Thursday, December 02, 2010

Back to the learning curve

The loose snow churned under my tires as I ground up a nondescript logging road that’s steep in the summer, and practically vertical when smothered in winter powder. Temperatures dropped to eyelash-freezing levels as Bill pedaled behind me. We didn’t say much. I was breathing hard and concentrating harder, and both activities seemed to strain my sore muscles that weren’t exactly making the most of this “rest day.” All I wanted was a relaxing Tuesday night ride, but that was before we pushed our bikes through shin-deep powder on the Kim Williams Trail, pedaled over snow and ice-crusted railroad tracks and then climbed the packed snow on Deer Creek Road, all on a 37-pound Pugsley with a mere 8 psi of air in the wide tires. Finally at our intended destination — the logging road — we discovered the snow was deeper than we anticipated. Bill was struggling to hold my line with his skinny tires. I stopped to catch a breath amid a swirl of frosted air. “Everything is so much harder in the winter, everything,” I said.

The tables turned when we flipped around and worked our way back to the paved Pattee Canyon Road. Bill’s studded tires gripped the thick layer of ice but Pugsley skidded with a terrifying lack of restraint as my numb fingers pumped the brakes and numb butt cheeks clenched into a frozen knot. Halfway down the canyon, we saw Norm out for a hike and agreed to meet for a slice of pizza. We met up at the Bridge, where I shivered until my toes and ears went numb as well, then rode stiffly home. Bill has this habit of GPS’ing rides to gauge his effort, although his Garmin doesn’t measure the impact of snow and ice, which in my opinion makes a much bigger difference than distance and elevation. In three hours we rode 21.4 miles and climbed 2,136 feet in temperatures around 23 degrees. When I was training for the 2006 Sustina 100, a three- or four-hour ride was about the most I ever got myself into, except for a select few "long" weekend efforts. “Since when did three hours of sustained hard effort become a rest day for me?” I wondered.

I think about the 2006 Susitna 100 often these days, probably because I’ve recently been struck through the heart with similar fear, excitement and newness. Racing, for me, is a simple metaphor for life — it’s about living through a seeming lifetime’s worth of pain, joy, frustration, despair, exhilaration, beauty and happiness in the span of a day, or sometimes a week, or sometimes three weeks. Training is practice for life, and it’s a beautiful way to live. There is much to “train” for, because so much in my life is beautiful and rich right now — from these cold white winter days in the snow-drenched mountains of Montana, to spending time with Beat and rediscovering that passion really is amplified when it’s shared. Beat, like me, likes to drink life by the gallon and won’t apologize when others tell him that’s an excessive amount. We don’t waste much time worrying about the broad future that we can’t control anyway, but we do like to scheme and dream about future adventures — and in 2011, for both us, there’s a lot of untread ground.

Wednesday wasn’t a rest day. I penciled in a three-hour run, which seemed a reasonable increase given my base fitness and minimal time I have left to “practice” running before February. I invited Bill, who hasn’t even started his 2011 race training yet and thus can still tag along for strange, slow adventures. We jogged through town and clawed our way up the face of Mount Sentinel, where the snow really became deep. We ran down the other side through the thick powder, sometimes staggering as though we were mired in a bottomless pit of sand. If I shifted my stride to a walk I was able to hold about the same speed as I could running, but the point of the excursion was to run, so I lifted my legs out of the snow with all of the effort my jagged muscles would allow. “If the conditions are like this in the Su, I won’t finish,” I said. “At the same time, I’d be perfectly happy to average 3 mph in the Su.”

Still, Wednesday’s run amounted to 10 miles, not 100. According to Bill’s Garmin, we moved 10.22 miles and climbed 2,262 feet in three hours. Again, Garmin knew nothing of the deep, loose snow, which after the stacked efforts of this week made it my hardest run yet, even compared to the longer runs in Banff. I walked stiffly into my warm house and remembered exactly what it used to feel like, coming home after my 2006 training rides: fatigued, terrified, partially frozen ... and strangely — almost blissfully — content. Whereas Tuesday contained familiar hardships, on Wednesday I was back to new territory. I realize, come what may, this is exactly where I want to be. It’s all a beautiful, grand experiment, just like life.


  1. I like the critter tracks and the snow ball trails behind me in that picture. Here are my stats while reading your great post. According to my Garmin :)

    Time: 4:17
    Distance: .001 mi
    Average HR: 48 bpm
    Max HR: 67 bpm
    Temp: 73 degrees
    Elevation gain: 0 ft
    Calories: 1.45 C

    Note my max heart rate. It happened when you mentioned pizza. My chair moved slightly causing the .001 mile too. Anyway it is great to take part in your adventures ... mucho fun.

  2. Ha ha, Bill. I actually really like looking at your Garmin stats. I need to get one of my own for those runs/rides when you're not around. Otherwise I'm likely to double or triple the actual distances in my own mind. I still can't believe we *only* did 10 miles last night. :-)

    Always a pleasure to adventure with you.

  3. Jill- I have always meant to ask what your food intake looks like while you are training, do you up your carbs, eat the same as you normally do? As a more sediment person it always makes me laugh to here the sort of junk food you eat just too keep moving during a long adventure.

  4. Thanks Logan. Although I have sugar, caffeine and Diet Pepsi addictions that I'm not proud of, for the most part my diet is fairly healthy: Low fat with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (I'm a single person who buys my produce in bulk at Costco.) I usually eat raw veggies in the form of huge salads with basalmic vinegar and some sort of protein, like edamame or eggs. I also frequently eat sandwiches and pasta. I don't eat much meat but do tend to consume a lot of dairy, mostly in the form of skim milk and yogurt, and of course cheese and occsionally ice cream. I'm happy with my diet because it's simple, adaptable and gives me lots of energy, and my weight doesn't tend to fluctuate much at all regardless of what level of training I'm involved in, although I, like most people, wouldn't mind dropping another five pounds or so. ;-)

    I avoid candy unless I'm working out, but do often use candy bars as energy food (although much more these days I mainly use Odwalla Bars and Lara Bars, with a Twix Bar as a summit treat of sorts.) I don't comsume any calories during efforts shorter than three hours, and have yet to figure out how my stomach will react to food during runs of longer distances (gulp.) As a cyclist, I despise liquid nutrition but did relent to buying a couple big bottles of Hammer Gel to test out on runs (I have yet to use this extensively, because I don't actually enjoy it, I can only tolerate it, and tend to avoid consuming gel until I'm starving.)

    The reason I fuel with junk food during long efforts is because that's what my body craves, and it's the only kind of food I've been able to eat large enough amounts of to keep my energy level up during sustained exercise. In the past I tried to go "healthy" with performance foods and ended up bonking, frequently. During the 2008 Iditarod, it became an actual survival issue (I was so bonked I struggled to keep moving forward in extreme cold, remote conditions.) So for now I'm a junk food junkie, but I don't necessarily advocate it, because once you start relying on simple sugars, you do have to keep up the intake to avoid the dreaded sugar crash. Plus it's bad for your teeth, and gives you and addiction that makes you fat, and all that ... :-)

  5. That was a truly awesome response to my question, and the last part made me chuckle :) Thank you!

  6. Hi Jill, I used to race now I am more about meditation and solitude in my long hikes and runs..but I can relate. Just watch the knees. And how do you put that nice photo and caption up at the top? I am blogger challenged...

  7. If it aren’t broke, don’t………

    Jill I don’t understand why you would want to tamper with your successful and proven fueling strategy? You have proven results using what you know, from hard earned experience, works best for you. Not saying you might not need to tweak/optimize a bit for a run vs a ride BUT imo you should trust your own hard won experience.

    I know is 101 stuff to you but at the end of the day being able to get the carbs in is always the MAIN factor. Unless changing increases the total carbs successfully going in, over time while under load, then you will you will not be gaining any competitive benefit. Just the opposite in fact.

    In basic factual terms, if a particular/personal choice of sugars (simple or otherwise) successfully convert at high enough rate/amounts to body fuel (glucose) the body keeps going. If not the body falters, end of story, period, game over..

    As you already know/pointed out & said a bit differently--, the theoretical ‘best’ mix of sugars is worthless as body fuel as a frozen lump of weight - in a pack or pocket.

    Anyway good luck Jill in your training and race—Sharon and I will be following along as you post

    & nice writing, as always


  8. I feel the same way about work hours!

    I'm lucky to have a 12-9pm shift, so it gives me plenty of time to workout before going in, and its perfect in the summertime. But, come winter, I start to wish I had the 6am-3pm shift so I could take advantage of the warmth.

    When I'm all growed up and edumacated, I'm hoping for a night shift at the hospital. That way I'll have all day to workout and nap =)

  9. I was going to suggest Bill gets a heart rate monitor so you can see how hard that snow is but sadly, it seems like Bill is a fit SoB and none of your effort seems to have shown up at all. 67 max.! Good grief! My heart doesn't get out of bed for that.

  10. Ya gotta love a "rest day" anything goes, and sometimes energy shows up from who knows where.

  11. "Drink life by the gallon and don’t apologize when others tell you that’s an excessive amount." I'd like to use this as a motivator for myself, if you don't mind?


Feedback is always appreciated!