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Race Report: ICE Breaker Triathlon

Starting the run, feeling better step by step

Starting the run, feeling better step by step

April 6, 2013
Folsom Lake
Granite Beach, CA

Reversing Aging Through Racing

If I raced to almost the exact same time I did three years ago, that means I am not slowing with age. If we are supposed to lose function and fitness as we age, and I haven’t, does that mean I have reversed aging? I say yes. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. It also explains why folks in the older age groups look so great. They’ve reversed aging too. So as long as you don’t overdo it and get injured or overtrained, then you too can reverse aging.

The Race

I wasn’t super motivated to race two weekends in a row. What would that show me? Usually these races have a couple of weeks in between, although I haven’t raced the ICE Breaker recently. There is little else on my calendar for April since I gave up on the Sea Otter Classic due to logistical issues, so I jumped in at the last minute. This race is very similar to last week’s XTERRA, except this race has the bike leg on closed roads instead of trails. As a result it is quite a bit shorter, taking me about one hour less that the off-road version. That should make for faster recovery, right?

Swim: 1/2 mile
Bike: 13 miles road bike
Run: 4 miles trail run

SWIM:
Started great. The breathing tactic paid off again as I have yet to train my swim. As we got further out in the lake the cloudy, breezy weather showed up as some chop that began to push me around. Unfortunately, I kept my head down and followed some feet. They were the wrong feet to follow. I kept swimming wide, wasn’t sighting often enough and I felt my swim collapse. As bad I thought it was going to be, I actually went a few seconds faster than the previous week! Never give up. Note to self: sight the buoys for yourself, don’t trust others.

BIKE:
Two laps on closed park roads. Like the mountain bike leg, these roads constantly have you thinking. Shifting, climbing, descending, cornering, there is never a dull moment. I thought I was going fast, but unlike the swim, this was deceptive. I went slower than the last time on this course. Reflects the need to do much more bike training. Running does not seem to translate into bike fitness the way the reverse does.

RUN:
Killed it. Felt great, and felt even better as the run went on. I kept lifting my pace gradually and I didn’t blow up. I actually went several minutes faster than the previous week on a course that was a half a mile longer! I attribute this to riding a bike leg that was an hour shorter and on roads. Mountain biking really beats up your legs before a run.

NUTRITION:
Two small Japanese sweet potatoes and plenty of time for digestion. Felt hungry at the start, but so what? Took in one bottle of HEED on the bike, nothing on the run. Two servings of Recovery Accelerator immediately after while walking and cooling down. Ate several onigiri rice balls for lunch while driving home. Fillings were pickled ginger, miso, umeboshi paste. A little short on protein for recovery, so I need to create another filling with beans or tofu to use for recovery meals.

SUPPLEMENTS:
I just got my Hammer order for this season, so I brought back the supplements that I think give an ergogenic boost. Controversial and not truly necessary, I still like experimenting with them. I used their Daily Essentials along with some Endurance Amino before and after. Again I used the curcumin and proteolytic enzymes to help with inflammation and muscle recovery. I felt my recovery went well, but the race was an hour shorter.

All in all, a great race. Many thanks to TBF Racing for producing such great events!

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Race Day Meals

Fuel up to go fast

Fuel up to go fast

Race day nutrition is very tricky and requires a lot of experimentation. Everyone is unique and some real trial and error is needed to find the ideal pre-race dinner the night before. Breakfast is even harder to figure out, since it might not be needed or even desirable. I failed miserably last summer at Northstar by not eating and drinking in small, frequent amounts. Instead I got behind, tried to catch up which forced my gut to rebel and shut down.

But my recent two races went off very well from pre-race dinner to post-race lunch. I am very excited about what I discovered.

I used to love a big bowl of whole wheat pasta with a thick, chunky sauce jammed with vegetables for dinner the night before. For breakfast, I loved my usual oatmeal, or a lentil spread on toast. I don’t these things anymore. Can you figure out why?

fiber

For any other meal, fiber rich foods are the goal. It slows down digestion and keeps your blood sugar and energy on an even keel. But that’s not what you want before or during a race. That pasta dish? Had me seeking bathrooms as desperately as the Oakland Raiders for a head coach. Lentils for breakfast? Awesome on a regular day, but not so nice when charging hard on the race course, trying to get fuel out of the gut and into the muscles and the brain.

THE LOW FIBER WAY TO A GREAT RACE

My pre-race dinner is now white rice with a few veggies for color and texture. Or potatoes, baked, steamed or mashed with a little seasoning or sauce. I eat dinner early because I want all of that food out of my system before the gun goes off.

TO BREAK THE FAST OR NOT?

NO
Steve Born of Hammer nutrition recommends no breakfast. He would rather sleep. His reasoning is that food consumed too close to the race will slow down in digestion and interfere with fat burning. Muscle glycogen is already full if you train and eat properly, so that breakfast won’t really help. Instead he suggests at most taking a gel right before the start, get into your pace, and just start fueling the way you usually do. This sounds weird, but it works. If the race is under two hours you probably don’t need anything. Longer events will need fueling, but that can be handled during the race itself.

YES
I like breakfast. So I like to eat a little before races. I only do this if I can have three hours before the start to make sure that food is metabolized. Since my muscles are already stocked with glycogen, all the breakfast needs to do is top off the stored glycogen in the liver that was burned overnight. This amounts to only a couple hundred calories. Both of my recent races required a couple hours of driving, so I ate two smallish baked potatoes or sweet potatoes. They took the edge off my hunger, but did not bog me down.

RACE NUTRITION
I stuck with what I’ve used in the past, but I surprised myself by needing less. For a 2 1/2 hour XTERRA, I drank one bottle of Perpetuem, about 250 calories on the bike, which lasted about 90 minutes. I sipped on HEED during the transitions, and I had plenty of energy. In the past I was sucking down gels as well, but I did not feel I needed that much energy. Also important was not overdoing the calories thinking that I needed them and forcing my gut to fight back. Been there before, lesson learned!

RECOVERY
Immediately after finishing, I kept moving, walking to my transition bag, getting my bottle and refilling it with water. I mixed two servings of Brendan Brazier’s Vega Recovery Accelerator which gave me about 160 calories, 35 g carbohydrate and 8 g protein. I kept sipping and walking until I felt my heart rate come down.

POST-RACE LUNCH
The XTERRA race was a bit longer and ended close to lunchtime, but I didn’t feel very hungry until after the awards. I had packed a nice soba noodle salad which made an awesome lunch. After the sprint tri, I was even less hungry, since the race was an hour shorter. Knowing that I wanted to get on the road right away, I packed onigiri rice balls for lunch since I could easily eat them while driving. Very tasty, but I may have been lacking a little in protein.

Not a PR: By 1.2 seconds

Despite my recent fall hiatus from racing to allow for full recovery of mental and physical faculties, I decided at the last minute  to jump into a neighborhood 5K just for fun. I almost never race on the road. I prefer the adventure and challenge of racing on trails. I also like that trails make comparing times much more difficult, and usually impossible. The temptation to become a numbers freak always worrying about times and paces disappears with the first rocky singletrack section.

But racing once in a while on roads or the track is good too. It’s nice to run on a consistent marked course to see what kind of pace I really can manage with my current level of fitness. If and when I do any anaerobic style training, I know what kind of pace to use. It also allows me to set reasonable time goals for the few events I want to do on the road, like a half marathon and eventually a full marathon.

I last ran this race a couple of years ago slightly faster.

I missed my 5K PR by 1.2 seconds!

Seriously, how can this be? I also ran the Squaw Mountain Run in nearly the exact same time as the previous year. How do I interpret these results?

The Glass is Half Empty:

All that slow aerobic Maffetone training isn’t helping. Train fast, if you want to race fast!

The Glass is Half Full:

I haven’t aged in three years. I’m capable of the same performance.

In reality, this has been a tough year since I started by missing all of January with pneumonia and had to start rebuilding my fitness from ZERO. So I’m not worried yet. I’ll stick to Maffetone for the time being because I enjoy it. I’ll run a half marathon instead of a full marathon for other, related reasons. My race pace now finally reflects my MAF test results, showing that my aerobic system is catching up with my anaerobic speed. So now the long, patient work of building an even bigger aerobic engine for next season begins. I’ll race again next month, then focus on MAF all the way to April before worrying about racing again.

5K Time: 23:00 41st overall out of 500(?) runners

When to Take a Midseason Break

I haven’t trained more than a couple of days in the last three weeks. I didn’t quit completely, I just scaled back. I exercised, but not every day. I didn’t go for as long, and I kept everything strictly aerobic, below my Maximum Aerobic Function. I knew it was time for a break, and showing that wisdom can indeed come with age, I actually took that break. How did I know that it was time?

Quantitative Factors:

Race Performance:

If race times flatten or worsen, it’s a good bet you’re overcooked. I raced the Squaw Mountain Run in basically the same time as last year. I went for one last 8 hour mountain bike race, and only lasted four hours. I was crashing, cramping and suffering in the heat. (although I did solve the mystery of the Tahoe Trail 100 meltdown, wear the hydration pack!) I really wanted to race XTERRA Tahoe at Incline Village, so I cancelled other race plans.

MAF Test:

Maffetone believes the objective data from a MAF test is the best, so if you plateau or regress it’s time to carefully evaluate what’s going on. I regressed in both formal and informal MAF tests. Time to back off.

Heart Rate Variability:

HRV should increase as fitness increases. Coinciding with my decline in MAF tests, my HRV never seemed to increase much past where it had been. There would be a big dip after a race from the anaerobic stress, but as I recovered, my HRV would only return to where it had been before, no higher. Kind of like treading water.

Qualitative Factors:

Mood:

I didn’t want to race that last MTB race, but I had already signed up and paid, so I went anyway. Usually I delay registering until the last moment, just to be sure. But I thought it would sell out, so I put it on the calendar when it seemed like a good idea. Our attitude and enthusiasm is a great gauge of our fitness. If we feel flat or over cooked, most likely we are. Pushing on will just make things worse. So I pulled the plug on another race and rested instead, knowing the start of school would increase other kinds of stress dramatically. I ran a little, biked a little, and took days off. I wanted to be ready for Tahoe.

How to Know When to Jump Back In:

Qualitative:

When you feel like it! When Tahoe came around, my motivation was mostly back. My extra rest brought back my enthusiasm, and I had a fun race, even though it was harder than I expected. With some extra recovery days after the race, I feel excited to train again for my next big goal, a marathon in December. That goal motivated me to take my break now, rather than burn out too late. My nutrition, which had also suffered as I gave into temptations, is now back on track as well.

Quantitative:

My HRV has hit all time highs, both for a single day and average. My informal MAF test today showed several minutes of improvement. I now have motivation and a positive attitude toward my new goal. I’m cutting way back on racing and doing a run focus from now until the marathon. I feel confident that this time I won’t burn out early, instead I’ll make it all the way to my December vacation with increasing fitness.

Do you take breaks during your season? How do you when to stop and when to start back up?

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?

How Active Recovery Works

Arright, hands up, who has raced hard enough to have to walk down the stairs backwards? Yeah, me too. When that happens, it seems like the most important thing to do for recovery is find the nearest couch and stay planted. Forever. Or at least until all the ice in the beer cooler next to the couch has melted. What is definitely counter intuitive is the idea of active recovery. Active?! Sounds ridiculous, but then I tried it. And the coaches are right, it really can help.

How I Used Active Recovery to Learn How to Walk Again

The run course at XTERRA Tahoe CIty is hard. You start climbing a steep, paved road that switches to steep, rocky singletrack. There is a brief respite at the top, then what goes up, must go down. A steep, quad smashing descent on loose, rocky road and pavement. Of course, that all follows a couple hours of mountain biking. My legs were done. My left knee started to really hurt during the descent, and trying to compensate, my imbalanced gait hurt my right calf, already stressed from the climb. Delayed onset muscle soreness had no delay for me. I hurt at the finish line. But three days later, I was healed. Fighting the instinct to collapse was the key.

Keep Moving

The following day I went for a walk. About 30 minutes. A little shorter would have been better, but my knee and calf required a slower pace, and maybe trails were not such a good idea. But the forest was good because of the trees. They have been proven to help brain function and mood. I felt refreshed physically and mentally. The second day after the race I repeated my recovery walk. Maffetone describes walking as an ideal cross training tool for racers because it can help recovery. The third day I went for a short walk/jog keeping a close eye on heart rate and muscle soreness, which was quickly decreasing. It worked OK. A bike ride would have been better, but I ran out of time after my afternoon recovery nap. More on passive recovery later. The next day I got back on the bike for an easy 90 minute spin. It felt great, and I successfully resisted the urge to do more. Now I’m ready to train again. Even my sleep and HRV have returned to normal.

Why I Think it Works

Using the Recovery Issues:
FATIGUE:
For some people 30 minutes of exercise is a lot. But if you race, a 30 minute walk is very easy, so it does not add any fatigue to what you’ve already done.
MUSCLE SORENESS/DAMAGE
Walking directs more circulation to stressed muscles. More nutrients and less waste products from metabolism and repair means faster recovery than doing nothing.
GLYCOGEN DEPLETION
Like fatigue, there isn’t enough activity to deplete storage carbohydrate, which means it won’t take any longer to rebuild the stores emptied by a long race.
MENTAL/NERVOUS SYSTEM
If you take your walk in a place of natural beauty, you can benefit even more. The brain likes blood nutrients, and oxygen, so a walk in the forest, or anywhere there is a lot of O2 producing vegetation can help a lot.
STRESS REACTION
It’s very refreshing to be doing something, but the lower intensity relieves stress, especially if you have a mild addiction to exercise.

Other Forms of Active Recovery
Swimming in the way that walking is different from running would also help. Maybe more like floating around. I didn’t try this because drifting around in the freezing water of an alpine lake did not appeal. If you’re a fan of cold therapy, it might help. But in a warm climate, or a pool…

Yoga if done in a restorative manner could help. I was too sore to want to risk stretching stressed muscles. If I had been practicing regularly, I could scale it back.

Foam rolling would be the same as yoga. Helpful if you already know what you’re doing. I don’t, so I’m saving it for later.

In the end, I’m not going down the stairs backwards. Instead I’m motivated to train. Enough blogging, time for a nice run in the forest!

How I Recover from Long Distance Racing

What Needs Recovery:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Muscle Soreness/Damage
  3. Glycogen Depletion
  4. Mental/Nervous System
  5. Stress Response

 

These are the elements of recovery. The difference in length and intensity between a race and a regular workout affects recovery. A long run that goes further than ever before will need more recovery than an easy run you’ve done a million times. A race that puts you at threshold for an extended time requires more recovery than an interval workout. Work or family stress impacts training and racing, requiring more recovery. Here’s what I learned about recovery recently.

Fatigue:

The longer or more intense the workout, the more fatigue produced. The more volume over days, the more fatigue accumulates. This fatigue must be “unloaded” in order to move forward. This can happen voluntarily by taking time off, easy days, or getting more rest, or your body can force it on you with illness or injury. I’ve neglected fatigue, covered it up with caffeine, and run myself into the ground. The best solution I’ve found for fatigue is passive recovery, emphasizing quantity and quality of sleep.

Muscle Soreness and Damage:

Cycling doesn’t leave me as sore as running. Triathlon is worse than running alone. So after a short cross country race or regular long run, the soreness isn’t bad. I can train easy until recovered. But a trail race or triathlon can leave me so sore that walking is uncomfortable. That’s where I am now after XTERRA. I have had to take three days off with walking as my only exercise while my muscles heal themselves. Soon I will add some yoga and foam rolling, but to this point I’ve been too sore. I experimented with amino acid and proteolytic enzyme supplements to help speed recovery, and believe I have benefitted.

Glycogen Depletion:

This is easy. Following the starch based diet of Dr. McDougall makes replenishing storage muscle glycogen as simple as following my appetite. Most of us have heard of the “window” of opportunity following a workout where enzymes peak, making glycogen replenishment easier. I can tell when I’m depleted by my low energy level and high appetite. Those two factors tell me when I’m recovered. The day after long glycogen depleting races, I’m hungry more often. Then, as I recover, my appetite decreases due to less activity, even though I am still sore. Using the Maffetone Method for training helps as well, since I have trained my body to rely more on fat for fuel. Before Maffetone, I would be really wiped out after a long ride. I could literally feel my recovery progress along hour by hour as I ate more. By using more fat as fuel during exercise and eating a high starch diet, I recover faster. Taking in calories during the workout or race helps, because then there is less that must be replenished.

Mental/Nervous System:

Often I’ve felt like my body was recovered, but my mind was unwilling to go on. There are some possibilities for why this might be: depleted neurotransmitters, hormone imbalance, low levels of amino acids, or just lack of fuel. From my experience, it seems to be tied directly to glycogen depletion. Since the brain runs almost exclusively on carbohydrate, if levels get too low, the brain puts on the brakes to conserve energy. As my storage carbohydrate returns to normal, I can feel my brain come back online.

Overall Stress Response:

The body’s stress response gets engaged by non-physical events. Which is why someone can be so tired by mentally demanding, yet sedentary work, or emotionally stressful circumstances. This same stress response is responsible for getting you ready for another race or workout. The mistake I’ve made in the past is not considering life stress as equivalent to training or racing. I’ve always thought, “Hey, exercise relieves stress, right?” Well, yes, and no. My recent race at Laguna Seca, the Hammerstein, showed me this phenomena very clearly. School had ended only two days prior, and while I had decreased training to rest, the life stress had peaked. I had a very tough race. One week later, with school stress gone, I raced better. Any stress reduction techniques could help here. I think the best option is meditation, because one has the potential to learn how to control the stress response and decrease the energy cost by retraining the brain.

Conclusion:

I think I’ve finally gotten a firm grip an what needs recovery, and some good techniques to use. A little research and using myself as an experiment of one with three weeks of big races have taught me a lot. What do you do for recovery? Any secrets or effective protocols?

 

Next up:

Active Recovery

Passive Recovery

Nutritional Recovery

Recovery Overview

How do you recover from those epic days? Boundary pushing long runs or bike rides? A long or intense race? Anything that pushes you “to boldly go where” you haven’t physically been before requires attention to recovery afterwards.

Personally, I have failed epically at this in the past, burning myself out in many creative ways.

Racing each Saturday for 4+ hours each time for the past three weekends was exhausting, especially for those of us in the back of the pack. How can I best recover between each event and not blow a fuse this early in the season? In the past, recovery to me meant plenty of couch time with a good book, or going to bed a little earlier. But I wanted to develop some better skills so I can get faster. And have more fun. So I even bought the book, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, by Sage Rountree to see what more I could learn.

So What Have I Discovered about Recovery?

Three broad categories, and a lot of subtlety about timing.

Active Recovery

Easy exercise- encourage circulation to speed nutrients to damaged and tired tissues. Example: a 30 min. walk.

Passive Recovery

Doing nothing physical, but getting the deepest rest possible to rebalance hormone levels and allow for repair. Example: the treasured afternoon nap.

Nutritional Recovery

Replacing the nutrients depleted by training and racing. Example: a post-workout recovery drink.

Recovery Issues

  • Difference between recovering from training and racing
  • Mental/nervous system fatigue
  • Glycogen depletion
  • Muscle Soreness/Damage
  • Overall Stress Response

Unfortunately, I could not find the easy formula I wanted. Recovery seems to be more Art than Science. While the physiological processes are scientifically clear, there is tremendous individual variation. Which means trial and error. I want the plug and play version, and instead I learn that a lot of tweaking is necessary.

My first big racing block is over, and my experiment with what I’ve learned about recovery begins. Today’s recovery protocol will be: a walk in the forest, meditation, a long nap with brain wave entrainment, and a few supplements. Tomorrow will probably be a repeat.

Lake Tahoe 4/8 hour Mountain Bike Race Report

Last year I did this race in the four hour solo category just for the fun of it. Conditions were difficult, but overall the race was a great challenge and lots of fun. I used it as preparation for the XTERRA Tahoe City race, since the bike course uses some of the same trails.
Last year, after California’s endless winter, two miles of the course had to be cut out due to snow. Even with the shortened course, race crew had to shovel for days to clear enough trail to be usable. Despite their heroic efforts, there were several big patches that had to be negotiated either on foot or as a slippery ride.
There were none of those problems this year. This year conditions were much more typically summertime Tahoe: warm, dry, and dusty. No snow or even mud to contend with. Just lap after lap of rocks, singletrack, and forested meadow. Last year I gassed myself by doubling up the racing by following the mountain bike race with a 10K trail run the next day. I did not repeat that mistake again. Instead, I doubled up on the bike and entered the 8 hour Solo category. I wanted the maximum aerobic workout I could get for the day, and boy howdy, did I get it!
I was a little disappointed with my performance at the Hammerstein last weekend, but I figured that in large part that related to the normal fatigue at the end of the school year coupled with pacing and fueling. That seems to be true. I only lasted 5 1/2 hours there, but here in Tahoe, at 6,000+ ft elevation, I lasted almost the full eight hours. I did not make that improvement based on fitness gains. It shows clearly that training and racing are truly dependent on other life stress. A week to recover from school, the race, and consolidate that fitness, led to a much better showing this weekend. A fellow racer remarked on my Hammerstein t-shirt, calling me a glutton. Yes, but I want these huge days to bolster my fitness for my “A” race, the Lake Tahoe Trail 100 (Leadville Qualifier) at Northstar in July. It appears that I have made some progress, but not enough to meet my time goal for Northstar. While I think the Northstar course is a little faster, with more road miles, I clearly have some work to do on my fitness.

Breakin’ it Down:

The Course:
Dusty singletrack and doubletrack. A rocky, tight, twisty singletrack climb, and a steep, loose, rocky jeep road climb that hurt. Some fast scary descending. Lots of forested singletrack, and a lot of leg sapping false flats that felt harder than they looked.

The Good:
I stayed upright (mostly), pedaled (mostly) and survived for nearly eight hours. I completed five 12 mile laps for a total of 60 miles, similar to Northstar. My performance was similar to last year’s Northstar, and I still have a month to prepare. My nutrition worked well. I used Hammer Sustained Energy on the bike, and steamed purple potatoes when I would pit. I took one caffeinated Hammer gel late in the race to power through. I drank plain water from my Camelbak. And I finished feeling much better than I did last weekend, or on the shorter version of this race last year. I even felt better than after Northstar. I’m recovering faster.

The Bad:
I crashed. While climbing at a snail’s pace. Embarrassing, but I couldn’t unclip fast enough. Gotta get those shoes and cleats fixed. I had a few minutes of tummy troubles due to mixing my energy drink stronger than usual and gulping a little too fast. I spent more time in my pit than I wanted to. It helped keep me going, but contributed to my biggest problem: I. Am. Really. Slow. My average speed is nowhere near what I need to meet my goal at Northstar. I wasn’t DFL, but pretty darn close.

The Ugly:
That loose, rocky jeep road climb. I hate it. I have ridden it many times in races, but it’s hard. This time I had to walk sections several times. On my last lap I walked the whole thing. I blamed my shoes, but I don’t think I had it in me anyway. Steep jeep road, I abhor thee! And, yay, next week I get to climb it two more times in the XTERRA. Lucky me.

The Puzzling:
My average heart rate was 151 bpm, last year’s four hour events yielded a 161 bpm average. According to some coaches, the Maximum Average Function heart rate zone should be 20-30 beats lower than lactate threshold. Estimating my LT at 175 from other races, my training range to maximize aerobic development should be 145-155 bpm. This coincides nicely with recent marathon mtb racing, but puts me a full 10 bpm above the range prescribed by Maffetone and Mark Allen using the 180 formula. What do I do? Stick with the 180 formula, or go with the LT formula?

I think my plan going forward will be to intersperse some workouts using the higher heart rate range. I have toyed with the idea previously of adding in anaerobic work now that I have built a base. But since racing at this distance stays primarily aerobic, I see no need for LT intervals. Instead, I will mimic race conditions by upping intensity a bit. I also need more volume, in the form of longer rides. I just need more adaptation to sitting in the saddle for so long. I will continue to use HRV and MAF tests to ensure that I am progressing and not overtraining. If I start to regress, I’ll slow down.

A Preview of Coming Attractions:
XTERRA Tahoe City: Can I beat Dave again?
Lake Tahoe Trail 100: A Leadville Qualifying Series Race