Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Running Surfaces and Aerobic Performance on Finish Time in Mountain Running

Running Surfaces and Aerobic Performance on Finish Time in Mountain Running

Two new studies have just been published. The first study, which examined running surfaces and impacts to total stress on the musculoskeletal system, found out what most trail runners already know - running on grass is better for you then asphalt, concrete, and rubber (tracks). What surprises me is that the authors state that there is still controversy in the literature regarding the biomechanical effects of different types of running surfaces on foot–floor interaction. Really? I thought that was covered back in the 80s or even earlier. However, that may have just been non-scientific hype when trail running was just getting "popular" and part of the sales pitch to get road runners to switch over to trails. Well, now we have scientific proof that running on softer surfaces is better for you.

The second study looked at individual aerobic performance on finish time in mountain running. The authors analyzed data from 869 finishers of 3 international mountain running competitions and found that the difference in anaerobic threshold between the winners is about 7 times greater then those in the back-of-the-pack. 7 times!! That is a big difference in anaerobic threshold. What does that mean for those striving to improve their times and performances in mountain competitions. One, it means they have to work really, really hard, but it also means that there is most likely a law of diminishing returns for those of us trying to get better. Once we start training to boost our VO2max and anaerobic threshold, we will see big returns and steadily move up in results. However, after more and more training, eventually we will near our physiological limit for VO2max, and our progress will become more and more finite. Whether the gap between one's untrained VO2max and one's highly trained VO2max is seven times greater is unknown (that is not what this study looked at), it does continue to lend weight to the philosophy that you need to include speed/interval/hill workouts into your running training if you want to reach your potential. Since these training methods do work to increase one's VO2max, while simply running at altitude does not, the science continues to argue for one to incorporate a little speed/interval/hill training into their workouts. The big question, however, is whether a combination of altitude and speed/interval/hill would work to increase one's VO2max even more then without altitude. The science is still out on that question, but I think it just might.

Update: Set a new PR on my 15K loop today. The old was 1:11, but the new one is 1:09. This is a loop run with 1,700' of elevation gain that I use as my speed training loop. My time continues to drop (to my surprise), and since it is at 9,100' in elevation, I think there may be something to training at altitude that most scientific studies have not gotten to yet. Altitude alone doesn't really provide any noticeable benefits, but systematic training (with speed workouts, intervals, hill repeats, etc.; and not just daily mountain runs) just might.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

XTERRA Snow Mountain Ranch 20K

XTERRA Snow Mountain Ranch 20K

This morning was the XTERRA Snow Mountain Ranch 20K trail race at Snow Mountain Ranch just outside of Tabernash. Although there was frost on the ground and I had to use the ice scraper on the car this morning, the day got hot fast. The course was really nice, winding through aspen forests, meadows, willow thickets, some lodgepole pines - all on trails with a few sections of dirt road. I would recommend this race to anyone; the course is really nice, the location is spectacular, and the volunteers and crew were great. Next year they are going to offer a full trail marathon, and not the 20K, so that may be something to put on your radar.

I started off with the lead group, keeping pace with them through the first couple miles, but had to drop back a bit on the initial 1,000' climb. Although I had tapered and rested, I'm still trying to figure out just how to race. I thought I was rested and would be good, but for some reason I wanted to hurl on the climb and was having trouble getting my breathing into a rhythm - I think it was mostly adrenaline as after about mile 5 I got into a good groove and was able to run the flats and hills really well. It surprised me a bit, as I didn't feel too nervous prior to the race, but obviously I was and need to keep working on the mental and physical game of racing. After the first big climb, the course was mostly rolling with some steep downs and a couple short ups. When I let the lead pack go on the climb, there was no one behind me so I ran the rest of the race solo, which was nice but I think I might have been able to get a slightly better time if there had been a rabbit in front or someone closing in on me and pushing me to go faster. Again, learning to race - something I have never done but find really quite interesting in all of its complexities and nuances.

Anyway, a great race on a killer course. The trails are open to the public if you buy a day pass at the Ranch, which is something to do now that fall colors are starting to show. It really is a beautiful setting. I got 6th place with a time of 1:50:49. Pretty happy, but obviously there is room for improvement; improvement that I think will come with more racing experience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Science Is Needed - Altitude Training And Running Performance

More Science is Needed - Altitude Training and Running Performance

Two new articles just published on altitude training and running or exercise performance. The first, entitled "The role of haemoglobin mass on VO2max following normobaric ‘live high–train low’ in endurance-trained athletes" looked at two possible mechanisms that the live high-train low method may have on boosting running performance. The first theory is that living high and training low will help improve maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and that this improvement is related to hypoxia-induced increases in total haemoglobin mass. The other contending theory is that living high and training low improves maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and that this improvement is related to improved maximal oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle. Surprisingly the authors found that after a 4 week period of living high and training low, athletes showed no improvement in VO2max (they did use elite cyclists rather then elite runners, but one would assume that would not make a difference)! This is also interesting in light of other research that seems to indicate that speed training does boost VO2max. So, why not altitude? Perhaps it is because the subjects/athletes in this study did not perform rigorous training exercises? The jury seems to be still out on this contentious subject.

This is reflected in the second study published recently: "Does ‘altitude training’ increase exercise performance in elite athletes?" Although a review article, it makes a good point in that we really have not investigated altitude training in any comprehensive, scientific way. For example, the scientific gold-standard design of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial has never been conducted on altitude training! So, although people swear by it (including me, although like I've said previously, I do more live high-train high), the scientific research on altitude training is too nascent to come to any positive conclusions. Hopefully this subject will be taken up with more vigor in the coming years.

As for me and my running, I got a new PR on my ~15K loop today with 1:11:40, dropping two minutes off my previous PR. I guess that means its time to add on some new miles to the loop as I would prefer my fast run to take about 1:30.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jones Pass Loop - Time on the Divide

Jones Pass Loop - Time on the Divide

This morning, despite the clouds and threatening rain, I ran the Jones Pass loop. This is an excellent loop that features a fair bit of time on the Continental Divide above 12,000'. Although the loop is only ~14 miles, eight of those miles are above 12,000' and stay directly on the Divide, making this loop a great run for altitude and views. Plus, you get to tag one named peak (Hassell Peak at 13,215') and about 6 unnamed 12,000+ mini-peaks. The loop starts at the winter parking lot near the Henderson Mine at the base of the Jones Pass road. Run up the road, but then take your first left up Butler Gulch. Follow the old, closed mining road up into the Butler Gulch basin until you get to just past treeline. At this point, angle left/south and find a goat trail that will take you up onto the ridge running east off of Hassell Peak. Once on this ridge, run along it until you climb up and eventually reach the Divide. From here, you are on the Continental Divide Trail (perhaps one of the best sections, and one of the longest sections of the trail that is above 12,000'), and a quick jaunt south will take you to the top of Hassell Peak (I've run this a couple times; an alternative is to run Hassell Peak from the Herman Gulch trailhead). From the top of Hassel, simply head north on the Divide. You can either stay on the trail, which skirts the Divide itself, or as I did today, tag all of the little summits along the Divide (about 6 unnamed 12,000' peaks). Keep running north on the Divide past the Jones Pass road, tagging three more mini-peaks before heading east and dropping down along a ridge that splits the West Fork of Clear Creek with Vasquez Creek. The trail drops down, then turns south and angles along the western slopes of Vasquez Peak until connecting up with the trail to Stanley Mountain. At this point, just drop down a couple switchbacks and you are back at the start. Like I said, although this loop is only ~14 miles, it has over 5,256' of elevation gain, so it still packs a punch. It took me 3:23 today, with stops on Hassel and a few other spots for photos. You can go faster if you stay on the actual trail and don't tag all of the mini-summits.

 Hassell Peak with the ridge (the other small red dot) that you climb out of Butler Gulch
 Looking down on Hassell Lake in the Woods Creek basin
 The red dot is where you are going, keeping on the ridge along the entire way
 Looking at Pettingell Peak from Hassell
 Evans and Bierdstat (in the distance) and Bard, Parnassus, and Woods Peaks in the front (left to right - part of the Ruby Creek Traverse)
 Looking back at Hassell Peak after crossing Jones Pass and tagging the first mini-peak
Looking all the way back at Hassell Peak from the last mini-peak before heading down

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Speed Ascent Of St. Louis Peak

Speed Ascent of St. Louis Peak

With only 2.5 hours of time today, I tried to do a fast speed ascent of St. Louis Peak (12,241'). Located in the center of the Vasquez Wilderness, St. Louis Peak is a really nice, seldom visited run that follows the headwaters of St. Louis creek. The haze from the fires in Nevada, Oregon, California, and Washington was pretty bad, as evidenced by the photos, but didn't seem to impact the lungs too much. Fall is hitting the high country fast - with all the heat this summer and lack of rain, most of the plants have started to turn, and a lot of the lodgepole pines are showing evidence of the drought. However, there are still a few flowers out.

The run is 13.8 miles long, with 3,612' of gain. I did it in 2:19:40, which I think is a fairly fast time. I slowed down a bit on the way back to snap some photos of the last flowers of the summer, as well as to hang on the summit to (try) and enjoy the views. I don't know if it is a FKT, but it is a PR for me on the peak and a good baseline to work from.

 Looking back down the St. Louis drainage
 Looking north at Byers (on the right) and Bills (left)
 Looking south into the haze...
 Looking east towards the Divide, which is usually in view.
 Some of the last flowers for the summer

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Update and Economy is Not Sacrificed in Ultrarunners

Update and Economy is Not Sacrificed in Ultrarunners

Tuesday: Did the usual 12K loop with 1,700 gain. Still pulled it off in 1:13 but had to work a little harder for it. Legs were a touch sore from Sunday's loop in the mountains.

Today: Ran a quick version of Tipperary to Backscratch then down the road back to Tipparary. Did the loop twice, once each way. It is about 16K with about ~800 gain on each loop. Took 1:18 today.

Interesting letter in the Journal of Applied Physiology published today on running economy in ultrarunners. Basically, looks like the author argues that you cannot compare elite ultrarunners with elite runners in short distances, simply because ultrarunning is still too new of a sport, as well as the large differences in ultra trail events versus more road-based races. It begs the question that lots have been talking about on the net: if the prize money was big enough, would some Kenyans or Ethiopians come over the ultrarunning and just blow the times out of the water? From what I can tell, the author Grégoire P. Millet, from the Universite de Lausanne would argue no. The two types of racing are just too different, especially concerning the hilly or mountainous nature of most trail ultras. Good to know, but with Sage Canaday just blasting Krupicka's record at the White River 50, the jury is still out.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Keyser Creek Loop - Byers Peak and Bills Peak

Keyser Creek Loop - Byers Peak and Bills Peak

Ran the loop around the Keyser Creek basin today, with summits of Byers Peak (12,804') and Bills Peak (12,703'). This is another excellent loop run traversing a high alpine basin in the Vasquez Wilderness. I started at the Deadhorse trailhead, running up the secret trail until hitting the road to the Byers Peak trailhead. From there, I ran up the Byers Peak trail to the summit of Byers. From here, you descend off the south side of Byers, following the ridge. There is no trail from Byers to Bills, but it is fairly obvious and the ridge holds a fun section of 2/3 class scrambling. Once you are on Bills, you are at the southern end of the Keyser Creek basin, and can look across towards Bottle and your way back home. From Bills Peak, you run down west and then north along the long Bills Peak ridge mostly off trail, although there are faint markings for the St. Louis trail. Take this all the way back to treeline, and when you can see Lake Evylen on your left (west), go another couple hundred yards on the ridge and then make a sharp turn back east and south and drop into the Keyser basin. There are some cairns here, but the trail pretty much disappears in the basin, as you descend and then follow along Keyser Creek. Every once and awhile you will see a cairn, but I spent some time trying to figure out just which way to go. Eventually the trail re-appears and you can follow it to the junction for Bottle Pass. Run back up and over Bottle Pass and then back down the other side to the regular Byers Peak trail. From here, just head on back down and retrace your steps.

Byers Peak sees some traffic (I ran into one party on it today, Sunday), but Bills rarely sees anyone on the summit, and from Byers to Bills and into the basin and then back to Bottle Pass you will not see anyone. It is evident just how empty this area is (it is an official wilderness area) by the fact that the trail really does not exist along this entire way - you are mostly running on alpine tundra and then scree and mossy grass down in the basin (so it can be slow going at times). The full loop is 19.1 miles with ~6,100' of gain and ~6,100' of loss. Today I ran the loop in 4:44 with time for pictures and food on the summits. The loop can be done faster, but since this was my first time, I spent a little time trying to find my way in the Keyser basin and enjoying the views.

 Looking at Bills from Byers summit
 South off of Byers summit
 Looking back at Byers from Bills summit
 Looking back at Bills after the long ridge around the basin
 The sign in the bottom of the basin showing you are on the right path
 From the fake Bottle Pass looking at the Keyser Creek basin. The run follows the skyline from left to right and beyond

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ptarmigan and Bottle Peaks and Speed Training Health Benefits

Ptarmigan and Bottle Peaks and Speed Training Health Benefits

Did Ptarmigan and Bottle Peaks this morning. Really hot today, as predicted. There is also a thick haze in the air from fires in Oregon and Montana. You can see the difference in visibility by comparing today's photos from earlier this year when I did the same set of peaks. I improved my time by a little, which was good despite feeling the 3,600' descent on my legs - guess I'm not fully recovered yet from Saturday's race. I did the ~13 miles run in 2:49 today.

In a recent article, it looks like speed training can provide some of the same benefits to one's health as long distance or endurance training.  The authors found that interval training can induce similar or even superior physiological adaptations in healthy individuals as endurance training. The main purpose behind this study was to see if those who could not spend hours running in the woods could gain similar benefits by doing high intensity interval training, and the answer is yes. So, just like another study that showed speed workouts can help boost endurance running performance and health, here is another one that indicates speed or interval training is beneficial. As I've said before, I'm never going to be a speed runner, but it is good to know that if you don't have the time to put in a long distance run, doing some speed work will still be beneficial to your overall running health and performance. This is particularly encouraging for those who travel a lot as it may be hard to do long runs while on the road, but it is relatively easy to do some speed or interval training no matter where you are.
 Byers and Bills Peaks
 Looking at the Gore Range - lots of haze...
 The Valley and the Divide
Nice sweaty brim on Bottle Peak

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Deadhorse Hill Climb and Neurogenesis

Deadhorse Hill Climb and Neurogenesis

Did the Deadhorse hill climb this morning. Ian Torrence has been posting some great workout articles on iRunFar and I treat the Deadhorse climb sorta like he describes the Mountain Climb workout. 4.5 miles up from 9,000 to 10,700 at a constant, semi-fast pace. Then turn around and try and keep a fast(ish) pace back down. I did the 9.1 mile run in 1:20:43 today.

Yesterday I posted a brief note on how running and exercise can possibly be considered a drug in terms of psychophysiological affects. In another study out today, running also seems to trigger hippocampal synthesis of dihydrotestosterone and increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis via androgenenic mediation. What that means, when you get beyond the scientific jargon, is that running and exercise helps create new neural connections in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, as well as spatial navigation. Basically, running and exercise helps keep the mind fresh, allows one to incorporate information into their long-term memory, and improves their spatial navigation abilities. So, when you come back from a nice run in the woods or mountains, feeling fresh and clear in your thoughts, perhaps it is because the run helped move memories from your short-term memory to your long-term memory, allowing for that fresh, clear mind sensation. Just a thought, but perhaps there is something to that old saying about how taking a run clears one's head.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Running is a Drug

Running is a Drug

Quick lap on the 12K loop: Twin Bridges, Ice Hill, Tunnel Hill, Upper Chickadee, Blue Sky, Twin Bridges. Time was 1:13. No residual issues from Saturday's race. Thinking back, I went into the race a bit dehydrated and could have used about 400 more calories during the race, but the main issue was the heat. Living in WP we don't get a lot of chances to train in heat (although this summer has been hot), and that will be something I will have to figure out. Good thing the heat season is pretty much over, and I don't have to worry about heat issues until next year.

A new study just published posits that not only is exercise or running good for you, but in fact can act like a psychoactive drug. As the authors note: "Special attention must be paid to the psychological effects of exercise. These are so powerful that we would like to propose that exercise may be considered as a psychoactive drug. In moderate doses, it causes very pronounced relaxing effects on the majority of the population, but some persons may even become addicted to exercise." I would have to agree. In fact, I published an article back in 2004 that discussed psychophysiological aspects of ultrarunning and some of the various "altered states of consciousness" that can arise. These altered states follow similar neurological and psychological pathways in the body and brain as many psychoactive drugs (peyote, datura, ayahuasca, etc.). So, it comes are no real surprise that others are postulating that exercise can act similarly, including some of the various negative associations such as addiction. I don't know if I would say I am "addicted", but along with my daily coffee and beer, I need (perhaps not the best word) my daily exercise.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mt. Werner 50K Report

Mt. Werner 50K Report

Saturday was the first annual Mt. Werner Classic 50K trail race at Steamboat Springs. After my first two ultras, I have been working on my fueling and getting down the entire "racing" thing. Although my time was a bit longer then at the North Fork 50K, I believe my overall performance was better.

The course is a really tough course (harder then the Sage Burner or North Fork), with basically 4 sections: the long 8.5 mile climb up Mt. Werner to the top of the mountain, a beautiful rolling 8 mile section that stays at about 10,000', the return along the same 8 mile section, and then the long 8 mile downhill all the way back down to the base of the mountain. The day started cool, but quickly got hot, with temps. reaching past 90 on the mountain. I went out at my own pace, which was just behind the lead pack of 10 or so, and kept that pace for most of the climb and out to Long Lake. I was in 11th place by the time I got back to the top of the mountain, but lost 4 spots on the long downhill. I've been working on running faster on downhills, and did better, but as I descended down the 4,000' the temps quickly rose and I developed a mild version of heat stroke, which slowed me down. I was passed by two guys about 2 miles out of the finish, which was disappointing, but by then the heat stroke had me running at a much slower pace. I finished 15th, with a time of 5:56. After the race, I had issues keeping anything down for about an hour, but once I got in the small creek/man-made stream at the base of the resort, I quickly recovered.

The course is really beautiful, with sections of lush aspen forest, open alpine meadows, and thick pine groves. The aid stations were well stocked, and the volunteers were great. Overall a really fun race. The heat stroke surprised me, but with temps in the 90s and no shade or clouds on the lower part of the course, I guess it was to be expected. I did much better on my fueling, but could still have used about 400 extra calories. Still, for my 3rd ultra (and 5th race ever), I am pleased with my placement and performance. I know I can continue to improve, and will keep working on ironing out all of the kinks. There is still a lot to learn about "racing" compared to just a long day in the mountains.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Improve Running Speed by Cutting Off Circulation to Your Legs

Improve Running Speed by Cutting Off Circulation to Your Legs

Funny title, but is there any truth to it? A new study, published today looks at that question. Entitled "Effect of Ischemic Preconditioning on Lactate Accumulation and Running Performance", the study looked at the use of ischemic preconditioning on running performance in 5k time trials. Ischemic preconditioning (IPC) is an experimental technique for producing resistance to the loss of blood supply, and thus oxygen, to tissues of many types. If the blood supply to an organ or a tissue is impaired for a short time (usually less than five minutes) and then restored two or more times so that blood flow is resumed, the downstream cells (those below the cut-off point) of the tissue or the organ are robustly protected from a final ischemic (loss of blood) insult. In the case of this study, the researchers performed bilateral leg occlusion (they blocked the blood to the legs) and then had the runners perform some running intervals followed by a 5k.

According to previous studies, the protective effect of ischemic preconditioning has two windows of protection. The first lasts between 4–6 hours and has been named classical or early preconditioning. The second window begins at 24 hours lasting up to 72 hours post the ischaemia and reperfusion stimulus. The study published today looked at the effects of classical or early preconditioning, and what effects they found. The control group did not show any running performance (of course), but the runners receiving the IPC improved their 5k times by 34 seconds! Yes, 34 seconds. That is an incredible time improvement for a 5k. By repeatedly cutting off the blood to the legs, and then allowing them to recover, the leg muscles were better able to deal with the final lactate accumulation that took place during the 5k. In essence, the leg muscles became temporarily more efficient at processing oxygen and in putting off lactate accumulation, something every runner can benefit from.

The study is preliminary, and I am sure there will be more concerning IPC and running, but the preliminary results seem promising, if not interesting. How one would go about performing this technique either pre-race or simply as part of their training is up in the air. However, I think it is remarkable that one can potentially drop 30+ seconds off their time over the course of a 5k using this technique. Furthermore, what does this mean for longer distances? The "second window" of protection in using ICP lasts between 24 and 72 hours. Is it possible to somehow use ICP a day before a race and speed up your time? It might be. The science is still out, but it sure is interesting.