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Race Report: Squaw Valley Mountain Run 2011

Squaw Mtn Run

searching for the finish

This run is a beast. 2000 vertical feet of climbing in 3.6 miles. It is relentless. You start climbing immediately on the long ski run that links the base area and High Camp, and it never flattens. Even the finish is uphill. Even after the finish it still goes uphill while you are gasping and trying to get out of the way of the other racers. Last year I fink ally figured when this long running race is held, the first Saturday in August, and so now I know I can test myself on it every summer. Last year I managed a painful 54 min. that included a lot walking, numb legs, and being passed by dogs and small children. This year I passed all the dogs and children. I would a be damned if that Tibetan mastiff would pass me, and only the teenagers passed me. I’m OK with that.

So I really wanted to improve over my time from last year. Last year I really struggled, which surprised me since I usually climb well in trail races. But this course was ALL uphill, and while the gradient eased slightly a couple of times, it never really went flat. I feel fit this year, so I had that going for me. But I’ve done no anaerobic training and no specific climbing workouts. What would all this low intensity Maffetone training mean when I was going to redline my heart rate and not let up? And this was a short race, making it very intense and anaerobic, not like the longer efforts I’ve done this summer where the aerobic training would clearly pay off. To race for four or seven hours means almost all your energy is aerobic. But a super intense uphill effort for less than an hour will significantly challenge my anaerobic fitness as well. Since I do no anaerobic workouts and just use racing for my intensity, do I even have any such fitness? The only other short race I’ve done this summer was the Burton Creek 10K, and I definitely struggled there. I want to believe that was solely due to the previous day’s MTB race, but I still doubt myself. Also going against me, especially climbing uphill against gravity, is that I am far from my racing weight. This summer was supposed to get me close to racing weight for this race and especially XTERRA Incline. Too much livin’ large in the Tahoe summer. Rich food and drink make for a slow racer.

So the results were very favorable. And while I had to drag my heavy body uphill against gravity, I did so at a run for almost the whole race. For the first two miles I never walked except in the traffic jam at the start. While other racers kept alternating from a walk to a jog, I just kept chugging along like a diesel going up Donner Summit. I seriously thought that I might be able to run every step. But just before the single track section I walked a switchback which was really steep, thinking a recharge would help. It didn’t. The single track was steeper and narrower than I remembered, and very congested with people. I walked a lot of it to conserve energy. In retrospect this was the right thing to do, but it was demoralizing at the time. When the single track ended, there was only a half mile to go, and it eased a bit before the final finishing straight. This is where I really came unglued last year. I was hurting, got passed by a dog and then a young girl. This year, I felt much better and pressed on, even managing a finishing kick and lunge that put me past a guy that I had been sparring with. And I chopped minutes off of my time.

Even more good news about the low heart rate aerobic training. In a much shorter and more intense race, I could feel that more of my energy was aerobic, and I recovered from the race within a few minutes. Last year I sat on the lawn with a thousand yard stare and struggled to get my metabolism back to normal. In addition to the low heart rate training, I am experimenting with hydration. Since listening to this podcast interview with Dr. Timothy Noakes, author of the massive tome The Lore of Running, I have followed his advice to drink only water, and only to thirst. Apparently, electrolytes and dehydration are greatly exaggerated, possibly by the sports drink industry. More on this later as the experiment evolves. I felt no thirst during the race, but afterwards I drank a big glass of water out of habit from my commemorative pub glass, then a glass of the free beer. You can’t pass up free beer.

Nearly four minutes faster than last year

Quick recovery

No dehydration

Attached video is Tim Van Orden, another plant based athlete, describing how hard this race is.


Race Report: Burton Creek Trail Run 10K

This was the second year for this race, and the turnout was really good. But just like the previous day’s mountain bike race, there was the snow issue. For the marathon and half marathon loop the same Antone Meadows section was eliminated. And while the 5K/10K loop didn’t go as far up into the woods as the MTB race, did, we still had some snow to wade through. Last year I had a great race, finishing in the top five, thanks to a strong finishing kick on a tricky finishing stretch. I knew not to expect such a performance this year. since my off season training was lackluster and my switch to Maffetone’s low heart rate training would keep my pace a little slower. But the real reason I knew this race would be slower and harder was that racing a mountain bike for longer than I ever have before the day before would leave me with a lot of fatigue. Plus, the altitude was still putting the zap on my brain.

So this race had a different goal than last year. The general goal of go as fast as possible and see how fast that actually is remains the same. But the circumstances force me to accept a slower result. Instead this race was more about piling on more fatigue, similar to a triathlon, but over two days. So I had a night to recover from the MTB race, but not enough to really recover. I had some soreness, but mostly the feeling of dead legs. So I would go into the run with significant fatigue, just like a triathlon, so it’s good experience to run on dead legs. And my legs were dead for sure. Each lap started with a gradual climb, which felt Himalayan. I couldn’t believe how high my heart rate was, yet my pace was so slow. Well, reality can bite, so I did all I could, practice finding the sweet spot of pacing. Well, the “sweetest” spot I could find anyway. I survived both laps, and while not fast, my purely aerobic training left me feeling like I still had some gas in the tank when it was all over. Even if I couldn’t have gone any faster. On a more amusing note, I always race in my Organic Athlete kit to promote the plant strong lifestyle, and sometimes draw a comment. Yesterday’s MTB race drew a cheer as I crossed the finish line, and today a couple asked as I they (unfortunately) passed me, “Are you really vegan?” Mostly, I replied. “Cool!” was the answer. That’s right kiddies, you too can eat only plants like me and struggle at the back of the pack!

16th place overall

Race Report: Squaw Mountain Run

        How many years have I been trying to do this run? For some reason I could never find it to get registered until this year. Either it never showed up on the calendars that I checked, or web sites, or I would just miss it by a day or a week. I suppose that it is fitting that this year when I have raced so consistently that I would finally get set up to do it. So I finally got myself up to the Squaw Valley parking lot on the first Saturday in August to race up the mountain.
        Great turnout! 540 runners! As a fund raiser for the Auburn ski club, they must be stoked to rake in that cash. I was reminded constantly by the reflection in Born to Run that running is a deep set human activity, almost primal, as evidenced by the huge numbers who will gather to run together. We start complete strangers, who no longer feel quite so strange after sweating and suffering together. Especially for a “race” where only a select few are truly racing. The rest of us just run. Why? Why don’t we stay at home and sleep in on a weekend morning? Do some sensible exercise, like walk the dog? Especially for a race like this one where we all knew that it would hurt. No one shows up for a mountain run expecting to escape the suffering. And yet, 540 souls lined up to test themselves.
        And what a test it was! I knew the course only as a winter ski run. It’s long for a ski run, over three miles, because it gradually winds and switchbacks its way down the mountain. It’s primary function is to be graded ascent for maintenance vehicles, both summer and winter. So while I knew it would be a relentless climb, I didn’t think that it would be that steep. Holy cow, was I wrong about that! As I joked with a couple on the tram ride down, I’ve never walked so much of a trail race. It took a while, but eventually I found something approaching a rhythm of walking and running that kept me moving forward. It wasn’t like a usual trail race where the terrain constantly changes, sometimes necessitating walking. Here, walking wasn’t faster, just unavoidable when my legs ran out of power. I had the most peculiar sensation when switching from a walk to a run, I couldn’t feel my legs! It was like they went numb! I would glance down to check that they were still there and still functioning!
        The other peculiar sensation reflects my fitness profile, and instructs me in how I need to modify my training. At the beginning, my heart rate was pinned, but I am used to that feeling, so I carefully gauge my effort to keep from blowing up. But as the race went on, I gradually lost power in my legs. I wasn’t breathing all that hard, but I couldn’t go any faster. I noticed this in the recent XTERRA races as well, but I figured that it was a result of deadening my legs with a 2 hour mountain bike ride first. In this case, I wasn’t out that long before my strength faded. So, I need to modify my training to include a lot more strength work. I have done a little of this, now I know that I need to be a lot more consistent. This result reflects my usual training routes, which are fairly flat, and the lack of gym workouts. I recall now that the last gym workouts I did that my legs were not nearly as strong as they used to be. SInce I have had this experience a couple times now, I need to change my training to focus on strength and muscular endurance until the end of the season. Hills! I must run them! And weights! I must lift them! And this off season? Time to become a gym rat!

Tahoe Trail Run: Run to the Beach 10K Race Report

        With no clear information ahead of time, this race was even more of a mystery than most. If I knew the area, as some may have, I would have known what to expect. I expected a fairly flat and fast course, since the only description was a mix of trail and road. Also, since the 5K and 10K courses shared a common route for part of the race, I figured that it would be flat. Nope. There was some significant singletrack climbing on the 10K only loop, but since the website had no course profile I didn’t know what to expect. It was a great course, a fair amount of singletrack, one good climb that required a walk at the top, and lots of rocks! I didn’t feel particularly fast, since I was back in the pack, unable to really pass anyone. I ended up running with the same group for most of the race, trading the lead occasionally. I was definitely out of gas at the end, and while I held off some of the people I passed, I got passed by a couple of people who came from nowhere. Unfortunately, I ran off course twice for a few meters (nothing major). Once was THEIR fault, two different arrows, different colors, different directions. The second time was my fault, I was following another runner on a descent and she missed a turn and I didn’t notice. The race had a tough finish that I did not expect, which was on sand! Apparently it was not just a race TO the beach but also ON the beach! Ouch, that hurt.
        Overall, I ran under 54 minutes, which is significantly faster than Burton Creek, making me wonder if the courses were both really 10K. I also wore my new heart rate monitor to see what intensity I was racing at. I uploaded the data into the computer to graph heart rate and found an average of 175, which is a hair under my usual LT of 180. I can feel the difference though, between 175 BPM, where I can recover, to 180 BPM where I feel pinned, and the few times I was up to 182-184 BPM, I was hurting. And so wraps up my first racing/training vacation of the summer: three races on three consecutive beautiful weekends in fantastic Lake Tahoe! Now it’s time to go back to work, make some money to keep up this habit, and tweak the training a bit to get faster.

Next Up for Racing:
Three consecutive Friday night beginner class mountain bike races to improve handling skills.
Find an Olympic distance road triathlon to try a different sort of race

Next Up for Training:
LT intervals!

Next Up for Tahoe Vacation:
Gotta check the calendars for that…

Tahoe City 10K

        Never trust Google maps completely. That is the lesson of this race. Also, cross check information. I should have looked at the race website for directions, but since this race director has not always gotten all of the information correct in the past, I went with Google thinking that a state park should be easy pickins’ for the Archiver of the Known Universe. Not quite. FInally locating said state park on the state website after the race, the first sentence was “Lake Tahoe’s hidden state park.” No doubt. I could not find this state park with Goolge’s directions. I finally resorted to driving aimlessly around Tahoe City until I found a lot of parked cars and what looked like runners. When I saw a race number, I knew I was in the right place, but it was not the state park. Instead it was the Nordic ski center where I learned how to ski as a little kid many years ago. Turns out that the Nordic center use the “trails”of the state park in the winter and maintain them. The rest of the year you’re on your own. They are not really marked due to unrseolved access issues.
        Fortunately, due to other race morning issues, I left with plenty of time, and while I did not have enough time for a proper warmup for a short course race, I still had plenty of time to check in, get my number, drop the swag bag in the car and take a few deep breaths. The course, as advertised, was fairly flat, no huge climbs like I get in the Santa Cruz mountains or Marin. It was rolling single and double track. But the altitude made these “rolling” climbs much harder. The real challenge on this two lap circuit was a narrow, rocky single track climb. Visually, it was not at all steep, but the narrow twisting trail, generously littered with large rocks, forced you to run sideways as much as forward. A smooth and consistent cadence was impossible, and my heart rate showed it. On the first lap I passed some people, including a woman that I ended running with for most of the race, since she passed me back on the climb on lap 2. I didn’t want to pass her again, but as the course flattened out and became smooth double track, I recovered and picked up my pace, while she didn’t. I had also been passed by some kid who never gapped me either. He would periodically look back. Yeah, I’m still here, you haven’t dropped me yet. I recovered, but they never sped up! I was in a quandary, do I have enough power for another move? When do I go? The finish was tricky with really unstable deep wood chips that were like running in sand. As we headed downhill into the finish, I was right on their heels, yet still they wouldn’t accelerate! I looked to make a move, then the kid who led our little group flinched a little, holding his side. His form looked a little shaky earlier, but now I knew, he was hurting, so I went as hard as I could. I kicked with what I had, determined to hold out to the finish, which I did. I came in just under an hour, having gapped my group by eight and thirteen seconds respectively. A beautiful day, a beautiful race. Summering in Tahoe is divine!