Taylor Again

February 16, 2002

Later this year, I’ll come face to face with my nemesis race: the Pikes Peak Marathon. Until then, all my training (besides Bolder Boulder training and climbing training, of course) will be directed toward a good result in that humbling race. The Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon would kick off the racing season for me and I was hoping for just a respectable result. Naturally, I wanted to be faster than last year, but I wasn’t that confident I could do it. My friend Homie knew I’d be faster, but he thought the same at Pikes last year… He is a good friend and I knew his opinion wasn’t unbiased.

My 2001 Mt. Taylor race went quite well and I felt no need to redeem myself at this race. I even wrote an article about it for Trail Runner magazine. I said in my bio that I was returning to the race so I was committed. Thankfully my friends Trashy, Homie, and War n’ Peace decided to team up and join me. Homie did the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon last year as a solo and felt he wasn’t in the proper physical or mental shape for that kind of torture.

For those not familiar with the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon…pick up the latest issue of Trail Runner magazine! But here’s a quick summary: start in Grants, New Mexico and climb to the top of Mt. Taylor (11,300 feet) and return. First, bike 13 miles and 1800 vertical feet, then run 5 miles and 1200 vertical feet, ski up 3 miles and 1200 vertical feet, then snowshoe up one mile and 600 vertical feet. Then reverse it all back to the start.

Homie, Trashy, and Warren decided to call themselves Satan’s Minions after our scrambling club. Homie was the biker, Warren the runner, and Trashy handled the skiing and snowshoeing. This works out nicely as each team member goes for about 90 minutes each, but Trashy’s 90 minutes are contiguous.

Photo 1: Satan's Minions. Left to right, Homie, Trashy, War n' Peace

Also doing this race were defending champions Adam Adamowski and Danelle Ballangee. Danelle came from behind to win the race again for the umpteenth time (sixth actually), but Adam didn’t fare so well. Last year’s runner-up, Eric Black won the race.

My friends Scott Boulbol, Kurt Blumberg, Darcy Piceu, Mark Gouge, and Brian and Vicki Hunter were also racing. Brian placed 10th in the 1997 race when he finished in four hours flat. Scott and Kurt both raced last year, as well. Here are the results for the three of us in 2001:

Table 1: Results for Mt. Taylor 2001

Place in category



Bike Up

Run Up

Ski Up

Shoe Up

Shoe Down

Ski Down

Run Down

Bike Down







































Scott caught and passed me on the ski down and again on the bike down. How’d he do that, you ask? Scott transitions rather casually. In the Thursday night runs that our group in Boulder does, Scott is a big proponent of a leisurely pace. He gets in his hard workouts at other times and wants this to be a fun, social outing. Sounds great to me, but I only run three days a week and frequently want to get in a good effort – at least if we’re climbing a hill. The last time I took a flyer off the front of the group, Scott calls after me, “I’ll make you pay for this at Mt. Taylor.” I thought, “Not if I keep taking these flyers.”

Photo 2: Scott Boulbol just after finishing

Mt. Taylor is basically a running and climbing race, with a bit of biking thrown in. If you can ski downhill well you can definitely make up time over most of the competitors, but other than that you just need overall fitness. Hence, I wasn’t too concerned that I skied only three times before this race and only snowshoed and biked once. Actually, biking was a concern since I got crushed on the bike last year.

All the soloists (300+) start at  9 a.m. and then the teams and pairs go off at 10 a.m. Trashy and Warren had to catch buses up the mountain at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. respectively. Homie and I were left alone to prepare. After going to the bathroom four times (nervous) and warming up fifteen minutes on the bike, I wheeled up to the start.

The weather forecast was for 60 degrees in Grants and, indeed, the weather was perfect all day long. I wore two shirts and gloves on the initial ride, but then went with just a mid-weight Capilene the rest of the way and only used gloves for the ski and shoe.

I worked my way up to near the front and took off at the gun. Surprisingly, the pack set a casual pace of 20-21 mph. This was a huge advantage for me as it allowed me to stay with the pack and draft. The previous year the pack broke up early and I couldn’t stay with the main group. I was left to ride a lot of it alone. This year I rode a wheel nearly the entire way up.

I passed Mark Gouge about halfway up. Scott passed me about three quarters of the way up and finished about 30 seconds in front of me (but, of course, I started running well before him). I finished the bike leg five minutes faster than the previous year and that set the tone for my race. I tried to keep my heart rate between 162 and 166 the entire race. This was a strong effort, but was not painfully uncomfortable.

I didn’t see Kurt until I started the run. I noticed the runner in front of me dropped a glove as we were leaving the bikes and when I told him, I noticed it was Kurt. I expected him to come flying by me momentarily, but I wouldn’t see him again for a long while.

This uphill run is difficult after the tough opening bike leg and I didn’t feel I was moving that fast. I passed some runners, but I got passed as well. I did run the entire course and finished a bit faster than the year before. This year the volunteers couldn’t get your skis off the rack for you. Apparently that leads to an unfair advantage for some racers because the number of participants (a record 682 this year) has finally overwhelmed the army of volunteers. Nevertheless, Trashy guided me straight to my skis and I immediately strapped them on. Trashy mentioned that I was only four minutes behind Brian! - four minutes and growing, of course.

The previous year, I used my 205cm, partial metal-edge, fish-scaled bottomed NNN skis. They worked fine on the ascent, as anything would with skins, but were horribly slow on the descent. Scott even was faster than me on the ski descent. Yes, he prides himself on his downhill skiing, but I’m a real downhill skier. This year, Jim Franklin, who competed last year, graciously loaned me his 180cm skate skis. I picked up a pair of closeout SNS boots for $25 at EMS and I was set. I waxed the skis before leaving home (Kraig coached me on the proper wax and technique) and I was set to fly this year. Of course, skate skis have no metal edges at all and turning was going to be an issue - especially since I had never been on skate skis before. Yes, practicing first would have been a good idea…

I skinned up the ski course, once again, a bit faster than last year, but more importantly, still well within myself. Despite this I still walked the entire uphill snowshoe course, even the nearly flat initial section. It just takes too much effort to run and I was hiking fast and still keeping my heart rate above 160. If I tried to run, I’d go over 170 and possibly blow-up. There was way too much racing to go.

I made the summit in 20 minutes of hiking, arriving about 15 minutes faster than the year before. I was able to run the entire downhill section, but still got passed by one racer. On my way down, I saw Kurt only about three minutes behind me, Mark Gouge about four minutes back, and then Scott about ten minutes back. Scott seemed surprised by my lead and encouraged me. I didn’t want these guys to run me down this year.

Back at the skis I had my only transition snafu. Despite calling my number out numerous times by the early warning volunteers, they had not located my skis. They had pulled the skins off my skis, which was great, but they then relocated them and it took two minutes to find them. This year instead of wearing a pack to carry my snowshoes on the ski up, I used a small strap given to me by Jim Franklin. It now donned on me that I didn’t have in which to carry my skins. “Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe I could tie them in a knot and loop them over my shoulder?” I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work and just jammed the skins down my pants.  Soon after, I was off to test my downhill skills.

I flew on this descent. This was the one leg where I could excel. Compared to many of my friends, I’m not all that fit, but I ski downhill with the best of them. I’ve been skiing downhill for a long time and whether the heel is locked or not, whether I have metal edges or not, means little to me. As long as style doesn’t count (I’m not pretty), I can smoke downhill. This is entirely skill dependent and fitness has been taken out of the equation. I was thankful for this rest, as I was fading in the snowshoe and feared the long run ahead.

I did the downhill ski portion, not counting either transition, in less than 11 minutes. I flew by four or five other racers and I mean I flew by them. I crashed once on the lower course, after the major difficulties, when I wasn’t careful enough and lost my balance. I was up quickly and into the run transition where Warren got me in and out in record time.

The downhill run is difficult, but it felt much better than the year before and I ran five minutes faster. Three racers passed me on the way down and I passed no one, but mostly I ran alone. At this point in the race people are pretty spread out. A number of team runners were still coming up on their first running leg. These were obviously the stragglers, but most seem to be having some fun and working hard. They cheered me on. The last person I passed for a very elderly lady hiking up the road. She was having a blast and it was inspiring to see her out there.

Homie was ready for me with the bike and I was quickly underway. I could see one racer ahead of me and I had one about 45 seconds behind me. The downhill bike leg has a significant 3-4 minute climb and on this section the racer in front of me cramped up and had to dismount and walk his bike for a ways. I am intimately familiar with the pain and, what’s worse, the frustration of cramps. The rest of your body can feel fine and ready to go, but if your legs are cramping, you are stuck.

I topped the hill with my chaser still 30-40 seconds back. Right about then, the cramps hit. Both calves seized up and I was in a bit of trouble. Of course, if you’re going to have cramping problems there is no better place than on a downhill bike leg. I ate four GU’s during the course of this race and took one electrolyte tablet. I should have taken another tablet but didn’t want to spend the time digging it out of my bag. I’ll have to plan this better next time.

I tried to stretch and I slowed my pace a bit, hoping that they would subside, but they persisted to the finish. They were never debilitating, but always on the edge. At one point, hoping that a new position would help, I stood up. This was a mistake of massive proportions. Instantly, both quads cramped. This was much worse than the calves and for a few seconds I thought my race was over. I quickly sat down and the cramps in the quads went away. I kept my ass in the saddle the rest of the way.

My chaser was still 30 seconds back and I knew if he caught me, I wouldn’t be able to respond due to my calves. This was frustrating as the rest of me was ready to go harder, but I concentrated on my great race. I knew I was going to break 4:30 – better than I had dreamed. If I got passed in the last ten minutes it will be disappointing, but still, I had had a great race. My placement is far enough down in the ranks that another racer passing me doesn’t mean much. But I didn’t have to suffer this indignity. I held off the racer to the line.

Besides my calves and some tight hamstrings, I felt pretty good at the finish. Last year I couldn’t even get off my bike and collapsed to the ground with it. This year I had raced within myself and paced things just right. Known for my spectacular collapses, this was a welcome change. I finished in 4:24:07 – over 25 minutes faster than the previous year.

Below is a graph of my heart rate and elevation during the race. You can clearly see where I was taking it easy on the snowshoe ascent and the long transition time to the skis. Almost in sympathy with my cramping calves, my heart rate monitor goes a bit haywire towards the end of the race.

I finished in 28th out of all soloists and the 25th male. I was 6th in my age category (actually 8th, but they remove the top three overall from the age-group awards. My division had the 1st and 2nd place overall in the entire race!) Mark Gouge finished in 4:32 – over 30 minutes faster than last year! Mark said he was coming back to even the score with this race and he sure did! Kurt finished in 4:39 – two minutes faster than last year, when he won his age division. Unfortunately, this year he was 4th in his division. Scott finished in 4:45 – three minutes faster than last year. Brian finished 19th overall in 4:10. Vicki came down in 5:25. But what about my buddies?

Homie had two goals for this race. First, to beat my bike splits up and down. I love this positive competition among friends. Homie would easily beat my downhill bike split as he’d be fully rested and hammer. The uphill split was the key for him and he did it. Even taking into account my transition time, I believe he was faster. His second goal was to break 30 minutes on the descent. In last year’s race only two bikers did this and they were both on a team. Homie’s official downhill time, which included the small transition time was 29:02 – the 6th fastest time out of everyone (682 racers, remember)! Homie can fly. No soloist broke 30 minutes, and the race winner, Eric Black, did 30:43. Even including the transition time, Homie was faster.

Photo 3: Homie after his blistering downhill ride

One of the faster bikers had to be this 6’4” young Air Force Academy student. Apparently he was in the porta-potty when the gun went off. Thirty minutes into the ascent, Homie sees this big guy, wearing tennis shoes, go flying. He’d end up winning the bike ascent for the team start. His running teammate, just back from the National Cross Country Championships ran the downhill leg in 28:08 (second fastest in the race).

Warren ran well on the ascent (50 minutes), but really smoked on the descent, doing it in 36 minutes! That is as fast as Sheri ran it the year before. Trashy smoked on the ski portion but had some trouble with the snowshoes – mostly getting them on and keeping them on. This was the first time he had ever used snowshoes. He didn’t even practice once. He was taking the race casually and concentrating on the experience and having fun.

Kurt was having mental troubles all day long. On the bike up he thought he had a mechanical problem with his bike when it wouldn’t shift, but he was using the wrong lever. At the transitions, he talked to himself constantly. His cognitive impairment persisted even after the race ended. Kurt told me he must have had the fastest uphill ski time. “The fastest?” I queried. “How can you be faster on the uphill ski than the top racers?” Kurt said, “Let me check my watch. That would be the third split, right? Here it is, 16 minutes.” To put this crazy number into perspective, only five races went under 30 minutes for the uphill ski and no one went under 29 minutes. Kurt thought he had done 26 minutes the year before (he actually did 39 minutes). This year he did improve to 33:04. He was indeed the fastest in his division at the uphill ski and, yes, he did beat me on this section.

Photo 4: Kurt chatting with his competition


Table 2: Results from Mt. Taylor 2002

Place in Category


Bike Up

Run Up

Ski Up

Shoe Up


Shoe Down

Ski Down

Run Down

Bike Down



The above splits include transitions and are therefore a bit misleading to compare, even among soloists. For instance, my uphill bike time is faster than Scott’s, but I know he beat me by 30 seconds, but I transition faster – in this case 2.5 minutes faster! Also, the downhill ski time includes the transition from shoes to skis, where I lost time looking for my skis. Others might have had similar problems, of course, but without this delay, I think I could have had about the fastest downhill ski time. Of course, for the teams the transition times are very short, as they only need to transfer the anklet chip strap.

How did I go so much faster this year? At first glance, one might conclude that I was just a lot fitter. I don’t think that was the case. I was maybe a little bit fitter. First, I had a very bad uphill bike last year. This year I made up five minutes there. Second, I had much better skis this year for the descent. Even with losing two minutes finding the skis, I took six minutes off my ski descent – and, thankfully, beat Scott on this leg. That’s 11 minutes of my 25-minute improvement. Of the remaining 14 minutes, I must give a few minutes credit to my support team of Homie, Trashy, and Warren. That leaves me being about 10 minutes fitter than last year. Comparatively, I’m worst at the downhill snowshoe and best at the downhill ski portion. Overall, skiing, up and down, is my strongest discipline. Still, I’ll take it. Full results can be viewed at: http://www.championchipmid-south.com/results.php?ResultID=141 and the official race site is www.mttaylorquad.org.

At each gas stop on the drive home, we debated the relative merits of Little Debbie’s versus HoHo’s, whether the coating on the little chocolate doughnuts is plastic, rubber, or wax, and Hostess’ complete mastery of the crème filling. My companions have the inclination for serious study, but I am the acknowledged expert. Serious racers avoid such delicacies in hopes for better performance. I seek them out as just rewards for a race well done.

Photo 5: Brian "Hollywood" Hunter relaxing after a strong race