"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If You Don't Like Your Life, Change It: Coburg 6hr 2014

Here I am two days on from the Coburg 6 Hour Track Championships and I feel like I'm struggling more with my blog post than with the race. Sitting down to type now, after scribbling down various thoughts over a couple days, I'm none the wiser as to what I'm about to write. Why is that, I ask myself?

I think it's because the story seems so undramatic. There was no big to-and-fro with another female racer, there was no terrible weather or bad race management, no bad lighting, no vomiting or bloodletting, no cries of agony or ambulances. There was just this little redhead going around and around and around. 187 times.
Unadjusted Garmin file - massive over-reading typical of track racing

A little redhead who planned this race a year ago, but gave up when Melbourne had a heat wave. Who burnt out late in 2013 and had some disastrous training weeks October through December, bottoming out one week with a measly 32k.

Seriously regrouping through January and February, both mentally and physically, I aimed for Coburg's 2014 event. The weather agreed, so I flew over east. Then around and around I went, taking a 125ml bottle of Perpetuem every 15 minutes from my crew, standing diligently within one metre of the crew table, abiding by IAU and AURA rules. It was a regimented and simple world broken down to counting laps: ensuring all early ones were about 1 minute 50 seconds and late ones were no more than 2 minutes each. Counting off 2 minutes at a time for 360 minutes. Time goes surprisingly quickly, actually.
Crew gets a rare moment free to snap a photo

Chapstick, 1min 50. Caffeine, 1min 50. Perp, 1min 50. See hot air balloons rising, 1min 50. Check form, adjust left wrist, 1min 50. Notice powerlines for first time, 1min 50. Hear birds chirping, 1min 50.

It was a race in which so little happened and as a consequence so much happened. I slept the night before better than I ever have pre-race. My heart rate was barely elevated with nerves. I didn't really hit the "business end" of the race until 4.5 hours in. I experienced a few funky nerve twitches through the left hip down to the top of foot (effects of repetitive running) and some quad fatigue and nasty calf tightness, but those things only registered at the "mild" discomfort level in my brain. The weather, especially by Perth standards, was downright cold (15 degrees) for the 6am start and didn't get uncomfortable until 10 am (21-24 degrees, which is certainly uncomfortable for me at race pace).

I had calculated I should be capable of somewhere between 72 - 74km, with 74 being on the end of the "perfect conditions" continuum. With disrupted training and a short lead-in time, I saw things as less than "perfect." I also developed a tight tib post before the race that was less than perfect. I'm a realist, not a pessimist.

Pre-race with Barry Loveday, amazing athlete, novice crew!
But in my favour were solid training sessions through January and early February and mental strength (really cutting down on the over-commitment thing). The realist put those into the equation, too.

And so, quietly, with just the timekeepers and their stopwatches clicking away, at 3 hours 55 minutes and 51 seconds, I surpassed the Australian W40 50k track record which belonged to Helen Stanger for 20 years. In fact, this time represented a PB for me at the 50k distance, whilst taking about 16 minutes off the record.

Perp, 1min 56 sec. Pour water over head, 1min 57 sec. Sponge, 1min 56 sec. Check form, adjust hips, 1min 56 sec. Word to crew as passing the table, "I'm going into the business end. Stay switched on!" 1hr 58 sec.

Rainbow light. Few will understand. That's okay.
20 minutes to go - time to push it out. So many cheered me on, and in turn, I tried to bring a few with me. "Come on, let's finish this thing!"

Then, "Bang." The gun sounded and I dropped my sandbag. Coincidentally beside my crew table. For a moment, I felt there would be tears, then they were gone. Barry went to check totals. 74.8k (still provisional at the time of writing) plus the distance to be measured from the start line to the crew table where I finished (provisional total 74.930km).

I had broken Helen's 20 year old AUS W40 track record of 69.400km (which I also broke at Moe in 2010 with 70.400km, but I wasn't an Aussie then. Now I have taken the pledge, even if my accent is still "Texan Irish.") I had reclaimed the CAN W40 record of 71.699km, set by Christine Torres in 2013, when she broke my 2010 record. I had broken the CAN Open record of 73.264km belonging to Ashley Evans, a 29 year old at the time, who set that benchmark 20 years ago.

Subsequently, I was told that I have run the third largest 6 hour distance in the Australian all time female track rankings, after Linda Meadows' incredible 78.742km and Lavinia Petrie's 76.042km.

Once, several years ago, I sat in a chair late at night, with a boyfriend passed out in a chair across the room. In dejected anger, I scrawled on a paper adjacent to me, "This is my #@*!$*# life." I went to bed. In the morning, I got up and walked past that paper. Written underneath it was, "So, change it!"

What good advice. We are, after all, the only ones who have the power to change our own lives.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Believe and You Will be Healed!

I have been meaning to finish my research into heat acclimation/acclimatisation and blog on that, but since we're so well and truly into summer here in Western Australia, with 10 days above 35 degrees in January, it seems a bit late!

Thus, it's more fitting to talk about ice baths! :-)

Or more appropriately, "cold water immersion" (CWI). I, myself, have had no less than three ice baths (CWI experiences) this week. Essential to me, as I've also just finished my highest mileage training week ever, hitting 165km + 4400m. Woohoo! Feeling good.
Canadian mountain rivers are NOT 14 degrees!

I've been aware of cold water recovery methods since I started running trails in 2006, watching my trail running buddies in Canada happily jumping into near-frozen streams in the mountains after long runs. A few years ago, I received a lovely phone call from a fellow who spent a lot of time helping Helen Stanger (AUS) train through her incredible ultra career. He asked, "Do you use ice baths for recovery?" and went on to state how important he felt they were for Helen. Last year, being "bathtub-less", I bought a large bin and started having some ice baths outside. I threw a thermometer into the water often, as I had it in my head that I should aim for 10-12 degrees.

But despite all the anecdotal reports from athletes raving about their love of ice baths, research has been quite contradictory. I decided to delve into it.

The main problem with the research is that it's all over the place. Immersion in water ranging from 0 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees Celsius. Full body immersion vs legs-only. Five minutes vs 20 minutes. Men vs women. Trained athletes vs novices. Winter swimmers vs rugby players. And test exercises that are commonly used as a way to measure "recovery" include eccentric muscle contractions with weight (e.g., using the quad). Hardly a practical application for most athletes. And these recovery "test" exercises are administered anywhere from 5 minutes after CWI to 24 hours after. No wonder we can't make sense of whether ice baths are good for us or not.

Pre-bathtub days, when I had to feed mossies, too
In one review (Beakley and Davison, 2009, Br J Sports Med, 44, 179-187), the authors report on what happens to our bodies when we immerse them in cold water. The stuff that's not so good - "cold shock." Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, increased cortisol, decreased cerebral blood flow (a few people nearly passed out at 0 degrees), and oxidative stress. So why would we do it? Because the apparent benefits include vasoconstriction (constricting blood vessels), which should help remove metabolic waste from legs, decrease swelling/oedema and inflammation, and decrease muscle soreness. It reduces our core temperature, which gets us recovered and ready for exercise again sooner. Even the hydrostatic forces - the pressure of the water - pushes body fluid from the periphery to the core, which increases central blood volume. And cold water/ice has an analgesic effect. Who doesn't like a little numbing? :)

What I've taken from the research indicates this:

  • Water temperature of approximately 12-14 degrees Celsius may be optimal. Colder, and anything approaching 0-5 degrees Celsius, induces too much stress. Just like most everything in life, moderation is key. Running is good, but too much running results in overtraining and injury. CWI is good, but too cold results in shock. One should not have a "shivering" response, as evidence indicates it's associated with free-radical production. 
  • Immersion for 10-20 minutes appears optimal, at the temperature above.
  • Training/racing should not be expected to be undertaken immediately afterwards, as cold muscles will have compromised contraction abilities and slow nerve conduction speeds (several studies had subjects "test" immediately after CWI). Core body temperature will naturally rise to baseline within 24 hours. It may be possible to speed this up with a warm shower (the idea of "contrast water therapy," which I won't go into).
Stream crossing mid-run. It really IS hard to move after this kind of CWI.
  • Your belief in the power of CWI makes a difference. Cook and Beaven's (Br J Sports Med, 2013, 47, 705-709) novel study on CWI at 14 degrees for 15 minutes (vs other options) found that the rugby players who "liked" the ice bath had better sprint performance the next day than those who didn't. So, the ice bath helped, BUT believing in the ice bath appeared to help even more. Believe, and you will be healed! Use the placebo effect to your advantage, as it can also trigger your brain's "reward centre," which can then cause your body to dump some nice opioids into your system. Mmmmm, endogenous opioids....
  • Immerse only over the hips. Do not immerse the "core" area including the major organs such as heart and lungs. There is no evidence of benefit to runners/athletes generally in doing this and it looks to bring more potential for harm/shock.

Finally, prepare adequate reading material, such as your favourite ultra running magazine, and ensure no small, impressionable children are nearby as you take that first step into the tub!