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 . . ."


  1. Hah, I randomly came across this while looking for Silver Rush 50 reports. This has got to be the best race report I've read in my entire life. Love it!

    1. Thanks, Steve! I've been told that I should interject more of this type of writing to add more fun to this blog. Perhaps I should not be so stubborn!