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.

Top five training hikes in Boulder – #3

South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon

UPDATE: This trail was re-opened on June 7, 2013 nearly after a year’s closure due to the  Flagstaff fire.

Distance: 3.35 miles

Gain: 2,922’

Average Grade: 16.5%

Description: Some may disagree with on the choice of this hike as #3 as opposed to maybe #2. South Boulder Peak is the highest mountain in the Boulder OSMP. The approach up Shadow Canyon feels as relentless as it does remote and the views of Eldorado Canyon to the south, both from Shadow and the summit of South Boulder, are pretty amazing by local standards.

So this hike scores highly both on the epic scale and as good training but also suffers from a number of accessibility inconveniences. Unless you are a resident of Boulder County and have acquired the appropriate permit, there is a $5 fee for parking at the South Mesa trailhead. The hike is also the longest on this list with much of that distance being a scenic but fairly easy approach to the bottom of Shadow, where the vertical fun begins. Basically, it’s difficult to knock this one out after work unless you can run it (and I hate running) or don’t mind coming down in the dark.

That said, while the trailhead itself is very popular, South Boulder itself is not so much, mostly due to the reasons mentioned above. So if dodging the crowds is your thing, this is your hike. Make sure to consult or better yet bring along the official OSMP trail map as there are numerous junctions and spurs of the Mesa trail to navigate on your way to Shadow.

Trailhead & Parking: $5 per car for non-Boulder County residents (or you can purchase an annual pass for $25) at the South Mesa trailhead. Boulder Country residents are free as long as you have obtained the annual pass from OSMP. If you don’t mind an even longer and more boring approach, you can park free at the South Boulder Creek West trailhead, just watch you don’t step in none of them cow patties along the way.

Some body composition numbers from my new toy

The month of December saw me receiving multiple daily packages from UPS and the postal service. The packages were addressed to me, but none the contents were actually for me. They were toys for the children—many, many toys—generously given by their grandparents, despite my admonishment not to buy too many toys. The money would be better spent subsidizing our cable & internet bill (the de facto toys of today’s youth).

Admittedly, I am hard to buy for as my interests are somewhat fringe. As such, the sums of cash I received from both my parents and in-laws were both graciously received and last week I finally pulled the trigger on my own Christmas toy: a Tanita BC-554 Ironman Body Composition Scale, bought from The Colorado Cyclist on sale for $109.99. Sorry for the plugs and just a mention that I receive no compensation from the manufacturer or retail entity, but am maybe a little old school in feeling that credit is due for a useful product purchased at a fair price.

Anyway, this is an item that had been on my “would never buy this for myself” wishlist for over a year. It is my new weapon in the trench warfare that the struggle to achieve optimal racing weight has become.

I input the personal data last night, including my age (42), height (5’ 10’’) and the fact that I am, according to Tanita, an athlete (defined as someone who trains 10 or more hours per week).

Here are my stats from this morning’s first official weigh in, along with some explanation and analysis:

Weight: 162 lbs

Body Fat: 13%. On the low side of the healthy range for a 42-year-old male but completely shameful for an endurance athlete.

Visceral Fat: 5. Had to look this one up: fat between body organs and for men and underneath the abdominal muscles in particular. A score of 1-12 is healthy, scoring goes up to 59.

Water: 56.6. 50-65 is the healthy range for men. I weighed myself first thing in the morning and was likely a little dehydrated.

Muscle Mass: 134 lbs

Bone Mass: 7 lbs

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – 1828. This is the number of calories burned per day just by existing. This figure is 100+ calories higher than what I get when I run the numbers through the BMR calculators on found on the internet.

Metabolic Age: 18. This means that I have the BMR of your average 18-year-old male, for what it’s worth. The range is from 12-50. As tempting as it is, I refuse to gloat about this figure. I have always vowed to age gracefully and find it super annoying when people moan about getting old, which I find a far more desirable outcome than the alternative.

Physique Rating: 5. Indicates that I have average muscle mass and body fat %.  If I were to drop 2% of body fat I would get the desired rating of 8, which means average muscle  lower than normal fat%. This is a scale created by Tanita and measured 1-9. Important to note that the scale is non-linear and each number has it’s own specific meaning.

Drawing some rough conclusions from this data: 13% of 162 means that I have 21 lbs of body fat. The low end of recommended fat% for cyclists is 5%, a figure that I poached off the excellent Sports Fitness Advisor blog.

Let’s say that for the sake of non-perfectionism, that 6% would be ideal. Using my weak math which I won’t bore you with, I can then reverse engineer a target weight = 150lbs. So basically I want to lose 12 lbs of fat by the end of April.  Of course this assumes no change in muscle mass, which is unlikely over the course of the next few months of hard training, so I will have to revisit these numbers on a regular basis and revise my target weight accordingly.

Incidentally, there happens to be another cyclist who is 5’ 10”, 150 lbs.

Top 5 Training Hikes in Boulder – #4

Flatiron #1&2 Access Trail

Distance: 1.4 miles

Gain: 1,422’

Average Grade: 19.2%

Description: Enough people hike this trail and yet it is relatively unpublicized on the web and was only recently added on the official Boulder OSMP map. I rate this trail as best training/hiking bang for the buck in Boulder if you’re short for time.

You may notice that the length of the hike is the same as Sanitas, with a little more gain. I would also say that the training stimulus is slightly different as the trail is steadier than Sanitas, not including the fun scampering section a little past the halfway mark. From there the trail begins it’s dizzying ascent up a number of tight switchbacks, sandwiched in between Flatirons #1&2.

Again if you’ve paced yourself well, the start of the switchbacks is the point to drop the hammer for a strong finish. Just be careful, as a couple of turns near the top are somewhat indistinct and easy to miss when at speed. If you are able to knock this out at around 35 minutes (or less), then you are in pretty good shape.

The real bonus of this route is the scenery, which is varied and epic as urban foothill hikes go. The ascent ends behind Flatiron #1, an area that has a primordial feel about it and has a great view of the northern Front Range. From here you can bomb back down the way you came or continue west down the slightly loose and sketchy climbers access trail that drops down to the Saddle Rock trail on the backside, creating a longer loop.

Trailhead & Parking: The caveat of this great hike is its origin at the Chautauqua trailhead, which is very busy on summer afternoons and weekends, being as it’s reasonably accessible from Rt. 36 and kind of famous…but also free!

Top 5 Training Hikes in Boulder – #5

Mount Sanitas, East Ridge

Distance: 1.4-miles

Gain: 1,295’

Average Grade: 17.5%

Description: This is a fun ascent and although not very long, it is excellent “microwave” training if taken at speed. It is also pretty much the most popular hike in Boulder–for people and dogs–and sees an enormous amount of traffic on summer afternoons and weekends.

This hike is often used as a fitness benchmark by the elites. As I began my slow climb back into shape in 2009 I was able to do this hike in just under 27 minutes from the little pavilion down by the creek to the post which marks the summit. Imagine the blow to my ego when I later found out that the standing record is 14:12, set by world-class trail runner Kilian Jornet.

Pace yourself on the first section up to the crest of the ridge, as it’s one of the tougher sustained steeps of the hike. After that it’s a varying mix of steeps and false flats leading to the final nausea-inducing (if you’ve done it right!) rocky stair step to the top.

Trailhead & Parking: Plenty of free parking along the road on Sunshine Canyon Drive, just west of the Mapleton Center of Boulder Community Hospital. Of the five hikes on this list, this one is the furthest from Rt. 36.