Sunday, April 22, 2012

Embracing the slump

Leah climbs out of Rodeo Valley during our Wednesday evening ride in the Marin Headlands.
As soon as my bike tour ended, the tired returned. I can't say there was anything about the trip — besides the obvious energy deficit during the low-calorie day — that made me feel especially fatigued. But as soon as I stopped pedaling, recovery mode set in deep. My quads felt shredded in such a way that the remaining intact fibers were holding on by threads — in other words, sore and tight. I rested over the weekend and embarked on one run to try to work out the muscle soreness, but that just made my knees ache. There were renewed desires to take naps in the middle of bike rides. Despite concerns about the big effort looming at the end of the month, I couldn't feel too frustrated about my fatigue; I try not to let myself to succumb to frustration for conditions I know are self-inflicted. At the same time, the fatigue was frustrating because it didn't necessarily make sense. My "training volume" hasn't been much different than any other point during the winter, or fall for that matter. Perhaps it's the rapidly shifting weather, mourning the end of winter, entering the "off season." Either way, my fitness is only as good as the intriguing and fun things it lets me do, or the beautiful places it lets me visit. I am tapering with survival of the Stagecoach 400 in mind, but I still snuck a few fun hours outside amid the resting. I wouldn't let sub-optimal fitness stop me unless I thought it might literally stop me.

Fog moving in over San Francisco 
On Wednesday I went riding in Marin with Leah. We started in the city, rode through town, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and pedaled up and down, up and down, up and down the quiet hills of the Headlands. I love riding in this region because of the dynamic transitions between urban and trail riding, and also because the scenery never disappoints. We watched fog roll in from the Pacific and cloak the peaks, then descended into valleys saturated in rich evening light. The ride ended with deep dish pizza and discussions late into the evening about adventure possibilities in Northern California. There wasn't a second in the evening that I would trade for a rest day. Which is my problem, really. It's really just a matter of my own motivations and rewards. I'd rather be "out-of- shape active" than bored and fit.

Already rocking the biker tan
The next morning's planned mountain bike loop with friends came all too early, and sore quads compelled me to cut my own ride short. Then came another day of rest, followed by today, when the high temperature was forecast to top 90 degrees. Normally, temperatures like that combined with a better excuse to taper would prompt me to stay indoors. But I've been working on acclimating to heat in preparation for my ride across the desert in Southern California. Until today, this involved 35 minutes in the sauna, nearly every night. Although sedentary, the sauna acclimation seemed to be working. My paperback copy of "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" had nearly disintegrated, and I was up to roasting myself in temperatures over 180 degrees (the safe temperature of cooked chicken) without almost passing out, unless I sat up too fast. It's been a wonderfully cool spring in the Bay Area, but today the outdoors finally cranked out enough heat to put my sauna training to the test.

Beat and I set out for a run on Black Mountain Trail, a steep and often sun-exposed route that climbs 2,900 feet in 10 miles round trip. The trail winds through a wind-protected canyon, where hot air just sits and stagnates like an outdoor sauna. I've only embarked on about five trail runs since March, but I keep receiving ominous weekly tweets from Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (only 19 more weeks!) and I figured it would be wise to starting putting my running muscles back in motion. But considering my lack of running, the sudden burst of heat and accumulated cycling fatigue, I started the run expecting to feel really bad the whole time.

The run actually went well. I was vaguely sick to my stomach, most likely from drinking too much water, but I figured out if I could coax myself to run just a little bit faster, I actually felt a bit of a breeze. Even though I haven't experienced any heat over 70 degrees outside the sauna since last year, I made it through without almost passing out. When we returned to the car it was 93 degrees in the shade. I'm willing to chalk that one up to successful sauna training. Also, I think the rest days — even when sandwiched between still-difficult efforts — are helping. I plan to take a few more before it's time to tackle 400 miles of sun-drenched Southern California. 


  1. I love your pictures of our ride! The headlands are magical...

  2. We're supposed to cool down again this week with Rain Weds-Thursday.

  3. Have you considered the possibility of allergies as a contributor to your fatigue? I had experienced many of the same symptoms in the past you've mentioned and allergies were the culprit. Many people develop them as they get older, such as I have, sometime in their 30-40's. Love the headlands area, thanks for the pictures! Can't wait to hear more about your upcoming race plans!

  4. Do you like your Hokas? Worth the investment or not so much?

  5. Carey,

    I firmly think only you can figure out if a shoe works for you. It really depends on what you want, how you run etc. That said, I can tell you my experiences.
    I really want the Hokas to work for me. One reason is that in my ultralong adventures, the extra softness (which is very considerable) really can help *I think*. What I found with some models so far is that - because I use custom orthotics, maybe - they make my ankles a lot more unstable (despite what they claim). This seems a little better with the Stinson Evo for me, or I might just get used to them. Also I found in a 50k I ran with some Bondi B's that I got some cramps in my calves I think because I run differently in the Hokas. I blieve they're - for me - different enough I need to adapt slowly to running with them. I do also think I can eventually enjoy them fully, but I am not planning on giving up my staple shoe either (Vasque Velocity II these days, they just seem to work for me, but they're much harder and more old-school trail runner burly).
    Some people take very quickly to the Hokas. Some can work themselves up to it. I would recommend getting them at a store where you can return them. If they do work, they really are soft, which I am sure helps with fatigue (I saw lots of people use them in the 200 mile race in Italy I did). They have been used by many people in many different (and extreme) situations without problems, so it's not just a fad shoe I would say.
    As with everything in running - ramp up slowly, back off if things hurt/don't seem right, and don't believe anything!

    Cheers, Beat

  6. I'm so stoked by your picture of Beat on the Black Mountain trail! As a teen I hiked it many times, rode it once on a Stingray (before mtbs and rules), tobogganed it, and toasted my eyeball trying to see comet Kahoutek through a telescope carried to the summit. Thanks for the view!


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