Sunday, December 16, 2012

Adding power to the furnace — Woodside 50K

On the Skyline Trail, near mile 24 of the Woodside Ramble 50K. Photo by Sam Hsu.
Beat and I ran another 50K trail race on Saturday. A friend asked me what I was training for.

 "Beat is training to walk a thousand miles to Nome in February," I replied.

"Right. But what are you training for?"

"Well, I'm training to survive Beat's Iditarod training."

It's true. You have to be pretty fit just to stay warm and alive while exerting yourself all day in subzero temperatures. I was reminded of this last year during our New Year's trip to Shell Lake, when the simple act of walking 25 to 35 miles a day in temperatures down to 30 below left me feeling absolutely shattered at the end of every day. That kind cold-forged exhaustion makes any 50K I've run feel like an easy stroll in comparison. I keep reminding myself that Beat has to do just that and more every day for a thousand miles. I can't comprehend it, honestly, because the big picture isn't imaginable. I only know that it's possible when dissected into achievable goals, one mile at a time. I learned this back in 2008 when I (and thinking back to my endurance and experience level then, rather inexplicably) took a bicycle 350 miles to McGrath. But here, five years later, I still feel deeply intimidated at the prospect of going for long walks or rides in extreme cold. And this is exactly what we plan to do over the holidays in Fairbanks, Alaska, where we'll spend a week-plus testing Beat's Iditarod gear, hiking, and camping. Brrr. I need to make sure my inner furnace is well-powered.

The Woodside Ramble 50K in Huddart Park. As I mentioned last week, Beat and I really enjoy these organized trail runs. It's true we could go out and run thirty miles on our own, but the race structure always prompts me to push myself more than I would otherwise, whether I'm having a good day or a bad one. Plus, you can't beat the catering (Christmas Oreos and Clif Shot Bloks were my choice for this run) and the frequent friendly faces are also part of the fun (In this race, the volunteers dressed up like elves and hung Christmas lights around the aid station canopies.) We were able to meet up with our friend Steve before the race. Steve is also training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the 350-mile version. It was 37 degrees in town just before the start. Beat is making this face because it's "cold." (And note that most of the California runners in the background are still wearing shorts.)

Photo by Scott Dunlap
"Double self-portrait" with local runner/blogger extraordinaire, Scott Dunlap. Scott is well known for taking a ton of photos during his races, while still running fast and finishing near the top of the standings. The only reason he was behind us is because he was fifteen minutes late to the start. It took him about three miles to catch me. The simul-selfie was his idea. I posted his photo because my photo came out blurry. (My camera was stuck on a slow-shutter mode, and the wet air combined with a touch screen nearly prompted me to chuck it off a cliff while trying to change the settings. Touch screens on sport cameras are a terrible idea. Thanks, Sony.)

I had a good race. The one little issue was my right hip, where a persistent soreness lingers in my pelvis (it feels like a bruised bone. I'm not sure if that's the case, or if it's just a deeper tissue bruise.) I believed this injury was just "nagging" and thus easy to ignore, but by the first extended downhill, I was unhappy and running with a pronounced lope. So I slowed my pace and took a bunch of Advil (too many Advil. I need to pre-emptively limit my intake by only bringing two or three pills to these half-day races.) After that, strangely, walking uphill hurt the most. It all but forced me into a marginally faster running stride, and I eventually caught up to Beat and Steve during a long climb.

A rainstorm settled in after mile twenty. Temperatures were in the forties and there was a brisk wind up on Skyline Ridge, but running cranks out a surprising amount of heat. I put on a beanie and that was enough to feel toasty — definitely a different experience for me than being on a bike in those temperatures. The Advil overdose kicked in and I felt happy and strong through the rest of the race, and finished just a couple of minutes behind Beat and Steve in 6:08.

I've been analyzing the Woodside Ramble 50K as far as where I stand in regard to running fitness. For starters, I'm pleased that I can run 31 miles without feeling beat up  (as long as I don't fall on my face. I didn't in Woodside.) I'm becoming a little better at running downhill, although it's hard to gauge with a sore hip causing me to change my stride (soft-stepping with my right foot to minimize impact.) It's also interesting to gauge my perceived effort level. If you asked me about my effort level right after the race, I would have said "moderate." I mean, it's a six-hour 50K. I was just having fun out there. However, I recently started wearing a heart-rate monitor again, out of curiosity. In the Woodside Ramble I consistently ran between 160 and 180 beats per minute, with only a few dips below 160 and several spikes up to 180. Most calculation formulas put my maximum heart rate between 182 and 189, which means I was running at 80-90 percent of capacity for six hours. This isn't to say I don't think I could ever be faster, but apparently I work pretty damn hard for my 50K times. (And yes, I realize that a little upper-level training can go a long way.) GPS data and heart rate graph here.

But for now, faster is not the goal. Survival is. I'm feeling pretty good about our trip to Fairbanks next week, where it is currently 80 degrees colder than our fun run in 40-degree rain.

In other news, I did not get into Hardrock during Sunday's lottery (no surprises there.) I wrote a  column for Half Past Done a few days ago about the indignities of race lotteries. Truthfully I'd rather stay away from them, but so many intriguing events have lotteries in place (no surprises there.) Unless one more lottery somehow goes my way, 2013 might just be a summer of self-supported adventures. Yay!


  1. Hey Jill...I wouldn't put too much faith into the heart-rate calculation formulas...they are typically off, and it seems the better shape you are in the farther off they are (there is one formula I found a few years back that takes into account your age, weight, height, and fitness level and was the closest I've seen to being accurate, but I can't find it right now).

    I can tell you that I'm 52 and I routinely hit my 'max' HR of 185 (tho I'm not saying it's easy or painless...but the more you take your HR near your max the easier it becomes and the longer you can endure the lactic acid pain).

    Glad to hear you kept the rubber side down on this latest run. I'm still floored by Beat's upcoming death-march...and I always thought the 350 mile version was crazy...yikes! Wishing you both safe and healthy training in the coming weeks!

  2. Great to see you and Beat out there! I'm glad one of our photos came out - that misty rain tends to mess up the focus on 80% of my photos.

    Happy holidays!

  3. Woooo Fairbanks! My winter adventure this year is taking me there too, but in February. :)

    Out of curiosity, what do you do to self-treat injuries other than Ibuprofen?

  4. Question for you. Just finished reading your Great Divide book (very good read!) and have a question - what is the blue goop? I have a knee that may be interested.

  5. Karen ... really, bandaids and Neosporin. Ha! But Beat and I often use various homeopathic creams for muscle and joint soreness. I actually can't think of any brands off the top of my head, but those can be soothing in a placebo effect kind of way. When I've had overuse injuries like shin splints and knee pain, I wear neoprene braces.

    Ken — thanks! The blue goop was some kind of generic IcyHot/BenGay product for reducing joint pain. I use to use such products frequently back when I had persistent knee pain. I think they help a bit.

  6. Jill what do you normally carry on your 50k run? How much water?

  7. Do you need a place to stay in Fairbanks? I assume you are staying with friends but we will be gone part of the time if you want to stay at a house with running water up high above the ice fog. -2 at our house while it is
    -40 in the valley. We live right on trails and just above the Goldstream mushing trails It's supposed to warm up and there is plenty of snow to play in.

  8. Jill, you said you use neosporin, I was at my doctors after a bike crash and he said that most people are allergic to something (I forget what) in neosporin, which causes redness around the wound. He said to use polysporin as it doesn't affect most people and works better. Just a thought for anyone experiencing redness around the wound. Paul

  9. Maria — depends heavily on the temperatures, obviously. When it's hot I start with two liters, and even when cooler about a liter and a half. I carry until my backpack feels light and then refill at aid stations. I'm a water hoarder, though. I'd rather just carry a bunch of water than ever risk running out. (What can I say, I'd rather be comfortable and not worry about it than be marginally faster.) In Woodside I only refilled once, and probably drank about two liters total.

    Corrine — we're planning on staying at a friends' place, but your location sounds nice. How can I best get in touch with you? My e-mail address is jillhomer (at)

    Paul, thanks for the advice.

  10. Nice work! I'll be in Key West while you guys are in AK. Just think of me if you get cold :-)


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