I haven't really explored the Highwood area a lot, but it looks to have a whole host of gems, and hopefully I can get back here this year before the winter snows really fly. Yesterday Saira and I extended our gentle hike up to Ptarmigan Cirque, reaching 9800ft on Mt Rae via an unexpected little scramble! Quite a bit of snow up high put paid to a summit attempt - no micro-spikes or poles! Definitely one to get back to to settle unfinished business.
I’ll try to keep this one short. For starters it happened an eternity ago. There’s no such thing as an easy hundred miler, and this summer’s choice of races proves that point. What the hell was I thinking signing up for 2 of these brutes, especially as S7 cones a mere 3 short weeks after Bighorn. Bighorn was a suffer fest of mud and rain - my slowest finish yet; time to redeem myself and nail this distance, I thought as I accepted Stoked Oats’ generous offer to race as their guy.
Here’s what goes down.
HEAT: I’ve run Western States but this was brutal. Somehow the brain is psyched and prepped to be fried in the canyons of the American River. I’m not ready for the heat of Crowsnest Pass. Should’ve been in the sauna more, and should have treated the conditions with more respect. I don’t drink enough early on, and you know how that goes...schoolboy errors.
PACING: Evertone knows this. It’s all too easy to go out full gas at the start of 100 miles. I should know better. This was no. 7. I’m a veteran, no? There was a lot of big talk from runners who shall remain nameless as to who was going to do what to such and such a course record. Unfortunately what you plan to do and want to do, don’t always come to fruition. I have my own goals, but I’ll keep them to myself pre-race. I was hoping to step on the podium, to run strong in the second half and finally break the curse - jeez, how many times have I finished 4th or 5th now - just missing out on a podium spot in a 100 mile race - it’s getting a bit silly, really! Mmmm, poor fuelling early on, and a pace a bit too fast a bit too soon after Bighorn...you live and learn. Good bye podium finish.
HALLUCINATIONS OR NOT: 70 miles in I come into an aid station - ridiculously dry, nauseated but thirsty, lightheaded and woozy, I lay down for a few minutes. I try to chug down some lemonade - it looks good but tastes barf-worthy (is that a word?); still it’s better than the lukewarm water on offer everywhere else. I sip a bit, lay down with my feet up - trying not to pass out. Yup, definitely dehydrated and low on BP - I need to get moving otherwise I’m done, and what will the crew chief say; so I stand, stagger and shuffle my way down the trail. A minute later I dash into the bushes and empty the guts. A brief reprieve from the nausea but wow, that’s not good. Woozy as anything I lift my head ....... a clown stares down at me. “Yard Sale” is emblazoned across a sign he is holding. A full sized circus clown with a yard sale. Good grief I’m hallucinating.....that’s a first - I chuckle and stagger off down the trail wondering if it’s time to pull the plug.
THE TALK: Donato has paced and crewed me before. Saira - aka Crew Chief - knows the scoop in 100 mile racing. Wise words like “you need to HTFU” have been whispered in my ear at Leadville. “You are not gonna teach your kids it’s OK to quit” - she knows how to get me moving. Unless there’s a bone poking out, there’s no way to quit on her watch. After a miserable 20 minutes at TA5, during which time I attempt to eat a donut (spitting it out of my bone dry saliva-free mouth after an eternity of chewing), consider drinking a Radler beer (I should have) and then drink everyone’s coffee from Timmies (man, I love coffee), Donato in his infinite wisdom informs me that the pain of dropping will be with me for a long time, and that another 5 or 6 hours on the trail won’t be that bad. Crew chief tells me I can’t quit. Hell you have enough time to walk every step to the finish. OK man I’m off. With a renewed vigor (short lived) I head out.
SLEEPY HOLLOW: Stage 6 sucks. It sucks bad. It is steep and loose and never ending. I’m dehydrated and hypoglycemic. An aid station materializes in the darkness. There’s a comfy looking thermarest over there with some kid asleep on it. He grumbles as the Aid Station captain drags him off to make room for me and I sleep. Timmies obviously doesn’t have much caffeine in it I think as I drop off. First time ever in a race - I’m sleeping - that’s another first. I startle after 30 mins. Time to move on - dropping here means a long descent back to TA5. Much easier to pop over the pass and drop at the next aid there I’m informed. Mike Hamilton passes me looking strong. I no longer care about placing (funny how the goalposts are always moving). I plod on - so much for the ‘power-hike’ - ha.
RECOVERY and CLOWNS AGAIN: The recovery comes. It always does. I’ve learnt this much. Slowly at first, creeping up on me like that creepy clown in the bush. For me it’s always the same. It seeps into my legs and belly, almost unexpectedly. I’m thirsty. I’m hungry. Man, that gel was good. Vitargo tastes great. I love running hundreds. I gotta catch those lights ahead. The night is still and I am enjoying this dark vista. I crest the pass then down, down, down, it seems to fly by. Quads are good, I’m running. I can switch off from the pain in my feet. Oh - look, it’s the clown again. He’s pretty creepy at this ungodly hour, but he’s real. I chuckle again, and keep chugging along.
I FINISH: the finish arrives, sweet as always. I feel like I’m flying down the final stretch of pavement - Strava disagrees. RD Brian and my crew cheer me in. I stop running and that’s it. Another one in the bag. I always find it’s a bit of an anticlimax - except the States finish of course. I sit, grin, and chat to my supporters. The sun is coming up - it’s going to be hot; glad I’m done I muse. The buckle is sweet and bigger than the Leadville Sub 24 buckle. The bottle of Red is a nice touch with my name and time on the label - I’ll enjoy drinking that tomorrow. Man, that was tough, I hate hundreds; still the record is intact, 7 finishes, all sub 24, no podiums - 4th or 5th again I think...wonder which one I’ll do next......
Starting leg 4. Baking.
Donato pep talk - start leg 6 - feeling good, but it didn’t last!
Two words sum up the Bighorn 100 2017 edition.
Lots of it.
Heavy and sticky mud - that clay-like mud that quadruples the weight on the end of your already hard to lift legs. Slippery mud - like ice - that made me thankful I can ski, and thankful that I run on snow and ice for half the year. Mud that started about 5 hours in, and only abated with 5 or 6 miles to go.
Not just drizzle.
Not spring showers.
Heavy, torrential sideways rain.
Soaked to the core almost immediately.
I was dry and warm at the welcoming Footbridge Aid station 30 miles in. Spirits high, feeling strong in the top 10, but maybe I’ll grab another jacket, you know, just in case. Truth be told, Saira forced some extra clothing on me. The skies look grey, so maybe throw in a buff and some gloves too. Best decision ever. Best crew ever.
I ran well, but 18 hours of soaked skin and macerated toes wears thin. Grabbing trees, and grass for traction it became an exercise in willpower. How bad do I really want this? My crew were stalwarts though; never a doubt.
“Sit down…change your shirt.”
Warm dry jackets and fresh gloves. At Jaws, almost 10,000ft, the rain and wind were intense. Just above zero degrees C, it was freezing, icy rain. I changed, ate and drank then jumped back into the maelstrom outside, quick to get moving lest I change my mind.
Getting up there was a challenge, getting back down was, well, laughable. You could call it running, but it didn’t look much like anything resembling a run.
Slip, slide, curse, fall. Repeat.
Look for some grass, look for traction. Wish I had poles!
The moods of those I passed after the turnaround were at two ends of a spectrum. Joanna Ford looked happy and strong a few kilometres down the trail, but most were in a battle to keep moving. Many were unprepared, with next to no protection from the elements. One fellow grunted “You’ve gotta be kidding, this is a joke right” as I slithered down a steep pitch and grabbed a tree before I slid into him.
It got dark on the way down from Jaws. I don’t remember much more of the descent once daylight faded, encased in my own hooded little world, alone with my thoughts, a small circle of light my only point of reference. I remember I laughed though. Either that or cry, it was becoming an ordeal!
Soon, I’m back at the Footbridge. Saira is there; the experienced crew chief, she knows me too well.
“Get this broth down….here, an egg mcmuffin.”
Never a question I would finish this one. There was no doubt. Emily paced from mile 66. A bad spell for me, I felt sorry for her; this was supposed to be a jaunt through some beautiful country! Instead she had a miserable partner, huffing and deep breathing, fighting the urge to vomit, trying to keep the legs moving. Climbing the wall, nauseated and fatigued, it was hard to remain positive.
Emily: “How you doing back there?”
Me: “Good……ish” I lied; more like bloody awful, but who wants a pity party.
Emily: “See that light up ahead - next aid station - only a few hundred metres.” She lied too.
Moving slowly but steadily, we ran into pre-race favourite Bob Shebest. He looked bad. Shivering and shaking in a tiny tent at the side of the trail, he had half the clothes I had. The small electric heater in that tent made for a haven that was hard to leave. Bob dropped ultimately, the warmth of that tent proving too much it seemed.
The temptation to stay there was…… "Let’s get going again” said Emily, so we did. Back into the dark and rain, growing tired of this now. Without a pacer, I’d have struggled mightily to get back out. I owe you Compton.
At Dry Fork aid, Ruchel joined. After the monstrous climb with Emily, I was starting to feel good again. Strange how that happens. Roch Horton famously said "It doesn't always get worse" and he was right. Food was going down. Vitargo was tasting good again, and even a vanilla gel slid down easily. And it was getting light, lifting my spirits further. A quick coffee, maybe three, and some broth, then time to get ‘er done. It was still pissing down though.
Grabbing poles I knew I was in for one hell of a descent - Ruchel can descend with the best - but first, more climbing. And now I was running again. 85 miles in and I was running the ups. That doesn’t happen very often, I mused. Then soon we were dropping. The final descent - a brute - 4000 feet - steep and slippery, enough to finish off a few toenails. It felt fast, really fast - the third fastest split of the day (strava disagrees about the ‘fast’ part, I’ll add, but a good split nevertheless). Ruchel looked to be having a blast, no doubt glad to be moving after a long day and night of crewing in miserable conditions.
(CREW=Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting).
Ruchel's mood was contagious - it always is; and I think I may have managed a grin. Ankles and toes now blackened and bruised. Heels rubbed raw, but the finish was within reach. It was still raining, but easing a bit. One final steep drop on rocky single track, and onto the gravel of the Sheep River Canyon Road. Time to bring this one home.
The final 4 miles of road are a sting in the tail. Quads now trashed, and energy sapped. “I wish it would stop fucking raining..” More climbs, in reality small speed bumps. I’m overheating now, all these clothes on. It’s warm down here, and I suspect the weather is looking brighter.
The final turns through town. Half a mile to the finish….
The clouds part, the sky turns blue, and the sun comes out.
“You really have got to be kidding”
***I’m proud of this one. Only 47% of the field finished. 18 hours of torrential rain. I placed 7th, in 23h 03m, my slowest 100 miles yet, but one I’m really proud of. The lead four guys ran it in together, having lost the desire to push and race. This one hammered home the importance of a crew and pacers. There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have finished without them. Huge thanks to my awesome all girl crew - Saira, Emily, Ruchel.
A few things I'm enjoying currently.
If you haven't listened to Tim Ferriss' podcast, or checked out his newsletter, I can recommend a look. I don't like all of his stuff (definitely some 'woo' in there), but his Friday newsletter is good. He posts a few things he's enjoying every Friday - from tech gadgets, to music, to books and quotes. This is my early 2017 version.
Best Gadget: Stryd footpod - www.stryd.com - running with Power - basing my interval sessions on wattage rather than HR or RPE seems to help me keep the intensity dialed in a bit better.
Books: Listening to "The Mindful Athlete" by Mumford and Jackson. Not my usual genre, but interesting, and despite being a bit 'touchy feely' the discussion of 'Flow' state is good. I'm also listening to "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" on Audible, and it's a great long listen if you're into that sort of thing. For fiction, I'm just getting into "End of Watch" by Stephen King - the final part of the Mr Mercedes trilogy. Narrated by Will Patton on audible, this trilogy is a classic.
Podcast: Liking "The Forward"; this is Lance Armstrong's podcast. Good guests, and I like his interview style - didn't think I'd like it, but it's entertaining. I liked the recent Malcolm Gladwell episode a lot - lots of football talk. The Michael Morton episode is absolutely riveting.
Apps: Workflow on iOS. A great way to automate a few multi-step tasks. If I see a tweet linking to an article I wan't to read later, a quick tap will send the link into Omnifocus (the mother of all task managers); I can convert any article, webpage, or photo into a PDF document and save to Dropbox, creating a link that is saved to the clipboard. I can immediately post to IG the last pic taken. These are just a few examples of time saving workflows. The app is $3.99 on the App Store I think.
Gear: I have some Compressport tights (full length and 3/4 ) on order - they look great - review later. Other than that, the Salomon Agile 250 belt is a snug little belt, big enough to hold the monstrous iPhone 7+, and a thin jacket/gloves. I'm using it for most <2 hr runs, when the weather looks stable.
March started off with some fairly darned stellar running conditions. The trails were dry and the school track was even starting to look half usable. Volume has been increasing steadily and I've been trying to lengthen the interval sessions to get in some 15-20 minute tempo sets. The theory of reverse periodisation would stress increasing specificity as race season approaches, so that's what I've been trying to do, with the first race of 2017 a mere 6 weeks away (Yakima Skyline 50km - I should probably post this years planned races here at some point!). The weather this weekend has not helped however! Snowmageddon hit again late Friday, so it was back to hours of plodding yesterday! Still, I look at these as being character building and strength enhancing! Been in the gym regularly - deadlifts and squats mostly, but these long uphill slogs are another form of strength, plus they are mentally tough when the weather is seriously crap. EEOR yesterday with Piotr Babis was a bit of an ordeal but we got 'er done! The traverse through the rock band (snow band) was particularly sketchy.
Today was cold and the forecast doesn't look much better for the next week, but that can always change. Roll on Spring Break and a week in Moab, I say!
Weekly summary: interval session Thursday with 8 x 3 mins and 8 x 10 sec sprints.
Friday I did 21 km with 2 x 15 mins at tempo power.
Saturday Long run (mostly snow slog) EEOR summit from home - 1448m climbing, 18.5km
The rest was easy zone 1/2 running. 2 rest days.
A few pics.
The new Stryd power centre charts are great at showing progression in volume and intensity week to week.
I think as a trail runner it's way too easy to get caught up in that one thing that we love to do, running! Last year, we had a lousy winter, but it did make for great early season running on dirt - and that was perfect leading into Western States; this year, by contrast, it hasn't been so easy to get out for long runs, as it's been cold, and definitely more snowy.
I'm still running 4 to 5 days per week, but making a conscious to mix it up a little, and the running focus early season has definitely been more on quality rather than quantity. As far as mixing it up goes, XC skiing and a bit of skimo have been great cross training.
The Thursday run group goes from strength to strength, and the interval sessions I arrange are making everyone faster! On the weekends I try to do another quality workout - last night for example I did 2 x 20 mins at tempo intensity, a 'double day', with an easy hour jog in the morning. Friday I didn't work but had a great day out on the planks at Bow Summit; 4 hours of non stop ski touring - 1000m + of laps with Adam, Laura and Donato, so to be able to get in that workout last night is encouraging. It's a long weekend, so I'll try to get in something longish today and see what tomorrow brings! Life ain't bad!
A few random pics below to go along with my babbling this morning.
This has been a chilly winter so far! As I write we are back in the deep freeze, highs forecast around -18C for the next few days. I still managed to get out today though - a jaunt up Ha Ling (2407m) with the dogs. I kept the intensity down - hiked up, jogged down. Pretty chilly up top - thank goodness no wind or it would have been brutal. Feeling pretty flat this morning - a long work week, probably less sleep than I should have had, and some decent interval sessions over the last couple of weeks are catching up, so time to have a couple of easier days! Thursday we did the Deadman's hill - "1 mile hill" x 4, followed by 3 x 30 second sprints. Really cold, so we bailed after the 4th interval, despite planning 5. Still a quality session.
Tomorrow I'm going to try to brave the weather for a long day - maybe try Grotto - which would be a 3-4 hour grunt I expect with the recent snow. Alternatively, I may look for some skimo action, but we'll see.
Looking at January Movescount numbers, I'm down on last year, but most of that looks to be ski touring related - just haven't had much opportunity to get out for those long ski days. As well, I've been focusing more on the intensity, which naturally leads to shorter, though quality, sessions.
JANUARY 2017 28 sessions (missed a few strength workouts); 34h 38m; 270km; 8700m ascent.
Always a bit of a struggle getting out of bed to run hill intervals when it's dark and cold outside, but they say 'you never regret the workout you did.'
This morning I quickly built a workout on my iOS Movescount app, synced it to my Ambit 3 Vertical (all surprisingly easy and fast) and headed out the door.
I did a 10 minute warm up jog, threw in a couple of strides then 7 x 2 min hill intervals with equal work to rest periods. I'm trying to follow a bit of a reverse periodisation program as used by CTS for ultra runners. Essentially January to mid Feb will be about 'raising the aerobic ceiling' i.e. Maximizing my VO2. I felt surprisingly good given that this was my 3rd interval session this week. Pushed out 400 watts per interval.
6 or so weeks ago, Adam Campbell and I decided to spend our Saturday morning summiting Mt Temple (3544m/11627") near Lake Louise. We would go fast and light, aiming to beat the weekend crowds; minimal fuss, minimal equipment. The forecast was great, and after a bit of digging around online to find details on the route (neither of us had been there before) we came across an FKT boards post by local runner and Banffite Tom Amaral. Tom had raced up & down the scramblers route in 3h 44m. As we scrolled down the page, we saw that a BC visitor, Michael Burke had bagged the summit, car to car, in 3h 21m a few days earlier. His comment was that 'some fast local guys could go under 3h.' Gauntlet thrown down! Adam and I decided that we'd go out quick, and if we hit Sentinel Pass in under 55mins (Michael's split) then we'd keep on hammering. If not, then it wasn't meant to be, but we'd continue on at a more leisurely pace. Michael had summitted in 2h 30m, so it's definitely a grunt from the pass to the top of Temple, with some tricky route finding and a couple of scrambling sections along the way.
Arriving in Lake Louise it was clear that the conditions were perfect. Very little wind, clear skies, and nice temps forecast. We decided to forego much in the way of extra gear other than a light jacket in the pack and a pair of gloves. I wore shorts, a long sleeve and a buff on my head. I took 2 17oz soft-flasks with Vitargo, Adam felt one was plenty. I packed a single gel and my InReach Explorer emergency beacon. Lots of coffee was consumed on the drive in.
Despite arriving well before 6am the parking lot at Moraine Lake was busy and we barely got in! If you're planning on bagging Mt Temple, be prepared for an Alpine start!
I hit the watch at the trailhead and we were off. It was pretty hectic running over the first few km, passing by all the tourists, but as we approached Sentinel Pass, it was clear running, and I couldn't see anyone else ahead. The steep zigzags to the pass passed by quickly and as we crested I had 44mins on the stop watch, so we knew we were going well. OK, I guess we're gonna keep hammering. From here it was hands on knees with not much talking. The route was fairly obvious and within minutes we had scrambled through the crux rock bands without much difficulty. A few hundred meters of loose talus and we moved on to the steep trail on the other side of the ridge, where temps plummeted and we donned jackets and gloves. Before long we spotted a slower moving party up ahead approaching the summit. They were no doubt surprised as we raced by, grunted out our 'good morning's and along the final snowy, corniced ridge to the summit proper. I hit the lap button on the summit. 1h 46m 45s. A quick snap to prove we were there, then we were racing back down.
Fortunately there was very little traffic on the way down as there is definite potential for some rock fall. A clear trail also meant for rapid descending. We moved quickly and efficiently, taking care not to be reckless, as a slip could be disastrous. In no time at all we were scrambling down the final rocks to Sentinel Pass and we set off down the switchbacks at a really fast pace. As the trail leveled off below the pass, Adam pushed the pace hard and I struggled to keep up, but the thought of a sub-3 hour round trip was enough of a carrot for me to dig deep. I'm sure we startled a few hikers on the way down at sub 4min/km pace. The final sprint to the trailhead was crazy. The last 0.5 km was done at a 3:20 pace so I think I was running as fast as I ever have! I slapped the big rock at the trailhead and stopped the watch at 2h 42m 08s.
I finished with a gel in my pocket and a single full 17oz soft flask in my pack ;-) Enjoy the photos below.
**Addendum - it' now January 6, 2017. Adam suffered a serious accident a few weeks after this, fracturing his ankle, pelvis and spine. This morning, Adam and I hiked up Lady Mac, an amazing recovery by all standards. I realized on the way back down that I forgot to post this! Cheers Adam!**
My first multi day trail running race.
The Blood. My first VK. I held back as much as I dared. Decent effort. No need to kill myself for a few seconds. Third place. Happy with that! The poles were a big help. Thanks Phil for that gem.
The Sweat. Everything came together on the Queen stage - stage 2 - 60km and 2500m of climbing - somehow the stars aligned - and I just managed to have one of those days that rarely come along. I had a day like this a few years back at Cascade Crest 100, and I was having a great day at Iron Legs until an oversight saw me run 7km off course, so this was hugely satisfying. I ran early on with a bunch who were fast on the flats, but I felt I was climbing easier. I was breathing easy and everything was clicking. We hit the big climb. Time to go as I didn't want to summit in a pack. Running scared, I kept the pace high and finished just outside course record. Second was 43 mins back. I now had a strong lead in the overall GC. Time to recover. I cooled off in the Kickinghorse river, guzzled Vitargo S2 and some protein. Full leg compression all night.
Stage 3 The Tears. A half marathon on tight and technical single track. The legs were good. Maybe all the post ultra soreness is purely mental I pondered. The ribs were sore though! Clearly heavy breathing works the intercostals and diaphragm. Again I'm in a small group with the same GC contenders early on. Surely I can't blow this now I thought, so pushed the pace at 10km on a long climb. Suddenly I'm alone and running away from my nearest rivals. Pushing hard to the finish, not enough to catch a fresh leader, but enough for second place on the stage and enough to take the overall win. Very happy with that!
Thanks to Magi for giving us a very challenging and beautiful course. The ridge on day 2 rivals the beauty of any race I've ever done. Thanks to Salomon for the 6000 sq ft of pure luxury accommodation at Kicking Horse!
Add this one to your bucket list.
It’s taken me a few weeks to digest everything that went on at the 2016 Western States. I will start by saying that it wasn’t the race performance I was hoping for, but it was certainly everything I knew it would be. I believed I could lay down a quicker time - lofty goals indeed for a race with such a reputation for destroying even the best. It’s my 5th hundred and arguably on paper, the easiest course. I didn’t underestimate the difficulties as 100 miles is never an easy proposition - it’s always a journey, with hiccups and bumps along the way. I’ve been here enough times to know that things rarely go to plan, and there will always be low points, along with some pretty incredible highs in any race of this distance. I trained for the heat, and I trained harder than ever. I put in some really good quality work in the early part of the year, that set me up for a great race. But I feel like the second half of Western States just got away from me. I have been trying to analyze what happened, and I think it simply boils down to a bit of bad luck, some overoptimism, and a few schoolboy errors! And one problem can snowball rapidly into others in a race like Western.
This race is a giant, and believe me it lives up to the hype - from the pre-race meetings and start line hoopla, to the atmosphere as one steps foot onto the track at Placer High. It is everything that you imagine it to be. It is a beautiful course, especially the first 30 miles through the Granite Chief Wilderness. It is stunning to be running easily along high ridges at first light, with vast vistas of lakes and distant snowy peaks. Of course you feel good in those early miles, and that adds to the whole depth and quality of experience.
I cruised easily to the top of the escarpment, the first and biggest climb, right where I wanted to be. I typically try to place myself with the lead women, and I found myself passing the early miles with Kaci and Devon who would ultimately finish first and third. We surprised ourselves somewhat when we caught Jim Walmsley near the top of the escarpment, but he was playing mind games with the main contenders, walking the flats, and running the climbs! Needless to say, we backed off and found our rhythm.
The early miles out to Duncan Canyon rolled by easily. I was fuelling well with Vitargo Race in my bottle. My legs felt great, and I was very relaxed. Fitzy and Ethan Veneklassen were at Duncan Canyon to top up my bottles and it was an in and out in 20 seconds. At Robinson Flat, Saira, her dad and the boys, were excited to see me.
The atmosphere here was incredible and I felt like a rockstar rolling in. We started heat management here as the day was warming up and high temps were forecast to be in the 100s later on. Ice in the hat, down the sleeves and around the neck - you’ve all seen the Rob Krar video right! I rolled on easily to Dusty Corners where Fitzy and Ethan topped me up again, and I was out of there quickly, enjoying the trail, and anticipating the difficulties ahead. I felt chilly with all the ice, but knew that this was a good thing. I chatted with Kyle Pietari who was cruising the downhills but seemed to be struggling through the climbs. We played yo yo for a few miles, then he was gone, running a fantastic second half to finish 8th. I purposely relaxed on the descents. With around 24,000 feet of downhill, this is not the place to be cranking out fast descents early on.
By Last Chance aid station at mile 43, things were warming up but I was in control. The effort was steady, I had no niggles, and I was eating and drinking lots. In the first 45 miles I stopped for quick bathroom breaks 4 times, so I was on top of the hydration, and it really didn’t feel super hot. I grabbed some gels for the next section, topped up my bottles and prepared for the canyons which is typically where things can turn sour for those who go out too fast. I was rolling out of the aid station when a volunteer offered to douse me with a cold sponge. It was bracing and I gasped with the cold, and then I instantly regretted the shower as my pristine dry shoes and socks got a good soaking. ‘Oh well” I thought, ‘I never get blisters’, and I knew I would be seeing the crew at Michigan Bluff(mile 55) with dry socks and shoes. This is where my great day out took a turn for the worse. Never say never, right.
From Last Chance there is a dramatic and steep plunge into Deadwood Canyon. The drop is around 2000ft. It is steep and loose in places. The grade is such that it’s hard to open up and run down, especially with 40+ miles in the legs. I knew as soon as I set off down the switchbacks that my feet were in trouble. I felt hot spots develop almost immediately in both heels, and within a half a mile I had searing pain in both heels. The grade was such that it was hard to get the weight forward onto my toes, so every foot strike became an agonizing sheer on the skin of my heels. It was a relief to cross over the creek and begin climbing the Devil’s Thumb as the climb provided some respite for my tender heels. It is a tough old climb, the hardest on the course I’d say, but I felt like I was climbing well. The legs felt good. All systems go. Through Devil’s aid station and then it’s down, down, down again - this time around 2600 ft into El Dorado canyon. The descent is less severe but the heel pain returned as soon as I turned downhill. I was passed by Amy Sproston on this descent on her way to a second place finish, as I tried to gingerly tip toe down through the turns. At the bottom of El Dorado I dipped my hat in the creek for a refreshing shower, this time taking care to keep my shoes dry, but unfortunately the damage was done. Damp socks, blistered heels and hot spots on the forefeet. During the steep canyon descents I was miserable. My feet were killing me, and I kicked myself for allowing blisters to form. It seemed that the discomfort was all encompassing. Negative thoughts crept in for a while, but I remembered a blog post I had read somewhere - I don’t recall where - where I’d read that the pain from blistering usually abates. I had a word in my head for the entire middle third of the race - “Persistence”. I have been through difficult times in races, and things do always get better. “Be persistent” I told myself “it will improve.”
The climb out of El Dorado is steep and temperatures were pushing into the high 90s. I managed to run/hike a lot of this, feeling strong on the ups, and in no time at all I recognized the final short road into Michigan Bluff at mile 55.
Up until Last Chance I was running off 18h 30m splits, and I’m pleased to say that I was nailing the splits spot on. My feet significantly slowed me down in the canyons however, and by Michigan Bluff I was well off target. I decided I was not going to look at the watch again, I’d just do what I could do and get through. My main goal is always to finish, and at States I really wanted that Silver buckle. At Michigan Bluff the whole crew was waiting. I took a seat and Saira did a fantastic job in drying my feet and applying KT tape over the blistered areas, one of which had already burst. I switched into dry Salomon Propulse, with fresh socks. The boys got me ice and I ate a few chips and refilled the Vitargo. Ethan and Fitzy jogged up the road with me, then it was off to Foresthill. It’s only a short distance, not much over an hour. I was optimistic as the feet felt much better with Saira’s tape job and the dry footwear, and my split to Foresthill was good at around 1 hour 12 mins. As I popped onto the pavement after Volcano canyon, I was please to see Albert waiting for me. Crewing is allowed anywhere in Foresthill, so he topped up my bottles and we jogged together the few kilometres up the hill to the Aid Station proper. Foresthill is 62 miles in and I ran most of the climb on the pavement. We cruised into the Foresthill aid station at a good clip. I was bored by Bert’s enthusiasm and encouragement. He filled me in on the race unfolding up front, and my aches and pains seemed to ebb away. The feet were feeling better, my legs were great and the energy seemed fine.
Foresthill was a spectacle to behold. Words really cannot describe how it feels to get here. It’s a party atmosphere and it really gives you a boost just when you need it. Saira tended to my feet again as Fitzy readied himself for pacing duties. After a few minutes we were off up the road to Cal street. Fitzy had a temperature of 99F on his watch, so the forecast was spot on. Despite the heat I felt like I had done a great job at staying cool. Ice in the hat and sleeves and around the neck is really effective, and the aid station volunteers were pros at topping up the ice. What I now realize, however, is thatbetween Last Chance and Foresthill, in that almost 20 mile section, I pretty much ate nothing. A rookie mistake, no doubt.
It’s hard to recollect events exactly now, but I believe that I became so mentally distracted by the blistering feet, the wet shoes and socks and the heat management that I omitted to think about calories. In that 4 hours 20 mins between Last Chance and Foresthill, I’d estimate I consumed about 200 calories, which is clearly not enough. In the first half of the race I pee’d 4 times, the second half, once. I just stopped eating and drinking! Obviously the heat plays a part, and can blunt the appetite, but I honestly believe I just became so engrossed in the painful feet situation, that I forgot to take care of the small detail of fueling! It seems so obvious to me now. By Foresthill I think I was probably pretty dehydrated and running low on glycogen. With dehydration it becomes difficult to absorb calories from the gut due to decreased blood flow. The lack of calories also suppresses the brain, and thinking back now, I was definitely in a bit of a fog.
With Fitzy now along for the next 30 miles, I perked up, but the food just wouldn’t go down well. I developed a nauseating cramp in my side, and every jolt when I picked up the pace was uncomfortable. I felt like I would vomit, but I reassured Mike it would pass, so we dug deep and did our best to keep moving. Not much else to do. If my belly had been good, we would have really flown down this section. Cruisy trails, nothing steep or technical, and my legs felt great, but the belly was a problem.
Cal1, and Cal2 passed in a blur. I remember the course was beautiful as we contoured the American River in a long slow gradual descent. We were in shade through a lot of this section, and I cannot imagine how the heat would be along here if in direct sun light. As it was, the sun glimmered through the trees, and as I think back, this section was a real highlight for me. Mike enthused about the beauty and we wished we had a camera. We were moving slowly, but we were moving. Relentless forward progress is what gets you to the finish. Hundreds are hard, but who would want an easy challenge, right? It’s why we do them. My belly ached. Periodic belches helped, but it wouldn’t abate. My feet were feeling a lot better, but now the gut problems took centre stage and seemed hard to shake.
We hiked the steep and difficult “6 minute hill” to Cal3 aid, and Fitzy chatted with the Aid Station captain who’s family have been crewing here for over 20 years. I started to look forward to the famous Rucky Chucky river crossing where we would see our crew again, and we chatted with Dominic Grossman who was pacing a buddy along here; he entertained us with some of his dance moves, with his iPhone knocking out tunes in speaker mode! His runner didn’t say much, and seemed to be hurting. Fellow Alberta Salomon runner Alissa St Laurent, paced by Gary Poliquin caught us just before Rucky Chucky, on her way to a fifth place finish. They were obviously moving well, and Alissa put down a stellar performance on the day. Gary handed me something to help with the cramping belly pain, and I have no idea to this day what it was, but it didn’t seem to make much difference! Apparently it had worked a charm for Alissa. I simply swallowed the pill and crossed my fingers. Water and dilute Vitargo were going down OK, but all I could handle at the aid stations was Coke, water melon and a few chips. I think I carried 5 gels with me for over 40 miles without eating a single one!
At Rucky Chucky we met the crew. It is a beautiful spot and I was glad to be here in daylight. Saira, her dad and the boys were enjoying the river crossing spectacle! I was looking forward to cooling off and I had fresh shoes and socks on the far side in a drop bag. That was a killer move! Looking at the splits now, Mike and I had actually made good time along Cal street. My 18h 30m split would have put us here at 18:45, and my 19 hour split had us here at 19:25. We arrived at 20:00 so we weren’t too far off pace. The river crossing was refreshing, but harder than I expected. Huge slippery rocks, difficult ground underneath, and surprisingly chilly. We made good time across where we were pleased to see Ethan who had hiked down from Green Gate. I changed shoes, Ethan taped up my feet, and I donned a shirt. We hiked up to Green Gate, listening to Ethan’s tall tales. We were passed by multiple spectators heading down to the river. I think Ethan knew every one of them! Ultra legend Dr David Horton high fived me on the climb which was cool, and ex women’s champion Stephanie Howe was at the top cheering. Ethen left us at Green Gate, and what then ensued was a few hours of hike/walk, run fast, belly ache, belch, run fast, walk! We were passed a few times and we passed a few folks. There was a lot of back and forth.
Around mile 85 I felt particularly good and I recall cranking along at what felt like 4 mins/km. I remarked to Fitzy that the human body is capable of remarkable feats, right before I slowed to a walk then vomited up a lot of coke at Brown’s Bar aid! I sat for quite a while at Brown’s Bar. By now, at mile 90, I knew that I was going to finish, but the gut pain was really pretty defeating. I switched to ginger ale and that seemed to settle the belly somewhat. The volunteer who was with me at Brown’s Bar was incredible. He stood by as I wretched and emptied my stomach into the bushes. He talked to me sympathetically and talked about the fact that sooner or later the shit hits the fan during an ultra. He was right, and he knew what I was going through. I don’t know his name, but I remember his words were very reassuring at the time.
After the nausea settled, Mike and I were on the go again. I don’t recall any of the next section. I don’t recall climbing to Highway 49, but soon I was resting in a chair, with my 16 year old son George ready to pace me to the finish. Mike’s job was done, and he did a stellar job. I didn’t talk a lot to Mike in those 30 or so miles, but I appreciated his presence every step of the way. I recall a 2 hour stretch when I was pacing Devin Featherstone at HURT and we didn’t say a single word! Fitzy got a bit of the silent treatment from me on this one, but simply having a good buddy there for you if you need to troubleshoot, and to find the trail, is immensely reassuring.
At Hwy 49 I downed some broth and ginger ale, then George and I were off. I warned him I maybe wouldn’t talk much, but hetook it all in his stride, and I started to feel better. We ran most of this leg, hiking quickly up the climbs. We were across No Hands Bridge in what seemed like no time, and then we were on the final grunt up to Robie Point. I was passed by a couple of runners on this section, and we passed a couple. George ran well a few steps behind me and his encouraging words were a real boost. This is the second hundred miler on which he’s paced me to the finish - the first being Cascade Crest. If you ever get the chance to be paced in by your son or daughter, I highly recommend it! Being able to share a big finish like this with your family is very special. I get a lump in my throat when I think about it.
At Robie point aid we checked in and out in a flash, and at the top of the street Saira, Carl and Albert were waiting. I’ve watched so many videos of the final mile of Western, I had a strange sense of deja vu. As the track at Placer High came into view, I had goosebumps and was overcome with a huge sense of achievement. Stepping onto the track was a surreal experience. It was like going from night to day on the floodlit track. I savoured every step as I tried to pick up the pace around the track. It somehow felt like I was throwing down a fast lap, though my video of the finish tells a different story! Stiff legs, no bounce, the ultra shuffle, but a huge grin on my face. Western States in the bag.
What a race. I’ve never finished a hundred and immediately thought, I want to do that again, but as I hugged my crew and family who had made the day so memorable, that’s what I was thinking. Bob Shebest in his blog said he now understands that all roads seem to lead back to Western States. I know that he means, though it’s difficult to articulate. This day wasn’t my best. I had ‘issues’. I vomited, I blistered, and I walked, quite a bit. It slipped away from me in the latter stages, and my lofty goals were just that - way too lofty; but despite this, I’ve got that big silver buckle - the most coveted prize in ultra running some would say. I’ve worn it most days, and will continue to wear it.
I’m back training and running strong again. No injury concerns, no regrets; but man, I hope my name comes out of that hat again next December.
Thanks, as always to Saira, George, & Albert for the unwavering support. These crazy antics would just not be possible without the three of you, and you really have become a top notch veteran race crew. Thanks to Carl - I wanted you to experience a hundred miler in person - I think was the one to see! To Fitzy for traveling all that way to witness my 30 miles of suffering - cheers man, I appreciate it hugely - hopefully I can repay the favor one day? To Ethan - for getting to those more obscure crew locations - it was immensely reassuring to have you guys out there for me!
In the race I wore Salomon S Lab Sense shorts and vest; shoes - Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra SG and Propulse; socks - Compressport. Hat - Ciele (custom mod by Saira with ice pocket!). Bottles - Nathan handheld 20oz x 2. Nutrition - Vitargo S2 Race. Watch - Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
There is a lot of downhill running. There are significant climbs but they are not huge.
It’s almost all runnable, aside from a few steeps in the canyons.
Need to work the steady state efforts more. Longer SS efforts = More specificity of training
Heat training really works - my regime of passive sauna training 3 x weekly was effective.
I need to toughen my feet. Foot goo? Prophylactic taping? Fixing Your Feet website a great resource.
I need to practice nutrition in the heat. Hard to do.
I didn’t cramp at all - additional salt is not needed.
I want a second go at this - hopefully won't take another 6 years to get in!!
It's the most politically incorrect peak name around, but Squaw's Tit is a truly iconic Bow valley summit. It's visible from pretty much anywhere in Canmore, and is begging to be ascended. I've been up here before, and the ascent route is always different. There is a veritable spider's web of intermingled trails ascending the steep scree slopes above the Montane traverse, but once above treelike, keep going up. As the steepness abates, the rock and the exposure increase, but the scrambling is moderate. When the nipple approaches, keep to it's left side, for it's tempting to angle across to the right, and that leads to some scary terrain. The ascent is easier than it looks from below, and the summit view is magnificent.
Mountain running is changing/has changed. Skyrunning, trail running, FKTs, fast scrambles, the lines are blurring. Adam Campbell recently wrote about the divergence of trail running, scrambling and mountaineering here. One thing is certain though, however one does it and whatever one wants to call it, it’s a lot of fun and it adds an extra dimension to the activity.
In this style then, Adam Campbell and I embarked on a rapid traverse of the Yamnuska/Goat traverse near Canmore today. We travelled east to west, beginning with Yamnuska, and finishing after a descent from Doorjamb mountain. It was exposed and at times precarious scrambling. We travelled fast and light. We have no idea what the FKT is, but we travelled quickly today. The route finding was generally easy, but intense focus was required in places. A steady head and climbing savvy helped.
AJ Wainwright, the famous English hiking guidebook writer once spoke of “…..a route to heartily recommend to one’s worst enemy”. This isn’t it, though for a few dicey moments I wondered. It’s a truly aesthetic line. It’s a beautiful high mountain ridge with panoramic views, covering complex and varied terrain. But take care, for this isn’t a beginner’s route. I would hesitate to recommend this to anyone who lacks a modicum of climbing knowledge.
Some trip beta:
Time 3h 52m
Clothing: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra SG shoes, Sense shorts and singlet. Compressport arm warmers. Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Set pack. Buff. Bonatti WP jacket, in pack. Smith Piv-Lock arena glasses.
Food eaten: zero (carried 4 gels)
Fluids: 1 soft flask H2O. 1 bottle Vitargo S2 (200 cals). Vespa Junior x 1, 30 mins before run.
Technical gear: 30m 6mm Petal cord. 2 slings carried. 1 screwgate biner. 1 ultra lightweight Camp harness. One single 10m rappel was needed - Munter hitch used rather than carry rappel device. Adam carried the rope in his Salomon 20 litre pack.
Topics discussed: FKT rules (see below); good reads - “Kiss or Kill” by Mark Twight, “High Infatuation” by Steph Davis. Future projects. Western States, Transvulcania, Skyrunning, Glencoe. Running power meters - Stryd.
Other details: we propose a new ‘Bow Valley FKT rule' - namely that the stopwatch doesn’t stop until the first swig of beer is down the hatch. We tested this with Newcastle Brown Ale.
Enjoy the photos, and be safe.
The weather has been incredible and remarkably for the end of Feb and early March there has been some great mountain running to be had. Most of my mountain jaunts on foot lately have been in the Yamnuska area. It's a great 1000m climb/scramble to the summit with plenty of interest, and a great spot to do laps, if you're into that sort of thing. The perfect blend of trailrunning and mountain craft.
Here are are a few shots taken over a few days recently.
A few pics of the first few days. Nice to run on dirt in March, even if the weather is changeable - like it always is this time of year in Utah's desert country.
Day 1 - Slickrock
Day 2 - Jackson Hole
Day 3 - Fruita bookcliffs
Day 4 - Rain! Moab rim hike
Day 5 - Hymasa and hailstones! Bailed on Ahab
Those of you who read my stuff will know that I am:
a) A trail runner
b) A lover of the long hilly mountainous course
I stepped out of the comfort zone this last weekend with a very flat and fast paved 50km. No hills of note, and no trail. Two laps of an out and back 12.5 km paved path in downtown Calgary. I had no real expectations, other than to have a decent early season run and go sub-4 in Gord’s Frozen Ass 50k, the first event in the Alberta 2016 ultra series.
To get a quick 50km in the legs early in the season is a real bonus, and one that will hopefully stand me in good stead for this summer’s big test, the Western States 100 - a notoriously ‘quick’ and very competitive hundred.
What a surprise then to have a great day and take the win in a time of 3:32:51, though I was helped by Jacob Puzey going off course whilst leading at around the 23km mark. Fortunately he was out of sight so I didn’t follow him, something I have become quite good at!
I ran scared after the 25km mark after realising I was in the lead, especially with a fired up Jacob, along with Oleg Tabalev and Mevlut Kont chasing hard. Fortunately I was able to hang on, though I really had to dig hard over the last 5km.
I have recovered well this last week, with solid nutrition and some easy short runs, and the hamstrings and calves are finally starting to shut up. I’m really not used to the kind of pounding dished out by 50km of pavement, but very happy with where I’m at in February, and certainly pleased with some early season success; though the problem with success in a new arena is that it feeds a yearning for more....
Gear - Salomon X-Series shoes, Compressport trail shorts and shirt, Salomon buff and jacket.
Pre race nutrition - Vitargo 450 cals and Vespa Junior. Caffeine 200mg tab x 1.
Race nutrition - Vitargo - 300 cals per hour.
The recently published paper by Volek et al in Metabolism has been hailed as a breakthrough paper which it is said has proven beyond a doubt that fat adapted runners are able to utilize fat as fuel, with rates of fat oxidation at levels previously thought impossible. Compared to a group of high carb athletes, the HF cohort was primarily using fat as it’s preferred fuel source, compared the HC cohort which was surprise, surprise, burning carbs. I won’t rehash all of the details - you can read it yourself here - but it’s a well designed study that proves it’s point well. And the take home point seems to be that at relatively low intensities (62% VO2 max), fat adapted and well trained ultra endurance athletes use a different fuel source when compared to their traditional high carb consuming ultra buddies. It is certainly very valuable to finally have some valid science to back up the anecdotes of increasing numbers of endurance athletes, but for me however, as an athlete and a high performance doc, I think this paper served to highlight a number of unanswered questions, and it left me hungry for more, if you’ll excuse the pun! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and I can think of several follow up studies which I feel would be immensely valuable!
The paper concludes thus:
“Conclusion. Compared to highly trained ultra-endurance athletes consuming an HC diet, long-term keto-adaptation results in extraordinarily high rates of fat oxidation, whereas muscle glycogen utilization and repletion patterns during and after a 3 hour run are similar.”
I think that a lot of people will be thinking so-what? No big surprise here. Matt Fitzgerald in his book Diet Cults talked about the adaptability of the human body, and how different cultures had evolved very successfully on very different diets. But I think that in the world of the elite endurance athlete, whether we can survive on this vs that is less relevant than what can make us a better performer. We are all striving to maximize our potential. My car can run on regular or premium gas, and with some fiddling could even run on diesel, or vegetable oil, but if it’s a race car, what matters is what makes it go faster.
I think that if one talks to athletes who follow a generally low carb form of day to day diet, most will quite openly admit that they continue to race on carbs. Why do they do this? I think Peter Defty from Vespa puts it well. He stated to me: “Fat adaptation has huge benefits, but, directly, it won't yield the most power output; however, it is an important foundation for the athlete to achieve superior performance.”
What Peter is saying is that once fat adapted, it’s possible to see huge performance gains when CHO is introduced on race day. This point isn’t addressed in FASTER though, and I think that there are those among us who would like to see additional studies addressing the whole performance issue (and to their credit - Volek et al do mention this).
So here are a few questions I have for the authors.
Lactate levels were increased in the LC cohort in the final hour of their 3 hour treadmill run. I have to wonder why is this? One could surmise that this was due to either increased workload, increased muscle fibre recruitment, increased gluconeogenesis resulting in a sugar spike and therefore increased lactate production, or even decreased lactate clearance in the keto group. Intensity was controlled at 62% VO2max for both cohorts, so that can be ruled out, and let’s face it, this is a pretty low intensity. Aside from this I don’t think we really know the mechanism, and I wonder if it’s even relevant, though interesting. I’d love the authors to comment on this, and potentially looking at higher intensity, or even more prolonged sessions, though I won’t be first in line for a 5 or 6 hour treadmill session!
Both cohorts were fed different pre-race meals. I think we know that endurance athletes are likely in a very metabolically flexible position; you have to be when you’re involved in sporting events that can last 20+ hours or more. We also know that the composition of the pre-test meal can influence R/Q values. A local exercise physiologist told me once that he can tell as soon as a runner jumps on the treadmill to have an R/Q test performed whether they had bacon & eggs for breakfast, or whether they had pancakes and syrup! I’d like to see what happens when the fat adapted athletes are fed a high carb meal. What happens to their R/Q values - is fat oxidation switched off in favour for glycogen use? Those of us who ‘train low’ and ‘race high’ would like to know the answer to this, as it may help to determine our pre-race meal. We know that the HC athlete feels awful and struggles to perform when carbs are restricted, but what of the LC athlete fed ‘rocket fuel’!
No apparent sparing of muscle glycogen post-exercise was observed. This is one of the oft-touted benefits of being fat adapted, and personally, I have found my reliance of carbohydrate fuel sources to be reduced when I follow a strict high fat approach, and I know of others who report the same. This glycogen sparing effect is clearly of huge interest to ultra runners or, for that matter, anyone who plans too push their workouts or races beyond 2 hours, so what gives here? If you look closely at the study design, there was no apparent difference between the HF and the HC groups, but the post workout shakes were different. Having said this, immediate post exercise muscle biopsies were performed before recovery shakes, and then repeated at 2 hours. Muscle glycogen was reduced by around 60% in both groups, and at 2 hours both groups were at around 35%. No big difference, except that the they were each fed a different shake. So perhaps it was the higher carb post workout shake that replenished the HC athletes’ muscle glycogen at 2 hours, and perhaps it was a spike in post workout blood sugar from hepatic gluconeogenesis that replenished the muscles of the HF group. It’s interesting to speculate, and the authors do, but I guess at this point we really just don’t know. And of course, whether it is even relevant in the real world of competition remains to be seen, but the potential relevance would be in the use of an immediate post exercise high carbohydrate shake to more rapidly and more fully replenish glycogen stores when a second or multiple workouts are planned for the day. Again, interesting to speculate but no proof from this trial.
What of the female ultra endurance athletes! This was a male only study. Anecdotally, many low carb female endurance athletes report increased carbohydrate requirements when training and racing. This was a male only study, and I’m sure the females are interested in what a similar study of females would look like. I know that many low carb females like to cycle through higher carbohydrate cycles, but I don’t know what data there is out there to support this practice.
The final issue which is not addressed by the authors in this particular paper, and which may ultimately come to light in later analyses, is the issue of soreness and inflammation. I do not know if this issue was looked at. Anecdotally, LC athletes report less post exercise soreness and faster recovery. To date I don’t believe inflammatory markers have been studied in this situation. I see this as being very relevant to multi day event participants, and these events have grown, and continue to grow in popularity. The ability to recover completely from day to day in these events, is likely the key to winning performances, and for that matter, on enjoyment!
So after some deeper reflection, I’ve concluded that this study really just confirms what we suspected: that at relatively modest exercise intensities, fat adapted male athletes have very different metabolic profiles, and utilize fuel sources quite differently to their high carbohydrate counterparts. It’s a great start to have this kind of proof published in a peer-reviewed journal, but I have to say it leaves me wanting more!
Let’s look at female athletes, let’s look at different intensities, let’s look at low carb athletic performance when fuelled by high carb pre and intra exercise meals. Let’s look at the effects of different diets on soreness, inflammation and recovery. There is also some recent evidence that there are genetic responders and non-responders to high fat diets. This is all very interesting stuff, and I think that these are some of the real issues to those of us who are keen to maximize our performance through dietary manipulation and strategic use of different fuel sources whilst competing.
For now I see no reason to change what I'm doing. Day to day I'm a low carb eater but I train hard and race on Vitargo. And I supplement with VESPA, an amino acid, on those long training days and when racing. Vitargo is the only carbohydrate source that I really tolerate and there are some great studies out there showing why it is typically so well tolerated and effective.
Hopefully this post will generate some thoughtful discussion, and if not, well I'll see you on the trails!
When the snow starts falling, it's natural to want to grab our skis and hit the trails with unbridled enthusiasm. We've waited patiently through the fall months for the flakes to drop, and now here they are here, we want to ski! Early season injuries are commonplace, and typically related to training error.
Tendinitis is usually a 'too much too soon' phenomenon, and can be stubborn to get rid of. Shin splints, tennis and golfer's elbow, low back pain, ankle and shoulder strains, hip flexor and groin strains are all common early season issues in XC skiers. If we subject out tissues to too much load before they are conditioned to handle it, then we run the risk of injury.
We can quantify load by looking at how much force we subject a given tissue to, and how often we subject that tissue to that force. So it's easy to see that weakness in an area, or simply over zealous training frequency or volume can lead to problems. Our muscles and tendons adapt slowly, and we must be cognisent that this takes time. A progressive but gradual increase in loading is what's needed, interspersed with periods of rest and recovery to allow adaptations to take place.
One of the best ways to prepare for the ski season is to hit the gym. If I'm honest, most people I talk to in endurance sports would rather be outdoors doing their thing, than locked in the weights room for hours, but there really is no doubt that a bit of pre-season strength training can not only help to improve our performance out there on the snow, but can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.
A recent paper in the BJSM, Lauersen et al looked at just this aspect of training in a large systematic review of over 26,000 participants. They showed that strength training reduced the frequency of sports injuries to less than one third, and that around 50% of overuse injuries could be prevented by adequate strength training. These are pretty compelling stats.
An earlier paper in Endurance Training: Science & Practice in 2012 looked at strength training in untrained, trained and elite level endurance athletes. They showed that strength training has the ability to change our muscle fibre type from fast-twitch type IIX fibres to more fatigue resistant type IIA fibres, along with important improvements in tendon stiffness and neuromuscular function, which are associated with better performance.
Finally, Ronnestad et al, in Scand J Med Sci Sport, 2014, showed that heavy and explosive strength training could improve exercise economy, lactate threshold, maximal speed, anaerobic capacity and reduce fatigue in endurance activities, all important metrics.
The bottom line here is that strength training can not only make us better skiers and runners, but can significantly reduce our risk of injury.
In the next post, I will take a look at exactly what this kind of training might look like.
(This article will appear in a modified form in Skitrax magazine)
In my previous blog post, I discussed the role of strength training in endurance sports. Not only can resistance exercise make us faster at our chosen sport, but it can significantly reduce the likelihood of injury. By progressively increasing the loads our muscles and tendons are able to tolerate, we can not only improve our absolute strength - the maximum force our tissues will tolerate before they fail - but we can also make our bodies more ‘fatigue-proof’, and less injury-prone. This occurs through a few different mechanisms - most notably, we can actually change our muscle fibre fibre type by heavy resistance training, we can increase the size of our muscle fibres, and we can train our brains to recruit more muscle fibres to work in a given exercise. All of this leads to increase strength, improved fatiguability, and the ability to work at higher intensities for longer durations.
In the past, conflicting advice has been given to endurance athletes with regards to the value of strength training. There is often concern that ‘bulking up’ will worsen performance, but in the real world this simply doesn’t hold true. You have to work really hard, in a very specific way in the gym, with fairly dramatic dietary and supplement support to get big. There is now a wealth of evidence that not only can concurrent strength and endurance training lead to greater performance gains than endurance training alone, but that favourable changes in body composition occur which optimize, rather than hinder, our endurance.
So what does a strength program for endurance exercise look like?
Well much like a well designed run or ski program ebbs and flows in terms of volume and intensity, with the aim being to build a good aerobic base, then progressively add in more challenging and specific workouts, building in defined rest periods, and ultimately peaking just prior to a predetermined event, a strength program has a similar approach. This is what is known a periodization.
A strength program for endurance exercise typically should consist of several phases: strength endurance, basic strength, strength and power.
In the first phase, a general strength program is undertaken to prepare the athlete for the more vigorous training to follow. Higher volume training is undertaken - typically 3 times per week, with higher repetitions of 10-15 repetitions per set. Usually 3-4 sets of 4 or 5 exercises with similar movement patterns to our chosen sport. This phase may last 2-3 months, and as we progress, higher loads with fewer repetitions are introduced. Typically every 4th week will be used to recover, and to enhance physiological adaptations (super-compensation). As the athlete moves towards more specific race preparation, the volume of strength training is typically reduced, whereas the intensity is upped. Strength workout frequency is typically twice per week, with 3 sets of 3-5 repetitions of each exercise. Heavier loads and more explosive lifts are utilized in this phase, which may be 2-3 months in duration. Closed chain exercises are most often utilized, and I would recommend looking for 4 or 5 specific lifts, and work with a trainer to hone your technique. Finally as the athlete approaches race season, the really heavy loading is typically reduced, but volume is maintained at twice owe week. The aim is to facilitate recovery but maintain the strength gains achieved earlier.
For those looking to delve into the specifics further, an excellent free article is available online, with examples of specific exercises in the April 2015 edition of Strength and Conditioning Journal: Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: Theory to Practice.