As the weather here on the Front Range went from snowing to upper 80s in a month’s time, the familiar essence of summer has started to emerge. The call of the mountains has become louder and The Dude abides. Being my first summer season in Boulder, it’s only natural that once the high country opened up, I was eager to finally experience running above 8,000 feet.
With the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race coming up, Nick Combs and I have started heading to Estes to train, now that the snow has melted enough, to try to make up for the “low” altitude of Boulder. The SJS50 course goes up to 13,334 feet, and I had never ran above 8,000 feet before this May, so any high country training will at least help me recognize how my body and lungs feel the higher I go. It also provides good opportunities to play with hydration and fueling strategies for race day. Fortunately, so far the altitude up to 11,400 feet doesn’t give me any notion of sickness, just makes breathing a little more difficult – similar to when I moved to Boulder from Charlottesville. This is reassuring, since I signed up for high altitude, Colorado races before ever having ran at a higher altitude than Boulder!
Reaching New Heights
The sky was already filled with dark clouds when Nick and I parked at the Lily Lake trail head to run up Estes Cone. We knew from the start we were going to have to outrun the incoming storm and, for my first time starting at almost 9000 feet above sea level, this was a little bit of a struggle for a mere 7 mile out and back. I pushed on, trying to keep pace with Nick, who seemed to be levitating up the mountain while I huffed and puffed and slogged up behind him. At one point, on the rocky second half of the ascent, I stopped to eat a gel, in an attempt to give myself more energy to get up this mountain. When I looked back up, I could no longer see Nick. I also lost the trail among the rocks and with the sky looking ominous, I knew I didn’t have time to get lost. I decided to scramble straight up, rather than trying to find the elusive switchbacks that I had become blind to. I got as high as I could, which turned out to be almost at the peak, to get a vantage point. I then heard Nick calling and linked back up with him. We ascended to the top, took in some great views of Longs and headed back down. To our favor, the sun started to come out a little and the storm we were trying to outrun never happened.
This past Sunday, we went back and ran Estes Cone and Twin Sisters. The weather was perfect this time and the pace was much more manageable. So far we have only gone up Estes Cone and Twin Sisters Peaks, since the snow has just started melting enough to have a mostly clear path. Hopefully, we will have a chance to get up to at least 13,000 feet this weekend before tapering starts.