Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 26, 2014

Run Elevated Half Marathon Aug 23, 2014

I saw my first snowfall for the year on August 23 at 6 o'clock in the morning, while standing at the entrance to Alta Ski Resort.   Alta lies at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, and I was getting soaking with fat snowflakes, along with hundreds of other people, waiting to run down the canyon for the Run Elevated Half Marathon.    We were all basically wet, and cold, and a little miserable, probably wondering what we were doing in the dark dressed in skimpy clothing that high in the mountains.  The smart ones had brought umbrellas, and rain ponchos, and probably hot tea.  I wondered if anyone would notice if I entered a port-potty and just didn't come out again until the race gun went off.

A good half inch of snow collected atop our heads by 6:30 and the race start.  I ditched some of my clothing but since i couldn't feel my feet, I decided to keep my gloves and running tights for the first few miles at least.

Amazingly enough, as we lined up for the start, the snow stopped, the lights came on (ok the sun helped with that), and towering above us were snow-capped mountains which reminded us all why we love running in places like this.   Down in the valley the sky was clean and dry, and our race would be as well...the rain and snow hadn't scared us off.

This is Run Elevated's second running of the race, and last year I had been in rotten running shape, finishing in 1:51:55.    This time around, I started off a little slower with pins and needles in my cold feet, but quickly warmed up.  I was ditching all my extra clothing alone with everyone else at mile 3, which wasted a minute while I tried to escape from my running tights without falling over.

By mile 6 my calves were already painful, but I was in better shape this year and ticking off miles in under 7 minutes on the steep downhills, pretty fast for me.   I entertained myself by looking at the snowy mountains and doing math in my head.  Can I beat my time from last year?  Yes I can...just keep pounding down the descents as fast as I can.   If I can manage 10 minute miles for the last couple I will be at least a few minutes faster.

I must have managed more than that, as the miles ticked off in about 8 or 9 minutes even on the final flats.  Even better, I ran every step of the way, even that short, steep uphill which was so tough last year.

Final time was 1:41:55, almost exactly 10 minutes faster than last year, good enough for 18th place woman overall, out of 245 women.

See the full results here:  Runnercard Results

Wow, was I sore for the next couple of days, though!  Whew.  I had trained by doing downhill runs several times, but obviously it's hard to replicated the steepness and speed of a race like this.  As I write this several days later, I am finally able to walk without looking like I just hobbled out of a wheelchair.    Was it worth it?  Well, that view of the mountains at sunrise covered in fresh snow...that's worth every bit of it.  

August 19, 2014

Snowbird Adventure Race, Aug 16 2014

At the starting line
My second year in a row of completing the Snowbird Adventure Race, this time with Jim as his first adventure race ever!   True to form, organizers Scott and Aaron made a nice uphill course all within the ski areas of the Snowbird ski resort.  The checkpoints were somewhat easier to find this year, being alongside trails, no bushwhacking or scratched legs unless you really want to take shortcuts.   We didn't.  

We did, however, see plenty of uphills.   Our first climb zigzagged through the ski runs, past a couple of controls, all the way up to the top of the tram at 11,000 feet.    The final ridge climbing up to that elevation got our heart rate going, for sure!  But that wasn't the end of the stage, yet...first we had to descend the backside of snowbird down to the bottom of Mineral Basin and back up again.  The first climb had seemed hard...this was punishing.  And hot...the sun was beating on us from a clear blue sky.   The controls took us up and over Mount Baldy before returning to the tram, where luckily we could take the lift down to the bottom rather than needing to run back down!  

We passed through the start/finish area to start the next section of the race.  Stage 2 was the bike section, but since we only own one mountain bike, the organizers were nice enough to agree that we could run instead of bike this stage.  Considering the steep trails at Snowbird I thought being on our feet might be an advantage to pushing our bikes up the hills, anyway.   

Waiting for the tram down from the top of Snowbird
We did grab our climbing harnesses for the second stage, because part of the race included a tyrolienne traverse of a steep ravine below the Gad2 Lift.   I only made it about halfway across the zipline, though, so the final section was me pulling myself hand over hand to the other side.  Can you say tired arms?  

By the time we finished the traverse, we had missed the cutoff for being able to continue up to the final controls on the course, which were back up at the tram (again).  I think we were kind of relieved that we didn't have to hike all the way back up there a second time... as tired as we were it might have taken hours!   

So we raced for about 5 1/2 hours, and 3 missed controls netted us 6 hours in penalties.  It was a fun race, perfect weather, great scenery, and a free post race meal at the Octoberfest at Snowbird!  

Here's the results, although not much detail is included.  We are racing under the name of Anchor Self Storage.  

August 13, 2014

Lake Blanche Hike, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Back in Utah now and happy to be home for a while!   We are still exploring our local area, and discovered this little gem of a trail not too far up the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Officially this trail has the name of Mill B South Fork Trail, but that's a mouthful and everyone calls it Lake Blanche instead.  Which is the biggest of the three lakes at the end of the trail, I would guess.

Either way, it's a nice 2500 foot climb from the trailhead up to the lakes.  We weren't quite acclimated to the elevation yet, and when the gradient steepened I admit to sucking some wind.   Luckily the trail is really shady most of the time, wandering through some nice stands of Aspen and along a rushing stream.   It's just over 3 miles to the lakes, making it about 7 round trip depending on how much you might wander around at the top.    I choose to lay down on some smooth boulders and almost took a nap instead!

A curious chipmunk along the trail
The trip down was understandably a lot easier, and we both felt good enough to run the last couple of miles down the trail at full speed.   It was a perfect gradient, not too steep yet a lot of fun to hurtle down around the s-curves of the trail.   It took about 3 hours round-trip, a nice day out yet not too long.

August 11, 2014

Back-To-Back Long-Distance Flights in Austria!

Well, our time in the Alps has come to a close.   This was Jim's first time sightseeing in Europe, so we detoured from paragliding here and there to see a few touristic sights like Venice, a few castles, the Matterhorn, and some Roman ruins.  We put 7500 kilometers on the rental car, driving to Germany, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, France, Monaco, and Italy.  We hiked and/or ran 136 miles across some really beautiful high alpine trails.  We climbed some great via ferratas and saw more great scenery than our camera could capture.

What we didn't do enough of, until the very end, was fly.  The weather seemed to work against pilots this summer, with wave after wave of low pressure systems bringing rain and winds.  Even the locals were complaining that they hadn't gotten any flying in yet this summer.

Lucky our last few days in Austria brought some smashing blue skies.   So we had several good days in a row and I busted all my personal records, including longest flight and furthest flight!  Plus I got to fly over glaciers, high alpine lakes, and the beautiful villages of the Pinsgau valley.

Both record breaking days, we launched from the Schmittenhohe launch above the town of Zell am See.  By now this launch was an old friend, as we had flown, hiked and run from here back down to the valley.  It's a great place to go XC, as the ridge is wide and long and it's possible to fly and out and back quite easily.  Which is what we did first, heading west until we passed over another popular launch site at Wildkogel and almost to the Gerlos pass.  I knew it would be hard to find public transportation over this pass if I bombed out there, so after 45 kilometers from launch, I turned around and flew back again.

High over Zell am See
Back over launch I got really high, and with 90k under my belt, went over the airspace guarding the airfield at Zell am See.   And kept heading east to see how far I could get.   It seemed easy to stay high, so I crossed the valley to the south and went into the Gasteiner Valley where we had a nice day of flying a few weeks earlier.  I noticed a lot of snow had melted on the hills since then, and just kept on going.   By then I wasn't on a long ridge, but a series of fingers pointing out from the high ridge of Alps to the south of me.  With the late afternoon sun hitting them, I was able to jump from one to another pretty easily.

Until then the clouds had been fluffy and benign, but on one valley crossing the ridge ahead of me suddenly seemed dark.  I knew there would be lift under the cloud but didn't want it to be the unfriendly kind.  I steered in front of it and made the next leap too soon, arriving low and sinking into the valley winds.  I landed on a freshly mowed hayfield after 6 hours 8 minutes in in the village of Flachau.  My final distance on XContest was 144 kilometers, so my longest flight ever!  You can see my flight on XContest.org

Luckily Jim had decided to fly the first 90k with me and then landed by the car (what a nice option to have when flying!).  So he was chasing me and driving much further on the roads than I was flying in the air, I'm sure.  He arrived within a few minutes of me landing and we had a nice pizza in town to celebrate!

The next day looked just as good, and I had hopes of finally flying that 100 mile distance, but it wasn't to be.  I made a good start by flying a full 50k west from launch, past the Gerlos pass and into the next valley and then all the way back again.   But due to a later launch time, daylight just ran out on me.   I knew I wouldn't get as far as the day before and this was our last flying day, so instead I crossed to the southern side of the ridge, getting as deep into the high mountains as I dared.   I was so high that I heard my vario beep a warning that I was near the upper limit of airspace, and it was a relief to then descend a little so my fingers could warm up!  All the time I was staring down at glaciers, blue lakes, and the massive peak that is the Grossglockner.  

I even got to thermal over some high ridges with a sailplane!  The sky had been filled with paragliders, hang gliders, and sailplanes all day.  It's a wonder we can all keep track of each other.  But in the late afternoon the sky emptied out and it was just me high above the snow.   With the last bit of lift left in the day, I got in a few kilometers for a total of 114k for the day.   And another long flight of 5:35.    This place isn't called the XC Highway of the Alps for nothing.  Amazing.

Climbing with a sailplane
The view near launch of the main Alps ridge!

August 2, 2014

USHPA Publishes My Second Article!

I was excited to see that the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) has published my second article, this time about paragliding in Colombia!   Here's the reprinted article below in case you don't get the USHPA Magazine.  

Gaggle Flying Rules the Roost In Roldanillo

The Eagles have landed in Colombia during the months of January and February 2014.  Eagle Paragliding Tours, that is, led by US Paragliding Team Coach Rob Sporrer and his wife Marite, out of Santa Barbara, California; along with Brad Gunnuscio out of Utah. They were accompanied by some highly talented guides, including Brian Howell; 2013 USHPA PG Instructor of the Year Jesse Meyer; and US Paragliding Team Pilots Marty Divietti and Matt Beechinor.  This is Eagle Paragliding's 4th year of leading winter tours down to Colombia, and this year the participants and guides really synced up and flew like a convocation of eagles!  The Eagle tour guides were able to give personalized attention to each pilot, flying in small groups and helping individuals to set personal bests and accomplish many flying goals.   All guides were also tandem pilots, and as part of the tour, participants could use tandem flights to accelerate their learning curve.  Often there were two or three tandems a day out flying with the gaggle.

Yep, we're talking about Colombia, South America. It's warm down here while most of the USA is in the deep freeze covered in white stuff. Here, we fly in the mountains. We fly in the flat valleys. We fly when a few raindrops fall, and when the sun shines, and when the clouds dot the landscape like icebergs in the north sea. And mostly, we fly in gaggles. It's safer. We sink out less. We go further, and fly longer, and land together in places where we can pack up and head to the center of the nearest village for a refreshing drink.
From the east facing main launch above the town of Roldanillo (dominant winds in the southern hemisphere are from the east), the mountains flow both north and south up to 3,000 feet above the valley. Here the last vestiges of the great Andes spine begin fade into the sea. XC flights are possible in either direction on most days.  However, the real challenge begins when the valleys heat up.  As the mountains often overdevelop in the afternoon, the safer and smoother place to fly is out over the Valle del Cauca. Pilots must choose when to leave the safety of the house thermal and take their chances soaring over sugar cane fields, grapevines, and other lush green crops. But valley flying isn't as simple as it sounds, and having a gaggle of pilots to spread out to find lift makes sinking out less of a worry. A little bit less, anyway!

The milk run from Roldanillo is about a 30 km square around the valley.  Launch on a grassy slope, and explore the mountains while waiting for the flats to turn on. Then cross the valley to the small town of Zarzal, which the guides like to call a thermal factory! From Zarzal, fly north to the village of La Victoria, and finally back across the valley to the little town La Union, tucked into a curve of the mountains. There is usually possible to land in the soccer stadium to the tune of friendly kids cheering us on.

The drive up to launch is entertaining, too, guided by Chipri in his custom-built yellow bus, beautifully hand painted inside and out by students from a local school. His unique horn is recognized by everyone in town and often blared to announce his passing.  Retrieves in the valley are pretty simple as well (yay!). Main roads form a square around the valley, and jeep driver Flacco hunts down grounded pilots and gets them back to Chipri or to the town square. Pilots then can rehydrate with pitchers of fresh-squeezed juice, or fill up on rotisserie chicken while people-watching on the square.  For those pilots who really decide to send it long, public buses are plentiful and it's usually easy to find connections back to La Union!  

During the first week of the Eagle tour this year, there was a big competition going on in Roldanillo; the 2014 Colombia National Championship and FAI Open. This made launch very crowded and the number of wings in the air was staggering to some of the newer pilots. So the Eagle tour participants started adding streamers to their harnesses to be able to find each other in the air. By the middle of the week, the gaggle of flying streamers had become so popular that non-Eagle pilots were asking to use them. Even a few competition pilots, (it was rumored) started flying with us instead of competing!

The people of Colombia are super friendly, too. They are eager to show visitors that Colombia is now a safe, beautiful place to visit, and are happy to have pilots flying around in their skies. Often the first question a local asks is "How do you like our country?" or "How are the people here?", which of course I always answer by saying "La gente son muy amables!" meaning "Everyone is very friendly!"

Out of a month of flying, only 4 days were lost due to rainy weather…that's amazing! Also amazing are some of the flights by Eagle pilots during the tours, including XC distances of 60, 80, and 99 kilometers…including 80k on a tandem. Yep, and the tandem only landed after 80k because the passenger had to (ahem) use the facilities.

There are a lot of places left to explore in Colombia, and the 2015 Eagle tour may include a chance to do some mock competition flying, or even some Vol Biv. But one thing is certain: gaggles rule and next year there will be more Eagles out soaring together in Colombia!