Backpacking Flat Tops Wilderness, Part 1

Hope everyone has survived the Tuesday after Labor Day. We got back yesterday afternoon from a fun and exhausting adventure in the Flat Tops Wilderness. David and I joined three of his co-workers for a 3-day, 2-night trip.

We began our trip on Friday night when we drove up to the mountains. David and I drove with Shrek and Zoey with the other (3 humans and 1 dog) rode separately. One of his coworkers’ parents have a house near Vail with plenty of room to sleep all of us. We did not arrive until 10 or so because we wanted to avoid all traffic heading towards the mountains on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend.

We slept well in a nice bed that night before getting up, eating a filling breakfast of toast, eggs, and sausage and packing our bags. We knew our Saturday hike would only be 6-8 miles so we did not need to get too early of a start. After a quick stop at a supermarket for some last minute food, we were off!

The Flat Tops Wilderness is in northwest Colorado, an area I have not explored too much. From where we stayed near Vail, it was a little over an hour drive northwest. The area is most known for the Devil’s Causeway, a very narrow strip of rock with a straight fall on either side. We knew about this and had decided ahead of time that going over it with our packs and 3 dogs would not be a smart decision. But we got to hike around it and see it.

We knew the first few miles of our Saturday hike would take us up a 11,000 ft pass near the causeway, so we were prepared for an uphill hike for the first few miles. After that, we were going downhill to a series of lakes. The hike up was intense, but we were all so excited to be out there that we barely felt it. We got to the pass where we stopped to eat lunch. One of our people make a quick climb to see what the causeway looked like from above. He came back and confirmed that it looked difficult to do with dogs.

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Zoey and her new pal Remy were enjoying leading out pack and running through wide, open fields. Both being under two years old, we did not know if we could trust them to walk across the narrow Devil’s Causeway. Zoey and Shrek (not pictured) were good hikers and wore their packs the entire trip.

We finished lunch and continued on. The downhills felt great and we were flying with time. After 6 miles, we got to one lake that could be a possibility for camping. But it was only 4 in the afternoon and we felt we could go on. The best part was that once we were away from the causeway (the thing most people come to Flat Tops to see) was that we saw no one at all for the rest of the afternoon. We were completely away from people.

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One of the many lakes we passed.

We ended up stopping at Long Lake, about 8 miles into our trip. There was plenty of space for 3 tents and lots of water nearby. After a brief shower of rain where we all huddled in one tent and ate an appetizer of cheese and summer sausage, the rain was done and we were ready for a pasta + veggie dinner. I brought a lot of my garden veggies (tomatoes and squash) and was glad to get rid of the extra weight the first night.

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A view of Long Lake at night.

We played some games in the tent and were then ready to sleep. Throughout the night, I could hear sprinkles of rain on the tent. It did not seem too bad, but by early morning, the sprinkles had turned into a light shower. There is nothing worse than taking a tent down in the rain so we all stayed in our tents longer than we anticipated. I did not mind the extra rest, but it turns out we could have used the extra hours later that day.

To Be Continued….

Home Improvement

Remember how excited I was about our staycation project to work on our front yard? We thought with a week off, we could go camping for a few days and then come home and tackle the front yard. Well, we did that, but turns out we needed the entire week (and more!) to complete all we had wanted. We are also camping/backpacking this weekend and then next weekend going to Pittsburgh for my cousin’s wedding. So I am not sure when the rest of this project will get done.

When we started, our front yard consisted of grass and weeds:

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Grass is difficult to grow well in Colorado (because it is so dry) and often ends up with more weeds than grass (unless you use chemical weed killer, which I refuse to use). So we have been getting inspiration from our neighbors and decided we want to zero-scape the front yard. Grass works well in our backyard for the dogs.

Our first step was to dig up all of the grass:

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Then we removed the clumps of grass, which was not easy. We took them around back to the dumpster and nearly filled it up with grass clumps. But the next step we did was more fun: we dug out space where the little hill had been to make room for a retaining wall:

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Once we had the hills on both sides dug out, we took a trip to the stone store to fill the Jeep up with rock for the retaining wall. They weighed the Jeep empty and then filled to determine how much we had bought. Luckily, our wall is relatively small so it is not too expensive. We stopped at the hardware store to get mortar and all that good stuff. And we began building the wall:

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So far, we only built the wall on the left side of our front walk. The right side we will have to do in a few weeks when we have a free weekend. And we still have big piles of dirt in the yard. Our neighbors must love us.

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It is all about the work-in-progress, right? The process instead of the end result. Anyway, after 3-4 days of working on the straight, I was ready for a break. My back was killing me, and that was when I left to go to Boulder to run that unofficial half marathon. And now I am in the mountains until Monday night. Have a great Labor Day weekend!

#trailtime with Sierra Trading Post

Wednesday night, David and I attended a special blogger/media event at South Denver’s Sierra Trading Post store (he’s media, although most of the attendees were bloggers and he’s connected to me). Most of you probably know the glory of the online Sierra Trading Post where you can get outdoor/running gear at major discounts, right? Well just this week, they opened their first store location in Colorado. Another one is opening later this year in Fort Collins.

One cool thing about the stores is that there are digital monitors everywhere. These monitors display a variety of pictures and promotional material. Each time anyone Instagrams a photo with the hashtag #trailtime, that photo will appear on the monitors. Cool, huh? I am going to start using #trailtime a lot more on all the trails I have been doing lately.

To promote this store, Heidi and a few of her colleagues at STP organized a fun night at the South Denver store. The store was huge and offered quite a variety of clothes, shoes and outdoor gear.

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We played an ice-breaker game where we had to identify pictures of various Colorado landscapes (Red Rocks, the Sand Dunes, the Maroon Bells, etc.). We got to mingle and meet other people for a while. We filled up on some food brought in from Qdoba before more games took place.

There were three games we each played in teams. My team’s first game was to shop around the store to grab the ten items essential for a backcountry day trip. Between Heather and David, my team was able to get 9 out of the 10 things correct. In case you were wondering, a rain jacket is NOT an essential item, but a repair kit is. I am still unclear on what you need to repair, but I guess it makes sense (shoes, pack, zippers, etc.).

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Shopping around the store, wondering what else we could possibly get. David looks deep in thought. I am rethinking my decision to wear old, frumpy jeans to events where I will be photographed.

The next game was a race to put up and take down a tent. I thought we had this one for sure! But we ended up with a broken tent and had to explain this to the race warden who was timing us. She understood, but it still caused us a good minute of confusion.

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There were no pictures of my team putting the tent together, so I snagged one with Brooke (my Chase the Moon teammate!) in it.

The final game was the least fun: knots. We had to replicate 4 knots that were already tied on the table. I managed to get one of them based on looking at it. The rest of the 7 minutes we all spent staring at the knots and trying to remember things we may or may not have learned years ago. Somehow we managed to get 3 out of 4 before our time was up. After the frantic-ness of that game, I am happy to report I still have no motivation to learn knots.

Following the games, we wondered around the store and contemplated what we could use our 30% discount on. Then David and I found all the Icebreaker Merino wool clothes and it was all over. I ended up with a pair of long underwear bottoms and a top. It should come in handy this weekend when we are backpacking in the Flat Tops Wilderness for Labor Day weekend. In the meantime, if you are home this weekend, be sure to check out the online Labor Day sales going on at Sierra Trading Post through Monday Sept. 1.

Myprotein and Myvitamins Product Review

Who doesn’t love a nice big, refreshing smoothie past-workout? Especially in the summer when there are many fresh berries in season. I don’t know if I have ever shared any of my go-to smoothie recipes with you, so they are at the bottom of this page. In the meantime, I was contacted by a rep at myprotein and then given a bag of vanilla protein powder from myprotein to review. Myprotein has been a big hit in Europe and is just entering the US market.  What I appreciate about this product is that it is a low cost (@ $15/bag), solid protein product.

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I Instagramed this picture one Saturday morning after a run because the smoothie just made me so happy.

In addition to the protein powder, they also sent a 30-day packet of myvitamins. I got the Total Acai Berry antioxidant packet of vitamins.

IMG_1190I find it hard to review nutrition products because it is difficult to tell when you are having a good day or a bad day if it is associated with the given product. The vitamins are good and full of antioxidants (and little else) so that works for me. I find them easy to take and I really don’t think too many antioxidants are a bad thing.

As far as the protein powder goes, I like the vanilla for having a neutral taste which makes it easy to put in abut anything. It is an affordable price and contains few extra ingredients than the whey protein. The website has a major sale going on right now so check it out!

As I mentioned above, I like to use protein powder in smoothies. My favorite dairy-based recipe includes:

half a cup of yogurt
half a cup of milk
one scoop protein powder
one banana
half a cup of berries

And then for non-dairy, I do:

a cup of orange juice
two bananas
one scoop protein powder
a handful of greens

Sometimes I add greens to the first one, too, if I have them available. Really, whatever is available makes a great smoothie. What is your favorite smoothie recipe?

Pickling and Fermentation

As my garden has been progressing this summer, I have gotten into a number of ways to preserve things. My freezer is already stocked with bags of frozen zucchini and squash. I have several jars of canned beets and even more of canned beans.

When my cucumber finally began to come in a week or so ago, I was thrilled. Many of the cucumber plants had struggled so I had no idea if they would make it. As much as I love fresh cucumbers (they really are a tasty vegetable), I really adore pickles. Salty, tangy, crunchy…what’s not to love? I knew there were recipes for quick, refrigerated pickles that can be ready in 2 days. So before I went on my camping trip last week, I made two jars of cucumbers (one jar has them cut length-wise; the other are cut in small rings) and filled them with equal parts water and cider vinegar, garlic and fresh dill from the garden. Oh and salt, of course.

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I was nervous they would taste too much like cider, but they turned out great! I was really impressed with the flavor and so excited I could make great-tasting pickles so easily. Am I the only one who enjoys cold, salty pickles after a hot run?

Anyway, I was intrigued about the process of fermentation and wanted to research if what I was doing was actually fermenting. I had a feeling it was not and indeed I was correct. Any pickles that are created with vinegar are not fermented, but the vinegar adds a similar flavor. These vinegar-soaked pickles are then a quick solution to replicating a fermented cucumber.  I remember seeing large ceramic canisters in China used for pickling cabbage and I knew that my process was not the same.

So I did some reading and I am excited to try pickling my cucumbers using this easy method that I found. A pickle that is actually fermented brings beneficial bacteria to your digestive system, just like many other fermented foods. Fermented foods are also packed with many vitamins and nutrients. Our industrial food system is (for good reason) obsessed with sterilizing our foods. What this does, however, is also get rid of good bacteria. And making pickles with vinegar instead of just a salt brine is just another example of sterilizing out food from bacteria.

In the meantime, I had a bunch of extra carrots and decided I wanted to try pickling them. So I used more cider vinegar and they are now “pickling” in my refrigerator for two days. Vinegar is still good for you! I am just experimenting with pickling any and all foods in a variety of different ways these days.

IMG_1185For the record, I have a home yogurt maker where it is easy to make your own yogurt. I used to have a starter culture for kombucha where I could make my own tea. These are also examples of homemade, fermented foods.

Unofficial Boulder Trails Half Marathon

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend and coworker of David’s stating that her husband was organizing a half marathon on the trails of Boulder. The course would start northeast of the city on some trails and end southeast of the city. Aside from a few road crossings, the entire course would be on trails. When I realized it would be the last Sunday of our vacation week, I was in!

The two things about the course that terrified me were: the elevation gain would be near 2,500 feet and getting lost. I get lost easily on courses. Although I was familiar with the majority of trails on this course, there were a few places where I was unsure how trail A linked up with trail B. Furthermore, we started running close to 3 pm, which meant that it would be a hot day. Luckily, temperatures stayed in the low 80s and the second half of the course was almost entirely in the shade.

We headed up to meet the group yesterday afternoon. The plan was to meet at the finish so we could be shuttled up to the start. David was planning to drop me off and meet me at various points along the course. We got a call as we neared Boulder from a friend who was running with his girlfriend. He was having car trouble and needed a ride. We picked him up and I learned that his girlfriend would not be running. We had been planning to run together so I was a little concerned about running alone. When we got to the start, we took a picture of all the runners and I realized I was the only female.

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Not only was I the only female, but also many of these guys seemed like tough trail runners. What had I gotten myself into? David assured me I could call him if I got lost and reminded me not to try to keep up with these guys. Knowing I do much better on trail runs where I start nice and easy, I knew this would not be a problem.

We started running close to 3:30 and right away, I was in the back of the pack. It was cool, I knew where I was and I was feeling good. By the second mile, I had pretty much lost all the guys. David met me for the first time and brought me a cold Nalgene filled with Gatorade. Nothing tasted so good! He left with plans to meet me close to the 5 mile mark.

I could do this! Except after I left the familiar trail I was on, I was unsure how to get to the next one. I found myself running through a neighborhood. I panicked but reminded myself to keep running south. I found a bike path and then, eventually a trail. It looked like where I needed to be. However, I soon realized it was not. I texted David my location to let him know I was not on course, but I was close. He called a few minutes later to let me know I should keep running in that direction and he would meet me.

By that time, I remembered reading in one of the emails that there was an option we could take that would be along roads and not have nearly the same elevation gain. At this point, anything to get me to the finish would work. By the time I met up with David I realized I had two options that would make me feel less discouraged about running alone: 1) to skip the next big trail with elevation gain or to have him drive me to the next trailhead. Knowing I did not want to stop, I opted for the first option.

I stayed on roads until I reached Chatauqua park where I could easily get on the Mesa trail, a trail I know very well. The roads, however, were not lacking their own elevation gain. It was a long, steady hill to reach Chautauqua. By the time I was there, I found David again and he told me I had managed to get myself into 7th place. Phew! At least all the runners would not be waiting an extra hour for me (my biggest fear) at the end.

I was near the halfway point, but was on familiar territory and it was shaded and cool. Before too long, two familiar guys approached me. We chatted and one moved ahead. The other stayed with me and we spent the next few miles chatting. He was a lifesaver in terms of taking my mind off the pain. We were doing a lot of hiking at this point, as there were many steep climbs. We got to know each other’s life stories and I kept him from getting lost.

By this point, I was anxious to get to 11 miles because it would all be downhill from there and I knew David would be hiking in from the finish to meet me somewhere. The downhill, when it finally came, felt glorious! I felt like I could do this forever! My new running buddy was still with me and we were giddy to be on such a great trail. Finally, about one mile out, I met David and he told me who had finished and how everyone was doing. It turned out most of the leaders were just 15 minutes ahead of me and there were only a couple runners behind me. I was shocked we were all so close together, even with my slight detour. I ran ahead and finished that last section of the trail feeling great.

By the time my watch hit 13.5 miles, I had reached the end of the course just minutes over 3 hours. The leaders had finished around 2:45 and the “winner” of this non-race had just completed the Boulder Ironman weeks ago.  Even with my detour, I managed to climb over 2100 feet of elevation, so it was not too far off the the original course. The people who followed the real course route ran 13.9 miles and gained 2400 feet of elevation. But finishing with the crowd was good enough for me! Most of the guys, when we talked at the end, admitted they thought they could finish this course in 2 hours and were not prepared for how difficult the trails would be. They also all thanked David for being out there cheering them on a various points. Towards the end, he was giving them sips of water when they passed and needed it. He was a one man crew for the whole team. I grabbed a cooler I had packed and handed out orange slices at the end and everyone was so appreciative. Nothing tastes so good post-run than orange slices.

At the finish line, many of us decided we needed to go to the Southern Sun, a local restaurant/brewery to refuel. Perfect end to the day. We had a great day and would certainly do this again. David wished he had been more prepared with bottles of water he could give out to the runners, as a mini aid station. We even talked about courses we could set up in Denver that would be less of an intense trail race and more of an urban run!

Telluride and Ouray Trip

We are back from a few days of camping that totally refreshed us and allowed us to love life again. Not that we ever hated it, but camping and hiking really has that affect on me. I took a ton of pictures, so rather than me giving a full on re-cap, I will show you what we did:

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We camped near Telluride Sunday night. The next morning, after a quick walk through town, we headed up and over Imogene Pass on our way to Ouray. This is Telluride from above.

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Zoey enjoyed being in the Jeep (this was a window shot of her looking out), but was very anxious to get out and hike!

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The view from atop Imogene Pass (over 13,000 ft above sea level). The last time I was here I ran up here from Ouray and ended in Telluride during the Imogene Pass Trail run.

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David and Shrek as we began our first hike to Blue Lakes Pass, outside of Ouray. The trail was near the Mt. Sneffles trail (a 14er), but Mt. Sneffles is not a dog friendly mountain so we settled for a 13,000 foot pass instead of a 14,000 ft. peak. It was around a 6 mile hike to the pass and over it just a bit.

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At a lake midway down the pass. I was trying to get Zoey to swim by throwing rocks in the water.

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We camped at the base of the Blue Lakes trailhead Monday night. It rained a bit (after we set up camp) but we were afforded beautiful sunset views.

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On Tuesday morning, we drove into Ouray to grab some coffee (it was cold at our campsite!) and then headed out for another hike. David chose Bullion KIng Lake trail. It was perfect because no one was around. Zoey chased all the mountain animals she could find, probably running 3x as much as we hiked (it was a 4.5 mile hike altogether).

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We made it to the top of the lake (around 12,500 ft) and somehow managed to get Zoey to sit still for a moment.

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A beer in Ouray! Like a true mountain town, this brewery had 3 options for beers: light, dark, and hoppy. I went with hoppy and enjoyed it.

We spent Wednesday night in Ouray where we enjoyed a beer, Mexican food, the Ouray hot springs and a nice night in a cabin. It was a rustic cabin for sure (we had to bring our own bedding), but so nice to settle in and sleep.

Quitting

Yesterday was a hot day (high of 95). I woke up at 7 but did not leave the house until 9 for my run. I thought I would run for about 10 miles and call it good. My legs were tired from a week of sprinting, so I told myself to go as slow as I wanted. For about 8 miles, I was going at around a 10:20 pace and I felt tired. By the ninth mile, I had to go uphill and it about killed me. It was hot outside, but not too unbearable. My legs were not happy and I just felt like I had nothing left. So I quit running and decided to walk the final mile home.

I had my phone and I texted David to see if he wanted to come bring the dogs and we could walk. He did! He walked out to meet me and even brought me two frozen Power Ice bars!

IMG_1011It was refreshing and I felt great walking. Not sure if it was the energy of the frozen bars or walking, but I felt fine. We even walked further than we needed.

I feel like over the past year, this has happened to me a lot where I just quit in the middle of a run. If I am doing an interval workout, I will give up caring about my times or the same with a tempo. I have no idea what is going on since I never used to quit. My only thoughts are that I am pushing myself too much to do a harder workout or that I just miss running without a watch and without cares about pace or miles. Or that I have lost my mental toughness. But sometimes it just feels like it is something deeper and internal within me that is making running difficult. I have no idea what that may be (potentially low iron again but I take supplements so I doubt it). My body just feels exhausted after hard workouts.

My week was not very heavy in mileage, but did include some intense workouts. I don’t think I was too tired that it affected me on Saturday. For now, I am just assuming it was the heat and forgetting about it. No point in dwelling on it! Here was my past week in training:

Monday: 5.75 miles, including 10 x 200 sprints (200 rest)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Morning-November Project; Evening 3.75 easy miles with David
Thursday: 3 easy miles
Friday: November Project (plenty of running and sprints)
Saturday: 9 easy miles, plus a couple miles walking after the run

And today (Sunday) we are driving to Telluride soon so I will be doing plenty of hiking over the next few days. That may be a much needed break from running.

Staycation and Garden, Mid-August

For the past few weeks, David and I had been toying with the idea of driving to Northern California to visit his sister and then, potentially driving up north to Oregon. We had been wanting to take that trip for a while and if we could drive, we could take the dogs and explore all the cool places between Eureka and Eugene. However, the more we thought about it and the more math we did, we figured the majority of the trip would be in the car. Even though there would be beautiful scenery around us, we just did not want to be sitting the entire time. So without plane or hotel reservations (we had planned to camp or stay with family/friends), it was easy to cancel our trip.

Instead, we are going to dedicate a few days this week to working on our front lawn. It is all weeds right now and a mess. All that outdoor work on our yard we did in the spring was dedicated to the back yard, so now we can give our house some “curb appeal.” We will also take a few days to travel to southern Colorado and get some good camping/hiking in and just relax in our new house. I plan to make a trip to the library and get some good books to read to further instill the idea that we are on vacation.

I also need a garden update now that it is August. We picked all the beets and most of the carrots last week. The beets grow fast, so I planted a new batch and hope they will be ready before a frost comes. The beans have also all been picked. The zucchini and squash continue to thrive.

And the tomatoes are really starting to come in! I have made a few batches of sauce:

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We also are starting to see some cucumbers, which makes me happy. I was afraid none of the cucumber plants I planted would make it, but we have a few that are thriving out there.

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Including this one that got bent in half.

I see some pickles in the future!

Aside from the garden, we went to a fun run at the Boulder Running Co. this week. David even ran!

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After the run, we found ourselves in the neighborhood of the Mork and Mindy house. I had been reading about how the house had become a shrine since the untimely death of Robin Williams and wanted to see it. It was certainly a scene.

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I don’t know how the current owners of the house feel about this, but I guess since all of the signs, flowers, and messages were still there, they were OK with it. Kind of crazy that one house that was the outside scene for one show over thirty years ago can get all of this attention, right? I guess only someone like Robin Williams can generate that kind of attention.

Three Crazy Things

1. At November Project this morning, I ran into a guy with whom I had done a summer language program in Harbin, China in the summer of 2008. He lives in Boston (where the November Project is huge) and is in Colorado for the week for a friend’s wedding. He happened to come to Denver’s NP this morning and ran into me. It kind of blew my mind that we would run into each other. Admittedly, he had seen my facebook posts with NP pictures on them so suspected I may be there. In any case, I still find it crazy.

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This photo must have been captured right after he found me when we were running. He is in the green shirt, I am in the grey. I look amazed.

2. I forked over my $ and signed up for the Denver Rock N Roll Half Marathon in October. It is the weekend after my birthday, when I typically do a marathon. Since I am not doing a marathon this fall, a half should do. And it goes right through my neighborhood. I am not a big fan of RnR races (non-local, big, expensive, corporate, etc.) but I think this is good, as it is my first year as a resident of Denver. I never thought I would do a RnR race, but I have to give it a try before I knock it, right?

3. In order to justify the $ of the RnR half, I am running a free half marathon on Boulder’s trails next Sunday (a week and a half). A friend is organizing it and has the course all mapped out. Our partners/friends who are not running will shuttle us to the start. It will be hot and hilly but also gorgeous; I am ready for it! No time goal at all, as there is @ 2600 feet of climbing. My goal will be a finish line beer.