Sunday, August 28, 2011

One Pace Does Not Suit All

We are sitting at the large dining table in the Leadville hostel on the eve of the Silver Rush 50 Mtn Bike Race. Salad, pasta, and heavily buttered french bread are on the menu, on our plates, and quickly filling our guts. The group includes riders, runners, hikers, and hosts.

Based on her comments, I guess that the elderly lady seated next to me is a hiker who is likely on break from the Colorado Trail, which passes close to Leadville as it meanders 485 miles through the Rockies between Denver and Durango.

"So, are you hiking the whole Colorado Trail?"
"Yes, the two of us." She nods to a man on the other side of the table.
"How long have you been on the trail?"
"We're fifteen days out of Denver." The man nods in agreement.
"Are you having a good hike?"
"Yeah, because we're taking our time, not rushing through it."

There is a brief chewing pause. She takes in another fork full of spaghetti while I take in the tone of the words she seems to spit out while casting a disapproving look around the table.

"Have you hiked the AT?
"And the PCT."
"Awesome. I hope to hike the AT someday."
"Don't wait too long, because the day you're waiting for just might come after you die."
"That's great advice, but I teach and I only have the ten weeks of summer free. I've thought about attempting to do it in seventy days."
"Why on Earth would you do that? Just section hike it or, better yet, break it in half - one half each summer."
"That thought has crossed my mind, but it seems to disagree with the spirit of adventure and self-discovery that I would expect from an AT thru-hike."
"Whatever you do, don't rush it. There just isn't any logic in that."
"What if a faster pace is acceptable, comfortable, and more logical for me due to my fitness and time constraints?"
"Fast people get injured."
"So do slow people."
"Fast people can't enjoy the trail as much."
"Maybe going fast is what some people enjoy."
"It's just not right."
"So, you disapprove of what Jen Pharr Davis is doing right now?"
"She's attempting a speed record on the AT."
"Oh, her. NO! I don't even think she is hiking. She has a crew of people carrying everything for her and making her campsite each night."
"Well, what she is doing cannot be called backpacking, but she certainly is hiking. And she seems to be in really high spirits."
"Don't be fooled. She is suffering"

For those of you who don't know it, Pharr lowered her women's record (56 days) and the record set by a man (47d 13h) when she completed the 2181-mile AT in 46d 11h earlier this month. That is 47 miles per day for almost 46.5 days!

My dinner mate at the Pbville hostel may not approve of this, but I am in awe of the accomplishment. The most impressive aspect of Pharr's AT hike is how consistent she remained from start to finish despite inclement weather and variable but constantly challenging terrain. Well, she even had the energy to put in a "kick" by covering 60-miles on day 46.

Under some scrutiny, her performance can be compared to that of a miler who posts three 56-second splits before finishing in 55. Or, from another perspective, it could be compared to a miler who sets a PR by turning in three 91-second quarters before roaring home in 86 seconds. Both of these efforts result in life best performances, which puts them on par with Pharr's AT hike. The big difference is that two of those three efforts also happen to be world records.

My dinner mate, after a reflective pause, informs me that the AT wasn't created for racing. She is correct.

"True, but most people struggle every day on the AT. Finishing it is "winning."
"But they aren't racing."
"They are racing themselves. They are finding the limits of their own abilities and pushing back the boundaries."

The words of my hostel dinner mate remind me of the voices I hear each year while riding in a local bike tour. I always ride this event at a comfortable pace that allows me to talk to my friends. Still, these angry female voices scream at us to "SLOW DOWN - THIS IS NOT A RACE!" I laugh as I look at my HRM and, seeing that I am at 55-60%, believe that the heckler is actually the one going too close to the edge. She will likely be suffering much more than I at the end of the day.

There is a pause in my conversation with the hiker before I say, "Fast or slow, old or young, strong or weak, people tend to finish difficult challenges at the pace they are capable of."

I believe that. I also believe that those who attempt to go at a pace beyond what they are capable of will be among those most unlikely to finish. Furthermore, I believe that this concept of pacing transcends all facets of performance and, more importantly, the training that prepares us for the ultimate goal. That is the basis for the training method I employ. My programs rely on specificity of pace. That is why I am often heard saying pacework and seldom use the term speedwork.

Find your pace and settle into it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

YMCA Sprint Duathlon Report - NO EXCUSES!!

It was still dark outside while I drove to Scales Lake in Boonville. The drive reminded me of the drives to the trailheads of the 14ers I had climbed in June and July. I also recalled the predawn drives to the start lines of the Leadville Silver Rush 50 (7/17) and the San Juan Solstice 50 (6/18). And those memories prompted me to ask myself if I had gone totally bonkers.

All of the descending while running those two mountain ultras left my quads weakened. Though the true condition of my quads was not noticeable in my daily routine, I discovered it after my first hard effort. That came ten days after the SR50 when I ran a fairly relaxed and even-paced 4K cross country run on the grass at USI in miserably hot conditions. The next morning I stepped out of bed and winced as pain raced from my hips to my knees. Several icings followed.

That push/pain scenario played out three more times over the next ten days as I tested my legs. I really wanted to compete in the YMCA's first duathlon, but I also wanted to avoid injury. Being a sprint Du of a mere 2K run/15 mile bike/5K run, the event required me to make a huge shift in my training from the slow ultra running pace to a faster pace with higher leg turnover while also attempting to build some cycling strength.

A little more than a week before the Y-Du I put in a test run on the course. On a hot and muggy morning I managed to cover the course in just under 65 minutes while riding the bike leg in 37:00 and running the 5K in 19:50. That trial run gave me confidence because I stayed well within myself, especially on the bike where a tailwind on the return kept me from pushing hard on the pedals in the last three miles. I was  forced to ice my sore quads 2-3 times every day for the next week. In the meantime, my right hamstring began to tighten up due to sciatic pinch. 

I wrote the Y-Du off.

With race day approaching and the school year in full swing, I resigned myself to watching the race. Yet, I still tested the legs one more time with a hilly four mile effort on the bike. Hmmmmm.

So, I questioned my sanity as I drove to the Y-Du. I hesitated at the gate. It wasn't too late to go home. My eyes ached because insomnia had kept me up for four straight nights. My tight right hamstring burned each time I pressed the gas pedal of the RAV. And those quads were likely to let me down if I pushed too hard on the pedals. I parked the RAV and sat there in the dark thinking about all of these issues. And, well, I got really mad at myself for focusing on the negative and for creating excuses. 

I convinced myself to park the bike in transition and then do everything I could to get my body and mind ready for a hard effort. I had already checked the entry list and reviewed splits from local runs and the cycling time trial series, so I knew that there was one guy, Greg, who would likely push me hard enough to find out what I was capable of.

The runs were on moderately hilly roads that contained a few short but steep ascents. I found myself trailing a group of three runners at the end of the 2K. Interestingly enough, the leader of the sprint triathlon also entered the transition with us. This excited me, because I'd always competed with the triathletes who race concurrently on the same course as the duathletes. I exited the transition and mounted Kristy on the heels of Greg and the triathlon leader.

A mile and a half later we had shuffled through our positions and the triathlon leader opened a gap on Greg and I. At mile four my legs felt too relaxed, so I decided to test Greg with a surge. A gap opened up between us on the winding and mildly rolling road, so I pressed harder and the gap increased. The move also caused the gap between me and the triathlon leader to stop growing.

Just before the turn-around at 7.5 miles, I hit what I thought was a small rock. It tinged off of the chain rings. I hate it when that happens!

The homeward bound tailwind of the previous ride was replaced race day with a headwind. By mile twelve my quads were starting to ache a little. It felt like I was pedaling through sand. Then I noticed it. Thump, thump, thump, thump . . . the back tire was low, not flat, but low enough that I could feel the valve stem contact the road. Maybe that wasn't a rock. A quick look under my armpit told me that Greg was still lingering about thirty seconds back. I pressed harder on the pedals. The triathlete began to come back to me and the gap back to Greg opened a little. NO EXCUSES!!

The applauding crowd told me that Greg was entering one end of the transition as I exited the other. I shook my head and laughed as I ran up the first steep little hill on the 5K course. Silly quads! Run!! After about a kilometer, an old buddy, Chris, rode up next to me on a mountain bike and told me that he could see Greg back behind me. Run, legs, run!

Coming out of a short patch of woods I was surprised to see the triathlon leader on the winding road ahead of me. And I was catching him - fast. Cool. But was Greg thinking the same thing while he caught up to me? I would find out after the first turn-around, which was just ahead at the top of a steep hundred meter climb. I laughed as I reminded myself how easy this would be compared to my recent mountain ascents. Shut up, quads! You're not supposed to be tight hamstring, just do what you're told!

When the triathlete circled the cone a mere ten seconds before me, I was delighted to see that he was my old friend, Barry. We have raced against each other many times over the last sixteen years and have always been fairly evenly matched. Because there is less than a three year age difference between us, we have often raced in the same wave starts.

I rounded the cone to see that Greg was not all that far behind me. In retrospect, I believe that he was further back than he appeared to be, because he was still climbing the hill. Nonetheless, I accelerated and soon pulled up next to Barry. 

We crossed back into the park and I tried to convince Barry to finish with me. I eased up a for awhile, but Barry was having none of it.  He waved me on knowing that someone was chasing me. I soon rounded the last cone and was happy to see that I had put a big gap on Greg. All I had to do was stay on my feet as I ran through the grass along the dam and the race was mine. Yeah, right! Recalling the many fresh scars from the SR50 fall caused me to focus on every footfall.

Though the time was a few minutes slower than what I believed I was capable of after my trial run and though the effort was well short of the effort I had put into my previous two du's (2010 Natls and 2009 Worlds), it was enough to satiate my competitive drive. I had, after all, ignored aching thighs, a tight hamstring, and a flat tire while racing along at an average of 92% of my maximum heart rate.

What a memorable day! The weather was moderate. In fact, it was great for mid-August, with clear skies and temps in the 70s. And I enjoyed conversations with a lot of friends, including Jeremy, Drew, Linda, Barry, Greg, Laura, Jim, Nathan, Randy, Clay, Wayne. and several others. Most of these people raced and had pretty darn good days! I am thankful to have such nice friends. It is awesome to share these experiences with like-minded people. I am also most thankful to be healthy enough to enjoy such events. (You know, such events as those when I don't crash!)

I also talked with YMCA race directors John and Barb, who put on several great races for the tri-state each year. Thanks!

I can hardly wait to wake up and ice in the morning . . .

Friday, August 5, 2011

Silver Rush 50 Follow-Up: The Inside Story

Traveling has nearly ground to a halt, which means that my mobility is limited to trips to the store and to minimal training. The recovery, meanwhile, is not 100%. Experience told me not to get too excited about the first couple of training sessions, because the body is good at fooling the naive.

When I teach chemistry, I constantly personify the elements, ions, and molecules. For example, there are peasants, nobility, beggars, thieves, and thugs in the Periodic Kingdom. When I teach about metabolism and other biochemical processes, I describe a submicroscopic society (SMS) living in a society that exists within the human body. This society travels in tunnels that can be superhighways, Supers, (arteries/veins) and Locals (capillaries). These thoroughfares stretch between such places as factories (liver, marrow), homes (variety of cells), and power stations (mitochondria, cytoplasm). With that kingdom in mind, consider the following story.

On July 17, 2011 a runner from Indiana finishes the Silver Rush 50 Mile Run in about 8.5 hours, despite the fact that the run distance is nearly as far as HE normally travels in a whole month. The runner climbs and descends about 8,000 vertical feet, despite the fact that a week devoted to climbing in Indiana accumulates about half of that quantity. The runner, who lives at an altitude of 400 ft, runs in the SR50 despite the fact that race altitudes, ranging from 10,000 to 12, 200 ft, provide approximately one-third less oxygen than his Indiana air.

Phrased another way, that runner is competing in an event that is taking place in a location so foreign to his natural surroundings that his body is certain to take a beating. (Some people would say that the runner is foolish or nuts. And those people would all be correct, but that is another post.)

It is mere moments into the race, somewhere near the top of the insanely steep start hill, that alarms begin to sound throughout the SMS within the runner as the supply and demand of precious ATP falls out of balance.

"What in the hell is HE doing? We're being forced to ask the largest Fast Units to work at near capacity." Chief Mitochondria is doing all he can and the Boss suspects that all of the other mitochondria are doing the same. He knows the drill: He has to get his crews to produce maximum ATP at maximum rate.

"There is too little oxygen coming in to support our MitoAerobic Energy Plant, sir." A young Messenger is telling the old Boss what he is already painfully aware of.
"Then those anaerobic Units are going to pick up the slack, aren't they?"
"But, sir, we're supposed to be on the job for hours. Nonstop."
"That's right. So we are going to keep firing the big guns with the help of the CytoAnaerobic Energy Plant until all hell breaks lose. Again. Messengers have already reached Chief Cytoplasm."
"Will HE ever learn, sir?"
"No, I don't think HE is capable."

Once HE clears the top of the ski hill, the light-headed runner stubbornly continues with his death march along the dirt mining roads that will gradually take him up to over 12,000 feet above sea level. More altitude, less oxygen. His occasional glances at the gadget on his wrist reveal that his heart is pounding away at roughly 80% of its maximum rate. HE knows this is not good, but his deluded, malnourished brain suppresses logic and produces such propaganda as "gotta beat the heat" and "can't let people pass me" to inspire him to . . . pick up the pace. Just minutes into an all-day race, the runner is chugging up mountain at 85% of his maximum heart rate.

"The energy demand is increasing again, sir."
"Give me a report on the G's."
"The glycogen storage was topped off a few hours ago. And now it is being supplemented by a steady supply flowing in on the Super. At this point, sir, all Locals are packed with G's and the Phosphos are pulling them into working Units as fast as they arrive."

"Where in the hell is the power you promised us, Cyto?"
"Two minutes. We could catch up if HE would back off for two minutes, Mito."
"HE'll never do that."
"No, HE's likely testing our limits again."
"Probably, but it's not our fault that we don't have enough units to work with. And we have not been trained to produce power with so few O's available."
"The O level keeps dropping, sir."
"HE's a damned fool."

About ninety minutes into the race, the runner approaches the first high point of the day. The trail becomes more rugged and steeper. HE is dizzy again. His legs become sluggish and heavy and even his forearms tingle as his struggle grows desperate. Finally forced to walk, HE glances again at the gadget and is dismayed to see that his heart rate remains just as high at the slower pace. HE is walking while producing the effort required to run a half marathon in Indiana.

"Distress signal coming in from Chief Cyto, sir."
"Now what?"
"He has had to shut down thousands of units."
"The O's are at 64% and the G's are no longer arriving steadily."
"This is it, then. Bring in everything we have for damage control."
"But it's already so crowded here with all of this metabolic debris, sir."
"That's right, so we need the Inflamers to get busy with the clearing and rebuilding - right now."
"I'll send messengers to all of the ECM, sir."
"Good, but surely those extracellular guys have seen this coming."
"Anything else, sir?"
"Follow protocol. Get word to the Glands that the Inflamers are about to turn the heat up even more. Time to turn on the high pressure sprinkler."
"But we need the Ions to spark the Sacromeres, sir."
"Yes, and we need the Water to separate the G's. Let's pray that the fool is sending plenty of Ions in with an ample Water supply."
"HE is, but the Cells cannot absorb them fast enough, so both are steadily decreasing in the units, sir."
"You are just full of good news. Next, you'll probably tell me that HE is popping pills that will keep the COX2 from contributing to the repair."
"No, sir. HE has not ingested any NSAIDS in recent weeks."
"Oh, a rare wise decision or, more likely, HE forgot them."

As the runner descends toward the first aid station HE begins to recall how he ran painfully low on energy at this race a year earlier. HE wants to push the pace on this relatively smooth downhill, but he chooses, instead, to ease off a little. After hastily picking up a new fluid and energy supply from his awesome pit crew, HE continues on at about the same rate. HE is tired, but he has settled into a pace that HE can continue with.

"Chief Cyto reports that, despite the decrease in demand, he is still only able to fire some of his big units for short shifts. He says cleanup, repair, and synthesis of those units will continue to creep along until large quantities Growth Hormone arrive during sleep."
"Sleep! This fool won't sleep for hours. In the meantime, HE'll continue demanding energy while supplying insufficient O's. It will take us several weeks to recover from this disaster."
There is a brief silence as Messenger collects data and the Boss stews.
"We have reports coming in from many Mito Sectors that supply and demand are stabilizing. We are operating at 78% of capacity, sir."
"So HE finally slowed down, huh. Took the stubborn bastard long enough. ."
"Yes, sir. We can maintain this power output all day if HE keeps supplying us with Water, G's, and Ions."
"That, young Messenger, is a mighty big IF . . ."