Monday, February 21, 2011

Hagg Lake 50K, aka the Hagg Mudd


I’m divided in my choice to run Hagg Lake. On the one hand, I ran with a fast field on a very nasty course – that makes for a good experience and a lot of lessons to learn. On the other hand, holy cripes mud.

I backed out of a parking space at my hotel in Forest Grove and almost did a 180 in the parking lot – the snow and slush that fell the night before had iced the roads! Not good news!

 You just mad 'cuz I'm stylin' on you.

The first four miles of the race take place on an out-and-back that runs up into the hills around the lake. The surfaces were still icy so everyone more or less shuffled out of the parking lot and onto the road. I caught up with a guy I saw at White River and Pine to Palm and we chatted on the way up the hill.

Coming back into Sain Creek we finally hit the trail and were treated to some muddy stretches that opened up into the first “crossing”. Basically, you drop down into a mud pit, ford through a stream, cross over some semi-floating logs, and scramble up a steep slope. I was a bit surprised at how rugged this was, but given the rest of the trail this honestly was pretty tame.

The last stretch between Sain and the next aid station includes a 1.5-mile section of road that straddles the earthen dam on the south side of the lake. There was a strong, steady wind blowing off the lake and advecting plenty of cold air – I was glad I wore two layers for the first lap. Nevetheless, it was nice to clear my treads of mud and get a reprieve from the slick trail.

 Well at least the sun was shining.

The next section was mostly unremarkable with respect to landmarks, but it really gave me a feel for the trail around the lake as a whole: a lot of short, steep hills, reasonably sharp turns, and a shit-ton of mud. I mean a lot of mud. On a number of uphills I started to slip backward, and you essentially had to skate the downhills – you’d put your foot down and slide. I’m honestly amazed that I only fell twice here, and managed to catch myself with my hands each time.

From the north aid station back to Sain Creek, we were treated to periodic romps through hilly meadows, which gave us a nice view of the lake and the finish. Unfortunately, because the lake has so many inlets, you keep thinking that you’re getting closer to Sain, only to twist back around into another cove.

It rained and snowed the night before, which might explain why these exposed meadows were so insanely muddy (amazingly, more so than the rest of the trail). Not only was there thick mud, but huge puddles and streams of runoff, too. At this point I stopped trying to avoid it and just forded on through.

The drop-bag, aka, dump-all-your-belongings-here, area.

I hit Sain Creek at 2:31 and stopped for a few minutes to take care of some GI issues, grab more Gu, and shed my thermal top and gloves. This stretch was relaxing – relative to the rest of the loop, the mud on these trails was tame and the winds had died a bit on the dam road.

From the dam aid station to the northern aid station, I ran entirely alone, only occasionally passing an early-starter. I hit a soft wall around mile 24 and had to walk a few of the steep, muddy hills, but that was probably faster than trying to run them and slipping backwards.

I was incredibly happy when I hit the last aid station, because I had conserved some energy and was starting to get into a nice groove on the mud. It’s difficult to adapt to such conditions for the first time, but I finally figured out that it takes a combination of abdominal muscles and glutes to get up a good trot through the slop. That, and a really high cadence.

 Just when you thought it was over, you get one last taste of Hagg mud.

When I hit the last road section I started to accelerate – with two miles left and at 4:46, I was feeling pretty good! I slid down from the road to the lake and hit the last section of uber-muddy trail. Unlike previous sections, the last mile of trail is an unavoidable mess. There are no patches of grass or berms to try and skip to – it’s pure slop, with long sections of standing water. You can feel the mud sucking down your shoes (or Fivefingers).

I passed someone with about one mile left and really turned on the afterburners, smoking through the parking lots and the last section of trail. I flew into the finish chute just a few seconds over 5 hours and the miles of slick trail finally hit me. Damn that was hard. The effects of running in mud for 31 miles is sticking with me even days later.

 Feels good, man.

I won a pair of Mountain Hardwear running gloves, which was pretty cool, and grabbed coffee and a grilled cheese before hitting the road back to Seattle. I did stop for a burger and a milkshake at Burgerville in Vancouver (I hope they expand into Seattle; grass-fed beef burgers, craft beer, salads? Damn son.)

So how did the Vibrams fare? The Treks do not have as good a grip on mud as many trail shoes, unfortunately, and this was very obvious today. Yes, on dry trails with roots and other obstacles, they are an advantage; they were hard to deal with today. However, my new Zoot compression calf sleeves rocked – my calves feel great right now, a lot better than my hips and ankles.

 Any questions?

Thanks to all of the volunteers and the photographers out on the course on this bitterly cold and muddy day.

There are some photos from the event at the Hagg Lake Facebook page, and I suspect more will be trickling in over the next few days.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Horsetooth Mountain, Fort Collins, CO

I was in Fort Collins visiting the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science this past weekend. The weather on Sunday was amazing, with temperatures in the mid-sixties from strong downslope winds, so I took the opportunity to go for a second run after my morning run along the Poudre River.

I drove up to the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, just west of the Horsetooth Reservoir overlooking the town (which, as you will see in the photos, was still frozen over). Keep in mind that in all of these photos, it's about 55-70 degrees depending upon whether it was shady or near a lot of snow. I was running through the snow without a shirt, definitely a first.

Click the pictures to enbiggenate. 

About one-quarter of the way up, the wide service trail was covered in packed snow. This was really slippery on the way down and I almost careened into a snowpack multiple times.

I don't know, I just thought this little scene looked cool.

Looking at the reservoir and at the city beyond from halfway up. The temperature started to increase over the course of the ascent, and I was periodically belted with hot chinook winds.

Looking west about two-thirds of the way to the top. There were strong sustained winds from here on up to the top of Horsetooth that made keeping my balance on the snow difficult.

You have to scramble a bit on the rocks to get to the absolute top, which was a little tricky. I was more or less trying to hold on to the rock to prevent myself from getting blown off by the wind; it was about 30+ mph up there!

Colorado running is absolutely spectacular, there is nothing else to say.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A running pilgrimage

After I graduate this spring I'll have one or two months to chill before moving off to Colorado for graduate school. I have a couple of ultras lined up (Mountains to Sound, White River 50, and perhaps a 50K or two), but I've decided to travel around Washington and potentially Oregon and go for trail runs in as many places as possible. This may be an ad-hoc trip with minimal planning, sort of a travel-as-much-as-I-feel-each-day thing.

My plan is to drive from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula and hit two or three big trail runs I've been meaning to try: Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Rain Forest, and possibly a run along the Pacific and Strait of Juan de Fuca around Neah Bay and Tatoosh Island. I will be avoiding Forks like the plague because I've heard that it has become infested with Twilight fans.

From there, I'd like to do some runs around northwest Oregon: Astoria, Mt. Hood, and Portland. Astoria is one of my favorite towns, for two reasons: it's situated on a hill by the Columbia, so it has my two favorite features for good running, elevation and water. I've never been to Mt. Hood, and while I've stayed in Portland I have yet to run there.

Then, I think it's back to Washington. Maybe hit up Yakima and do a long run around the rim, head to Leavensworth and traverse the cross country ski trails, head back to Winthrop or some area in the Okanogan National Forest (I have fond memories of cross country camp in Winthrop). I'd like to hit up the North Cascades, maybe the Ross Lake area - the lakes there have that fantastic blue-green tint and the sharp, staggering peaks need to be conquered.

From there, I think it's worth running in Bellingham and checking out Chuckanut Mountain. I wasn't able to register for the Chuckanet 50K this year since it was sold out in a few hours. After that, maybe hit Whidbey on the way back to Seattle.

This could be done comfortably in around a week, assuming I do a few two-a-days.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weight after an endurance event

I've kept close track of my weight after my last ultra, and it reflects a similar discussion over at Kevin Sayer's website. I unfortunately don't have any data for my weight 24 hours after running.

Days after the ultra / weight
Day 1: 123
Day 2: 124.5
Day 3: 122
Day 4: 117
Day 5: 119

A big increase around 48-60 hours after the event, followed by what looks like an overcompensating plummet to far below my normal weight. What gives?

Well, during an ultra your body starts producing a cocktail of hormones en masse that will help you keep running. These include your cliched endorphins, which act like a mild opiate, and cortisol, which aids in fat metabolism. There are also elevated levels of many enzymes, especially creatine kinase which tends to become superelevated in an ultra from the high degree of damage to muscle tissue, but that's another post.

The big player here, though, is vasopression. Also called anti-diuretic hormone, its release encourages the re-absorption of fluids by the kidneys. This is obviously helpful during the event - you conserve water and as a result have to drink less than you would had this hormone not kicked in. Additionally, it means you aren't going to be peeing after every bottle of fluid.

My hypothesis is two pronged. 1), vasopressin is probably, like most other hormones, so elevated during an ultra that it takes a significant amount of time to decay to its resting level, and 2), the body continues to secrete it for up to 48 hours after the event. I believe that the latter is critical to help explain the continued increase in water weight after the race; essentially, the body is still in endurance mode. Perhaps it is keeping you prepared for further running, but I think it may be a survival mechanism. In our evolutionary history, we did not have big barbecues at the finish line with beer and plenty of water. We were still working with scarce resources, and the longer you can conserve water after a big endurance effort, the better.

Does this explain the puffy feet and ankles following an ultra? I think it's sort of a confounding factor. You've been on your feet and engaging your lower legs for 10+ hours, I would expect a little pooling. Perhaps there's also the issue of damaged muscle cells spilling fluids and other items into the muscle tissue, and the body working hard to clean it out.

I don't know, but studying the physiology and biology of ultrarunning would make for a fantastic dissertation.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two weeks of tapering

Going to start posting my weekly log, primarily because my Garmin watch battery has died so I have lost the convenience of it automatically downloading all of my runs to a file. Beware when you buy these GPS watches, the batteries eventually run down. If there are some on the market with replaceable batteries, look only at those, otherwise I would stay away. The service price is almost as much as a new watch.


Monday (17th): 8 miles up the Burke, through Ravenna Park, and along the south shore of Greenlake.

Tuesday (18th): Rest.

Wednesday (19th): 8 miles with 4 miles at theshold on the Burke Gilman. I went out to the end of the Burke in Salmon Bay and back, and I'm amazed that I never knew that Google and Adobe have fairly large offices along the canal from Lake Union to the Sound. I am incredibly jealous of their cafeteria - they have beers on tap from local breweries.

Thursday (20th): 8 miles in the Arboretum and Foster's Island.

Friday (21st): Rest.

Saturday (22nd): 22 miles at Cougar Mountain. I was going to hit up the Iron Horse Trail for a contour run but I read that it requires a permit during this time of year. Lame. Two classic loops around Cougar with the big climb on the backside, and sans the small loop near Indian Trail.

Sunday (23rd): Rest.

First taper week total: 56 miles, ~3000ft vertical.

Monday (24th): 10 miles out-and-back to Lower Woodland via the Burke Gilman and Ravenna Park/Avenue. I did a circuit around the Lower Woodland 5K course which brought back memories. Having climbed 5000'+ peaks in my ultras, widowmaker and the camel humps seem like anthills.

Tuesday (25th): Rest.

Wednesday (26th): 8 miles out-and-back on the Burke Gilman.

Thursday (27th): Rest.

Friday (28st): 8 miles out-and-back to "the wall" through the Arboretum.

Saturday (29nd): 14 miles out-and-back to Golden Gardens. This uses the same route as the Mountains to Sound Relay, which has recently became one of my favorite runs. It hangs out on the Burke Gilman from the UW to its end at the Fred Meyer in Salmon Bay, snaking all the way along the north shore of Lake Union. From there, I run on Shilshole Avenue and follow the train tracks to the Chittenden Locks. I feel like this is fairly safe, even during the week when there is industrial traffic, because the shoulders on the road are huge and the tracks are a terminal railyard. After the train tracks the Burke Gilman starts up again and runs parallel to the sound until it terminates at Golden Gardens.

Sunday (30rd): 4 miles barefoot on the Burke. It was close to freezing and didn't feel particularly good on my feet, but it's been a while since I've done this much barefooting. Like playing guitar, you lose the conditioning of your skin if you don't keep it up.

Second taper week total: 44 miles, ~1000ft vertical.

Going into the third and final week before the 100, I will run maybe once or twice and spend the other days stretching, doing some strength work on my stabilizer muscles, and getting rested. I find that the best tapering starts slowly, losing maybe 10% the first week and 20% the second week, then plummeting by 80%+. You feel so rested and energized, and by the time you get to the start you can't wait to race.