Monday, February 22, 2010

A Whole New World

The more I think about this move to Denver the more I realize what a major change it's going to bring. To everything. Mostly good change. At this point finding a (good) job is my major concern. But that won't be a concern of this blog. Running will remain the focus.

My running is going to change in the most fundamental ways possible when we move to Denver. We'll be living at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, which is enough to feel in the lungs. Eventually we may wind up in a neighborhood as high up as 7,000+ feet, which is definitely enough to feel. To the west--an easy drive away--will be mountains as high up as 14,000 feet. This is the ultimate running country.

Fast running like I do here in Cleveland with mile repeats and long tempo runs will become shorter but still intense efforts. Whereas I've always believed deeply in the hard mile repeat, I may need to adopt a new ritual of 800-1200-meter repeats. Long tempo runs may have to become fartlek workouts.

And then there are the see, explore and summit.

I have decent speed and can burn pretty well, but ultimately I'm a hill runner. The Mohican Trail 100 is a hill race--23,000 feet of up and down hills that beat the tar out of you. Just because I won the 2009 Mohican 100 doesn't means I can do it on the mountains. Hills aren't mountains.

In many respects I'll have to learn to run all over again as I become a mountain runner. It's hard to say what that will be like for me. It's going to take several months for me to acclimate to the elevation. At first I'll run some peaks south of 10,000 feet and try to get used to my surroundings, the big climbs and the thin air. I'll take on more and more with time, especially if in fact I do the Leadville Trail 100-Mile this August. Leadville will be a major challenge. It's run at elevations of 9,000-12,000 feet. And then there's the big, bad Hardrock Hundred down in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. No 100 is more difficult than the Hardrock.

Two things that are on my radar this summer:

1) Doing either the out or the back on the Leadville 100 course. This will require some transportation aid from my wife, Anne, and plenty of logistical planning. I know Anton Krupicka does this run quite a bit. I can't wait to do it myself.

2) Summiting Pike's Peak. I plan to join the Incline Club for some runs. As I understand it, they run in the Pike's Peak area. I cannot wait to stand atop the great peak. But getting to the top--I think it's at about 13,000 feet and climbs 7,000 feet over 13 miles--will require much of me. I'll need to acclimate for a while before taking on Pike's.

I'm not sure what living at elevation is going to do to me as a runner. Are my days of sub-3-hour marathons done since I won't be able to run fast for long periods of time? Or maybe the thin air will actually make me even faster if I run a sea-level race? I know Matt Carpenter, the great mountain runner who lives in Manitou Springs, has a marathon PR of 2:19, but he's a freak of nature whose genetics simply don't apply. I have no shot at such a time, but maybe once I acclimate my goal of a sub-2:50 will become a reality.

The key, I think, to this move is remaining patient in my running. The altitude is going to be an adjustment. I wasn't able to sleep well during our visit to Denver a month ago (a common altitude issue) and I definitely felt the thin air in my lungs during a few runs. I'm going to have to remain patient and know that acclimating will take time. Eventually my red blood cell count will increase and my body will adjust.

Until then, I'll just have plenty of fun seeing, exploring and experiencing a whole new world.


  1. All the mountain running you are going to be getting in, man that's going to be sweet!

  2. You might try hiking up Pikes Peak first. I did hiked it in about 5 hours three summers ago.

    good luck on the move!! It's still snowing here in Lafayette!

  3. You'll find the Steamboat Marathon to be very fast, in spite of the altitude. It's mostly downhill (shuttle to the start).
    You'll get used to it - or like some articles say, you'll get used to being hypoxic and won't know any better. I came from Kansas. Now 14ers don't bother me. My problem now is severe exercise-induced asthma. Oh, and some say I have a loose screw, or something. (I'm not sure what they're talking about.)
    Looking forward to running with you.