Saturday, July 14, 2012

Endurance Events Overload

"There are times in our lives when we are drawn uncontrollably to some dangerous source of misery."
- Suzi Thibeault

This weekend is quite the time if you get off on following endurance events like I do. With a deep appreciation in what goes into completing an event that takes longer than should be possible without extreme dedication, mental and physical toughness, and just plain ol' nuts & guts, I am amazed by the athletes that take part in these competitions. Being extremely interested in Exercise Physiology, it also boggles my mind how these athletes can fuel and refuel themselves DURING their event to give them the best shot of an upright finish. This week, I am in endurance sports overload. I did go out this morning for a 5+ hour trail run (same distance that used to take me 3+ hours!), so it's not all couch-potatoing (?) - Here's what's-a-happening this weekend:

Tour de France
Every summer, for decades it seems, I get wrapped up for three weeks in this 2000 mile bike trek across France. Stage after stage of 100 mountainous miles or more, day after day, 198 riders (22 teams of 9), battle it out, but not necessarily just against each other. The team battle is just about as big as the individual race. Each team member has a specific job in the pecking order to take care of the head honcho rider of his team. And each rider's position on his team is displayed for the world to see on his bib number - i.e. #87 would be the 7th rider of the #8 team. There is a ton of internal racing etiquette, many races within the big race ( general points, points for sprint races DURING the stage, and mountain leaders), and of course the race for the leader's Yellow Jersey (the big fromage). You have to marvel at their day-in and day-out performance and recovery of riding a bike at speeds up to 60 MPH downhill and 15 mile climbs of 15% grade over the Pyrennes and Alps Mountain ranges for over 2000 miles (Yeah, yeah...they do get 2 rest days!). Yet, every stage, it is always a breakneck, balls-to-the-wall sprint to the finish...and some finishes are at the TOP of the mountains!

I read that these riders will burn 6000-8000 calories per day, but they consume at least half of that during the ride! It's interesting that the illegal drugs you hear about being connected to bike racing has to do with increasing their ability to recover quickly, NOT race faster! Every year, the Tour seems to be embroiled in some sort of drug investigation, but yesterday, I read an excellent blog written by the current leader, Bradley Wiggins of Great Britan, on why he would never do drugs. I realize that some of these guys, and athletes in all sports, have the pressure of "keeping up" and "everybody does it", but it's great to hear an athlete who puts it out there and says "I'll give you my best (clean) shot". Click here to read that blog.

Hardrock 100
The Hardrock 100 mile Endurance Run began yesterday (Friday) morning in Silverton, Colorado.This is an ultramarathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. Now, I've run Pikes Peak and I know there is a WHOLE lot less air above 10,000 feet...and all I did was run up and then run right down. I didn't hang around up there for any longer than I had to. The cut-off time for this trail run is 48 hours - sounds longer if I say TWO DAYS! The course covers extremely rugged terrain including steep scree climbs and descents (scree is loose, shale-like rock on an incline about the same as your house roof!), snow packs, river crossings, and boulder fields. The race starts at 6am, so runners who finish in over 40 hours see the sun set twice before finishing. There's something about running a race where you're lapped by the sun.

Badwater 135
This Monday morning begins the Badwater 135 Race in Death Valley. Now, try to follow begins Monday morning in Death Valley, the lowest point in the United States at 262 feet BELOW sea level, during a daily average temperature of about 115-125 degrees (at night it'll drop way down to the mid 90's!). The course is entirely on black asphalt roads with no race-provided aid stations and no shade. You are at the mercy of your crew who usually drive ahead in a van and meet you every mile or so. You then "run" 135 miles to halfway up Mt Whitney (the highest summit in the 48 states). If you finish under 48 hours, you get a belt buckle, and if you get under the 60 hour cutoff, you get a medal. That means if you start on Monday at 6am, your cutoff is 6pm on Wednesday. Holy cow!! Man, you talk about being broiled, bar-b-q'd, dried up and spit out! Know what the overall winner gets? - Yep, that's right, a medal and a belt buckle! No money, and not even a mention on page 6 of the Sports Section of the paper! Probably not even a pat on the back from their crew - they just wanna get the hell outta there!! The runners do this for the pure love of doing it. How can you possibly explain this to a non-runner? You can't.

I guess I'm a little mixed up, but I get off on this stuff like the deep south gets off on football or Wisconsin gets off on cheese. I love it. A little more media coverage would be nice, but that ain't going to happen - thank goodness for the internet. I'm not those guys I wrote about this week, but I can still get around the block, and as long as I can do that, I'll see you on the road - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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