Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Joys of a Coach

A big change has occurred in my training this fall. Starting in late September I hired a coach to design a training plan for me. The long term goal is to break 24 hours in a mountain 100 mile race, but to start with, we both thought it would be a good idea to train for a road marathon. I have only ever done 3 road marathons and never really trained for one other than doing enough long runs to be able to complete 26.2 miles. I am registered for the Phoenix Rock and Roll Marathon on January 20th. Now the focus is on speed which I have never attempted before. It has been a shock how quickly my workouts have completely transformed. Previously, most of my running was done at a slow pace. In retrospect, too slow of a pace. I got a heart rate monitor in the spring of this year and learned that most of my running was done in a heart rate range of 120-130 bpm with the exception of major hills which forced the heart rate quite a bit higher. Now almost all of my running is between 140-150 bpm and a lot of the running is at even higher heart rates. My coach, Tim Waggoner, is a proponent of Maffetone training using a heart rate monitor. I wish I had learned to train with a heart rate monitor years ago. One of the biggest challenges I have found in trail running is pacing yourself over a 30, 50 or 100 mile event so that you don't go out too hard and bonk, but also that you don't go too slow and leave too much in the tank. The heart rate monitor measures your effort level whether you are going uphill, flat or downhill. It is also a great tool to monitor your progress through training. In July, I ran 10 miles on a track keeping my heart rate at about 145 bpm. I averaged 8:25 min/mile. After 8 weeks of performing Tim's workouts, I repeated this test and average 7:50 min/mile. The test itself is not a particularly hard workout that necessitates recovery, but is very informative as to how your fitness is progressing.

I have been having a blast doing the new variety of workouts including hill repeats, track intervals, progression runs and fun things like a 20 mile run with five sub 7 minute miles spread out over the workout. I have felt stronger and faster as the weeks have progressed which never happened when I was doing my old routine of primarily long slow distance workouts. It's not that any of the workouts is that unusual or something you couldn't find in a variety of training plans, but rather it is Tim's ability to put together a series of workouts in a progression that is challenging without causing my body to break down that I think is so important. I'm not running higher mileage, staying at about 50 miles/week, and am actually spending less time running because more of the running is on roads and I am running much of it significantly faster. If you are considering getting a coach, I would highly recommend it. You will have a lot more fun with your workouts and probably you will get more out of them. I think there a lot of good coaches available now that most coaching is done over the internet. I chose Tim for several reasons starting with his use of the heart monitor as a training tool. Also, he is probably best known in the triathlon world and although I am not training for a triathlon, I do a lot of swimming and strength training in addition to running and I wanted a coach who would understand how to combine all of these workouts. If you are interested in learning more about Tim, he was interviewed on Ultrarunner Podcast, on a Youtube video from Ultimate Direction, and he does a regular podcast with Endurance Planet called Ask the Ultrarunner.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lazy Man's Guide to Running the Wonderland Trail

It may seem like a contradiction to refer to a lazy person running the 90 miles and over twenty thousand feet of climbing that make up the Wonderland Trail, but this is your guide if you want to run the trail and maximize how well you feel as you go, hopefully resulting in greater enjoyment of the amazing scenery along the way.

Map of the Wonderland Trail
There are three primary options for running the trail, starting with the simplest, which is to start at any of the trailheads and run continuously around the mountain until you return to your car, carrying all of the needed food and gear with you. Although the simplest option, this does not appeal to lazy runners like myself since it requires the most pain and suffering to finish and you would miss out on a good portion of the scenery as you run through the dark. The second option is to run the trail in two days which is what we attempted to do last year. This allows one some rest and recovery compared to the first option, but we started and finished the first day in darkness last year and it was a brutal day. Definitely not your truly lazy option. The lazy option, which we employed this year, is to run the trail over three days. Not only did we break it into three days, but we did the whole thing without any camping. The first day we ran from Mowich Lake counter clockwise to Longmire where we stayed at the National Park Inn, less than a 1/4 mile from the Wonderland Trail. We had mailed extra food and clothing to the hotel so we could resupply for day two during which we ran from Longmire to White River campground. But the truly lazy do not set up tents and camp. No, the truly lazy have their lovely spouse pick them up at the campground and drive to nearby Crystal Mt. Resort to stay another night in a hotel eating real food at a restaurant before sleeping and being driven back to the trail head at White River for the final leg of the run back to Mowich Lake.

Day 1:

We left Seattle just after 5am to drive to Mowich Lake where we started on the trail about 7am. The section of the trail from Mowich to Longmire is probably the hardest and was definitely the longest of the three days at about 34 miles. It is harder if you plan a route running from Longmire to Mowich than the counterclockwise direction we ran since it is net downhill heading south. Making sure to fill up with water can be critical in this day's journey. There is water available at Golden Lakes and St. Andrews Lake, but the key places to get water in my experience are just north of the North Puyallap River and just south of the suspension bridge over Tahoma Creek. Many of the apparent water sources on the map are direct glacial runoff streams which are too silty to purify and drink.

St. Andrews Lake and the western view of Rainier

Bear guiding us down the trail

The trail reaches its highest elevation of the first day in Klapatche Park which is probably my favorite section due to the views. Bruce got a surprise here when he turned a corner to find a black bear. By the time I caught up with him he was busy photographing it. It was also a lazy runner and wanted very much to stay on the trail. We walked behind it clapping and shouting. The bear was clearly aware of us and wanting to be rid of us, but not at the cost of spending extra energy moving without the trail. So we spent about 10 minutes walking behind the bear urging it along until finally it had enough and moved off the trail. We arrived at the National Park Inn after covering about 34 miles at 4:45pm and were quite happy to find our packages awaiting us and hot showers and dinner at the restaurant went a long way towards recovery.

One note if you are considering running to the National Park Inn with mailed supplies, it turns out that they do not have a means to ship your stuff back home to you. I had not been able to get a clear answer about this on the phone, so took clothing the first day that I was willing to throw away, but in the end the extremely nice desk clerk agreed to mail the box back to us on his own time. Thanks Andy!

Day 2:

The restaurant at the National Park Inn doesn't open until 7am so we had included granola for breakfast in our packages and we were ready to hit the trail towards White River campground promptly at 7am. Starting day two I was amazed to find that although my legs were tired and maybe a bit wooden, neither my legs nor feet were actually sore. This discovery made for a much better start to the day.

Southern view of Rainier from Paradise River crossing

I have to admit that the next section from Longmire to Box Canyon is probably my least favorite of the loop. The trail is pleasant and spends a lot of time along Stevens creek. However, there are fewer views of Rainier and much of the trail is close to the road. There are several places where one could obtain water from the creek, but the important water stop is at Nickel Creek at the beginning of the big ascent to Ohanapecosh Park. This climb takes you from the lowest point of the trail at 2600 feet just before Box Canyon to the highest point at Panhandle Gap. This was the biggest section of the Wonderland Trail that I had not seen previously and for now at least, it is my favorite. The views in Cowlitz Park, Indian Bar, Ohanapecosh Park and on both sides of Panhandle Gap were unbeatable as shown in the photos below.

We completely refilled our water supplies at Indian Bar, but it turns out that there are plenty of snow runoff streams higher up in Ohanapecosh Park approaching Panhandle Gap so there is no need to carry so much water up from Indian Bar. There were a half dozen or so snow fields in Ohanapecosh Park leading up to Panhandle Gap, but the routes across the snow fields were well established with footprints and it was not difficult to navigate in running shoes without poles.

Cowlitz park

Bruce navigating snow fields leading to Panhandle Gap
Approach to Panhandle Gap.

Clouds gathering over Mt. Adams to the south.

Descent into summerland with Emmons glacier in background.
Day two finished with a long wide cushy downhill section of trail packed with dayhikers leading to White River campground where we arrived about 4:55 after covering 31 miles. We were extremely fortunate in our quest to be lazy that my wife agreed to drive from Seattle to the campground to pick us up and take us to a hotel in nearby Crystal Mountain so that we could enjoy a shower, nice meal at a restaurant and sleep in a real bed as opposed to camping in the campground in heavy rain.

Day 3:

I had not slept well during the previous night due to noisy hotel guests followed by a huge thunder and lightning storm. But I was very relieved that it was not raining as we drove back to White River campground for another 7am start. As you can see in the photo below, there was a lot of fog and heavy cloud cover so there are very few pictures from day 3, but at least we did not have to suffer through rain.

We spent day 3 under this cloud cover (photo from plane by Jen Edwards)
Last year when we ran the northern loop, I loved the scenery since the Wonderland Trail approaches glaciers much more closely in this section than anywhere else along the loop. The trail is also above 6,000 feet for an extended time so the views are expansive, or would have been if there weren't so much fog. I think this year that the trail we covered on day 2 through the Cowlitz Divide, Indian Bar and Ohanapecosh Park has now become my favorite but the northern section is a close 2nd. Unfortunately, I still haven't run the northern section on a clear day to fully appreciate the views.

Not too long after passing Sunrise Camp, we were surprised in the fog by another bear, this one quite a bit larger than the one we encountered the first day, but this bear had no desire to lead us along the trail and in fact disappeared into the mist before we could snap a photo.

The Winthrop glacier was hidden by the clouds and fog when we crossed Winthrop Creek, but we did get to see the end of the Carbon glacier as we descended down from Mystic Lake. The Wonderland Trail on the far side of the Carbon river was closed between the upper and lower river crossings, so we continued on the northern loop trail to the second river crossing where crossed over to rejoin the Wonderland Trail. The last climb up to Ipsut Pass is one of the steepest climbs of the entire journey, but it didn't hurt quite as badly knowing that it was the last climb.

Terminus of the Carbon glacier

View back down the route we climbed to Ipsut Pass
We arrived back at the Mowich Lake campground at 2:15pm to finish our journey. Running the Wonderland Trail can't be beat and I highly recommend the lazy aproach to this journey. In fact, if you don't want to run the entire trail, you can see some of the best scenery either by running the northern loop in a single 33 mile day, or the eastern loop (Fryingpan creek trailhead south on Wonderland to Cowlitz Divide Trail to Eastside Trail to Owyhigh Lakes Trail) in a single 34 mile day. I have never gone as far as we did on this trip for multiple consecutive days, and I was amazed at how well I recovered each day and I can only think that getting lots of food and good rest each night played a significant role in the recovery. We were very fortunate that nothing went wrong during the trip and we had excellent weather overall, particularly the first two days. The worst thing that happened was that after carrying a wall charger to re-charge my Ambit GPS watch each night to record our journey, I arrived home to discover that re-charging the watch apparently erases any previous recordings, so I ended up with data only for the last day.

Happy to arrive at the finish

For more photos, follow this link to the complete photo album.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Climbing Mt. Baker

An old friend from graduate school days at Berkeley, Roger, came to visit and prompted me into trying something I never thought I would try: climbing a heavily glaciated peak. Since neither of us had experience we booked a trip to climb Mt. Baker with Alpine Ascents. Although using a guide service is expensive, I would highly recommend Alpine Ascents and am very happy with our choice. We had a gear check on Thursday and met the other climbers who would be joining us. Apparently a couple of people canceled and we ended up with 3 guides for only 5 clients. Friday morning we all met at the Schreiber Meadow Trailhead on the south side of Mt. Baker and began a 4 mile, 4 hour hike up 2500 feet to base camp at 5800 feet. It was a relief to get the heavy packs off and set up camp since we wouldn't have to carry much in the pack the rest of the way to the top. After setting up camp, we had a short snow school to learn how to walk on the snow with crampons and how to use the ice axe.

Railroad grade trail on the ridge leading to Easton Glacier.

Our route started on the left side of the glacier, just right of the rocky ridge.
Summit day started with a 3:30 am wake up call and we were roped up and walking on the glacier by 5:15 am. We had two groups of four people on two separate ropes. Each person was spaced about 30 feet apart from the person on the rope in front of them since the largest crevasses in this area might extend to 30 feet. We were hiking up at a very deliberate pace, each climber trying to step into the footprints left by the preceding climber. About every hour we took a 5-10 minute break sitting on our packs, taking in the views, and refueling. At first we climbed about 1,000 feet an hour but later in the day our progress slowed, I think primarily because route finding became more difficult and we began to zigzag a lot to avoid crevasses. Around 9,000 feet we approached the lip of the crater but there much too much of a gap between the snow and the dirt rim to climb up and look directly down into the crater. We had been smelling and seeing gas rise from the crater all morning and I had been looking forward to peering into the crater.

View of the San Juan islands

Our route from base camp to the top

After traversing left from the rim of the crater, we began one of the steepest sections of the day, known as the Roman Wall. The guides were taking more time to find a route through this section as the number of crevasses kept increasing. I had been concerned prior to the trip that we would have to jump over crevasses but up to this point although we had stepped across several gaps in the ice there had not been anything that caused me any particular anxiety. I have to admit, though, that after staring deep into several crevasses, I tended to keep my gaze fixed more on the footprints in front of me and not think too much about the depth of the crevasses. As we neared the plateau on top of Mt. Baker, we came to a final crevasse which required a fairly large step to get across with the far side being significantly higher than the near side. The first 5 climbers went over this fairly easily, but the climber in front of me struggled a bit as several chunks of snow fell into the crevasse as he tried to cross. He made it over and I stepped up to cross. As I raised one foot to step across, my other leg plunged through the snow and I fell to my waist with one leg dangling in the crevasse. For some reason I wasn't really scared. Probably because it happened so fast and at that point I was still lying mostly on top of the snow. But I was lying with my face looking down into the cavernous open space below me. The guide had the climber in front of me and in back of me lie down in the snow with their feet dug in and their ice axes in the self arrest position while he came back to coach me. I was able to pull my leg up and back onto the surface of the snow. I was a bit nervous to stand up but did so downhill of where I had fallen through. The snow the previous climbers had used to step from in crossing the crevasse now contained two holes. The guide suggested that I step between the two holes and cross. This wasn't what I really wanted to do. But lying on the couch wasn't really an option at that point so cross I did.

Gas escaping from the crater

Looking down from the summit plateau
At the top of the Roman Wall the slope eases considerably and we walked across a relatively flat snow covered plateau over to a small dirt peak which is the true summit at 10,781 feet. Another group of climbers arrived at the peak about the same time we did but they had climbed the Coleman-Deming route starting from the Northwest side of the mountain. The views from the top were stunning, although forest fires burning for the last week or two had resulted in very hazy conditions despite blue skies. We left the summit about 1pm and I was a bit non-plussed to learn that we would attempt to go down and cross the problematic crevasse at the same point where I had fallen through on the way up. But fortunately everyone made it across without incident on the way down. The trip down was much easier and faster not surprisingly and what took us 8 hours to climb up only took 3 hours to go down. The next morning we woke and broke camp to arrive back at our cars around 10:30am.

Happy to be at the top!
View of Mt. Shuksun from the Baker summit
Baker lake from the summit

Looking down into the crater
Hiking out on the railroad grade trail in the morning clouds (photo by Pete Lardy)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mt Adams Circumnavigation

Continuing my practice of running around volcanoes (see Mt. St. Helens here and the first half of Rainier here), last weekend we decided to attempt the circumnavigation of Mt. Adams. Although only 35 miles with about 7K of climbing, this route sounded potentially more difficult due to the lack of trail for a 5 mile section on the eastern side of the mountain. In the end, navigating through the off trail section (although slow) proved to be less challenging than the PCT section on the western side due to the heavy snow cover on the western side. If you are game for the challenge of the off trail section, I can't recommend this route enough. The scenery is amazing, with endless mountain/glacier views, green meadows, wildflowers, buffed out runnable single track, plentiful water, and it's readily doable in a day.

GPS recording of our route
Rich, Justin and I made the four hour drive to Cold Springs campground Friday night and camped at the trailhead. We started just before 6 am on a beautiful morning with a forecast for sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. Since I was unable to find any blog posts or descriptions on the route I will provide some detail on this although if you are interested in the route I highly recommend the book Trekking in Washington, by Mike Woodmansee. You can read more about Woodmansee's route in this Seattle Times article. We began by ascending the South Climb trail for a little over a mile and then turned right onto the Round the Mountain Trail. We followed this for 2.3 miles at which point we entered the Yakama Indian Reservation and continued on the Round the Mountain trail for another 1.1 miles before turning left on the Flower trail. This trail leads up to the Viewpoint at 6500 feet at which point the trail ends.

View of the south east face of Adams from the end of the trail.
From the end of trail Viewpoint looking into Hellroaring Meadow

The ridge we came down into Hellroaring Meadow
I am not going to provide the detailed directions for navigation of the off trail section since the route was developed by Mike Woodmansee. But if anyone wants guidance while attempting the route,  I am happy to provide the GPS file. Just leave a message in the comments. The directions provided in the book, combined with careful attention to the elevation (barometer measurement from the Ambit as well as GPS measurement by Garmin) worked perfectly for us and we never had any significant issues with navigation. There is a dotted line route marked on the Green Trails map that I carried, but this route is very different (goes much higher on the mountain) than the route described in the book and I would advise against trying to follow the route marked on the map. It was fairly slow going without a trail and we averaged 50 minutes per mile through the off trail section.

Upper basin of Hellroaring Meadow
Hellroaring Meadow from the climb up to Ridge of Wonders

We descended into Hellroaring Meadow and then climbed up onto the Ridge of Wonders which led to a very steep rocky scree filled descent into the next basin. Fortunately Justin and Rich were braver than I was and led the way down this descent. I am embarrassed to admit that I basically did a crab walk/butt slide down most of this. One day I will learn how to ski on my feet down scree, but it does not come naturally. The next navigation challenge is crossing the Big Muddy Creek which is really mis-named. This is the glacial runoff from the Klickitat Glacier and it comes roaring down the basin. It took a while but we eventually found a place to jump across at around 6000 feet elevation although I have to say it was a much longer jump than I wanted to do and I was tempted to attempt wading across although this is certainly not recommended. Later in the day we ran into some backpackers who had crossed much higher on snow above the water.

Eastern side of Adams from Ridge of Wonders
Finding a place to cross Big Muddy

From there we had only to cross Avalanche Valley with 4 more streams before rejoining the trail at the camp/springs at 6700 feet just west of Goat Butte. From the camp the trail ascends to the highest point of the circumnavigation at Devil's Garden, 7700 feet. At this point we exited the reservation and started the most enjoyable running section of the day as we descended almost 2000 feet on soft trail with stunning views of Mt Adams on the left and Mt Rainier to the right. Another 2 miles and we joined the Pacific Crest Trail which we would stay on for most of the western side of the mountain.

Green meadow with spring just west of Goat Butte at 6700 feet
Enjoying some sweet single track after regaining the trail
Rich leading the way
Mt Rainier from the north side of Adams

The PCT should have been one of the most enjoyable sections of the day since when we could see the trail it was smooth and very runnable without a lot of elevation change. I haven't been unable to understand how the trail can circumnavigate the west side of the volcano without frequent elevation changes down into gullies/canyons carved by glacial runoff but for some reason the western side is relatively flat. Unfortunately for us, however, the smooth running did not last very long because most of the PCT was still buried in deep snow. In addition to slippery footing and not running very much, this became a real navigation challenge since the snow covered sections lasted much farther than you could see and unless there were footprints going the correct direction we had no idea where to go. If Rich had not had a handheld GPS with map/trail loaded onto it, I'm not sure we would have made it through all the snow.

Northwest view of Adams from the PCT

Snow covered PCT lasted for miles along the western side

I was pretty much mentally defeated by all the snow and frustrated by not being able to run. But eventually we made it past the PCT section and once we turned onto the Round the Mountain Trail along the south side of the mountain the trail was relatively snow free and it was nice to finish off the day with 6 or 7 runnable miles. We were happy to finish without the need to use headlamps for a total time of about 14.5 hours. Even though the direct glacial runoff is too silty to purify with the steripen we were using, water sources were plentiful and I never had any issues carrying only two 16 oz water bottles.
Rich and Justing at the finish line around 8:30pm

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Golden Gate Splash and Dash

I had great fun participating in the Golden Gate Splash and Dash last weekend. I used to live in San Francisco and it doesn't take much of a reason for me to go back and visit. The Splash and Dash is a first time event organized as part of the year long festivities to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. I have run, walked or biked over the bridge many times, but this was my first opportunity to swim underneath it and I couldn't resist. My friend Antonio who swam with my Masters swim team in Seattle until he moved to San Francisco invited me to participate with him.

About to go into the briefing with Antonio and his teammates
After a briefing at the South End Rowing club we walked to the boat and it took us out to the south end of the bridge. We saw quite a few dolphins swimming in the bay during the boat ride. We ended up sitting around on the boat for a good hour or so before the start which gave me plenty of time to obsess about how cold the water might feel (reported to be 57 degrees), whether we would encounter sharks, dolphins or boats, whether I could jump into the water without losing my goggles, whether the waves or currents would prevent me from finishing the swim, etc. Nothing like doing something for the first time to bring on the anxiety parade!

Approximate swimming route

We had two options for the start of the swim. We could jump into the cold water and tread water until the gun sounded, or wait until the gun sounded and then jump in. I managed to time it perfectly and jumped just as the gun went off so that I could immediately begin swimming hard in an attempt to warm up. My goggles stayed on and I was good to go. 

Swimmers treading water behind the kayaks waiting to start
View of the swimmers from the bridge
 The water was much clearer than I expected and it was amazing to see the bridge, Alcatraz, the San Francisco skyline, and the bay bridge all while swimming. We started on the ocean side of the bridge (see rough diagram above) and were instructed to swim underneath the bridge around the mid-point. They had told us to roll onto our backs and yell when under the bridge to hear an echo which I tried but didn't manage to hear the echo. About the time I crossed under the bridge, the water become much choppier and I was rolling in the waves, but overall the water was reasonably smooth and the current felt like it was assisting us. They had timed the start at the slack end of low tide, so any current should have been pulling us into the bay which was along the direction we were headed. All too soon, the bridge was behind me and I was entering Horseshoe Bay with very calm water leading to Fort Baker where we would transition for the run. The bay seemed to last forever but was a nice place to swim. According to the splits, I finished the 1.6 mile swim in 34 minutes which was quite a bit faster than I expected. So maybe that current was helping us quite a bit!

Running route
After removing the wetsuit and putting on running shoes, I was off to climb the hill back up to the bridge and run the 10K back to Aquatic Park at the end of Fisherman's wharf. The running course (shown above) was open to all users and quite crowded at times, especially on the bridge. As a runner, I have to admit it that it was quite enjoyable to pass people on the running portion of the event, presumably because they are primarily swimmers. I finished in 1 hour 26 minutes, 10th overall if I interpret the results correctly. I highly recommend this event to anyone interested in swimming across the bay under the bridge, assuming they have the event again in subsequent years.

At the finish line with Francine

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Running to endocrine exhaustion

Last year I went for VO2max testing and learned that my body was burning protein for energy and was in a state of catabolism. Nutritional blood markers suggested that I was not eating enough calories and that my muscles were glycogen depleted. Follow up blood testing showed that my endocrine system was out of whack with very low levels of vitamin D, IGF-1 and testosterone. Since that time, I have been struggling to get my body back into balance and find new ways to train to avoid ending up back in the same place. Several repeated blood tests over the course of 2011 showed no real change in nutritional markers or hormone levels despite increasing my calorie intake to first 3,000 and then 4,000 calories a day (easy to track with myfitnesspal). I quickly put on twenty pounds, but my body was still in a catabolic state. After my running season ended in October with a glorious day in the Grand Canyon, I decided to limit the length of time running on any given day to two hours or less for a couple of months to see if this would help. Finally, when the blood test results came back in January, almost a year after the first tests, the nutritional markers and most of the hormone levels were back to normal.

Prior to getting my test results and doing some research on the connection between endurance exercise and endocrine system, I wasn't really aware that there was a connection. I had heard of the female athlete triad (you can read about Anna Frosty's experience here), but I wasn't aware of the more general connection between exercise and hormones in athletes of both sexes. I have been reluctant to write about this experience on the blog since it is impossible to analyze my experience and understand what caused the problem in the first place or understand which if any of the various changes I made in nutrition and exercise habits that hopefully has fixed it. However, it did seem possible that endurance exercise or excess amounts thereof was at the root of the problem and if that is the case it seems likely that other ultrarunners may experience similar problems so I thought it might be helpful to link to some of the information I found on this subject.

There are publications in the scientific literature documenting a connection between endurance exercise and hormone imbalances although I couldn't find anything very useful in terms of how frequently this happens or how much exercise might cause it. Some exercise and fitness web sites advocate weight training to improve anabolic hormone production and avoid the "negative catabolic (breakdown) effect of hard endurance training". Ben Greenfield says that "hormonal deficits are the biggest problem among endurance athletes" and he advocates weight training and increased fat consumption to stimulate anabolic hormone production while replacing or minimizing long endurance training sessions with shorter higher intensity workouts to minimize the negative effects of endurance training. Lucho has posted a nice article from UltraRunning Magazine on his blog that describes the importance of the endocrine system for endurance athletes, although it doesn't address any of the specific imbalances that appeared in my tests.

I have made a variety of changes in order to try to fix the endocrine problems. In addition to increasing calories, I began taking vitamin D and magnesium supplements. I added weight lifting and sprint sessions to my workout schedule last year. Now that I have completed the Coyote Two Moon 100 miler, I currently don't have any races on my calendar for 2012 and am starting to experiment further with my training. I have continued the weight training sessions and am again limiting weekly long runs to two hours. I am running with a heart rate monitor for the first time in years see if that will improve the quality of the running sessions. The good news so far is that after two years of mostly running on tired and sore legs, I now have a lot of days where my legs really have a lot of energy. The jury is still out on whether or how that translates into performance at an ultra.

Any other endurance athletes out there with similar experiences?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to get a skunk to cross the road

I started running Friday night at 8pm. It was about 3 hours later and I was running down the dirt road through Sisar Canyon under the brilliant full moon when I saw two small eyes glowing in the darkness by the side of the road. I yelled and smashed my trekking poles together and whatever it was took off. Emboldened, I ran another 1/4 mile or so down to the aid station and turned around to come back up. Again, in the same spot, the eyes glowed at me. I stopped and tried to see what kind of animal it was. A calico cat! I was surprised it wasn't a wild animal, but relieved to see there was nothing to fear.

Ever since last year's Coyote Two Moon was canceled when I was at mile 84, I wanted a chance to go back and finish the race. This year the SMSA 50K race was held instead, but the race director was kind enough to offer us Coyote Two Moon belt buckles if we came back and did a fat ass version of the 100 miler. After the blizzards of the two previous years, it was slightly disconcerting to have a perfect weather forecast of clear skies and warm temperatures. I finished the climb back up Sisar Canyon and started the long 5 mile stretch of gradually uphill road to the turn down Horn Canyon. Again a pair of eyes glowed by the side of the road. Not another cat I thought, just as my headlight focused on a white stripe. Definitely NOT a cat. Retreat!

I stopped just out of sight of the skunk which was on the uphill side of the dirt road. I briefly thought of running as quickly as possible along the other side of the road and hoping for luck. But I really didn't want to get sprayed. Or even a near miss. And it seemed like the skunk would feel trapped given that it would have to scramble uphill if it wanted to get away. After a brief paralysis, I decided to bombard the skunk with small rocks while yelling like crazy from as far away as possible. It didn't take long for this siege approach to convince the skunk to run for safety across the road and down the hillside. Whew, that was a relief!

Having led with the most amusing anecdote, I am going to switch from a race narrative to a list, in no particular order, of lessons learned. Although this 100 miler was my slowest to date at 28 hours and about 10 minutes, I think it was one of my best efforts and considering the 28,000 feet of climbing, not really all that slow.

Looking up Rose Valley towards the Ridge Line.
1) I have never felt this good the day after a 100 miler before. This could be due to many factors, but I am attributing a significant part of it to the Hoka Bondi B shoes I wore. My feet and legs are still sore, but not nearly as bad as after previous 100 mile events.

2) Heat: I don't do well in the heat which bothered me last year at Zane Grey. I did push a bit to climb up from Gridley Bottom before it got too hot on Saturday, but once the heat settled in I decided to prioritize nutrition and hydration over effort coming up from Cozy Dell. I decided that once the sun went down I would be able to move faster again, but only if I kept up on food and water. So coming up Cozy Dell I stopped in occasional shady spots to stay on my nutrition plan. I think this is the best approach to the heat for me. Trying to push through the heat only seems to result in the inability to take in food/water and subsequent bonking.

Feeling the heat.
3) Crew: I had a crew person for the first time ever. My wife Francine was generous enough to come with me and meet me at all of the accessible spots: miles 43, 57, 70, 77 and 100. It was great having her support, but given how smoothly the weather, nutrition and the race went in general this year, I am thinking that the real value of crew support is when something doesn't go as expected. Unfortunately the race may have been harder for her than me as she had pulled something in her back the day before the race and she ended up in the emergency room the day we returned to Seattle.

4) Nutrition: I managed to stay right on my nutrition plan for almost the entire race. A gu packet on the 1/2 hour and stinger honey chews on the hour. Every 2-3 hours I would switch to a bottle of Perpetuem or Sustained Energy instead of gu/chews. This combination really seemed to work and I did not get the food cravings I normally get although I did eat a couple of mini burritos and a grilled cheese at various aid stations.

Approaching Howard Creek aid station at mile 70.
5) Melt down: For some reason near the end of the race, I decided that I was tired of dealing with gels and thought the adrenaline of coming to the finish would carry me the rest of the way. Half way down the last big descent of Lion Canyon, I completely melted down. I kept having to blow my nose only to finally realize it was a nose bleed. My new gloves were soaked in blood and I stopped moving to try to arrest the bleeding. I even sat down to feel sorry for myself and was just about convinced to walk the rest of the way when I realized that I wanted to get it over with too badly to just walk. Next time I will keep eating all the way until the end.

6) Training: I felt better than ever during this 100 miler, but I put in significantly fewer miles than I had for the two 100 milers I did last year. I will write a more detailed subsequent post on how my training has changed, but I have been doing a significant amount of strength and speed training and reduced overall mileage this year. For example, last year in Dec-Feb heading into Coyote Two Moon, I ran 814 miles. This year I only logged 647 miles in the same 3 months. A lot more 50 mile weeks this year compared to 75 mile weeks last year.

7) Garmin: I love my Garmin 310XT except for the 18 hour battery life. I had been having success working around this limitation by carrying a USB battery and recharging the Garmin during races. This time, the watch turned off when I added the charger so I thought I ended up recording the race in two separate files. However, when I went to upload the data, the primary file with the first 18 hours has disappeared. Definitely time to get the Suunto Ambit with its 50 hour battery life!

The coolest belt buckle in ultrarunning. Worth all of the 184 miles it took to achieve.
Finally, a big thanks to Chris Scott and the gang of volunteers who worked harder than ever to support a much smaller group of runners. Hopefully we will all get the chance to run in the mountains above Ojai again in coming years.