Saturday, August 25, 2012

Non-hundred training

Sitting here in Chamonix, France with only four short days between now and an event covering nearly 200 miles over some of the toughest mountain passes that can be crossed without the aid of technical gear, I cannot help but concern myself with the training I've put in leading up to this point. Last year, before undertaking the equally daunting Tor des Geants race, I had run 5 hundred milers in as many months leading up to the race. While I, of course, ran (or rather sludged) 135 miles across the snow in January, I found myself very early in the year with only a single hundred miler confirmed on my schedule and just about every opportunity filled to capacity or utilizing a lottery.  When the one 100 that I did attempt, Santa Barbara Endurance Run, was cancelled due to thunderstorms and flooding after only 31 miles (actually it was cancelled much sooner, but 4 of us were making our own off-course adventure), I suddenly realized that I may be attempting a massive mountain race without a single serious training run in the mountains.

Harry and I had discussed the idea of trying to get up into The Sierras as much as possible during the couple months before the race. In many ways travelling slow with bigger packs over technical, high-altitude terrain would likely be more specific preparation than running through the woods from aid station to aid station. I did manage to fit in three 50 mile races including a hot, crampy Leona Divide in Southern California (10:29) followed by a hotter, crampier Quicksilver 50M in San Jose (10:24) and the (finally) cool-weathered, but tough Marin Ultra Challenge (10:45). Each of these were great events and probably worthy of a solid race report of their own, but I really approached them almost exclusively as training. I threw in an odd 50K and a couple long runs, but mostly my training has been sporadic this year. I've both raced and run less than previous years, but I have gotten in quite a bit of hiking (and even some hike/runs).

Mid-June - Tahoe
Photos available here
Day 1
Our friend, Heather, was taking a week to do the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. Her plan was to knock it off over a full week in segments with support so they had reserved a camp ground and invited us to come along for the first weekend. I took Friday off work and headed up for the initial segment from xxx Pass to Echo. Lake Heather and her friend had parked cars at each end. The trail was about 16 miles. By Harry and I agreeing to start a bit later from one end of the trail they could go together and we figured our faster pace would have us meeting them somewhere in the middle to exchange keys. That was the plan. It began with us meeting Heather at our side of the trail so the timing was off from the start. Not a problem it just meant meeting a bit further along the trail and perhaps some quality time at a Starbucks afterwards for Harry and I.

We ran a good portion of the initial trail and then took a long leisurely lunch waiting for the ladies to show up around 10 miles in. When they didn't, we just continued along without to much thought. 5 miles from the end, we became a little concerned. Another mile and it grew. With only 3 miles to the end of the trail, we were pretty certain something had gone wrong and we only hopped it wasn't serious. That's right about when they showed up. Apparently, they had gone in the wrong direction from the start. To make things worse Heather's friend wasn't feeling well. After discussing various options, we decided that she would return to their starting point and Harry, Heather and myself would continue back in the direction from which we came assuring that Heather didn't miss out on her planned TRT segment. In the end we completed 26 miles, about 8 miles more than planned.

Day 2
For the second day, Harry and I wanted to get an overnight trek in. I always feel like there's something about pushing oneself through the night and into the next day. It puts you at a level of exhaustion well beyond just the physical feat of covering the miles. At the end of such effort, I feel as if I've hit the 'reset button' on my training. For this day, we split into two groups. Martina and Heather's boyfriend John, drove up Friday night. John would join Harry and I starting from Tahoe City going to Barker Pass and then continuing along most of the section to Echo Lake, but cutting back along an alternate route back to the campground overnight. Martina and Heather started from Barker and shuttled to meet Heather's friend along trail.

Since we wouldn't be staying strictly to the TRT, Harry had plotted out planned course using some mapping software. This was a good chance for us both to test out our new GPS units (Garmin eTrex 30) that we would be using for PTL. They turned out to be most useful. We weren't totally certain of the distance, but estimated around 45 with an option to add mileage with a second high peak after Dick's Pass. Our travel was a bit longer and slower than expected with some water challenges, a number of battles with mosquitoes and then some very interesting navigation over the pass at midnight. We made it down safely on some very technical trail that we decided was perfect training to discover one of the wonderful surprises of plotting a course using digital maps. Our route back to camp had us sneaking through some large, private resort. At the end of the road there was a sign for the trail so it was definitely the planned path. However, this so-called trail consisted of an hour of bushwhacking through brush along a rather exposed ledge over the lack. We were never quite sure where we were or if we were even still on the trail until we dumped back out the Fallen Leaf Road.

I'd never been so happy to be on asphalt. A tired trudge along the road brought us back to camp by dawn with around 48 miles under our belts. It turned out the ladies had some bigger navigation challenges (sans GPS) and had only been back for a few hours. We slept for a bit and then saw Heather off for another segment before grabbing a some eats and heading home.

Approx. Weekend Stats
Distance: 74 miles
Time: 28hrs
High Point: 9000ft
Ave. Altitude: 7500ft
Total Climb: 13,000ft

Early July - Emigrants Wilderness
Photos available here
Day 1
Harry came up with the great idea to spend a weekend doing fast-packing in the Emigrants Wilderness which lies almost directly between Tuolumne and Tahoe in the Sierras. I'd never been and was excited to explore a new area. With a busy work schedule I decided to work through the mid-week 4th of July holiday and make a very early Saturday departure. Since we would be camping on trail, this trip would require much more full packs including sleeping bags, pads, a lightweight tarp shelter and enough food for at least 2 days. The trail started out around 7000ft and went straight up from there staying around 9000ft most of the time. It's a beautiful area with large granite outcroppings between high-mountain meadows. Unfortunately, the meadows meant that the mosquitoes were even more prevalent (and somehow more aggressive) than in Tahoe. We were pretty much plagued by them the entire first day even spending an extra hour wandering off trail in a vain attempt to find a campsite that wasn't infested. Eventually, we simply gave in, dawned our long pants. jackets and just sat crouching trying to wait them out as the temperature slowly dropped. They mostly (though not completely) left us alone at night though we both had near sleepless nights up at 9000ft after our 26 mile day.

Day 2
The next morning we rose early and decided to just do one long push rather than stay over another night. We ditched our plan to take on another pass, but headed up to 10,000ft before turning around and heading back down the way we came. Truth be told, it wasn't exactly what we set out to do, but we adjusted expectations along the trail and made it the plan of record. after finishing the 10 mile out-and-back we headed down into Upper Relief Valley. This was the most beautiful section of the entire hike consisting of steep granite walls descending into a deep canyon. Best of all, it was almost completely mosquito free! After climbing back out of the valley into the rising heat of the day we hooked back up with the trail we took the day before. As is often the case, it seemed longer on the return, the final descent even steeper and the trail a bit harder to follow. We totaled 31 miles for the second day, but weren't on our feet much longer than the first. Still, it was two long days of solid mountain hiking.

Approx. Weekend Stats
Distance: 57 miles
Moving time: 24hrs
High Point: 10,000ft
Ave. Altitude: 9000ft
Total Climb: 9800ft

Mid July - Tuolumne Meadows
Photos available here
Day 1
For our third Sierra excursion we wanted to get in a bit higher altitude training. Harry suggested we spend one day summiting Mt. Dana at 13,000ft and do something different on the other day. Tuolumne Meadows is one of my favorite places and I remembered having a great run out to the XXX Lakes starting from Lambert Dome. I knew that Mt. Conness was a classic hike in that area and some research showed a route continuing along the path I had taken before. We decided to tackle this 12,500ft summit the first day making it the longer of the two. Again we set out on a pre-dawn Saturday drive and hit the trail from my car.
There isn't a clearly defined trail all the way to Conness, but there between the info we found online and Harry's creative map-work, we had only slight route finding along the way. The climb leading to Conness was quite steep with very loose footing. More than once we commented on how familiar it felt in comparison to some of the trails we'd done at TDG. The top of peak is accessed via a bolder field that claims Class 2 scrambling, but includes one section of pretty significant exposure. However, the view from the peak was more than worth it. We made haste on the way down and even ran a bit of the final descent for a 21 mile day all above 9000ft.

Day 2
Since this trip was planned last minute, we ended up driving to Mammoth Lakes to stay for the night. The next day we headed up Mt. Dana which goes directly up from 10,000ft to the peak 3000ft higher in just about 3 miles. There's no way to do that without an extremely steep climb and the final parts was all find-your-own-way boulder scrambling. The amazing thing was that both Harry and I felt great the entire time. I know that heading up to altitude every other weekend isn't really supposed to do much for your physiological acclimation. However, I believe there is a large mental aspect to how you feel at altitude and how you react to the signals your body is giving you. My anecdotal experience tells me that repeated trips, even with some layoff between, do have great benefits in this realm.
Harry descended the backside of Dana which consisted of trail-less scree down an extremely steep slope. It was disconcerting and probably not the best idea for avoiding possible ankle injury. We had intended continuing up the saddle of the sister peak XXX. However, with a strong wind blowing and some potential storm clouds gathering in the distance, we opted to just  head down the saddle cross-country. While maybe not the best for our training, it turned out to be one of the most pleasant hikes. We ended the day with only 9 miles or so, but our spirits were quite lifted. We'd summited two high peaks, spent a lot of time up above 10,000ft and had a weekend of great hiking through beautiful country.

Approx. Weekend Stats
Distance: 30 miles
Moving time: 15hrs
High Point: 13,000ft
Ave. Altitude: 10,500ft
Total Climb: 9000ft

End of July - Donner Pass to Squaw and back
Photos not yet uploaded
Three weeks before our trip to Europe, Harry and Martina were staying at Harry's mother's place at Donner Lake and planning one last training run in the Sierras. They invited me along. I couldn't afford an entire weekend so I drove to Auburn late Friday night and met them at thee summit Saturday morning. With a turnaround at the Squaw Valley resort this was a small-pack trip so Harry and I intended to do a lot more running and just wait for Martina at various points. She was planning to go just one direction meeting up with Harry's and her mom (visiting from Germany) for lunch on the other side. We ended up waiting around for about an hour at the resort where some sort of "Yoga Fest" was being held. Despite the layover, I really didn't take care of my nutrition very well beyond sucking down a Starbuck's Frappucino as the afternoon quickly warmed up.

The climb out of Squaw was hot and long. We continued running back once reaching the top and still marveled at how good we felt at altitude. However, the heat, lack of calories and then running out of water a few miles before the end had me sitting down beside the trail before the final descent. Of course, I questioned all of my training and whether I just had illusions about my abilities "up high". After all, here I was on a mellow 9 hour, 50K training run being slapped down by the altitude and my own bad planning. We both finished and agreed it was a sufficient workout, but the doubts lingered just as they still do now. However, if these events were anything but uncertain, what would the fun be?

Approx. Weekend Stats
Distance: 31 miles
Moving time: 9 hours
High Point: 9,900ft
Ave. Altitude: 8,000ft
Total Climb: 6500ft

And now....
We made a three day hike covering the first 50K of the PTL course upon arriving here in Chamonix. It covered 14,000ft of climbing and included some of the most technical "trail" you can do without harness and rope. The cabled section going up to the high point on Le Buet (10,000ft) wasn't so bad, but the cables going down the other side were quite harrowing. Martina has a picture up on facebook, but I haven't been able to upload any of mine yet. The scary part is that we will need to cover this much trail each day for more than 5 days in order to just make the cutoffs for this event.

After our hiking trip, we spent one more day up at altitude sleeping in a refuge 7000ft above the Chamonix valley. We took the gondola up and did a mellow run down this morning.

The $20/night room had a $500/night view. Of this I will post one picture because it was simply spectacular.

View from our window at Refuge Plan de l'Aiguille

I will try to make one last post before the race including any info we learn about following it online.

1 comment:

Olga King said...

I want your life, dude. Beautiful sights.