Sonoran Snowshoeing?

Just wrong that Cory and I can hit trails in Feb.
Winter disappeared in Missoula in early February. Our little remaining snow melted and temperatures soared into the 50's. I was able to mountain bike in a jersey and shorts, but was unable to get on the snowshoes at all. So I decided to go to Tucson, AZ for a solid training block.

Actually I got to go work as a ride-guide for two weeks at the Cycling House so I spent a lot of time road biking and trail running. Tucson is beautiful this time of year. The sun is almost always out, temperatures are in the high 70's and low 80's, and the occasional rain gives a greenish tint to the normal brown landscape. It doesn't do much for specificity with snowshoe training, but I'm hoping the volume of training makes up for that.

The first week of camp I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to be a guide. I needed to learn the routes, learn how to pace on a bike, and how to chop veggies like a champ (a work in progress). I was also nervous about being able to sustain my energy levels on the bike that many days in a row. My knee had flared up a bit the week before camp so I took a few down days to try to get the swelling under control, but for guiding's sake, needed to put in over 200 miles on the bike the first week. Fortunately my knee and my energy reserves were up to the task and I finished the first camp feeling pretty good physically.

Newest flora in Saguaro NP: the face-plant
The Cycling House has a great ride itinerary for the Tucson camps this year. The house is on the east side of Tucson so Saguaro NP East and Mt. Lemmon are weekly staples. The 8 mile loop through the National Park is a roller coaster of a ride (not nearly as terrifying though) through a forest of cacti. It was wonderful to rip through corners and sprint short hills at the base of Mt. Mica without having to worry about cars. The ride up Mt. Lemmon was also incredible. With 5500 feet of climbing over 21 miles, the road meanders from low desert terrain up into ponderosa pine forest with noticeable lower temperatures. The climb offers vast views of Tucson and the surrounding mountains, which with 21 miles of slow climbing, I had plenty of time to see. The descent off Lemmon is a blast. The road is nice and gradual with wide sweeping turns requiring little to no braking. Any climb that takes 45 minutes to descent is worth it in my eyes.

Looking at the remaining 14 miles of Lemmon descent
The other two rides required a shuttle from the House to the West side of Tucson. One of the days we rode up and over Gates Pass to do a few loops in Saguaro National Park West. I have not verified this, but I heard that Saguaro West has the highest concentration of saguaros in the world, which I readily believe after seeing how dense the hillsides are. Our other ride on the West side of Tucson took us up Kitt Peak. This climb is much steeper than Lemmon but half the distance. Despite the steepness I found it slightly more manageable because I could wrap my head around the distance better. When each mile is 8% of the climb instead of 4%, it's easier to stay positive. Yes, I actually try to do math while climbing on the bike, and yes, it's the only time I try to do math. The descent of Kitt is more challenging than Lemmon due to the steeper grade and wind and the day I descended a sneaky gust of wind blew me from the yellow line to the inside of the curve before I knew it. Fortunately I didn't go off the road, but kept a wary eye on the movement of the bushes as a wind cue the rest of the way down.

The second week I felt much more competent on the bike. I knew I could handle the mileage and wasn't afraid to go a little harder. My knee had reacted well to the first week of training so I added in a trail run every morning to at least keep the running motion. I realized that I had lost some of my rocky trail running skills after a shorter run left me sore, but after a few days a 2 hour run felt normal again.

Cycling House takeover of Mt. Lemmon
The last day I was in Tucson I opted to post a time on the Cycling House staff leaderboard. We have a series of challenges (Mt. Lemmon on bike, first 5 miles of Lemmon, 500m swim, Bike/Run brick) that the field staff has designated for time trials. I was bothered for two weeks that my name was on the board with no times posted, so I ran Agua Caliente, the trail running challenge, the morning before I left. The trail up to the top of Agua Caliente is steep, rocky, and a littler steeper and rockier. It's a 4.5 mile trail that gains somewhere around 3500 feet. Brendan and Ian had posted times of 54 and 58 minutes up so the challenge had been thrown. Brendan also had the top time on Strava so the 54 minutes I knew would be tough.

I started out strong, but not all-out up the climb and picked it up as I found a good rhythm. When I run steep and technical trails I prefer short quick steps then a longer, more powerful stride when (if) it levels. This seemed to be a working pretty well for me until I hit a spot that was steeper for longer than I expected. On short steep sections sometimes I'll just power through rather than adopting the short quick stride and I made the mistake of trying to power through a section that need way more power than I had left. This left me hurting before the next level spot and final steep push to the top. I managed to pick it up some on the level and stumble up to the summit in 49:33. I wish I could say I felt good at the top, but I mostly just hurt. The run-that-became-a-walk down didn't feel great either and I spent the rest of the morning trying to get fluids and fuel back in me.
I finally posted a time

As much as that run hurt, it did give me more confidence for Snowshoe Nationals. I head to Wisconsin this weekend for the 10k and 1/2 Marathon US Championships, and was worried about having spent so little time running, much less on snowshoes. Having a good, solid run under my belt with enough time to recover gives me some confidence going into this weekend.

I am very excited to compete Saturday and Sunday. I have no idea what to expect, although I am confident I will be exhausted and drinking a lot of Fluid Recovery by the end of it. My goal this year is just to see what Nationals is all about and get a feel for the scene. I'd love to be in the top 10 in both races, but I have no idea if that is obtainable and mostly want to come away with a good experience. Hopefully on the flight home I will have a realistic idea of what I need to do to prepare for next year.

But today, it's Sara's and my birthday, so I'm going to go to dinner and have an ill-advised birthday beer before a big Saturday race.

Happy Trails,