Friday, May 25, 2012

The road ahead

On Monday, I saw my doctor for an annual physical. I was convinced my blood tests were going to show something — low blood glucose levels, iron deficiency, something. Nope. Normal. The doctor asked questions about sleep, weight loss, and stress, which have also worked their way back to normal. Then my doctor had the nerve to suggest that the symptoms I described — general sluggishness, sudden bouts of fatigue in the middle of the day, and lower energy levels — probably had something to do with "the endurance exercise."


But as much as I can understand what's going on with my own body, I really do feel like I'm starting to emerge after several weeks under water, and the Ohlone 50K was my first hit of fresh air in what feels like a while. I suspect that my "fun" spring of biking was a lot more difficult for me than I was willing to admit, and the "short" bikepacking race — the Stagecoach 400 — required me to dig a lot deeper into my reserves, and therefore required more recovery, than I wanted to believe. For example, on day two of the Stagecoach 400, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. in Fish Creek Wash and spent the next fifteen hours making my way to Alpine, which was 70 miles away. I had one hour-long breakfast break in there, but for the remaining fourteen hours I was struggling at the crumbling edge of a sustainable pace, in temperatures that topped 90 degrees, for an average moving speed that essentially matched my Ohlone 50K pace. That was just one day of the 400-mile race, and not even a full day, because I continued beyond Alpine for three more hours in the late evening.

The Ohlone 50K, by comparison, was a lot smoother. I'm actually thrilled about how well that race went for me. After feeling like lukewarm road kill for most of the morning, I crossed the threshold of more reasonable daytime hours (for me, the hours after 9 a.m.) and didn't experience much of a struggle for the rest of the day. I was near the end of the line during the climb to Mission Peak, and slowly moved up in the pack during the race. I ended up finishing 71st of 230 starters, and 14th of 67 women ... which, I think it's fair to say, is solidly top third. And although my failure to train for running meant I wouldn't have been able to run it much faster, I do feel I could have run a fair amount farther. If someone told me I could win $1,000 if I turned around and ran the whole course backward for a full 100K, I might have been willing to give it a try. Yeah, I know, it's easy to say that now. But I felt good at the finish of the Ohlone 50K, and recovery runs since haven't even shown the same levels of sluggishness that I was feeling before the Stagecoach 400.

I'm still slow. BUT, I feel like my long-distance endurance is actually pretty good right now. Which, give my aspirations for a potential 46-hour death march at UTMB in three months, is a good place to be.

Good rest and regular fun bike rides are still a priority for me right now, in hope that I do finally dig myself out of my springtime slump. But I at least feel slightly less gloom and doom for the next "benchmark" event I've gotten myself entangled in, the Laurel Highlands Ultra. Beat signed up for this 70.5-mile trail race in southwestern Pennsylvania because his friend Tim Hewitt — the godfather of human-powered Iditarod Trail travel — told him it would be "fun." I admit I have a different opinion about the potential agony of 70 miles of rocky, rooty, steep East Coast trails, but I agreed to sign up as well because I need mental (not to mention foot) conditioning for UTMB. Given the technical aspect of the Laurel Highlands Trail and the race's fairly tight time cut-off that will require me to move faster than my "all day all night" jogging/hiking pace, I still have heavy doubts that I can finish that race. But at least I'm slightly less convinced of my imminent demise on June 9. 


  1. Love Laurel Highlands! And for east coast, the trails are relatively good from what I remember. Maybe a little rocky in parts but overall not too bad. And lovely! Tons of ferns. Have fun! I hope to run that one again someday.

  2. While you're in the area....

  3. Jill,

    We all get these slumps of slow, sluggish exhaustion and I often find myself chronically blaming low iron, my usual culprit, but sometimes I'm baffled that it's not the answer. I think there's a point of endurance training/racing (and you certainly seem to have been beyond the edge of my experience on this) where my body only knows how to do slow and sluggish and it carries over into daily life too. Sometimes a few short, 3 mile days of "speedwork" (on foot, bike, etc.) can trick your body into metabolizing and functioning differently... just food for thought. Glad you're feeling better though.

    Have fun at Laurel Highlands, that area is spectacular, beautiful and green, green, green!

  4. I've always wanted to backpack the Laurel Highlands Trail. I grew up in Pittsburgh. And if the trail is anything like the hills in Pittsburgh, they are relentless and never ending.

    I might add that you can probably say southwestern PA is out east, but I certainly wouldn't call it East Coast. Don't you have to be near an ocean or something to call it a coast? I never saw an ocean in western PA, unless Lake Erie counts.

    Have fun, it's an interesting part of the country to say the least.

  5. Jill,

    If you're open to advice, consider experimenting with your diet. I should preface this with stating that I'm not a doctor nor dietitian, and my suggestion is based soley on observation and is made with the hope to perhaps help you or others reading this.

    I've known several friends and family in recent years that have had similar energy issues and benefitted from diet modifications, including my daughter and x-wife. While some I'm talking about were seriously ill, others just felt "blah". An important lesson I learned through them is that modern medicine is great at telling you what you don't have (per this blog, you just experienced this). But if you have something somewhat less common, especially a dietary or digestive track issue, modern medicine pretty much fails and you have to be your own doctor.

    Of those I've watched and in myself, here's a top-6 list of basic things that people have cut out/seriously cut back on that helped them feel better:

    milk (cultured milk like yogurt maybe ok)
    hard to digest meats like beef & pork

    Personally I don't consider myself to have had serious issues, but in seeing my friends and family benefit from cutting those things out, I have cut back on them considerably and added much more fruits and vegetables. I generally feel more healthy and energetic now. Variety and non-processed foods are key things I shoot for. I shop mostly on the peremeter of the super market where the whole foods are and only periodically get things in the middle of the market where the processed foods are.

    I don't know that I can offer much advice with respect to endurance events, other than eat lots of nuts. Raw nuts are light, packed with calories, and offer slow-energy release. They are often a critical food on the longer rides I do (2-8 hours) and they have never failed to keep me from bonking.

  6. That's a great picture, Jill!

  7. The weather in the area is supposed to be scattered rain between now until Thursday night, then lows in the lower 50's Friday night, then highs on Saturday in the lower 70's. It'll probably be a little muddy on the trail from the week's worth of scattered rain.


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