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!