Sunday, April 14, 2019

Clinging to winter

April is a gift that keeps on giving. That is, with the exception of tax day, when most of my disposable cash is set to be removed from my bank account. (I know; I could budget for this better. I just prefer to have some sort of excessive adventure like living in Nome for a month, then pay the piper when the time comes.) Beyond the small bout of pain that is April 15, this brief but blissful season of effortless PRs and snowy spring adventures continues.

The weather this week was volatile, with high winds, then rain, then snow, then more strong wind. Conditions weren't conducive to (fun) cycling, so I stacked the week with quality foot training. I'm recommitting to weight training and trying to hit the gym twice a week, but on Monday I managed to squeeze in a quick jaunt to Sanitas before the errands and iron pumping and allergy shots that usually leave me couch-bound (or wishing I was) for the remainder of the day. 

Mount Sanitas has become one of those routes that I hit about once a month, so I always try to climb as fast as I can, as a sort of "fitness test." The last time I ran Sanitas was Feb. 20, a couple of days before we left for Alaska. That effort went so poorly, with rough breathing and my slowest time since the "sick days" of 2017, that I actually became a bit weepy on the peak. I blamed these tears on "slump hormones," because my slumps dredge up as many overwrought emotions as they do breathing difficulties. Since I have nothing tangible on which to blame a multitude of symptoms (rash, insomnia, anxiety ... the list extends far beyond slow running) — hormones it is. 

Anyway, my April 8 Sanitas climb was fantastic. I spent three years trying to ascend the little mountain in under 30 minutes, and finally did it this past December in 29:55. Then, like clockwork, four months later I tagged the summit with 28:48 on my watch! 

On Wednesday, everyone along the Front Range was anticipating the second "bomb cyclone" of 2019. I missed Colorado's first round of explosive cyclogenesis while I was in Alaska, but gleaned much entertainment from reading breathless media reports and underwhelmed Twitter commentary while I cowered indoors amid a violent whiteout/windstorm that's just a typical Wednesday in Nome. I was glad to be around for this storm. Still, after the Santias PR and a solid sprint during my routine Tuesday run, I was more interested in putting in another fast effort than slogging around in wet snow à la Alaska. So I timed my run three hours ahead of the forecasted snow, setting out when the weather was still a friendly 35 degrees with wind and rain.

I did manage a good push for my four-mile route along the west ridge of Green Mountain, missing my December (2017) PR by less than a minute. The rain switched over to snow just as I was nearing the peak. Less than 15 minutes later, there was a solid half inch covering the trail. Snow continued to accumulate rapidly as I worked my way down my loop, soaked to the skin but warm enough as blissfully hard running continued to pump out heat. Within an hour there were nearly two inches of heavy snow blanketing the ground, and my motions had become much more slog-like. But no matter. I was still pretty stoked on the blizzard.

Thursday dawned cold and gorgeous, with six to eight inches of new snow. I had hoped to take my fat bike for a spin, but wet snow falling onto warm ground made for such a sloppy mess that I couldn't stomach the notion of pedaling through mud-swirled Slurpee. Beat was working from home that day, so we set out for my usual Tuesday run in the afternoon. He promised to coach me to a PR, and in doing so set a hard pace on the climbs and easy-going pace on the descents. I nearly maxed out while shadowing him through the sloppy mud, but surprised myself by keeping pace.

"When my breathing's good, nothing feels all that hard; it's strange," I panted when the pace became remotely conversational during a mile-long descent. Minutes earlier, I was running my heart rate near 175, on the verge of puking, and that was not remotely easy. But it is eas-ier than anything I attempt when I'm feeling wheezy, including and especially that sad Feb. 20 slog up Sanitas.

As promised, Beat did coach me to a PR — nearly a minute faster than my previous best, which isn't trivial for a run I do on a near-weekly basis. The PRs were stacking up, and I was feeling mighty.

Since I'd done all of this hard running during the week, I convinced Beat we should go for a fun outing on Saturday — snowshoeing at Brainard Lake. We'd aim for Mount Audubon if conditions were conducive, but otherwise just happily tromp along in the snow for five or six hours. Both of us had more or less put "winter" behind us when we came home from Alaska. My gear needed to be excavated from the boxes where I'd stashed it for summer storage. But we came prepared for full winter conditions — the Continental Divide had also been slammed with new snow this week, and Saturday's high temperature at the trailhead was forecast to be 25 degrees.

We wiled away the morning hoping for clearing skies that never quite materialized. It was 1:30 p.m. and still snowing heavily when we finally set out from the winter trailhead. Beyond Brainard Lake the route became tricky, with erratic and windblown ski tracks that didn't seem to head toward Audubon. We decided to trace the summer route as well as we could, which forced us to break virgin trail in heavy snow as we wound through the woods. It was hard, thirsty work, and the weather was January fearsome with temperatures in the teens and winds gusting to 35 mph. Low clouds and blowing snow streamed along the ridge.

An Audubon summit was not going to happen on this day. Such an attempt would have been high on the epic scale, with hours of full exposure to the fierce wind and cold, and a slow and difficult pace that would have kept us hiking well after dark. Perhaps we would have motivated if we were here before our trip to Alaska ... but Beat had already had more than his share of high wind adventure during his night and day in the Solomon Blowhole, and I spent nearly a month on the wind-swept Bering Sea coast, so ... we're wintered out, I suppose. We were happy to climb to a nice viewpoint, take a look, and turn around.

The formidable Mount Audubon. Perhaps we'll motivate for another snowshoe adventure with more time to spare next week. Or perhaps we'll settle into the speedy ease of the season and find somewhere warm and dry to run.

Wind and blowing snow continued to batter us on the way down. Beat was having trouble with his snowshoes that required several stops to fix, and I had to bundle up in most of my extra layers. I was, perhaps, willing to admit that I'm ready for spring.

I continue to place excess emotional importance on my ability to finish the upcoming Bryce 100. As such, I was resolved to put in at least a four-hour run on Sunday, and actually convinced Beat to do the same (he'll perform well at the race no matter how much or little he trains between now and then, and he and I both know it.) In order to avoid mud and slush conditions, we settled on a double loop around Walker Ranch — clockwise to start, then doubling back and running counter-clockwise for the return.

I just assumed I'd continue to feel great as I had earlier in the week, but the difficulty of the snowshoe slog weighed heavily on my legs. I was off to a slower start, and then we hit the fearsome West Wind. Wind gusts were hitting 50 miles an hour (as recorded by our weather station at home.) We crossed an open area running due west, and I couldn't breathe. The wind seemed to rip the air away from my mouth before I could draw it into my lungs. Meanwhile, the headwind pushed back so forcefully that I could barely walk, let alone run, and continued to stagger forward with my nose pointed at the ground so the wind wouldn't blow the hat off my head (but it did anyway, multiple times.) I felt a little despondent, as I do whenever I have difficulty breathing. But Beat told me that the wind made him feel exactly the same, and he struggled with breathing just as much.

This first Walker loop was much more difficult than last week, and then we had to do another. My legs felt heavy but my breathing remained manageable, and I had a fair amount of energy thanks to a bottle full of Beat's hummingbird food. (After my difficulties taking in food during the White Mountains 100, I've committed to using liquid nutrition during the Bryce 100 — even though I strongly dislike most drink mixes that I've tried. Beat's solution, a flavorless mix called Maurten, is pretty much straight-up sugar water, but with a magical gel that infuses long-lasting energy without gut distress. It made me wince when I first started using it, but now I appreciate its non-offensive non-taste.)

We completed our run with 17.5 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing. These are rocky trails — not my strength — and I took the downhills slowly to keep my no-tripping streak in tact. The wind continued to kick my ass, and I finished the four hours feeling pretty wrecked. But it's a good thing — if I didn't push a few boundaries, I wouldn't have as much mental strength to apply to my upcoming race.

A successful week of training, all around.


  1. I think liquid nutrition is the way to go unless you get legit hungry for food.

  2. I'm trying to dial back the sugar so I'm still hunting up something that works. You continue to be awesome, but I am more than ready for summer.

  3. Over the winter I did much of my training without calories on hand. Unless a run was more than four hours, or stretched over lunchtime, I didn't carry any calories. I especially practiced this in Nome, where my training runs were all hard but slow and trail mix was terribly overpriced. I thought this was a good strategy for conditioning my body to be more energy efficient. But my experience in the WM100 has me thinking that all I did was de-condition my gut from digesting food during hard efforts. So now, after 10-plus years of resisting, I'm jumping on the liquid calorie bandwagon.

  4. Was great to read that you crushed a run topping out at 175bpm, that's got to be in your 90% range, and you didn't run out of air! Looks as though you have sorted out your workout stress load and that adaptive recovery puzzle. You mentioned panting on the descents and I have similar episodes when I forget to focus on my breathing and tend to take shorter and haphazard breaths and or hold my breath when I brace my core on technical areas. Happens when I'm wall or rock climbing also. One would think I would remember :).

    Fueling the body before, during and after workouts is a new focus that I'm learning and sorting out (not being able to eat gluten is a issue for carbs) and it does seem to make a difference for me. I came across a Dr Rhonda Patrick and her podcasts that you might find interesting. This one is a shorter speech she gave but she has more in depth ones at her website.

    Nutrigenomics, Epigenetics, and Stress Tolerance

    There is a podcast I'm going to listen to next on muscle metabolism, lactate thresholds and a thing called the lactate shuffle that happens. Our bodies are amazing bio-mechanical machines! Life is a work in progress, keep riding the wave!

    Jeff C


Feedback is always appreciated!