Friday, July 26, 2013

TRT: Exploration, Inspiration and Information

Things have been pretty low key since Western States. I took the first ten days off and have been getting back into running slowly. My legs had minimal soreness, but I was just really tired and I think my head needed a bit of a break, too. Aside from a trail marathon mid-August, I don't have any races on my schedule for the summer. That's 'cause I am trading in my racing bibs for pacing bibs! I am excited to explore some new trails, help friends, and have "relaxing" days hanging out at some big races.

First up: Tahoe Rim Trail 100 this past weekend, where I got to return the favor to my Western States pacer Dennis by crewing and pacing him with Mac. I had really been looking forward to this until we drove from Reno to Carson City. One side of the highways was a rocky embankment dotted with tumbleweeds and the other side was sun-baked rolling hills with a pathetic carpet of dead grass, and the thermometer was creeping up to 100. I remember thinking, "Thank god I am going to be running at night, because this is a hell-hole!"
Is this what TRT means when they say a taste of Hell?

Well, how quickly things change! As we approached Tahoe the mountains sprouted trees which were finally offset by the gorgeous turquoise water of the lake. "This place is awesome!," I gushed on my first view of the lake. So much for being a Hell-hole!
Ah, here is our glimpse of Heaven!

The only Hellish condition at all was the weather. In what seems to be the trend for summer races this year, TRT was threatening all time heat records with race day highs around 95 degrees (with the course almost all above 7000'). The combination of heat and altitude proved to be a major challenge for the racers, with a lot of "carnage" and slow times amongst the runners.

Oregonians Larry Stephens, Josh Marks, and Dennis Gamroth ready to run! 100% finish rate from these studs compared to the 59% overall finish rate

Unfortunately, Dennis was not immune to these obstacles and suffered from some pretty bad GI cramps. He came into mile 80 looking pretty forlorn and desperately searching for some stomach remedies. Mac was looking really beat up after just doing 30 miles! Dennis lost his top ten position and even watched the first lady go by while suffering with literal gut-wrenching pain. He stayed calm and took ten minutes or so in the aid station trying to get things back on track, before he and I took off for the last 20 miles to the finish in what was one of the most incredible displays of toughness that I have ever seen. He was power hiking like a champ, picking off three people including "unchicking" himself, and then absolutely crushed the last seven miles despite being in obvious severe pain. He finished in 22:27 for 6th place - nice work, Dennis!

Mac and Dennis take off after mile 50. Mac, the "safety runner," clearly staying behind Dennis. Nice cotton T-shirt, Dennis! :)

Notes, observations, and musings from the weekend:
- TRT had nearly the same elevation gain as WS, but stays above 6,500 the entire time and has a lot of hot, exposed sections, making it a tougher course that WS. The views are a lot nicer too, making this a great summer race for anyone disappointed by the December lottery gods.

- In the 20 mile section I paced, eight of those miles overlapped with runners going the other direction so I got to see a lot of the field. The race rules very clearly stated that pacers must run behind the runner at all times and are to serve only as "safety runners" and not true pacers. However, I would say nearly a third of the runners had their pacers in front of them and a couple more people just told me after the race they had their pacer run in front of them. There's even FB picture proof in a couple of cases. Am I just being a goody-two shoes, or is this an issue?? Most races don't make any distinction where your pacer can run, but to me it seems like if there is a rule about this, we should all be following it, be it front of the pack, mid-pack, or back of the pack. 

- People don't get wet enough. I said this about Western States and I noticed the same at TRT. The Spooner Summit AS had a sponge bucket and I personally spent close to an hour sitting next to it and making sure runners knew it was there before they left on one of the longest and hottest sections of the day. Almost all runners perked up when they heard this was available, but a good portion of them just put one sponge over their head before they left. (Happy to see a lot of people did put ice in their hats). At Diamond Peak, they had a sprayer hose, but many runners ran through it the same way I run through the backyard sprinklers with my kids, which is to say, they were quite timid of the spray. On a hot day, one of the most important things is keeping body temperature down, and that means getting completely soaked!

Dennis takes full advantage of the spray. I think my favorite example, though, was Larry, who grabbed the hose from the volunteer and sprayed himself down.

- And lastly we come to my real pet peeve: Salt tablet dosing! While waiting for Dennis at Spooner Summit, Mac and I eavesdropped on a conversation four ladies were having next to us. They sat around talking about how many salt pills they take an hour, how many they take per hour when it is hot, how one likes one product better because she only has to take one every 90 minutes.  Later a runner came in to the AS with a wonky stomach and he assured his crew that he didn't need any electrolytes because he had been taking two capsules per hour.

So if you want to play along, think in your head right now what your guideline is for salt dosing. Ok, do you have it?

I have talked to a lot of people (or read blogs, heard people talk) and their general guideline is almost always something like, "I take one or two salt pills per hour, depending on how hot it is." Here is my issue: salt tablet dosing should have nothing to do with how long you have been running and it is only indirectly related to how hot it is!

Don't believe me? Before going on, here's another little game for you:
1) You plan for a medium run without any water, but end up staying out three hours without drinking anything. How much salt should you take?

2) You go for a three hour run on a cool day, but because you are training for a hundred miler, you make sure you drink three liters of water during the run. How much salt should you take?

3) You go for a three hour run on a very hot day, and end up drinking 5 liters of water. How much salt should you take?

So in each of these examples the time is the same, but I would argue the amount of salt you take is very different. In the first example, if you don't drink water, you shouldn't take salt. The amount in the next two examples are dependent on a lot of personal variables, but I would think most people would take 0-3 salt tabs in #2. And for #3 you would need more than whatever you took for #2. So the amount of salt is not correlated with the amount of time running, it is correlated with how much water you drink! Yet, I think I have only talked to one other person who dosed salt based on how much they drank and that was Jon Olsen, a guy who is now a WORLD CHAMPION!

Every one has different salt needs, but I would like to see ultra-runners as a group talking about dosing salt tabs per bottle and not per hour. If it is hot, you drink more, which is why you need more salt on a hot day. If you stomach goes south and you can't drink much, you need to cut your salt back to match (even if it is hot!), so taking 2 salt pills per hour may be overkill and may be making your stomach issues worse. If your stomach is sloshy, it is because you haven't taken enough salt to match your fluid intake. 

Ok, so that's my speech on electrolytes. You can take it with a grain of salt. ;)

Me and my Trans-Rockies Teammate, Jenny Capel, out for a run on Friday. Ooo la La Sportiva!

Sunday I made Dennis walk the 2.1 miles around Spooner Lake with us because 100.4 miles really isn't enough. ;) There's a reason he calls me "the Ogress!" We walked slow and it was nice to be able to cheer for some of the final finishers.


trailmomma said...

Funny you say that about salt tabs as I hear that all the time too from runners. You make an interesting point. One that I will share with my other ultra friends! Tahoe was beautiful that weekend, hot but beautiful!

Olga said...

On salt dosing: Scotty Mills delivered this in exactly same way - you should take a salt pill (or two, or whatever depending which brand)PER BOTTLE (16 oz), not per time frame! If you increase water intake with temps - increase salt, if you decrease (say at night) water drinking - drop salt accordingly.
Re: pacers - totally agree, if there is a rule, follow it! I had to buy new headphones just because there was a rule only one earbud in (my previous were old-style around-head). When I raced VT100, no headphones meant I ran with none, but saw half the field either hiding music devices or e=actually not carrying at all. Boo.
And congrats on Oregon men! Larry Stephens defies age.

Rob said...

This post melded well with your iRunfar submission on training for WS. It has all been really useful to me learning the ways of the ultra-marathoners. I have to run 130 foot hills here in Minnesota so I feel you running in circles a few times a week! Much appreciation and keep posting!

KenZ said...

Salt... I dunno, I used to drink pretty consistently and took 2 per hour, which seemed to work. Then Noakes' book came out... and I ran Cascade Crest taking 5 tabs TOTAL (and only because I was carrying them and feeling a bit weird about not just getting rid of them), then Chimera 100 taking zero salt tabs. And no issues. I know, I know, everyone's different... but seriously, if they were so important that you NEED one for every bottle, how is it that some go through a 20 hour mountain run, drinking like a fish, and have no issues at all?

Anyway, love your blog. Keep it. And post pictures of your garden!

Pam said...

KenZ - Thanks for your comment. This past weekend I was out for ten hours running/hiking and drank only water and used no salt without any issue, so I agree the necessity of salt is questionable. However, I do find that at higher intensity a little salt keeps my stomach better settled. I don't think my body actually needs the salt, but it does help absorption. However, IF people are planning to use salt, I still stand by the dosing per bottle method.

And you have inspired me to post some garden pics! (Hopefully next week!)