Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Air Up There

I have that thing where I haven't blogged for so long that I'm completely overwhelmed at the thought of trying to blog about anything. So please excuse in advance what is likely to be kind of a rambling, semi-coherent post at best.

Because I am an incredibly disciplined, soooooper serious-like runner, I spent the last week doing some very serious altitude training in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Just kidding, I was skiing, drinking, hot tubbing, and eating all manner of things not nailed down in the fine fine mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado. (For some reason ski trips bring out my inner raging comfort/junk food beast, and I find myself inhaling things that I otherwise wouldn't touch. Goldfish and peanut M&Ms, I'm looking at you.)

(Oh, and cheese sauce. Definitely cheese sauce on everything.)

On our last group ski trip, I was super hardcore and ran almost every day between skiing & hot tub & actually managed to get in a solid 20+ miles for the week. Pretty respectable for vacation mileage, no?

This trip? Ehhhh, not so much, thanks to a few unforseen (and/or un-fully-appreciated) complications.

1) Altitude. I mean yes, in my head I knew that I live at sea level & Breck is at 10,000+ feet. In theory, I understood about partial oxygen & altitude sickness and acclimatization & all of that. But I didn't really get it until walking up the mildly steep driveway to our cabin carrying all my gear left me dizzy & panting & my heart pounding like I'd just sprinted a 400. Ditto going up the stairs to our 3rd story room. Kind of different from the ~1,600 ft base at Whistler where we had our last trip.

(The 30 second story: Altitude majorly suuuuuuuuuucks. And makes a chapped, bloody mess of your skin & lips.)

2) Absurd geography. Of course, we would end up with a cabin at the absolute tippy-top of a mile of roughly 10% grade. After my first day of skiing I defied the doubts of my friends by going on a short little jog to loosen up my feet. The ground was still pretty clear & dry then, so I had no trouble skipping down the hill, jogging another mile through town, then heading back.

This is where we stayed:

The balcony view:

As you can tell, our lives really sucked for a week.

This was all fine & dandy until I got back to the hill. Oy. All I have to say is that mile-long hill + 10% grade + ~10,000 ft of altitude = something I only ever need to do once in my life. A woman I passed who was walking downhill actually did call me crazy.

When I got back I promptly sank into the hot tub with a glass of rye & a box of Goldfish & didn't move until dinner.

Apr├Ęs ski hot tubbing. Cuz. Y'know. Hot tubbing.

3) Apparently I ski harder than I used to? There were a couple of days (one of which included a pretty yucky fall) that my body felt so trashed that I'm not sure I could'v gotten myself out the door even without the Hill of Epic Sadness. That didn't used to happen. Maybe I'm just getting old.

So yeah. One four-mile run (average 10:50 pace) is all I managed. Plus a bunch of skiing. Which is not nothing.

I also got to practice French braiding my own hair, an incredibly important life skill that skiing has forced encouraged me to learn.

I mean I know I'm not winning any cosmetology
awards or anything, but not too shabby, right?

While I did not do much that could seriously be called altitude "training," I am sort of intrigued by the whole acclimatization process (particularly since I'll be running the Oakland Half less than a week after returning), and spent some time reading about it while I was there. To summarize a bunch of stuff, it seems like

  • as little as 4-5 days is long enough for some sort of acclimatization to occur (more red blood cells, more capillaries, more myoglobin for transporting oxygen), although to what extent can vary dramatically from person to person, and
  • adaptations from being at altitude can last up to two weeks, but again, there's a lot of individual variation.

Running on flat stuff in Colorado, on just the second day, I can't say it really felt any harder than running at home (although I was going by effort, not trying to hit a specific pace, and my average pace did turn out to be slightly slower than what it normally is on easy runs). The place I really noticed the difference was in any form of going UP -- running up the giant hill back to the cabin, walking up stairs, hiking / climbing / poling during skiing, etc.

Did I get any "fitter"? Hard to say. Karate on Monday didn't feel any easier. I went for a 9.5 mile run this last Tuesday evening & felt like it was maybe a little easier to run just a little faster than my normal easy pace, but it wasn't dramatically different than what I normally feel like after a few rest days, so who knows. The biggest difference was going up hills -- I felt like I was able to keep my pace up with what felt like less effort, which sort of fits with what I experienced in Breckenridge re: going UP vs going straight / downhill.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens in Oakland on Sunday. I don't actually expect that I will have a) gotten or b) kept enough altitude gains to make any kind of significant difference in my performance, but it will still be interesting to see if it feels different or easier than I expect in any noticeable way.


  1. Solid hair style. I wish my braids looked as nice as that, but I think it's probably because I hardly have any hair. Good luck at Oakland!

  2. Aha, so you're doing Oakland too. Excellent!! The Husband just got back from 12 days in Mexico City (also altitude) and he has started running and is faster than he was last time he 'became a runner'. So I think altitude does help!
    I have deep envy of your ski house. I have a love-hate relationship with skiing but a deep love for all things mountain-y and alpine-y, so wow...that house!
    See you Sunday hopefully!! Really excited about it.

    1. Yes! We definitely need to make plans to meet up.

      I love all the alpine stuff too. And it turns out that when you get 15-16 people together, super nice places become surprisingly affordable. :)

  3. Your trip to CO looked perfect. That is my kind of vacation! At least skiing was giving you some cardio to help off set the alcohol and yummy food. :-)
    Your french braid also looked great. Way better than I could have done!

  4. Oh yeah... your lives totally sucked! Haha! What an awesome trip! With all the snow coming down in New Jersey, I'm feeling like I got jipped this winter. No winter sports happened in my life... unless you count slipping around on ice as a winter sport.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog! I'm just glad I found yours!

    1. Send it to Tahoe!! We'll take it!!

      I'm trying to branch out & start reading new & different blogs, so I'm glad I found yours!