Sunday, December 29, 2013

Solo Christmas climb of Mt. Hood

Much like last year at this time, I spent my Christmas vacation in Portland, OR. This time I was more determined to summit 11,249-foot Mt. Hood. While it's not a super tall mountain, the final climb to the summit ridge is quite technical, especially with the conditions I faced. Frankly, I feel lucky to have made it up and back without injuring myself; I would recommend against anybody attempting this climb by themselves, at least if conditions are like what I found. In terms of ranking its difficulty, it's kind of a tie for second with Granite Peak, MT; Granite was longer, and my legs hurt a lot more the next day, but I think the crux move on Hood was more technically challenging than anything on Granite. Fortunately I survived to tell the tale, and I get to end 2013 with 40 state highpoints, 80% complete.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Note

December 2013
     Happy Holidays! I hope this note finds you well. I am quite well. In fact, 2013 was such an amazing year, there's no way I can talk about it without sounding like I'm bragging. So, fair warning, I'm going to go ahead and brag about my adventures this year.
     Climbing 20,320-foot Denali, aka Mt. McKinley, in Alaska in June and July was an incredible experience. The first thing you notice is the immense scale, which is unlike anything I've ever experienced; on a clear day, the mountain can be seen from more than a hundred miles away. Our team of 10 (7 clients and 3 guides) spent a total of 20 days on the mountain, the entire time on snow and ice devoid of permanent life (other than the climbers and rangers, the only living things above microscopic size were a few birds scavenging). Much of the time was spent as part of the acclimatization process (having flown in on a bush plane to 7,200 feet elevation) and weather delays. The trip was a study of extremes: From roasting heat in the sun at lower elevations to sub-zero wind chill at the summit; From some of the most relaxing days I've had in ages (designated rest days) to some of the most physically demanding, hauling 100 pounds of gear; From the boredom of a weather day after having exhausted my reading materials to the heart-pounding excitement of walking on a narrow ridge with thousand-foot dropoffs to either side. To great amazement, all 10 of us stood at the highest point in North America on July 5.
     Returning to the real world (after having to wait at the air strip 26 hours for our flight back) was absolutely surreal. First it was the smells: After so much time in a nearly sterile environment, everything smelled quite strongly. Perhaps even more bizarre was that the town of Talkeetna is a tourist destination, popular with cruise-goers; to go from only seeing climbers to seeing mostly tourists was mind-boggling. After weeks without fresh food, I was nearly as eager for a green salad as I was for a juicy steak. It's a good thing Anchorage is a laid-back city, nobody seemed to mind that the only clean clothes I had were shorts and a t-shirt I bought in town (and flip-flops, as I didn't want to put shoes on after killing my big toenails on the descent).
     Denali was by far the biggest, but not my only mountain experience this year. In February I spent a week doing technical training at 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. Conditions were harsh, starting with a 24-hour snow storm, and below-freezing temperatures most of the time; at least we had a hut for shelter, even if it wasn't heated or entirely weathertight. In August I climbed the highest peak in Montana (Granite Peak), nearly as physically challenging as Denali, but only for 2 days. Granite Peak was actually the last state highpoint to have a recorded ascent, in 1923. In September I returned to Mt. Rainier, mainly because I had never been to the very highest point (we didn't get anywhere near the summit in February, and while I did get to the summit crater in 2009, I did not continue to Columbia Crest, another 100 feet higher). I was glad to remove that asterisk from my "résumé." It's more of a hill, but in September I went to the highest point in Illinois for state highpoint #39. Later this month I'm going to Portland, OR, hoping to bag Mt. Hood to end the year with a nice even 40.
     In May, I raced in Ironman Texas, my second full-distance triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run), in The Woodlands, just outside of Houston. While the heat did its best to beat me down, I did manage to improve on my time from last year in Louisville, finishing in a little under 15 hours. Not only was it in the 90s that day, but it had been a relatively cool spring until race week, so I wasn't prepared for that kind of temperature. To compound the sun's scorching rays, I didn't take adequate steps to mitigate the heat; I got very overheated on the bike, and it took the first half of the marathon to get under control with ice and drinks (the sun setting helped). Even that was insufficient; after finishing I needed 5 liters of saline at the medical tent.
     This year I also set new personal records in the half and full marathon distances running, and the half Ironman distance in triathlon. As a full-blown racing addict, I did many other events and distances through the year, seemingly every weekend I wasn't climbing a mountain.
     I got a little more serious about stair racing this year, even joining up with a group of fanatics from around the country. I met some of the team at races in Houston, Austin, and Dallas, and many more at the "granddaddy"- the race to the 103rd floor of Chicago's Willis Tower (still commonly known as the Sears Tower). With two second-place finishes (in Austin and Houston), I ended the year ranked 27th in the US by, and 146th in the world on It's almost impossible to say for sure, but I'm claiming to be the first person to climb a 6000-meter peak, finish an Ironman, and be ranked in the top 50 in the US for stair racing in the same year. What that says to me is I'm at least mediocre at several things (and I have free time).
     As much travel as I did for mountain climbing and racing, the only "leisure" travel I did was over Thanksgiving (other than the trip to the Illinois highpoint, that was calm compared to other trips). I flew to Virginia and finally saw the house my parents moved to a year ago; after some time there, we all drove up to New York to where we have been having Thanksgiving dinner regularly for over 20 years. Unfortunately this year was something of a memorial to one of our longtime hosts, artist Jack Beal, who passed away earlier this year.
     I would be remiss if I didn't give credit and thanks to the many people that made such a great year possible. To the many athlete friends who push me in training and in races, and especially my coaches. To the folks who made donations to the charities my racing helps support. To my aunt and uncle for their hospitality while I was in Montana (particularly when I could barely walk after the climb). To the great climbing guides and climbing partners. To the many strangers who helped, especially the scores of race volunteers. To so many Facebook friends for their encouragement, kudos, and 'like's. And of course to my parents, who followed all my adventures with great anticipation, and surely more than a little concern. Thank you all!
     I have no intention of slowing down in 2014. The calendar is filling up quickly with things, including the New Orleans Marathon February 2nd, a climb of Mexico's tallest mountain (Orizaba) 2 weeks later, Galveston half Ironman in April, Ironman Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) in June, and Ironman Wisconsin (Madison) in September.

Season's Greetings,

PS if you're into social media, feel free to follow my blog, Facebook, twitter, and Instagram @mldarm.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Austin Beer Mile / Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon

Last Saturday, hours after flying back from spending Thanksgiving with my parents, I participated in the Austin Beer Mile for my second time, and it went much better than the first. Today, I raced in the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon. The past two years, I won my age group in the "Woolly Mammoth" division. This year, since I age grouped up, I decided to up the distance to the "T-Rex" division (5 mile run/15 mile bike/5 mile run). I am quite pleased to have once again come away with the age group win, and fifth overall. The field was smaller this year than last, due to frigid temperatures, hovering around freezing, with 20 T-Rexers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kerrville 70.3

On September 29, I completed my fifth half-distance triathlon, for the first time repeating a race, at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival. Even though I shaved more than eight minutes off my personal record for the 70.3 distance (set at this race last year), frankly I left disappointed. I was really hoping for a run split close to two hours, so I felt a 2:15 was a poor showing, considering the weather was about ideal for a great race. After a new PR for a 1.2-mile swim and a reasonable (but not exceptional) bike ride, I had high hopes. But they were dashed by quads that didn't want to run up a small hill and a stomach that didn't want to absorb any more water. After some time for reflection, however, a 5:45:28 really isn't a bad time; on the plus side, it makes it a little easier to beat next time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

SkyRise Chicago

This morning was my second time racing SkyRise Chicago, up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (formerly, and still generally known as the Sears Tower). I felt like my pacing was a little better with more experience, but my time was 3 seconds slower than last year, 19:50. I was really hoping to be closer to 19, so I was kind of disappointed. But with the kind of views you get from the SkyDeck, and to be able to hang out with old and new friends, it was a pretty nice weekend overall in Chicago. As a minor consolation, my finish position improved from 81 to 75; some of the fast people sat this year out, I guess.
The biggest difference this year from last is that I have joined the West Coast Labels/X-Gym stair racing team, probably the only national stair racing team in the US. In addition to meeting a bunch of people I previously only knew through Facebook, we got together last night for dinner. I'm pretty sure the top three, and most of the top ten, men today were there, as well as some very fast women. Mark, the team captain, even got some of the guys who came over from Germany to show up for dinner.
I actually slept pretty well last night, other than waking up numerous times. The extra hour thanks to daylight time ending was nice for some extra winks. I woke up about 5, went for a warmup jog (not as long as Dallas two weeks ago, not sure the effect), and picked up some sugar for breakfast on my way back to the hotel. I ate my muffin and walked over to Willis. Breakfast was not sitting well at first, but fortunately it resolved itself before the race started at 7am. As the "elite" wave was assembling itself at the start, people were talking times, and I seriously felt like I was in the wrong line- the people around me were saying 16, 17 minutes. I let a lot of people go ahead of me once the line started moving, until the folks looked closer to my pace. They were sending one person every 6-7 seconds, so it was about 7:03 when I started.
My vague plan was to go at a sort-of quick pace for the first 40 stories, take it easier until 80, then pick up the pace for a solid finish. Hardly a winning strategy, but I thought it could work for me. Other than slowing down for a sip of water at 24, I pretty much followed that plan. I was doing two steps at a time, pulling up on the railing with both hands. I thought maybe I could continue the whole way like that, but around 43 the wheels came off and I started walking one step at a time. I continued like that until above 88, where the stairwell gets narrower and the flights get shorter. This section is narrow enough that I was using the rails on both sides. It was only a short ways from there to the proverbial, and somewhat literal, light at the end of the tunnel, the doorway to the SkyDeck observation level, and the finish mat.
I passed a couple people in the lower floors, I don't think either passed me back. Several people passed me, mainly in the middle region where I was going slow. For a while I heard slapping feet of someone sprinting up every flight. When I saw the source of the noise, it was 11-year old Robert Liking. I was sure there was no way he could keep up that pace, but he kept coming. He passed when I paused for a sip of water at 24, and I didn't see him again until the finish.
I had brought my phone with me to take some photos from the top. Everyone was getting their picture taken in the glass boxes that stick out of the building, making sure to get one straight down of their feet floating above the city below. The WCL team crammed as many as possible into one of the boxes for a team photo. It was so crowded, the effect of being suspended way up in the sky was kind of lost. Let's just say that many people who just finished a non-trivial athletic feat pressed together did not smell of roses.
After chatting and comparing notes at the top and back down in the lobby, it was 9:30 before I headed back to my hotel to shower and change. Of course I'm nuts, so I spent several hours wandering around the city, taking some cityscape photos. At 3 I went back to my hotel to chill for a bit before heading to the airport.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cystic Fibrosis Climb Dallas

Saturday I raced in my third stair climb of the year (and only fifth ever) in Dallas, the 70-story Bank of America building, in an event benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The overall turnout was very low, there were only about 150 climbers, but there was good representation by "my team," West Coast Labels/X-Gym, with nine members racing. We did pretty well too, leaving with a combined five medals. I am pretty happy to have gotten one of my own, for first place in my age group, which for this race was a wide range of 26-39 (I was sixth overall with a time of 11:44). The other medals were for first and second overall male, third overall female, and first male age group 40+. However, we were all soundly beaten by Rolf, an elite climber from Austria who finished just under 9 minutes.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mount Rainier climb with RMI

Careful readers of this blog (okay, that's probably nobody) might recall that while I did reach the summit of Mount Rainier in 2009, I did not stand at the very highest point, on Columbia Crest. I always meant to go back and remove that asterisk from my highpointing roster, but it was never a priority. Frankly, I figured I could skate by and finish the 50 state highpoints without having to revisit Rainier. However, when I was climbing Denali this summer, two other highpointers shamed me into admitting that I couldn't really say I had gotten to the highest point in the state of Washington. Since I already had a 2013 Rainier climbing permit (from when I did the winter skills seminar in February), and my climbing skills were honed after 20 days on glaciers, I figured this would be a good time to knock it off. Since I don't have a climbing partner, I once again climbed with RMI. I was kind of hoping to climb with one of the guides I had climbed with before, since I would more or less be jumping straight onto the mountain, but it was nice to get to know some new guides. Thanks to these great guides and much better weather than was forecast, I was able to stand at 14,410 feet, as high as I could have gone without leaving the ground. This completed a sort of "highpoint trifecta," climbing three of the most difficult state highpoints this summer (after Denali and Granite Peak, MT). Just based on how my legs felt afterward, Rainier was less challenging than Granite; Denali is in a whole different realm.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thoughts on Motivation (via Uptown Classic 10K)

That nagging voice. The one that says "Slow down already," or just "Quit." It has many names, but I like The Oatmeal's: The Blerch. I hear it pretty much every race I do. I actually have a little saying that if I don't hear it, I'm not going hard enough. It says "You can't possibly hold this pace, so just slow down now." I know this isn't true. I've been from extremes of intensity (namely stair racing, especially the Willis.Sears Tower) to extremes of endurance (14+ hours moving during an Ironman). A typical 5K or 10K is nowhere near that level.
But there's another voice. Its mantra is "Just for one mile," a runner's corollary to Alcoholics Anonymous's "Just for today." Just for one mile, I can run this pace. Don't worry so much about the mile after that. At least keep going until the Garmin clicks off this mile. Usually in a race, this voice (I don't have a name for it) wins. Most of the time, at least in road races up to half marathon distance (marathons and tris are a different story), when I do finish the mile I find I can keep going at that pace.
Today, I feel the Blerch won. Usually it waits until I'm a mile or so into the race before it starts telling me to slow down. Today it didn't even want me to leave the house. I defied the Blerch and went to the race. It was pretty quiet until about 50 feet into the race, and I thought I might puke. Nope, just a burp. My time for mile one was slightly slower than my goal, but it was at least in the ballpark. Shortly into mile 2 there was a water station. My mouth was parched, so I grabbed a cup. It went down wrong. I pulled to the side, coughed, got a sip down the correct pipe, and carried on running. I was sure the walk had ruined my chances of hitting my goal, but when the mile 2 time clicked off, it was only a few seconds slower than mile one. The Blerch had not won yet. Mile 3 was okay, a few seconds slower still. I may not be able to set a new PR, but I can still have a decent race. The Blerch took over on mile 4. I got to the water station and hit the brakes. When I did start running again, it was at a much slower pace. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that slow (I know plenty of people who would like their 'fast' pace to be my 'slow' pace), but it felt slow to me; more than a few people passed me. Really I had no desire at that point to chase or resume my earlier pace. The Blerch had already won.
Now, I do have legitimate excuses, such as racing a half ironman last Sunday, being a touch ill after getting a flu shot Tuesday, and resuming hard workouts too soon after a big race (speed work Thursday and stairs Friday). Maybe my body wasn't capable of a PR today, but it was capable of more. The mind got in the way.
Is anyone capable of performing an exorcism on my Blerch?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Illinois highpoint / Ironman Wisconsin

Several years ago, when I was on a road trip through the midwest, I attempted to visit the highest natural point in Illinois (the Willis/Sears tower, which I have climbed, is actually higher), not realizing it's on private property, and they only allow access four weekends a year. It's been on my list to go back on an open weekend ever since. When I was considering this year's dates, September 7-8 was the only weekend that would work with everything else I already had planned. That date seemed familiar, and I eventually realized that was the same weekend as Ironman Wisconsin in Madison, which is not far away. I decided to make a weekend of it: Fly to Chicago, rent a car, visit the highpoint, volunteer for the Ironman, and sign up to race next year.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marathon Relay

For the third straight year, I raced on my company's team for the Marathon Relay. The format was quite different this year from previous years. Instead of five legs of different lengths (12k, 10k, 10k, 5k, 5k), it was six equal 4.37 mile legs. Or at least it was supposed to be. There was some mixup, and the first leg was short, about 3.9 miles. I spoke with an official, and apparently they moved the turnaround cone on Cesar Chavez once all the first-leg runners had been through. I had the good (or bad, depending how you look at it) fortune of being first for one of three teams fielded by my company, the "fast team."
The course was the same as many other downtown races, along Riverside, across the South First bridge, down Cesar Chavez, and back. One other change made this year was to have an actual baton to pass, with the timing chip inside of it. Having never run track (at least until an all-comers meet this summer), let alone relays, it was kind of weird to me to carry a baton. I was a little worried it would slip out of my hand, especially once it got really sweaty. It didn't slip out, and other than a brief second to find my next runner, the handoff went smoothly.
I had a goal pace for this race of 7:15. Thanks to superb fall weather of 65 degrees, and finding a good pacer for the final miles, I surpassed that goal, with a 7:02 overall average (at least according to my watch). Not bad for less than a week after climbing Mt. Rainier. The guy I found to chase/pace off of for the back stretch is a guy I see around all the time, but don't actually know. He dropped me in the final quarter mile, but I don't think I would have maintained my pace through the whole race without someone to follow. My pace tends to be somewhere between the really fast people and the moderately fast people, so at some races I start to feel like I'm all alone. I was grateful for some company this time.
After my race, I told the other team runners the course was short, then had to go back once I found out the distance had been fixed. I stuck around a little while to cheer some folks on, then went for some breakfast. I've been meaning to go to this place Bacon for a while, which has chicken & waffles, a favorite post-run breakfast I haven't had in a while. It was pretty darned delicious, with strips of bacon in the waffle. I have a friend who advocates bacon as a recovery food; I'll have to take him there next time he's in Austin.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ride Americas / TriRock Austin

With a long Labor Day weekend, I had a chance to get in more events than I do on a normal weekend. On Saturday, I participated in the inaugural Ride Americas at the Circuit of the Americas (Formula 1) track. It was not a race, or even timed, more of a fun ride, but I considered it as something of a gran fondo, seeing how many laps I could do in the three-hour period. I think 16 is a respectable number, the same as a guy I happened to run into the next day wearing the event shirt. However, I payed for it a little when I raced TriRock on Monday. The Olympic-distance triathlon went okay, but I was a bit disappointed to end up 10 seconds slower than the last time I did this race, two years ago, when it was still called the Austin Triathlon. I felt those 16 times up turn 1 of CotA biking up Congress Avenue. But the worst part is probably that my splits were all slightly quicker than last time. Basically, I lost to myself in transition.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Solo climb of Montana's Granite Peak

Maybe it doesn't quite count as soloing Granite Peak (Montana's highest at 12,799 feet), since I did do the technical section with two guys from Salt Lake, but I did free solo the ascent and was fully prepared to go it alone. In fact, I was overprepared and was carrying far too much weight on this trip, which (along with the route itself) made for a miserable descent. Frankly, I would not recommend the Froze-to-Death route to anyone. I haven't done it personally, but I know two people who have done the Avalanche Lake route, and it sounds highly preferable. The technical part, which is after those two routes meet, was a lot of fun and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is really comfortable rock climbing. Of course it's not necessary to ascend ropeless, there was a guided group ahead of us roped up, but there really isn't much exposure on the few truly fifth-class pitches.
In short, it was great to knock of highpoint #38 (especially after failing two years ago), and I would definitely rank it as the second most difficult of the state highpoints I've done so far (and I anticipate it remaining so once I'm done), behind Denali.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 Bastrop Lost Pines Triathlon

Today was the fourth annual Bastrop Lost Pines Triathlon. Unfortunately, I was not able to match, let alone beat, my time from last year. Nor did I match my feat from the two previous iterations of winning my age group and having the best bike split. I lost some time from each leg of the tri, but the biggest chunk was about two minutes on the bike. My overall time from last year of 1:20:22 dropped to 1:22:57 this year. Perhaps most frustrating is that I was only 31 seconds behind the guy who won my age group (and also, I later learned, that this was his first triathlon, but he is a cross-country coach and smoked me on the run).

The race went pretty similarly to last year's. I started the time-trial start, snaking pool swim about 20-30 people back. The main difference this year was that instead of starting in the water, the timer started after passing an RFID reader before jumping in (they made a point of saying no diving, but my friend didn't hear that and was penalized for doing so). On the last lap I got bunched up with the two people who had started behind me; we all came out of the water at about the same time. The bike went okay. The fact that I set new personal best 5- and 20-minute average power marks and still had a slower bike split pretty much says to me that I'm fatter than I was last time (more weight to push, more power needed to push it). The run wasn't too bad. Numerous parts of my body were burning at the highest point of the course, roughly the 2-mile mark. Thank goodness there was some flat and downhill after that for some recovery before the last two smaller hills, or else I would have been walking.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jack's Generic Triathlon

Today I raced in Jack's Generic Triathlon. With a new venue (Lake Pflugerville, which also hosted a tri in June) and a new "double" intermediate distance (two laps of each leg versus one lap each for the sprint), there's no way to compare my time this year to last year. And since it wasn't quite Olympic distance (it was a 1000 meter swim, a 26-mile bike, and 6-mile run), I can't compare it to any of my races at that distance. Also, while the swim and run courses were basically the same as Lake Pflugerville Tri, the bike course was different. Based on an educated guess, I thought I might finish somewhere around 2:30, and somehow I hit it almost exactly, finishing with a total time of 2:30:16.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Denali: Climate

I really don't know what the ambient air temperature was during my time on Denali, but it's largely irrelevant. The weather report may say 25 or 40 or whatever, but the actual temperature felt, at least during the daytime, is entirely dependent upon the sun and wind. You could pretty much count on it being cold in the early morning and late evening, when there wasn't direct sunlight (it doesn't get completely dark at this latitude in mid-summer, the sun just goes below the horizon a little ways for a little while; it's still light enough to read at 3am), but with more intense sun at this latitude and altitude, along with the reflection from the snow, it can get blazingly hot in the afternoons. Then, if clouds rolled in or the wind picked up, the temperature would drop quite a bit. If you were out of your tent for a while (ie dinner), you'd need to bring an extra layer in case it got cold while you were out.
Because of the intensity of the sun, protection from it is a must. Sunscreen must be applied constantly. Sunglasses (specifically glacier glasses, with a heavy tint and protection on the sides and bottoms) are worn almost all the time, even in the tent when it's super intense. Snowing? Wear glasses. 4am leaving camp? Better at least have your glasses at the ready, but may as well put them on. Typically glacier glasses are polarized, so they help you make out features in the snow, so it never hurts to wear them.
The afternoon heat also make for poor travel, when the snow gets soft and slushy. On the Kahiltna, which is already one of the most dangerous parts of the trip, soft snow increases the risk of falling into a crevasse. This is why we did that portion at night, giving the snow a chance to refreeze. The afternoon melt also affected camp life, making things icy in the late evening and early morning. This is why it was not recommended to walk around camp in boot liners or booties.
We had snow numerous days on the mountain, only once did it get more than a couple of inches of accumulation. Snow, by itself, did not stop us; it was more wind or low visibility that caused us to hole up in camp. It was high winds along the West Buttress that forced us to spend an extra day at 17,000 camp. The following day, it was snowing, but the winds were much lower; we also wanted to get down before snow accumulation caused avalanche danger. That was the one storm that made for real accumulation; it forced Dave Hahn's team (the RMI team that flew on a week after we did) to wait at 14,000 for the avy danger to come down (by melting and otherwise consolidating). There was about a foot of fresh powder on motorcycle hill when we descended to 11,000 camp from that storm.
The strangest storm by far, not just for our trip but for the Alaska Range in general, was when we first got to 14,000 camp. After we set up camp and were resting, there was some rumbling. This didn't seem unusual at first, there's constant rock and ice fall (close enough to hear, far enough to not be a danger). But then it was too frequent, and it became clear that a thunderstorm was rolling in. For us it wasn't that big of a deal, we were safely in our tents, but it was a very big deal for the teams that were high on the mountain making their summit bids. There were reports of skis and pickets arcing. Everyone that was up high had to hunker down and retreat to high camp. Some ended their trips after that, others waited and made another summit attempt. Mike Haugen's team (the RMI team that flew on a week before we did) retreated in the storm, rested a day at high camp, and then successfully summited the next day.
While being stuck in a tent on a weather day can be mentally challenging (boring, frustrating), by far the worst weather delay was in flying off the mountain. Because the bush planes fly visually and have a 10,000-foot ceiling, they can't fly through clouds. For us, sitting at the landing strip, we had no idea if there were clouds in town or anywhere between here and there, we just saw that it was clear and sunny on the glacier. It would have been worse being Haugen's team and being stuck for 6 days, but at least the weather was crappy everywhere, so they knew they weren't about to be picked up. To add insult, not only was it nice on the glacier, tourist flights from another plane company were landing. We kind of felt like the animals in a zoo (and probably smelled about the same after 20 days without showering).
Basically, if you've ever been somewhere that they say "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes," they have nothing on being on a glacier in the Alaska Range. It can go from sunny and 80 degrees to snowing (and still sunny) to cloudy, windy, and 50 degrees in a few minutes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Denali: Gear & Clothes

The gear and clothes needed to climb Denali start with what's needed for Rainier - harness, parka, ice axe, mountaineering boots, etc - and add layers and technical gear. The equipment list specifies more insulation layers, plus super-cold gear, namely overboots and heavy mitts.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Couples Triathlon

Less than 48 hours after getting back from Alaska, where I spent 20 days on snow and ice climbing to North America's highest point, having stood at 20,320 feet elevation on July 5, I raced in the fourth event of the Texas Tri Series, Couples Tri. The event is meant to pair two people (friends, strangers, couples) and combine their times. Since I wasn't 100% sure I'd be back, I didn't pair up with anyone and went in the Individual category. I was quite curious how this event would go, as sort of a "Nature versus Nurture" experiment to see if three weeks at altitude could make up for not swimming, cycling, or running during that time. While it was rather unscientific, basically the answer was no. Having never done this race, my overall time of 1:23:20 can't be compared to a prior time, but it was slower than two friends who I normally beat. Comparing the bike split to the Rookie Tri, which is the same course, somehow my power was higher but my time was a minute and a half slower. Not too surprisingly, in the swim swim, which is so dependent on form, my mile pace was about a minute slower the other races in the series. My run pace was off of par as well, but at least some of that could be attributed to having killed my big toe nails coming down Denali.

Denali: Training

My physical training to climb Denali specifically was limited to roughly three weeks after Ironman Texas before leaving for Alaska (after a week to recover). Ironman covered the cardio and endurance needed for the climb (and the leg strength), I just needed to refamiliarize myself with carrying a heavy backpack. I did this by doing laps up and down "the hill of life," a roughly 200 foot vertical rocky trail near my office. It is the most vertical gain within a distance feasible for making two or three trips a week. I did about an hour of repeats per visit. I started with 40 pounds of old textbooks, and added 5 pounds each time I went back. When the pack was lighter, I managed to do 4 times down and up (starting from the top); when it got to 70 pounds, I only did 3 laps in the one hour. I found it fun carrying a heavy pack and passing people with either a light pack or nothing at all.
The technical training for this trip was done in February on Mt. Rainier, and since then just trying to practice some of the skills. I didn't find a way to practice crevasse rescue, but I did practice ascending a rope using prusiks and a mechanical ascender in the rock gym. Climbing Denali (at least by the standard route) doesn't require rock climbing, I just did some for fun.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ironman Texas

If you read my report from Ironman Louisville last August and asked "Why would anybody subject themselves that," I must admit I had a similar thought re-reading that recently in the build-up to Ironman Texas on May 18. To remind myself of how miserable it was while I was doing it, I had a bit of dread knowing something similar was in my future. I guess I was hoping the experience from having done one, as well as two more half-distance races, would somehow make it less miserable, and also take less time. While I missed my time goal of 14 hours, I did improve in every split, and I would say the misery was less. Greater than zero, but at least it was less than Louisville. One other thing to note at the top- somehow my swim rank was higher than my bike rank, the first time that's ever happened to me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Republic of Texas Triathlon

This is a belated report for the April 14th Republic of Texas Half-distance triathlon. There's no particular reason it took me so long to write; I was hoping to finish it before Ironman Texas, I just never got around to it. While my overall time of 5:54:18 was a few seconds quicker than the Kerrville Half last September, I can't claim a half-distance PR, as the bike was a few miles short (by my GPS anyway). In a nutshell, my swim wasn't terrible (my second quickest after Buffalo Springs); my bike felt terrible, even if my time for 53 miles wasn't terrible; my run felt pretty good, even though it wasn't much quicker than Kerrville, and a long way from my 13.1 PR. With only about 40 people doing the half distance (many more did the sprint and quarter distances the same day), I finished 19th overall and 4th in my age group (though I would have been top 3 in almost any other age group).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pflugerville Triathlon

The Lake Pflugerville Triathlon today was my first race since Ironman Texas four weeks ago. I think I've finally recovered from it. Today's race hurt a little, but I still managed to cut just under two minutes from my overall time from last year. Most of that came from the swim, which dropped from 11:24 to 9:43; I was about 15 seconds slower on the bike and about 45 seconds quicker on the run. I must have lost a few seconds in T2 because I walked out (instead of running), trying to get my slightly overcooked hamstrings to behave. Despite cutting my time and moving up in the overall rankings, my age group rank dropped from last year, thanks to moving up to what is, apparently, an even more competitive one. This year I was 42nd overall and 15th in my age group.

I must have started further up in the swim than I usually do, because it was an all-out brawl to the first buoy. Guys were swimming over me, I was getting kicked and punched in the face, smacked on the back; it was chaotic. Somehow after the first buoy, about 100 meters in, the field spread out more and I had a much easier go of the rest of the course. The weird thing was that the turn buoy was just past the second marker buoy; apparently for the next wave it came loose and was way out of place, maybe it wasn't quite as far out as it was meant to be for my wave.

I had forgotten that this race last year was the debut of my power meter. This year it was the debut of my latest go-fast goodie, a disc rear wheel, which is a little more aerodynamic and a little bit lighter than the race wheel I had. I'm not entirely sure how a new toy coupled with a new personal best 20-minute average power (and higher average power overall), resulted in a slower time than last year. I'll say the wind was more beneficial last year (the wind was low this morning). The other likely answer is that I went too hard on the first few miles and had to back off a little for the rest.

My legs were not happy when I got off the bike. I took a leisurely walk to the end of transition. I was going to continue walking the one uphill of the run course, up to the level of the reservoir trail, but decided to just give the old legs a shot. Fortunately once I started running, they didn't feel too bad. My calves were firing pretty hard at first, but thank goodness I finally remembered to put on my compression sleeves before the race. I was going a fairly steady 7:30 pace, which is better than I expected, but still kept getting passed. After the third guy in my age group passed (and I couldn't possibly chase), and it was certain I wasn't going to be on the podium (I had no idea how many in my age group were ahead of me the whole way), I almost "gave up" and slowed down, but I figured I could tough it out a little longer. A few 40-44 year-olds flew past me as well, for an extra kick in the rear. My friend Andrew, whom I had passed in the latter portion of the bike, was running hard when he caught me in the last few hundred meters. I picked up my pace, hoping to at least finish with him, if I couldn't stay ahead of him, but I couldn't quite keep up and finished a few seconds back.

I stuck around for the awards, three out of my many friends racing won medals. I'll have to start lying about my age or just have to wait many more years before I'll be on the podium...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

CapTex USA Triathlon Paratriathlon Nationals

This year's Capital of Texas Triathlon was a completely new experience for me. It's fitting that the race that three years ago inspired me to attempt a triathlon, and two years ago was my first Olympic-distance tri would offer something else new. CapTex was once again the site of the Paratriathlon National Championship. I was inspired and kind of fascinated watching the paraathletes last year while waiting for my race to start, so this year since I wasn't racing (I had no intention of doing a race one week after Ironman Texas), I signed up to work with the paratri. I wound up working as a handler, randomly paired up with a challenged athlete. Myself and another handler helped out Ashley Cooper-Heath, a wheelchair-bound athlete from Georgia. Because of the logistics involved, my complete lack of experience, and having somebody relying on me, I was a nervous wreck all the night before and through the race. Even though Ashley's race didn't go as well as she hoped, the part I was involved with (the transitions) went relatively smoothly, with some room for improvement. Overall, it was a great experience, and if the championship is in Austin again, I would definitely be part of it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chuy's 5K / Rookie Triathlon

In a double dose of short and fast, this weekend I raced in a 5K Saturday and raced a super sprint triathlon Sunday. I also volunteered at packet pickup for the tri Saturday afternoon to round out a weekend full of racing. I had pretty low expectations for the 5K, since I only signed up on Wednesday because the weather forecast looked pretty good. Thanks to cool weather and a big, fast field, I managed to shave four seconds off my previous PR down to 20:30. I didn't have a real time goal for the tri, since I've never raced it before (I volunteered last year), but I figured I could do slightly under one hour for the 300m swim/11.2 mile bike/2 mile run. It turned out a friend of mine did a much better job of predicting my finish time of 55:38 (I said 59 minutes, he said 55). Other than doing reasonably well at the tri (17th overall, 4th in my age group), it was a lot of fun. It seemed like almost every triathlete and cyclist I've ever trained or raced with was there, a couple doing their first triathlon.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fight for Air Austin stair climb

This weekend was the American Lung Association's Fight for Air climb in Austin. This year, they added an "extreme" division, where they combine the times for two runs up to the 31st floor of the Frost Bank Tower. Of course I signed up for that, which I figured wouldn't be a big deal, since even three times up is fewer floors than I did last November in the Willis/Sears Tower. I was hoping to do well, but I did not expect to win, even if my "win" was based on a technicality. A large contingent of the national stair racing team, West Coast Labels/X Gym (two of whom I met three weeks prior in Houston) was expected, and expected to do well. One team member did have a better time than me, but because of issues with the timing equipment they couldn't sort out in time for the awards, they gave me the trophy for the overall best time. The upshot is, since they gave me a team t-shirt, I guess I'm on the team. Now I have a bunch of stair fanatic friends to fuel my interest in the sport.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fight For Air Houston/Ironman Texas preview

This past weekend, I went down to Houston for my third ever stair race, up the 48-story 1001 Fannin building, in the Fight for Air Houston event. Like the first stair race I did last May, this event is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. While I was a little disappointed with my performance, I was much more disappointed to not get any kind of prize or recognition for coming in second with a time of 7:39, a mere 28 seconds behind the winner. One of the main reasons I did this race, though, was so that I could go The Woodlands, a town north of Houston, which will be host to Ironman Texas in a few short weeks, to preview the course. All in all, it was a good weekend, I just would have liked at least some cheap bauble for my efforts.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Enchanted Rock "Extreme" Duathlon

Last Sunday I raced in the Enchanted Rock "Extreme" Duathlon, just outside of Fredericksburg. The "extreme" bit is the 400-foot vertical run up to the top of the rock at the end (which I figured wouldn't be that bad after climbing the Willis/Sears tower, but that wasn't after a 16-mile bike ride). This race is put on by the same people who do the Natural Bridge Du and Lost Pines Tri, both of which I've done well at. This race attracts a higher caliber of racer than some of their other races, so the competition left me in fifth place in my age group, my worst finish at one of their races since my very first triathlon, back in 2010. That won't stop me from coming back next year and trying to beat my time of 1:46:08, however.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Beaumont Gusher Marathon

While I didn't have the marathon I wanted, at least I wasn't battling knee pain (like the Austin Marathon last year), nor had I just ridden my bicycle 112 miles after swimming 2.4 miles (like IronMan Louisville in August). I didn't even come close to my target time (ideally 3:30, but happy with anything under 3:59:59), but at least I set a big PR in my third race at the full marathon distance with 4:35:32. Considering how warm, humid, and most significantly, windy it was out there, I'm not too unhappy. Other than the weather, Beaumont's Gusher Marathon was very well organized, and I would certainly consider doing it again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mt. Rainier Winter Skills Seminar

A couple weeks ago, I flew up to Seattle to spend a week on the side of Mt. Rainier at 10,000 feet. Like my trip to Portland in December, this trip was about preparing for my upcoming trip to Denali/Mt. McKinley in June (or maybe that trip was prep for this trip, and this is the Denali prep). Compared to my previous trip to Rainier, in 2009, this trip went into much more depth of technical training, from knots to crevasse rescue. Plus, the weather was much more extreme, and the summit was not the primary goal. While I really wanted to return to the summit (and go up that last little bit to Columbia Crest), topping out at 11,500 was not a disappointment based on the conditions we faced the day we went up (not to mention the conditions we faced the days prior). It was really a great week getting to learn new skills, and to get to know the nine other clients and four RMI guides. Well worth the price of freezing temperatures and a toenail or two.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

LifeTime Fitness Indoor Tri

As something of a start to the triathlon season, I participated in the LifeTime Fitness indoor triathlon, which I think is the first time they've done one and the one I normally go to (I did one at the other club in town two years ago). I was actually kind of surprised I didn't improve my distance over the fixed times that much from last time. In the 10-minute swim I covered ~540 yards (I think they credited me with 550); in the 30 minutes on a spin bike I covered 11.4 miles (according to it); on the 20-minute run I covered 2.66 miles. Unfortunately, I don't think they meant for this to be competitive, so I don't really know (and may not ever know) how I did against the other people doing the race.

The swim went pretty well, the water somehow felt faster than it often does during practice (and was definitely warmer than it was this past Thursday). The woman I split a lane with lapped me somewhere around the 7-minute mark. I think I was a little ahead of the guy in the one adjacent lane, and the couple in the other adjacent lane were not competitive. I have no idea what happened in the other two lanes.
The spin bikes this time are brand new, and quite fancy, with a built-in distance/cadence/power meter. They don't seem to quite line up with the real-world numbers I get on my bike, but they're probably a lot more accurate than the bike computers last time I did this. For the first 25 minutes, I kept the resistance relatively low, such that I was averaging about 23 mph/100 rpm/200 watts. I cranked up the resistance at the end enough to put me over anaerobic threshold, for a "sprint finish." It probably wasn't the best idea. It might have bought me a little more distance, but it put a hurting on my legs.
For the run, I started the treadmill at 8mph/7:30 pace. I had a bit of calf cramping in the first 2-3 minutes. Nothing terrible, but it wasn't particularly pleasant. After 4 minutes, I slowed down to and 8:00 pace until the 9-minute mark. I slowly brought the pace back to 7:30 for a few minutes, then started pushing it further after 15 minutes. With 2 minutes to go, I was up to 9mph, and "just for fun" cranked it up a few more tenths for the last 30 seconds. I didn't do quite as much distance as I had hoped, but at least the blister that developed yesterday on my left foot didn't bother me. I don't seem to have hurt myself either, which is the most important part with a marathon coming up in two weeks.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rogue 30k

Last Sunday I ran the Rogue 30k road race, my first race of that distance. While it went okay, it wasn't quite as good as I was hoping. Since I'm shooting for about a 3:30 marathon (8 minute pace) in March, I wanted to do an 8-minute pace at this race, maybe even pick it up at the end. It started out well enough, but the warm, humid day and the tendinitis I've been plagued with forced me to slow down. I finished with a time of 2:41:42, averaging an 8:40 pace, which put me 15th in my age group and 153rd overall. That should give me some room to improve next time, and give me some lessons for the marathon.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

3M Half Marathon

I had several excuses lined up for not getting a personal record (PR) today at the 3M half marathon, but fortunately I didn't need them. Thanks to spectacular weather - cold, dry, and a tailwind - I knocked more than 10 minutes off my previous best (set over a year ago at Decker), for a new record of 1:38:43.