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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leadville 2014: The Same Race I Love to Run

Enjoying the Race Across the Sky
There were three principle reasons that I decided to give the Leadville 100 a fourth go. At the conclusion of last year's Leadville 100, in which I neither participated nor spectated, the race and race organizers took much criticism for the manner in which the event was run. Trailrunner published an article pointing out the perceived shortcomings of the race and Hardrock dropped Leadville from their qualifier list, stating that Leadville, "ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport." This negative reaction to the race that began my ultra career was one reason that fueled my decision to run Leadville. I just couldn't imagine that the race I held so dear was as bad as the critics claimed.

1210's - The Leadville's
The second reason I wanted to run Leadville was my newly acquired sponsorship by New Balance who sponsors the race and makes the Leadville's, a shoe perfectly suited for this course; one that I wore without receiving a single blister and in comfort for the entire 100 miles. Thanks to the team at New Balance for their efforts in helping put on the race and for bringing me on the team and supporting my racing goals. I want to give a special thanks to Monica Morant for her tireless management of the ambassador team.
Monica (Momica) Morant of New Balance (center with the big smile) at Twin Lakes Crew Station
The final reason I wanted to run Leadville is the outpouring of friends and family that come out to support my efforts every time I run this race. This support came from my wife and kids (Molly, Jude & Frances), my parents (Lynda, Jeff & Ted), my crew chief and closing pacer (my little bro Alex), my older sister Beth and her family, my in-laws (Jay, Linda & Katie), pacers Jeremy Duncan and Zach Woodward, and from the many friends from all chapters of my life who materialized to cheer me on. These people make Leadville so much fun to run. Ultimately, regardless of the specific reasons, Leadville is a race I love to run and I wanted to go back and run it!
My Wife and Brother with a Cadre of "Freaks for Zeke" Surrounding 

Jude and Frances with Mom

Hobbling around on my sore legs the last two days, relaxing with my amazing daughters, logging ample pool time, I have had time to reflect, not only on my race, but on the race as a whole. Leadville, the town, was born as a Wild West mining settlement that quickly became a city of such significance that the famous writer Oscar Wilde made sure to visit there during his tour of American. It's freewheeling attitude during the "Silver Boom" days was such that Wilde was humored by a sign that hung in a local watering hole that read, "Please do not shoot the pianist. He's doing his best." The city's population topped out at a whopping 60,000 people in the 1880's. Leadville, the race, tries to capture some of this old west spirit. It allows pacers to "mule", it allows large numbers of runners and it requires nothing more than sense of adventure and can-do attitude to enter the race. The miners of old needed just a pick ax to begin their quest for fortune and the runners of today need only be 18 years old and to pass a medical check-in to commence their journey of 100 miles.

Leadville was a place where fortunes were gained and lost. Of course, this financial and cultural prosperity was short lived, leaving the high elevation city struggling to find a sustainable economic engine. At one point the city built a 54,000 square foot ice castle to attract visitors. Molybdenum mining was Leadville's next economic driver, but demand for steel waxed and waned and so did the mining jobs that the industry generated. Eventually molybdenum production fizzled to next to nothing in the early 1980's, once again leaving Leadville void of a major source of employment. During this period I can remember driving over Independence Pass and seeing a prominent mural that was supposed to read, "We heart Leadville", vandalized to say, "We heart Deadville."

It was in this economic climate that LT100 founder and 14 time finisher, Ken Chlober dreamed up the iconic race. Today the Leadville Race Series puts on seven events, and while those events are not big enough economic generators in themselves to sustain the city, they certainly "support the hosting community." So, as I sat in the pre-race meeting, listening to the charismatic Chlober give his annual pump-up speech, one that makes a weekend jogger believe he or she could finish a 100 mile run, following the comments of two young high schoolers who had received scholarships for college through money generated by the race, I naturally got very excited for the task that await the next day! In spite of the fact that this would be my fourth time attempting Leadville, I was as fired up as my first try, so much so that I woke twenty minutes prior to my two o'clock alarm, raring to go.

Zach Woodward and I at Outward Bound Aid Station 
The buzz of the start, with nearly 700 people lining up, only increased my excitement. This may have worked against me, as I led several times during the first 18 miles (something I had not previously done at Leadville), before eventual winner Rob Krar and runner-up Mike Aish pulled away on the climb up Sugarloaf. I would not see them again until the turnaround at Winfield. I ran in third all the way to the back side of Hope Pass, jamming to my iPod, (also something I have never done before) where Ian Sharman flew by me as we negotiated the descent to the halfway point. Ian and I were the beneficiaries of Rob's misfortune, as he had gotten lost due to some missing course markings. Luckily for us, Rob was coming up the unmarked turn just as we passed it. Again Ian bombed ahead of me on the short descent, reaching the aid station a few minutes ahead of me.

I had made the mistake of carrying only one water bottle over Hope Pass and it was a relatively hot day on the course. This led to some significant dehydration, to the tune of an eight pound weight drop at 50 miles. The race official, who was none other than Hardrock course record holder, Diana Finkel, told my pacer Jeremy Duncan to make sure I got some fluids in and we were off, chasing Sharman up Hope. I could still see him, as he was only five minutes ahead of me, at the top of Hope, but I knew his downhill prowess would increase that gap as we headed to Twin Lakes. He did just that, putting an incredible ten more minutes between us. Aish was having a low point at Twin Lakes and it looked possible for me to reel him in on the climb to the Colorado Trail.
Fueling up at Twin Lakes
Boosted by the immense support at Twin Lakes for team, "Freaks for Zeke," I charged up the hill in the hope that I would see Aish. My hopes were never actualized, as Mike had revived from the dead employing his 2:12 marathon speed which enabled him to catch Sharman. I felt pretty decent up to this point, probably due to the fact that I was running slower than I had in 2012, but I made a dumb mistake at the Half Pipe aid station, slamming three large cups of Coke that were carbonated. They tasted dynamite, but five minutes out of the aid station my stomach locked up with gas pains. This passed after some walking and slow jogging, when I was finally able to belch. However, this was a turning point in the race where I never really felt strong again. Shortly after, as I began jogging away from the Pipeline crew station, a sudden pain develop in my IT band that took several strides to loosen up every time I walked or stopped. It never became a consistent pain and I was able to run all the way to the finish, but my energy seemed sapped and I never really returned to form.
Shuffling into Pipeline
I lumbered through the Outward Bound section, as my pacer, Zach Woodward tried to coax me to a quicker pace. Then, my closing pacer, my brother, Alex Tiernan, attempted to cajole me to the top of the Powerline climb. It must have been frustrating for him, as we had cranked up this ascent the last time I ran Leadville. Ultimately, Alex lead me around the lake, up the boulevard and down the finishing stretch to a solid fourth place finish and my second fastest Leadville time (17:35).
Approaching Outward Bound with Zach Woodward
The next day I made my way to the finish to see the true champions of Leadville. If you want to experience the magic that is the Leadville Trail 100 Run, then come to the finish line between 8:00 and 10:00 AM and watch the runners who have pushed themselves to beat the cutoffs all day and night, and are finishing the grueling race. They are people who may have never run an ultra before, people from all walks of life, all parts of the country and world, all ages, shapes and sizes, who heard of the notorious race and had the audacity to attempt something amazing. I am emotional to the point of near tears every year. Similar to the race I ran this year, which was good not great, Leadville is not perfect, but to be part of this race is awesome!

Photo Credits - All Photos by Jay Johnson

Friday, August 1, 2014

Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop

Two years ago, looking at a map of the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area, I realized that a circumnavigation of the Snowmass-Capitol group was possible via established trails. It was such awesome route that I decided to do it again this summer, with a couple variations on the route. This time I followed Ted Mahon's (Stuck in the Rockies) route that he dubbed the Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop, because it is a 37 mile run with 9,900 feet of climbing. It has some of the best scenery the area has to offer, meandering through high alpine meadows, along beautiful traverses, past gorgeous lakes, and over five passes (one is technically a saddle) with stunning views of the Elk Range. It is a cousin to the classic four pass loop, and equals its awesomeness, only it's longer, allowing for more time to enjoy the wild country of the Elks.

I ran the loop counter-clockwise beginning at the Snowmass Creek trailhead and heading up West Snowmass Creek to the Haystack Mountain Saddle. Though not technically a pass, I am giving it pass status as the ascent begins below 9,000 feet rising to nearly 12,000 feet. It sure feels like you have arrived at a pass when you top out. I began the run with an alpine start, so here is the view at dawn looking back at the Roaring Fork valley shrouded in a sea of clouds.

View from the Haystack Saddle

After descending the from Haystack, I climbed up to one of my favorite spots in the Elks, Capitol Lake and Pass. Shadowed by the impressive and massive Capitol Peak headwall, the lake is nestled in an ominous rocky basin.

Capitol Lake

After a short descent to Avalanche Creek I climbed Grassy Pass where I was treated to unique and spectacular view of Capitol Peak.

Capitol Peak
From Grassy Pass the trail contours along a series of tundra-like hanging meadows to Silver Creek Pass. It is one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. The trail up Silver Creek pass is non-existent in many places, but the route seems fairly obvious and the trail reemerges toward the top of the pass. The view from the pass is expansive, though the clouds over Treasure Mountain were a bit ominous.

The view from Silver Creek Pass
About halfway down Silver Creek, a somewhat faint sheepherders' trail traverses to the east toward Geneva Lake. This trail marks the beginning of the Meadow Mountain Traverse. The traverse is a good way to avoid dropping into Lead King Basin and dodging four wheel drive vehicles as you approach the Geneva Lake trailhead. Instead, the Meadow Mountain Traverse contours across Meadow Mountain through fields of wildflowers along cliff bands with views of waterfalls that pour out of the Geneva Lake basin.

Meadow Mountain Traverse  
The final climb of the loop, when run counter-clockwise, is Trailrider Pass, and it's a doozy. There is one long steep switchback with a short one at the very top. The view of Snowmass Lake on the other side is worth the schlep.
Snowmass Lake
The Snowmass-Capitol-Daly loop is destined to become a classic among ultrarunners and backpackers looking for a bigger and more secluded route than the famed Four Pass Loop. It is certainly one that I will try to run each summer, as it displays the best that the Maroon Bells Wilderness has to offer.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Living the Journey

Rock Hopping
Recently our family went on a thoroughly enjoyable hike up Snowmass Creek, the snowmelt drainage that is formed by the runoff from the aptly named fourteener, Snowmass Mountain, not to be confused with the nearby ski resort of the same name. The late snows of spring have created abundant greenery in our oft parched central Colorado mountains, making for an inspiring and pleasant jaunt up the fast flowing creek. But, while the physical environment created a beautiful backdrop for our walk, it was my three year old daughter Jude, who revealed the beauty of exploring our mountain playground. She did so by reminding me of an all too often overlooked maxim, "it's about the journey, not the destination." Jude sauntered along the path in a state of wonder and curiosity, completely engrossed in the moment, picking up sticks that had the power to straighten crooked saplings, collecting magical dandelions and pine cones, hopping from shadow to shadow, running and singing, chatting all the way. I had to continually check my desire to move quickly, so as to get to a non-existent destination, instead pausing to enjoy the precious moments with my family. Jude was totally living the journey and it was amazing to see.

"Can you see me daddy?"
Watching my daughter was a powerful reminder that even as I aspire to reach a personal running destination, a strong performance at the Leadville 100, the true value in my preparation is the experiences I have had along the way. With that idea in mind, this post is a recollection of a few memorable recent runs. And while these runs certainly stack the proverbial, "hay in the barn," they are also valuable in their own right for the joy they bring. I spend too much of my thought life engrossed in fantasies of 100 mile triumphs, and not enough time living in the moment like my daughter does so freely and happily. However, when I look back at even just my recent adventures, there has been much pleasure derived from simply running in the mountains and it sure makes me glad I live where I do and that my body can carry me to these incredible places.

Pumped for the Adventure
Forty Six Miles of Fun
After a mediocre performance at a great race, Nick Clark's Quad Rock 50, I decided to forgo my next 50, The San Juan Solstice 50, and do a 50 mile training run instead. The route I choose would take me from my parents' back porch in Aspen to my front porch in Basalt, along 43 miles of dirt and a scant 3 miles of asphalt. I ran solo for the first 33 miles, only seeing one solitary camper who was enjoying some morning brew with a stellar view, before meeting my brother for the final half marathon. The solitude allowed for much reflection and I was able to take in the sights, smells and sounds of the wild country I was running through.
Alex Tiernan Cresting a Climb on Arbaney
Arbaney Kittle Trail with Mt. Sopris in the Background

Me with the West Elk Range in the Distance

Let's Get this Party Started!
Sometime this winter, my dear friend and former college teammate, Carrie Vickers, proposed the idea of running in the Ragnar Snowmass Trail Relay. It sounded like, and turned out to be, a total blast. We put together a team that included: Carrie, former nationally and world ranked steeplechaser, Carrie's husband, Art Gallery owner, standout hockey player and my long time friend, Matt Vickers, Robin Severy, of the illustrious Aspen Severy family, renowned for their endurance prowess, Mike Friedberg, former CU standout with a 2:21 marathon PR, Jeason Murphy, the 6th place finisher at the Bear 100 last fall, Jeremy Duncan, Carbondale, CO shredder and TrailRunner Magazine employee with several ultra wins and top finishes, my brother Alex Tiernan, a former all-conference 400 meter hurdler turned ultra runner, and myself a middle aged dad and history teacher. Needless to say, with a lineup like that, it is not surprising that we bested the field, taking home sweet wooden neck trophies; more importantly, we had way too much fun. Dubbing ourselves the Elk Mountain Goats, we doned goat horns and even had a real mountain goat skull to adorn our camp. The weekend was about companionship, camaraderie and having a good time!

The Elk Mountain Goats

The Friedberg Ultra Experiment
Mike Friedberg

Selfie of Two Old Buffs
When I met Mike Friedberg, he was, what our college coach called all freshmen runners, a "peach fuzz baby," while I was a worldly senior. This meant that while Mike was suffering through countless tortuous ten mile tempo runs, I was off at Stanford and Mount Sac racing. Mike's efforts as a layman frosh paid great dividends and he became an All-American runner, breaking 29 minutes in the 10,000 meters. With credentials like this, I am excited to see what Mike can do next month in Leadville when he attempts his first 100. Our mutual Leadville goal has provided the perfect excuse to renew an old training partnership. Our most memorable recent run consisted of a tour of the Aspen backcountry, allowing us to catch up and soak in the amazing trails that surround Aspen. Watch out for this guy on August 16th!

Cruising Along Side an Impressive Aspen Grove
Thompson Divided
Tucked away on the west side of the Crystal River Valley outside of Carbondale, CO is a hidden gem of a wild trail network called the Thompson Divide. The area consists of multi-use forest service land, a regular paradise for hunters, mountain bikers, campers, hikers and us trail runner folks. Despite the fact that it lies only a short drive from my house, I had never explored the area until recently. A group of us decided to tackle a big loop through the Divide, but unfortunately for us, after many miles of pristine wilderness, much of which that few people explore, our loop was not actually a loop. The loop failed to connect, forcing us into a major bushwhack; we eventually found our way back to the cars. It was a true mountain adventure.
Which Way Do We Go?

The Hoffmeister
Noah Hoffman
Perhaps the best ultra runner I have had the privilege of sharing miles with isn't even an ultra runner by trade; rather he is a nordic skier. I coached Noah Hoffman as a high school cross-country runner, when we would regularly go on four and five hour runs. He was the Colorado 3A state champ in cross, but his true calling was nordic skiing, his most recent achievement being his participation in the Sochi Olympics. Noah trains as hard as anyone in the world to be as good at his craft as he can! Due to this, he will certainly be a podium threat in South Korea in 2018. Yet, as talented as he is on skinny skis, when he laces his Brooks Adrenaline road shoes to go on long runs with me, he could very well be the toughest runner I know. Over the years Noah and I have enjoyed many adventure runs chock full of down timber, rushing streams, massive fields of snow and every other type of obstacle nature could throw at us. And, ever since he was fifteen, he has pushed me to my limits, no matter how fit I think I am.
Traversing an Alpine Meadow
Yesterday Noah and I mapped out a 38 mile point to point route that took us from the Frying Pan valley to Aspen, completely on dirt, save the half mile of road from the last trailhead to the house where Noah was staying. I was confident that my run fitness was finally sufficient enough to at least hang with Noah, as he runs maybe three days a week. But, the other days he trains by double poling for five hours or other similarly tortuous workouts. Alas, he crushed me yet again, but the crushing was still an awesome run that took us through stellar backcountry and gave us the opportunity to catch up. I am always amazed at Noah's fitness and durability and hope he jumps in an ultra or two when his nordic career comes to a close, because he will undoubtedly turns some heads. Noah inspires me to work harder as an athlete and his professional manner is an example of true sportsmanship. I am sure that my 38 mile sufferfest, trying to keep up with Noah will help me run faster in August, but the run was a awesome even it I didn't gain any fitness.  
Noah Crossing Woody Creek
Running is a blast when I let myself be captivated by the moment. The sites and companionship feed my soul and make the hard moments worth the suffering. But, if I get stuck in my head, worrying about my next race, I lose sight of this truth and running becomes a means to an end. The journey is far too fun to only focus on results, yet the irony of it is, when I stop thinking about training and focus on running for the experience, I get pretty darn fit. I have every confidence that the more I engage in the journey the better the destination will be! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A New Birth


Saint Paddy's Day 2014 changed my life forever! At 7:54 AM, while most people woke with dreams of a day filled with Irish cheer and green beer, I witnessed the birth of my second child, Frances Whitaker Tiernan. Now I have two beautiful blonde little girls to chase after for the rest of my life. In the months prior to Frances's birth, I heard many theories as to how the shift from one child to two would affect my family life and training. The most dire of these maxims was one and one equals eleven. The extent to which this theory rings true will be revealed over the next few months, but surely the addition will put new demands on my family life and training. Regardless of what these demands will be, I feel incredibly fortunate to have two happy, healthy girls and an amazing wife in my life.

My Three Ladies
Nothing has given me more perspective about what is important in my life than the birth of my kids! I have been a trail runner since I was a young boy, and running has been a near constant fixture in my life, bringing me immeasurable joy and insight into myself and the world. Yet welcoming a precious little baby into the world reminds me that some things trump the importance of running. When I was a collegiate track runner, I used to laugh at the absurdity of what I had dedicated my life to. After all, I was literally trying to run in circles as fast as I could. Nowadays, I try to cover 100 miles, over hill and dale, in the shortest time possible. The question that begs to be answered is, why do this?
Big Sister Love
My answer is, I do this because it makes me a better person, therefore a better husband, dad, and teacher. I spent my late teenage years and early twenties chasing the dream of becoming a professional runner. Even though I knew true track greatness and Olympic dreams were far from reality, I was driven to reach my highest potential. Disillusioned by injury and side tracked by the party life, I donated a decade of my prime running years to the dirtbag kayaker and ski bum lifestyle. Now, when I see the Facebook posts and Tweets of young vagabond runners galavanting around the world on epic adventures, training like mad men, I sometimes lament the choices I made as a younger man. However, I would not enjoy the amazing life I have now had I not followed the path I did. I certainly would not trade it in for any other.
Dad and Jude - Ski Day
Today, after missing four of the last five days of running, I forgot this, falling prey to the debilitating thinking that too often plagues me. I made the mistake of reading those very posts where runners chronicle their latest adventure or training triumph. Seeing these, I counted the weeks till my next race - seven weeks. Dejected by the fact that I had barely run during the last week, and deterred by the short time left prior to my next race, I nearly skipped running again. It was only due to the insistence of my coach, who is also my wife, that I laced up and headed out on my daily constitutional jaunt. Once out among nature, I became motivated to do a solid hill workout. My wife got what she wanted- a husband in a better mood, and I also got what I wanted and needed- a great aerobic stimulus that left me in a positive headspace. While I may not be able to train at as high a volume as I would like, I wouldn't have the life I do if I were training at a higher volume. No matter how much training I get in prior to the Quad Rock 50, when the starting horn sounds I will be armed with the confidence of a life I love, and that has yielded pretty good results thus far in my ultra career.    

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Snow Slogging into Red Hot Redemption

Several weeks ago I awoke to nearly three feet of fresh snow outside my sliding glass door. The snow had been hammering so hard the prior evening that I received the phone call universally coveted by students, and welcomed with even greater excitement by teachers. "It's a snow day..." said the automated message. In my hometown of Aspen, where I still work, that equates to a double win. Not only is school/work canceled, but it's a powder day on the ski mountain. In my "interim years," the decade between the culmination of collegiate running career and the commencement of my ultra running career, you surely would have found me, with along with every other Aspen local on a snow day, shredding the pow! It always makes me laugh how no one can make it to school or work, but the entire town is fighting for that first chair. What does this have to do with running you ask? Well, it's challenging training to run a fast 50K with 30" of pillowy white snow blanketing the ground. 
Snowy Doorway
The 50 year storm, as it was dubbed in the local news, was unable to persuade me to strap on my boards to carve some turns. My trail runner passion won the day and I instead headed out to meet my good friend Jeason Murphy to shred the powder trail runner style. With roads in barely runnable condition, we decided to head to the the hills, Red Hill to be specific. Red Hill is our winter playground, offering a maze of earth toned trails, hidden amongst a forest of junipers. It's our go-to run that has a calming, meditative feel that makes trail running so enjoyable. However, the best part about Red Hill is it remains runnable throughout the winter, something nearly every other trail in the Roaring Fork valley cannot boast. Suffice to say, on this day, the trail was knee deep in fresh snow and we were the only idiots dumb enough to try and run, or even hike it. Upon my first stride I knew we were in for a superb adventure!
Jer and I on East Sopris Creek Road
Jeason and I eventually made it around a seven mile loop. It only took us 1:50. However, while this run clearly did nothing toward developing speed, it was a fantastic strength workout and a highly memorable excusion. The next day I took to the roads with Jeremy Duncan and Gina Lucrezi for a 23 mile loop. Again we were relegated to a pedestrian pace as we negotiated roads where mother nature had triumphed in the battle between the snowstorm and the snowplow. Since that big dump, the clouds have curtailed their frozen precipitation and the running conditions have steadily improved, allowing for faster running. And while the snow made training for Red Hot challenging, I can't help but think they set me up to have far greater success in the mid winter classic than the debacle that unfolded during my 2008 attempt at Red Hot.

In 2008, I landed on the cover of Ultrarunning Magazine after only my second ultra, Moab's Red Hot 50K. Of course, the cover shot was merely circumstantial, as I had foolishly charged to the front of the pack, photo bombing a shot of Tony Krupika and Kyle Skaggs. I paid the price for my early effort and lack of training, running what I consider to be my worst race ever. This year I was determined to do two things at Red Hot, train more leading into the race and go out conservatively. I am happy to say that I did one of the two. I was disciplined enough throughout the winter to put together a fairly solid block of training, but I was not disciplined enough to run smart. Being a teacher, I turn everything into a grade. One out of two is a 50%! That's a firm "F". Luckily for me my fitness was sound enough to prevent an epic blowup! 
Early Going at Red Hot
The funny thing about my plan to take it easy at the race's start is that, deep down, I knew I was going out with the leaders. Seventeen months away from racing created a hunger to compete that overpowered prudent strategy. So there I was, banging heads with the leaders, thinking I might just win this thing. Soon, Paul Hamilton and Dan Gorman slowly opened a lead and my thinking shifted to "let's podium." Not long after that, eventual winner Alex Nichols went flying by me like I was walking as I climbed a slickrock slab. The technical and punishing slickrock slowed me to a cautious pace, allowing a hard charging Mike Foote to roll me up. My soft snow conditioned legs were trashed when I hit the dirt road along the flat mesa preventing me from finding a faster rhythm. During the final descent  I was barely able to push my pace at all. I finished 5th, which I am pleased with, but running too fast a the beginning of the race may have cost me a place or two. It was a good opener, reminding me to race smart and I hope to build on it at the coming races.
Home Stretch at Red Hot
I suspect that we have turned the corner in regard to the challenging training of deep winter and I am a happy to have broken the racing ice with a solid performance. Now I turn my attention to our little Frances, coming in a mere two weeks. I feel blessed to live the life I do. I have an amazing wife and daughter, and will soon have another one to add to our growing family. I live in an incredible place and a spring and summer of cool races and adventure runs lies ahead. It doesn't get much better than that!
Chris Keleher Running Into the Sunset