4-Pass Loop

Maroon Bells at Dawn

That was… beautiful. ~ Edwina “Ed” McDonnough

Sometimes, you just need to lean on your friends to get you back in the swing of things and Caleb definitely upped the ante by recommending we tackle Aspen’s famous 4-Pass Loop as a main summer goal (Note: My Garmin blew up at mile 25 due to my turtle-esque pace). I knew this had the potential to be both an incredible adventure and a serious effort. I was up for both. (Here’s a link to the full gallery.)

4-Pass Loop Map 4-Pass Loop Elevation Profile

We decided that a weekday trek had the best potential for success so penned in the 24th as the day we’d tackle the route. This is a popsicle loop of about 27 miles that summits 4 passes: Buckskin (12,532), Trail Rider (12,412), Frigid Air (12,398) and West Maroon (12,469) on a route that circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. We jammed up to Aspen on Monday, stopping briefly to hike up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon (well worth the effort) and car camped at the trailhead.

Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass

Up before sunrise on Tuesday to start our adventure, Caleb and I grabbed some breakfast, packed up our gear and headed out just as the sun was kissing the tops of the Maroon Bells. What an amazing start to a proud adventure. We made our way up the technical singletrack toward Buckskin Pass and fell into a decent rhythm of steady forward progress. the route climbs steadily upward through aspen groves to treeline where we were greeted by incredible views. One final, steep pitch through fields of incredible wildflowers and we made our first summit (about 4.9 miles into the run).

Snowmass Lake Caleb Melamed on Trail Rider Pass

We headed down the steep, northwest side of the pass and made our way quickly into some of the most incredible singletrack running on the planet. This section drops down below treeline and makes its way toward Snowmass Lake. We got a little off-piste for a bit while trying to navigate what was described as a bit of a hidden turn but soon were back on track. (If you do this loop, turn left at the log footbridge under the beaver ponds rather than taking the somewhat obscured path above the ponds.) We quickly made our way to the unbelievably gorgeous Snowmass Lake (words do not describe) then pushed up through even MORE amazing fields of wildflowers above the lake to the summit of Trail Rider Pass at 11.75 miles into our day (probably more like 10.75 for those who don’t get off-route). More amazing views. This could never get boring.

Waterfall on Frigid Air Pass Frigid Air Pass

The southwest descent of Trail Rider was STEEP and my knee got pretty grumpy on this section but we soldiered on, stopping to fill up with water from a small stream about mile 14. The approach to the next pass, Frigid Air, is long but we were treated with decent running through a variety of ecosystems and were treated to more incredible vistas and scenery. We navigated a section of blow-down just before reaching a large waterfall about mile 16 that set the stage for a short, steep pitch just below treeline. The trail then climbs steadily through one of the most beautiful mountain valleys you will ever see on the final approach to Frigid Air.

I really started feeling it once we got back up above treeline on Frigid Air. My knee was grumpy, my stomach abandoned me and I resorted to some old Leadville tricks to keep things moving. 100 steps, stop, 5 big breaths, repeat. Eventually, I summited Frigid Air (about mile 19) quite a bit behind Caleb who was still moving well. From the summit, you can see Crested Butte and we ran into our first day-hikers who had made the climb up from the CB side of the pass (Schofield, if memory serves). Most of the traffic we encountered up to this point consisted of backpackers who normally take 3 days to complete the circuit. Needless to say, they found our 1-day shenanigans to be either impressive or idiotic or both.

One pass remained and I had pretty much run out of running juju though I was still hiking pretty quickly. We descended just a bit on the trek over to West Maroon then I went back into 100-rest-repeat mode for the final steep push up to the top of the pass. I summited well behind Caleb (again) on what was definitely the most trafficked section of the route (lots of people on West Maroon, about mile 21) and we headed down for the final 7 miles of our journey. Caleb was moving well (better than I, for sure) and I ran a little on the descent but that made my knee and stomach unhappy so I just decided to hike it in. Caleb stopped several times to check on me and I finally cut him loose since I didn’t want to extend his day any further. Since there was a lot of foot-traffic at this point, it was safe to split up.

I hiked the remaining few miles. Stopped briefly to talk with a Ranger at Crater Lake (about mile 26) and just got the rest done in a slight (and welcomed) sprinkle of rain. Saw some blue grouse at the end of the journey just above Maroon Lake and shortly thereafter found myself back at the car.

Caleb was all cleaned up and ready to go so I quickly scrubbed off the worst of the day’s grunge, tossed most of my stuff into his truck (with the exception of a pretty much new pair of shoes I donated to the Trailhead gods on accident), and we made our way back to the Front Range. All in all, a fantastic day out of the trails. I definitely didn’t perform as well as I had hoped but we bit off a pretty big chunk and I didn’t really have the time to get trained up for a 7+ hour push so I don’t feel bad about the effort. It really showed me how specificity of training works (I’m speedy for efforts up to 3-4 hours but after that, I start to fade) but also made me really happy to have been able to accomplish this type of run on what fitness I had in the bank. I also feel really blessed to be able to get to see some of the more remote parts of our state. Not a lot of people get to experience this stuff. I’m super lucky to be able to do so.


Efficiency gained, efficiency lost

Caleb and Stu just below the summit of South Arapaho Peak

I want what I want. ~ Roger Sterling

Marathon recovery always seems to take longer than I want. This cycle has been particularly difficult because I have been REALLY excited to run trails and followed the prescribed recovery regimen only to find myself a battling some knee pain over the past couple of weeks that definitely set me back a bit. It’s all good, just didn’t get to log as many trail miles as I had hoped in May. June is shaping up well, however.

I ventured up high with my buddy, Caleb, yesterday to South Arapaho Glacier via the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead. Overall, it was a decent – albeit slow – run. We battled fierce headwinds all the way up the pass and decided to abandon our goal of summiting South Arapaho Peak after hunkering down for a bit at the base of the last pitch. Just a little too windy for our taste. We ended up with a little over 12 miles for the day. Most of which were pretty hard-fought. Much slower than we anticipated but all in all a great outing.

I did discover that though my fitness is good and I am moving quite efficiently on smooth trails, my technical running has taken a hit after all this road training and racing I have done over the past couple of years. If the trail is obstacle-light, I can fly. When things get dicey, not so much. I also have lost my ability to fall into the “ultra shuffle” and tend to stride out a lot more than in the past. It has yet to be determined whether or not this is a bad thing. I just noticed it makes matching pace with Caleb a bit of a challenge and I found myself switching between a fast hike and slow run cadence while he kept a pretty consistent trot most of the way up. We topped out at over 12,600 feet for the day which makes this the third week in a row for me to get up over treeline. Really looking forward to our 4-Pass Loop run in July.

I upped the mileage considerably this last week since my knee has been feeling better and am hoping that spell of grumpiness is behind me. Seems like it was just a matter of needing a bit more time off and having quads that, though they didn’t really feel it, were a bit wrecked. Worked on mobility, took some time off, watched a lot of movies, brought yoga back into my regular regimen, and did a lot of foam rolling and massage and things seem to be on the mend. Hoping I can get back up in the 50+ mpw range in the next couple of weeks.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.



If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sat 29 May: 1:36, 9.5 miles, Big Casa loop
Sun 30 May: 5:54, 33.25 miles, Heil/Hall

Saturday featured another fun trail run near my house. Essentially the same loop I ran the prior week with a section tacked on and reversed direction. Really great to be back on familiar ground and running well. During most of this session, things just “clicked”. Felt really great. Smooth. Efficient.

Capped the week off with a solid long run (33+ miles) in north Boulder/Lyons. Felt really strong throughout and finished the week with 76 miles total. Definitely a high mark for me this year. Started in north Boulder and spun a lap on dirt roads then moved on to the Heil/Hall network of trails. I had never dropped down from Heil to Hall before. The new connector section is super cool and makes for a nice way to hook up these two classic trail sections.

Once I jumped onto the Nighthawk trail at Hall, I was able to make my way up far enough in my allotted run-time to get a really awesome view of Longs Peak. Made it totally worth the long climb. Totally runnable trail with a big pay off at the top. On a cool day (like yesterday), this one is well worth a peek.

This run finished up a week that saw three really strong efforts (and great training all around). Wednesday’s tempo run kicked things off. Saturday’s trail run was a definite breakthrough in the comfort department. Sunday just moved things to a new level for which I have been clamoring for quite some time now. Onward and upward.


Back on trails…

Anyone can start strong. ~ me

  • Thurs 13 May: 1:40, 7.03 miles, Boulder Creek/Sanitas run/hike
  • Sat 15 May: 00:50, 5.77 miles, Peak-to-Peak surges
  • Sun 16 May: 3:45, 19.01 miles, Boulder Creek, Flag, Green
  • Mon 17 May: 00:20, 2.16 miles, Mtn Meadows barefoot
  • Tues 18 May: 00:49, 5.02 miles, Casa trails to Beaver Creek surges
  • Wed 19 May: 1:50, 10.86 miles, GGCSP Raccoon to Thorne Lake tempo
  • Thurs 20 May: 2:11, 9.3 miles, Mesa to Saddle Rock to Green to Gregory run/hike

One would think, that with my abundance of free time, I’d be posting more. Well you thought wrong, my friend as apparently the last 10 days got away from me. Now it’s catch-up time and you better get ready. Or not, your call.

Decent week of training/recovery. Lower mileage than I would have liked but moving to trails definitely slows things up, I am working in more hiking into my routine and I am still not 100% recovered. Getting there, however and starting to feel a lot better, thank you.

I guess the highlight of the week was just getting out on trails that weren’t completely packed with snow. Refreshing, to say the least. Yesterday’s run/hike found Green to be completely snow-free – a marked change even from last Sunday. Things are opening up in the high(er) country as well with trails east of the P2P getting more and more thawed out. Springtime in the Rockies… gotta love it.

I’m off today for a little rest then back at it Saturday and Sunday. Looking forward to a good weekend of training then another solid week to finish up a fairly weak May then ready to really open it up in June.

Three months until the LT100. Getting pretty psyched.


24-hours of Utah Race Report…

Moab at dusk
Caution: Runners on Road

I want to be more like the ocean… no talkin’ and all action. ~ Jane’s Addiction

Thurs 25 Mar: 00:38, 4.9 miles, Boulder Creek Path tempo
Sat 27 Mar: 5:13, 31.9 miles, 24-Hours of Utah 2-person 12-hour race

Back to Moab and more racing. I would say that the results this time were significantly improved over my last venture. Different course, totally different race. Good times.

First, the prelude… Wednesday went totally pear-shaped on me as it started off poorly and just seemed to get progressively worse. I had a 7-miler on deck but a snow storm put the damper on that plan and apparently the Rec Center still thinks that snow is enough of a catastrophic event to continue to close down whenever it happens. I am going to chalk that up in the “lame” column. Anyway, the day was a bit of a disaster so I am pretending it never existed. Moving on…

Thursday, I was supposed to go for a relatively easy run with some light tempo work but apparently my bod had other plans. Ended up slamming a 5-miler in 38 minutes while trying not to. I am going to not scoff at it, however. Guessing I needed to release some frustration from the previous day’s cluster, so I did. Tried out the new Pearl Izumi SyncroFuel XCs. Apparently, they are speedy.

Friday, Sean and I jammed down to Moab to run the 2-person, 12-hour event at the 24-Hours of Utah ultra race. Sean offered to drive so I did a little happy dance and plopped into the passenger seat for the 6-hour trip. We stopped a couple of times along the way to eat and fuel up so it was a leisurely adventure. Rolled into Moab around dusk, checked into the hotel, grabbed some food and hit the sack early. One thing I have noticed about many Moab restaurants… very few places “specialize”. Seems like you can get burritos or pizza or whatever pretty much anywhere you go. Very odd.

Up early on Saturday to gather our stuff, check in to the race and get rolling. It was fairly chilly in the morning but clear and calm and I started us out with a couple of relatively fast laps which put us in 5th overall. This was not a good way to start the day and the early fast pace would haunt me the rest of the day. The course featured fun, varied terrain which started on dirt roads then dipped into some sandy singletrack then climbed on slickrock to the highpoint and then reversed the order on the back side of the loop (descend slickrock, singletrack, roads). Runners were instructed to alternate direction each lap which provided some variety, which was nice. Great scenery abounded for sure.

After my two laps, it was Sean’s turn and he spun a couple while I attempted to figure out how to fight stiffness and chills while waiting for his return. Not sure that mission was accomplished as when it was my turn to run again, I was seriously clunky. This would be the pattern all day: Run for a bit, attempt to not get too wrecked during the down time, repeat. Definitely a challenge.

I ended up spinning relatively even laps (well… not my last one, so much) and Sean kept the tempo during his stints on course even while experiencing some seriously horrendous stomach issues. He hung tough and I couldn’t even convince him to let me finish things out by taking his final lap. We ended up with 64 total in just under 12 hours for a 2nd place finish.

Sean’s stomach problems continued into the night so I went to Zax for quite possibly the worst $20 “large” pizza of all time. Yeah. Don’t go there. We got up early the next day, hit the Jailhouse for breakfast (Sean’s stomach still not cooperating) and then jammed back home. Aside from the nausea, it was a great trip.

Some tidbits:

  • Pacing: Figuring out how to pace these types of events is a challenge. One gets the Devil/Angel thing going on with the Devil telling you, “Rip it up, man. You only have to run 5 miles.” And the Angel keeps screaming, “Dude! You’ll log over 30 by day’s end. Slow the fuck down!” Well, as usual, the Devil won.
  • Pacing Part 2: Having logged virtually all of my mileage this winter on roads, my ideal of a “reasonable” pace is still thoroughly out of whack. Running 11-minute miles just doesn’t feel right. This… will need to change.
  • Run/Rest Cycles: Honestly, this format is for the birds. I had fun, but taking 45 minutes to 1.5 hours off between efforts is not the way to get things done.

Overall, it was a great race. It was cool to meet Ben Dunn, who won the men’s 12-hour solo race and logged as many miles in 10.5 hours as the two of us managed to crank out in almost 12. Also congrats to Sonja Wieck who tore up the field with her 21:58 100-mile solo effort. Her first 100-miler too!

All in all a great weekend of running in the desert.


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