Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exercise in doubt

I suspect I am not cut out to walk 350 miles to McGrath.

On some level, I can convince myself that's okay. I wasn't cut out to ride a loaded fat bike 350 miles to McGrath back in 2008, and did it anyway. However, given the speeds bicycles can move in optimal conditions, there's more of a time buffer on a bike. Foot travelers have a much slimmer range between "slow" and "too slow" — and "too slow" is exactly that.

Beat finally got our exercise cart up and running. This has been a laborious process in itself, involving much tinkering on Beat's part. He retrofitted a bicycle trailer with an extended pole attachment and Avid BB7 disc brakes, which are partially clamped onto the wheels at all times to mimic the resistance of snow (because wheels by themselves roll much too easily.) They brakes are even hooked up to brake levers on the pole for fine-tuning the resistance level. He added a wooden board to provide a firm base so the canvas bag is strong enough to hold sixty pounds of kitty litter. The whole set-up probably weighs close to eighty pounds. Heavier than a sled (at least my sled, hopefully), but the extra weight and brake resistance should balance out the advantages of pavement and gravel surfaces.

 Today we both planned to take it out for a practice run. Beat towed the cart for his commute to work, and I pedaled out later in the afternoon to swap the bike and run the cart home. The route is a flat eight miles along a paved bike path and neighborhood streets. While riding out, I took a two-mile detour to pedal along the Bay and gawk at shorebirds, because I was still enjoying myself.

 And then it was time to tow the cart home. Out in front of the Google offices, before I got my trekking poles out, the plan was to shuffle the whole way. Yeah. I figured I could play around in the hills along the shoreline and still run the ten miles in two hours. Yeah.

The hill test was fun, especially when I started down a steep singletrack and realized that the set brake resistance was not enough to stop this eighty-pound cart from jack-knifing around and dragging my body all the way down the hill. Luckily, those brake levers really did work. But as I started down the bike path toward home, the reality of the slog quickly became apparent. And amid the monotony of a paved path that runs parallel to a freeway, there was a lot of time and mental space for internal dialogue.

Gratuitous butt shot. But it illustrates the cart well and is still PG-rated, so I included it. 
"Run. Run harder."

"I'm running as hard as I can. It feels like I'm tied to a wall."

"17-minute miles, are you serious? That isn't even close to running."

"Argh, my heart rate has to be around 170 right now. No way I can sustain this in Alaska. No way I can sustain this for even another ... okay, walking. Walking now."

"You almost hit the 15-minute-mile range there. Now it's 22. Have you done any math on this yet?"

"No. No math."

"Factor in everything. Sled weight, trail conditions, weather, nutrition, accumulating fatigue. You're going to have to plan for two miles per hour average when you're not stopped at a checkpoint or sleeping. You realize that, right? Just to do the bare minimum you are going to have to be out and moving eighteen hours a day."

"That's a worst-case scenario."

"No, I think that's more of a normal-case scenario."

"Argh, my hamstrings are so tight. They're killing me. Body parts on my list to target and strengthen if I ever get a stupid idea like this in my head again and actually have enough time to work on it: 1. Hamstrings. 2. Glutes. 3. Hamstrings. 4. Shoulders. 5. Hamstrings."

"And it's not even cold here. It's seventy degrees and you're walking on a flat bike path."

"Yes, it's really hot. To pull a sled, I think you have to become like a sled dog. Sled dogs hate the heat and love the cold. Cold makes them fast. Ugh, I can feel sweat accumulating between my toes. Unless it's like minus twenty I'll probably never keep my feet dry in Alaska, and I really don't want it to be minus twenty the whole time. But I also don't want it to be forty above with Chinook winds and rain, either. That would be worse."

"You know, you're just not a strong runner. Why do this to yourself?"

"For the beautiful and terrible challenge!"

"You feel this, too, right? Aching hamstrings? Feeling as tired as a hard run for walking speeds? This is exactly the challenge you're facing. Just take the bike. It will still be a great adventure, and unless it's a repeat of 2012 bottomless fluff or some other horrendous condition that makes pushing a bike actually harder than dragging a sled ... it will be easier."

"But I haven't done any specific training on a bike this winter. I'm probably in worse shape for snow biking than I am for dragging a sled."

"That ... must be pretty bad. What have you been doing all winter?"

"I thought ... I was training ... (whimper.)"

... Yup. Pretty much managed to crush all of my confidence with one measly three hour and twelve minute, 9.5-mile cart pull. And with that, I might as well include last week's training log. To be honest I don't have a lot to say about it right now. My endurance is solid and I don't tire out much on the normal stuff I do. Glad I've been building that up, because I definitely have some long hours in front of me next month.

Week 10: January 13 to 19

Monday, Jan. 13: Road bike, 1:32, 17.5 miles, 2,570 feet of climbing.
Tuesday, Jan. 14: Run, 0:58, 5.7 miles, 625 feet of climbing. 10:11 min/mile.
Wednesday, Jan. 15: Mountain bike, 3:07, 31 miles, 3,607 feet climbing.
Thursday, Jan. 16: Run, 1:27, 8 miles, 1,288 feet climbing. 10:58 min/mile.
Friday, Jan. 17: Rest.
Saturday, Jan. 18: Run, 7:16, 31.6 miles, 6,915 feet climbing. 13:22 min/mile (moving.)
Sunday, Jan. 19: Mountain bike, 9:03, 79.3 miles, 9,298 feet climbing.

Total: 23:23, 45.3 miles run, 127.8 miles ride, 24,303 feet climbing.


  1. That cart may be the coolest training tool I have seen in a long time.

  2. The article put me in the driver''s seat. I'm tired. REALLY tired.

  3. On another note just saw Maria's South Pole Wales TV documentary. Just in case you didn't catch a link somewhere, but me thinks you prolly has. :o)

  4. You know yourself a lot better than we do, of course, but in my experience the first workout is almost required to be confidence-destroying. I bet it gets better. You're so much stronger all-around than in the past.

  5. It will get better and I know you will do fine. You pulled a sled at -30 for hours here in Fairbanks for several days. You will do fine. You will do fine. Keep repeating!

    1. Thanks Corrine. When I visualize the small pictures surrounding this adventure, I get so excited, but the big picture is so daunting. As Beat and I were discussing last night, the most intriguing challenges are the ones we're not certain we can do, and even more so the ones where the chance of failure is perhaps even greater than the chance of success. That was the impetus behind trying this on foot in the first place. I just need to remember that.

  6. Some massage, a rest day or two then get back into it!! Good luck.