Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Longs Peak Workout


On a whim yesterday, I surprised myself with a fairly quick summit of Longs Peak via the Keyhole. I had wanted to do a little acclimatization work since I had two upcoming Grand Teton trips on my guiding schedule. With less than a week remaining, I started to feel a little pressure from the fact that I've been doing nearly all my climbing, guiding, and running in the Boulder Mountain Parks and Eldo. Cat was aware, and she said that she and Blake would have some mother/son time in the afternoon when she got off work so I could get out. I wanted to get in one significant run above 10,000 feet to give my body a wake-up call for the altitude on the Grand. More than one prep day would have been nice, but our summit days on both trips are on day three (not day two), so there is some acclimatization opportunity at our high camp at 11,200 feet for a day and a half.


As I drove out of Boulder, I was thinking of doing the Twin Sisters trail, since it was fairly convenient to pull right into the parking lot, versus some of the headache that comes from the longer rutted roads, pay kiosks, or lower elevation early mileage on many of the Indian Peaks hikes. But on the way up, I saw a break in the weather above Meeker and Longs, so I pulled up to the Longs trailhead, since it was actually closer than Lily Lake.


Although I had even less visibility for developing weather from the standard trail to the keyhole, I figured that I would hold myself to a turn-around time of 2:30, or turn the minute the weather started to go bad, so it wasn't a summit-fever run. I figured 4 hours at altitude would be helpful regardless. I started up a little after 2:30pm, remarking to myself how awesome that this trailhead is just under an hour from our apartment. Since the forecast was leaning towards developing precipitation, but not convection-driven storms, I felt pretty confident that this was a reasonable alternative to the Twin Sisters.


Longs Peak Summit Panorama looking East at 5pm

I didn't need to turn around. The weather remained incredible above Longs, the crowds were very thin given that it was mid-afternoon on a Monday, and I had the entire upper mountain to myself shortly after the keyhole. I hit the summit with a elapsed time of 2:30, and took five minutes to enjoy the early autumn view, by myself on the summit. The benefit of choosing a non-threatening
September weekday afternoon was also shown by the fact that I only needed a buff and long sleeve capilene on the Keyhole route, since it was basking in sun.


I underestimated the how the lack of acclimatization and slick running shoes would affect my descent. I made worse time than I anticipated, and was lucky to do 20ft/min on the VERY short uphill sections on the return to the keyhole. With all the Flatiron guiding I'd been doing, particularly on the East Faces, I am fairly confident that I could ascend and descend the homestretch without my hands if I was using Guide Tennies. With my slick, worn-out trail runners, however, it was pretty slick, and I didn't have the luxury of standing wherever I wanted.


Once back on the trail below the Boulderfield, the continuous descent was likely the hardest stretch of running I've done in a while. The trailwork presents a tricky running problem with stride length, but running/walking talus seemed to have helped my get through without sore knees. 18 months of carrying Blake has also softened my stride, along with stride drills and more minimalist running shoes. The final mile worked out well, as the trail steps seemed to match my stride length quite well. Regardless, for being a tough run, it didn't beat me up. Testament to the quick but structured workouts I've done.


I finished up with a time of 4:25. This run wasn't planned, nor have I run more than a mile in the past several weeks, much less been above 8000 feet. So I am quite happy, and looking forward to get this time under four hours next summer. I'm confident that I can shave 45 minutes off of it, since I was blatantly unprepared for the specific demands of this run. Since the fastest Keyhole times with the current trail are either 3:23 or 3:26 depending on the purity of following the established trail, shaving 45 minutes and just tagging the summit marker would get me pretty close to them. Some specific workouts at elevation, and more running workouts (including some longer than four miles) will definitely help. Actual mountain running a few times a week would really help. Some of the most beneficial workouts could actually be on this trail up to Granite Pass or even the Keyhole itself, since the unique demands of the trail improvements really messes with my stride. Knowing each step of the way would make it even easier. I generally revert to power-hiking at pretty low trail grades, since I can maintain 3.5 mph pretty easily. Power-hiking is so underrated, but it is so much more economical. But the grades are often very reasonable to run on Longs, and I mean run much faster than 3mph. Unfortunately, I felt the altitude, so I defaulted to power-hiking over 90% of the uphill. Acclimated, I think that I could run 40% of the trail section, and average close to 60ft/min on the direct uphilll sections of the upper mountain.


I felt very strong in my movement on the 2nd/3rd class terrain above the BoulderfieldSpaulding, where I don't really use my hands on rock since they might be managing the rope for clients for the more exposed sections. I've spent so much more time on 2nd to 4th class over the past decade, and it is amazing how natural the movement is now. A decade ago, I recall how I could climb 5.12 left and right, run solid marathons and ultras, but I would practically crawl on 2nd and 3rd class. We need to dedicate training time on that terrain in order to move strong and balanced.


I think that I could easily improve my time now that I have a working knowledge of the route (my previous Longs forays were on the Diamond, and did not go to the summit), and feel that I could run most of the ledges and narrows sections. Provided you actually look around every few steps, macro route-finding is really easy on the Keyhole route, but really knowing the micro (specific preferred route between key points) route-finding could speed things up.


I would definitely pick this time of year, day of the week, and time for the climb. Since the start time is a little bit radical, decision-making has to err on the conservative side. In fact, as one might approach an all-out 100% effort, it seems prudent to start closer to noon, just in case of an injury resulting from a misstep running the talus below the keyhole. That seems to be one of the higher risk sections for me.


All in all, what a nice surprise to have this opportunity come together on such short notice. It really got me psyched up to start running more again and maybe do a couple ultras or fast loops in the Indian Peaks or RMNP.

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