October 16, 2016: Trail des Calades

I'm indulging myself in a look back at my first trail race in France, the 2016 Trail des Calades in Saint-Jean-de-Cuculles, a village in the Pic Saint-Loup wine region just north of Montpellier. The town and its église de la Nativité-de-Saint-Jean-Baptiste are a nicely preserved minor medieval site. We ran out the ancient fortified gate of the town to begin the race. I never tired of the palpable history around me while I was living in France. Maybe the feeling wears after a while and you just want to replace it with some kitsch?


Fall decor

I went back to the race website and found a photo of myself on a particularly steep part of the course. The Trail des Calades climbs (and descends) 650 meters over 16.5 kilometers, an average grade of 4%. The segment in the photo was closer to 15%.


Heading up the Combe de Mortiès

The black soil of the Combe de Mortiès is Toarcian marl containing lignite and fossils from shallow seas of the early Jurassic. Ammonites are common in this formation and images of these ancient molluscs are used in local brands.


Glass of wine poured in August 2016

Sadly, it seems that the 2020 edition of the race was cancelled. I hope that it will be back next year. Hang in there, organizers and supporters.

Cameron Peak Fire at two months

The Cameron Peak Fire began two months ago and is the largest fire recorded in Colorado. It has burned over 167,000 acres (67,000 hectares). 30,000 acres burned on Wednesday in a 15-mile run that appears as an uncontained eastward-stretching red lobe in the map below.


Fire map for morning of 2020-10-16

The limber pine groves around Signal Mountain and Donner Pass that I ran through on June 7 burned on Wednesday. I know people who are getting evacuated near this new run. Horsetooth Open Space and Lory State Park are closed. High winds are expected again today and according to the incident commander more crown fire runs may be possible. It's a bad situation.



I cancelled a rare run with an actual human friend tomorrow because of the smoke. Hopefully early next week will be a little better.


We're experiencing another episode of poor air quality in Fort Collins due to the Cameron Peak and Mullen fires. The graph below is from a monitoring site near my house.


I ran for 5 hours during the Saturday-Sunday dip but haven't been on the trail yet this week. I'm getting tired of this crap.

Black Squirrel recap

I ran the 8th edition of the Black Squirrel Half Marathon on Saturday. To minimize crowding, runners went in waves. Ruth dropped me off at the Lory State Park office 10 minutes before my wave's 7:00 a.m. departure time. I jogged for seven minutes to reach the starting line, pulled up my Buff, found some empty space between the other runners, and tightened my shoes. With only a sixth of last year's crowd, the mood was quiet. Nick Clark had to raise his voice only a little to brief us on the course. He gave a shout-out to the crews on the Cameron Peak Fire, counted down from 10, and we were off.

Conditions yesterday were excellent. Sunny skies, clean air, and 43 °F at sunrise. The course's lower elevation trails can be muddy after wet weather, but had drained and were firm and only a little tacky. On the mountain we saw one patch of snow and several puddles. My new Nike Terra Kigers are more suited to dry conditions, but I had no traction problems.

I went more slowly on the climb than I last year. Strava says I covered the Quad Rock climb #4 segment (3.5 miles, 1128 ft D+) in 43 minutes and 27 seconds, a minute more than on 2020-09-07. I had started near the front of my wave and passed one other runner on the climb. I shaved 20 seconds off my best time on the descent and arrived at Arthur's Rock trailhead only 34 seconds off last year's pace.

The last 4.5 miles of the race have always challenged me. Saturday I suffered from hip and hamstring tightness. Despite needing to stop twice to stretch, I finished the final segment one minute and 32 seconds faster than last year. My official time for the race: 2:18:07. A new personal best by 32 seconds.

My form slumped in the seven weeks between the Never Summer 100k and Black Squirrel. It's been hot and smoky and I've had a sinus infection brought on by irritation from inhaling soot. I found it hard to run even 20 miles a week and harder to do any intense workouts. Would I have liked to have taken a better time? Yes. To be honest, despite my intention to develop into a gracefully aging person, I'm a little disappointed. Still, I did the best with what I had on race day and that's the most important and durable measure. I had fun and appreciated the chance to be outdoors breathing fresh air and feeling alive. Thank you, Nick, Brad, and all you generous volunteers.

Summer snow

Fall is still 12 days away, but it has begun snowing in Fort Collins.


Air quality is excellent this morning. Of course I went running.

Cameron Peak Fire update

The Cameron Peak Fire exploded this weekend, growing to almost 40,000 acres on Saturday and nearly 60,000 acres today. Ash has been falling at my house all day and the smoke plume has almost entirely blotted out the sun. At 1 p.m. it looked and felt like 45 minutes after sunset. I grabbed plots of solar irradiance, the density of solar energy reaching the ground, and temperature from the CSU weather station, a half-mile northeast of my house. The effect of the smoke is dramatic. It has absorbed or reflected most of our expected sunshine and we're stuck in the low 60's while other cities on the Front Range are still roasting in the 90's.


Graph of the density of solar energy incident on the ground.


Ground level temperature. In Denver it's another hazy 90 °F day.

A winter storm is forecast to arrive early tomorrow morning, bringing rain and snow, and hopefully some relief for firefighters, mountain residents, and the rest of us downstream. It may get below freezing tonight and Tuesday night, so Ruth and I went out in the gloom to pick our basil and green tomatoes. I'll be making pesto and stashing in it our deep freezer for the rest of the afternoon.

Update (2020-09-07): InciWeb now reports 96,000 acres for the Cameron Peak Fire.

Too smoky to run

I haven't run since the 19th of August because the quality of our air has been so poor. Like much of the Mountain West, we're under a plume of smoke from California fires. The Cameron Peak Fire, 50 miles upstream, continues to grow. And on the 21st a new fire started about 5 miles from my house and has grown to 165 acres. Yesterday afternoon the CSU air quality station measured a maximum air quality index (AQI) for fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) of 199. That's bad. Three hours outside installing a new chicken coop yesterday has given me itchy eyes, stuffiness, and a cough. I wore a mask, but still inhaled too many particles.

Trail Runner has an article that looks at issue around running and PM2.5 exposure. It has me thinking that I should stay in today even though the PM2.5 AQI is 72, only moderately bad. But this may be the best we get for a few days; I see forecasts of PM2.5 AQI 140 for Tuesday and Wednesday.