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.