Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Training in Death Valley

(A view from Zabriskie Point last Thursday, when entering the valley, click to view full image)

Since getting that hydration cleared up, I went down to Death Valley to train on the course with 20 year old veteran Nickademus Hollon (, who set the age record for the course at 19 last year. After a series of unforunate events (revolving around repairs of absurd maintenance issues in my new condo) kept me in Utah until this past Friday, I ended up driving out to Death Valley and getting there late Friday night. After camping out in Panamint Valley (part of Death Valley's protected area and the 2nd valley of the Badwater course, from mile 60 to 90), we woke up early Saturday, spent the morning and early afternoon hiking around the valley and exploring old mines, and then went running later in the afternoon.

After having a morning of moderate physical activity, running seemed like a moderately enjoyable activity, but not like something that I was really craving. Nevertheless, I started out at the top of Towne's Pass at 4956', 60 miles into the course, and ran the first 9.5 miles down the pass solo until I met up with Nick just before mile 70 of the Badwater course. Despite it only being around 95 degrees, I had fully drained a bottle and was probably already somehwat down on water, so I grabbed a new bottle, drained it in the next 4 miles while we were running, and continued on. While it wasn't particularly hot, it was surprisingly humid for being in the desert, and it wasn't entirely comfortable to run in. When we got to Panimint Springs, 14 miles in, I took a quick bathroom break, and we were off on the neverending climb out of Panimint Valley to Darwin.

Before writing more, I should mention that shortly into the descent from Towne's Pass, I looked up and realized that I could see all the way to the mountain region marking the finish of the course, the Sierra Nevada, 75 miles in the distance. Such an idea was incredibly overwhelming, so on the way up the Panimint grade, I found myself thinking more and more about how excruciatingly painful 135 miles was going to be and it got to me mentally for a few miles around 20 miles in. Fortunately, Nick's mom Marina was there to forcefeed me with gels, m&ms, and cookies (which is always a good thing on long runs) and give me water, so I quickly bounced back.

This sort of mental low is a little uncommon in training, but it's something that ALWAYS happens in runs over 50 miles, so it was good to experience that in training on a 30 miler and now remember going into the racing season how it was just a mental low that quickly went away.

I am feeling physically prepared for the strenuous Western States 100/Badwater double I have coming up. Most importantly, I am mentally prepared for it. Western States 100 will not be easy, but I am doing my best to consider it a "warmup for Badwater" to make final mental preparations. Obviously, running 100 miles 16 days before running 135 miles is not the best physical preparation possible, but I will be looking to just barely squeak in under 24 hours to get the silver buckle without having to go any faster than possible. Yeah, yeah, my PR is only in the 22s, but I'm a lot more physically and mentally prepared than I was for any of my previous 100s. I almost had all the pieces put together for my last 100 and ran the first 75 miles on par for a PR before absolutely breaking in the last 25 despite it being a course somewhere around 5-6 hours slower than my previous 2. I know exactly which pieces were missing, however, and they have been corrected, so I am positive that I will be able to run strongly the entire way through WS100, get myself a Silver Buckle, and be fully fresh 16 days later when the race of a lifetime starts.

In the mean time, here's a nice picture from the Badwater course, taken while driving back home on Sunday.

The importance of hydration.

I've had an interesting combination of incredible and miserable running since I last posted. Shortly after my last training post, I underwent a period of fatigue and frequent nausea resulting from running and a total lack of speed, where previously slow paces (7:00/mile, which I can easily hold for hours) would kill me in less than an hour. I underwent a Vo2 max test and found (without quite peaking out due to feeling lightheaded and fatiguedwhile exerting myself) that I registered a 64.5 ml/kg/min (compared to 63.5 last year), so I am probably around a max of 65 right now. However, the test showed that I had very little ability to metabolize fat, which makes no sense based on how I train (and compared to the exact same test from 1 year previously, which showed that I was incredibly efficient at burning fat, requiring only a small percentage of my intake on long races to come from glycogen, ie eating food) and on top of that, I peaked out at a considerably lower work effort despite my higher Vo2 max (an increase in Vo2 is like upgrading to a more powerful engine). Basically, keeping with the car reference, I had somehow developed a more powerful engine, but had a very small tank.

Thinking about this, I could not possibly put the pieces together without factoring that something was physically wrong with my body. I had run as far as 50 miles in recent months with no more than 1000 calories consumed in that time, so based on the tiny percentage of energy coming from fat metabolism during that test, that particular run would either have been physically impossible or would've left my body literally and painfully tearing skeletal muscle from itself to feed my running, which had obviously not happened. The trainer suggested that perhaps I was a. sick, b. dehydrated, or c. anemic.

I went to a sports medicine doctor the next week and found that I was definitely dehydrated and had probably (but fortunately, temporarily) overstressed my kidney, based on abnormally protein levels in my urine (in addition to overconcentrated urine). Due to my dehydration, my kidney had been unable to filter everything out of my urine properly and it left fairly high amounts of albumin. Additionally, it seemed likely based on other testing that I was getting over some sort of flu, so I probably had a combination of factors affecting my odd test and horrible running while back home visiting in MN.

I had been maintaining a weight of approximately 159-161 pounds for awhile, which seemed a bit low to me considering that I was right about 160 3 years ago before I ever lifted weights (and I was very scrawny previously). I got as high as 175 while lifting 2 hours a day when I had a broken foot last fall, in addition to supplementing with lots of creatine, nitrous oxide, whey protein, and hydroxymethylbutyrate. I had since cut all of that out and stopped lifting basically entirely, but maintained considerably more muscle than I previously had, so the 160 number seemed a bit low.

Within 3 days of proper hydration, my weight rebounded to a constant 164 to 166, my symptoms of fatigue went away, and I was running much faster on all of my runs with no increase in effort. The bottom line is, if you're going to spend a ton of time in the sauna, running in the heat, and driving around in a car with the windows up and the heat on full blast, even in the summer, make sure you drink LOTS of water. You can't just weigh the same before and after your sauna session as you'll still pee out a good percentage of that water and eventually get dehydrated if you're not paying attention to your weight over a longer period of time.

Since rehydrating my body (which had been maintaining that low weight for at least 2 to 3 months), I have felt considerably more comfortable in longer runs, back to back long days, tempo runs, and overall increased mileage. In the last week and a half, I have hit 4 long runs of 16, 18, 20, and 30 miles (in that order), all but the 20 miler in 90+ degree weather, and all with at least 4000' of climb, felt extremely comfortable on all of them, and would be doing even more if Western States wasn't in a week and a half, with Badwater 16 days after that.