Monday, June 27, 2011

Cougar Challenge

The first time I ever heard of the Cougar Challenge (Formerly known as the Eco Challenge) something stirred within me.  What kind of crazy person wants to compete with the BYU football team's yearly tradition, a ridiculously crazy triathlon that includes every crazy hard challenge the coaches can think of? I don't know what it is, hearing my friends talk about how hard it is over the years makes me want to compete more and more. 

Well every year I I have said this is the year I am doing it, and every year something gets in the way.  Last year my marathon was the weekend before the Challenge, leaving me unable to walk without pain for 2-3 weeks following.  Not exactly ideal going into the hardest triathlon known to man. . . and in past years I was running track all the way into June, not leaving me with any time to train for the beast.  Somehow, I always chickened out.  But this year was the year.  The day I committed to the race (1 1/2 weeks before the event) they cut out all of the biking (the easy part) and added a weighted hike.  I went from excited to terrified. . . but since I had committed, I had to try.

The race consists of the following:
1 Mile Swim (33 laps)
Run to the Y trailhead (2 miles)
Hike the steep trail to the Y carrying a weight according to your weight class (Lighter people carry more, I carried a 45lb plate) (Another 2 miles)
Run back to the football practice field (another 2 miles)
Complete a StrongMan Obstacle course (Tire Flips, Altas stone carries, sled pushes and pulls, rope pulls, and farmer carries)
Run to the Football Stadium
Run up and down EVERY stair in the stadium
Complete and Obstacle course down on the field
Collapse in Exhaustion
So I showed up bright and early Friday morning for a 5am start at the RB pool.  Naturally I was the only women competing amongst the group of bulged muscle bound men.   Football players and coaches along with a few other crazies.   Not your typical crowd at a triathlon, then again, this is not your typical triathlon either.  I almost missed the start because I was locked out of the SFH where I had left some of my gear the night before.  But after sprinting to the RB and just making it in time to shed my sweats and slide into an empty lane before Coach Omer started the race. 

I grew up swimming on a swim team, so I felt pretty confident in the mile swim, and figured it would be the easiest part of the challenge for me.  With 3 laps to go, I noticed the first swimmer get out of the pool, it was Coach Bronco Mendenhall, naturally, I had been hearing about his legendary swimming skills for years.  I was the second swimmer out of the pool, finishing the swim in 28 min.  I took my sweet time changing and going to the bathroom before starting the run but then started to the Y determined to catch Bronco.  I never saw him, but one other runner caught me right at the steep hills right before the trailhead. It was Nick, the Dbacks coach, who would go on to win the whole challenge.  We went the rest of the way to the Y together. 

We grabbed our 45 lb. weights and started up, Erik had fashioned some handles out of climbing webbing to make it easier to carry my weight up the Y, it helped alot, I kept a steady pace behind Nick the whole way.  Right at the top, I passed Bronco coming down, he teased me that I should at least pretend that this was hard and put a fake grimace on my face.  Erik was at the trailhead, and later told me that when Bronco came down he told everyone there, "Man, that Nicole is a BEAST!" I was so proud that my coaching idol knew my name, and was on cloud 9 knowing he called me a beast. 

One guy passed me going down the Y, those big strong guys could run down with the weight, but it was too much for me and I had to walk.  I was now in 4th place running back to campus, but quickly passed one person getting back into 3rd going into the strongman competition.  Strongman was probably the hardest part of the challenge for me.  They had it set up where the lighted people had to lift less, but it was still set up for football playing thors! Luckily I had Brandon J there to help me flip the tires, and he lightened the farmer carry for me, but I did everything else on my own, took forever though.  When I finally left, I had been passed by a few more people and was now in 6th going to the stadium.

For those of you who have never attempted to run the stadium, IT IS A BEAST! Back in my days running track, we would have to run 6-8x up the stadium, and that was SO HARD. Now we are talking the entire stadium (30 + times to the top).  Needless to say, I was terrified for this portion.  But I settled into the grind, stair after stair after stair after stair.  I passed Bronco first, and ran a few stairs with him.  He is so motivational and I loved every second of that.  Next I passed Brandon Domain, who did not like being passed, he fought very hard to stay with me for several stairs, but couldn't hang.  I stayed one stairway back behind someone named Jason the entire way around the stadium.  I just couldn't make any ground on him, but we pushed each other, it was a great motivation. 

Finally I made it to the obstacle course on the field. which was really just a bunch of fun, there were blow up slides and walls to climb and stuff like that.  My total time was 3 hours, 27 min.  I finished in 4th place.  Three and a half hours of pure pain, and I truly loved every second!  It was so physically challenging, but I am most proud of the emotional downs that I was able to pull myself out of to keep going.  It was a blast.  After I finished Bronco came up to me to tell me that I had the performance of the day, and that out of everyone he was most impressed with my performance. I was so nervous all I could stutter out was, "Uh, thanks so much. . . you did great too. . ." so lame. . . Jen G also told me that she head him say, "That Nicole is a competitor!" after the strongman.  Wow, there aren't word that describe how that makes me feel that my sports/coaching idol had such great things to say to me and about me.  And he doesn't even know that Erik and I are naming our firstborn after him regardless if its a boy or girl! 

All in all, one of the best days of my life! I am probably more proud of my performance in the Cougar Challenge than I was in any marathon/race/workout I have ever run.  It felt amazing to finish such treacherous race and to feel strong to the end.  Coach Omer said for my prize I get to see the equipment manager to pick out any pair of shoes I want!  He must know me well, I can't think of a better prize than athletic gear!!!

Erik was at the Y trailhead and snapped a few photos before he had to run catch a flight to Oregon for the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, sorry they aren't that great, but I am glad we at least had a few.  Enjoy.

 Quick drink before loading the weight on
 Off I go!
 KG eventually made it through the challenge too

Coming back down the trail

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Horsetail Falls, Lone Peak Wilderness, Wasatch Range

Glorious hike today up the Dry Creek trail to Horsetail Falls.  We were joined by friends from the Y's strength staff, Josh, Brandon, Trisha (with dogs Briar and Lander), Kyle, Jen (With their girls Makayla and Cambri), and Andrea (Josh's former GA from NAU).  Perfect weather, trail conditions, views, and company. 

Half of the group turned back after the waterfall, but a few of us continued onward determined to find a nice loop trail that we had read about. After following the wrong trail twice, and finally locating the right one, we decided to just turn back the way we came.  Josh's face fits into words how the boys in the group were feeling.  So we hurried down the trail, hoping to find the rest of our group.  We caught them just as they were pulling out of the trailhead parking lot.  So glad we did because we decided on a rendezvous back at JCW's for some excellent burgers and milkshakes.  Josh's face refelcted much happiness after getting some food back into him.

For anyone interested in going on this great half day hike, trail description and directions is provided below:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Squaw Peak, Wasatch Range

Today we had our first "Fun Friday" of the summer.  Basically, fun Friday is where I invite all of my athletes who are training with me over the summer on a outdoor excursion of some kind.  Today we hiked up Rock Canyon to the top of Squaw Peak.  4 total miles with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet.  It was a gorgeous chilly morning but warmed up once we climbed out of the canyon into the sun.  I was joined by Megan and Andie from the tennis team, and Maggie from the golf team.  Most people had finals starting for the Spring semester and couldn't make it, but the four of us had a great hike.  It was nice to get into some alpine terrain after all the trips to the Southern Utah red rock.

Here is a link to a hike description and directions to the trailhead if anyone in interested:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Capitol Reef Day 2: Burro Wash

Day 2 in our Capitol Reef weekend took us deep into the backcountry of the park.  We did some non-technical canyon hiking in Burro Wash, a great slot canyon that can be done technically, or non-technically depending on which direction you come from.  Since we had Makayla (5) and Jen was carrying baby Cambri, we opted to go the non-technical hiking route.

The first couple miles were pretty uneventful walking up the wash, we kept entertained by counting the types of wild flowers we saw and stacking additional rocks on cairns we saw along the way.  Once we entered the park boundary and the wash cut into the waterpocket fold things began to get interesting.

When the canyon really hit the narrow sections with our first major obstacles, it started to get a bit too narrow to carry the baby carrier and keep it steady so it wouldn't tosstle around too much.  So Jen and little Cambri stopped about here while Kyle G, Makayla, Kyle T, Erik and I continued through the slot.  I was really impressed with 5 year old Makayla, she loved to be in front and kept calling to us to hurry up when she was waiting for us to maneuver the difficult scrambles we lifted her up.  It was a kids paradise: tons of scrambling, a little bit of wading through pools, and dark narrow slots, so much fun!

One really long pool of water that Erik and Kyle T stemmed over the top of.  Kyle G opted to just carry Makayla through it. Good choice I would say.

Eventually we reached a point where the slot was impassable. Nice, impressive chamber.  It is the same spot where the 4th rap comes into if you are doing the canyon from the top down. We had a quick snack and then hurried back to where we left Jen and Cambri.

We were expecting the hike back to the car to be tedious in the hottest part of the day, however it went alot faster than on our way there.  Probably because we knew that a nice swimming hole was calling our names.

The total hike ended up being about 8 miles.  Canyon description provided below if anyone wants more details on how to find the trailhead and what to expect.

Capitol Reef Day 2: Fremont River Waterfall Area

After all of the excitement in Burro Wash, and a hot and sweaty trek across the desert back to the car, we felt we deserved a nice refreshing dip in the river.  Luckily, my friend who was in Cap Reef last weekend suggested this sweet spot.

We all enjoyed the chance to cool off.  Erik, Kyle G, Kyle T, and I took turns cliff jumping.  Makayla got to use her inflatable tube that we thought we would get to use in Burro wash but didnt.  Jen and Cambri stayed at the top and enjoyed the cool shade and water. 

After the swimming hole adventure, we headed back to camp for some Grossarth family dutch oven specialties: chicken stew and peach cobbler.  Followed by some great storytelling around the fire.  Makayla got the best bedtime story I have ever been witness to. Great Day, Great weekend.  I am telling you, Capitol Reef is the best kept secret in the national park system.  Shhh! Don't tell anyone.

Capitol Reef Day 1: Golden Throne, Poineer Register, The Tanks

This past weekend Erik and I decided to explore down in Capitol Reef National Park.  Capitol Reef is one of the less known national parks in the southwest.  Not many people I talked to this week had even heard of it when I was sharing my plans with everyone.  The park encompasses miles of desert canyons along the Waterpocket Fold - a dramatic step-like fold known as a monocline.  Although the scenery here is not as immediately dramatic as that in Zion national park (our favorite) the flip side is that the trails and campgounds in Capitol Reef are much less crowded.  We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty that came without the mass amounts of people you typically see in National Parks.  The park has lots of great hiking options and also has some technical slot canyons canyons.  After much research in our many Utah hiking/canyoneering guide books, we decided on a few good hikes.

Day 1 involved Erik and I driving down early Friday morning to ensure a camp spot for our group.  We spent the rest of the day driving the scenic highway in the park to the Capitol Gorge.  It was an impressive dirt road that weaves its way deep into the waterpocket fold.  We parked at the trailhead for The Golden Throne, The Pioneer Register, and the Tanks, and since we had a few hours to spare before our group was to meet us back at the campground we decided to hike to all three features.

The hike to the Golden Throne was absolutely gorgeous.  With massive sandstone cliffs and domes that extended as far as we could see.  Erik and I had a fun time discussing the book, "Desert Solitaire" while we hiked.  It is is an interesting read that anyone who enjoys the national parks could find interesting whether they agree with the author or not.

After the jaunt up to the Golden throne we hiked through the Capitol Gorge Canyon to some other features.

The Pioneer Register was a really fun part of the canyon where early pioneers who settled Southern Utah would carve their names into the rock as they passed.  It was really cool to read all the names and dates that covered the length of the canyon.

The hike to the Tanks had us climbing back out of the canyon floor up to some natural potholes, which were all dried up this time of year.  But we did find a fun drainage to climb down where there was some great downclimbing and  we found an arch.

All in all a pretty great hiking afternoon. When we finished we drove back out of the park to get cell service to check on the status of Kyle and Jen Grossarth and their 2 little girls to see when they were expecting to hit camp.  Naturally, Erik and and could not pass up the opportunity to take our traditional photo with the park sign. Kyle and Jen just happened to drive by as we were stopped here, so we drove back to camp together and enjoyed sloppy joes, corn on the cob, and watermelon for dinner. 


The surprise of the day came at about 1 am when Erik and I hear someone outside out tent calling out our names.  It turned out to be our old comrade Kyle Tew, who we haven't seen in over a year, and who originally told us he wasn't coming, but showed up in the middle of the night ready for adventure! Typical Kyle. . .