Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Long Run

Hit the Tolt Pipeline at 5:30 this morning and finished my 30 miler at 9:40. There were some pit-stops and a refueling/stretch session at my car around 8:00, so while my average pace was 7.5 mph, it would be a little higher considering my time only while making forward progress.

Tolt was great. The hills are extremely runnable, in fact I only hiked up one hill, the 25%+ grade slope out of Blythe Park. Otherwise, my route was two out-and-backs between Woodinville and Snoqualmie Valley, and one out-and-back from Woodinville to Blythe Park in Bothell. The Pipeline has two ~15 degree kinks just before Snoqualmie, so it's essentially a straight shot except for the jog around the Red Hook Brewery on the way to Blythe Park. You'd think that this would make it quite boring, but it isn't. The hills constantly keep you entertained and never allow more than a half-mile or so of visibility of the trail ahead, and the scenery changes constantly. One moment you're running through horse farms and meadows, then through thickly-wooded valleys filled with gorgeous houses, and then across the 405.

I had 5 Gu's and 4 S-caps on the run, along with 70 oz of water. Very little for this distance, and I certainly started dragging ass the last hour. My right hip flexor/gluteus medius started to feel tweaked about 3 hours in, so I'm going to have to go back to work on it immediately (the glute was part of what caused my DNF at Rocky, the hip flexor gave me grief after Badger Mountain). More clam exercises!

Calorie burn from running was 2300 (weight x 0.63 x mileage), but if you consider my basal rate plus the exercise, my total calorie expenditure was around 2700. Eating 5 Gu's, that puts me at a net of 2200 calories burned, so I was definitely putting a strain on my reserves*. Hopefully my crazy hypothesis is correct - that training with a bare-minimum calorie intake provokes a more substantial response by the body to conserve glycogen and burn fat.

If nothing feels like absolute crap, I'll try to go for 2 hours tomorrow. Running on tired legs is good training. I need to hit mile 40, before Hope Pass at Leadville, feeling fresh and ready to do some work.

*A 150-lb man stores about 2500 calories worth of glycogen (2000 muscles, 500 liver). However, it's your leg muscles that need the energy, so some of the glycogen stored in muscles isn't going to be of much use to you while running. These numbers also assume you're "topped off". I estimate that at 120 lbs, I probably store at most 2000 if I carbo-load right before the run.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prepping for Leadville

Leadville is a rather interesting race - it's a very runnable out-and-back with most of its elevation gain concentrated between miles 40 and 60. I've heard from many folks that if you can make it over the second ascent of Hope Pass, and you keep eating and drinking, you are very likely to finish. In fact, the aid station with the greatest number of DNF's is Winfield. The prospect of a second hike up the steep side of the beast certainly has something to do with it.

With that in mind, I'm planning to do a nice, long (mileage and time) run sometime this week, probably Tuesday. I'll be heading out to the Tolt Pipeline to do some out-and-backs between Duvall and Bothell. The trail is rolling, with numerous albeit short hills. You are almost always going up or down, and it's extremely runnable...gee, sounds like a race I know. I'm aiming to do 33 miles or so, figuring just a smidge under 5 hours. 33 miles gives just under 5000ft of gain, a similar amount per mile as Leadville. Although, in this case, the gain is much more evenly spread throughout the run.

I've been testing out my right ankle lately, which has developed an instability and potentially a little tendonitis (more acute than chronic). It started after I rolled it a few too many times on a run at Cougar Mountain. The Cougar Mountain Ring trail, as it's called in 50 Trails Runs in Washington, is not so much a run as a series of jumps over rocks, logs, and roots, and around countless curves and chicanes. After my 20-miler there today, I am resolved to not set foot there whenever I'm nursing even a minor injury. Late in the run, I rolled my right ankle twice in two minutes and decided to call it a day. I don't think there is any other trail that chews me up so much. If you're looking for a good training run for the HURT 100, Cougar is certainly an option.

I picked up a Nathan 2V Elite Plus (pet peeve: there is no "normal", the "Elite Plus" is the only 2-bottle belt offered by Nathan...just call it the "2V") and tested it out at Cougar. It's great: shock cords around the belt to stash gear, removable pockets, and well-padded holsters. Hopefully it performs well at Tolt, and if it does, I'm sure I'll be using it at Leadville. Aid stations are sparse compared to other races, and I feel that I can monitor my hydration and refill better with bottles.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Olympic Peninsula Tour

 Looking out on Samish Bay from Larrabee State Park

I took a three-day tour around the Olympic Peninsula and north Puget Sound, driving from trail to trail and camping out of the back of my Jeep. I'm short enough that I can put down the rear seats and stretch out in a sleeping bag, and it's nice not having to put up/take down a tent every day.

Day 1
 Another view of the afternoon mist.

Drive: From Seattle to Bellingham, overnighting at Larrabee State Park between Puget Sound and Chuckanut Mountain.

Day 2

View of the bay from halfway up Oyster Dome.

Run: Oyster Dome Loop, 8 miles and 3000ft of gain. I was treated to a great view of Samish Bay at the top and watched clouds roll west off Chuckanut into the bay. This trail was really gnarly and gave my ankles a good workout; I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 Are your ankles and quads ready?

No, no they are not. Going up burns almost as bad as going down.

View from the top of Oyster Dome, about 2100ft.

Drive: From Bellingham to Whidbey Island via Deception Pass.

 The bluffs at Ebey; thar be whar we're headed.

Run: Out-and-back at Ebey Landing, heading northward out of the park along the bluffs, then dropping down to the lagoon and the beach to return to the park. 8 miles and maybe 400ft of gain from the initial climb and rolling hills. The trail was overgrown past 2 miles, but the dirt trail is runnable with few rocks and unobstructed views of the Sound. There was some misting rain and a weak westerly wind.

 Heading up to the bluffs along the edge of the farms.

On the bluffs looking north to the lagoon that hugs the coastline.

Running the lagoon trail, which snaked all over the place and was overgrown at the south end. Certainly the road less traveled, here.

Drive: From Whidbey Island to Port Angeles via the Keystone Ferry, overnighting at Altair campground in Elwha in the foothills of the Olympics, nestled in the Elwha River Valley.

 Bringing it home on the beach.

Day 3

 The first of many stream crossings.

Run: Hurricane Hill Trail, from the Elwha Ranger Station to the top of Hurricane Hill and back, 14 miles and 6000ft of gain. The trail is very technical and steep for the first 3 miles, but once it reaches the meadows above 4500ft it's very runnable. There were numerous stream crossings early on, surging from the unusually large snow pack this year.

 Starting to hit the high country as the underbrush disappears.

Looking beyond the meadow to the start of the craggy ridge.
I heard snorts and cries just before entering the meadow, so I made a few clicks and vocalizations. Good thing, because as I spilled around the last switchback, I was greeted with a field of about 40 deer, including a few young bucks about 100 feet away who were not going to move off the trail. I slowly bushwhacked around them, cutting a few hundred feet up the hillside.

 Chompin' on the wildflowers.

The run across the ridge to the final ascent was great, as I was treated to views of the mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. Patchy snow was still on the ground starting at around 5000ft, and on the final ascent I entered a cloud and encountered snow flurries. Visibility deteriorated to only a few hundred feet at the peak, and I could only faintly make out the other mountains.

 Ridge-running over to the final ascent.

The view from below the cloud base.

I must not have noticed it on the climb (I was pushing hard to run the whole way), but on the descent I became aware of how cold and windy it was - a brisk, northerly wind of about 10mph, combined with temperatures below freezing, started to nip at my face. I zipped up my jacket tight and entered a now curiously empty meadow...empty, save for a black bear foraging in the bushes farther downslope.

 The nice thing about running at this altitude is that you can see the bear rather than stumble into one on a wooded trail.

(S)he glanced at me briefly before returning to the fresh berries, I imagine. I have had numerous encounters with black bears, including one in the Redmond Watershed, and I've found them to be relatively docile, although I suppose that's because it's always been a solitary bear and never a mother and her cubs.

Like Icarus, reaching for the heavens only to be struck down. I wonder how much this tree had seen before its recent demise.

I dropped out of the meadow now devoid of deer and back onto the trail as it curved north around Hurricane Hill toward Elwha. The run finished rather anticlimactically, abruptly dumping me back onto Whiskey Bend Road. Because there was no running water at this campground, I took a quick bath in the Elwha River, with the added benefit of getting an ice-bath, as well. Of course, the time I decide to bathe is the same time that a group of whitewater kayakers drift on by.

Drive: From Elwha to Granny's Cafe for a hearty breakfast. If you are ever in the area, stop by and enjoy the good food and the comfy dining room. It's also the only real restaurant between Port Angeles and Forks.

 The original size is huge, but even that doesn't do the view from Cape Flattery justice.

Drive: From Granny's Cafe to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in the continental U.S. There is a short hike down to the rocks overlooking the Pacific, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Tatoosh Island. A helpful Makah woman was at the overlook, offering up her binoculars and telescopes to the visitors and pointing out the amazing biological diversity of the Cape - thousands of common murre floating around the island, sea lions sunbathing on isolated rocks, puffins fishing in the surf, and crabs on the far cliffs making a meal of barnacles and muscles affixed to the rocks. The drive to Neah Bay is slow but scenic, and everyone in town was extremely friendly.


Drive: From Neah Bay to South Beach campground, just south of Kalaloch Lodge. The campground was packed, and I ended up sharing a spot with a Canadian couple. Pro-tip: driftwood releases a lot of aromatic smoke when it's burned. It's easy to start a campfire with it, but it left my clothes and car smelling like a smokehouse. I slept with the rear window open to savor the ocean breeze - by morning it was about 40 degrees and the interior was lightly coated with salt.

Day 4

A calm morning on the lake. Actually, I think this lake is almost always glassy.

Drive: South Beach campground to Lake Quinault. Nothing but trees and logging areas for miles.

Looking off the bridge to one of the many streams that feed into Lake Quinault.

Run: Lake Quinault trails, 10 miles and 500ft of gain. This was a gentle, well-groomed trail with a few short, steep climbs and a few stretches on boardwalks through the bogs. I did pseudo-loop-out-and-back, running along the hillside on the way out to the far campgrounds, and then doubling back and running along the lake. It was a clear, pristine morning with a few thin, wispy layers of fog over the clearings near the lake.

 The trail continues up onto the bridge above the falls. There were a lot of these crossings on the hillside trails.

Drive: Lake Quinault to Seattle, stopping in Aberdeen/Hoquiam for coffee and breakfast.

Running the boardwalk through the bog.

3 days, 40 miles, and just under 10000ft of gain. I have never been out to the Olympic Peninsula, and after this trip I'm sure I'll be heading back at some point in the future. I was going to head back to run the Dosewallips-Gray Wolf Pass trail in a couple of weeks, but apparently the road has been washed out and trail conditions are a little hairy. Maybe I'll do Cle Elum Ridge, instead.

Freaking out your local doc

I went to a walk-in clinic for some dull aches in the outside of my foot, just below my ankle. I wanted to check whether it was a sprain or a dislocation (or, gulp, a stress fracture in the works) and get an idea of what I need to do to fix it.

They had a triage room where they take your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse with a single, nifty electronic device that uploads it to the computer. You can actually watch the real-time graphs on the screen! Side note: they had iPads in the office you could toy with while you waited. This was a pretty cool clinic.

Anyway, my blood pressure came out as 102/50, and my pulse was hovering around 41. The tech was really nervous, and he asked me if I was light-headed. "No, I'm feeling pretty normal now." "I'm not letting you leave here until you can get your heart rate elevated." "I run long distances, I'm pretty sure it's just that." "How long is long?" "100 miles." "They really need to train us to handle people like you."

Because we're such a handful, right?

I get this a lot whenever I see a new doctor or assistant. For the general population, a heart rate that low usually is a warning sign, as is a low diastolic pressure.

Am I bragging here? Absolutely. But I think it's a combination of genetics, which is completely an accident-of-birth thing, and some endurance training that has given me low blood pressure and a low heart rate. In high school, we did maximum heart rate testing every year. At our Winthrop running camp, we'd sprint up a 400 meter hill multiple times after a long run and take our pulse at the top. I was never able to get my heart rate above 185, and despite my own and my coach's attempts to find another method to elevate my pulse, I always hit that brick wall. It's not that I'm not working hard when I run with an aerobic heart rate of 135 - it's still 75% of my max!

Back to my current predicament, it looks like an acute injury from a rough landing - the ligaments and joint between and around the calcaneous and talus are inflamed and weakened, so it looks like a minor grade 1 sprain from an ankle inversion. The tendon and nerve bundle that runs through the area is inflamed, as well, so they either sustained damage during the inversion or they've become damaged from a change in gait over the past few weeks. Either way, I've got some Vicodin to take the inflammation down and will be icing for a week. She said that it looks pretty minor, and I can probably resume running in a week or two.

The doctor highly doubted that it was a stress fracture, although she said that it would probably still be too early for a bone scan, let alone standard radiography, to get a good reading. It might be a stress reaction (the buildup to a fracture), but a week or two off running is generally enough to nip that in the bud, anyway.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The best long run

I started my long run at Cougar Mountain at 6:30 yesterday. It was a chilly 47 degrees at the Red Town Trailhead, but ti would heat up to almost 70 degrees within 4 hours.

My plan was to do two loops of the modified Cougar Mountain Ring from 50 Trail Runs in Washington. The course circumnavigates Cougar Mountain by traveling from Red Town to Anti-Aircraft Trailhead, gaining about 600 feet of elevation, heads south to Wilderness Peak gaining another 200, drops down to Wilderness Creek Trailhead, heads 1000 feet up to Long View Peak, cruises along to Far Country Lookout, and then back to Red Town. I add a small loop on the Shangri-La and Tibbetts Creek Trails in the northeast sector of the park which adds another 400 feet of gain. There is 400 feet of gain sprinkled between the big climbs.

Total elevation gain on this 15 mile loop is 2600 feet. I bold this because the gain per mile is comparable to a 100 miler with ~18,000 feet of gain, although there are no climbs larger than 1000 feet.

I was feeling a little tired and breathing fairly hard on the climb out of Red Town on the start of the first loop, which was par for the course; on morning runs it takes me an hour to get over my sluggishness and reach cruising speed. Heading down from Wilderness Peak, I could feel my quads were still a little sore after a run down Mt. Si the day before. I got my second wind on the climb up to Long View and cruised smoothly over to Far Country and back down to Red Town. The climb up to Long View felt as tough as it always does; the slope exceeds 20% over some stretches and turns your legs into jelly by the time you reach the top.

Over the first loop I consumed 20 oz. of water and had a Gu a few minutes before reaching the start/end at Red Town. I was also taking one S-cap per hour, starting at the first half hour. Total time for the first lap was 2:08. I swapped bottles and headed back out up Cave Hole Trail, feeling much stronger after the Gu.

The sun was starting to break through the trees and heat up the trails, and the cool mist that had settled into the ravines around the quarry was long gone. I had to dodge a lot of hikers on this lap, and while I was feeling the effects of those feel-good hormones, my mind was started to drift a bit - no doubt because I was intentionally eating almost nothing and drinking only water. This was one of my depletion runs, the idea being that if I stress my body by making it run almost completely on its own fuel, it will adapt to burning fat and conserving glycogen much faster than it would if I was getting a more reasonable amount of calories.

I popped a Gu just as I crested Wilderness Creek and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I could already feel my strength picking back up. I absolutely destroyed the climb, bounding up the ultra-steep sections and keeping my momentum over each peak. My run over to Far Country and back to Red Town felt great, as well, and despite being 4 hours into the run I felt fluid and wide awake. Total time on the last loop was 2:02, a negative split!

While I burned 2,500 calories, I ate only 200 during the run. I had 3 S-caps during the run (each has 13% of the daily value of sodium) and drank 44 ounces of water. Total time was 4:10 for 30 miles and 5200 feet of gain, which translates to a 3:37 marathon over exceptionally twisty trails loaded with rocks and roots. At no point did I push the pace, keeping my heart rate very close to 130 (my aerobic zone, I have a max rate of about 185). I finished feeling good and slept like a rock last night.