Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weekend on the move

After several years of self-experimentation, if one were to ask me what I believe to be the best training for maximizing endurance, my answer would be back-to-back-(etc.) long days on the move, with little time for recovery in between. Doing so forces one to approach greater sustainability, while learning how to increase efficiency, more accurately interpret body signals, and build all those activity-specific slow-twitch muscles. I like to mix up my two main sports (trail running and cycling) in order to reduce repetitive motion, which, thanks to my shrinking violet attitude toward speed, has been the main catalyst of my own sports injuries over the years. (Actually, this is untrue. Clumsiness and crashing have been by far the main catalyst of my own sports injuries. Lack of natural coordination is one of the largest reasons why I have such aversion to speed.) I enjoy my cross-training volume method because it keeps me healthy for a fair number of ambitious goals while spending large amounts of time outdoors, year-round. But don't ask me how fast I can run a 5K. It is probably not a whole lot faster than one-tenth of the time I can run 50K. 

Speaking of 50K, Beat and I decided to get back on the wagon this weekend with yet another Woodside Ramble. We really enjoy running these organized fifty-kilometer trail races, which, thanks to a large and dedicated trail-running population in the larger Bay Area, happen close by nearly every weekend. They're relatively inexpensive, put together nice courses, provide useful swag (50K shirts now comprise more than half of my sports wardrobe, and race mugs and pint glasses about three-quarters of our cup collection), snacks and drinks, post-race barbecue, and a fun community. Beat makes a new friend nearly every run. I prefer to run alone for a higher percentage of the time, but I had an enjoyable chat with a woman from Calgary named Iris, with whom I share a mutual friend, Leslie in Banff. Iris was conducting her own double-trouble weekend after running the Lake Sonoma 50-miler on Saturday. 

Beat and I look a little roughed up in the starting-line photo, for good reason. We both felt significantly sleepy, nauseated, sluggish ... I haven't felt worse before a run in a long time. That's another training benefit of signing up for racing events — it motivates you to get out there regardless of how terrible you feel, and that's how you learn that things usually get better if you just give it time. 

This Woodside Ramble was tough for me because I haven't run, actually run, more than eight miles in one stretch since before the Iditarod Trail Invitational, now nearly two months ago. I love running the trails in these parks (Huddart and Wunderlich), but I was nauseated, slightly bonked because I wasn't eating due to nausea, and severely lacking in mojo during this run. Many times, even on descents, I caught myself unconsciously slowing to a walk because blah, running. I probably would have quit due to lack of interest if I'd just been out on my own time, and I'm glad I had the self-motivating perimeters of the race to stay in it. It's satisfying to learn that even "blah" legs are usually plenty strong, and the "spring slump" I've come to expect is likely less related to real physical setbacks than it is a simple failure of mojo. It's hard for me to return from Alaska to the heat and more routine outdoors opportunities of my home in California. I do enjoy it here, but any return to routine takes a period of adjustment after more engaging adventures. 

Speaking of mojo recovery, I got up bright and (not so early) Monday morning for an exciting road route I mapped out a few months ago and never got around to riding, a "Santa Cruz Century." I bumped the long ride back to Monday rather than Saturday, because I was scared enough of trying to run fifty kilometers that I wanted to do it on relatively fresh legs. This loop from my house weighed in at 105 miles with 11,200 feet of climbing, and covered quite a few new-to-me roads. I love riding secondary roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains for their narrow corridors, lack of traffic, and scenic settings. I tend to forget about frequent 15+ percent grades, teeth-rattling broken pavement, relentless hairpin turns, and surprising (for a Bay Area road route) lack of services. On a hot day like Monday (84 degrees) I actually have to haul three liters of water and most of the day's food. I only expected one gas station stop, in Felton.   

Christmas tree farm on Skyline Ridge. A bit like riding through Alaska's Farewell Burn, but about 100 degrees warmer with much prettier trees. 

Zaynte Creek. Much of the road cuts a precarious side-slope above a steep gorge, with aforementioned broken pavement and hairpins. I am not brave on skinny tires by any stretch of the imagination, and knotted up all the muscles in my shoulders while brake-throttling the descent. 

I stopped in Felton to fill up my water bladder with ice and buy a package of Famous Amos cookies and cheese pretzel Combos (I make the strangest gas station food choices on bike tours. I usually question them the moment I step outside.) I didn't eat anything right away because the heat was bearing down and my stomach was feeling iffy again. After Felton, I immediately had to start up another 2,000-foot climb on the relentless grades of Felton Empire Road. Ooof. 

I continued climbing through the redwood forest on Ice Cream Grade, and arrived at this small mesa that was much drier than the surrounding region, with sandstone cliffs and sparse fir trees. It looked a lot like the high desert mesas of Northern New Mexico. It's fascinating how widely climate zones can vary in short distances in this region. Spring was just beginning to arrive, with ferns emerging from the brown brush. 

It was a swift drop to the coast, with an impressive headwind blasting down Highway One. Northwest is the prevailing wind; I should have anticipated it, but I did not. At this point I was feeling fairly shattered, was looking forward to some flat miles, and was not thrilled to realize that the 25-30 mph headwinds would demand a harder fight than much of the climbing, and it was going to go on like this for the better part of 25 miles. Oooof. 

A little jog over Swanton Road allowed me to escape the coast but not the wind. It was an idyllic setting though — a shallow but narrow canyon filled with strawberry farms and happy-looking horses. 

I could not wait to turn east and start climbing into the mountains again. Even climbing a 15-percent grade is better than fighting strong headwinds on a highway. I started having similar urges to my walk breaks during the Woodside Ramble, when the legs just wanted to give up and do something — anything — else. Here's where the mantra "shut up legs" comes in handy; "you're not that weak, stop pretending and keep pedaling."

 I had this delusion that I could wrap up this ride in eight hours because, "road century." But the effort was not easier mile-for-mile than mountain biking, and with breaks the duration of the ride was creeping closer to ten hours. Ah well. It was a long climb out of Pescadaro and Alpine roads, with a 700-foot descent that I conveniently forgot about.

At least there was a nice sunset to reward staying out late.

And then the moon came out; I just missed the lunar eclipse. It was a few hours later. I expected to feel more tapped out toward the hundred-mile mark, but emerging darkness perked me up, I finally got down the ham sandwich I had been carrying all day, and the reality is I could have gone quite a bit farther. That's both the benefit and technique of building "forever pace," in my experience. The ability to keep going is the ability to keep seeing and experiencing. 


  1. I agree about back to back training. I have experienced that on my long Pct sections. its amazing how many days in a row you can hike all day. Just wish I had more free time to do more.

  2. I noticed this too on my TMB hike last summer. The first two days were filled with whining from my sore tired legs. Then by day four or five, they just gave up complaining. It's interesting how quickly the body adapts.

  3. I guess I'm the dissenter because I think working out when you feel nauseated, sleepy, sluggish and exhausted is a classic sign of an exercise disorder! Even the belief in the idea that you will "feel better once you get moving" is one of the diagnostic criteria for exercise addiction/activity disorder, for pete's sake. Twice in that post you talk about being nauseous and "bonked" and being unable to eat, but continuing to exercise anyway. I don't think that's cool at all. It's not the same as working through a little soreness on a multi day hike. This post makes me concerned about you, frankly. Try to take a break, huh?

    1. You don't understand, Jill M. Taking a break makes you feel sluggish AND anxious. Exercise keeps it away. The problem is you get in better shape then you have to exercise more and more and more or you'll really start to go through withdrawals when you take breaks. It's a horrible upwards spiral!

    2. I sent a reply in an e-mail. But for others who want to weigh in, I wanted to include part of it.

      There are certainly valid arguments against this type of lifestyle, but I haven't actually noticed adverse physical effects. I always get a clean bill of health in my physicals, I'm almost never sick, and usually if I'm injured it means I tripped or crashed my bike. Training at the volume I do makes riding a hundred miles a pretty easy thing to do any time I choose; the same activity would have leveled me and required a week of recovery back in 2005. I do consider my activities to be less demanding on my body than what through-hikers or bike-tourists do for months out of the year. Maybe my heart will stop beating one day when I'm 50, but there's really no way of knowing. I read a lot of studies about this sort of stuff; the evidence is far from conclusive.

      My exercise habit certainly meets some of the definitions of addiction, but so do a lot of things in life. Relationships count as addictions if you really want to mince words. The litmus test is whether said addiction does more harm than good. Of this, I strongly believe it does not. I'm happiest when I'm approaching the sharp edge, and my life doesn't seem any worse when I return — relationships still in tact, work still making progress, bills still paid, cat still fed. I realize you'll probably continue to disagree, but that's my opinion on the matter.

      Also, sometimes, late-night indulgent dinner parties on Saturday night are not conducive to feeling awesome for a Sunday run.

    3. As a mini "ultra" cyclist pushing through the various ills on a long distance event is part of the journey. I think all of what Jill mentioned (nausea, unable to eat, bonk, etc.) is what a lot of ultra athletes experience at one time or another....none of that is unusual.

      Is she addicted? Yah, but so am I, especially to this blog. :o)

  4. Hi Jill,

    Always enjoy your descriptive rides.

    Question: Do you live close to Santa Cruz or close to San Francisco? Reason I ask is that you might enjoy one of the randonneur "brevets". There's the challenge of distance, being self supported, and an added challenge of meeting time controls all doable by yourself or tagging along with a group. Since you enjoy setting the bar right up there, go for a Super Randonneur by riding a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km within the calendar year.

    Speed doesn't matter as my being the "Rouge Lantern" can attest to.

    Ride Long and Prosper.

    1. I live nearly equal distances from both cities. Santa Cruz is 50 miles southwest, San Francisco is 50 miles northwest. Often times when I refer to Santa Cruz I am talking about the mountains adjacent to the Silicon Valley, which are called the Santa Cruz Mountains. I have looked into brevets before but it's a matter of making time. Right now I'm training for a mountain bike tour, so the road riding is something I will probably only do occasionally during this calendar year at least.

      Generally I don't love road cycling unless the routes travel through the mountains, have frequent climbs and descents, and stick to more remote or low-traffic roads. Brevets tend to use flatter, more populated routes for good reasons. I can see the appeal of traveling all that distance in one shot, but flat routes are another aspect of brevets that keep them lower on my list. Still, probably someday I will eventually try a few. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Jill, thank you for the feedback. Having discovered mountain biking 3 years ago in South Africa where I had an "OMG what have I been missing?" epithany. I now prefer hopping on my Mukluk and just wandering amongst the solitude of the woods and riding with no particular destination. It's all good.....some are just gooder.

  5. Jill, I loved the last line. Yet, I do also love the idea of you training to run a fast 5k. I also wanted to respond to the comment you wrote on my blog. Your gorgeous pictures reminded me of how much I would have loved to call the Bay Area home. Rasmus and I had a lot of fun meeting you. And at least now we can share our California experiences through our blogs, no matter how strikingly different they may be. I hope we stay in touch and you are welcome to visit us in Irvine any time after July of 2015- and Denmark any time in between for that matter :-). Beat, too!

  6. Ha- by "strikingly different" I meant our experiences :-)- may have sounded like our blogs, which would be a weird thing to say! ;-)

  7. It;s great to see and read about your impressions of the beautiful Santa Cruz mnts., and it's great you are discovering routes and sights new to you. I am so glad I get out into those mountains almost every weekend too. I recognize most of those views, but have never been on Zayante road.


Feedback is always appreciated!