My Quads Were Rocked

Yesterday I finished my first Quad Rock 25 miler (with 5300 feet of climbing) in 6:14:07. It was hard and I'm pleased to have made it to the finish line.

It was raining at my house when I left to drive to the trailhead at 6:15. By the time I arrived the rain had mostly stopped, but the course was completely obscured by fog and clouds.

The trails were very wet. The rocky and sandy sections of the trail were passable, but there were long stretches of soupy mud. The conditions were comical at times. I ended up wishing that I had shaved my legs to minimize mud build-up.

The cool and damp weather had an upside: I didn’t get a sunburn or heat stress, and didn’t have to take on tons of water to get between aid stations. It took me a while to accept that I was going to be spending all morning in a cold drizzle with wet and muddy feet, but in the end there was nothing to do but laugh it off.

My gear was mostly fine for the conditions. My polyester t-shirt and nylon ripstop jacket were just warm enough. My New Balance Hierros don't have great traction in thick mud but drain water well and were reasonably comfortable when wet. My favorite trucker hat kept most of the drizzle out of my face. Wet compression shorts, however, suck; they made my legs feel cold and I'm pretty chaffed mid-way down my inner thighs today. In hindsight I should have stripped them off and stuffed them in my vest.

I would like to write about the views from the trail, but there were none! Still, it was cool to go all over Horsetooth and Lory in foggy and dripping conditions. I never do this otherwise. It felt like a different land entirely, not the Colorado Front Range foothills. It’s very green up there now and peak wildflower season is only a couple weeks away. Many species are already going off. I saw pasque flower, larkspur, several species of penstemon, wild iris, spiderwort, sand lily, and many others. Fringed sage covered with water droplets has a silvery quality that is quite lovely, I think.

Just before my second arrival at the Towers aid station, at mile 14, I started to see 50 mile runners on their second, reversed, loop. I was inspired. I was even inspired by the last of them, hours later, who seemed like they were suffering and were probably not going to make the cut off. I hope they will try again if they want to.

I finished in 168th place out of 267, with about the same ranking as at the Blue Sky Marathon last fall. I'm starting to accept that I'm not fast, I’m old, and that I have limited training time. My ceiling is not far. I was also not willing to risk crashing and going out of business before the finish, and so I was going slowly on some of the steeper and rockier descents. My major adversity in this race was the leg cramps I battled in the last 6 kilometers; I went backwards about 2 minutes in each of them. I suffered from cramps during the cold and wet Colorado Marathon of 2016, so maybe cold weather is not my thing. At least I wasn’t sick like I was during the Blue Sky; I didn’t spend any time at all in the Quad Rock’s portable toilets!

The race itself was very well organized. Communication was good. There was a small army of cheerful volunteers. The trails were well marked. Aid stations were well stocked. There was all the usual trail food, plus hot broth and bacon at the Towers station. Maybe I should have indulged in some bacon. I meet a bunch of fun runners from out of town, including some French folks from New Orleans, and enjoyed their company along the way. Good company beats poor conditions, for sure.

Thank you, Nick Clark and crew! I'll be back.

Quad Rock: L minus 4 days

There are four more sleeps until I and a couple hundred other runners hit the trail in Lory State Park for the 2018 Quad Rock. On April 22 I ran 33 km of the course, including all three summits, and can't wait to get back out there. This week it has been almost summery, but the forecast for Saturday is clouds and rain and temperatures only in the upper 50s (F). Pretty good for running, really!

I'd love to carpool to the start. If you happen to stumble on this post and want a ride, DM me on Twitter (@sgillies). We can chat about maps and electric vehicles on the way.

April 12, 2017: Ravenna

A year ago my family and I were living in Montpellier, France, and we took a road trip to Bologna during our Easter break. On the 12th of April we made a day trip to Ravenna, which is an hour east near the Adriatic coast.

We toured several of the city's famous 5th and 6th century Christian sites, including the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and the Basilica of San Vitale. Our kids loved the mosaics, especially the ones in the Mausoleum, which was both lovely and ever so slightly spooky.

Mosaics in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

Because food is my primary passion, my favorite memory from the day is that of our long lunch at the Antica Trattoria al Gallo 1909. This restaurant is a short walk outside the pedestrian center of the city, not far from the Porta Adriana. We were the only tourists there for lunch on that Wednesday.

The owners and staff of this place were very welcoming and the decor was amazing. The walls and shelves were covered with portraits, lamps, clocks, and figurines, mainly nymphs with bow and arrow, deer, and hunting dogs. Each table seemed to have its own suite of these items.

The food was excellent. I had lightly cured anchovies for my first course and braised pork shank ("stinco" in Italian) with tangy hop shoots (bruscandoli) for my second course, and for the third: the tagliatelle and ragù that my kids couldn't finish. I ordered squacquerone (a very soft and fresh cow's milk cheese) with prunes cooked in a very dark, slightly toasted and bitter caramel sauce. I hadn't been so full or so satisfied by a meal in a long time. Ruth had sea bass and asparagus risotto, which were both very good. It was peak asparagus and strawberry season in Emilia-Romagna, and we ate a lot of each during the trip.

We had equally delicious meals in Bologna, Ferrara, and Modena, but in my opinion the Antica Trattoria al Gallo 1909 had more charm than the other restaurants we visited.

One of my other favorite things about Ravenna was seeing bikes and middle-aged people riding bikes, all over the city. Ferrara was even more bike-friendly. These Italian cities aren't in the same league as Amsterdam or Copenhagen yet, but are less car-centric than Northern Colorado cities of the same size (like Fort Collins or Greeley).

I can't wait to get back to Emilia-Romagna some day soon.

Horsetooth Half tomorrow

I'm running in the 45th Horsetooth Half Marathon tomorrow. I run parts of the route regularly and have run every stretch of it before, but this is the first time I've ever entered this race.

I'm running this as a warmup for the Quad Rock next month and don't have any ambitions other than to finish well and enjoy the spectacle. If I match my previous best half marathon time (1:52:41 in 2015) I will be quite content. I've had a low volume training week and I'm feeling rested, so I might be able to do better.

The weather is going to be nice and the starting line is an easy bike ride from my house. I'm looking forward to getting there just before the 8:30 departure.

Post-race burrito, I'm coming for you

March running

I feel like I'm back on track for the Quad Rock. Wednesday I did a long-ish high intensity run on the trails at Pineridge and Maxwell Natural Areas and this afternoon I ran a 20-mile loop around the south half of Fort Collins.

I'm so grateful to my family in supporting me during these long Sunday runs!

April 8, 2017: Bologna

A year ago this week we were staying near Bologna, the capital of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, with Ruth's cousin and her family. I didn't blog about it at the time because we were too busy getting ready for the trip beforehand and too busy enjoying it while we were there.

We drove from Montpellier in a rented Citroën C4, because I felt our little Opel Meriva wasn't comfortable enough for a long road trip and didn't have quite enough power for the Italian autoroutes. It was a good call. 130 kph through the Po River valley in the C4 was no problem. In our Meriva, you could only get to this speed on a long downhill stretch of road.

It was an 9+ hour drive, like going to Moab, Utah from Fort Collins, Colorado. I drove from our house in Montpellier to a rest stop east of Nice. Ruth drove from there across the French and Italian Riveria to Genoa and over the Appenine Mountains to Tortona. She doesn't get vertigo on the viaducts like I do. Then I drove the E45 through the Po River valley to Bologna. Along the way we listened to Tamora Pierce's "Protector of the Small" series, read by Bernadette Dunne. We give this series four thumbs up.

At the end of our drive, we wound our way up to a villa in the hills in Gesso, which is 20 mins southwest of Bologna's city center by car. I loved staying in the countryside on this trip. It was green and serene and the running was great.

In the hills above Gesso

After unloading our bags, the next thing we did was go shopping for groceries. The Carrefour supermarket in the Zona Pedrosa near Gesso blew my mind. There might have been several tons of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the building. I saw heaps of chickory; Radicchio di Chioggia, of course, plus other varieties. There were titanic mortadella sausages and mountains of other salumi. Best of all were the four tall and long aisles of dried pasta. It was heaven. I bought some of everything.

Sidewalks of Colorado can't hold a candle to those of Bologna

This is Paradise

The first course of the first of many huge lunches in Emilia-Romagna

We only spent one day in Bologna itself, but I was totally smitten. It's very walkable and full of interesting things to see and smell and eat. Before leaving downtown, we stood in line for gelato at Via Galliera 49 with Italian and French folks (we saw many French tourists around Bologna) and enjoyed them at the plaza across the street. The kids all agreed that Bolognese gelato is the best.

Gelateria Galliera 49

We saw and ate so many amazing things on this trip that I'm compelled to write a few other retrospective posts about the visits to Ferrara, Ravenna, and Modena. Stay tuned!

The plan for Rasterio 1.0

My primary open source project is a Python library for reading and writing geospatial raster data called Rasterio. It's a bridge between the domain of spatially referenced gridded data in GeoTIFFs and the domains of machine learning and computer vision. I get paid to work on Rasterio at Mapbox, which is wonderful, though I don't get to work on it exclusively.

The stars have aligned for Rasterio this quarter of 2018, and during April, May, and June I will be working half-time on the project. We're going to have a 1.0 release and here is intro to the plan. Get ready for some beta releases soon.

Soccer blogging season

It's soccer season on my blog through the end of May: after three seasons of coaching my oldest's U9 and U10 teams in 2015 and 2016, I'm coaching my youngest's U9 team for the first time.

We had our first game today and got routed by a very good team. I talked to the coach afterward and she told me that her kids have been playing together for years and she's been coaching them for 3 seasons. It shows! My team has a way to go before we can hang with a team like this one.

Maybe it was the hard ground, maybe it was first game nervousness, but between the two teams, I think we might have set a record for hand balls in this game. This was hard on our volunteer referees, who had to make a lot of decisions to call or not call based on advantage, which was unfortunate. It was a tough game to call.

Quad Rock recon no. 1

Sunday, my family and I kicked off spring break by going to an early showing of Black Panther. We enjoyed every bit of it.

Afterwards, I drove to the Timber trailhead at the north end of Lory State Park to do my first run this year on the Quad Rock course. I planned to run up to 27 kilometers, the first 1/3 and last 1/3 of the 25 mile course, with a couple shorter options. I can see about half of the terrain of the race from my deck and there's still some snow up there. I wasn't sure what the conditions would be, but the park websites said all the trails were open, so I went to find out.

Leaving Lory State Park, in fact, and starting to head up the Sawmill Trail in Horsetooth Open Space

In the flatter and sunny parts of Lory, whether below or above, the trails were mostly dry.

Almost 2000 feet above Fort Collins on the Tower Trail

The wooded, north and east facing, stretches of the trail were often muddy and/or icy. I wasn't able to descend any faster than I could climb and fell behind schedule for making it back to my car before the park closed, so I cut out the last climb to Arthur's Rock and returned by the trail I'd come in on. I did my best to take it easy and go at a comfortable pace, and ran 20 km and climbed 600 meters in 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Early spring conditions on the Mill Creek Trail

I'm so glad I did an early recon run. I've never run to the top of Lory so early in spring (or late in winter, depending on how you look at it) and enjoyed seeing the snow and little frozen waterfalls. It was also good to get a reminder of how much more fit I need to get over the next 2 months. This is a tough course with 3 big climbs. I only did one of them and can feel it today.

My new shoes

I tried out some new gear on this run. The Fresh Foam Hierro is the shoe that's replacing the NB Leadville, which I wore in the Trail Quillan. I like them better than the Leadville. They're well cushioned, fit my feet well, and the vibram sole is suited to the rocky, gritty trails here. As far as I can tell, they're going to be fine for the race.