Sunday, February 05, 2017

Another week

I stopped posting my weekly training logs at the end of December, after deciding that they were more demoralizing than motivating, and "training" was probably hurting more than it was helping. I'm still getting out 15+ hours each week, lifting twice a week, and generally doing what I was doing before. And ever since the Fat Pursuit, I've felt progressively better. I still have occasional battles with shallow breathing, and realized that I might be overcompensating by taking it too easy. For the most part, thought, things have been going well.

A long-time blog reader recently contacted me about my "Running on 3 Cylinders" post, and completed the car analogy. I laughed at his observations:

"A car analogy is apt since we humans are a thermodynamic (a heat engine) — funny, we convert our fuel about just as efficiently. Going on with the car theme, a gasoline engine needs three things in the right amount and at the right time for oxidation (combustion) to take place (spark, fuel, and air) since you have plenty of spark (that’s kinda of understatement) and it seems plenty of fuel (Sour Patch Kids comes to mind) your oxygen intake is constricted as you have documented. So I think you're firing on all cylinders but just running low on HP (like a restricter plate in Nascar.) Your torque curve is still awesome (anaerobic muscle contraction.) Your aerobic respiration threshold is probably lower in your power curve for the time being, but training at altitude can increase your VO2 Max."

Anyway, it's been a great week of low-horsepower non-training. On Monday I was still in Fairbanks and trying to catch up on some work, so I went for a lunchtime run. My friends live at 1,500 feet, where the temperature was 5 above zero. I set out wearing a single layer — luckily packing several more — and descended 800 feet into the Goldstream Valley. After about a mile on the lower trail, my legs and shoulders went numb. "Maybe it's not 5 degrees down here," I thought. Actually, it was -15. This photo happened after I put on more layers, than loped along for two more hours. Toward the end of an attempted loop, I failed to find a trail connection and decided to "shortcut" back to the road. Turns out waist-deep snow is no shortcut. It took about twenty minutes of lunging like a seal before I swam to safety. Note to self: This is even more difficult with a bike.

On Wednesday I was back in Boulder and submerged in a weather pattern I'm told is very atypical for the Front Range — as in once-in-a-decade atypical. Heavy inversion with fog and freezing rain, with temps dropping into the teens in the valley and soaring into the 40s above 9,000 feet.

I set out for a mountain bike ride and ended up at 8,000 feet on Sugarloaf Road around 4 p.m., where temperatures were in the low 20s and it was raining. Actually raining. It was a light, misty rain, but it froze to everything it touched, including me. That 3,000-foot descent on black ice was a sphincter-clencher, even with studded tires, and I was so very very cold. I could have brought more layers, but what do you even wear for freezing rain? I just gritted my teeth and bore it.

The freezing fog did make for some beautiful scenery. It was still hanging around on Thursday when Beat and I went running at Walker Ranch. The temperature was about 15 and there was light misting ice in the air. 

I wore Icebug shoes, which have built-in carbide studs on the soles. I learned too late that they weren't going to cut it on hard ice, which covers at least 60 percent of the Walker Ranch trail right now. Despite being careful, I still skidded on a steep descent and fell hard onto my right knee and shoulder. It was incredibly painful, and I writhed on the ground for three or four minutes while calling out Beat's name — although he was too far ahead to hear me. After I pulled myself up, I continued to wobble in place until a deepening chill forced my hand, and I was able to limp out without incident. The knee was swollen, but the brunt of the impact happened below the joint, where a big goose-egg bruise formed. It hurt, but at least I wasn't injured.

By Friday the fog cleared out and temps warmed up substantially. Yes, I was disappointed.

Riding Friday and Saturday on ice, slush, and mud.

On Sunday, Beat and I went snowshoeing on Niwot Ridge. Beat towed his heavy sled and broke trail. As usual, I just tried to keep up.

The wind was incredible — gusting to at least 50 mph on the ridge. It was strong enough to push me backward on the snow crust as I flailed and fought to retain forward motion. Breathing proved difficult — the headwind seemed to rip the breath from my lungs, and I had one episode where I couldn't stop gasping. Then I started crying, because this kind of thing scares me, every time. This was always my fear during the Iditarod last year, because these episodes appear to be self-perpetuating, and strong winds make it hard to control anything.

Later, when I turned my back to the wind and lowered my head to buffer the blast, this particularly strong gust tore the sunglasses right off my face and whisked them into oblivion. #$&! you, West Wind.

Still, it was a useful outing — particularly for Beat, who had an excellent quad workout, and learned that he doesn't like flexible poles. I gained more insight into my breathing episodes with a hope that I'll better learn to control them (avoiding the shallow breathing and hyperventilating.)

It's interesting approaching this year's Iditarod. I have all of the same fears, and more, now that I have a slightly better idea what I might face out there. Still, I can't wait to be out there.


  1. Wind is pretty much the only thing that will reduce me to a blubbering mess.

  2. I really like your description of the wind, I can just see it. Of course, I can also feel it. The wind coming into Brainard Lake shocks me every time.

  3. I went MTB'ing here in CO Springs both Sat and Sun...the wind here on Sat was same as you had...there were cuts I had to ride thru occasionally and they were WIND TUNNELS FROM was all I could do to actually MOVE forward in my triple-ring granny! Then I'd get out of the cut and upshift to the middle ring and blaze along till the next exposed bit. And up in the trees was actually pretty awesome...I could hear the wind blasting away but was mostly sheltered. And then Sunday was just FANTASTIC all around (in a NOT cold FANTASTIC way that SOME people actually like...wussy people like ME!).

  4. I had a similar episode with headwinds last week too. The wind took my breath away, it almost felt like an asthma attack! I can handle just about any weather condition but I despise the wind.

  5. Beat and I knew the wind was going to be bad that day, and went up to the mountains mostly because of it — good practice. I was continuously blasted by 30mph headwind and crosswind gusts for four days on Alaska's western coast last year, so I have both deep fear and understanding of high winds. I also am learning more about how headwind affects my breathing. I think I can try to work with it by consciously taking deeper, longer breaths. Hopefully I'll have another chance to test this out before the Iditarod.

  6. Jill, I worry about your bike helmet not being protective when you wear it over winter head-warming clothing. It seems to be teetering completely atop your head, not covering any part of the skull most likely to be hammered. I know it might be difficult, but have you considered making some changes so you could pull the helmet down properly on your noggin?

  7. You need to love the wind! Lol. I know it's hard by that time but you survived! You did an amazing adventure again. Can't wait for your next post and what will be your next fear that you'll need to conquer. :)

  8. re: Freezing rain

    It used to be an every decade or less event in Fairbanks, too. None so far this year--first time in several years.

    Except...the forecast says a chance of it Tuesday. (It was -37 F at my house last night.)

    I thought a local forecaster used remarkable understatement in noting the unusual (but third time this year) warmth at the geographical north pole:

    Northern Alaska Forecast Discussion
    National Weather Service Fairbanks AK
    507 AM AKST Sun Feb 12 2017

    .DISCUSSION...There is little to recommend your present state
    of affairs if warmer air is expected to spread in from the high

    --Tom, Fairbanks

  9. head wind and breathing
    I looked into this a while back and the physics of it is, as an air flow increases in velocity across a surface it creates a low pressure zone (like air flow over a planes wing) and as we try to breath our diaphragm normally has to exert little energy contraction for air to start flowing into our lungs (air always flows from a high pressure to a low pressure) but if the the air pressure is low in front of our mouth then we have to exert more force (breath in harder and longer)to create a lower pressure to get air to flow into the lungs and get a full breath. Cupping your hands in front of your mouth will create a small pocket of slow moving air which will be closer to atmospheric pressure and move the low pressure zone to the surface of your hands/mitts and make it easier to breath. I would guess that is why a traditional parka with the big hood came about to have a transition zone along with protection. Oh ya a little FYI, Buys Ballot's Law states in the northern hemisphere if you stand with your back to the wind the low pressure zone will be in the direction of your left arm and conversely it your facing the wind the low will be to you right. I am always awed by the unseen power of the wind, sometimes I can see or hear the effects of a coming gust and bow automatically in to speak.

  10. That wind is a doozy but keeps me awake and helps me along for sure.


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