Thursday, March 17, 2011
I had gotten complacent in my training. I got comfortable running odd ball mountain races. I like running on dirt much better than running on pavement. I like shorter races much better than longer distance races. I was not training very hard and was kind of stagnating. I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone in a huge way. So I plunked down $75 to register for the most extreme road race I could find, the Mount Evans Ascent.
Prior to registering for this race, I weighed the pros, and the huge number of cons, of running a race that is 14.5 miles, all up hill, at extreme elevation. In end, I just figured nothing ventured, nothing gained. This has work like a charm. I now am paying a lot closer attention to my nutrition and training.
I was looking for a photo of the Mount Evans road for visualization purposes. I have found that the thought of racing 14.5 miles up an icy nightmare of a road is making me creative. I found a good photograph that I have burned into my mind's eye. Here it is:
I hope it is sunny on race day.
This is the Davidson Mesa trail in Louisville, Colorado - a piddling 5,700 feet of elevation. As I ran this trail I kept thinking that I have to be in a lot better shape to take on Mount Evans. I saw this dirt trail as the highway up Mount Evans.
I ran on the Davidson Mesa Trail doing a long slow distance. I ran 6 miles at consistent 10:30 min/mile pace. Six miles is an increase in my training mileage. I could have kept going but it got dark. I usually go a heck of a lot faster for a much shorter distance. I resisted the urge to go faster. I stayed well below my aerobic threshold. I plan to gradually increasing my training mileage. As the snow melts I have to start training at much higher elevations. Right now it is hard to get much above 10,000 feet without running into deep snow.
I found a website that allows people to rate their travel experiences on the highest paved road in North America. Here is a quote from a post by couple from California relating their experiences on Mount Evans:
“Amazing view but watch out for that Altitude!
We had an amazing time up there. The view was wonderful and breathtaking. HOWEVER, my boyfriend definitely got hit hard by the high altitude and barely could walk that quarter of the mile from the parking lot to the top...14,000 ft is pretty high for us, San Diegans. I was getting a headache and I was definitely exhausted after being up there even though we didn't do much trekking."
The headache and fatigue these people experienced is no joke. I think they were dramtically underestimating the seriousness of what was happening to them. The symptoms of fatigue and headaches that the lady describes are typical of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS is thought to be caused by swelling of the brain!
Due to modern high-speed travel, it is conceivable that our friends from San Diego can be at sea level in the morning and at 14,000 feet in the afternoon. The human body is not designed to adjust that quickly to such a massive change in atmospheric pressure and lack of oxygen. A person can acclimatize to high elevation, but is takes a long time.
Now if our intrepid pair stays at the top Mount Evans the symptoms can get much get worse.
The mild first symptoms that our friends from sunny California experienced can progress to High Altitude Cerebral Edema (Hace). The first symptom of Hace is mental confusion. As the condition worsens, a person may have a difficult time keeping up with others. (think about the lady's boyfriend "getting hit hard by the high altitude") As Hace progresses, a person's walking and coordination become impaired. As the brain continues to swell, the person becomes more lethargic. If left untreated, the person will go into a coma and eventually die.
I wonder if our pair of adventurers from the warm shores of Southern California had any idea that the climbing to the top of the earth to take in the "amazing view” could be deadly.
The only problem that I have had when running at high-altitude is Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Hape is caused by the body shutting down the parts of the lungs that are no longer absorbing oxygen. This shutdown is a survival response. Unfortunately, without proper blood flow, fluid starts to accumulate in the lungs causing shortness of breath, gurgling sounds when breathing and hacking up white frothy stuff. Hape can lead to respiratory failure. As a result, breathing is no longer possible and it is "lights out". I can tell you that Hape hurts really badly. Forunately, all I have to do is stop running and my lungs will start working again.
I have a really good boiler room. For my height, I have realtively stubby legs which is a giagantic advantage. I have a long torso with great lung capacity.
If I haven’t bored you enough already, I will tell you about one other little problem that indicates that activity at high altitude puts a lot of a strain on the body. There is a condition called High Altitude Retinal Hemorrhage (Harh). Harh is a fancy way to say your eyes start to bleed. Blood vessels rupture in the retina and can cause permanent eye damage or vision loss.
Here is a sign on the summit of Mount Evans that describes the dangers of high-altitude sickness, lightning and hypothermia. I am now training like there is no tomorrow.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Mountain racing season is starting in Colorado. I have started to plan my race schedule.
Part 1 – Have I Lost My Mind?
I have just registered for a race that really scares me. The race is called the “Mount Evans Ascent” and is the highest road race in North America. How high is “highest”? The answer is - fourteen-thousand two-hundred and sixty-four feet. This race is on June 18th 2011. The field is limited to 500 runners. The starting line is at Echo Lake at 10,600 feet of elevation. The 14.5 mile course climbs 4,000 feet to the summit of Mount Evans. The finish line is at 14,264 feet. This is a one-way race that is all uphill. There is also a time limit. To finish within the time limit, you have to maintain a 15 min/mile pace for 14.5 miles while running up hill at an average elevation of 13,000 feet. This is not as easy as it sounds.
This race scares me on two levels: (1) I have never voluntarily run 14.5 miles in my entire life; and (2) my highest sustained run was only at 11,600 feet of elevation and that was only 6.2 miles.
The first line in the waiver statement doesn’t help allay any fears:
“I acknowledge that this athletic event is an extreme test of a person's physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss.”
I donated $5 to the Colorado Alpine Rescue Team along with my race fee. I think I may need the Alpine Rescue Team. Check out the race website:
My confirmation says: “Your entry has been received, and your spot on the starting line is confirmed”. This sounds like a threat to me. Here is what the "course" looks like:
It is still Winter at 14,000 feet in mid-June.
Part 2 – There are Such a Thing as Fun Runs
On May 8th, the polar opposite race to the Mount Evans Ascent is being held, which is the 2nd Annual Mother's Day 5K in Denver’s City Park. Here is the description:
“Whether running for a personal goal or walking with the stroller this event is all about Mom’s special day. Bring the whole family to this fun filled race”
The race waiver does not mention death.
Denver's City Park is near the zoo and is full of trees and grass. The elevation is a comfy 5,280 feet. I may or may not sign up for this race. This race is scheduled one day after the Lake George “Flatlander”. Besides I will probably get burned by a lady pushing twins in a baby stroller. So much for being an elite runner!
Part 3 – Other Races
I have registered for four races so far:
(1) Long Scraggy Ranch 4 mile trail run on April 30th
(2) Lake George "Flatlander" 5K trail race on May 7th
(3) The Mount Evans Ascent 14.5 mile race on June 18th
(4) Leadville LT10K on August 14th
I am going to register for at least 3 or 4 more trail races and maybe a few fun runs.
Part 4: Training Run – Boulder March 10th, 2011
I work in Boulder, Colorado. There is an area near my office that has some nicely maintained trails. The elevation is only 5,725 feet. I decided to go running after work. The temperature was 57.5 °F. This was so dang hot I ran in shorts and a short sleeve shirt.
These are nice trails and were loaded with other runners. I started running and intended to just be-bop along. I decided to give it enough effort to maintain a 9:30 min/mile pace. I ran for a while and looked at my Garmin timer. I was running at a 7:25 min/mile pace! I was shocked. Running at lower altitude on a gently rolling trail was easy. I throttled back quite a bit. It felt really good to run on a nice trail with the sun shining. I did 3.1 miles (5K) in 27:10 at an average 8:41 min/mile.
Part 5: Real Training – I have lost my mind, March 12, 2011
On Saturday I did a training run at the Flying J Open Space Park. It was muddy and icy. Springtime in the Rockies! Here are some photos. This was a hard run. I did 3.6 miles in 38 minutes at an average pace of 10:30 min/mile. Here is a photo essay of the run.
You are here. It is 27 degrees and you are standing at 8,250 feet of elevation.
Trail head and bear proof trash can. So far so good.
Pasted on the side of a hill. There are a few rocks and the trail is pretty narrow.
The trail is becoming treacherous. Hazard#1 - Mud!
Hazard#2 - Ice! This is slippery.
Hazard #3 - Rocks! When the trail is not muddy or icy, it is rocky.
Hazard #4 - Tree Roots. These are actually fun to run over. It is just like dancing!
Even the bridge over the frozen stream was icy.
Ice and mud. Mud and ice. I was happy with a 10:30 min/mile pace.
Running through icy muddy water does not feel as good as you might think!
My wife wanted me to pick up pizza on the way home.
She wanted lot of Pizza. We had friends coming over.
I find beer to be a better pain killer than Advil. Why did I need pain killer? Need you ask?
Friday, March 11, 2011
I make no secret that I like running on dirt. I live in the Colorado Rockies so running on dirt pretty easy to do. Pavement is actually in short supply. I get bored running the same old places. I have two races coming up: the Long Scraggy Ranch 4 mile and the Lake George "Flatlander" 5K. I also want to sign up for the Leadville LT100 10K. These are all pretty high races from 8,000 to 11,500 feet in elevation.
Anyway, I want to share with you a great new place I found to run. The place is called the Valley Trail in Beaver Ranch. Valley Trail is not a technical trail and is relatively flat. The elevation of the trail is 8,350 feet. During my run the temperature was 22.8 °F; humidity was 54%; and the wind was 8 mph. There also was intermittent snow. In other words, near perfect conditions for March in the Colorado Mountains.
I tooled along at about a 10 minute per mile pace. I ran about 3.5 miles in 35:36. A little bit before I was done running a snow flurry started. I had on a windbreaker, light gloves and a headband so I was comfortable. I love running on a new trail. I just don’t know what is beyond the next bend, which gives a little lightness to my step.
A nice sign like this is dead give away that the trail is not technical. (Technical means a trail has loose rocks, logs, steep hills, cliffs, streams and is not clearly defined.)
Unfortunately, a lot of the terrain on this map is still covered with deep snow. There is plenty of terrain that is runnable!
Warning about bears and lions. All through my run I didn't see any other creature. Solitude, sweet solitude.
Run this way.
Watch for the ice and snow here and there. There are few loose rocks but nothing even remotely dangerous.
Trail goes off into the distance. Beckoning you on. I'm going that way. Up and down little hills like a roller coaster.
This is a mountain trail so there are hills. "Relatively flat" is a loose term.
22 degrees F is still warm enough for shorts. I hate to run with anything on my legs. I often get asked what type of trail shoes I like. I don't wear trail shoes. I just wear running shoes. I find trail shoes are too stiff and clunky.
Snow can accumulate quickly. The snow is coming down sideways.
Time to go home after a good run. My lonely little Toyota Corolla is waiting for me. The car and I are the only ones there. Very dirty little car waiting for a runner with very dirty shoes.
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