Saturday, May 19, 2012

Post Transvulcania

Back in the States now after my trip to the Canary Islands for Transvulcania. Certainly my race didn't go as well as I had hoped for. I started out feeling pretty good on the climb up from sea level to over 6,000 ft. In all we did about 7,000 ft. of ascent in the first 12 miles, but when things levelled out and became a lot more runable I began to feel really slow. I basically felt like I was running in several inches of mud, when in reality the trail was quite smooth and runnable. The further I went, the worse it got. Gradually my stomach also started to be less than ideal. It wasn't that I was sick, but I just wasn't processing calories as fast as I knew I needed to. After a couple hours of fading gradually back into the field (was probably running in about 15th place at this point) I linked up with Seb Chagneau who was having very similar struggles. Seb and I ran together for another 90 minutes, but when we reached the aid station at about mile 35 (the high point of the course) we both decided to call it a day. From there it was an 8,000 ft descent back down to sea level before another thousand foot climb up to the finish. Certainly I could have finished, but my body was working so inefficiently most of the day that I was completely worked over at 35 miles. I would have almost certainly been walking most of that descent and struggling just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. In some cases I am happy to push myself to that point, but this race wasn't one of those cases. I wanted to run fast in this race, but I was primarily approaching it as a training run, and continuing on any further than I did would have been a training setback rather than a benefit.

I have now had 3 or 4 races like this in the past year. Races in which I thought I was in pretty good shape and then when I tried to run fast (i.e. race) I felt slow and weak. It's not a fun place to be. No one ever wants to be in a position where they feel like they can't run anywhere near as fast as they could 12 or 18 months previous. More and more I have begun to feel this in my training also. I seem to have plenty of energy and endurance, but my muscles just seem to be weak, slow, and slow to recover. I had some bloodwork done in January and discovered that my iron was quite low, but after 4 months of fairly aggressive iron supplementation my body doesn't seem to have responded. I'll get my iron levels checked again soon to be certain that I'm absorbing some of the iron I'm taking.

My best guess about all of this is that I have been living too high since moving to Colorado. Not so much that i have been living too high, but that I have been training too high. I live at 8,600 ft. and virtually all the training I do is up from there. My body has felt somewhat flat ever since moving to Colorado and over time it has become steadily worse. What I think has happened is that I have been running so high all the time that I consistently train quite a bit slower than I would if I were down lower. Over the short term this isn't a big deal, and can even be a benefit due to the improvement in heart/lungs from high altitude. Over the long term though, I think my muscles have weakened from always running slower. There is also the possibility that my appetite has been suppressed enough due to the altitude that my body has been forced on occasion to use my muscle protein for fuel without me even feeling unusually hungry. The result over time is that my muscles are essential just a fraction of what they once were. The crazy thing is that I can even see it and feel it in my legs. The muscles in my quads are soft, small, feel very weak when I use them, and just don't seem to have the capacity to run hard at all.

The good thing is that I am going to Alaska and will be living/training below 5,000 ft. for most of the summer. Also, when I return to Colorado in August I am going to be moving down from 8,600 ft to about 5,400 ft. If my conditioning over the past 21 months has been negatively effected by living so high, then my upcoming living situation should naturally work things out in time.

Going to Alaska always feels very restorative to me, but this time around it might be a lot more tangible of a restoration than ever before. Not sure how long the whole process will take to rebuild the muscle that I have depleted over the past 21 months, but it feels good to know that the process has now begun.


BrotherRunner said...

Have you considered scaling back your miles and supplementing some of them with weight training?
I personally have found this helpful when experiencing the symptoms you have.
For myself it's a situation of burn out from running too much and weight lifting seems to transform my body in a way i do not fully understand but as some months have gone by the running spirit usually returns as does my strength.
Best of luck to you in your journey.

AL said...

Geoff - I know you're bummed out by yur running lately, but us in the middle of the pack are very proud of you and don't judge you by "What have you done lately". It's good that you have a solid plan and believe that the change of scenery will pull you out of the hole. We all know you put a ton of pressure on yourself, but back off a little. You're not judged by your running - you're a genuinely good person and that will get you to the top of the mountain, no matter how high it is. Good luck

Freebird said...

Good luck, Geoff! Keep after it.

Alex Beecher said...

Man, there are a thousand things that could account for dead legs, and obviously low iron is one of them. Something to consider is timing; if you're taking your iron supplement in close proximity to drinking coffee, your body won't absorb it. Tea has a similar, but less pronounced, effect. As far as training goes, if I don't do some pretty fast (5k pace or less) running once a week, I start to feel like my legs lack that "pop". Maybe some intervals would help? In any case, I'm not going to pretend I know you better than you do, or that solutions are universal. But good luck, and I hope to see you running well (and fast!) again soon.

Avalo said...

Thanks for your blog Geoff, I enjoy reading about your adventures and draw inspiration from them - no matter what speed you run. Life and time may effect your fitness for good or worse, but it's your humility and character which impress the most. Thanks for the good example: staying grounded and valuing people. Most of us never get to see the things you do, at any speed - it's fun to read about and see pictures of the "Geoff Roes Experience" (ie: the incredible pictures above the clouds in Juneau). Blessings to you and yours... Brian

Alex McDaniel said...

Many of the top marathon training groups subscribe to "Live high, train low". It's also common for them to get blood work regularly, so both ends of your analysis may be spot on.

Also, don't neglect the impact that training for and racing the 350 mile snow run/hike will have had. You built DEEP SLOW fat burning aerobic base, but that's 2-3 gears away from elite 50mile racing speed.

Personally I would dial back the mileage a notch or two and turn some 2-3 hour mountain runs into some 1 hour pep/tempo runs until you start feeling more "athletic" and then get back to HR100 training.

my 2 cents

Jared Friesen said...

Good to see I am not the only one who things altitude training can be overrated and not needed. Good to see you coming back "home" to the AK! Will we be seeing at any local races? As in Crow Pass this year?

Hoppy said...

Geoff ,think Alex M'c D. said it pretty well. And echoing Al's sentiments Wishing you the best to get back on your game. aloha's

Olga said...

It actually may make sense, that whole thing, for some people. Hope your move "down" helps out.

Stay Vertical said...

It's time:

Also, the weight training suggestion was good. Besides adding to depleted muscle mass, the strength training will boost testosterone- a key component of overall vigor. The 20 somethings are coursing with the stuff, us 30+ guys can use more.

Good luck to you Geoff. Give us all a great show in the San Juan's this year.

GMack said...

This sounds all too familiar. I was diagnosed with mild anemia 2 years ago and supplemented with Ferrochel iron. My levels were back to normal in 3 weeks. I moved to Telluride (8,700’) from Dallas several years ago and got slooow. Previously, coming from Dallas, I ran back to back M5’s at Hardrock and followed with pretty good runs at UTMB. Living in Telluride, I finished back in the pack at HR once and DNF’d last year at both HR and UTMB. I was aerobically fit, but physically weak.

I’ve been back in Dallas for nearly a year and weights, plyo, intervals and uphill sprint training (treadmill) got my strength back. I’m 50 y/o, so I’m fighting a losing battle anyway, but I’m not going down easily.

Another thing, after I ran the ITI350 in 2010, other races just didn’t seem worth a full effort. Something else I had to get over if I was to keep running and stay motivated. Physically, the ITI didn't leave me slow, if anything it’s mental.

It'll come around, you just have to be methodical about how you build yourself up again.


Unknown said...

My wife is a professor of Anatomy and Physiology at a university and has expressed a few doubts about your analysis.
First of all, there is a hierarchy of energy sources that your body will draw from. Glucose, then glycogen, then lipids (fats), then protein from muscles as purely a last resort. Have you had any major weight loss in conjunction with your other symptoms?
Low iron levels do take time to get back to normal. As that's the only real data (other than the way you feel). I'd give the iron levels time to revert to normal levels first.

Neal Gorman said...

I am a guy who has lived a life at sea level. Last summer and the one before I spent several glorious weeks on end in Colorado. After returning home to sea level soon after completing 100 milers at altitude each time I felt good for about a day or two- thanks to all the extra oxygen. Then immediately after the recovery re-set in from the 100s. And each time it was no 'ordinary' recovery. I knew that returning to sea level after sleeping at 8k and running higher regularly my body needed even more recovery time than usual. Last October I took a month completely off from running because I felt the lingering effects of fatigue, which I assumed, in part, resulted from the August altitude.

You’re not alone with altitude issues. We’re all different- some can hang in altitude better than others. You’ll figure it out in time.

Unknown said...

Geoff, I think you're right on in your training analysis. My wife and I moved to Colorado Springs a month ago. I've certainly realized I won't be setting any PR's while at altitude due to the lower O2 count. It's been a little frustrating trying to get the same turnover in my legs, though I know I'm still in the adjustment phase.

Sounds like AK will be coming just at the right time for you. I think the steep climbs you're accustomed to there will serve you quite well as you prep for Hardrock.

Keep you head up

Burt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Burt said...


Thank you for once again posting even when things are not going as well with your running as you would like. It is easy to be communicative and post when things are easy and racing is going well. It is much harder to come on here and offer something of yourself to all of us who follow your blog when running is a bit confusing. Kudos for being a stand-up guy and allowing all of us a glimpse into a and perhaps the opportunity to learn from your rough patch.

My $.02. Start training as if you want to get your 10 km pr.

Adam St.Pierre said...

Altitude will absolutely slow the paces of your training. It will also slow the recovery process between runs. Altitude also increases reliance on carbohydrate metabolism. In most instances the hematological benefits of living high outweigh the other costs for ultra training but at a competitive 50 miler it's absolutely possible that the speed/strength/pop you miss out on when training at high altitude become necessary to win. However, I think some structured training might allow you to maintain the pop in your legs, whether training at altitude or sea level. Structured training does not preclude you from enjoying long runs in the mountains, rather it may add some specific intensity work (which does not necessarily mean running around a track!) and regular prescribed rest periods. I bet this would allow you to better adapt to your training and compete at the level you want to compete at.

GZ said...

Geoff - interesting stuff, and something that I think was suspected by a few commenters (and perhaps even you) in the past.

There is definitely anecdotal evidence out there that living at these sort of elevations can be detrimental to performance in the way that you describe. The science in it seems to be pretty "young" at the moment.

In any case, glad to hear you are dealing with it, and if you feel more grounded in Alaska - that is going to be 10x more beneficial than any place you live - regardless of its elevation.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

Geoff: It took me a solid two years to totally make the adjustment to living at altitude (we're at 6200 feet in Parker, which, granted, is a bit less than Nederland). It's a long process but then your body finally adjusts.


Anonymous said...

Geoff, fascinating discussion. Here is my story of one: I moved to Ketchum, ID from the Bay Area in 2006. It took me about six months to feel good in my day-to-day running there and was strong enough to run a decent race at WS in 2007. Then, however, the cumulative time at elevation seemed to weigh me down and I had more and more trouble recovering from difficult workouts. In particular, I found that I had accumulated fatigue in my legs even months after races and I had a great deal of difficulty getting my heart rate up much past 150 (I can do sea-level track workouts where I can top out at 175 or so). I also became frustrated at my loss of speed.

So, to combat all this, around 2009 I began making training trips to lower elevation about once a month and tried to focus on making those training bouts as intense as they could be. It seemed to work as my racing continued to go OK (but, recovery time still took forever.

Now, I am living back at sea level and I feel much better. I even went to NM a couple weeks ago and felt surprisingly good running at 7500 feet. Best of all, I can run hard workouts and recover in time to do another one 48 hours later, which, for me, is the only way I can truly gain fitness.

Anyway, good luck with your experiment and I'll see you in Silverton!


Anonymous said...

PS -- Remember how well you ran in the low country at UROC?

Fairbanks said...

I think scott jurek was low living when he was in his prime? (no offense to scott, he's still rockin')

James Hunter said...

Sara Montgomery said...

I've found that ferrous gluconate doesn't work well for me. I only have luck with supps that contain ferrous/iron bisglycinate and B vitamins. I get them from my ND, but there is one called Blood Booster that looks similar. Easier on the stomach too.

Unknown said...

Its always nice to train at altitude and train "scientifically" the best but I think whats the most important is your training where and with whom mean the most to you.

21 months ago Im pretty sure, atleast for what I remember you were living in Alaska and training with the older guys; living and enjoying life. You are a lot more popular now then you were back then but that doesn't mean you have to change. Just stick to your roots and run and live how you were, which sounds like what your gonna do. Good luck!

Chris said...

Hello Geoff - I just wanted to chime in my support and well wishes. Your example has motivated me to push my running beyond my usual "comfort zones" - in fact, I'll be running my first ultra in October. While I could never offer you any scientific advice, I can offer my heartfelt thanks for your example of a simple, authentic life lived in the mountains. It truly inspires sea-level city dwellers like myself (Ft Worth, TX). Humble thanks to you and best wishes for a speedy recovery!!

Not Specified said...

I have had really good results doing my winter base training at altitude in Jackson Hole, and then going to Alaska for the summer in May to add intensity into the long runs. I seemed to have a huge advantage with endurance when I did that.

I've never trained for anything longer than Crow Pass, but I think there's something to be said about mixing altitudes. Otherwise it's too easy to get flat.

I once lived in Truckee, where you can get your low-altitude training 30 minutes away. Seemed like an endurance athlete's paradise. But, the sierras are epic but it's hard to beat the mountains of home.