Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vegan Running

Mention vegan in many circles and people will quickly conjure an image of a barefoot young woman with dreadlocks who's a militant member of PETA. That's not me, although I have nothing against it; I'm a fifty-four year old man who ate a healthy (I should say unhealthy) array of animal products on a daily basis for more than half a century. I stopped eating meat or any animal products about ten weeks ago. I didn't have any political motivation although one less person creating demand for resource intensive factory-raised animals is not a bad thing; we could feed a lot more people if we just ate the plants that could be grown on the land that we use to grow the feed we use to fatten the hogs and cattle and chickens. My motivation to move to a plant-based diet was purely selfish and personal; my cholesterol level had been persistently on the low side of high since certainly before the first time it was tested in my late twenties. The eye doctor even mentioned that he could see lipids; I had fat deposits up to my eyes! Running 40 miles a week evidently wasn't making any difference; it was probably just allowing me to pass more cheese and eggs through my system without resulting in much external evidence.

I wasn't a big meat eater but I found it satisfying, filling and a straight-forward source of protein. Switching to a vegetarian diet wouldn't have made much difference to me. Presumably, I needed to cut out the dairy products. I enjoyed butter on everything. The flavor of many of our meals  was enhanced with tasty cheeses. Although I had been using egg-beater type products for many recipes, there was no substitute for basted eggs to start a busy day. I was reading Scott Jurek's book Eat & Run of which plant-based eating is a main theme during the time that I had my last physical and cholesterol check. It made trying a vegan diet to lower my cholesterol an easy choice over Lipitor or whatever might have been prescribed for me. I still have to wait another month before having the cholesterol checked to see if it has made any difference in the numbers. If it doesn't it will be interesting to see what I do.

Scott Jurek stated rather directly that he felt his vegan diet was the secret to his being able to bury the competition in 100 miler after 100 miler. Many vegans talk about how much better they feel. I didn't feel bad before and I didn't imagine I was going to start winning ultras, but I wondered if I would notice something. I can't say I noticed any difference. I don't feel like I'm suddenly unburdened from a body full of toxins or anything like that. I'm not running farther or faster. I'm not slower. Things seem pretty much the same as before. The foods I ate to fuel up for a run were already carbohydrates, mostly from grains. Meats probably helped for recovery. I suppose beans, hummus, and nuts have taken over that role now. I don't have any cravings for anything like some nutrient is missing. There are some nutrients that are difficult to get in a plant-based diet, vitamin B-12 for example. I stop short of calling myself vegan; I don't like to define myself by what I do: I teach; I don't call myself a teacher. I bought a canister of nutritional yeast to sprinkle of cereals and such. I've also eaten an occasional tin of sardines and I've stuck with popping a couple of fish oil capsules a day. So that too makes me not a vegan in the strictest sense of the word, I guess, but I still think of it as a vegan-based diet.

As soon as I finish this post I'm heading out for a three hour or so trail run. I've had a bowl of granola with almond-coconut milk and I'll probably eat a banana and a couple of Brazil nuts and bring a Power Bar along with me and I'll have good energy the whole time. A long run like that will pretty much kill my appetite for the rest of the day, but I'll have a big salad of greens and fresh vegetables with nuts and olives sometime later. I'll probably snack on hummus and  Reduced Fat Wheat Thins. Black beans would be good too. I've never had irregularity issues but one thing I've noticed about eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains is that they pass quickly through the body. It's pretty common to be about to go out the door and have to make one more trip up the stairs. I'm certain I'm not carrying any unnecessary load when on a run.

Scott Jurek, already fit and slender mentioned in his book that he lost a whole layer of fat when he went completely vegan. I've dropped about ten pounds that one would have thought I wouldn't have even had running 150 miles a month. There's more to go though; I can still pinch plenty more than an inch of my abdomen. The weight has been coming off more slowly now because I have found myself eating more avocados and nuts and they keep the fat calorie intake up. They're good and necessary fats though. I've also had time to explore more vegan foods such as rice and almond pepper jack cheese and Tofurky bratwurst and Italian sausage; these are all rather respectable substitutes for the originals and they do contain some fat.

So, no earth-shattering changes. I haven't joined PETA. I have discovered that once meat, butter, cheese, eggs, milk and the like weren't on the shopping list they money for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains went a long way. I still have muscle; I haven't wasted away to nothing. I have a rule for breaking my rules which I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy yet; if I'm out to eat with non-work or non-family guests I will allow myself to make an exception or if I am the guest at someones home I'll eat what's offered; they won't have to worry about what to feed me, so, if you want to invite me over for a burger on the grill, go ahead.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Diet Changes a Cultural Change

Since my early teens when my sister and cousin Boo found ourselves beckoned from our yard to Uncle Milo's kitchen where he had a large kettle of boiling water, corn on the cob has been the center of some summer gluttony. On that evening that family lore was made, the three of us consumed sixty-five ears of corn rolled in butter and salted. Back then, to eat a dozen ears in a sitting was common; summers of recent history I find myself content with four.

This summer is different. Persistent high cholesterol and the threat of medication to get it under control made me turn to a vegan diet which has actually been rather easy to do. No more cheese, eggs, butter, milk, and meat. It's August now, the time of the year that corn typically matured where I grew up in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and my internal culinary clock is chiming the alarm that it's time for corn on the cob. Butter is out, and so is the mayonnaise and crumbled cheese version of Mexican street corn that I discovered in my time south of the border. I have found that some of the vegan products I had in the refrigerator make a rather satisfying imitation of the Mexican version. I apply some Vegannaise (a veritable vegan mayonnaise) to the corn and then a little Miso Mayo which helps to intensify the flavor and then I shake on some red cayenne pepper. I have also grated some rice or almond pepper jack cheese but found it's contribution to be marginal. Some fresh squeezed lime would also enhance the experience; I just haven't had it on hand when I've had the corn.

The food we eat is a significant part of who we are; it can be almost as difficult to change as the language we speak. How could a trucker one morning wake up at a truck stop and not have the sausage and eggs with hash browns and toast. When does he opt for the yogurt and granola? It would be as difficult as mustering the motivation to learn Tagalog. Changes are difficult to make, especially when they involve something we have been doing all our lives. Our foods are connections to our families, our culture, and our memories. In many cases though, those foods eventually become stab us in the back, or more accurately, laden our waistlines, clog our arteries, or cause diabetes. People don't often make changes until it's life or death. We need to make changes to our eating routines, to the foods that our children are going to make warm fuzzy connections to and eat whenever they have the chance.

When I was a kid we ate so rarely at a restaurant that I can recall the few occasions that we did. Today, kids might have a meal from a fast food place once a day. What a challenge it will be when it's life or death and they need to make a break from those foods. Can the adults of today make changes in the foods they prepare for their children? Will kids one day crave a tofu scramble or a bowl of lentils with carrots and spinach because it reminds them of home?

The foods of our cultures largely grew out of making do with what was available where our ancestors lived. For most of us living in the United States that is not the case any more. We can eat whatever we want just about whenever we want unless it's a juicy red ripe tomato. And although there are many justifications for eating locally produced foods, the reality is much of the US does not have locally produced foods for more than a few months of the year. Saving the lives of our children when they're middle aged adults begins now while they are children. So buy that bag of lentils, the hummus, the mangoes and spinach. Get used to the almond milk. Your children are not calves, but they might grow up to be cows if the foods they become accustomed to and crave fatten them up over their lifetime.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scott Jurek Eat & Run Review

I was just beginning to run trails and longer distances when Christoper McDougall's Born to Run put the boom in the trail running boom. I read it twice and then reread various passages over again. I liked the blend of the non-fiction stories with the presentation of the case for minimalist running and the basis for running as an innate activity related to human evolution and survival. I don't remember if I knew who Scott Jurek was before reading the book or not, but I learned parts of his story from Born to Run and other sources on the Internet. I was immediately aware of his move to Boulder, Colorado where I live because I read Anton Krupicka's running blog; Anton was soon writing about runs with Scott after his arrival in town. When Scott's book Eat & Run hit the shelves I was ready for another book about running.

I read the book over a 24 hour period which seemed somewhat fitting in that many of his races lasted that long. He holds the American record for miles run in 24 hours. The book is by no means 24 hours of reading though; it is relatively short at 228 pages and that includes about 20 vegan recipes that appear like aid stations just when you need one. Like Water for Chocolate would come to mind every time I came upon another recipe.

One of Scott's early premises was that if he can do it (be an ultramarathon champion) so can you. I don't see that the premise was supported by the book though. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they have to or when forces push them. The reader understands the forces that Scott responded to. The world is full of people who have endured traumas, hardships, and even torments over the course of their formative years. A handful channel it appropriately to guide them to great acheivement, some rise above it to become successful functioning human beings, while many populate our world as the walking wounded medicating themselves however they can. I would agree that most people have the capacity to become physically fit enough to run an ultramarathon and could probably learn valuable lessons about themselves along the way. Many though, are so far off the path that such a challenge would seem inconceivable and much of the youth today find an escape too readily in virtual reality games. I ran a challenging 50K this spring; it was not that difficult in hindsight because I was conditioned for it. It was over by the middle of the afternoon. I was able to go home, take a shower, have a regular meal, and get a good night sleep. Nothing compels me to want to continue running into the night to face all the discomfort that sleep deprivation would bring.

Scott's childhood seem to provide him with the ability to stoically deal with responsibilities such that he had to do around the house because his father was working two jobs and his mother's progressive debility from Multiple Schlerosis which probably instilled in him a strong feeling of compassion. The mantra in the book "Sometimes you just do things." which was a quote from his father in response to a young Scott's distress at doing chores while other childhood activities beckoned tells us a lot about having to endure doing what you don't want to do. It is also implied that his ability to face the physical and mental suffering that come with the territory of ultrarunning came from channeling his mother's toughness in the face of her illness.

The implication isn't that we can all become great ultramarathoners but we could certainly become the best that we can be in whatever we elect to do. And it doesn't have to be our first choice. The suggestion was that Scott might have preferred to play baseball, football, or downhill skiing. Transportation, time, and money nixed those possibilities. Many kids at that point would probably have pouted and have an excuse to smoke pot. He chose to participate in the more affordable sport of cross country skiing. Distance running began as just a means to stay in shape for skiing. What he ended up being good at wasn't even one of his top four choices. He just did something. I read a quote not long ago to the effect of "most of those who are successful were probably good at plan B". He ended up becoming a physical therapist most likely because that was what life presented to him; he helped him mom her physical therapy.

Scott's longtime pacer, and much more talented fellow high school cross country skier and training partner Dusty seemed to channel anger. Rarely does that bring the success or satisfaction that one might seek in an endeavor, but a 30 or 40 mile trail run can certainly be a panacea for whatever ails a person. Scott endured childhood tribulations but I think he felt cared for and loved. Dusty's personality seemed more the result of dysfunction. If Scott believed that "anyone can do it" it's odd that he missed the evidence that his best friend with admittedly more natural talent couldn't get beyond himself to achieve greatness. A person's Aquilles heel can be hidden anywhere within their being.

A major point of Eat & Run is the importance of eating appropriately. Scott documents his slow evolution to veganism showing that he grew up eating like much of America, although he often killed and gutted the meat and fish that he ate as a youngster. He didn't eat fast food until he his own meager disposable income allowed him to discover McChicken sandwiches, etc. It took several years for him to give up meat and animal products altogether, with the impetus mostly stemming from his considerations of how to best fuel himself for extreme long distance running. It has been a couple of weeks since I finished reading the book and I am still eating a plant-based diet. He doesn't push it and that may make the coersion to switch all the more compelling. So much of American ill-health is a result of indulgence eating on a regular basis.

Scott writes about his training, hard work, and research to become a dominant athlete in his sport in a non-agrandizing manner. He recounts the stories of several of his ultrarunning feats as neutrally as if he were writing about a third person. Ultrarunners seem to have a greater respect for their competition than other athletes; they know what it takes to be out there, every person who's behind them is pushing and every person ahead is pulling. Runners who happen along side of one another in a race will likely carry on a conversation until one or the other pulls away or drops back. If you check ultrarunners' finish times you'll occasionally see a tie meaning they didn't try to outsprint one another at the end but shared the victory shoulder to shoulder. Much of Scott's running was in the lead by himself (this detail was lore before being recounted in Eat & Run), but after winning a race Scott would connect to all the other runners by hunkering down at the finish line to cheer for the others as they finished over the following several hours.

Any runner should enjoy Eat & Run and non-runners may find inspiration or at least models for a more satisfying life. I came away from the book with the feeling that if Scott were never able to compete as an ultrarunner again he would be just fine because he has the ability to find enjoyment in whatever he does. If you were to cross his path and have a five minute boring conversation with him, don't worry, it wouldn't have been boring for him.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finally a Real Run (Oct. 2011)

THIS POST IS FROM LAST YEAR (somehow it remained a draft and was never published)

After 39 days of relative rest to recover from a stress fracture I went for a couple of runs without ill effects. That was followed by a busy week and I didn't do any more running; then I managed to get in a 7 mile hilly run and I felt good. During this same time, Elliott was beginning preschool and caught two colds in two weeks. I avoided one, but caught the second so I took another week off figuring any extra bone healing would be good. Another busy week after that didn't leave me any time to get out. Finally, yesterday I set aside the time for a more serious run.

I rode the motorcycle down to Eldorado Springs and headed out on one of my favorite used-to-be routine routes. The first 3.3 miles are uphill, gaining about 900 feet in elevation. I certainly am not in the condition I was two months ago, but I was able to plod along without any suffering. I did stop a handful of times on the climb to take photos, so there were some breathers built in. Yesterday, October 1st, was also rather a warm day for this late in the year. The temperature at the time of the run was 87 degrees.

The 8.3 mile run took about an hour and a half; I think about a minute and a half per mile slower than what had been the usual. The point of the stress fracture still has me concerned. I can still make it hurt a little if I put focused pressure on it. I worry that once the doctor said I didn't necessarily need the cam-walker boot, that a supportive shoe might be adequate, I became more careless with regard to what I wore. We'll see.

Smokey Colorado

June was the hottest summer on record in Colorado. The most days with temperatures over 100 degrees in a year before 2012 was seven. We have already had eight days over 100 and the hottest time of the year is yet to come. There was also little to no rain for much of the state; consequently fires started easily, whether by human carelessness or intent, or lightning several large forest fires occurred. Several hundred homes were completely lost along with tens of thousands of acres of forest.

Finding suitable conditions for running has been difficult. I seem to prefer afternoon runs but found myself leaving the house around 8:00am many mornings to beat the heat and I would still finish with the temperature over 90 degrees. There was typically less smoke earlier in the morning; fires tended to grow during the day. Occasionally here in Boulder we could smell smoke from the fires in Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs but normally there was just a heavy haze. There were about three days I didn't run specifically because of the smoke and there were about three days when I probably shouldn't have.

I managed to run 155 miles for the month of June which included 31 miles for the Golden Gate Canyon Dirty Thirty 50K on June 2nd. July is going well. I ran about 40 miles this past week. I have still had to run early, but now it is because we are experiencing the "North American Monsoon" which seems to have arrived about a month early like all of our weather since March. This weather pattern causes early to late afternoon downpours and thunderstorms for much of the state. Each morning starts fresh with clear skies or maybe some residual clouds and then the clouds just start building as the day progresses. After an early morning run yesterday with my son and his girlfriend my running clothes were completely drenched in sweat. Typically here the air is so dry that sweat just evaporates; turns out the dew point was 57 and the temperature was 68. I'd much rather run with a temperature of 85 degrees and 10 percent humidity.

I have been running a lot in the "open space" southwest of the house because it is convenient to get to without having to make an excursion in a gas-powered vehicle. Also, much of the best mountain running terrain was closed during and after the "Flagstaff Fire". Some of the trails that I like to run are in the burn area. Many of the nearby trails have reopened so I'd like to get back in there. I recently ran to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain from downtown Boulder. No fire damage was visible on that run. The fire was so named for the road near where the lightning strike started the fire which continues on after switchbacking up the face of Flagstaff Mountain.

The rains now pose a threat to burn areas because the land there no longer can retain the water and mudslides and flash floods are certain to occur. For now at least, the fire danger has dropped and the air is healthier to breath.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dirty Thirty Recovery

I can't say I left it all on the course of the Dirty Thirty 50K last Saturday. I've run all of the five days since the race for a total of 25 miles. About 13% of my mileage this year has been in the past week. I feel quite good; there have been some twinges here and there but nothing that has been made worse by running.

In the results on the race website my name is just about last before the DNF's. They added 10 minutes to lots of runners' time because they were turned back just shy of the last summit. They said it was a quarter of a mile. I was one of those runners. It did not appear to be 1/4 mile as they calculated nor do I think I was moving at 40 minute per mile pace at that point. This was not a big deal to me, but all the people who were not allowed to even begin the 4.9 mile loop to the summit who were behind me ended up ahead of me by an hour or so because they just ran straight back and into the chute. Alex was one of those runner. His time showed about an hour faster than mine but he should have been about half an hour behind. I am happy with my time; it would just be nice to have the runners I was ahead of to be listed after me or at least have a double asterisk by their names. Maybe when lightning starts to strike it's a bit more challenging to get the job done. I suspect bib tags that were marked at the summit ended up not getting pulled to distinguish who had made the climb and who hadn't.

I reread my race report and discovered lots of errors. I'm sure readers were able to muddle through, but I have a little bit of regret for clicking "publish" without proofing. I've since fixed the errors I could find on one pass through.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dirty Thirty 50K Race Report

The Dirty Thirty took place in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, located about 15 miles west of Golden, Colorado on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012. Base elevation is 7800 ft. above sea level with rises to 9500 ft. The race reached its cap of 300 entrants.

Alex, my 21 year old son, and I arrived in pre-dawn light to a crisp but calm morning in the park. Megan, the race director made her announcements and sent us off to cover nearly every trail in 14,000 acre park. Alex and I were content to start near the rear of the pack as it ascended about 1/4 mile of dirt road before narrowing to single track and a steeper ascent where the runners backed up like grains of sand at the neck of an upside down hourglass. I live at about 5200 ft. above sea level in Boulder County and frequently run from that elevation to about 8000 ft. but I clearly noticed a difference in breathing effort starting out at the elevation.

This was the first 50K Alex and I had participated in; I suggested we pay attention to what other people do. I found myself hiking many inclines that I normally would have run on a shorter training run of 10-20 miles; I might have run them here too except for the increased effort to just breath and not knowing how conservative I was going to need to be to just finish. I found though, that after about 10 miles into the race I felt adjusted to the altitude. Alex and I ran most of the first five miles together, but he ended up dropping back a bit after the first aid station. I often found myself running in single file with four or five runners, but those groups would eventually disband, either because of the pace, someone having to make a pit stop, or people eventually sticking to their own pace. I often found myself pulling ahead eventually when I was in a group, but I was having a toe problem and would have to stop occasionally to adjust it and four or five runners would go by. I eventually removed the insole from shoe and the problem stopped.

The terrain for much of the course is brutal. Alex commented after the race that your hands shouldn't have to touch the ground on a run. He specifically referenced a boulder field at a summit of a climb around the 15 mile mark. A runner commented that he didn't realize a chalk bag would be necessary. I came to the realization as I hiked one steep grade after another that my legs were in shape for running up hills, not for hiking uphill. Clearly, it requires different muscles. I am also a bit spoiled with the surfaces I typically run on; I like the dirt to be packed, not sandy or gravelly; it can have as many rocks and roots as it wants to present, but to just run on sharp loose gravel, or just sand which was probably the most annoying, is less fun. Alex asked me after, "What was up with all the sandy trails!" He said he'd finally come to a flat area and he'd be slowed down by sloughing through sand, and not like at a beach but more like a children's playground.

I arrived at the drop bag aid station at 17 miles and could not think as to what to get from the bag. We had planned for any possibility. I figured that since nothing seemed pressing I would just grab a handful of random fuels and snacks. I enjoyed some of the fresh strawberries and watermelon and a turkey wrap thet offered at the aid station. I filled up my water bottle and continued on, but soon realized something was different; I seemed to be struggling. In hindsight, I may not have realized that it was a 1200 ft. climb up from the aid station. It was also starting to warm up. I drank my 24 ounces of water in the first 20 minutes. After reaching the top of the climb I felt that I was ready to run some downhill but I was soon jolted to a standstill by an incapacitating cramp in my right thigh. It cramped on one side, then the opposite, then a different muscle group, then its opposing muscles. Three or four runners went by, all asking if everything was OK. "Just a cramp," I answered. How could I say that this excrutiating pain was just anything? I figured it must have been low electrolytes so I started trying different snacks and fuels I in my pockets. I managed to go on and the same thing happened to the other thigh. Once I had worked through that my calves started to clench on occasion. I remembered reading blogs by ultra runners who spoke of rough periods in races and getting their composure and working through it; this helped, and I got through it. From this point on I hardly sense a runner ahead or behind.

All the aid station, check point, and road crossing people were great. At the fourth aid station around mile 25, I mentioned to a young and knowledgeable volunteer (clearly a runner) who asked how I was that I had had cramps earlier and he was sure it was from dehydration, not electrolytes and suggested I drink a full bottle of water before leaving the station and take another with me. I drank almost two bottles and headed out with a full bottle feeling that six more miles was easily doable. I began to run much more at ease. It seems the same aid station attendant loaned the jacket he was wearing to Alex when Alex mentioned being cold from running in the rain and he said to just leave it at the finish. I had asked how I was doing for the cut-off time. I had no idea what time it was. I had to be at a certain check-point by 2pm or they wouldn't let me run the loop up Windy Peak which was about five of the last 7 miles. They told me I had an hour and half to spare; it was only 12:30.

This part of Colorado is where many of the big thunderstorms that head out over the plains develop. By the time I had reached this aid station they had already been developing right overhead for about an hour. Much of the lightning didn't seem to be coming to the ground but it was still rather unsettling. I felt relatively comfortable in the lower areas but there were starting to be many more close ground strikes as I ascended the rock face of Windy Peak. During the loop around the backside of the peak the wind picked up and the storm moved off to grow and menace the plains. The check point at the peak had been moved a bit off the summit by the order of the Park Service. It wasn't by much, but maybe more protected in the trees.

I had barely made it back down from the peak to a narrow valley below and a bigger storm kicked up. I was worrying about Alex at this point. Would he be on Windy Peak dodging lightning bolts or would they have halted him from going up, maybe waiting out the storm? I headed up out of the gulch to an exposed ridge, now running soaked in a heavier rain and actually finding myself running with my head lowered, maybe thinking if I weren't the tallest thing on the sierra I wouldn't end up as a chicharrĂ³n. Finally I started the descent from the ridge; it was one of the few descents that I could comfortably run. I let my legs stretch out and I probably looked like I was running pretty good to Alex who was sitting on a cooler under a tent by the time I entered the finish gate at 8 hrs. 23 minutes. The last check point did eventually prohibit runners from climbing Windy Peak due to lightning. He had made the planned cut-off by about an hour but not the lightning cut-off. He ended up running 4.9 miles shy of the 50K.

I feel pretty good today, almost normal until I go down stairs. The lower thigh muscles above the knee are a bit tender. Alex says he felt like he was hit by a truck and that it's painful just shuffling around. In training for future ultras I will do more hiking where I typically run steeper inclines just to train those muscles. I also need to make some treks to run at higher elevation. Running at five to eight thousand feet above sea level would be good training for most of the planet, but I'm convince that for running at even higher altitude it is advisable to run at the given altitude.

No photos. No Garmin data.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

50k Training Progress

I don't know if this news has reached other parts of the country. It seems Micah True, the runner known as Caballo Blanco in "Born to Run" has been missing since not returning from a planned 12 mile run this past Tuesday in Gila, New Mexico. Let's hope for the best.

Having the week off for spring break has allowed me to run a bit more than I might have if I had been working, but there are only so many hours that one should train at a given point. Late yesterday afternoon I ran the hills on the open space nearby for about an hour and a half.

On Tuesday I ran about 3 hours and 25 minutes. I started at Chautauqua Park, ran south along the Mesa Trail to Bear Canyon, and then north up around the back side of Green Mountain to its summit for a net elevation gain of about 2400 feet. The descent took about 25 minutes less than the run up. I wanted to put about five hours together between two days, so the following day I ran for an hour and a half choosing a route similar to the one mentioned in the previous paragraph.

On the previous Saturday I ran trails in Eldorado Springs including Rattlesnake Gulch to the railroad tunnel. On a couple of runs recently I have experience an irregular heartbeat. I can't say that it has been atrial fibrillation each time or not, (something I have had diagnosed in the past). My impression of a-fib is that the rate goes to a flutter, which has occurred, but on this run it seemed that it was not so fluttery, but definitely not steady. I had to hike a couple of times on some of the 15% grade. At some point on the descent the beat returned to normal. It's strange, I can start a run with the beat irregular and at some point it converts to normal and now recently I have had it go irregular on a run which started out with a normal heartbeat. I have cut back on the caffeine although I typically drink half-caf anyway. This morning I'm at 1/3 caf and have done just 1/4 on some days. It may be best just to wean myself from it completely.

Muscle-wise things feel good; I never get sore, but I can feel some subtle tendon issues in the heel and plantar area in the left foot and some sensitivity where I've had stress fractures in the right foot. I think it will all hold up ok if I maintain a regimen of some rest days and stretch a bit during non-running times. My weight had gone up in February; I was caught off guard to find myself at 185 when I had been 178 at the new year. I'm back to 182. It seems to make sense to have as little extra as possible so that I'm not carrying that weight for 31 miles, but it may not hurt to have a little to draw from for fuel.

A nice surprise is that my running-resistant son Alex expressed an interest in doing the 50k. Actually, he expressed an interest in the 12 mile version of the same Dirty Thirty event but it is already full. He ran cross country in high school, does parkour, runs intermittently, and has 9 miles in the bank for training. He's 21 though and figures he can catch up quickly. My concern is that he has running-induced asthma which seems brought on by cold temperatures or altitude; this race takes place between 7900' and 9400'. We live at 5200' but some added acclimation may be in order.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Do as you're gonna do

A simple rule for training has evolved for me over time based on observation. Do in training what you're going to do in the event. A notable breach of this axiom occurred last winter when Anton Krupicka came in second in the Rocky Raccoon 100. He was in great shape from having maintained a almost unfathomable plateau of training intensity; His training for January 2011 had almost 700 miles and over 100,000 feet of ascent and descent much of that on ice, snow pack, and rocky trail. The Rocky Raccoon is a flat course; in effect he still hasn't recovered from that race. His body wasn't trained for the flat. He certainly had the horsepower, but the suspension wasn't designed for the angles of impact.

The Dirty Thirty 50K is almost all single track mountain trail with long ups and downs. Only eight percent is considered flat. I figure I am going to be there for somewhere around 7 1/2 hours after some period that will be considered a taper. My training so far has mimicked that scenario. I have run once each of the last three weekends without any midweek running. Yesterday I ran for just shy of three hours on icy, snow-packed, and rocky trails with most of the incline between 6 and 15 percent. Oh, and it was windy.

If you haven't spent sometime along the Front Range of Colorado you may not know what windy is. Pressure gradients can cause wind velocities of over 100 miles per hour. I don't know the wind speed of yesterday, but there were times that heading into the wind I was almost held to a standstill, running perpendicular to the wind caused my trailing leg to blow behind the other leg and strike the heel of the lead foot as it came forward, and with the wind at my back I couldn't synchronize by legs to the pace that the wind wanted to carry me. Fortunately, steep mountain sides and trees protected me somewhat. Any trees or branches that would blow down would already be down from previous winds. I was still vulnerable to the wind even when I got back to the car. I was sitting with one leg out the door as I drank some water; suddenly, a gust whipped the half-open door against my shin. At the moment I thought ooh, that was hard, but I think that in my endorphin-infused state I didn't feel it. Today it looks like someone tried to raise a purple baseball under my skin by striking it with a bat.

The point I was leading to earlier is that I see myself running the 50K on June 2nd without being able to rack up the miles typically expected for such a distance because of various obligation but I figure that if I can continue to run progressively longer distances on steep terrain each weekend I should be able to go thirty miles or so by June. I anticipate adding a shorter long run on Sundays as I move through March and April. I may even begin that today with an hour recovery run. I expect to insert a 5 to 10 miler on Wednesdays.

I'm not saying that one should exclusively mimic the anticipated activity; some speedwork makes sense to have a faster marathon and some longer runs help with endurance in a shorter race, but I believe it makes sense that the bulk of the training should be geared toward the nature of the event.

Yesterday's run took place in Eldorado Springs. About 12 miles from the house, it is the closest access I have to mountain trails. I had planned to include Rattlesnake Gulch in the course but as I turned onto its trailhead I could see its north facing incline was a river of ice. I continued west and took the sunny snow-barren trail up the south facing side of Eldorado Canyon. Pictures below show the cold shady gulch with its reddish scar where the railway passes between tunnels. The railway is about 1000 feet above the creek at the bottom of the canyon that lies between where the photo was taken and the railway.

I have one physical concern so far. I've had a metatarsal stress fracture each of the past two summers in my right foot. First it was the second metatarsal and last summer it was the third. I don't feel pain when I run, but I notice pain the day after if I step with pressure directly under them. My impression is that bones end up stronger at the break, but in light of my experience of the past two summers and what I anticipate doing to it over the next three months I am concerned.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dirty Thirty 50K on the Horizon

For the next three months I intend to chronicle my preparation for the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50K race which takes place June 2, 2012 in Golden Gate Canyon State Park a bit to the east of Blackhawk, Colorado. I've never run an ultra before, nor a marathon, although I have run 27 miles and I have run for six hours in the mountains summiting three peaks. Most of my runs last an hour or two, but I occasionally I go for three or so.

I registered for the race last weekend after having let a month slip by without getting out once for a run. A combination of sniffles, snow, and snags made it an effort to get out, so I allowed myself a break. Last Saturday I inaugurated my training with a two hour and twenty-five minute excursion on sloppy snow, ice, mud, and hardpacked dirt. It took about four days to not feel the effects of the run. I had a pleasant run yesterday afternoon; for a little over two hours I ran up and down hills on the North Louisville Open Space. I felt good running, but can feel the effects today, although I think running for an hour today would certainly be within reason.

I do not intend to follow a training plan, although I do have a plan. I intend to do at least one long run per week, increasing in distance as time progresses. I also intend to run uphill climbs as much as possible since this race has 9000 feet of elevation with many of the climbs of significant length. I plan on three or four rest days per week, partly because of my schedule and partly because I think rest days, after a three or four hour run, may be of more value than a couple of five mile jogs. I'd also like to drop about ten pounds in the next twelve weeks just so that I'm not carrying the weight with me. I'm at the high end of my running weight and the low end of my sedentary weight which is 181 lbs.

Yesterday was an important day. I was amused at the ambiguity of being signed up for a 31 mile race and not wanting to run because it was chilly out. The temperature was about 42 degrees and the wind was steady making for a raw day; just going from the car to the grocery store entrance was jolting. About ten minutes into the run though I was already warmer than I wanted and pulled off a fleece top and ran the rest of the time comfortable with a thermal top and windbreaker.

At this point my goal is to finish, and looking at the times from last year I expect to do that in under eight hours, but I'd like to get in a position to amend that to something closer to seven hours as the date nears. The winning mens' time from last year was 5:01 and the last place male finisher came in at 9:44.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Weekend Warrior

Months have passed since my last post. The catalyst for the hiatus was simply a technical problem; the last post I wrote would not upload and I did not persevere in investigating the cause. I still don't know why; I hope the problem has resolved itself. I didn't return to posting because I wasn't running more than a couple of times a week and didn't have much to say about it.

I had another stress fracture back in August and spent much the rest of the month and some of September recovering. Following that I was busy with teaching and I also fell into a little business of making and selling firewood. I spent a lot of spare time splitting, stacking, loading and unloading wood so I had some good upper body workouts but not much running. I typically ran a two hour trail run on Saturday or Sunday and a 3 to 5 mile run once during the week. I kept hoping to increase my overall mileage but it just wasn't happening. I've had the last two weeks off from work so I've been able to get out more. We had a big snow storm the first week which impeded my running somewhat. This past week I need 55.2 miles to reach 1000 for the year. I ran 55.3 in six outings. Evidently, I was in shape for it, but I don't think my body is conditioned to maintain that level without risking an injury. This week will have to be a blip statistically. I had been averaging about 16 per week.

I'd like to run 1500 this year. To have a chance at that, I am going to try maintaining a 25 mile per week average until our daylight hours lengthen and then I'll work up to 35 or so per week. Another goal is to avoid an injury that would put me out of commission for any length of time. Weeks with zero miles are hard to make up. I also hope to complete an ultra-length event.