Thursday, June 10, 2010
I am in Des Moines, Iowa right now (Wednesday, June 9th). Almost a week ago I started writing a blog about a run in the Rocky Mountains on Kenosha pass. I found it difficult to capture the essence of the experience of running at an elevation of 11,500 feet. I didn’t want to sound like a braggart or a fool. I only wanted to share my unique running experience.
This week I have been running in the lush green countryside of Iowa on the Saylorville-Des Moines River Trail. The trail is paved and immaculately maintained. On my first run in Iowa I tooled along having a lot of fun. My Garmin showed I ran 5k in 26:32 at a pace 8:30 min/mile. I did 10k in 53:32 at about the same 8:30 min/mile pace.
As I ran along this great Iowa trail, I thought about my high-altitude run on Kenosha pass. As I ran through a tunnel of green leafy Iowa trees, my run on Kenosha pass took on a remote and surreal quality. I started thinking some of my fellow Spark runners might not easily relate to running at extreme altitude. Now that I am in Iowa for a week, I am having trouble relating to my own high altitude running experience. For better or worse here is my story of my run on Kenosha Pass.
The High and the Mighty
I once gave blood in college many moons ago. After taking a couple of gallons of my blood, the nurse told me to avoid alcohol and strenuous exercise. What did I do? I hit the bar and drained two beers down my gullet. I then went on a long run as fast as I could go.
I was pretty toasted after only two beers. I got really light-headed during the run. I just wanted to see what would happen if I ignored the nurse's stern warning. I had fun. I don't recommend such foolishness. Heck, I was 20 years-old, 10 feet tall and bullet proof!
Unfortunately, I still act the same way.
On Thursday June 3rd, I went for a run. Not any old run. I went on a really hard run. If you follow my blogs, you know I was struck down with a blown left IT band some weeks ago. I was not a happy camper. I tried to rehabilitate my IT band with physical therapy and a hiatus from running. I was trying to be good. I can be good for only so long!
I have been wanting to test myself. I promised myself when the snow was gone from the Colorado high country, I would run the Colorado trail from the top of Kenosha pass. Here are the details of my run:
Date: Thursday, June 3rd 2010, 5:00pm
Distance: 10K (6.22 miles)
Starting Elevation: 10,049 feet (That is pretty high!)
Maximum Elevation: 11,583 feet (That is even higher!)
Maximum Grade: 40% (That is really steep!)
Surface: Rocky with fallen trees. (That maybe a bit dangerous!)
I knew this would be a hard run. I knew this run was the worst thing I could do to my IT band. I did not care one wit! I had been itching to run the Colorado Trail for months.
As previously noted, this trail is high and steep. At high-altitude the air pressure is much lower. Less oxygen is absorbed by lungs. Blood oxygen saturation drops. Another phenomenon is that arterial pressure is reduced, which means less oxygen is exchanged between the blood and the cells. At 11,000 feet these effects are severe. A runner at 11,000 feet is getting 40% to 50% less oxygen than at sea level.
I am pretty well acclimated to high altitude. Part of this acclimation is a reduced heart rate. My heart rate during my high-altitude runs is about 102 beats per minute. The slow heart rate is a response to less plasma in the blood.
I started up the steep trail, or rather, I collided with the trail. The trail climbed at a 30% to 40% grade. I pushed up the trail and I ran as hard as I could. I struggled for every breath. Each step was a victory. Nothing mattered except one more step! I didn’t even notice any pain in my left IT band. My legs and lungs hurt so bad that any pain in my hip did not register. As I neared 11,000 feet the trail flattened. I was 2 miles into the run. All of a sudden my lungs and throat caught fire. I started hacking up white frothy stuff. My old friend, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), had decided to visit me.
I got this definition from a medical website:
HAPE Definition : “Acronym for High Altitude pulmonary edema, the accumulation in the lungs of extravascular fluid (fluid outside of blood vessels) at high altitude, a consequence of rapid altitude ascent, especially when that ascent is accompanied by significant exercise.”
An accent from 10,000 feet to 11,500 feet in 24 minutes probably qualifies as “rapid”. I wimped-out and decided to turn around and head for lower altitude. I fell going downhill only once, which is a miracle.
My time for my high altitude 10K was:
12 minutes; and
(That is another way to say “SLOW”!)
Average Pace: 11:44 min/mile
Fastest Pace: 6:12 min/mile (downhill)
When I got finished with my run, I felt physically terrible but mentally elated. Runners understand these feelings. How do you know your limits unless you try to push past them? For every runner, anywhere, each step is a victory!
At 11,500 feet there are not many trees. Trees struggle to survive at extreme altitude. The trees that are up there are scrubby and stunted. The massive green deciduous trees of Iowa just amaze me!
There it is! This is the trail sign. If you want a bit of a challenge, I can give you directions.
I think they don't want bikes to damage the fragile ecosystem at extreme altitudes. The forest service is not too concerned about one winded runner will do much damage!
This is the start of the trail and about the only part that is flat. I feel this is a bait-and-switch tactic.
At least the area is scenic. Harsh perhaps, but pretty.
Here is the last evidence of civilization on the whole trail. Kind of a pretty little bridge.
My pretty new shoes are a mess now. I read in Runner's World magazine that a runner has to generate 10 to 20 percent more energy when going up an incline. Is that all? Seems like it takes more.
I fell. I tripped over a big rock on the way down. I am much better now.
Monday, May 31, 2010
I have had to cut way back on my running. My IT band is still in the process of healing.
Here is the rub - the weather here is magnificent. The trees have leaves. The sun is warm and inviting. Birds are singing. Wild flowers are blooming. Springtime in the Rockies is finally here. I want to run and run and run. I can't. I can jog a bit. I am good for a mile of two but that is it.
I may not be able to run but I can ride a bike, I have a pretty good mountain bike - a 21-speed Giant Boulder SE.
The bike has an aluminum alloy frame; aluminum hubs and rims, alloy direct-pull cantilever rim brakes, and 100mm travel adjustable front forks. The Boulder SE is a hardtail, which is perfect for the condition we have around here. For $410 the Boulder SE is a lot of bike for the money.
However, my son out grew his Specialized Hardrock. He is starting college is the fall and needs a bike for tooling around campus. Sayonara Boulder SE!
I needed a replacement for the Boulder SE. Maybe it was frustration over not being able to run hard. I like speed and there is a mountain bike that has speed. The name of the bike is even cool. I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp.
This bike is light. The Stumpjumper has 27 speeds and top of the line components. This bike is fast and needs disk brakes to stop. The coolest feature is lock-out forks that makes the forks rigid so the bike doesn't bounce when you stand-up and really crank. List price is $1,950 and you have to purchase the pedals separately. I got the bike for $1,650.
I now enjoy going for a fast ride and coming home to do my physical therapy. Biking allows me to stay in some semblance of shape. I can also run a bit. I have to run slowly. In the meantime, I can get a speed rush on my new bike. The best part of biking is that my wife will ride with me. She won't run with me. She sees biking as a family togetherness thing.
She has a Specialized Myka HT Expert. Her bike cost $1,000 so she didn't mind my extravagant purchase. The geometry of a women's bike is different than a men's bike. My wife was happy when she got her Myka. She had been riding a men's bike. My daughter has a Giant Boulder SE that she likes.
My wife is planning a 44 mile bike ride over Guanella Pass. I really needed a fast bike to keep up. Guanella Pass climbs to 11,700 feet and is very scenic.
That little white line in the photo is Guanella Pass.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I have been bad.
On May 10th, during a 4 mile training run my left iliotibial band (IT band) decided it had had enough abuse and rebelled. My darn IT band exploded in pain. I was running really well when my IT band gave up the ghost.
I spent the next 11 days working on rehab. I rested. I stretched. I did strengthen exercises with a therapy band. I had 3 more weeks of this really boring routine to go. To quote Popeye the cartoon sailor, "That's all I can stands, cuz I can't stands n'more"
Rather than blame myself for my misery, I decided to blame my shoes! I thought I must need a stability shoe. I grabbed my running stuff and my old shoes. I made a sojourn to one of the best running shoe stores in the world called the Boulder Running Company.
I walked into the store carrying my old Nike Pegasus shoes and was helped by a humorless young man. He knew his stuff so I tolerated his dead-pan attitude. I told him about my IT band problems. I changed into my running shorts and my old shoes. I jumped on one of the treadmills for a video analysis of my gait.
By the way, I HATE running on a treadmill! I have heard people say they have run 4 miles on a treadmill. Although a treadmill is a good way to get some exercise, you don't go anywhere. When I run 4 miles I end up 4 miles from where I started. If I am on a treadmill I stay in one place! But I digress, which is nothing new.
So I am running on the treadmill and the video camera is going. He keeps increasing the speed. He asks, "Is that too fast?" I say, "No, my exploded IT band likes going 30 miles an hour!" He responds, "That is not 30 miles an hour and there is no such thing as an exploded IT band!" Eventually he stops treadmill. While we were watching the video he gave me the bad news. He tells me my ankles are in perfect alignment with centerline of my shoes. He says, "You are in the right shoe." I joked, “I would rather blame the shoes for my problem." He says, "Have you increased your mileage lately." I respond, "Yeah, I have", He asks "Have you been stretching and doing your PT exercises?" I go, "Heck no, those are boring," He puffs up and says, "You have to take personal responsibility to prevent injuries." I am too nice a guy. I say, “Thank you for your words of wisdom. Can we try a stability shoe now?” He says, “Ok, you are the boss.”
He pulls out a Nike stability shoe. I put the shoe and I immediately know the shoe ain’t right. I jumped on the treadmill. After three strides the humorless clerk stopped the machine. He says, “That shoe is not going to work.” I agree, “Oh brother those shoes hurt like heck!” He shows me the video. My ankles are rolling outward something fierce.
Sometimes I wonder if a runner buys the wrong type of brand XYZ shoes and after a few painful miles declares XYZ shoes to be a horrible brand. My wife looks at my pile of Nike shoes and blasts, “How can you wear those awful Nike shoes! They suck!”
I still needed new shoes. My old shoes were pretty much annihilated. He tells me he has no Nike Pegasus in stock. I have my older Nike Pegasus +25s and my newer Pegasus +26s with me. He asks what size I wear. I wear a 13 XD. I tell him the +25 shoes feel great but the +26 shoes do not feel as good. He looks at the +26s and tells me the shoes are XE’s. The shoes are the wrong size! Bingo! It could be the shoes.
He asks me what I want to spend on shoes. The Pegasus cost $85. I tell him I will spend whatever it takes to get a good shoe. He brings out a pair of Nike Zoom Vomero +5s. The shoes jump on my feet. He tells me to go outside and run on the shoes. I take the shoes for a spin. They feel great and are very cushy ride. The shoes are also extremely light! $142 dollars later I have new shoes. All that jazzy hi-tech wiz-bang feather-light stylish swooshiness costs a lot of money.
I was down in Denver. The temperature was an unbelievable 90 degrees F. After 9 months of running in freezing temperatures I wanted to run in hot weather. I don’t care if the IT band hurts. I am going running. I am an addict! To make a long story short, I ran for 40 minutes and enjoyed every step.
I am back!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Almost every runner I know has nagging recurring injuries. Some have trouble with feet. My daughter battles plantar fasciitis. Knees give a lot of runners problems. My wife has knees that tend to pop and swell. A guy at my work is a triathlete. He has weak ankles and is often limping after an event.
My injury of choice is iliotibial band syndrome, also called IT band friction syndrome. The IT band is a strong thick fibrous tissue that runs on the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee. The IT band stabilizes the knee and the quadriceps. The IT band is attached to a muscle above the hip called the Tensor fasciae latae muscle, or TFL for short.
The TFL muscle and the IT band are vital when lifting the foot and driving it forward, aka running. The TFL and IT band stabilizes the leg so other more powerful muscles can drive the runner forward.
A tight IT band causes excessive friction over the hip bursa. The bursa becomes inflamed. The TFL can strain and tear. Then it is sayonara to your knees, hips, gluteal muscles and hamstrings. What does this feel like? It feels like a red hot spike has been driven into your hip and your knee has been hit with a hammer. The area between your pelvis and hip is on fire. An article I read said, "Pain can literally bring a runner to his/her knees". I think that is an understatement!
I really have no one to blame but myself. The pain is always on my left side. I had a flare-up last summer and went into intense physical therapy. Once I was able to run again, which took 6 weeks; the therapists gave me a set of stretches and strengthening exercises to prevent a future injury. I did those exercises for a while, but they were really boring so I stopped. Bad idea!
So what have I been doing to recover? Nothing! I am resting to give the inflammation time to subside. Tomorrow I start a regime of stretching and therapy band exercises. I can do some cardio on my elliptical trainer, but not too much. I can't run.
This really sucks!
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