And finally…Top 5 Training Hikes in Boulder – #1

Bear Peak via Fern Canyon from NCAR

UPDATE: As of August 14, 2012, this trail is back open for business.

Distance: 2.8 miles

Gain: 2,295’

Average Grade: 15.5%

Description: For those about to suffer, I salute you!

If you want excellent training, fantastic views and free parking about 5-minutes drive from Rt. 36, then there is no substitute for this hike.

But first, don’t be fooled by the relatively gentle average grade noted above. You will be hiking on the steepest (legal) terrain in the Boulder foothills. The numbers are moderated by the rolling approach from the trailhead—roughly half of the one-way distance to the summit. The average grade from the junction of the Mesa Trail & the northern spur of the Fern Canyon Trail to the summit is 27.4%!

Narrow and strewn with large boulders, Fern Canyon is one of the prettier trails in the OSMP, especially during the summer. However, like it’s sister canyon Shadow to the south, Fern can hold ice and snow well into spring. There are a few short but steep “waterfall” sections that can make for a sketchy descent even with traction (found that out the hard way).

Ascending toward the light in the primordial Fern Canyon.

Ascending toward the light in the primordial Fern Canyon.

Once clear of the canyon you’ll reach the saddle between Bear and The Nebel Horn, a primordial-looking pile of sandstone that is one of a handful of unranked minor peaks in the Boulder foothills. Incidentally it’s also one of the few obvious spots in the area to practice a little Class 3 scrambling. That is when it’s not closed off to protect perpetual Raptor breeding.

The real fun now begins. Swinging southward you begin the aerobic crux of the route: Bear’s half-mile North Ridge. This final stretch veers upward to average nearly 40% and in this aspect, rivals the difficulty of many a 14er. Also, as you are now on the ridge as opposed to protected by it, this is where you will become exposed to whatever weather is predominating the day (often a stiff and frosty breeze coming straight off the Continental Divide).

The rest of the route is a blur of steep, tight switchbacks and small boulder scrambles until finally the trees part and mercifully to reveal the rocky summit, just above. The scamper to the summit is considered “Class 2+” and care should be taken as the boulders have been worn slick from foot and hand traffic. Congratulations! You’ve just conquered the toughest stretch of trail in the Boulder foothills. Perhaps you’ll see me at the top:

If the schedule allows, a descent down Bear’s West Ridge into Bear Canyon highly recommended. Look for the junction at the base of the summit block, as it can be easy to miss.

Trailhead & Parking: NCAR. Plenty of parking, free and open to all!

There is also an alternate, unofficial trailhead (OSMP officially calls this an “Access Point”) that shortens the hike a little and substitutes the rolling approach from NCAR with a gradual uphill (nice for a warm up). There is some limited free and legal curbside parking at this location. Out of respect for residents of the neighborhood*, I hope you’ll forgive me for being vague on the details. Suffice it to say that if you consult your handy official OSMP trail map, the access point may or may not become obvious. Tip:  do not confuse this location with adjacent access points where parking is illegal!

* – Mixed feelings on this point: while it must be kind of annoying having hundreds of people tromping closely past your house on a weekly basis, these homeowners do live on the edge of one of the most spectacular stretches of urban park space in the entire country. I’d make that trade in a second!

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Results of my four-week, very non-scientific body composition study

Since my post last month I’ve been keeping daily body composition stats from the Tanita scale on an Excel spreadsheet. Before I list the highlights of changes that have taken place, a few notes:

The duration of the study was 28 days. For any fans of Joe Friel’s Training Bible periodization model, this phase was a modified Base 2: six days of riding a week consisting primarily of endurance training and augmented by a couple days of tempo intervals and one on-the-bike strength workout.

I was originally going to do 10.5, 12.5 and 14 hours, respectively, but was pretty blown by the end of week 2 and so simply repeated the 12.5 hour schedule for week #3. Week #4 was an easy recovery week of 7 hours.

My nutrition strategy during the first three weeks was pretty basic: eat simple and healthy and count calories up until dinner time. I was very lucky to have my wife, Lisa, making some excellent, healthy dinners but I’ll admit that counting calories for these meals, given the variety of ingredients and portion sizes, taxed my mental fortitude.

My solution to this laziness was to arrive at dinner running a 750 calorie deficit (Basal Metabolic Rate + calories burned in training – calories of foods consumed prior to dinner). Assume about 500 calories for dinner and then allow myself a small bowl of olive oil-popped popcorn (240 calories) as a snack. In theory, the net daily calorie deficit resulted from the extra calories I burned just by going about my daily business (estimated 300-500 calories), work, chores, playing with the kids, etc.

Also, no booze during the week, which is a huge change from last year. On the weekends and during the recovery week I slacked off the diet and booze restrictions somewhat. I think these breaks from regimented dieting are critical to sustainability as they hedge against my all-or-nothing, boom/bust tendencies of last year. The idea is to periodize diet in the same way as training, tightening screws as the racing approaches.

OK, cutting to the case, here are abridged results:

Monday, January 9:

Weight: 162.6 lbs

Body Fat: 12.1% or 19.7 lbs

Body Water: 57.2%

Muscle: 135.8 lbs

Sunday, Febrary 5, 28 Days Later:

Weight: 154.4 lbs = -8.2 lbs*

Body Fat: 10.2% or 15.7 lbs = -1.9% or -4 lbs

Body Water: 58.2% = +1%

Muscle: 131.8 lbs = -4 lbs

* – the discrepancy between total weight lost (8.2 lbs) and the sum of fat & muscle lost (8 lbs) is that I supposedly lost 0.2 of bone mass, although this stat would fluctuate between 7.0 to 6.8 lbs on a daily basis.

Some anecdotal observations:

With the benefit of daily observation, it quickly became obvious to me that water % is THE critical figure in the algorithm used by the scale to determine the other numbers. In other words, body fat% and muscle weight could vary significantly (say, 0.5% for body fat and up to 2 lbs muscle) on any given day.

My theory for these day-to-day variances is twofold:

  1. Water retained as a result of training stress. Ironically, I would always see an uptick in body weight and water% (along with a corresponding drop in reported body fat% and gain in muscle mass) on almost every Sunday and Monday—the days that I was most fatigued from the week’s training.
  2. Water retained as a result of increased sodium intake. The same numbers could be explained by my slackening of diet on the weekend, which almost inevitably meant that I was consuming more sodium and thus retaining more water**. I might test this theory more scientifically this Summer, although I’m positive that a casual Google search would turn up all the proof I need to support it.

Looking to drop a couple more body fat percentage-points and 3-4 pounds this phase and another two or so in Build 1, which would get me under 150 lbs for the first time in 12 years. Racing weight is imminent. Thanks to everyone who have supported the effort.

** – Postscript: as if to demonstrate this theory in shocking fashion, on this Monday, February 6, I have gained a whopping 3.4 pounds in one day. According to the scale, I gained 3.6 pounds of muscle and lost 0.2 lbs of fat. The real story is that my body water  increased 0.5%, likely because I ate a bunch of pizza and chips at a Superbowl party last night.

This is the why having the scale is a good thing, even with its dubious method of generating the data. Normally a weight gain of this magnitude would be cause for major panic, aside from the awesome idea that someone could eat a bunch of junkfood and gain three pounds of muscle overnight. But, I have come to take these daily swings with, well, a grain of salt–much more important to watch for trends over a longer period of time. Worst case scenario is my body has reached some sort of equilibrium after a week of recovery, I have dropped under 10% body fat and retained the majority of muscle mass I started out with.

Top 5 Training Hikes in Boulder – #2

Green Mountain via Amphitheater/Saddle Rock/Greenman trails

Distance: 2.1 miles

Gain: 2,234’

Average Grade: 20.1%

Description: While this hike scores slightly lower on the epic scale than #3, it more than makes up for it in the all-important convenience factor. This is my go-to training hike in Boulder, primarily because with a start up the Amphitheater trail you’re devouring serious vertical pretty much right out of the parking lot.

And the trail, which subtly joins the Saddle Rock trail after the first 0.4-mile (directional hint: just keep going up), does not relent until the junction with the Greenman trail another 0.7-mile along. After that the trail eases for a bit, prior to swinging east and up to the nearly the crest of a ridge. From there it’s steep again for most of the remaining way to the summit of Green Mountain, with the exception of a short section just before the top—mercy for those about to blow up.

Even on days with the most freakish weather—when you won’t likely see a single soul the entire ascent—there will probably be others knocking around on the summit. And if you’re lucky you will spot the old guy who wears nothing but an unbuttoned flannel shirt (again, regardless of the weather) and carries whatever else he’s got with him in a plastic shopping bag. He’s a cool dude but his random appearances always make me feel like a seriously over-geared softy.

Anyway, a nice return loop option is use the Ranger>Gregory Canyon descent off the summit. It’s longer and of shallower grade and so I prefer it as a descent as it’s easier on the knees than divebombing back down the featured ascent route.

Trailhead & Parking: $5 per car for non-Boulder County residents (or you can purchase an annual pass for $25) at the Gregory Canyon trailhead. Boulder Country residents are free as long as you have obtained the annual pass from OSMP. Also, the parking lot at Gregory is very small, but even on busy days there is typically parallel parking along the access road. Gregory is just up the road (and trail) from Chautauqua, which is free to all if you don’t mind adding a little over a mile to your roundtrip.