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.
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
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
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
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.
In the things are continuing to get worse department, a wildfire erupted near
Cameron Peak in the Roosevelt National Forest yesterday and has grown to over
2000 acres in size. As you can see in the loop below, the smoke plume is
affecting Fort Collins, 50 miles downwind.
The Cameron Peak Fire is only
a few miles from the Never Summer 100k course and is burning forest I know and
love well. I'm going to be staying inside today. No running.
Three years ago I took a houseboat trip on the Canal du Midi. Back at home,
Mapbox's imagery of Capestang, a village on the canal, is out of date. We
(I work on the team that makes the satellite basemap) will update it, but
until we do it affords a look at the way things used to be on the canal.
Below you see that the canal in the village was bordered by huge shade
trees. You can also see that some of them to the right of Capestang's newer
metal bridge are completely dead.
We've done it; we did update the map and Capestang is appropriately deforested.
The city is less green, which is sad, but more accurate, which is good. The new
imagery was acquired by camera from a plane on June 20, 2018 and made available
under an Open Data license by the French Institut national de l’information
géographique et forestière (IGN).
You can see the updated imagery in the maps embedded in my older blog post and
in this larger version.
More details about the update are available on the Mapbox blog.
My family and I escaped the local heat wave for three days and camped on the
shores of North Michigan Reservoir (8,900 ft) in the Colorado State Forest.
This is a popular campground, but the less popular sites are still available
mid-week. Ours had great access to the water that more than made up for the
close proximity to the adjacent site. Arabelle and Beatrice fished,
got some strikes, and Arabelle landed one very nice rainbow trout. We hiked,
played card games, sat around a fire and toasted marshmallows. On our last
night the sky cleared up completely and we had several hours of
stargazing and meteor watching before we slept. We saw one bright orange Perseid
fireball and heard people exclaim from farther down the shore of the reservoir.
While wandering on a hill above the reservoir I realized that I had run
near the campground during the Never Summer 100k. After leaving the Bockman aid
station (mile 56) at 9:50 p.m. I crossed N. Michigan Creek and in less than
a mile traversed a clearcut hillside visible from the reservoir campground and then
turned south to climb up and over the shoulder of Gould Mountain.
On July 25 I ran across the entire background of the photo above. Right to
left, mostly above treeline, and then left to right again, below treeline.
It was fun to see the course again from a distance.
I've concluded that three weeks of rest between Never Summer and Quad Rock (on
August 15) won't be enough to do well in the 25 miler. I don't feel sore today
other than a little shoulder pain and I felt comfortable on an easy run at
Pineridge on Wednesday, but I do feel vaguely weary. My left calf, which I'd
injured during the 2019 Quad Rock 50 miler, was feeling strained at the end of
Never Summer and will benefit from more rest before any more running or power
hiking uphill. I registered for the Black Squirrel Half, which is scheduled for
September 12. With luck, that will be my next event. Until the middle of
August, I'm going to ease back into weight training, yoga, and mellow runs.
After that I'll try a few workouts and set some reasonable goals for Black
I concluded 25 weeks of training and finished my first 100k race this morning.
By the numbers, the past week is among my top weeks.
21 hours, 32 minutes (#1 longest time on feet)
74.2 miles (#4)
14,295 feet D+ (#3)
The Never Summer 100k starts in
Gould, Colorado, an unincorporated former logging community
76 miles west of Fort Collins. I arrived early Friday afternoon, set up my
tent, and handed over three bags of supplies to be dropped off along the
course. This service allows runners who have no crew, like me, to drop or take
gear along the way. I sent gallon ziplock bags with my favorite gels and drink
mix to the 17 and 29 mile points. I sent a larger waterproof stuff stack to the
station at 44 miles with more gels and drink mix, a change of clothing, an
extra rain jacket, and a pair of running shoes. The sugar in my bags amounted
to 2500 calories. The race provides food and water at seven stations and
I planned to eat another 2500 calories of food like peanut M&M's, bananas, and
cheese quesadillas. I avoid soft drinks at home, but embrace the sugar and
caffeine in Coca-Cola during races.
After saying bye to my bags I went for an hour long easy run on the first miles
of the course, turning around after testing the first climb. Back in camp,
I snacked on crackers (200 calories), cooked and slurped up two packs of ramen
(400 calories), and washed them down with a double IPA (250 calories). After
fluffing up my sleeping bag and pillow, I made a large mug of mint tea and then
walked away from the camping area to take pictures of the sunset and reflect on
my training. I have felt better the night before a race. I've been getting over
a sinus infection; my head was still a bit stuffed up and I had experienced
some slow pressure release on the drive over Cameron Pass earlier in the day.
Knowing that I had trained well (over 250 miles of running and 48,000 feet of
climbing in June) helped me put aside worries about my nose and sinuses.
I set an alarm on my phone for 3:45 a.m., but awoke at 2:55 to the clatter of
a cowbell sending off the first wave of 10 runners. The race's COVID-19
protocol included wave starts, one every five minutes, to get every runner off
the line before the race's nominal start time of 5:20 a.m. My wave began at
4:45. We had overcast, calm, and cool, not cold weather, so I left my jacket
and gloves in my vest. We ran and hiked in the dark for most of an hour.
I removed and stored my headlamp halfway along the climb up Seven Utes
Mountain. I've skied up and down the mountain before, but have never done it in
Summer. It affords lovely views and on the descent, just below treeline, is the
biggest patch of columbine flowers that I have ever seen.
Participants in previous editions of the race remarked on upsides to the wave
starts. The summits and the trails to them were less crowded, and the lines for
portable toilets were much shorter.
It took me one hour and nine minutes to get to the top of North Diamond Peak
from the base of the climb on Colorado highway 14. That pace was fast enough to
pass 15 other runners. At the top, I found a small group (trumpet, guitar,
drums) playing "99 Red Balloons". Instead of taking a photo, I put on my jacket
and gloves for the first time. A light rain had started.
I had a misadventure in the middle of the course. Between the Montgomery Pass
Ruby Jewel aid stations, somewhere around mile 25, I got off the trail to pee
and discovered that my pack was completely unzipped. My rain jacket was
missing. I was not so out of my mind yet to dare going above treeline once more
without a jacket, so I backtracked to look for it. After hiking a mile, uphill,
I found it on the very edge of the trail. Retrieving my jacket cost me almost
30 minutes, but paid off. I needed it on the climb to the cold and rainy saddle
above Kelly Lake.
Peaks and lakes aren't the only natural features on the race course. Quaking
aspen trees grow tall in extensive groves below Clear Lake.
Unblighted large specimens are uncommon and their beauty is striking.
I've struggled to stay motivated at the end of races, but not in this one.
I left the Clearly Canadian aid station at mile 44 with fresh, dry socks and
shoes, a turkey and cheese wrap in my hand, and didn't look back. The sky
cleared and the trail dried and turned very runnable. On the way to the Bockman
aid station I met Jim Wei, a runner from Colorado Springs, and we pushed each
other to the finish. I moved up 24 places in the last 17 miles and Jim moved up
25. He was the only one to pass me in those miles. I wrote last week
that I had set three tiers of goals for the race; I hit the second one despite
my misadventure, finishing in 19 hours, 20 minutes, and 31 seconds.
I can't thank the race directors, Nick Clark and Brad Bishop, enough. I suspect
that between the COVID-19 uncertainties and protocols they put in twice as much
effort this year. To all of the generous, kind, masked volunteers on the
course: I am eternally grateful. My deepest gratitude is for the support of my
family. Ruth, Arabelle, and Beatrice are as proud of my finish as I am.
I'm going to take a short break from running and writing about running, but
still plan to be at Quad Rock on August 15.