Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year in Review

Looking back, 2010 sure had it's share of highs and lows. It all began with a PR at the PF Changs Rock & Roll Marathon in Phoenix, followed by two months of painful IT Band issues. By mid-April, I was back to full strength and the miles increased through the month of May, leading into the Flagstaff 50K on June 12th. After a good showing there, I was looking forward to the Devil Mountain 50K in July taking place in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Three days until I left town, my Explorer's radiator blew and I had to cancel the trip. The silver lining here was having the opportunity to join a group of guys from Phoenix to climb Mount Whitney in California, which is the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,496ft.

The Pikes Peak Ascent was only a month away now and I could continue my hill training into August. This would be one of two major races in 2010 in which I held high expectations for myself. Running hills (or should I say mountains) in the higher altitudes of Arizona became a summer theme that I really enjoyed, mainly because of the crew and the good times we shared. Nine days out from stepping on the plane towards Colorado, I fell running down Camelback Mountain, injuring both knees and straining a hamstring. Not again I thought! I chose not to prolong the injury by running, and stayed home to rest instead. The next few weeks were fairly inactive until the middle of September when I picked things up a bit and joined a 3-man team with Rob & Matt for the Paatuwaquatsi 50K ultra relay, which we won. October 3rd would give me a chance test the legs at the Xterra 20K, except I came down with a respiratory/sinus infection before the race. My lungs couldn't keep up with the workload I forced upon them, although I did fight my way back into a 3rd place finish.

Two weeks later I faced one of the world's toughest road marathons, and I was more than ready to put me hill training to the test. Muscle Milk sponsored a group of runners (including myself) to take on the Mount Lemmon Marathon, which would climb 6,000 feet uphill to the top of Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona. Hands down, my favorite race of the year, cannot wait to run it again in 2011. Thanks to Muscle Milk for all their support.

Then came the much anticipated inaugural Sedona 50K in November. I tapered my way down from the previous marathon and felt great going into what would be an incredibly scenic trail ultra circumnavigating the city of Sedona, AZ. A battle ensued early on, and after getting lost on a few separate occasions, I gutted it out and shared the win with a friend of mine after 5 hours of rugged trail running. The year would end in a bittersweet fashion after a falling short of reaching my goal at the Xterra Trail Run World Championships in Oahu, Hawaii. I had a number of things working against me on this one, so in hindsight, my overall finish wasn't all that bad. There's always next year, right?

Well, I finally eclipsed the 2,000 mile mark on the year (2,042 to be exact), and let's just say my legs are a bit tired. That number would include both hiking and trail running miles for 2010, and the overall elevation gain was approximately 407,000 feet of total climbing. I was typically training on my feet 4 days per week, two shorter more intense runs during the week, and two longer more moderate treks on the weekend. I averaged 40 miles weekly and 170 miles per month. Thanks to for tracking my stats.

All things considered, 2010 was a pretty good year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Phoenix

Over the past few years I've stayed in Phoenix during the holidays, and just love being able to explore my own back yard with the few extra days off work. On Christmas Eve I joined a group of people from the WMRC (Wednesday Morning Running Club), for a trail run through Phoenix Mountains Park, led by Honey A. We ended up running about 13 miles with more than 2000ft of climbing. It was a nice run, and even nicer group of people. The running community out here is great!

The Sunday after Christmas, Matt, Robert and I drove out past the foothills of Ahwatukee, AZ to the end of Chandler Boulevard where new trails have recently opened on the West end of South Mountain Regional Park. Eager to see what lied in store for us, we climbed several switchbacks from the beginning on our way up trail #1 towards the National Trail. I was loving every minute of it. Steep climbs, stunning views, and a fast paced trail along a ridgeline high above the city that eventually looped back around to where we started. Sure Christmas doesn't feel the same without the progression of seasons or the white stuff falling from the sky, but hey, where else can you run in shorts and a t-shirt in late December?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Week in Oahu, Hawaii

Here's a recap from a few of my hikes and runs in Hawaii...

Saturday - Ran from Waikiki to the Summit of Diamond Head Crater

Sunday - Xterra World Championships - Kualoa Ranch, Oahu

Monday - Kealia Trail Hike - North Shore, Oahu

Tuesday - Kamehameha Highway Trail Run - North Shore, Oahu

Wednesday - Olomana Peak Hike - Kailua, Oahu

Thursday - Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail Run - Makapu'u Head, Oahu

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cochise Stronghold 11/27/10

Cochise Trail - Hike/Trail Run
Dragoon Mountains, Arizona
Mileage - 9.77
Time - 3:07
AEG - 2200ft

The weekend adventure continued as we departed the national monument and drove West across the high desert toward the Dragoon Mountains on our way to Cochise Stronghold. This has to be one of the most interesting places in Arizona for a number of reasons. The geology of the mountain range is stunning and very alluring for photographers, technical climbers, and even us hikers. These same formations provided refuge for over a decade during the mid-1800's for the Apache Chief Cochise...hence the name Cochise Stronghold.

When the pavement ended, and the 10 mile gravel road began to draw us closer to Cochise campground, the massive granite formations commanded our attention. I truly couldn't wait to immerse myself into this mystical wilderness area, I've just never seen anything quite like it before. Matt, Tiffany, and I decided to hike/trail run the 10 mile Cochise Trail around the south side of the range to catch a glimpse of all the giant monolith structures that make this place so aesthetically appealing. The weather was perfect for our run, although a little brisk at times when the sun wasn't directly upon us. Besides the steep climb on the return, I think the most difficult part of this trek was trying to decide which place I liked better, Cochise or Chiricahua.

Chiricahua National Monument 11/26/10

Chiricahua National Monument Hike
Chiricahua Wilderness, Arizona
Heart of Rocks Loop
Mileage - 13.43
Time - 5:11
AEG - 2600ft

The weekend adventure in Southern Arizona came to fruition a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, after making the decision not to join the members of our hiking group on their trip to Zion National Park. It was a good call too, Utah was blanketed in snow. So instead, Matt and I threw a few ideas together, organizing our own camping and hiking trek into some of the most spectacular wilderness areas the state has to offer.

Friday morning came and we had one other taker, Tiffany, who signed up last minute. The three of us hit the road early, arriving at the monument around 9:30am. We set up camp, stopped by the visitors center to get maps and talk to the ranger, then prepared our packs for a long day of hiking. Our plan was to make a big loop through the park to see all the famous rock formations before the sun went down. I really felt like a kid climbing on the boulders and making up our own characters in the different shapes and spires.

The ranger recommended a shorter 5 mile hike to the only natural bridge in the park. Since we had enough daylight left, it seemed worth the effort, especially after she said it was the best area to see wildlife. The route took us up along a ridge for 2 miles, then dropped down into flat wooded area that felt eerily quiet. I made a comment about this being our best chance of seeing something, and just as soon as I opened my mouth, two large Black Bears stormed across the trail approximately 50 feet in front of us! Frozen in our tracks, with no time to re-act (or get a camera ready for that matter), the bears raced into a side canyon and were gone in just a few seconds. With less than a quarter mile to go until the bridge, we played it safe and headed back the way we came.

At dusk we began to prepare dinner and get everything ready for what would be a frigid night in a tent. Arizona had a cold front move through recently, and with the campground sitting at 5,300ft, the overnight low dipped to 25 degrees. Brrr! I was awake first of course, fired up the stove for coffee and oatmeal, and began breaking down camp and loading the car for our next adventure...Cochise Stronghold.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boulder Canyon 11/13/10

Boulder Canyon Trail #103
Superstition Wilderness
Apache Junction, AZ
Mileage 12
AEG 2356ft

Without any real agenda on Saturday, other than hiking 10-plus miles, Matt and I got in the car heading eastbound. I was literally paging through the Hiker's Guide to the Superstition Wilderness on our way out of town, trying to decide where to go. We eventually chose to hike from the marina at Canyon Lake, up Boulder Canyon and over to the Second Water trail.

The weather today was incredible, sunny yet chilly at times. It's nice to get back on the trails in the Superstition Mountains, after a 5 month absence due to scorching summer temps. As the sun passed through the southern sky, the canyon began to come alive with color, and completely changed the view on our return trip. There were quite a few people on the Boulder Canyon trail, including a few guys from our hiking group, several boy scouts, and my good buddy Ken, who was taking a newbie backpacking.

The highlight of the day had to be the giant Sonoran Desert Tortoise we stumbled upon during the final mile of our hike. This truly was a rare sighting as these tortoises spend 95 percent of their lives in burrows, and typically enter hibernation before this time of year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cactus to Clouds (The Return) 10/23/10

Mt San Jacinto Peak Hike
Palm Springs, California
Mileage 21
Time 9:45
AEG 10,795ft

After failing to reach the actual summit in May of this year due to 5 feet of snow cover on the mountain, we decided to give it another try. Timing on this particular hike is crucial because of the small window of opportunity that it can be attempted. Since the hike starts at 450ft of elevation in the California desert and faces east with total exposure to the sun, hiking in the summer is out of the question. The peak tops out at 10,800ft, so climbing it in the winter is impossible without technical gear. And if those logistics weren't enough, it's rated the toughest hike in the country gaining over 10,000 feet of elevation in only 15 miles to reach the summit. Hence the name "Cactus to Clouds."

My local hiking group AHOTE (Arizona Hiking and Off-Trail Explorers), organized this event and limited the sign up to 12. I typically prefer hiking with fewer people or even solo, this time I was looking forward to the dynamic of a larger group and meeting some of the new guys. We departed Phoenix at 11:00pm and made the 4 hour drive to Palm Springs, CA. We began hiking at 4:00am and spent the next three hours navigating our way through the desert by the light of a full moon. Daybreak came and we caught our first glimpse of the massive granite rock formations that makes this mountain appear so prominent (and intimidating).

Over the next few hours the group grew silent as we focused mainly on escaping the most difficult and relentless segment of our climb out of the desert and into the the tall pines. Ten miles in and five hours later, we had already ascended over 8,000 feet. Now that is some serious elevation gain! We took an extended break to rest and refuel, picked up our hiking permit at the ranger's station, and headed out to finish the last 5 grueling (yet incredibly scenic), miles to reach the peak. The landscape appeared dramatically different this time around without a blanket of snow over it. Not only that, there was an actual trail to follow! How nice. In just under 8 hours the summit was ours, and my unfinished business with this mountain was finally settled.

I was so impressed with how well the entire group handled what will undoubtedly be the most difficult hike of their lives. We hung together and made a great team effort in order to reach summit in tact. Well done guys! We went out for dinner, recapped the hike and shared our personal experience on the mountain. Before it became too late, we packed up and headed home.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Spur Cross Loop 10/09/10

Spur Cross Conservation Area
Cave Creek, Arizona
Mileage 11.26
Time 2:41
AEG 11461ft

Matt and I originally planned a short day trip to Tucson for a trail run in Sabino Canyon, at the last minute, we decided to stay close to home and explore the Spur Cross Ranch Recreation Area. Sure glad we did. This was all new territory for me, and we were treated to impressive views of Elephant and Sugarloaf Mountains. Not only that, this area has some of the greatest concentration of giant Saguaro Cacti in the state. It was a beautiful, and somewhat cool morning in the desert, a nice break from four months of one-hundred-plus temperatures.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Humphreys Summit Trail 09/18/10

Mt Humphreys Peak
Kachina Peaks Wilderness
Flagstaff, Arizona
Mileage 10.25
Time 5:03
AEG 3349ft

On a picture perfect day in Flagstaff, Emily and I drove up to Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort with the intention of hiking the summit trail to the state high point atop of Mt Humphreys at 12,633ft. We began our day among several others looking to hike the mountain on this gorgeous September morning.

After three hours of steady climbing we passed through dense forest, then onward above the sub-alpine area, past the treeline and into the only alpine zone in the state. We hiked the final mile past a few false summits and just before noon we reached the peak. The sky was completely clear, not a cloud to be seen, which gave us a panoramic view of the entire surrounding high country.

Finishing the hike around 3:00pm, we had enough time to catch a lift on the SkyRide and took a 30 minute scenic ride up to the overlook at 11,500ft. This was such a relaxing way to finish off a great day of hiking the mountain.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Time to Rest

As far as training goes, the blog will be on hold as I rest and rehab my recent injuries (sprained posterior ligament of the ankle and strained biceps femoris tendon aka hamstring). I fell while trail running on a familiar, yet steep downhill section of Camelback mountain. After training hard for 5 months straight, I made the decision to withdrawl from the Pikes Peak ascent. Even though I was very disappointed (to say the least), the time off will give me a chance to recover and return to running with a greater sense of strength and awareness.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tom's Thumb 08/08/10

Tom's Thumb Hike/Run
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
North Scottsdale, Arizona
Mileage 5.56
Time 2:15
AEG 2018ft

The Sunday night hikes continue, and they just keep getting better each weak. Matt, Robert, Katie and I headed over to the North access of Tom's Thumb and began our trek around 5:20pm. We ventured up to the thumb first, took a few pictures, then traveled over to and up the lookout trail. The evening sky and cloud cover provided ever-changing views of the mountain range that were quite spectacular. Descending down the mountain we caught a glimpse of a double rainbow amidst the glow of the setting sun. We finished the hike a little after 7:30pm, and as we were pulling away from the trailhead, Matt came to an abrupt stop on the dirt road. As Katie and I drew near we saw Matt and Robert jump out of their car and run towards the side of the road. At first I thought rattlesnake, when I heard the words "Gila Monster" I was like a kid on Christmas morning as I've been on a mission to see one since I moved out here. What a nice finish to a great hike.

Camelback Mountain 08/07/10

Camelback Mountain
Phoenix, Arizona
Mileage 11.5
Time 2:09
AEG 2600+Ft

Hiking Camelback was a fallback plan, following an ordeal that I'll never forget. To sum it up, my day went as follows: Locked keys in car, stranded for three hours, caught a ride home, ended up in the hospital, locked out of the house, found a ride to get my car, hiked Camelback. If you really want the details, call me. It's really a funny

Originally, I set out to run up Mt. Ord until my plans drastically changed. So, I decided to hike/trail run up and over Camelback, then run back around the mountain on the road to my car. I did this not once, but twice to get in 10+miles. If I knew how few people hike the mountain on Saturday evening, I would be up there more often. Each time I reached the summit, it was completely quiet, not a single person...which is rare. The rain and cooler temps brought out some wildlife, including a few very large chuckwallas (pictured below). Very cool. This unusual monsoon season we are having has provided some of the most incredible sunsets and bizarre weather patterns to the valley. It's a nice break from the extreme heat.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sunrise Peak 08/01/10

Sunrise Peak Trail Run
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
N. Scottsdale, Arizona
Mileage 4.74
Time 1:15
AEG 1270

Following last week's Camelback outing with Brett, I became really turned on to hiking in the evening. Typically I'm a morning person, although there's a different element exercising later in the day.

So I organized a group of 6 to hike/trail run Sunrise Peak at 6:00pm Sunday night. We met at 5:30pm to arrange a car shuttle, which would mean hiking up one side of the mountain and trail running down the other side to our cars. It turned out to be one of the nicest summer days I can remember (high 80's and cloudy), and everyone was thrilled to take advantage of it. Looks like the Sunday night hike may become a regular thing.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Weatherford Trail 07/31/10

Mt Humphreys via Weatherford
Coconino National Forest
Flagstaff, Arizona
Mileage 23.25
Time 7:27
AEG 5072ft

Rain was the theme of the day, beginning with a torrential downpour at 1:00am in Phoenix and holding steady all the way to Flagstaff. As we arrived, the mountain range was completely engulfed in a storm cloud that didn't look promising for our 23 mile hike.

The seven of us left the trailhead at 7:45am with a light drizzle quickly turning into a heavy rain coming down from the mountains. I intended to run the entire 11.5 miles to the summit in preparation for my next race, although...two miles in, I had to break under the shelter of a large Ponderosa Pine. The group pressed on and caught up to me. After much contemplation whether or not we should continue hiking (or go for coffee) we decided to hike an additional mile and see what happened with the weather. The further we went, the better things looked. Two miles became four, then four became seven and before we knew it, the summit looked like a feasible goal.

Surrounding views were absolutely amazing, the forests appeared to be on fire with bright white clouds spewing up from each side canyon and ridgeline. Often times the summit completely disappeared as passing vapors were so thick I could literally touch them with my hands. As challenging as the conditions were with the rain, it really made the hike more interesting and reaching the summit all that more rewarding. I broke away from the group in the final mile on our way to the top, upon reaching the peak, I was treated to a little solitude above the clouds on Arizona's tallest mountain at 12,633ft. This would be the fourth time I've summited this peak in the last two years, and each time it's an entirely new experience. It always amazes me that I'm still in Arizona. The Weatherford trail has to be one of my personal favorites in the state for a number of reasons, mainly because it's runnable, which is what Matt and I did on the way back down.