Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vertical Emphasis

View from the top of Liberty Bowl, North Cascades
In almost every endurance sport (swimming being the most obvious exclusion), a gain in elevation occurs over the course of an event or adventure. In some cases even, ascending in altitude is the sole purpose; hill climbs have become quite popular in running, cross-country skiing and cycling alike. But aside from competition we can learn and benefit a tremendous amount from training with lots of vertical ascent in our schedule.

Incorporating hills into your weekly routine accomplishes several things. First, and perhaps most important, is the strength component. Either as a skier, runner or cyclist, you're pushing uphill with powerful big mover muscles that aren't otherwise being loaded in a similar fashion on gentler terrain. For running, there's an explosive component. Even ultra-marathon distance runners will appreciate the benefit of Type-IIA (fast-twitch aerobic) muscle fibers, which assist in the power generation needed to spring off each step, against gravity, up a trail. As a Nordic ski racer, uphills not only the strength akin to running, but also a strength in stability and core to drive the gliding leg against gravity and then to plant the foot and set the wax.

Over the past few years my coach Scott has incorporated some innovative uphill training ideas into my own schedule. Most notable amongst these are weighted uphill ski walks or hiking. The principle is simple enough: find a steep climb and load a pack with 5-10% of body weight with water. The additional load will exert a greater stress on your working muscles without over-taxing the aerobic system. This means that you will feel a strong fatigue in your legs long before your breathing passes an aerobic threshold (nose-breathing). The bonus in carrying water (using milk jugs is easiest, and easiest to measure in weight) is that you can empty the jugs out at the top of the climb and descend unweighted.

Another option: ski touring. The spring is a great season to get some variable strength training into the schedule, and skinning up mountainsides takes the cake. The load which comes from driving boot, ski, and body weight + pack up a 10%+ grade is unrivaled for training benefit. Plus you get some incredible views and some sweet corn to carve on the way down.

Take-home message? Head uphill!

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Washington pass opened today, marking the unofficial start of summer. On my journey up valley after work I saw numerous motor homes that had made their way over. MVSTA's stellar Sunflower marathon and relay event also marks the change of seasons. Before moving to the Methow, I liked the race, but now that I live here, I absolutely love it. The course now starts just a short walk from home in Mazama, and meanders through the wonderful varied micro-climates down to Twisp. Two years ago there was a nice tail wind, and if that past couple of days is any indicator, Saturday's race will be a speedy one.
The calm before the calf-cramping storm. Thanks, Kristen Smith, for capturing it.
This year Sam, Brian Gregg and I are running a team as: Goat's Beard/Methow Endurance, partnering with the exciting new mountain shop in Mazama. Thanks, Goat's Beard! They are opening on Saturday and have a great selection of goods, including my favorite running shoe, the Scott T2C.

Remember your electrolytes! Cramping is not fun, and it will increase your recovery time as well. Massage, however, decreases recovery time.

To kick of the summer racing season, I'm offering a discount this weekend. Mention this blog and get $5 off a 60 minute massage. Happy running!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring Racing

A few weeks back, Alison and I journeyed to the rainy side of the mountains to run the 12km Squak Mtn trail race in Issaquah, WA. For me it marked the first "destination" running race I have competed in, and for Alison it was the shortest race she's run in years. We both were excited about the event; Alison's training has been progressing really well over the last several months and she has started to incorporate some significant strength and intensity into the regimen. For me, I was just hoping to run well on the dregs of the racing season, barely two weeks past.

The course isn't tame; mostly on trail and some FS roads, it climbs for nearly six miles in a not-so-gentle fashion until topping out on Squak. After a short teaser descent it climbs again for a piece before finally letting you into the honest downhill portion to the finish. My plan was to race the uphill and take it easy going down, while simultaneously trying to hold Alison off on the downhill. I wasn't sure of the field, but had a thought that I might be alone on the climb. As it happened, a Seattle stair-running champion named Kevin Crossman was also in the race and he and I paced each other the whole way up the climb. He managed to gap me by about twenty seconds as we topped out and from there it was over; I'm no downhill runner. I almost lost my 2nd place too, when I took a wrong turn about twenty meters from the finish and went down a FS road to the main highway and then had to sprint back, costing me about a minute and a half. I made it to the line just ahead of 3rd place.

Alison's race was a true reflection of the training she's been doing; aside from one badass woman that gapped the field right at the beginning, Alison held her own the entire way, outpacing everyone else on both the uphill and (of course) the downhill. This is a huge accomplishment for her physiology, and a real sign that the more structured, comprehensive preparation she's been doing is paying off.

Sorry we don't have any pictures; here's a link to the race site photographer:

Get out and race!