve ran…?” And I don’t always have a decent, stock answer to the inevitable follow-up of “Why?!”

There are a lot of reasons I started running long. The Silence. Clarity. Sweat and effort. The wind at the top of the mountain. The feeling of flying on the way down. Pain. Rest. I love it all. But when I sat back in my chair this morning at work, something bubbled-up from the subconscious. I run because…I can. Because for 7 or 8 seconds, when there was only a void in my legs and feet, an alternate storyline began unfolding.

The story didn’t include hockey anymore.

No more driving.

No college (at least not right away).

No Cookie.

No Honduras.

No AmeriCorps.

No more golf with Andrew, Matt, Dad, Grandpa.

No Colorado. No Alamosa.

No…

No Kelsea.

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Whether we choose to think about it or not, each moment, however insignificant-seeming; each decision or non-decision; each action or reaction—each moment effects the rest of our life and in a broader sense, everyone else’s life too. Each moment is as significant as the last, and the next. But some definitely stick out more than others.

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Each time I recall what happened 15 years ago I get a small but sharp pain in between my shoulder blades. It’s happening right now as I type. It helps me remember.

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It’s natural, right? Wondering what life might have been like had my vertebrae cracked just a bit more. 2 or 3 millimeters…that ain’t much. The positive side of me believes that, regardless of what the storyline might have been, I could and would have been just as happy and satisfied as I am now. The alternate universe would have been just as hilarious/painful/awkward/joyful/fulfilled as this one. I’d still have been supported by an amazing family, and still would have been a part of the most privileged/spoiled demographic in history. Yeah…things would have been fine.

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Remembering events like this feels important. I know that everything can and does change in an instant. Every instant. The story continues to unfold, but never the way you expect. Ever.

Which simply brings me back to the present moment and the only life I’ve known. My god it’s been a great one. I am so damn lucky. If the sun explodes tomorrow, I got nothing to regret or wish I woulda done or said or tried or…

I blink.

The mountains have a thin white covering after yesterday’s snowstorm.

I wonder how long it’ll take (my legs) to summit St. Charles Peak on Sunday.

I am grateful.

.

1,536 miles…give’r take.

2014 was one hell of a year. I (literally) ran my ass off. There were plenty of duels with the Beast, with doubt and frustration. Quad Rock brought me to my (mental) knees, and Hope Pass gave me everything but hope. It’s true what Ken says, that there’s “no feeling like seeing that finish line”, but I have to admit that wasn’t the highlight(s) of my year.

It was the people.

Kelsea willing me to continue and finish the QR50 in May (among a million other shows of support). Jeff’s positivity at mile 84. The Lion’s Roar at May Queen early in the morning, then his keeping me moving after the gun went off. My sister and brother-in-law 🙂 willing to fly/drive/drive/drive some more… from MN to experience the insanity of Leadville. Mom and Dad MacIlroy spending their hard-earned vacation time watching me puke and cry and finish my first 100. Trying to catch Jay-Pop late in the marathon when he experienced a great Flow. The Bacon Strip outings with Sarah and camping/hiking trips with Mackey. Stubbs keeping me alive and rocketing toward Twin Lakes in the dark. Seeing Humphrey and Jack chuggin’ toward 6th St with minutes to spare. My dad waiting for me in the Lory parking lot after 13 hours of hell. Our Grand Canyon adventure with Mick and Morgan in October.

Running was/is a time of quiet solitude, but this year it became just as much (if not more so) an exercise in community, in gratitude for friendships and family and support. As I mentioned back in August, there was no ‘me’ or ‘I’ crossing the finish line(s)–there was only a ‘we’. I am humbled and grateful for the we around me.

Thank you for a great year.

december, week two

week two of 30/30/30, 2.0

dec 8th (monday): jogged down to the River path for a warm-up before throwin’ down 12 hill repeats in a row (with about 10 second rests in between each) up the dirt hill to the neighborhood. total of about 30 minutes. Finally gettin’ back to bein’ a bit chilly at night. 20 degrees maybe.

dec 9th: needed a bit of a chill outing—legs feeling a tinch sore after the big efforts the last three days. Kept to the River path and enjoyed the cold night air. Threw in a few easy hill repeats just to remind the legs who’s in charge.

dec 10th and 11th: rode the stationary bike while listening to some music. not the most fun activity but I felt a little shot from running so I kept things chill with a little ride-inside. 30 minutes both nights.

dec 12th: I drove back up to the Fort after work tonight, and totally forgot that the only time I could probably get a run in was this morning. Great thought to have while sitting in Front Range rush hour traffic for a couple hours. I got home late and wasn’t about to put my running shoes on after not seeing Kelsea for two weeks. I’ll start a new streak tomorrow…

dec 13th and 14th: ran to the Perch with my bro on both days. Great to get back to the ol’ track—numbers 72 and 73 on the year. Good company too. We pushed it a bit on the 13th and calmed it down a touch on Sunday. Bottled some hard cider afterward. 🙂

summary: a bit of an uninspiring week but you’re gonna have those every now and again. a little disappointed I didn’t get out early on friday but I completely forgot. fun to mix things up with biking, p-blo hills and some perch outings. perhaps this coming week will yield a more readable post.

december, week one

30/30/30, version 2.0

dec 1st: 30 minutes of runnin’. got done with orientation a little early so I hustled home, threw on the running gear and headed to Lake Pueblo State Park, an 11 minute drive from the house. I had the whole damn Park to myself. After a quick ½ mile of flat trail I dropped into one of the canyon trails and soon enough was down by the lake. I spotted the high/steep point that Andrew and I had seen the day before, and sprinted toward it, scrambling the last 100 feet or so to the top. Most trails in this area (that I’ve seen so far) contain at least a few quick, steep inclines around 100 to 200 feet long. Definitely different than the FoCo trails. I trudged to the highest point in the park and enjoyed the sun setting behind the Sangres, casting a pink glow on Pikes 50 miles to the north. Good first day.

dec 2nd, 3rd and 4th: 30 minutes of runnin’ each day. Decided to explore what the new neighborhood had to offer. We’re a stones-throw from the mighty (well, I’m sure it’s mightier come spring and summer) Arkansas and the train yards, so I dropped down a steep little hill off our street to the river path below. Each of the three days I tried ascending back up a different route. I discovered that concrete river embankments are killer for hill repeats. Each evening I started with an easy jog, then scampered up the embankments (not sure it’s legal…), jogged back down, then repeated this about five or six times before ending the stroll with a few hill repeats back up into the neighborhood. A quick-and-dirty way to get some climbing in–and within a ¼ mile of the house.

dec 5th: topped-off my first week as a state employee with a 30 minute ride on Maria (the bike!). It’s been a while since I’ve actually pedaled for something other than commuting, but with the river path so close, I’m excited to do some exploring. The path (paved) is rarely busy and follows the river all the way to the Lake/Reservoir, about 9 miles west of town. Definitely looking to do a bike-trail run-bike combo in the near future. Great first week in the ‘Blo.

dec 6th (saturday): ditched town for the day and headed WSW to Pueblo Mtn Park. The drive itself was beautiful, and the park was quite…empty. I realize it’s December, but where is everyone? I drove around a bit to get a lay of the land—are they closed? Do I have to pay someone? Apparently the answer to both questions was ‘no’. The park has about four or five trails ranging in length from 1 to 2 miles long—nothing crazy—so I picked one and headed out. I was surprisingly short on breath and ended-up hiking at least ½ the outing. After reaching the top of the park—maybe 400 or 500’ above the entrance—I noticed that there was access to a trail that left the park heading west, and decided to scope it out. I entered San Isabel National Forest, a behemoth swath of land which includes something like 11 counties, and the Sawatch, Collegiate and Sangre mountain ranges. I bounded off onto the Squirrel Creek trail, and quickly gathered that it had been awhile (a few months at least…maybe more) since another human had tread on it. The trail was a bit…dodgy…and was pretty overgrown with brush and numerous fallen trees. This wasn’t the smooth red carpet trails I was used to up in FoCo, but I kinda liked it. Running was difficult because one had to stop/duck/weave frequently, but man—the silence. I saw a fair amount of animal scat (see pictures), and, mixed with the lack of (human) footprints and heavy silence, I realized I was the only human within 5…6? miles. Definitely a feeling I haven’t had in a while. My first thought after this realization (thanks to evolution) was fear,  but I figured I was well stocked with food/water and was being animal-cautious, so decided to keep moving. I kept an eye on the sun, and turned back well before sundown. In all, about 3 hours and about 8 miles. Not bad. I spent a lot of time stopping, taking in the view, the silence, and enjoying the day. Good recon for future adventures.

dec 7th: It’s been a week since my first Pueblo outing with Andrew, so I thought I’d head back to the Lake to explore a little more. This time I decided to take Maria out for a spell, and rode the River trail up to the dam. Round trip was about an hour and 15, maybe 17 or 18 miles total. It was 65 and sunny and once I got thru some of the walkers in town I was able to punch it a bit and even got to climb for a ½ mile or so. Great to get back on the bike, and in December no less.

in conclusion: In all an enjoyable week of exploring my new surroundings and beginning a consistent groove for the month. Glad I mixed it up with some close-to-the-house running, some dirt, a nice day trip and a couple rides. Feelin’ good.

pueblo mtn park

pueblo mtn park

into no-man's land

into no-man’s land

mtn lion scat

mtn lion scat

wild beast poo

wild beast poo

hiding mushroom

hiding mushroom

LPSP Reservoir dam(n)

LPSP Reservoir dam(n)

elk herd

elk herd

the 30/30/30 reboot

I was completely unmotivated in November. After R2R with Mick, I felt myself return to an apathetic stagnation. I got an idea! Come-up with a challenge to keep yourself moving in November! See: The 30/30/30 November challenge. Problem was, after about 3 days, I fell back into the stupor, and couldn’t motivate. I conjured three or four hundred reasons why, then narrowed it down to three realistic reasons: big life changes (new job, moving, down-sizing, saying goodbye to friends/loved ones), lack of inspiration with the same routes and paths – but really, these were completely eclipse by the simple fact that I was Just. Plain. Tired. For the last bit of October and into November, 8 and 9 hours of sleep every night wasn’t enough. It was tough getting up in the morning. Really tough. Once up, I couldn’t muster the will power to get my ass out the door for more than that first week of November. After that first week, I decided (somewhat subconsciously at first, then oober-consciously shortly thereafter), to pack it in for a bit. Shut’r down. Give-in to the body’s obvious callings for rest.
In early November, I was offered a position as a teacher of individuals with visual impairments. The job was in Pueblo. 3 hours south of our home and in a totally different environment (in many ways). We accepted the position, and spent the better part of Thanksgiving week downsizing and moving. Strange, a little scary, a little sad, but definitely exciting. Enter the Reboot.
Interestingly, as soon as Pueblo became a reality, I began coming out of my November stupor. Pueblo is a bit further from the big hills than FoCo, but there is ample new trail to explore. Having moved at the end of November, I thought it a good idea to try the 30/30/30 thing again, this time in December. Despite the shorter days and colder nights, I’ve spent this first week trying out new routes and getting to know my new residence. Steep, pine/aspen lined footpaths have been replaced by rolling, brush- and juniper bush-filled expanse, with open views of Pikes Peak, the twin Spanish Peaks to the south, and to the west, the Sangres. It feels a touch like Home in Alamosa.
My goal for December is simple: consistency. Run or bike, at least 30 minutes a day, for 30 days. Throw-in a daily silent/meditation practice for 30 minutes, and my hope is that by the start of 2015, I will be ready to hit the gas. During December I will also narrow down a few races for next year, mostly in the marathon-to-50 mile range I think. Because of how much time it’s taken me to recover from the Leadville 100, I’m planning on nixing any thoughts of a 100 miler in 2015. Besides exploring a new land, I’m looking to pick the leg speed-up and hone my ‘shorter’ distant race skills, and maybe throw in a bike race if the wind catches me right come spring. For now, a slow consistent building.