Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ecuador: The Physiological Impact of Non-interplanetary Running

Okay, I've been 60 years old long enough to choose senseless titles without providing an explanation, even if the title and first paragraph are an obvious attempt to develop a segue for this blog post...

Being 60 and attempting to run at altitude generate some surprising results.  I'm guessing that any research involving older runners will indicate that the cardiovascular is impaired.  I.e. one reason that older runners slow down is because they have less efficient oxygen delivery to the legs.  This is likely compounded by all sorts of other reasons, such as scar tissue in various body parts and possibly carrying extra weight.

I also question if the will to run fast is compromised.  Don't get me wrong.  Every run I fervently hope that my speed increases, the sun shines and I ride a wave of euphoria in an effortless 4 hour workout.  However, the opposite is true, especially during the "warm-up" portion of the run.  I feel sluggish and uninspired for the first 40 minutes of every run.  For those in your twenties, please note the duration of the warm-up.  I recall warming up for a 5K race when I was a youngster.  It involved 5 minutes of gentle running (which was much faster than my current race pace...), then 5 minutes of increasing my pace, until I was at or near race pace.  10 minutes!  It now takes more than 30 minutes for my obstinate legs to even acknowledge that I am out for a run.

At altitude, running takes on a whole new meaning.  For fun, let's talk max VO2.  Once warmed up, my sustainable pace in Ontario is slightly better than a 6 minute kilometer.  I can run at 12 KPH, but not for very long.  While in Cuenca (altitude 2560 meters) any attempt to run even a slight uphill resulted in walking.  I am above my max VO2 at ANY running pace!

However Ecuador is a beautiful country with perfect temperatures and wonderful hikes.  The Cajas National park is a one hour bus ride from Cuenca and boasts several hiking trails and unique terrain.  Some are multi-day hikes and a guide is recommended.  It snows in Cajas.  Every year people get lost and die from exposure.  Part of the problem is that Cajas is on the equator.  It should be hot!  The fact that it is above 4,000 meters doesn't really mean much to the unprepared hiker.  There are also several day hikes for which you don't need a guide.  Some are well marked, but most people lose their way at some point, so you need to keep an eye out for the markers.

Cuenca is a city of 400,000 people and 500,000 taxis and buses, with European charm.  I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but in the middle of South America, Cuenca boasts a plethora of Spanish influenced 18th century architecture.  We stayed at Pepe's Hostal, a recently renovated hotel with incredible ambience.  Pepe is a cat that strolls the inner courtyard and there is no misunderstanding as to who really owns the place.  The inner courtyard is covered with glass and is an ideal spot to lounge, read, eat, have a black Russian, or simply pass the time.  I was forced to spend a few days at Pepe's with an annoying cough.  Although feeling the cold symptoms, reading in the courtyard was pleasant.  Our room was large and well appointed, but could have used a window for ventilation.  Pepe's also has 2 dormitories, where you can spend the night and have breakfast for $11.  If you decide to spend time in Cuenca, I would recommend Pepe's.

After 2 weeks in Cuenca, we made our way to Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador.  If the name seems a bit familiar, Vilcabamba is one of a few spots in the world that claim to have a high percentage of centenarians.  This claim is questionable, but the underlying reasons are not.  Vilcabamba boasts "late Spring" weather year round.  The water supply is mineral rich and life's pace is relaxed and peaceful.

We stayed in Izhcayluma (no one can pronounce it, so don't bother trying), a resort that was 2K out of town.  The resort was very close to being perfect.  Spread out along a mountain slope are 25 rooms (typically 2 to a building), a restaurant, bar, yoga studio and massage parlor.  Hikes abound in the area and varied from a 30 minute stroll along quiet trails to 9 hour hikes through rugged mountain terrain.  The menu includes almost everything, so if you had an urge for pizza, it was incredibly good.  Other options are Italian, Ecuadorian, typical North American fare and the specialty, German.  Mains were priced around $8, so there was little point in going to town just to save money on supper!  We did go to town to eat a couple of times, simply to experience the local scene.  At one point in our stay, I mentioned to Lee Anne that Izhcayluma was possibly the nicest resort in which we have ever stayed.

The town of Vilcabama (about 2,000 people) was typical of Ecuador and we found shopping bargains in some of the stores.  While travelling, we prefer to spend our money in the local economy.  This can be tricky as we also enjoy good accommodations and meals.  Not that I only stay at 5 star resorts, but it has been 30 years since I slept in a tent.  For example, Izhcayluma is owned by 2 German brothers, so the preponderance of our accommodation budget while in Vilcabamba was not directly spent in a local establishment.

One issue I have with Vilcabamba is that there is a large presence of young and old hippies.  Unlike expats (foreigners who live in Ecuador and spend money supporting the local economy) and tourists, the hippies (American, Canadian, Venezuelan, etc.) are vying directly with the locals for the tourist dollars.  According to my perverse ethical stance, this isn't fair.  There is no harm in foreigners spending money in Ecuador, as it supports the local economy and ultimately will help the Ecuadorians, but foreigners selling product and competing with the locals for the tourist dollars is not.  The reason for the hippy influx is that living in Vilcabamba is almost ideal.  You can easily sleep with just a roof over your head.  Food is ridiculously cheap.

Enough ranting - on to important matters.  Registration for the Spring Warm-up is quite healthy, with 21 people already signed up.  I recognize quite a few of the names, but wonder how many sign up, thinking the Fun Run is actually a Fun Run?  I.e. they have not heard the horror stories of mud, drifting snow and freezing cold temperatures that have graced the Spring Warm-up in years past.  Are they expecting a smooth flat paved surface, instead of the technical bits on the Bruce Trail, long hills on dirt roads and the odd cliff?  I can't wait to see their reactions!

It should come as no surprise that Pick Your Poison (April 27), the first event in the OUTRace series, is sold out.  If you are looking for a race this Spring, you might want to sign up for the Seaton Soaker (May 11) as registration is starting to creep up towards the cap.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Running in Ecuador - Very Funny!

Greetings for the far south.  Actually, Ecuador is in northern South America, if you will pardon the oxymoron.  Lee Anne and I are currently in Cuenca, which is slightly south of the equator.  I had better quit before this gets too confusing.

Running at 2500 meters is not entirely easy.  From one perspective, it should be easy.  Cuenca is not overly hilly and with temperatures in the mid 20's, we are running in shorts and a T-shirt.  A significant difference from running in Creemore, with 3 layers of clothes and questionable traction.  For fun, let's introduce some variables that are not readily available in Creemore, in January.  The previously mentioned altitude is a big factor.  Until acclimatized, walking up one flight of stairs leaves you gasping for air.  Even gentle uphill slopes take on epic proportions when combined with the altitude.  Toss in humidity and a sun that is directly overhead, and suddenly running becomes "Real Tough".  How tough?  We went out for our long run.  For Lee Anne, this is 4 - 5 hours.  She managed 3.5 hours.  For me, let's just say that after 2.5 hours, I was starting to tremble.

Hiking can also be a challenge.  The Cajas national park is way up there.  The road reaches over 4,300 meters and at points we were looking down on the road.  The park is incredibly beautiful and I will include pictures when I post from home.  Currently I am in an internet cafe and the Spanish spellcheck indicates that every word is mispelled.  I've never seen so many red squiggly underlines!

Well, that's about it for now.  We will be in Cuenca until February 5, then down to Vilcabamba until we head back to Creemore on February 14.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019? Already?

The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on the previous year and strategize for the next.  The underlying context is that as we age, we use our experience base to determine a more fulfilling future.

Unless, of course, you are a trail or ultra running.  The adage which usually refers to insanity seems to be a more apt expression:  insanity is performing the same function over and over and expecting a different result.  I thought about this at length during the Stride Inside 6 hour indoor track race, held last Saturday, January 5, 2019.  I ran around the 215 meter track 113 times.  Each lap, I was expecting my running to improve...  Quite the opposite occurred!

At just over 24K in 6 hour race, my race was not overly stellar.  I have trouble running on concrete and although the track included a rubberized surface, my knees were not happy.  Lee Ann and I also fought a bout of the flu for 2 weeks prior to the race.  Lee Anne ran a fever for 4 days whereas I "only" had sinus congestion and a scratchy throat.  I had the flu shot about 2 weeks prior to feeling sick, so perhaps it mitigated the worst of the flu.  I was also (obviously) out of shape and opting for the 3 hour distance would have been a wiser move.  Due to fatigue, aching knees and cramping, I pulled the plug at 3.5 hours.


I am running much slower at 60 than I did at 50.  Not just a little slower, but a significant drop in training and race pace.  In my 40's, I typically placed above mid-pack, sometimes placing in the top 5 of my age category.  Now I page to the bottom of the results to look for mine.  There are a few reasons for this, but the end result is that I am unable to put in any speed training.  I will attempt to address this again, in 2019.

I actually enjoy looking at the OUTRace Series metrics.  I'm not sure why I did not notice this until recently, but there is a considerable difference between the ultra and trail series.  An example is the number of people in my age category (male 50+) who ran more than 2 races in 2018:

OUS (Ultra):  19 people ran more than 2 races
OTS (Trail):  3 people ran more than 2 races

So, although very slow, if I ran 4 or more trail races, I could be on the male 50+ podium.  Hmm...

I have a great idea!  I'm going to run more of the races in the Ontario Trail Series!

I also want to attempt some of the series races that I have yet to attend.  It helps in my capacity as OUTRace coordinator to know more about all of the races.  This year I am not being forced into running a marathon, but I did not escape unscathed from those negotiations...  I am already signed up for my least favourite race:  Around the Bay 30K.  Why is it my least favourite?  Back in the days when I was an ultra snob (okay, I still am, but now I am a semi-retired ultra snob) I was convinced to run ATB as a training run for the upcoming ultra season.  As it was "only" 30K, I didn't bother to check the weather forecast and showed up on race day wearing cotton sweat pants.  The race started in snow but quickly changed to teeming rain.  I was forced to run with one hand holding up my soggy cotton pants.  Can you say embarrased?

2019 races

These are the races I hope to run in 2019.  The plans for some of these are fairly concrete (I am signed up for Pick Your Poison, which is poised to sell out soon) but others are currently wishful thinking and other plans (yes, I actually have some non-race plans) may interfere with the list:

January 5:  Stride Inside 6 hour (done)
March 25:  Around the bay 30K
April 13:    OUTRace Spring Warm-up (39K?)
April 27:    Pick Your Poison 25K
May 11:     Seaton Soaker 25K
June 15:     Niagara Ultra 50K
June 22:     Pure Grit 30K
July 15:      Massey Marathon 21.1K
August 17: Iroquoia TT 34K
Sept. 21:    Kingston 6 hour
Oct. 12:     Sticks 'n Stones 25K
Nov. 17:    Fat Ass Trail Run 25K

If I realize the above plan, I will have completed 6 races in the Trail series.  I am not happy with the grouping in June (50K, then a 30K the next week), but Niagara and Kingston are the 2 most likely ultra attempts for us, as Lee Anne prefers road races.  There is talk of other races, such as a small (10K?) one in Ecuador in January or February, a duathlon in Ottawa in September and perhaps a race in Quebec over the summer.  So many races, so little time!

Another "plan" for 2019 is to revert back to posting to this blog on a more regular basis.  Monthly, or after each race, whichever comes first.