Monday, September 7, 2009

Primal Potatoes—a Contrary View

In a recent blog entry “Primal Potatoes, Part 2” the author tries to make the case that humans are evolutionarily adapted to include starchy foods such as tubers in their diets, and that there would be survival advantage in keeping glycogen stores higher using these sources of starch. We don’t disagree with all of the conclusions he ends up with, but we think that a lot of the “evidence” used is factually incorrect or misleading. Here’s our take:

There is no doubt that the human digestive system has broad adaptability. The fact that humans are “omnivores” who can digest most everything that any animals eat except straight cellulosic materials (grasses and dietary fiber) clearly provides a survival advantage in that it allows humans to survive for at least short periods on whatever food source is available. It does not follow, however, that the ability of humans to digest starches means that they provided a real performance advantage in hunting and/or survival activities and would have been a required part of our diet. Rather, it seems to us that humans are well-adapted to depend predominantly on aerobic exercise (fat-burning) which can be sustained for many hours even in a fasting state if necessary, using the generous fat storage capacity available. Humans have an auxiliary system able to use the much more limited glycogen (carbohydrate) energy stores for primarily short bursts of intense exercise (30 seconds or less at a time) or to supplement for higher intensities than can be sustained by fat burning alone. This auxiliary system is further adapted to replenish/restore itself fairly quickly, again, even without the aid of carbohydrate consumption. While it is possible to create situations in athletic training and competition where the rate of depletion can be faster than can be replenished in steady-state (especially for athletes who normally depend on carbohydrates for much of their calories), it does not follow that such rapid depletion followed by rapid replenishment using dietary carbohydrate sources, was ever important or necessary in evolutionary terms. Note, for example, that athletes in many sports routinely use “reps” or “intervals” of intense activity separated by recovery periods, typically with no consumption of food or drink during the recovery periods. To the extent that fuel stores are being restored during these recovery periods, the process does not depend on any particular external source of calories.

In effect, the body is so effective at conserving and recycling its limited stores of carbohydrate fuels that large dietary replenishment would not have been required to satisfy the needs of hunting and survival activities.

An article by Fournier was cited in “Primal Potatoes, Part 2” to support statements that “whereas typical glycogen stores will support an intense aerobic exercise for a few hours, a single maximal sprint effort will deplete one-third to one-half of glycogen stores,” and “humans can replenish glycogen stores without dietary carbohydrate, and even while fasting.” However, the article link did not work. A PubMed search found this article which appears to match the cited reference. The article describes experiments on rats which were made to engage in moderate exercise (swimming for 30 min with a weight attached to their tails), followed by a 3 min “sprint” (when a much heavier weight was attached to their tails). The main point of the article was to determine if the lactate produced during the sprint was the predominant source of carbon incorporated into newly synthesized glycogen. If you look at Fig. 1, you’ll see that the preceding “moderate” exercise depleted glycogen by at least 50% before the “sprint,” which then further depleted glycogen (down to ~25%). The researchers concluded that the lactate only provided ~50% of the newly synthesized glycogen, which actually is not surprising given that the previous glycogen depleting activity had already reduced the amount of glycogen available, and presumably any lactate that was or could have been produced and therefore recycled into new glycogen had already been oxidized completely and was no longer available. In short, the cited article does not support the first statement, which appears to be an exaggeration. There was no study showing that a single maximal sprint would deplete one third to one half of stored glycogen. Rather, the already ~50% depleted glycogen stores were further depleted by the “sprint,” showing only that the higher intensity the effort, the more rapidly the glycogen was depleted. A “single maximal sprint effort” as we understand it would most certainly not deplete a large fraction of glycogen stores. It may feel like it, but that feeling is not due to glycogen depletion per se, but rather due to acidification due to lactate and carbonic acid accumulation.

There is some confusion as to the meaning of the word “sprint” and how different available fuel sources are used by humans in sprint versus endurance events. True “sprints” (short bursts of maximal effort) do not even depend on glycolysis, which is too slow. There is a third energy storage and release system based on local stores of ATP and phosphocreatine. These are typically sufficient for about 7 sec of peak power output, and are rapidly regenerated during any rest periods using energy from aerobic glycolysis or fat metabolism. (See, for example, Noakes, Lore of Running, p 154.) But even a 100 m sprint by a world-class runner takes longer than 7 sec, and some energy must then come from glycolysis. Perhaps a single clean-and-jerk or other 1 rep maximum weight lift can be completed using primarily this sort of burst of maximal energy, but even a typical set of 10–15 reps in weight training takes longer.

Most people probably think of a “sprint” as something roughly equivalent to a 100 m or maybe as much as a 200 m maximum-speed run. Such efforts typically take about 10–30 sec to complete and, while not possible using only the local ATP and phosphocreatine stores, the effort can be completed mostly anaerobically, fueled by local glycogen stores. The 30-second maximum for this kind of effort is probably limited by the acidification resulting from the rapid production of lactate. What glycogen has been depleted can regenerate rapidly when the maximal effort ends. “Recovery” for a repeat of a similar effort largely consists of clearing enough of the accumulated lactate to relieve the sensation of “burning” in the muscles. Fuel depletion is not a major issue.

Three minutes of a “sprint swim” (or an 800 m run or a flight from a predator) is a much more complex sort of “maximal effort.” It is not a sprint as usually defined for humans. It is a “middle distance” that cannot be completed purely anaerobically. Even an 800 m run (2 min of effort for good runners) is considered an endurance event (requiring stamina), and much of the speed can be developed using aerobic training, though a maximal effort of this length will utilize primarily glycolysis and generate a lot of lactate temporarily. (See

Clearly the maximum power output that can be maintained for a few seconds cannot be maintained even for 30 sec. A several minute effort is still in the range where a human is capable of power output that exceeds levels that can be sustained for much longer periods of time. The relative contributions of the available metabolic paths to energy generation for an maximal effort of a few minutes can vary widely depending on the individual, the level of normal activity, training or conditioning, dietary habits and adaptations, and the level of actual effort relative to the individual’s maximum capabilities over that distance or time. Anaerobic metabolism of glucose from glycogen is certainly one of the possible contributors. In fact, the limit to how fast any one individual can go for, say 3 min of “maximal effort” is probably still set by acidification caused by lactate accumulation (and carbonic acid from CO2 produced) due to anaerobic glucose metabolism. As the anaerobic metabolism of glucose is very inefficient and would rapidly deplete stores, additional more efficient metabolic pathways will be tapped, most notably aerobic metabolism of fat and glucose. Another important contribution comes from the aerobic metabolism of the lactate (produced from anaerobic metabolism of glucose mentioned above). If lactate is being overproduced, some of its carbon will be further metabolized in the heart and muscles and converted to CO2 through the citric acid cycle, and eventually breathed out, with most of the potential ATP from the glucose being realized eventually, even if not in the muscle of origin. At modest production rates, much of the lactate can be used aerobically and directly as fuel by the muscles, and is a preferred fuel of slow twitch and heart muscle. In addition to possibly being used by other muscles, this lactate is also taken up by the liver and converted back into glucose and then glycogen, and thus recycled. In short, it takes a lot more than a 3-minute burst of effort to substantially deplete glycogen stores. In fact, calculations show that the glycogen stores of a well-trained runner are sufficient to last for approximately 2 hours if glycogen is the exclusive fuel (and, incidentally, stored fat would last for about 59 hours [estimates based on glycogen and fat stores present in lean elite athletes]).

Thus, it is simply not true that there would be an urgent need to fully replenish severely depleted glycogen stores after a single episode of high-energy activity. The glycogen stores would not be significantly depleted (e.g., >50%); any of several available replenishment mechanisms would be sufficient to provide necessary restoration; and there is, in any case, no urgent need to provide complete restoration within 24 hours anyway.

This renders meaningless all of speculation in the post about the large amount of protein that would need to be consumed to replace the allegedly depleted glycogen. Let’s consider first, how the body actually uses its glycogen stores. Many authors tend to focus on how much total glycogen can be stored in muscles, how much activity that amount will support, and how much time is required to replace and completely refill the muscle glycogen stores. This way of thinking may be relevant when trying to achieve peak athletic performance for a particular competitive event, but this artificial effort would not be relevant to “normal” life and evolutionary pressures. In "normal" life, maximal effort may be required on occasion, but would be punctuated with adequate rest periods to allow recovery and maintenance of energy stores. Glycogen available to any given muscle for short intense effort is only that stored locally in that muscle—you can’t steal from other muscles. Similarly, once stored in the muscles, it remains there until used—it is not depleted beyond a certain level that is protected and maintained even after extensive exercise.

Even after an exhausting race, a person can still increase their efforts and sprint to the finish. A critical detail to remember is that lactate produced from glycolysis can be used to regenerate glucose and then glycogen, as well as enter the citric acid cycle and be used aerobically. Hence lactate is recyclable—glucose can be used anaerobically for a brief intense effort, then rapidly regenerated from lactate once there is a rest period. Under conditions of carbohydrate restriction or partial glycogen depletion, the body simply intensifies the recycling effort and favors use of fat for most energy needs. Only during periods of long and repeated exhaustive glycogen depletion would glycogen levels be dangerously low, and then the body would attempt to reserve them for emergencies, decreasing intensity of activity to levels supported by fat metabolism.

That said, the amount of glycogen storage for any given muscle is also “trainable” in that the amount of glycogen stored increases with increased use. A well-trained athlete may be able to top out his muscle glycogen stores at as much as three to four times that of a sedentary individual. And presumably, a paleolithic hunter is more similar to a modern athlete than to a couch potato. Further, the “normal” steady state condition for an active individual is probably not with glycogen stores full, but more like half full. This seems to be the condition measured for endurance athletes in steady state (i.e., several hours into a many-hour event or in everyday training. See Noakes, Lore of Running pages 101–102 and references therein). It may take a day or more of resting and relatively high carb eating to fully replenish glycogen stores to maximum capacity, but the half-full steady state can be maintained more or less indefinitely, and is fully capable of supporting most any activity that is needed. Further, at least for individuals adapted to fuel their activity primarily on fat, this steady state can be maintained with little or no carbohydrate consumption, and at levels of protein consumption that are modest compared to any levels that might overwhelm the kidneys.

A further point is that it is possible that this “half full” condition is optimal for health, in that muscles that are not topped out with glycogen are still hungry for more glucose, that is, they still express glucose transporters on their surface that are actively scavenging for glucose. This constant glucose uptake by hungry muscles would tend to keep blood glucose levels low, optimize insulin sensitivity and thereby keep insulin levels low, compared to the condition of the over-fed over-carbed SAD consumers. (See

As soon as liver glycogen starts to decrease, gluconeogenesis kicks in, and if adapted to fat burning, gluconeogenesis enzymes may be up-regulated. One can sustain aerobic activity (presumably using glycogen stores in addition to fat stores) for many hours and still have no measurable depletion of blood glucose levels! In fact, we routinely observe the opposite (elevated blood glucose after hours of running). Glycogen stores can thus be regularly replenished (at least partially- enough to call on in emergencies) as needed even during prolonged aerobic exercise, even when fasting, to support the needs of occasional anaerobic activity. As already noted, data indicates that trained athletes can maintain a steady state level of average glycogen stores that are approximately 50% of their maximum capacity. Put another way, during prolonged periods of inactivity, a trained athlete can store ahead approximately twice the “normal” levels of glycogen stores. (Note that even the “normal” levels are about twice those measured in sedentary humans.)

In the example given of hauling a buffalo carcass out of a ravine, this activity may involve some anaerobic activity, but it will necessarily stretch over an extended period of time and be completed primarily using aerobic metabolism. There may be brief bursts of high intensity effort as needed, and there may even be bursts of extreme effort for particular heavy lifting tasks, but on average the task will necessarily be completed with levels of effort that can be sustained over hours not minutes. We suggest that hauling out a buffalo carcass would not necessarily require a lot of glycogen, and even if it did, would not necessitate gorging on potatoes or other carb food to replenish glycogen stores. Perhaps the one situation outside of athletic competition that could force someone to put out maximum effort for as long as possible (and thus seriously deplete glycogen stores) is a fight (or flight) for life. These events presumably don’t occur in close succession, so the primary evolutionary adaptation would be to provide the capacity to sustain the necessary fight or flight long enough to survive the immediate crisis. An ability to fully recharge is not necessary and would not confer much less of a survival advantage.

In fact, it is often argued that the key characteristic of humans that makes them surprisingly competitive in the predator vs. prey world compared to animals that are nominally bigger, stronger, and faster is that humans don’t depend on their peak power output capabilities but instead on their ability to maintain lesser levels of output for very long times (as, for example, in a “persistence” hunt, where they literally outlast and outrun their nominally faster prey).

Other purported advantages of eating tubers cited in “Primal Potatoes, Part 2”:

1. Lower dietary protein/meat requirement, reducing the pressure for success in hunting large animals, and making it possible to feed more people (offspring) with each kill.

This seems to be a common misconception! Eating less carbohydrate means eating more fat, not more protein. And the hunting of large animals provides increased fat relative to smaller animal sources of protein. It is difficult to eat large amounts of protein, and most people find it almost impossible to eat too much protein. It is true, however, that tubers are easier to store for extended periods than meat (and meat fat) which must be more carefully prepared for long term storage, especially in warmer climates. Agriculture does enable more concentrated population centers and was probably a major driving force for the increasing urbanization of the world. However, it is not at all clear that the sort of monoculture version of agriculture that has come to dominate how we feed large populations is a positive step. In fact it is becoming increasingly recognized that we may be destroying the planet faster with mass agriculture than we ever did by overhunting.

2. Less burden on the liver for ammonia detoxification.

This is nonsense. Again, protein consumption tends to be self-limiting at levels well below anything that would present any significant burden to the liver (or kidneys).

3. Easier to avoid protein poisoning while at the same time maintaining greater glycogen stores.

Again nonsense. Protein poisoning is just not a serious risk. And it is not difficult to maintain more than adequate glycogen stores with very low carbohydrate consumption because glycogen stores do not need to be 100% full in order to provide adequate auxilliary anaerobic energy production.

4. Easier to maintain and increase lean mass in response to the stresses of high intensity activity, with a lower dietary protein requirement.

False! As anyone who has seriously tried a low-carbohydrate diet knows, it is much easier to maintain lean body mass without increasing excess fat storage if carbohydrates are minimized in favor of fats. And carbohydrate consumption always causes blood insulin levels to spike, which has a whole series of negative consequences. Arguably, from a public health point of view, the widespread adoption of higher-carbohydrate diets was the single worst event in human history that is the major cause of most of the so-called “diseases of civilization.” Building lean mass (muscle) is usually easier with adequate protein consumption. The key to maintaining it is to (1) make sure that you maintain sufficient nutrition so as not to catabolize too much of your own protein (which the body will do if other fuel sources are limited) and (2) to consume enough protein for muscle building and rebuilding/repair. (See for example and references cited therein, which provides evidence that excessive carbohydrate consumption post-exercise actually inhibits optimal muscle growth and repair.)

5. Reduced pressure to hunt only the fattest animals by use of carbohydrate instead of fat to dilute the protein content of the diet; which greatly enlarges the pool of potential prey, increasing dramatically the amount of energy available for harvest.

Fat is good anyway! You should always be hunting for your fat needs as well as your protein needs. You just don’t need that much total protein. But you do need some protein, and high quality protein (i.e., the so called “essential” amino acids) is hard to get in sufficient quantity from non-animal sources.

In summary, while we certainly believe that humans likely ate tubers and other starchy vegetables (and eventually the New World potato) when they could be found, we see no evidence that that behavior conveyed any sort of evolutionary advantage beyond survival in times of limited food availability.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SF Marathon Part II: So why so much slower after 26 years?

I was actually pretty happy with my performance, since my trail ultra times have been much slower, and I wasn’t too confident how I would hold up to all that pavement running. I was also very happy just to be able to do the event, grateful that my 53-year old body, despite its nagging aches and pains, is holding up as well as it is. But why am I slower than I was 26- 27 years ago? Well aging is the obvious excuse, but what does that mean, and is it in any way correctable? Does that mean I have less muscle mass, less strength to work with? Does that mean that my heart is weaker, or just slower? Does that mean my muscles and limbs have lost elasticity and/or I have reduced running economy now? Is my higher blood pressure putting too much load on my heart? Do I have endothelial dysfunction and the muscles are being starved (relatively) of the blood flow they need? Or can it all be attributed to increased weight?

I subsequently ran several other marathons during that time period: Summit Marathon- from Los Gatos to Soquel (across the Santa Cruz mountains, another 3:45 - it was tough!), Oakland and Avenue of the Giants. I tried (and failed) to qualify for Boston at Oakland (the qualifying time was 3:20 at the time, but my calf froze up so badly during the cold rain of that race that I had to back off the pace) for a 3:27. Avenue of the Giants was a 3:34, perhaps still overly cautious with the calf muscle. Still, I was at the point in my mid twenties where sub 3:30 was quite doable. I suppose the other piece of evidence I have is that a couple of years later, after starting grad school, I talked a bunch of other students into trying a marathon (Shamrock Marathon at Virginia Beach). I thought I had prepared much the same as before, training in the hills of Charlottesville, but only managed a 4:15. Maybe there was something magical about that early training on the Bay Area hills…

It’s possible that I stumbled upon a useful training program back in 1981-82, where my usual run was about 5.5 miles on some flat but also some pretty tough hills (the Dish loop). It’s possible that I was just lucky and managed to train hard enough without injury long enough to make good progress. It was all very intuitive- I just trained by how I felt on any given day. It’s possible that the bicycle commuting I did added some extra fitness. It’s all still a mystery to me. It’s also possible that I was still significantly undertrained if I wanted to know what my real potential could be. Given what I know about my training at the time in comparison with what I read about now, it seems that I should have been able to progress even further, perhaps to 3:15, maybe less, though I doubt that I had the potential to do much better than 3 hours.

A very rough calculation/guesstimate of my VO2max based on performances from my mid-twenties is 45 ml/min/kg (based on a 7:57 minute per mile marathon pace), with the caveats that 1) this is not the correct way to determine VO2max of course, 2) I could probably have gone at a faster pace had I trained better and not gotten injured, and 3) my VO2max in 2009 could be very different from my estimated VO2 max from 1983, but this is the best data I have at the moment. In other words, I haven’t sprung for a proper test, so this estimate will have to do for now. This number is not merely imagined, but is based on a chart in Noakes’ book "Lore of Running" where various paces are correlated with weight normalized VO2max values. Having a good VO2max is helpful in achieving good running performance, but it is well known that being able to sustain a higher percentage of your VO2max effort is more influential on running performance than VO2max itself. Superior running economy and other nebulous factors are also important in determining who is actually faster. Noakes discusses these quite a bit in his book. See also Lyle McDonald's post for more discussion about predictors of endurance performance, and VO2 max in particular, or the extensive writings on Alan Couzen's blog .

A correlation to of this VO2max chart with marathon paces to my current values would look something like this: as of race day, I weighed about 144* lbs (65.5 kg); in my marathon running mid-twenties I (think I) weighed about 125 lbs (56.8 kg). Assuming nothing else fundamental has changed, in absolute terms, I should have the heart and lungs and leg muscles etc for a VO2max of 2556.8 ml/min (multiplying by the 56.8 kg). Dividing by my now increased mass, that yields a VO2max of 39.0 ml/min/kg and a predicted marathon pace of 9:08 per mile, or about 4 hours. This happens to be closer to my predicted Yasso 800 marathon time of 4:10 than what I actually did in July (4:31), but still seems to indicate I should be able to do close to a 4 hour marathon if the only adjustment to VO2max was added weight. My 2009 performance (10:13 minute per mile marathon pace) would suggest a VO2max of ~34 ml/min/kg. Maybe this wasn’t a best effort due to not being able to stretch out a bit more in the first half, and also by the fact that I had no muscle soreness the days after, that would seem to suggest I didn’t push the pace as much as I maybe could have. Of course, VO2max doesn’t tell the whole story- there are many accounts of people being faster without having a higher VO2max. It’s also possible that I have less lung capacity due to past bouts with pneumonia- the x-rays do show some scarring.

Of course the most likely explanation is that I’m just poorly trained/more cautious now. According to “Hadd’s Take on Distance Training” (skip ahead to part 6 if you want to see how to calculate marathon heart rate (HR) and training HR), marathon HR should be 15 – 20 bpm slower than max HR. In other words, if properly trained and motivated, you should be able to maintain an effort for marathon distance at 15 – 20 bpm slower than max HR, but it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. According to this calculation, my marathon HR should be more like 155 than 145. That HR for me right now translates into about a 9:00 – 9:10 pace- much closer to the Yasso 800 predicted time, and in good agreement with my estimates from VO2max calculations, but still pretty difficult to maintain.

So why didn’t I run nearer 155? Good question, don’t really know. Some of it is a sense of cautiousness, that I maybe shouldn’t overstress myself, at least not pushing too much. Running at a HR of 155 feels pretty hard to me these days- it’s not hard enough to be reduced to frantic panting, but it feels too hard to maintain for more than a few miles. Perhaps I need to follow more of Hadd’s suggested training and develop my aerobic potential as far as I can and then see how it goes. It’s surprisingly hard to do though- the natural inclination is to run at a pace that feels good- that pace tends to be slightly anaerobic though, especially when rested and feeling good, but not really sustainable for miles and miles.

Another posting on Chuckie V’s site addresses this further. This post basically says that lots of mileage is what makes for superior runners, and points out that the qualifying times for Boston have been eased up over the years because people are training differently, relying on “quality” higher intensity workouts rather than higher mileage. Alan Couzens also addressed this recently, pointing out that research supports the idea that aerobic adaptation in slow twitch fibers is linear with increasing exercise stimulus, suggesting that easier training for several hours per day could provide further increases in training effectiveness. This is not true for threshold/”high intensity” training, the improvements from which maxed out in some studies at about 1 hour. The good news is that you don’t have to kill yourself with exhausting stressful training to see the benefit, and it also accrues over years, even decades! Of course, there is a place for higher intensity training, to increase lactate threshold and sharpen up your speed, or for fun. Anyone who runs on hilly terrain can hardly avoid some higher intensity work on occasion anyway, but the bulk of the training does not have to be “hard.” This training philosophy is not currently fashionable, and I may not be able to manage much more mileage than I currently do anyway (40-65 miles per week), but I can try.

There is a pretty clear correlation of age with heart rate, and it seems that a slowed heart rate should have an effect on my slower performance as well. At this point it’s hard to know since I don’t know what HR numbers I was dealing with in my youth (though I'm sure they were much higher than now), and since my resting HR (and max HR) keeps dropping now. But according to the calculation above, the real limitation resulting in my slower performance is my excess weight, i.e., if I could maintain my marathon HR (a big IF) I would perform at a level that is scaled down by my greater mass. So theoretically, if I lost down to 125 lbs again, I should be able to perform as well as I could in my twenties? This seems unlikely, but worth the experiment. I’ll keep working on it.

*Currently at 139! Yea!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SF Marathon Part I: SF Marathon Revisited

As a birthday present to myself, I decided to run the SF Marathon again after 27 years. This race has a special place in my heart since it was the first marathon I ever ran (back in 1982!), and because it was such a wonderful experience then. I thought if I really wanted to judge my fitness now, I should try it again so I can compare the then with the now. But first, let’s talk about why it was so wonderful back in 1982.

In July of 1982, I had only been running regularly for about 10 months. I had been a sprinter in high school and early college, and then crewed for Duke and Stanford, all of which are largely strength/fast twitch or strength/endurance sports. I always hated the two mile timed runs we had to do for crew to judge our fitness, just as I had always hated the warm up for sprint practice. But when I went through some big hiccups in my personal life, I coped with the emotional trauma by running long and hard, mostly at the Dish loop at Stanford, which was convenient because I worked as a research assistant there after graduating from college. I also ran some with friends, most of whom were faster than me. One was running the SF marathon, and I went along as an unofficial runner at the last minute. I didn’t know how to train, and hadn’t in fact done much specifically to train. I had obviously done some longer runs- maybe 8-12 miles, and the weekend before the race, I went out for ~18 miles on the roads from Stanford out through Portola Valley and back. That went ok so I decided I was ready to try the distance. But I was certainly not expecting much, and just hoping to finish. My running partner went out fast and I didn’t expect to see him again until the finish. I sauntered along for a few miles at what felt like a very slow pace. After ducking into a restaurant to use their bathroom (no portapotties at this event!), I figured it was time to see what would happen if I sped up, so I slowly increased the effort level and kept on speeding up until I couldn’t anymore. This worked surprisingly well, and before I knew it, I was steadily passing people, including my running partner (reduced to a painful walk by that stage)! I don’t know why it worked so well (this is all relative of course- real speedy people will laugh at my pitiful accomplishment), but I was thrilled to finish in 3:45, and especially to pass the guy who always made me feel so slow. I still have the medal to this day, which they gave me even though I was an unofficial runner.

So on to 2009. I’ve been running pretty regularly, albeit with injuries of one sort or another for the past year. Last summer it was a piriformis problem, and this past winter, it was hip flexor tightness, along with more piriformis and glut medius problems (opposite hip this time), not to mention sore gluts and hamstrings when I finally got other parts working properly. In trail ultras, there can be a fair amount of hiking due to steep hills and rough terrain, and trails are rough enough that speed isn’t really an option (for me anyway), so these injuries were not debilitating. More recently, I’ve managed to get past those particular problems, and train more or less regularly, and work on pace as well. So I thought it might be time for a comparison with those earlier days. Also, after David injured his knee last May (he’s mostly recovered and faster than before it seems!), I did more road running, starting from home running alone and heading up into the hills, or up to the Dish, while still doing trails some of the time. My usual training was pretty slow, with easy efforts at relatively low average heart rates (~130’s- I can be very lazy, but justify this by saying that it is low stress :) ). I threw in some faster tempo runs and Yasso 800’s starting in June to help raise lactate threshold, and these predicted a marathon time of ~4:10. So I felt like my legs and feet were reasonably acclimated to pavement and my conditioning should be good enough to get me through a marathon in a not too disappointing time.

The Expo: I’ve only done trail races since starting to run and/or train (if what I do can be called training) more consistently in the past year. So the Expo was a first for me and I was eager to see what it was all about. There were lots of samples of drinks and snacks to try, and clothes that looked like fun. But all I bought was shoes- there was a $50 per pair bargain booth, and I got my first Mizunos and a pair of Brooks. I don’t have much in the way of road running shoes (I ran the race in a cheap pair of Adidas from Costco!), so I thought this would be a good plan. We’ll have to see how these shoes work out.

On race morning, David dropped me off a few blocks from the start with only minutes to spare from my wave 6 start time of 6:17. The line for the portapotties was so long, I just gave up and headed to the start. This probably explains the unexpected mix of running speeds in the pack- all those faster people who were delayed for half an hour at the start! Our wave began, and I loped along at about a 10 minute pace, hoping things would thin out soon so I could get up a little more speed. That never really happened though. The pack was very thick all the way out and back across the Golden Gate Bridge. People could never really get their stride due to bobbing and weaving between faster and slower people all the way up to about mile 10. I blame this partly on the portapotty situation at the start, but also we really needed more space! Many people were taking walking breaks, which made it hard for those of us trying to keep a consistent pace. I felt great though, light on my feet (unusual!)- nothing like adrenaline and a crowd of happy people running in cool SF fog! Returning across the bridge, I yelled a loud “Go Julianne” to Julianne , the only other person I knew who was running (she was pacing the 4:45 group). When they offered Gu at the aid station, I obliged and had a couple (the caffeine was a good idea for this night person), downing them somewhere between miles 8 and 13. There was more Gu at mile 16, and I took another. All during this time, my heart rate was running about 145. It rose on the hills, but apparently I made up for any increase on the downhills. I felt like I was fading a bit between miles 13 and 16, but soon thereafter (maybe it was the double caffeinated espresso gel!) realized that if I was going to have any hope of a strong second half, I’d better get moving. I pushed into a heart rate zone of 150+ through Golden Gate Park and down toward the Embarcadero again. I kept pushing and pushing, but unfortunately, there were plenty of hills that kept pushing back. Then there were the diversions- it was very disconcerting to arrive at an intersection and have them pull caution tape right in front of you and send you a different way! Presumably, this trick allowed them to keep some traffic moving across the race route. I still felt ok though, except for cramping calves. The cramping got bad enough that I had to stop and walk a few times, or pull over to the curb and stretch out my legs- they were very very stiff! I met an older man during one of my stretching interludes who seemed concerned I might quit (he was 71, so I can still say he was older, right? ). He was wearing a complicated looking knee brace. When I asked him what the brace was for, he explained that he had arthritis and when his Dr. said he couldn’t run anymore, he said that was not an option. He said his knee actually feels better after he runs! He also explained that he runs at a level of effort to keep his heart rate below 130 (must be nice!). We ran together for a bit, then I went on ahead while I could, trying to get mine back up to 150 or so. Of course, the last few miles of a marathon just suck no matter what- everything was stiff and hurting by that point and I could barely climb up and down over curbs! And it was warming up in the now sunny city! But drag into the finish I did, in a sparkling 4:31!

The post-race food was disappointing, and not on par with post-ultra refeedings. There was carbs and more carbs in the form of bananas, snacks and more sugary drinks, but nothing more substantial, not that I saw anyway. They were very eager to replace our glycogen stores the moment we stopped running, but I wasn’t eager to replace my glycogen stores immediately- I planned on taking at least one rest day to recuperate. It’s not like a multi-day event where you need to be diligent about getting fuel stores replenished right away. After a grueling event as long as a marathon, you need protein to start the process of rebuilding and repairing muscles, not empty carbs! See the very interesting posts by Robb Wolf here and here. We left the food behind quickly, as there was really nothing there of any use to me. We found a gyro place instead, where at least there was mix of protein, veggies and carbs. It was hard to leave behind the massage tables though. They were quite tempting! Fortunately, David gives a good massage too, and I enjoyed his generosity very much once we got home.

I also thought it was interesting that they put water or cytomax into tiny little cups, holding usually no more than 2 ounces! After the race, I was very thirsty and drank the entire bottle of water they handed out at the end almost immediately. Do you suppose they were concerned about hyponatremia, and trying to keep people from over-hydrating?

I made no effort to “Carb-load” for the race. I may have eaten slightly more carbs than usual (maybe 150 g vs 100 g?), but nothing dramatic. The night before, we had plenty of protein and veggies, but also some birthday cake (a spectacular nut torte made by my in-laws). I was pretty happy that there was no outright crash into the “wall” and in fact I felt quite strong through the usual “wall” territory. Whether this was because I used a few gels (75 g worth of carbs), ample caffeine, or pacing so that I burned plenty of fat and didn’t prematurely deplete my glycogen stores, I don’t really know. I never used gels (they didn’t exist!) back in the 80’s when I was faster, and barely drank any of the Gatorade they offered at water stops anyway. Marathons just aren’t that long, and with proper training, you shouldn’t need carb supplementation anyway. But that’s not fashionable now either. Still, I try to keep an open mind and test these theories as best I can.

I wore drymax socks, and despite no blisters on the left foot, ended up with 3 on the right! The odd thing is that these blisters were in different places than I’ve ever had them before. I think an important part of blister avoidance is acclimating the feet to both the shoes you’ll be running in and the running conditions. I could have had tougher skin on those parts of my feet if I’d trained more in those particular shoes and with longer runs on those types of roads. Since I put in only a few longer runs on roads at all, and often in different shoes, my feet just weren’t prepared for the particular stresses of that event. You’d think I would know this by now. Well, live and learn, maybe…

Surprisingly, the Garmin says I averaged a heart rate (HR) of 147 for the first half (at a pace of 10:05) and 145 for the second (at 10:20). All the effort to get the HR up didn’t do much to increase speed overall, but perhaps the problem was the cramping and the heat due to the warming city streets. I certainly tried to pick up the pace, but the hills between miles 15 and 21 made sure the effort went largely to making it up and over them, not speediness. I don’t really think I could have gone much faster, except maybe in the earlier miles if there had been less crowding. By the end, I was pretty beat and going on inertia and will power.

I knew going into the event that I would probably be disappointed, and it was not likely I would have another surprisingly fast run. I wondered if maybe I hadn’t trained adequately, since I ran considerably slower than I had hoped. I mean the Yasso 800’s predicted a 4:10 after all! Perhaps they’re not so accurate. On the other hand, where was the muscle soreness? I had none of the usual post-race muscle soreness! Walking up and down stairs was just normal the days after the race. My body acted as if this was just a hard training run, and I went running again after resting only one day! This argues the effort was not all out. Perhaps I’m too used to ultras and doling the energy out more evenly over a longer period of time. Then there is that laziness factor…

All in all, this was a nice event. There were cute signs all along the race course asking questions about SF history (but it would have been nice to see some answers to those questions too). I saw parts of Golden Gate Park that I didn't even know existed before. The music stations were enjoyable too, if spaced a bit far apart. It was just a nice place to run on a foggy morning with 20,000 other like-minded people.

That said, I think trail ultras are a lot easier, at least for me. There is more variability in the terrain, allowing you to use different gaits, paces and muscles depending on what the trails throw at you at any given moment. At my level, I walk some, stretch more and generally don’t get quite as stiff and depleted as in a road marathon. So more trail ultras are in the plans, but possibly another road marathon. I should be able to run one faster, shouldn’t I? (see Part II, coming up)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Diablo Redux

Getting behind in blogging here… After the pains from Quicksilver had worn off, I noticed that PCTR was holding another event at Diablo on June 6th. Not one to leave well enough alone, I watched the weather forecast, and when it was clear we were in for great running weather that weekend (i.e., unseasonably cool even for the Bay area), I signed up for another round of torture in the Diablo 50K!

This was one event I had to do completely solo because David hurt his knee—he hurt it sprinting on the track of all places. That’s what we get for throwing in a little high intensity training! He was having enough trouble just walking, so asking him to run any race was out of the question, and he wasn’t willing to come along as my chauffeur or crew (I can’t imagine why).

Anyone who’s interested in trail running in the Bay Area knows about Mt. Diablo. The PCTR 25K event makes a single ascent of Diablo, totaling 4,450ft ascent (and descent); the 50K event repeats the loop, totaling 8,900 ft ascent. Having opted for the latter, I can say that 25K was really quite enough!

We started out on a similar course to the Diablo 50-mile , but avoided Mitchell Rock and Eagle Peak, opting instead for Back Creek and Meridian Ridge Rd. and then joining Deer Flat Road. From there to Juniper Campground Aid station was the same—just a long climb up the fireroad (with the exception of one steep downhill where you are tortured by having to regain all that elevation you just lost). I had fun chatting with Dianne Forrest (who I met at Headlands 50K, my inaugural ultra), and with Jo Lynn’s friends Christy and Theresa. The leaders and speediest folks passed us going back down the hill at this point (about 90 minutes in!). Since this race is part of the Sportiva Mountain Cup series, there was money waiting for the winner of the series, and some really fast folks were contending this day! I recognized Chikara Omine (who I had met at Quicksilver) moving well (he would come in 4th overall) and already on his way down!

Arriving at the aid station at Juniper, the folks kindly filled bottles and offered us snacks and sent us on our way. The next section routed us out along the Summit Trail, with some gentle ups and downs and beautiful views of the Bay, Walnut Creek, Oakland (pretty much everything actually), until we encountered the rest of the real climbing. Along this section of beautiful single track, we encountered more fast runners flying back down the trail like gazelles. Definitely tricky on such a narrow trail! I recognized a few more faces, like Caitlin Smith and Mark Tanaka. The last couple of miles got really tough though. You could see the tower through the mist at the summit for a long time before it seemed to even get any closer. We just kept climbing and climbing, getting more and more tired, and then finally came out into the parking area at the summit, with its incongruous cars and bicycles and blissfully ignorant persons looking at us like we were from another planet. I don’t know if the bicyclists were impressed at us for hiking the whole way up the mountain or not, but all I could think about was how they were going to coast effortlessly down the mountain, while I had to kill my quads to get back down, working even harder than on the way up!

The view from the top was breathtaking as usual, even with the wisps of cloud hovering around the summit. After a quick breather and stretch at the top of the tower (and taking a picture of Christy), we turned to begin the long climb down. The tricky footing and steep descent was challenging, but very fun! I’ve been pushing the downhill pace this spring, since recovering from piriformis injuries that I had last year this time, and gaining confidence in my balance, agility and hip muscles. The trail included some climbs just to remind us of how much fun we had on the initial climb up. Finally, arriving back at Juniper aid station, we refueled and prepared for the long fireroad descent. I tried my best to make up time here, and eventually worked up enough speed to slip and slide past a few people. It was great fun running down the fireroad, skating on the loose gravel and using the slide to cushion the descent. I am not a fast runner, but I did my best to get the pace down below 8 min miles and keep it there as long as I could. This was enough to get me ahead of a few people, and I came into the 25K aid station/finish area in about 4 hours.

At this point I was seriously hot because of working hard and running in the sunbaked canyons along Mitchell Fire Road, which were not cooled as effectively by the breeze as the heights. I hung around about 10 minutes cooling off, drinking coke on ice (so good in races I have to admit, though I never drink it when not racing!) and hoping some other 50K runner would come in so we could go out together. After a little while, I realized this was not going to happen and I’d better get moving. So I headed back out, climbing the #%$@ mountain again alone!

This time, the ascent was slower. Toward the top of the first leg of the climb, just before reaching Deer Flat Road, I realized my right calf muscle was aching. With another 1000 ft of climb to go, I had to slow down even more to favor it, making the quads and gluts do the lion’s share of the work. The third time through at Juniper, the aid station volunteer accused me of leaving after cutoff time and didn’t help me on my way at all! Just what I needed—demoralizing comments! I continued on anyway after correcting him and fending for myself, and met a number of other 50K runners on the way down from their second visits to the summit. In contrast, they were all encouraging and enthusiastic, and lifted my spirits.

One more time back the way we came…I was feeling pretty lonely, but the weather was nice, the day was beautiful and there really was no problem except for the now grumbling calf muscle. I made it back through the aid station one last time, and made decent speed back down the fire road and toward the finish. Not so fast this time around, but good considering. I managed to catch up to one runner about a half mile before the finish. He was walking, so I stopped to walk with him and ask how he was doing. He was feeling pretty beat up and demoralized at this point. We chatted a bit and soon I broke into a jog again, and he came along with me. When he stopped to walk again, I stopped to keep him company. This happened a couple of times and then when we were approaching the finish, he took off running fast again! I could have tried to sprint past him, but that seemed absurd (the last two runners sprinting for the finish!), so I came in a few seconds behind him. I was really hoping not to DFL this event, but due to my stopping to check on a fellow runner, I got to DFL anyway!

This raises a running etiquette question: if you happen upon someone in a race who is obviously flagging, should you just blow by them (assuming you are feeling strong at the moment) and let them deal with their problems on their own, be it injury or just being tired? Or should you slow down to check on the runner’s status and offer help and encouragement if needed? And if you are the flagging runner, should you show your appreciation for the other’s concern by speeding up and blowing past them once you get your legs back or see the finish line? Or do you bring it into the finish together, so that neither one gets left behind?

Maybe this is just a girl thing, but I would have thought showing a little bit of concern warranted being shown some tiny amount of appreciation! (He did thank me afterwards, but that did not make me feel better!) This is not the first time this has happened to me either!

The aftermath and lessons learned:

The day never became warm up on the mountain, and the breeze was strong- it was truly a glorious day to revisit Diablo, even though it is a hard mountain in any weather!

For nutrition, I enjoyed coke on ice, a few potato chips, cytomax, a quarter PB&J sandwich and 3 gels. I also supplemented the dearth of protein by eating a piece of ham (a little too salty, but it might be just right on a very hot day). Again, not very much food. I don’t really know that taking in carbs early in the event was helpful. We’d have to measure blood glucose levels and insulin levels to really know what was happening. I can say that after a recent 12 mile run drinking nothing but water, my blood glucose was up at 123 mg/ml—certainly not hypoglycemic! Actually this is in line with what we would expect, since adrenaline causes the liver to release its stored glycogen to pump up the blood glucose levels, and 12 hilly miles isn’t nearly enough to deplete total body glycogen. It’s possible that for me at least, taking in carbs early in an event is counterproductive (promoting insulin release and inhibiting fat burning), or at the very least unnecessary. It doesn’t seem to help maintain my energy levels all that much, since typically after about 4 hours of slogging up and down steep hills, I’m tired anyway. I either need a whole lot more than I’m getting, or something else entirely (perhaps protein instead). In my past days of running marathons, I never supplemented with anything at all, and didn’t feel any need for it. So perhaps the current obsession with gels and carb supplemented drinks is really all about creating a market and not about health and performance. I will just have to keep experimenting to find out what works best, or at least better.

I gave my muscles 3 days to recover before trying to run again. The quads were definitely quite sore from all the ups and especially the downs! I went out after the 3 days of rest and felt better than ever.

The sore calf made its presence known for a few weeks, particularly if I tried to run faster, and complained about how it had barely avoided injury and berated me for my mistreatment. I had to massage it quite a bit and intentionally decrease the kick-off phase of my stride (slow down more) so as to let it to rest a little more for a couple of weeks.

The foot injured at Quicksilver a few weeks before held up ok, though it still hurts occasionally.

Only one blister—on the top of my foot where it was pressing against the laces during the downhill stretches! The thick calluses on the balls of my feet were fine though definitely warm, and one of them peeled completely off (but the skin underneath was also calloused!) so there was no injury. Again, I think Drymax socks really help (I also used vasoline as a lubricant).

I am still lousy on steep uphills. I’m just not a very good powerwalker, and not strong enough to run them either, though my gluts (and later one calf) were screaming that I was working them too hard. I guess Diablo still kicks my butt!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Vibram Five-Fingers Shoes and “Barefoot” Running

I have always been something of a maverick with regard to sports equipment, resisting the latest gear marketing efforts in favor of minimalist and homemade equipment whenever it seemed to make sense. I also look for what actually works for me instead of what the pundits tell me I must have to optimize my performance and protect me from injury.

For example, I’ve been riding a recumbent bicycle for more than 25 years now, one with handlebars under the seat. Before I adopted the recumbent riding posture, I would routinely pinch nerves in my hands holding onto conventional handlebars. For rides of more than a few miles (I did a lot of longer rides of 50 to 100 miles or more in those days, as well as some extended multi-day trips), I would end up with numb hands. Since manual dexterity is important, this was unacceptable, and the recumbent riding posture fixed the problem. I also feel safer on a recumbent bicycle, largely because, if I fall off, I am much less likely to go head first over the handlebars. There is a visibility issue in that I ride lower to the ground, but that is readily fixed with a flag.

I also often find myself choosing footwear that is intended for some other purpose than the one I'm using it for. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and continued to participate in orienteering, I found that even shoes that were allegedly specially made for orienteering did not work very well in the Bay Area hills, where I often found myself contouring along steep hillsides that could be anything from soft mud to loose dirt and rock. I abandoned my special orienteering shoes in favor of some cheap football shoes that had wraparound cleats that provided much surer footing.

My primary sport right now is trail running. There is, of course, huge amounts of hype supported by lots of allegedly “scientific” research that has created an ever-changing array of running shoes with all kinds of “features” based mostly around various allegedly needed forms of support and/or cushioning. “Trail running” or “all terrain” shoes have mostly tended to be shoes with a fair amount of both support and cushioning as well as deep treads for all the apparently obvious reasons. At the same time, serious racers on trails have tended to opt for lighter weight “racing flats,” at least for competition, just as for road and track running; they want to minimize the weight of the shoes. I, too, have found myself migrating toward lighter and lighter shoes with less cushioning. Most people in the business of selling you shoes will insist that it is dangerous to continue running in shoes after the cushioning has started to deteriorate (usually deemed to be a few hundred miles or a few months). I’m the kind of guy who thinks his shoes are just getting broken in at that point! And I never missed the cushioning beyond the occasional minor bruise if I step too hard on a small sharp rock. I’ve done all my recent ultra-marathon running in well-worn New Balance 790s. These are lightweight shoes with minimal support and cushioning, and the cushioning they do have tends to break down after a few hundred miles, well before I’m ready to replace the shoes. I’ve never had any foot problems with them beyond some toenail bruising on long downhill running. (I should note that I grew up wearing arch-support shoes to “correct” my flat feet. I still have very low arches and a tendency to pronate, but I’ve never sprained an ankle or otherwise had problems that I could attribute to the low arches, and I haven’t used arch supports in more than 30 years now.)

I’m also a fan of going barefoot. I rarely wear shoes around the house. I haven’t generally chosen to run barefoot, except on sand, though my feet are tough enough to withstand a few miles of barefoot pavement running. So I was intrigued when I encountered the Vibram Five-Fingers shoes. They were originally developed for water sports, but have been increasingly adopted by advocates of barefoot running. On something of a whim, I decided to try a pair. I’ve had them for a couple of months now, and they have become my primary running shoes!

There have always been a few people out there who have developed tough enough feet to go barefoot in all but the most dangerous conditions. A few have run marathons barefoot. But most of us non-bushmen haven’t got enough callouses to manage, say, a marathon without at least some protection. The five-fingers shoes can provide that protection and give us a chance to get a lot closer to true barefoot running under more ground conditions and run lengths.

Others have written more than I can about why you might want to run barefoot. There are links you can follow from the Vibram website. Check out Barefoot Ted and the Pose running method, for example. (And read Christopher McDougall’s new book, Born to Run, A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, a surprisingly great read, that has quite a lot to say about running footwear [and Barefoot Ted]!) I’ll just focus on my recent personal experience.

I guess this still represents something of a preliminary report. Shortly after I acquired the shoes, I injured my Popliteus muscle, and have only just gotten back to where I can run my usual 40 to 50 miles per week, so I still haven’t got a lot of miles on my Five-Fingers. In some ways, though, the enforced slow recovery gave me a convenient opportunity to learn how best to take advantage of the Five-Fingers. Some observations:

1. If you’re going to be a “barefoot runner,” you are naturally tempted to forgo socks altogether with your Five-Fingers. I’ve now experimented quite a bit with and without socks. My current preference is to use socks only for hotter temperatures and runs of more than an hour or so. I don’t bother with socks for runs of an hour or less. The primary issue is that I start to develop hot spots after my feet start to sweat significantly. Socks help reduce the chafing and wick away the sweat. I don’t seem to need very much sock; I use very thin Injinji “liner” socks made from bamboo fiber, and I’ve had good luck up to the maximum run of about 16 rough trail miles I’ve tried so far. I did get a blister on the bottom of one heel on a hot hilly 8-mile run early on when I wasn’t wearing socks (and was still running with a heel-strike gait). Of course, if you’re not wearing socks, then the shoes are absorbing the sweat and dirt that normally ends up in the socks. I rinse the dirt and sweat out of the shoes every few days, something that I practically never do with “normal” shoes. Keeping the insole surfaces clean is important to minimize wear on the feet.

2. Five-Fingers shoes have a very smooth sole made of what I assume is a tough urethane material. (Vibram built their business around making tough long-lasting soles for hiking shoes and work boots.) So far, the soles show very little sign of wear, even though I’ve been doing relatively a lot of pavement running. I was concerned about traction, given the complete lack of tread, but I haven’t found it to be much of an issue. They slip a little on the typical summer dust on Bay Area dirt trails, but so do shoes with lots of tread. What you gain with toe grip generally makes up for the loss of tread grip. The shoes work fine in soft mud. Probably the most difficult terrain is tall grass and similar field conditions. The grass tends to get between the toes and get stuck. And, of course, anything spiny like star thistle can be a real problem. You wouldn’t want to run through a field of star thistle, cactus, or blackberries (not that I make a habit of doing so in any footwear…).

3. You do need to pay attention to where you put your feet. The soles spread the pressure points of ground features enough to dampen out the effects of fine and course gravel, but they don’t help all that much for isolated sharp rocks. I was already accustomed to sub-consciously paying attention to foot placement anyway, since I haven’t been using shoes with much cushioning for a long time, so I have yet to actually bruise my foot. If anything, the minimal cushioning really does force you to be more in tune with the surface you are running on. But extended running on rough trail does tend to abuse the feet somewhat more than running in shoes with more cushioning. Part of the adaptation one makes to running in Five Fingers shoes is to develop the foot muscles more to take advantage of the new-found capability to “feel” the ground you’re running on, and you can then adapt to longer running on rougher trails.

4. There is no fundamental requirement that you change your running gait to use Five Fingers shoes. However, the absence of heel cushioning certainly encourages a switch to something more like “Pose” running, where you land first on the ball of your foot rather than the heel. It’s a big enough change for distance running, that I didn’t do it immediately. But having made the transition, I really like what it does for me. It significantly reduced the stress on my injured knee, and it has probably given me a bit more spring
in my step and some resulting speed. Surprisingly, to watch me run, you might not even notice the difference. I already tended to land nearly level-footed, so the change is fairly subtle to a casual observer. I still land nearly level-footed, but tipped slightly the other way. From a muscle training point of view, it was necessary to develop a little more strength in the calf muscles, since they now play more of a role in absorbing the impact of each footfall, but that didn't take very long (for me, at least).

5. So far, my Five-Fingers are showing very few signs of wear and tear, though my total experience is probably still under 200 miles or so. One strap started to fray (possibly due to a manufacturing “defect” where the slot that the strap goes through was a bit too sharp), and I added a small piece of leather to repair the strap and take the wear. I don’t yet know what the ultimate failure mode that will cause me to retire the shoes is likely to be.

6. I haven’t yet worked up to runs of much more than a couple of hours, so I don’t yet know what issues will come up. So far, though, I’m not seeing any likely limitations, and I’m hoping that my chronic struggles with toenail bruising on multi-hour runs will be a thing of the past.


Monday, June 22, 2009

In Praise of the Little Muscles

The more I learn about how animal bodies achieve motion, the more impressed I am by the mechanical engineering that has been achieved by Mother Nature through some millions of years of evolution. Prosthetic limbs and robot arms that have been built to date by humans can’t come close to duplicating Nature’s exquisite designs. For example, I recently saw the latest personal robotics research coming out of Willow Garage. They’re doing interesting work, though as someone who has watched robotics research from the sidelines for 30 years or so, it’s clear that real progress is still slow, and we’re still a long way from giving Nature any serious competition, either from a physical performance point of view or from a computational intelligence point of view.

As someone who has never really studied anatomy in any detail, I also never fully appreciated just how many muscles are engaged in simple motions, what it takes to use and control them properly, and just how important some of those little muscles that we tend to ignore can be. There’s nothing like an injury to a minor muscle to teach you what their importance and function are.

My first experience with a “minor” muscle injury was some years ago. I tore my right piriformis muscle doing a lunge while fencing. (Look up all the muscles mentioned here at Get Body Smart.)

The Piriformis is a little muscle under the Gluteus Maximus that is used for leg rotation at the hip. I knew I’d done something bad at the time, but I didn’t have much in the way of acute pain and mostly just ignored the injury. Some months later I was experiencing chronic but vague hip discomfort and a sense of looseness in the joint. A good physical therapist was able to diagnose the problem from my assortment of vague symptoms, and having diagnosed the problem (the muscle at that point was seriously knotted), it was a straightforward, if slow, process to undo the damage and get the muscle back to normal function.

Apparently, there aren’t a lot of nerves in these small muscles compared to the major skeletal power muscles, and one can’t necessarily feel the damage unless you find the muscle and start to really knead it—something that can be hard to do for a muscle that is hidden behind something much bigger. It took a year or so of regular rubbing (the corner of a countertop or table
worked great!) before the muscle stopped acting up from time to time.

I had a similar experience with the upper part of my right Soleus muscle. In that case the injured muscle was hidden underneath the big calf muscle (the Gastrocnemius). The Soleus contributes to flexing the foot, and thus is commonly stressed by running.

Again, I was experiencing vague calf pain while not having any obvious pain in the big muscles. Once identified, Soleus muscle damage can be easily massaged by lying on one’s back and resting the lower leg on the opposite bent knee. Move the lower leg back and forth over the knee with the Gastrocnemius fully relaxed, and you should easily be able to find any tender or knotted
areas. Even though I don’t have any particular damage problems with this muscle now, I still find it a useful post-run massage to do—the Soleus muscles often take a beating on a long hard run. Also, while I generally subscribe to the theory that warming up slowly is far more important than stretching (which can be downright counter productive, promoting rather than preventing injury), I do find it useful to stretch the Soleus muscles by flexing the foot up with the leg straight (which also stretches the Achilles tendon and attached structures).

My most recent experience was the most dramatic yet. It introduced me to yet another lesser-known muscle that I had been completely unaware of and left me unable to run for several weeks! After running many hundreds of trail miles over rough terrain with little more than routine sore muscles and the occasional minor bumps and scrapes, I managed to injure myself on the track! I was well warmed up and had just run a 7-minute mile (about as fast as I can go for that distance). After a lap or two of cooling down, I decided to sprint for 100 m or so. Mistake! I almost never really sprint, and I don’t really have well-developed sprinting muscles and technique. Again, I knew I’d hurt something, but I wasn’t quite sure what. A couple of days later, about seven miles into a twelve-mile trail run, I landed slightly wrong on the injured leg going downhill, and felt a sharp pain in my knee. After the acute pain subsided, I was suddenly unable to run at all, though I could still walk with minimal limping and was able to walk the rest of the way.

It turns out that the damaged muscle this time was the Popliteus. (And no, there was not any ligament or cartilage damage at this point.) This seeming unimportant muscle is located immediately behind the knee running diagonally across the leg from the outside (at the top) underneath the top of the Grastocnemius muscle. It’s pretty hard to find even when acutely injured, but it can be massaged (carefully! there are other sensitive structures nearby) if the Gastrocnemius is fully relaxed. The Popliteus muscle serves at least three important functions. First, though it has very little power being very small, it is the first muscle that fires when you bend your knee from a fully-extended position. Second, it helps hold the knee joint together. Third, it helps prevent you from “hyperextending” your knee (going past the normal maximum extension—straight leg). Lacking a normally functioning Popliteus muscle is surprising debilitating! The knee joint just doesn’t work right. Most joint motions involve multiple muscles that are fired in an exquisitely timed sequence to achieve the full action. The Popliteus fires first
for knee bending, and without it, your timing falls apart. The joint looseness and potential for hyperextension leave the joint cartilage vulnerable. My attempts to continue at least light running caused acute pain to develop at the medial meniscus, the main piece of cartilage padding the knee joint on the inside. The weak Popliteus muscle allowed excessive pinching of the
cartilage, especially on impact. In effect, the Popliteus muscle also plays a key role in the sequence of muscle firing that provides shock absorption as you land on your foot when running. This particular problem is peculiar to running; walking and bicycling were possible with little or no pain. (With most knee injuries, bicycling is painful, since it tends to put significant stress on the knee.) Of course, as with any injury, any limping or other change of gait, whether conscious or not, tends to stress other muscles that are compensating for the injured muscle in unusual ways. In this case, I got quite sore in the adductors in the opposite leg!

The good news is that, while recovery has been slow and I was unable to run much at all for a few weeks, no lasting damage occurred. I walked and bicycled more, and eased back into running with shorter, slower distances, being particularly cautious on the downhills. Ibuprofen and a simple knee brace also helped enable a little more activity sooner, and I managed not to lose too much conditioning. I also followed the recommendation to take a Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplement.

I also took advantage of the slower shorter distances to start to switch over to more “toe” running (landing on the ball of the foot rather than the heel). This reduced the impact on the medial meniscus, again allowing me to run more sooner, though it has required developing a slightly different set of running muscles. (You use parts of your Gastrocnemius muscles more for shock absorption when landing on the ball of your foot than you do when landing on your heel.) I’ve been experimenting with Vibram Five-Finger shoes, which I like a lot for running, and since these shoes have no padding whatsoever, landing on your heels
is not such a good idea, at least on rough surfaces, so I was already motivated to change my running style. But I’ll postpone a detailed report on these unusual shoes for another post.

Final notes: (1) If you’re wondering whether the new shoes caused or exacerbated the injury (I was wearing them when it happened), I can’t prove definitively that they didn’t, but I’m pretty convinced that there’s no connection. I’ve tried various shoes since and keep coming back the the Five Fingers as the shoes that cause the least stress post-injury, which is certainly suggestive that they couldn't have caused the injury in the first place. (2) I now know how to go about diagnosing problems like those described above without consulting medical professionals. There are, of course, a lot of good resources on the web that can help you sort through any specific problem. I started out this time with a Google search on “knee pain” and found a number of good diagnostic aids including a paper by Calmbach and Hutchins oriented at Family Physicians that helped me sort through what was plausible and what was not, and I am convinced that I have correctly described the injury. Of course, I have to add the usual sort of disclaimer that you shouldn’t “try this at home” and should always seek competent medical advice when needed. I just happen to have a certain tendency to do things myself anyway, and I’ve come to believe that, in many cases, I can do as well or better than any professionals I might try to hire to help me.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Third Time’s the Charm? Quicksilver 50K

Being disgusted and frustrated with missing cutoff times in two consecutive races, I couldn’t possibly take the hint, and instead signed up for another one! (against David’s better judgment). It seemed a shame to let all this hill training go to waste, so I convinced David that I was doing another with or without him, and luckily he decided to come too. This time it was the Quicksilver 50K in Almaden Quicksilver County Park in San Jose. We had some vague thoughts about moving up to the 50 mile after returning to the 50K point, which tacks on an out and back to get the extra miles. Supposedly, you can opt up to the 50 mile but not down from the 50 mile to the 50K. Not wanting to take another chance on missing cutoffs or just having a bad day with the heat, we signed up for the 50K with the possibility of continuing on. Turns out, 50K was quite enough on this sunbaked day, and I was happy enough to stop with that.

The picture (pre-race) below was swiped from Donald Buraglio’s site. (Thanks Donald!) David is #117 (currently ~187lbs, down from 220lbs a year and a half ago). Fifty mile winner Chikara Omine is #75. Jean Pommier and Mark Tanaka with backs to the camera. Many other folks I don’t recognize—apologies). For more pictures and a report on the full 50 mile race, see Donald’s post.

The race started at 6 am, before the sun’s rays began to heat us up. We climbed a few initial hills on a fire road, mostly walking where I was, then ran down the road again and off onto a wooded trail following a meandering stream. This section was shaded as the sun rose, and was full of lovely gentle inclines and downhills. At one point I jumped over the stream crossing rather than climbing carefully down and back out again, and strained something in my foot—I thought it was broken it hurt so much! but it gradually settled down. I need to remember that I’m not 20 anymore! We came out onto fire roads again and more uphills, longer though still gradual and runnable, and still mostly shaded and cool.

Reaching the first full aid station (Dam overlook), the sun had only just peaked over the hills. More fire roads with runnable ups and downs, mostly in the shade, and the second aid station was upon us, more brightly lit and exposed to the sun. These volunteers looked to be getting warm. By this point the runners were pretty spread out. A few people had gone out too fast and were slowing down, and I was able to pass a few folks. We came upon Sean Lang and Gordy directing traffic, and soon there was a long fast downhill section leading back to the dam overlook aid station. I tried to make up for my slowness on the uphills here, and to compensate for having to climb this hill again on the way back. This was now mile 19—my energy levels usually start to fade here, and that’s what happened this day as well.

The next section was not difficult and had a fair amount of downhill, but I was just hot, tired and thirsty, and even the downhills felt bad. It seemed to take forever to finish the 4 mile loop, then climb once more to the Dam overlook aid station. I filled up on fluids and wandered off sipping coke on lots of ice. The long downhill became the long uphill as we retraced our steps, and I managed to muster a run here, but it was intermittent. Finally, there was Sean and Gordy again, making sure we didn’t get lost, then a bit more climb and another long downhill to my last aid station. I was surprised to see I had caught someone, and was inspired to try harder this last section. Only 4 miles to go—how hard could it be? It turned out to be the most difficult part of the course! Soon we were climbing again, short steep hills I had read, but what I found were long steep hills almost impossible to climb at this point. My shin muscles were cramping and I had to walk on tip toe to keep the muscles from cramping worse. I felt a shiver and was sure heat stroke was near too. The hills just kept coming and coming until you forget you thought you’d be finished by now. Finally we came upon the final downhill dash (for those who still had their legs) and the finish.

At this point, there was no question about going out into that heat again. I had made the cutoff time for the 50-mile, but it was miserably hot out there on that trail, and the thought of crawling up those last few hills again in the heat was more than I could take. It turned out David had had enough too, and he brought me ice as soon as I crossed the finish line.

And what a spread at the finish! There was watermelon, strawberries, meats on the grill, salads, desserts. They even had a generator for power and a full sized refrigerator (now that's serious advance planning) with ice cream, and they filled ice cream requests to order (I had ice cream with strawberries). It was fun hanging out and enjoying the food with fellow racers. I got to visit with Barb Elia and Christina Brownson, and a whole bunch of other folks whose names I forgot in post-50K brain fog. I also got to run for a while with Janice O’Grady, one of the founders of the event who returned from Colorado to run it. I talked with Mark Tanaka for the first time (having one of his usual hectic race mornings), as well as Simon Mtuy and Jean Pommier. The 50-mile winner, Chikara Omine was amazingly approachable and gracious, though a superstar already at 26 years old. See Mark Tanaka’s interview. And I finally got to see Bev Anderson-Abbs in person rather than merely watch her shoot by (and even talked with her!). She looks like a consummate athlete—lithe and well muscled. Maybe someday…

I was able to keep my heart rate more consistent than at Diablo or Miwok, which could be a sign of some improvement in pacing. I typically start a race between 150 and 160 bpm, and hold that for a few hours, but the HR gradually drops for unknown reasons over time, down to the 140s, and when I’m really dragging or cold, into the 120–130s. It’s an interesting chicken and egg question—does heart rate decline because of fatigue, or does fatigue increase because of HR decline (the heart can’t deliver sufficient oxygen)? The hints I’ve gotten from questioning coaches is that as glycogen is depleted, there is less energy for anaerobic energy production, and the aerobic heart rate is much lower (see the Maffetone formula, that works out to about 135–140 bpm for someone my age and condition. For other lucky souls, it might be much higher and hence they can blow by me without even breathing hard). I’ve been looking through the research literature, but I still don’t understand the connection between exercise intensity, muscle glycogen reserves and heart rate, but presumably it has something to do with blood lactate levels. This time I also didn’t bother with Vespa, though I had tried it previous races. I think if anything, my energy levels were maintained better than usual, but that may have more to do with pacing and the course.

We decided to experiment more seriously with David’s carb-free race nutrition approach, and have him try and run at his own pace to see if he’d bonk with no carbs. So David started out faster and I didn’t see him the rest of the day until the finish. (and I was lonely…) I carried all kinds of food with me, most of which I never managed to eat. Funny how that always happens. I started out with a bottle of full strength Cytomax, but it got diluted as we went along with the watered down stuff. I forgot one of my water bottles, and so never had the ability to carry extra water—when it grew hot, that became a problem. I ended up eating a few gels, few bites of potato and cups of coke, and a couple ounces of roast beef that I brought along in my pocket. Maybe 500 calories in but ~3000 out (walking uses less than running, but 5500 feet of climbing must count for something).

I was happy to be 54th out of 75 finishers and 5th out of 7 in the 50–59 women (not completely back of the pack for a change) in this field that included 19 first ultra runners (many of whom were faster than me!)

David finished successfully without using any carbs in 32nd place overall (and 7th out of 12 in the 50–59 age-group men). He was running with a heart rate generally in the 150s, substantially above the mid 130s that he typically maintains at my pace, and well above his purely “aerobic” effort. Toward the end he reported distinctly slowing at the same heart rate, but that was probably due to a combination of increasing heat and steeper trails and calf cramps. (The hardest hills, both up and down, in this race are at the very end!) He said he couldn’t sit down to rest for about an hour after the race because his legs kept cramping! It was definitely hot there at the end, and I was glad I managed to keep the cramps at bay as well as I did.

The aftermath: the lung irritation and asthma from before Diablo finally disappeared for good (and hasn’t come back thankfully). My foot (that I thought might be broken) was tender and slightly swollen for a few weeks, though I kept running on it anyway, but mostly has settled down again (though the bones look thicker now—got stronger?). Some hot spots on the balls of the feet, but no blisters (thanks to Drymax socks!)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Miwok 100K Wade-Slide-Walk-Run

Cynthia had some concerns going into this event regarding recovery from Diablo and illness. Though the lung injury incident didn’t seem to have much effect at Diablo, she was coughing and asthmatic all week after, and actually came down with a fever for the early days of the following week (and thought it was swine flu!). Trying to heal and prepare, we did very little running all week, and just tried to get Cynthia’s lungs settled down again (she kept using the steroid inhaler/bronchodilator and upped the vitamin D intake to 10,000 units for the week). This seemed to work, more or less, and we prepared drop bags containing an extra shirt and our Firetrails 50 jackets in case it was cooling off by the second time around at Pan Toll. Cynthia was trying some new food ideas this time as well (mashed potatoes and carrots and sliced turkey, along with more V8 juice!). We headed out as planned on Saturday morning, after getting what little sleep we could when the alarm is set for 3 am.

The weather forecast going into the race was for a mostly cloudy day in between a couple of bands of showers the previous day and the next. We started out in typical Headlands fog just as the sky was starting to lighten up a bit (5:40 am). We started with a brief run across Rodeo Beach: “See that light over there? Run to it, then follow the pink ribbons.” But then we were immediately bottlenecked waiting to get onto a single-track trail, and it wasn’t until we turned onto a paved road that runners were really able to start spreading out and sorting themselves out by speed—that made the first 10 minutes a pretty slow walk for those of us who started near the back of the crowd. Those first few minutes lost turned out to be critical to our day.

Most of the first 10K up to the first aid station was on pavement or gravel fire road, and the weather looked like it was clearing a bit as the day brightened. We kept the pace down (145 beats/min for Cynthia) in hopes of maintaining energy levels more constant during the day. We walked the steeper hills and jogged easily on the gradual ones, taking walking breaks to keep the energy output low. Finally there was some downhill, and we sped up to take advantage of it. Cynthia was going to try Olga’s advice to Rooster to run hard on the downhills, and for a brief while we cruised along at an 8-minute pace, though when we turned off onto trail, we slowed down to a 9-minute pace, despite an effort to keep the pace up. It’s just a fact—trail running is harder than street running.

However, weather-wise, things gradually worsened. Heading up from Bunker Hill, the cool fog was more oppressive than cooling, and the humidity seemed like it might be a problem. We headed up and over the hill and then down much faster toward Tennessee Valley, with Cynthia getting out ahead of David again on the slippery trail. A brief stop at the aid station there to make up new Cytomax drink (another experiment this time), and we headed off down the road and on toward Muir Beach. Here for a brief while, the views were gorgeous. You could actually see the ocean and the world around you (and take a few pictures)! But the first of the saturated trail conditions was making its presence felt as we detoured around a giant puddle in the path. Still keeping the heart rate in the 145 range, we continued up the hills toward Muir Beach, down the steep steps slippery with rain, and back up onto another ridge, before the steep descent toward the beach and the next aid station.

After Cynthia drank some coke and grabbed a few chips, we continued on the next leg, which was quite easy and pleasant, paralleling Hwy 1. However, the weather was going rapidly downhill as it settled into a steady light rain. Cynthia’s Garmin 405 started beeping wildly and switching screens constantly (water under the bezzel?), and there wasn’t much we could do about it. Slowing to a walk seemed to help it, and it quieted down going up the steep climb to Pan Toll. Unfortunately, this is where Cynthia slowed down to a resigned trudge (HR doesn’t lie—only 135), and we were passed by a few stronger walkers. Coming at last into Pan Toll, we tried to grab our food as expeditiously as possible, but our hands were fumbling and cold. Cynthia pulled on a long sleeved shirt for more insulation, but it was quickly soaked.

We continued on, but now we were socked in by cloud and pelted with driving rain by what felt like gale force winds, which threatened to blow us off the trail. Despite wearing a hat to keep the rain off, the wind blew rain on Cynthia’s glasses, both inside and out, and she had to keep stopping to wipe off the drops when the visibility was too poor to see where she was going. By now the trail was churned up mud from the previous 300 runners, and had become very slippery and hazardous with a stream running through the trail in most places. We gave up any hope of keeping our feet out of the water, and plunged through the mud and streams, staying upright as best we could. At one point, David slid off the trail and narrowly avoided straining his back trying to keep his balance. The front-runners began making their way back, and we stepped off the trail to let them by, at least when we could see them coming! Finally, we were back into the trees and out of the howling wind, and could see again at least. We made our way into Bolinas aid station, where they were valiantly trying to dig drainage ditches to keep the water away, drank some coke and continued on in a hurry, as this last leg had taken far more time than anticipated.

All the low spots in the trail along the ridge (and there were plenty of them) filled up with water, and many runners didn’t even try to skirt the edges of the lakes. Those of us who did try didn’t always succeed; we were all contending with soaking wet feet. Running through the puddles was the path of least resistance, but unfortunately, you can’t tell what is there, and might find yourself in a hole! Lakes alternated with rocky outcroppings, and you could never be sure whether to prepare for slippery mud or gripping rock. We were discouraged by the conditions, but trudged along the rolling hills toward Randall turnaround.
Since so much of the trail seemed different from the published altitude profile, we couldn’t tell how far along we really were. The Garmin isn’t that accurate under trees and in rough terrain, so we couldn’t be sure how far we had to go. All we really knew was that this was taking forever, and we had not yet encountered the expected steep downhill. Finally, we reached the turn, and knew that there was still 1000 ft descent to be made in this torrent of a trail. Cynthia took off in desperate hurry, sliding and pounding through the mud, but to no avail, we missed the cutoff time by 4 minutes. Chuck Wilson (aid station captain) pulled us for missing the cutoff (again!) and kindly let us sit in his car while they took down the aid station. Several more runners soon joined our ranks, and we got to talk with Hwa Ja Andrade and Don Wilkison while waiting, both also surprised and out of sorts for being pulled. So our day ended at the turnaround, and we were driven back to the finish to eat, warm up, and collect the extensive race swag.
OK, so much for the conditions! Miwok was a sharp contrast to the heat of the Diablo 50-miler two weeks earlier, but ultramarathoners have to learn to contend with whatever nature throws at them. Apparently, we still have a lot to learn. There was a relatively high no-show rate at the start, and quite a few were forced to drop out when they were unable to stay warm enough and found themselves with insufficient clothing, even some of the top runners. But surprisingly few people actually fell or hurt themselves; these were a tough lot!

But the conditions really slowed everyone down. You can’t run full out when you’re constantly struggling to keep yourself upright and not slide off the trail or zigzagging around puddles. Race management, however, did not see fit to take the conditions into account, and they continued to strictly enforce the predetermined cutoff times. A significant fraction of the runners who made it to the turnaround at 35 miles did so with just a few minutes to spare before the 8 hour and 40 minute cutoff, as judged by the steady stream of people we passed on the way down. Unfortunately, we missed it by 4 minutes (about 0.8%), even though the time allowed for the return trip to Pan Toll was 4 hours (next cutoff time was 6:30)! Even under these conditions, we felt we could have made it the 14 miles back to Pan Toll within the allotted time. Another runner who arrived at the turnaround a few minutes after us was even exactly on his planned race pace—he unfortunately had failed to notice that his planned pace brought him into the turnaround eight minutes after cutoff, even though he had both numbers carefully printed on his laminated race plan. The cutoff times were based on an assumption that you would be slowing down significantly later in the race. In this case, a bunch of us arrive at the turnaround in good condition and quite ready to continue at much the same pace—in fact most of us probably would have made the next cutoff had we been allowed to continue. Not surprisingly, there were significantly more runners who missed the cutoff this year than in previous years.

One of our difficulties with this event stemmed from our relative inexperience on the course. The elevation profile is so abbreviated as to be useless. The initial hill looks like a single climb and descent, but the hill is full of false summits and downhills. So we weren’t sure what the rest of the course held in store based on how the profile failed to fit with the reality. This became a problem later, when we were unsure where the turnaround was, and what to expect on the ridge. There really is no substitute for familiarity with the course, and we should have spent some time up there in advance, trying out the course.
David continued his now-standard practice of fueling himself before, during, and after the race on almost entirely fat and protein. Heat (Diablo) and cold (Miwok) did not affect his nutritional needs. Cynthia was pleased with how easy and satisfying turkey and mashed potatoes were (not much chewing required). Despite the asthma and illness from the previous week, there was little problem due to lungs. Maybe the clean moist air helped.

The heat at Diablo of course dramatically increased the need for water intake. Electrolyte needs are less clear. David used salt capsules regularly at Diablo and not at all at Miwok. At Miwok he had no muscle cramps or other symptoms of electrolyte imbalance. Cynthia got her usual lower leg cramps, but nothing insurmountable. We tend to believe that it is much more effective to treat muscle cramps with plain calcium carbonate antacid tablets, at least when running under normal conditions. Excessive heat and sweating can increase the need for salt, especially if you are a salty sweater or drinking a lot of water. It makes sense physiologically: calcium ions (not sodium ions) mediate muscle contraction, and our experience, with both ourselves and others that we’ve convinced to try it, is that a quick fix of calcium is more effective for managing muscle cramps than downing a bunch of salt capsules. But, of course, that wouldn’t give much of an opportunity to sell a high-priced specialty product…

Besides calcium carbonate (and salt/”electrolytes” in hot weather), our other standard carry-along item is ibuprofen. Cynthia usually starts out with it (or Aleve) to prevent the achiness catching up too early; David can get through easier 50K events without needing any at all, though he does take ibuprofen at the first sign of significant muscle fatigue if there’s a long way to go yet (typically at least 20 miles after the start).

Another innovation we successfully tested out at Miwok was field recharging of Cynthia’s Garmin 405. The standard charging cable connects to its 5 V charger using a USB connector. (You can therefore charge it directly from any computer USB port, if you want to, though that’s not particularly helpful on the run.) But you can also buy “USB batteries.” Ours is made by Lenmar and is a compact 2.5Wh Li-ion battery with a USB connector built in that weighs in at a little over an ounce. When the Garmin internal battery started to run out after around 7.5 hours, we connected the battery and charging cable for a half-hour or so, and were ready to go for several more hours. (Repeat as needed; the USB battery capacity is much greater than the internal Garmin battery.) The only drawbacks are running with the wire wrapped around your arm and securing the battery (in your hand or a pocket), and the functions are not accessible while it’s charging (though it continues to collect data). If you remove the charger for a brief period, you can check your progress, then continue the charging process. In principle, this practice could allow use of the Garmin for 100 mile events or longer (no, we’re not ready for that yet!)

The aftermath and lessons learned: Cynthia’s muscles are (surprisingly) still sore three days later —must be due to the faster downhills. Also, lower abdominals are very sore (iliacus and psoas). David—no pain at all as usual (really, really unfair). Feet survived ok—hot spots seemed much happier running wet and cool. No falls, no injuries. David is still satisfied with his fueling strategy, Cynthia is not—what food she had stayed down well and kept fatigue and nausea away, but was eaten too little or too late to keep her energy levels high. Cytomax was fine, but she got too little of it too apparently (only two bottles).

It seems that trying to keep the pace down at the beginning was the wrong strategy—at least it didn’t seem to prevent Cynthia’s slowdown near the 20-mile mark, and instead just resulted in lost time. Perhaps the biggest mistake was taking it easy on the climb to Pan Toll, where we lost time and got chilled, and once chilled, it was harder to use our hands to put on clothes at the aid station, harder to get at our supplies, harder to move at all. Cynthia is a lousy walker on hills, and needs to learn how to run them or at least walk faster! We expected to perk up and make better time after Pan Toll, but the weather interfered with that bit of strategy. It would have been better to make good time earlier and not hope to make it up later.

So, Miwok remains another piece of unfinished business. Maybe next year will be better, assuming we even get in. Meanwhile, we did get cool race swag as you can see. The women’s shirt has a built-in bra, and the men’s shirt is handsome and manly. The caps are nice and have curved brims (maybe to keep the rain out?! Where were they when we needed them?) We’ll have to try running someplace actually cold to make use of the gloves. The coolest goodies perhaps were the Miwok Trail Ale and glass to drink it in. There was also a nice water bottle that we forgot to include in the picture.