The way I see it, there are four fundamental differences to the TransRockies course compared to any other race I’ve ever tried to wrap my head around: distance, elevation gain, heat and altitude. Let’s talk about my plans to address them.
Hah. Once you sober up and start to look at this whole ordeal rationally this isn’t even that concerning. Yes, it’s going to beat the crap out of my body. Yes, it’s probably going to beat the crap out of my mind a bit. But it’s relatively easy to prepare for: just run. A lot. Doesn’t have to be speedy, doesn’t have to be hard. Just run. That Gump fella would’ve nailed this part.
Okay, so maybe there’s a wee bit more to it than just running. You gotta run up things. Again, not that big of a deal for me. While Tom’s only got one little hill that he runs up and down all day, this is basically my backyard:
So I point myself north and run. The uphill isn’t actually that much of a concern for me when I go there. Sure it slows me down but I’ve always seemed to tolerate the actual uphill grind fairly well.
But those trails on the north shore are actually pretty insane. Like, totally freaking insane. So much so that running back down them has always been the bigger challenge for me.
In short, elevation gain is a thing. But not a thing that will keep me up at night.
Okay, now you’re starting to hurt me. I’m a bit big for a runner and that means I don’t dissipate heat well. Stage one of TransRockies is known to be very warm. It’s the only stage where they don’t check for the mandatory survival blanket, warm hat, etc.. because there’s just no chance you’ll need a warm hat.
Fortunately, the human body is a remarkably adaptable machine. And from the science I’ve read it seems like you can adapt to it in a week or two both by being in it or by over dressing for the conditions you’re actually in. So it looks like I’ll be running in long sleeve shirts in early August in Vancouver. Blech.
Practicing good hydration is also key. And for a sweaty monster like me, electrolyte replacement. It’s probably critical to point out that these need to be sorted out before, during and after the run. No going to bed dehydrated!
And now I’m screwed. Sure I’ve got mountains in my back yard, but I sleep at about 100 feet above sea level — and only because of the floor I’m on. Elevation is a bit like the heat in that the body will adapt to it over time. It just takes a bit longer. It’s also insanely hard to simulate.
There are some gimicky devices on the market that make it harder to breathe air in. They range from looking like asthma inhalers to looking like gas masks. These aren’t addressing the right problem for elevation. What these products do is train your inspiratory (breathing in) muscles to work harder. But at altitude this isn’t the problem. It doesn’t matter how hard your muscles can pull air in to your lungs, there’s just less oxygen available in that air.
Not only that, but as far as I understand it, (Tom’s the expert here) it still doesn’t even matter that there’s less oxygen available when you’re running. It will have an impact and cause you to slow down, but the bigger impact is on recovery. With the decreased oxygen your body recovers slower. The only way to simulate that properly is either actually sleeping at altitude or sleeping in an altitude tent. Neither of which I can afford.
My only plan of action here is getting to altitude (pretty much any where in Colorado) as early as possible to let my body adapt. Tom will get to altitude half a week before me, so it seems like he’ll be better off than me. That said, we do have to stay together for the whole run so maybe I can use this as a ploy to get him to carry all my stuff. I hope he didn’t just read that.
Four Sides Of The Same Coin
None of what I just said gives credit to the real issue though. It’s not that we’re running far, up and over mountains, in heat and starting in the stratosphere. It’s that we’re doing it six days in a row. And because of this all four of these facets boil down to one thing: recovery. The distance and elevation will tear up my feet and sap my legs, doing so in the heat will make me lose more salts and fluids, doing so at 2500m (8,000 feet) will make me lose even more fluids and also just have a slow-motion affect on the entire recovery process. This is going to be a recovery game. It’s not going to be about the art of beating the crap out of yourself — I’d wager every runner is good at that, it comes naturally to us. It’s going to be about the art of undoing the damage you just did. And as a culture, we’re not good at that.
The last page of my log book from when I was preparing for the 2004 Olympic Trials is a just a print out of an excel table summarizing what was most daunting and influential training period of my entire life. Below the table, completely alone and out of place amongst the raw numbers, one of my coaches wrote “Real good athletes know how to take care of themselves!”. Regardless of how fast people are moving, I think we’ll see who the “real good athletes” are at the end of TransRockies week.