Sunday, September 30, 2012

Snow Mountain Trail Half Marathon

Snow Mountain Trail Half Marathon

At the last minute today I signed up for the Snow Mountain trail half marathon. The race is part of the Colorado Endurance Race series, which hosted seven trail half marathons around the state. Earlier I had run the XTERRA Snow Mountain 20K, in which I placed 6th. I figured that this might be the same course and so I might have a chance to improve my time since I would know all of the hills. However, this time the course was totally different, involving two laps on a rolling course that had about ~1,400' total gain over the 13.1 miles. There was also a 10K at the same time, so when the gun went off I was out with the lead 10Kers. The course was great, with some grass running, rolling hills, single track, and a few sections of dirt road. After the initial mile or so I was in 5th and stayed in that position until the second lap, at which point I ended up in 3rd (as two of the runners were in the 10K race). From here, I could see the two other people in front of me, and tried to stay just behind them until closer to the end. This plan worked, as on the final climb before the descent and then the final crossing of Pole Creek to the finish I kicked it a bit harder and passed the guy in 2nd. Then I really let it fly, and as I was coming down the hill people were telling me to not let up as he was right behind me. I kept my pace, but on the final ~100' climb to the finish line I almost lost it as I tried to really put in a final push. Turns out the guy had dropped off and came in about a minute behind me. I finished in 1:37:05 which was good for second place overall (out of 175 people according to the RD). This could be a fluke, or I could finally be getting the hang of racing. My adrenaline was still high, but not nearly as bad as previous races. Either way, a super fun race on beautiful trails - and the big bull moose on the course sure gave a few people a good scare! I would recommend this race, and according to the RD there will also be one in Winter Park next year, which could be really cool (and hard).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Treadmill Uphill Challenge

Treadmill Uphill Challenge

A couple months ago iRunFar posted a video (see below) of the 2012 Uphill Challenge. The "challenge" is to run as far as possible on a treadmill in 15 minutes with a 15 incline. I've never run on treadmills before, but I remember thinking this might be a nice winter training activity since there are some days when you just cannot run outside here in the valley (when it is -10 below, I call it quits). So, today I figured would be a good day to try this challenge out and establish a baseline that I can work with during the winter. After warming up for a few minutes, I did two challenges: the first time I only got 1.03 miles in 15 minutes at a 15 incline; on the second challenge I did a bit better and got 1.27 miles in 15/15. As you can see, Max King banged out 1.64 miles in 15/15! The challenge was much harder then I thought, and I am excited to see how I fair with it over the course of the winter. At least now I have a baseline to try and beat - or just keep over the coming cold, dark months.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is Winter Here And Is Running Good For Postmenopausal Runners

Is Winter Here and Is Running Good For Postmenopausal Runners

Well, running up in the high country might be done for the year. Yesterday I wanted to do the long version of the Pawnee-Buchannon loop, but was shut down by rain/snow/cold/wind. The long version of this classic loop starts from the west side of the Divide at Monarch Lake and adds on ~7 miles and 1,500' of gain. Although the clouds looked foreboding,  I still thought I might have a chance and went for it. I was on a good pace, but decided not to chance it once I got soaked and frozen. Still, I ended up having an enjoyable day in the mountains, putting in 24 miles in 4:32 with around 6,000' of gain. Almost time to focus on skiing and shorter runs.

On another note, I ran across a new study that looked at changes in systolic function (the pumping of the heart) and diastolic function (the ability of the ventricles to relax and work properly) in postmenopausal marathon runners. Although they found significant changes in postmenopausal women before and after the marathon, there was an improvement of the systolic function (pumping of the heart) and no long lasting detrimental effects on the diastolic function (the ventricles). So, looks like running marathons is good for the heart no matter the age! Keep on trucking!
You can't tell because my camera doesn't zoom anymore, but there are 5 moose and 1 bald eagle in this photo!
Around the next bend, I ran into two more moose!

Getting wet - the camera had fogged up at this point.
Going up there...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hurd Peak And Strawberry Trails

Hurd Peak and Strawberry Trails

Been running around on the Hurd Peak and Strawberry trails near Tabernash. The Hurd Peak trails are a network of mountain bike trails that run up and down Hurd Peak between 8,700' and 10,000'. I've been able to find about 6 trails that you can link up for a solid 15K of running with around 1,300' of gain. However, there are more, as the other day I found a new trail that just kept going and going. I'll have to go back and see where it goes, but I think it eventually drops you out near Lake Granby.

Today I ran a great 21K on the Strawberry trails. Here again are a network of trails that go through Strawberry Park and allow you to connect via single track to either Lake Granby (via Doe Creek trail), or Meadow Creek Reservoir (via Caribou or Highlonesome Trails). You can also do a nice lollipop loop. Since these trails reside a little lower, they are often hot in the summer - but in the fall they are perfect. Below is the elevation profile of the 21K (took me 1:46:52) and some photos of the area. Lots of empty space!

On another note, some more studies have been published. The first study, entitled "the relationship between running economy and biomechanical variables in distance runners" looked at running economy in marathon runners and biomechanical variables. Now, there are a lot of different variables that can influence running economy (vertical oscillation of the center of mass, stride frequency, stride length, balance time, relative stride length, range of elbow motion, internal knee, ankle angles at foot strike, and electromyographic activity of the semitendinosus and rectus femoris muscles), but the overall findings indicate that working on these variables can have a significant increase in running economy. Form is king, that is.

The second study, which nicely ties in to the study on running economy and biomechanical variables looked at footstep manipulation during uphill running. The authors found that by increasing step length by a mere 4.30% when running uphill, it is possible to increase flight time 29.48% and decrease contact time 14%. Pretty significant. So, what is 4.3% increase in step length look like? Well, it is obviously different depending on grade and runner, but some basic math reveals that it is quite small. If an average step length is say 3 feet (36 inches), then a 4.3% increase is only 1.65 inches more. A quarter of a shoe length essentially. That is not hard to do if you keep your focus when running and don't allow yourself to get into some small-step shuffling. Again, working on one's biomechanical form during running, in this case by simply increasing your stride by a mere ~2 inches, you can improve your running economy and potentially have faster race times. It really is the small things I guess.

 Old Settlers Cabin
Strawberry Meadow

Monday, September 17, 2012

Speed Ascent of Stanley Mountain

Speed Ascent of Stanley Mountain

Yesterday, before the snow hit, I did a speed ascent of Stanley Mountain (12,521'). Although not really too challenging, the run allows for one to work on their speed at high altitude with several miles of relatively flat running above 12,000'. Starting at the top of Berthoud Pass, the trail quickly ascends several hundred feet until you are up on top of a large alpine plateau. The far western end is the true summit of Stanley Mountain, while there are three lesser summits in between. Round trip, the run is only 7.5 miles, but starts at 11,300' and stays above 12,000' most of the time. It took me 1:23:37, which is a fairly fast time for the altitude, but obviously not the distance.

Today, with heavy legs I tooled around within the Idlewild trail system for a little over an hour, enjoying the fall colors and the new dusting of snow on the peaks.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Running Marathons or Longer Impacts The Body's Immune System

Running Marathons or Longer Impacts the Body's Immune System

A new study has just come out corroborating what many of us may already know. That is, running marathons, ultras, and long distances has a significant impact upon the body's immune response system. In this study, the authors looked at the impacts of running a standard marathon on lymphocyte and neutrophil selected functions. A lymphocyte is one of the two major types of white blood cells in body. The other are neutrophil granulocytes. Together, these cells are the first responders to inflammation, injury, cancer, and other types of immune-related functions in the human body. The authors found that there was a significant decrease in in lymphocyte and neutrophil function post marathon, and that this decrease in function resulted in an impairment in acquired immunity. So basically, after long runs, marathons, or ultras the body is in a state of impaired acquired immunity and more susceptible to infections, colds, and increased inflammation. Therefore, when recovering from such runs, it is important to keep this in mind. Not only do we need to replenish our fuel stores, but we need time to allow our body to recover its acquired immunity prior to stressing it again. How long this takes is still unknown, but with a decrease in some lymphocytes by 50%-80%, it could be mean several days to a week or more.

Ran my standard 15K loop yesterday. Tied my PR of 1:18, which was surprising since I spent 7 hours on my feet previous to running. I had some mountain bikers pass me on the way back, which might have helped me push the pace above what I was feeling like running.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Full Version James Peak

Full Version James Peak

Yesterday I did the "full" version of James Peak. I like doing full versions of peaks (here is one for Byers Peak), starting from the lowest point - usually the valley floor - as opposed to driving up to a high trailhead as is often possible on most peaks. The full version adds miles and vert, plus it feels good to have run a mountain from bottom to top. The full version of James Peak starts in Winter Park at the resort, goes up through Lakota to the waterboard road, hangs a right for a bit to Buck Creek, then up that to Corona. Once on Corona, the route follows the road for about .5 miles to an old closed jeep road that turns into a hidden trail angling straight up to about 10,500' where it re-connects with the Corona road. From there another .5 miles will take you to the Rogers Pass trail, which takes you along the Divide and up the north face of James Peak (13,294'). The full version of James Peak is 16.4 miles roundtrip, with ~4,800' up and another 4,800' down. It took me 3:23 to do the entire run - a decent time coming off a 25K the previous day (in 2:09).
 Looking southeast from the summit
Looking north along the Divide from the summit

Monday, September 10, 2012

Picking Things Up - Hill Climbs

Picking Things Up - Hill Climbs

Feeling good after some rest from last Sunday's race, and while many of the trails in the valley are closed so the Forest Service can do some logging, several good ones are still open.

Saturday: Did my standard 15K run with 1,600' of gain in 1:19, a minute slower then my PR. Legs still felt a bit heavy and I did the run late in the day after a full day of work. Can bring this down, hopefully before the snow hits.

Sunday: Buck Creek to Corona to Secret Trail. Was scouting out a way to do a "Full James" version from Winter Park. Found a way to link up trails to the Rogers Pass trailhead with only about .5 miles of dirt road, so I think I will try this soon. Should be a big day. On this scouting trip just did 7 miles with 1,900' of gain in 1:15.

Monday: Devil's Thumb Pass Climb. Ran Devil's Thumb Pass this morning. Another good climb with 2,500' of gain in about 8 miles. Ran it in 1:34, which is a fairly good time. Might be able to bring it down some more.

A couple of photos from the runs.
 Profile of the Buck Creek to Corona to Secret Trail climb
Profile of the Devil's Thumb climb

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Running Improves Neuron Growth and Fall Colors

Running Improves Neuron Growth and Fall Colors

Been getting in a couple of easy, recovery runs off of Crooked Creek. The fall colors are just starting (see photos below) and the air temperature is simply perfect. This is perhaps the best time of year to run in the mountains. I have a couple plans for some bigger loops in the next couple weeks, but have to get my legs recover from Sunday's race.

Monday: Off

Tuesday: 1 hour easy jog.

Wednesday: 1.5 hour run with ~500 vert.

Thursday: 1.5 hour run with ~1,300 vert.

Two new interesting studies have just been published. We all know that running on roads is not the best, first because cement or asphalt is harder then dirt or grass and has more of an impact on the body and muscles. Secondly, because roads are cambered they can lead to potential injury since one leg will be subjected to a slightly different road-to-hip height. Now a new study has been published that tried to look at the impacts of running on a cambered surface a little closer. Entitled "What is the Influence of Cambered Running Surface on Lower Extremity Muscle Activity?", the authors found that running on a road camber alters the activity of select lower extremity muscles - specifically the  tibialis anterior, lateral gastrocnemius, and vastus medialis oblique - in response to lower extremity compensations to the cambered surface. The authors did not link the altered lower extremity muscle activity directly to potential injury, but if one leg is experiencing altered muscle activity, there is a good chance something will eventually happen due to the imbalance.

The second study examined whether resistance running would play a beneficial role in hippocampus-related cognitive functions, particularly spatial memory. Using rats (because most studies done on cognitive functioning use rats, and the findings are then extrapolated to the human brain) the authors found that it is not the distance involved in running that is beneficial to hippocampus-related cognitive functioning, but the work level or effort level that is. Specifically they found that resistance running played a beneficial role in hippocampus-related cognitive functions associated with hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factors. What are brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF)? BDNFs are proteins that act on certain neurons of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, and help in supporting the survival of existing neurons, as well as encouraging the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses. In essence, the authors found that resistance running (or any running really) helps with the creation and maintenance of neurons in the hippocampus. So, not only is running good for your body, but its good for the brain. Something I think most runners already know based on their own phenomenological experiences, but its great to see science back up phenomenology!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Study In Support Of Ischemic Preconditioning - Or Blood Flow Reduction For Increased Running Performance

Another Study in Support of Ischemic Preconditioning - Or Blood Flow Reduction For Increased Running Performance

Earlier in August, I posted about a study that involved ischemic preconditioning on lactate accumulation and running performance. The study found that the runners receiving ischemic preconditioning (ICP) improved their 5k times by 34 seconds, which is a large margin of improvement. The study found that 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 a 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. Now a new study has just been published that corroborates this earlier study and lends more support to ICP. Entitled "Remote ischemic preconditioning prevents reduction in brachial artery flow-mediated dilation after strenuous exercise" this study examined how ICP may prevent a reduction in blood flow in the brachial artery. The brachial artery is the major blood vessel of the upper arm. Yes, the upper arm. So, in essence this study looked at whether ischemic preconditioning (cutting blood off and then allowing the muscles and arteries to recover in a repeated fashion) in the lower limbs would have a beneficial affect on the blood vessels in other parts of the body. The authors found that yes, ICP of the lower limbs has a beneficial impact on blood vessels in other parts of the body, in this case the brachial artery of the upper arm. Just like in the other study, which found that ICP can help with lactate accumulation, this study lends support to the idea of looking at the body as an ecosystem, not as individual parts, organs, or regions. By showing that ICP of the lower limbs can keep the blood vessels in other parts of the body at a pre-exercise endothelial functioning (the balance between vasodilation and vasoconstriction), then the reverse is also likely true. By this I am implying that the health of the upper body will have a direct affect on the lower body, and as this study shows, vice versa. Perhaps this is why many nordic skiers are such good runners, and have such high VO2max's. Because they condition their upper body when nordic skiing (without adding much potentially detrimental weight), this "fitness" also has beneficial affects on their lactate accumulation, endurance abilities, and running performances. Everyone knows Kilian Jornet ski races in the winter and rarely runs during that time. Maybe beyond just keeping him in amazing shape during the winter, ski racing also helps directly with running during the summer.

The science does not go that far, but it is interesting to think about. I picked up nordic skis for this winter and will apply some of this conjecturing to myself and see what happens.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Breck Crest Marathon

Breck Crest Marathon

Yesterday was the 17th annual Breck Crest Mountain Marathon. Held in Breckenridge, the race starts along the river walk, meanders through town briefly before hopping onto the Burro Trail at the ski area. From there, the race follows single track and jeep roads for 3,000' up onto the "crest" of the Ten Mile Range before dropping over onto the Copper side of the range and descending about 1,000'. Hooking up with the Colorado Trail, the course then climbs back up to the crest, and heads east towards Frisco and Dillon Rez. Finally, after some time the course drops down and then heads back towards Breck on the Peaks trail. This was my first time running the race and running any of these trails, although I've done the Ten Mile traverse from Frisco to Peak 10 and down.

The race started with both the full marathon runners and the half marathon runners, who split off at Aid Station #2, so it was difficult to tell who was in what race and exactly how fast of a pace to head out with. I stayed somewhat behind the lead group, feeling fairly good but not 100%. Because you don't start directly on single track, there is plenty of initial room to get a good position and then work your way up. My goal was to get to Aid #3 by 2 hours (since I was hoping for a 4 hour time), which I did. However, Aid #3 is not the halfway point, so I guess I should have shot for a slightly faster time. I was feeling good until around Aid #4, at which point I started to fade and really struggled with the final 6 miles of rolling terrain back to Breck, not to mention the final 2 miles through town on pavement. I ended up with a time of 4:33:29 good for 21st place. The RD did an excellent job, the stations were well stoked, people were friendly, and overall it was a great race. My only complaint is that the Peaks Trail is super popular, so you have to dodge LOTs of hikers, mountain bikers, dogs, etc. which can prove to be tiresome and annoying when you are racing. But I guess that is just one "aspect" of the course.

I've really learned a lot this summer. It has been my first time ever racing, and trying to balance all of the different aspects while still putting in a good performance has been hard. Working on fuel prior to and during the race has been an interesting challenge. Likewise, figuring out how to taper and just how much has also been a challenge. Finally, just racing itself has been interesting - learning to deal with the psychology of the race, other competitors, people behind and in front of you, the adrenaline, and so forth have all shown me that I still have a lot to learn. Running in the mountains is one thing, but racing in the mountains is almost an entirely different thing. Right now I'm really enjoying both, and I know I can do better at the races if I can just figure everything out. Obviously, it takes more then one summer and six races to get a handle on all of the psychological, nutritional, and race-related aspects associated with racing, but I've really enjoyed it. I'm really excited to try and keep some fitness through the winter (and not just start running in April after 6 months of doing no running or endurance activities like I did this year) and see if I can't perform better next summer (or maybe just this fall - the season is not over yet). Either way, adding in some racing has really livened up the summer and brought an entirely new aspect to running that I have enjoyed. Now just to put in a good time!