Sunday, May 22, 2011

Birthday Run

I turn 53 yesterday and earned my cake and ice cream with a birthday run of 13 miles that included three climbs that totaled 1800 feet. The first 2.5 miles were uphill for about 600 ft., then I covered a couple of more miles of relatively flat up and down to reach the mouth of Rattlesnake Gulch. The gulch has some gravely and rocky single track that rises 800 ft. in 1.4 miles.

The trail ends at a railroad tunnel for a route that winds through the Rockies. Taking a moment to squeeze down a gel I a deep vibration. It was about 6PM; was the world ending? No, but the train was a-comin'. I set my iphone to video and pointed it at the tunnel opening. Three locomotives came through with seemingly endless coal cars all equally filled on their way to fuel our summer air-conditioning needs. Three more engines appeared pushing the long chain of cars plus towing their own load. Again, countless coal cars and two more engines pushing at the end. What a nice birthday treat.

I headed back down the gulch trail feeling as if I were skiing a mogul run. I covered the same relative flat for a couple of miles and then turned off and up the north end of the Goshawk Trail. I'd never run up it, only down. It's a smooth-surfaced 400 ft. climb in about 8/10 of a mile up to the top of the saddle; the running is made more difficult because of the smoothness of the trail; some rocks or gravel would be nice for traction, but there is none.

All that was left at this point was 3.5 miles of descent. Sometimes downhill can be an effort but my energy was still good and I just cruised. I hadn't done this exact route before but twice I've done the same distance and climbs on the same trails and this time I'd cut 10 and 20 minutes respectively off those two outings.

Today I'd like to do about 7 miles of milder hills, then later this week do one tempo run, one hills run, and one easy jog with the Bolder Boulder coming up on Memorial Day. My hope is to do the 10K in 47 something. I like that my birthday is a week before the race because since the BB does ages brackets by each individual age, I get to be about the youngest in my group; there should be about 350 fifty-three year old men. I better write another sentence so that my last two words of the blog aren't "old men".

Sunday, May 15, 2011

No, I'm not Training for Something

Blog posts seem the best when they concisely address one issue. Two issues can pass as one issue if they are artfully integrated. Forgive me if I go beyond one issue and if their integration doesn't approach the level of artful.

Rain was in the forecast yesterday and the likelihood was greater as the day progressed. Priorities kept me from getting out, but at about 3:45 I managed to be ready to go. I like to do the climbs around Eldorado Springs on the weekend and as I drove west I had to turn the wipers on and could see that it was raining harder where I was headed. I pulled over for a couple of minutes to contemplate turning around but I went on, deciding to decide once I reached the trail head. At the trail head there was a definite steady rain and the area I was heading up to was obscured by low clouds. There were other vehicles in the lot so I figured if others can, I can. (I did encounter mountain bikers walking down with wheels so choked with mud that they din't rotate as they were dragged along) I knew the trails I was heading to that prohibit bikes would not be muddy.

I had invited Alex to join me, citing that 53 degrees was considered the ideal running temperature. Apparently to him, the temperature was more appropriate for seeking adventure in the virtual world. The first 3.3 miles of my chosen route is uphill with a 5.5 percent average grade. Usually, I feel a bit sluggish early on but after five days of rest and the cooling effects of the rain and the 39 degree temperature (I learned later), I cruised; it almost felt as if I were running on the level.

I recently wrote that I believed a long uphill with a long downhill was a harder workout than a series of short uphills and downhills of the same distance, slopes, and elapsed time. Yesterday's run caused me to consider temperature and it's impact on a workout and overall training. I believe that if you are going to run or race in the heat you need to train in it to acclimate your body, but as I discovered yesterday you may become impacted by the heat causing you to slow down and consequently you don't work the muscles as hard as you could if the temperature were cooler. My non-scientific realization is that even though one may be training to run in the heat, some workouts at cooler temperatures are probably in order for muscle building and conditioning and to accustom the legs to a faster turnover that might not be able to be maintained for the same duration on a hot day.

Although I keep trying to increase my mileage, endurance, speed, overall conditioning and state of health I don't make goals, nor do I consider anything I do as "training". This past Friday was the 13th and I pondered my position on luck. I believe that most things that people chalk up to luck, good or bad, really has to do with the positive or negative application of preparation, education, alertness, decision-making, anticipation, etc. Ironically, I got a flat tire on my motorcycle that day, but after analyzing details I believe it had to do with not sweeping the garage after a little project that left some debris on the floor, including a carpet tack.

Interestingly, with regard to my running, I do prepare, educate myself, analyze information and data, anticipate situations based on past experience and make prudent decisions, and I even make an increased effort to be more cautious when I become weary after two or three hours on a trail. So I find it curious that I avoid making specific goals and don't do any training to reach those goals that I don't make. I don't want to jinx myself.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Is all Elevation Gain the Same?

Most of my runs these days take place on trails that are a series of long uphills and long downhills. To be more specific, I may start off with a three mile uphill with a 900 ft. elevation gain followed by a two mile downhill with an elevation loss of 600 ft. followed by another two miles and a 600 ft. gain, followed by another similar drop, followed by a 1200 ft. climb over two miles, and then back to my original starting point via a more direct route. A route like this may add up to 3300 ft. of gain and loss over 15 miles. I might feel somewhat spent after such a run.

I often read blogs of other runners who may cite similar or greater elevation gains but I am certain that their climbs are shorter, but more frequent. I wonder if two runs of the same distance, same elevation gain and loss, and same elapsed time are in effect the same workout.

Scott Jurek mentioned on the last page of Runner's World magazine this past edition that the training that prepared him to become the ultrarunner he became took place on hilly trails around Duluth, Minnesota and that even when he's gone back to them after training on significantly longer climbs in the West he finds the Duluth trails to still be a challenge. This makes a case, I think, more that one can do better at what one is conditioned to do.

My intuition, experience, and just enough knowledge to be dangerous would suggest to me that an athlete of conditioning that doesn't predispose her to favoring one course or another would be able to run longer before reaching exhaustion on a course that repeated 52.8 ft. elevation gains and losses of 5% grades than repeats of 528 ft. elevation gains and losses of the same grade. I have a couple of pieces of logical evidence that supports this way of thinking. One is that the heart muscle keeps beating until one dies. I could do some quick research but I seem to remember from somewhere in my education that the heart muscle has a rest built in after every contraction that is about 40% of the cycle; it gets very frequent rests. Also, more runners are building in a brief recovery walk into their marathons and improving their times.

Doing longer uphills or continuing to run in a marathon where a short recovery walk would be beneficial seem to place greater stress on the muscles, forcing them to continue to push although approaching fatigue. Although covering the same distance and elevation gain and loss at the same slopes in the same amount of time might be considered doing the same amount of work, it seems that if in route A the muscles have to operate closer to fatigue this would be the "harder" workout.

I know there are lots of factors and maybe my question is open to interpretation so to put it as scientifically quantifiable as possible, the question is which route would one be able to sustain longer, the one with longer and fewer ups and downs or shorter and more frequent ups and downs.