Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for October, 2015

The Outdoor Life, Western Style

Cheyenne sky at sunrise

Cheyenne sky at sunrise

There is no other way to say it. I’ve fallen in love with Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On a recent travel exchange with Friendship Force, I was introduced to this wonderful city and the surrounding area. The scenery, outdoor lifestyle, friendly people and food made for a memorable trip.

Our band of 16 travelers was hosted in the homes of Cheyenne Friendship Force club members. From my host’s home, after giving myself a couple of days to adjust to the 6,500 ft. elevation, I slipped out the door for some early morning runs. A nearby dirt road led me up a steep hill to the water tower and a ranch meeting the outskirts of the city.

Ranch sculpture at the crest of my gravel road run

Ranch sculpture at the crest of my gravel road run

I supplemented those runs with several hikes during the week. For our first hikes and sightseeing, we dressed in layers ready for weather changes and cooler temperatures as we would gradually climb to around 10,000 feet.

Our convoy route took us through Laramie, then slightly south dipping into northern Colorado for a few miles before turning north again. Along with fields of cattle and horses, we spotted antelope, mule deer, elk and goats. Sadly, we also saw fallen trees and others still standing but with dried dead limbs, evidence of the pine beetle destruction known as beetle kill. Enroute, the mostly brown flat land turned to hills, then craggy mountainous region.

With a stop and museum tour in Encampment, we enjoyed our first of several delicious picnic lunches eaten in the brisk, thin mountain air.

Aspen Alley

Aspen Alley

With fall weather changing from sunshine to rain to sleet and back to sunshine again, we  proceeded to  Aspen Alley and the Snowy Range. Making our way across Medicine Bow National Forest we appreciated the beauty of the gold leaves of the aspen where trees had not quite peaked, but were lovely nonetheless. Standing quietly at the edge of the forest, the aspen make a murmuring sound our hosts described as trembling.

Some of us decided to hike the road through the Alley and meet drivers on the opposite end. We then continued on driving by or making stops and short hikes at Silver Lake, Mirror Lake, Snowy Range Lookout points and Libby Flats at altitudes up to 10,800 feet.

As we hiked Aspen Alley, we spotted this ranch hidden from the road

Hiking Aspen Alley, we spotted this ranch hidden from the road

We stopped at the Continental Divide near Centennial (think James Michener’s novel by that title) where we later had stopped at the Old Corral for dinner. The building is authentic western with large tables and wooden walls. not to mention a worthwhile gift shop and a hotel, frequented by cyclists, hikers and sightseers.

Wyoming has a beautiful wide-open sky. This particular day, it put on a spectacular show with a morning rainbow that guided us through the first hour or so as we dipped south, closing our day with a distant evening lightning show during the dark drive back to Cheyenne.

Medicine Bow National Forest

Hiking Medicine Bow National Forest

So ends our first full day of this trip. So much more to tell on another Travel Tuesday.

Race Report – Blues Cruise 50K

Shortly after  a successful first ultra trail race at the Dirty German, I signed up for the Blues Cruise 50K in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Friends had described the race as challenging yet fun. I learned that both were true.

It’s good to see a familiar face at a race and I was fortunately to spot three. Near the bag drop, I ran into Rick and Jeremy both experienced ultra runners. Jeremy followed The Blues Cruise up with the Oil Creek 100K. I expect he will be writing about it in The Road to Trails.

An intense group at the start while I'm lined up in the back of the pack.

An intense group at the start while I’m lined up in the back of the pack. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Near the start, I heard Kristin’s voice, another ultra runner who blogs at Family, Food and Running. She was in a support role for this race and also recently ran the Oil City 100 Miler.

Unlike my experienced ultra friends, as a newbie ultra runner and trail runner, I am still making rookie mistakes. Assuming I would be one of the slowest runners on the trail, I lined up with the back of the pack. Runners stretched ahead as far as I could see with most of them starting at a walk. In addition to the typical rocks and roots, walnuts the size of tennis balls were falling from the trees and onto the single track trail. I bided my time until we arrived at the first aid station. It was packed with runners and with no early need for water or food,  I slipped through the crowd and finally found my pace.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Rain for several days preceding the race left portions of the trail with some mud, but certainly passable. Running on grass after passing a muddy spot helped to kick the weight of any lingering mud off my shoes.

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Credit: Ryan Goverts

We were running the course counter-clockwise around Blue Marsh Lake. That placed the ski hill on the course at mile 10/11, my toughest – although not my slowest – mile.  The slowest pace came around mile 23/24 where the uphill/downhill pattern continued. I can also attribute the slowdown to my second rookie mistake letting a horseback riding group get ahead of me while I munched on a salted potato at an aid station. How was I to know they would saunter along for a period of time before again breaking out into a trot? Several of us walked the single track during that time rather than attempt to spook a horse as we shouted “on your left” to the rider. No, better to loose a few minutes and pick up the pace later.

I would tell you how lovely the scenery was, but honestly I was watching the trail underfoot very carefully. I did well until about mile 24 when the beautiful cloud cover gave way to a bit of sunshine. I recall thinking “gee, it’s a bit more difficult to see the trail detail with this dappled sunshine” when – boom – I was down. No harm done, I was back on my feet as quickly as I went down.

Pulling out of the the last aid station I was ready to be finished. I chatted with a couple of guys just behind me on the trail. Their delightful conversation helped me keep going.  Oddly, I have run shorter and mentally more difficult races, but I felt this was the most physically challenging race I have run.  I have done marathons through smoldering heat, nor’easters, angry ocean whipping over the breakwall, and sleet blowing across the Susquehanna. Still, the Blues Cruise was more challenging. And, of course, I plan to do it again, with tougher training built in before the race.

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Credit: Ryan Goverts

Finish time? 7:03:11, thanks to a combination of Tailwind in my pack, potatoes with salt, an orange slice and a sip of Coke at several aid stations. I arrived at the finish of that beautiful, hilly, well-marked course in time to say good-bye to my friends who came through the finish much earlier.

Food was abundant, but my stomach said to settle for a grilled cheese. A grabbed a bottle of water, did a 5-minute mud removal cleanup and headed for home. My tired muscles were a strong reminder that I had met the challenge of a second 50K trail race.

Thank you Blues Cruise race directors and volunteers for making the race possible.