Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big South Fork

I am an environmental planner who mostly works for the National Park Service. Sometimes I do odds and ends for the Navy and Army to, you know, actually earn my firm some profit, but mostly I make my living on the NPS. I love my job.

As part of my job description, I get to go to visit all the neat parks we get hired to work in. Its why I got to explore Everglades, see alligators in Big Cypress, and snorkel in Biscayne at the end of last month. Its why I get flown to D.C. once or twice a year and why I was sent to central Tennessee for the majority of last week. Its why I'm praying that my firm is awarded a new project at Arches National Park; I am in the proposal as project manager and it would include several trips to southern Utah. Although a lot of the parks are really great to visit, its also why I was sent to rural Missouri in December in the middle of an ice storm. You win some, you lose some.

But back to Tennessee. For this trip, we were facilitating a series of public meetings throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, which are held in the evening. Since our hotel's internet was inevitably not working, my co-worker and I were left with plenty of time to explore this huge and fairly new park. The park itself was created in the 1970s, but was run by the U.S. Corps of Engineers until the NPS took over management in the 1990s. The park has a pretty neat history. A lot of mining and, due to the ownership of the park, there are still a lot of oil and mineral rights held in private ownership within the park boundaries. The NPS only owns the surface of the land, above those private mineral rights. As part of the enabling legislation of the park, mining is an acceptable and historical use of the property.

The Blue Heron portion of the park was the site of an old mining community that housed and employed hundreds of people from 1937 through the mid 1960s. By the time the Corps of Engineers acquired the land, all of the structures had deteriorated but the the Corps rebuilt an outdoor museum of "ghost structures" of where the homes and buildings would have been. The bridge from the mine and the tipple, or sorting house, remain. Interestingly, a written account of Blue Heron during operation was never put together, so all of the information in the museum has been collected from people who were around then. Click here for the NPS history of the mining town. Here is a picture of the bridge and the original tipple.

"Look at me! I'm a Tipple! Not to be confused with Mr. Whipple"

Before visiting Blue Heron, my coworker and I had visited the northern-most Kentucky portion of the park that draws a big crowd: Yahoo Falls (thats pronounced Yay-hoo, for you non-locals out there). To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. Take a look for yourself:

That little stream of water in the lower righthand corner? That's it. Granted, this wasn't a peak flowage period, and we were forced to view it from above, not ground level, but still. I had to go onto the park's website even to see what made Yahoo Falls such a big deal. Apparently this little stream is the longest/tallest waterfall in Kentucky at 113 feet. I think you and I can agree that it pretty much blows Niagara Falls out of the water, so to speak.

I think my favorite part of the park was a portion we hadn't even planned on seeing. The Chief of Natural Resources was taking the newbie from the Southeast Region of NPS on a hike to see the Twin Arches on Wednesday morning so we happily tagged along. I also learned the valuable lesson to drink coffee before hiking in the morning. Although I really enjoyed the hike, I think my face had trouble showing it sans-caffeine. The Twin Arches were a geological marvel. Sandstone rocks that had been eroded away bit by bit until they became what they are today. A lot of native american tribes took shelter in the caves within the arches and, with a light and a solid grip on your arachnophobia, you can actually go in one portion of the North arch and out through the other side. They were so massive that it was difficult to get an accurate picture, but this was my best attempt.

And finally, on our way to "Gentleman's Swimming Hole" in the old Utopian town of Rugby, TN, we stopped and had lunch at a lovely little restaurant where I noticed this advertisement on a table:

Finally! I'm so glad Mr. Fuzzy Orange (you think he/his parents did drugs?) has found an inventive use for this invasive species. In only a billion or so baskets, our kudzu problems will be solved!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Greetings from Tennessee!

You may have gathered that I'm in Tennessee for work. I'm doing a round of public meetings at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area - the South Fork of Cumberland River. It was not an easy process to get here.

Last Wednesday, there was a big hailstorm that went through DIA which took out 20 of Frontier Airlines fleet. It has been slightly organized chaos ever since. Thankfully at 9 am I checked my flight status and saw my 4:25 flight had been pushed to 10:15. By 5 pm it had been pushed to 11pm. We were lucky that our flight wasn't canceled, but I was tired from my birthday weekend in Steamboat and definitely had trouble containing my "Philly" when checking in and getting through security. We finally landed in Knoxville a little before 4am and were overwhelmingly happy to find one rental car company was still open at the airport. We hauled our 1.5 hours to our hotel, grabbed some complimentary breakfast being served (if they serve anything other than biscuits and gravy, I couldn't find it), and sacked out until noon. It was long, but I was thankful our meeting wasn't until 4.

Now, I have nothing against small towns, but I prefer towns with character. I think if I had to live here, it would be a very depressing life. The main area of town is just ugly strip mall after strip mall with the token anchor of Wal-Mart. It somewhat reminds me of Bill Bryson's description of Gatlinburg, but he delighted in its ugly splendor. In "The Lost Continent" Bryson searches for the perfect small town - I can tell him that Helenwood and Oneida aren't it. Although there is a local utopian town in nearby Rugby...

I'm excited to get into the park at bit tomorrow to explore off the beaten path and see the more scenic areas of Tennessee. I'm thankful that I am traveling with a co-worker who also wants to see the park and we are getting up early to do so. Also on the agenda will be a training run - pounding some pavement in the heat and humidity. I am feeling stronger every day and ready to kill the SF half. I've crossed the threshold from "ug, not ANOTHER run" to "ooh I like this - maybe I'll do another half...", so the training is getting more enjoyable by the day - especially when I get to do runs in new areas each week.

On the nutrition front, its hit or miss, but I went for yummy grilled chicken and didn't pick french fries as a side tonight at dinner. Avoiding fried food in rural TN is like trying avoid food on a stick at the MN state fair, but I'm doing what I can. If nothing else, we're staying in a dry county so the standard post-meeting beer (or two) isn't even an option! Which is good because my hotel replaced their gym with a couch, TV, and beer cooler. Utopia indeed.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wordless Friday

My officemates are awesome.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Denver

Exactly one year to the day I moved to Denver. Technically, we blasted Carbon Leaf's "Let Your Troubles Roll By" on our way into the Denver County line on July 13th, but had arrived a day early and stayed at a (bed-bug free) hotel that night.

My first year in Denver has been incredible. The weather for each and every season has been completely unusual and I'm told never to expect it to be that way again. While it normally snows in October, it was still 54 degrees in December. I think we barely had ten inches of snow in the city for the whole winter while the mountains got hammered with record snowpack. The spring was chilly without much rain, but we've been hammered by severe storms and heavy rainfall for the last two weeks. Everything is still green when it should be brown and crispy.

I've gotten the hang of the ski season, bought the 'wrong' ski pass, but skied great mountains anyhow. I've pre-purchased my 'right' ski pass for this year and am aiming to get in more weekends on the slopes.

I've adjusted to the altitude. Mostly. I've run the most I've ever run by myself, adopted healthier eating habits, and had a solid lifting routine for the first time in my life. I PR'd my 5k time and signed up for my first half marathon. I lost weight then good beer helped me put it back on.

I've completed a graduate degree and got my professional license. I got promoted.

I've had free time for the first time in four years but I'm the busiest I've ever been.

I've spent more money at REI than I care to even tally. But I've used that gear to spend cold nights warmed up in my sleeping bag, blown away by the view while peeing under the stars at 2am. I still have a list a mile long of the gear I still want to acquire.

I've summited my first 14'er and glacaded down a mountain. I've learned new words like post-hole and glacade. I've learned what altitude sickness feels like. I learned that when the bottom of the clouds go flat, get your butt off the mountain.

I got to travel to new parks and new states, both for work and play.

I got to go home and back to DC more times than I had even hoped for. I'll go back to DC twice more before 2012. Being far from these people and places didn't feel as distant as I was worried it might.

I've made amazing friends. I love my life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nutrition 101

To say I am frustrated would be an understatement. I am trying really hard to fuel my body correctly in order to complete hard, long workouts and still have a bit of a calorie deficit at the end of the day to shed some pounds. I am gaining. I have revamped what I eat - no more lunches out at work, and I've really worked to have protein at each meal. I barely drink anymore (July 3rd notwithstanding) and I switch up my workouts so I'm not just running (others include boxing, hiking, swimming, and riding) and I do strength training twice a week and yoga three times a week. I'm not quite sure what else I could be doing differently.

Yesterday, at the height of my frustration (I saw the race pictures from Saturday and they weren't flattering), I started tooling around the internets looking for some advice. I think I'm going to be back to logging until Europe and then if I'm still seeing no movement, I'm going to talk to a nutritionist.

Until then, I've beefed up my breakfast a bit - added a whole grain english muffin and a glass of milk to my 3/4 cup egg whites and cheese - 358 cals, 37.9 g protein. We'll see how full it keeps me. Certainly may help with what a bottomless pit I become in the afternoons!

Tomorrow I'm also going to have my trainer check my measurements and test my body fat again. I'm seriously hoping that if nothing else, those have changed. If they haven't, its going to be a pretty big blow.

Overall I know my endurance is better, I'm building more muscles, I'm healthier and, when I eat correctly, I have more energy. I am trying to be ok with just those benefits, but carrying around this gut deflates me from time to time (especially when I see the photographic evidence of it). Just need to push on and know I'm doing the right things.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

OFFICIAL race results

I think from now on I'll say I came in 36th instead of last. And I was right, two 10k'ers dropped out and ended with the 5k finishers (including the one woman I know was running right around the same pace I was).

42 Miles

Sunday morning I woke up a bit late (11:30!) but decided to go out for my long ride anyhow. My goal was to ride down to the Chatfield Reservoir - a mere 45 miles round trip. Morgan had assured me it was a flat ride and I happily loaded my bike with food stuffs for the ride and headed out.

The ride started out on Cherry Creek Trail and goes three miles to Confluence Park - where the Platte River and Cherry Creek meet (conveniently right in front of REI). I took a left and headed south along the Platt River Trail and enjoyed watching people play in the high water - a combination of record snowpack melt and lots of afternoon rainstorms has left Denver green and full of water. About a mile into this trail, there was a detour through Denver's scenic industrial neighborhood but then I was back onto the trail and on my way.

The signage wasn't the best. At one point, the Platte Trail takes a decidedly left turn without so much as an arrow. Unaware of the turn, I continued on straight and after about 2 miles, saw a sign that I was now on the Bear Creek Trail. I had been a bit confused as to how the mountains had suddenly shifted from my right to my left and now I understood why. I turned around, sheepishly asked for directions to confirm the Platte went left, and continued along my way.

I couldn't remember why I had been so concerned about starting earlier. I thought and thought and only could figure that maybe I had wanted to avoid the heat or maybe get back early to do things around the apartment. It wasn't until around mile 20 that I remembered why: afternoon thunderstorms. I saw the clouds roll in, and eagerly looked for a bit of shelter as I got rained on for a mile or so. I camped out under an overpass with a fellow biker and a crazy homeless man. The homeless man yelled expletives at us (had the other biker not been there, I probably would have preferred being rained on) and told us our clothes were too expensive and wouldn't cut down the ratio (huh? And also my top was from target, homeless dude). He also yelled that we were weekend warriors. But we (the sane biker and I) checked the doppler on my phone, saw the storm was heading north, and continued on our way.

I didn't quite make it all the way to reservoir. The skies were looking more and more threatening and I turned around at 25 miles. It was a good choice, within 5 or 10 minutes of being home, the skies opened up with some pretty heavy rain and lightning. Along the way I stopped at a coffee shop along the trail to fill up my water bottle and eat some Gu. I probably should have eaten part of my protein bar instead - I ran out of gas around 38 miles and probably could have used more fuel earlier in the ride.

As I biked up Pearl St, the hill from 7th to 8th, some jerks on a balcony above me threw a water balloon that landed about 2 feet from me and gave me quite the startle. Had it actually hit me, I think I just would have laid down and cried, too tired to make it the one block home.

42 miles was my longest ride ever, and had I eaten more, I think I could have easily gone further. I kept my pace around 17 mph, sometimes cruising at 19 without a problem. My legs aren't all that sore, although biking gloves and better shorts would have helped the comfort of my ride. I'd like to get clip in pedals and shoes, but will patiently wait until next spring to invest. My boss has an old pair of shoes she is going to bring in for me and Papa B is sending along his old biking gloves. I'll gladly accept handmedowns until I can save up for some biking gear of my own!

I can't help but think that if 42 miles without training was easy and 1.2 miles of swimming is a breeze, if completing a half ironman isn't all that crazy...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Race Report: Run Like the Wind 10k

Spoiler alert: I came in last.

I picked up Julie around 6:45 Saturday morning and we began our (super pretty) 1.5 hour drive up towards Allenspark. The Echo moaned and groaned once we started up into the mountains, making a stronger case that I need a new car sooner rather than later.

I thought it strange there was an Aplinhorn just hanging around by the town sign...

We arrived plenty early, picked up our race packets, and stretched a bit.

As we all hung around waiting til the 9 am start, the MC opened the race, I kid you not, by playing the Aplinhorn. I had to look up what the instrument was called. Mostly I just called it the thing the Ricola guy plays.

It was a fairly small race and at 9 am we lined up and headed out, starting with two loops around the town square. For the first mile, my heart and lungs burned and cursed my name. It felt a lot like the first time I had tried to run right after moving to Denver. After that mile, though, I started to enjoy the ups and downs of the course and settled into a good pace. I was with a group that would run the downhills and flats and then mostly walk the uphills - which I could walk faster than I could run them. I peeked around and saw that there were other 10k'ers around me (you could tell by their race bibs) and felt ok that I wouldn't be the last one.

I stopped during the first loop to take a picture - thats Long's Peak, a local 14'er

The first half was a combined 5k/10k then as the 5k finished, all of the 10k'ers were forced to turn right before the finish line and immediately regret their decision to have signed up for the 10k. At least I did. The second half was basically a long out and back and mile 4 was pretty much hell on earth - the longest climb ever. It was miserable. But I made it to the turnaround and enjoyed mile 5 - all of the downhill I had just climbed. It was around this point where I realized, hmm, I think I'm last. Since it was an out and back, I hadn't passed anyone going the other way. It was actually kind of nice, for most of the second part of the race, it was just like being out on a run in the woods by myself. I also realized how small of a race the 10k was. There couldn't have been more than 30 other runners. And thankfully, by the time I crossed the finish line, everyone had already migrated to the other side of the street where the food was, so no one was there except for Julie, patiently waiting for me to finish.

I'm guessing that the 10k'ers I saw around me during the first half decided to make it a 5k instead and really, who could blame them. I was proud of myself for finishing, though, and thought to myself that the SF hills will be a breeze compared to this race. I am also really proud that during the out and back, when no one else was around me, I didn't just turn around and trim a mile off of the race. And believe me, I thought about it.

Overall, I was really proud of myself for pushing through and finishing, even if my time was atrocious and everyone just wanted to go home instead of waiting for me to cross the finish line. The race was proof that you really can win by coming in last. I certainly did.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Running, Running, and even more Running

Yesterday it beyond downpoured in Denver. Essentially three storms came off the mountains and all met in Denver for a superstorm convention. It was almost like being in a slightly less windy hurricane. At one point, we couldn't see the buildings a few blocks down from our office.

Suffice to say, I ran indoors last night. I had five miles on the schedule and wasn't too excited to do them on a treadmill, but was even less excited to try to bike home in the monsoon. I also learned yesterday that my gym uses DirecTv, so all of our TVs were out during the storm too. Bummer. My first two miles were great and I started including 1/2 mile pace increases towards the end. Mostly I just got bored and wanted to break things up a bit, but I ended up with my fastest 5 mile time ever: 51:30, with an average pace of 10:18 minute miles. For me, that is essentially flying. I recognize that treadmill running is faster than pavement running, but it was still nice.

Today all of those pounds the scale happily yielded to me last week were back (of course), which is a bummer but oh well. For now I've got more important things to focus on - like potentially dying in Allenspark tomorrow.

In my haste to find a 10k race for this weekend, I picked the first and only one I could find after one google search. The Allenspark Run Like the Wind 10k. It is up near Rocky Mountain National Park and I figured it would be a really pretty run, even though its at 8500 feet. Even more high altitude training for my at-sea level half marathon - hooray! I found a sucker, er um, friend to run it with me and we signed on up.

What I failed to notice is that Allenspark is almost an hour and a half away. Which is no big deal, but we'll have to leave nice and early from Denver. I also failed to notice that this is also a trail run, not a road race (or it might be a combo of the two, I'm still not quite sure). To make matters even more fun, the elevation chart for this course looks like the cardiac machine printout from an emergency room patient - except without all the charming flat bits.

Lest you think I exaggerate:

So, I'm nervous to say the very least. But I figure that I'm not concerned about time, just finishing and not dying, so if nothing else it will be a new experience! And hey, the hills in SF will have NOTHING on this course, so I actually wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being more challenging.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Three Things Thursday

1.) Yesterday in yoga I looked at my form in the mirror while in reverse triangle pose and saw some serious arm muscles. It made me smile. Yoga hasn't, however, been helping me with clenching my jaw in my sleep again. No idea why this time (last time was because of the AICP). It hurts a good bit.

2.) I've decided I am a Droid girl. After losing my Droid2 and replacing it with the iphone, last night I went back and did an exchange for the DroidX2. I am incredibly happy with my decision. Having a piece of equipment on me that expensive, especially with my propensity to lose phones, just made me really uncomfortable.

3.) I think I have decided that triathlons may be the sport for me. I'm not crazy enough to try to ride for 100 miles (esp because in Denver, most of those miles are up and over mountain passes. I don't care for uphill) and running is just getting really repetitive day in and day out. I have exercise ADD.

I get bored doing too much of one thing. Surprisingly, I'm actually enjoying my half marathon training. While 8 miles was intimidating to me, I rocked those miles and now I'm already planning where I can plan my routes for the 9 and 10 miles runs before the actual race. But I miss doing other activities. I've been cross training on W and Sat, usually boxing or riding, but most Tues/Thurs I don't drag my butt out of bed early and therefore must run after work instead of doing something else. Morgan and I were lamenting this weekend that it feels like there just isn't enough time in a week for all the stuff we want to do.

So that's why I was really excited to get into the pool last night - my first swim in nearly a year. It went really well. I did my standard 1500 yard workout, with 500 yards of sprinting. My lungs definitely aren't where they were, but they aren't bad. The awesome exhaustion in my chest and arms afterwards brought back memories of high school practice - I felt like I would have chicken nuggets w/ honey and pasta waiting for me on the kitchen table when I got home. Sadly, I didn't find any.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

My 'new' two-person tent! Compliments of Papa B :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Epic Weekend

Two days of my three day weekend were absolutely fantastic. After getting out of work at 3:30, I headed home, packed up for camping. Morgan picked me up and we were on our way. We had plans to hike Mt. Sherman on Saturday AM, so we camped alongside the road in Pike National Forest.

Our friends Nick, Adam, and Diana showed up shortly thereafter and we set up our tents and went about cooking dinner. There was a county-wide fire ban, so we weren't allowed to have a campfire, but we made do with cooking stoves on the back of Morgan's tailgate. Then we hit the hay, ready for our 6 am wake up call.

Nick is training for the Pike's Peak half marathon, so while all of us piled in the pickup in the morning to drive to the trailhead, he decided to run the 4 miles there. People in Colorado are crazy sometimes. We slathered on the sunscreen as we waited for him (I still got burnt) and we were on our way.

Mt. Sherman is one of the easier 14'ers. We started at about 11,700 feet, although you can park as close up as 12,000. The mountain was full of old mining buildings and equipment and it was a lot of fun to explore those along the way.

I was definitely the slowest in the group, but I just kept plodding along at my own pace, happy to be avoiding altitude sickness. It was absolutely gorgeous and I didn't need snowshoes. Overall, I enjoyed the hike up so much more than I had Quandary.

The last 100 yards or so were pretty much horizontal from the summit, and Morgan waited for me along the way so we could summit together.

We hung around up top for about half an hour then began our downward climb. There had been snow patches along the way and from up top we saw people glacading down - essentially sledding down the snowpatches on your butt.

It was so much fun and a real highlight of the hike. Nick and Adam had so much fun on the first one that they hiked back up to do it again. Overall, it took us about 4 hours to go up and down and we were back at the campsite by around 1. We hung around then drove into Fairplay for some foods - the local pub specialized in all things fried which didn't really sit well in our stomachs. After that, Morgan and I headed back to Denver for an early bedtime while everyone else went back to camp.

Sunday morning, after the best nights sleep ever, I woke up ready to knock out my 8 mile run. I was a little nervous about the distance, but had a planned break at 4 miles to feed my friend's cat and refill my water bottles. The planned break really helped me mentally break up the run and overall I was happy with it. Nothing hurt and my pace was a little slow, but still substantially faster than the 7-miler the previous week. I didn't walk at all and didn't stop with the exception of the cat feeding break. I'm feeling more and more ready for the half marathon.

Sunday night I went to a bar crawl for a friend's birthday and have come to the conclusion that I really haven't missed going out at all. I left my phone in the cab (again) and was hungover for all of Monday. The day was a complete waste and I didn't care for it at all. I had planned to do a 45 mile bike ride down to Chatfield (although my legs appreciated the rest day) and there are so many other more productive things I could have done with my day. I had enjoyed my hiatus from going out and I think I will return to that hiatus.

Overall it was a fantastically active and productive weekend, mostly. I am excited that it is already Tuesday and another weekend will soon be upon us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today is a good day

Over the past week or so, I've really been noticing the slight changes in my body from working out - thinner waist, more defined shoulders, the slightest hint of an inner thigh muscle starting to show - but after working hard so for long, the scale had still refused to yield even one ounce. In fact, I'd gone up about 2 lbs, which my mom continually tried to comfort me saying it was muscle (which I'm sure is true on some level, but still frustrating).

This morning, the scale finally relented a full five pounds in my favor. I was absolutely giddy. I think it has a lot to do with the seriously upped mileage for running, combined with the lack of alcohol and increase in fruits and veggies over the past month. It also helped me surpass the goal I had for my birthday, which I've now lowered, but also gave me the much needed mental motivation to keep going.

Then I got to work and the day got that much better. July 1 is the beginning of Berger's fiscal year and also the day we get our raise letters. I had been in discussions for a raise based on the level of work I was doing, my completed master's degree, and my AICP cert, but you never quite know how raise time is going to go. It went well and I was bumped from Planner III to Planner IV and I already fit some of the qualifications for Planner V (Senior Planner), which is my goal for the next two years.

Today is my rest day, so I'll stick to an easy yoga class during lunch then head out a little early to go camping. But today has certainly put a big smile on my face.