Monday, May 27, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Quad Rock 2013: Greener and Greater

Well, another 2013 Quad Rock is in the books...and somehow, this one even surpassed the fantastic inaugural year.

Last year's run was in unusually cool and foggy conditions, more reminiscent of the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, plus a dusting of snow up high.  This year's event (and, more seriously, the homes and lives of the families, flora, and fauna local to Lory State Park) were threatened by the 1000+ acre Galena Fire in late March, which also affected the ability to train on the course throughout most of April, and led to a slight (but in some ways improved) course re-route.

Fortunately, everything was under control, and several rounds and several feet of snow still didn't keep us out.  In fact, Spring showed up just in time, the snow melted, and the terrain was greener than most of us (certainly in my household) have ever seen it.

So it was off to the races.

Again with the caveats -- I know where I stand in these things, which is well-behind (almost an hour) the leaders.  And then some people tell me they read my blog from last year, and that it helped them in some small way -- thank you for sharing that.  That is very humbling and makes it worthwhile.  So some of this is recollection, and notes (before I forget); some of it might be interesting or useful insight; and other parts might be outright lies(!)

In any case, like anyone, there's a level of personal effort and satisfaction that comes from the course and distance itself, and trying to put out an effort that matches your training and the best of your ability.  I also knew this was a competitive group of guys and gals, and that there would likely be some folks right around my time as well -- some new faces of some experienced friends that I think of as fantastic runners, and some returning guys that no doubt would play their experience from last year as well to an advantage.  I had a fun time running last year, in what was for me a hard effort to try to get in the top 10, but looking at this year's field, I figured that was out the window.  So I thought more about a time goal, and let placement fall as it may.  And then, after a tough Spring for training (weather and general life circumstances), and slogging over the course multiple times in generally 5+ hours when I could, I didn't even know how the heck I did that last year.  Some additional pressure was on when Pete obliged in assigning race bib numbers by previous year's finish, so there I was with a ridiculous single-digit bib number/target.

Before the race even began, though, I began to remember the biggest part: everyone else.  Lots of friends on the trail.  Some of them having a great day and running ahead, some of them pushing their limits and running behind.  And many -- many! -- of them taking a full day out to volunteer, all on a familiar "home turf" that we love.    And while I, too, was excited to see some top-notch competition here, including a few Olympic-qualifiers and other outstanding resumes, to compete against our hometown defending champion, I am unabashedly even more of a fan of seeing how local trailrunning friends do, knowing that some of them are doing their longest or hardest run ever, perhaps their first 25 or 50 miler; and with some of them tacking on additional challenges like breastfeeding(!) during the race.  And there's room for all of us, which is what makes the race so great.

2013 Winner Josh Arthur (center), just over a week before the race
Lives car-free and bike commutes when he can = Respect

One more thing before the race: Besides a great, communal pasta dinner at Alex's on Thursday night, I also ate a whole damn bag of Marshmallow Avalanche cereal.

I like cereal occasionally, but I don't think I'll be hungry for sweetened cereal again anytime soon.
While that may or may not be useful advice, I should also put in a plug for East Moon Asian Bistro in Fort Collins:

I've had it before a few races, and generally prefer rice-based Asian food to pasta for a variety of reasons: generally more vegetables and less sugar, but also the spices are more conducive to promoting drinking lots of water.  It occurred to me to mention this specifically, because it's a limited, local chain that also happens to be very close to Runner's Roost (packet pickup and great running store).  Bann Thai is another good, close option.

The Race
PG and I woke up almost before we went to sleep, it seems, and headed up to Lory State Park, eventually merging with the string of headlights making their way around Horsetooth Reservoir and into Lory. Things were still a bit busy as people scrambled to get bibs and drop bags ready, but as usual it all worked out, and there was enough time to mingle around and find friends as well.  Nick informed us of the final course layout, and bid us off.

Although still awfully early, the fact that we started at 5:30 gave us enough daylight (vs. the previous year) for not needing headlamps at all.  Sensible.

The temperature was cool when standing still, but just about perfect for running.  Even with likely cooler temperatures in the shade up higher, there still wasn't a need for gloves or a hat in the morning.

I decided to go with one of my most comfortable and slightly warmer long-sleeve shirts.  As a bonus, it's a muted, earthy flourescent yellow -- perfect for running in "stealth mode" and sneaking up on the competition, especially in combination with blaze-orange shoelaces:

The shoelaces were on Saucony Peregrine 3's -- I decided a week before the race that it would be a good idea to get new shoes, as my old one's were all ripped up on the sides.  Compared to Cascadias (that I wore last year), I enjoy the Peregrine's being lighter, grippier, and with nary a shoelace untied.  I also think they're pretty cool looking.

Dirt Road Miles
Anyway, call me a bit of a roadie, but I enjoyed the early road miles (reconfigured due to fire damage on the bridges on the parallel trails), as there was much less congestion and more room to both run and socialize.  I know every race likes to brag about being 99.9% (or more) singletrack, but the room to maneuver was nice.  As it turns out, I also found this more conducive to spectating at the end, especially by bike, while the car traffic didn't seem overly obnoxious.  Finally, the while the Valley Trails that we skipped are nice in perfect conditions, they're the most prone to sticky mud if we do actually get rain, and average weekend afternoons seem to have a higher horse presence (or evidence thereof).  So I was fine with the reroute.

In any case, we were treated to glorious views like this:

Phenomenal.  Even on the way back, the feast of colours was a pleasant distraction in the last painful miles.

I tried to stay restrained on the open road, but probably ran a little faster without the congestion of last year.  And I think we were all eager to start climbing on singletrack, up the rerouted, more switchbacked Sawmill trail.

By being more mellow and less rocky, Sawmill is runnable if you keep spinning in a low gear.  Things stayed mostly steady here, I might have passed a few, and we had 3 downed trees on the trail, but soon enough we were rolling on Stout.  Knowing that a solid Towers climb is coming, the Stout downhills are a good chance to stretch your legs, smartly -- just remember to stay smooth and not beat up your quads or feet too much yet.  I think I passed PG taking an initial break somewhere around here, expecting to see him later.

Similar to last year, I hiked the shorter pitches of Towers, and focused on being able to run the crests onto the flat and downhill reprieves.  My hiking worked well enough to keep up with runners nearby, and use slightly different muscles, so most of this stretch was about staying in the same relative position.  The only other thing worth noting was trying to eat EFS gel on the uphills, though I wasn't particularly hungry, and stay on top of the calorie game.  Knowing that I probably won't need or eat much on the Spring Creek downhill (especially the fast early part), I then skipped the famous Towers Aid station and started cruising downhill.  I think I was right at an hour at this point.

Spring Creek
Now it was time to cruise downhill, with the rocks being wet but not terrible.  I had enough room in front and behind to maneuver without pressure, and mostly kept the distance ahead of me constant.  I knew I would hate this uphill later but enjoyed it while I could.  Soon enough, we were out of the technical sections, and had the last gradual uphill followed by the easy downhill.  I finished the EFS gel, which works out conveniently well as 400 kcal for the first 90 minutes.  I knew we were close so I pushed it, catching up to a few people, including eventual women's winner Kerrie Bruxvoort, rolling into the aid station with her.  In my races, being around the fast, talented, and smart top females is usually a good sign.  I think we were around 94-95 minutes when leaving the aid station here, which I think was about 5 minutes faster than last year.

I was happy to see familiar faces down there, with Jaime coming up to volunteer, while he and Erskine helped get my water filled and NMP refilled my gel.  They teased me about my "empty drop bag" I left there -- indeed, I called that my "anti-drop bag," so that if I had a shirt or gloves or something that I wanted to ditch, I could easily put it in in there.  But I didn't need anything from the anti-drop bag.

Southridge and Horsetooth Rock Trail
I left with a small group, including Kerrie, pushing the more gradual grades with renewed vigour, but again went back to a short power hike on the slightly steeper left turn, before running it up to the Rock trail.  This is about the most popular section of the park, but hiker traffic was friendly and light.  Despite the Rock trail being steeper, I ran all of this, and was pleasantly surprised to see the downed tree that had been there for months was finally deposed.  
Somewhere in front of me then gave an encouraging greeting, but I couldn't immediately make him out from behind.  Indeed, it was Bryan Williams, and I had an immediate flashback to 2 weeks prior when we met for a training run on these same trails.  He was running strong and it was great to have his company and cheer on the trail.  We benefited from the mutual energy, and it turns out we'd continue to do so hours into the race.  I also enjoyed similar trail time with local Lee Roberson, himself running a great race.

I think we hit Westridge right at 2 hours, and mostly Lee and I (and another fellow) ended up making decent work out of that in 17-18 minutes.  I was feeling better on the climbs by now but being a bit conservative on the energy for the downhills -- not that I wasn't chomping at the bit for the Mill Creek downhill.

Mill Creek
Again, it was too early to need much more, and I didn't want too much jiggling around for the upcoming, steep downhill.  I might have grabbed a little bit of soda here, which ended up being a theme that worked the rest of the day.  I was looking forward to the Mill Creek downhill, and enjoyed it pretty much to myself, using the occasional uphills for drinking and eating as necessary.  Somewhere in here, I think, I saw Karl Meltzer with another runner (presumably his wife) pulled off on the side of the trail, completely stopped and stretching out some sort of injury.  I was confused both at the idea of seeing Karl there, but also not expecting/having no idea of a female runner being way out ahead, but then completely stopped.  I slowed and asked if they needed anything.  They didn't, and Karl said they were working on an injury, but Karl graciously wished me a good race. 

Arthur's Rock to Westridge
By Arthur's, I was still feeling good and stocked up on EFS and water at the aid station, also slamming a few small cups of soda.  During the day, various combinations of Ginger Ale, Mt. Dew, and/or Coke sounded good.  More climbing again, with Bryan and Lee nearby.  I met Steven from Utah at some point, too, and saw him a few more times.  Mostly quiet running and steady climbing, all of it with a running motion, and it felt especially good in the shade.  Finally, our "Steep, Rocky Switchbacks" ended (as per the sign), and the tight Timber right-turn was well marked for our deceptively long and exposed descent.

As expected, I enjoyed seeing the leaders here, mostly recognizing and happy to see Josh, Ryan, and Paul T. doing well, roughly 15 minutes from the turnaround, which put them half an hour ahead and on-pace for beating me by an hour.  All this meant is that I was running where I wanted to be; they were running a smart race with a few guys together; and nobody was going to run some crazy 7-hour race or other nonsense people gossip about.  There were more sizeable gaps after the first 3 or 4, and I did continue to count heads, and ran out of fingers as expected.  But I was pleasantly surprised to only get to 14 or so.  Cheering these guys on was a fun distraction, and again it seemed reasonable for both directions of traffic to keep moving on the trail, as I tried to yield to them, which was also reciprocated by other runners.
As expected (and advised) for 25-milers, some guys made their moves on the downhill here, and I let them go and cheered them on.  For awhile it seemed like 4 hours was close, but wasn't the right number for me to be chasing right now, and I also tend to forget about the extra minute or two of flat running at the bottom to get in and through the turnaround.  As I hit the road, I saw Salmberg coming up the trail with what looked like an armload of groceries, as he looked to store his various bottles and food somewhere on his body.

Just like last year, Victoria and Marie got me through the turnaround quickly, but all I needed was food and water, no drop bag.  I also had a little salt here, in terms of potato chips and some salt tabs, mostly on the theory of "It was hot" and "I'm kind of craving salt right now."  I had been thinking about ditching the shirt, but decided to keep it, thinking that a bonk timed with an afternoon hailstorm would be worse.  Time for lap 2, which I left outbound at just under 4:09.

Lap 2
Umm, pretty much the same, just in reverse, and slower.
Seeing all my friends and other smiling faces on this part makes it one of the best parts.  Otherwise, it's a sunny, exposed, steady grade that I would otherwise hate.  Slush came by with his flopping rockstar hair and told me I was 15th.  This meant that picking up a few spots was a good goal, although it was just as possible for people behind me to do the same thing.  Shortly after that, Troy Howard (I learned later) passed me, but then we passed another guy, so it was the same situation.  I climbed steadily but not authoritatively -- just looking to keep the heart rate under control and get up higher in the shade.  I went through water pretty quickly here, but was also thinking of the unmanned water supply at the top (brilliant!)

Somewhere around here, I found Sam, who had a tough, tight hamstring issue that affected his climbing.  And he's about the best climber out there, so it was tough.  He said the downhills helped and hoped it would stretch out.  I also don't think I've ever seen Sam in a bad mood, and he makes me laugh, so it was good hanging with him.  We hit Westridge together and grabbed some water, but I ended up pulling away.  I ran some more with Steven, but lost him with a quick stop at Arthur's.

And now for the dreaded Mill Creek climb.  

Mill Creek Climb
Nobody was around, front or back, so I didn't have good pacesetting.  Time to just grind it out.  I hit the first steeper section, and decided to keep running it.  OK.  Then the second, I was surviving.  Eventually I saw a white shirt -- Troy -- and I saw that I was gaining a tiny bit.  So I decided to run the whole thing, even with short, choppy steps that be outhiked, figuring the shift to walking too much at that point would leave me stiffer and disinterested in running.  Also, it was a distracting mind game to focus on running and not thinking about time or other things.  Lastly, I hoped/thought that occasional backward glances at me, always running, might have a psychological impact. 
Finally, we reached the last turn with sunlight breaking through the trees and the familiar wooden steps (the main discernible difference between that final turn and previous false summits), and I shouted to Troy that we made it! 
Now I was happy to be at Towers Aid again for a re-stock.  And the guys informed us that there were some "tired boys" up ahead.  Even better! 
We left Towers together for Westridge and finally had a chance to meet, Troy was a bit worked from the previous weekend and let me go, but obviously continued to catch more guys.  I was ecstatic to be feeling good and having the chance to hunt down race positions now.  Somewhere on Westridge, I saw/met Trent Briney, who was hurting badly.  To his total credit, he had been feeling terrible for awhile, was running by himself far below his capacity, and could have easily ditched anywhere and would have had a great 25M time instead -- but he pushed on.   I wished him luck, and instead of sinking into his own race, he told me that the next 2 guys shouldn't be too far ahead.  I really enjoy the sportsmanship and fun of cheering each other on like that.

I was buoyed by that even more, and kept expecting to see guys, but it took me all the way down to Southridge to get a first glimpse: Nick Davis and Bryan Williams, both solid runners and friends who I wouldn't be upset finishing behind.  I was able to catch up and come into the aid station together.  By my count, we were in the mix for top 10, so we had just over 10 miles of fun racing together.

I whooped it up and said, "C'mon guys, it's time to race!"
Nick seemed a little worn,  I got out quickly and headed up.  Bryan came out and seemed stiff.  I planned all along to be able to run this part of the trail, knowing that I should be able to run it.  That plan worked for about the first half.
Bryan and I still cheered each other on from voice distance.  I had to slow to a hike to keep my heart rate down, then I'd look back, and he was running.  Psychological advantage: Bryan!  He was looking good and I let him pass.  While I was recovering, he kept gaining, but it still felt less stressful than being ahead.  I just needed to keep him in sight, and then it would come to the downhill.  I rallied a little and he came in about a minute ahead, I cheered him on for finishing the last climb.  We were clear ahead and behind, so it was just us 2, able to leave together.

Final Downhill
I pushed the somewhat familiar downhill, steadily gained, and as long as my stiff calf muscle held on, I figured the rest of me would, too.  So I focused on gaining, and also not doing something stupid like miss a turn.  I got a good glance at the Stout turn and saw that I gained at least a minute, and there wasn't anybody else chasing us down.  This was great, just the flat part of Stout and some more downhill on Sawmill...

Except I forgot about the couple kick-to-the-groin uphill sections on Stout.  Embarrassingly, it was quicker for me to hike.  Running uphill drained my legs and made my heart want to explode, I'm sure I was getting dehydrated.  But I stayed far enough ahead and finally the intersection came into view.  I saw Bryan in a long view, and in my paranoid nightmares everyone is able to run at 200-meter speed while I can't keep up, but of course the reality is that he was moving about the same as me.  I made it up to Arthur's, happy to see Nora in her tutu and Mindy (and a roving Nick Clark) at the aid station, and took a few quick swigs of soda.

I was happy to have the road to myself.  If you're feeling good, it's sort of a final, Tour de France stage where you can gradually and victoriously (in your own little way) roll into the finish.  There should be a gentlemanly/gentlewomanly agreement of no passing here, because having to actually race on that part of the road -- the only flat spot of the race -- would be terrible.  (Although Alex May did exactly that, to his advantage, with a gamely sprint finish).

I was alone, and then just minutes before I finished, rather than cheering crowds and confetti, the skies opened up, thunder cracked, and I was unceremoniously pelted with graupel.  It did feel refreshing, however.  Everyone else was undercover in some sort of shelter, so I shouted just so Somebody With Authority could note my time and I could gratefully stop running.

I remember wishing I had a computer or pen and paper, so I could write myself a note about how there wasn't any way I could have run a minute faster.  Now as I finish typing everything up, I think about where I could "easily" gain a minute here, two minutes there.  That's stupid.  I am very happy to finish where I did.  Pretty stout guys ahead and also behind.

Anyway, I wasn't yet hungry and I wanted to see some buddies finish, so I took my mt. bike from my car and took a slow spin out to Arthur's, which felt good on the legs.   Basically watched and chatted a bit, and then the next storm rolled in, and I was instantly cold and now very hungry.  The black bean burgers and tabouli salad were awesome, so I've got to give credit to that as being both delicious and a nice nod to something relatively healthy and maybe environmentally-friendly, which is a second reason (in addition to the foliage) that I mentioned "Greener" in the title.  And a final one:  I thought the next day about how little (none) litter I saw on the trail.   Compare that, sadly, to Leadville or Western States, or most road marathons, which granted, have bigger fields (much bigger, in the case of Leadville), but also have much longer independent trails, with all of Quad Rock being squished into 25 miles.  Since these are our hometown trails, I'd be extra-sensitive to seeing trash on the trails, yet I don't recall any.  A big part of this, I think, is the deliberate choice of gel flasks instead of packets, so I think there's a lesson for other races (and gel companies) here.  But also a deserved tip o' the visor to fellow respectful runners, and Pete and Nick for setting the bar high for trail race organization details.

Of course, the "53rd Mile" (or whatever they call it) Pateros Creek beer was awesome as always.  

An even bigger THANKS to all the wonderful volunteers out there!  If I tried to name, say, 20 (and I could) I'd miss the 21st, so I've tried to thank them during the race or afterward.  You guys make it awesome.

Thanks for reading if you got this far, this was another fun race and a good confidence boost for the year.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Incomplete Right Bundle Branch Block in Endurance Athletes

During this test, a resting ECG readout suggested an incomplete right bundle branch block (IRBBB):

Note the "rabbit ears"/M-shape during V1, and W during V6.  I do not have an exact measurement of the QRS complex, but she said "incomplete" and it looks to my very untrained eye to be close to 100ms (>120 ms would be suggestive of a complete block).  I appreciated the initial reading, and appreciate other suggestions, and fortunately have access to some very smart cardiology fellows.

Essentially, this is a representation of the electrophysiology of the right side of the heart.  A "block" isn't scary, but is more of a re-routing of how and when the right side is polarized/depolarized.  This is not "normal," but the real question: Is it pathological?

Athletic Heart Syndrome

Based on my (limited) understanding and research and suggested interpretation (no further followup or concern was suggested), I believe this is likely an artifact of the athletic heart syndrome.  People that train, especially for a longer duration and especially for endurance events, exhibit a characteristically remodeled heart that is physically larger than normal, mostly from a hypertrophied left ventricle (which supplies oxygenated blood to the rest of the body).  Technology such as ECG's and echocardiograms provide good, raw data on physical measurements, but an ultimate diagnosis of pathology needs to include further contextual information.  In fact, some heart measurements are similar between certain forms of heart disease, and a well-trained athlete.  Most importantly, the outcomes for trained athletes and diseased patients are vastly different, which is why further information is needed for diagnosis.  In fact, as ECG screening becomes more prevalent (and its importance appreciated) for young athletes, understanding of the experience and level of activity of the athlete is important for accurate diagnosis.

Alene (who cheated by being a nurse! =)  ), then, had a very astute guess regarding the most common phenotypic characteristics of the athlete's heart.

"hypertrophic left ventricle, resting sinus bradycardia, and sinus arrhythmia, where your heart rate slows on expiration and increases with inspiration phases of the respiratory cycle"

The latter two can be quickly appreciated from the comfort of your own home: a resting heart rate below 60, that also slows on expiration and increased when breathing in, are considered symptoms of athletic heart syndrome.  I had previously observed these myself, but have not had any imaging done to suggest left ventricular hypertrophy (although it would be a reasonable hypothesis).  So these weren't necessarily "novel" suggestions during this research visit -- only the IRBBB was.

While considered "abnormal" amongst the general population, there appears to be reasonable evidence that it is not concerning for endurance-trained athletes.  With respect to 12-lead ECG's, here's a good differential summary between pathology and trained physiology.  In fact, IRBBB was found to have a relative risk of 3.5-5 compared to young, healthy controls -- and showed an even stronger effect for endurance athletes.


In summary, it's important to understand and appreciate differences between populations based on history.  This means it's important for you and your doctor for accurate diagnoses -- many runners and cyclists have already "surprised" medical staff with very low resting heart rates.  It's equally (if not more) important for all people to "own" your own health and fitness -- your doctors and nurses can tell you what's wrong, and it's up to you and only you to fix it.  Lastly, our understanding of all of this comes from participatory research studies: consider signing up for clinical trials!  You learn something, science learns something...and you get paid!

CU Denver Clinical Trials

VO2max Results

Actual result: 65.5 ml/min/kg
Winner: Jaime Yebra (guessed 64.7)

Thanks to everyone that played the Vo2max guessing-game, I hope everyone had fun.
This was inspired by Brandon's previous Boston marathon-time prediction contest.  I think it's fun to look at real-world examples of exercise physiology and training and try to make sense of it all -- not just for competitive, elite athletes, but also sub-sub-sub-elite athletes.

Here's how the guesses looked (mean 63.1, n=12)


A pretty impressive wisdom-of-the-crowd, I must say.

Ahead of time, my own "best guess" would have been based on Jack Daniels's Running Formula, in which he attempts to describe and calculate a normalized, performanced-based index he calls "VDOT" which roughly corresponds to VO2max.  You can calculate VDOT based on performance here and elsewhere.

VDOT and performance correlation is of course a population statistic, so the actual correspondence to VO2max for individual performance is fraught with caveats and limitations, which I won't fully get into here; but should mainly note that the point of VDOT is more to normalize and equalize race performance efforts across various race and training distances. It is on the same scale and uses the same units as VO2max, and it is useful to a degree.

Based on performance capabilities alone, a good guess for my VDOT capability would be 60.2, yielding the following race times:

1600 m4:55
3000 m9:48
3200 m10:31
2 mi10:35
5000 m17:00
5 mi28:04
10 k35:16
15 k54:09
10 mi58:21

When trained for those distances in the last year I've been at or near all of those race times, with the notable exception of the marathon, which I've run (at best) 8 minutes slower.  This isn't new information: I'm better at shorter distances (or worse at longer distances) -- relatively -- despite my stubborn insistence and desire to run longer!

So I expected to be somewhere in the 60s on my test.
Going in, I knew that either the result would be very close to my VDOT, and would really be a statistical confirmation; or it would be noticeably higher or lower, suggesting either over-performance in some capability; or underperformance, depending on point of view.  It could reveal some weaknesses and strengths.

Actual result: 65.5 ml/min/kg

Any interpretation should be holistic and individualized, while understanding the point of the various measurements.  Based on these, taking the pessimistic yet motivational interpretation, I already know that I underperform in longer distances especially, and underperform compared to a cohort of athletes with this VO2max.  That suggests that, given this VO2max, I should focus more on running economy and efficiency.  A classic example of this is the VO2max of Frank Shorter (72) vs. Bill Rodgers (78), with consensus of Shorter's stride being more smooth and fluid, and performances being comparable (if not better for Shorter), despite the a sizeable gap in VO2max.
(And then consider Lance Armstrong's 2:46 marathon PR, despite an EPO-induced VO2max in the 80's).

As I get fatigued, especially, I am aware that my strides are anything but graceful.  On the rare occasion that I was able to see myself on video, I have to turn away in horror as I devolve into choppy, stumpy strides.
So I kind of already knew this, but it's more information: I would do better to focus on efficiency drills and workouts, more than increasing VO2max or even worrying so much about raw distance numbers (if it comes at the expense of training more tired and inefficiently); and should be mindful and focused on remaining fluid throughout races.  If you have different interpretations or suggestions, let me know!
Thanks for following, congrats to Jaime for some free beer!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ski Towers!

Towers Road Ski Hill
1600'+ vertical gain

I've had my eye on this one for a long time: the snaking, La Tour Couloir that threads it's way 1800' down the burly West Ridge of Horsetooth Mountain.  But I knew conditions had to be just right for a summit bid and ski: mostly, that it had sufficient snow and wasn't plowed for maintenance, which would lead to dangerously thin conditions and rock exposure. On very rare occasions, there's a shot in December or January, but due to a late snowstorm this year, I knew we had something special going on.  If I were able to pull it off, it likely would have been the latest in the season that anyone has been able to make this attempt.  I owed it to myself, and to the long history of Fort Collins ski mountaineers, to at least try.

Arriving at the parking lot late in the afternoon, I was heartened to see that, indeed, there was enough snow for an attempt.  No more excuses.

Having survived the initially dicey, horizontal Soderberg Traverse, which involved a bit of tricky routefinding due to the conditions, I began the steady and challenging climb upward.  There were some tracks ahead of me, which buoyed my spirits, but as I rounded the corner, I realized I was chasing a ghost.

Indeed, a 4WD truck with chains had abandoned the attempt fairly early in the game.  Fortunately, notes on the window hinted of survivors.  I pressed on.

Still, I followed a snowshoe track, and what looked like human footprints.  My next sign of life was an orange, "Tough Mudder" headband on the Stout and Towers intersection.

It was some sort of message...but what could it mean?  Was it a sign that "Towers" is the "Stoutest" of trails; a veritable "Tough Mudder" among lesser trails?  Did it mean that only "Tough Mudders" should even think of attempting the summit, and I should abandon hope now?  Or did it mean that somebody dropped a "Tough Mudder" bandana?

I was pretty sure it was one of the first two.  I continued on, in the darkening, sunless sky, with a grim and sober respect for the trail.

Finally, I heard what sounded like voices...and saw two runners bounding down the trail.  One of them wore an orange headband, while the other did not.  Shortly after, I saw where the footprints ended.  The mystery, and the snow, deepened.  Indeed, the summit was inaccessible without flotation.

But the snowshoe tracks continued.  And then, in the last mile, I saw him, surveying the surroundings.  I introduced myself to the fellow mountaineer, Luis, and asked if he wanted to press on together for the summit bid.

"I can't," he replied, with a deep sense of regret.  "I'm already late for dinner with my wife."

I nodded a sympathetically wistful nod.  I knew he had difficulty making the choice, and could tell he matured beyond the usual string of disappointments that are part of the game.  I thought of my own wife, nervously awaiting news of my latest folly.  It's the ones who are left behind that suffer.

But I had to press on.  Worse, I now had to break my own trail.  I pushed up the final hills, with some grades exceeding 10 degrees -- dangerously close to the 38 degree critical angle of slope stability.  

But I did it.  And it felt like standing on top of the world.

Now, it was time for the descent.  The moment of truth, literally.

And in all seriousness...
The spring snow was sticky enough to scrub off speed.  All speed, or semblance of it.  And clump up on my skis, repeatedly.
I did not see any wildlife on the way down, but I did think about mountain lions every time I bent down to clean or clip into my skis (the same way I do if on the ground working on my bike), generally trying to stay upright, move around, watch my back, and make noise.  Paranoia? I remember reading about a ski encounter when a skier was on the ground with her skis...and then we got an email that a trail runner so 3 mountain lions(!) on the same trail the very next night!  Be safe out there and stay upright!

Anyway, I took some video of the descent, but haven't really edited it, mostly out of disdain and abject boredom.  In all but the steepest hills, I had to double-pole to keep moving, and the best hill is probably the first one closest to the trailhead.  It still took an hour to descend.  It was pretty boring and only deepens my feelings towards Towers Road in general.  But now I know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guess my VO2max, win some beer

I had my VO2max tested today.  As an exercise physiology data geek, this was pretty exciting.
Normally you pay for something like this, but I'm actually getting paid to do this as part of a research study.  And the best part is always the reward of participating in useful research.

VO2max is a useful measure of cardiovascular fitness, and correlates with aerobic performance.
VO2max is a terrible measure of cardiovascular fitness, and is only loosely correlated with performance, at best.

Both statements are correct to a varying degree.  Here's a chart of Vo2max ranges, in ml/kg/min.

Of course, the upper end of the range is populated with cyclists, runners, rowers, and cross-country skiers, with elite athletes in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s.  Kilian Jornet, at 92 kg/l/min, wasn't the highest ever recorded...but I'll give you a hint in that I did not exceed his value.
Likewise, I'll tell you that I'm at least average for my age (41.0 or above).

So the number is somewhere between 41.0 and 92.0 kg/l/min.
I'll offer some beer (6-pack, growler, bombers, or a mix) to the closest guess (absolute difference; tiebreaker goes to lower number) of my tested VO2max in kg/l/min, with your only primary valid guess being at least 0.2 away from all previous guesses, so early guesses have a different advantage than later guesses.  Possible delivery during Quad Rock or other social shenanigan run, but I'll either ship beer or substituted breweriana to non-local winner.

To make it fun and draw attention to myself and my non-monetized, mediocre Blog, all you have to do is leave a 3-digit guess in the comments between now and 24 hours before the start of Quad Rock (Quad Rock starts May 11th at 5:30 AM).
Seriously, I've had fun with other guessing contests based on training and physiology data, so I hope this is fun.

* You should have enough information (e.g. my gender and age, to start) for reasonable guesses
* I'll add a couple on the study itself: this was a cycling test; I ran a fairly 'normal' speed interval workout the day before; I wasn't absolutely wasted at the very end, but it was about holding steady for the last 30 seconds.
That is, I wasn't "optimized" for maxing out this cycling test, but it's a reasonable data point right in the middle of a running training cycle.

* Bonus beer (in-person only) if you can guess which particular physiological anomaly was suggested to me for the first time during this test study visit.  Anything goes!

If nobody guesses or if I'm feeling particularly cheap, I'll just make up some names and guesses myself.  Cheers!