Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Beautiful Disaster: Tahoe Trail 100 Race Report

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(from L -R: Leadville founder Ken Chlouber, Bay Area phenom Meiling Yee with her Leadville entry, me, Leadville former race director Merrilee Mauquin)

Disaster:
I raced forty minutes SLOWER this year than last year. I was supposed to go an hour FASTER. Big disappointment. My weight is down 12 pounds and my aerobic fitness has improved. I’ve gone further and faster.I’ve thought about this race every day for the past year. I put the pressure on myself, and, I cracked. Complete gastro-intestinal meltdown. Dehydrated? I guess. Bonking? It appears so. How could this happen?

Beautiful:
Well, the weather and scenery was gorgeous, another awesome Tahoe day. Seriously, as I finished, I couldn’t help but smile and feel good about myself, even though I had my worst race ever. How could this be? The disaster was only physical, and it was temporary. The beauty was mental, emotional, and spiritual. That lasts longer.

Well, not everything went wrong. The first lap went well. I passed some people, some people passed me. I felt reasonably strong and paced well. I found a group, and we rode together through the aid stations, leapfrogging our way around the course. It felt like I was going fast, though compared to last year, not as improved as I hoped. But I got into that zone where time sped up. I kept thinking, I’m already this far? Another aid station already? This climb is over? I get to descend so soon? Then halfway through the second lap, it crumbled beneath me.

So What Went Wrong

The Golden Rule of Racing:

Never change anything on race day! Make sure any equipment, nutrition, or hydration issues are thoroughly tested in training or low priority races. Never show up when it counts acting like it’s a lab experiment. I bent this rule (didn’t truly break it) without realizing it. I slightly changed my nutrition/hydration protocol, and it seems that is was just enough to cross a very fine, gray line into disaster. I used my usual blend of plain water, liquid Sustained Energy, and an occasional Hammer Gel.

But if I had my usual set-up of water and preferred fuels, and plenty of aid stations, how could I dehydrate and bonk? After reflecting, I figured it out. I didn’t use my Camelbak, which I use most of the time. I had forgotten how rough the course was, and was unable to get water consistently. When I did stop and try to catch up, I overdid the water and fluids.

About five hours in, I realized I was behind on fluids and calories. At the first aid station on the second lap, I tried to catch up. I was feeling tired, but I should have felt tired. Then, about 20 min. later, as the carbohydrate and caffeine hit me, I felt great! My energy was up and I passed people on a tough climb. I was even singing and rapping to myself! Then it all went sideways and the crash came. I started to feel worse and worse, and the nausea became so strong I could barely tolerate plain water in small sips. Trying to push hard on the pedals on climbs made it worse, so I was reduced to walking. I couldn’t eat. I could barely drink. I was pushing my bike and sweating in the hot sun all by myself. For about an hour I sank and wallowed in this until my gut finally started to settle down. By then I had lost enough time that I would not make the time cut-off for a Leadville spot.

Beauty:
Leadville Trail 100 founder Ken Chlouber always like to exhort people to dig deep. He told me that personally the day before after the racer’s meeting. I did. I felt so bad that I almost quit. Except that I was in the middle of nowhere. As I pushed my bike up climbs, coasted descents and soft pedaled the flats, I dug deep. I reminded myself that the climbs would end soon, replaced by a long, fast descent to the next aid station. I decided to see if I could bring my heart rate down and recover a bit. I told myself that I would decide at the aid station to continue or not. When I got into the aid station, I drank two big cups of Gatorade, which I usually detest, but it felt good. My stomach was better. I drank more water and waited. My stomach felt OK. I refilled bottles and decided I was going to finish. Either I finished or they scraped my carcass off the trail. I thought about the last demoralizing climb, and figured I could walk if I had to. I did. But by combining walking breaks with riding, I managed to keep my stomach from rebelling completely. And I kept moving forward. I vowed to keep moving forward until I couldn’t. I finished.

So while my physical performance was disappointing, I’m very proud of how I overcame that adversity. Although I think I could have gone a little faster at the end, I was worried about my stomach so I played it a little too conservatively. But I didn’t quit. I reminded myself that I only have three goals in a race: 1) Stay on course 2) No DNF 3) No DFL. I succeeded with all three, and it took a lot more than usual to get to the end, making my finish very satisfying indeed.

Why Race?
The usual answer is to get better, go faster, to see and mark some kind of improvement. But I didn’t improve in any measurable way this time, in fact did the opposite, yet I’m well satisfied. So I realized that maybe we race “to boldly go” some place uncharted. We hope that this will be a new level of performance, but it could just as easily be a new state of mind. The suffering I went through pushing my bike through sections I rode last year was new. But I realized that is just pain. Not all pain is significant. And it wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t life threatening. Yeah, I was dehydrated, but a long way from true disaster. Ditto for calories. The brain protects itself in endurance events by gradually shutting things down. I still had a long way to go before complete physical failure. And it was a race, so somebody would help if I truly needed it. So I went to a place I’d never been before where everything went wrong. And not only did I survive, I finished with a smile.

Epilogue:
My GI recovery continued after the race, and I ate, rehydrated as normal, enjoying the awards and cheering those people who got an entry into Leadville. That includes my friend Meiling Yee, who arm wrestled the women’s overall winner Rebecca Rusch for a win and an entry. My recovery continued over the following week, and now I’m back on the trail. All in all, my low point lasted about an hour before I started to climb back. Not too bad. It could have been a lot worse.
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See? I finished with a smile!

Ahh… The Many Pleasures of Passive Recovery

Three days after a disastrous race that lasted over eight hours (I’m still processing why I feel good about a disaster) I feel ready to head back out on the trails and train for the next one. I used a little active recovery, which meant walking the dog, but mainly I recovered. And ate. And ate some more. My heart rate monitor estimated that I expended over 4,000 calories during the race. And because of serious GI issues, I didn’t eat much that day. So the strategy was Passive Recovery. I modeled my behavior on the dog.  She is nearly always very well recovered and rested. And fed.

Passive Recovery

These are techniques that take minimal effort, and are designed to enhance rest. Passive is the key word. Set it up and rest. You only get stronger while recovering. Sleep is the most important aspect, but there are other ways to increase the amount of rest.

Let’s see how Passive Recovery can affect the main recovery issues:

Fatigue

Nothings beats feeling tired like a nap right? Fatigue exists on both physical and mental levels, and sleep is the most powerful way to deal with it. Don’t get enough quality sleep and all manner of health problems manifest. Or you could go temporarily insane.

Muscle Soreness and Damage

The body heals itself constantly, and that includes muscles beat down by racing. But we can’t consciously control the process, so the best strategy is just get out of the way. Improving delta sleep, the deepest level, seems to be the best way to help with tissue repair.

Mental Performance

It’s not just the muscles that take a beating from a race, the brain does too. Stress hormones rise and stay up for quite awhile. The need to concentrate fatigues the brain considerably even when not physically active. Add this brain drain to muscles that are fading, and plenty of sleep is needed. Improving the dreaming part of sleep, REM sleep, where theta brain waves predominate may help the brain process all the day’s experiences into the appropriate memories. Think about all the cognitive effort of a race as well as all the strong emotions. The subconscious has serious work to do, and it needs the conscious to step down for awhile.

Glycogen Depletion

If you don’t move around much, you don’t need to expend much energy. So the healthy food (and maybe a treat or three) will be stored. Once carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver are restored, the muscles can repair and rebuild, and the brain can relax, no longer sensing a threat to its survival.

Stress Reaction

The stress hormones of a big race are a serious “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system response. A lot of important physiological systems are put on hold. It takes time to rebalance. Perhaps its hormonal, or maybe neurotransmitters are depleted or imbalanced, but the physical organ of the brain needs recovery too. Fortunately, mood is an excellent indicator of recovery. Another very useful tool is to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which gives a good indication of whether the sympathetic “fight or flight” mechanism is in charge or the parasympathetic “relaxation response” system has taken over.

Enough theory.

Here’s How I Put It Into Practice:

  •  Go to bed early. I don’t stress over sleep quality the night after a race. Sometimes it’s like a rock, sometimes not.
  • Take a nap. After long workouts (weekends) or races if possible. I elevate my legs to help blood flow.
  • Meditation/Visualization/Relaxation– I may combine this with a nap, or separately. Invoking a relaxation response and turning off the arousal of a big effort gets the healing going.
  • Compression Gear– My new favorite! Nothing but sleep is more passivethan putting on my compression socks and letting them help my circulation get out the metabolic waste and deliver nutrients. A good rule of thumb appears to be twice as long in your compression gear as time on the trail. Next I’m buying some tights, and when I save enough spare change some active compression boots.

Next up: The Two Most Important Ways to Recover Well

Race Week: To Taper and Peak or Not?

The standard for endurance coaching is periodization: dividing the year up into distinct training periods with specific goals. The theory is that you can only make progress for a while in a particular type of training, then you plateau. Plus, you need periodic breaks to allow for recovery and to absorb the training before hitting it again. In a way, you flirt with overtraining, although coaches will call it “overreaching”. Right before edge, you pull back and recover, with the body getting stronger. The Eastern Europeans devised and perfected this method, getting great results. Amateurs can be divided into two groups: those who organize, periodize and peak, and those who don’t.

I’m not a periodizer. In the past I tried to periodize by changing my training to prep for ski season, and then again for summer endurance sports, like mountain biking. Now that endurance racing is more important than skiing, I don’t bother with periodization. I just try to improve fitness and race when I feel like it.  But I have races that I want to improve in, and that suggests that I should periodize by tapering and peaking for a big event.

Here is what Joe Friel, a fantastic coach and author of the “Training Bible” series of books says about peaking:

 “When a true peak comes about, you will experience several physical changes that combine to create a performance that borders on astonishing. These changes include inreased leg power, reduced lactic acid production, increased blood volume, a greater red blood cell concentration, and increased fuel storage. Top these physical transformations with sharper mental skills such as concentration, confidence, and motivation, and you are truly in top race form. All of this, and no illegal drugs are needed.”

(The Triathlete’s Training Bible  3rd edition, p. 33 )

The catch?

“Creating that moment when racing seems effortless makes months of hard work and sweat worthwhile.” (my emphasis)

What?! Months! That means lots of planning. Right, not for me.

I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants. A “pantser”, if you will, when it comes to training and racing schedules. And I like to race a lot, which makes peaking harder. What to do? What I did do was just give up and wing it. Then I discovered the Maffetone Method.

Maffetone has this to say about peaking:

 “The concept of ‘peaking’ as it’s been used through the years, isn’t healthy for endurance athletes. As I’ve seen it in practical application, it usually involves a gradual overtraining. In this first stage of overtraining, performance can actually improve just before more common signs or symptoms of overtraining begin. However, this increased performance window is short, and athletes quickly enter the second, more serious stage of overtraining where injury, ill health, and performance loss occurs.”

(The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, p. 79)

So what I do is combine the methods a little:

  1.  Schedule a Priority Race
  2. Develop the best aerobic base I can
  3. Take the last few days before the event to cut way back and rest up
  4. Take some easy recovery days afterwards
  5. Race again!

I think this approach fits my personality. I have suffered numerous times from overtraining, and while I never dug myself as deep a hole as many racers, I lost a lot of enjoyment.

Benefits of Pantsing:

  •  Flexible scheduling
  • Easier planning (none!)
  • Simpler
  • Less stress
  • Easier recovery (if workouts are aerobic)

Drawbacks:

  •  Lower performance
  • Slower times
  • Less progress
  • Less recovery (if fatigue keeps building without adequate recovery time)

One thing that I have learned from the periodizing planners:

It’s far better to go into a race over-rested and under-trained, than the opposite. You’ll probably be faster, and you will definitely have more fun.

One Thing Maffetone Got Right:

Minimizing anaerobic training makes it much easier to go into a race rested and ready, because aerobic training is lower in stress.

One Thing the Periodizers Got Right:

If you’re aiming for a specific, high stakes goal, like a qualifying spot for Kona or Boston, may require you to peak for it even with the risk of overtraining.

What about you? What have you tried? What worked? What broke? Any good ideas?

Weekly Plan: Week of July 16

Peak, Taper and Rest

Yup, that’s the plan. BIG race this weekend, the Tahoe Traill 100, a 100K mountain bike race that also serves as a qualifying race to get into the infamous Leadville Trail 100. I did this race last year on a lark as a personal challenge, only hoping to finish within the time cut-offs. I succeeded, so of course I wanted to do it again and see if I could improve on my time. Using the Maffetone Method of developing a great aerobic base and avoiding high intensity training means my “peak” is a little different. What I’ve done is accumulate volume by not taking days off, and stretching my workouts a little longer each time. Then my “taper” will be three days of reduced training, then three days of rest to absorb all that volume. Then race!

Monday:

Two hour MTB time trial. Aerobic climb to compare fitness to last year

Short transition run, depnds on bike time

Dinner- Jeff Novick’s SNAP curried cauliflower and potatoes

Tuesday:

60-75 min run

40 min swim

Dinner-Turkish Eggplant and rice, green salad

Wednesday:

90 min. road ride easy

Dinner- Italian potato/green bean casserole, green salad

Thursday:

MAF test on the track

swim

Dinner: Curried vegetables and dal

Friday:

walking

Dinner- Fuhrman style GOMBBS (greens, onions, mushrooms and potatoes)

Saturday:

Drive to race venue for athlete’s meeting

Dinner- Pasta

Sunday:

RACE!

Go as FAST as possible!