Saturday, February 25, 2017

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

It was 75 degrees and sunny in Denver, but there were five feet of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Choosing to skip the holiday traffic and crowds of the free parks day, we headed up to Estes Park Monday afternoon and were surprised to find green grass in and around town. That evening, we visited a local brewery, filled up on Mexican food, then spent the night in an historic lodge built over 100 years ago on the side of Prospect Mountain. The next morning we woke up early, ate some breakfast, packed up our gear, and put on our layers and boots, before heading into the national park for an adventure.

View of Rocky Mountain National Park with snow

My parents gifted us an annual parks pass for Christmas and we were excited to put it to use. Our goal is to visit Rocky Mountain (RMNP) at least four times this year, as well as other national parks. The annual pass is only $80 and helps provide much needed support and funds to the parks system. In this one day alone we got nearly 5 hours worth of entertainment, adventure and physical exertion thanks to the pass. Not bad considering a single night out of dinner and a movie can cost just as much.

According to an official press release, RMNP received more than 4.5 million visitors in 2016, an 8.7% increase over the year before. While they attribute some of the increase to the centennial celebration of the national parks system, the population boom along the Front Range likely also played a role and will continue to do so in the future.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain

While I love that more people are enjoying our parks, breathing fresh air, and getting their heart rate up a bit, the surge in visitors has put a lot of stress on the parks. There's a shortage of rangers, maintenance costs have increased and there's a lot more wear and tear on the trails and other infrastructure in the parks. Passes and visitation fees can help, but as visitors we also need to make sure we're being respectful of the environment, leaving no trace, leaving wildlife alone, and speaking up when others aren't doing their part.

Okay.... back to Tuesday. After talking with a very helpful and energetic park ranger at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, we took his advice and headed to the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot. We saw only a few other cars driving through the park and there were only a handful at the trailhead when we arrived. In other words, it was perfect.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

The route we took left from the Bear Lake trailhead and immediately started about a half mile descent (we did not realize this was going to be the case and instantly regretted the decision because it meant the last half mile of our trek would be uphill.) This connected into the trail to, and past, Alberta Falls near the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We hiked a good section of this trail back in 2015, but this time there was snow and we split off and went to The Loch instead of Mills Lake.

There are several solid climbs throughout the trek to get our heart rate up and lungs burning, but also a good number of easier segment to just enjoy the scenery. The wind was blowing pretty strong all morning, so we appreciated the cover from the trees when we had it.

Unfortunately the trails aren't marked for winter use like some trails are in Colorado, so we did get off track a few times and we never did find the winter trail bypass. At one point we followed a well worn path until it became windswept and turned into tracks from a single skier. This took us through more than one questionable section, but we (Matt, more than I) had faith that this crazy person knew where they were going and thankfully that turned out to be true when we connected back in to the main trail.

Lisa Alcorn snowshoeing

The ranger had warned us that the last section before The Loch would be a pretty steep climb but that it was "fairly short" in length, "fun," and well worth it. (please take note of the quotes) This section called for us to use the heel lifts on our snowshoes, which made it much easier than it would have been otherwise, but I still stopped a few times to catch my breath.

There was a bit of a leveling off at the top, around a bend and then The Loch was in front of us. We had checked with the ranger and knew the lake would be sufficiently frozen, so we walked out a bit onto the ice and Matt finally got to see it in person.

As we were leaving The Loch and heading back down, we ran into a couple who had camped out in the woods just below the last big ascent. They had hiked up to the lake around midnight, decided it was too windy (it was howling when we were there) and decided to make camp a little lower down in the trees. A good reminder that even though we though we were killing it on this snowshoe, there are so many people in this state who are hardcore to the point that I can't even imagine. Nevertheless, we were proud of our effort.

The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Out on the ice in Rocky Mountain National Park

All in all, our snowshoe trek ended at 6 miles with a visit to Bear Lake at the end. The parking lot was much more full when we got back to the car, and while we did see a number of people out on the trails, most seemed to be hanging around Bear Lake which is just a few hundred feet in from the trailhead.

Snowshoeing is no joke. It's a really great workout and, at least for us, the miles go a bit slower than they do when we hike, so we were out on the trail for several hours. It was beautiful and fun, and we stayed pretty warm with several layers, thick socks, waterproof boots, and a thermos full of hot green tea.

Unfortunately my physical exertion didn't end when the snowshoes came off. It was day 99 of my run streak, so on our way out of the park I had Matt stop at a pull-off along the roadway and let me out. Thankfully there was another pull-off exactly a mile later where he waited for me. It was the hardest mile of all the miles I'd done over those 99 days, but I got it done and my 3 mile run the next day was much better.

Running in Rocky Mountain National Park

What's your favorite winter sport? * Have you tried snowshoeing?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Four Winter Runcation Ideas

It may reach 60 degrees in Denver today, but a recent opportunity to spend weekend in Phoenix for a Oiselle team meet up was a great escape from winter weather. It got me thinking about how amazing and energizing it can be to get away from the cold of winter for a few days of sun and warmth. Even though I saw flowers starting to bloom during a walk the other day, the snow will be back still this season.

A change of scenery and new places to explore through running can provide a big motivation boost for runners, any time of the year, but especially now. Here's a look at a few winter getaways we've enjoyed that make perfect mid-winter runcation destinations.

Charleston, SC
With a temperate climate, quaint charm complete with cobblestone streets, an impressive food scene and packed with history, this is clearly a great city to explore running with plenty of non-running diversions.
Early Morning Run - Charleston, SC

Early Morning Run - Charleston, SC

Savannah, GA
Savannah oozes history and southern charm. You can't help but feel like you've been transported to another time and have walked into the film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." With parks and gardens around every corner, stunningly elegant homes and southern cooking, it's easy to start your day with a run exploring the city then filling the remaining hours with any number of activities.
Early Morning Run - Forsyth Park Savannah

Early Morning Run - Owens-Thomas House Savannah

Santa Fe, NM
Yes it can snow in Santa Fe but the area still provides a great getaway during the colder months and plenty to keep you busy for a long weekend. This is a great option if you particularly enjoy trail running, art, margaritas and soaking tubs.
  • Where to run & hike: The Dale Ball Trail (below bottom) system offers 22 miles of well marked but challenging trails with stunning views and varying terrain. Additional trail options can be found here.
  • Where to eat: Maria's, The Shed, The Teahouse, Plaza Cafe
  • What to do when not running: See all the art - there are more than a hundred galleries to explore along Canyon Road and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is not to be missed while the Loretto Chapel's staircase is a mysterious work of art. Schedule time in a soaking pool at Ten Thousand Waves for after a long run (tip: try to get a private pool/sauna and arrive early to enjoy the foot soak). Stop by the farmer's market at the Railyard (below top) for fresh food, chilis, spices and more.
  • Where to stay: Casita Hopi through Airbnb is a bit out of downtown but incredibly comfortable and a perfect home base if you like to prepare some of your own meals and enjoy privacy. La Fonda on the Plaza, Hotel St. Francis and the Old Santa Fe Inn are steps from the Plaza, restaurants, and more.
Early Morning Run - Santa Fe Railyard

Early Morning Run - Dale Ball Trails

Phoenix, AZ
Alright, 75 degrees is the middle of January and to go out for a run in shorts and a tank is pretty nice. It almost feels luxurious. What most surprised me about Phoenix is that while it's mostly flat, there are mountains in and surrounding the city. While the 1,000-ish ft elevation was a nice change for our group from Colorado, it might add a little challenge for those coming from sea level.
Luci's at the Orchard

View from Piestewa Peak Phoenix

What are your favorite runcation destinations? * How do you stay motivated in the winter?

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about any of these spots!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Running on Plants

In 2014 years ago my husband decided, after reading The China Study, that he wanted to try a plant based diet. I was eating very little meat as it was and it's easier when both halves of a couple commit to something like this, so I decided to join him. 

Before I go any further, let me say that this post is not about convincing you to switch to a plant-based diet or shaming anyone who likes meat. That's not at all what I'm about. I want to share my story because I know there are other vegan runners out there and others who are curious about it but have reservations.

Early Morning Run - Crested Butte Farmers Market

While the treatment of animals played a role in my decision, the impetus was a focus on our health. One thing I've learned over the years is that there are a lot of things out of our control. We can't select our genes, or walk around in a bubble to keep all carcinogens away, and we certainly can't control mother nature or random accidents. But we do make lifestyle decisions that have a big impact on our health. Getting regular exercise, not smoking and choosing to eat healthful foods, for example. And so I've chosen to make decisions on how I live my life to give myself the best chance - while knowing full well that it doesn't guarantee it - that it'll be a healthy life.

When we switched to a plant-based diet we went cold turkey and have only eaten animal products a few times a year since - usually a bite of something special at the holidays or our very favorite burger when we're back in NYC (hint: Delmonico's Grill). Because we love brunch, by far the hardest for me to give up was cheese, eggs, and yogurt. But now I don't miss it that much and we've found great vegan-friendly brunch spots around Denver.

With osteopenia and a history of stress fractures, I was a bit nervous about making the switch because I'd be missing out on a lot of the easy calcium and protein sources. My biggest fear was retreating back into that old pattern that had me hobbling around on crutches or in a boot and visiting physical therapists on a regular basis.

You know what? Two and a half years later and I'm going strong. (knock on wood!)

Early Morning Run - trail running the Dale Ball Trails

In fact, I'm feeling better than ever. I've only lost a few pounds (and I attribute that to my run streak more than anything else) while Matt, of course, has lost quite a lot and is looking better than ever (I'm a lucky woman). I still have days when I feel 'blah,' but don't we all? Especially in the middle of winter? Overall, I feel great and I've run 70 plus days straight with hardly a twinge. 

I shouldn't be surprised though. It's not like you have to eat burgers and wash them down with a glass of milk to be a good runner. We all know of Scott Jurek, one of the best ultra runners there is, who's a long-time vegan. (Not that I am, in any way, comparing myself to Scott Jurek) And Matt Frazier has been running on plants - and writing about it - for years. As have many others who run many more miles a week than I do.

While there are vitamins and nutrients we all need, we're all still different. Animal protein might be best for some, and others can thrive without it. Matt and I chose to follow a plant-based diet for health reasons and as long as we feel like it's working for us, we'll keep doing it. I will never judge someone for eating an omelette while I'm digging into my scrambled tofu, and I hope that goes both ways. 

The point is, you can be a runner and fully enjoy a vegan/plant-based diet.

Vegan curry from Heirloom Vegetarian (Vancouver)

I am more than happy to answer questions, and I do when people are interested in learning what we eat or just how we manage without the deliciousness of cheese in our lives. It's been a learning process for us and event fun to learn new recipes and get creative with grains, beans and trying new vegetables. We've also learned that Matt is a pretty great cook. 

Are you a plant-based/vegan runner? * What would be the hardest thing for you to give up if you switched to a plant-based diet?