Hiking to Sky Pond, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond

Sky Pond. My phone camera does NOT do this hike justice. I am in the works of getting a new phone and/or nice camera.

(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month, starting with Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park….)

Starting out at 4:30am sounded rough but ended up being well worth the early morning call. I pulled into the parking lot and everyone climbed into my car. We were all sleepy-eyed but ready to make the journey to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Even though the weather was predicted to be overcast and rainy, I still had a feeling there might be a lot of people trying to hike in Rocky Mountain with it being just a couple of weeks before school starts.

We got to the trailhead right around 6am, thankful that there was only a few cars in the parking lot. The five of us ladies set out to the trails.

Four out of the five of us. Photo credit to my friend Denise.

Four out of the five of us. Photo credit to my friend Denise.

Nine miles round trip, this hike is described as being strenuous and predicted to take up to nine hours! We figured, all of us being a part of 3W Races, a running company, that It shouldn’t take us near that amount of time.

Fog hanging around in the valley.

Fog hanging around in the valley.

The hike was well-marked and it’s only the last half mile that is sort of strenuous with natural stairs and a scramble up a waterfall. That’s right, A WATERFALL!

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Timberline fall from a distance. This waterfall is the one you climb, but off to the right of the main water shed.

Starting out on a very gently incline, you catch beautiful glimpses of the valleys of Rocky. Then, under a mile, you reach your first landmark, Alberta Falls.

Alberta Fals

Alberta Falls

As you keep hiking from there, you reach a few junctions in the trail leading to other (assuming) wonderful hikes. If you do want to hike to Sky Pond, I suggest making sure you read the map well or bring one with you, knowing where to turn. There are signs, but sometimes they don’t always say, “THIS WAY TO SKY POND!” For the most part, you stay on the main, prominent trail.

Photo Credit: Katja

Photo Credit: Katja. Check her out on Instagram.

Reaching about 2.8 miles into the hike, you get to The Loch, a fairy tale looking lake surround by enchanted forests. Maybe it was just the overcast morning and all the conversation about books, but we really did feel like we were walking through a story book.

The Loch. Photo credit: Katja

The Loch, Lisa and I. Photo credit: Katja

After completely passing the lake, the trail starts inclining a bit steeper, but still not that hard. When you’re at about 3.25 miles, you start to hike some rock stairs and get to a point that looks like the trail ends. There’s a sign pointing up and you realized you have to get to climb a waterfall. I thought this was the coolest part of the hike!

Climbing up the waterfall!

Lisa climbing up the waterfall! Denise and Susan waiting at the base.

The trail/climb is to the side of Timberline Falls, a speculator waterfall from the water shed of Sky Pond. Not an incredibly difficult climb, but super fun to scramble up the side of a waterfall. Given my rock climbing experience, this was a blast, but I could see this as being a bit scary for some.

Photo Credit: Katja

Going up! Photo Credit: Katja

From the top of the waterfall, you see Glass Lake. It was a little overcast, with clouds just hanging on the top of the surrounding peaks and ridges, but a breath-taking sight nonetheless. (I don’t have a great picture of Glass Lake specifically.)

This is by far one of my my favorite photos ever of myself. Taken by Katja.

This is by far one of my favorite photos ever of myself. Taken by Katja.

We looked around for the next cairn marking the remaining .2 miles of the trail to get to the second lake, Sky Pond. With more fairy tale stone paths through patches of bright green, lush grass, we reached the end, and gazed upon the water. I can imagine seeing the reflections of clouds on a bright, clear day, but after the 4.5 mile hike, it was beautiful.

Lisa looking at Sky Pond

Lisa looking at Sky Pond

On the way down, we stopped to eat lunch on a big rock by the Loch then continued back to our car. Now, we were seeing the masses, super grateful for starting our hike when we did, agreeing none of us like crowds.

Photo credit: Katja

Photo credit: Katja

Getting There:

  • The Sky Pond hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead in the park.
  • Easiest if you enter Rocky Mountain National Park by the Estes Park entrance (northeast side of the park).
  • It is $20 to enter the park (I have an annual National Parks Pass – saved us SO much money this year!)
  • If you do get there later in the day, there is a second, HUGE, parking lot one mile from the trailhead that has a free shuttle to Glacier Gorge. You pass it as you come to Glacier Gorge.
  • Click here for a map to the trailhead.

Tips:

  • Get there early; like all the other articles say, this hike is well travel and crowded, especially near Alberta falls.
  • Bring “grippy” shoes; the waterfall climb can be a little slick. We all hiked in our trail running shoes and did great.
  • Bring plenty of water and nutrition. It’s not too incredibly strenuous, but depending on your fitness level, make take you a little bit longer than us. (We did the hike in about 5.5 hours versus the predicted 9).
  • We went in August, and happened to be on an overcast day with wind – make sure you bring layers of clothes, sunscreen and/or a hat to prepare for any weather.  As you climb up higher, weather can change drastically and quickly. This hike reach about 10,500 feet in elevation.
  • Hiking guide.

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Dream Catcher Half Marathon Review

20150307_111017Uh oh. Now that I work for a racing company, I have a feeling I am going to be super nit-picky about other races I go to and my recaps might become super detailed. I noticed it while running Saturday, thinking things like, “hmmm..I would have put a course marshal there” or “I would have explained things to the water people a little better.” But I guess that is part of the “biz” right? Hopefully I wont come off as rude.

About a month or so ago, I decided to register for the Dream Catcher Half. I was ready to get another half under my belt and knowing it was in Grand Junction (4 hours away from me), I wanted to treat it as a mini-vacation, (really mini – I was literally gone from my house for 23 hours and 45 minutes).

The last half I did was back in September of 2014. I beat myself up at that race and took about a month or more off, not completely, but a HUGE reduction in running. Running and I broke up for a bit of time. Then in November/December, we got back together. I used my own personal training knowledge and slowly started ramping up my training. I then read the 80/20 book (I will have a review on that soon, I promise), and my whole (running) world changed.

I was nearing a point of being able to run a half marathon based on a beginner time-table. That’s why I decided to register. I knew I wouldn’t PR and I pretty much wanted to treat it as a “long-run training” run. 13.1 miles is the most I’ve run (in a row) since September!

I haven’t done an in-depth race review in a long time, so without further ado, let’s get on with this review!

dclogo1The Dream Catcher Half Marathon:

Life has been pretty busy for me lately between my full-time job with 3W Races, track practice (I am a coach) and my few hours at the rec (my beer money, as I call it). I knew it would be a late night when I had to leave for Grand Junction after a track meet. Well, the meet was canceled, but we still had normal practice and I didn’t start my drive until 5:30pm.

I actually really hate night driving, wishing I had a co-pilot, but I headed west anyway. I may or may not have purchased a Taylor Swift album (her new one) to rock out to in the car. Don’t judge.

I made it to my destination, a friend of a friend’s place, around 9:30pm! I was super lucky to have some connections and one of my good friends has a friend that lives in Grand Junction that let me crash at her place! Saved me $50 or more on a hotel! I walked into game night, was handed a beer and we played the “worse case survival board game.” It was nice to meet new people and a good relaxation before a race.

Shortly after, I went to bed and woke up the next morning for my race. I wasn’t set to race until 9am! Not that early at all! Grand Junction is not that big and it only took me 10 minutes to drive there about an hour and 15 min before race time. I got my packet, ate my breakfast and warmed up.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.09.39 PMThe Course (design, aid stations, etc): I really liked this course! It was not over challenging being relatively flat. There was one big hill around mile 1 that lasted for about a half mile. From then on out it was flat with a few tiny hills here and there.

The layout of the course was nice as well. For the first 3 miles you did a small lollypop loop out east, came back by the start/finish line and did the remaining 10 miles as an out and back. This really broke it up nicely for me, as I play mental games with the remaining miles of my races. When you hit the turn around, at 8 miles, there’s only 5 left, less than half!

The course was next to a river the whole time and offered really pretty views of the surrounding rocks. Not sure if they were quite mountains or not, but they were pretty!

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.10.12 PMHere’s the nit picky part: They had sticker arrows marking the course with a few stand up signs. The signs they used were pretty flimsy and one was turned about backwards from the wind. Luckily there was people in front of me who investigated and realized it was telling us to turn right. The sticker arrows were stuck everywhere: on the sidewalk, fences and sometimes the dirt. I have never seen these used before, and I wondered how A) the didn’t come off (some were stepped on enough times that were barely distinguishable) and B) did they have to go through afterwards and un-stick all of them!?! I’m glad we don’t use those at my job.

The other nit picky thing I have is there was two or three spots I think could have used course marshals. Two of those spots were street crossings. Now, I didn’t encounter any cars myself, but one of the streets was in a residential neighborhood we only ran through for a quarter-mile (the rest was on the trail following the creek), but you never know! The other spot I would have put a course marshal at was where the turnaround at 8 miles was. It was another small lollipop, but where the circle came back around and joined the main course, there was a group of spectators standing there waiting for their racer. That’s fantastic, however, they left only a small opening for runners to get through. It was strange.

That view the whole time!

That view the whole time!

Water stations: There was definitely plenty, and the volunteers did fantastic and I appreciate them being out there, but no one was holding out water, they left in on the tables so you had to really stop, grab one and then throw it away. Just another small nit picky thing I would never have noticed if I didn’t have my current job.

Organization: Every thing was well-organized. The emails prior to the race were detailed and left me with no questions. All the race volunteers/organizers were nice and answered any questions I did have and they seemed to run things well.

A couple unique things about this race though:

1.They had a runner’s program in the goody bag. This had all the sponsors info in it as well as nicely printed course maps! I liked that a lot!

2. They had a staggered race start time, but in the opposite way. It broke down based on your average half time like this:

7:00AM – Rocker Start (4 hours or greater)

8:00 AM – Roller Start (3-4 hours)

9:00 AM – Flyer Start (2-3 hours)

9:30 AM – Jack Rabbit Start (less than 2 hours)

I chose to start at 9:00 even though I told them my time was sub 2 hours (barely). At packet pickup, I heard someone ask if they could start earlier and they said yes. Now, I selected that time at registration. I wasn’t sure if I would finished under 2 hours. In the group that I started with, only about 4 people went out in front of me and stayed that way for the whole race, as I expected. However, with 3 miles left, I was passed by a handful of speedy people who started at 9:30, after me. It was SUPER demoralizing. I did not like it at all. I passed people who started early than me as well and I have no idea if they felt that way too or not. It’s not like the faster people said anything to me, I’m sure they didn’t even noticed, but here I was trying my hardest to simply finish my first half in a long time and these people passed me. Not only did they pass me, they FLEW by me!

I know why they had start times like that, (to make sure all the runners had support on the course), I get that, 100%, but I just did not like being passed like that. Its one thing when you all start at the same time, but when someone who started 30 minutes after just flies by, it really just breaks ya down, mentally. That’s my opinion.

IMG_20150307_112705Swag: Oh man! Lot’s! The medal itself was pretty sweet. It was connected to the neck ribbon by a key chain.  You also got a long-sleeve, gender specific tech shirt, a goody bag full of fun snacks, samples and coupons, and a lunch bag at the finish line!

After party: Really close to the race was a brewery. All the runners got a free beer, free meal (not just snacks they had at the finish line but at registration you selected one of three meal options) and they were doing giveaways! It was a really good after party.

Now, here’s the sad part. I got done with my race and headed over to the brewery. I got my free beer and with both hands full I proceeded to walk around to find a seat.

I was exhausted and I was by myself.  I am the most non-threatening looking person ever. I approached multiple people who were at big tables with plenty of empty seats and asked if I could sit and join them. I do stuff like this all the time, especially when I am by myself. 99.9% of the time I make new friends. This was the 0.1%. These people were so rude. I don’t know if it was the families of the racers or the racers themselves, but I was rejected multiple times, telling me that they were saving the seats. There was a couple of other ladies that were either looking for seats themselves or just content on standing, but they were outwardly disgusted by the others as well, and even said, “well, shouldn’t the people who have already finished get to sit too,” giving me a sympathetic look. They wandered off. I, on the verge of tears, found a small table inside.

20150307_113154I was a little bit embarrassed, saddened, but also dumbfounded at the rudeness of those people. I do want to make it clear that it was NOT anyone associated with putting on the event or the brewery workers. The people rude to me were racers and their families.

Inside, I ate my delicious chicken burger and drank my free beer while playing on my phone and without trying to make any more new friends, got back in my car to head back to Denver.

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All the swag!

Overall/Cost: Well worth the price! The race, at the highest cost was $80. I registered for slightly under $65 with a discount. For the medal, the goodie bags, shirt, and the actual production…well worth it! I do recommend this race! It was fun, organized and great swag!

My Race: Alright, here’s important stuff.

My goals for this race were: 1. Race and Finish strong. 2. Sub 2 hours. Those were my only goals. No PR, no crazy things. I wanted to treat it like a training-long run.

I did, indeed accomplish both goals. I ran strong and finished strong. And I did indeed finish under 2 hours with a time of 1:58:17.

I felt really good for the first 10 miles, after that was when I started hurting. Thankfully, I didn’t have any real pain (for once in my life!) I was just aching and tired. I had a GU on me (they didn’t provide those at the race), and decided to eat it then. It helped, but only a little. It was the last one and half miles that were REALLY hard.

I looked at my overall time. I had 10 minutes to finish and get under 2 hours, with 1.1 miles left. “I could do this,” I told myself. It was hard though, my legs were hurting, my cardiovascular fitness was trudging, but I was almost there. I was right next to a lady and I was trying to pull ahead but she kept catching up. With 0.1 miles left, I kicked it in and sped up considerably. Thinking I had left her, she totally passed me with less than 20 measly feet left. I literally laughed out loud!

I never used to be an analyzer of my own times or recap the break down of my miles. In fact I usually skim over it your blogs. Sorry. Skip this part if you like, but I think with my goals this year to PR in the half, I need to. I had my GPS watch on and even though it said the miles were off, I can still see how generally fast each mile was:

Mile 1: 9:10, Mile 2:8:30, Mile 3: 8:35, Mile 4: 8:35, Mile 5: 8:48, Mile 6: 9:06, Mile 7: 8:56, Mile 8: 9:26, Mile 9: 9:49, Mile 10: 9:39, Mile 11: 9:52, Mile 12: 9:31, Mile 13: 9:30

Now, these aren’t that accurate because like I said, my GPS was off, but you can see that I really started slowing at mile 8. Although, I still felt well here. It was mile 10 that I started feeling really tired, and the last mile was definitely was the hardest.

Now, to beat my PR, I have to get my average pace to 8:12 min/mile! I have a long way to go.

Overall, I felt exhausted afterwards. Like I could NOT have pushed myself any harder. That’s good and bad. It’s good that I raced that way. I wanted to. I wanted to race strong and finish strong. I did that. But my brain couldn’t help going to the fact that I was so beat, so tired, and I finished in 1:58, 10 minutes slower than my PR. How in the world am I going to get faster!?!

I know, I know. Training. I know this better than all of you. I am a coach and a trainer myself…it is just really hard to train yourself. See, even the Coaches deal with the same things you guys go through! I guarantee it! Even the elites have thoughts like these, but on a different scale.

The aftermath: I am resting it up today (Sunday), and putting together a training plan. I will be taking an “easy week” and will cycle and swim this week as well as get in some short, easy runs. This saturday coming up, I am running a 7.77K (about 4.8 miles), the Erin Go Braugh, with the company I work for. (You can join me, use code 2015WhitneyV15 for 15% off). Then, after a low-key week, I begin training for the Horsetooth Half Marathon. A hard half, no PR expected, but another one to build up my strength.

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Dream Catcher Half Website

Your Turn: I’m curious, have any of you had a run in (no pun intended) with mean runners?? Usually runners are SUPER nice and welcoming. The people I talked to at the after party were super rude!

Upcoming Events!! (CO Area, You should do one or two!)

Hey ladies and gentlemen! I just wanted to point out some great Local Colorado events coming up!

82432521. What: Patriot Day 10k and 5K

When: September 13

Where: Sloan’s Lake, Denver, CO

WHY? Because it’s put on by 3W Races and all of their events are awesome. Also, Sloan’s Lake is a really pretty part of Denver. I live in the area and it’s actually one of my regular running routes! Because of this, I don’t want to race there, so I will be volunteering race day and I think I’ll be at one of the water stations! I’ll probably get there early as well and help with set up.

How: You will find more info on the race HERE, and you can register HERE.

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3086522. What: the Last of the Six Pack Series! Either a 10K or 5K!

When: September 18th

Where: Westminster, CO

WHY? Because it’s a cheap 10k or 5K, it’s on a Thursday, in the early evening, small group of people and excellent race directors and volunteers. I most likely will be volunteering somewhere around there.

How: More info HERE, Register HERE.

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20570363. What: FALL Prairie Dog Half, 10K, 5K and Kids 1 mile fun run!

When: September 20th

Where: Westminster, CO (Near the Promenade movie theater).

WHY? Because it’s fun, as always! But also, you get a super cute prairie dog medal, pint glass and of course a tech shirt. The course is half concrete, half dirt and winds along the Big Dry Creek Trail. I will be running the half!

How: You can find more info on the race HERE, and you can register HERE.

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31440674. What: K9 Canter 10k, 5k and 1 Mile fun run!

When: October 12th

Where: Westminster, CO

WHY? You can run with you doggie!!!!! How fun is that!? But you don’t have to; you can just run with your friends and family as well (or your boyfriend, and like my Daddy always says, “all men are Dogs,” so it’s like you’re running with a K9)! I should be at this event, running or volunteering, but not with my doggie since he’s dog aggressive – and not with a boyfriend, ’cause I don’t have one!

How: You can click HERE for more info.

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83062245.  What: 10K Turkey Trek of 2K Turkey Toddle

When: November 22nd

Where: Arvada, CO

WHY? I’m really hoping I can be here for this race, but I’m kinda thinking about doing the Route 66 Marathon which is the same weekend. I want to do this race because TREK is an accurate description for this race. There’s a pretty tough incline in the beginning with an (optional) egg nog challenge!!! You better believe I would be all over that egg nog challenge – you chug a class of egg nog and get enter into a raffle between only those people! If you do the Turkey Toddle, there is a pumpkin pie challenge!

How: More info HERE and that same code works for this race as well.

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Extra incentives: I really do like all of 3W’s events. They are always well organized, fun and just an overall great experience. I thought this even before I was an ambassador. But the race directors/owners of 3W are just lovely people! I would be an ambassador if it wasn’t a good company to “work” for.

At all their events, the swag is great, the course is well marked, the volunteers (me!) are friendly, and pictures are always free (posted to Facebook). If that’s not worth, then I don’t know how to please you!

If you do register for one of these events, let me know! And if you find that one of the links doesn’t work or my code is being fickle, let me know, and I’ll fix it!

Upcoming Events!

There are the next upcoming events, but there is a lot of events coming up!

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skirt-sports-half-5k-toyota-logoWHAT: Skirt Sports Half and 5k (MEN and WOMEN can register)

WHEN: June 1st starting at 6:45 am

WHERE: Louisville, CO

WHY: Well, I was originally going to run this, but I found a Track and Field Coach’s certification class that happens to fall on this same weekend. I have to be in class on that sunday at 8:30 am, and even though the 5k would only take me 30 minutes or less, I’m not sure I want to chance driving all the way across town! BUT you all should run it! It will be a blast, the course is beautiful and you registration comes with a gift card to use on a Skirts Sport item!

INFO: Website HERE

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8256582WHAT: 6 Pack Series

WHEN: Starting June 5th and last event on September 18th

WHERE: Westminster, CO

WHY: Designed for the beginning runner in mind, you register for six events total with the first event starting out with a one mile race then two miles at the second event and so on. However, you can also sign up for an all 5K option, or even and option that has three 5k’s with a step up to a 4 miler, 5 miler and then a 10k at event number 6! All for $125, which is pretty cheap for six races!

INFO: 6 Pack Series website HERE, Register HERE

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Also, I’m going to be doing a BIG push for our (as in 3W) event coming up, the Fathers Day 10k and 5K! Here’s some brief info for now, but expect a FULL pre-race review!

race7338-logo.btlnGkWHAT: Father’s Day Classic 10k and 5k

WHEN: June 15th starting at 8am

WHERE: Arvada, CO

WHY: Celebrate Father’s Day, get cool swag, and run for a great company that is support in the Arvada Food Bank.

INFO: website HERE

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That’s it for now! Let me know if you end up registering and make sure to let me know if you have any questions or problems with the promo codes! Hope to see some of you at one of these awesome events. For more information on 3w Races, click here!