Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hey Dad - Can We Go for a Hike?

Oh my, oh my. Music to my ears. For a while now my daughter has been voicing some interest in hiking. So, when she asked if we could go, I jumped all over the opportunity. I shoved her in the car on Saturday and sped off to REI to get her some hiking boots (Note: It wasn't really *that* spur of the moment - but by the same token I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

My training plan called for 8 miles on Sunday. The thought of more miles on the San Diego Creek trail or around the Back Bay wasn't exactly appealing. So - why not mix it up a little? And my daughter gave me all the excuse I needed. We were up early and out the door at 6AM to drive over to Palm Springs for a little jaunt up in the hills.

Now, when most think about Palm Springs, they think about heat and desert. Palm Springs is truly one of Southern California's desert resort gems. But, just a short distance from the desert heat is an alpine wonderland. That wonderland is the Mt. San Jacinto State Park, and it is easily accessed by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - whisking riders from Valley Station at 2,643 feet elevation up to Desert View Station at 8,510 feet elevation is just about 7 minutes. The gem of the Park is its namesake - Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet elevation. By riding the tram up the mountain, one can cut the walk to an 11 mile round trip with about 2,300 foot elevation gain.

The day was absolutely beautiful. We were on the second tram up the mountain at 8:30. Temperatures were in the mid 60's, skies were clear, and the vistas breathtaking. We made our way through the heavily forested slopes the first two miles to Round Valley.

This is where one of the rarities in Southern California exists - a year round spring with cool refreshing water.

We then continued on another mile and a half to the spectacular views to the East at Wellman's Divide, where, even though it was a hazy day, we could clearly see the Salton Sea in the distance.

From here, we climbed another 1,000 vertical feet over two more miles to the summit hut.

From there, it was a scramble up the last 100 feet to the summit. The hazy day still allowed magnificent views.

There is a 270 degree view from the top. We were able to take in everything from the Salton Sea to the Southeast to the highest point in Southern California - Mt. San Gorgonio (11,499 feet).

We dropped back to the comfort of the summit hut and enjoyed our PBJ sandwiches and snacks before starting our way back down the hill. In 2 hours we were back at the spring in Round Valley, where I broke out the water purifier and refilled a couple of nalgene bottles.

From there it was two more downhill miles back to the tram station, where out last hurdle remained - a 100 foot hike back up to Desert View station for the ride back down.

And speaking of a ride! We started at Desert View station in beautiful 72 degree weather. By the time we got back down to the Valley Station 6,000 feet below, we gained 26 degrees! That's right! 98 degrees at 5PM! Check out the video and enjoy the ride (complete with the music that plays in the Gondola during the ride)!

That put the cap on a great week. The hike was enough of a workout at a high enough elevation that I was able to put in 11 miles at an average heart rate of 65% of max. Totals mileage for the week - 46! Not bad for coming back from a cold! Not to mention some quality time with my dear daughter!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Most Systems Go!

I ran my last long run of this training cycle on Saturday. I found how hard it is to stop for an extended period of time and start back up again after social hour at mile 11. Well okay. More like social half hour (literally). I did end up sucking some serious wind in the last couple miles. But everything else worked per plan. Bottom line was 16.1 miles at an average heart rate of 78% of max and an average pace of 11:07 with the first nine miles at goal pace. I took an Endurolyte before starting, and quaffed a gel/Endurolyte pack with a di-hydrogen monoxide chaser every 30 minutes.

The Endurolyte capsule taped to a gel packet was a gem! Here's how it worked for me:

A picture of the parts (hey - how'd that keyboard sneak in there?):

On B.o.B's advice, I used blue painter's tape. There is less adhesive on the tape, so you don't end up with a capsule that is hopelessly stuck. Also, since the tape is designed to work with latex based paint, it is waterproof and will stand up to the massive amounts of sweat that I generate.

I wrapped the blue painter's tape around the gel packet, then placed an Endurolyte capsule on top of the non-sticky side of the tape:

Then took the remaining tail end of the tape and taped everything down:

Then on my run I just reach into the back pocket of my fuel belt, grab a packet, and I'm ready to fuel up! Thanks again B.o.B!

Bottom line? I'm ready to go. I get to spend the next couple of weeks relaxing now. In fact, I sacked Sunday's eight mile run for a little ten mile hike up in the hills. More on that tomorrow morning!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finally an Easy Day

One thing that is nice about taper is that every now and then there's an easy day that is part of the training plan. I put in my four general aerobic miles on the Back Bay yesterday once it started cooling down. I even made it to the gym fr some stretching afterwards. Woo hoo!

Oh. Wait a minute. There were a ton of easy days early on? Oh. Hmmm. Has this training plan really been that hard that it's going to become legend?

I've now used two different training plans. The first one was handed out by my track club to people training for their first marathon. It was an easy, 17 week plan that basically had us running a set amount of time three days a week and a long run on Saturdays. We peaked at around 35 miles per week and had one 20 miler. No lactate threshold work, no VO2Max work. The purpose of the plan was to get us to the finish line. And it worked.

It got me to the finish line, but it didn't fulfill me. That's why I'm back. This time a lot more educated and a lot more knowledgeable. I chose a relatively advanced plan - the Pfitzinger 24 week/55 mile peak plan. This plan methodically addresses all those things that need to be addressed to effectively run a marathon. I've gotta tell you - I feel in as good a shape as I've *ever* felt. But, this cycle has been *much* tougher - physically and mentally. I'm constantly sore and tired. No injuries or anything - I just feel like my body has been well worked. And mentally? 24weeks? That's like half a year! And for someone like me, 55 miles equates to 9 plus hours a week on the trails around here. I've got to be honest - the last few weeks has been tough (cold not withstanding). When I think abut running for three hours, my mind immediately thinks about a bunch of other things to do.

But - the finish is in sight. 16 days. Then I get my just reward for all this training. I get to run a marathon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thanks for the Great Ideas!

A big thank you fellow bloggers for your ideas yesterday! It's so cool to have such a helpful group of blogging and running friends to draw on. After my diatribe on fueling strategy, a couple of you confirmed my strategy with your own experiences, a couple of you pointed me in the right direction as far as products, and one provided a tip that was absolutely fantastic!

So here goes:
AZ - thanks for confirming what the article was saying. Two gels an hour does it for you?

Slomohusky and MegRuns - Banana Hammer gel huh? I'll give it a try for sure. I've had the Raspberry and it was good as well. Take my word - don't get close to the Hammer Espresso gel. Yecch! I've always been a Gu user - but can only stomach two flavors - Vanilla Bean and Espresso Love. That get's kind of old after the third or fourth one.

MegRuns and B.o.B - Thanks for the confirmation on the Endurolyte. I took it recently on my hike up Whitney and it really did make a world of difference!

And the best idea ever goes to B.o.B. Her idea of taping an Endurolyte capsule to a gel packet is golden!!!! The reason I was using the powder is that I didn't want to just have a bunch of capsules laying around in my fuel belt. But, any more than two scoops of Endurolyte powder in 16 ounces of water and you might as well go take a drink out of the ocean. Bleh. But using her idea, I'll down a gel and a capsule every 30 minutes! Than you thank you thank you B.o.B! I bow to the East in recognition! I'll also follow MegRuns suggestion to take one before the race so my body has a chance to absorb the first capsule ahead of time. Thank you everyone!

On the running front, I put in a *hot* 8 miles yesterday. The morning started out pretty foggy and cool here despite what the weatherman was saying:

But, by the time I made it out of the office at 6PM, it was still a warm 90 degrees at Crystal Cove! I ended up putting in a sweaty 8 aerobic miles (average heart rate of 79% of max). Luckily the sun was down and there was a cooling breeze coming off the ocean by the time I finished.

Today looks to be another scorcher! Here's a photo taken from just about the same spot at 7:15 this morning:

The weatherman is saying mid nineties here at the beach, and 115 inland. A least it's dry out! Looks like I'll be waiting until late this evening to put in my four easy miles! Oh - and I hope to catch up on my blog reading this evening. I've been MIA from that for a few days now....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Starting Down the Home Stretch

I spent my evening trying to keep up with the folks in my track club as we ran 500 yard repeats. Hmm. I seem to have lost some speed in the past few weeks (okay okay - I never had speed to begin with). I can tell you that four 500s had me sucking some serious wind! I did a five mile warm up to start an a mile warm down afterwards, for a total of 7 miles. I have no other stats because I got the old "Batteries are Low" message from the Garmin. And unlike lindsay's experience last week, when a 305 tells you that your batteries are low, they are low. Like non-existent. Sure enough, half a mile from the start, the Garmin shut down for the day. Sigh.

To continue on yesterday's main topic - I think I've settled on a fueling strategy to take me through Long Beach. So far I've been following a long run fueling routine on runs over 16 miles that seems to be working. The routine consists of a Homer Simpson breakfast (mmmm! donuts!), a gel every hour on the run and a snack of a Clif Bar about half way through. This works out to about 500 calories before the run, then 100 calories per gel, and 240 calories for the Clif Bar. These seem to power me through the run in decent shape - in fact my last twenty miler went incredibly well following this plan.

But, there are a couple of differences between a training run and marathon day. I *hope* that I'll be running at a pace 30 seconds to a minute faster than a training run, which means a few more calories and a lot more sweat. I've been picking the brain of an endurance athlete friend of mine. She turned me onto the Hammer Nutrition website, where I found this gem of an article that discusses the whole caloric intake issue. It is rather eye opening - that's for sure.

Evidently at anything greater than 75% - 85% effort, the human body does not respond kindly to an intake of more than 4.0 to 4.5 calories per minute - about 250 calories per hour. Take in more than that and the calories are not processed. This leads to a phenomenon called "gastric emptying". And there are only two ways the stuff can come out. Uh. Yeah.

The article also points out that if you take in too many calories, you block your body's attempt to utilize fatty acids as an energy source. This all means that there is a balancing point where take in too few calories and you bonk, take in too many calories and bonk. Not to mention the humiliation of "gastric emptying".

The updated fueling strategy? The Homer Simpson breakfast is still in. The Clif Bar is out. And at 100 calories per packet, I will take a gel every 30 minutes during the run. We'll see how my body reacts to 200 calories per hour in gel form. I'm not anticipating any issues....

Which leaves the final point - electrolyte replacement. I definitely had cramping issues in San Diego. Not to mention the issues I had on my recent climb of Mt. Whitney. By the time I did anything about the cramping at RnR it was too late. But, electrolyte replacement made a world of difference on Whitney. So - it's pretty clear to me that the electrolytes need to be dealt with. I'll have to stay away from the replacement drinks like Gatorade, etc. After all, my gel strategy will be providing calories and sugars/carbs. So that means I just want to replace the electrolytes. Which means I will be relying on Endurolyte. I have purchased the powder, which I will add to my water on my fuel belt. The powder makes the water taste a little salty, but I didn't have any problem downing it after some recent runs.

Putting it all together, here is what I'm going to do starting this weekend:
(1) Carry two gels per hour of running. For this weekend that means about 6 gels. For marathon weekend that means about 10.
(2) Carry Endurolyte mixed with water on my fuel belt. Each 10 ounce water bottle will contain 2 doses. For this weekend I'll carry two bottles of electrolytes and two bottles of plain water. For marathon day, I'll carry 4 bottles of electrolytes and rely on water stations for water.

So - Saturday here I come! I have a couple of weeks to tweak the equation and get it right. If I do it right, I won't end up looking like death again. Of course, if don't get it right, I'll be able to tell you all about the inside of a porta potty.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thinking Ahead

With three weeks left, it's impossible to *not* think about "the day". It's time to taper, which means it's time to make sure everything else is working. I have a 16 miler this Saturday and a 12 miler the following Saturday - the last two runs long enough to check out race day systems.

A few weeks back, I revisited my race report from my last (and first) marathon - San Diego Rock n' Roll 2008. There I had three problems: (1) chafing in areas that I wasn't thinking about (see the picture below), (2) blisters the size of Texas on the soles of my feet, and (3) running out of gas around mile 17 with calves cramping by mile 19. All those left me where I am today - with a big chip on my shoulders and a monkey on my back. Thanks San Diego! If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be going through this madness again! (Here's me after 5 hours and 44 minutes on the streets of San Diego - not a pretty sight!):

One thing I've learned over the past couple of years is running while being miserable sucks. So, I've been using my long runs to check out a lot of marathon day systems. My clothes are chosen. I have my grey Adidas running shorts with built compression pants and my blue Road Runner tech tee. Yeah - not color coordinated, but also no chafing. And no bloody nipples.

Footwear also went through a major change a while back. Turns out the problem with the blisters weren't so much the shoes as the socks. Everything now are Road Runner Dryroad elite socks. They are "wicked" (pun intended).

Both of these systems have now been through two twenty milers and four runs 16 miles or longer. That's right. Each time I headed out for a long run, I made sure to be wearing the clothes and footwear that I planned on wearing on marathon day. If you saw me on the 4th or July - you saw me as I will appear on October 11th. And all clothing and shoe systems are ready. Now I can concentrate on fuel. I'll leave that for tomorrow's blog.....

On the running front, I got an email from Cal Coast yesterday that we are back at the Corona del Mar High School track beginning today. Yea! I think I'll join the group tonight for some Tempo Tuesdaily madness. Yeah - I don't really need a lot of speed work at this point, but I'll put in some warm up miles and run around in circles with a few of my buddies tonight. I can't believe there are only 20 days left (fingernails are getting short....)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Well, the Finish was Respectable

For all that whining I did earlier this week, I finished up respectably. I kind of wanted to push and get a long run in today, but I though better of it and just settled in for a short recovery run instead. No reason in particular except to just get back into a training rhythm of a long run Saturday followed by a recovery Sunday. I finished up a 6.3 mile run that turned out to be pretty effortless. I was relieved to not have any coughing or hacking along the way.

So, I end the week with 28.5 miles. About 15 miles short of goal, but the way that it started last Tuesday - I'm relieved I was able to get the miles in. Nothing long and no speedwork, but at least the miles ended up respectable. Thanks folks for keeping me sane!

Now I need to turn my mind to important things. 21 days until Long Beach. This week begins taper. That's right. All this work is coming to fruition. On the schedule:

Monday: Rest day.
Tuesday: 7 miles general aerobic. Finish up with 8 100 yard stride outs.
Wednesday: 8 miles general aerobic.
Thursday: 4 miles general aerobic. Finish up with 6 100 yard stride outs. Looks like a good day to get to the gym for some stretching.
Friday: Rest day.
Saturday: 16 mile long run
Sunday: 8 miles - 4 miles general aerobic and 4 miles half marathon pace.
Total: 43 miles

It's supposed to really heat up this week (I hear snow is forecast in the Rockies?). The weatherman is saying low 90's here near the beach, and 100 to 110 inland. I may be doing some night running Tuesday and Wednesday!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Now We're Making Progress

Yessiree! Saturday morning I laced up my shoes and got out in time to meet with the Cal Coast group. It's been a number of weeks since I've run with the group. I've got to admit - it sure beat running double digit miles by myself. I've been running on my own ever since my long runs crept up over 12 miles and the weather started getting hot. Best I can tell, it's been about 8 weeks or so since running with the club. It was strange to actually talk to others while on the move.

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I'm primarily a lone runner. I like to put my shoes on and head out on the trails myself. I use the time as my therapy. I can use the hour or two a day to detach myself from the daily stresses of the job and to keep from biting my wife's head off when I get home after a tough day.

But, it wasn't until this weekend that I realized there are benefits of running with a group. Since I was coming off an extended two week illness, I really held back on my pace. But I found myself out with the lead group. Huh? these are the "fast" folks. Okay. The really fast folks may not have shown up today, but still - I shouldn't be out here running comfortably with this group! I never would have guessed that my running has improved to this point if I had not run with the group.

My point is that a runner can certainly use a group as a way to gauge improvement. Sure, there's always the watch and checking your pace this week versus last week, but it a totally different effect when you can actually see the improvement. Now, I still think there is a big drawback to group training. One of the ways that I have been improving the past months is by running long and running slow. Other than a quality workout, I use my watch to make sure I am not running too *fast*. I spend a lot more time paying attention to my heart rate than I do my pace. I really try to keep my aerobic workouts at a heart rate less than 85% of max, and my long runs at less than 75% of max. Add the group dynamic and it would be tough for me to hold back. Especially when all the nubes leave me in the dust. And there is nothing that can hurt your training more than to be running too many miles too fast. A lot of people run out of gas on a nine or ten miler. It's because they are running in lactate threshold trying to keep up with a group thinking that running faster is better. Well, by definition, lactate threshold is the speed you can hold for approximately one hour. For most of us weekend warriors that is max pace for somewhere between six and seven miles. Beyond that your body will start turning from glycogen to lactate for it's primary energy source, which really defeats the purpose of the long run.

So my advice? Group running can be fun. There are the obvious social benefits. You can use the group to gauge your improvement over time. But, avoid the need to compete with your running pals. Remember the goal of the long run - to be on your feet for extended periods of time. This stimulates your body's ability to produce, store and use glycogen - your primary energy source in long distances. You should not be running so fast that you run out of gas. Slow down and enjoy the scenery with your friends!

Oh - the stats? 10 miles at an easy pace. I picked it up the last three miles and dropped sub 9:00 just to blow the old pipes out. The cold seems to pretty much be a thing of the past. I had to deal with a little *snooze* (snot ooze), but otherwise had a decent run for the first time in several weeks!

Now that the weather is cooling down and my miles are winding down, it will be nice to run with people again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Six Miles Today

It looks like this cold thing is *finally* moving in the right direction. I'm still taking it easy pace wise, but I was able to add two more miles yesterday. I only had two snot stops and no coughing fits, so I'm feeling a little less anxious.

Why the anxiety?

Yup. 23 days left. My last experience with Mr. Marathon was not all that great. In retrospect, I was *grossly* under trained. Ever since then, I have been focused on building my fitness. Putting in lots of miles at an easy pace. There's no "natural talent" that I can draw on here folks!

With that in mind, I've been concerned about training. The last three weeks have not gone per plan. I've had to blow off a couple 50 mile weeks. That doesn't help. But now I've got to be real careful. I'm feeling better. I've got three weeks until marathon day. The last thing I need right now is a setback. So, as much as I want to hit a 20 plus miler this weekend, I think that discretion is the better part of valor. Many of you have made the case. And I think it's time for me to heed the advice of those with far more experience than me. You have even been there and done that. It's taken me 52 years, but it's about time I recognize that I don't know everything about everything....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moving in the Right Direction

Yesterday was my great experiment. The day to see if my cold was going to win out or not. My coughing fits have been slowly subsiding, but I thought the same on Tuesday and was barely able to make it one mile before I had to do my pack a day imitation. So I was a little concerned when I decided that I was going to try to get four miles under my belt.

I was determined that if I was going to have to stop and hack away, I was going to at least enjoy the sights. So, I headed down to Crystal Cove State Park about 6PM to attempt an easy four miles. My head was still pretty congested, but I just wanted to see if I could make it out and back two miles. The bottom line was the four miles came and went pretty uneventfully. I had to hold the horses back - I went out the first mile at a 9:24 - I definitely didn't want to stay at that pace in the shape I was in. A little past mile 2 I had the only incident during the run - I think all the snot in my head decided to let go at once. A quick stop and a couple of snot rockets later I was back on the course and finished up in an overall 10:00 pace.

Now, everything isn't back to normal yet. I did have a coughing fit once I stopped and was at the car. It was the strangest sensation. I started feeling a tightening sensation in my chest followed by a minute or two of coughing. (My youngest son has asthma and I couldn't help but thinking that this is what it must feel like when he has an attack.) And I'm still coughing a little this morning, but each day I'm feeling a little better. This week's training plan is petty much out the window at this point, and I'm going to take it day to day. I am going to put six or so miles in this afternoon. Then I'll see where I sit to decide what to do this weekend. I'd love to get one more 20 miler in for the psychological benefits (that would be three 20 milers in this training cycle). With three weeks left, this weekend would be the last opportunity for a final long run. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Hopefully, this cold is finally releasing it's death grip.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It Was a Start

I guess I'm not as well as I thought I was. I *finally* made it out the door for what was supposed to be an eight mile speed session on the track yesterday. Unfortunately I never made it past the warm up.

I *did* feel good and strong as I started my 3 mile warm up. It felt good to get back on my feet after all the time off. But it wasn't long before my lungs started making these strange gurgling noises and the wheezing began. And with that the coughing started. I had to stop to expel my right lung. My head was throbbing from the coughing, but I got my feet moving forward again and continued. Then, about half a mile later, all of the mucous in my head decided to let go. All at once. The next thing I knew is I had snot all over the place. Then the coughing started again. I though my head was going to explode. I had enough for the day and packed it in as I passed through two miles.

This whole cold/flu thing got me doing some research last night. When will I be okay to run again? Long Beach is coming up in one month (actually 25 days), and I *need* to get back out on the trails.

After some time googling the web, I found was there is no scientific reason for running or resting. One Runner's World article pointed to a study done at Ball State University that showed that training had no effect on the length or severity of colds in an experimental group of runners. The bottom line is the article advises against the following:

(1) Running with a fever: Stay at home if you are running a temperature above 99 degrees (F).
(2) If you have a fever or the flu, hold off until the day after the symptoms disappear and then take it easy for one to two weeks.
(3) If you have full blown sinus infection, hold off running for 72 hours, and then take it easy for a few days.

The overriding theme here is no running with a fever, and then take it easy for a while when coming back. I've had no fever for four or five days now, and based on my incident yesterday, I can tell you I have no full blown sinus infection. With that in mind, I'll give it another go this evening. Maybe something like 4 miles easy. I'll see how I feel afterwards before making up my mind on tomorrow. Crystal Cove here I come!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heading Out This Afternoon

Okay - the hacking cough has settled down quite a bit. I have my running gear in the trunk of my car. I'm going to try to get out and run this evening. We'll see how it goes...

And - I found this on YouTube today. Talk about a different perspective of Mt. Whitney - Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjTmNJmJXbk

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wheezing Away

First, I'd like to thank everyone for your well wishes. I heeded the advice given and took another day off. I'm still hacking quite a bit, but the real wake up call was the loud wheezing sounds when I was asleep on the couch. I was feeling better Saturday. Then yesterday I spent much more time hacking away. I was asleep on the couch by noon and just pretty much slept the rest of the day away. I'm glad I heeded everyone's advice. Thanks!

My concern now is that I've only put in 50 miles over the last three weeks and exactly 0 miles last week. Of course I had a little detour over Labor Day Weekend, but that was more like a goal race. Especially the way I felt early last week. I was literally unable to walk without pain Sunday and Monday. By Tuesday I was walking again, but still had to approach stairs in reverse. Then came the cold/flu. And other than the cough and chest congestion I feel fine. Sigh.

I'm going to try to get back on track this week. According to the plan:

Monday: Rest day.
Tuesday: 5 X 800 with a 400 rest step, 3.25 mile warm up, 1 mile warm down for 8 miles total.
Wednesday: 8 mile GA run
Thursday: 4 mile recovery run
Friday: Rest day.
Saturday: 10K race (I've been unable to find a 10K race this for this weekend, so I'll probably just substitute an easy run somewhere between 6 and 9 miles).
Sunday: 17 mile long run
Total: 43.2 miles.

I'll find out tomorrow afternoon how this week will shape up!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One more day off I think

I spent part of yesterday coughing up a lung, and my wheezing is still quite pronounced this morning, so there's no 20 miler in the mix this morning. As my fellow blogger AZ reminded me yesterday the old adage - "if it in the chest, ya gotta rest." So I think I'll take one more day here and get a little better. Of course, it has me concerned - my training has just really gone to pot in the last three weeks. I think I'll try five or six easy mile this afternoon and based on the way I feel. put some miles in in the morning tomorrow.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Time to Re-Energize

Okay. I guess that excitement's over. I mean heck - I have a marathon in a (less than a) month. My last three weeks of running have been a little less than prime, so I've got to get back into the swing of things here. Just in time for taper.

In all honesty, I've been in recovery mode since last weekend. Sunday and Monday I couldn't walk. Both calves were like rocks. My hips were screaming whenever they were asked to move. By Tuesday, I was able to walk, but my calves were still so sore I couldn't walk down stairs without turning around and walking backwards. On top of that I've been fighting a nasty upper respiratory infection/cold/flu. I was feverish and coughing up a storm both Monday and Tuesday. Yesterday was finally better. The last thing remaining are the blisters on my feet. On big blister on the outside of my left foot and a blood blister on the balls of both feet. Guess I overdid it a little on my way down Saturday. Yesterday I was able to wear shoes without discomfort, so it's all coming back.

Saturday is supposed to be my last 20 miler. I'll see if I can pull it together. I'd love to do one more for the psychological benefits of running 20 miles. Today though will be one more day of rest. I'm still coughing a bit - that yucky wet lung clearing cough. At least it doesn't hurt to cough any more!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Down the Mountain and Lessons Learned

Now for the easy part - right? Getting off this damn hill. If you watch those Everest documentaries, you'll always hear about how getting to the top is only half of the adventure. Well, the dangers on Whitney are nowhere near those on Everest, but the same adage holds true. The adrenaline has had a chance to wear off. The excitement of the conquest usually means that the climber has not been paying attention to some important things like eating and drinking. Coming downhill is the classic time to bonk.

After about 30 minutes on the top, Matt and I turned and put our energies into getting off the mountain. Matt was planning on getting back to our mid mountain camp and spending one more night, but my plan was to try to make it all the way down to the car. At this point we had been on the trail for a little over 5 hours. It occurred to both of us simultaneously that there had been no pee stops since starting out at the tents half an hour before that. Not good! Matt had left with 2 liters of water and me with 2.5, but the dryness of the altitude really sucks the moisture out of everything. We still had 4 miles to the next water (a seasonal spring at switchback 23), so we had to be careful with the water we had left. And while the going downhill was easier, it was still a slow go. We worked our way down the moonscape and made it back to Trail Crest at 2 PM.

From there, it was a slow but steady descent through the switchbacks. We were back at our tents at 3:30 PM. I hurriedly broke camp and packed up. I still had six miles ahead of me. My main concern were the granite slabs below where the trail was hard enough to follow in the light - much less in the dark. I wanted to make sure I got down to Outpost Camp while it was still light enough to see. Matt walked the first half mile with me where we filled our water bottles. We bid au revoir and I headed down the trail. By now it was 5 PM and the sun was starting to go down behind the ridges. I focused on making it down the trail. 5 miles left. One foot in front of the other. Repeat....

All I can say is that someone must have built a couple of extra miles of trail since Friday. The slog seemed to go on *forever*. I made it down out of the high country and to Outpost Camp by 7:15, where I stopped and had a quick snack and some water. I should have had a more substantial meal at that point, but I didn't want to spend any more time than necessary. My fuel for the day had consisted of an apple/cranberry bran muffin, one hammer gel, about two ounces of pretzels, and about 6 ounces of trail mix. Not a whole lot. I was to pay for this later. But, I just wanted to get back to the car. I replaced my cap with my headlamp, hoisted my pack, and continued on.

The last four miles seemed to take *forever*. In actuality it was only 2 hours. But I was definitely feeling the effects of a full day (remember - we had started at 7:30 AM) with little fuel. I was really struggling when I turned a corner and voila! The trail head kiosk! I made it! 9:15 PM. Just a little 14 hour, 16 mile hike in the woods!

Adventure officially over.
I'm sitting here now on Thursday morning. Four days have passed. I'm just about ready to start running again. Most of the trip went per plan, but I did learn a couple valuable points:

(1) Fueling is not an option: When I look back to my problem on day 1, I can say that it *was* related to not fueling. I felt terrible when I got to camp. But, after a gel and some caffeine, I was feeling quite chipper. The problem? I was too eager to get up the hill. I didn't take the 30 minutes to get something for lunch and for another couple of snacks.

(2) Use gels and replace electrolytes: Just like a long run, these supplements have a place on these hikes. I failed to bring any. Thank God for Matt and his never ending stash of Hammer Gel and Endurolyte. Plan on one gel every couple of hours and one Endurolyte cap every hour - especially when sweating like a hog on the lower trail.

(3) Ibuprofen: Should be eaten like candy. Feel that altitude headache coming on? Pop an ibuprofen. Getting up in the morning? Pop an ibuprofen. Believe me - it beats the alternative.

(4) Run run run: Before you come up here, do whatever you can to get into cardio shape. Everything else up there is hard enough. At least being in cardio shape you will have one less thing to contribute to feeling blah and tired.

(5) Make sure you have good equipment and carry it: Should go without saying. There's no one to turn to when it starts snowing. Or worse - raining. You had better have a good tent that you can climb into and get and stay dry. If you don't then you better turn around. Or else be ready to pay the ultimate price (yes - a couple people have died up there this year).

(6) Finally - make sure you know your limitations. See the lady on the left in the red cap in this photo? She and her two friends started at 12:30 AM Saturday on a one day assault of the peak. One of the three never made it above Trail Camp before coming down with altitude sickness. At 9:00PM the second friend came racing down the trail. The lady in the red cap wasn't going to make it out Saturday night.

The bottom line? Tougher than any marathon. Day 1 was 6 miles and 5700 feet elevation gain. Day 2 was 16 miles with 2800 feet in gain and then 6300 feet down. 12 of those miles with a 30 pound pack on my back. Monday and Tuesday I couldn't walk down stairs without turning around and walking backwards (sound familiar?). My blisters (all from my final few mile push) are doing better (including the two blood blisters on my feet). Was I ready? For the most part. Next time I'll definitely pack the gels and Enduralyte. Oh - did I just say "next time"? Don't tell my wife.....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Summit Push - Day 2

If you like to run alone, then you'll like backpacking. I say that because there's a lot of alone time involved. Even when hiking with a group. Once the sun goes down and the wind blows cold, there's no cabin to retire to, no campfire to gather around, no TV to turn on. It's pretty much yourself and your thoughts in your tent. Summertime isn't as bad, because dark happens late. But during this transition between summer and fall, dark comes a little earlier, and light comes a little later. That means being in your tent with your own thoughts. For 10 or more hours. And if you allow yourself to be miserable, that can lead to long, lonely night.

My alone time started about 7:15 Friday. But, despite my difficulties only a couple hours earlier, I was feeling pretty comfortable. The wind was blowing 20 to 30 mph outside, and the flapping of nylon was incessant, but my sleeping bag was toasty warm. The 12,000 foot altitude was not really affecting me the way I was expecting. Normally, my resting heart rate can be as high as 95 to 100 when I'm up above 10,000 feet. But, there was no gasping for air, no sensation of my heart trying to jump out of my chest. I checked and found that I had a 72 bpm heart rate laying in my bag. Wow! I guess all the running *has* paid off. I drifted into a twilight sleep looking forward to the next morning.

The plan was to be up at 5:00AM for our walk up to the top of the mountain. I had set my watch alarm and my iPod alarm. I had anticipated a fitful night of sleep, so I was a little surprised when I woke and checked my watch - 5:45 AM! Yikes! I got dressed, and threw the door to my tent open. Remember that view of the valley below? It was going to be a glorious day.

Matt and I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and some breakfast and headed off up the trail. Our first stop was the lake at Trail Camp to refill our water for the 10 mile round trip. This would be our last chance for reliable water along the way, so I filled up with 2.5 liters. Our challenge for the day was to climb from 12,000 feet up to 13,600 feet in two miles, down 300 feet in half a mile, and then up from 13,300 to 14,496 in two miles. Friday's "experience" was behind me, and I felt strong and up to the challenge. We started day two at 7:30.

The first challenge was the slope ahead of us - the dreaded 97 switchbacks up to Trail Crest. It's up up and up that slope.

Two miles of switchbacks. I dare you to try to count them.

And even though it was pushing 9 AM, water appeared only in solid form:

The views back to where we were camped at Consultation Lake were awesome as we moved up the slope.

What happens next is just absolutely breathtaking. As you clear the last switchback, there is short traverse across the east facing slope.

Then a step or two down and viola! The great canvas of the Sierra Nevada spreads across the sky and a thousand feet down.

This is California's version of the Continental Divide. Everything to the east drains toward the Great Basin and the Colorado River, everything to the west drains toward the San Joaquin River.

Now for the mean part. Down 300 feet. At 13,600 feet, every step is a physical challenge. To lose 300 feet is just downright wrong. In a short half mile though, the final 2 mile spur trail to Mt. Whitney takes off to the north.

The remaining two miles are a slog fest. There are a couple of challenging points along the trail (the "Windows", where the slope drops off precipitously for about 1500 feet), and a little rock scrambling here and there. But for the most part, it is one foot in front of the other for what seems like an eternity.

Frankly, this is where a lot of people end up dropping like flies. The elevation starts affecting those who are not ready. Lots of headaches, lots of light headedness, lots of puking, lots of not believing. I was ready for any/all of that. In the past, I had suffered from the light headedness at these altitudes. I had suffered from not being able to catch my breath. But I was not going to let that stop me today. When I was 12 years old, I set the goal to climb Mt. Whitney. 40 years later I could see the top.

I was still feeling pretty strong. I had expected to be lightheaded and be relegated to 5 steps, stop and suck air. But, there was no light headedness. I was moving slowly, but I was also able to take 50 steps at a time before taking a few moments to try to extract some oxygen from the thin air. I slowly made my way up into the deep azure sky. Then all of a sudden - up over a little hump, a quick turn to the left and there it was!

At this point, all bets were off. I clambered the remaining few hundred feet to the summit hut. Mt. Whitney. It had been 4 hours and 15 minutes since starting, but I was there. I have to admit - I shed a tear or two. I don't have a whole lot on my bucket list - but this is one of them. This was my reason for getting into shape and had really driven my running related goals for the last two years. And here I was.

Friday's storm had blown through and left us a pristine day for being on the top. Yesterday's smoky skies were deep blue and pristine. The views in every direction were amazing.

But, we couldn't stay up there forever. One thing anyone who does any hiking/climbing understands is that getting to the top is only half the adventure.

Tomorrow - getting down off the mountain and lessons learned.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mt. Whitney Assault: Day 1

I'll start this with some thoughts I jotted Friday night from inside my sleeping bag:
"And I thought a marathon was hard!

It's 7:45. I'm in bed. Hopefully I'll sleep tonight. Heaven knows I'm pretty tired. But when you're at 12,000 feet on the side of a mountain, it ain't exactly the Marriott.

Today's journey has got to be one of the toughest things I've ever done. I hoisted a 38 pound backpack and schlepped it 6 miles and 4,000 feet up a mountain. Everything was great until I hit right around 11,000 feet. I was sure that I was going to die and puke and explode at the same time. Ten steps. Stop and gasp. Repeat.

As if that wasn't enough, we saw the full gamut of weather today. We started out with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. Within an hour we were donning our rain gear as it rained and hailed on us. Then to top it off - it turned cold. By the time we set up camp at 3:30, it was *almost* 50 degrees. And it was still raining. Whose idea was this?

Well, at least the rain has stopped. Hopefully the temps won't drop below freezing tonight. I need a good night's sleep for our assault on Whitney tomorrow!"

All I've got to say is that was as physically tough as anything that I've ever done. Part of it is age. Part of it is elevation. But I did it. I had big time doubts on Friday.

I thought I would break this little adventure down into three posts. I won't be running for a few days, (more on that later) so I'll need something to write about, and just making this a single post would take up pages and pages of space. There's just so much to tell.

This first post is Friday's adventure.

It started innocently enough. My hiking partner and I were up around 6AM to get a start on the day. The skies were clear and the temperatures were mild. The weather forecast had mentioned that a low pressure trough was blowing through, so I packed a little extra clothing just in case. As we walked through the trail head kiosk, I hoisted my pack on the scale. 38 pounds. Hmm. A little heavier than I was hoping, but still under 40 pounds. I passed a sign showing what we had in store for ourselves today.

The plan was to make it half way up the trail on this first day. That would mean about 6 miles and 5700 feet of elevation gain. That's a little over 900 feet per mile - for 6 miles. The trail started out innocently enough.

By mile 3 we were around 10,000 feet in elevation. This is where the air *starts* to get thin. And we still had 2,000 more vertical feet to climb.

We continued our slog up the mountain past some beautiful meadows. We hit the first campsite, Outpost Camp, about 3.5 miles up the trail and at 10,400 feet. Up to this point, the sun had been out and we had been sweating up a storm. We stopped for a snack and got the water purifiers out to refill our bottles. About this time we heard the first rumblings of thunder and felt the first few raindrops. Before we were done filling our water bottles, we donned our rain gear as the rain and hail pelted us.

From this point my day went downhill pretty quickly. Well actually uphill, but you get my drift. The next two and a half miles and 1,600 vertical feet took a little over three and a half hours. We were moving above the treeline. Elevation and lack of oxygen was a factor. The trail deteriorated into a series of switchbacks and steps on granite slabs. While I had been hydrating, I had not been refueling and was running out of energy. Quickly. Soon I was relegated to taking ten steps at a time. I would stop, gasp and catch my breath and then repeat. My lungs were screaming. My legs were turning into jello. The worse part was that this was not technically a difficult climb, but I was having great difficulty with it.

All this time, the weather continued to deteriorate. Rain and hail down below was now turning to sleet. The temperature was dropping. It was easily in the upper 40s. I was putting so many demands on my body. I was starting to feel pretty bad at this point. I was physically drained. I knew I still had a mile or so to go. My mental state was deteriorating. I looked up the trail hoping to see Matt to let him know I was spent and ready to turn around. Thankfully, he was nowhere to be found. One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

It wasn't too long before I glanced up again and Matt was standing there sans pack. That could only mean one thing. I was close. Matt pulled a few things off the outside of my pack, and I followed him up to the campsite, where I was able to finally take a load off my back. He had brewed up some coffee. It smelled heavenly. It tasted better. He also filled me up with a Hammer Gel with caffeine and an Endurolyte cap. Slowly I came back from the walking dead. Within half an hour I was feeling somewhat normal again.

Our next task was to meet Matt's girlfriend on her way down from the top. She and her hiking partner had taken off from the portal at 4:45 AM to do a one day assault on the top. It was now 5 PM and they were just making it back through the campsite on their way down. Lori and Rick are both ultra runners, and were up to the task. In 12 hours, they had made it to the top and half way back down. They were both lucid and doing well. We filled them with coffee and wished them well (they ended up getting back to the cars about 9:30 PM that night). In comparison, it had taken me 7 hours to go the first 6 miles.

When we got back to camp, I noticed for the first time what a prime piece of real estate Matt had snagged. The rain/sleet/hail had stopped, but it was cold and windy. Matt looked at his thermometer - 46 degrees. We settled in for some food and climbed into our sleeping bags for the evening. Gotta get some rest for the attack on the summit tomorrow!

(Note the view from my tent out to the valley 9,000 feet below!)

Shhh! If you listen closely you can hear the wind:

More day one photos on my Flickr site here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glennsphotos2007/sets/72157622286364880/

Coming tomorrow : The Summit Push