June 15, 2019

Weekend Recap: Ragnar Snowmass and High Country Hiking

Weekend of June 7-9

This weekend, I was headed out for the mountains for the first time in months. I skied my last day of the season on April 7, and hadn’t been back to Eagle County since! I was really excited to get out to my mountain house and check on a few things there, plus see what it was like there in the summer. But first… I headed out to Aspen for Ragnar Snowmass.

My friend Sarah had organized a fabulous team over the last few months for this trail Ragnar, but in the last month before the race, people were dropping out like flies. Out of a team of eight, we lost fourteen people in the month up to the race – totally crazy. It turns out that not everyone had paid Sarah back when she asked us (in November 2018!), so with no money on the line, apparently people felt like they could just say never mind. Ugh! I finally told Sarah the week of that if anyone dropped at this point, it was totally appropriate to say “so bummed you can’t join us, but you will still need to pay, and if we can find a replacement, we’ll do our best to refund you.” We ended up just squeaking in with a full team of eight, with one person recruited the day before the race. Phew!

I drove up to Aspen with Cassie, a recent recruit, who also turned out to be a recent transplant from New York City. It was fun to pass the time on the driving discussing our reasons for wanting to move to Colorado and how we felt it compared to New York. We stopped in Frisco to grab a quick lunch at Which Wich, where we met up with Craig, who was out hiking Peak 1 and Quandary. I planned to meet up with Craig in Minturn on Saturday after the race, but wanted to give him the keys (which I hadn’t been able to find) so he could get in before me if our race went long. From Frisco, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was only about two hours to Aspen – a much shorter drive than I expected, since Sarah had told us it was four hours from Denver (and I didn’t bother to check myself). Since I was the first runner on our team, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late!

Our start time was supposed to be 5pm, but with everyone ahead of schedule to get in, Sarah got permission to move our start up an hour to 4pm. This was especially great since our team had changed a lot, and we were worried we’d hit the time limit otherwise! Cassie and I arrived around 3:30pm, unloaded our stuff, and then I got ready to run while another teammate drove my van to the remote parking lot and took the shuttle back. I was glad I had made the wise decision to drive in my running clothes, so I was pretty much ready to go on arrival!

I was a little discombobulated when I arrived at the start. 4pm was one of the last start time (5pm was the absolute last), and there were a lot of people huddling around the TV screens outside the relay exchange tent. Sarah had told me I needed to hurry so I could check in, and at first, I joined the crowds of people standing around the TVs, thinking this was a safety briefing for teams about start (like we had done in Ragnar Chicago). However, I soon realized these were teams who were already on the course, and were looking for their runners to come in; I belonged elsewhere. I headed into the exchange tent and found a small group (maybe a dozen?) of runners standing on the side of the exchange, awaiting their start – ah, this was where I belonged. As I entered the tent, I saw my friend Chad finishing his first leg, and he gave me a sweaty hug and wished me luck.

I didn’t feel totally ready when the announcer started counting us down, but I started my Strava, my music, and my Garmin… and I was off! Or so I thought. I realized about a half mile in that I hadn’t actually started my Garmin, so I started it then. I like that my Garmin gives me a relatively accurate “current pace” as well as the distance with just a quick glance at my wrist, vs taking my phone out, but I use Strava as my official “how far did I go and what were my splits.” One of these days, maybe I’ll exchange my trusty rusty old Garmin 405 for a watch that syncs via Bluetooth / with Strava, so I don’t have to remember to press so many things!

Starting our team off, with my phone still in hand before I tucked it away. Go Trail Rebels!

My first loop was green – supposedly the easiest of the three I’d be doing. I took off toward the front of the (small) pack, with just two guys slipping ahead of me. The first mile was a slight steady uphill – gaining about 100 feet in that first mile. I tried to take it easy, knowing how much was ahead, but as usual, went out too fast 🙂 I ended up running an 8:38 pace for this mile, but I figured it probably wasn’t too bad a strategy to start faster since I knew I’d be significantly slower on the bigger hills. Plus – I reminded myself that the race was starting at 7800′, so this altitude was already going to have me slower than usual!

Mile 1(ish, in Ragnar parlance) corresponded with the top of the first hill, and I was happy for a slight downhill for the next third of a mile. Between that and the fact that up through now we were running on pavement, I picked up the pace significantly to about 7:00/mile, at least until we finally turned off the pavement. Aha, an actual trail! I passed a water stop and realized it probably would have been a good idea to bring a water bottle with me on the run, which I hadn’t done since I knew this leg was only 4 miles long. It was really hot out though (in the 80s), so I took a few seconds to stop and cup my hands to get a drink.

The next mile was up a series of trail switchbacks, which got progressively steeper as we went. I hit 9:52 for the second mile, and then was grateful for the slight plateau that made things much more runnable… until we started ascending again at mile 2.25. And at mile 2.4, it got too steep to even think about running, so I slowed to a hike to get up what turned out to be the last steep incline. Yikes, that was tough! But I knew it was now mostly downhill from here. That turned out to be how all three loops of Ragnar Snowmass went – nearly straight up to the halfway point, then straight down. I really wasn’t a fan – I much prefer mixing the inclines in and having rollers throughout.

Lest I complain too much, let me pause to point out that the views were REALLY pretty.

Although I lost a lot of time hiking, I made it up on the downhill that followed, averaging 7:30-8:30 for the second half of this loop. That meant I finished the 4.2 miles in 37:51. Looking at the race results later, I learned that I was the fastest leg 1 runner in the top ten female teams. (That would not be the case for the other two legs!) I was really pleasantly surprised by how well I did on this leg, since I suck at hills, altitude, and heat – and this leg had all three.

With my first leg done, I was able to go relax for a bit – and in addition to squeezing in dinner, I wanted to try to get some sleep. I had slept a lot during Ragnar Virginia, and it seemed to work out well, so I wanted to do the same here. While the rest of the team waited for our two final teammates to arrive, I headed to get dinner. As with Ragnar Virginia, we were given vouchers for dinner; however, there, we were directed to one of a dozen food trucks; here, there was a catered pasta buffet line in a big tent. I was disappointed at first, because the food looked like it would be cafeteria-quality rather than something really tasty, but I was pleasantly surprised when I actually got my plate – it was pretty good. After chowing down and hanging out with the team for a bit, I tucked into my sleeping bag in a tent around 9pm, hoping I could get a few hours of sleep in before my midnight leg #2.

Thanks to my White Noise app, wireless headphones, and an eye mask, I was indeed able to catch two hours of sleep, which was fantastic. I woke up feeling decently ready for the Red loop… or at least as ready as I could be knowing that it was 4 miles straight uphill.

Unfortunately, even though I knew it was going to suck, it was worse than I imagined. The first 2.5 miles were not just uphill, but on a paved neighborhood road. While I appreciated not having to worry about my footing in the dark, I was really disappointed that for a “trail Ragnar”, two of the three loops started with nearly half the distance on roads rather than trails. (Spoiler: the yellow loop turned out to be the same.)

I employed a run/walk approach to these first 2.5 miles, since we gained over 700 feet in that short distance, and it felt pretty comfortable. In the dark, I couldn’t really see landmarks to pick a point at which to switch from running to walking (which is my usual approach for run/walk intervals), but instead just ran till I was out of breath, then walked until I was breathing easily. Not exactly pushing myself hard, but my goal was just to get through it!

When I turned from the road onto the trail, I was immediately hit with a wall of uphill that caused me to think, “oh HELL no.” Fortunately, it was a short (but steep) hike, and then I was on a ridgeline that undulated up and down. I was really happy for the rollers, but quickly found that in the dark, I couldn’t see far enough ahead to really know what was coming – so sometimes, my legs were surprised by an unexpected uphill or downhill. As a result, I ended up walking a lot more than I think I would have if it were daylight.

I had heard that the trail was supposed to start going downhill around 4 miles, so it was a blessed surprise when that actually happened at 3.5 miles – and I gratefully picked up the pace. Maybe a little too much, since shortly after mile 4, I tripped and fell flat on my face with a little scream! Fortunately, I had fallen just right to where I was dirty but not actually hurt, and I quickly yelled “I’m okay!” to the runners a little ways behind me, who heard me fall but couldn’t see me. The rest of the run proceeded without incident, and when I chatted with my friend Claire about the loop after the race, we agreed it should be nicknamed the “childbirth” loop – super painful on the way up, but so easy on the way down that you forget how bad it was and want to run it again 🙂 I did kind of want to run it again in the daylight, so I could experience the glorious views other runners had said you get at the top!

But for now – bedtime again. After getting Sarah off on her next leg, I bundled back into my sleeping bag, turned my white noise app on, and headed off to dreamland. I slept decently well, except for a rainstorm in the middle of the night – at which point I realized that my teammate’s tent was lacking a rain fly, and all the rain was coming in the screen window! Since it was light, I chose to just hide my head under my sleeping bag rather than try to fix anything, and that worked okay.

I woke up at 5:30am to my alarm, but kept my eyes shut and tried to pretend I could keep sleeping longer. Then one of my teammates popped her head into my tent and called my name, and I knew I had to get up 🙂 Overnight, it seemed that no one had updated our Google Sheet where we were tracking what time each person had finished their loop, so I really didn’t know when I was going to need to be ready to run. I hit the portapotties before going over to the start, and when I got to the TV screens, I didn’t see our team name come up… but then all of a sudden, I saw Hilary coming out of the exchange tent. Yikes – I had missed it! This is why I really wish Ragnar would use technology to push notifications to cell phones (via text message or email) rather than relying on people having to watch the TV screen at the right time.

But we had only lost a minute or so, and I took off around 6:30am. I was thrilled that it was light out and I wouldn’t have to do my last leg in the dark! However, I was not thrilled to discover that this leg too started out on roads rather than trails. We ran through a neighborhood (albeit with some really cute patio homes!) before turning onto the trails. I really wished they could have chosen a location for this trail Ragnar that was more trails than roads… and while I’m wish listing, it would have been nice to have routes that weren’t just ascending to the halfway point and then descending to the finish 😉

I knew from the muddy condition in which many runners had come back from the yellow loop that there was bound to be some mud on this trail. I was hoping it might dry out a bit since our first runner came back Friday covered in mud, but the overnight rainstorm had dashed my hopes of that! The first mud patch wasn’t too bad, but at mile 1.5, we hit a really nasty one where no one could keep their footing. None of us were even bothering to try to run; it was all I could do to set one foot down and try to get it to be stable before putting my weight on it so I could try to move the other foot forward. I saw five runners go down in the mud, and just kept my fingers crossed I wouldn’t be one of them!

A rare dry spot on the ascent, where I paused for a picture. So pretty!

But I survived unscathed (well, except for the mud filling my shoes / covering my ankles), and at mile 2, the trail joined up with the red loop for the long descent to the finish. I started flying past other people once I hit the descent, and ended up right in front of another guy who then picked up the pace and stayed right behind me.

Since it was often hard to tell how close someone was to me without turning to look back (and risking a fall), I had adopted the habit throughout Ragnar of yelling back “let me know when you want to pass and I’ll step aside!” whenever I heard someone coming up behind me. In this case, though, the guy said he didn’t want to pass and he preferred to just follow me. We ended up chatting the whole rest of the way to the finish, which was a lovely bit of trail camaraderie and a nice way for me to finish my legs of the relay!

When I came into the finish, though, I discovered that I had a secret that my running buddy hadn’t been able to see from behind me. Everyone looked scared when I finished, with several volunteers and runners asking “are you okay?!” After a glance into the selfie camera of my smartphone, I learned that I had blood all over my front teeth… why, I don’t know. I assume maybe I bit my lip?! But all was fine.

Before going back to the tent area to change, I stopped by the fire pit to meet up with a Superior resident who was also running the relay, and who wanted to talk about some park controversy that’s going on in town. It seems that even in the mountains, I’m not safe from trustee duties! But I had a lovely conversation and truly didn’t mind meeting up with the resident – it was kind of nice to fit it in while traveling rather than feeling like I have to catch up on these sorts of conversations whenever I’m home in Superior.

Hopefully she did not judge how sweaty I was OR the bright neon orange poncho I brought to wear before / after my legs. I got this free at the NYC Marathon years ago and it has sat in my closet untouched ever since…. until I finally realized how awesome it would be for Ragnar.

Finally, I headed back to the tent to change into some comfy clothes and eat. Now I had nothing else to do but cheer the rest of the team on! I intended to just change and then head back to the Ragnar Village area for real breakfast, but after seeing how long the lines were for the few food trucks, I instead snacked on too many sweets at our tent and then skipped a real meal. Oops! I have been on a sweets binge lately, and while running 14 miles gives me a bit of leeway, I really need to cut back on my sugar intake.

After cleaning stuff up back at the tent, I headed to Ragnar Village, where Sarah had set up a pair of Normatec boots for our team to use. This was incredible – I love these boots and how good they feel after a hard race! Truthfully, this had not been a hard race (because of my lack of effort / not really treating it as a race), but I was still psyched for some recovery time in the boots 🙂 After Meera finished her turn, I slid into them… and then everyone else ended up leaving the area, so when my first 45 minutes finished, I stayed in for another. I didn’t really need all that extra time, but it was either stay in them or figure out how to haul them back to our tent area, and I chose the former 🙂 90 minutes straight of Normatec was fabulous, and I will confess that I spent some of that time Googling around to see if I could find a good deal on them anywhere to flat out buy a pair for myself! (No dice on a deal, so any tips are appreciated.)

It took us all a little bit by surprise when our final runner, Hilary, went out – we still needed to pack up the camp! We hightailed it back there to get organized, and I went to the remote lot to get my car. Since this was a popular time to leave, it took about 30 minutes to wait for a shuttle and get to my car, but when I brought it back to the pickup point, the girls hadn’t yet gotten the canopies down to pack up. I was a little worried, but we ended up being able to disassemble them quickly and get my car out of the dropoff site within my allotted ten minutes. Phew! And then I found a parking spot close to the finish line, so I could leave my car there while we cheered for Hilary and ran in together.

I was watching the screens for Hilary’s arrival, but didn’t know where the rest of the team was… and suddenly, our name came up. I sent a frantic text to rally the team, worried they wouldn’t get there in time, but they all made it just in the nick of time and we got to run it in together. Ragnar Snowmass was officially complete, and we later learned that we had taken sixth place in the female division!

Our funny face pose at the finish! I hate when photographers do this, because I never know what to do, but this came out pretty cute 🙂

I dropped Sarah off at her car so she wouldn’t have to wait in the shuttle line, then got on the road myself. Rather than going all the way back to Denver, I was headed to Minturn, and I was really excited to see Craig and have a relaxing night in the tiny little mountain town. I wasn’t disappointed! After showering and getting cleaned up (ahhhh, there is nothing so nice as a shower after camping and running in the mud!), we went to the Saloon for dinner, and snagged a table on the patio right by the rushing Eagle River. So relaxing… especially with a margarita in hand 😉

And after dinner, Craig took me for a sunset drive out Highway 24 to Red Cliff. I loved seeing the tiny old mining town, the beautiful bridge that continued from there to Leadville… and a family of deer crossing the road on the way back! It was the perfect end to the night, and I was so happy.

Sunset drive to nowhere… loved it!

The next morning, Craig slept late, and I caught up on some reading in the meantime… which is pretty much my favorite start to a weekend morning. We had originally thought we’d maybe ski Breckenridge on our way back to Denver (it was still open, due to all the crazy late-season snow!), but after discussing Saturday night, decided to hike instead. After a bagel breakfast and a false start on the Lionshead Mountain trail (which was flooded out), we headed for Meadow Mountain, whose trailhead was just 1.5 miles from my front door.

So green in town, so white still up on Vail. Now, if *Vail* were still open, I might have opted to go skiing…

Craig and I tested out a new hiking strategy – we both downloaded the same podcast, then counted to three in order to start playing it at the same time as we hiked. Since we both had Airpods on (which, for our heads, aren’t an airtight seal and allow us to easily hear everything around us), we could periodically comment to each other on what we were listening to, and at the end of each episode, we’d take a break to discuss. I love this! I have always been torn between hiking alone and hiking with others, because I really love learning and listening to podcasts while I hike, and Craig told me he feels the same. This was the perfect solution to allow us to do both, and it made the miles pass by quickly.

The summit had some snowfields, including a quarter mile stretch we had to posthole. Craig was kind enough to go first, but it still wasn’t much fun! These little patches were much easier to deal with.

We took some shortcuts on the switchbacks (which seemed to be well-worn and not us just going off the pack), and ended up doing the whole trek in 8.5 miles. Pretty solid! I was thrilled that hiking in Eagle County was much cooler than hiking in Boulder; we were out in the afternoon “heat of the day”, but temps were in the 60s and it really wasn’t too hot, even in the sun. And we weren’t the only ones enjoying the trail – about two miles from the descent, we saw a family of deer bounding across the fields! They were majestic, and I was fortunately quick with my camera to get a video.

We spent the rest of the way down considering our time frame – Craig wanted to watch the Stanley Cup final (or what we thought would be the final), and we were torn between sticking around Minturn to watch it there, or heading home. We finally decided to just head back – we knew we’d miss the beginning of the game, but I had promised Craig pho for dinner (after reneging on pho after our South Boulder Peak hike because I was too hot for soup) and we didn’t know a place we could get pho and watch the game. Home was perfect!

We ended up getting back only about thirty minutes late (hooray for no traffic jams), and I ducked out to pick up pho, summer rolls, and a few groceries. It was the perfect relaxing way to spend the evening after a long weekend in the mountains! But I was thrilled that I had gone out to the mountains and enjoyed it.

I really didn’t know how much I’d be going out to the mountains outside of ski season, since we have plenty of hiking trails in Boulder, but it was really lovely to hike in the cooler temps. Plus, there’s something so relaxing about getting away from my main house and all its obligations, and just having my little getaway in Minturn! I think I will definitely be heading out to the mountains more this summer.


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