Sunday, April 17, 2011

Feeling good about fitness

After I finished the Susitna 100 in mid-February, I set aside structured training. Not that my training is ever all that rigid, but pre-Su100 I was consistently putting in miles, long-effort weekends, 50K races and of course mind-numbing slogs with my sled. After the Su100, I decided to get an early start on my "off season." I dedicated more of my outdoor time to pure fun. I did a few moderately long bike rides to prepare for the White Mountains 100, but they were fun bike rides. Except for a few fun runs, I stopped running. My fitness goals were entirely focused on discovering new trails and soaking up sunshine. March was good.

Then I surprised myself by having a fairly good race in the White Mountains 100. "Maybe I'm better when I don't train," I mused when discussing it with a friend afterward. "Maybe I should just focus on fun, and not beat myself up if I have a really low-key week or three." Beat also subscribes to a similar theory. His race training plan is comprised almost entirely of racing, surrounded by relatively low-key periods of tapering and recovery.

The past three weeks have been good weeks for a recovery period. But I admit that after my somewhat indulgent March, I was starting to feel concern that my hard-earned winter fitness had finally fallen off the cliff. This weekend, with my running crash bruises and inflammation finally starting to settle a bit, I felt ready for a good "moderate" effort. Beat is still recovering from a micro-tear in his Achilles, so I set out for a "short" road ride on Saturday.

I picked a 43-mile loop that I guessed would take somewhere in the range of three hours. However, I didn't yet realize that this loop also included more than 4,000 feet of climbing and not a small number of gut-bustingly steep grades. I felt strong the entire time, if a little tentative on the road bike, but managed to keep my heart rate near or above 170 for most of the climbing. Even with slow and careful descending, I still wrapped it up in 3:03. GPS track here.

Sunday morning, Beat decided he wanted to try a "short" run. I geared up in the appropriate body armor for the jog. (Just kidding ... but really, when you think about it, padding isn't a wholly horrible idea for a klutz like me.) Our intention was short and easy and we didn't even take any water with us, and ended up running nine miles on the Rancho trails at our usual pace, in the heat of mid-day. I was pretty blown when we got home, basically woozy from dehydration, but I downed about six glasses of water and geared up for my next adventure.

During his own downtime this weekend, Beat overhauled my singlespeed with a brand new chain, grips, pedals and hydraulic brakes. He even managed to fix the busted zipper on my frame bag and switch out the studded tires for my Nanoraptors. My Karate Monkey hasn't been in this good of shape since last spring. I promised him I'd take it out to test the new parts, but the ulterior motive was, of course, to go for a late afternoon bike ride. The singlespeed is geared well for gradual climbs and really not much else, which is sort of the rub of singlespeeding. But I picked a gradual climb for testing — Steven's Creek Canyon.

Despite having felt quite tired since returning from the run, I really started to perk up again as I rode up the canyon. I veered onto Redwood Gulch Road with hopes of continuing the good climb. I forgot that the road gains more than 1,000 feet of elevation in two miles — pretty steep for my one gear when I haven't ridden more than a handful of commutes on the singlespeed since autumn. What followed was about 20 minutes of pure pain — gasping and gulping for oxygen as my heart rate shot to 180 and my all the fibers in my leg muscles threatened to burst under the strain of simply turning the cranks. I don't think I've spent that much time in zone 5 all year long. At the top I decided I deserved a reward, so I continued moderate-intensity climbing to the singletrack of the Saratoga Gap Trail, which was so stunningly fun that I continued rolling along Long Ridge, which dropped me off in unfamiliar terrain until I meandered my way over to the tip top of Steven's Creek Canyon and dropped down the long and winding trail. By the time I reached the gradual road descent, the sun had set and I was spinning the crank furiously in a futile bid for speed to beat the darkness. I ended that ride with 32 miles, 4,258 feet of climbing and fairly fried legs. GPS track here.

And still, I feel pretty good. And even after six weeks of "downtime," I feel like my body has maintained an encouraging level of both strength and endurance. Which is great, because it's just about time for me to really focus on summer goals ... and right at the top, the intimidating Tahoe Rim Trail 100.