Human endurance: this New York Times story talks about an incredible endurance athlete. The whole story is good; here is one bit:
Born into a Catalan family, Jornet grew up in the Spanish Pyrenees at 6,500 feet, and his gifts are literally in his blood. “When you are born and bred at altitude, you tend to have a higher blood volume and red-cell count for oxygen-carrying capacity,” which translates to better endurance, says Stacy Sims, a researcher at Stanford who holds a doctorate in exercise physiology and nutrition science. Years of daily running and skiing up mountains have further bolstered this advantage. This helps explain why Jornet sweats so little. During exercise, the bodies of very fit people quickly act to disperse heat by, among other things, vasodilation — expanding blood vessels at the skin’s surface where the air can cool the body. A body that sweats less loses less precious liquid from its circulatory system, a major factor in fatigue. In moderate temperatures, Jornet says, he can run easily for eight hours without drinking water.
For me: running at a moderate pace, I usually don’t drink during runs 2 hours or less. Walking: it is about 3 hours. No, I am not that fit and I do need to drink more when I am going very hard.
Physics Mano Singham has an interesting piece on particle physics. It requires a bit of effort to read, but it isn’t technical (though you have to know that subatomic particles are made of quarks and realize that mass of these particles isn’t just the mass of the quarks that make up the particle; the energy adds to the mass.
When we try to date human genetic lineages, the mutation rates are important:
Recent measurements of the rate at which children show DNA changes not seen in their parents — the “mutation rate” — have challenged views about major dates in human evolution.
The researchers show that pre-ice age hunter-gatherers from Europe carry mtDNA that is related to that seen in post-ice age modern humans such as the Oberkassel fossils. This suggests that there was population continuity throughout the last major glaciation event in Europe around 20,000 years ago. Two of the Dolni Vestonice hunter-gatherers also carry identical mtDNAs, suggesting a close maternal relationship among these individuals who were buried together.
The researchers also used the radiocarbon age of the fossils to estimate human mutation rates over tens of thousands of year back in time. This was done by calculating the number of mutations in modern groups that are absent in the ancient groups, since they had not yet existed in the ancient population. The mutation rate was estimated by counting the number of mutations accumulated along descendent lineages since the radiocarbon dated fossils.
Using those novel mutation rates — capitalizing on information from ancient DNA — the authors cal-culate the last common ancestor for human mitochondrial lineages to around 160,000 years ago. In other words, all present-day humans have as one of their ancestors a single woman who lived around that time.
There is more there; right now there is a disparity between modern family mutation rates and the observed mutation rates of ancient humans (as derived from fossils.
Both the hunters and the prey benefit from camouflage. There is a gecko that resembles a leaf; below is an insect that also resembles a leaf.
Note: I posted this back in 2008 when these were called the McNaughton Trail runs. The new name is Potawatomi Trail Runs, but the course is virtually identical. The name of the park is the John McNaughton Park.
Because the Potawatomi Trail Runs are coming up, I’ll talk you through one of the 10 mile loops (note: in the 50 miler you do 5 of these, 10 for the 100, and 15 for the 150).
Note: on race day, the course is very well marked with bright yellow tape and glow sticks.
Note: if the course is muddy, it can become a gigantic mud bath. Here are some examples:
The start is near where the McNaughton Park blacktop road runs out. Note: there is a red arrow pointing to the right (as you look toward the end of the road loop). This is the start of the 7.5 mile “red trail”. If you want to do the trail course, you look left. You’ll see a wide, somewhat muddy trail heading down hill. Start there.
You go down hill and empty out into a field. Starting in 2006, the course turns left and you go around the field, hugging the outstide.
The race course has a “short cut” marked; if you go all the way around you’ll add a couple of minutes to your loop time. Stay around the field (don’t follow the horse trails out!) and, at about .8-.9 miles into it, there will be a small entrance into the woods; that leads you up your first climb.
The entrance can be hard to see during the summer; remember it comes at “almost 1 mile” into it. You go up this hill and empty out into a grassy field.
You can see the start of the course on your right and you head straight across the field toward the woods (near where the woods get closest to the road). This is where the “red trail” starts. Again, this entrance can be hard to find when the course isn’t marked. Here is a summer and a spring view:
Now the trail goes through the woods and you’ll go over several “dipsy doodles” (mini ravines). You’ll also cross several mini streams and possibly pick up some mud. Note: recently, a couple of cool foot bridges have been added. Eventually you’ll turn right and go up your second good uphill
and face another field to cross; this one has a foot path and features tall grass on either side. You’ll cross under some power lines.
You are closing in on mile 2. Then you’ll head back into the woods for some more single track; here you’ll encounter 3-4 more mini-ravines and perhaps a small stream. The footing is mostly good but the ravines are momentum killing. Eventually, you’ll come to yet another footbridge and that means that you are close to exiting this woodsy section.
This takes you to the totem pole aid station, and I have a hard time believing that I don’t have a photo of that. Here, you are at mile 2.5, and this is the first aid station.
Here is Jerry Davidson’s:
From this station, you head out following the red trail, for a little while. Eventually, you break away from the red trail:
Note that the red trail moves off toward the left; to follow the race course you go to the right of the tower that you see. This takes you past a bathroom and through some open fields.
Though this stretch, you might encounter some fallen limbs, maybe a stray root and some gopher tracks/holes. But mostly you can make good time.
When I am out on my own, I always get lost here (and so I usually just follow the red trail). But when it is marked, you can see where to cross the first small rectangular field (short side), and go between two trees into a footpath through the woods. You empty out and follow another field going along the long side of the rectangle, then when the field jogs right, you turn left thought the woods again, and move up over a tiny grassy hill.
Then you hug the field and then turn left through some woods
and this path connects to a very sandy path; you turn right on this path and head downhill.
The down hill area is called “the beach”. Stay on it and then go uphill to leave the sandy area; the path becomes packed dirt again. Then downhill to the first major creek crossing:
Note: during the summer, this crossing is sometimes dry:
And you are about 1/3 of the way through the loop!
Across the creek, you turn right and follow the dirt path. Here (when it isn’t marked for a race) it is easy to get lost and miss that first uphill section; you don’t want to miss that!
This first post-creek uphill takes you about half way up the bluff that you are about to get familiar with. Then you go down, take the dirt paths that run along side the creek and stretch out those legs getting them ready for the bluff section.
You eventually head toward the bluff and go along side of it for about 100-200 meters until you then make a hard right turn right up the side of the bluff: welcome to golf hill!
You are at about 4 miles into the loop. This hill has a rope during the race.
This starts you on an interesting 1 mile section where you repeatedly go up the bluff and almost all the way back down it:
You do have some flat stretches along the bottom of the bluff. The third uphill is the longest though not the steepest. You have one up-down part on this third uphill,
but eventually you’ll come to the end of this section where you will see this:
That is the signal that you are about to take a long downhill toward the creek. Note that this has been changed this year; no more screaming downhill but rather a more reasonable, gentle downgrade.
This bridge is just a hair shorter than half-way! On the other side, you’ll have a minute or two more of a few minor dipsy-doodles
prior to crossing another small foot bridge and emptying out at the base of a hill, where you will turn left and go up a long uphill, which features a wide trail and another wooden footbridge.
You empty out into a field for about .5 miles worth of easy running or walking:
Along the edge of the field you’ll pass a small family cemetery. Then you’ll pass an easy to miss (when not marked) clearing on the right. This is about 5.8-5.9 miles into it and is called “Heaven’s Gate”. Turn into this clearing and you’ll be at aid station number 2 and 3, as you pass it twice. Head towards the end of the field and you’ll see an entrance into the woods. Follow it, but then when you get on the foot path, take your first right (easy to miss) If you go straight, you’ll cut off about .5 of a mile.
This takes you down toward some woodsy paths that run along side the creek. I call this the slalom course as you frequently twist and turn between the trees. Eventually you empty out into a grassy field and follow that for a while.
Off to your right, you can see the mile 8-9 section of the loop.
Eventually, you head back through the woods, up hill
and back into the Heaven’s Gate field. You exit that, turn right, and head out along the outer perimeter of the field; you have about 3 miles left in your loop.
Here it gets a bit tricky again if you are not out there when the race course is marked. Keep going so long as you see the red markings on the trees.
You exit the field to the right and go along a wide grassy clearing.
You keep going until you see woods off on your left, and at about 7.25 miles or so, there is a small opening into the woods:
Yes, that one:
And that takes you through just about a mile of small ups and downs, with perhaps one good sized hill.
You pass over one small footbridge, and at about 8.1-8.2 miles you’ll see a larger one:
Turn right when you cross this bridge; this takes you on a bit more of path which empties into yet another field and a downhill.
Here you get easy grass running/walking for about a quarter of a mile.
When you come back toward the woods, there will be a right turn that you do prior to moving toward a field (where you first went downhill at the beginning of the loop. Turn right and after about 200 meters you’ll find the third steam crossing.
yes, that is Andy, the race director, and on the other side you see where the trail picks up again.
You go up a steep hill and past a hole in the Disc (Frisbee) golf course; don’t be deceived; you still have about 1 mile left.
You go through some woods, alongside the creek again, and then back into the woods on a steep uphill.
This part is the most mentally taxing for me, as it appears that you are finally about to get out of the woods, but then you are directed back into them again. The uphill is followed by a downhill, then two more minor uphills and downhills.
The downhill which has the wooden marking post signifies the end of the last wood section; you then empty out onto the disc golf course!
Turn right, follow the red signs on the trees. This takes you across a field, to a path where you go right. The lake will be on your right as you go past. Then as you see a big uphill on your left, take the hill and go through the clearing. This is the last hill of the loop.
Then as soon as you are on the top, turn hard left and follow the treeline. You’ll go through a clearing toward another “hole” of the golf course, but then turn right through yet another small path.
That path empties you out into yet another field, where you will be able to see the start of the course.
Congratulations; you now have another 4-9-14 of these to do.
Update: this shows what things can get like if it rains hard:
Note the tape on the tree to the right; that is the kind of tape that is used. I see this as a very bright green but perhaps it is really yellow? (re: Brian’s comment)
Here is another photo showing a muddy course and the tape:
Both of these, I believe, come from the stretch between the last stream crossing and the disc golf course.
Today I read the following on facebook:
16 years ago today I greeted the day with my last hangover. I smoked my last cigarette. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I changed my mind and changed my life. I put down the booze and put on my shoes. One of the best decisions I’ve made. Celebrated by running 4 laps around [...]
The person who wrote this has completed 100 miles several times and even won a rugged trail 100 a couple of times. If you met her in person, you’d never dream that she was ever out of shape.
But I noticed: many people that I know who regularly run (or walk) very long distances (marathons or beyond) or run distances HARD (21:10 for the 5K run…as a 70 year old!) are former drunks or were formerly morbidly obese.
I wonder if there is some correlation there (between being a dedicated runner/walker who pushes themselves to the limit and being an addict of some sort).
My guess: probably.
Then I thought about it. My last “good” ultra performance (83 miles in the 24 hour walk) was in 2006. My last good 100 mile performance was in 2005. My last “good” marathon walks were in 2009 (two of them). I finished a staged 100 in 2009 (almost 48 hours, albeit on a horribly muddy trail) and I stumbled through some disgustingly slow ultras (2010, trail 30, 2011, 24 hour walk). My last good swim was in March, 2010. (5K PR)
But the reality is: since my knee operation in July 2010, I haven’t been able to build up to anything resembling steady training, and frankly I am beginning to wonder if I will be able to.
I sure am familiar with this!
It isn’t as if I am doing nothing.
Then I noticed something. I follow blogs of some endurance athletes; one is on the upswing and still climbing (5:16 50K walk!) and one has had, well, some injury related consistency issues. This guy had previously worked himself to a sub 3 hour running marathon.
I noticed other runners and walkers in my life have undergone similar things: they can still “do” events but they can’t seem to muster the old fire to really crush an event; the ability to consistently train hard and really push doesn’t seem to be there. One of my other friends has told me that she has “lost her ultamarathon mojo”; at her last 100 attempt she had to stop at 40 miles and was all nauseated. (sound familiar?)
Yes, I am familiar with some who can consistently, decade after decade, finish 100′s. But they seem to be the exception.
It seems that most of us have a limited period of time in which we can approach our genetic potential, but when that time is up..be it marked by injury, illness, or whatever, we are never quite the same again.
Some of it, I am sure, is just plain old age. Some of it is accumulated injuries; even when they heal, their remnants degrade your performance, at least a little bit. So when you add their effects up….
Some of it is losing the ability to recover from hard training. And some of it is the training itself. For example: when it comes to weights, I almost never really, really push for that last rep; I do a few sets and quit when it becomes uncomfortable (the last rep often is); no more of that grunt and really push for me.
So my question: is this what I can expect from here on out? If so, I am ok with it as I am still having fun. Or, someday, will I finally be able to really bear down and produce something resembling a quality performance?
My heart tells me “yes”, but my head says “probably not”.
Note: this isn’t really a whine; I’ve been pretty happy with this past week’s training. But I’d like to be realistic in making plans for the fall.
Ate dinner at the packet pickup, now watching 76′ers-Celtics on TV. Celtics up 46-31 at the half. It could be warm tomorrow; perhaps some rain toward the end.
We’ll see what happens.
(ps: this is a great devise for the disabled and for those with chronic pain…or perhaps for those recovering from leg surgery or other injuries. I am lampooning the lazy able-bodied among us)
Workout notes Easy 22 minute jog around the neighborhood followed by a short weight session:
rotator cuff (pulley, dumbbell)
rows: 2 sets of 15 x 180
pull ups: 4 sets of 10 (shoulder friendly grip)
bench: 10 x 135, 10 x 165, 4 x 175
incline: 8 x 135, 7 x 135
pull downs: 2 sets of 10 x 160
curls: 2 sets of 70 (machine)
military (machine) 7 x 90, 10 x 90 (different grip)
sit ups: 5 sets of 20 at the highest incline
stretches, abductor (10), hip hikes
Well, my legs are a bit heavy and my left forearm is sore (???) probably from gripping the dumbbell and from ripping boxes.
Fun: Here is a tiny sub clip of a friend’s video
To see all of her training videos in this session go here. She is preparing for an upcoming racewalk (15 km championship) and has done quite well in past races, with a 28:04 5K judged walk PR and a 5:16 50K, and has walked a 4:19 marathon.
For a good look at one of the biggest challenges of racewalking, read this post of hers. The challenge is this: every athlete wants to improve and wants to push herself (or himself if you are talking about me). But in racewalking, there are rules that must be obeyed: one must have one point of contact at all times and one has to have a straight supporting leg.
Here I am violating the straight leg rule (this was the Quad Cities Half Marathon in 2010, 2 months after knee surgery, and this was a running race, hence no racewalking judging)
Here I am, obeying this rule (3K judged racewalk; 18:03 was my time)
Anyway, Tammy talks about finding her speed improving at an unusual rate; when this happens a racewalker has to worry: “am I starting to get illegal?”
Yes. But she is a good athlete and was able to take corrective action very quickly and should be in good shape for her upcoming 15K.
But feeling the difference between being illegal and legal was something that I never mastered. I had a teacher work with me and when he told me that I was legal, I didn’t feel any different than when I was illegal; I just knew that I was walking with more effort.
So, I haven’t done a judged race since 2004 (and probably can’t anymore); the very long ultras (24 hours) only require that one keeps one foot on the ground at all times. I don’t go fast enough to worry about “lifting”.
As far as my upcoming 50K: they have both a “race walking” division (with judges) and a “walking” division (just judged for loss of contact) and I signed up for the latter.
On one hand, I am looking forward to a “walker only” race. On the other hand: I am in “no person’s land”: faster than the vast majority of “regular walkers” but slower than the vast majority of serious race walkers. So I’ll be by myself for most of the race; in running races at least I can chase the slower runners.
1. Any finish at all
2. Sub 7 hour finish
3. Sub 6:44 finish (faster than 13 minutes per mile)
Now there is little to do than pack and wait…
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