Friday, January 24, 2014

Why You Aren't Sleeping

Here is my guide to sleeping. The problem can be summarized thusly:

I have a lot going on in my life.

I have two young kids and a wonderful wife.

I have a great if demanding job.

I really like training.

When I train a lot, I don't sleep well. And when I don't sleep well, I'm not happy. And when I'm not happy, it takes a toll on my family and career (and training).

I think I've finally figured out how to fix the problem. I'm posting my conclusions in the hopes that others find them useful. I'm not a doctor or a scientist, and I have only a basic understanding of some biological processes. I encourage you to correct my explanations, but please don't just comment that something is wrong. At least come up with a different theory that goes beyond placebo effect.

How are your electrolytes? I've found this to be the biggest problem with trying to sleep after running. Your body is fatigued, but you can't seem to get it to calm down when you lie down for bed. You are too hot so you take the blankets off, then you are too cold. Maybe you fall asleep for a thirty minutes and then wake up like you just finished your run.

Assuming you got enough to eat after your run, you probably got enough sodium back in your system (unless you had a really low sodium dinner, which is hard to do). Potassium and possibly magnesium are your culprits here. Try this: before bed eat a banana, a big glass of orange juice, or a bowl of applesauce. Finish it off with a big glass of cool water. With the orange juice you should notice a pretty quick effect. You temperature will get back under control. With the others it may take a little longer. You can also put a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice into a glass of water if you are out of options. You can try adding a magnesium pill if you think you're deficient there. Sports drinks don't seem to work well.

My theory as to why this works: Sodium, potassium, and the other electrolytes are important for all kinds of bodily functions. When you exercise and hydrate you tend to wash them out. It seems like there is something to the ratio of potassium to sodium as well, which is why I think sports drinks don't work well (because you get sodium from your food, plus more sodium and potassium from your drink, leaves you with too little potassium).

How is your protein? This seems to be a problem when trying to sleep after lifting weights or doing crossfit. Either you can't fall asleep, or you fall asleep and about three hours later you're wide awake and your heart is pounding. And your spouse is wearing pajamas and under 4 blankets while you are in your underwear without even a sheet and you're still too hot.

You may not have enough available protein in your system. If you can't fall asleep, try eating more protein right before bed. The guideline among athletes who are trying to build muscle mass and strength is one gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight per day. I like to have a healthy serving of meat at dinner and then a protein shake with 20 ounces whey protein right before bed every night.

I find that after a heavy lifting day, even with this I will wake up three hours later with the same symptoms. If I have another protein shake or protein bar then I can go back to sleep for the rest of the night. Alternatively, if I also have a casein protein shake before bed, that lasts me through the whole night. Casein protein has been a great find for me.

My theory as to why this works: When you lift heavy weights your body incurs significant muscle damage. It then repairs the muscle damage as part of the recovery and adaptation process. Your body needs amino acids to do this. Amino acids come in protein. When your body needs protein and doesn't have any available from food that you eat it goes into a catabolic state where it starts breaking down your existing muscles (that you worked really hard to attain, by the way) and uses the byproducts to repair and adapt the damaged muscles. I think that the pounding heart and overheating is a symptom of this catabolic state. Also, your body gets through the protein that you had for dinner (and any whey or egg or soy protein) in about 3-5 hours, and then it wakes you up screaming for more. Casein protein takes a long time to digest, so it will slowly enter your system all night and keep your body happy.

It's also worth noting that one of the amino acids involved is tryptophan, a.k.a. as the thing that puts you to sleep on the couch at thanksgiving (tryptophan shows up in most animal proteins including turkey). So it's possible that there is something else going on with by body, but the tryptophan is just knocking me out.

How is your hydration? Once you're sure that your electrolytes are good, you should check your hydration. This can show up with similar symptoms: difficulty regulating temperature, pounding heart. Make sure you take your 20+ ounces of water before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night with these symptoms, especially if you've been out drinking, take a nother 15 or so.

My theory as to why this works: Your body needs water to function, but if you don't have your electrolytes dialed in you will only exacerbate the problem by washing out more electrolytes. So take care of those first. I think the racing heart may have to do with low blood pressure due to a lower volume of fluid in your system. When your blood pressure is lower your heart has to beat harder and faster to keep up with the body's needs.

That's all I got. Hopefully this was helpful. Put any other tips you have in the comments.

50 Miles Is a Long Race; 100 Miles Is an Adventure

Catching up on some old posts. Here is my race report from the San Diego 100 in 2011:

I just finished my first hundred this weekend at the San Diego 100. Now I get it: 50 miles is a long race; 100 miles is an adventure

This was going to be an abridged report, but the more I wrote the more it all came back. It's more a chronology than a report, but here you go:

I probably went out a little aggressively, but not too bad. I came into Meadows (7.4 miles) at 8:20 AM (start was 7:00). I normally hit a brief wall about 80 minutes in, and this was no exception, but I couldn't shake it and it kept getting worse and worse. I was eating and drinking but I felt like I just couldn't get any energy to my muscles, and it felt like there was a brick in my stomach. I had really slowed down by Red Tail (13.8).

By mile 15 I was doing the death march. I would have dropped at Todd's (18.6) except that I was worried about the logistics of getting back to my crew and figured I could march to Penny, so I did. In the miles before Penny (23.6) I felt worse than I've ever felt in any run ever, and I swore to myself that I would not let my crew talk me in to continuing. Thankfully my crew is more stubborn than I gave them credit for.

They and the Penny Pines aid station staff, including one wonderful nurse, convinced me to waylay my decision for a bit, sit down, have some food, water. I hit the can a few times, they forced me to stuff down the bananas. Ultimately it was the motivating words of my wife and of the nurse, and the obstinance of my dad, who gave me the strength to keep going. I told my crew that I loved them and I hated them, and I departed.

I was feeling so much better, and happy to be on the section of course that I had most looked forward to (the long descent to and subsequent climb out of Pine Creek. The descent was good and uneventful. I had gotten passed by so many people during my death march that I was passing a lot on the way down.

The loop at Pine Creek (31.3 to 36) was hot. I drank 70 ounces of water in less than 4 miles.

Back at Pine creek one of the aid staff was able to help me with my blisters, which I was thankful for. But I also realized that I was getting close to cutoff times. I couldn't believe it... I was expecting a 26 hour finish, and I had lost so much time in the first 23 miles that I was racing against cutoffs. That said, since I had come within a hair of dropping before I considered everything else as gravy, so I said I would just keep going until I got cut.

The aid crew told me to get moving up the climb, so I did. That's when I encountered the rattlesnake. It was stretched across the pavement, smelling the air (me) and left only about two feet on either side of the road to pass (and it was not feasible to take a detour around). I chose the rattle end to go around, and it didn't seem like the snake was poised in any position to be able to suddenly strike at me (but seriously, what do I know about that sort of thing?)

I was allowed to pass without incident.

I killed the climb up to Pioneer. Everyone says that this is the hardest part of the run, but in this race I learned that the longer the climb is, the stronger I get. When I got to Pioneer (44.1) I told my crew it was go time and I wanted to be out of there quick. They delivered.

It got dark on the way to Sunrise (51.3), and at some point I got lost. I ended up on a dirt two-track between Sunrise Hwy and the trail. I have no idea how I got there, and even when I retraced the trail on the way back the next day, I still don't get it. Once I realized I was lost I started backtracking. Someone from the race staff was driving down Sunrise Hwy and saw my headlamp going the wrong way. He stopped and asked what the heck I was doing and I tried to explain it to him over the wind. He gave me the strange advice to, instead of backtracking, bushwack away from the highway to the trail. I thought it was strange because that direction pretty quickly turns into a steep descent down to the desert, but I took it anyway and it worked. I picked up the trail and moved on, but I was demoralized at having gotten lost.

At Sunrise I spent 15 minutes or so under a blanket drinking soup. I took some advil, and my first pacer (my friend Ben) and I got going. We moved at a pretty good clip along the flats to Stonewall (58.9), arriving about one hour before the cutoff. The climb over the mountain to Paso was hard, but the closer we got to the top the stronger I felt. Still, we arrived at Paso (64.2) with only 30 minutes to spare (it was 2:00 AM)

I picked up my second pacer at Paso (my dad), and we started the next section in the deepest part of the night. I'm so glad I had my dad for this section, as he is an experienced backpacker. For a long stretch the trail was not well defined, we were trudging through what seemed like marshes, I was exhausted. I'm pretty sure I would have gotten lost on my own on that leg. In any case the whole thing was slow. I was pretty sure we had missed the cutoff at Sweetwater (72.3) but to my surprise we made it by nine minutes (it was 4:51 AM).

The climb back to Sunrise (80.3) started out okay but quickly fell apart. I just couldn't shake the sleepiness and the chill, and I think I was paying for the caffeine I had taken during the night to keep going. I was again pretty certain we would miss the cutoff, and I was okay with that. I had given it everything. Then suddenly I felt alive. I kicked it into high gear, and again the farther we got on the climb the stronger I got. By the time we topped out on the flats I was running again, my dad cheering the whole way. We made Sunrise by 10 minutes.

I picked up my third pacer here, my best friend Tim. Tim had been training his ass off for this and he could not have been more fired up to go. And now I was starting to really believe I could finish. All I had to do was maintain a 20 minute/mile pace for the next 20 miles, which is a moderate power-walk. It was all pretty predictable from there (albeit stressful, flirting with the clock like that). The only mistake was that Tim convinced me to run into Pioneer (87.5), which was unnecessary and demoralizing because it sapped my energy. But I recovered, especially with Tim's great support.

We made Pioneer by 15 minutes. We made Penny (91.5) by 15 minutes, and I got to see the nurse again who helped me back at mile 23 (68 miles ago!), which really boosted my spirits.

We made Rat Hole (96.2) by 30 minutes. And made the finish by just 9 minutes. I crossed the line second to last!

I've never been so overwhelmed to be done with something. I never expected to be so happy with such a late finish. I earned that buckle.

I'm fiercely independent, and I've never really used a crew before. I absolutely would have failed without them... that's a really touching experience for me.

Whoever the nurse was who helped me at Penny, I heard your encouraging words in my head throughout the entire race, Thank you thank you thank you. [Edit] I found out later that this was Annie Harvey.

And thanks to the race organizers and the ultra community in general: Thank you for the greatest adventure I have ever experienced.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2501 Burpees

Just finished the 100 day burpee challenge. The challenge is to start with one burpee on the first day, two on the second, and so forth until you do 100 burpees on the hundredth day. All told that's 5050 burpees in 100 days. I actually did a variation on this where I combined it with the 100 day situp challenge... on odd days I would to burpees and on even days I would do situps. So I actually only did 2500 burpees, plus I added one on the last day to make it 100 for a total of 2501.

The situps were no big deal, but I have grown to hate burpees. The goal of course is to get them done as quickly as possible every day and it's amazing how much you start to worry about it.

My first goal was to do them continuously without stopping. I was able to do that until day 33. My next goal was do not go over 6 seconds per burpee (on average). I was able to do that until day 67. And my final goal was to never go over 10 minutes for my total time. I was able to do that all the way to the end, just barely. My worst performance was on day 89, which took me 9:51. Day 91 was my next worse at 9:45, and day 99 (100 burpees) was my third, at 9:44.

Below is a plot that shows my time per burpee through the whole challenge.

Performance for the 100 day burpee challenge

My technique gradually improved until day 27 or so, then I started to reach my limits for continuous effort. After day 33 I had to start taking rests. I had a few bad days (notably day 73 and 81).

I'm sick of burpees, but glad I stuck it out to the end.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

River City Marathon Results

Final results were posted this morning. Turns out the official time was correct, 3:41:20, 43rd overall (out of 296 finishers), 10th in my age group (out of 25 finishers). Not a strong showing by any means, but still happy with it.

I'm also happy because I don't have to run for awhile. As I mentioned before, Jen is pregnant, and my responsibilities over the next few months are going to change dramatically, meaning that I won't have enough time to train seriously for any kind of race. It's actually kind of a relief... all these long races, while rewarding, do take a lot of emotional energy for me, and I'm feeling a little burned out. I'm looking forward to putting this on the back-burner for awhile and coming back when it's fun again.

I don't know what that means for this blog. I'll probably post from time to time about Crossfit stuff, and other random things tangentially related to running, but for the time being this isn't going to be a focus of mine.

Thanks to those of you who've followed me on this forray. I hope to come back someday :)

River City Marathon Race Report

Somehow I got it into my head that I am in good enough shape to run a Boston qualifier (a marathon on a certified course faster than 3:10:59 for my age group) and so I started today with that intention.

My thinking was something along the lines of this: a month or so ago I ran a 10K in training at the requisite pace (7:15/mi). I've been training pretty hard for a month. I always perform better on race day than I do in training (for road races), mostly because of adrenaline and tapering. I've learned how to properly fuel for longer races. After a few ultras I'm now comfortable tackling distances in excess of a marathon.

It all seems to add up right? Well, if you've run a marathon before you probably see where this is going.

I was more nervous for this race than I have been for any in a long time. In hindsight I think I was nervous because I was setting out to do something that in my heart I knew I was physically incapable of doing. When I woke up at 4:00 am this morning said heart started racing immediately. I badly wanted to go back to sleep and forget about the race, but that's not how one does these sorts of things, is it?

The logistics of getting to the starting line were somewhat complicated. Wake up, eat, get dressed. Then drive to the finish line by 5:30. Then sit on a bus while the stragglers are accounted for. Then travel on the bus to the starting line (26.2 miles on a bus takes quite awhile!). Disembark at 6:30 and wait until the race starts at 7:00.

All of this was done in 48 degree temperatures, meaning that I needed to bring an extra sweatshirt to stay warm, which would be discarded prior to the start (as it was too hot to run in). Jen had such a sweatshirt that she was planning on giving to goodwill (which is where discarded race gear typically ends up anyway). It was her race sweatshirt from the Big Sur Marathon, which she ended up skipping because she is now pregnant (very exciting), and wants to get rid of it as it reminds her of something she has to give up for a bit. It really was a nice sweatshirt, and it pains me to discard such things, but at least it will go to a good cause.

In my warm ups I was feeling out a 7:15/mi pace and it felt pretty comfortable. I know a 7:15 pace because for me it's the pace just short of pushing- I have to push myself for a 7:00 pace, but a 7:15 just seems to flow.

So, with start I settled nicely into my stride. The only two hills of note on this course are in the first three miles, so I felt if I could stay strong through those I had a chance of hitting my target.

My first mile was a 7:20. A little slow, but not to worry. Three of my next four miles were sub 7:15, and the slow one was 7:17. After 6 miles my average pace was 7:16 and I was on target for a 3:10 finish.

As fantastic as that was, I realized at this point that I would be unable to maintain the pace for the entire race. So I moved to goal "B", which was to beat my marathon PR of 3:17:58. Such a feat would require the more leisurely average pace of 7:30, which definitely seemed doable, especially given the first 6 miles that I had squeezed extra time from.

By mile 12 my average pace was 7:24.

During mile 13 everything started to come apart. I was feeling horrible. I had more than half of the race to go, I was exhausted, and I could hardly bear the thought of continuing. I very seriously considered the possibility of abandoning at the half-marathon mark.

In running races people usually refer to quitting as a "DNF" (Did Not Finish), as that's what is listed on the results for racers who don't cross the finish line. I prefer the term "abandon", at least for what I was considering. Abandoning suggests the failure to honor a responsibility, in this case one that you've assigned to yourself. And in fact this thought was one of the few things that kept me moving forward... a "DNF" sounds like no big deal, and should in my view be reserved for injuries or emergencies. This was neither, but I wanted it to end so badly.

It was a classic quit-point: the race staff were there to send off the half-marathoners, I could have easily persuaded one of them to drive me to the finish. I even started working out what I was going to say to the person I talked to. I would happily relinquish my timing chip and my bib. I would talk about how it just wasn't a good day for me, and I didn't have anything to prove by finishing as I'd already missed my two goals and this would just be another marathon for me.

NO! That's not me! I signed myself up to do this race... paid good money and challenged myself to achieve a goal. I had bravely pursued that goal, and it didn't work out today, but just because I made some miscalculations didn't mean I could or should throw in the towel. Damn it, I've run 50 mile races before. I can't hang on to this one for 13 measly more miles of slightly downhill pavement? NO!

I took what I've learned from ultra marathons, slowed the pace down, continued eating and drinking, and broke the remaining distance into manageable chunks. I decided that goal "C" was that there would be no walking (I've walked in every single marathon I've run, even my 3:17 PR run).

My outrage at myself was validated when I saw one of the race staff at the 13.1 mile mark. I laughed at the idea of explaining my story to one of these folks. Silly.

Despite slowing down, I still finished the first half-marathon in 1:37 (7:26/mi).

The next 13.1 miles were miserable. Every mile was literally "just make it to the next mile without walking". Mile 14 was an 8:03. Mile 17 was 8:58. Mile 23 was the slowest, an appalling 10:03.

I had forgotten how bad it feels to finish a marathon on which you've gone out too fast. It's agony. Literal agony.

And it was getting hot. Another miscalculation I made was in selecting what to wear. I had planned to finish around 10:10 AM, at which point the projected temperature was about 62 degrees. When I actually finished, it had soared to about 68. The hat and arm gaiters were not the right attire for 68-degree weather.

And I was dehydrating. The aid stations were spread out a little farther than a typical marathon, but I didn't want to carry my own bottle for a race like this. I couldn't seem to get enough water though, despite taking two cups from every station.

But I didn't walk. I had to stop for a few seconds five or six times to stretch out a cramp in my hamstrings, and I walked at the last aid station so I could down three cups of water without wasting a drop, but besides that I was always running (well, jogging at this point). I was going to make it at goal "C".

My finishing time was about 3:37 (an 8:23 pace... but it's actually not quite clear what my time was, because the official time said 3:41, but my watch said 3:37).

I started off too fast, I wore the wrong clothes, I didn't stay hydrated. I missed my target time by almost 30 minutes. By most measures this marathon was a disaster.

But for some reason I'm really happy about it. I was in more discomfort in this race than I have been in a long time, and I was certainly closer to abandoning than I ever have been before, but I managed to push through all that and make it to the end.

I'll post final results when I get them.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Woodside 50K Race Report

While drinking a cup of coffee this morning I finished reading the book Once a Runner. Coupling this excellent novel with yesterday's memories was an immensely gratifying experience.

Yesterday... yesterday was the Woodside 50K, and it was pretty darn cool.

In northern California we've been getting hit with storm after storm this winter, bringing rain to the lowlands and snow to the mountains. I've been doing the bulk of my training indoors mostly because I can't be bothered on the weekdays with the inconvenience of getting my shoes all wet, and running around the San Jose suburbs in the rain just isn't all that fulfilling. And on the weekends the idea of sloshing around in ankle-deep mud doesn't sound enticing.

If it sounds like I'm being a little soft about the whole thing, I am. Or I was. All week I was watching the weather hoping that we'd get two rain-free days for the trails to dry out enough that they wouldn't be sloppy messes. On Thursday I realized that this wasn't going to happen, and then I realized what a wimp I was being. Some of my best runs have been in the worst weather.

In fact, my first run after deciding to get into ultra running was a ten mile point-to-point on the Bay Area Ridge Trail (a five-hundred plus mile trail system that mostly circumnavigates the San Francisco Bay) on Skyline Ridge. It was raining on and off through the whole run. The trail was muddy, shoe grabbing muddy in places. I was unprepared for the challenges of trail running. But I remember coming out of the forest at one point on the west side of the ridge, the clouds cleared, and I had a beautiful view of the giant valley below me, blanketed in mist. I loved every minute of it.

So at 5:30 am yesterday I awoke (the 8:30 am start time is mercifully late), gritted my teeth for a day of inclement weather, and went through my usual routine. My biggest concern was whether or not to wear a raincoat. No coat in a downpour can wind you up soaking wet, and possibly at risk of hypothermia in cold weather. And a raincoat when there is no rain can be like carrying a sauna around with you, as raincoats (not surprisingly) don't breathe very well. I took clothing for both eventualities and deferred the decision till the start.

Jen rode with me to Huddart Park prior to the start. As soon as we turned on to King's Mountain Road, the torrent started. We pulled into the parking lot and any misgivings I had about a raincoat were quickly dashed when she stepped out to use the bathroom and came back fairly drenched.

I tried to get all of my gear on while sitting in the driver's seat. Unfortunately I had just stuffed everything into my backpack and in the process of emptying it out lost a running sock. I got out of the car to get a better view of the seat and the floor, and started getting drenched myself (no raincoat on yet). After a few embarrassingly frustrating minutes I found my missing sock and several other items that I lost in the process of looking for the sock. Next time I will remember to organize things a little better.

In addition to the rain coat, one extra piece of gear I brought on this race was a second bottle. There is an 8.5 mile stretch between aid stations in the middle of the race that I didn't think one bottle would get me through.

Soon I had all of my stuff together and was ready to register. At the desk I saw Martin, one of the guys with whom I worked the aid station at the same Woodside series last December. We chatted for a bit about races, and I was reminded that he had won a spot for Western States this year. I'm really looking forward to hearing about his adventure, hopefully I see him again.

Is there a race around here?

Soon we were being called to the start, and at 8:30 sharp we were off. I didn't know the trail, but I could sense that soon after the gun the stampede that was moving across the meadow would need to collapse to a queue, so I tried to place myself so as to not get delayed for too long. After a tight turn around a fence we were on fast fire roads. I was trying to keep a good pace but not get too excited. I knew after a short downhill comes a six mile climb, so I was steeling myself for that.

Once on the climb it seemed that things were moving a little too fast. But I felt pretty strong and just tried to keep pace with those around me. Near the top most of us started to tire and there was a lot of walking, even on sections that weren't very steep, so I regretted pushing on the early parts of the hill. On the other hand, everybody was walking so I wasn't really losing time to anyone.

Which brings me to my strategy: Don't lose too much time on the uphills, put the pedal down on the flats, and keep pace on the downhills. The biggest challenge was going to be the downhills, as one can lose a lot of time there and it's been a weak spot of mine in the past. But I've been working hard on getting my legs stronger for this very purpose so I was excited to test myself.

Going through the King's Mountain aid station (mile 6) I was a little bothered at having to get in line for water. This was no one's fault, it was just that several runners arrived at roughly the same time and I was last of the bunch. Had I thought about it before hand, I might have skipped this aid station since two bottles would probably carry me to the second one, but for now that's just something to remember next time.

It was nice to see the familiar territory of the King's Mountain station- this was the one that I had volunteered at last time. There are a couple of tricky trail directions leaving the station and I was glad to have them already mapped out.

After King's Mountain the trail flattens out. We were running along a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that I hadn't seen before. The trail is invariably well maintained, and I was excited to be checking another segment off my list. I put the hammer down... so did everyone else around me, and so did the clouds as they opened upon us. I was very happy for my raincoat.

I had passed a few folks at the aid (I carry my own food so I don't have to agonize over such concerns while the clock ticks away), and only one or two of them passed me on the flats. I overtook a couple of people who were dealing with technical problems, but mostly we all stayed together. We were in a good rhythm.

At the Bear Gulch aid station (mile 11) I got my water quickly and found myself in a new group starting the big descent into Bear Gulch itself. Stay smooth, stay light, let it coast. That's what I told myself. Not an easy feat when negotiating 2 inch-deep mud puddles.

Mud is strange. Most of the time it's best to just charge through the puddle. The ground seems to be the most stable there. Except for the rare step that grabs your shoe and muddy water pours in over your ankles. I had nabbed a couple of these on the flats earlier, and while my shoes are good at draining water, they're also good at filtering out the suspended dirt in the process, leaving a fine grit against which to grind your macerated piggies (i.e. an invitation for blisters). I felt the beginnings of a blister around mile 12, but decided that it would be best to just tough it out.

Near the bottom of the descent the trail forks off in a loop around which runners go before returning on the same trail that brought us here. I was really hoping to get to the fork before seeing the leaders. I hadn't worked out the distances, but intuitively I figured I would be doing pretty good if I managed that. I didn't quite make it; I saw three guys and one girl before splitting off. But I do always enjoy seeing the leaders, so it wasn't all bad.

The trail bottoms out about halfway around the loop, stays flat for awhile, and then starts to climb again. Once I hit the uphill I realized my legs were spent from the descent. But I didn't panic. My scant two ultra marathons previous have at least taught me that a lot changes over the course of a race, and as long as you're still moving you're fine.

So I walked a bit. Some fellows caught up with and passed me in a slow jog, so I picked it up for a minute or so and then started walking again. I decided to employ a technique whereby I would run for a minute-thirty or so, and then walk for a minute. This seemed to allow me to recover sufficiently and I found that I could comfortably run up the gentler sections out of Bear Gulch and power walk the steeper ones.

About halfway up I started to feel good again. At first I was happy about this. But then I asked myself, do you want to look back and know that at mile 18 you could have picked it up and didn't? I didn't. So I started pushing the pace again.

And somewhere I have developed quite a power walk. In the past I've always been disheartened by folks speeding past me while we both trudge uphill. I couldn't understand how they could move themselves so much faster. But I think through a combination of strength training, ankle rehab, and determination, I can move at a reasonable clip now. I passed several people near the end of the climb, which I found quite satisfying.

Back at Bear Gulch aid the second time (20 miles) another quick fill and I was off retracing the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment. Time to put the hammer down again! The 35K race turnaround is at this aid station, so I was now encountering lots of people in that race, always uplifting to get and give encouragement.

I had to take it easy on the slight uphills, but I was feeling pretty good on the flats. But the fatigue was starting to take its toll. I didn't think I would be able to hold it together for another 11 miles (I thought it was 11 because I am have not gotten used to the miscalculations that my new GPS watch makes, especially over winding and wooded terrain), but I pressed onward anyway, continuing to push the pace. At some point I broke into the caffeinated Clif Bloks that I save for the end of a race, which allowed me to keep it going. But my strength I was flagging.

Before I knew it I was back at King's Mountain aid for the second time (26 miles). My watch suggested that I had about 7 miles to go, and I thought I had remembered reading that it was 6 miles from here to the finish. I asked the aid station volunteer how far it was, and she said 4 miles. I couldn't believe it! But when I thought about how far it must be given what I knew about the 17K course that follows this same section, I realized that she must be right. I was overjoyed. Just topped off the water and was off again.

After King's Mountain it is a slight uphill before a long downhill. Once I hit that downhill I kicked it into high gear. At one point I my watch showed me at a 7:00 pace, which I believed. I was feeling great (the caffeine helped), ready to run this thing home. There is a bothersome little climb in the middle of the descent, but after dispatching with it I knew I was home free. I kept pushing, pushing. I wasn't running against anyone else at this point (my nearest competitors were 1-2 minutes ahead and behind), just running faster because, well, that's what you do.

Soon I saw the parking lot and the typically confusing finish of trail races (literally across a path, around a parked car, through a parking lot, down a sidewalk, through a children's playground complete with spongy platform, across another section of the same sidewalk, through a meadow, into a foreshortened finish chute). Then I saw Jen standing on the side with the camera at the ready. I regretted having unzipped my jacket because I knew it would make for a crappy photo (I had unzipped it so the finish staff could see my number), but whatever.

Hammering down the hope stretch

Before I knew it I was over the line and breathed a sigh of relief. I was really happy with my performance, I knew I was fast compared with my previous races, and I had pushed myself the whole way.

My finishing time was 5:35:49. While only 6 minutes faster than my last 50K, I don't feel so bad about it for a couple of reasons. First, Jen and I heard many people complaining about slow times because of the trail conditions. Second, my overall place was 30th, but, more importantly I finished at the 30th percentile of finishers (my last two races have been at about the 50th percentile). So measured in raw speed I was not substantially faster, but measured against the field (a better measure in my opinion) I improved substantially.

That said, I'm excited for the next one. I'm forever wary of flukes, so I feel I need another performance to prove it to myself that I really have gotten faster. For now I have a week of soreness to look forward to, and a nasty blister to take care of. But I am very happy with my race. Best ultra so far.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Toys

Jen got me a GPS watch for Christmas. It comes with a heart rate monitor and loads of other neat stuff. It's been fun to take it out on the trails and then come back and upload the data. I've never had that kind of visibility into my workouts before.

Today I decided to use it for a crossfit workout. The workout is called Barbara, which consists of the following:

5 rounds for time:
20 pullups
30 pushups
40 situps
50 squats
3 minutes rest

Below is a plot of my heart rate over the duration of the workout. I started the clock right when I started and stopped it right when I was finished, so the plot starts and stops at those instants. The workout took me 41 minutes and 31 seconds.

My heart rate for Barbara

You can clearly see the four rest periods. The sharpest peaks are at the end of the pullups; I can bang out twenty of those nonstop using the butterfly method (a way to recycle more of your energy from one pullup to the next, generally accepted in crossfit workouts). The other peaks are during the squats, as I can string together long sets of those as well. The lulls are during the pushups and situps. I have to stop several times per round for those exercises.