Trail Running: Kona, Hawaii

While the rest of you were following in the footsteps of the Ironman and cycling Highway 19 or swimming Kailua Bay, I was running the coastline, checking out Kekaha Kai State Park. I actually wanted to drive to Volcanoes National Park to run some of the trails there, but we were staying near Kona, and the schedule didn’t allow enough time to drive to the Southeast side of the island. My trail run wasn’t so much a trail run as it was bits of running mixed with hiking and picture taking. If I had it to do over again, I would have loaded up the family, snorkel gear, and beach supplies and made a day of hiking the unbelievably quiet beaches I found along the way.

I started my run by getting a cab to drop me off at the Southern-most entrance of Kekaha Kai State Park just off Highway 19. Trying to tell the driver where I wanted to go proved amusing as he originally thought I wanted him to take me directly to Makalawena Beach. Since the drive from HI-19 to the beach is unpaved and extremely rough, you’re unlikely to find a cab willing to take you all the way in. Instead of getting dropped off near the beach, I just ran the mile or so from 19 to the beach parking area. It might be tough for a car, but it’s not that bad for running.

Makaole'a Beach

Makaole’a Beach

Once I arrived at the parking area, I turned South away from Makalawena to run toward a small, black sand beach area called Makole’a Beach. The road toward the beach this direction is distinctly 4WD only, and it was much more difficult to run than the main road. The 4WD roads often have rocks in the 4-6” diameter size range bunched together anywhere the road has been washed out which is great for a vehicle but a little more challenging for a runner. After some time on the road, I noticed white markings on the lava heading toward the beach so I blindly followed.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

The lava was surprisingly runnable, but that isn’t always the case. The lava in this area was smooth with cracks spaced well for my stride. In other areas, the lava was much rougher and reduced me to slow walking to keep my footing. The marked lava route eventually rejoined a road and took me to Makole’a.

Makole’a was empty. At 11:00 am, I was the only person on the beach. Being the type of person who likes to avoid crowds, I was floored. I’ve never seen an empty beach…ever. It would have been nice to stay and spend some time, but this was my running time so I took a few pictures and headed north along the coast.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

Running from Makole’a to Mahai’ula Beach was a mix of rocks and really loose sand. If you wanted to get a better run without burning out your legs in the sand, returning to the 4WD road might have been a better strategy.

There were a handful of people at Mahai’ula Beach, but it was still extremely quiet. Most people coming to this area likely hike further North to Makalawena Beach.

If I’m remembering the route correctly, the hike to Makalawena is extremely rough. It’s about a quarter mile on little 4” diameter rocks. I was wearing trail shoes, and it was bothering my feet. I felt sorry for the beach goers navigating the rocks in their sandals, but the payoff had to be worth it. Makalawena Beach was so nice that I texted my wife and teased that I was just going to stay for the rest of the day.

Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach

From Makalawena, I mixed some coast line running with some 4WD road running. At times the coast line slowed me to barely a crawl while I worked my way around tide pools, and at other times I was running on paths through the trees or along small, sandy beaches.

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

After I left Makalawena, I didn’t see another tourist until I reached Kua Bay at the North side of Kekaha Kai. The few people I did see were clearly locals either heading out for spearfishing or camping on beaches reachable only by truly off-road vehicles. The roads to these areas may not necessarily require 4WD, but you MUST have ground clearance. The smaller Subaru’s I saw earlier in my run wouldn’t have worked here, and an Outback would have been borderline.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

Eventually I had been out too long on too slow a route. I happened to see a car drive by out of the corner of my eye and realized I was near the paved road to Kua Bay. I cut across some of the worst lava rock I’ve encountered and hopped on the road for a quick half mile or so to Manini’owali Beach.

Manini’owali Beach is by far the most popular beach in this park. It’s a beautiful but smaller white sand beach with much less rock in the water making it a more attractive swimming location. When I arrived around lunch time, the beach was packed. I couldn’t even run the path through the beach without risking kicking sand into sunbathers. There were coolers and towels and people on almost every square foot of white sand.

I had planned to continue North, but there is a historical lava rock area just North of Manini’owali Beach with dire warnings about moving any rock. Not knowing how long it might take me to work my way through, I opted to run back out the Kua Bay access road and return to my hotel via HI-19. Even though my body was pretty well shot at this point, the roads gave me a chance to get in what turned into intervals for the final 3 miles of my run.

KeKaHa Kai State Park

KeKaHa Kai State Park

There are probably better places to run in and around Kona and definitely on the Big Island, but I had a blast at Kekaha Kai State Park. Mahalo, Hawaii.

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report: 2015 Route 66 Marathon

2015 Route 66 Marathon Medal Photo

Mistakes were made but goals were still attained.  I think that’s the best way to look at my performance in the 2015 Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Going into the 2015 race, I had 2 primary goals. First, I wanted to run the marathon. I realize that sounds odd, but keep in mind that I still have yet to run a marathon without significant walking in the last 10K. Second, I wanted to finish in about 3.5 hours (8:00 minute mile pace). Unfortunately, I was not able to run the entire marathon distance without some walking, but I did meet my time goal.

In my previous marathon, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon earlier this year, I arrived at the starting line significantly injured having fought off an ankle injury and a long battle with the flu only to find myself with severe achilles tendinitis the week before the marathon. That injury brought me a very painful PR, my first sub-4 hour marathon. For the 2015 Route 66 Marathon, I decided toeing the line injury free was far more important than having a perfect training log or a full race calendar.

Training

I began training in late August for the November 22nd race. I originally wanted to run 4 times per week with 2 longer midweek runs, a shorter mid-week run, and the usual weekend long run. Strength training would be reduced to 1x per week to try to maintain as much of my upper body mass as possible (because vanity) and to build lower body strength. Because I was having trouble working the 3rd midweek run into my schedule, most weeks only included 3 training runs.

  • Monday, 90 minutes
  • Wednesday, 90 minutes
  • Thursday, 60 minutes total body strength training
  • Saturday, 13-20 miles

The 90 minute runs coincided with my daughter’s swim practice. I would drop her off at the pool and run from there to Tulsa’s trail system. Giving myself a 10 minute cushion, I would do an out and back route and whatever pace I felt like running that day. Early in the training cycle, I was often running only 8-9 miles in 90 minutes, but by the end of October, most of my runs were 10-11 miles.

For my Saturday long runs, I tried to change things up a bit as well. The biggest change was that I tried to run slower than my goal pace by 30-60 seconds per mile. To me, that approach seems counterintuitive, but people smarter than me who have run far more successful marathons than me swear by time on your feet so who am I to argue? I’m the guy doing 10K death marches at the end of every marathon to date so I thought I should take the freely available expert advice.

Divorcing my long runs from pace goals also allowed me to make some more minor changes. I frequently wore heavy trail shoes instead of my road shoes so that I could run up into Turkey Mountain as a way of getting in some extra hill training and further strengthening the lower legs. I also wore a fully loaded hydration pack on some runs (+10 lbs) but also experimented with using only handheld gel with water fountains on others. These water fountain runs finally gave me the confidence to run a race without carrying my own water.

Strength training consisted of the following exercises most weeks:

  • Weighted Chinups/Pullups
  • Bench Press
  • Standing Dumbbell Curls
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Front Raise
  • Leg Press
  • Standing Barbell Calf Raises
  • Lying Leg Curl
  • Planks

Some of these exercises really are purely vanity. 3 years ago I was doing weighted chin-ups with 100 pounds, and my biceps were, needless to say, fairly large for my body size. Currently, I struggle to do more than a handful of chin-ups at 50 pounds. Bench press is basically the same, just me trying to maintain mass I worked hard to build a few years ago.

The rest of the exercises, I would argue, are useful to marathon training. Standing Dumbbell Curls do target the biceps, but they also hit the forearms, shoulders, core, and back to some extent. The lateral and front raises also hit the shoulders, back and forearms as well. This work can and will help maintain your arm swing through the marathon distance. Even with all of this work, I had some cramping in my forearms near the end of the Route 66 Marathon.

The leg exercises are those that I feel I can do without risk of serious injury. Unfortunately, my back continues to give me trouble with squats and deadlifts. If it didn’t, you would see both of those exercises listed here as there are few strength exercises as beneficial to overall strength and endurance as the squat and deadlift. These 3 exercises are what my home equipment allows me to do safely, without fear of injury.

The only thing all that unusual about how I do these leg exercises is the amount of weight I use on the calf raises. Assuming I’m not having any injury concerns with my calves, most weeks saw me doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps with at least 220 pounds on the bar. When you consider how much weight you want to use for calf raises, keep in mind you’re trying to launch 100% of your bodyweight with one calf while you’re running. So I weigh 165 pounds most of the time. That means the total weight I’m pushing on 2 legs is 165 lbs (bodyweight) + 220 lbs  on the bar for a total of 385 lbs. Cut that in half to get the load on each calf, and you have 192.5 lbs. That means each calf is only lifting 30 pounds more than bodyweight which isn’t really that much when you consider the extra force you apply in running to counter momentum with each stride. Go heavy on your calf exercises. Your running will thank you for it.

Racing

Like I said, I wanted to keep my racing schedule a bit more subdued to help avoid injury. Missteps on the trails took their toll on me in late 2014 and early 2015, and I didn’t want to suffer any setbacks.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was test my 5K fitness if I felt healthy. With almost no speed work, I jumped into the Trojan Tough 5K at the last minute both to run with my wife and son as well as take a shot at a sub-20 minute 5K. There was a snafu in the route resulting in the race going 1/2 mile too long, but based on GPS data, I ran approximately 20:30 for the 5K.

The second goal was to do a marathon dress rehearsal by running a local half marathon. I ended up running the Jenks Half Marathon here in Tulsa 2 weeks prior to the Route 66 Marathon. My goal was to run 7:30 minute per mile pace or better using handheld gel with water stops as my fueling and hydration strategy. I ended up running a 5 minute PR of 1:34 which is around 7:10 pace.

This more minimal racing strategy basically worked. I may have missed one goal time, but both times I ran pointed to 3:30 being attainable while at the same time giving me the all important race day rehearsal that helps limit mistakes heading into a big goal race.

Injury

For the most part, I made it through training injury free, but I was constantly battling what I believe to be Hamstring Origin Tendonitis in my left leg. At the outset of every run, the dynamic stretching I do for my hamstrings would reveal tightness at the top of the hamstring that was never present in my right leg. During training runs, pain would show up if I tried to run too fast or climb too many hills. Because of the condition, I had to give up on hill training after my first attempt in early October. I also avoided speed work and limited tempo runs.

Race Strategy

Pacing…why is pacing so hard for me? I’m getting better and occasionally have races where the pacing works out, and I’m still strong but tired at the end, but those races are usually shorter than marathon distance. At every marathon so far, I’ve crashed and burned somewhere in the 18-20 mile range.

Based on my experience using water stations at the Jenks Half Marathon, I knew I would need to walk some stations to be able to stay hydrated. I just couldn’t get enough fluid if I ran through every station. I sweat a lot, and a few ounces of water every 2 miles doesn’t get the job done. My assumption was that the 3:30 pacer would run most of the water stops so I wanted to set out at a slightly faster pace and let them catch me somewhere in the final 10K.

Much like the OKC Memorial Marathon earlier this year, my goal was to average 7:45 minute per mile pace as long as possible. If I had any gas left at the end, I could switch gears and start running 7:30 or faster. If I was spent, the 3:30 pacer would catch me, and I would try hard to stick with him.

Of course, there’s race strategy and then there’s…

…Race Day

All race days start for me about 3 hours prior to leaving the house for the race. With a race in downtown Tulsa at 8 am, that meant getting up at 4 am to be out the door by 7 am. The purpose of this long, excessively early morning is to make sure my stomach is settled and ready for the race. During that time, I eat the most bland breakfast you can imagine (hello canned chunk chicken and corn chips), hydrate, prepare my race fuel, double-check all of my gear, and waste a bunch of time watching television. After 2 1/2 hours of trying to stay awake, the last 15 minutes before I leave the house are complete chaos as I try to shower, dress, and get out the door to the race.

We left the house a little later than planned, but with my wife and son having done the 5K on Saturday at the same start time, we felt pretty confident about the timing. My wife’s work parking lot is across the street from the Corral D entrance with no road closings in between it and the highways so we don’t have to hunt downtown parking on marathon day.

With the weather forecast showing temperatures just below freezing at the start, I didn’t mind getting there pretty close to starting time so I wouldn’t have to wait in the cold as long. As it turns out, I barely had enough time to use the facilities, walk to Corral A, stretch, and work my way up to the 3:30 pacer for the start.

As I’ve said in the past, cold is not my friend. I know I run faster in 40’s and 50’s, but I don’t like running in the cold. I would choose slower times over colder weather any day of the week. As a spectator for the 5K Saturday, I was dressed in 3 layers head-to-toe, and I was struggling. Granted, there was a stiff wind, but the temperature was actually slightly warmer than what was expected for the start of the marathon.

Fear of how I felt watching the 5K prompted me to try hand warmers for the first time at the marathon. I think this is the only time I’ve tried something new on race day that wasn’t a disaster. The hands I could barely feel inside gloves on Saturday were relatively comfortable for the entire race Sunday, and for the most part, my body was never cold.

The rest of my gear for Sunday included:

  • Under Armour Long Sleeve Cold Gear Shirt
  • Nike Short Sleeve Dri-fit Shirt
  • Nike Dri-fit Skullcap
  • Nike Dri-fit Gloves with Hand Warmers
  • Champion Compression Shorts
  • Injinji Compression Socks
  • Injinji Socks (yes, 2 layers)
  • Hoka One One Clifton 1 Shoes
  • 2 x Ultimate Gel Flasks with Holsters

Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, I spent a lot of time fretting over whether or not to wear tights. The forecast called for sunny and low-40’s by about halfway through the marathon so I decided to leave them at home and just run faster if I was cold at the start. That turned out to be a good decision as around mile 8, I almost warmed up too much. Tights would have overheated me in that section if I had worn them.

With what I was wearing, the first solution was uncovering my ears with the skullcap. It’s amazing how much heat you can dissipate by exposing your ears. When I warmed up a little more in the sun, I took off the skullcap, but those were my only temperature adjustments. The gloves and hand warmers stayed on throughout the race. I noticed some other marathoners dropped their hand warmers shortly after passing the halfway point, but they were obviously running faster than me and generating more heat.

So back to the starting line. I was about 1/4 of the way back in Corral A, positioned about 15 feet to the West of the 3:30 pacer, stretched, and ready to run. I had my Garmin on and prepped so I just had to hit the start button to begin tracking and pacing the marathon. When the gun went off, I crossed the first timing mat and clicked the Garmin’s start button. Seeing as I often mess up when I start my watch, I looked down again quickly to double-check it was tracking. The clock was going, but the pace and distance were doing nothing. I ran a bit and looked down again…nothing.

Knowing my pace was very important to my race plan, I decided to restart the activity tracking on the Garmin. How I managed to stay on my feet while I ran among all of those people, I have no idea. For my trouble, I was rewarded with…nothing. And as a software developer and general tech geek, I’m embarrassed to say that was the extent of my troubleshooting. Why didn’t I power cycle my stupid Garmin? Why? I made the decision not to stop and not to keep fiddling with the technology and just run my race.

By that time, my eyes had been down on my Garmin for a 1/4 of a mile or more. Runners were streaming past me because I was running slower than I intended coming out of the starting line. I had no idea where the 3:30 pacer went. I didn’t see him in front of me, and in the one glance I took behind me, I didn’t see him either. My Garmin failed, and the pacer was not within sight. All I had left was to run as close to 7:45 pace as I could and stick to my plan.

Within 2 miles, I saw the time and realized I was ahead of the pacer, but even though I may normally be pretty good at math, my run brain consistently fails 1st grade math. I tend to round everything to even numbers so dividing time by number of miles doesn’t really work out well for me if I’m targeting 7:45 instead of 8:00. I did find a runner I knew around mile 3 and found out I was probably doing about 7:30, and I would occasionally ask a runner with a watch what we were running, but it’s still hard to maintain without being able to check the watch a couple of times every mile.

On top of pacing issues from not having a watch, you have all of the hills. It seems strange to say Route 66 is a hard course when I know there are much harder courses out there, but in terms of major marathons, it’s more NYC and less Chicago in terms of overall elevation changes. Unlike NYC, Route 66 goes up and down more frequently to smaller degrees.

I’m not sure how you are supposed to run a steady pace when you’re never running level. My calves view hill climbs as a personal affront. If I’m not tired or hurting, it’s hard for me to ascend any slower than I run in the flats. At the Jenks Half Marathon 2 weeks ago, I went from a 7:30 mile mostly flat and downhill to a 6:45 mile mostly uphill at mile 6 of the race. That’s normal for me. On a short hill, I will often accelerate as I climb. It’s not the best way to extend my endurance, but it’s what my legs tend to do.

What goes up must come down, and I don’t think I notice descents in any race as much as I do Route 66. For two years now, I’ve run descents with the intent of sparing my quads because I’ve blown them out braking on downhills in other races. That means I try to run with gravity as long as gravity doesn’t force me to spin my legs so fast that I run out of breath.

Between climbing and descending, I’m often running a 7:45 climb into a 7:00 descent. It’s tough to get into any sort of rhythm on your pace under those conditions. I could tell I was all over the place because I was trading positions with many of the same runners repeatedly throughout the first half of the race. It’s obviously something I need to practice more.

I ended up running the first half in 1:38:14, the 2nd fastest half marathon I’ve ever run. That’s 7:30 pace, exactly what I didn’t want to do in the first half of the marathon. 15 seconds per mile doesn’t seem like a lot, but for where I am in my fitness, it’s huge.

Needless to say, I was concerned heading into the 2nd half of the marathon, but I felt really good. I knew I needed to get more water, but other than that, my legs were basically happy (excepting my injury), I wasn’t tired, and everything was generally working.

After the half marathoners peeled off toward the finish line, I started walking the aid stations to get more water. Other than that, I still kept my pace under 8:00 minutes even with walking the aid stations.

At 16 miles, I knew I was fading a bit, but my body was fine so I didn’t change anything.

At 18 miles, the wheels came off. My minor injury announced itself in a big way. I was coming down a hill and making a left turn to head North toward the University of Tulsa. My hamstring cramped severely right at the point of the injury. Honestly, I thought I might be done, but I cramped at OKC earlier this year due to injury, and I knew it might be possible to work through it.

Camber…when I cramp, that’s my first thought as to a solution. You can often run the camber in a way that will minimize the cramping if it’s only on one side. I tried running with the left leg higher, and it got much worse. I then hopped to the other side of the centerline and ran with the left leg lower. Yahtzee! I could run. There was the constant feeling of impending doom screaming from the top of my leg, but I could run.

My success was somewhat short-lived. I came out of the University of Tulsa headed South for the dreaded turn onto Cherry Street for two of the last and biggest hills. I had to walk a bit due to my injury, but for the most part, I was running.

I came up on a marathon maniac who pulled up with visibly severe cramps. I apologized and asked if he was alright. I knew the answer because I’ve been there before and was already battling the same thing. Another 1/4 mile down the road, and it was my turn. My other hamstring cramped.

Here I was, past 20 miles, right at 7:45 minute per mile pace, and I was cramped in both legs with the single worst 1 mile section of race ahead of me. Needless to say, there was a lot of walking, but I knew my family was waiting on those hills, and I hoped a quick breather and some water with them might get me going again.

I did a lot of high-stepping over the next 1/2 mile to try to stretch my hamstrings out without stopping my forward progress. I would run a bit and feel alright, and then they would seize up again. I knew from experience not to push them too deep, or the cramp would be so severe I’d be like Baghdatis trying to beat an aging Agassi at the US Open (yeah, tennis reference…get over it…life before running…click the link and watch the video).

When I got to my family, the 3:30 pace group finally caught me. There was no way I could go with them. They were cruising at about 8:00 pace, and I could barely walk, much less run. They were a little early, though, so I held out hope I might still be able to get in at 3:30 but at least under 3:40. For some reason, staying in the 3:30’s was important to me. I don’t even remember why.

After my family cheered me up, I was able to run quite a bit, but I would still walk a lot and stretch out my hamstrings as I went. The one time I got up a decent head of steam, we turned West into downtown Tulsa, and a 30 mph headwind gusted out of nowhere. The next turn was a short distance ahead so I walked to the turn and started running again.

That’s pretty much how it played out in the final 5K. It was a rough way to achieve my marathon time goal, but I’ll take it.

2015 Route 66 Marathon Sloth Running Midtown

Results

  • Overall: 145th out of 2,590
  • Division: 22nd out of 192
  • 10K: 45:52
  • 10M: 1:14:05
  • 13.1M: 1:38:14
  • 20M: 2:34:58
  • Chip Time: 3:35:32
  • 8:14 mile pace

So the marathon puzzle remains complex and elusive, but there are thousands in every race that would kill for a 3:35 finish.

In my 2013 Route 66 Marathon Race Report, I somewhat prophetically said that mid 3’s might be possible before age catches up with me and posed a question to myself….do I want it enough?

Let’s double-down. I might be able to cut my first marathon time of 5:55 in half before age catches up to me. Just in case you’re running and struggling with the math, that means sub-3. The only question is…do I want it enough?

Marathon Taper Madness

Marathon Taper Madness

This is me…trying to taper….

Is that a stress fracture in my foot?

What’s the weather forecast for race day?

Is it time to race yet?

Should I lengthen today’s run a bit?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should run some hills today.

Is it time to race yet?

Is it bad to do VO2 max intervals during the taper.

Is it time to race yet?

What’s the race day weather forecast? No, I need hourly.

I haven’t run over 13 miles in 2 weeks. Have I lost all my fitness already?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should reduce my PR goal time. Let’s see what the marathon time calculator says.

Ooh, 3:15. 7:30 per mile for 26.2 when I’ve trained for 8:00? Maybe?

Is it time to race yet?

.

.

.

I think you get the idea.

Taper Madness is a confidence sapping exercise of patience and will, and I suck at it. My races show it, too.

My best races have always been the late entries in the middle of training, not the actual goal races. Prior to the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, I set a 15-minute Half Marathon PR at the Aquarium Run with a 1:39. Just 2 weeks ago, I PR’d at the 2015 Jenks Half Marathon with a 1:34, and I left at least a couple of minutes or more out on the course.

To be honest, some of my marathon issues are lack of training and injuries, but several of my injuries have come during the taper. I didn’t run the 2014 Route 66 Marathon due to an achilles injury exacerbated by an extra long run during the taper. I went into the 2015 Oklahoma City Marathon injured due to an achilles injury on the proper length long run during the taper. I was on the hills for that 8 miler. Should I have been on hills during the taper?

Anyway, the point of all of this is if you are struggling with your taper, you’re not alone. The best advice I can give you is to plan your taper at the beginning of your goal race training and stick to the plan religiously.

Other than that, just keep checking the weather. Speaking of which….

Uh-oh. Last time the forecast looked like this at Route 66, the temperature dropped during the race.

I wonder if I should wear 3 layers instead of two…

Product Review: Elevation Training Mask 2.0

SubdueTheSloth Elevation Training Mask

There is a reason many of our best endurance athletes live in and train at altitude: altitude training improves performance. The real question is can amateur athletes achieve similar results without moving to Boulder, Colorado. Over the past year, I’ve tried to find an answer that question by training with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Strange things happen to my body beyond 15 miles. In each of my 3 attempts at the Route 66 Marathon, I endured breathing that felt like a friendly grizzly bear was hugging me to death. Not only does that feeling make it tough to run, it also makes me question whether it’s just normal long mileage exhaustion or something much, much worse. At the outset of every long training run or marathon, I promise my wife I won’t die, and when you’re struggling for each breath, it’s tough to decide between keeping a promise and going for a PR.

After the 2013 Route 66 Marathon, my frustration with my breathing led me to the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Prior to purchasing the Elevation Training Mask, all of the reviews I read about it indicated that wearing it was not the same as training at altitude. Although I’ve never trained distance running at altitude, I have played my fair share of tennis in both Lake Tahoe and various cities in Colorado. In my experience, the Elevation Training Mask is definitely not the same as training at altitude. But…does that matter?

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have mountains (or $2,000+ for a hypoxic air generator and tent), you don’t have any elevation for training. If you don’t have any elevation for training, how many other options do you have? We’ll get to options in a minute, but first, let’s talk abut the product itself and the benefits I’ve seen from using it.

The Elevation Training Mask is a rubber mask that fits over your mouth and nose. It has 2 intake ports with interchangeable valves to control the level of breathing restriction. The documentation equates each intake valve with an elevation ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 feet in 3,000 feet increments. There is one exhaust valve in the center that seals upon intake. It’s not unlike simple respirators available at your local hardware store.

Unfortunately, the Elevation Training Mask is not comfortable. The mask must seal around your face so that you inhale and exhale only through the 2 intake ports and 1 exhaust port respectively. The rubber-like material chosen does not feel great after a few miles of sweat, and with some facial hair, you have to crank it down that much tighter to get a good seal. The velcro strap that secures it to the back of your head does not fit me well and always feels like it’s slipping down my neck. There is also a strap that goes over the top of your head to help hold the horizontal strap in place vertically. The top strap seems more like an afterthought than a properly thought out design, but it works for its intended purpose.

Like I said above, this mask bears a striking resemblance to respirators available from hardware stores. Respirators come in 2 basic varieties, disposable and reusable. While either mask could potentially be used for this kind of training, I think you’ll find either alternative less than ideal. One is made of cloth and gets soaked with sweat which restricts breathing too much, and the other can be larger, heavier, and difficult to wear when running. In both cases, there is no straightforward way to control the level of intake restriction (i.e. altitude).

Getting beyond the product design, fit, and comfort, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefit I wanted to see was more strength in my diaphragm for the back half of the marathon, but a funny thing happened along the way. I got faster.

Within a month of occasional use of the Elevation Training Mask, I went from barely being able to run 1 lap on my treadmill at 10 mph to running 3-4 laps. I don’t know if you can attribute all of that progress to the Elevation Training Mask, but I think it’s reasonable to attribute some of it to the Elevation Training Mask (look ma, no science!).

Unfortunately, I was injured in my first marathon after beginning to use the Elevation Training Mask. The injury forced me to walk a lot on the back half of the course so it was hard to know if my breathing had improved. I can say that my long training runs went well enough that I never noticed a significant problem with breathing, but most of those runs topped out around 20 miles.  The breathing problems usually don’t show up for me until that last 10K.

Like I said, I’m not offering you any science. I’m telling you flat out that this is not altitude training, and the jury is still out on whether or not this will help with my particular endurance problems. That said, I can tell you that I do not consider the money wasted, and I continue to use the Elevation Training Mask at least 2-3x per month to supplement my training.

It might be important to note that I do have very mild asthma, and the limiting factor in my running speed is almost always my lungs. My speed improvements as a result of training with the Elevation Training Mask may be unique to my lung condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Running in the Summer Heat

Tulsa Triathlon 2015 Run

Doing My Impression of Burnt Toast

Yesterday I participated in my first triathlon, a 50 mile race where I crashed and burned in the run. In fact most of the field crashed and burned in the run. It was so hot at Lake Heyburn that the run became more of a survival exercise than a race. The heat index was well over 100, and the course offered absolutely no shade for relief.

Through the 9 mile run, I averaged 13 minute per mile pace consisting of a lot of walking and very little running. My heart was racing when I tried to run, and when it wasn’t racing, I was feeling a strange pain in my flanks that had me somewhat concerned about my kidneys.  Granted, that might have been from the 2000 meters of swimming and 40 hilly miles of cycling causing some muscle soreness, but when it’s that hot outside, I try to err on the side of caution.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would write an article about running in the heat. While I may not have my Hot Weather Running degree from Vermtech, I do have a lot of experience running in hot weather. During the Summer, I typically spend at least 2 days a week running midday in the Oklahoma heat. I routinely run sub-25 minute 5K’s in triple-digit weather, and I’ve been known to throw in 6.2 and 13.1 now and again. With what I learned yesterday, hopefully I can provide some insight beyond just hydrate and be careful.

Hydrate and Be Careful

Whaaaat? I said I would provide insight beyond hydrate and be careful, but I can’t just ignore the basics. If I failed to state the obvious, somebody might go out on a 20 miler without a single sip of water and then blame me when they wound up dead on the side of a trail. So since we’re here, let’s look at hydration and caution in depth.

Before you know how much and what to drink, you need to have a better idea of your sweat rate. While one person may only lose a few ounces in an hour of running, another person might drop a 2 liter with enough salt to supply the local Chinese restaurant for a few weeks. The only way I know to measure your sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after exercise taking into account any hydration or elimination.

So far this Summer, my sweat rate has been absurd. Through a 30 minute run last week in a 107 degree heat index, I lost 3 pounds taking into account the 16 ounces of fluid I added back through hydration. That’s 6 pounds per hour if I continue at the same rate. In previous years, my sweat rate has been closer to 4 pounds per hour.

Since 1/2 a liter of fluid is around 1 lb, that means I need to drink around 3 liters/hour to replace all of the lost fluid. Needless to say, that’s absurd. My body couldn’t hope to process that much fluid in that short a time. And, that’s alright. Ending your run in a slight fluid deficit (3-4% body weight) is not going to affect your health or performance negatively. The goal is to avoid the level of dehydration that leads to fatigue, dizziness, and potentially other, more severe symptoms.

For a 1 hour run, a single, handheld 1/2 liter bottle would probably suffice. For 2 hours, I probably need 2 bottles. For 3 or more, I have to look at rehydrating at a much higher rate to avoid losing too much fluid.

But YOUR numbers will be different. You need to keep track of your fluid losses, come up with your own numbers, experiment, tweak, and go back out and try again. And when you’re out there running, look for these warning signs of a potential problem:

  • Chills: The first symptom I experience when body temperature and/or hydration have gone off the rails are chills.
  • Pit Stops: I don’t see this anywhere online, but it definitely happens to me. I almost never stop during a race, but when it’s hot and I get behind on fluids, I sometimes have to stop.
  • Swollen Extremities: Did your wedding ring suddenly get really tight? Maybe you’re having trouble making a fist? If it’s hot, chances are you’re dehydrated, but this can also be a sign of hyponatremia so you have to think clearly before you take action. Hyponatremia is deadly so you have to make the right decision in this situation or get medical help.
  • Dizziness: You’re too far gone. Stop running, cool off, and hydrate. Or, if you’re like that guy at my last triathlon, just keep moving forward and miraculously survive. Just don’t blame me if you take that route and end up dead.
  • Cramping: It’s tough to come back from cramping, but as long as you’re not dizzy and not vomiting, you can try to work your way through the cramps.
  • Fainting, Vomiting: Stop and get help.

Any Summer run you finish without a stop in the ER is a win. Check your ego at the door and be careful out there.

Adapt and Conquer

Like any other challenge in running, your body must have time to acclimate to the heat. It’s like running at higher altitude. Your body just needs some time to adapt to the new stress.

The easiest approach is to make sure you’re maintaining your running volume through the Spring warm-up. If it’s gradual, you may be able to adapt without any particularly difficult runs, but if it’s not gradual or you miss some training during the late Spring and early Summer, it may be more challenging.

This year, I’ve struggled to adapt after a cold, soggy May followed by a month off for vacation. When I resumed running in July, heat indexes were North of 100 degrees fahrenheit. My training pace fell from a high-7 average to high-8’s because of being forced to walk. After a month of more consistent training, I’m finally starting to feel better heat tolerance during midday runs.

Protect Your Skin

Unlike my training runs, my triathlon run took place after I had already been out in the sun for 3 hours. Even though I had used sunscreen, the trisuit I wore left part of my back, shoulders, and upper arms exposed. It also exposed more of my legs than normal. The result was a moderate sunburn in all of those areas.

It’s hard to find studies relating sunburn to endurance exercise, but I did manage to find one, Human Thermoregulatory Responses During Heat Exposure After Artificially Induced Sunburn. Unfortunately, the structure of the study did not mimic the kind of situation I experienced so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions, but one issue the study does demonstrate fairly conclusively is that you will produce less sweat from skin that is sunburned. It also demonstrates a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE), but RPE is obviously completely subjective. I can’t imagine feeling better with a sunburn than without.

My guess is that there is more to sunburn than just sweat rate and RPE, but even if we just look at sweat rate, it’s clearly important to protect your skin. At extreme levels of heat, even a minor adjustment in cooling capacity can make a huge difference. Whether you prefer sunscreen or covering up with clothing, take the appropriate steps not to sunburn.

Delay the Inevitable

There are a variety of effective tactics to delay your body’s need to cope with the heat. It could be something simple like running with a non-insulated handheld filled with ice water. Even in the worst heat, your hand will still get too cold to hold the bottle for more than a few minutes at a time. Eventually, the ice will melt, and the water will warm up, but your body will have benefited from blood being circulated through the hand carrying the bottle.

A similar tactic I’ve used for long runs is filling my hydration pack bladder with ice water. How long it lasts will vary from pack to pack and bladder to bladder, but there’s a good chance you will get 45-60 minutes of cooling over your entire back. I’ve also heard of runners using ice gloves or various other clothing items dipped in ice water and/or filled with ice. If someone hasn’t invented a hat  with a pocket for ice on the back of your neck, then there’s your billion dollar product idea for the day.

At the triathlon, the water stops were offering towels dipped in ice water. On my first lap, I didn’t take one, and I paid dearly for it. Had I taken that towel, I might have been able to run most of the first 5K loop. Instead, I found myself less than a half mile into the first 5K struggling with heat exhaustion. Once you’re in that kind of deficit, it’s hard to get it back, especially on a course with neither shade nor wind. During the 2nd lap, I found a towel and started using it to keep cold water on my neck. The water stops also started giving us cold bottles of water to carry instead of just handing off cups. The net result was a drastic improvement in my heat stress to the point that I ran more in the last lap than I did in the first lap.

Running in heat is hard. Delay the full impact of the heat on your body as long as possible with whatever combination of cooling approaches is suitable for your race or training run.

Dress for Success

When running in the heat, you really have two choices: (1) Cover up (2) Strip down.

If the sun is out with little chance of shade accompanied by high humidity, covering up may be your best option. It’s the approach you see taken by people who work in the heat across the globe, and it’s hard to imagine they’re wrong. The clothing will protect you from sunburn and keep your temperature down by keeping the sun off of your skin. The obvious negative is that clothing will reduce the amount of cooling through sweating and blocks any wind or breeze.

On the subject of clothing, it’s probably good to discuss color. In my own experience, lighter colors will help in extreme heat, but there is considerable debate on the topic. My recommendation is to try both light and dark colors and see which feels better to you. If there’s no difference as shown in some studies, go with what you think looks best. That said, a Google Images search for Badwater Ultramarathon gives a lot of white clothing.  White might be good…

If there is any wind on the course or the humidity isn’t too high, stripping down may be a viable option. The more skin you can expose, the faster your body will cool through evaporating perspiration. That said, please don’t get nekkid and tell the cops I told you it was a good idea. You still need to keep all of the relevant bits appropriately contained.